Live Music: Cat Conner at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA.  Jazz vocalist Cat Conner‘s performance at Catalina Bar & Grill last week was clearly expected to be a special event, which is precisely how it turned out.

Cat Conner

It was, first of all, a release party for Cat’s new CD, appropriately titled Cat House. Add to that the fact that any of her performances are exciting events for fans of jazz singing. And, adding memorable jazz icing to the cake, she was accompanied by a collection of the Southland’s finest, most versatile jaz musicians.

The latter aspect was no surprise, since her stellar six piece band – saxophonist woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano, pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist John Chiodini, trumpeter Ron Stout, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera – are all present on Cat’s new album. And it was also no surprise that Cat – like all singers hosting a CD release party – devoted her program to a collection of songs from the CD.

The Cat Cpnner Band

The Cat Cpnner Band

Any of Cat’s many fans will attest to the fact that the Canadian-born songstress is always a joy to hear, regardless of the circumstances. And even more so when all the musical elements are firmly in place, as they were in this outing. Appearing comfortable, relaxed and completely at ease from the first moment she stepped on stage, Cat underscored the appealing musical empathy of her program with an equally engaging interaction with her audience.

Cat Conner sings with her band

Cat Conner sings with her band

The musical highlights of her performance were especially present in her choice of songs from the album. And especially so in such varied selections as a briskly swinging ‘How Much Do I Love You,” a vocalese version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” and such varied American Songbook classics as “You Are My Everything,” “Baltimore Oriole” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”

Cat Conner

Cat Conner

Topping off her program, Cat added a poignant original song, “People Say (Song For Rob).” Written for the infant son she gave up for adoption many years ago, she introduced it as “a song to finally allow me to say how I felt for all the years of yearning for him.”

It was an extraordinary ending for a memorable musical evening, an evening glowing with convincing evidence of Cat’s ability to find the heart of a song – from jaunty swing tunes to richly emotional ballads.

All of which is equally present, as well, on her new CD Cat House. And fans of jazz singing who were not present to share the pleasures of her CD release party are hereby advised to check out the album for a full musical offering of Cat Conner’s vocal artistry.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Live Theatre: Robert Wilson’s staging of “The Old Woman” with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe at Royce Hall

November 16, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles, CA.  Whether dancing and crooning like a Dadaist Bob Hope and Bing Crosby or wailing like dying coyotes, Baryshnikov and Dafoe bring a scorching vitality to the stage as they interpret through spoken word, dance, and song the absurdist universe of the Russian poet, Daniil Kharms, as seen through the magic lens of Robert Wilson.

With hints of Russian avant-garde theatre, Surrealist cabaret, English music hall, American vaudeville, and nineteen-seventies experimental theatre of Lower Manhattan from which Wilson evolved (and Dafoe participated in with the Wooster Group); this night of divine lunacy has Baryshnikov dancing flamenco with a pair of dentures as  castanets and Dafoe capering with a string of sausages. They wear dusty dark suits and ties, their toupees are arranged in a curious corkscrew of hair pointing sideways, and their faces are painted Geisha-girl white with black circles rimming their eyes like spectacles.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Mirror images of each other, the duo performs symbiotically: sometimes they repeat the same phrase in unison; sometimes Baryshnikov translates Dafoe’s English into Russian.  But whether they act as the writer and the old woman, or as two best friends, or as the oppressor and the oppressed, together they are a force of nature – clowns caught up in an indifferent world, shrugging off pain with a jab of the arm or a kick of the leg.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe

Adapted for the stage by Darryl Pinckney, the novella, The Old Woman, is an evocation of a writer and his travails over the taunting corpse of an old woman. Kharms, born in St. Petersburg in 1905 suffered, as so many of his fellow artists did, at the hands of the Soviet Regime. His writings read more like fragments of thought, narrative, and pain wrapped up in a package of absurdist humor.    Pinckney fractures the tale even further, giving us repetitive verbal vignettes compressed into twelve scenes. Sometimes the repetition weakens the work – one could wish for a bit more of Kharms’ text from the story to find its way into the dialogue – other times it adds to the humor.

The evening has its maddening moments with all the repeated phrases, a bit like a stuck recording. But the quiet grace of scenes such as Baryshnikov confiding in the audience in Russian (discreet titles in white positioned on black panels on two sides of the proscenium translate), or Dafoe and Baryshnikov in a poignant embrace offers a counterpoint to the aggressive repetition.

“The Old Woman”

Wilson’s sets have the strong flavor of Russian Constructivist theatre design from the nineteen twenties and Vavara Stepanova and Liubov Popova’s designs in particular.   Suspended trapezoidal window frames, a giant swing, linear angled and mangled furniture, a chicken coop, and a giant suitcase, all set on a stark stage, form the platforms on which Dafoe and Baryshnikov sit, recline, and cavort. Whether creating a Constructivist pallet of black, white, and red or using vibrant primary colors, the lighting concept of Wilson (light design by A.J. Weissbard) paints the scenes with luscious pops of pigment. But Wilson’s world, though it glimmers with artistic and theatrical influences, is unique to our times and sets the bar for contemporary, Minimalist design and staging.

The recorded music, assembled by Hal Willner, weaves standards like “Tiger Rag” and “Goodnight Sweetheart,” with Tom Waits’ boisterous, carnival-esque “Innocent When You Dream.” In the more pensive moments there is Arvo Part’s haunting music. For a few moments we are treated to the singing talents of Dafoe and, a surprise, Baryshnikov singing sweetly in Russian. As far as the dancing goes (there is no credited choreographer), Dafoe’s long legs kicked, strutted, and spun around the stage like a pro’s.

And Baryshnikov? Just to see him point a foot or display a graceful hand enthralls. But he does far more than that. His body takes on the attributes of in turn, a vaudevillian, an old woman, and a young lady. The duo dances everything from an absurdist tango to a soft shoe with walking sticks. Though the song and dance elements of the piece are not its driving force, let me ask: Could this be the beginning of a beautiful partnership?

Photo by Lucie Jansch courtesy of CAP UCLA.

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

 


Live Music: Anna Mjoll At Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 13, 2014

By James deFrances

What do jazz standards, Iceland and Bel Air have in common? Simple…the answer is the dynamic blonde haired Iceland-born diva Anna Mjoll. Last Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., Mjoll crooned to a thoroughly filled house of diners and jazz enthusiasts alike. Only a day after Alpert and his wife Lani Hall played two sold out shows Mjoll managed to keep the blood flowing for a third consecutive night.

Her show ranged from light moving ballads to hard-driving bossa nova tunes. Impeccably supported by the #Pat Senatore trio, Mjoll did the Great American Songbook right.

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Anna Mjoll and the Pat Senatore Trio

Her voice possesses an airy, relaxed quality which makes the music even easier to digest. Her vibrato (no pun intended) is on tap when she needs it and her phrasing is uniquely her own. In between songs she keeps the audience in check by telling stories, asking questions and cracking jokes.

She asked the audience to say hello to her mother from Iceland, who was seated in the first row and only in town for the weekend. “I wish you would move to California,” exclaimed Mjoll. Mother and daughter maintained a lighthearted banter throughout  the entirety of the show.

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Anna Mjoll and Pat Senatore

Before singing “Taking A Chance On Love,” she reflected on her many marriages and philosophized on love. Perhaps the highlight of the evening, however, was when she sang “Nature Boy” with only bassist Pat Senatore’s accompaniment. She dedicated the song to Senatore, whom she said is the only man who never let’s her down. Also on the list Friday night were songs like “Come Fly With Me,” “Smile” and “Imagination.” For Mjoll who has a busy calendar it was just one of those nights and her closing tune appropriately enough was “Just One Of Those Things.”

But the large audience who remained long after she took her final bow was a sign of a job well done. Those who stayed late enough even got to hear the Senatore Trio play their “Sexy Late Night Set.” In the end, if you are looking for a night of Marilyn Monroe glamour and some hot straight ahead jazz Anna Mjoll with the Pat Senatore trio is your best ticket in town!

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Photos by James deFrances. 

 

 


Live Music: The Thelonious Monk 2014 International Jazz Competition Gala

November 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition came to a dramatic conclusion Sunday night in a All-Star Gala event at Dolby Hall in Hollywood. This year, the Competition was for trumpet players. And the three finalists each offered a display of their considerable skills in a setting that allowed each player to perform a pair of selections of their own choice. And it was no surprise that works by Thelonious Monk were popular choices.

Inevitably, there was a winner, a second and a third place finisher, as follows:

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.

1st Place Winner: Marquis Hill from Chicago.

 

2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

2nd Place Winner: Billy Buss from Berkeley

3rd Place Winner Adam O’Farrill from Brooklyn

But the prevalent thought that came to mind while hearing these fine young players in action was the firm belief that each of the prodigal musicians had displayed all the skills required for successful careers in the musical world in general and the jazz world specifically. And, win or place as a finalist, they all will benefit from the visibility associated with having placed so high in such a major competition.

In addition to the Competition finals, the Gala presented a concert clearly intended as a celebration of jazz itself, in its many shapes, sizes, styles, disguises and a lot more. As a result, much of the music was far more closely related to pop, blues, rock, soul and beyond. No problem there, except in the passages attempting to shoe horn those genres into a jazz setting.

In its best, moments, however – especially when singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, and instrumentalists Herbie Hancock, John Beasley, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman and others were on stage – the program’s jazz roots were ever present.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Taj Mahal

The Gala concert was hosted by Kevin Spacey, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Don Cheadle, Goldie Hawn and Billy Dee Williams. It included performances by a multi-generational group of all-stars including Musical Director John Beasley, Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter, Queen Latifah, Jimmy Heath, Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Kenny Burrell, Stefon Harris, T.S. Monk, Joshua Redman, Jon Faddis, Billy Childs, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus, Theo Croker, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Dontae Winslow, Melissa Aldana and others.

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

President Bill Clinton and Herbie Hancock

As if the presence of all the stellar names on that list wasn’t enough, the Monk Institute also honored President Bill Clinton with the Institute’s 2014 Maria Fisher Founder’s Award. Each year, the Founder’s Award is presented to an individual who has made major contributions to the Institute, the perpetuation of jazz, and the expansion of jazz and music education programs. President Clinton received the award from Herbie Hancock, Chairman of the Monk Institute, with a smile and a wave to the crowd. He did not, apparently, ask to sit in on tenor saxophone.

The Gala ended with a crowded backstage party for participants and friends of the Monk Institute, enlivened by conversations already speculating on possibilities for next year’s Monk Competition.

Which was good news for music education. Proceeds from the All-Star Gala Concerts support the Institute’s jazz education programs in public schools across America.

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Photos courtesy of Steve Mundinger/Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz


Pick of the Night in L.A.: Cat Conner at Catalina Bar & Grill

November 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Singer Cat Conner is one of the high visibility members of L.A.’s impressive assemblage of jazz vocal artists. She’s also another gifted Canadian jazz performer who’s brought her considerable jazz skills south of the border.

All of which will be self-evident tonight when Cat offers her warm, luxurious voice, convincing musical story telling and floating swing at Catalina Bar & Grill in the company of some of the Southland’s most masterful jazz instrumentalists: saxophone/woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano, guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Tom Ranier, trumpeter Ron Stout, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera.

 

The program celebrates the release of Cat’s new CD, Cat House. And Cat is quick to promise that it will be a big time launch party. “We are going to be playing,” she says,” with the joy of five year olds.” And singing, too.

Since most of the band of masters playing with her at Catalina’s are also on the new album, she’ll no doubt showcase selections from the CD. So expect some memorable moments. Who knows, maybe the versatile “Cip” Cipriano will also tell some of his stories and offer some amazing sounds on his bass oboe. How often do you get to hear that in a jazz club?

Don’t miss this one. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.


Live Music: Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys at Valley Performing Arts Center

November 10, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Northridge, CA. For several years now, Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys have been touring together to the continuing satisfaction of their solid fan bases. Sometimes Los Lobos headlines, other times Los Lonely Boys headlines. The two bands teamed up Saturday night at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the CSUN campus for a fun evening of shared music with Los Lobos closing the show.

Saturday’s performance was a loud one. While most rock concerts are going to be that way, it’s noteworthy that the Valley Performing Arts Center doesn’t often present louder rock concerts. The VAC is a gorgeous building but the interior of the main auditorium is comprised mostly of wooden walls and baffles designed to direct the sound optimally. It seems that this actually works best for softer performances with lower volumes. The sound rattled around inside noticeably on Saturday night, reducing the high ends to a sizzling hiss. It was way too challenging just to make out the lyrics of the tunes.

While Los Lobos have been together in excess of forty years, Los Lonely Boys have been at it for nearly 20 years themselves (!). And one would think that as he band’s three brothers — Ringo, Jojo, and Henry Garza — were growing up in San Angelo, Texas they had to be inspired by the success they saw Los Lobos have playing any style of music they wanted to – masterfully and to huge acceptance. So touring with them and knowing them is coming full circle. After LLB closed their hour-long opening set, their equipment stayed where it was. It only stays if it’s going to be used later on, after all. The LLB’s were far from done.

Los Lonely Boys

Los Lonely Boys

Throughout the evening nearly all the members of each band came out to play with their touring buddies. The frontlines of both groups are all multi-instrumental so they could and did play drums or percussion as well as their guitars, regional stringed instruments, and accordions.

Aside from their ace musicianship, one of the biggest appeals of Los Lobos is how they have consistently embraced all their musical influences and worked them into the repertoire. Whether it’s traditional Mexican folk music, blues-rock, rockabilly, folk, pop or country, these guys will play it like no one else’s business and on Saturday night we got a bit of everything. In a song like “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” it all came together. There was a simple but driving bass line, and between the lyrics, Berlin’s baritone sax, David Hidalgo’s accordion, and the timbre of his and Cesar Rojas’ voices the atmosphere was something to get lost in.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

Having grown come up in LA in the late 60’s/early 70’s the guys in Los Lobos got to immerse themselves in all the exceptional music of those times on the radio and with vinyl records. Then they added the traditional music that was around them in the neighborhood. It makes for a uniquely rich blend of styles. Whatever the wolves play it never sounds remotely like a stretch. They do the blues-rock style very well, with songs like “Shakin’, Shakin’, Shakes,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Rojas’ guitar, in particular, was in the sweet spot for these tunes. His amp was ready to jump off the chair! But it was the Los Lobos rhythm section of Conrad Lozano on bass and Enrique Gonzalez on drums, wound tight and swinging, which took it to a different level. Can’t say enough good things about the power of the bass and drums being dialed in. As bass players who lay down a great groove for each tune go, Conrad Lozano is exemplary. He was grinning ear to ear for the whole ride on Saturday.

About half way through Los Lonely Boys’ opening set, Hidalgo (guitar), Berlin (baritone sax), and Perez (guitar) sat in with the band. Afterwards, bassist Jojo Garza admitted that every time they get to jam with the wolves it’s a dream come true for himself and his brothers. The good vibe was obvious on all the faces onstage. It was a night built on the simple joy of playing music with your friends for people who are right there with you.

The evening ended with a blistering version of “La Bamba.” We’ve all heard this song many times and probably noticed how much it sounds like “Twist and Shout.” But it is an historic tune. Although it’s a traditional Mexican folk song, it was made enormously popular by Ritchie Valens, of Pacoima, in the ‘50’s when he gave it a rock ‘n roll treatment. Los Lobos made the song a customized rock ‘n roll hit again when the movie about Valens’ tragic life came out in the late 80’s. So, it was only fitting that Henry Garza and Cesar Rojas would raise the bar to pump each other up trading hot solos in the middle of the tune. Both men and the audience, too, were having a blast … which is just what we all showed up for.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Music: YUSUF or CAT STEVENS? at London’s Eventim Apollo

November 10, 2014

By Ella Leya
(iRoM’s European Correspondent)

London, Engand.  Both names illuminated Eventim Apollo, formerly the Hammersmith Apollo, one of the UK’s largest and best-preserved original Art Deco theaters – a venue that played host to many legendary acts of the past – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley. As well as to Steven Demetre Georgiou aka Cat Stevens in December of 1976, just before the free-spirited troubadour grew a long beard, auctioned his guitars, denounced his own songs, and disappeared from the music industry for almost 30 years. All for the sake of his new chosen faith.

He’s back now. Back at Eventim Apollo as an older man who walked cautiously on stage, he turned to his audience and asked: “Who have you come to see? Yusuf or Cat Stevens?”

Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens

“Cat Stevens, of course!” The roar swept through the audience. But unlike the rest of the crowd – Cat Steven’s fans from those crazy ’60s and ’70s – I had no youthful recollections about him. I was there, curious to see both incarnations: the remarkably melodic, gentle and soulful singer-songwriter of “Wild World,” with the lyrics my seventeen year old son can recite by heart; and someone who had supported fatwa, calling for the death of my favorite author and literary hero, Salman Rushdie.

Artists are vulnerable creatures, of course, easily susceptible to sometimes startling changes. That’s what makes them imaginative and expressive. That’s what makes them adopt different images and techniques. Pablo Picasso discarded his creative periods like out of date seasonal fashions. Andy Warhol ran out of prevalent art mediums and kept inventing new ones. George Harrison discovered a sitar, taking the Beatles along on a beautiful West-meets-East artistic journey. And Paul McCartney dismissed twenty years of his pop banality with the symphonic “Standing Stone.”

Steven Demetre Georgiou began his musical quest as a London coffee house bard, then changed his image to a teen pop star and his vowel-thick name to something easier on the ear: Cat Stevens. After contracting tuberculosis and spending over a year recuperating from the illness that had almost taken his life, he emerged with a different sense of perspective, drawn to yoga, meditation, and metaphysics, determined to bring his spiritual revelations to the world of music. A relatively new phenomenon at the time – a folk rock singer-songwriter performing his songs stripped down to bare emotions and minimal instrumentation.

A string of hits followed, with big-hearted lyricism spiced by romantic relationships with Patti D’Arbanville and Carly Simon, his melodies and modulations sublime. With those tunes, intoxicating, mystical, both hippy and intelligent – “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” “Morning Has Broken,” “Moonshadow” – Cat Stevens won the hearts of millions around the globe.

Yusuf

Yusuf

Then came another brush with death when he nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu, California. And he took it as a sign from above to seek the destination for his soul searching. Cat Stevens was no more. Yusuf Islam condemned his music for blasphemy, rejected his armies of loyal fans and disappeared into charity work as a ‘rock star’ of the Muslim community. An immense loss for the world of music and poetry.

In his remarks at the Apollo he referred to his absence from the stage as “taking a short break.” Was he suggesting that his “short break” led to the beginning of a new artistic period?

Hardly. Not with his redundant covers of tunes such as “You Are My Sunshine” and “The Devil Came from Kansas.” Nor with his generic originals “I Was Raised in Babylon” and “Editing Floor Blues”— the latter about the supposedly misreported comments he made following Salman Rashdie’s fatwa.

And if his back catalogue (absent were his most beautiful love songs) generated nostalgic excitement in the crowd, the new material failed to channel the two sides of Yusuf/Cat, instead reflecting the inner confusion of an aging rock star and his convoluted relationship with his art. The audience listened politely and patiently. But when there were occasional cries from fans for old hits, he snapped, “You can wait until the end.”

Standing on the stage at the Apollo against the set of an old western railway station (Oh, so Neil Young), Yusuf/Cat seemed to be extending an olive branch to the U.S. that has had Yusuf Islam on their watch list. And his new release “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone,” filled with blues sensibilities, is clearly a tribute to his teenage musical inspiration: deep south R&B.

But his new material lacks what the audience clearly wanted to hear — the profound lyrics and the memorable melodies of his early career. And timid 66-year-old Yusuf could hardly compete with the memory of the charismatic Cat Stevens – a task that will grow in importance when he encounters the demanding audiences who will greet him during his forthcoming USA tour in December. Telling the crowds to “Wait until the end” to hear his old hits isn’t likely to please his American fans.


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