Live Music: The Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra and Philippe Jaroussky in a UCLA Live Concert at Royce Hall

October 31, 2011

By Don Heckman

“Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks.”  It’s an accurate title for the remarkable evening of music that took place at Royce Hall last Friday.  And all the more so because so much of it is rarely heard on concert stages, and even more rarely with the authenticity and bravura of the Apollo’s Fire baroque orchestra and the voice of sopranist/countertenor Philippe Jaroussky.

In her notes for the program, Jeannette Sorrell, the vivacious and authoritative Music Director of Apollo’s Fire, asked listeners to decide whether Vivaldi deserves “a place beside Handel on the baroque opera stage.”  And that’s an intriguing question, given the vital significance of opera in the 18th century music world, and given Vivaldi’s legendary reputation as the pathfinder composer of concertos in the ritornello form.

Phlippe Jaroussky

The relatively austere Royce Hall stage, peopled only with the Apollo’s Fire players, could not, of course, provide the sort of dramatic stagecraft that was so vital to baroque opera.  But, in the soaring voice and the gripping theatricality of Jaroussky’s performances, in the dynamic orchestral support of Apollo’s Fire, one could experience a surprisingly convincing aura of what presentations of works such as Oreste,Imeneo and Giustino  must have been like, heard live.

Singing seven arias from operas by Vivaldi and Handel, Jaroussky was mesmerizing.  Flowing with consummate ease through intricate, bel canto passages, he masterfully displayed the technical ease associated with such 18th century castrati superstars as Ferri and Farinelli.  But the timbre of his voice, reaching from his burnished brass middle range to airy head tones, was equally extraordinary.  Add to that his presentation.  Garbed in a dark suit, he nonetheless – via gesture, manner and vocal intensity – expressed the dramatic heart of each of the brief roles he portrayed.

Apollo's Fire

Apollo’s Fire added their own pyrotechnics.  Superbly accompanying Jaroussky, they also added equally gripping musical moments of their own.  The spotlight performance of cellists Rene Schiffer and Steuart Pincombe in the Vivaldi Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, for example, was a stunning evocation of all the reasons why Vivaldi was a virtual pop star in his own time.   And the Concerto Grosso “La Follia” after Sonata XII – featuring violinists Olivier Brault and Johanna Novom – authentically revived the intensity of Vivaldi’s take on the rhythms of a passionate Mediterranean dance.

So, yes, “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks” it was.  Done brilliantly and memorably.  And, for this listener, evoking a strong desire to hear some of those forty-nine Vivaldi operas just now beginning to find their way to publication.

Live Jazz: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette at Royce Hall

October 27, 2011

By Don Heckman

One of the unlikely words that came to mind Wednesday night while hearing Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall was “playful.”  That, plus “groove-driven,” “entertaining” and a few more.

Why unlikely?  Not because those qualities haven’t always been present in what was originally called the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio.  But they’ve usually been there as support, contrast and ornamentation to deeper musical excursions. Over the course of two and half decades together, in both live performances and recordings Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette have rarely devoted a majority of their program to music that emphasized entertainment value over creative density.

Gary Peacock, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette

That said, if Jarrett and company’s goal for this particular event was to delight an audience with familiar tunes, briskly swinging improvisations and a few lyrical ballads, while also displaying some of the leader’s predictable and engaging on-stage eccentricity, one can only say that they succeeded admirably.

Among the more musically appealing aspects of the program  were the pieces — ”Green Dolphin Street,” “When I Fall In Love” and “Autumn Leaves” to name a few — which began in deconstructed fashion, eventually evolving through imaginative soloing into something resembling their original shapes.

Other works reached in unlikely directions: a surprisingly dynamic rendering of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” featuring Jarrett’s fleet, seemingly non-stop lines over a surging Latin rhythm; an equally out-of-the-blue version of “Answer Me, Oh My Love,” the Nat Cole hit from the ‘50s, delivered with sweet lyricism and an extended bass solo from Peacock.

From the groove perspective, the first set included a pair of blues, the second added “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” all of which triggered some uncomplicated, irresistibly swinging playing from the entire trio.

Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock

Predictably, the capacity audience appeared to love every minute.  So much so that they continually intruded on transitions with loud applause, and cut through each quiet ending with raucous shouts of approval.  None of which seemed to bother the usually flappable Jarrett.

And then there was “My Funny Valentine,” one of the highlights of the performance.  Amid everything else that was happening, it was one of the few pieces that recalled the rich, musically exploratory qualities most associated with the Jarrett, Peacock, DeJohnette trio.  Capturing the melodic heart of the song, illuminating it with phrasing and improvisatory passages calling up the subtle musical intimacy of Chopin, it was a compelling affirmation of the deep inspiration that is always present in the work of this gifted trio of players.

Even when they’re being entertainingly playful.

Performance photo by Sven Thielmann.  Photos courtesy UCLA Live and ECM Records.

DVD Review: Ray Charles “Live in France 1961″

October 26, 2011

By Devon Wendell

1961 was a pivotal year for Ray Charles. “Brother Ray” had switched from Atlantic records to ABC, was about to venture into the realms of country music, and was making some band changes.  Live in France 1961 consists of film footage from that prime period, newly discovered by director David Peck.  Included on the DVD are two out of the four performances by Charles at the 1961 Antibes Jazz Festival — the first on July 18th, and the second on July 22nd — as well as bonus footage from the July 19th and July 21st shows.   The original 16 millimeter film has been brilliantly restored by Peck and the producers and archivists for Reelin’ In The Years Productions (the world’s largest library of music footage) — Tom Gullotta, Phil Galloway, and Steve Scoville.

The DVD presents an hour and forty five minutes of “lost” footage. Charles crosses jazz with blues, gospel, and country, and his eight piece orchestra features the brilliant saxophone work of Hank Crawford (alto) and David “Fathead” Newman (tenor).

Charles and the band kick off the July 18th show with a few powerful up-tempo jazz numbers: “The Story,” “Doodlin’,” and the only known live rendition of “One Mint Julip.” It’s a rare treat to see Charles show off his jazz chops on piano with definite nods to Count Basie and Art Tatum. It’s on these numbers that the band seems the most relaxed and confident.  Crawford and Newman’s solos are heavily steeped in bebop and post bop stylings, which were huge influences on Charles.

The opening instrumental from the July 22nd show, “Hornful Soul,” has Charles playing some Thelonious Monk-inspired piano phrases, giving the French jazz purists what they initially came for at Antibes.  There are wonderful slow shots of Charles’s fingers gliding effortlessly across the piano.

On the Louis Jordan classic “Let The Good Times Roll,” Ray’s vocals come in with a sense of the ease, confidence, and humor, which earned him the title “The Father Of Soul.”

The versions of “Georgia” from both shows have David “Fathead” Newman playing flute. Newman carefully laces Charles pained and melancholic vocals with soft and melodically tasteful flute flourishes.

The Raelettes are brought out prior to “Sticks And Stones.”  Unfortunately, their vocals are too loud and flat at times, which distracts from the concentrated dynamics of Charles and his band. Their punctuation of the choruses also goes on too long on “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “What’d I Say” (from the first show). and “I Believe To My Soul,” and “Tell The Truth” from the second show, all of which are practically ruined by their overpowering volume. The Bonus footage from the July 19th  show featuring versions of “The Story,” “Sticks And Stones,” “Yes Indeed,” “I Believe To My Soul, and “What’d I Say” may leave viewers wanting a more intimate Charles minus the Raelettes.

But it is fascinating to see Charles at an upright piano, performing songs he had originally recorded while he was playing an electric Wurlitzer piano, most notably “What’d I Say.”  (Another  highlight of the DVD is footage of the French audience, dancing in rhythm, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and obviously enjoying the music and showing the respect it deserves, which wasn’t always the case back home in the States.)

Also, on “With You On My Mind,” from the July 22nd performance, it’s very clear the influence country music had on Charles, a year before he recorded the classic 1962 Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music and it’s sequel Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music Volume 2 (both on ABC-Paramount Records).

Though the set lists of the July 18th and the July 22nd shows are similar, the performances on the later date are far more powerful.   Charles’ version of  “Ruby” is one of the greatest vocal performances captured on film in American music history. He puts every ounce of joy, sorrow, and energy into every phrase. And that same energy is evident on “I Wonder,” which is relentlessly soulful.

At times, the band looks tired or forlorn. It might be possible that they’re homesick or experiencing culture shock during what was their first time in France.  Both sets close with “What’d I Say,” and the DVD includes bonus footage from the July 21st show with another fantastic performance of “I Wonder,” which is even more exhilarating than that of the version from the following night.

Ray Charles Live In France 1961 is one of the most important musical films ever  released. Musicologists and teachers will be playing this DVD for decades, so that their students can see one of the fathers of American music at his best.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Oct. 24 – 30

October 25, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Goran Bregovic

- Oct. 26. (Wed.)  Goran Bregovic Wedding and Funeral Orchestra.  Sarajevo’s wildly eclectic bandleader Bregovic leads an orchestra that combines Roma gypsy music, a brass band, strings, a male choir, Bulgarian back-up singers and traces of rock into an inimitable evening of mind-bending music.   Disney Hall.   (323) 8502000.

- Oct. 26. (Wed.)  Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette.  Three decades together and Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette are still going strong, still bringing stunning improvisational illumination to everything they play.  Firmly established as one of the iconic groups of the post-bop era, they should be heard at every opportunity.  Royce Hall.  UCLA Live.    (310) 825-2101.

- Oct. 26. (Wed.)  The Thom Rotella Quartet. Guitarist Rotella has a resume covering virtually every area of the music world — from performances with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra, to composing for shows such as Sex and the City and China Beach and performances on the sound tracks of The Simpsons,Family Guy and much more.  Here’s a chance to hear him in an up close setting, backed by the Pat Senatore TrioVibrato Jazz Grill…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 26. (Wed.)  Celtic Thunder.  The five dynamic singers of Celtic Thunder are the male version of Celtic Woman, their immense popularity triggered by the blend of powerful solo work, engaging collective ensembles combined with a program of memorable Irish song.  The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- Oct. 26. (Wed.)  Rob Mullins Quartet.  He started out as a drummer, picked up several other instruments along the way during his prodigal career as a young professional, and wound up as a versatile pianist, composer and educator, with multiple accomplishments in all those areas.  This time out, he’s joined by a stellar ensemble: Doug Webb, reeds, Brian Bromberg, bass and Bernie Dresel, drums.  Vitello’s.     (818) 769-0905.

Inga Swearingen

- Oct. 28. (Fri.)  Inga Swearingen. You’ve probably heard Swearingen singing her uniquely personal song interpretations on the Prairie Home Companion. But her imaginative view of jazz still hasn’t received the audience her rare talent deserves.  Here’s a good chance to sample it.  LACMA.    (323) 857-6000.

- Oct. 28. (Fri.)  Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra featuring Phillippe Jaroussky.  “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks.”  At 33, Jaroussky – a French sopranist countertenor –has firmly established himself as one of the star performers of the Baroque repertoire composed for the extraordinary male soprano voices.  He sings with the highly praised, period instrument ensemble, Apollo’s Fire.  UCLA Live.

- Oct. 28 – 30. (Fri. – Sun.)  Riverdance.  Nearly two decades since it made its first appearance at a Eurovision song contest, the spectacular step dances and enchanting Irish music of Riverdance continue to delight audiences in appearances around the world.  Segerstrom center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2787.

- Oct. 28 – 30. (Fri. – Sun.)  Soka Blueport Jazz Festival.  The first festival at Soka University in Orange County has all the looks of a major jazz event.  The three days of programming are loaded with many of the Southland’s major artists as well as a healthy sampling of players from the East Coast and other parts of the world.  Fri.: The Geoffrey Keezer/Peter Sprague Band; Trio Da Paz starring singer Maucha Adnet.  Sat.: The Bert Turetzsky- Chuck Perrin Dynamic Duo; singer Tierney Sutton with pianist Mike Garson; The Charles McPherson Quintet with Gilbert Castellanos; Trio Da Paz starring clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen. Sun.: The Ron Eschete Trio; The Mike Garson Sextet starring Komel Fekete-Kovac Soka Blueport Jazz Festival, Aliso Viejo.  (949) 480-4278.


- Oct. 29. (Sat.) Tinariwen. The musical collective from Northern Mali has been blending the sounds, the rhythms and the instruments of their Taureg roots with the energy and dynamism of Western rock music for more than a decade.  Luckman Fine Arts Complex.   (323) 343-6600.

- Oct. 29. (Sat.) “We Four: Celebrating Coltrane”  Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone, Mulgrew Miller, piano, Nat Reeves, bass, Jimmy Cobb, drums.  John Coltrane’s music should always be celebrated, of course.  But it’s a very special celebration, indeed, when it’s handled by four players with the credentials to do it full justice.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

- Oct. 30 (Sun.) Linda Eder with Tom Wopat.  Broadway and cabaret singer Eder joins her scintillating soprano with the rich baritone of actor/singer Wopat.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

San Francisco

- Oct. 27. (Thurs.)  Mose Allison.  The one and only musical philosopher of the bayou always has a message worth hearing.  Returning to the studio last year for The Way of the World, his first album in a decade, he was good as ever – which is very good indeed. YBCA Forum.  SFJAZZ  Festival.    (866) 920-5299.

- Oct. 28. (Fri.)   Goran Bregovic Wedding and Funeral Orchestra.  See above.  Paramount Theatre.  SFJAZZ Festival. (866) 920-5299.

Oct. 28. (Fri.)  “We Four: Celebrating Coltrane”  Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone, Mulgrew Miller, piano, Nat Reeves, bass, Jimmy Cobb, drums.  See above.  SFJAZZ Festival.  (866) 920-5299.

- Oct. 29. (Sat.) Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette.  See above.  Zellerbach Hall at U.C. Berkley.  (510) 642-9988.


Russell Malone

- Oct. 27 – 30. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Russell Malone Trio.  Guitarist Malone has devoted a good portion of his career to making other performers sound great.  But on his own, he’s even better.  Check him out and you’ll see.   Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Oct. 25 – 30.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Jimmy Heath’s 85th birthday celebration.  The veteran saxophonist shares a milestone birthday with a string of celebratory musical encounters.    Featuring Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Steve Davis, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash and many others.  Special guest Bill Cosby appears on Tues. at the early show.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

- Oct. 25 – 30. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Wycliffe Gordon Quintet & Friends“Hello Pops!  The Music of Louis Armstrong.”  Trombonist Gordon’s enthusiastic playing style combines with his convincing vocals to create a musically entertaining tribute to Sachmo.  Special guest Anat Cohen (Tues. & Wed.) adds her clarinet delights.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 259-9800.


- Oct. 27 & 28. (Thurs. & Fri.)  The Bad Plus.  Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King have been transforming the familiar jazz piano trio into a vehicle for genre-busting musical excitement for more than a decade. Regatta Bar.    (617) 395-7757.


THeo Bleckmann

- Oct. 27. (Thurs.)  Theo Bleckmann“Hello Earth: The Music of Kate Bush.”  A major figure in contemporary avant-garde music, singer/composer Bleckmann has performed with everyone from Laurie Anderson and Anthony Braxton to Meredith Monk and Phillip Glass.  Here he presents selections from his recently released album exploring the songs of eclectic singer/songwriter Kate Bush.  A-Trane.    030 / 313 25 50.


- Oct. 27 – 29. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Ramsey Lewis Electric Band. Multiple Grammy winner Lewis has been leading high visibility trios since the mid-‘50s.  This time out, he revives the electric sounds of his classic, top charting Sun Goddess album of the ‘70s.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.

Live Jazz: The Eddie Daniels Quartet at Vitello’s

October 22, 2011

By Don Heckman

Clarinetist Eddie Daniels’ masterful performance at Vitello’s Friday was – as his appearances often are – a gripping reminder of his instrument’s adventurous jazz past, present and future.

Eddie Daniels

For the first half of the jazz century, the clarinet was one of the music’s key voices.  Vital to the New Orleans style, a virtual celebrity instrument in the hands of Swing bandleaders such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, its presence remained high, until it ran into hard times – and diminished interest — with the arrival of bebop in the ‘40s and beyond.

A few hardy souls labored on through the forests of bop, with Buddy DeFranco one of the principal pathfinders.  Others arrived over the next few decades, with the numbers of adroit clarinetists increasing in recent years.

Daniels, who was celebrating his 70th birthday two days earlier, has been producing memorable work – on tenor saxophone, as well as clarinet – since he arrived on the scene with the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra in the mid-‘60s.  An authentic classical artist as well as a superb improvising musician, the only thing missing from his Vitello’s performance would have been his own unique take on something such as the Larghetto from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.

Tom Ranier, Eddie Daniels, Darek Oles

But no matter.  What renaissance man Daniels did play was largely astounding, sometimes even more than that.

Joe LaBarbera

Start with his utter mastery of an instrument whose technical demands more often produce mediocre results than the sort of articulate clarity that Daniels tossed off with almost casual ease.  Backed by the confident, interactive support of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Joe LaBarbera, he concentrated upon clarinet – except for a pair of jovial jaunts on his tenor saxophone through “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful” and an original Daniels piece that somehow managed to convincingly blend tango with bossa nova.

Tom Ranier

Among the clarinet highlights: Ranier’s delightfully re-invented version of the old Benny Goodman classic, “Stealin’ Apples”; and a wildly audacious flight through an equally new-view version of Charlie Parker’s “Bye-Bye Blues.”

And ultimately it was Daniels’ clarinet soloing that dominated the spotlight – as it should.  One fleet solo after another, rendered with an irresistible flow of swing, affirmed his consummate blend of dexterous technical skills and vivid improvisational inventiveness.

No wonder that, with Daniels in the forefront, the clarinet once again seems to be finding its rightful place in the jazz hierarchy.

Photos by Bob Barry.  To view more of his jazzography, click HERE.

Live Music: Bryan Ferry at the Greek Theatre

October 19, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

Bryan Ferry does not tour often.  In fact, his last tour was in 2002. He is now 66 years old and recently had a scare concerning his heart (it was not actually a heart attack.)  An opportunity to catch one of his gigs demands action.  So, his appearance at the Greek Theatre  Saturday was met with eager anticipation from a large crowd of his loyal fans.   He and his latest stellar band rewarded the interest by delivering a mesmerizing nearly two-hour show.

Ferry is from working class English roots but studied fine art after secondary school. Not long after his University years, in 1970, he formed Roxy Music with, among others, Brian Eno and Andy MacKay.   The name conjures images of dance halls and theaters as well as playing on the word “rock.”  “Roxy” also refers to being simultaneously sexy and swanky, a perfect choice of words to describe the band’s music.   Back in the day, Roxy Music’s album covers often featured artily staged photos of sophisticated looking hot models in elegant lingerie.  These ladies (such as an unknown Jerry Hall) often became Ferry’s love interests.   The music on the vinyl within got the idea across magnificently.  Roxy Music put Ferry’s name out there and he was able to establish a solo career that began in 1973 and continued off and on from then.

Along with the wealth of strong material Ferry has built over the years, the big force this evening was the band. We were treated to some very interesting contrasts in guitar styles from British legend Chris Spedding (clean and beefy tone) and nimble New York ace Jeff Thall (thin overdriven biting Strat sound).   Also featured were original Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson, Jorja Chambers on sax and keyboards, Jerry Meehan on bass and Colin Good (in a tuxedo) on keyboards.   Ferry, of course, sang and rotated between piano and harmonica.

As a performer, Ferry’s connection to fine art seems to be his compass, coloring his image and the sound of his music.   On Saturday he looked very impressively artsy as he strode onstage in the cool night air.   When he opened with “The Main Thing,” from Roxy Music’s 1982 album Avalon we took in his look — long legs, sharp haircut, wearing a tailored suit, with a scarf… this was the look of the artist on a winter day in Central Park.  Stylish he is. Suave and debonair are words that still apply.

Onstage, the band members were set up symmetrically but artfully stayed away from perfect symmetry.  Several tiers of risers looked cool and easy to navigate, stylish and utilitarian. Four backup singers (3 female, one male — two stage left and two stage right),  Sax/keys  (including soprano sax), more keys, a guitarist on either side of the stage, but one sitting.   Bass and drums were towards the center of the stage and keyboards were on either side of the stage but not identically placed.  Artfully arranged.  And true to the Roxy tradition, we had one very hot dancer on each side of the topmost risers, suggestively clad and moving with the music.

The Bryan Ferry sound is a sexy, rapturous swirl rooted in layers of harmony and rhythm, much like veils of sound.  The music surges quite seamlessly from the swagger of blasting rock to the polyrhythmic suggestion of samba and bossa nova.  Ferry’s singing voice is rather thin, breathy, lilting and certainly melancholic — a bedroom voice, to be sure.   He has a good range, stays within himself and commands his voice with smoothness.   Subtle harmonies or unisons between himself and backup singers Aleysha Gordon, Hannah Kemoh, Tawatha Agee, and Fonzi Thornton made the sound lush.  To be sure, Ferry is keenly aware of the allure in well-matched male and female harmony.

The program featured a few of his solo hits like “Slave To Love,” and “Don’t Stop The Dance,” but for much of the evening drew mainly from the Roxy Music catalogue and an array of interesting cover choices. Notable Roxy Music moments included “If There Is Something,” “Avalon,” “Casanova,” “Oh Yeah,” “Love is the Drug,” “Tara,” and “Editions of You,” which sounded very punk rock for 1973.

When you have someone with as stylized a sound as Ferry’s, it becomes a showcase of sorts to cover someone else’s songs.  On Saturday, the covers ranged from Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming,” to Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane,” to John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and an almost completely metamorphosed version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I’ll Put A Spell On You.” Even within the stylized format, all of these songs featured room for fine interplay between the remarkable talent on guitars and sax.

Ferry has an affinity for Bob Dylan songs and included “All Along The Watchtower,” “Make You Feel My Love,” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” in the set.  Hearing songs as gritty as Dylan’s originals often were, being polished into something that sounds so completely different was great fun.  And the guitar dialogue between Spedding and Thall on “Tom Thumb’s Blues” was a keeper.

It’s a fine line between mush and clarity when one mixes a large number of sounds as Ferry did on Saturday.  But the results were well worth the effort as it all blended easily into the clear signature sound. Within the mix, you could focus on any one instrument and hear the precision in the playing.  This tended to prime our imaginations.  In fact, at one point the mix started to resemble bagpipes … and you could still pinpoint the sax and guitar that created the effect.

Opening the show was the Phenomenal Handclap Band, one of Ferry’s favorite new bands.   They played an energetic mix of disco and funk over rock chord progressions.   Moving like Sly and the Family Stone at Woodstock, in their big hair and bell-bottoms, and with keyboards whooshing away,  the PHB had a strong and convincing ‘70s vibe.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Oct. 18 – 22

October 18, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Scofield

- Oct. 18 – 20. (Tues. – Thurs.)  John Scofield.  Always looking for new musical adventures, guitarist Scofield has moved through every imaginable jazz variation, including – among others –blues, gospel, pop, funk and beyond.  But he’s always been a solid bebop master, as well.  Lately, he’s been going back to his straight ahead roots. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 19. (Wed. )  Roger Daltrey, who performed the original version, brings back one of the classics of the Rock Era in a performance of  The Who’s Tommy Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.      (213) 763-6030.

- Oct. 19. (Wed.)  Robert Davi.  Film star and singer Davi celebrates the release of his new album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road To Romance with a free concert at The Grove.   To read a recent iRoM review of a performance by Davi, click HERE.   (888) 315-8883.

Ray Charles

- Oct. 20 (Thurs.)  Film: “Ray Charles — Live in France 1961.”  It doesn’t get much better than this.  After being lost for 50 years, films of Charles in concert at the Antibes Jazz Festival have been discovered and digitally restored from the 16 mm. originals.  Charles performs with the original Raelettes and a band that included David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford.  After the screening, there will be a panel discussion with director David Peck, producer Tom Gulotta, and Charles scholars James Austin and Rob Bowman, moderated by Charles’ biographer David Ritz.   The Egyptian Theatre.  7:30 p.m.

Diane Hubka

- Oct. 20 (Thurs.)  Diane Hubka.  The sweet sound of Hubka’s voice blends perfectly with her 7-string guitar work.  Add to that her understanding way with a song, finding the right blend of meaning between words and music.  Vitello’s.     (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 20 – 24. (Thurs. – Mon.)  “Celebrating the West Coast Sound”  A Four Day Jazz Festival.  Featuring the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Bill Holman Big Band, Russ Garcia Big Band, Dave Pell Octet, Terry Gibbs, the Johnny Mandel Big Band, Woody Herman Alumni Band, Stan Kenton Alumni Band and much more in 26 concerts plus rare films and special presentations.  LAX Marriott Hotel.  Presented by the L.A. Jazz Institute.

- Oct. 21. (Fri.)  Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to jazz, now a member of the Southland’s impressive collection of jazz vocalists, performs with the Pat Senatore Trio.  Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Eddie Daniels

- Oct. 21 & 22.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Eddie Daniels. The clarinet, relegated to the shadows in the bebop era, has been – and continues to be – alive and well in the gifted hands and fingers of Daniels, whose range reaches from a full battery of jazz styles to his unique classical interpretations.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 21 & 22.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Roslyn Kind.  Yes, she’s Barbra Streisand’s sister.  And yes, she has a voice with a similar soaring range and rich timbre.  But what she does with it, the way she finds the meaning of a song, are all the products of her own imaginative musicality. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 22. (Sat.)  “Sing the Truth”   Angelique Kidjo, Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves.  A trio of very different divas apply their special skills to a program of music celebrating Miriam Makeba, Abby Lincoln, Odetta, Billie Holiday and other iconic female artists.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.


- Oct. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Jazz Crusaders.  The original Cruaders – featuring Joe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder – still conjuring up their own unique blends of funk, jazz, soul and blues.  Jazz Alley.     (206) 441-9729.


- Oct. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Wallace Roney Quintet.  Trumpeter Roney, whose playing springs from Miles Davis roots, is joined by his brother, saxophonist Antoine Roney.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

Phil Woods

- Oct. 18 – 22. (Tues. – Sat.)  Phil Woods Quintet.  Master bop alto saxophonist Woods showcases a quintet that includes two long-time associates – bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin, along with new members Brian Lynch, trumpet and Bill Mays, piano.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080/

- Oct 18 – 23 (Tues. – Sun.)  Tom Harrell.  The veteran trumpeter displays his impressive skills in a pair of different musical settings.  Tues. – Thurs. with his Chamber Ensemble and Fri. – Sun. with his Quintet.  Village Vanguard (212) 255-4037.

- Oct. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Festival of New Trumpet Music Celebrating Kenny Wheeler.  Canadian/English trumpeter Wheeler, long associated with adventurous, envelope-stretching music, makes a rare NYC appearance.  On Thurs. with Ingrid Jenson + Brass, on Fri. & Sat. with the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, and on Sunday with his Quintet.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.


Gregory Porter

- Oct. 22. (Sat.)  Gregory Porter.  The big voice and versatile stylings of vocalist Porter are rapidly establishing him as one of the most intriguing vocal arrivals of the last few years.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


- Oct. 23. (Sun,)  Mark Murphy Meets Till Bronner.  Legendary jazz singer Murphy performs in a loose, swinging setting with German trumpeter/singer Bronner.  Expect to experience some fascinating, cutting edge singing and playing.  A-Trane Jazz.  030 / 313 25 50.

Blues CD Reviews: “Saturday Night in Shankletown” and “Mean Streets”

October 17, 2011

Saturday Night in Shankletown


Mean Streets (Catbone Records)

By Brian Arsenault

About the time  the sax solo began on James Cotton’s slow song of pain from lost love, “Jelly Jelly,” I decided I really like this CD.  I was already pretty much there from the bouncing Billy Boy Arnold “El Dorado,” a roadhouse dance tune that defies you to sit still. Not to mention Muddy’s “40 Days and 40 Nights” where that voice signs on as distinctively as always.

Saturday Night in Shankeltown is like that all the way through with only a couple curious bumps. (George Cummings? Really?) It’s nearly an hour of unreleased or rare blues and rhythm and blues recordings.  Mean Streets is three minutes longer for a full hour of this good stuff.

I’m tempted to say that Cotton steals the show in Saturday Night in Shankletown because “Jelly Jelly” is followed a couple tunes later by “Diggin My Potatoes,” demonstrating how much music a voice, an accoustic guitar and a harmonica can provide. Early bluesmen often had little else and Cotton, a much later artist, demonstrates that superbly.

Such a judgment would of course ignore Muddy Waters’ rendition of “Rock Me” which provided the basis some of the best Led Zeppelin work ever. There are a lot of links to the future of rock on this CD and its companion “Mean Streets” and three other CDs (hallelujah!) that Catbone Records has just released.

It seemed to me that Peter Frampton was an odd choice for inclusion in Saturday Night in Shankletown until I heard his tune with Nanette Workman, “Loving Cup.” The song beautifully shows the passageway between American (mostly black) blues and r&b artists and the British kids who listened to them and reenergized rock ‘n roll.

Similarly, I found the inclusion of The Commodores initially a surprise. As it turns out, “I Know I’m Losing You” is a musical and thematic link to Sam & Dave and the Four Tops. I’m tempted to say it demonstrates the “progression” or “evolution” of rhythm and blues but both words imply improvement. I don’t mean better I mean responsive to its era; to electronic music, faster cars, faster times.

