Picks of the Week: Jan. 31 – Feb. 5

January 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Anthony Wilson

- Jan. 31. (Tues.)  Anthony Wilson.  He’s had a lot of visibility the past few years backing Diana Krall, but Wilson’s a certified jazz star in his own right – as a performer, a composer and a band leader.  This time out, he gets back to basics with guitarist and host John Pisano in the laid back format of  Guitar NightVitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 31. (Tues.)  Sheldon Reynolds’ “Elements of Fire.”  A guitarist and lead singer with Earth, Wind and Fire in the ’80s and ’90s, Reynolds revisits some of the Grammy-winning ensemble’s greatest hits.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 2 (Thurs.)  The Salzburg Chamber Soloists.  The critically praised members of the SCS reveal their musical versatility with a diverse program featuring works by Mozart, Ravel, Britten and Janacek.  The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

Windy Karigianes

- Feb. 2 (Thurs.)  Windy Karigianes.  Las Vegas singer Karigianes hasn’t had a lot of wide visibility yet, but the warmth of her sound, her briskly rhythmic style and evocative interpretations bode well for her future.  Saxophonist Brandon Fields will be her special guest.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 2. (Thurs.)  Doug MacDonald Organ Quartet.  Guitarist MacDonald dips into a deep groove with the vibrant assistance of organ playing and vocals of Bobby Pierce, the tenor saxophone of Clarence Webb and the drumming and vocals of Harold Acey.  The LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza.   (310) 258-1333.

- Feb. 2 – 4. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Bobby Caldwell. It’s a safe bet that Caldwell won’t get through the night without singing his 1978 hit, “What You Won’t Do For Love.”  But he’s got plenty of other past hits in his resume, as well as an easygoing, appealing way of dealing with everything from American Songbook classics to his own catalog of memorable originals.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers

- Feb. 3. (Fri.)  The Flying Karamazov Brothers.  Juggling’s their game, and comedy’s a good part of their fame.  How could it be otherwise with a whimsical group of experts who juggle everything from apples and swords to fish and flaming torches.  There’s nothing quite like them.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

- Feb. 3. (Fri.)  Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.  Saxophonist/pianist/bandleader has accomplished the jazz world miracle of not only keeping a big band together, but doing so with an impressive display of engaging, hard swinging musicality.  No surprise that the Phat Band has a Grammy nomination this year.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 3. (Fri.)  Trio M.  With Myra Melford, piano, Mark Dresser, bass, Matt Wilson, drums.  The instrumentation may be the same as the classic jazz piano trio, but Trio M — Myra, Mark, Matt — has set no stylistic limits.  A true creative musical collective, each of its stellar members brings his or her artistic vision to the trio’s unbounded explorations.  The Musicians Institute Concert Center.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

- Feb. 3. (Fri.)  John Beasley and Dwight Trible.  “First Fridays Jazz Series.”  Pianist Beasley ands singer Trible, performing with stunning musical empathy, celebrate the release of their album, Duality, as a headliner event in the First Friday Jazz Series at Joe’s Restaurant.    (310) 399-5811.

- Feb. 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  Ben Wendel.  Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Wendel showcases his eclectic creative skills in a celebration of his new album, Frame. Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

San Francisco

Peter Erskine

- Feb. 1 (Wed.)  The Peter Erskine New Trio.  Grammy-winning Peter Erskine has drummed with everyone from Stan Kenton to Pat Metheny, with all stops in between.  But one of the best ways to hear his subtle rhythms is with his own impressive new trio, featuring pianist Vardan Ovsepian and bassist (and nephew) Damian ErskineYoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

New York

- Jan. 31 – Feb. 4. (Tues. – Sat.)  David Sanchez Quartet.  Grammy-winning, and frequently Grammy-nominated Sanchez is one of the rare saxophonists who has found inspiration in John Coltrane, while continuing to explore the essentials of his own style and creativity.  He’s backed by drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Matt Brewer and guitarist Adam Rogers. Jazz Standardl.  (212) 576-2232.

Simone Dinnerstein

- Feb. 2 (Thurs.)  Simone DinnersteinBach and the Romantics.  Whether it’s baroque, classical or romantic, Dinnerstein approaches the piano with a transparency that takes the listener into the very origins of the music she plays.  This time she offers a program reaching from Bach through Schubert, Chopin and Brahms.  The Miller Theatre at the Columbia University School of the Arts.    (212) 854-7799.

- Feb. 3. (Fri.)  The Ben Monder, Theo Bleckmann Duo.  Guitarist Monder and vocalist Bleckmann, each an adventurous musical explorer in his own right, take on even more unusual creative territories when they come together as a team.  Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.

London

- Jan. 31. (Tues.)  Mark Murphy. One of the great veterans of the jazz vocal art.  Approaching 80, he continues to offer definitive displays of his still potent, richly creative abilities. Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747

Berlin

- Feb. 5. (Sun.)  Becca Stevens. Singer, composer and multiple instrumentalist (guitar, ukulele and charango), Stevens also manages to find a way to embrace folk, classical and pop in her idiosyncratic, jazz-tinged music.   A-Trane.   030/313 25 50.  Critically acclaimed 2011 album, Weightless.

Peter Erskine photo by Tony Gieske


Live: Cirque du Soleil’s “OVO”

January 29, 2012

By Don Heckman

The bugs took over the beach next to the Santa Monica pier last week.  The bugs and a mysterious egg, that is.  Bugs in the form of the brilliantly talented members of Cirque du Soleil, revealing their extraordinary physical virtuosity in their latest show, OVO.

For this installment of the company’s numerous events, they have again returned to Santa Monica via their original circus roots, in a 180,000 square feet big top tent – Grand Chapiteau.  The huge yellow and blue enclosure has become the home for a “teeming and energetic world of insects.”

The gifted Cirque du Soleil creators – writers, directors, choreographers, designers, composers, costumers, lighting, set and sound designers – along with the performers, of course, only need the stimulus of a fundamental idea to get their juices flowing.  And the notion of applying the unique Cirque du Soleil style to a world of insects was enough to produce one of the company’s most unique efforts.

On Wednesday night, the performance opened with the subtle incursions of Jonathan Deans’ sound design – a wildly imaginative collection of rustling beeps and squeaks, sudden roars and rhythmic pulsations.  Next, and continuing throughout the evening, the music of Berna Ceppas followed with a stirring collection of melodies, textures and pulsations resonating with the appeal of Cappas’ Brazilian roots.  Superb as accompaniment, it was more than good enough to stand on its own as a compelling collection of songs.

The bug motif was especially apparent in the evocative costuming of Liz Vandal, whose vivid imagination produced insect legs and wings, attached to the performers in a kaleidoscopic array of colors.  And Gringo Cardia’s imaginative set design managed to create the atmosphere of a bug world with convincing suggestiveness rather than over staged specifics.

As with all Cirque du Soleil productions, of course, it was the performers themselves whose efforts demanded the greatest attention via a series of set pieces showcasing extraordinary physicality from individuals, duos and ensembles.

Scarabs

Among the ensemble high points: the jaunty food and body juggling of the sextet of Red Ants; the elegant, beautifully balanced formations of the Acrosport yellow and red fleas; the extraordinary, height-defying trapeze work of the Flying Act scarabs.  And, perhaps most impressive of all, the remarkable running, leaping, climbing, trampoline-driven action of the 20 performers in the climactic Wall number.

Butterflies

The duo of Butterflies offered a graceful pas de deux on a rope, in a balletic blend  of artful strength and flexibility.

Among the soloists, the firefly Diabolos masterfully juggled up to four spinning spools in arcs high above the stage.  In Orvalho, a dragonfly displayed the incredibly difficult art of balancing on one hand.  And in Slackwire, a spider accomplished the seemingly impossible task of balancing on a slack wire.

Creatura

Finally, there was Creatura, a strange, bulky figure, part-insect, part-slinky, with limbs twisting and stretching in seemingly impossible directions.

Despite the title – OVO – the large egg that surfaced from scene to scene had little to offer in the way of story continuity.  Nor did the comedic interplay between a pair of quirky bugs and a ladybug add much actual humor.

But no matter. The vibrant insects of OVO were irresistibly entertaining, fully capable of conducting their audience into a world rich with visual delights.

Photos and video courtesy of Cirque du Soleil


Live Music: Robyn Hitchcock and Susanna Hoffs at McCabe’s Guitar Shop

January 27, 2012

By Mike Finkelstein

Last weekend, McCabe’s guitar shop delivered a brilliant night of music in a living room vibe as few venues any longer do.   Robyn Hitchcock, who has been at it for more that 35 years, headlined two shows, the late show being a double bill opening with Susanna Hoffs trying out material from her upcoming solo release.   Ending at nearly1:30 a.m., this turned out to be a 3 hour affair, but it was an absolute treat for those of us who were there.

The format called for Hitchcock to play his solo album Eye in its entirety on acoustic instruments.  In its time, Eye was recorded sparsely on guitar, piano, and harmonica and this point of reference gave the songs a recognizable edge as he peeled them off at McCabe’s.   It’s a gorgeous collection and the songs shone when stripped down to their essence.

Robyn Hitchcock

Hitchcock dressed casually and looked more or less ageless, his whitish blond hair cut basically the same as it always has been; and his face, too, didn’t show much in the way of passed time.   Also arriving onstage, in a staggered order, were Gillian Welch (guitar and vocals), David Rawlings (guitar, vocals and a master of embellishment), and Grant Lee Phillips (vocals and piano).  They have all played and recorded with Hitchcock before, and supported him this time in winsome style.

Hitchcock is wont to launch into eloquent off the wall ramblings and he did so this time, too, introducing his buds according to their horoscopes as John Lennon, George Harrison, Mao Tse Tung, and Peter Sellers.  This type of banter went on happily all night.

He launched the set with a mesmerizing “Cynthia Mask” and we were with him all the way.

Napoleon

wore a black hat

ate lots of chicken

and conquered half Europe

Napoleon

was caught by the British

imprisoned on Elba

he died on the phone

Chamberlain

came crawling from Munich

with one piece of paper

he waved at the camera

peace in our time

oh thank you Herr Hitler

tell that to the Polish

                                            tell that to the Jews                                                                                  

Moving through selections from Eye, versions of “Queen Elvis,” “Flesh Cartoons,” and the guitar instrumental “Chinese Water Python” stood out brilliantly.  All of these songs draw you into an attractive balance of droning beauty and curious sentiments.

For his encore, Hitchcock, to our delighted surprise, dusted off “Candyman” by the Grateful Dead, “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash, “The Weight” by the Band and his own “Television.”   The sound of his uniquely toned high voice singing the Richard Manuel part in “The Weight” was priceless and mixed with Welch’s and Rawlings’ voices, the sound headed towards sublime.  For “The Weight,” Hitchcock, Welch, and Rawlings gave us one of those fine audience moments where we got to watch them humorously work out the arrangement on the fly as they fished for their capos.

Susanna Hoffs

Susanna Hoffs’ set began as a struggle between her and the light on a music stand holding the lyrics.  She eventually ditched her parlor guitar to concentrate on singing and even danced a little.  Her tunes were strong compositions with cascading progressions and 3 guitars all capoed differently for a rich harmonic effect.

She has always been in her element when singing ‘60’s pop songs and her voice is still instantly recognizable from her work with the Bangles.   The match of the right cover tune with the right artist can be revealing, as was apparent when Susanna covered “To Sir With Love” by Lulu.  Talk about owning a cover! Nice choice, indeed, to give that song a multi-guitar, folky treatment.

All in all this was another fine show at McCabe’s and in these days of change and turmoil for musicians and live music in general, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to see McCabe’s continue to do right by musicians and fans.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein, click HERE.


CD Review: “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International”

January 26, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

I am always a bit suspicious of organizations aligning themselves with art and artists, even one as “pure” as Amnesty International.  Organizations, you see, always have agendas and the only agenda artists should have is their art.

It might not be fair to say but I rather envision Amnesty International supporters as being among those booing Dylan long ago at Newport because he had the audacity to think great music could be coupled with instruments that are electrified.  Even though the liner notes deny that, sort of. Ultra lefties have their own problems with tolerance of viewpoints in disagreement with their own.

So the only reasonable thing to do then is to consider this massive tome of 75 songs —  a salute to the activism of Amnesty International and the music of Dylan — as a work of art, not simply a political statement.  On that basis, for a huge chunk of this work, there is a single word:

Magnificent.

Disc 2 alone can stand as a great album on its own. Speaking of lefties, Brit activist Billy Bragg demonstrates that there are some artists who simple “feel” Dylan at a higher level with his rendition of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” about being a prisoner of you own music. Dylan was never that, or at least of other people’s ideas of him and his work.

Earlier, on Disc 1, Patti Smith musically and thematically also evokes all that is best about Bob on “Drifter’s Escape.” You would have guessed that even before you heard this great version. It is Patti Smith after all.

But back to Disc 2:

Angelique Kidjo”s “Lay Lady Lay” may make you cry and it will certainly send a thrill through you. Is there anyone else in the world who can hit such pure notes. When you hear her sing you consider that there may have been a better time musically in the history of the world but you can’t imagine it.

Adele touches almost as deeply with a live recording of “Make You Feel My Love.” How does this kid have such command of a song, any song she sings.

Jackson Brown on Love Minus Zero (No Limit) provides a kind of tribute to Dylan phrasing without being merely imitative.

Jack’s Mannequin makes “Mr. Tambourine Man” as fresh as a spring stream in a meadow.

Lenny Kravitz laughs his way through “Rainy Day Women” but so did Dylan.

And there is Baez.  There had to be Joan Baez on this album. “Seven Curses” will make even the most ardent death penalty proponent consider James Joyce’s view that all executions are not only horrible but beyond the power that any government should have.

What girl should ever see the hangman’s limb bent by the weight of her father. You see, A.I., I’m suspicious but not unsympathetic.

All of the above on one of the four discs that comprise this collection.

There are delights and surprises on other discs though they may be less brilliant throughout.

Bryan Ferry convincingly touches on the youth and aging of Dylan’s generation with “Bob Dylan’s Dream” about the “first few friends I had.”  We really could get much older, the generation has discovered, hasn’t it?

Pete Townshend’s “Corrina, Corrina” made me smile. I’m not sure why.

Carly Simon brings a woman’s sensibility to “Just Like a Woman”. In fact, female renditions of Dylan tunes resonate throughout. Baez and Patti already mentioned along with the incomparable Kidjo. One of the delightful surprises here is Diana Krall’s “Simple Twist of Fate” wherein she brings out all the beauty of the song. A love song after all.

Disappointments?  Not many.  Sting does “Girl from the North Country”, a personal favorite, soft and sweet as it should be but he changes so many notes that by the end you almost think you are listening to a different song.  And Mark Knopfler continues the tradition begun with his work with Emmy Lou Harris of rendering himself and listeners nearly comatose on “Restless Farewell.”

As noted, though, there are nearly four score songs here and they couldn’t all be magnificent.

But almost.

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

 


Live Music: Larry Harlow’s “La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite,” at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

January 26, 2012

Salsa Goes to the Concert Hall

By Fernando Gonzalez

Miami.  Pianist, songwriter, arranger and producer Larry Harlow not only helped define salsa and mastermind many of its hits; he also created some of the genre’s most ambitious pieces.

But in music, great artistic ambition carries a price.

Lalrry Harlow

Harlow’s La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite, is a four-part piece for large ensemble, including singers, brass, percussion, and strings. It was recorded for Fania Records in 1977, but it hadn’t been played live until its premiere at Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival in August 2010. Last week’s concert at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami was only its second performance ever. The show ended in a party — but after a frustrating, and finally unsatisfying concert.

The first half featured the Mario Ortiz Jr. All-Star Orchestra, a solid, storied outfit, founded in 1963 by the late, notable Puerto Rican trumpeter and bandleader Mario Ortiz. His son, also a trumpeter, carries on the family tradition well. The orchestra, while betrayed by the acoustics of the hall, evoked the classic mambo sound of the great 1950s Latin orchestras convincingly, and then moved fluidly to Cubop and salsa and back.

The highlight of the first half, however, was a brief but animated feature by conguero Candido Camero. Best known as simply Candido, he was born in Cuba, and after years of visiting, he started his career in the United States with a six week engagement in Miami in 1952.

Candido Camero

Candido then went on to a mindboggling career that includes stints with Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Taylor, Erroll Garner and Stan Kenton, and recordings with the royalty of jazz and Latin music including Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and Tito Puente. Candido will be 90 on April — but chose to celebrate his birthday on Friday, playing the Happy Birthday song on his tuned congas to the delight of an adoring audience. And while he walked on stage gingerly, helped by an aide, once behind his three- conga set he seemed to get younger by the minute.

“When I walk, it’s as if I am 100 years old,” said the chatty Candido addressing the audience in Spanish. “It’s not the age. It’s the arthritis. But when I play, look out! (in English, then back to Spanish) Because I feel like I’m 20.” Backed by the orchestra, he played bits of “Manteca,” told stories (he recalled starting as a percussionist by playing two tin cans of condensed milk. “Look how far those to little tin cans have taken me.”) played a bit and shuffled off to a warm ovation.

The second half featured Harlow conducting a large ensemble comprised of Ortiz’s orchestra augmented by strings, brass, percussion (including conguero Richie Flores and drummer Bobby Sanabria), and a six-piece choir. The show also included vocalists Adonis Puentes, Emo Luciano, and Luisito Rosario, four dancers and, for good measure, a tap dancer.

Larry Harlow and Adonis Puentes

By design, La Raza Latina is a complex hybrid – neither a simple, danceable, extended salsa tune nor strictly a suite in a classical sense. Appropriately, the make-up of the orchestra and the arranging (by Harlow, Marty Sheller and Luis “Perico” Ortiz) evokes, at different times, a cross of rumba group, charanga, salsa band, big band and symphonic orchestra.

In the best of circumstances, a live performance of this piece with such an orchestra would be a challenge. In this presentation, the combination of the treacherous acoustics of the Arsht Center and the poor attention to detail and dynamics in the performance, failed the ideas and textural variety in the piece.

Only the first piece of the suite, a sort of scene-setter, plays like a stand-alone salsa song and it worked fine. But the rest of La Raza Latina is designed as one continuous piece suggesting the evolution arc of the sounds and styles in Afro-Cuban music. It echoes its African roots, takes off from the rumba, featuring just voice and percussion, hints at the son and the danzón, and gains the shadings of the big band before concluding in the promises, now outdated, of its closing movement, “The Future.”

It’s a grand plan that calls for a careful sectional balance, detailed use of dynamics and a judicious management of the vocals and soloing.

In this version, as the performance unfolded uniformly loud and hyperactive, it brought diminishing returns and the excitement of that opening section turned into tedium. Compounding the problems, the vocalists seemed to approach the concert with their standard salsa showmanship, exhorting the audience to get up and dance, adding to the overexcitement.

With its changes in tempos, grooves and styles, La Raza Latina doesn’t lend itself to freewheeling dancing.  After a couple of attempts, most decided to continue listening sitting down.

La Raza Latina once represented an artistic and commercial challenge in salsa. This time, it clearly was also a challenge for many in the audience. What is this? Is it dance music? Listening music? Maybe that’s what some of the jazz dancers felt when the music leaped forward and they had to come to terms with bebop.

Those waiting for a party to break out got their wish on the encore. With Harlow now at the electric piano, the band reprised Arsenio Rodriguez’s classic “La Cartera,” which in the 70s became a signature song for Harlow. There were long solos (violinist Alfredo de la Fe wandered off into the audience, which was now standing up and clapping along) and a loose party atmosphere.

That’s all well and good, but La Raza Latina is a piece that deserves a better reading. Let’s hope we don’t have wait another 35 years to get it.

Photos by Nathan Valentine/WorldRedEye.  



Picks of the Week: Jan. 24 – 29

January 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

The Jazz & Blules Review: Courtney Lemmon, Gina Saputo, Dianne Wright, George Kahn

- Jan. 25. (Wed.) The Jazz and Blues Review.  Featuring Courtney Lemmon, Gina Saputo and Dianne Wright.  Backed by the George Kahn Quintet.  They’ve been called “a journey through blues and jazz, from New York to Los Angeles, from the Andrews Sisters to the Pointer Sisters at the intersection of Jump St. and Boogaloo Ave.”  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 25. (Wed.)  The London Handel Players.  The English ensemble makes its West Coast debut performing the music of Handel (of course), J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach in one of the Southland’s grand locations.  Chamber Music in Historic Sites.  The Grand Salon at the Ebell of Los Angeles.     (213) 477-2929.

- Jan. 25 – 29. (Wed. – Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet.  The versatile, pocket rocket trumpeter gets into a straight ahead grove with his dynamic quintet.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 26. (Thurs.)  Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra“Baroque Conversations 1”  The first of the LACO’s performances of Baroque music – mostly Bach in this case – with music introduced from the stage by the artists, and open questioning from the audience to conclude the evening.  Oboist Alan Vogel leads the 14 piece ensemble of singers and instrumentalists.  Zipper Concert Hall.    (213) 622-7001 ext. 1.

- Jan. 26. (Thurs.)  Frank Potenza Quartet.  Guitarist Potenza has assembled an intriguing international ensemble, with the versatile Doug Webb, saxophones, ever-swinging Paul Kreibich, drums and – from New Caledonia – Michel Benebig, Hammond organ and Shem Benebig, vocals.  Brasserie Jazz Lounge, Crowne Plaza Hotel.  (310) 258-1333.

Lucinda Williams

- Jan. 27. (Fri.)  Lucinda Williams and Blake Mills. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Williams – named “America’s best songwriter” in 2002 – shares the stage, in solo and duo sets, with young guitarist Mills.  UCLA Live.  Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

- Jan. 27. (Fri.)  Chuck Manning . Tenor saxophonist Manning’s versatility is always on display.  “No matter what the context, his mix of smarts and heart will get two you,” wrote Brick Wahl in the L.A. Weekly.  He’s backed by Theo Saunders, piano, Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Jan. 28. (Sat.)  Simplexity.  What is Simplexity?  An assemblage of all-star, first-call jazz players, led by bassist John von Seggern, coming together in a project that blends electronic ambient sounds and textures, contemporary dance beats and the soul of jazz improvisation.  Should be an evening to remember. Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

- Jan. 28. (Sat.)  They Might Be Giants.  The pioneering alternative rock band celebrates its 30th anniversary with a pair of Royce Hall appearances.  The family show, at 3 p.m. will draw on award-winning kids’ albums.  The evening program, at 8 p.m. will be highlighted by their latest album, Join Us.  Folk singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulter opens the show.  UCLA Live.  Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

