CD Review: Johnny Winter’s “Roots”

November 30, 2011

Johnny Winter

Roots  (Megaforce)

By Mike Finkelstein

This latest release from blues/rock legend Johnny Winter signifies one more move in the direction of his original roots in the blues.   The album’s format is one of Johnny and a very boppin’ and rock-steady backing band (Vito Liuzzi on drums, Scott Spray on bass, Paul Nelson on guitar, and Mike DiMeo on keys) dusting off and polishing up an assortment of classic up tempo blues numbers that he cut his teeth on as an up and comer.  A bevy of notable players and personalities guest throughout the project and the vibe is definitely sizzling.   This really comes as no surprise as Winter has always played a very busy but smooth style of guitar with fingerpicks on his right hand and flying fingers on his left hand.  Even when he plays his signature gyrating, wild slide guitar licks there is a fluidity that can mesmerize listeners.

Johnny Winter has been playing guitar professionally for fifty years or thereabouts and has shined as a player and interpreter the whole way through.  Drawn to the emotion of the blues, and beginning in the mid-60’s as a regional phenomenon from Texas, he followed a series of fortuitous breaks straight into the limelight.  He grew from blues into the blues/hard rock format in the early and mid-‘70’s, pushing the genre’s popularity with albums like “Second Winter,” “Johnny Winter And,” and “Still Alive and Well.”  These albums saw him interpret everything from blues standards to Bob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Jagger/Richards, Lieber/Stoller and Traffic – and he did it beautifully.

He made an intriguing rock star, too.  With his long white hair and gaunt albino appearance, he looked striking in top hats and long coats, pulling snarling licks out of a Gibson Firebird.   His style has always been one of precision and endurance in the blues idiom — long guitar lines that crackle with his finger-picking approach.   Nobody ever played a more vigorous version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” than Winter.

In the late ‘70’s Winter headed back to the blues, even working closely with Muddy Waters.  And he has been on the blues circuit ever since.  He occasionally tours and has done sets at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Concerts in 2007 and 2010.  To this day he has a singular appearance — still with long white hair and a set of mysterious looking tattoos.  Add to that the fact that he wears the blues juju like his skin.  At age sixty-seven and with some pretty hard living behind him, his health doesn’t allow him to spend too much time on the road, and he has to play seated when he gigs.  Still, he does continue to record and thus we have Roots in 2011.   It’s a sheer delight for anyone who loves a great blues jam.

The album opens with Sonny Landreth sitting in on a red hot “T-Bone Shuffle” and oddly enough he evokes a harmonica with his slide guitar.   The exchanges of power slide and subtler slide riffs between the two on this tune are remarkable and Winter’s voice sounds invigorated and soulful.   Next we move into Bobby Blue Bland’s enticing standard, “Further on Up The Road,” and Elmore James “Done Somebody Wrong.”   On the latter, Warren Haynes of, among others, the Allman Brothers Band, summons up a very authentic sounding array of Duane Allmanisms, paying homage to the legendary version of the song on Live at the Fillmore East.

On Little Walter’s “Last Night” John Popper shows up and establishes his very uniquely chromatic approach to blues harp, which Johnny counters nicely with slide and straight picking solos.   Popper’s style is clean and articulated and doesn’t get into the glorious grit that many blues harpists often head for.  It’s the contrast between harmonica and guitar that put this version over.

A romp through the covers that shaped young Johnny’s developing style wouldn’t be complete without a Chuck Berry offering.   The choice here is “Maybelline” and it gets a decidedly hot country picking treatment from none other than Vince Gill. This song is also notable for some very tasty additional rhythm guitar fills that go beyond CB’s arrangement.   Once again, Johnny’s vocal shines, sounding interesting, convincing and nothing like the original.

Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” features Susan Tedeschi trading vocals with Johnny and the song shines in a more subdued light.   The Hammond organ provides most of the song’s color and the band plays clean under the vocals.  Her voice is remarkably well matched with Winter’s as he rolls off a bit of the intensity in his delivery.

From the beginning of Johnny’s musical journey, his brother Edgar hasn’t been too far away to collaborate.   He joins in on sax for a romp through the alluring Bill Doggett instrumental “Honky Tonk.”  Edgar’s sax vamping pumps up the rhythm section unexpectedly and his solos are smooth but rollicking in the ‘50’s style.   Hearing the two of them go at it here, one can only imagine how it may have sounded years ago in their Beaumont bedrooms.

A definite high point of Roots is the marvelous version of Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom” with Derek Trucks joining Johnny on slide.   It’s a contrast in slide sounds as Derek plays with a more subdued tone, much less trebly, and Johnny’s tone is much brighter — with his amp no doubt ready to hop off the chair.

Many singers would give their right tooth to match Johnny Winter’s performance on “Come Back Baby.” That he also rises to this level with his guitar solo is impressive if not surprising, considering that it’s Johnny Winter we are listening to.  In fact, the whole band just burns on this cut, complete with horns and a beautiful Hammond organ track from John Medeski.   It’s a fine tune to close the album with.

We can only hope that Johnny Winter will continue to record at this high level for as long as possible.  It’s inspiring and gratifying to hear him still in such fine musical form, both instrumentally and vocally.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Nov. 29 – Dec. 4

November 29, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Sting

- Nov. 30. (Wed.)  Sting. One of the iconic masters of popular song makes a rare Southland appearance as part of his extended, “Back To Bass” tour.   The  Wiltern.     (877) 686-5366.

- Nov. 30. (Wed.)   The Ron McCurdy Collective.  Trumpeter/educator McCurdy blends his soaring trumpet sounds with the lush harmonies of the four-voice Collective.  Catalina Bar *& Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 30 – Dec. 4. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Blue Man Group.  The blue-skinned, multi-media specialists blend comedy, music, technology into an evening of sheer audio-visual excitement.  Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.   (805) 449-2787.

- Dec. 1. (Thurs.)  Chris Walden Quintet.  Arranger/composer/conductor/trumpeter Walden, a true musical multi-hyphenate, takes a break from his large ensemble chores to lead a quintet of stellar L.A. players: featuring saxophonist Rob Lockhart, pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Pat Senatore. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Mike Stern Band.  Always an exciting, compelling player in his own right, guitarist Stern takes it up to an even higher level when he’s working – as he is here – in the company of players such as drummer Dave Weckl, bassist Richard Bona and saxophonist Bob Franceschini Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Mike Melvoin

- Dec. 2. (Fri.).  A Celebration of 50 Years of the Music of Mike Melvoin. A much deserved tribute to pianist/composer/activist Melvoin – a vital figure in the jazz and music world and a supporter of aid for musicians and entertainers for decades.  Participants include pianist Mike Lang, singer David Basse, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, bassist Jim Hughart, drummer Ralph Penland and more. Culvers Club For Jazz.  6161 W. Centinela Ave.  Inside the Double Tree Hotel.  Presented by In-House Music.

- Dec. 2 (Fri.)  The Shanghai Quartet.  Together since the mid-‘80s, the highly praised Chinese string quartet performs the Mozart Quartet No. 17 (“The Hunt”) and Schubert’s Quartet No. 15 in the beautifully atmospheric setting of the Doheny Mansion.  A Da Camera Society “Chamber Music in Historic Sites” program.    (213) 477-2929.

- Dec. 2 (Fri.)  “Holiday Doo-Wop.”  An evening of sheer doo-wop nostalgia, featuring The Crystals, Johnny Tillotson, Kenny Vance & the Pianotones, and Cleve Duncan (from the Penguins).  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- Dec. 3. (Sat.) Holiday Wonders: Festival of Carols.  The Los Angeles Master Chorale.  Disney Hall.  It’s one of the great holiday musical blessings – a program of favorite Christmas carols, performed by one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Jane Birkin

- Dec. 3. (Sat.)  “An Evening With Jane Birkin.”  The image of ‘60s mod style, singer/actress Jane Birkin had a long, passionate, professional and personal relationship with iconic French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Her performance recalls the drama of their connection and the impact it had upon the ‘60s and ‘70s.   Luckman Fine Arts Complex.   (323) 343-6600.

San Francisco

- Dec. 1 – 4.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  The rhythms will be provocative, and there’ll be a great desire to get up and salsa.  But Latin jazz great Palmieri also adds an irresistible seasoning of jazz to almost everything he plays.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.

Chicago

Benny Green

- Dec. 1 – 4 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has been carrying the banner for straight ahead, bebop-driven jazz in his dynamic playing since he was an emerging jazz star in the ‘80s.  And he’s still at it.   Jazz Showcase.   (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Dec. 1. (Thurs.) Shane Endsley and the Music Band.  Versatile trumpeter Endsley was a founder of the Grammy nominated band, Kneebody.  But his colorful resume includes gigs reaching from Ani DiFranco and Pearl Jam to Steve Coleman and Slavic Soul Party.  For this gig, he leads a group that includes pianist Uri Caine, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown. Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.

SPECIAL EVENT

- Dec. 1. (Thurs.)  Jackson Browne.  Veteran rock singer/songwriter Browne takes up the cause of Occupy Wall St. with a live performance in Zuccotti Park at 1 p.m.  Also on the program — the California band Dawes.  Zuccotti Park at Liberty Plaza between 6th Ave. & Broadway.  Backpacks, camping gear and large bags are reportedly not permitted. 

- Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  “Tango Meets Jazz Festival.”  For the 11th year in a row, the Festival explores the surprisingly compatible common ground between tango and jazz.  This time out, the featured performers are nuevo tango master Pablo Ziegler with his quartet, jazz vibraphonist Joe Locke and jazz violinist Regina CarterThe Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

- Dec. 2 & 3.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Tudo Isto E Fado (“All This Is Fado”). Like American blues, Argentine tango and Brazilian samba, the fado is deeply rooted in the emotional expressiveness of its native culture.  Here, in two extraordinary nights of music, every aspect of fado – from  historical to contemporary – is on full display.  Performers include: On Fri.: Lisboa Soul and Camane.  On Sat.: Deolinda and Amalia Hoje.   The Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.    (718) 636-4100.

- Dec. 4. (Sun.)  Bobby Avey Quartet. Winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition for Composition in 2011, pianist Avey is a certified emerging jazz star.  His impressive group includes MacArthur “genius” award winner, Miguel Zenon on saxophone, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.

Berlin

Jeff Lorber

- Dec. 2 (Fri.)  Jeff Lorber Fusion.  Keyboardist Lorber’s original fusion band virtually defined the crossover styles that led to contemporary groove jazz, smooth jazz and more.  But Lorber’s music – past and present – has also always simmered with swinging jazz authenticity.  Expect the same, from a group that includes saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak A-Trane.    030 / 313 25 50.

Tokyo

- Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  David Sanborn.  Not only does alto saxophonist Sanborn have one of the most unique sounds in jazz, he also has one of the most influential.  Transforming the blues styles of Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman, he’s been among the most imitated saxophonists of the past four decades.  The Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.


CD Review: EG Kight’s “Lip Service”

November 28, 2011

EG Kight

Lip Service  (Vizzitone)

By Brian Arsenault

When this album started my first reaction was, “If Bonnie Raitt was Southern, this is what she’d sound like.”  But that may just be my Yankee self talking, because what you really feel when you’re moving through Lip Service, E G Kight’s latest CD, is that you just walked into a small club sort of by chance and they had this kickass band playing with a great chick singer out front.

EG Kight

But you’d either have to be in Georgia or some place where an Allman Brothers kind of band was playing its way up North before they got famous.  Kight’s songs move from country to blues and back again with an ease that’s mostly only found in Southern artists. She still lives on long time family land in Georgia.

Maybe that’s the proof that traditional country — not that contemporary junk country which is the new pop light — and the blues are not that far apart. White and black Southerners have been living together for a long time and it hasn’t all been Bull Connor and fire hoses.  They listened to each other and what came out is among the best of American music.

I’ll start with the last track because in this case the best of the songs – almost all written by Kight — was saved for last. “I’m Happy With The One I Got Now” is maybe the most traditional blues song on the album. Kight’s oh so clear, clever, teasing voice is supported by great acoustic guitar work by Tommy Talton.  Talton is perhaps the most notable of an excellent collection of sidemen playing on Lip Service.

The title song, with its nearly naughty lyrics and road house rock sound, could be recorded by the Rolling Stones in their bluesiest mood.  In fact, drummer Bill Stewart reminds me more than once of Charlie Watts at his best.

The album kicks off with “Sugar Daddy” which brings a smile while talking about hard times. You know it’s hard times when the sugar daddies are giving pearls instead of diamonds.  Of course, some of the best blues are about good times during bad times.

There’s also a Koko Taylor tribute in “Koko’s Song, and “Savannah” is a song about various kinds of “Georgia heat.”  Phew, I thought only girls of color could pull off such sensuality in music — except for Janis.

Speaking of the great Joplin, in the opening bars of “That’s How A Woman Loves” I stopped breathing for a moment because I thought Janis lives again. But the vocal warps into a little Patsy Cline too.

Versatility is another Kight strength.  Paul Hornsby’s “It’s Gonna Rain All Night” is a jazz song, a torch song in the best meaning of the phrase.  Kight could do a whole album of songs like this and it would win Album of the Year in a couple categories at least.

And if the Stones could cover a couple of the songs on Lip Service, it made me sad that Otis Redding isn’t still around to cover “Somewhere Down Deep.”  And when I mention Otis, it’s the highest praise I could offer for this recording.

More than a little production credit goes to Paul Hornsby.  You know the standard phrases: “legendary producer” and the less effusive “veteran producer.”  Instead, let me put it this way. Hornsby has produced a lot of terrific music by a lot of fine artists for a long time.

As I wrap up, I feel like maybe I haven’t said enough about E G Kight’s singing, which is so clear and so capable of irony, humor, pathos and just deep, deep feeling. But you really can’t just write about such good stuff. You have to hear it

Photo courtesy of E G Kight.  Photo copyright by egkight.com 

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE


Quotation of the Week: Pablo Picasso

November 25, 2011

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“Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don’t start measuring her limbs.”

- Pablo Picasso

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To read more Quotations of the Week click HERE.


Here, There & Everywhere: The Music I’m Thankful For

November 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Here’s my annual, continual and growing list of the many musical reasons I have to be thankful.

* * * * *

Charlie Parker

- Every note Charlie Parker ever played.

- Ditto for Louis Armstrong.

- Bebop, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, Ray Brown, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown and more.

- The magical spells of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

- Ditto for Don Redman, Sy Oliver, Benny Carter, Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Gil Evans, George Russell, Bill Holman, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson and Maria Schneider.

- Count Basie‘s rhythm section (with Freddy Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page).

Billie Holiday

- Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit.”

- Nina Simone‘s “I Loves You Porgy.”

- Ella Fitzgerald‘s Song Books.

- Joe Williams‘ “Here’s To Life.”

- Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.

- Coleman Hawkins playing “Body and Soul.”

- Ben Webster playing a ballad – any ballad.

- Sonny Rollins playing “St. Thomas.”

- Almost anything by Miles, Herbie, Wayne, Ron and Tony.

Charles Mingus

- Ditto for Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman,

- Ditto for Thelonious Monk.

- John Coltrane playing “A Love Supreme.”

- Ravi Coltrane playing — right now   Along with Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis, Christian Scott, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, and more.

- Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao  Gilberto, Elis ReginaGal Costa, Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, Eliane Elias, Heitor Villa-Lobos and all the rest of the creators of the marvelous music of Brazil.

Michael Jackson

- The life, accomplishments  and music of Michael Jackson.

- The life and music of Eva Cassidy.

- The life the beliefs and the music of John Lennon.

- The life, music and ideas of George Russell.

- The lives, music and teaching of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar.

- The music in the poetry of Rumi.

- The mugham of Azerbaijan.

- The lives and music of Blossom Dearie, Russ Garcia, Louie Bellson, Maurice Jarre, Les Paul, Mary Travers, Mercedes Sosa and many more no longer with us.

- The poetry of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  The songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon,  Carole King, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bacharach and David,  Sting and all the other singer-songwriters.

The Beatles

- The music of Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joan Baez, The Who, David Bowie, Nirvana, Kanye West (among others).

- Selmer saxophones and clarinets, Fazioli pianos, Pro Tools and Logic Pro.

- The composers and the lyricists whose music will live forever in the Great American Songbook.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

- Everything and anything by Mozart, but especially the Clarinet Concerto and the Clarinet Quintet.

- The madrigals of Gesualdo.

- Beethoven‘s Piano Sonata No. 32.

- The songs of Schubert.

- Chopin‘s Etudes, Preludes and Waltzes.

 

- Beethoven‘s 3rd,  Schubert‘s 8th, Mendelssohn‘s 4th,  Brahms‘ 4th,  Tchaikovsky‘s 6th, Prokofiev‘s 1st.

Johann Sebastian Bach

 

- The Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the Goldberg Variations, the Cello Suites the Brandenburg Concertos and almost everything else he ever wrote.

- Stravinsky‘s Sacre du Printemps.  His Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet.

- The String Quartets of Debussy and Ravel.

- Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 3.

- The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. His String Quartets No. 3 and 4.

West Side Story

 

- The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, Falstaff, Madam Butterfly, Die Fledermaus, Three Penny Opera, Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pal Joey, West Side Story and many more.


Picks of the Week: Nov. 22 – 27

November 22, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Nov. 22. (Tues.) Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Trey McIntyre Project. New Orleans roots, at their most convincing authenticity are delivered by the Preservation Hall players in a fascinating collaboration with the entrancing choreography of the McIntyre Project’s modern dance.  Disney Hall. 638 (323) 850-2000.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Trey McInTyre Project

- Nov. 22. (Tues.) Barbara Morrison Benefit.  The life and work of the Southland’s musically delightful gift to vocal jazz will be celebrated by a long, impressive line up of Morrison’s finest jazz singing associates. All proceeds go to aiding Morrison with her medical bills. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 23. (Tues.)  Evan Stone Translucent Ham Sandwich.  Drummer Stone’s whimsically named ensemble mixes music, media and imagination in an out of the box fashion recalling the “happenings” of ‘60s avant garde.  Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.   (714) 871-8800.

- Nov.23 – Jan. 8. (Wed. – ) The Muppets.  Music is always among the many memorable aspects about every Muppet performance.  And never more so than in their latest film, their first theatrical release in 12 years.  Expect to hear some new tunes, some Muppet classics and covers of material by the likes of Nirvana and Cee-lo Green.  For this holiday run, the performance will feature Kermit and Miss Piggy live onstage before each screening. The El Capitan Theatre.    (818) 845-3110

- Nov. 25. (Fri.)  Chris Isaak.  Rock singer/guitarist and sometimes actor Isaak has used his 1989 hit song “Wicked Game” to shape a busy career employing all his many musical and dramatic talents. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.   (805) 449-2787.

- Nov. 25 & 26.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Karen Akers. Broadway and cabaret artist star Akers starred in the hit musicals, Nine and Grand Hotel. She’s even better in cabaret performances that showcase her warm voice and rich interpretations in an intimate setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Chicago

Roberta Gambarini

- Nov. 23 – 27.  (Wed. – Sun.)  Roberta Gambarini. Italian-born Gambarini sings jazz – in every shape and form, from ballads and bossa nova to hard driving scat – with an authenticity reaching well beyond the work of most of her current female practitioners of the jazz vocal art.  Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Nov. 22 — 27. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chick Corea wraps his  epic, month long musical tour through his remarkable career.  Tues.: a duo with Marcus Roberts.  Wed.: a duo with Herbie Hancock.  Fri. through Sun.: The original Elektric BandThe Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

Gerald Clayton

- Nov. 22 – 27. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Gerald Clayton Trio. He comes from an illustrious musical family, with his father, bassist John Clayton and uncle, alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton urging him on. But the gifted young pianist is rapidly becoming an important jazz figure in his own right. The Village Vanguard.    (212) 929-4589.

- Nov. 22 – 27. (Tues. – Sun.)  Bucky Pizzarelli/Ken Peplowski. Swing will be in the air this week via the dynamic encounter between veteran seven-string guitarist Pizzarelli and the fluid clarinet work of Peplowski.   Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.     (212) 258-9800.

- Nov. 22 & 23 and Nov. 25 – 27.  (Tues. & Wed and Fri. through Sun.)  The Maria Schneider Big Band.  Schneider’s voice, as a big band composer and arranger –originally influenced by her mentor, Gil Evans — has emerged as one of the jazz world’s most original blend of sounds and textures.  The Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

London

- Nov. 25 & 26. (Fri. l& Sat.)  Ian Shaw. He’s not as well known to American jazz audiences as he should be, but Shaw – like the similarly underrated Claire Martin, with whom he occasionally performs – is a jazz singer with something to say. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747

Tokyo

- Nov. 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Alfredo Rodriguez.  Discovered by the unerring ear of Quincy Jones, Cuban born pianist Rodriguez does a powerful job of blending classical technique, Cuban rhythms and a free-flying jazz imagination.  The Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.


Here, There & Everywhere: Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” — 44 years later and still timely

November 20, 2011

By Don Heckman

Looking at the videos of police using pepper spray on U.C. Davis demonstrators, and using violent tactics on protestors elsewhere, has triggered a whole bunch of distant memories.   As has much of the media coverage of the Occupy movement as it has grown in size and intensity around the country.  The goals of the anti-war movement of the ’60s and today’s anti-corporation campaign may be different in detail,  but the quest to change the direction of a society heading in the wrong way for the wrong reasons is the same.  What was happening in the late ’60s is a natural parent of what is happening today.

All of which immediately brings to mind the song that was one of the definitive musical messages of the late ’60s — Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”  Written by Stephen Stills as a response to the Sunset Strip riot of 1966, it later became associated with the Kent State shootings of 1970.  But the message was, and is, timeless.  Which is why I’ve posted it here.  And I can easily imagine the last two lines of the chorus becoming the call of the crowd every time authorities resort to violent intimidation against peaceful demonstrators:

“Hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down!”

* * *


CD Review: Nils Lofgren’s “Old School”

November 16, 2011

By Brian Arsenault

The problem with old rockers — Rolling Stones and some Neil Young excepted — is that they don’t rock enough.  Maybe it’s the passage of time, the slowing of the internal clock, or just some strange need to become Bob Dylan at his slowest.

Nils Lofgren

Nils Lofgren’s Old School has its moments but it isn’t really old school. When you have Paul Rodgers (“Bad Company”, “Feel Like Making Love”) and Lou Gramm (“Midnight Blue,” “Urgent” and my personal favorite, “Dirty White Boy”) and Sam Moore of the immortal Sam and Dave all singing along, you ought to be able to crank out some hot rock.

Instead, we mostly get some slow paced, lost love, oh what a dreary world it is, songs that make me think the anti-depressants aren’t working very well. Nils has his own gold standard rock bona fides from a quarter century with Springsteen’s reconstituted E-Street Band and earlier stints with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. But bona fides do not a rock album make.

Still, there’s some interesting stuff.

“60 Is The New 18″ is a lively little rocker about the discovery that at 60 you might be a little uncomfortable playing rock ‘n roll.  Then stop and please spare us the angst.

There’s a lovely Bruce McCabe written lament, “Irish Angel,” that has the melodic structure of an Irish ballad with, of course, sad lyrics.  It’s Irish after all.  “All their wars were happy and all their songs were sad,” someone once wrote.  It fittingly ends with a raised glass. And then another. Also Irish.

“Amy Jones Blues” lives up to the title for the most part. Nice blues feel but somehow the “bum knees” of aging don’t really strike me as poignant or down and out.  And there are a couple of Springsteen/E Street-like songs “Love Stumbles On,” which I suspect Bruce will sing in concert at some point, and “Just Because.” “Love Stumbles On” has a love against the darkness modest quality. Love only “stumbles on” but it does endure. Good enough.

“Just Because” starts the tailing off into total tunes of regret and way too downer love (mostly lost) that dominates this album. Perhaps I am missing a sensitivity gene, but it all seems just too woebegone and maudlin.

It’s only rock ‘n roll, Nils, we could use a lighter touch.  I remember feeling much the same way about Robbie Robertson’s How to be Clairvoyant earlier this year. Does it really suck that much to be you?

In the lyrics of “Ain’t Too Many Of Us Left,” “wild old Neil” calls to utter the title phrase to a surgery-recovering Lofgren. It would help if a little of the “wild” came through more, especially if there ain’t too many of us left.

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


Live Music: Evelyn Glennie and Maya Beiser at Royce Hall

November 16, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night UCLA Live presented an attractive double bill of modern music with two of the more prominent performers in the genre, percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and cellist Maya Beiser.   Though not heavily attended, the show was well-received.  The program started with Beiser and her quartet playing five pieces, then an intermission and into Glennie’s solo set, closing with the two women performing a piece commissioned for them by composer David Lang.

Maya Beiser and Evelyn Glennie

The cello is one of the more richly expressive instruments, both for its tone and because one sits down to play it cradled between the legs, with the cello body resonating right in front of the player’s heart.   It’s well known that Maya Beiser has been called a diva of the cello, which is likelier than not a compliment.  Walking onstage in high-heeled black suede boots, leather togs, with huge brown eyes and long flowing tresses of dark hair, she does tend to make a strong impression.

Maya Beiser

Beiser is also a demonstrative player and there were a few moments where her bow arm would arc gracefully with the music, not unlike some rock ‘n rollers she may have been aware of as a child.  During the performance, she plucked, strummed, chorded stridently, and dramatically bowed the cello.  At some times her palate of tones had her bowing for rich sustains, and at others bowing percussively for more attack.

There were three other members in Beiser’s quartet, including Bassam Saba on a large tear-shaped oud, and Shane Shanahan and Matt Kilmer on assorted hand percussion. Both percussionists used the same basic set of instruments — tablas, djembes (sometimes brushed), small cymbals, tambourines, even wearing shakers on one foot.  The program covered a lot of musical ground in only five pieces, drawing from Armenian, Iranian, Israeli, and Spanish influences … and ending with her layered version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

Beiser’s overall sound staked out some very interesting ensemble territory.   The doubled percussion made the meters polyrhythmic and the oud evoked a classical guitar and lute, with long single note lines weaving through the rest of the mix. From time to time Beiser created tape loops of herself on the spot — as in “I was There” with a two note drone and in “Kashmir” with multiple lines playing counter to each other.   Though the group was not using rock instruments the suggestion of exploratory rock permeated at times.  And it was an interesting boundary to straddle.  Perhaps the sound of a guitar-like oud playing lines over a rich lower voice in the cello, along with the light but up-tempo percussion added to the effect, but happily the rock idea didn’t take over the moment.

Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie’s set was one of the more uniquely memorable performances a person could ever chance to see.  The format was basic enough: a very talented percussionist onstage, literally moving through a playground full of musical opportunities, one after another.   The stage was arranged in regions of many different percussion At the center of it all was a gorgeous-looking, magnificent-sounding marimba that had to be at least seven feet long.  She played it skillfully with two mallets in each hand, adjusting the spacing for chordal differences on the fly.   She also played a bass drum pedal simultaneously…with her heel in order to keep herself position for the marimba.

Glennie ran the show much like a seminar, giving us winsomely entertaining and informative backgrounds about the bizarre instruments she was playing and what would be her approach to them.  On her second piece, the improvised “Waterphone,” she began by bowing a bizarre looking jug, filled with different levels of liquid, and with different lengths of resonating pins radiating from its body.  From there she moved between music boxes, thunder-boxes, bike horns and toys.   At times it sounded like clatter in a crowded attic right down to the scurrying mice.   She later informed us anecdotally that these contraptions were often used in early motion picture soundtracks.

For “Prim,”  Glennie explained to us in her Scottish accent that, as a performer, she plays the acoustics of the room as well as the instruments on the stage.   She then proceeded to demonstrate the dynamic possibilities of a single snare drum in an optimal acoustic space like Royce Hall.   She began with a slow but steady rhythm and built it up into a loud, fast, staccato rattle, then took it back down again to the sound of soft rain, further slowing to a tantalizing slow fade…finally one rim shot and the piece was finished.   Glennie was starkly backlit for all of this and at the fastest point her hands nearly appeared to be moving in stop motion, as the bounce of her sticks on the drum head did much of the work.  There was a simple and gratifying elegance to “Prim” that was a delight to see.

The evening ended with the two performers collaborating on a David Lang piece titled “Stutter Chant.”   It called for 2 cellos, one played by Beiser and the other one, already stringless, cracked and battered, served as another percussion instrument for Glennie to play with a stick and a brush.  This was an aggressive sounding composition and at the end of it Beiser’s  had several locks of hair hanging down over her brow… and rather appropriately so.

Photos courtesy of  UCLA Live


Picks of the Week: Nov. 15 – 20

November 15, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Carol Welsman

- Nov. 15. (Tues.)  Carol Welsman.  Pianist/singer Welsman makes her last L.A. area performance of the year, which makes it one not to be missed.  Hopefully she’ll play a few tunes from her soon to be released latest CD.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.)  Jane Harvey.  Veteran singer Harvey, whose extensive resume begins with the Benny Goodman Band in the mid-40s, is still a remarkable performing artist.  To read Tony Gieske’s recent iRoM review of a Harvey performance, click HERE. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  They’ve been a jazz/pop power couple for a long time.  But what really makes Alpert and Hall special is the charmed intimacy of the way they make music together.  Here, they perform in their very own jazz club. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Nov. 17. (Thurs.)  Doug Webb.  Master reed and flute player Webb concentrates on tenor saxophone and flute, but he is equally adept at numerous other instruments.  No matter what he plays, however, he does it with style, substance and imagination.  Crowne Plaza LAX Jazz Club.  http://www.crowneplaza.com  (310) 642-7500.

Lainie Kazan

- Nov. 17 – 19. (Thurs. – Sat.) Lainie Kazan. Lainie’s done it all – stage, screen, night clubs and recordings — always with the attractive blend of emotional intensity and sardonic wit that are among her many attributes.  And when she applies it to a song…look out.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  Riffat Sultana.  The daughter of the great Pakistani singer Salamat Ali Khan, Sultana ranges from traditional and classical ghazal and qawwali to fascinating cross-cultural blends.  The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra. Saxophonist, educator and clinician, Dr. Bruce is also the leader of a big band whose music reflects his quest to create music that blends rhythmic excitement and compelling ensemble textures. LACMA.    (323) 857-6000.

Song of the Angels Flute Orchestra

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  David Shostac and the Song of the Angels Flute Orchestra.  Shostac, principal flutist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra leads one of the music world’s most unique entities – an ensemble made up of the full range of flutes, from the familiar concert C flute to the extremely rare double contrabass flute.  Cypress Recital Hall at the Valley Performing Arts Center.   (818) 677-3000.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  The Spirit of Django.  Gypsy jazz is at its finest in the hands of Dorado Schmitt, a guitarist with a deep understanding of the irresistible music of the legendary Django Reinhardt.  Segerstrom Center For The Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  Sketchy Black Dog. The off center blend of string quartet with piano jazz trio led by pianist Misha Piatigorsky is liable to play their own take on anything from Jimi Hendrix and Elton John to their own inimitable originals.  Blue Whale.   http://bluewhalemusic.com  (213) 620-0908.

Barbara Morrison

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. – Sat.)  Barbara Morrison.  One of the Southland’s vocal treasures, Morrison has moved beyond her profound medical problems by staying in touch with the expressiveness that has always been at the heart of her music.  Steamers. http://www.steamerscafe.com  (714) 871-8800.

- Nov. 19. (Sat.) Wu Man“Return to East – Ancient Dances.”  A virtuoso player of China’s lute-like pipa, and a member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road ensemble, Wu Man plays selections from the traditional repertoire, as well as the specially commissioned multi-media work, Ancient Dances.  UCLA Live at Royce Hall.    (310) 825-4401.

San Francisco

Miguel Zenon

- Nov. 15. (Tues.)  Miguel Zenon.  MacArthur grant genius award winner Zenon has been playing a lot in other bands lately.  Here’s a chance to hear this imaginative saxophonist on his own.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) Kiran Ahluwalia. Singer/composer Ahluwalia blends poetic ghazals and traditional Punjabi songs with contemporary sounds and rhythms generated by her guitarist husband, Rez Abbasi.   Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Nov. 16 – 20. (Wed. – Sun.)  Diane Schuur.  Deedles, as she is known and loved by fans and friends alike, has been reviving her jazz roots lately.  But that doesn’t mean that she can’t find the heart of any other style she decides to explore.  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear her up close and live.  The Rrazz Room.   (415) 394-1189.

- Nov. 18. (Fri.)  The Anonymous Four.  This female a cappella quartet has produced some of the most extraordinary examples of pre-1600 vocal music.  Heard in the Grace Cathedral, with its remarkable 7-second reverberation, their singing will produce an authentic display of the polyphonic sound and substance of early music.  Grace Cathedral.    (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

Nov. 18 – 20. (Fri. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit. Blessed with one of the most luxurious vocal instruments in jazz, Monheit isn’t often properly appreciated for the rhythmic lift and imaginative phrasing she brings to her performances.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- Nov. 17 – 20 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Kenny Barron Trio. He’s every jazz artist’s favorite pianist to have in their rhythm section.  And with plenty of good reasons – all of which are especially apparent when Barron takes the spotlight with his own music.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

Jim Hall

- Nov. 15 – 19. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Jim Hall Quartet.  At a time when the guitar has been making a major comeback in jazz for a decade or two, Hall – whose credentials reach back to the ‘50s – continues to be one of the instrument’s major masters.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Nov. 15 – 20.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Chick Corea continues his epic, month long banquet of music from his long, storied career.  Tues. – Thurs: From Miles, with Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnette, Wallace Roney and Gary Bartz; Fri. – Sun: Flamenco Heart, with a new band of world-class Latin musicians.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Nov. 16. (Wed.) John Coltrane’s Ascension. A stellar aggregation of contemporary players, led by Joe Lovano, take on one of the classic works of the adventurous jazz of the ‘60s.  The group includes Donny McCaslin, Sabir Mateen and Vincent Herring, saxophones; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Josh Roseman, trombone; James Weidman, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Billy Drummond and Matt Wilson, drums;   Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

- Nov. 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.)  Denny Zeitlin.  The psychiatrist/jazz pianist from San Francisco makes one of his infrequent stops in New York.  This time around, his considerable talents will on full display via an evening of solo piano (on Friday) followed by a trio performance with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Matt Wilson (on Saturday).  The Jazz Lounge in the Kitano Hotel.   (212) 885-7119.

Boston

Sheila Jordan

- Nov. 17. (Wed.)  Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn Duo.  Both Jordan and Kuhn are veteran jazz artists with careers reaching back for decades.  And an especially attractive part of that history is represented by the recordings and live performances they’ve done together.  Call it a symbiotic jazz connection.  The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.

London

- Nov. 19. (Sat.)  A Portrait of Jaco.  The Laurence Cottle Big Band performs material from Jaco Pastorious’ “Word of Mouth” band. Celebrating what would have been Jaco’s 60th birthday on Dec. 1. Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.

Sheila Jordan photo by Tony Gieske.


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