Live Music: Charles Aznavour at the Greek Theatre

September 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.

There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.

Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.

Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.

The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.

But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.

Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson


Picks of the Week: September 9 – 14 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Copenhagen, Milan and Tokyo

September 9, 2014

 

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Sept. 11. (Thurs.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, conducted by Juanjo Mena finish the summer’s classical season at the Hollywood Bowl with a grand performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 11. (Thurs.) The Fazioli Piano Series. Pianist Eric Huebner plays works by by Luciano Berio, Paolo Cavallone, Nathan Heidelberger, Roger Reynolds, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Eric Wubbels on the much honored (with good reason) Fazioli piano. The Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles. (310) 443-3250.

Barbara Morrison (Photo by Bonnie Perkinson)

- Sept. 12 & 13 (Fri. – Sun.) Barbara Morrison 65th birthday and CD release celebration. It’s a memorable weekend for one of Los Angeles’ greatest jazz treasures. She should be heard at every opportunity. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Sept. 12. (Fri.) Don Rader Quartet. Trumpeter Rader has been a first call Southland artist for decades, performing every imaginable kind of music with ease and musicality. Here he’s in the spotlight, displaying his versatile musical wares. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.) Mary Bogue. Cabaret artist Bogue, a unique stylist, has been described by Cabaret Scenes Magazine as “kind of throw-back to the red-hot mamas…electrifying, sassy, and sexy.” The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

Sept. 13. (Sat.) Charles Aznavour. The great French singer/songwriter makes a rare Southland appearance celebrating his 90th birthday.  The performance will be a banquet of classic songs, sung by one of the iconic figures in the history of international song.    The Greek Theatre(323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Eliane Elias (Photo by Bonnie Perkinson)

- Sept. 11 – 14, (Thurs. – Sun.) Eliane Elias. The gifted Brazilian singer/pianist presents four fascinating evenings of music: Thurs: Celebrating Getz/Gilberto; Fri: Chet Baker Tribute; Sat: Night in Bahia; Sun: Bill Evans Salute. Don’t miss any of them. An SFJAZZ program at Miner Auditorium. r (866) 920-5299.

Chicago

- Sept. 11 – 14. (Thurs. – Sun.) Robert Glasper Trio. Comfortably positioned on the cutting edge of contemporary jazz, pianist Glasper and his players are offering fascinating new views of 21st century improvisational music. The Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Dr, Lonnie Smith

Dr, Lonnie Smith

- Sept. 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) Dr. Lonnie Smith.  Organ master Smith’s performances are unique explorations of an instrument with orchestral potential. “The organ is like the sunlight, rain and thunder,” says Smith. “It’s all the worldly sounds to me!” The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

London

- Sept. 10 – 13 (Wed. – Sat.) “Brubecks Play Brubeck” featuring Darius, Chris and Dan Brubeck. The talented offpspring of Dave Brubeck display the remarkable genetic musical heritage they’ve received from their legendary father. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

Sept, 13, (Sat.) Robert Lakatos. Hungarian jazz pianist Lakatos, one of Europe’s most highly praised jazz artists, is joined by Denmark’s Jesper Lundgaard, bass and Alex Riel, drums in a convincing display of the stunningly high level of jazz artistry on the continent. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

The Bad Plus (Dave King, Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson)

- Sept. 11. (Thurs,.) The Bad Plus. The creatively ambitious trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King has been exploring new musical vistas since the 1990s, touching on everything from new views of the blues to their interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- Sept. 11 & 12. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Quartet Legend, featuring Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Benny Golson and Lenny White. With a line-up of those names, this stellar group might more accurately be called “The Legendary Quartet.” Here’s a rare opportunity to hear them together. The Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.

 


Brian Arsenault Takes on Buddy Holly

September 9, 2014

Not Fade Away
The Music of Buddy Holly

by Brian Arsenault

That ass Gene Simmons saying the other day that rock was dead got me to thinking about living through its whole lifetime. Not that Simmons was right. Hell, he wouldn’t know, coming out of a band so devoid of musicality they had to dress like clowns. Typecasting.

Then today, not consciously thinking about the life and death of Rock, I put on Buddy Holly’s Down The Line – Rarities and it was all there.

Rock. All of it.

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

It’s not an accident that during the British reinvigoration of rock there was a band called The Hollies. Graham Nash was in it. Before there were Beatles there were Crickets. “Not Fade Away” was a Buddy hit before the Stones and the Dead were around.

