Picks of the Week: Oct. 31 – Nov. 4

October 31, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Bob Sheppard

- Oct. 31. (Wed.)  Bob Sheppard and FriendsHalloween Party and Jam.  With Larry Koonse, guitar, Dave Robaire, bass, Charles Ruggiero, drums.  Wear a Halloween costume and get in free.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

-  Nov. 2. (Fri.)  David Grisman Sextet.  Special guest David Lindley. Mandolin virtuoso Grisman, moving easily across styles and genres, teams up with similarly eclectic string player Lindley.  A CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.   (31) 825-2101.

- Nov. 2. (Fri.) Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez.  Traditional folk music and dance from the rich cultural traditions of Mexico, presented in colorful costumes.  The Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000 Also on Sat. Nov. 3.  (562) 916-8501.

Bill Holman

- Nov. 2. (Fri.)  Bill Holman Big Band.  Holman’s imaginative big band arrangements have been influencing young musicians since the ‘50s.  Hear them live and up close in a great listening room.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 2 – 4 (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Burrell Quintet.  Veteran guitarist Burrell takes a break from his responsibilities at the UCLA jazz program to display his potent playing talents.  Catalina Bar & Grill.    (323) 466-2210.

Betty Bryant


- Nov. 4. (Sun.)  Betty Bryant’s Birthday Brunch.  She may be celebrating a birthday in her eighties, but pianist/singer Bryant is still setting examples for jazz singing at its best.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  .   (323) 466-2210.

- Nov. 4. (Sun.)  Llew Matthews and Pat Senatore Duo.  A pair of versatile jazz artists team up for an evening of improvisation, swing and balladry.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Nov. 4. (Sun.)  Orquesta Aragon. More than 70 years after they were founded as a danzon ensemble, Orquesta Aragon continues to record and perform in classic Cuban fashion.   An SFJAZZ Concert at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.    (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

- Nov. 1 – 4.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Roberta Gambarini. At her best – which is basically in every performance – Gambarini is doing a convincing job of defining the best in contemporary jazz vocalizing. Click HERE to read a recent kRoM review of Gambarini.   Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York

Anat Cohen

- Nov. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Anat Cohen with Falafel, Freilach & Frijoles – From Mambo to Borscht. Clarinetist Cohen and percussionist Benny Koonyevsky join the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in a musical exploration of the cultural relationships between the Jewish and the Hispanic communities.  Symphony Space.  (212) 864-5400.

- Nov. 2 – 7. (Fri. – Wed.)  The Chick Corea & Stanley Clarke Band.  With Ravi Coltrane, saxophone and Marcus Gilmore, drums.  To call this ensemble an all-star band still wouldn’t quite identify the extraordinary quality of the music they make together.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

- Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. (Wed. – Sat.)  Lee Konitz Quartet.  Into his eighties, a significant force on the jazz alto saxophone since the late ‘40s, Konitz continues to maintain the gifted, individuality he has expressed for his entire, remarkable career.  Birdland.   (212)581-3080.


Vini Iuel

- Nov. 1. (Thurs.)  Vini Iuel sings Jobim.  Danish singer Iuel, backed by pianist Thomas Clausen and bassist Mads Vinding, brings the warm rhythms of Brazil to Denmark just before the arrival of winter.  Making the music even more convincing, she’s invited Brazilian singer/percussionist Robertino Silva to join the celebration.   Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 15 65 65.


- Nov. 2. (Fri.)  Jacky Terrasson.  French-born pianist Terrasson has thoroughly established his credentials as a world class jazz artist.  Blue Note Milano.   02.6901 6888.

Bill Holman photo by Lesley Bohm.


Live Music: Armenia a la carte — a Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra event in Glendale

October 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

The third event in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s a la carte season took place in Glendale Sunday night, at the House of Armenia, a historic mansion now serving as a permanent Consulate General of Armenia and cultural center.  Like other a la carte events, it began with cocktails, continued with a performance of chamber music, and concluded with a dinner offering a delectable array of Armenian dishes.

Armen Ksajikian

The featured musician was cellist Armen Ksajikian, accompanied by pianist Bryan Pezzone. The House of Armenia’s elegant performance space, ornamented with colorful paintings by Armenian artists, provided warm, comfortable seating for an audience of 40 or 45 listeners.  The music that was heard followed in the a la carte tradition of emphasizing the native music of the host country. And one couldn’t have asked for a more authoritative performer of Armenian music than Ksajikian.

The associate principal cellist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Ksajikian’s eclectic resume reaches from his appearances, at age 12, with the National Philharmonic of Abkhazia in the former Soviet Union, to a busy, four decade career in the United States with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and over 900 film soundtracks.

