CD Review: “Come and See the Show: The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

June 29, 2012

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Come and See the Show: The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Razor & Tie)

By Mike Finkelstein

Emerson, Lake and Palmer didn’t begin as a super-group, but in retrospect the band’s pedigree indicated all along that they would sound special.   The band consisted of keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson, fresh out of the classically leaning pop group The Nice, and Greg Lake who bowed out of a prominent role in King Crimson’s legendary sound on their first album (he is the voice on “In the Court of the Crimson King”). Carl Palmer, a hugely talented drummer and a former member of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown was recruited to drive the band.   It turns out he was not the band’s first choice on drums — it was actually Mitch Mitchell.   In fact, the band began its career amidst a swirl of rumors that Jimi Hendrix was to be part of the band.   While one can only imagine what, on mere mortal earth, this would have sounded like, the rumors only existed because Emerson and Lake were courting Mitchell to be in the band in the wake of the Experience breaking up.  Mitchell had suggested having Jimi play on the upcoming audition jams, but Hendrix died before anything could materialize and the jam never took place.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

It has been more than 40 years since ELP were burning it up as a trailblazing band at the forefront of the progressive rock movement in England that also gave us bands like Yes, King Crimson, Procol Harum, Genesis, Gentle Giant, and the Soft Machine, to name a very few.   All of these bands were outstanding in terms of playing and writing in their own styles, creating a whole esthetic theme for each album and carrying this esthetic into live performances.   ELP were second to none and certainly one of the very first to be a successful prog band.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s forte was fusing classical music, jazz improvisation, folk music and hard rock together.  It was an ambitious and often fruitful several years in the mid- to early 70’s for ELP.   The result was a gigantic but remarkably nuanced sound.  Perhaps because they were only three pieces, there was always enough room in the arrangements to hear the subtlety meshed with the enormity.   You could always follow every part clearly.

Now, their albums are going to be re-released as expanded packages by Razor and Tie Records.   In anticipation, the company has issued a tidy teaser/sampler greatest hits package, Come and See the Show: The Best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and it does represent the band’s parameters well.  Looking at the program and then listening to it reminds us of just how big, yet detailed a sound ELP honed.   No one has sounded like them before or after.

Oddly, however, there is one song included (“Nutrocker”) to represent ELP’s iconic original-release interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s famous work on a live album, Pictures at an Exhibition, that was otherwise largely devoted to Mussorgsky’s composition of the same name.   And there is nothing from the Tarkus album, an ambitious but underrated concept album about the developing problems of over-militarization in the world.   It will be very interesting to see what Razor and Tie will add to the packaging of these two albums when they are released, because they were true milestones as the band established its own musical identity.

The songs on Come and See the Show are not in chronological order, but they do showcase the band’s diverse and prodigious talent.  Their fondness for interpreting classical pieces in their own modern style is represented with enduring renditions of Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown, and Fanfare for the Common Man.

A large part of the band’s commercial appeal was based in Greg Lake’s songwriting, arranging, and singing.   On this album we hear the evolution of his style beginning with the folky tale of a fallen warrior in “Lucky Man,” (one of the first songs he wrote) with one of the better Moog/synth solos we may ever hear closing the tune.   Lake’s voice is rich and polished and blends perfectly with his open tuned acoustic guitar.   After this,his style became jazzier, with more open chords, but always with a bevy of pop hooks to make the song appealing.   It’s a desirable musical landscape that he created for the group.

“From the Beginning” endures as a song people will stop to listen to should it surface on the radio.   It’s a gorgeous set of chords and another sterling vocal performance from Lake.   And Emerson’s restraint in playing only catchy, concise, and beautiful lines in the solo spots is notable.   ELP really did make great singles and this is a prime example.

In a similar vein, we get “Still…You Turn Me On,” same format and same tasty results.  Lake refined his image as a balladeer when he recorded “I Believe in Father Christmas”  for the Works album. It’s an elegantly arranged piece of music that is perhaps a little too over the top to be listened to at any other time than Christmas.

Brain Salad Surgery was ELP’s breakout album in 1974.   From it we get “Karn Evil #9,” which yielded the popular phrase “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.”    “Jerusalem,” and “Toccata,” from the same album, are also impressive ELP cuts that represent their ongoing growth in the direction of grand productions.

In their time and in the image of the grandiose fusing of heavy rock and classical music, ELP took their presentation to perhaps silly extremes: playing an organ spinning, suspended from a forklift; stabbing the organ with a knife; a bank of synthesizers sprouting wings.   But through it all, the band pumped out a succession of musically impressive albums.   Their keyboards/bass/drums format was unique and the songwriting blossomed and peaked commercially in the mid 70’s with Brain Salad Surgery.

But at that time, the quality of life changed less for the better in England and in the world in general.  ELP’s grandiose approach to things wore thin and the songwriting waned.   People could not relate to the pretense.   Sooner rather than later, the band’s fortunes faded.

Still, as Come and See the Show reveals, ELP’s best music continues to speak for itself…magnificently.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Jazz: A Celebration of Miles Davis at the Hollywood Bowl

June 28, 2012

By Don Heckman

There was a lot to like about the opening program in the 2012 jazz schedule Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl.  Start with the fact that it was conceived as a tribute to Miles Davis.  Add to that the simultaneous release of a commemorative Davis USPS stamp. And top it off with a program of music celebrating three of Davis’ most memorable recordings.

Herbie Hancock, the L.A. Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz, opened the evening with an introduction of Jimmy Cobb’s “So What” Band playing the complete set of works from Davis’ much praised  Kind of Blue, reportedly the best selling jazz recording of all time.  Cobb, who performed on the original recording, has been touring his Band, emphasizing his connection with Kind of Blue. “So What” is the title of the first tune on the album, and it was first on the program.

Here, as elsewhere in the performance, the evening’s trumpeters – Jeremy Pelt (with the Cobb band), Nicholas Payton (with the Miles Electric Band) and Sean Jones (with Marcus Miller’s “Tutu Revisited”) – had to confront the question of how to take the role of the inimitable Miles Davis in the midst of the legendary trumpeter’s highly influential outings.

To his credit Pelt captured some of the Davis sound and flow without abandoning his own creative identity. So, too did alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson move convincingly within their assumed roles of Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane.  But ultimately, a good part of the appeal of Kind of Blue traces to the way the soloists worked from the amiable sounds of modal harmonies, rather than the complex, often chromatic chords of hard bop.  And it was the pieces themselves – “Freddie Freeloader,” “Blue in Green,” “All Blues” and “Flamenco Sketches” in addition to “So What” – that made the Cobb band’s set appealing.  (This, despite the fact that the audio engineers needed at least two tunes to find a sound balance that did not heavily overweight the bass and piano in the mix.)

The program’s second portion was devoted to Davis’ so-called electric bands, which actually were among the ‘70s and ‘80s’most convincing blends of jazz and electric rock elements.  Performed by an eleven piece band featuring Payton’s trumpet, the saxophones of Antoine Roney, the guitar of Blackbyrd McNight and high energy percussion from Mino Cinelu, Munyungo Jackson and tabla player Badal Roy, such classic Davis outings as “Jack Johnson,” “Nefertiti” and “In A Silent Way” came vividly to life.  Up to this stage it was clearly the high point of the program.

But it remained for Marcus Miller’s “Tutu Revisted” to climax the evening with a set that would surely have made Davis proud of the encouragement he gave to the bassist/composer/bass clarinetist when he was an enthusiastic young player.  Pieces such as “Tutu” (from the Davis recording of the same name, produced, composed and arranged by Miller) along with newer Miller works such as the deeply atmospheric “Goree” were underscored by remarkable emotional intensity from the players.  Trumpeter Sean Jones and alto saxophonist Alex Han were especially impressive, delivering some of the evening’s most emotionally compelling musical moments.

All that said, the tribute raised a few questions as well.  One wonders, for example, why – given the timely issuance of the  stamp — Miles Davis wasn’t included, five days earlier, among this year’s group of inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.  Maybe next year?

It also was odd to see Herbie Hancock, who was a member of one of Davis’ most highly regarded bands, making announcements without going near a piano.  That band, the Davis quintet of the ‘60s, also included Wayne Shorter, like Hancock a Los Angeles resident.  And one wonders, too, why Shorter and Hancock, with the addition of bassist Ron Carter, a veteran of the same band, couldn’t have been assembled with, say, trumpeter Wallace Roney (who was mentored by Davis) and a drummer with Tony Williams’ skills in an impressively authentic version of an important Davis band, otherwise unrepresented in this gathering.

Those carps aside, any celebration of the life of Miles Davis is a worthwhile celebration.  And it was both the successes and the failures of this ambitious program that reminded us of Miles’ greatness, of the vital role he played in the second half of the first jazz century.


Picks of the Week: June 27 – July 1

June 27, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Miles Davis

- June 27. (Wed.)  A Celebration of Miles Davis. Herbie Hancock hosts a trio of Davis tributes: Miles’ Electric Band, Marcus Miller leading  “Tutu Revisited” and Jimmy Cobb leading his “So What” band in  “Kind of Blue.” Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- June 28. (Thurs.)  Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Boz Skaggs.  The Dukes of September. Three rock greats get together once again to touch musical high points reaching from the O’Jays to the Doobie Brothers and the Steely Dan catalog. To read an earlier iRoM review of the Dukes of December click HERE.   Gibson Amphitheatre.  (818) 622-4440.

Judy Wexler

- June 28. (Thurs.) Judy Wexler.  The versatile Ms. Wexler’s admirable jazz vocal skills embrace everything from standards and jazz classics to singer/songwriter tunes from the ‘70s – all done with style and imagination.  LACMA.  .

- June 28. (Thurs.)  Ray Brown, Jr.  The adopted son of the great bassist Ray Brown and the equally inimitable Ella Fitzgerald, Brown was raised in a high level musical environment.  No wonder that he became first a drummer, then a singer, adding contemporary qualities to the musical sounds and substance of his youth.  Crown Plaza.  (310) 258-1333.

- June 29. (Thurs.) Sascha’s Bloc Band.  Led by musician/surgeon Alex Gershman (Sascha), the Bloc Band includes players from Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and beyond, performing  an eclectic blend of European roots music, gypsy jazz, flamenco and much more.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Bob Sheppard

- June 29. (Fri.) Bob Sheppard.  Saxophonist Sheppard, one of the Southland’s prime jazz artists still doesn’t receive the critical attention his far-reaching skills deserve.  He’s backed by Theo Saunders, piano, Pat Senatore, bass and Ferenc Nemeth, drums.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- June 29. (Fri.)  The Arte Café opens in the Town Center Plaza in Cerritos with another great Los Angeles saxophonist, Rickey Woodard, leading the way.  He’ll perform with pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Roy McCurdy.  For information, call In-House Music at (310)216-5861.

- June 29. (Fri.)  Summerland.  The first ever Summerland tour features an impressive assembly of hit-making bands: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy PlaygroundGreek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

Dave Frishberg

- June 30. (Sat.)  Dave Frishberg.  The Stephen Sondheim of jazz songwriters brings his memorable catalog (“Peel Me A Grape,” “Do You Miss New York?” “My Attorney Bernie,” etc., his engaging vocal style and his crisply swinging piano to town for a too-rare L.A. appearance.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. .  (310) 271-9039.

- June 30. (Sat.) B52s and Squeeze.  With over 20 million albums sold in their 35 year career, it’s no surprise that the B52s are called the “World’s greatest party band.”  Expect to feel the pulse when the  hits, old and new, begin.  The popular U.K. band Squeeze opens the performance. Greek Theatre.     (323) 665-5857.

- July 1. (Sun.)  Chuchito Valdes Latin Jazz Band.  Son of the great Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, Chuchito has followed in his father’s musical foosteps, finding fascinating new territories in the world of Latin jazz. Featured artist with Valdes will be the versatile, multi-saxophone player Laksar Reese.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Ben Harper

- July 1. (Sun.)  Ben Harper, Fitz and the Tantrums, Vieux Farka Toure. The World Festival 2012 series begins with a trio of unique artists demonstrating the linkages between the blues, soul music and dynamic African rhythms.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- June 28. (Thurs.) Paul McCandless and Antonio Calogero.   A keystone member of the band Oregon and the Paul Winter Consort, McCandless’ wind instrument versatility is one of the unique sounds of the jazz and world music blend.  He appears with the talented young Italian guitarist, Calogero. Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020 Ext. 20.

Seattle

- June 28 – July 1. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Diane Schuur. Singer Schuur’s long career has seen her perform  effecttvely in several cross genre styles, from jazz to pop.  More recently, she’s blended all those styles into a unique expressiveness of her own making.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

- June 29. (Fri.)  The Ben Monder Theo Bleckmann Duo.  Grammy-nominated singer/composer Bleckmann and pianist Monder have spent nearly two decades shaping a vocal form that might best be described as “jazz art songs.”  The results are extraordinary.  Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.

Harry Allen

- June 29 & 30. (Fri. & Sat.)  Harry Allen Quartet. At a time when the influence of John Coltrane and/Sonny Rollins dominates the tenor saxophone world, Allen – a dedicated traditionalist – strives convincingly to keep the pre-bop styles of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and others vividly alive. Smalls.

- June 29 – July 1. (Fri. – Sun.) Charlie Watts: “The A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie.”  Watts, best known as the drummer with the Rolling Stones, yet always a stalwart fan of jazz, has just released the first album of his Boogie Woogie Band.  They’ll celebrate the release with a live performance of some of the album’s selections.  The band consists of Axel Zwingenberger, piano, Dave Green, bass and Ben Waters, piano and vocals.  The Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

London

- June 27 – 29. (Wed. – Fri.)  Curtis Stigers.  Saxophonist/singer Stigers had all the look of a rare, break out jazz vocalist in the ’90s.  His visibility has dimmed somewhat since then, despite his still attractive style.  Give credit to listeners in the U.K. for continuing to recognize his appealing qualities. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.

Tokyo

Hilary Kole

- June 26 & 27. (Tues. & Wed.)  Hilary Kole. The sound alone of Kole’s warm, embracing voice would almost be enough to make anything she does listenable.  But she raises the bar much higher with a combination of attractive musicality and compelling story telling. Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

- June 28 – July 1. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Sadao Watanabe. One of the first Japanese jazz artists to break through to international fame, saxophonist Watanabe, at 79, is still a master of the bebop genre. Blue Note Tokyo. 03.5485.0088.


Live Brazilian Music: Dori Caymmi at a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast

June 25, 2012

By Michael Katz

Ruth Price brought The Jazz Bakery back to its once and future home in Culver City this weekend, and Westsiders gratefully filled the Kirk Douglas Theatre to capacity Saturday night for a stunning performance by Brazilian composer/singer/guitarist Dori Caymmi. Caymmi boasts a family lineage that predates the samba and bossa nova movement of Jobim, Bonfa, Joao Gilberto and others. His father, Dorival Caymmi, was one of Brazil’s most enduring songwriters, perhaps best known in this country for “O Cantador” (“Like A Lover”); his siblings, Nana and Danilo, have long been a fixture on the Brazilian scene.

Dori Caymmi

Dori, silver haired now and humorously giving nods to age, has a haunting, darkly romantic voice. Singing almost entirely in Portuguese, he manages to communicate the feelings of loss and yearning almost intuitively. His rich, dark tones draw you into the music and his quartet ably provides the texture to fill in the linguistic gaps.

The first third of the ninety minute concert touched on songs from Dorival Caymmi’s era and beyond. Dori used the familiar melody of Jobim’s “Desifinado” as an opening bridge to “Aquarela Do Brasil.” Ary Barrosso’s anthem has stood up to all manner of interpretation; Caymmi’s is brooding, almost foreboding. He gave way to Bill Cantos on keyboards and synthesizer, and Jerry Watts on electric bass. If you are used to the sometimes lush accompaniment of strings and flutes that have supported Caymmi on his recordings and augmented much of Jobim’s music, the electronics can be a bit jarring at first, but Cantos handled them with a light touch, adding his own vocals later in the set. Mark Shapiro handled the full range of percussion instruments, contributing to the drama inherent in Caymmi’s voicings.

There followed one of Dorival’s compositions, a more upbeat, samba-like tune, and then Jobim’s “Corcovado,” introduced by Caymmi’s spare guitar fingerings, dropping down into a minor chord. Like many of the great Brazilian guitarists, Gilberto in particular, Caymmi uses the guitar in an almost surgical fashion. His performance is less a singer accompanying himself than a duet between voice and strings. Shapiro, in particular, is expert in adding the Brazilian rhythms unobtrusively and on “Corcovado,” Cantos contributed a falsetto vocal, skipping lightly over his keyboard patter.

The middle third of the evening was devoted mainly to Caymmi’s latest CD, Poesia Musicada, which sets to music the poetry of Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. Caymmi performed three songs, all in Portuguese, most of which defied any direct translation – “Estrelo Cinco Pontas” roughly comes to “Five Point Star” — but that was about the extent of it. Still, the romantic tenor of the poetry-set-to-music came through without much need for it. The third song, “Velho Do Mar,” an elegy to the coastal city of Bahia in the era when his father was a young man, communicated a longing for a world left behind that resonates especially well here in Los Angeles.

There were plenty of Caymmi originals left in the program, including “Obsession,” which Sarah Vaughan recorded in 1987 on her Brazilian Romance album (with English lyrics). Caymmi’s rendition, not surprisingly, is dark and dangerous, wordless in parts, with some outstanding keyboard work from Cantos. Toward the end of the set, Caymmi picked up the pace with three numbers from Brazilian Serenata, his 1991 CD that has had the widest following here. Voce Ja Foi a Bahia?, a samba written by his father, turned the mood upbeat, with Cantos again supplying a vocal accompaniment and Jerry Watts utilizing a rounded-off timbre on the electric bass to keep the tone pulsating. Caymmi closed out the set with “Amazon River,” the anthem that begins and ends Serenata, and brought the band back for “Ninho de Vespa,” – literally “Beehive,” a traditional samba-esque tune from the same CD.

All in all, it was a rewarding evening for the jazz-starved Westside. It was great to see the Kirk Douglas theatre filled and we can only hope that the new Bakery will be laying it’s foundation before too long.


Live Music: Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan at the Hollywood Bowl 2012 Opening NIght

June 23, 2012

By Don Heckman

The Hollywood Bowl opened its 91st season Friday night with a familiar bang.  Once again, the summer’s first celebratory evening climaxed with a spectacular display of the Bowl’s justifiably famous fireworks.

And there were musical pyrotechnics as well, in an evening announcing the induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame of two stellar performers – the first time in the 13 year history of the Hall of Fame that all the inductees were females: singers Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan.  They join a celebrated company of artists reaching from John Williams and Stevie Wonder to Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters.

The highlights of the Hall of Fame performances are – when possible – a live performance by the inductees.  And this program was no exception.

Reba McEntire

After an introduction by the evening’s host, Julie Andrews, a video tribute from Lily Tomlin and a whimsical commentary from actress Melissa Peterman, McEntire – accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins — began a too-brief program of songs touching high points in her remarkably diverse career.

A jaunty romp through “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” from McEntire’s starring Broadway performance in Annie Get Your Gun, was followed by “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from her Bowl performance of South Pacific five years ago. Continuing with the theme song from her television series, Reba, she concluded with a spirited salute to her country music fans, singing one of her all-time hits, “Fancy.”