All there. The pain and pleasures of early love, first discoveries, teens dancing in the dark. It’s easy to be scornful of such themes but in truth what is more shape shifting for a lifetime than the first discovery of the other sex. (“Fool’s Paradise,” “Love’s Made a Fool of You,” “Oh Boy”) Or the same sex for that matter. Hell, how hard is that? We’re only beginning to recognize the early pain of that sexual urge.

Before acid and gurus, love angst was the theme of the Beatles. A theme that made them bigger than anyone. Ever. And underneath even the White Album, the Buddy Holly gentle, jesting, sensitive feelings never went away nor should they have. Obla Di, Obla Da . . .

It was all there. Acoustic guitar chords played fast, faster and then electric. Sometimes both in the same song.
It was all there. An actual bass lead in “slow version #1″ of “Slippin and a Slidin’.” Long before The Ox and Jack Bruce.
It was all there. Buddy stopping to tell the drummer to push it, push it. An early organ lead when Doors were only something to open or shut.

It was all there. Watch Keith Richards on stage now and he’s playing those neat little rhythm riffs. Just without the horned rim glasses though he could probably use some.

Buddy’s great fame was a little before even my time. The day the music died I was only just tuning in to the music of my life. Digging his stuff.

A plane crash. Over and again a goddamn plane crash. The Big Bopper and La Bamba went down with him. They were doing a tour of high school sock hops. Imagine.

Plane crashes. Left us wounded in Lynrd Skynrd. Bereft of that little guitar monster from Texas. Damn plane crashes. Do like Willy and drive to the gigs. You can smoke ‘em easier.

Chuck Berry invented the form. Elvis made it America’s music. But Buddy led the way. From country and bop, from blues and r&b. All you have to do is listen to an album like Rarities and know that he listened to all of it. And then he gave us all of it. Rock ‘n Roll.

Unfortunately Gene Simmons lives in the same world, just not the same musical universe. So now he owns a fake football team. Figures.


Live Music: The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum in “Hooray For Hollywood”

August 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Pasadena, CA.  The warm months of summer always bring a luscious banquet of musical events, much of it presented in colorful outdoor venues. One of the best has begun to emerge in the performances of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of Michael Feinstein, amid the gorgeous greenery of the L.A. Arboretum.

And Saturday night’s performance, titled “Hooray For Hollywood,” was a perfect blend of all those elements, brought to their peak under the guidance of Feinstein, who matched his appealing singing and precise conducting with a scholarly knowledge of the rich and diversified music of Hollywood, past, present and future.

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

Add to that the line-up of appealing performers that Feinstein, with the aid and support of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) also added to evening in an obvious quest to create an immensely enjoyable performance. Among the headliners: Debby Boone, Maureen McGovern, Kevin Earley, Alan Bergman, Paul Williams and much more.

The far-ranging tone of the performance began early, with Feinstein’s whimsical reading of (appropriately) “Hooray For Hollywood,” supplemented with some humorous new lyrics as well as Feinstein’s ever amusing sidebar comments.

“I wanted to grow up to be like Alan Ladd, and I did,” he noted, with a smile. (Although he did not look in Paul Williams’ direction when he said it.)

Michael Feinstein conducts the Pasadena Pops

The heart of the show, and the highlight of the vocal performances were energized by tunes from what might accurately be called The Great Hollywood Songbook. Consider the following:

Paul Williams singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song he wrote for Kermit the Frog in Sesame Street.

Maureen McGovern‘s rich voice, soaring through a sequence of gripping interpretations, vividly bringing to life a medley of songs from”The Sound Of Music.”

Debby Boone‘s “You Light Up My Life,” a song classic from the film of the same name, still completely owned, in every musical manner, by Boone’s still-vibrant singing.

The talented young Kevin Early displaying his musical versatility with convincing versions of a pair of very different tunes: “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time) and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (from The Harvey Girls).”

And, perhaps best of all, Alan Bergman‘s stunning reading of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, with lyrics by Bergman and his wife, Marilyn, music by Michel Legrand. I’ve heard Alan sing it many times, and been deeply moved by each performance.

The music of Hollywood is not just song, of course. Michael Feinstein’s “Hooray For Hollywood” \thoroughly explored that other area – the soundtracks that are essential to a film’s emotional flow. And with an orchestra as adept as the Pasadena Pops, the results could only be world class. As they were.

Among the numerous highlights, there were selections from such familiar film names as Johnny Green, Elmer Bernstein, the Sherman Brothers, Michael Giachino, Erich Korngold, and more:

- The overture to Mary Poppins. The Raintree County overture. Music from The Magnificent Seven. The Prologue to The Sound of Music. Themes from Silverado.(conducted by composer Bruce Broughten),l And the Overture to Funny Girl.

Call it an amazing evening of music, and fascinating glance at the role it plays in the creative workshops of Hollywood. And let me add a coda of thanks to Michael Feinstein, his gifted orchestra and line up of stars, all of whom provided one of the Summer of 2014’s most pleasant experiences.

While I’m at it, Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, along with guest stars, return on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a show that promises to produce similar musical pleasures: “New York! New York!” I’d say don’t miss it. Especially if you’re an expatriate New Yorker.

 


Picks of the Week: Hiatus

August 18, 2014

Dear Friends and Colleagues

PICKS OF THE WEEK at the International Review of Music — like many of the venues we recommend — will be in hiatus until September 8.  Tune in then for our recommendations for performances around the World

Best Regards and a Happy end of Summer To All.

Don Heckman

 

]

 

 

 

 


Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

* * * * * * * *

To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration” at the Hollywood Bowl

August 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA. The Hollywood Bowl‘s diverse set of Wednesday night programs – from jazz and pop to blues and soul – hit a peak this week with an entertaining tribute to the incomparable James Brown, timed, no doubt, to the recent release of the Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Given the “Godfather of Soul”’s vast catalog of hits, combined with the far-ranging stylistic genres present in that catalog, there was a lot from which to choose in the planning of the program. And the results were well worth the effort.

FH

Christian McBride

Christian McBride

It didn’t take long for the evening to get up to speed, perfectly managed by bassist and Brown fan Christian McBride. Starting with a slide show illustrating Brown highlights, the music, ornamented by a pair of busy dancers, switched quickly into “live” mode with a set by a 14 piece House Band featuring such members of the original Brown band as saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. And it was no surprise that the music was a characteristically hard-driving blend of funk and blues with a seasoning of jazz.

The balance of the evening was handled by four singers, performing with the sort of spirit and enthusiasm that could only be characterized by dedicated Brown disciples. Performances dedicated to artists who have passed away sometimes emerge as imitations without authenticity. But not with this group of singers, all talented in their own right, all thoroughly tapped into the Brown artistry.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette has never quite received the accolades her soul-driven singing style deserves. But, at 68, she can still bring a song to life, as she did in her set, which peaked with a stunning interpretation of “It’s A Man’s World.” Captured by the intensity of her version, clearly inspired by Brown, one couldn’t help but hope to see LaVette again soon in a performance dedicated to her own dynamic interpretations.

Up next, singer Aloe Blacc charged on stage with Brown-like dynamism. And, at 35, with skills as an instrumentalist (trumpet) and complete ease in genres reaching from r&b to jazz and funk to hip hop, he brought his unique diversity and high spirits to a Brown program that began with “The Payback” and ended with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.”

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo

Benin’s Angelique Kidjo added another intriguing aspect to a richly colorful program. Describing the impact Brown’s music had upon her as a child growing up in Africa, she applied her irresistibly charismatic powers to “Say It Loud” and “I Feel Good.” Stalking the stage, she demanded more interaction with the crowd, dancing across the curved walkway in the garden section, bringing her listeners into her ecstatic calls for musical action. Kidjo has always been an incredibly kinetic performer, and – captivated by the Brown aura — she was even more exciting in her remarkable set.

D Angelo

D Angelo

The evening climaxed with yet another high voltage performance, this one by singer/keyboardist producer D’Angelo. Adding yet another musical slant to an evening overflowing with uniquely engaging efforts to honor James Brown, D’Angelo was joined onstage by actor Chad Boseman, who portrays Brown in the Get On Up biopic. Together they urged the crowd to join them in a spirited singalong version of “Soul Power” – an appropriate ending for a musical evening to remember.

* * * * * * *

Full stage, McBride, LaVette and Kidjo photos by Faith Frenz.  D’Angelo photo courtesy of D’Angelo.

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers