DVD REVIEWS: “The Best of the Temptations on the Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Best of the Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show,” “Motown Gold From the Ed Sullivan Show”

September 30, 2011

by Devon Wendell

During a time in which pop musicians on the Billboard charts, radio, and television seem to know very little about harmony, class, or originality, it’s certainly refreshing that Motown has released three classic collections of some of their greatest artists appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.

On the DVD The Best Of The Temptations On The Ed Sullivan Show, the intro to “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)” with then feuding Eddie Kendricks and Dave Ruffin swapping the vocal leads, is worth the price of the DVD alone.  The disc captures all of the Temptations performances on The Sullivan show between 1967 and 1971 which was a huge transitional era for the group. Dennis Edwards replaced Ruffin by 1969 and Eddie Kendricks left not too long after.

There is some schmaltz, however, like the Temps rendition of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “You Make Me So Very Happy,” with cheesy choreography that feels forced and lacks the rawness of “Psychedelic Shack” and “Get Ready.”  The Medley with The Supremes on “Get Ready”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, “My Guy”, “Baby Love”, and “(I know) I’m Losing You,” though historically prominent, doesn’t quite jell and lacks the power of each of these artists performing on their own.  With that being said, it’s still fun to witness.

A true surprise and highlight is a gospel flavored take on George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” proving that The Beatles, individually and collectivel, had influenced The Temps just as much as the Temps had influenced the “Fab Four.”

The drastic change from the ballad crooning Temps of 1967’s “All I Need” to the Psychedelic soul of “Runaway Child Running Wild” is apparent in the change in dance moves, orchestration, and dress, but what never changes is the sheer joy and sincerity of each performance.

The Supremes performed 16 times on the Ed Sullivan show, more than any other artist on the history of the entire program. The DVD The Best Of The Supremes On The Ed Sullivan Show has highlights from these appearances between 1964 and 1970.

Though Diana Ross was crowned as the diva of the group, on “You Can’t Hurry Love” a reading of “My Favorite Things” and “Always,” the skillful harmonic contributions brilliantly performed by Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard shine through and the visual experience make it all the more exhilarating.

The Supremes prove you don’t need Lady Gaga-like gimmicks to present wonderfully crafted pop songs. The energy on “The Happening” and a brilliant “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” are awe inspiring and hearken back to a more sophisticated and elegant time for music.  The DVD may contain the longest medley in soul history with The Supremes jumping from “Baby Love” to “Stop! In The Name Of Love” to “Come See About Me” to “I Hear A Symphony” — and just about every track the group had previously performed on The Sullivan Show. There is a sentimental quality to this medley that makes it magical even if we only get about two or three bars of each tune.

The two DVD set Motown Gold From The Ed Sullivan Show presents highlights of all of Motown’s top artists who took the Sullivan stage between 1964 and 1970, from the electrifying Jackson 5 doing Sly And The Family Stone’s “Stand!” to Gladys Knight & The Pips belting out “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Marvin Gaye’s “Take This Heart Of Mine” is a one of the greatest performances in the history of the Ed Sullivan Show. Gaye’s charisma and vocal abilities are second to none.  A then “Little” Stevie Wonder performing “Fingertips Pt. 2” from 1964, gives the world an introduction to this young genius on chromatic harmonica.

It’s also great to hear The Four Tops Levi Stubbs distort the microphone on “Reach Out.”  And Smokey Robinson And The Miracles start a party on the Sullivan stage with “Going To A Go-Go.”

For young people, it might be hard to imagine such non-pretentious electricity on TV as witnessed on “Dancing In The Street” by Martha And The Vandellas, and the playfulness of The Jackson 5’s “ABC” helps make this collection special.

I asked Smokey Robinson over 15 years ago in Atlantic City, “How do you make a hit record that lasts forever?” He simply replied, “You need everyone playing and singing hooks.  Hooks everywhere and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Enjoy yourself.”

That sums up the magic of these recent Motown DVD releases, which will be appreciated by many generations to come.

To read more reviews by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Reviews: The Temptations and the Supremes

September 28, 2011

The Temptations 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1961-1971 (3 CDs) (Motown)

Diana Ross and the Supremes 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1961 – 1969 (3 CDs) (Motown)

by Brian Arsenault

If you are old enough to remember, you know how good this music is.  The close harmonies, the lyrics of love and betrayal, the emergence of a new pride called soul, of hope and optimism from despair. Music to dance to or just hold each other close on a beach on a summer evening.

It was an era in which you could hear the Detroit sound of the Temptations, the Liverpool era Beatles and the southern California sounds of the Beach Boys on the same AM radio stations. Unimaginable now, but a Roy Orbison hit could be followed by one from Wilson Pickett. It was in the words from “Goodfellas,” “a glorious time.”

The music endures. These aren’t period pieces only. A few years ago I saw the Temptations on The Green in New Haven, Connecticut.  And even though there was only one original member, the sound was still unmistakably The Temps and “My Girl” was almost overwhelming in its joy of “sunshine on a cloudy day.”

Many of the Temptations’ tunes were penned by Smokey Robinson who Bob Dylan once called the greatest composer of his era and who headed his own group, The Miracles, typified by Smokey’s high end singing and again marvelous harmonies.

The Four Tops, Ben E. King, Sam and Dave all brought something special to the airwaves. The Shirelles, the Ronettes, Martha and the Vandellas and others all contributed something to this “sound.” But the Temptations and the Supremes were unmatched Soul Royalty.

These collections contain all the hits:

From The Temptations: “The Girl’s Alright with Me,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” my personal favorite “I Wish It Would Rain,” and on and on.

From The Supremes: “Baby Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” “My World Is Empty Without You” and so many more.

Many of the singles I didn’t even have to play, though I did. They are still in my head. Always will be.

