Live Jazz: Sheila Jordan at Vitello’s

February 28, 2010

By Don Heckman

One of the first things Sheila Jordan said to her packed house listeners after she casually strolled on stage at Vitello’s Saturday night was an off-handed reference to her age – eighty-one, and heading toward eighty-two in November.  And what became quickly apparent – before she’d finished her first number – was that age was utterly irrelevant when it came to her singing.

Yes, she looked great.  For any age. Despite recent heart problems – hopefully now resolved – she was a full service performer, outgoing and swinging on rhythmic numbers, quietly intimate on ballads.  Interacting with pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Peter Erskine, she expressed more life and vigor than most singers a third her age.

But ultimately, her performance was – as her performances always have been since she first arrived on the scene in the early ‘60s – completely about the music.  And in everything she sang – from scatting on bebop lines such as “Groovin’ High” to standards such as “How Deep Is The Ocean?” – Jordan didn’t just deliver the song or tell the story.  She became the song. And she did so in a way that reached beyond jazz toward the similarly gripping, if stylistically different, intensity of an Edith Piaf.

When she sang the Bobby Timmons/Oscar Brown, Jr. kid jazz classic, “Dat Dere,” she was the living expression of every child-like word, ending each phrase with a coy “Can I have dat big elephant over dere?”  In a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, she scatted with the soaring freedom of an instrumentalist, navigating every twist and turn of the harmonies, adding whimsical quotes, doing it all with irresistible swing.

“Humdrum Blues” and her familiar, set-ending improvised biographical blues were displays of her ability to reach into the passages of her checkered past to bring her own illumination to the blues.  “Baltimore Oriole,” a classic track on her 1963 debut recording on Blue Note, was done in slow groove fashion, backed by Warrington’s solid bass and Erskine’s witty drumming.

And her final number, “Autumn In New York” – aimed, I suspect, at seducing the recollections of every former Manhattanite in the room (including this one) – was a complete success in recalling the sounds, the sights and the feelings of the Big Apple at its most nostalgic.

There was more, much more in Jordan’s two sets, including a pair of superb instrumental numbers from the trio.  And all of it was memorable, a remarkable musical experience in the company of a singer who – even at this still-vital stage in her career – has not received the full recognition that her extraordinary talent deserves.

Photo by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: The Jack Sheldon Big Band at Catalina Bar & Grill

February 28, 2010

By Tony Gieske

Saturday night at Catalina’s in Hollywood, Jack Sheldon sat silently on his little stool while the hornfolk in one of his cherry-picked big bands did the same on theirs. Coming up was his classic vocal on Count Basie’s old track about yo’ mama’s absence of drawers, but first the left hand of God had to finish playing on the grand piano at Sheldon’s immediate right.

Jack Sheldon and Mitchel Forman

The right hand belonged to the Holy Ghost, it seemed, but on a closer look both limbs turned out to be attached to a gent named Mitchel Forman. A monster form of avant-garde stride was resounding in the bass clef, supporting or inflaming a treble clef that made you think Robert Downey Jr. had programmed Iron Man to play like Bill Evans.

One chorus, two choruses, three choruses, each more gut-busting and smarter than the last. Wasn’t this guy supposed to be a fusion person, a Mahavishnu culprit? Not tonight. This was a blues worthy of Sun Ra or Jelly Roll.

Jack Sheldon and Ray Brinker

But we’re talking the great Jack Sheldon here, on a night when he was going to show a roomful of his veteran fans that he was back in top form. Nothing was going to faze him. He started to sing about yo’ mama in his down and dirty blues voice, a little bit country, sly and wicked and Sheldon all the way.

After a scorching Sheldon trumpet chorus, one of many to come, the boys in the band took turns cavorting in their accomplished ways. Trumpeter Ron Stout, man of a thousand trumpet sections, started quietly and built one of his Jamesian — Henry, not Harry — choruses. Scott Whitfield took the trombone on a well developed high velocity passage. Baritone man Lee Secard yielded not in the speed sector on his ungainly horn, nor did the jovial bassist Kevin Axt on his.

Sheldon summed the number up to take it out, and this remarkable concert band finished with a single tutti chord that rang with musicianly authority.

The Jack Sheldon Big Band

Sheldon, who sounded a little like a bebop Johnny Cash, never appeared winded in the slightest as he sang his favorites including “Day by Day,” “Here Comes that Rainy Day,” and the dreaded “Where Do You Start?” The latter, a successor to “Wind Beneath My Wings” in my contrived sentimentality derby, became in Sheldon’s hands a wistful thing from the Peggy Lee stylebook, and even I got a little wetness in the old eye — especially after Jack’s angelic trumpet solo.

“Anthropology” boasted a flawless account of the theme by the whole band at once; the instrumental “Cherokee” brought another high speed Whitfield solo, and “Tangerine” went over nicely as a bossa nova. Bright and bouyant soloists lifted all these pieces.

And by the end of the set, Sheldon’s heart was thoroughly warmed up, so that he could sing “I’ll See You In My Dreams” in a wise and friendly manner, bringing the snowy-topped audience to its no longer weary feet.

Photos by Tony Gieske.

Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.


Quotation of the Week: Bill Cosby

February 26, 2010

.

.

“Nothing separates the generations more than music. By the time a child is eight or nine, he has developed a passion for his own music that is even stronger than his passions for procrastination and weird clothes.”

Bill Cosby

.

To read more Quotations of the Week click here.


News: The 32nd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival

February 26, 2010

By Don Heckman

The line-up for this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival was announced yesterday at the Playboy Mansion, with Hugh Hefner, Bill Cosby, producer Darlene Chan and a full crowd of media in attendance.  Two significant aspects of the 32nd annual event – which takes place June 12 and 13 at the Hollywood Bowl — immediately became apparent.  Both represent good news for Southland jazz fans.

The first is the fact that more than half of the artists on the bill are making their Playboy Jazz Festival debuts.

Kurt Elling

Nine acts – Grammy winning singer Kurt Elling, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson (performing with Les McCann), the innovative a cappella group Naturally 7, jazz ukulele magician Jake Shimabukuro, Trombone Shorty, African superstar Salif Keita, Irving Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the Cuban timba band Tiempo Libre and the Jazz Mafia – have never before performed at Playboy.  Two acts –  the Sax for Stax contemporary jazz ensemble (with saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum with keyboardist Jeff Lorber), as well as the veteran duo of vibist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Cedar Walton – are making their first appearances together at the Festival.

The second significant aspect is the presence of a generous sampling of young, up and coming talent.

Trumpeter Christian Scott, who performs with the versatile bassist/bass clarinetist/producer Marcus Miller, is one of the most highly regarded young trumpeters in the post-Wynton Marsalis generation.

The a capella vocal group Naturally 7 has started with the Take 6 model, and expanded it into a startling array of vocally-produced instrumental-like sounds.  The amazing timbres they create have to be seen and heard to be believed.

Jake Shimabukuro’s playing transforms the seemingly limited four-string ukulele into a brilliantly expressive instrument.  In his hands, it roves freely across jazz, bluegrass, funk, classical and rock.  His performance will be the first by a solo ukulele player at the Festival.

Trombone Shorty – Troy Andrews – is a trombone and trumpet playing son of New Orleans who uses his charismatic stage presence as an essential ingredient in a style that finds expressiveness in every area of the jazz, blues, rock and hip hop spectrum.

Esperanza Spalding

Bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, a hit at last year’s Festival, returns with her constantly engaging mix of propulsive bass playing and soaring vocals.

The genre-defying, Bay area musical collective, The Jazz Mafia, will perform their hip-hop work, Brass, Bows and Beats.

And, as usual, there will be performances from the youngest of up and coming talents, a pair of jazz bands from L.A. educational institutions – the L.A. District High School Jazz Band and the El Dorado High School Band.

Chick Corea

That said, the Festival also offers an impressive menu of jazz headliners.  On Saturday’s bill, the stellar Chick Corea Freedom Band includes Roy Haynes, Christian McBride and Kenny GarrettKurt Elling will no doubt include some selections from his Grammy-winning CD tribute to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.  The great Cuban band Los Van Van, led by bassist Juan Formell, will surely have the crowd dancing with their rhythmically irresistible Songo music.  And the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra will offer a tribute to the late, great jazz drummer Louie Bellson.

George Benson

On Sunday, George Benson makes his sixth Playboy Jazz Festival appearance, mixing his remarkable guitar playing with one of the most uniquely memorable male jazz vocal styles.  The Manhattan Transfer – as good as jazz vocal ensemble singing has ever gotten – will do a program peppered with their numerous memorable hit performances.  The wizardry of pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, combined with the gospel-driven energy of his Family Band should generate some of the Festival’s legendary dance lines.

And no Playboy Jazz Festival would be complete without the latest installment of Master of Ceremonies Bill Cosby’s “Cos of Good Music,” this year featuring Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Mark Gross, Jay Hoggard, D.D. Jackson and Ingrid Jenson.

All in all, an impressive line-up, especially spiced by the presence of the younger players, enhanced by the dynamic enthusiasm of the first-timers, and illuminated by the star power that is always present in this entertaining, non-stop, two day jazz party.

Tickets for the Playboy Jazz Festival are available through Ticketmaster.  Online at Ticketmaster.   By phone at (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878.


Q & A: Frankie Pine, Music Supervisor

February 24, 2010

By Don Heckman

Music doesn’t just magically appear on television shows and in films.  Composers have to write underscores, songwriters have to write songs, and someone has to bring them together with the producers and directors who make the TV shows and the movies.  Frankie Pine and her Whirly Girl Music company have been doing precisely that for the past ten years.  Her most recent film was “Tooth Fairy,” and her television assignments reach from “Brothers & Sisters” to “Army Wives,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and beyond.  She recently agreed to answer some questions about the way music makes its progression from a composer’s imagination to the motion picture and television screens.


DH: Frankie, I know you’re from Ohio, so I’m assuming you didn’t exactly get to a Hollywood sound stage overnight.  How did it all happen?

FP: Well, I grew up with family of musicians.  I played piano, was a singer, thought I’d be the next big dance star of the ‘80s.  My dad was a deejay and I knew even at a young age that I wanted to do something in music and promote music in some kind of way.  I actually got started when I was living in Orlando, working for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show.  I started helping the music coordinator for the show, picking the bands for music day for the Mickey Mouse Club.

DH: So that gave you a bit of experience in picking and choosing music.  But you were still in Orlando.

FP:  Right. And I told myself I was going to save my money, move to New York and get a job with a record company.  Which I did, working for Polygram, licensing out Polygram material for television clients.  Then I was offered the chance to move to Los Angeles, by a client of mine, Dawn Soler.  She had just gotten the Head of Music position at Polygram film.  So I actually just transferred from Polygram Records to Polygram Film.  That’s really where it all started.

DH:  Okay, let’s be clear about what “it” is.  How do you identify what “it” is that you do?

FP: I’m called a Music Supervisor.  It’s supervision of music on a film or television project, or any other media that is in need of music.  On a film, I’m involved in all aspects of music.  Working with the director on what style of music, what kind of underscore, the hiring of a composer — kind of bringing together the entire musical team.

DH: And that team would be…?

FP: Myself as the music supervisor, the composer of the film and the music editor.

DH: At what point does it all begin to come together?

FP: It depends on when I come on to a film.  If there’s any kind of on-camera needs – shooting music with a live band or somebody singing or dancing – then I’m usually brought on before they start shooting the film.  If there’s nothing on camera then I can be brought on either in the middle of shooting or towards the end of shooting, when post production is beginning to start. Sometimes I’ve read scripts and said ‘This is the direction I think we need to go.” Other times I don’t suggest a direction until I’ve actually seen the picture.  So it really can go either way.

DH:  How do you work with the director and composer in terms of what music is required, and how it will be composed?

FP: I never actually tell them how it should be composed.  My work begins before that, when I sit down with the director to discuss what the music should be.  Then I’m the one who sets out to find the right composer.

DH: That’s a pretty important step.  How do you go about it?

FP:  A lot of ways.  But basically, I obtain demo reels from different agencies and different composers, I compile what I think are the best possibilities and then submit those to the director so the director can make a decision.  Then I interview the composers to see which ones the director will feel most comfortable with.

DH: Do you find that there’s a wide range between directors and producers in terms of the amount of advice that that they need musically, or that they’re receptive to musically?

FP: Yes, they’re all different.  Some are very musical.  And some aren’t very musical at all.  As the Music Supervisor, you have to be kind of chameleon-like in figuring out what their needs are and what you can provide for them.

DH: So you have to understand their style, their way of working, their creative attitudes?

FP: Yes.  But there’s more. When I meet with a director, I don’t focus on what they’ve done in the past, what their previous films have been like.  For me it’s more about where are they from, how old are they?  Those things tell me more about what the personality of the director is, and where their head is going to be musically.

DH: Interesting.  You almost have to be a psychotherapist –

FP: [laughing] I always say I’m so thankful I have a sociology degree.  It’s the only part of my degree I actually use.

DH: Before a composer actually becomes part of the mix, directors often tend to use temporary music cues in editing pictures to get the feeling their looking for.  And now, with all the software that’s available, they can go beyond that, actually assemble stuff very quickly on their own, without necessarily having any traditional composition skills. And sometimes it winds up in the picture itself.  How does that affect what you do?   Or does it?

FP: It depends on the scope of the picture or the project you’re working on.  A bigger, epic picture isn’t something you’re going to temp score with Garage Band.  If you’re using a temp score for that kind of picture its generally taken from other epic pictures to get the same feeling.  If it’s a smaller project, like music for a trailer, then people do it on their own all the time.  But that’s really only on smaller, independent pictures and projects.

DH: And in the case of larger pictures, the music score itself has a value of its own, right?

FP: Yes.  Every studio wants to own the score to a film.  They’re hiring a composer, who basically gets paid on a work for hire basis, and the studio winds up owning the entire recording.  Some composers can make better deals, depending if it’s a big project or a small indy production.  Maybe it’ll be 50% of publishing, depending on the budget.

DH: Let’s talk about the use of songs in films and television.  It seems to me that it’s become much more prevalent in recent years.  How do you go about finding the right song for a specific film or television show?

FP: We probably get ten or fifteen packages of music a day in my office.  Much of it unsolicited. We try to listen to it and if it’s appropriate to a specific project, we’ll keep it with that project in mind.  If it’s not appropriate for anything specific, but we like it, we keep it, as well. If we don’t like it, it just goes away.

DH: How does a composer or a songwriter know what to send you?

FP: I tell everybody the same thing: do your research before you send your music to a music supervisor.  Right now, I’m not using a lot of rock music, so sending me rock music is kind of a waste of time.  My current projects just don’t call for it.  Right now I’m in singer/songwriter land.  Very poignant, melodic, nothing too fast, nothing real rockin’.  Those are the projects I’m working on right now.

DH: Would you say it’s a trend?

FP: Well for television, and knowing the television shows that are out there right now, yes.  Pop rock is very useful in promo spots, or in big pictures, like Iron Man and things like that.  But we do shows like Army Wives, Brothers and Sisters.  Then you have Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy.  And all these shows are using the same kind of music – very poignant, hitting the heartstrings kind of music.

DH: Will you sometimes go to a specific composer in advance for a song?

FP:  Sure. One example. I needed something that had the feeling of “Night and Day,” but that was fun musically and a little kitschy sounding.  The picture had actually been cut to a specific existing recording of “Night and Day.”  So I needed a piece of music that would fit into that segment, have a certain number of beats per minute, and it had to hit the dance moves and the things that were happening picture-wise.  So I called Ella Leya, a very dependable songwriter, and she wrote the song – “I’m In Love.”   I wound up using it in the film, My Sassy Girl, as well as an episode of Samantha Who? And I’ll use it again the next time I need that kind of vibe.

DH: Let’s assume a songwriter has the most poignant song since James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”  Or a composer has skills that reach from large orchestral cues to electronica.  How do they approach you?

FP: It’s easy to look on the Internet Movie Data Base or some other kind of website to find out what Whirly Girl and Frankie Pine are doing.  If we’re working on a television show, there’s usually already a composer who’s been on it for as long as we’ve been on it.  So changes in television scoring don’t happen very often, although there can often be an opening for a song.  For film, if there’s a film coming up that I’m working on, find out where we are in that process.  It’s easy to make a phone call, find out what kind of music, what kind of style we’re looking for. Call our office, or call the production office. Talk to an assistant there who will tell you who the music supervisor is.

DH: That doesn’t necessarily open the doors, though, does it?

FP:  No,  I’d have to add that, for most composers, the best way to go to get your music heard is go through an agent.  It’s very hard for a composer to get a deal without being repped by one of the composer agents in town.

DH: And of course have good demo material.

FP: Yes.  Being a jack of all trades is definitely a good thing in the composer world.  But also be sure to put your best foot forward.  If you feel you’re on top of your game in electronica and my next movie is some horror movie and that’s the kind of vibe we’re going for, then give me electronica.  Don’t give me your light hearted romantic stuff, too.

DH: Frankie, you’ve had Whirly Girl Music for ten years.  Has the business changed much over that period of time?

FP:  Sure. There was a time when you were either a film music supervisor or a TV music supervisor.  And being TV wasn’t as cool as being film.  But now I feel it’s kind of switched.  Television is such a big arena of reaching such a mass audience that most people that are trying to sell me music want to get heard on television.  Newer music can get heard a lot sooner on TV because the medium works so fast.

DH: Fortunately, you work in both areas.

FP:  I do.  I’d have to say I’m just about where I want to be right now.

DH: Thanks, Frankie, for taking to time to fill us in on this fascinating area of the music business.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 23 – 28

February 23, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Feb. 23. (Tues.)  John Proulx. At a time when male jazz singers are in the minority, Proulx, a fine jazz pianist, is carving a vocal identity of his own.  He performs with trumpeter Warren Luening, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 23. (Tues.)  Guitar nightJohn Pisano with Howard Alden. This week Guitar Night features a swinging, straight ahead encounter between a pair of masters of the art.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Alan Pasqua

- Feb. 24. (Wed.)  Alan Pasqua, Peter Erskine, Darek Oles. The hugely versatile, ever inventive pianist Pasqua takes a break from his academic responsibilities as head of the jazz program at U.S.C. for a rare club date.  It doesn’t happen often, so don’t miss this get together with drummer Erskine and bassist Oles.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 25. (Thurs.)  Teka and the New Bossa Trio. Santa Barbera-based, Brazil-born Teka brings her guitar and her contemporary versions of classic bossa nova to the Crown Plaza Brasserie Jazz Lounge.  (310) 642-7500. 

- Feb. 26. (Fri.)  Al Di Meola. Guitarist Meola’s multi-faceted career reaches from classic Return to Forever outings to his own unique take on flamenco and the blues,  House of Blues.   (323) 769-4600

Annie Selleck

- Feb. 26. (Fri.)  Annie Selleck. Vocalist Selleck is a little bit country, a little bit rock and a whole lot jazz. Jazz at the Radisson.  (310) 649-1776.  Also Feb. 27 (Sat.) at Steamers.  (714) 871-8800 and Feb. 28. (Sun.)  Spazio.  (818) 728-8400.

- Feb. 26. (Fri.) Tamir Hendelman Trio.  Pianist Hendelman brings a new perception to his view of the piano trio while in the company of the articulate drumming of Lewis Nash and the extraordinary versatility of Italian bassist Marco Panascia. (They’ll also be recording a CD for Resonance Records this weekend.) Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

- Feb. 26 & 27. (Fri. & Sat.)  Jack Sheldon Orchestra. Sheldon always guarantees an evening of fine jazz trumpet, engaging vocals and irrepressible humor.  But he’s even better when he does all that backed by the energy and drive of his big band.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 27. (Sat.)  David Binney Quartet. Alto saxophonist Binney is one of the cutting edge players on his instrument, performing with the likes of Gil Evans and Jim Hall, founding the groups Lost Tribe and Lan Xang.  CSUN Performing Arts Center.   (818) 677-1200

- Feb. 27. (Sat.)  Don Menza. Tenor saxophonist, arranger and educator Menza’s resume reaches from Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson to Elvin Jones and Leonard Cohen, with all stops in between.  Here’s a chance to hear his imaginative playing in the pleasant environs of Charlie O’s, backed by the John Heard Trio.  Charlie O’s.   (919) 994-3058.

Sheila Jordan

- Feb. 27. (Sat.)  Sheila Jordan. There’s no jazz singer quite like Sheila Jordan.  Charlie Parker, she says, was her inspiration. And he was. But the musicality she brings to every note she sings, her mesmerizing ability to find the inner story of a song, her irresistible rhythmic lift, are all her own, all the product of one of jazz vocal history’s most inimitable talents.  She doesn’t come out to L.A. often, so don’t miss this opportunity. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 28. (Sun.)  Vardan Ovsepian Duo.  Armenian-born pianist Ovsepian – like Brad Mehldau and Uri Caine — has been seeking, and finding, linkages between jazz and classical music. Vibrato.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 28. (Sun.)  Mark Isham and Houston Street. Trumpeter Isham’s been so busy with film scoring (credits on over 50 films) that his intriguing instrumental work has been heard far too rarely.  He performs here with his band Houston Street, featuring Jeff Babko, keyboards, Tom Brechtlein, percussion and Doug Lunn, bass.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Angelique Kidjo

- Feb. 28. (Sun.)  Angelique Kidjo. Benin’s pride brings everything she has to every performance.  She finds common ground between traditional music and international pop without losing the best qualities of either.  And she does so with a dynamism that lights up the stage the moment she appears.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 28. (Sun.)  Earthworm Ensemble. Folk, rock, New Orleans and funk, performed for kids and parents by L.A. folk and roots musicians in songs about earthworms, trains, birds and a superhero team of Bear and Dog. The group celebrates the release of their new CD, appropriately titled Earthworm Ensemble McCabes.   (310) 828-4497.

Portland

Highlight………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Frode Haltli and Trygve Seim

- Feb. 24 – 28. (Wed. – Sun.) 2010 Portland Jazz Festival The major jazz festival season kicks off with the weather-defying Portland Jazz Festival.  The internationalist theme of this year’s event will be underscored in a Friday panel discussion titled Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To A New Address)? as well as by the presence of world class Norwegian jazz artists — pianist Christian Wallumrad, saxophonist Trygve Seim and accordionist Frode Haltli.  Other headliners include Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstasy, the Dave Holland Quintet, Luciana Souza, the Mingus Big Band, Pharoah Sanders. the jazz rock piano trio In the Country, and several dozen jazz groups from the Northwest and beyond.  Events take place at the Crystal Ballroom, the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the Newmark Theatre, the Hilton Hotel and Norse Hall.  Free programs are also offered at various locations around Portland.   The 2010 Portland Jazz Festival.  (503) 228-5299.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

San Francisco

Vusi Mahlasela

- Feb. 23. (Tues.)  Vusi Mahlasela. The voice of the South African revolution in the ‘80s, Mahlasela has since become known as “The Voice,” for the uniquely appealing timbres of his voice, combined with his ability to blend seemingly unlikely traditional and contemporary sounds. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- Feb. 23 & 24. (Tues. & Wed.)  Jimmy Scott & The Jazz Expressions.  Scott’s high, soaring head tones and his glacial ballad tempos have made him one of jazz’s most idiosyncratic, but immensely appealing vocalists.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

- Feb. 25 – 27. (Thurs. – Sat.)  David Sanborn with special guest Joey DeFrancesco.  Blues to the utmost when these two masters of the form get together, with Sanborn’s vocal-like high harmonics bouncing off DeFrancesco’s rumbling, propulsive B-3 organ rhythms.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

New York

Joe Lovano

- Feb. 23 – 28. (Tues. – Sun.)  Joe Lovano.  Lovano celebrates Village Vanguard’s 75th Anniversary Week with a performance by his Us Five ensemble, a band that takes post-bop beyond the avant-garde and well into the 21st century.  Bassist/singer Esperanza Spaulding is a featured guest.  Village Vanguard (212)  255-4037.

- Feb. 23 – 28. (Tues. – Sun.)  Bill Frisell, Ron Carter and Paul Motian. A trio of veteran jazz artists, each of whom has moved through every imaginable area of musical expression.  The question will be where they find common ground.  And the answer will no doubt provide some compelling music. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Feb. 23 – 28. (Tues. – Sun.)  Christian McBride Big Band. The ever versatile bassist/composer moves into the large ensemble territory he began to explore with his remarkable concert work, “The Movement Revisited.” And these big band charts will no doubt offer further affirmation of his ability to expand his talent into every imaginable jazz genre.    http://jalc.org (212)  258-9800.

- Feb. 24 – 27. (Wed. – Sat.)  Lou Donaldson Organ Quartet. Still going strong, still finding the funk in the organ quartet format, Donaldson’s bebop-driven alto playing should be required listening for every young player who takes on the instrument. Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Lionel Loueke

- Feb. 25 – 28. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Lionel Loueke, Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth.  The combination of Benin’s guitarist/singer Loueke, bassist Biolcati (born in Sweden, raised in Sweden and Italy), and Hungarian drummer Nemeth, provide solid musical evidence of the emergence of the 21st century as the era of international jazz.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Seattle

- Feb. 25 – 28. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The SFJAZZ Collective.  With the establishment of the SFJAZZ Collective, San Francisco now has a resident jazz ensemble as important to, and representative of the Bay area as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is to New York City.  The current ensemble includes Mark Turner (tenor saxophonist), Miguel Zenon (alto saxophone/flute), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Stefon Harris (vibes/marimba), Edward Simon (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Eric Harland (drums).  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.


Live Jazz: The Jerry Vivino Quartet Upstairs at Vitello’s

February 22, 2010

By Tony Gieske

You’d expect the guys from the Conan O’Brien show band to put on a pretty good set and play quite well to boot, and so they did Sunday night in a Red Carpet Jazz Series program at Vitello’s, the swanky little joint in Studio City.

Clockwise from upper left: Scott Healy, Mike Merritt, Jerry Vivino, James Wormsworth. Photos by Tony Gieske

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Vivino, who sometimes leads the O’Brien show’s Max Weinberg 7, helmed a quartet of undercover jazz stars, frequent rock sidemen and pit-band veterans from New York, hanging around town, no doubt, while O’Brien regroups after his unscheduled departure from NBC.

Drummer James Wormworth, who subs for Weinberg on the show when Max tours with Bruce Springsteen, backed the sensation-prone Vivino along with roaring bass player Mike Merritt, the son of Art Blakey star Jymie Merritt, and Scott Healy, another Weinberg stalwart who is a brilliant master of block chord pianism and a bunch of other glittering stuff on the grand piano.

They devoted themselves to vintage 1950s classics like “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “Pent-up House,” punctuated by New Orleans flavored shouters such as “Caldonia” and “Sunny Side of the Street,” both laced with rafter-ringing vocals by Vivino.

On a hard-pumping original, Vivino lifted up his soprano saxophone and played it simultaneously with his tenor, Rahsaan Roland Kirk style. He brought this feat off without a hitch, achieving a sound like a Bach organ chord and swinging, too. (That took homework.)

The swinging part was enabled here, and all night, by the blues-driven Wormworth, who once played with the Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin; the brightly intelligent Healy, who scored an award-winning short film called All Bookies Wear Speedos; and the supersound producing Merritt, who finished off the rafters.

Healy, and in their turn Wormworth and Merritt, produced compelling solo work without doing a lot of shouting, and when he felt like it, as he did during ballads on tenor and a moving passage on flute, so did Vivino.

Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site Tony’s Page.


CD Review Jazz: Omar Sosa & the NDR Big Band

February 22, 2010

Omar Sosa & the NDR Big Band

Ceremony (Ota)

By Fernando Gonzalez

Cuban pianist, percussionist, composer and arranger Omar Sosa has a distinct musical vision: a pan-African sound that connects African and neo-African cultures in Europe and the New World. Over nearly the past two decades, Sosa has pursued it with remarkable clarity and consistency, freely drawing along the way from the culture, and the work of musicians, from places as disparate as North Africa, Cuba, and Ecuador, Paris and Oakland. A prolific artist, his work has already yielded 22 discs (and counting) to his name, including recordings of solo piano, duets, small groups and large ensembles.

The recently released Ceremony, is yet another different setting for Sosa and his music. Here he is featured with his regular group and the NDR Big Band (NDR stands for Norddeutscher Rundfunk or North German Radio ).  The material, all but two pieces a reworking of music from Sosa´s Spirit of the Roots (1998), Bembón (2000), and Afreecanos (2008), was translated for big band and directed by Brazilian cellist, arranger and conductor Jaques Morelenbaum.  The results sound rich but lacking.

A practitioner of  the Yoruba-rooted religion known in North America as Santería, Sosa has at times set up his programs like musical services, roughly following the structure of a religious ritual.  Echoing the set up of Spirits of the Roots in Ceremony, Sosa opens and closes the set with salutes to Elegba, the deity that in the Yoruba pantheon is the messenger, the trickster, the guardian of the crossroads. The rest of the tracks include both references to other Santería deities (and the rhythms associated with them) as well as nods to secular Cuban music styles such as the cha cha cha, the danzón, and the son.

For all its intensity and complexities, Sosa´s music, especially his ensemble music, usually has an open feeling, and a lightness that seems to set it airborne at the gentlest push. The music in Ceremony does take flight at times, but the image is of a big cargo plane going up laboriously. Morelenbaum, who has collaborated with major artists including Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti and Riuychi Sakamoto, assigns the vocals in Sosa´s original versions to instrumental sections. It´s a logical solution, but as a result the music not only takes on a different, darker hue but also gains heft. Also, Sosa´s ensemble works are rowdy, untidy affairs, but brimming with vitality and humor. The NDR provides more precision than fire. They do what they do very well. But there is more to this music than what’s on the page.

“Danzón de tus Ojos,” titled “Antes de ir va Esto” in Spirit of the Roots, is a case in point. It´s an elegant, sober and light danzón in its original version. Here, in a shorter version,  it starts with a Vegas-sized orchestral exclamation point and a mournful cello melody, leading to a grander, heavier, and darker version. And in its big band translation “Luz en el Cielo” loses the spaciousness and gossamer quality of  “Light in the Sky, ” the Afreecanos version.  Rather than suggesting a certain open-air mystery, “Luz ..” feels urban and nocturnal and a tad too muscular. (Although it also does feature a beautifully paced solo by Sosa).

Similarly on  “Changó en Esmeraldas”  (“Fabriciano con Changó”), “Yemaya en Agua Larga,” (“Agua Larga Pa’ Yemaya”) and “Carambabá”  (“It’s My Head”)  — all pieces from Spirit of the Roots that make explicit connections between Afro-Ecuadorian religion in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, and Afro-Cuban Santeria — the brass adaptations of the original vocals results in  heavier, denser textures.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the best fit between music and band is on “Monkuru,”  an updating of “Remember Monk” from Spirit of the Roots. This version deviates from the original, but here the more familiar (jazz) language elicits very strong ensemble and solo playing and the results are satisfying on their own right.

Still, to prefer earlier, non-big band versions of this pieces does not mean dismissing Ceremony. Sosa’s music is rich, his soloing is elegant, soulful and smartly structured terrific throughout, and this is an all around well-arranged and well-played recording.

But if this is your first encounter with Sosa’s music be aware that there is a lot more in this music than these charts and these performances reveal. In his album notes, Sosa pays tribute to Mario Bauzá, Machito, Chico O’ Farrill, Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Chano Pozo, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. There is a grand tradition of big bands in Afro-Cuban jazz. If Sosa decides this is another piece of his pan-African puzzle, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if – perhaps in a future album — he finds his own vocabulary and shakes up the big band sound.

The instruments change but the vision remains — and he has found his own sound before.

To see a video illustrating the production of “Ceremony,” click here.


Quotation of the Week: George Harrison

February 20, 2010

.

.

“I think people who can truly live a life in music are telling the world, ‘You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don’t need them. Just take the music, the goodness, because it’s the very best, and it’s the part I give’.”

George Harrison

.

To see more Quotations of the Week click here.



Live Music: Max Raabe & Palast Orchester at Royce Hall

February 19, 2010

By Don Heckman

It would be easy to view Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester as high camp, a 21st century lounge music version of the sounds of the ‘20s and ‘30s.  Their image alone, as they strode on stage at Royce Hall Thursday night in a UCLA Live concert, was enough to call up visions of Art Deco scenes from an Ernst Lubitsch film: The elegant bandstand, the twelve-piece tuxedo-garbed ensemble, and – especially – Raabe himself, a slender figure, hair carefully slicked back, wearing perfectly tailored black tie and tails, his manner that of a coolly self-possessed matinee idol.

When the music began – with “Music, Maestro, Please” – the era was further established, in the jaunty, two-beat rhythm, the punchy sound of the three piece brass section and the slippery, synchronized vibrato of the four saxophones.  Further enhancing the image, the beautifully gowned Cecilia Crisafulli added wispy violin obligatos, and bassist Bernd Hugo Dieterich occasionally doubled on tuba.

Max Raabe & Palast Orchester

But what quickly became clear, in this wonderfully entertaining performance, was the fact that – despite all of Raabe’s artful mannerisms – the Orchester’s greatest accomplishment was their ability to bring the music of a vital cultural era to life, and to do so with extraordinary musicality.  Raabe has described what the ensemble does as “elegant, tasteful nonsense.”  And it was all that.  But it was much more, as well.

The songs performed by Raabe and the Orchester – some in German, many in English – dated from the ‘20s and ‘30s, a period in which much of the soundtrack of life in the 20th century was created.  It was played by ensembles like the Palast Orchester during Germany’s Weimar Republic (and even into the Nazi era), as well as throughout the Jazz Age in America and elsewhere.

The readings of tunes such as the Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht “Alabama Song,” “Just A Gigolo” (in an interpretation covering both the English and the original Austrian versions), Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek,” the bolero “What A Difference A Day Made” and Franz Lehar’s classic “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (“Yours Is My Heart Alone”) were vivid, alive and emotionally convincing.

From a whimsical perspective, the takes on Cole Porter’s sardonic “Miss Otis Regrets” contrasted with a hilarious “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” (in which Raabe was joined by three singing instrumentalists) and the Walter Jurmann classic “Mein Gorilla Hat ‘Ne Villa Im Zoo” (“My gorilla has a villa in the zoo”) added some of the wacky humor present in the ‘20s and ‘30s popular music (and too rarely heard today).

All of this took place via casual but impressive craftsmanship from the musicians.  Trombonist Jorn Ranke also doubled on viola and vocals.  Trumpeters Thomas Huder and Michael Enders also played trombone and sang.  Several of the saxophonists also doubled on violin, trumpet and vocals.  And drummer Vincent Riewe, in the hilarious first half-closing “Rosa, Reizende Rosa,” played a set of orchestra bells that crashed to pieces at the climactic ending.

By any measure, it was an evening to remember – for the memories of a captivating era, for the convincing enthusiasm of the musicians.  And, above all, for the reminder that great music, of whatever style, is always timeless.

Photo by Olaf Heine


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers