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Miguel turned up in the NPR Music offices early one morning, after playing a show late the night before. Calm and good-natured, he betrayed no hint that he was nervous about stripping his highly produced hits down to their bones.
The sprawling assortment of singers, horn players, guitarists and percussionists is the largest band we've ever hosted at the Tiny Desk. But Tim DeLaughter and his group say they're used to playing a game of "human Tetris," and had no problem squeezing behind Bob Boilen's desk for this special holiday performance.
The Mercury Prize-winning band plays angular, poetic music that takes unexpected turns, shifting gears when you least expect it. Seeing Alt-J live in the NPR Music offices reveals a few of its mysteries, making a group that can be difficult on first listen a bit easier to digest.
Take a group of heavyweight jazz masters — the kind who helped to make the classic records that defined the modern idiom — and put them together on stage: Of course there'll be fireworks. After five years, they've cohered as a band too. The Cookers lift off in loose assembly.
For the better part of three decades, the pianist has been widely recognized as one of the fiercest and most inventive pianists in improvised music. Here, she rides the rhythmic boost of a particularly kinetic quartet, featuring tap dancer Maurice Chestnut.
Lovett gives a loose, engaging performance that feels like both an introduction and a victory lap. With a fresh-faced accompanist in fiddler and backup singer Luke Bulla, Lovett digs way back into his early archives here: All three of these songs are from his beginnings in the late '80s.
Singing and playing alongside guitarist and longtime collaborator Michael Chorney, the Vermont singer-songwriter performs three of Young Man in America's most bracingly beautiful songs with clear-eyed directness that requires no adornment.