Picks of the Week: Mar. 29 – April 3

March 28, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Bill Cantos

- Mar. 30 (Wed.)  Bill Cantos Quartet. Pianist/singer/songwriter Cantos is a first call rhythm section player.  But he’s also a gifted performer in his own right, a songwriter whose works have the feel and the quality of the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.  

- April 1. (Fri.)  Dale Fielder. Veteran saxophonist Fielder moves comfortably, and authentically, across all four of the basic saxophones, from baritone to soprano in a style that is as entertaining as it is instrumentally impressive.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400. 

- April 2. (Sat.)  The Pink Floyd Experience. A high intensity, live audio-visual recreation of the legendary ‘70s band.  The performance features a complete recreation of the 1977 album, Animals, in its entirety.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- Mar. 31. (Thurs.)  Joe LaBarbera Quintet.  LaBarbera, everybody’s A-list drummer steps into the leader’s role with four of the Southland’s most gifted players: pianist Bill Cunliffe, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Clay Jenkins and bassist Tom WarringtonVitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

Lynda Carter

- Mar. 31 – April 2. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lynda Carter. Many may still think of Carter as TV’s Wonder Woman. But in the decades that have passed since the show went off the air, she’s thoroughly established herself as a convincing musical artist.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210

- April 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ades and StravinskyThomas Ades conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Les Noce, and his own multi-media composition, In Seven Days.  Also in the performance: pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque, Nicholas Hodges and Gregory DeTurck, the Pikrovsky Ensemble and video artist Tal RosnerWalt Disney Concert Hall.   (213) 972-7211.

- April 2. (Sat.)  Bill Frisell Trio. An extremely versatile guitarist, Frisell leads a trio – with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson in a performance matching their live music to visual projections reaching from Buster Keaton to contemporary filmmaker Bill Morrison.  A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

- April 3. (Sun.)  Takacs Quartet with Nobuyuki Tsujii.  The Takacs Quartet bring understanding and authenticity to Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1 and Haydn’s String Quartet No. 59.  They will be joined in the second half by pianist Tsujii in a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet. A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

Branford Marsalis

- April 3. (Sun.) Branford Marsalis Quartet and the Terence Blanchard Quintet.    A pair of the most highly visible players on the contemporary jazz scene share the same state.  Hopefully, they’ll find a spot to do something together, as well. Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

San Francisco

- April 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Stanley Clarke.  The bassists’ favorite bassist takes some time off from his role in Chick Corea’s Return to Forever IV to display his virtuosic musical wares. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- April 2. (Sat.)  John Santos.  Percussionist, band leader and five time Grammy nominee Santos, a master of Latin traditional music, continually finds compelling relationships between jazz and Latin rhythms.   An SFJAZZ concert at Herbst Theatre. (415) 398-5655.

New York

Michel Legrand

- Mar. 29 – April 3. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Michel Legrand Trio. French pianist and composer Legrand has written the scores for dozens of classic films, collaborated with Alan and Marilyn Bergman on some equally classic songs and won three Oscars and five Grammys.  He’s also an appealing jazz pianist who rarely performs in clubs, so don’t miss this one. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Mar. 29 – April 3. (Tues. – Sun.)  Two Skirts and a ShirtRene Marie, Carla Cook and Allan Harris. Three of  the jazz world’s unique and entertaining vocal stylists team up for an evening of wit, sass and song.   Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9800.

- April 1. (Fri.) Malaby/Motian/Sanchez/Monder.  Saxophonist Tony Malaby, drummer Paul Motian, pianist Angelica Sanchez and guitarist Ben Monder join up in a dynamic, cross-generational jazz encounter.  The Cornelia St. Café (212) 989-9319.


News:”A Celebration of Love and Life in Honor of James Moody” — Tonight at the Blue Note

March 28, 2011

By Fernando Gonzalez

Saxophonist James Moody, who died on December 9, 2010 of pancreatic cancer, was not only an extraordinary musician, but also a man of uncommon grace and generosity.  Tonight, his life will be honored at the Blue Note in New York City in “A Celebration of Love and Life In Honor of James Moody.”

In 2005, Moody and his wife Linda, created the “James Moody Scholarship Endowment” at Purchase College, N.Y., and in 2010, even as he was battling his illness, they started “The James Moody Scholarship Fund for Newark Youth” for Moody’s hometown of Newark, New Jersey.

“We created the scholarship to give kids a chance to have the musical education that I never had,” he once explained. “Education is the key to everything.”

A true all-star cast including Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, Claudio Roditi, Roy Hargrove, Lew Tabackin, Jimmy Heath, Roberta Gambarini, Frank Wess, David Sanborn and many others, with Master of Ceremonies, Bill Cosby, will appear at the Blue Note in tonight’s “A Celebration of Love and Life In Honor of James Moody” to benefit “The James Moody Scholarship for  Newark Youth.”

Even in his 80s, already an NEA Jazz Master, Moody was still striving to get better.

“My goal in life, “ he used to say. “Is to be able to play better tomorrow than I play today. My mother instilled in me to be better tomorrow than we were today.  Don’t sit back and say ‘I’m OK,’ because if you do that, you’re dead. There is always something to learn, always. Look for it.”  And he wanted to make sure some talented kids would have the opportunities he didn’t have.

“A Celebration of Love and Life In Honor of James Moody” takes place tonight at the Blue Note, in New York City.  For tickets call (212) 475-8592 or visit bluenotejazz.com

Photo by Tony Gieske.


Live Jazz: The Jim Hall Quartet in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast Concert

March 27, 2011

By Michael Katz

There is a moment at the Musicians Institute Saturday night when all is stillness. Guitarist Jim Hall has just announced the next tune, “All The Things You Are.” The near capacity house is riveted as Hall plucks the first few chords, his left hand working up and down the frets like a painter dabbing oils on a canvas, the slightest touch altering mood and perception. The only sound other than the near acoustic resonance of Hall’s strumming is the whir of the fans above. The chords start from a near whisper,  building into the recognizable Jerome Kern theme, then Hall is joined by his superb quartet, first bassist Steve Laspina countering Hall’s melody and then drummer Joey Baron artfully painting a rhythm on brushes. Finally Greg Osby steps in on alto sax, bobbing and weaving around the main theme, grabbing the audience’s attention and then retreating as Hall’s eloquent patter morphs back into the lead voice.

Jim Hall

It is not often that an artist gains such rapt attention from a jazz audience. It helps that the Musician’s Institute stage is acoustically perfect for such an event. Throughout the evening, each note or percussive stroke seems in perfect intonation. Add to that the reverence built in from fellow musicians and students in the audience and the modesty with which Hall reflects that sentiment with his onstage comments. It is all underlined by the cohesiveness of this quartet, by the confidence with which they elegantly build musical stories.

The quartet’s canvas covers everything from blues to standards to free form improvisation. “Furnished Flats,” the opener, is a self-described blues, but an introspective one, like much of Hall’s work. The members have their moments as duos, with Baron responding to Laspina’s bass line with quick brushwork, and later Hall and Osby finding each other’s groove with some unison playing. After “All The Things You Are,” they take up a Brazilian tone for “Bejas Flor,” which Hall describes as “about a hummingbird,” with Osby playing the lead role.

Hall’s take on standards can be tangential, as in “My Funny Valentine,” where we distinguish the opening chords, then listen as he builds free form solos around the melody. It’s almost like watching a Polaroid picture develop in front of your eyes. Baron makes extensive use of hand tapping on the snares– the brushes actually seem like a step up in volume. He is a visual presence as well, artfully touching the cymbals to cut the corners of percussive tones. It is not much of a change in direction when Hall announces a “Free Piece” next, pure improvisation, with each member of the quartet sailing off, yet finding each other at every turn.

You can make a case for any individual number in this rich set as a highlight. There’s  “In A Sentimental Mood,” with Hall and Osby accentuating Ellington’s melody with their own sense of longing, followed by a brisk sixteen bar blues. Osby, who has spent much of the evening floating in and out of themes established by Hall, takes center stage in Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” He handles the lead beautifully, with Hall’s chord work underneath lending perfect accompaniment.

They close with Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas,” and if you have scrolled down from my review the previous night of Michael Wolff’s quartet,  (he closed his second set with the same tune) you can sense the fun of two uniquely composed groups making this standard their own. Hall’s playing is energetic, the Caribbean sound punctuated by Laspina’s bass line. Baron works with mallets to produce yet another distinctive sound, Osby darts in and out on his alto, giving his own take on the Rollins melody.

Jim Hall is 80 now and if he doesn’t move around on stage as quickly as before, his fingers seem eternally lithe, his musical innovation unyielding. It is no wonder the Musician’s Institute audience rewards him with a lengthy standing ovation,  reluctant to release their embrace until the lights go up.

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.


Live Jazz: The Michael Wolff Quartet at Vitello’s

March 26, 2011

By Michael Katz

It’s always an occasion to celebrate when pianist Michael Wolff returns to LA.  On Friday night at Vitello’s he led an all-star quartet, featuring his longtime running mate John B. Williams on bass, Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax and, in a rare treat for this SoCal audience, Mike Clark on drums. The quartet grabbed everyone’s attention from the start with a probing, spirited take on Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio.” Wolff set the chordal tone with Sheppard announcing the theme on tenor, then Michael danced around it with bright glissandos, backed by the redoubtable Williams and the dynamic rhythms of Clark.

Michael Wolff

Wolff’s arrangements offered some fresh takes on familiar tunes. A veteran of Cannonball Adderley’s last bands, he led the quartet through an updeat interpretation of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” Sheppard hit the familiar line with short, staccato bursts on soprano sax, Clark matching him with smart assertiveness. Best known from Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” band, Clark was a force all night long. Sharp and in command, he drove the quartet through the upbeat numbers like Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes and provided a gentler but firm backing for the ballads, including Wolff’s composition “Pandora’s Box.” The latter featured Sheppard on soprano, engaging in a haunting interplay with Wolff.

Wolff has a sometimes dark, lyrical approach to standards, and Sheppard is a perfect match for him. “Cry Me A River was a real stunner, with Wolff opening up in a dreamy, midnight setup to the tune, then Sheppard following with a thick-as-molasses evocation of the melody. Wolff took back the theme with John B Williams in support, the bittersweet meaning of the song evident in his interpretation.

Similarly, in the second set, a highlight was Wolff’s rendition of Frank Loesser’s  “If I Were A Bell.” Wolff performed this in a trio setting in his Joe’s Strut album and he announced it with the familiar minor chord at Vitello’s, but the addition of Sheppard gave it another dimension. It was an occasion for the quartet to stretch out, Williams matching a bass solo with some terrific brush work by Clark, who then picked up the sticks to drive the piece back to its familiar melody.

The band proved its versatility with a funky arrangement of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” the penultimate number in the first set, Wolff demonstrating his generational roots and Clark getting to show off a little of the Headhunters legacy. Later, in the second set, they did a funky version of Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father“, Wolff’s bright solos  again accentuated by Clark’s driving stick work.

Both sets had swinging conclusions. Wolff’s composition “Lagniappe had a Monkish quality to it, Sheppard playing with characteristic verve and Clark providing a memorable solo that crested toward the end, bringing Wolff back on top of it for a concluding solo. The second set wrapped up with a burning version  of “St. Thomas,” one of the few times I’ve heard it played where it did not sound derivative of Sonny Rollins. Michael Wolff has that effect – he shines as composer, arranger and performer, infusing every number with innovation and originality.

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.


Quotation of the Week: Elizabeth Taylor

March 24, 2011

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“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”

- Elizabeth Taylor

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To read more Quotations of the Week click HERE.


Live Jazz: The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etcJ

March 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Alfredo Rodriguez returned to Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Tuesday night, more than a year after he made his first memorable appearance at the Bel Air venue.  And the performance was an impressive display of how far he has come in that brief, intervening time.

Reviewing that first performance in August, 2009, I praised the gifted young Cuban expatriate pianist’s ability to “reach across the complete range of the piano’s expressive potential.”  On Tuesday, Rodriguez did all that and more.

Alfredo Rodriguez

The set was limited to a few selections, apparently all orginals, each one allowing Rodriguez, bassist Ricardo Rodriguez (no relation) and drummer Henry Cole plenty of room to stretch out, as soloists and as collective improvisers.  Fragments of familiar melodies, from bebop to tango, drifted through the multi-layered interaction between the players.

Rodriguez’s technical mastery was once again the energy that drove his playing.  But he now seemed to have found ways to use his astonishingly articulate keyboard skills at the complete service of a rapidly expanding musical imagination.  That vision found its full, far-reaching expression in genres reaching from Cuban roots music and blues to jazz and classical.  Occasionally, huge imposing choral clusters interacted with lightly stepping counterpoint.  In one intriguing passage, he plucked the piano strings with his fingers, adding new, tonally varied timbres to his melodic and rhythmic palettes.

Even more remarkably, he offered many extensive passages convincingly stretching the boundaries of jazz improvisation into territories more familiarly associated with contemporary classical music.  And doing so while remaining intimately in touch with the rhythmic propulsion essential to jazz.

In my review of last year’s Rodriguez performance, I also noted a few “rough edges,” having to do with tendencies to stress the “extreme limits of soft and loud, overlooking the many levels in between,” as well as a penchant for “overstuffing his variations with a conflicting plethora of ideas.”

He’s come a long way since then.  But Rodriguez still has more growing to do.  Brilliant as his music has become, it will become even more compelling when its musical testosterone evolves into a fully mature, emotionally diverse, creative expression.

That caveat aside, he made it clear that he is well on the way to affirming the promise he showed last year, a very short time after he had emigrated from Cuba to the U.S.  Today, working closely with Quincy Jones, and all the expansive possibilities that association can bring, there seem to be few limits as to where his future can lead.


An Appreciation: Pinetop Perkins, R.I.P.

March 22, 2011

By Devon Wendell

The death of Joseph William “Pinetop” Perkins on Monday March 21, 2011 marks the end of an era of true, original Mississippi Delta blues pianists.  Perkins was born in Belzoni, Mississippi and was nicknamed “Pinetop” for his highly regarded renderings of Pinetop Smith’s 1928 classic Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie. Eventually, he recorded it himself at Sam Philip’s Sun Records studio in Memphis in the early 1950s.

Perkins’ professional career started on the KFFA radio show of the great blues singer and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk, out of Helena, Arkansas. He then switched to harmonica pioneer Sonny Boy Williamson’s more popular show “King Biscuit Time,” which debuted such legends as B.B. King, Robert Lockwood Jr., Elmore James, and  Perkins’ young piano student Ike Turner.

Joseph William "Pinetop" Perkins

Upon learning about the success of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, helped along by the coaxing of  long time collaborator and guitar genius Earl Hooker, Perkins moved to Chicago in 1968.  When Waters’ longtime pianist Otis Spann quit Muddy’s group in 1969, Perkins stepped in as his replacement.  He stayed with him until the late ‘70s when he and Waters’ drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith formed The Legendary Blues Band, with Louis Myers (harmonica/guitar), Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, bass, and Jerry Portnoy on harmonica.

At a time when most blues pianists were copying the styles of Spann, Little Johnny Jones, and Big Maceo Merriweather, Perkins asserted his own aggressive barrelhouse style.

He toured and recorded throughout the ‘90s with Chicago blues greats Hubert Sumlin and Jimmy Rogers.  As the blues made a semi-mainstream comeback in the early ‘90s, Pinetop finally started getting the worldwide recognition he had deserved for so many decades.  His style was capable of complimenting anyone’s music and he became sought after by blues and rock musicians alike.

Despite a serious accident in 2004 in which a train hit his car, Perkins – 91 years old — continued recording and touring.

To celebrate his 95th birthday, Pinetop recorded Pinetop Perkins And Friends (Telarc), a well crafted collaboration with artists whose lives Perkins had influenced, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Kim Wilson, Willie Kent, Jimmy Vaughan, and many more.  That same year, he won a Grammy for best traditional blues album for his recording Last Of The Great Mississippi Bluesmen: Live In Dallas With Henry James Townsend, Robert Lockwood Jr., and Honeyboy Edwards (The Blue Shoe Project).

Seeming to get better with age, Perkins became the oldest ever Grammy winner when he won another award at the age of 97 for Joined At the Hip, with his old partner Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Artists from Dr. John to Marcia Ball have sung Pinetop’s praises.  Ball stated “Pinetop plays in his ‘90s the way I and most people wish they were playing in their prime 40s, having learned everything they could right at the peak of their power.”

Perkins was also a humble gentleman.  I had the honor of sitting in with Pinetop at the now defunct Mondo Cane blues bar in NYC in 1993.  He walked into the club, shook hands with the house-band members, sat down at the piano and started playing with a kind of energy I had never experienced before or since.

When he eventually stopped to take a break and a shot of gin, I approached him with my guitar, asking if I could play with him, and he replied with a smile,  “Well if you can be good to it, then let’s go.”  I surely hope I was at least good enough to it for him.  I remember after several hours of playing pure blues, he waved his black hat at me, patted me on the back and left.

My life has never been the same since. He was gracious enough to let me, a young white blues lover from Brooklyn, play with him on Blues Everywhere I Go and Eddie Boyd’s Done Got Lonesome Here. I was in such awe and terror at the same time.  I worshiped this man and owned all of his records.

Perkins died at his home in Austin, Texas on Monday, March 21st, 2011.  He was 97.


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