For this program, however, he was not playing such classics as Shostavovich’s Cello Conerto No. 1.  Accompanied by Pezzone’s richly versatile accompaniment,  Ksajikian chose a program of relatively brief, touchingly melodic, song-like works by a group of great Armenian composers. Among them, classical composer Aram Khachaturian, the priest and religious composer Komitas Vardapet, composer and pop song writer Arno Babajanian, folk-oriented composer Alexander Arutiunian, 19th century Armenian composer Makar Ekmalyan and composer/conductor Arashak Adamian.

At one point, Ksajikian was so impressed with the way Pezzone handled some of the compositions’ tricky rhythms and lush harmonic textures that he laughingly identified him as Bryan  Pezzonian (applying the traditional patronymic “ian” suffix for Armenian names).

Together, they presented the program of works in appropriately dramatic fashion, with Ksajikian’s gorgeous tone delivering many of the melodies with the lyrical intensity of an operatic baritone.

The only thing missing, however, from a program of Armenian music was the presence of the double reed duduk, one of the essential sounds associated with Armenia.  (It’s been heard, with telling emotional impact, in the sound tracks of films such as Avatar, Harry Potter, Gladiator and many more.)  One could only imagine how fascinating it would have been to hear Ksajikian’s cello, playing in intimate tandem with a master duduk artist such as Djivan Gasparian.

The performance concluded, the audience retired to tables placed in the House of Armenia’s lush garden.  And, typical of the a la carte concerts, there were more people to meet, more friendships to make.  Seated at a table with four other couples, we spent the next hour or two discussing everything from Armenian music and other memorable a la carte events to hiking in the Sierras and the imminent Presidential election.

The combination that we’d just experienced – the concert in an official consulate, the unusual collection of beautifully articulated music, meeting new friends at a dinner featuring appealing national dishes – is one of the irresistibly unique experiences in Southland music.

Fortunately, there are still more Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra a la carte events to come:

- On Friday, Nov. 16, Austria a la carte takes place in the official Brentwood residence of Karin Proidl, Consul General of Austria.

- On Saturday, Nov. 17, China a la carte takes place in a Pasadena estate.

Photo by Faith Frenz.

Live Jazz: The Ron Carter Quartet and the Robert Glasper Trio at Royce Hall.

October 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

Ron Carter made one of his far too rare Southland appearances Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at Royce Hall.  His quartet starred in a long show that also included an extended set by the Robert Glasper Trio.

As the most recorded bassist in jazz history, it would be hard to find a significant jazz artist that Carter hasn’t recorded with.  But it’s equally fascinating to hear him in action in a musical setting of his own.  His adventurous musical ideas have been on display in dozens of recordings under his leadership.  And the group he brought to Royce – with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Marales-Matos – offered an intriguing view of the many colors in Carter’s musical palette.

The Ron Quarter Quartet

His musical choices were far ranging — from Brazil to Miles Davis to some compelling stops in between.  One of the most unexpected was a Carter solo version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a remarkable display of his mastery of the bass, both as an instrument and as the voice of his improvisational imagination.

Another memorable moment traced to a lovely exchange between Carter and the always-imaginative Rosnes on “My Funny Valentine,” heightened by a passage featuring her Chopin-tinged embrace of the melody.

From a completely different perspective, much of what the Carter Quartet played was delightfully illuminated by Marales-Matos vast array of hand (and beyond) percussion.  Which he used to produce every imaginable percussive sound, from tiny snips, clicks and rustles to rushing roars and rumbles.  Add to that the stirring rhythmic lift of Crossley’s approach to the jazz drum kit.

To Carter’s credit, he clearly recognized the uniqueness of what Marales-Matos and Crossley had to offer, and freely allowed them to make their unique contributions to the music.  The result was yet another entry in the colorful catalog of Carter groups.

Robert Glasper

Pianist Robert Glasper, opening the show with his trio – with Derrick Hodges, bass and Mark Colenburg, drums – has been receiving rave reviews from much of the jazz critical community.  For the most part, the praise has been related to his efforts to blend his far-reaching jazz chops with an interest in various pop, rock, rap and hip-hop elements.

One could argue whether there’s any real compatibility in that mélange.   But what seemed more compelling to me about the Glasper trio was the virtually symbiotic interaction between the three players.  The piano trio has had many manifestations in jazz – some more successful than others.  And the Glasper trio is doing a convincing job of expressing their own vocabulary in a still-evolving fashion.  It will be worth watching – and listening – over the next few years to hear how effectively Glasper, Hodges and Colenburg  translate that vocabulary into a significant entry in the evolution of the piano jazz trio.

Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA

CD Review: “Paul Simon Live in New York City”

October 28, 2012

Paul Simon

Live in New York City (Hear Music)

 By Brian Arsenault

Deep into Paul Simon Live in New York City, on “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes,” Paul’s voice seems to strengthen and the song becomes one of the jewels of the album.  At least until the gratuitous, hackneyed drum solo at the end.  (More about annoying drumming later.)

The song reminds you of what Paul Simon used to sound like but, at 70, can’t always manage. Just to be sure, I asked Kath who reveres him like she loves no other musician save maybe Bonnie Raitt.  “Does that almost sound like someone else,” I queried. “Put it on another player,” she suggested, but it didn’t sound any different.

Paul Simon

His voice just isn’t what it was.  But does it matter?  Yes, it does.  Even though he’s an American musical treasure, the quality of a performance is always vital.  Willie Nelson admits that he’s more of a guitarist now because the voice isn’t what it used to be.

Paul Simon is also a wonderful guitarist but the soaring voice of Art Garfunkel was part of what made those Simon songs so magnificent. Its absence is all the more noticeable now.

In many places, Paul makes you forget or at least not care.  He plays his guitar wonderfully on not just the intro but the opening verse of “Sound of Silence” and then speak-sings the rest in moving fashion, interrupted only by one of those idiots who thinks he needs to scream out during a great moment in a great song.  This was also one of the few places where it’s just Paul and his guitar. Could have used more of that.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” is pitched low enough to work fine. He’s a little off key in places but always touching.  And finally he gets a little chorus support for his singing.

Paul Simon’s lyrics are always literate, even literary.  At their best they are poetic literature. So we need not really forgive anything as his voice fades. We shouldn’t pretend, though.

The album really shouldn’t open with “The Obvious Child” (guess the concert did) where his voice is weak. And it’s here right off the bat that Jim Oblon’s drumming annoys. He sounds like a wedding band drummer trying to compete with the singer. He hits the snare way too hard and is magnificently mediocre throughout.  Or was there a mixing problem?

Paul makes everything okay on “Dazzling Blue” with controlled and sensitive phrasing.  Same on “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”  “Slip Slidin’ Away” is another highlight, soft enough for his poetic recitation to overcome any voice limitations.

On “Late in the Evening” he and his voice seem to grow younger. Suits the song, doesn’t it?  Still, this is not “Live Rhymin’,” when he was younger and his voice vigorous enough to make us believe Art’s absence didn’t matter.

One of course would expect the show to close with “Still Crazy After All These Years” and it does, but one wonders why the intimacy between artist and audience has to be interrupted by a garish sax solo.

Sigh, Paul singing this tune for all his generations of fans was enough.

The accompanying DVD of the show brings home how caring the audience is and it’s fun to see the generally fine collection of musicians around him.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault, click HERE

Live Jazz: Eddie Daniels Upstairs at Vitello’s

October 28, 2012

By Don Heckman

Eddie Daniels

Eddie Daniels’ reputation as a gifted jazz clarinetist and saxophonist is secure. Always respected for his remarkable, genre-crossing clarinet abilities, his multi-woodwind work (especially tenor saxophone and clarinet) established him, as far back as the ‘60s, as a player at ease as a sideman and a soloist, comfortably expressive in jazz, classical music and beyond.

Some, but not all, of those attributes were on display Friday night Upstairs at Vitello’s.  Making one of  his infrequent trips to the Southland from his Santa Fe home, Daniels was performing with the backing of the sterling L.A. trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer.  Despite minimal rehearsal time, the cohesion between the players was an impressive display of prime, improvisational music making.

Starting with a briskly rhythmic arrangement of “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Daniels played with the high flying pyrotechnics that have stamped him as one of the very few world class practitioners of the jazz clarinet.  Other tunes followed in a similar pattern, with Daniels’ fast fingers setting the pace.

When he switched to tenor saxophone for a few numbers, only the instrument changed; his style, with its emphasis on virtuosic technique, remained constant.

Tom Ranier, Eddie Daniels, Mike Valerio, Steve Schaeffer

Ranier’s soloing often provided an attractive counterpoint, especially in those passages in which he opened his lines to allow space for his improvising to breathe.  So, too, for Valerio and Schaeffer, working as a solid team.  Like Ranier, they provided textures that were supportive, airy and rhythmically alive.

But there was no denying Daniels’ extraordinary mastery of the clarinet.  Classically trained, frequently performing classical pieces, his improvisational range seems limited.  One could wish, however, for him to not make every solo into a note-filled excursion across the entire range of the instruments.  Instead, it would have been intriguing to hear him offer more of the sort of warm sensitivity provided by the woody timbres of the clarinet’s chalumeau register.