But there are also the rewards of hearing singles that may have had play on R&B stations but didn’t make it to be crossover hits heard by white audiences as well.  There was, after all, an awful lot of music crowding in to be heard.

The early Supremes — Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard — came out of the same public housing project in Detroit. They were first the Primettes, sister act to the Primes with two of the founding members of The Temptations. Along with a few others, these two groups virtually founded the Motown Sound.

Yes, Diana Ross was destined to be a diva and her name eventually received first billing with The Supremes but in the early days it was the group that mattered most, it was a “sound” as immediately identifiable as a Beatles hit.

If you are under 50, you probably know Ross from her long career as a star and you have probably heard “My Girl” and a few other Temptations tunes on “oldies” radio.  Now you have a chance to immerse yourself in “a glorious time” with song after song that heralded a new era in America but endures as simply great music.

Enjoy.

To read more reviews by Brian Arssenault click HERE


Picks of the Week: Sept. 26 – Oct. 2

September 27, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Herbie Hancock

- Sept. 27. (Tuesday)  Opening Night Gala at Disney Hall.  The new season kicks off with a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, performed by the stellar combination of Herbie Hancock, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.  Also on the program, An American in Paris and the Cuban Overture. Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 27. (Tuesday).  Barbara Morrison Benefit.  Another opportunity to help one of Southland jazz’s greatest jazz vocal treasures in her hour of need.  Morrison’s medical expenses – the result of surgery associated with diabetes – have escalated, and she needs support.  The program of performers is unannounced at the moment.  Check with the club for details.  Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 27. (Tues.)  Emmylou Harris and her Red Dirt Boys.  12-time Grammy winner Harris brings rich expressiveness to everything she sings – whether interpreting other songwriters’ works or her own emotionally illuminating songs.  Also on the program – special guests Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller. The Greek Theatre.

- Sept. 28. (Wed.)  Marilyn Scott.  Veteran singer Scott has moved easily across the boundaries between jazz and pop, creating expressive pleasures wherever she goes.  She performs with Jimmy Haslip, Mitch Forman, Gary Novak and Mike Miller.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 29. (Thurs.)  “Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project”  Mary Wilson of the Supremes applies her elegant vocal skills to songs associated with the legendary actress/singer,  James Gavin narrates material from his Horne biography, accompanied by rare audio and video clips.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  The Musicians Institute.  (310) 271-9039.

Ravi Shankar

- Sept. 29. (THurs.)  Ravi Shankar.  The pioneer of Indian classical music, Pandit Shankar has been – since the ‘50s – bringing the subtle, complex, but immensely engaging music and rhythms of ragas and talas to Western audiences.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 29 – Oct. 1. (Thurs. – Sat.) Tierney Sutton Band. Note that the title is not “Tierney Sutton and her Band.”  Because Sutton’s long term relationship with pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Trey Henry and Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker has been one of complete musical (and practical) togetherness.  The results show up in every expressive note the band plays (and Sutton sings).  The performance celebrates her new recording – American Road, a compelling tour through musical Americana.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 30. (Fri.)  Bill Cantos. He sings, and plays piano with the kind of subtle support that delights any one who works with him – especially singers. Add to that Cantos’ skill at crafting original songs with the sensitivity and rich lyricism of the Great American Songbook.  He’ll be in the company of his wife — singer/pianist Mari Falcone, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael ShapiroVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Esperanza Spalding

- Sept. 30. (Fri.)  Esperanza Spalding. “Chamber Music Society.”   Singer/bassist Spalding is the hottest property in jazz after her 2011 Grammy award for Best New Artist.  But there’s a depth of art in her musicality that reaches well beyond her current visibility.  Still in her twenties. Spalding’s career looks to be long and fulfilling – for her, for her listeners and for jazz.  The Orpheum Theatre.    (877) 677-4386.

- Sept. 30 – Oct. 2. (Fri. – Sun.)  The Angel City Jazz Festival.  On Friday: The Nick Mancini Trio with Otmaro Ruiz and the Edgar Castaneda Trio with Andrea Tierra at Zipper Hall in the Colburn School of Music.  On Saturday: The Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura, The Kandinsky Effect and Rudresh Mahanthappa & Samdhi at the Ford Amphitheatre.  On Sunday: For People in Sorrow – an Homage to Alex Cline, and the Roscoe Mitchell Trio at REDCAT.  The Angel City Jazz Festival.

- Oct. 1. (Sat.)  The Strawbs and the Zombies.  Original Zombies members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone headline the 2011 incarnation of the sixties hit-makers.  The pop-rock Strawbs, who have passed through numerous editions since the sixties are also n the bill. The Canyon Club. (818) 879-5016.

- Oct. 2. (Sun.)  The New Directions Veterans Choir.  Made up of formerly homeless veterans of American military services, the Choir has appeared on America’s Got Talent, at the White House, on YouTube and numerous television shows.  Even more importantly, the members have found the choir to be a vehicle to help them find the help they need.  They are currently recording their first album, produced by veteran singer/arranger/a cappella expert Morgan Ames.    Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

James Carter

- Sept. 30 – Oct. 2. (Fri. – Sun.)  James Carter Organ Trio. Master of a full range of saxophones, Carter sets up in the blues driven environment of the classic jazz organ trio format. Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Sept. 27 – 29. (Tues. – Thurs.)  James Farm.  Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Eric Harland. Redman’s too modest to describe James Farm as an all-star ensemble, but that’s what it is – a quartet made up of four of the contemporary jazz world’s most musically adventurous artists.  Jazz Alley.     (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- Sept. 29 – Oct. 2. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Eric Reed. Pianist Reed spent some of his growing up years in L.A.  But, after Wynton Marsalis discovered him, while still a teen-ager, his career took off on a rising arc – everyone’s A-list piano player of choice. Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Sept. 27 – Oct. 1. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Music of Bud PowellEthan Iverson, piano, Tim Hagans, trumpet, Greg Osby, alto saxophone, Joey Baron, drums, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, perform the music of one of bebop’s Olympian figures.  Expect to hear such classics as “Tempus Fuget,” “Un Poco Loco,” “Bouncin’ With Bud” and more. Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Daryl Sherman

- Sept. 27. (Tues.) Daryl Sherman.  Gifted singer/pianist Sherman brings wit, lyrical insights and musicality to everything she does.  This time she ushers in Rosh Hashanah with Cab Calloway’s “A Bee Gezindt” (“Abi Gezunt” ).  Don’t Tell Mama.      (212) 757-0788.

