Picks of the Week: September 1 – 6

August 31, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Sept. 1. (Tues.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Trumpeter Alpert and vocalist Hall discuss their remarkable careers (individually and as a couple) and offer a few of the new slants on standards that make up the program in their impressive new live CD, “Anything Goes.” Grammy Museum.

Tessa souter new- Sept. 1 & 2. (Tues. & Wed.) Tessa Souter. She’s not out on the West Coast very often, so fans of world class jazz vocalizing shouldn’t miss this opportunity to hear Souter’s unique ability to find new musical pleasures in familiar songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 2. (Wed.) Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White. Chaka Khan, Jean Luc Ponty, Bill Connors. John Scofield and the Piety Street Band. Corea leads a trio that represents 3/4 of Return To Forever, but with a very different musical perspective. Khan, Ponty, Connors and Scofield add more diversity to one of the summer jazz series most intriguing events. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 3. (Thurs.) An Evening with Patti Smith. The Twilight Dance Series at the Santa Monica Pier closes the 2009 season with an appearance by the pioneer poet of punk. Twilight Dance Series.  (310) 458-8901.


Highlight

- Sept. 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.) The 15th Annual West Coast Jazz Party. It’s always one of the don’t-miss musical events of the year, and this year is no exception. From the various indoor and outdoor venues at the Irvine Marriott to the delightful Sunday jazz cruise on the Hornblower Yacht Entertainer, it’s a great TWerry Gibbsway to spend a holiday weekend. Featured performers include Ken Peplowski, the Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, Terry Gibbs, Ernie Andrews, Houston Person, Gary Foster, Peter Erskine, Larry Koonse, Tom Rainier, Byron Stripling, Paul Smith, Marilyn Maye, the Frank Capp Juggernaut Orchestra, and such special events as a Guitar Summitt (w. Mundell Lowe, Mimi Fox and Ron Eschete) and a Tribute to Rosemary Clooney with Debby Boone, Irvine Marriott Hotel and the Hornblower Yacht Entertainer. West Coast Jazz party. (949) 759-5003.

- Sept. 4 – 7. (Fri. – Mon.) The Sweet & Hot Music Festival. And here’s another Banu Gibsondon’t-miss holiday weekend jazz party. The title is right on target — tons of New Orleans, Swing, Mainstream and Straight Ahead jazz presented via virtually non-stop music in eight different venues. The performers include Yves Evans, Jack Sheldon, Gonzalo Bergara, Jennifer Leitham, Herb Jeffries, Banu Gibson, Night Blooming Jazzmen and Janet Klein (with many others), as well as as “Tribute to the King Sisters” (w. Marilyn King), “Prez Conference”, and “Tribute to Johnny Mandel,” plus nightly Midnight Jazz sets.   Too bad the West Coast Jazz Party and the Sweet & Hot Music Festival can’t scedule their equally fascinating productions on consecutive weekends.  The L.A.X. Marriott Hotel. Sweet & Hot Music Festival.   (909) 983-0106.Gina Saputo


- Sept. 4. (Fri.) Gina Saputo. In a crowded field of young female jazz singers, Saputo’s soaring vocals and rhythmic lift suggest that she’s ready to step up from the pack. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- Sept. 4. (Fri.) Denise Donatelli. A warm, seductive sound, the instincts of a true story teller, and the kind of swinging phrasing that stamps her as a true jazz artist — Donatelli’s the real deal. And no better place to hear her than in the laid back vibe of the Southland’s ultimate jazz bar and restaurant. Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058

- Sept. 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun.) Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory. One of the most unusual bookings of this or any other season. But a jazz club’s the right place for them — Sahl and Gregory work with the sort of improvisatory spontaneity and rhythmic propulsion that are essential to the finest jazz. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.


Highlight

- Sept. 6 – 7. (Sun. & Mon.) Angel City Jazz Festival. The second installment of this Billy Childsadventurous Festival now takes place in the airy outdoor setting of the Ford Amphitheatre. And the line-up is an impressive collection of some of the contemporary jazz world’s most cutting edge artists and ensembles. The line up includes Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy, Bennie Maupin and Dolphyana, Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble, Alex Cline’s Band of the Moment, Larry Goldings Trio, Wayne Horvitz’s Gravitas Quartet. Larry Karush, Dwight Trible, Satoko Fuji and more. Ford Amphitheatre. Angel City Jazz Festival. (323) 461-3673.


San Diego

- Sept. 3. (Thurs.) Alponse Mouzon. Drummer Mouzon leads his Jazz Project (with Eric Marienthal, Byron Miller, Dean Brown and John Beasley) in a benefit concert for Doctors Without Borders. Anthology Club & Restaurant. (618) 595-0300.


