Live Music for the Holidays: The Manhattan Transfer at Walt Disney Concert Hall

December 19, 2014

By James DeFrances

As Janis Siegel sang “the sun is shining, the grass is green, there’s never been quite a day in Beverly Hills LA” (the verse to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”) it became apparent that the Manhattan Transfer singers are just as comfortable in LA as they are back home in New York.

Walt Disney Concert Hall lit up Tuesday night with the holiday spirit as audience members hummed and swayed along with the familiar tunes. Members of the legendary quartet were outfitted in green and red accessories with red Santa hats. The scene was set and with that their sleigh ride of musical wonderment was underway.

Of course things were a little different this time around since the recent and untimely passing of Tim Hauser, the group’s founder and patriarch. It was with joy and sadness that each remaining member of the group – Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul – expressed their gratitude for all that Hauser had done and what a great friend he had been to them over the years.

The Manhattan Transfer (Trist Curless, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul)

His role for these holiday shows was covered seamlessly by the young vocalist and voice actor, Trist Curless. In Hauser’s honor the group dedicated “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Groovin’.” Felix Cavalieri of The Young Rascals had actually phoned Paul just days before the concert, asking him to perform the songs in homage and they were undoubtedly the high points of the evening.

A great rhythmic change of pace followed when they rolled out a lively and engaging salsa version of “Frosty the Snowman.” Most of the other holiday songs were sourced from the Transfer’s 1992 hit record The Christmas Album. which in and of itself is worthy of mention. Other tunes on the table this evening were “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This wasn’t only a holiday show, though. A handful of non-holiday songs made their way to the set list. Most notably was Paul’s tender and moving rendition of “All The Way” (the Van Heusen and Cahn hit popularized by Frank Sinatra). Paul dedicated the song to Angela and Arielle his wife and daughter. The group followed the ballad with the energetic 1975 megahit “Operator,” a tune which they cannot leave out regardless of the theme of the show.

After a standing ovation and minutes of thunderous applause, the Transfer reappeared for an encore to perform “The Christmas Song.” Finishing with a vamping reprise of “Happy Holidays,” they took their final bows and wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

TEKA sings “Silent Night” with a Brazilian Twist

December 13, 2014

Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist Téka Penteriche wishes everyone a joyous Christmas in the way she knows best: by getting together with guitarist Chris Judge and singing her favorite Christmas carol, backed by the irresistible rhythms of Brazil.


A joyous holiday and a happy new year to all, from Téka, Chris and all her friends at the International Review of Music.



Live Jazz: Karrin Allyson at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 13, 2014

By James DeFrances

Hollywood. The holiday season was in full swing Thursday night at Catalina’s Jazz Club in Hollywood with some good old fashioned yuletide cheer. 4-time Grammy nominee singer-pianist Karrin Allyson took center stage to entertain the eager crowd.

Her show was a bit of a departure from a typical straight ahead jazz event though. The configuration of the band, for one, was unique in the fact that there was a Hammond B3 organ and a rhythm guitar. And the material was special, too, for this time of year, a specific holiday format

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

Allyson had just flown into Southern California earlier that day and at one point she mentioned that “being on a plane for 6 hours messes with your head a bit.” But honestly I don’t think anyone could tell she had been traveling. To me she seemed completely calm, confident and fully capable of showing off her vocal bag of tricks!

Her set list ranged from acoustic, unplugged type arrangements to soulful blues-esque rhythm pieces. Her whimsical phrasing and expert “play by feel” timing brought each and every song to life. Allyson conversationally said to the crowd that she had always wanted a backup singer, or to be a backup singer with a glass half empty/glass half full tone of voice. What this statement actually intended to do was introduce the sprightly young vocalist and songsmith Aubrey Caswell who had written a few tunes recently for Allyson. She was amongst the audience tonight and was promptly invited up on stage to perform two duets. Aubrey is the daughter of Chris “Kazz” Caswell who was already on stage as part of the band, playing the organ.

Aubrey Caswell and Karrin Allyson

Aubrey Caswell and Karrin Allyson

The audience warmly received the younger Caswell, her well refined stage presence and her vocal talents. Allyson and Caswell performed “Winter Oasis” from her most recent album Yuletide Hideaway. Other highlights of the evening included Allyson’s moving solo performance of Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” (she even did the verse!) and Mose Allison’s “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

In a world of cookie cutter duplicates Karrin Allyison sometimes recalls Norah Jones and Liza Minnelli. But her musical stamp is purely her own. She’s a one of a kind talent, and there’s everything to praise about that!