- Sept. 28 – Oct. 2. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Coca Cola Generations in Jazz Festival: Gerald Wilson and the Julliard Jazz Orchestra.  The Legacy Suite, with Anthony Wilson and Eric Otis.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.  (212) 258-9800.

- Oct. 2. (Sun.)  Creole Choir of Cuba.  Cuban only begins to describe this musical melting pot of singers/instrumentalists from the Camaguey.  Descendants of Haitians, they have created music rich with Cuban rhythms – the son and salsa – and Creole melodies, underscored by rich African chants and dance movements.  This is their first American tour.  Symphony Space.    (212) 864-5400.

Boston

- Sept. 30 – Oct. 1. (Fri. & Sat.)  Kenny Barron.  The lyrical, imaginative pianist has a resume reaching from Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson to Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald.  But he’s best heard on his own, when his soaring melodies and pastel harmonies are front and center. Regatta Bar Jazz.    (617) 395-7757.

Miami

- Sept. 30 – Oct. 2.  Gunther Schuller. The full scope of composer/writer/educator/French horn player Schuller is hard to imagine.  His commentaries on jazz, classical music, ragtime and French horn technique have had a powerful influence throughout the music world.  His extensive activities (including several compositions that led the way during the Third Stream era) have earned him such recognitions as a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “genius” award and acknowledgment as an NEA Jazz Master.  Schuller’s long weekend appearance at the University of Miami Frost School of Music includes: Friday: a lecture in Clarke Recital Hall; Sat: a concert featuring Schuller’s Concerto No. 1 for Horn; Sun. The Frost Chamber Players, with Schuller conducting his new composition Quintet for Horn and Strings  Gunther Schuller at the University of Miami.      (305) 284-4940.

London

Roberta Gambarini

- Sept. 27. (Tues.) Roberta Gambarini.  She may have been born in Italy, but Gambarini’s mastery of jazz singing stamps her as a world class original, regardless of origin.  Whether she’s finding the emotional heart of an American Songbook standard or scatting with the most fleet, swinging precision since the salad days of Ella Fitzgerald, she should be heard, at every opportunity.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- Sept. 26 – Oct. 3. (Mon. – Mon.)  Natalie Cole.  Very much Nat “King” Cole’s daughter, Natalie Cole cruises the same eclectic musical waters, a convincing pop artist who has no difficulty dipping into the rhythms of jazz.  Blue Note Tokyo.    03-5485-0088.

Herbie Hancock photo by Faith Frenz.

Esperanza Spalding photo by Tony Gieske.


Live Rock: Cheap Trick’s Dream Police featuring the Bombastic Symphonic Philharmonic with the Rhythmic Noise Mind Choir in 4D

September 26, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night Cheap Trick rocked the Greek Theater in the tradition of Big Rock.  Some thirty-two years after the release of their most successful album, Dream Police, the band played a two hour show and had their act pumped up to an impressively high level from start to finish.

The night began with a filmed montage that included endorsement clips of the band shown on a huge white curtain covering the entire stage.   Sources ranging from Homer Simpson to Bob Dole (who claimed Cheap Trick Live at Budhokan is his favorite record album) testified that Cheap Trick is great rock and roll.    Then the curtain came down and we were facing an impressive two-story stage set up.

On the second story was perched the Bombastic Symphonic Philharmonic orchestra wearing dance hall musician garb and the Rhythmic Noise Choir wearing collarless Beatles suits.   Standing on the iconic checkerboard ground floor were Cheap Trick.   No stage amps were visible, hidden by a large stage wide video screen, and there was a checkered (of course) platform for guitarist Rick Nielsen to roost upon from time to time.  Also present, lying sideways onstage, was the upper torso of a female mannequin that never did exactly find its way into the show…but it kept us wondering, “What if?”

The lighting was noteworthy for the way it maintained a very colorful background in blues and reds while keeping the band in stark clear contrast in the foreground.  This easily focused our attention on them to great effect.    And the video clips on “High Priest of Rhythmic Noise” dovetailed nicely with the orchestral layers to save the song and make it into something entertaining on both levels.

Cheap Trick

The show opened with “Dream Police,” a musically ambitious, more-chordy-than-most, orchestrated song that guides the tone of the album.   On this tune, it became apparent that the orchestra and the band would melt together for most of the evening into a wash of sound, much like ice cream.   There simply isn’t often much open space in Cheap Trick’s sound for an orchestra to be heard with clarity, though it did make the sound huge and thick.   The four singers in Beatles togs also provided the high harmonies that Cheap Trick once recorded but tonight did not have to supply onstage.

In their heyday, Rockford, Illinois’ Cheap Trick visually featured two guys who looked like prototypical, statuesque long-haired rock stars in singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson and two oddball characters in guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos (who was not present on this program).   It certainly drew people’s attention in.

We could see that Zander and Petersson have taken great care of themselves.  Zander in particular, had no body fat on him, and wore the same tight fitting style of glittering stage jackets and satin pants that were expected long ago – this time via a white and black ornate police look.  One has to be slim and in shape to wear these clothes and from a distance time appeared to have left him in remarkably good shape.  Once recognizable for his long blonde hair, he left his hat on all night.   Petersson still has thick hair and now wears glasses.

Guitarist Nielsen is actually 64 years old now and also wears glasses onstage.  He has always presented himself as something of an anachronism, resembling Huntz Hall of the Bowery Boys more than anyone else.   Thirty-five or forty years ago, when rock musicians always had long hair, he had short slicked hair under an old man’s ball cap and favored checkered clothes and cardigan sweaters.   Drummer Carlos smoked like a fiend for years on stage and, as he was absent on Friday night, one had to wonder if all the smoking might have caught up with him in his 60’s.   In fact, he has had back troubles and this is why Daxx Nielsen (son of Rick!) was filling in for him.

On Friday, Cheap Trick actually sounded much the same as they did back in the day.   Their songs have always been, for the most part, a thick mixture of distorted basic chords from Nielsen and root position bass runs from Petersson, with a very deliberate classic rock drumbeat from Carlos. Their live sound has a lot of high range hiss from overdriven guitars and the wash of the crash and ride cymbals through the PA.   Though this sound is quintessentially rock and roll, it ultimately makes the band sound a little sloppy.

One of Nielsen’s many trademarks is changing guitars after and sometimes during each song.   His excesses in guitars are legendary and he has toured at times with several four- and five-necked guitars.   On Friday he favored fewer necks on Hamer Explorer bodies and Gibson Les Pauls.   He did trot out an eight-string mandocello guitar near the end of the evening, out of which he managed to pull some straight ahead rock and roll rhythm guitar licks.

Petersson also favors an exotic approach to his instruments.  His go-to basses are 12 stringed and he pretty much pioneered the development of the instrument in the late 70’s.  They feature 3 octaves on each of the four strings.   For most of the evening the nuances of his sound were lost in a warm, fuzzy lump at the bottom end of the sound.  When the band stopped and he let us hear it more clearly in his solo spot (before going into “I Know What I Want”), one could pick up the subtleties.  He strummed it like an acoustic guitar and didn’t try much in the way of stretching out on this rare bird.   One can only imagine what a bassist like, perhaps, Victor Wooten might come up with while working out on a 12-string bass.

Cheap Trick’s calling card, and the key to their enduring success is their winsome stage presentation and above all a strong catalogue of songs. At the best moments the band cut out the excess noise and focused on good old-time riffing, as songs like “California Man,” jumped off the stage into the night air.   Other crowd-pleasing highlights of Friday’s show included “Gonna Raise Hell,” their cover of “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I Want You to Want Me.” Not a riff-heavy song, “The Flame,” a classic ballad in its own right (it is their only #1 song), also shined on Friday night as a showcase in contrast for us to hear Zander sing softly. The program ended with a vintage late 70’s rock show confetti bath for the audience on “Surrender.”

As with many rock performances by bands who were popular more than thirty years ago, time really is the main story.   Cheap Trick was one of the biggest rock acts around in the late 70’s/early 80’s.   Thirty years later both the band and the audience were carrying on as if it were many years ago.

Watching the audience, it was the strangest thing to see middle-aged men in rock band t-shirts trying to keep up with their gym-devoted wives as they attempted to dance their way back in time.    Some of the ladies are still in fine shape and you could see the wild streaks they had ridden in their youth coming to the surface.   Back in the day these ladies may have favored Quaaludes and liquor.  Tonight it was the beer and wine from the concession stand.

There were not many people under the age of 40 something in the crowd Friday and that probably took their inhibitions thankfully out of the picture.  Rock and roll, after all, isn’t about acting on inhibitions.  The emotion behind Cheap Trick’s music centers on angst, lust, and the anticipation of romance.  None of this fades easily.  Cheap Trick on the FM dial or on a car stereo was the soundtrack to some of the highlights of the audience’s youth.  The memories really don’t die and that is close enough for rock and roll.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Jazz: Janis Siegel at Vitello’s

September 25, 2011

By Don Heckman

Janis Siegel was back at Vitello’s Friday night, a little more than a year since her last gig at the Studio City jazz spot.  And it was a welcome return.  Although her extraordinary vocal skills have been on display for decades with the Manhattan Transfer, her solo performances have been rare – too rare.

She was backed – as she was a year ago – by the flawless support of pianist Alan Pasqua, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Steve Hass, offering a set of tunes that mixed familiar standards with lesser known, but always compelling material.  The choices were the selections of an ever-curious creative imagination, searching for songs that allowed full rein to her superb interpretive skills.

Siegel opened, for example, with Lorraine Feather’s wryly humorous “I Know the Way to Brooklyn.”  The result was win-win: an opportunity for Siegel to display her sardonic side; and a message to listeners to check out more songs from Feather’s delightful catalog of works.

Another, similarly offbeat selection – “A Small Day Tomorrow” – came from the inimitable Bob Dorough.  And the bruised mercies of Susan Werner’s “I Can’t Be New” was an additional example of Siegel’s ability to find and interpret unusual material from seemingly unlikely sources.  Then, with perfect programming timing, she followed with the classic “This Is New” by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin.

Siegel’s equally admirable capacity to find the heart of a standard was on full display with “I Hear Music” – done in unusual fashion as a sultry ballad – and a pair of equally familiar items, “Close Your Eyes” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” performed with the sole accompaniment of Oles’ rich and supple bass sounds.

As if that collection of atmospheric readings wasn’t enough, Siegel also slipped on her scat singing cap from time to time, most notably with “Jeepers Creepers,” a groove-driven “The Man I Love” and a trumpet simulation on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.”  And, for once, it was a pleasure to hear a vocalist improvising inventive, swinging scat lines that actually charted the harmonies of a tune, rather than simply skimming the white notes.