San Francisco

- Sept. 3 & 4.. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Blind Boys of Alabama. The multiple Grammy winn ers continue to be one a gospel act that never fails to bring soulful enlightenment to everything they sing. Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.


Chicago

- Sept. 3. (Thurs.) Chicago Jazz Ensemble. Jon Faddis leads this always-compelling repertory ensemble in a tribute celebrating the Benny Goodman Centennial. Guest artist is Buddy DeFranco. the clarinetist who took the instrument from Goodman’s swing into the realm of bebop. Pritzker Pavilion, Millenium Park, Chicago.


Detroit

- Sept. 4 – 7. (Fri. – Mon.) Detroit International Jazz Festival. Detroit’s often minimized reputation as a long-time center for world class jazz is affirmed in the superlative line-up for this year’s festival. One of the featured elements is the inclusion of jazz families: Hank Jones, remembering Thad and Elvin; the Clayton brothers; Dave Brubeck and Brubeck brothers;sheila-jordan John and Bucky Pizzarelli; Larry and Julian Coryell; the Heath brothers; Pete and Juan Escovedo; Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express; and T.S. Monk with “Monk on Monk.” But there’s much more — Wayne Shorter, Sheila Jordan, Chick Corea, Stefon Harris, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gretchen Parlato, Bennie Maupin, Alfredo Rodriguez, Charles McPherson, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Geri Allen, Janis Siegel and others. The Detroit Jazz Festival.


New York

- Sept. 1 – 5. (Sat.) John Surman Quartet. With Jack DeJohnette, drums, Drew Gess, bass, John Abercrombie, guitar. Surman’s duo performances with DeJohnette have been extraordinary experiences. The addition of Gess and Abercrombie should make the encounters even more fascinating. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080

- Sept. 1 – 6. (Tues. – Sun.) Kenny Werner Quintet. Here’s an all-star ensemble if there ever was one: Randy Brecker, David Sanchez, Scott Colley and Antonio Sanchez, no doubt proving Werner’s principles about the value of spontaneity. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592

- Sept. 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun.) Dr. Lonnie Smith. It’s always a blues and jazz organ bonanza when Dr. Lonnie plays. But it’ll be even better this time, with the backing he’ll get from guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Bill Stewart. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232

- Sept. 5. (Sat.) Roberta Piket. “Improvised Chamber Music” is what pianist Piket calls her music, careful to avoid any genre limitations. She performs with veteran avant-gardist Perry Robinson on clarinet, Lisle Ellis, bass and Peter Nilson, drums. Ibeam. Brooklyn.



Quotation of the Week: Frank Sinatra

August 29, 2009

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“You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but an audience is like a broad – if you’re indifferent, Endsville.”

Frank Sinatra

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To see more Quotations of the Week click here.


Jazz CDs: Jessy J and Paul Taylor

August 29, 2009

By Devon Wendell

Jessy J

True Love (Peak Records)

Jessy J is a refreshing and sexy force in the world of smooth jazz. Her sophomore CD, True Love, produced by Paul Brown, is low key, sweet and atmospheric, combining her Latin roots with her stylish vocals and lush, sultry tenor saxophone playing.

“Tropical Rain,” which features J’s tenor and flute backed by Tito Jessy J CDPuente-like Latin percussion, is delivered with a strong sense of space and a warm tone recalling the minor key romanticism of Gato Barbieri’s Last Tango In Paris soundtrack. Gregg Karakus’ atmospheric keyboard work is particularly fine and immediately establishes the mood.

Continuing the Latin theme “Manha de Carnaval” (Morning of the Carnaval), from the film Black Orpheus, is an overtly modern take on the Luiz Bonfa classic soundtrack, with a playful yet strong vocal by J. Somewhere In My Dreams” has a melancholy Brazilian mood, and the title track, “True Love,” adds a different Latin element via Brown’s soft, flamenco guitar, opening the way for J’s melancholy solos and modern groove hooks.

“Llegaste Tu,” however, is the weakest track on the record. J lays off her reeds and instead dishes out overly produced vocals backed by acoustic guitar work from Tom Strahle that is buried too far in the mix. “Brazilian Dance,” too, seems unnecessary. Sergio Aranda’s cloying, reverb-laden vocals get in the way of J’s soprano leads in places, and the piece cries for more percussion.

“Forever,” a gentle, r&b influenced ballad with stellar Spanish acoustic guitar work by Tommy Kay, is more appealing. J plays with confidence and dynamics, bringing her vocalist-like phrasing down to a soft, appealing hush. On “Mr. Prince,” an ode to the artist who formerly referred to himself, she adds some confident funk turns, her tenor phrasing reminiscent of Maceo Parker’s masterfully swinging, yet soft, alto punches. “Jessy’s Blues,” with its syncopated keyboard and sax lines and loose Latin groove, displays J’s most fiery solo work, swinging hard with her own bluesy sensibilities and rich tone. And “Baila” with its large, textural rhythm arrangements and steady percussion, is J’s strongest vocal performance because of its simplicity and purity. As the title suggests, it is also the album’s most fun and danceable track.

In their finest moments, Jessy J’s playing and singing are as seductive and alluring as her physical appearance. On True Love she has produced a spirited and adventurous genre-crossing album, filled with tunes accessible to a wide range of music tastes.

Paul Taylor

Burnin’ (Peak Records)

Breathing life and putting an energetic spin into what has been designated as “Smooth Jazz” is no easy task, but saxophonist Paul Taylor’s new CD Burnin’ is a devoted look back in time, combining retro, soul, and funk-flavored modern jazz hooks. His eighth solo recording, it showcases Taylor’s abilities on tenor saxophone — surprising because he is most commonly known for his alto and soprano work.

The unique presence of veteran r & b producer Barry Eastmond Paul Taylor CD(Anita Baker, Al Jarreau, Gerald Albright, and Peabo Bryson, to name a few) — his fourth collaboration with Taylor — can be felt throughout the album’s many retro references.

The opening track “Back In The Day,” for example, has a soulful, mid-70’s Stevie Wonder feel, with subtle vocal coloring by Billy Cliff and more modern hip-hip influenced drum grooves by Michael White. “Revival” and “Groove Shack” instantly bring to mind Sly and The Family Stone’s post-Stand funk, with tight, in-the-pocket rhythm and some complimentary sax harmonies from Gary Meek.

Sustaining the old school retro theme,Remember The Love” is a slow, sensual, Prince-like ballad featuring Darrell Crooks’ delightfully distorted/psychedelic guitar. His call and response to Taylor’s upper register tenor playing makes this one of the album’s highlights. The title track, “Burnin’,” brings to mind the 80’s sleek R&B jazz soul of Quincy Jones, and Herbie Hancock’s more commercial recordings of the same era. Eastmond’s stellar clavinet and Rhodes playing drive the Isaac Hayes “Hot Buttered,” soulful feeling of “It’s Like That.” And the album closes with “So Fine,” recalling Eastmond’s lavish, upbeat production work with Al Jarreau.

Taylor’s playing seems intent on sticking to very distinct, lead singer-style choruses and verses in a no-frills fashion, avoiding fast scales and flashy technique. A good enough idea when it works (check out “Juke Joint”). When it doesn’t — as in “Side Pocket,” and War’s “Me and Baby Brother” — the tracks feel watered down, as though they’re asking for a little more energy.

At its best, Burnin’, though occasionally lacking excitement and originality, is an entertaining, nostalgic journey through the heart of relaxed, jazzy R&B. Like his contemporaries Gordon Goodwin and Boney James, Paul Taylor doesn’t try to adventure beyond his musical limits and plays what he knows and loves with fun, soul, and enthusiasm.


Live Jazz: The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, the Roy Hargrove Big Band and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at the Hollywood Bowl.

August 28, 2009

By Don Heckman

Big bands are the symphony orchestras of American music. For nearly a century now, they have been heard — in almost every part of the world — playing jazz, swing, pop, classical, boleros, Indian musical film music, tangos and more. In their jazz band manifestation, they have produced some of the art form’s richest, most colorful music.

dizzy gilespieAll of which made Wednesday night’s Hollywood Bowl concert, featuring the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, the Roy Hargrove Big Band and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, one of the eagerly anticipated events of the summer. And, in quantity at least, the program delivered fully, with nearly 2 1/2 hours almost completely dedicated to the hearty sounds of big band jazz. But both the quality of the sounds and rhythms emanating from the big circular stage and the nature of the production left something to be desired.

The Big Phat Band’s opening set offered a predictably well-crafted collection of tunes. Goodwin was an amiable front man, offering information to the audience wherever it was needed, and efficiently playing both piano and tenor saxophone. The crisp ensemble playing, BigPhatBandthe fine soloing — especially from trombonist Andy Martin and alto saxophonists Eric Marienthal and Sal Lozano — and the propulsive drive of the rhythm section (energized by drummer Bernie Dressel) was the stuff of solid big band music. At its best it recalled the combination of musical entertainment and enthusiastic jazz playing characteristic of the bands of the Swing Era (especially apparent in the arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”). But it wasn’t until they hit their final number, “Swingin’ For the Fences,” that they demonstrated — especially during a passage in which the horns, without rhythm section backing, drove their way through a powerful, driving ensemble segment — the contemporary potency of the band’s music.

Roy Hargrove’s Big Band took a very different tack. Hargrove’s primary jazz identity focuses upon his sterling qualities as a jazz trumpeter and flugelhornist, rather than his skills as the leader of a big band. To his credit, he roy_hargrovehas done the difficult grunt work to bring solid musical credibility to his large ensemble. But, perhaps because he is primarily a soloist, much of what his large collective played consisted of relatively economical horn section passages leading into long, repetitive rhythm vamps behind long, repetitive soloing from various members of the band. One of the set’s principal highlights, in fact, was Gambarini’s tender reading of “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” However, given the tremendous tonal potential of big band instrumentation — with the interactivity of its trumpet section, trombone section, saxophone (doubling woodwinds) section and its rhythm section — much of what was delivered by the Hargrove group had the feeling of musical opportunities lost. Nor was the presentation helped by Hargrove’s seeming reluctance to communicate with the audience other than via an occasional reference to a soloist or a song title.

That aspect of the concert was exacerbated during the climactic set by the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band which included several players from the Hargrove group as well as the added star power of saxophonists James Moody, Jimmy Heath and Antonio Hart, trumpeter Claudio Roditi,Gambarini and Moody trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and vocalist Gambarini. Gillespie’s big bands of the ’40s and ’50s were adventurous and influential, with charts by arrangers such as Gil Fuller and George Russell having a powerful impact in bringing the small group essentials of bebop to the broad stage of the big jazz band. Those qualities were present in a few of the All-Star Big Band’s selections — “Groovin’ High,” “‘Round Midnight” (with Gambarini’s vocal), and a wildly imaginative scat singing encounter between Moody and Gambarini. But, with Hargrove again serving as the band leader, no information was presented from the stage to illuminate the iconic significance of Gillespie and his band — a disconnect that no doubt contributed to the large number of audience members leaving before the final number. Yes, I know, the music speaks for itself. But in this case, the seeming disregard for the audience, combined with on-stage chaos after the final number — leaving no possibility for an encore — didn’t exactly help the music do much speaking.

Equally problematic, the program omitted some of the Gillespie band’s most significant musical achievements: the stunning Afro-Cuban music of pieces such as “Manteca” and “Cubana Be/Cubana Bop,” the envelope-stretching of a work such as “Things To Come,” all unplayed in this program.  As I said earlier, musical opportunities lost in an evening filled with potential. That’s not to say that there wasn’t first rate soloing throughout the evening. Or that there weren’t individual selections and individual passages, in each set, that underscored the glories of big band music. But it could have been better. And all it would have required was a more relevant selection of material, a better contextual use of solos, and a willingness and desire to reach out and set the stage for a full audience appreciation of the music.


Jazz CDs: Canaries of August — Tessa Souter, Gretchen Parlato, Willie Nelson, Greta Matassa, Judy Carmichael

August 26, 2009

By Don Heckman

Tessa Souter

Obsession (Motema)

There are some jazz singers who tell stories, some who become virtual instruments, some who transform songs into expressions of their own pain. Tessa Souter does all that — and more, from time to time — in her quest to inhabit a song, to give it a life of her own fashioning. And “Obsession” is a gripping display of her ability to do it all with a startlingly far-reaching collection of material.

Her spirited versions, for example, of a pair of Milton Tesssa Souter CDNascimento songs — “”Make This City Ours Tonight” and “Vera Cruz (Empty Faces)” — are showcase items for the warm, caressing sound of her voice, her innate sense of swing and her articulate way with a lyric. Reaching in a very different direction, she tells the story of Lennon & McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” with a revelatory quality I’ve never heard before. Then, with Cream’s “White Room” — superbly aided by guitarist Jason Ennis’ epic arrangement — she finds substance in a lightweight tune, her voice soaring freely across a turbulent landscape of shifting rhythmic meters.

Souter’s musical imagining produces an arrangement perfectly pairing Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue” and Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and adds her own tender lyrics to Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower.” She also includes a pair of her own originals — the torch song regrets of “Now and Then” and the incantatory “Usha’s Wedding” — and a dramatic, rubato reading of Alex North’s “Love Theme From Spartacus.”

It’s a remarkable program, as entertaining as it is illuminating, the work of an artist with the talent and the imagination to match her compelling musical visions.

Tessa Souter performs in Los Angeles at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tues. and Wed., Sept. 1 & 2.

Gretchen Parlato

In A Dream (ObliqSound)

There’s an enigmatic quality to Gretchen Parlato’s singing, a mysterious brew of sound and breath, of simmering inner rhythms and phrasing that curls seductively around the words. It seems to me that it’s a quality that was slowly beginning to surface in her earliest work, even while she was still a student at USC’s Thelonious Monk Institute. But it’s never been more apparent than it is in this mesmerizing, appropriately titled new recording.

The first track, Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,”Gretchen Parlato CD immediately announces that the album is going be an extraordinary musical experience. Sung with the sole accompaniment of Lionel Loueke’s body-moving guitar lines, Parlato’s hand claps and clicking sounds, the tune roves from the song itself across individual and collective improvising. And that musical intimacy between Parlato and Loueke continues to be a foundation of many of the songs: their rhythmically layered vocal interaction in Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”; the blending of their voices in the body percussion-and-vocal version of Dorival Caymmi’s “Doralice”; their floating harmonies in Duke Ellington’s “Azure”; the back and forth vocal dueting, spiced with accents from Loueke’s guitar and Aaron Parks’ keyboards in Francis Jacob’s delightful “On the Other Side.”

There’s more, much more: a pair of tunes with Parlato lyrics (the title track, “In A Dream” and “Turning Into Blue”; wordless vocal explorations with her quartet (Loueke, Parks, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott) on Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.”; and an album-wrapping, darkly intense version of SWV’s #1 r&b hit, “Weak.”

Parlato has been blessed with extraordinary talents — an unerring sense of pitch, utterly relaxed rhythmic clarity, an open ear for harmony. Other singers have similar abilities. But what makes Parlato so unique is the imaginative way in which she uses those skills to rove deeply within the instrumental sounds, while still retaining her presence as the vocal center of the music.

So here’s an announcement to the members of the Recording Academy and the Grammy nominating committees: “In A Dream” belongs in the four or five Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album (and maybe more than that). Omit it and your credibility — already subject to question — goes out the window.

Gretchen Parlato performs in Los Angeles at Catalina Bar & Grill on Mon. Sept. 21.

Willie Nelson

American Classic (Blue Note)

Willie Nelson’s previous foray into the Great American Songbook -- Stardust – was released in 1978 But this new collection is very different from the vaguely country qualities of Stardust. It is, for the most part, a completely characteristic, lushly atmospheric Tommy LiPuma production of the sort that he’s Willie Nelson CDdone for the last decade or so with Diana Krall. But it’s at its best when LiPuma occasionally spices it with country. rhythms and timbres. (Krall guests on one of the tracks — “If I Had You” and contributes some piano stylings, as well. Norah Jones duets with Nelson on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”)

Nelson’s familiar, raspy sound and spoken-style phrasing are the essence of a country poet vocal technique that has made him one of popular music’s most engaging personas. And, in this outing, he is most effective with songs that allow him to work his narratives and tell his stories, rather than with material that demands soaring vocal musicality. His versions of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “I Miss You So,” “You Were Always On My Mind” (a song he owns) and, curiously, a reading of “On the Street Where You Live” that shimmers with an undercurrent of western Swing, are delightful displays of the singing poet in action.

Willie Nelson will be touring the U.S. in Sept. and Oct.

Greta Matassa

I Wanna Be Loved (Resonance Records)

Greta Matassa’s career has been plagued by reviews identifying her residence in Seattle as the reason why her impressive jazz vocal skills have had such minimal visibility. I’ve been guilty of it, myself, in coverage of both live and recorded Matassa performances. But, redundant as it may seem, it is nonetheless a shame that, after eight albums she’s still hasn’t had the attention she Gretta matassadeserves. Will this album make the difference? Based solely on Matassa’s singing and her fine choice of repertoire, it should.

The problem is that the album has been conceptualized with Matassa’s singing as the central element in a busy surrounding of far too many instrumental solos, busy ensemble textures and thick strings. Well done though they may be, the net effect is to draw attention away from some extraordinary vocal performances. On the title track, for example, Matassa sings superbly in a gently swinging segment in which she’s backed only by bass; but the tune then comes apart with the arrival of a fiery tenor saxophone solo that, for all its rapid articulation, is unrelated from the meaning of the tune. On the Henry Mancini classic, “Two For the Road,” a dense forest of strings distracts from Matassa’s tender reading of Leslie Bricusse’s evocative lyrics.

All that said, the richly varied timbres of Matassa’s voice, her far-roving interpretations and her gifts for story telling through song are fully present in every track. Viewed from the perspective of those qualities alone, this is an album that should be heard — far beyond Seattle.

Greta Matassa performs frequently at Tula’s Jazz Restaurant in Seattle.

Judy Carmichael

Come and Get It (C & D Productions)

Judy Carmichael’s performances have always been among the jazz world’s most entertaining events. With every tune driven by the rhythmic engine of her stride style, enhanced by the always-adept, straight ahead players in her bands, it’s almost impossible to resist the foot-tapping seduction of one classic tune after another. As if all that wasn’t enough, she now has added Judy Carmichaelvocals to her musical arsenal in this new recording. And it’s a good move. Phrasing like the improvising musician she is, Carmichael also has a sound — especially in the slower tunes — reminiscent of the throaty tones of Peggy Lee.

The result is a collection of irresistible tunes backed by the Judy Carmichael seven — an ensemble she describes as her “long held dream of having a big band.” Are some of the styles dated? Sure. But anyone who thinks in those terms doesn’t appreciate the full value of jazz — from ragtime to avant-garde — as a living art. Carmichael knows better, and her singing, her playing, her wit and her humor on pieces such as “All the Cats,” “Memories of You,” “Gee, Baby,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” “Minor Drag,” the title track and more, reach beyond labels and into the timeless heart of the music.

Judy Carmichael performs in New York City at Feinstein’s at the Regency on Mon. Aug. 31.


Picks of the Week: August 25 – 30

August 25, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Aug. 25. (Tues.) Placido Domingo and yo_yo_ma1Yo-Yo Ma and the L.A. Philharmonic. What a combination. Domingo conducts Tchaikovsky’s dramatic Symphony No. 5 and Ma plays Dvorak’s controversial, but compelling, Cello Concerto. Hollywood Bowl (323) 850- 2000.

- Aug. 25. (Tues.) Dana Bronson. Singer/pianst Bronson usually performs in cabaret and hotel venues. Here’s a chance for him to open up his repertoire in the Southland’s premiere jazz setting. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210

- Aug. 25. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night continues to be one of the Southland’s most dependable jazz destinations. This week Pisano hosts guitarist John Chiodini, bassist John Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco, Spazio.

- Aug.. 25. (Tues.) The Sam Most Trio with organist Joe Bagg and drummer Mark Ferber. The veteran Most was one of the first jazz flutists, but he’s also an impressive exponent of the cool tenor saxophone style. Bar Melody. (310) 670-1994.

Gambarini and Moody- Aug. 26. (Wed.) Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. Here it is — one of the Bowl’s major jazz highlights of the summer. In addition to the sizzling Gillespie band, the evening also includes the irrepressible James Moody, the irresistible Roberta Gambarini, the Roy Hargrove Big Band and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000

- Aug. 27. (Thurs) An Evening with Terence Blanchard. The trumpeter/composer discusses his new CD, “Choices,” his film composing and his educational work with Robert Santelli, the Grammy Museum’s Executive Director, before playing selections from “Choices” with his full band. The Grammy Museum. (213) 765-6800.

- Aug. 27. (Thurs.) Theo Saunders Sextet. Pianist Saunders has assembled a sterling ensemble to perform selections emphasizing his belief that a musician should “Play what you hear, not what you think you hear.” The group includes Zane Musa, alto and soprano saxophones, Chuck Manning, tenor and soprano saxophones, David Dahlsten, trombone, Jeff Littleton, bass and Tony Austin, drums. Vibrato. (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 27. (Thurs.) Dewey Ernie-Ron Eschete 4-Tet. Ernie, a songwriter’s singer, has been placing all of his considerable story-telling skills at the service of American songs for decades. He’s in particularly supportive circumstances whenever he works with his long time associate, the versatile guitarist, Eschete. Steamers. (714) 871-8800

- Aug. 27 – 29. (Thurs. – Sat.) Pharoah Sanders Quartet. Sanders keeps the adventurousness of the 60s alive in a tenor saxophone style that nonetheless always expresses itself in utterly contemporary fashion. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- August 28 – 29. (Fri. & Sat.) Liza Minnelli. The diva of divas makes her return to the Bowl after a recent induction into the venue’s Hall of Fame and the conclusion, in January, of her hit Broadway show. Expect the kind of entertainment fireworks that only Minnelli can trigger. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000

-SaraG_promo_2 Aug. 28 & 29. (Fri. & Sat.) Sara Gazarek. The ever-adventurous Gazarek displays her boundary-less vocal skills in a pair of performances with the German group triosence and guitarist Vitally Zolotov. On Friday at Cafe Metropole. (213) 613-1537. On Sat. at Irvine Barclay Theatre. (949) 854-4646-

- Aug. 28 & 29. (Fri. & Sat.) The Jazz All-Stars: Patrice Rushen, piano, John B. Williams, bass, Ralph Penland, drums. The label might seem a little presumptuous, but not when it’s applied to players like Rushen, WIlliams and Penland. On Saturday night’s special guest, Billy Valentine joins the Stars on vocals. Spazio. (818) 728-8400

- Aug. 29. (Sat.) Ernie Andrews and Dori Caymmi. The Grammy Museum Jazz Bakery show. It’s accurately described as “Blues to Bossa” and no one can illuminate those categories better than Andrews and Caymmi. The performance is also another reminder that the Jazz Bakery is still alive and well, looking forward to opening in a brand new venue. The Grammy Museum. (213) 765-6800.

San Diego

- Aug. 28 & 29. (Fri. & Sat.) Strunz andStrunzFarah Farah. They’ve been around since world music was more a generalization than a category, and the two-guitar duo continue to combine their Costa Rican (Strunz) and Iranian (Farah) roots into a mesmerizing two-guitar musical blend. Anthology. (619) 595-0300.

San Francisco

August 28 – 30. Outside Lands Music & Art Festival. There’s a ton of musical action for every taste in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park this weekend. Among the highlights: on Friday — Pearl Jam, Thievery Corporation, Tom Jones, Zap Mama; on Saturday — the Dave Matthews Band, Black Eyed Peas, The Mars Volta, Jason Mraz, Os Mutantes, Trombone Shorty; on Sunday — Tenacious D, M.I.M., Ween, Modest Mouse, Lucinda Williams, Robert Randolph. And many, many more. San Francisco Golden Gate Park Outside Lands Music & Art Festival.

New York

- Aug. 25. (Tues.) Sachal Vasandani, Billboard praised the young singer’s first CD as “a superb debut of distinctive originals and intelligent makeovers that teem with a fresh vitality.” His second Mack Avenue CD is due out in September. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2252

hankjones- Aug. 25 – 29. (Tues. – Sat.) Hank Jones Trio + Special Guests. The ninety-something Jones, still playing like a veteran youngster, demonstrates that he can trade riffs with anyone. He’ll be performing with Armand Hirsch (guitar 8/25-29), Terrell Stafford (trumpet, 8/25) Eric Alexander (tenor saxophone, 8/26) Joe Wilder (trumpet (8/27), Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone (8/28), Frank Wess (tenor saxophone/flute (8/29), George Mraz, bass. Willie Jones III or Quincy Davis, drums. Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

- Aug. 25 – 30. (Tues. – Sun.) Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell. It doesn’t get much more stellar than this combination, and it will be fascinating to hear how these three creative individualists find improvisational common ground. (Their booking — for two weeks — also includes Sept. 1 – Sept. 6.) The Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.

- Aug. 26. (Wed.) Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh: “The Music of Maria Schneider.” When Dollison and Marsh told Schneider they were planning to do vocal versions of her big band music, she thought they were crazy. But they persuaded her otherwise, and here’s an opportunity to hear their remarkable vocal transformations live. Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2252

- Aug. 28 (Fri.) Kendra Shank. With a kendra-shanktalent that can find the beating heart of any song — whether it comes from the pop or jazz worlds or elsewhere — Shank is a singer who reveals something special in every performance. 55 Bar. (212) 929-9883.

Washington, D.C.

- Aug. 27 – 29. (Thurs. – Sat.) John Surman Quartet. With Jack DeJohnette, drums, Drew Gess, bass, John Abercrombie, guitar. Surman’s duo performances with DeJohnette have been extraordinary experiences. The addition of Gess and Abercrombie should make the encounters even more fascinating. Blues Alley. (202) 337-4141.


Live Music: The Heroes of Woodstock at the Greek Theatre

August 24, 2009

By Don Heckman

“The Heroes of Woodstock.” It wasn’t a title that seemed consistent with what that unforgettable, summer of 1969 event at Yasgur’s farm in New York’s Sullivan County had really been all about. Not, that is, without the presence of Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix (among others). And, as it turned out, a lot more was missing from Sunday night’s performance at the Greek Theatre, as well.

The funny thing was that, on my drive to the big, Heroes of Woodstockoutdoor amphitheatre, I suddenly encountered a major traffic jam and a shut down area along Fountain Avenue, one of the venue’s main feeder streets. So, along with many others, I had to take a circuitous, traffic-heavy route to reach the theatre. It wasn’t quite like having to park my car along a road and walk to the venue the way I did at the original Woodstock, but it nonetheless called up a few memories.

And memories, of course, were what drove this heavily publicized program: a 40th anniversary, touring assemblage of bands aimed at provoking the interest, either of those who were at Woodstock, would like to have been at Woodstock or who lie about having been at Woodstock. Given that focus, it would have been foolish to expect anything more than a four-decades-later, greatest hits revisitation. And thats pretty much what “The Heroes of Woodstock” was all about.

The problem was how to make even that fairly limited goal happen — at least with a reasonable modicum of musical believability. Each of the four bands on the bill — Big Brother and the Holding Company, Canned Heat, Ten Years After and the Jefferson Starship — had at least one of the original members in the line up; some had more. But significant headliners were missing: Joplin from Big Brother; Alvin Lee from Ten Years After; Bob Hite from Canned Heat; Grace Slick, Marty Balin and everybody else, other than Paul Kantner, from the Jefferson Airplane. (The billing underscored some of these absences by noting that Big Brother’s set featured “the music of Janis Joplin,” and that the Jefferson Starship would perform “the music of the Jefferson Airplane.”)

Completely going against the grain, the opening set by Big Brother was the most unexpectedly convincing of the night. Janis Joplin is utterly irreplaceable, but singer Sophie Ramos grabbed the Joplin style, kept the most familiar elements, and added her own remarkable skills to the mix. The result — even with such Joplin-possessed songs as “Ball and Chain,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” (and, yes, the latter was a post-Woodstock Joplin hit) — was a set of tunes that exploded to life. Ramos has been around for a while without gaining much visibility. She clearly has the passion, the presence and the musicality to step out on her own. (And how ironic — yet oddly appropriate — it would be if it was her Janis Joplin simulation that launched her career.)

Canned Heat’s personnel has varied widely over the years, but this version included such early members as Fito de la Parra, Larry Taylor, Harvey Mandel and Barry Levenson. The music, as a result, sizzled with the band’s trademark affection for the blues, which coursed through such familiar items as “Let’s Work Together,” “On the Road Again” and “Going Up To The Country.” Harvey “The Snake” Mandel’s “psychedelic” sounds (ie. a morass of feedback, fuzz and distortion) were no more intriguing than they were in the band’s early years. But — more than any other group on the bill — Canned Heat offered a believable representation of past glories.

Like Big Brother, Ten Years After, in its original form, was framed around the work of a single front person — guitarist Alvin Lee in their case. The Lee era ended in 1974, with the band occasionally reuniting in the ’80s and ’90s. For the past six years, guitarist/singer Joe Gooch has taken the group’s center stage role. Slim, adept, even charismatic at times, Gooch delivered items such as “I’d Like To Change the World” with believable efficiency. But, even at its best, the band’s performance suffered from the sort of slick, pre-packaged quality that wasn’t always absent in the Lee Ten Years After, either.

The program’s biggest disappointment was saved for the final group — the Jefferson Starship. I’ve always felt that the Jefferson Airplane, despite its popularity, was never fully acknowledged for what an extraordinary band it really was. At its best, it was a solid core rock group that was also capable of exploring unusual textures and timbres, improvising with the inventiveness of first rate jazz artists, and producing provocative but memorable songs. The Jefferson Starship offered a few classic items — “The Other Side of This Life,” “White Rabbit,” “Somebody To Love,” “Wooden Ships” — with Cathy Richardson singing the Grace Slick leads. But the only aspects that recalled the originals were the melodies and the rhythms. with the Airplane’s layered subtleties lost in Richardson’s lusty, over the top readings. And the attempt to transform one of the Starship’s tunes into a jam environment to accommodate a guest appearance by former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten was no doubt a commercial decision by the event’s producers. As was the decision to inexplicably wrap the Starship’s set with a Joe Cocker-styled version of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

On the upside of this odd tribute to one of the most extraordinary events in the history of American music (and American culture, for that matter), Country Joe McDonald’s between bands contributions provided the evening’s most credible connection to Woodstock 69. He sang “Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die.” of course, but he also added “The Ring of Fire” and “Save the Whales.’ And, in the concert’s only direct connection with the subtext that was fundamental to Woodstock, he read the names of the servicemen from Sullivan county (the location of the original Woodstock Festival) who have died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a much-needed moment that acknowledged the true “Heroes of Woodstock.”


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