If the CD doesn’t literally save the best for last, we are all the way to cut 13 before we catch that slow hand style, that deeper than deep voice of Howlin’ Wolf doing “Goin’ Down Slow.” As he sings “I had my fun if I never get well no more” you can’t but hope to be able to say the same whenever the goin’ down comes.  And the guitar. It’s like it’s played in a concrete building — a small club or a working garage, know what I mean? A sound you don’t often hear any more.

If you have to wait a while for The Wolf on “Saturday Night in Shankletown,” he’s up first in Mean Street with “Before I Commit a Crime.”  The crime would be not just loving the next tune, “Dust My Broom,” by the great, great Elmore James, who was listened to very carefully by The Allman Brothers Band I believe. Next time you listen to Duane Allman’s accomplished guitar work, you’ll hear the influence.

Little Richard chips in with a couple tunes and reminds us that, for all his flamboyance, his musical roots too are r&b.  His “Hound Dog” version here may become your favorite rendition of the song ever. Really.

John Lee Hooker (who else?) closes the hour of Mean Street (star billing?) with the seven minute “Rock With Me” to remind us all that this music is as much about soaring pleasure as deep pain.

Want more? Mike Bloomfield, Etta James and Jimmy Reed all contribute.

I wish there was more information about all the sidemen here. Some of it may be lost to history, but there are musicians here who played every night for years, sometimes decades, and at their height made virtuosity seem as natural as walking.

Catbone Records is one of the artists here. The care given to quality is significant. Due to the technical limitations when most of this music was recorded and the very real danger of deterioration of master tapes, Ken Hatley and Rob Booth deserve enormous credit for the modestly stated “audio restoration.”

I began listening to all this thinking they had enough cuts by some artists to make separate CDs or at least group artists of similar styles. Nah, that’s wrong. These CDs kind of bounce you around in no readily apparent order, rather like a 50s-60s radio station that should have been but never was.

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Jazz With An Accent: New CDs from Vince Mendoza, David Murray Cuban Ensemble and Sammy Figueroa

October 15, 2011

By Fernando Gonzalez

Vince Mendoza

Nights of Earth (Horizontal)

Set to a generous, wide-angled perspective, and paced by smart, observant details, Nights on Earth plays like The World According to Vince.

In some ways, it suggests a personal summation of his career thus far: a deep knowledge of American music vernacular and European classical music, with a refined craftsmanship as a composer and arranger to match, now permeated by his encounters with a world of music styles.

And yet for all its stylistic variety Nights on Earth never feels like a sort of musical Whitman’s Sampler. The mix of references, styles and instrumental colors, at times eyebrow-raising, feels organic, one man’s invitation to open our ears to the possibilities.

The opening “Otoño,”  draws obviously from his experiences with flamenco  (check Jazzpaña (ACT, 1993) or El Viento (ACT, 2009) with the Netherland’s Metropole Orchestra of which he is Music Director and Chief conductor), given an improbable twist with a B3 organ. “Ao Mar,” a song co-written with vocalist Luciana Souza, plays on the standard expectations of a bossa nova before unfolding in unpredictable ways. Or, as in “Addio” or “The Night We Met,” Mendoza takes advantage of the bittersweet melancholy of the bandoneón, the button squeezebox that is the quintessential instrument of tango, without ever drifting into any facile references.

Throughout, Mendoza sets singers and soloists with a jeweler’s hand. He’s working here with an exceptional cast, most of them long time friends and collaborators  – including Joe Lovano and Bob Mintzer, sax;  John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Nguyen Le on guitar, Alan Pasqua and Kenny Werner, piano – and knows how to frame them slightly East or West of their comfort zone to elicit a fresher response. And in “Shekere,” a song co-written with Malian kora player singer Tom Diakite, he works the dramatic tension by subtly pacing the call and response between vocalist and group, managing dynamics and orchestral colors.

Nights on Earth shows an artist at a peak of his craft and with a vision to match.


David Murray Cuban Ensemble

Plays Nat King Cole En Español (Mótema Music)

The work of singer and pianist Nat “King” Cole, and especially the work of Cole en español, might seem an unlikely subject for saxophonist David Murray. Then again, the one-time firebrand avant-gardist has been steadily evolving, sometimes seemingly in several directions at once, embracing a more classic approach on the horn, and growing, improbably, into a song stylist.   Thematically working on his own growing library of compositions while also exploring Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Gene Ammons and John Coltrane, but also The Grateful Dead, collaborations with master players of the gwo ka percussion and vocal traditions from Guadeloupe, and Latin music.

In David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español, Murray revisits Cole Español (1958) and More Cole Español (1962), part of a trilogy of albums by Cole in Spanish and Portuguese. (The third one is A Mis Amigos, recorded in 1959.)

Featuring a 10 piece group comprised of Cuban musicians and a string ensemble (the Sinfonieta of Sines), and recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sines, Portugal, Plays Nat King Cole includes nine reinterpretations of covers and one original, “Black Nat,” dedicated to Cole. Rocker-turned-tango-singer Daniel Melingo, a sort of Tom Waits of avant tango and in many ways the vocal opposite of smooth and cool Nat King Cole, contributes in four tracks. Bandoneón master Juan José Mosalini appears in one.

At his best, Murray, in the style of the old masters, doesn´t simply play the melodies here, he sings them on his horn. And if you know the lyrics of these songs, you´ll appreciate some of his choices. In “No Me Platiques,” a bolero he plays to a tart string accompaniment, Murray is positively Websterian as he states the theme before launching into a measured, but questioning solo. He lets Melingo’s ragged reading of the lyrics set the tone in a Caribbean-ized tango “A Media Luz,” before entering on bass clarinet, with an eloquent and smooth response to the singer’s call.

But Murray can be playful, too, as in the up-tempo version of Bobby Capó´s classic “Piel Canela,” or Consuelo Velazquez’s “Cachito.”  Throughout, Murray peppers his playing with some of the vocabulary of his earlier day – bursts of notes in quick runs, wide leaps, and probing the melody from the outer reaches of the instrument.

Murray’s Cuban Ensemble not only contributes a knowing, solid foundation and an easy swing, but also strong soloing – alto saxophonist Roman Filiu on “Cachito,” and tenor Ariel Bringuez on Murray’s “Black Nat.”

David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español is an idiosyncratic take on romance – restless, now tender, now tough, never quite easy, and never less than fascinating.


Sammy Figueroa

Urban Nature (Senator)

Sammy Figueroa’s Urban Nture is a substantial, beautifully constructed work that makes its points subtly.  It draws on the Afro-Caribbean Latin Jazz tradition – but adds to it by opening to more diverse sources and treading softly around well worn formulas.

Also, this is Figueroa’s third album as a leader and the second with the same band. He has been leading his own groups since 2002 – flutist Dave Valentin and former Irakere tenor man Carlos Averhoff were early guests.  But for the past five years he has been able to maintain a stable lineup — trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, saxophonist John Michalack, pianist Silvano Monasterios, bassist Gabriel Vivas and drummer Nomar Negroni. The effort is paying off.

It might strike as an odd compliment, but Urban Nature never sounds like Figueroa’s vehicle.  Here, the music is the story.

Featuring nine original pieces, seven of them by either Monasterios or Vivas, in Urban Nature, Figueroa gets to pay his respects to Mongo Santamaría (on Nicholas Martines’ “Cuco y Olga”) and fly around in the opening “Gulfillo.” But there’s more to this recording than that: pieces such as the updates of standard cha-cha-cha (“Cha Cha Pa’ Ti,” and the title track); the driving, Chick Corea flavored “7th Door to Your Left”; and Monasterio’s elegiac “Zuliana,” based on a Venezuelan folk rhythm.

Throughout, the playing here is at once muscular and nuanced, loose but focused and flavored with touches of humor.

Figueroa has long made a name for himself as a percussionist and sideman (most recently with Sonny Rollins).  Urban Nature might start establishing him as a leader.

To read more posts and columns by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE.

Live Brazilian Music: Daniela Mercury at the Greek Theatre

October 14, 2011

By Don Heckman

Brazilian singer/dancer/songwriter Daniela Mercury is a Latin Grammy Award winner, a prolific creator of best selling albums (more than 20 million), and one of her country’s most visible and popular female artists.

So it was no surprise at the Greek Theatre Thursday night when the audience members – liberally populated with the Southland’s Brazilian community – found it impossible to stay in their seats, transforming the evening into an all-join-in celebration of Mercury’s memorable songs.

As so often happens in Brazil, virtually every number was enlivened by audience sing- and dance-alongs, buoyantly encouraged by Mercury.  And in the final climactic minutes of her program, when she asked the audience to rush – following her lead – from one side of the aisles to the other, most of the crowd joined in, following her instructions with the enthusiasm of a bunch of high spirited fifth graders.

Nothing wrong with a performer who can trigger that kind of passion from an audience.  And Mercury communicated a seemingly genuine sense of joy in what she was doing – whether she was smiling happily, shouting commands to her musicians, dancers and the audience, or telling stories between songs in English and Portuguese.

But what made the program compelling for listeners who were not especially driven to samba in the aisles or join in the choruses of Mercury’s songs was the musicality of her art, a fullness of creativity that added memorable substance to every note she sang, every move she made.

Much of her program suggested a contemporary version of Tropicalia – the movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s that opened Brazilian music to elements from other cultures.  Obviously fascinated by African music and dance, Brazilian poetry and cinema, Mercury’s company of musicians and five dancers showcased some of the colorfully eclectic material from her album, Canabalia.  At one point, she sang along with a Carmen Miranda recording from the late ’30s.

Beyond that, the vigor, the excitement and the sheer facility of Mercury and her dancers – who included her daughter, Giovanna — were mesmerizing, enhanced by carefully planned stagecraft and lighting.  The stellar six piece band – including her son, singer-guitarist Gabriel – was the subtle, but vital propulsive engine, charging and stimulating every aspect of the show, from the lively adventures on stage to the happenings in the audience.

Mercury makes few appearances in Los Angeles – only two that I can recall over the past decade or more.   Hopefully there will be others in the not too distant future.  As this remarkable night affirmed, she is an artist with a great deal to offer, from every aspect of her richly imaginative creative skills.


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