Impressive, all of it.  The work of someone who brings so much mastery of craft to everything she sings, that her expressive spotlight can focus, unerringly, upon the music itself.  Like last year’s performance, this was a memorable event.  Let’s hope that another year doesn’t have to pass before Siegel returns with a mesmerizing,  new evening of song for Southland jazz fans.

To check out the iRoM review of Janis Siegel’s 2010 appearance at Vitello’s click HERE.


Live Music: Robert Davi Sings Sinatra at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

September 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

The row of stretch limos lined up inside the mini-mall at the top of Beverly Glen Tuesday night made it instantly clear that some sort of special event was taking place at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  As it was.

Frank Sinatra’s name in the title of any musical event lends a unique cachet, of course.  And this one – headlined “Davi Sings Sinatra” – had the added presence of actor Robert Davi, whose credits reach from films (License to Kill, Die Hard, the Goonies) to television (Profiler, Stargate Atlantis), as well as his directorial debut in The Dukes.

So, okay, there’s nothing strikingly new about an actor reaching out for a career as a singer.  And Sinatra-inspired tribute shows – by Sinatra simulators, imitators, and the real deal — Frank Sinatra, Jr. – show up with considerable regularity.

But Davi is something special.  Start with his charismatic presence, his laid back Italian manner and, above all, his musicality.  By the time he’d finished his second number – “Nice ‘n’ Easy” – and was swinging smoothly through “At Long Last Love,” it was apparent that he was clearly in touch with the content, the details and the spirit of Sinatra’s way with a song.

Backed by a stellar, hard swinging big band, he continued on, offering one classic after another.  He tapped into the jaunty swing of “Come Fly With Me,” “Luck Be A Lady” and “Fly Me To The Moon.”  And followed up with a tear down the walls romp through “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  His balladry was rich with emotion in tunes such as “Moonlight In Vermont,” “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Angel Eyes” and the rarely heard “Summer Wind.”  And his story telling abilities were a constant presence, adding convincing authenticity to each of his interpretations.

True, Davi remained closely in touch with the Sinatra versions of the songs.  In many cases, anyone familiar with the original recordings by ol’ blue eyes would have found it easy to sing along in unison.  But that was perhaps understandable, given the title of the show.  More importantly, the performance came across as an affectionate, deeply respectful acknowledgement of an artist who has had a creative impact upon Davi (whose 1977 debut as a screen actor took place in Contract on Cherry Street, with Sinatra).

Many of the songs will also be present on Davi’s debut recording, Davi Sings Sinatra; On the Road To Romance, scheduled for release on Oct. 24.  And that’s worth checking out by anyone who didn’t make it to Vibrato on Tuesday night.

Still, by the end of the long, entertaining program, one couldn’t help but wish for an opportunity to hear Davi’s obviously extensive vocal skills applied to other material, as well.  To songs, for example – and there are dozens that would fit his personal style — offering opportunities for him to reach deeply into his own interpretive abilities.

Hopefully that’s what will come next.


Quotation of the Week: Louis Armstrong

September 22, 2011

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“All music is folk music, man.  I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.”

Louis Armstrong

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To read more quotations of the week, click HERE. 


Picks of the Week: Sept. 20 – 25

September 20, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Chick Corea

- Sept. 20. (Tues. ) Return To Forever IV.  The latest installment of Chick Corea’s enormously influential, new jazz perspective brings even more creative illumination via the presence of violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and guitarist Frank Gambale. The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- Sept. 20. (Tues.)  Robert Davi Sings Sinatra.  He was the villain Franz Sanchez in the 1989 James Bond film, Licenxe to Kill and Agent Malone in NBC’s Profiler – among other roles in his busy acting career.  But Davi is a singer, too, and thoroughly in touch with Sinatra and the Great American Songbook.  Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 22. (Thurs.)  Misha Piatogorsky and Sketchy Black Dog.  Pianist Piatogorsky, a Thelonious Monk competition winner, brings his rich background – as a Russian-Jewish émigré – to his dynamic, jazz-driven style.  He performs, with Sketchy Black Dog, as a piano trio with strings, playing material comfortably reaching across genre borders. Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 22. (Thurs.)  K.T. Sullivan.  Name a musical theatre or a cabaret venue, and Sullivan’s been there, bringing musical and dramatic enlightenment to every phrase she sings.  Here’s a chance to hear her in an intimate club setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

 

Sonny Rollins

- Sept. 22 (Thurs.)  Sonny Rollins.  The great, iconic jazz tenor saxophonist, still going strong as he celebrates his 81st birthday, makes one of his too-rare Southland appearances.  To read a recent iRoM review of Rollins’ remarkable performance Sunday at the Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.  UCLA Live.  Royce Hall.     (310) 825-2101.

- Sept. 22 – 25.  (Thurs. – Sun.) The Angel City Jazz Festival.  The Southland’s most determinedly cutting-edge jazz event kicks off its week-long series of far-ranging musical happenings via six programs in the first four days.  On the schedule: Thursday: The Necks at The Blue Whale.  Friday:  Shutz Vtet and the Larry Karush Quintet, at LACMA.  Saturday: Burkina Electric with D.J. Spooky at The Echoplex.  Sunday: Theo Blackman and Todd Sickafoose & Tiny Resistors, both at REDCAT.   For detailed information about the individual artists, schedules, locations etc. check the ACJF web site here: Angel City Jazz Festival.

- Sept. 23. (Fri.)  Cheap Trick’s Dream Police.  After four decades of frequent touring Cheap Trick continues to produce music that underscores why Japanese audiences view the band with a passion approaching Beatlemania.  The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- Sept. 23. (Fri.)  Janis Siegel.  The Manhattan Transfer’s veteran singer demonstrates, in her too-rare solo performances, an engaging combination of musicality, lyrical sophistication and an unerring rhythmic drive.  Don’t miss this chance to hear her in action.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 23 – 25. (Fri. & Sat.)  Joey DeFrancesco.  The master of the Hammond B-3, and the continuing winner of the Down Beat Readers and Critics Polls, demonstrtes his irresistible sounds and rhythms in the company of bassist Ramon Banda and guitarist Rick Zunigar.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Christian McBride

- Sept. 24. (Sat.)  The Symphonic Jazz Orchestra featuring Christian McBride.  The S.J.O. presents a free, family concert.  The highlight event will be the world premiere of a new work for bassist McBride and the Orchestra composed by S.J.O. co-director George Duke.   UCLA Live.  Royce Hall.

(310) 825-2101.

- Sept. 24. (Sat.)  Balkan Beat Box. A night of global beats from a band whose musical interests embrace Balkan-Mediterranean sounds, electronica, punk intensity, jazz, hip hop and more.  Expect your body to move.  The Conga Room.    (213) 745-0162.

- Sept. 24. (Sat.)  Alan Pasqua with Larry Koonse.  Pianist Pasqua and guitarist Larry Koonse are at the top echelon of anyone’s list of prime Southland jazz players.  Together, as a duet, they make for an unbeatable musical combination,  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 25 (Sun.)  Niyaz featuring Azam Ali.  Persian poetry, global trance rhythms, traditional Middle East folk songs and the inimitable voice of Azam Ali are just a part of what makes performances by Niyaz utterly mesmerizing.  The El Rey.    (323) 936-6400.

San Francisco

Judy Collins

- Sept. 21 – Oct. 1. (Tues. –  )  Judy Collins.  Blessed with one of the memorable voices in pop music history, Collins – now in her early seventies – still sings with the soaring beauty of a nightingale.  Rarely seen in a club performance, she’ll be doing this one for two weeks, on Tuesday through Sunday.  Don’t miss it.  The Rrazz Room.    (415) 394-1189.

- Sept. 21 – 15. (Tues. – Sun.)  Branford Marsalis.  He may not be as visible to non-jazz fans as his brother Wynton, but Branford’s saxophone work places him in the top class of players in his generation. Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Seattle

- Sept. 22 – 25. (Wed. – Sun.)  Dr. John and the Lower 911.  New Orleans funk doesn’t get any better than Dr. John’s ineffible, groove-driven music.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

Magos Herrera

- Sept. 20 – 21 (Tues. & Wed.)  Magos Herrera. Vocalist Herrera’s deep Latin jazz roots are the foundation for a style that brings creative illumination to everything she sings, which can range from imaginative non-verbal vocal sounds to deeply intimate balladry.  She’s one of a kind.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

- Sept. 20 – 24. (Tues. – Sat.)  Coltrane Revisited.  Pianist Steve Kuhn, who spent some serious time in John Coltrane’s rhythm section, revisits that music in the company of trumpeter Tom Harrell, saxophonist Vincent Herring, drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Lonnie PlaxicoBirdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Sept. 22. (Thurs.)  Madeline Eastman.  One of the Bay area’s most convincing jazz vocal artists, puts her impressive skills on display for a New York crowd.  If she can make it there, she can make it anywhere.  The Kitano. (212) 885-7119

Milan

- Sept. 21. (Wed.)  Stacey Kent.  The Grammy-nominated jazz singer’s admirable skills continue to be heard more often in Europe than the U.S.  This time, she’ll be in Milan, no doubt offering selections in French from her latest album, Raconte-Moi.   Blue Note Milano.    02.69.01.68.88.

Tokyo

- Sept. 23 – 25. (Fri. – Sun.)  Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.  Bandleader Goodwin is one of the very few leaders who’s managed to keep a high quality ensemble performing and recording on a regular basis.  And the togetherness shows in the Phat Band’s stirring bg band jazz swing.   Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

Chick Corea photo by Tony Gieske


Live Rock: Don Henley at the Greek Theatre

September 20, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles.  On Saturday night, Don Henley played the Greek Theatre backed by an eight piece band (two guitars, two keyboardists, two female backups singers, bass and drums) and a seven piece horn section.   It was a no frills affair on a rather Spartan stage, but one that allowed him to play a wide range of tunes.   As a super successful solo artist and a founding member of the Eagles he can pretty much do what he wants and his audience will trust him.   And this is for good reason.   Henley played all of his solo hits, along with a tasty array of diverse covers, and of course a handful of Eagles songs.  He was in fine vocal form and his voice is as recognizable as ever.    Sharing reflections and stories, he was relaxed and appeared to hugely enjoy the ride at the controls of such a big band.

Henley et al opened the show with, of all things, a snappy version of “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.   Having gotten our attention, he then began to deliver the goods, dedicating “Dirty Laundry” to Rupert Murdoch.   Written during the thick of the Reagan years, the song is a scathing set of observations about the falseness, vapidity, and twisted nature of the news media.  It vividly brought back the feeling I had when I first heard it — that finally the ideas I also held were coming through the car radio.

On “Dirty Laundry” and every other song performed at the Greek, the two keyboardists had all of the signature lush, whooshing, ‘80’s keyboard sounds dialed in. The two guitar players, Stuart Smith (he replaced Don Felder in the Eagles) and Peter Thorn, also nailed every note and tone of the long, hot guitar solo at the rear of the recorded version.   For that matter they impressively nailed every crackle and squeal of all the original tracks they covered.

Most of the world likely knows that Don Henley began his career as a drummer, first in Linda Ronstadt’s backing band and soon thereafter in his new band, the Eagles.  They soared to unmatched heights of success in the excessive mid- to late-‘70’s.  By the ‘80’s the Eagles had to take a rest and Henley embarked on a solo career.   It was at this point that his position on stage in live shows changed.   In solo shows he no longer drums live, only singing from behind the mike stand and playing guitar.   It was interesting to watch his body language Saturday night.   He sang with two feet planted and standing very straight up without much in the way of leaning or twisting, nor many demonstrative waves of the arms and no leaps.  Perfect form helps a singer control their breathing, I’d reckon.

About half way through the show, Henley shared a story about how he and Jack Nicholson were dialoguing the same rising (though nameless) movie actress “at one of those Hollywood parties.” As the story went, Henley failed to bum a cigarette in any smooth manner from her.  Watching Henley go down in flames, Jack quipped, “Nice work, Henley.”   Later that evening, Henley went home and wrote “The Last Worthless Evening.”   That song turned out to be one of the best pop tunes ever on the subject of dating and finding a soul mate.

As Henley’s two hour set unfolded one couldn’t help but be impressed with how many hits the man had played for us and, still, how many he couldn’t possibly include.   Each number brought us back to where we were in the ‘80’s when we perhaps weren’t partying but thinking about more serious things with the car radio on.  It struck me that many of his songs really have endured robustly.   In “The Boys of Summer,” there is a line about seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.  It still sounds ironic as it reminds us that as “establishment” as a Caddy may be, many krunchy college Deadheads of the ‘80’s became established enough to actually want to drive one … and fly a freak flag with the sticker.

Henley’s ability to put strong social commentary into smooth rhyme has always been the calling card of his solo work. His narrative of the ‘80’s was refreshing at the time for its truth and candor and for his eagerness to call things as he saw them.  Though many of his hits go back around 30 years the lyrics still work well today as narratives for the struggles involved in maintaining one’s personal social integrity.

The most effective popular art usually succeeds at capturing what many of us are thinking.   Henley’s songs are full of lines that do just that.   On Saturday we all knew the “bubble-headed bleach blonde” in “Dirty Landry” who “could have been an actor but wound up here” dishing the dirty laundry “with a gleam in her eye.”   Rolling around LA, we can all relate to the sentiments in “Sunset Grill” :

You see a lot more meanness in the city
It’s the kind that eats you up inside
Hard to come away with anything that feels
like dignity
Hard to get home with any pride

A Don Henley show would certainly have to include several Eagles hits and this was no exception.   Nothing too far below the surface in the Eagles’ catalogue made the set list.  We got “One of These Nights,” “The Long Run,” “ Life In the Fast Lane”   “Desperado,” and “Hotel California.”   “Witchy Woman” was on local radio several times last week but it didn’t make the list on Saturday.   Still, if you are filling up a Don Henley/Eagles set list there are going to be many fan favorites left off in the interest of time.

No worries, and actually, Henley’s choice of covers was one of the most intriguing parts of the show.   He was happily all over the map with his selections.   He did understatedly quip to us, as they swung through Kool and the Gang’s “Funky Stuff,” that, “Sometimes you get tired of playing country rock.”   This was ironic because there really wasn’t anything country in the set.  Henley and his band also covered “Guilty” by Randy Newman, Otis Redding’s  “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,”   Jeffrey Foucault’s “Everybody’s Famous,” Eric Hutchinson’s “You Don’t Have to Believe Me”and, oddly, Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule the World.”   Fittingly, Henley saved “I Will Not Go Quietly” for the second encore (and dedicated it to Sting, who is closing in soon on 60 years old).

Local favorite Lucinda Williams opened the show with a set that went from ethereal and spacey to flat out rockin’ in the space of about half an hour.   While the rocking numbers kicked up the dust, her set was the most compelling when the sound was subtle and atmospheric, steered this way by the very tasty delay, e-bow and slide work of guitarist Blake Mills.   Songs like “Copenhagen,” and “Born to Be Loved” swirled through the clean open night air, courtesy of the great PA system at the Greek.   Towards the end of the set, Mills found the chance to romp in overdrive and cut loose with a blistering solo on “Honeybee” and it sounded red hot.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

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Live Jazz: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival — Sunday

September 19, 2011

By Michael Katz

Monterey, California.  Sunday at Monterey began with a group of precocious teenagers and ended with an ageless octogenarian, concluding a festival that had highlights from every corner of the musical world.  The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, MJF’s signature contribution to jazz education, is more than just a group of talented kids gathered from all precincts. Under the leadership of Paul Contos, it has become a first-class band that will challenge your perception of what young players can accomplish.  From their first notes Sunday afternoon at the Arena, it was clear that they had filled the one hole in the Arena’s scheduling: a bona fide large jazz ensemble.

One of the early highlights was a crisp arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Here Comes McBride,” an ode to the bassist that kicked off with a round of blues solos, anchored by the band’s own bassist Daryl Johns.  There were terrific soloists in this group, including pianist Chase Morrin, who contributed an award winning composition, “Mumphis,” and trombonist Calvin Barthel, who sat in admirably with the Berkeley Flamenco group Saturday and is headed there on scholarship, as well as trumpeter Tree Palmedo.  Alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley did a stunning turn on Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Vocalist Hope Flores wowed the crowd with simmering renditions of “Dancing Cheek To Cheek” and “Gee, Baby, Aren’t I Good to You.”  Then came the alumni. Joshua Redman joined the band for a scintillating chorus on “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” surpassing his brilliant performance of the night before. Tenor Donnie McCaslin had a soaring solo as did pianist Bennie Green,  joining the band for Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” closing the show to a standing ovation from the sun-kissed crowd.

From there I did some skipping around, making sure I didn’t miss my annual dosage of barbecue, cobblers and a cold microbrew. In between I managed to catch the end of an impressive set on the Garden Stage by pianist John Donaldson, featuring alto sax player Shay Salhov.  Walking in on their last two numbers, I wished I’d seen more. And I took in the last portion of a set on the Courtyard Stage with singer/keyboardist Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman on sax, Judy delivering a cool “Senor Blues” and Greg joining for a terrific version of “Four.”

Bruce Forman

The highlight of the mid-afternoon was guitarist Bruce Forman’s Cow Bop, a western tinged quintet that performed with zest and humor. Starting with the tune Sonny Rollins turned into a jazz classic, “I’m An Old Cowhand,” the quintet featured fiddler supreme Phil Salazar, Alex King on bass and Jake Reed on drums. “Pinto Pam” Forman provided western style vocals with pizzazz, adding just the right amount of swing on classics like “Besame Mucho” and Gene Autry’s “Back In The Saddle Again.”  There were some jazz standards like “Slow Boat to China,” where Foreman unloaded his considerable guitar chops, aided by bassist King, and a cha-cha version of “Comes Love.” Stellar western guitarist Rich O’Brien joined the group for Louis Armstrong’s “Sweet Temptation,” bringing the crowd to its feet, trading licks with Forman and Salazar.  There were more fireworks with “El Combanchero,” with Forman mixing in samples from Dizzy’s “Night In Tunisia” and “Bebop.”  Cow Bop finished off the set with their slant on “Get Along Little Doggies,” and the aforementioned “Back In The Saddle.”  The crowd, by this time jammed into every nook and cranny of the Garden Stage, roared their approval.

At 5:30, the Garden Stage crowd was treated to an extended set by emerging tenor sax player Tia Fuller. Fuller, who came out of the Stanford program and tours with pop star Beyonce, was a sight to behold in tight dress and stiletto heels, but she has the chops for straight ahead jazz. I caught about half the set, in which she played mostly songs from her latest recordings. Her band included a terrific young pianist, Shamie Royston.

Benny Green

Once again there was too much going on Sunday to catch everything, but I wasn’t going to miss the Benny Green Trio with Donald Harrison, doing a set of Thelonious Monk’s music at the Night Club. Green’s superb trio consisted of Ben Wolfe on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.  There are so many Monk tunes that it was possible to begin with one the casual listener might be unfamiliar with — the lilting, low-key “Jackie-ing.” Green moved on to the quieter “Reflections,” but the trio really caught fire with one of Monk’s first recorded tunes, “Thelonious.” Green’s dazzling technique on the infectious line was augmented by Wolfe on the bass. Donald Harrison then joined the group, occupying with fiery distinction the sax chair filled in Monk’s time by the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse. Harrison provided the emphatic melody to “Epistrophy,” with Green deftly adding the counter tempo. They followed with another of Monk’s engaging lines, “Nutty,”  Green and Wolfe reading each other’s minds on piano and bass, while Harrison, seemingly effortlessly, had complete command of his alto.  Lest you take him for granted, Kenny Washington was an exquisite performer, enunciating Monk’s complex rhythms, adding his own measures of dash and accent when called for.

There were too many highlights to mention in this set, but among them were an up tempo version of “52nd Street Theme,” with Benny providing a knockout piano solo, following Harrison’s insistent introduction of the theme. Compelling bass work by Wolfe ensued, then Washington broke loose with his own solo.  If there is one essential Monk tune it is “Round Midnight.” Harrison introduced it with a lovely run through the opening chords, then Green took over for a sensitive exploration of the familiar theme. There were a couple of more swinging numbers, including “Calling The Blues.” “Bye Ya,” was a natural finale, Benny Green contributing a delightful, bouncy solo, with a sprightly contribution by Harrison. The set concluded with the consistent brilliance of Wolfe and a final flourish by Kenny Washington.

Sonny Rollins

And then there was Sonny.  Taking to the spotlight in a flowing red shirt, bent forward as he roamed the stage, Lear-like, Sonny Rollins closed the festival with a performance that was sui generis.  The unmistakable Rollins intonation is still there.  If it has been stilted somewhat by virtue of his eighty-one years, it was hardly noticeable.  For much of the set this was classic Road Show Sonny, with Rollins establishing a theme, repeating it, embellishing it,  stalking  the stage as he explored every facet of a seemingly simple line.  Backed by his longtime stalwarts Bob Crenshaw on bass and Sammy Figueroa on percussion,  and drummer Kobie Watkins, Rollins had the additional support of world class guitarist Peter Bernstein. Bernstein’s rhythms gave the Caribbean numbers a breezy feel, and he was the main supportive soloist when Rollins needed a breather. The material alternated between ballads and island themes, with Rollins speaking only a few times to the audience. “Nice Lady,” which was included in Road Show Vol 1, was a typically bright Caribbean tune, with Figueroa’s congas and Bernstein’s rhythms pushing it along and Sonny wailing away. There was one new tune, “Professor Paul,” the literary connection unexplained, but the tune had enough quirky intelligence that you could get the picture.

Toward the end of the set, the tone shifted to vintage Rollins, the style he established in the heart of his career.  From the opening cadenza, when you could pick out the notes to Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” this was Sonny at his best, exploring the melody of a standard, challenging it with every nuance of his horn’s tonal depth,  moving in and out of the chorus,  placing his own emblem on the song.  It could have been the perfect ending to a show that had already gone well over an hour, but Sonny had much more in reserve. He went back into Caribbean mode and now the entire arena was up on its feet, swaying back and forth.  Sonny carried forth, trading solos with guitarist Bernstein, backed by Figueroa, Watkins and Crenshaw. Fifteen minutes later you got the feeling the audience was exhausted from dancing, but Sonny played on. A gentleman of a certain age standing behind me remarked, “I didn’t have that much energy when I was 21.”

Finally, Sonny put the horn down and addressed the crowd. “We’ll see you next time,” said the man who had had performed at the first Monterey Jazz Festival. “Long live Monterey!”

Amen to that.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Friday click HERE.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Saturday click HERE.


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