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan’s appearance, which consumed most of the program’s second half, was a lengthy, fully packaged production in which she was surrounded by a group of singers, a company of dancers, her back up musicians and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  The 10-time Grammy winning mistress of funk and soul was at her high voltage best, investing everything she sang with the irresistible emotional intensity that is the signature of her style.

After an introduction by American Idol’s Randy Jackson, Khan rocketed into a constellation of her hits – “I Know You I Live You,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and “Through the Fire.”  Her intriguing version of “My Funny Valentine” was illuminated by a beautifully intimate modern pas de deux between a lithe pair of dancers.  (Sadly, neither was identified either on stage or in the program notes.)

Khan received her award from her granddaughter Daija Holland and nephew Tyler McCrary before concluding with “Earth Song” and a climactic “I’m Every Woman” enhanced by the fireworks finale.

As appealing as all the star power on stage may have been, the most delightful highlight of the evening performance was provided by 35 members of the woodwind and brass ensemble of YOLA, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, introduced via a video clip by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. The young players, aged 9 – 12, romped enthusiastically through Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5, reminding the capacity audience that the concert’s primary goal was the raising of funds for the Philharmonic’s music education program.

Happily, it succeeded to the tune of $1 million dollars, providing annual support for more than 120,000 young musicians, families and teachers.  It’s a reasonable surmise that both Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan are as proud of that accomplishment as they are of their richly deserved Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame awards.

.


Here, There & Everywhere: Dolores Scozzesi at Vitello’s

June 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

The Playboy Jazz Festival, as well as the lead-in to the Festival, tended to dominate our view screens here at iRoM for the last week or so.  And that’s cool.  It is, after all, one of the major musical events of the year.

But other music has been taking place, as well.  And now that the Playboy Festival madness is over, I want to be sure to call attention to another performance that took place last Tuesday.  It may not have been high visibility, and — in its single night at Vitello’s — it drew a considerably smaller crowd than the 18,000 who showed up for each of the Festival’s two days.  But for listeners attuned to fine music, convincingly done, it was a memorable night.

 

So let’s take a look back at Tuesday, and the appearance of jazz singer Dolores Scozzesi, backed by Andy Langham, piano, Lyman Medeiros, bass, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., drums, at Vitello’s.

It became apparent, almost immediately, that there was stunning musical empathy between Scozzesi and her musicians.  At its best, it recalled the kind of creative intimacy that exists in the Tierney Sutton Band, a group that’s been together for two decades.

Add to that the range of selections in the program.  Scozzesi’s first few choices, reaching from “Listen Love,” a tender song by the too little acknowledged singer/songwriter of the ‘70s, Jon Lucien, to Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and such standards classics as “Night and Day,” “Body and Soul” and “What Now My Love?” underscored both her creative eclecticism and her far ranging musical interests.

As intriguing as her song choices were – also embracing such equally compelling tunes as “When Did You Leave Heaven?” “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Right Myself A Letter” and “Love Look Away” – what really mattered was what Scozzesi did with this abundant collection.  Gifted with a mature, dark timbred voice, capable of using it across a rich emotional palette, she reached deeply into the heart of each song’s story.  And with especially convincing intensity in an English and French version of “Autumn Leaves” that included a newly conceived segment inspired by a Stan Getz solo, with lyrics by Scozzesi.  Call it a highlight in an evening of memorable songs.

I learned a long time ago that one of the most meaningful estimates of a performance’s impact often lies in the feelings it generates after the program.  Sure, one wants to be captivated by the music while it’s taking place.  But it’s equally important, maybe even more so, to be so stimulated by what one has heard that it stays with you, triggering new feelings and thoughts long after the performance is over.

The experience, to me, is similar to what it used to be like to see an especially impactful movie, back in the time before “films” became the operative word.  In those days, coming out of a movie theatre with a companion, eagerly discussing high points in the story, re-living aspects of the plot, feeling strongly – pro or con – about what we had just seen, was an essential part of seeing a movie.

Driving home from Scozessi’s performance at Vitello’s, Faith and I experienced similar feelings, recalling the pleasure of hearing such a fine array of songs, delivered with so much musical authenticity.  We even had a small disagreement, disputing whether or not Scozessi had tended to make too liberal use of her sometimes edgy chest tones.  But there was no dispute over the quality of the strains of music that remained with us, soothing our ears well into the high decibel sounds of the Playboy Jazz Festival weekend.

Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Dolores Scozessi’s album, “A Special Taste.”  Fortunately writing liner notes does not cause me to lose my sense of musical objectivity.


Jazz With an Accent: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Horacio “Chivo” Borraro; Guerrilla Flamenco

June 20, 2012

By Fernando Gonzalez

 The Joy of Jazz

If their  recent show in Coral Gables, Florida, was any indication, and you love jazz, you need to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band live. You might dismiss it, as I once did, as just a repertory band, a sort of charming, rolling live museum act evoking what might-have-been. And there might be some of that. But with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band you also get the joy of jazz, smart, angst-free jazz, played with great professionalism but also with pleasure and a sense of humor (watching sousaphone player Ronell Johnson march in place, bob, weave and turn all the way through the performance was part of my enjoyment that night).

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The music was soulful and swung forcefully yet with a casual grace of a conversation among old friends, counterlines seem to grow along, curling like vines around the main melody. It was both sturdy and lithe, complex yet appealing.  The ensemble played what it must, but the audience clearly felt invited in. I suspect jazz gained a few more believers that night. Having fun is an undervalued concept in jazz — and the music has paid dearly for it. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band taught a master class in jazz disguised as a good-time show. That’s an art in itself — and jazz has had some great practitioners. (Dizzy is a prime example of the genius disguised as entertainer).

Obviously, not every style in jazz lends itself easily to this approach. But by definition, jazz will always live in that netherworld between art music and entertainment. It’s both a weakness and a source of strength. And to have a place in the cultural marketplace, jazz needs to connect with audiences, be it in the composition, the playing or the presentation.

It played out vividly before me at that show by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a ensemble created 50 years ago precisely to evoke the very roots of jazz — in substance and form.

No, the challenge is not new, but the urgency is — or we can look at classical music and see the future of jazz.

Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, June 16.

* * * * * * * *

R.I.P. Horacio “Chivo” Borraro

It’s a shame that few outside Argentina knew of saxophonist and clarinetist Horacio “Chivo” Borraro, who died on May 31 at age 90 in Buenos Aires.

Horacio “Chico” Borraro

A player, composer and arranger, Borraro was a renaissance man. He was also an architect and worked, at different times, as a painter, designer, photographer and cartoonist. An early bebopper, Borraro was one of the founders of the Bop Club in Buenos Aires in the early 50s and a key figure in a small but sturdy scene that nurtured artists such as Lalo Schifrin and Leandro “Gato” Barbieri.

El “Chivo” Borraro was an active player from the 1930´s to the 1990´s — and by the time he stopped he had tried his hand at nearly every jazz style, all the way to free jazz. He had a Coltranean, brawny sound on the tenor, but quit when he “started to realize I didn´t have the will to play I always had.”

“I was having trouble reaching the upper octave of the saxophone, so I wasn´t able to do what I wanted to do with the horn anymore,” he told Miguel Bronfman for a story in The Buenos Aires Herald in 2005. “So I stopped playing, and I didn´t lament it, everything begins and everything ends. So I sold the saxophone and I bought a keyboard instead, with which I make arrangements for friends. I was getting frustrated with the sax, so I decided to retire myself with the championship belt, before I got knocked out.”

Much of Borraro’s music has become available through reissues in recent years and it’s worth exploring. Here’s a sample:

“Half & half”

* * * * * * * *

Guerrilla Flamenco

The European colleagues of the greedy geniuses at Wall Street who almost destroyed the world economy  a few years ago are working hard in their own countries to give it another try. In a globalized economy, don’t think it’s someone else’s problem.

Spain is the latest casualty and as it’s the norm, the banks are in line to be saved. The people are to fend for themselves. (Stop me if you heard this before.)

One form of Spanish protest has been guerrilla flamenco performances in the banks.  It is in Spanish, but the message is clear. Maybe we can have a blues version of this in some JP Morgan branch?

* * * * * * * *

Photo of Preservation Hall Jazz Band by Bonnie Perkinson.


Picks of the Week: June 20 – 24

June 20, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Jane Harvey

- June 20. (Wed.)  Jane Harvey.  The remarkable Jane Harvey’s career dates back to gigs with Benny Goodman in the ‘40s.  Now well into her ‘80s she continues to draw critical raves for her performances.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Harvey appearance.   Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- June 21 – 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Joey DeFrancesco.  The master of the B-3 has been placing at the top of the critics’ polls in Down Beat and with the Jazz Journalists association for years.  And with good reason.  He’ll be performing with Steve Cotter, bass and Ramon Banda, drums.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- June 21 – 23. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Melissa Manchester. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter scored her biggest, chart-topping hits in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.  And her dramatic renderings of tunes such as “Midnight Blue” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” are still classics.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- June 21. (Thurs.)  Chuck Manning.  Tenor saxophonist Manning’s resume includes gigs with everyone from Anthony Wilson and Branford Marsalis to Cedar Walton and Charlie Haden.  This time out, he takes on the most challenging setting for a horn player – a trio gig with bass, drums and no harmony instrument.  He’ll be backed by Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Reba McEntire

- June 22. (Fri.)  Opening Night of the 2012 Season at the Hollywood Bowl. Julie Andrews hosts an evening featuring Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame inductees Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.  Additional guests and presenters are yet to be announced..   (323) 850-2000.  Hollywood Bowl.

- June 22. (Fri.)  Mary Stallings.  An underappreciated jazz vocalist for years, Stallings has been producing first rate recordings since a 1961 duet album with Cal Tjader.  Still in rare form, she’ll no doubt sing some selections from her latest release Don’t Look Back.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.  .  (310) 271-9039.

- June 23. (Sat.) Jazz Journalist Association Awards Party.  In celebration of the 2012 JJA Awards, a Jazz Hero Award will be granted to Catalina Popescu, proprietor of L.A.’s pre-eminent jazz club, Catalina Bar & Grill.  The Blue Whale, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.  The Ferenc Nemeth Trio perform at 9 p.m.   The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Katia Moraes

- June 24. (Sun.)  Katia Moraes.  There’s no one quite like this Brazilian bundle of musical dynamite.  Bringing irresistible vitality to every song she sings, Katia celebrates her birthday with her original quartet, the lively Sambaguru, featuring Bill Brindle, keyboards, Hussain Jiffry, bass and Tony Shoren, drums.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 24. (Sun.)  Sing! Sing! Sing!  “Giving Our Regards to Broadway.”  It’s just after the Tony Awards, and what better time to join the Southland’s engaging singalong in a tour through some of the most memorable Broadway songs as well as a sampling of the latest numbers on the Great White Way.  At Keyboard Concepts in West L.A. Sing! Sing! Sing!     (310) 990-2405.

Glen Campbell

- June 24. (Sun.)  Glen Campbell.  The Goodbye Tour.  Veteran singer/guitarist Campbell has produced 12 gold albums and 4 platinum albums while receiving a string of Grammy awards (including four in 1967).  A year ago, he announced he had been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease.  The Goodbye Tour, which he says will be his last, features the group Dawes, with Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams and others.  (323) 850-2000.  Hollywood Bowl.

 

San Francisco

- June 22. (Fri.)  Ceu.  Grammy-nominated Brazilian singer/songwriter Ceu has carved a unique musical pathway for herself, combining Brazilian roots rhythms with everything from soul and funk to afrobeat and electronica.  An SFJAZZ event at the Herbst Theatre.    (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- June 21 – 24. (Thur. – Sun.)  Spectrum Road.  After producing a spectacular climax to the Playboy Jazz Festival on Sunday night, Spectrum Road takes off for Seattle with their explosive reminders of drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime group.  The band consists of bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. Click HERE to read iRoM’s review of the Playboy Jazz Festival and Spectrum’s Festival performance.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

Samson Schmitt

- June 20 – 24. (Wed. – Sun.) The Django Reinhardt New York Festival.  Featuring rising gypsy jazz star Samson Schmitt, guitarist son of the iconic Dorado Schmitt, leading a collective of European jazz artists.  They’ll be joined by a trio of the finest female jazz artists: Anat Cohen on Wed., Grace Kelly on Thurs. & Fri., and Cyrille Aimee on Sat. and Sunday.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- June 20 – 24. (Wed. – Sun.)  Barbara Carroll.  Jazz pianist/singer Carroll is still going strong at 87, her upbeat style recalling her high visibility in New York’s jazz clubs of the ‘50s and ‘60s. She performs with the stellar backing of Ken Peplowski, Jay Leonhart and Neal SmithDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

- June 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  McCoy Tyner and the Charles Tolliver Big band get together to recreate John Coltrane’s vital 1961 album, Africa Brass, more than fifty years after its original release.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

London

- June 21 – 23. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Jean Carne and Doug Carn.  Four decades ago, jazz and soul singer Carne and her then-husband, pianist/composer, Doug Carn, produced a series of fusion jazz and soul albums strongly influenced by John Coltrane. After decades in which their lives and music took different paths, they’re back with a Reunion Performance of their ‘70s classics. Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 20 – 23 (Wed. – Sat.)  Bob Mintzer Big Band.  A vital member of the Yellowjackets, saxophonist/composer Mintzer is also an innovative big band arranger, producing a book full of gripping arrangements for his collection of fine players. Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

* * * * * * * * *

Jane Harvey photo by Tony Gieske.  Katia Moraes photo by Caesar Lima.


The Playboy Jazz Festival 2012: Sunday’s Program at the Hollywood Bowl

June 19, 2012

 

By Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

This year’s choice of performers at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival may have had both the serious jazz fan and struggling jazz musician recoiling in disgust, but even the most stubborn jazz aficionado can’t deny that fun and diversity dominated the festival.

Before covering Sunday’s highlights, we’ll follow up on Mike Katz’s Saturday review with a few additional thoughts about some of the outstanding moments in Saturday’s program.

The first is The Cos Of Good Music (Farid Barron: piano, Dwayne Burno: bass, Ndugo Chancler: drums, Tia Fuller: alto sax, Mathew Garrison: bass guitar, Ingrid Jensen: trumpet and flugelhorn, Babatunde Lea: Percussion, and Erena Terakubo on alto sax.)  Out of all of these world class musicians handpicked by Bill Cosby, it was the three women of the reeds (Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo) who stole the spotlight.  The group’s rendition of the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee” (which helped a young Charlie Parker find his own innovative technique) was one of the greatest moments of the entire festival.   During this difficult composition, Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo, made it apparent that they are well versed in the vocabulary of both the be-bop and hard-bop genres.  From Bird, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, to Phil Woods, John Coltrane and Lee Morgan, the ladies could do it all and without mere mimicking.  They had their own feminine slant to the music, which made it even more special. No male musicians at the Festival could match the virtuosity of these young women.  You would not believe that Terakubo is only 20 years old by her command, technique, and soul on the alto saxophone. Boney James (also on the bill on Saturday) could learn volumes from Terakubo.

Bill Cosby ant the Cos of Good Music

Cosby took the microphone and went into the humorous “Hikky Burr” (which Cosby had originally recorded with Quincy Jones in ’69), which gave Fuller, Jensen, and Terakubo a chance to show off their blues chops. They seemed totally at ease and didn’t sound like over-trained jazz musicians trying to play blues, which often happens on songs like this. Cosby’s vocals were playful and funny and became the perfect way to bid him farewell as Master Of Ceremonies at The Playboy Jazz Festival.

The authentic Louisiana funk of The Soul Rebels (Leo Nocentelli: guitar, Ivan Neville: keyboards and vocals, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux: vocals, Lumar Leblanc: snare drum, Derrick Moss: bass drum, Julian Gosin, Marcus Hubbard: trumpets, Paul Robertson, Corey Peyton: trombones, Erion Williams: saxophone, and Edward Lee Jr., sousaphone.) was another exhilarating part of Saturday’s show. The group’s big brass Creole soul arrangements of Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” were filled with harmonic textures and rhythmic layers that made these renditions more compelling than the originals.

Seeing original Meter’s guitarist Leo Nocentelli with keyboardist Ivan Neville, performing The Meter’s classic “Hey Pocky A -Way” in this big band setting was a brilliant departure from the original recording from 1974.  Big Chief Monk Boudreaux joined the band on his topical piece “Find The Levee And Burn It Down.” And Nocentelli’s wonderfully primitive bare bones rhythm guitar chops gave this Bayou swamp boogie a Reggae groove twist.

Sunday’s lineup was an eclectic mix of jazz, fusion, blues, and even pop.  The attentive and well rehearsed Calabasas High School Band under the direction of Joshua Barroll kicked of the day’s program.

Mixing Afro-Cuban funk with reggae, KG Omulo was the perfect band for the Bowl audience. On originals such as “Moving Train,” “Quality Woman,” “Acuna” and “No Means No,” Omulo and his band sounded like a cross between Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bob Marley And The Wailers, and early Funkadelic. Guitarist Michael Schmidt’s screaming wah-wah guitar locked in with bassist Dave Whitaker’s solid bass lines.  Omulo is also a charismatic vocalist and front man.  But it did feel as though Omulo and his band would have had a greater impact had they performed later in the day or evening.

Although the Cookers consisted of some legendary jazz players (Eddie Henderson: trumpet, Billy Harper: tenor sax, Craig Handy: alto sax and flute, David Weiss: trumpet, George Cables: piano, Cecil McBee: bass, and Billy Hart on drums), their energy and softness did anything but cook.

The Cookers (Billy Harper, David Weiss, Eddie Henderson, Craig Handy)

Harper’s composition “Capra Black,” and McBee’s “Peace Maker” sounded like Miles Smiles era modal jazz, but needed something more.  All of these seasoned musicians played strong solos but the material seemed redundant. Cables’ dynamic and inventive piano playing stood out among the rest of the group. Overall, however, the Cookers did more simmering than cooking.

Chico Trujillo brought the pace back up from the second they took the stage with their Chilean cumbia, ska, and Latin rhythms. Though the band was energetic and high spirited in its stage presence (especially lead singer Macha), the music was repetitive and sloppy.  And, though the focus was on the percussionists and lead singer, it was saxophonist Fela, and trumpeter Zorrita, along with keyboardist Joselo, who held together the band’s melodies.

Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Mimi Jones

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project played one of the most tasteful and consistently brilliant sets of the day — one of the highlights of the entire Festival. Along with Carrington on drums, the Mosaic Project consisted of Tia Fuller: alto sax, Ingrid Jensen: trumpet (both also featured on The Cos Of Good Music), Mimi Jones: bass, Patrice Rushen and Helen Sung: piano, and Linda Taylor on guitar with special guest vocalists.

Nona Hendryx added her one of a kind vocal style on her classic “Transformation” (Re-recorded on The Mosaic Project album), Gretchen Parlato (who has proven to be one of the finest vocalists in contemporary jazz) brought her sweet sultry sound to “Simply Beautiful.” The melodic interaction between pianists Rushen and Sung was astounding. Carrington’s strength as a drummer is in her subtlety. Her flourishes were so delicate behind Dianne Reeves on “Echo,” that it almost sounded as if she were laying out completely — even though if she were, the foundation would have been lost. It takes a true musical thinker to pull that off successfully.

Angela Davis’ spoken word addition to “Echo” was a startling presentation of her “New Freedom movement.”  Fuller and Jensen’s horn lines wove in and out of the melody, creating a dream-like effect that was a perfect match with Carmen Lundy’s vocals on Geri Allen’s “Unconditional Love.”  The music was hypnotic and sensual on “Soul Talk” with Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals.  Every note between Jensen, Fuller, Rushen, Sung, Jones, and guitarist Linda Taylor was perfectly placed without losing spontaneity.

On “Show me a sign,” Carrington ended the piece with a thunderous, Art Blakey-esque drum solo.  Bill Cosby was so blown away that he took the mic and thanked Carrington on behalf of the Playboy Jazz festival, urging her to stand and take a bow.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud: trumpet, vocals,band leader, Ben Jaffe: sousaphone, bass, creative director, Rickie Monie: piano, musical director, Joe Lastie Jr.: drums, Clint Maedgan: saxophone, vocals, Charlie Gabriel: clarinet, vocals, Freddie Lonzo: trombone, vocals, and Frank Demond: trombone) just may be the most traditional New Orleans sounding jazz ensemble the Festival has ever presented.  The ghost of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Fives and Sevens was felt on “Down On Bourbon Street,” “Swing That Thing,” and “Sweet Substitute.”  Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgan shared the lead vocal spots.  The concept of collective improvisation (which began in New Orleans with The Dixieland bands) was what The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was all about. Each reeds man soloed at once in a way that was orchestrated and organized but irresistibly fun and danceable.  Jaffe’s bouncing bass line on the sousaphone got the Bowl crowd up on their tipsy feet.

For the blues portion of the festival, Keb’ Mo’ and his band played a set full of whimsical R&B based urban blues like “The Whole Enchilada,” “Government Cheese,” and “One Way Home.” Though Keb’ Mo’ is know mostly for his slide guitar work, at the festival, he stuck to playing straight blues leads on a Strat, which sounded like the yuppified blues style of Robert Cray. Though a talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, with a more than capable band, it was hard to tell one song from another during this set. There wasn’t much blues to this music.

The real excitement in his program came when Keb’ Mo’ brought out the legendary Barbara Morrison for a duet on a Chicago blues shuffle version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Further On Up The Road.”  Morrison can belt out the blues like no one else and has an electrifying stage presence which was needed throughout the set.

Ramsey Lewis

The Ramsey Lewis Electric Band had this jazz/soul pioneer experimenting with a more soft jazz/ fusion sound that didn’t seem fitting.  The group’s reading of The Stylistics “Betcha By Golly Wow,” Lewis’s own “Brazilica,” Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” and Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Sun Goddess” (which Lewis had recorded with the band and referred to as “Wayo”) all felt flat. Tim Gant’s electric keyboards sounded too synthetic and cheesy.

Lewis sounded best (and even looked happier) when sticking to his more gospel influenced material and playing tunes that him famous — “Wade In The Water,” and his biggest hit “The In Crowd” – while alternating between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano with ease and focus.

The Playboy Jazz Festival can and has ventured pretty far from jazz but no more so than having Robin Thicke perform on the bill. Thicke and his band brought their boy-band sounding bubblegum pop to the Bowl and there were plenty of young, screaming girls present to enjoy it.  Not much more to say about it than that.

Jack Bruce and Cindy Blackman Santana

Closing the performance was the hardest, loudest, and most creative experimental group of the entire Festival. Spectrum Road (Featuring Vernon Reid: electric guitar, Cindy Blackman Santana: drums, Jack Bruce: bass, and John Medeski on keyboards) is a newly formed tribute band to the late great drum giant Tony Williams.   The band performed material from their self titled debut album Spectrum Road such as “Vuelta Abajo,” “Where” and William’s “There Comes A Time” with Jack Bruce on vocals. The music was tight but chaotic, piercing, arrogant, skillful, and daring in all the best ways. These characteristics match Tony Williams’ playing and personality to a tee.

Reid’s fierce, frenetic guitar playing fused marvelously with Blackman Santana’s drumming which echoed that of Williams. Jack Bruce’s guttural, busy bass lines followed Blackman Santana’s bombast no matter how far out she would go.  Medeski’s B3 organ sound was the only element that didn’t always fit. It was too heavy for this already ferocious sound.

Blackman Santana and Reid were clearly the stars of the group, even facing each other for most of the set, feeding off each other’s energy. The group sounded like a combination of Sonny Sharrock’s early ‘90s instrumental experiments, mid-‘70s Santana, and Vernon Reid’s work with his band Masque, but more powerful.

Blackman Santana’s long drum solo after “Where” was one of the great moments of the festival. She never repeated an idea twice and though she was inspired by Williams, she proved to have an energy all her own, all powerful and all woman.

The band even did a cover of Cream’s “Politician” (once again, fitting for the times), in which Jack Bruce’s vocals sounded the same as they did when he performed the song in 1967.  Reid and Blackman Santana put Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker to Shame, taking this 60s psychedelic blues anthem far beyond the stratosphere.

And so another Playboy Festival has come and gone. Some may bicker about the “Lack of real jazz at the festival,” but the number of innovative artists certainly outnumbered the fluff, and there were plenty of surprises.  Most importantly, everyone was having fun, which is ultimately what this Festival is all about.


The Playboy Jazz Festival 2012: Saturday’s Program at the Hollywood Bowl

June 18, 2012

By Michael Katz

I told myself I had finally come to terms with the Playboy Jazz Festival. This year I would enjoy it for what it was: an eight hour party at the Hollywood Bowl, a sort of Bar Mitzvah/Quinceanera for grown-ups, with perhaps half of it (on a good day) dedicated to actual jazz, or what Stephen Colbert might call “jazziness.” It turns out, though I’m appreciative of some of the fine things I heard,  that I am not as prepared to settle as I’d thought. For starters, the Festival’s format, in which continuous music is presented on the rotating stage for eight hours, could use some alterations after thirty-four years. There is no opportunity for the audience to take a breath between acts, to reflect on the music, and most importantly, to converse with each other without talking over the music or ignoring it completely. Not surprisingly, folks will pick a moment of relative quiet to mingle and nosh – more and more, those moments coincide with the appearance of an actual jazz band onstage, which means that the best moments for many of us are drowned out or obstructed.

Would it harm anyone to have a fifteen minute break here and there, so the audience can absorb the performances, uncork the wine bottles and acclimate themselves for a change in tempo?

With that off my chest, here’s a report on some of the jazzier aspects of Day 1. Early arrivers walked into a pleasant performance by Louie Cruz Beltran, the first of a talented contingent of Latino percussionists. Beltran’s emphasis was on Latin jazz. His ensemble featured Onaje Murray on vibes, which gave it a Cal Tjader-like sound, much appreciated by LA jazz fans. Jose Gomez on saxes and flute, Javier Gonzales on trumpet and Eric Jorgensen wielding a candy apple red trombone added to the ambience. You’d have liked to have heard this band at night with a dance floor, but it was a relaxing way to start the day on a sun-kissed afternoon.

Bill Cosby was emceeing for the last time, after thirty years fronting the Festival, and of all his contributions,  his Cos of Good Music bands may be missed the most. This year’s group was notable for an all female front line of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Tia Fuller and Erena Terakubo on alto saxes, all three of them talented enough to headline.

Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Irina Terakubo

The first medley, though slightly disorganized at the segues, featured some blistering work by Terakubo, who established the main line of “Cherokee,” then did an homage to Charlie Parker that wowed the jazz aficionados in the crowd. Jensen, who was featured previously in one of Cos’s bands, slowed the tempo down with “Back Home In Indiana,” settling into a comfortable groove that showed her mastery of the horn’s middle register. Tia Fuller then took over with some hard swinging on alto. Having seen her leading her own group at Monterey last year, I was prepared to see her step out and dominate, but she was content to be a team player with this talented group.

Next, pianist Farid Barron slid lithely from the percussion intros of Babatunde Lea and Nndugu Chancler into the familiar chords of “Poinciana.”  Barron wove in creative variations on the theme, then gave way to Fuller, Jensen and Terakubo for some gently swinging solos. The next tune was a hard bop nod to the late Freddie Hubbard, Ingrid Jensen underlining her lead trumpet chops with some powerful, growling charges. Bill Cosby had joined the band by now; this hard bop material clearly to his liking. He then contributed some vocals to the Lieber/ Stoller classic “Searchin,” which had the whole band in a joyous funk. Let’s hope that the festival finds a way to keep the “Cos of Good Music” (or something like it) in the program as a way to bring talented and under-heard musicians to the Bowl.

Alfredo Rodriguez

The Global Gumbo All-Stars took the stage following a raucous set by Ivan Neville’s Soul Rebels.  With the crowd still buzzing and the funky New Orleans horns reverberating, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriquez’s opening chords could barely be discerned – at first I wondered whether the piano was miked at all. Rodriguez, a prodigy of Quincy Jones, who had been heard with these players at last year’s tribute to Quincy at the Bowl, is carving his own path in the wake of countrymen Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcabo. He navigated through the opening number with an off-minor riff,   augmented by guitarist Lionel Loueke from Benin, Africa.

Lionel Loueke

Loueke, who has worked with Terence Blanchard, Jack DeJohnette and Herbie Hancock, among others, can move easily between lilting African rhythms and acid-tinged solos. In the group’s second number, he shared an instrumental and vocal duet with bassist Richard Bona. Bona, from Cameroon, has long, lithe fingers that pluck his electric bass like it was a banjo. His voice, which can seamlessly explore the higher ranges, is a perfect counterpoint to his bass playing.  He performs with a joyous energy that can captivate a crowd — I’ve seen him fronting his own band on several occasions.

Driving the rhythms behind all this was percussionist Francisco Mela, also from Cuba. Mela didn’t show off much, but he provided an infectious backdrop for the quartet, especially when Bona and Loueke were riffing with each other. They followed a Rodriguez solo with a funky combination of R&B chords and vocals, then moved into one of Bona’s originals from his Tiki album. By this time, the crowd had put down their dinner plates and figured out that something exciting was going on. This was a group that you would have wanted to extend into multiple sets if you were in a club. As it was, pianist Rodriguez closed things out with a riveting mambo, and the Global Gumbo All Stars rotated off into the night.

Christian McBride brought his touring big band to the bowl, following R&B singer Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

The Christian McBride Big Band

A driving big band ought to put a charge into the house, but again, they were following a group that had amped up the volume, and it took about half the set to engage the audience. This, despite a rousing first number, a McBride composition, “Shake and Blake,” which featured trumpeter Ron Blake. He and fellow sax player Steve Wilson were the best known names in the band, which featured mainly east coast guys that we don’t see often. Other standouts included Steve Davis on trombone, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and Loren Schoenberg on tenor sax. McBride took the melody on a pretty big band arrangement of “I Should Care,” then brought  his wife, vocalist Melissa Walker onto the stage for three numbers.

Walker has a tender voice that dropped down into the middle registers for a lovely version of “When I Fall In Love.”     Her reading of “The More I See You,” had an engaging swing that closed out her contribution to the set. It was the final two numbers, though, that brought the crowd to their feet. McBride brought Bill Cosby up front to sing his signature “Hikky-Burr,” the theme from “The Bill Cosby Show” that was originally recorded by Quincy Jones. Despite the short rehearsal time, the performance was crisp, Cosby was delighted and the crowd picked up on it from the opening notes. The excitement spilled over to the band’s final number, “In A Hurry,” one of McBride’s best original compositions. Drummer Ulysses Owens, whom McBride gushed over in a post-concert interview, showed why with a terrific solo to close out the set.

And, though it was only a little past nine o’clock, that was about the end of the jazz for Day One. That is not to slight Sheila E, whose set provided the standard for energy and showmanship.

Sheila E.

She came on, escorted by the plumed Samba Funk dancers, and went straight to the timbales, where she performed with abandon. Her dad, Pete Escovido, came out for a brief interlude, singing a Latin tinged “Fly Me To The Moon,” and contributing a timbale solo of his own before turning the show back to his daughter. Sheila E led her horn-fronted band in a performance reminiscent of Trombone Shorty at last year’s festival, leaving the audience cheering and dancing in the aisles.

At the end of the day, you could be thankful that the Playboy Jazz Festival had brought a bunch of talented musicians that we don’t hear often to play for a capacity crowd. Still, you had to wonder if there was a single instrumentalist other than bassist McBride who could be counted upon to headline an act. The hand-picked groups are fun to watch, but I miss the virtuosity of a current jazz star like Roy Hargrove or Nicholas Payton, Miguel Zenon or Eric Alexander, who can lift a crowd over a fifty minute set. Despite the constant dirges about the death of jazz, there is no shortage of talent out there.

All it takes is a little faith in the music.

* * * * * * * * * *

Photos of Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen and Irina Terakubo, the Christian McBride Big Band and Sheila E. by Bonnie Perkinson.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 218 other followers