November 26, 2009

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A glass of wine and a serving of jazz
Unwine’d expands music to four nights a week
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Once tucked away in the corner of Mallard Pond Plaza, the Unwine’d progressive wine and cheese bar now occupies most of its Second Street strip mall location. One by one, the days of the week are also being filled up — with music.

Owner Scot Kinney recently announced the addition of Chad LaMarsh to the regular lineup of performers. It’s a change of pace for the Berklee grad, known for a big modern rock sound with the five-piece band Chad LaMarsh Band. For his Unwine’d gig, Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m., he’ll play solo acoustic. 

LaMarsh is the first vocalist to perform at the restaurant.

“Chad never had a gig like this in his whole life,” Kinney said. “He had to go back to the drawing board and retrain on how he sings and practices.” He adds that LaMarsh, who recently became a father, is looking forward to the unplugged experience.

Keyboard player Craig Fahey performs three days a week in a variety of configurations. Those nostalgic for the days when Unwine’d made do with a tiny kitchen and 50 seats can catch him solo in the original dining room on Wednesdays.

Friday and Saturday, he plays with a rotating crew of sidemen informally known as the Craig Fahey Jazz ensemble. “They have a networking core,” Kinney said. “I’d say about 10 different guys, and I don’t know who’s going to show up — but they are always great.”

Fahey and Kinney are old friends. “Craig and I grew up together, went to Cub Scouts together, so it fits in many ways,” Kinney said.

Unwine’d is laid out to accommodate patrons craving mellow background sounds. The restaurant is a series of anterooms divided by archways and sliding doors, perfect for quiet romantic nights out. It’s not for nothing that it’s been at or near the top of many “Best Date Spot” polls since opening in 2001.

“When people come in, we always ask them what level do you want to hear the music,” Kinney said.

But those who want to get lost in jazz (or on Thursdays, mellow pop) will appreciate the triangle-shaped music room, divided from the rest of Unwine’d by a half wall and insulated with carpet for optimal acoustics. 

“We built the stage knowing it would be good for jazz,” Kinney said.

On a recent Saturday, upright bass player Greg Massaro joined Fahey for an inventive set that ranged from standards — “Witchcraft” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” were two highlights — to more modern pop songs like Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

Their re-imagining of the Bon Jovi arena rocker “Wanted Dead or Alive” was wonderfully surprising. An arrangement of Dave Matthews’ “Crash” revealed a delicate danger not found in the original. 

The best moments of the set were Fahey’s treatments of complex jazz pieces like the Miles Davis classic “Seven Steps to Heaven,” which sounded sublime even without a trumpet and drums. Massaro’s frenetic bass runs took “Autumn Leaves” over the top, and the time changes on the Bill Evans’ piece “How My Heart Sings” were equally impressive.

Though lately duos are the rule, occasionally a trio performs. “Throw the drums into the mix, it’s energizing,” Kinney said. “Sometimes a guys shows up off the street with a trumpet and he just gets up there and plays two or three songs.”

He laughs: “It’s like a guest appearance, on a smaller scale.”


Greg Massaro (left) joined Craig Fahey (right) at Unwine’d on a recent Saturday night.

Hear it live
Who: Chad Marsh & Craig Fahey
Where: Unwine’d, 865 Second St., Manchester, 625-9463
When: Music Wednesday through Saturday nights (closed Sunday & Monday)
Info: www.unwined.net
Unwine’d will be open Mondays during the month of December.