Given the rarity of his L.A. performances, however, it was a distinct pleasure to hear Daniels in action, especially with such superb backing.  Hopefully, there will also be an opportunity in the near future to hear him classically, as well.  A presentation of the Copland Clarinet Concerto with, say, the L.A. Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra would be a great start.

Photos by Bob Barry

Live Music: Sally Kellerman at Vitello’s

October 26, 2012

By Don Heckman

Sally Kellerman started her set Wednesday night at Vitello’s with a gesture toward the season.  Stalking on stage in an all black outfit, she held up her cape and serenaded the packed house crowd with “I Put A Spell On You.”  (All of which she enhanced by sitting in a director’s chair labeled “Live Virgin,” next to a plastic Jack-o-lantern on a stool.)

Sally Kellerman and bassist Lyman Medeiros

Predictably, for anyone who’s heard and seen Sally in action, “I PUt A Spell On You” perfectly indicated what would happen in the next hour and a half or so.  Even when she’s not doing a mini-Halloween celebration, Sally’s performances are all utterly mesmerizing, overflowing with humor, atmosphere and musicality.

And this performance was no exception, despite the fact that she repeated some of the material that she’s been doing regularly over the past few years.  But no problem there.  Hearing (and seeing) Sally wrap up her set with “Don’t You Feel My Leg” is only one of the many pleasures she offers.

There were other repeated tunes: the combining of a pair of Bacharach/David hits, “Walk On By” and “The Look of Love”; “Love Potion #9”; “Sugar In My Bowl”; “The Lies of Handsome Men.”  And there were more, including James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” rendered as Sally strolled seductively through the audience, dispensing foil-wrapped chocolate candy balls.

Sally Kellerman

And what became crystal clear – in these repeated numbers, as well as such newer items in the Kellerman catalog as “Black Coffee” and the Hall & Oates “Say It Isn’t So” — was the utterly appropriate believability that Sally brought to each of her interpretations.

Yes, she’s an experienced actress as well as a singer, but it wasn’t just theatrical skills that she brought to her songs, as she moved with consummate ease across a stunning gamut of musical emotions.  Some were hilarious – as when she wound up singing one of the songs while reclining on the floor.  Others had the bold and brassy touch of a blues singer.  And still others had the intimacy of expressive whispers in one’s ear.

In addition to the older blues-oriented tunes, Sally’s set was enriched by songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, done in her own fashion.  And one couldn’t help but speculate that a recording devoted to material from the period could help bring Sally’s inimitable talents to an audience that still thinks of her as Hot Lips. Even though she is much more.  At her best, and in a crowded female vocal field, she is one of the rare true originals.

A final gesture of applause for the superb backing provided by pianist Ed Martel, bassist Lyman Medeiros and Dick Weller, drums.  And a special nod to Martel, who is also Sally’s music director, for the subtle, always appropriate arrangement support.

Photos by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week – Oct. 24 – 28

October 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Sally Kellerman

- Oct. 34 (Wed.)  Sally Kellerman.  Hot Lips herself, in action.  But Sally’s a one of a kind vocalist, too, bringing interpretive magic to everything she sings. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 24. (Wed.)  Gabriel Johnson.  Emerging jazz trumpeter Johnson has been praised by Clint Eastwood and Chris Botti, and performed with everyone from Gladys Knight to Gerald Albright.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Robert Glasper Experiment.  Adventurous pianist Glasper has been pioneering the territory between jazz and contemporary pop.  His special guests include Jose James, Taylor McFerrin and Austin PeraltaCAP UCLA at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101

- Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Ariana Savalas. Singer/songwriter/actress Savalas, the offspring of a show biz family, is making her own way as a rising vocalist.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Kathy Kosins.  “The Ladies of Cool.”  Singer Kosins celebrates the work of such West Coast-oriented jazz vocalists as June Christy, Julie London, Anita O’Day and Chris Connor.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Bob Dylan

- Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler.  The legendary Dylan makes a rare appearance in Los Angeles in companionship with the British singer/songwriter/guitarist best known for his work with the band Dire Straits.  The Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

- Oct. 26 & 27. (Fri. & Sat.) Eddie Daniels.  The great clarinetist – and fine saxophonist, as well – makes his annual L.A. appearance, reminding us that the clarinet is still a great jazz instrument.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Buster Williams Quartet.  Versatile bassist Williams leads a stellar group of Southland players — keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Mark Gross and drummer Ndugu ChanclerCatalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 27. (Sat.)  Ron Carter Quartet.  Carter – for decades everyone’s first call bassist — has also offered some breakthrough music of his own. This time out he performs with the cutting edge musical ideas of the Robert Glasper TrioCAP at UCLA Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

- Oct. 27. (Sat.) Michael Feinstein.  “The Sinatra Project.”  One of the champions of the Great American Songbook, singer/pianist Feinstein interprets a program of songs associated with Frank Sinatra.  Segerstrom Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2746.

Leon Russell

San Francisco

- Oct. 24. (Wed.)  Leon Russell.  One of the vital singer/songwriters of the rock era, Russell, at 70 is still going strong.  Don’t miss this rare club appearance.  Yoshi’s Oakland.      (510) 238-9200.

New York

- Oct. 24 – 28. (Wed. – Sun.).  Jimmy Heath 86th Birthday Celebration.  NEA Jazz Master Heath goes back to his roots to celebrate his 86th birthday with the Jimmy Heath Big Band — an assemblage of New York’s stellar players.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Kendra Shank.  The ever-adventurous, always musically engaging  Shank performs the last Friday of every month at the 55 Bar.   (212) 929-9883.


- Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Steve Smith and Vital Information.  Smith has been voted #1 All-Around Drummer by Modern Drummer magazine five years in a row.  In addition to his far-ranging pop and rock activities, he also leads the high energy jazz group Vital Information  Ronnie Scott’s.   (0) 20 7439 0747.


- Oct. 24 & 25. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Roditi/Ignatzek/Rassinfosse.  The remarkable trio of trumpeter Claudio Roditi, pianist Klaus Ignatzek and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse have been performing together for 25 years, emphasizing the Brazilian songbook and the repertoire associated with Chet Baker.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 15 65.


- Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Kenny Werner.  Versatile pianist, composer and writer arrives in Italy with a world class ensemble: saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio SanchezBlue Note Milan.    02. 69016888.


The Manhattan Transfer


- Oct. 24 – 26. (Wed. – Fri.)  The Manhattan Transfer.  Nearly four decades in the jazz world spotlight, and the gifted members of the Transfer continue to produce music that brilliantly defines and expands the potential in vocal ensemble jazz.  Blue Note Tokyo.

Live Music: Paul Weller at the Greek Theatre

October 23, 2012

By Mike Finkelstein

As last week passed by I felt my anticipation build for Paul Weller‘s show at the Greek Theatre Friday night. Weller is a legendary performer, collaborator and a revered influence on the English and Continental popular music scene since the late ‘70’s.    Curiously, he has never come to much commercial prominence in the US.   He has been more of a cult figure here, and those who were digging below the surface layer of FM radio for their music in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s know and stand with his work. I realized I would probably not recognize many of his tunes by name, but I understood that Weller doesn’t perform in LA very often so that this was surely one must-see gig.

Paul Weller began his career as a bit of a throwback, starting The Jam as a dyed-in-the-wool Mod several years after the Mod movement had pretty much fizzled in England.   But the Jam caught on big in the U.K., straddling the line between new wave and the hard edge of punk music.  They caught the ear of bands like the Clash as they were both coming up and even toured with them.   In classic Mod style they set themselves apart by dressing in sharp suits with tight haircuts and playing super crisp, concise energized pop hits.  Drawing on influences from the Beatles, Small Faces, and the Who to West Indian ska and American soul singers, Weller’s songwriting prowess grew steadily.   He next formed the Style Council in the mid ‘80’s, and continued to rack up the hits.  But still, not much happened in the US mainstream.   Here in LA, if you weren’t listening to KROQ or reading about what was going on elsewhere, you wouldn’t likely have heard from Weller.   Weller’s solo career is over ten albums long now.

On Friday there were quite a few English accents to be heard in the audience as well as a noticeable row of stylish Vespa and Lambretta scooters parked outside the Greek.  It was a Mod event, which made for some good people watching.  Although the Greek was perhaps 80% full, the crowd knew the music and many dressed the part.

Hitting the stage in dyed blonde hair, stylish jeans, a button down knit shirt, and a double-breasted jacket, Weller and the band had an updated bit of the Miami Vice look going for their outdoor show in LA.

Paul Weller

Beginning with Style Council’s “My Ever Changing Moods” and cycling through a well-paced balance of his material, this show was all about letting the music do the talking.   He and his band — including Steve Cradock – guitar , Steve Pilgrim – drums, Andy Lewis – bass, and Andy Crofts – keys — played four songs from the Jam (“Just Who is the 5 O’clock Hero?” “Carnation,” “Start!” “Strange Town”) and four more from the Style Council catalogues ( “MECM” “The Cost of Living,” “Long Hot Summer,” and “Shout To The Top”), with the rest of the set drawn from his solo career.

Even to my uninitiated ears, I could hear the progression in his songwriting and arrangements from the tightly wound conciseness of the Jam numbers, to airing the arrangements out for a smoother more soulful feel on the Style Council songs.   His solo material gave stylistic nods to his past but also gave us some gorgeous moments of stretching out musically.   There was no better of example of this than the beguiling “You Do Something to Me,” which featured Weller on piano and singing slow, powerfully, and convincingly.   Towards the end of this song and several others, like “Carnation,” and  “Foot of the Mountain,” the guitars were brought out above the mix and really allowed to dance.   Both guitarists favored a refreshingly clean, shimmering sound bathed in reverb and delay.   Their approach to the vibrato arm was also noteworthy.  Instead of dive bombing with the low strings, as many modern players do, they chose to waver and slur their entire chords gorgeously, nodding to a style of electric guitar rooted in Duane Eddy, surf, and country music.  Subtle as the effect was, it added layers of cool to the sound.

Weller’s voice is its own versatile entity.  Depending on what any phrase of a song might require we could hear him touching on David Bowie’s low spoken murmurs, Joe Strummer’s boom over the loud parts, and at several times you would swear that it was a young Elvis Costello behind the mic.   His ability to choose the spots to change his voice on a dime was seamless, natural, and never prolonged … quite like a chameleon.

Having had the distinct pleasure of Paul Weller giving me a tour through some of the high points of his career, I’m headed to Amoeba to pick up some choice morsels.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings opened the show with a pumped up tight set of horn-driven, shaking and shimmying, revved up soul numbers that got the place energized in a hurry.

Jazz and Art: The “Blues For Smoke” Jazz Exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary Museum

October 23, 2012

By Norton Wright

Blues For Smoke, a giant and MIND-EXPANDING visual art-and-recorded jazz exhibit is currently at Los Angeles’ Geffen Contemporary Museum at MOCA. Featuring listening posts, video viewing stations, and over one hundred contemporary paintings/photographs/ installations/& sculptures by visual artists from the 1950’s to the present, the show posits that “the blues” is more than just a jazz form birthed at the beginning of the 20th century by blacks in America but now a cross-cultural attitude, a way by which all of us may interpret or encounter life.

The brief texts posted on the exhibition’s walls serve to introduce the visual and musical art presented, and the explanations are extraordinarily succinct and telling:

“The blues are a synthesis… Combining work songs, group seculars, field hollers, sacred harmonies, proverbial wisdom, folk philosophy, political commentary, ribald humor, elegiac lament, and much, much more, they constitute an amalgam that seems always to have been in motion in America – always becoming, shaping transforming, displacing the peculiar experiences of Africans in the new world.” — Houston Baker, Distinguished Professor, African-American Studies, Vanderbilt University.

African-American art critic and writer Ralph Ellison’s take on “the blues” aesthetic is quoted as:

“An impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive and in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near tragic, near comic lyricism.”

Such  “near tragic, near comic lyricism” is exemplified in the exhibition’s eleven-painting installation by painter Glenn Ligon in which the artist repeatedly prints on his glowing, golden-faced canvases the lines from one of comedian Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines:

“I was a nigger for twenty-three years.
I gave that shit up. No room for
No room for advancement.”

To fully experience all the content that’s in this unique MOCA exhibit can easily take a day of looking and listening, but here are three highlights to at least start with:

Event 1… the 30-minute motion picture, Anything For Jazz, with pianist Jaki Byard, shown on a TV monitor with two headsets attached (located in a narrow corridor on the left side of the museum’s main floor).  The MOCA exhibition’s title,  Blues for Smoke, references the title of Byard’s first record album as a leader on solo piano in 1960.  The reference to “smoke” in the explanatory text speaks of “the lament of dispersed heat and vision — to the immaterial and residual qualities of smoke.”  And perhaps to the fleeting nature of our lives.

Bassist Ron Carter and pianist Bill Evans briefly speak to camera about musical genius — career fame — and anonymity — the latter basically preferred by Byard whose superb keyboard work earned him the title of “the Uncrowned King of piano” among his peers  but whose self-effacing personality kept him from the popularity he clearly deserved.  But you’ve got to love Byard when he declares in the film that he has no desire for a Grammy, considers it more like a “Sham-y.”  And when he is about to play one of his compositions for a large auditorium audience, he quips to them, “Well, wish me luck” — and then dazzles them with an incredible mix of stride piano and free jazz!

“Garden of Music” by Bob Thompson with images of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden and the artist himself

Event 2… Move straight down the corridor as it opens into an airplane hanger-sized space where artist David Hammons’ gigantic installation, Chasing the Blue Train, features a mountain-like landscape of inverted but real piano tops acting as sound baffles for adjacent boom boxes playing jazz tracks by John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Chugging its way around these musical mountains and through a mound of real coal is a little, blue electric train on a lengthy set of toy railroad tracks. The feeling of a jazz musician’s laborious travels is palpable, and moving along with the train from one musical mountain to another evokes this blues lyric from 1926:

No one here can love or understand me,
Oh, what hard luck stories they all hand me,
Make my bed and light the light,
I’ll be home late tonight,
Blackbird bye bye.

Event 3… In a large room adjacent to Chasing The Blue Train is an installation by photographer/writer/actress Carrie Mae Weems titled Pictures and Stories.  Usually my taste is not for black-and-white photographic stills, but Weems has crafted a 30-minute “blues” experience in this room that plays like a picturized radio play. First you should look at the 34 framed photographs of Weem’s black, extended family. Some of the photos have attached to them texts written by Weems highlighting her family’s love, mayhem, pregnancies, jealousies, infidelities, bank robberies, shootings, and occasional attempted murders. The characters in this photoplay are mesmerizing. For one photograph of a portly, middle-aged black woman bulged into a tight white girdle and slip and brazenly wearing a Billie Holiday-like gardenia in her hair, Weems writes:

Edna is daddy’s only sister and one big-fine-black-ass woman, and according to Edna, all woman. I know for a fact she’s serious, ‘cause she’ll tell you in a minute, and won’t even crack a smile, “I’m the men’s pet and the women’s fret.”

After looking at the photos, go to the end of the room and stand by the wall’s audio speaker to listen to Carry Mae Weems dramatically relating the story of the family that you’ve just seen. It’s a half-hour of great theatre!

In that, for decades, artists from James Baldwin to Charles Mingus to Spike Lee have been trying to define “the black experience,” Weems adds a chapter filled with the “near tragic, near comic lyricism” that at the beginning of this review, Houston Baker mentioned as inherent to “the blues.”

There are lots more marvelous experiences in this exhibit, my favorites running to the abundance of musical videos of performances by jazz and blues talents — from a very young and beautiful Billie Holiday to singers and musicians heretofore unknown to me. Should I know of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1987, amazingly combining jazz, reggae, funk, free jazz, and Sun Ra-styled gongs, cymbals, bells, and clappers? How about a blues singer, Big Mama Thornton in 1984, power-housing through the song “Ball & Chain” – or a Jeanne Lee in 1994 singing a soulful “Every Time We Say Goodbye”?

The point is there’s much more to hear and see in this Blues For Smoke exhibition.


Blues For Smoke runs until January 9, 2013.  Thursday nights offer free admission from 5 to 8pm.  Regular admission is $12 and Student/ Senior admission $7 during the weekly schedule: Mon. & Fri. 11am – 5pm… Thurs. 11am – 8pm… Sat. & Sun. 11am – 6pm… Tues. & Wed. closed.  Geffen Contemporary Museum at MOCA, 152 North Central Avenue in Little Tokyo.   (213) 626-6222.

To read more posts by and about artist/writer Norton Wright, click HERE.

Ballet: The National Ballet of Canada’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

October 21, 2012

By Jane Rosenberg

In a rut?  No need for magic mushrooms or secret elixirs to transport you to another mind set.  A trip to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles for the National Ballet of Canada’s U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” ought to do the trick.  And if you think Lewis Carroll would be surprised to see his White Rabbit dive through a wobbly jelly mold to access Wonderland, think again.  With artistry, imagination, and twenty-first century technology, Carroll’s beloved tale of sense and nonsense comes to manic life.

With his first full-length ballet, Christopher Wheeldon, former New York City Ballet principal and resident choreographer, scored a mega-wattage hit.  In collaboration with the playwright, Nicholas Wright, he has conceived of an older Alice with a romantic interest, in order to create an overarching narrative in the tradition of nineteenth century story ballets.  There the similarity ends, however.  This is contemporary sensibility all the way, from Joby Talbot’s eclectic score to Bob Crowley’s stunning sets and costumes to Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington’s brilliantly realized video projections.

Opening on a summer afternoon, we are outside an imposing façade in the garden of the Liddell family (Carroll’s inspiration for Alice being the young Alice Liddell) where friends and family assemble for a garden party, among them Lewis Carroll, himself.  Here we meet the gardener’s son, Jack, who becomes the Knave of Hearts in Wonderland and Alice’s love interest. When Jack is banished from the garden by Alice’s domineering mother, Carroll comforts a disheartened Alice by taking her photograph.  Draped under the camera cloth, he twitches and twists, coming to life as the White Rabbit.  Plunging into the ever-expanding jelly mould sitting on a platter, with Alice close on his heels, the Rabbit takes off for Wonderland and we follow for the wild and rollicking ride to come!

Sonia Rodriguez

A puppet Alice, swirling Escher-inspired video of a trip down the abyss to Wonderland, stacks of Edward Gorey-like doors, a rain of confetti on the audience, Alice’s pool of tears conceived as a Baroque opera set with an animal water ballet, a pig butchery with a Sweeny Todd-ish cook, a demented Duchess channeling Frederick Ashton, and near strangulation by sausage links; and we have a visual feast to knock any Disney production off the block.  And this is only Act One.  With so much to see and so much to absorb, the feast was in danger of overfeeding the audience.  More mime than dance, too much information – programmatically, visually, and even musically – overwhelmed the senses. The orchestra, under the baton of David Briskin, met all the demands of the shimmering score brilliantly.

Sonia Rodriguez

It was with a sigh of relief, then, that Act II opened quietly on a darkened stage with a beautiful and poetic Cheshire Cat puppet floating, disembodied, around Alice.  Alice, danced pitch perfect by Sonia Rodriguez, who at forty is uncannily able to portray a teen-aged Alice in all her eager innocence, was never off the stage in a role that required performing choreography both classic and contemporary, lyrical and angular.  No tourist in Wonderland, this Alice participated, injected in every dance sequence.  When she arrived at the mad tea party, she found the Mad Hatter tap dancing inside a re-creation of an English Toy Theater, and jumped up to share the stage with him.  A Mad Tapper – what a marvelous invention – the role originating with Steven McRae, a noted tap dancer.  Robert Stephen, who performed on Friday night, seemed a bit tentative in the tap sequences, his ballet posture unable to adjust to what one assumed should be jazzier body language.

Sonia Rodriguez

Alice escaped the Hatter, the sleepy Dormouse, and the mischievous March Hare to find herself alone and lost, in search of the Knave of Hearts, whom she has glimpsed in the first act.  Knowing from the White Rabbit that they are all headed for the garden, Alice asked the way of a hookah-smoking caterpillar, danced by Jiri Jelinek.  In a sensuously choreographed sequence, the caterpillar and his entourage of female attendants put me in mind of the “Arabian Coffee” divertissement from “Nutcracker.” Jelinek managed the clever choreography, pumping his stomach like a belly dancer, while exuding intensely masculine charm.

Alice found her way to the flower garden, and we finally experienced Wheeldon’s mastery of ensemble choreography.  To a waltz that sounded like Johann Strauss on magic mushrooms, the flowers bent and swayed: part Petipa, part Busby Berkeley, yet overlaid with Wheeldon’s sense of humor.  And in classic tradition, the Knave, as danced by the virtuosic Guillaume Cote, partnered Rodriguez in a tender pas de deux.

When the curtain rose on the fabulous Queen’s garden of Act III, the audience let out an audible gasp of astonishment. This scene was perfection, not only in its interpretation of Carroll’s tale, but also for the clever and hilarious choreography.  An opening pas de trois for three gardeners, who unsuccessfully attempted to paint the roses red; followed by ballerinas bedecked as flamingos; and four small children tumbling across the stage as hedgehog croquet balls was an imaginative delight.

Greta Hodgkinson

But the award for the wackiest, most inspired performance of the ballet goes to Greta Hodgkinson as the Red Queen. In a musical and choreographic spoof of the “Rose Adagio” from “Sleeping Beauty,” Hodgkinson danced, not with Aurora’s four princely suitors, but with four terrified, browbeaten cards.  Alternately posing sweetly in attitude or glaring angrily, she was lifted off her feet, only to be deposited unceremoniously on the ground. And instead of offering roses, the cards handed her jam tarts, as she stuffed her face and danced.

Aleksandar Antonijevic

In the courtroom scene, stacked mile high with cards, we were treated to dancing hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds, a vaudevillian solo for the White Rabbit danced splendidly by Aleksandar Antonijevic, and a pas de deux of the Queen and Executioner. The Canadian company shines through this and every scene with their high level of craft and artistry.  Though Alice danced tenderly with the Knave of Hearts (Here Talbot’s music, so magical throughout, was at its weakest, conjuring sounds of bombastic movie soundtracks.), the Queen remained unmoved and ordered his execution for stealing the tarts.  With no hope in sight, Alice knocked over a witness, causing a domino effect, as all assembled toppled over.  Alice and the Knave made their escape, and Alice was propelled back into the real world – one with a slightly different spin than the opening scene and rather intriguing in its message: that despite the fact that Carroll’s novel was penned nearly 150 years ago, it’s as fresh and timeless as the day it was published.

The ballet is on view at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles through October 21st and will travel to the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. in January 2013.

Sonia Rodriguez photos by Bruce Zinger.

Greta Hodgkinson and Aleksandar Antonijevic photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

To read more iRoM reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


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