There’s one more chance to hear Karrin Allyson — tonight (Saturday) at Catalina Bar & Grill.  Don’t miss her.  And be sure to check out her Christmas CD, Yuletide Hideaway.

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Photos by James DeFrances.

Christmas CD Review: Jennifer Leitham’s “Future Christmas”

December 10, 2014

By Devon Wendell

A truly daunting task for any jazz musician is to create a Christmas album that both swings for the jazz lovers and appeals to a mainstream audience. If anyone can pull off this feat with ease, intelligence, and originality, it’s Jennifer Leitham and her dynamic trio, consisting of Andy Langham on piano, Randy Drake on drums, and Leitham on bass, vocals, sleigh bells, and water drops.

Jennifer Leitham

Jennifer Leitham

Future Christmas opens with a brilliant trio instrumental version of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Leitham’s virtuosic double bass playing shines throughout this standard. Her harmonically complex, fluid, yet often delightfully tough and percussive attack on the bass has made her one of the instrument’s greatest practitioners in the jazz world for several decades now.

The lyrics to “Future Christmas (The Global Warming Winter Holiday Blues)” ask the important question “Where is the snow?” Not just on Christmas but anytime? Leitham’s lyrics on the present and future dangers of global warming sound light-hearted but address this subject seriously. The music is superb. Leitham’s bowed bass solo dances around the song’s melody and weaves in and out of Langham’s piano comping. Drake’s subtle drumming locks in the groove and leaves plenty of solo room for Leitham and Langham. Leitham’s singng voice has a sultry and smoky feel to it which is a fine addition to the trio’s sound. This is especially prevalent on Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts chestnut “Christmas Time Is Here.” The dissonant starkness of Leitham’s bass solo on this piece makes it truly an album highlight. The production is stellar.

On “Feels Like Home For Christmas,” “Nature’s Blessing,” and the exquisite “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” it feels as if you’ve known the distinct style and sound of this trio your entire life. The sound embraces the listener with soul and mastery.

Leitham’s tonally precise bowing is awe-inspiring in its adventurousness. Andy Langham’s fluid bop tinged piano work can follow Leitham anywhere she dares to venture.

The band’s chemistry is felt on “Little Drummer Boy/Big Bass Girl,” Leitham’s swinging twist on a Christmas classic. Randy Drake solos along with Leitham on this number. As Drake shows off his diverse drumming skills, Leitham complements every accent and phrase, and then launches out into the stratosphere with her bass on top. “Winter Wonderland” showcases Langham’s Bud Powell flavored piano chops.

The album’s highlight is definitely the legendary Bob Dorough’s “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern.)” The realistically bleak lyrics are matched by Leitham’s hilariously sinister vocals. Dorough’s witty and sly sense of humor as an arranger and lyricist fits the overall sound and feel of this album like a glove.

“Jingle Bells” features another stellar trio performance. It is obvious that these musicians should be playing together and can communicate musically on an intimate level that only truly great jazz players can.

The album finishes with an endearing bass a cappella reading of “O Tannenbaum.” Leitham gets deep inside of this familiar melody and explores new ground without deviating from the music’s thematic qualities. Jennifer Leitham’s Future Christmas is truly a holiday album for the ages. It swings, warms the heart, and displays some inspired musicianship that will delight her strong fan base and attract plenty of new listeners.

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The Jennifer Leitham Trio celebrates the release of “Future Christmas” at Catalina Bar & Grill on Monday, December 15.

Here, There & Everywhere: the 2015 Grammy Jazz Nominations

December 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again, when the Grammy nominations are posted for members of the Recording Academy to vote for their favorite performances of the previous year.  After decades of membership, I’m no longer a member of the Academy.  But it’s always fascinating to check out the nominations.  And, although it’s interesting to see who wins the awards, it’s even more compelling to check out the surprises (or lack of same) in the choices for nominees in the various categories.

So here are the nominees in the five jazz categories.  And I suspect that most jazz listeners and observers would suggest that there are few surprising entries in the lists.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the choices.  Any of these nominees would be a worthy winner of the Grammy award in their category.  But, as with most annual lists of Grammy nominees there’s little to suggest real interest in encouraging the efforts of new, young talent.

That said, here’s a list of the choices (not forecasts) I would vote for in the five categories:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Always the most difficult category of all, given the question of how one judges the “Best” of a group of improvisations.  Anyhow, my choice would be Chick Corea, who never fails to surprise me in a solo, and he’s in fine shape in this one.  It’s also worth mentioning that his playing sounds even more impressive in the context of the stellar competition of three other superb pianists and the tenor saxophone styings of Joe Lovano.