San Francisco

Wesla Whitfield

- Jan. 26. (Thurs.)  Wesla Whitfield with the Mike Greensil Trio.  Cabaret singer Whitfield and her husband, pianist Greensil have been offering definitive interpretations of classics from the Great American Songbook for decades.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- Jan. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat.)  The Stanley Clarke Band.  Always adventuring into new combinations, the current Clarke band includes regulars Ruslan Sirota, keyboards and Ronald Bruner, drums, with the added contributions of the eclectic young violinist, Zach BrockYoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

New York

- Jan. 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Tierney Sutton Band.  There’s nothing quite like the combination of Sutton’s airy vocals with the ever-compatible musical embrace of the players – pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker — she has been performing with for two decades. Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

- Jan. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Billy Childs Quartet.  Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his jazz chamber ensemble to groove hard with Steve Wilson, alto saxophone, Hans Glawischnig, bass and Eric Harland, drums.  Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

- Jan. 27. (Fri.)  Manhattan School of Music Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra.  Conducted by Justin DiCioccio.  A celebration the Stan Kenton Centennial, featuring the music of Kenton’s Innovations Orchestra.  Among the works that will be featured are Bill Russo’s “Improvisation,” Pete Rugolo’s “Interlude,” Robert Graettinger’s “City of Glass” and Stan Kenton’s “Artistry in Rhythm.”  RoBorden Auditorium at the Manhattan School of Music.  (917) 493-4428.

Boston

Ron Carter

- Jan. 27 – 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Ron Carter Trio. Every version of the Carter Trio is classy, and none more so than this high flying combination of bassist Carter, Russell Malone, guitar and Donald Vega, piano.  Regatta Bar.

Paris

- Jan. 28. (Sat.)  Renaud Garcia-Fons.  The brilliant bassist has created one of the unique sounds and styles in contemporary music, playing his five stringed acoustic instrument in works that blend, jazz, flamenco, folk music, classical and “new musette.”  New Morning.  01 45 23 51 41.

Copenhagen

- Jan. 26 & 27. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Jacky Terrasson.  French pianist Terrasson leads a stellar European jazz piano trio, with Thomas Fonnesbaek, bass and Alex Riel, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 15 65 65.

Jazz & Blues Review photo by Mara Zaslove.

Ron Carter photo by Tony Gieske


Live Jazz: Gretchen Parlato at a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast

January 23, 2012

By Michael Katz

Vocalist Gretchen Parlato returned home to Los Angeles Saturday night before a large and enthusiastic audience at the Musician’s Institute, under the aegis the of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast program. Having seen Parlato twice previously, the most notable addition was a steady working trio behind her that weaved seamlessly with her impressionistic stylings.

Pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Mark Guiliana, from the opening medley of  “Within Me” and “Holding Back The Years,” provided sensitive soloing and percussive backing that were reminiscent of the Tierney Sutton Band. That band, of course, has been together for years and Parlato’s choice of material tends to be more atmospheric; much of her material seems to flow in a stream of consciousness.

Her opening medley was followed by another combination, Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” with an impressive bass opening by Raghavan. Her interpretation of “Butterfly” worked especially well, the lilting melody lingering in one’s mind throughout the performance. She augmented the lyrics with dreamy vocalizations – sometimes a little too often for my taste, but the band’s support, particularly the piano work of Harris, kept the listener’s attention focused.

Gretchen Parlato

One of Parlato’s best attributes is her comfort with Brazilian tunes and rhythms. About midway through the set, she donned a pair of small percussion shakers and sang an enchanting “Alo Alo” from Paulinho Da Viola. Parlato has an ease with these lyrics; she engages the audience more directly, the rhythms speaking for themselves.  She followed that with her own compositions “Circling,” another whispery piece that featured some lovely piano work by Harris, and “Lost and Found,” the title song from her latest CD, with some nice brush work from Guiliana. But it was more Brazilian rhythms that provided one of the most engaging numbers in the set, “On The Other Side,” a Francis Jacob composition from her In A Dream CD. Parlato was at her beguiling best, working with a larger double gourd shaker this time, weaving the melody in with Harris’s textured playing.

Following an up tempo reading of “Blue In Green,” Parlato ended the set by calling up an old friend named Annie and her little boy  Magnus, whose singing to his soon-to-be sibling during his mom’s pregnancy had inspired Parlato to create a full fledged tune named for him. Parlato sang with the boy and his mom, and eventually the audience. It was a moment of totally spontaneous joy that connected with listeners on every level. Obviously that hometown camaraderie can’t be recreated every night, but it does demonstrate that Parlato, whose stage presence sometimes seems a little too cool and laid back, possesses the verve to reach out and grab an audience.


An Appreciation: Etta James and Johnny Otis

January 21, 2012

By Devon Wendell

This has indeed been a sad week in the world of music with the loss of two giants in the world of r&b, blues, jazz, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll.

The first, Johnny Otis, r & b pioneer, bandleader, talent scout, drummer, and composer, whose imagination would help transform hit-sculpted r&b into rock ‘n’ roll. Otis passed away at his home in Los Angeles this last Tuesday, January 17th, 2012.  Otis was 90.

JOhnny Otis

Otis, the son of two Greek immigrants,  was born in Vallejo, California on December 28th, 1921.  From an early age he knew how to incorporate everything that was going on around him and turn it into a cohesive package that everyone could understand.  This is evident on his 1958 hit “Willie And The Hand Jive,” in which we hear jump blues, soul, jazz, all in a way that was funky, familiar, and new.

Among Otis’s discoveries were Jackie Wilson, Johnny Ace, Little Richard, Hank Ballard, and Esther Philips. Otis felt that the most prolific changes in music were happening in the African American communities, which he spoke of openly.

It was evident that Otis had his pulse on the future. He knew what young people wanted before they did. A prime example of that was a tune he penned in 1946 called “Harlem Nocturne,” that was later recorded and made a hit by The Viscounts in 1960 as rock music was blooming.

The Bo Diddley beat was honed and crafted by Otis’s producing skills as he wrote many variations of Diddley’s break out hit in 1955, “Bo Diddley.”

More evidence of the fact Otis had a golden ear was apparent in his most powerfully soulful discovery, Etta James, who passed away Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 — music’s second great loss this week.  She was 73 years young and died of complications of leukemia.

Etta James

If B.B. King is the reigning King Of The Blues, there’s no doubt that Etta was the music’s queen.  James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on January 25th, 1938.

It was Johnny Otis who wrote James’s first hit, “The Wallflower,” aka “Roll With Me Henry,” in 1955.  This tunes exemplified James’s feminine power as it was written as a punchback, female response to Otis’s overtly misogynist hit “Work With Me Annie” for Hank Ballard.

Etta came out swinging and wasn’t going to take any prisoners on her journey.

She could take a song that may have sounded like a saccharine ballad — like Glenn Miller’s “At Last” — and inject it with rawness, sensuality, and vulnerability rarely heard on records when she made it a hit in 1961.

James became a part of Chess records, a roster that was dominated by such figures of blues male machismo as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry.  Her dark, sassy voice and bad assed attitude on classics “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Tell Mama,” and “All I Could Do Was Cry” were powerful enough to give Muddy and Wolf a few left hooks that they felt hard.

James could take anything from pop, soul, blues, jazz, and rock, and make it her own.

Her renditions of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” and even  a take of Guns n’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle,” from her last album ever – The Dreamer — were independent forces of nature on their own.

Every nuance reflected her struggles and pain. Only Etta could do that. She took us there, long before any biographies were written. One note and we knew but loved her all the more.

James won four Grammy awards and a lifetime achievement award in 2003 but her music was above all of that pomp and circumstance.

With Johnny Otis and Etta James passing in the same week, we not only reflect on their amazing legacies but we truly feel the huge gap in the musical world today.

These two giants are irreplaceable.

Etta James photo by Tony Gieske.


Brick Wahl: Keeping It Real 1

January 20, 2012

When Brick Wahl received a press release from the San Diego music room, Anthology, announcing that “Anthology is no longer about jazz,” he immediately had a few thoughts to share about the what, why and where of the current jazz club scene, the musicians who populate it (from time to time), and the musical decisions they’re making.  As avid Wahl readers know from his long tenure at the L.A. Weekly, Brick’s thoughts are thorough, to the point and passionate.  And this commentary is no exception.  Whether one agrees or disagrees, it’s worth keeping in mind that Brick, as a writer, musician and knowledgeable music world insider, makes his observations as part of his continuing quest to illuminate solutions as well as problems.  And to do so in his own sweet way.

By Brick Wahl

Poor Anthology. Yet another jazz club has to play anything but jazz to survive. This place was doing well a few years ago. And you can’t blame it on the recession. If it were strictly an economic issue, they wouldn’t be booking the other kinds of music either. Jazz draws a distinctly higher income level of fans than probably any other music that ain’t classical, etc. The problem is no one likes jazz unless they play it.

Well, it’s not that people don’t like jazz. It’s just they don’t like the way most of you are playing it.

I spent the last couple years watching this happen. The fan base melted away. It’s virtually non-existent anymore.

I’d recommend taking a look at what you all are doing and seeing why no one likes it but jazz musicians.  That is if you want to keep playing anywhere except house parties and art museums. If you look into a crowd and see nothing but your colleagues and students, you’ve gone from a career to a hobby.

Brick Wahl

I’m not saying you need to go commercial. I’m not saying go simple. Or go stupid. Or stop playing the radical shit. Or play the same ancient lifeless standards or even follow all those old rules about who solos when. I’m just saying maybe it’s time to figure out what it was that drew people to the music in the first place. Drew you to it in the first place.  The fire. The blues. The excitement. The fact that it  made you feel alive to hear it, to hear a soloist rip into something and fly along, or maybe the unbelievable swing of a wailing big band. Whatever the excitement was. That excitement that is almost totally gone anymore. Somewhere along the line this stuff went from being jazz to being academic.

Ya know, it’s funny the way a jazz fan hears, say, some classic be bop recording or a stack of those old Blue Note LPs or some roaring live Trane or Newk recordings. You all seem to hear the technique, the mechanics, you can see the music in your head. It unfurls in your skull like one of the Auto Club road maps, showing you where everything is and how to get there. It might take a little work, with Bird or Trane, but you can still follow the map. But we listeners don’t hear it that way. Not at all. We can’t. We hear just this great, exciting music. We dig the groove, or get kicked up by the swing, or are blown away buy some intense solos. That’s what we hear. I shouldn’t speak for other critics, since they aren’t as musically illiterate as I am, but I can for the fans, since that’s all I am. And that is how us fans hear those records. Illiterately. We don’t know what’s going on like you  all do, but we dig them. Dig them a lot. We don’t have to be music majors to understand them. They had elements that appealed to us…the swing, the groove, the attack, the passion, the feeling…..

Feeling. Yeah, that’s it. That feeling. That feeling that they were part of us. Part off the culture. Part of the street, or at least of the bars we’d go hear it in. Even at it’s most radical, it still had an earthy, street wise feel to it. There was nothing about those sessions that smelled like an antiseptic classroom. Or an art museum.

But that’s gone in this town. Well, almost gone anyway. It’s just all about art anymore. The art of jazz.

But anyone can make art. They teach you how in school. It’s connect-the-dots. It may be complicated connect-the-dots, but it’s connect-the-dots. What’s hard is to go beyond that. The soul of the shit is beyond that.  Is under that. Is all around that. But you won’t find it in the music books. Or in lattices of musical complexity, in variations only jazz musicians can hear. You find it when you hit the moment that moves people, that connects them with what you are doing. Otherwise it’s all gibberish to them. They can’t hear it.

But apparently that’s the point. Making music that we out here sitting at the bar can’t hear.  I mean you should hear yourselves talk. Listening to jazz musicians talk about jazz is like hearing physicists talk about quantum mechanics.

One of my very favorite of the younger guitarists gave an interview in which he described how jazz is like a fine wine anymore, and there are enough sophisticated people out there that can tell what makes a fine wine from a not so fine wine, that have the sensitive palette you need to be wine connoisseur. And jazz now demands listeners who have that same fine palette.  It read well. And you can see his point. And he’s a swell guy and one of my favorite players on the scene and is brilliant. I really dig this dude. But he was so unbelievably fucking wrong.

I mean I can’t tell you shit about fine wine. I can’t tell one from the other. Furthermore, wine snobs irritate the fuck out of me.

Even worse, the tongue is not capable of discerning all the tastes oonophiles claim they can distinguish. That is the cold, hard science of it. Wine critics are making all of that up. It is 90% pretension. It’s fun and fascinating, but it’s not real.

Which makes it one helluva bad analogy for jazz fans.

You see, jazz fans want it real. They crave the real. They aren’t finding it. And they don’t give a flying fuck about music theory or what you learned at USC. They want something that moves them. I could drag in more booze analogies here but I won’t. They’d be bullshit. Just arty writing. Technique. Writers fall back on technique all the time. It’s bullshit. It’s the easiest thing in  the world to do. You want techique I could lay technique on you that’d make your head spin. You want theory and I can go on for hours about linguistic theory till the colorless green sheep come home. But no one wants to read that. Why would they? Writers need to write the real. Otherwise no one wants to read us. Or believe us. Readers want to read it real, readers want to read what they can understand, readers want to read what moves them.

Hint. Hint. Hint fucking hint.

To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 2 click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 16 – 22

January 15, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Clare Fischer

- Jan. 16. (Mon.)  Clare Fischer Big Band.  The multiple Grammy-winning composer/arranger/pianist (and more) has a resume reaching from Dizzy Gillespie and Donald Byrd to Prince and Paul McCartney, with numerous stops in between.  His own groups have reached from small to large, covering a brilliantly eclectic array of creative styles.  This time out, it’s his dynamic, colorful music for big band.  However, because Fischer is recovering from a recent heart attack, the performance will be conducted by his son, arranger/composer Brent FischerVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 17. (Tues.)  Pia Zadora. Singer, actress, Golden Globe winner and Grammy nominee Zadora has always been at her best in live performances, when her natural skills as an entertainer are on full display, as they undoubtedly will be here. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Jan. 17 – 21. (Tues. – Sat.)  Gilad Hekselman.  Critically praised Israeli jazz guitarist Hekselman is the winner of the 2005 Gibson Guitar Competition.  This week he introduces himself to the Southland via a string of appearances around L.A., mostly with Ben Wendel, tenor saxophone, Dave Robair, bass and Ferenc Nemeth, drums.  On Tues. with John Pisano and Robair at Vitello’s.  On Wed. with the Matt Otto Quartet at the Blue Whale.  On Thurs. with his Quartet at Alva’s Showroom.  On Friday with his Trio  at Agoura High School.  And on Saturday with his Quartet at the Blue Whale.

- Jan. 19. (Thurs.) Billy Childs Electric Band.  Ever eager to take his probing musical curiosity into different territories, pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his chamber jazz ensemble to turn on the switches of his Electric Band.  The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

- Jan. 19 – 21. (Thurs. – Sat. ) Chris Minh Doky.  Danish bassist/producer Doky has thoroughly established himself – via his own groups, his producing, and the band he formed with his brother, Chris – as one of the vital players in today’s contemporary, crossover jazz scene.  His group, the Nomads, is energized by the vibrant drumming of Dave Weckl. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 20. (Fri.) OVOCirque d’Soleil’s latest extraordinary adventure opens at the Santa Monica Pier. This time out, the company’s incredibly gifted performers, musicians and artists take on the world of insects, a world enlivened by elements that are “tender and torrid, noisy and quiet, peaceful and chaotic. ” All of which becomes even more engaging when a mysterious egg appears in their midst.  Cirque d’Soleil’s  OVO.  Under the big top at the Santa Monica Pier.

- Jan. 20. (Fri.) KALPA.  A fascinating multi-media event takes place in the wide open spaces of the Getty Center Entrance Hall Steps and Arrival Plaza.  Created by Hirokazu Kosaka, it has a score by Yuval Ron.  Performers include Tetsuya Nakamura, harmonica and Japanese circular pan flute, Yuval Ron, autoharp and electronics, Rafael Lopez-Barrentez, vocals.  The Getty Center.    (310) 440-7300.

Elis Regina

- Jan. 21.  (Sat.)  “Elis: A Celebration.”  Singer/dancer Katia Moraes has assembled a tribute to the legendary Brazilian singer, Elis Regina – an influence on Moraes’ musical growth from the time she was a teen-ager.  The event includes a photo art exhibition, a video screening, and a live performance, all focused on memories of the remarkable Elis.  Brasil Brasil Cultural Center.   (310_ 397-3667.

- Jan. 21. (Sat.) Kathleen Battle.  The gorgeous voice of soprano Battle is applied to a program of spirituals, backed by pianist Cyrus Chestnut and the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers.  Royce Hall. UCLA Live.    (310) 825-2101.

Gretchen Parlato

- Jan. 21. (Sat.)  Gretchen Parlato.  In a jazz world populated by a continuing line of newly arriving female singers, Parlato continues to hold her own.  Applying her subtle range of vocal sounds with creative insights, telling musical stories enriched with flowing rhythms, she is a memorable performer – one of a kind. The Musicians Institute Concert Center.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

Jan. 21 – 22. (Sat. & Sun.)  New Shanghai Circus.  Acrobats, tumblers, contortionists and strong men, aerial ballet and flying trapeze acts  – and that’s just the beginning of the astonishing sights presented by this extraordinary collection of talented artists.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

- Jan. 22.  (Sun.)  Los Angeles Chamber OrchestraMostly MozartAndrew Shulman conducts the versatile and gifted players of the LACO in Mozart’s Symphony No. 29, the Violin Concerto No. 3 (featuring violinist Nigel Armstrong) and the Walton Sonata For Strings. Royce Hall.  UCLA Live.   (310) 825-2101.

Ojai

Ron Eschete

- Jan. 21. (Sat.)  Ron Eschete Trio.  Seven string guitar master Eschete joins forces with Joe Bagg, B-3 organ and piano and Paul Kreibich, drums, to generate an irresistible example of the musical pleasures of the classic jazz organ/guitar/drums trio,.  Ojai Jazz Concerts at the Ojai Valley Community Church.    (805) 746-0936.

San Francisco

- Jan. 20 – 21. (Fri. & Sat.)  Bobby Hutcherson Birthday.  The veteran vibist shares the excitement of his 71st birthday (On Jan. 27) via a musical celebration featuring a musical encounter with the impressive young vibes player, Warren WolfYoshi’s San Francisco.     (415) 655-5600.

Santa Cruz

- Jan. 19. (Thurs.)  Mads Tolling.  A Grammy-winning, former member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, Danish-American violinist Tolling offers a musical tribute to electric violin path-finder, Jean-Luc Ponty.   Kuumbwa Jazz.   (831) 427-2227.

San Diego

- Jan. 18. (Wed.)  The Family Stone. Some of the most electrically exciting music of the ‘70s is still vibrantly alive in the hands of original members of Sly’s Family Stone: Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini and Greg ErricoAnthology.    (619) 595-0300.

Seattle

- Jan 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jeff Lorber Fusion.  When keyboardist Lorber first came up with the concept of jazz fusion in the late ‘70s, it was invigorated by deep jazz roots.  As it is today, especially with a line up like this, with Randy Brecker, trumpet, Eric Marienthal, alto saxophone, Lionel Cordew, drums and Ron Jenkins, bass.  Jazz Alley.     (206) 441-9729.

Washington, D.C.

Rudresh Mahanthappa

- Jan. 19. (Thurs.)  Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Rapidly establishing himself as one of the most critically praised new voices on the jazz alto saxophone, Mahanthappa is bringing new ideas and sounds to jazz.  He’s featured here as one of four India-related jazz artists (with Sachel Vasandani, Sanjay Mishra and Rez Abbasi) appearing in the “Indian Jazz Series” from Monday through Thursday.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

Boston

- Jan. 21. (Sat.)  Pat Martino Organ Trio. Despite a pair of career absences that took him completely away from music for more than a decade (the first due to a brain aneurysm, the second when his parents became ill) Martino – one of jazz’s most virtuosic guitarists – has continued to build a solid musical career.  Here he performs in classic organ trio setting. Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.

New York

- Jan. 17 – 22. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Chris Potter Quartet.  Sometimes taken for granted, for his ability to make other groups sound compelling, tenor saxophonist Potter is nonetheless a unique talent in his own right, one who deserves every jazz listener’s full attention.  The Village Vanguard.    (212) 255-4037.

- Jan 17 – 22.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Bill Frisell, Ron Carter and Joey Baron. It would be hard to imagine a more inventively adept, musical versatile trio of players than this stellar group.  Expect something new and magical every night. The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

Lou Donaldson

- Jan. 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Lou Donaldson Quartet.  At 85, alto saxophonist Donaldson is still going strong.  The traces of his early allegiance to Charlie Parker are still present, but Donaldson long ago embraced them with his own stirring improvisational methods.  The Jazz Standard.    (212) 889-2005.

- Jan. 22. (Sun.)  Carnatic Sundays.  South Indian music is on full display in this intriguing evening of music.  Karavika is a string and tabla ensemble exploring the intersection between Carnatic music and American blues, jazz and folk music. The Arun Ramumurthy Quartet features the virtuosic violin of Ramumurthy in a quartet with bass, jazz drum set and the two-headed South Indian mridangam drum.  Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.

London

- Jan. 16 & 17. (Mon. & Tues.)  Carmen Lundy. Singer/songwriter/actress Lundy is a jazz rara avis, a female  vocalist who also writes her own songs.  And who does so with imaginative skill.  Add to that the fact that Lundy also finds new stories in the standard jazz songbook, bringing fascinating perspectives to material old and new.  Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747.

Milan

- Jan 17. (Tues.)  John Abercrombie and Mark CoplandSpeak To Me, the first duo recording of guitarist Abercrombie and pianist Copland, released late 2011, was a classic display of subtle, thoughtfully conceived jazz interplay at its most mesmerizing.  The Blue Note Milano.   02.69.01.68.88.

Tokyo

Pat Metheny

- Jan. 20 – 28.  (Fri. – Sat.)  An Evening With Pat Metheny.  With frequent musical associate bassist Larry Grenadier on hand, inventive Metheny will no doubt offer the  full range of sounds and music – hopefully including his 42 string Pikasso guitar – he’s been exploring lately in his constant creative adventuring.   The Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

Ron Eschete photo by Bob Barry.


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