Best Jazz Vocal album:  Why in the world does the Academy group all jazz vocal artists — male, female and ensembles — into one category.  I’m musically pleased by all these artists.  But I think Tierney Sutton’s remarkable tour de force with guitarist Serge Merlaud is a brilliant performance, as unique a vocal effort as I can recall since Sheila Jordan’s first recordings with solo bass accompaniment.


Best Jazz Instrumental Album: As with the Best Improvised Solo category it’s difficult to determine what standards of excellence to use in choosing a winner.  Note, as well, that both Chick Corea and Fred Hersch have nominations in both categories — a temptation for winners to split their ballot to vote for one or the other in one of the categories.  I, however, favor Jason Moran’s illuminating tribute to Fats Waller.


The Best Large Ensemble is overflowing with enough big jazz group sounds to delight those of us who will always be delighted by the big jazz ensemble in its many forms and sounds.  But I was especially pleased by the Clayton-Hamilton’s tribute to some of the memorable talent in the L.A. jazz world. Always — in the gifted writing and playing of John Clayton — a superb ensemble, they’re once again at their finest in this outing.  As an alternative, I could easily have chosen the briskly swinging performance by Gordon Goodwin’s always listenable Big Phat Band.

The Best Latin Jazz Album: As in the Large Ensemble category, I’ve found myself having to choose between two entries: Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Conrad Herwig’s The Latin Side of Joe Henderson.  Ultimately I couldn’t resist the presence of Joe Lovano playing Joe Henderson tunes.  But it was a tough call.


And here are all the jazz nominees.  Make your own choices.

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Best Improvised Jazz Solo

The Eye Of The Hurricane
Kenny Barron, soloist
Track from: Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio) (Whaling City Sound)

Chick Corea, soloist
Track from: Trilogy (Chick Corea Trio) (Concord Jazz)

You & the Night & the Music

Fred Hersch, soloist                                                                                                                           Track from “Floating” (Fred Hersch Trio) (Palmetto Records)

Recorda Me

Joe Lovano, soloist
Track from: The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano) (Half Note)

Sleeping Giant (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Mehliana: Taming The Dragon (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) (Nonesuch)

Best Jazz Vocal Album

Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Masterworks)
(Billy Childs & Various Artists)

I Wanna Be Evil (Motema Music)
René Marie

Live In NYC (Obliqsound)
Gretchen Parlato

Beautiful Life (Concord Records)
Dianne Reeves

Paris Sessions (BFM Jazz)
Tierney Sutton


Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Landmarks (Blue Note Records)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

Trilogy (Concord Jazz)
Chick Corea Trio

Floating (Palmetto Records)
Fred Hersch Trio

Enjoy The View (Blue Note Records)
Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller (Blue Note Records)
Jason Moran


Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri Records, Ltd.)
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Life In The Bubble (Telarc International)
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music)
Rufus Reid

Live: I Hear The Sound  (Archie Ball)
Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra

OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts Recordings)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra


Best Latin Jazz Album

The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano

The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motema Music)
The Pedrito Martinez Group

The Offense Of The Drum (Motema Music)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Second Half (Emilio Solla Music)
Emilio Solla Y La Inestable De Brooklyn

New Throned King (Label: 5Passion)
Yosvany Terry


Live Music: Ron Dante and more at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 6, 2014

By James deFrances

A warm nostalgic breeze was ushered into Hollywood last Thursday night by Ron Dante and “his friends.” Patrons at Catalina Bar & Grill on Sunset Blvd couldn’t help but feel the energy and sing along as rock ‘n roll legends of yesteryear performed their hits on stage. The audience was comprised of notable entertainment heavyweights too, ranging from record executive and radio host Jerry Sharell to former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ron Dante

Ron Dante

Sly Stallone

Sly Stallone

On the bill with Dante (of the animated Archies) were the likes of Bo Donaldson (of the Heywoods), John Claude Gummoe (of the Cascades), Dennis Tufano (of the Buckinghams), Kyle Vinson and Frank Stallone. There was a very distinct aura in the club, for this wasn’t merely some cheesy cover show, these were the original arrangements performed by the original artists. I always find it enthralling to see how the bands have aged with their music and how their current interpretation differs from the studio version all these decades later.

Bo Donaldson

Bo Donaldson

As expected, there were many highlights of the night with each classic chart-topper evoking an emotional response among the audience. Songs like “Sugar Sugar,”  “Kind of a Drag,” “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “Rhythm of the Rain” to name a few that had the fans on a trip down memory lane.

I could overhear some folks behind me saying: “Oh I remember this song from our high school prom!” and “Don’t you remember when your brother bought that on a 45 RPM single?” These songs and these performers defined an entire generation and it is kind of hard to fathom that they were all together on one stage. But they were, and furthermore still performed with the kind of intensity and quality that made them popular more than 50 years ago.

Dennis Tufano

Dennis Tufano

Each act brought something special to the stage. Dante jokingly remarked that the only reason he wore a blazer was because this performance was at a jazz club, eventually he took the coat off and seemed to be more relaxed. Toward the end of the evening he began a dialogue with the crowd explaining how grateful he was for his fans’ support and how he wanted to talk briefly about some of the highlights of his career.

Ron Dante

Ron Dante

He showed the audience a video montage of his many TV commercial jingles from the 1970s. On the projector roll were commercials for McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Yoplait, Dr. Pepper and more. Dante’s dynamic talents include singer, songwriter, arranger, composer and producer. He also mentioned his production work for Barry Manilow and Pat Benatar which he was particularly proud of.

With Dante’s never ending credit list and his evidently large rolodex, one can’t help but look forward to his next big hoorah. He is still in fine voice, good spirits and apparently great health.

Everyone got their 35 dollar’s worth and then some on this fine evening. I bet each act could have demanded that for a solo show alone. This wonderful event may not have been for the typical jazz fare at Catalina’s jazz room, but from what I could gather, no one seemed to mind!

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Photos by James deFrances.

Live Music: Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood. Any evening of music with the names of Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at the top of the program is pretty much guaranteed to offer plenty of memorable moments. Which is exactly what happened Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The overflow crowd of enthusiastic fans, filling virtually every table in Catalina Popescu’s large, but still warm and cozy venue, were there because of their awareness of the stellar qualities of the two headliners.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale



The versatile Hale is a remarkable multi-hyphenate, doubling impressively on harp and piano, and a first call studio player on both instruments, singing with her own uniquely interpretive vocal qualities and a frequent discoverer and supporter of new young vocal talent. (Add to that her year round efforts to support candidates of the Democratic Party – more evidence of the vitality that has been present over the course of Hale’s long dynamic career.)




Eloise Laws

Eloise Laws



Laws is, of course, a member of the remarkable Laws family – which also includes flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Ronnie Laws and singer Debra Laws. But her lengthy and busy career – reaching back to the ’70s is her own. Although she has demonstrated prime talents as a back up singer, she has firmly established herself as master of crossover styles reaching across pop, blues, r&b and jazz. Nor can we overlook her skills as a producer, actress and writer for the stage.


The performance by Hale and Laws – titled “Sister! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – provided an excellent opportunity for each to display her various talents. Hale moved frequently from piano to harp, pausing on a few occasions to take the vocal microphone herself. Laws, occasionally interacting humorously with her listeners, displayed her stylistic range with a rich program of songs.

Each also dealt with some occasional uncertainty about which song was coming next, transforming the confusion into improvisational banter. Although it may have seemed disorienting from the performers’ on stage perspective, it was – for the audience – another of the evening’s many delights.

Add to that, the music itself. Among the numerous highlights:

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Laws quickly dug into the theme of the show – “Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – with a a briskly swinging romp through “How High the Moon” recalling the classic Ella Fitzgerald version. And she followed with other salutes – to Billie Holiday with “God Bless the Child,” Peggy Lee with “Fever,” and Shirley Horn with “Here’s To Life” (accompanied by pianist Artie Butler, who composed the song with lyricist Phyllis Molinary), and more. Further displaying her interpretive range, she offered a lyrical reading of “Send in the Clowns” and dueted with Hale’s harp accompaniment on “My Ship” and guitarist John Chiodini’s backing on “I’m Old Fashioned,”

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Hale was the dynamo for the entire performance. Moving from the piano to the harp and back to the piano, energizing the backing of the rhythm section and keeping track of the program, she only had the opportunity to sing a few vocals. When she did – especially on “I Want To Be Happy” and “S’Wonderful” – she left the audience (and this listener) wishing for more. Hale’s generosity with other singers, often present in her performances, was an essential part of this evening, as well. And the results made for a program overflowing with entertaining musicality.

Still, as I’ve written in past reviews of Hale’s appearances, I hope that she will also continue to find – amid her immensely busy life – time to express her own musical creativity, as well.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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