Live Jazz: John Pisano’s Guitar Night with Graham Dechter

February 28, 2013

By Michael Katz

There were generations bumping into each other Tuesday night, both on the stage and in the crowd at Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake, the current home of John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  Much of that is by design. For fifteen years, Pisano has been bringing guitarists from anywhere and everywhere to share an evening with him. Last night one of the best young players around, 26 year-old Graham Dechter, joined forces, along with an equally young rhythm section, Katie Thiroux on bass and Matt Witek on drums.

The setting at Lucy’s 51 is an eclectic mix. It’s a neighborhood bar and restaurant, the food tasty and affordable, the service friendly.  The usual Pisano following of first-call guitarists and guitar lovers inhabits the closer tables, while a younger, definitely non-poseur bunch fills in from the back, only vaguely aware that there are some world class talents at the other end of the room.

John Pisano

John Pisano

The two headliners started off with a gently swinging intro to “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Pisano’s plump chords inviting the audience in, while Dechter teased the melody, then slipped into a bluesy theme. Before long he was giving an overture for the evening, including a taste of Wes Montgomery-like fingerings, abetted by some nice bass work from Katie Thiroux.

Pisano’s Guitar Nights work from a book of standards, and if you attend often enough you’ll hear versions of some his favorites: “Just Friends,” “Yesterdays” and “I’ll Remember You” were three that popped up last night, and the fun is watching how the guitarists hone in on the themes, play with the tempos, banter back and forth, tossing in quotes from other tunes.

Graham Dechter

Graham Dechter

Pisano seemed content to play rhythm early on and let Dechter show off, and you couldn’t blame him. It’s hard to quantify what separates the best jazz guitarists from the crowd, especially at an early age. There’s enough technical ability to go around, but in this setting you look at how Dechter plays with tempo and phrasing. It’s a little bit like a running back searching for holes, suddenly changing direction and darting through.

The highlight of the first set was Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait,” and, yes, I’ll admit that anything that even remotely suggests fishing will get my attention. Pisano established the friendly theme and Dechter took off from there, his left hand flying over the frets. Thiroux, raven-haired and lithe of hand, plucked a chocolate-colored bass while Witek kept a steady patter on the drums.

By the time the group launched into a blues to end the first set, you could sense a musical awareness that was filtering forward from the stage.  The noise level behind the Guitar Night regulars had dropped, more heads at the middle and back tables were riveted toward the players, more applause greeted the solos. As some of the front row regulars departed, a bunch of the back-of-the-room crowd migrated toward the empty seats and took in the second set at close hand.

After a brisk run through “I’ll Remember April,” Pisano weaved his way into the opening of “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” You could feel the spirit of Ray Charles inhabiting the space – he would have felt right at home. The tempo morphed from laid back to Dechter’s insistent drive, again with some Wes-influenced riffs. Fingers tapped, heads nodded.

“I Should Care,” the penultimate tune of the second set, was exquisite, with John Pisano carrying the melody beautifully before Graham Dechter caught up with him, the two of them circling around the theme for the appreciative crowd. Finally, there was “Cotton Tail,”  wherein Pisano and Dechter more than made up for the lack of a saxophone player, bouncing riffs off each other, Pisano clearly saving his best for last. Thiroux deftly worked her bass solos in between the two guitarists, and Matt Witek stood out with some superb stick work as the group bowed out for the evening.

So I have kept up with John Pisano’s Guitar Night, from Rocco’s to Spazio’s to Vitello’s and now to Lucy’s 51. The cuisine has shifted from pasta to burgers and salads, but the music is still pure gourmet.

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.

John Pisano photo by Bob Barry.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 26 – Mar. 3

February 27, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson

- Feb. 27. (Wed.)  Willie Nelson & Family.  The inimitable Willie Nelson performs his memorable hits with the musical companionship of his talented family members. Click HERE to read an earlier iRoM review of Willie Nelson and his Family.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

= Feb. 27. (Wed.)  Shofar. The three Polish musicians in the group Shofar are questing after a “common denominator shared by Hasidic music and free jazz.”  Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

- Feb. 27. (Wed.)  Sascha’s Bloc. An entertaining band of players, many from Russia, who bring new perspectives to a musical approach that blends traditional sounds and rhythms with far-ranging contemporary music. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent Saschas’s Bloc performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

- Feb. 28 – 3. . (Thurs. – Sun.)  Dudamel Conducts Stravinsky’s Firebird. The ever-dynamic Dudamel leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an adventurous approach to one of the 20th century’s intrepid musical works. Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 28 – Mar. 2.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Oleta Adams.  Versatile singer Adams moves freely – and convincingly – across genres, from soul and gospel to rhythm & blues and jazz.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

- Mar. 1. (Fri.)  Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to jazz applies her warm, embracing voice to everything from jazz classics to the Great American Songbook.  She performs with the Pat Senatore TrioVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Mar. 1. (Fri.)  Juan de Marcos & the Afro-Cuban All-Stars.  The Grammy-nominated All-Stars cover a full range of Latin music, including bolero, cha-cha-cha, salsa, rumba, danzon, timba and beyond.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

- Mar. 1 – 3.(Fri. – Sun.)  Oguri and Wadada Leo Smith.  Adventurous trumpeter Smith and his band interact creatively with Japanese dancer Oguri.  Electric Lodge, Venice.   (310) 306-1854.

- Mar. 2. (Sat.) Patricia Barber. One of the jazz vocal world’s most uniquely individual artists, Barber will sing selections from her new album, Smash.  To read the iRoM review of the album, click HERE.  She performs in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Musicians Institute Concert Center.   (310) 275-8961.

- Mar. 2. (Sat.)  An Evening With Rudresh Mahanthappa. Alto saxophonist/composer Mahanthappa works at synthesizing South Indian elements with a variety of other international musical genres. He does so here in the company of two ensembles – the Indo-Pak Coalition and Gamak. A  CAP-UCLA concert at Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

Katia Moraes

Katia Moraes

- Mar. 3. (Sun.)  Katia Moraes.  Los Angeles is filled with musically diverse Brazilian artists.  And the dynamic Moraes, who invests her singing with the stimulating energies of her dancing, continues to be one of the best.  Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent performance by Moraes.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Mar. 3. (Sun.)  Patrick Tuzzolino Trio.  Singer/keyboardist Tuzzolino is an impressive talent who has not yet received the full acknowledgement he deserves.  Here’s a rare chance to hear him in action, performing with trombonist Bob McChesney and drummer Billy Paul Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Feb. 28 – Mar. 1 (Thurs & Fri.)  Ana Moura.  Fado is being revived by a gifted generation of young Portuguese singers.  And Ana Moura is one of the best.  An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium.    (866) 920-5299.

Washington, D.C.

- Feb. 28 – Mar. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Mike Stern and Dave Weckl.  Jazz fusion in all its many invigorating forms is at its best in the talented hands of guitarist Stern and drummer Weckl.  They’re ably supported by bassist Anthony Jackson and saxophonist Bob FranceschiniBlues Alley.    (202)337-4141.

New York

- Feb. 27 – Mar. 2. (Wed. – Sat.)  Gary Peacock, Marc Copland and Joey Baron.  It’s an all-star jazz trio, by any definition, with pianist Copland, bassist Peacock and drummer Baron triggering a continuing flow of imaginative improvisation.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

- Feb. 27 – Mar. 3. (Wed. – Sun.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Saxophonist Coltrane, who makes the most of his genetic gifts as the son of John Coltrane, plays with the superb backing of Billy Childs, Fender Rhodes, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, Nikki Glaspie, drums.  Trumpeters Tim Hagans and Jason Palmer trade off on Thurs.(28) and Fri.(1).  The Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

London

- Feb. 27 – Mar. 3. (Wed. – Sun.)  Arturo Sandoval. Versatility doesn’t begin to describe trumpeter/pianist/percussionist/singer Sandoval’s remarkable talents.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Sandoval performance.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 0(20) 7439 0747.

Paris

- Feb. 27. (Wed.)  The Robert Cray Band.  Five time Grammy award winner Cray has throroughly established himself as one of the most convincingly authentic contemporary blues artists.  Paris New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

Jason Moran

- Mar. 3. (Sun.)  Jason Moran & the Bandwagon.  Pianist Moran, the winner of a MacArthur “genius” award, takes time away from his role as jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center to lead his gifted Bandwagon trio, with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet WaitsA-Trane.    030/313 25 50.

Copenhagen

- Mar. 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.)  Bobo Moreno.  Highly praised Danish singer performs with pianist Ole Kock Hansen, bassist Bo Stief and American drummer Adam NussbaumJazzhus Montmartre.   (+45) 70 263 267.


Live Music: Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

February 27, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Last weekend at Royce Hall, CAP UCLA presented another intriguing show, as Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers delivered a unique clinic on how to make a musical point with a steel guitar.   I’m not sure how many of us knew that the Slide Brothers use four or five non-identical steel guitars to build a marvelously layered sound.  But to watch as the four stations were set up across the stage you could feel the anticipation build.  What would this sound like?  And, how cool to get four of these contraptions firing at once in any room, be it a church or Royce Hall.  Bring it on!

The development of the Slide Brothers began in several Pentecostal churches back in the 1930’s.  In this Sacred Steel Style an amplified steel guitar, played sitting and tabled with a knife or a metal slide, is used to drive the melodic turns of a piece of music like a banshee.  It is a lightning bolt of sound that cuts through just about anything.

Robert Randolph

Robert Randolph

As a child, Robert Randolph was born into the House of God church in Orange, New Jersey and became fascinated with the Sacred Steel he heard in services.  He followed the pull of the steel guitar to become a monster player himself.  His heroes included pioneers of the style: Aubrey Ghent, Henry Nelson, and Chuck and Darick Campbell. The Slide Brothers lineup is basically Randolph playing onstage with several of the people from whom he learned the most about the style.

While the Sacred Steel music was confined under church roofs, Randolph didn’t listen to much else as a teen.  In the last ten years or so, he has become increasingly aware of and connected with secular blues music like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, and Jimi Hendrix.   Randolph has brought the Sacred Steel out of the church, fitted it to some popular secular styles, and teamed up with his mentors to let the glory of the instrument speak for itself.

When the Slide Brothers came on we had the legendary Chuck Campbell and Randolph on pedal steel guitars, at opposite ends of the stage.  This, alone, represented 25 strings worth of harmonic possibilities.  In the middle were Aubrey Ghent and Calvin Cooke, and on the backline we had the booming rhythm section of Ray Holloman on bass and big Carlton Campbell (Chuck’s nephew) on drums.

Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers

Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers

The music was tremendous, with the pulsating beat you would expect from Gospel music and the nuanced tones you would want from blues and even rock music. The Slide Brothers have just released a new album, Robert Randolph Presents The Slide Brothers, which features several familiar secular songs including, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and the Tampa Red standard, “It Hurts Me Too.” Songs like “The Sky Is Crying,” made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” put a galvanizing perspective on the sound of this style. Hearing a familiar song done in a new style usually reveals a bit about the song and the players, too.  This was surely the case on Saturday.  On “Voodoo Child,” nobody sang the dark set of lyrics to the song.  But, they put the pedal to the metal instrumentally.

The sound was louder than usual for Royce and steel guitars do very well with a little extra lift.  Time after time, the Slide Brothers would pull the elements that make an electric steel guitar sound as big as a herd of elephants.   It was the nuances that made you take notice.   Slurred power chords and especially the sweet spot in the decay of a note feeding back.   The percussive chunk-a-chunk that pervades great rhythm guitar playing was also there, as was the wailing, writhing high notes.   Beyond that, organ voicings were also easy for the guys to reach on the pedal steels.  So, there were many options for which register they might choose — below the melody lines.   In the tradition of big amplified sound, the steels were sent through delay and distortion effects, and even wah-wah pedals.

Robert Randolph can flat out fly on a steel guitar.   He peeled off several stunning pentatonic runs that evoked and perhaps eclipsed a standard electric guitar.  Impressive, as there are no frets on a pedal steel guitar.  But then he would delve into the steel’s harmonic voicings for striking contrast.   His foil on stage right was Chuck Campbell, a big presence on a bench behind his steel.  His style leaned more towards composed, swirling chordal movement.   Together they covered some wide and serious tonal ground, while balancing each other’s sound.

To be sure, most of us had never seen anything like this and probably won’t until we go see them live again.  Not a lot of people do what Randolph and the Slide Brothers are doing.   It should be delightful to see where they turn for material in the future and how they arrange it when they get there.

Otis Taylor and his band from Boulder opened the show with an impressive set of songs that were rooted in blues but branched out in funkier directions to come across as some intriguing rock music.   Taylor’s band featured the animated performance of Anne Harris on violin and the very hot licks of Shawn Starski on lead guitar.  Taylor himself had a warm way about him and the set’s energy got the audience primed for the treat awaiting them with the Slide Brothers.

To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE


CD Review: Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran — “Hagar’s Song”

February 24, 2013

Hagar’s Song (ECM Records)

By Brian Arsenault

For his 75th birthday, Charles Lloyd has released a most beautiful album, Hagar’s Song, with pianist Jason Moran. Stated simply, if you listen to many albums over many months you will not find beauty of this recording’s equal.

Perhaps Lloyd has reached a point in his lengthy and luminous career that he knows when he picks up one of his saxophones or flutes that beauty is enough.  It is.

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

Whether it’s Billy Strayhorn’s “Pretty Girl” or Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” Duke Ellington’s  classic “Mood Indigo” or Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” (a different kind of classic), Lloyd pays homage to great songs and expands our sensibility every time.

His playing of “You’ve Changed” made me think of Billie Holiday, then just made me thoughtful, then just made me still for a few minutes.  That’s rare.

He dedicates “I Shall Be Released,” made famous by The Band, to Levon Helm and calls him a “very soulful man.”  To use the cliché accurately, it takes one to know one.

Lloyd is not one of those stand offish, only my music matters, kind of artists. He’s played with everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Cannonball Adderley to the Beach Boys to Keith Jarrett to Robbie Robertson and he brings an appreciation of all he’s heard to this piece of work.  Yet it is all still him, a unique and distinguished musician.

And using Moran as his “band” only enhances the notes between spaces.  When the album arrived, I thought, no bass, no drummer.  How will this work?  It works, forgive the overuse, beautifully.

Jason Moran

Jason Moran

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Moran provides “percussion” and bass with his notes and chords and also terrific alternate leads between the silences and Lloyd‘s solos. No mean challenge when the horn player weaves magic at every turn, which can be three right turns in a row, Lloyd tells us.

The background release accompanying the advance of the album quotes Ornette Coleman as saying a few years ago that “Charles is playing really beautiful [there’s that word again].  He’s expressing the qualities of what we experience. Trying to make a contribution to the quality of life. . .”

That’s about right.

With all the respect addressed above, conscience requires me to say that I find the least satisfying and least accessible part of the album what Lloyd probably considers the centerpiece, “Hagar Suite.”  This is his five part tribute to his great-great grandmother who was snatched away from her parents at the tender age of 10 to be sold to a plantation owner in another state who eventually impregnatee her.

Lloyd knows that however horrible slavery itself, the most horrifying part is to remove a child from her parents at such a young age. The individual matters most to a true humanitarian.

Perhaps because it is such a personal vision, Lloyd moves at times into contemplations that are so much his own the listener must perforce stand outside.  Or perhaps more listens are required.

I can’t escape the notion, though, that the suite is perhaps the basis of an American symphony and should have been so treated in an album of its own. The great American songs on the album. drawn from so many sources, are what makes it so remarkable in my mind.

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That’s for each listener to determine, of course.  Beauty is after all in the eye of the beholder, to quote one source, and beauty is what pleases, to quote another.

Wondrous and precious stuff here.

* * * * * * * *

 Jason Moran photo by Tony Gieske. 

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


Live Music: Dori Caymmi at a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast

February 23, 2013

By Cathy Segal-Garcia

Los Angeles, CA.  Here I am, sitting in the Kirk Douglas Theatre, waiting for the world-renowned guitarist/vocalist/composer/arranger/producer, Dori Caymmi, to come out to start the show. A beautiful theatre, slanted up seating, with a medium large stage on the floor, the newest and most intimate of Center Theatre Group’s family of theatres.

We scored a seat in the very front center, so I’m pretty turned on because I love being close to musicians.  Being a singer, I like to feel up close and personal, feeling like I’m actually part of the band.  There’s a stool in the center with an expectant mic, a piano and keyboard, a stool in the center back, and drums.  I’m excited!

The group, a quartet, comes out after an introduction from Jazz Bakery founder Ruth Price. Dori’s voice is at once beautiful and distinct.  A rich baritone, with depth of emotion that make my insides release.  Add that voice to a slow bossa beat, with subtleties of the rhythms and harmonies coming through the players…and it’s romantic and beautiful from the very first moment.

The music is harmonically leading and surprising, which is part of what makes it so amazing to listen to.  Within the same song, there are passages of different lengths, that are significantly different, but they relate and flow out of each other and into the next; like a river, running gently and endlessly, around rocks and curves, on and on.

The 2nd song showcased the pianist, Bill Cantos, singing his own keyboard solo… Wonderful!   Vocally exciting, and great musical ideas… motifs repeating and developing into an exciting build and gentle drop.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

A slow, painfully beautiful “Corcovado” was next.  How do the great Brazilian musicians create this gorgeous style, time and again?  Dori is having a love affair with the song, with the notes, the way they sit in the harmony, the Portuguese lyrics….

And yet right after, this sweetheart of a man makes a joke relating to his “depressed versions of Brazilian music,” before going into a mind blowing arrangement of “Brazil.”  I have never heard or imagined a more beautiful and interesting arrangement.  It took me at least  32 bars before I recognized it.  The form seemed different, the chords were definitely beautiful substitutions, and even the melody, sung and played by Dori at first, seemed only slightly familiar. At a slow, sensuous groove, with all the rest, it was truly a holy experience.

Jerry Watts on electric bass was a prominent part of the music.  A versatile and strong musician, in this setting, as each musician, he held his reins and released at just the right times.  Playing his bass like a guitar, his rhythmic choices seemed comfortable and perfect, even with their complexity.

The drummer Aaron Serfaty was unobtrusive in the best way, to say the least.  Percussive, as if adding to an orchestra, light and perfectly rhythmic on his small drum set

Dori , soon to be merely 70 (how lucky are we, to be able to hear him more) was relaxed and talkative in between songs…making the audience love him all the more.  He talked about his father and mother, Dorival Caymmi and Stella Maris, both famous Brazilian musicians.   And an upcoming recording project he will do with his sister (famous vocalist Nana Caymmi) and brother (famous musician Danilo Caymmi)…dedicated to their Dad.  Then he played one of his Dad’s hits …”Acontec Que Eu Sou Baiano.”   Dorival was known as “the poet of the seas of Bahia.”

It was difficult to make notes while I listened; the music was so touching to the soul and the ears that I didn’t want to be distracted from it.  And yet, when I’m excited by music, I want to write about it.

And speaking of making love to the songs…how about making love through the songs?  Like a good lover, the music and the musicians find a sensuous wonderful groove, lock into it, stroke it with notes and harmony until, building slowly and gradually, it’s obvious that it must release…

“The Harbor”…(sigh).  Dori told a beautiful and sad introduction about the music of his father…about how he would tell about seemingly simple things like stepping on pieces of wood in the water that led to the boats.  And how, now, there is no more of that; it’s all been commercialized.  Dori wrote “The Harbor” as an ode to the old way.

Brazilian musicians and singers tend to state the melody as written, milking it with the tone of the instrument and the emotion of the voice.  That’s why listeners fall in love with the basic songs, with their melody and harmony.  American jazz singers, however, learn that the songs of the Great American Songbook were written down very basically.  A singer learns them, then changes them – with the phrasing, the melody, the rhythm.  And I believe not even the composer expected or desired you to sing it as exactly as it was written.

One gets the idea that Brazilian composers want something else.  Or perhaps it’s the culture that leads the performing artists into this kind of musical perspective.  A perspective in which the language and flow of the story – via both the lyrics and the music — communicate deeply the imaginative tales of their rich history and culture.

I left the concert with a lovely CD, my soul filled with beauty, and a desire to sing with Dori.  The perfect response to a perfect musical evening.

To read more about Cathy Segal-Garcia on her own website, click HERE


Live Jazz: The John Beasley MONK-estra Upstairs at Vitello’s

February 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  John Beasley described the 18 piece ensemble he brought to Vitello’s Wednesday night as a MONK’estra.  He also called it “A Big Modern Jazz Band.”

Both labels were right on target for this performance.  First, the great majority of the program was dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk.  Second, Beasley’s arrangements, combined with superb individual soloing from virtually every musician, resulted in a definitive display of “Big,” “Modern” and “Jazz Band.”

The John Beasley MONK-estra

The Monk pieces – including such classics as “Epistrophy,” “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Skippy” and “Ask Me Now” – were at their best when Beasley conceived big band settings enhancing, expanding and elaborating on the Monk originals. Often he captured Monk’s unique quirkiness, the offbeat accents, punchy dissonances and surprisingly soaring melodies.  And he did so with stunningly atmospheric ensemble textures, powerfully driven by the propulsive rhythm team of bassist Ricky Minor, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and Beasley’s own melodica playing.

Justo Almario, Ricky Minor, John Beasley

Justo Almario, Ricky Minor, John Beasley

The performance occasionally recalled a famous 1959 concert at New York’s Town Hall, in which Monk performed with a tentet, playing arrangements of his music written by Hall Overton.  But the presence of Monk in the ensemble — along with Overton’s occasional arrangements of previously recorded Monk solos for the horns — was very different from the scope of Beasley’s big band charts.

With maximum-sized horn sections – five trumpets, five doubling saxophones and four trombones – Beasley’s arranging moved into expansive, orchestral textures reaching well beyond both the Overton arrangements and familiar big band riffing.  Like Bill Holman, he worked within his own musical dialect.  Even in the pieces based on Monk works, he found intriguing ways to apply his imaginative perspectives to Monk’s music.

The saxophone section players —  Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill, Justo Almario, Tom Luer and Bob Carr – were often called to double on clarinets (including a pair of bass clarinets), bringing a lush, fluid sound to many passages.  Adding more timbral contrast, the trombonists —  Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Andy Martin and Steve Hughes – as well as the powerful trumpet team (Bijon Watson, Jamie Hovorka, Ray Monteiro, Brian Swartz and Gabe Johnson) were frequently asked to play with various mutes.

Interestingly, one of the many appealing products of Beasley’s envelope-stretching arrangements was some equally imaginative soloing from players who clearly seemed stimulated by their musical environment.  The net result was some of the most mesmerizing big band music – individually and collectively – of recent memory.

The only reservation about this remarkable evening was the thought that Beasley’s choice of the title “MONK-estra,” along with the decision to focus so strongly on Monk’s music, had too narrowly delineated his obviously extraordinary orchestrating abilities.  The few pieces that were not based on Monk’s works revealed Beasley’s capacity to deliver the broader, more expansive definition of what he also calls his
”Big Modern Jazz Band.”  It will be fascinating to see what he can do if he moves more convincingly in that distinctive, more personally expressive direction.

Photos by Bobby Colomby.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 19 – 24.

February 20, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Ron Kobayashi

Ron Kobayashi

- Feb. 20 (Wed.)  The Ron Kobayashi Trio.  Versatile pianist Kobayashi’s resume reaches from Mel Torme and Margaret Whiting to Teddy Edwards and Kenny Burrell.  Here he’s on his own and in the spotlight.  Steamers.

- Feb. 20. (Wed.) Monk’estra.  A Big Modern Jazz Band.  John Beasley.  Pianist/composer/arranger Beasley displays his imaginative musical wares with a big band featuring the works of Thelonious Monk.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings

- Feb. 21/ (Thurs.)  Larry Goldings Piano Trio.  He’s an impressive jazz organist, but this time Goldings applies his keyboard skills to the classic jazz piano trio.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Dudamel, Shaham and the Los Angeles Philharmonic with German Romanticism.  Dudamel and violinist Shaham dip into the rich, emotionally textured music of the Romantic era.  On the program — Wagner: Music from Gotterdammerung; Brahms: Violin Concerto; Schuman: Symphony No. 3 (“Rhenish). Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 22 – 24.  (Fri. – Sun.)  The New West Symphony and violinist Rachel Barton Pine.  The New West Symphony presents another weekend of music across the Southland.  Boris Brott conducts Ms. Pine and the NWS in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica).  Performances take place:  Fri. at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.   Sat. at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  And Sunday at Santa Monica’s Barnum Hall.   (805) 497-5800.

Bebe Neuwirth

Bebe Neuwirth

- Feb. 23. (Sat.)  Bebe Neuwirth.  Stories With Piano.  You know her from her long run on the hugely successful sitcom, Cheers.  But Neuworth’s also an appealing cabaret singer and dancer.  Scott Cady, piano.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000. 

- Feb. 23. (Sat.)  Cecilia Coleman Quartet.  Pianist Coleman, a much-favored Southland jazz regular before moving to New York, Coleman makes a rare L.A. appearance.  She performs with Steve Huffsteter, trumpet, Pat Senatore, bass and Kendall Kay, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 23. (Sat.) Robert Randolph presents the Slide Brothers.  With special guests: the Otis Taylor Band. The pedal steel guitar in all its glory, led by master player Randolph and the four Slide Steel Brothers.   CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.

- Feb. 23. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Chamber OrchestraJeffrey Kahane, multi-talented Music Director of the LACO, opens the evening with an in-depth discussion of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4 at the Orchestra’s annual “Discover” concert.  In the second half, he conducts the work from the piano.  Ambassador Auditorium.  (626) 354-6407.

Trevor McShane

Trevor McShane

 - Feb. 23. (Sat.)  Trevor McShane.  His real name is Neville Johnson, and he’s also one of the entertainment world’s highly regarded attorneys, as well as an ambitious performer.  He describes his songs as rock-folk-country-pop, but a more accurate description would be a contemporary singer/songwriter in the classic mode of James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, etc.  McSHane/Johnson will be joined by Lloyd Price and the Fleetwoods’ Gretchen ChristopherMcCabes.     (310) 821-5858.

- Feb. 23. (Sat.)  Roadwork Ahead.  Featuring Bill Mays, piano, Peter Sprague, guitar, Bob Magnusson, bass, Jim Plank, drums.  Pianist/composer Mays is well known for his accompaniment work.  But he’s also a prime jazz artist on his own.  He’s not in L.A. often, so take this opportunity to check him out. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson

- Feb. 21 – 23.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Cassandra Wilson. Blessed with a warm and intimate voice, Wilson makes the most of it with her intimate, musical story-telling skills. Yoshi’s San Francisco.

Portland, Oregon

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

Feb. 20 – 24.  (Wed. – Sun.)  The Portland Jazz Festival.  Always one of the best-planned, best-programmed jazz events of the year, the Festival continues to offer some irresistible music.  But it sells out fast.  Still available for this week: On Wed. Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts.  On Fri. A Tribute to Art Blakey including Javon Jackson, Bobby Watson, Curtis Fuller and more.  Also on Fri., the Steve Kuhn Trio.  On Sat., Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob.  On Sun., Nancy King.  Check the PDX website for complete information.  The Portland Jazz Festival.  (503) 228-5299.

Seattle

- Feb. 19 & 20. (Tues. & Wed.)  Jack DeJohnette Quartet featuring Don Byron.  Jazz Alley. Drummer DeJohnette has found the perfect reed player for his Quartet in the imaginative playing of the versatile Byron.  Jazz Alley.

New York

- Feb. 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Benny Green Trio.  He’s played with everyone, and with good reason – his ability to bring captivating inventiveness to his jazz mainstream style.  Green With Georgos Antoniou, bass, Kenny Washington, drums.  Jazz Standard.

  London

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham

- Feb. 20 – 24.  (Wed. – Sun.)  The Billy Cobham Band: Tales From the Skeleton Coast. The always dynamic drumming of Billy Cobham celebrates his latest album with an electrifying band including two keyboards, violin, guitar and steel pans.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 (0)20 7437 5081.

Copenhagen

- Feb. 22 (Fri.)  The Bjorn Ingelstam 5Tet.  “Tribute to Lee Morgan.”  Trumpeter Ingelstam leads a quintet of Denmark’s finest young players in a tribute to the iconic jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45)70 263 267.

Milan

- Feb. 20 (Wed.)  The Bill Charlap Trio. He comes from a highly successful musical family closely associated with the musical theatre.  But Charlap’s focus has been, and continues to be the jazz piano that he plays with complete authenticity. The Blue Note Milano.    02.6901 6888.

Palermo

Noa

Noa

- Feb. 20. (Wed.)  Noa and Gil Dor.  The irresistible Israeli musical partnership of singer Noa and guitarist Dor enhance their intimate musical togetherness with the string quartet of Vincenzo Di Donna and Luigi Di Maio, violins, Gerardo Morrone, viola, Anonio Di Francia, cello.    Teatro Jolly di Palermo.  091.6376336.

Tokyo

- Feb. 22 – 24. (Fri. – Sun.)  Fourplay.  Grammy-nominated Fourplay has had some personnel changes in the guitar chair over the past two decades.  But the addition of Chuck Loeb to the regulars – keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason – has invigorated the band’s always lively style.  Blue Note Tokyo.    +81 3-5485-0088.


Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: New CDs from Rob Morsberger

February 18, 2013

Early Work 1986-1995  (Hieroglyph Records)

Part of You (Hieroglyph Records)

By Brian Arsenault

Singer-Songwriter and composer Rob Morsberger’s lyrics linger even if he can’t much longer.  He has terminal brain cancer which, as he says, means:

Walking with “footsteps in the shadows . . . No light, only shade.”

When not much more can be expected from a tired love:

“Just be there to wake me up when I cry out in my sleep.”

When walking on the beach with one you love and watch the sand as the tide comes in:

 “The waves erase every detail, driven by the wind blowing in your hair.”

And for those you treasure the most:

 “This isn’t kindness, this is love.”

Rob Morsberger

Rob Morsberger

Some of this was written years ago, some only recently, but it all seems particularly poignant now.

I wanted to write about Rob Morsberger’s work now so that maybe a few more people will care about him and his music while he’s still here.  Many already do.

If you are real lucky, you saw some of his recent tour dates. Let’s hope for some more.

Cancer may claim him some time in the not too distant future, but that stinking disease can’t claim his music.  And in that way and through his beloved sons, he’ll live on.

We are fortunate to have been given one treasure in the recent release of  Early Work 1986-1995, a double CD look back

 His voice on the early stuff is less pleasing than on later work, but it’s expressive and compelling, as his lyrics always are. Here he gives us a bit of doo wop, zydeco, torch songs and plaintive ballads.  As well as some angry images:

 “The Dogs of Anger make a terrible sound . . . There is a killer instinct trying to break free.”

 That could have been written only weeks, not decades, ago. Or maybe it’s that human nature in all its variations just doesn’t change.

Boones, our cat, only comes in to where I’m listening when a rare song plays.  When she sits through it all, it’s really good.  She entered and stayed for “Like/Dislike” from which the beach quote above comes.

 “Everything comes down to what she likes and dislikes.”

 I know. I keep quoting lyrics.  This is a poet, folks, as well as a classically trained musician who has listened to everybody, really listened, be it Schubert, Dylan, Lennon or Patti Smith, with whom he has played.  Playing and arranging for Patti would be enough for most of us.

Rob Morsberger Part of You CDThe other recent gift is Part of You, for his youngest son with whom he holds hands on the album cover.

The title song rises like a hymn and continues like a libretto.  A familiar of the best of classical church music.  If I tried to convey what he says herein to his son I would only diminish it. But you can hear it.

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” is remarkable.  Do you know the story of Jacob?  In our secular age, we forget that The Bible contains many marvelous tales and we fail to read them out of fear — of what, I don‘t know.

Jacob is the guy who grapples with an Angel of God all night until he finally gets a blessing and a pardon of his sins. Jacob just won’t let go. I think Rob is wrestling with the Angel that is his Music.  Can God, any god, deny that?

“The Russian Cartographer” is about someone he shared a hospital room with and I know something about that.  From a busted up biker who risked the wrath of the nurses to have a smoke, to a mad North African wandering the hallway looking for his damaged head, such people pass by and leave you to your imagination.

“Good Laugh” is delightful and heart wrenching at the same time. I will always hear his son’s laugh somewhere deep.

Actually, the preceding two sentences could suffice as my review of Part of You. There isn’t much else to say that matters.

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


Live Jazz: Dream Street and Bobbi Page at Vitello’s

February 16, 2013

By Don Heckman

There’s no group quite like Dream Street.  True, there was a boy band with the same name active for a few years around the turn of the century.  But they were nothing like the seven person Dream Street ensemble that took the stage for a delightful Valentine’s celebration Thursday night at Vitello’s.

Start with the remarkably intriguing instrumentation: violin, cello, bassoon, guitar, bass, percussion and vocals.  Not exactly the line-up one often sees on stage in a jazz club.  And, even more uniquely, not the music one usually hears in that setting, either.  Dream Street, under the direction of guitarist/arranger/composer Stan Ayeroff, with the vocal stylings of Bobbi Page, brings fascinating perspectives to an imaginative range of material, from Songbook classics to original songs.

Thursday night’s program was an impressive display of all that and more.  Over the course of twenty songs the Dream Street program offered a program that never faltered, maintaining an irresistible sequence of compelling songs.

Bobbi Page

Bobbi Page

Page was at the heart of the action.  A busy and successful studio singer whose voice can be heard on countless soundtracks and recordings, she is also a dynamic performing artist in her own right.

Singing almost every number, she applied her warmly expressive voice and rich interpretive qualities to such standards as “Just One of Those Things,” “Night and Day,” “Why Don’t You Do Right,” “I Got Rhythm,” the classic bolero “Cuando Vuelve A Tu Lado” (“What A Difference A Day Makes”) and, of course, “My Funny Valentine.”  In one of the evening’s memorable moments, both “What’ll I Do?” and the Ayeroff original, “To Us, To Life, To Love” were sung with the intimate accompaniment of Ayeroff’s guitar.

But Page didn’t stop there, also adding other originals by Ayeroff, including “All Those Things” (sung in Portuguese) and the touching “Make Me A Poet” and “Highway of Love.”

Sid Page, Leslie Lashinsky and Bobbi Page

Sid Page, Leslie Lashinsky and Bobbi Page

The setting for each song made the most of the unusual timbral qualities of the instrumentation, particularly well seasoned by the lush tones of Leslie Lashinsky’s bassoon.  At times, Page’s voice was arranged as another element in the luxurious blend of Paula Hochhalter’s cello, Sid Page’s violin and Lashinsky’s bassoon.  Faster tunes such as “Centerpiece” were driven by the gently swinging rhythms of bassist Domenic Genova and percussionist Brian Kilgore.

Brian Kilgore, Bobbi Page, Sid Page and Domenic Genova

Brian Kilgore, Bobbi Page, Stan Ayeroff and Domenic Genova

As I said earlier, there’s nothing quite like Dream Street and Bobby Page.  If their names are unfamiliar to you, they shouldn’t be.  New musical experiences are always welcome.  And the Dream Street players and Bobbi Page have a seemingly endless supply of eminently listenable new material to offer.

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Don’t miss Dream Street the next time they make a welcome appearance in your neighborhood.   But if that opportunity doesn’t arise, check out their self-titled CD, which includes many of the songs performed at Vitello’s.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 


CD Review: Jimi Hendrix “People, Hell and Angels”

February 15, 2013

Jimi Hendrix

People, Hell and Angels, (Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings)

By Brian Arsenault

So I’m thinking, ‘Hey, Jimi’s been gone better than four decades, so how can they keep releasing new albums?’  Or rather, I’m thinking that right up to the second cut, “Somewhere,” when I start thinking, feeling what a joy it is to hear him play. On songs and versions I’ve never heard before.

“Somewhere” has this wondrous wah-wah work, you know what I mean, that morphs into his waterfall playing, into this rolling rock tour de force.

Then comes “Hear My Train A Comin’.”  That’s surely a blues classic by now, isn’t it? Pick your version. This one is a tour de force to the second power, maybe the tenth.

We knew the truth when Jimi was still alive, and this version of “Hear My Train A Comin’” demonstrates once again, that rock guitar cannot advance from here.  It hasn’t in 40 plus years. It would be like saying that you can build a better Mozart or Miles.

Jimi was the “just gone” guitarist that Eric and Peter and Jimmy and all the others aspired to be.  He sometimes builds a riff where you think a mortal can’t go — “Easy Blues” — pulls it off and then just slides into something else.  But there was a price to be paid to get there. We know that now.

Jimi was also the acid romance poet Morrison aspired to be. Listen to the lyrics of “Somewhere” to know that — as if you didn‘t already. Another price to be paid.

I’ve been featuring two songs so far in this review but there’s more.  Oh yes, there’s so much more.

There’s a just super version of Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart.” We’ve always known Jimi had good taste in music, great taste.  Who could range from James to Dylan with not a trace of self consciousness?

“Have mercy people.”

On “Let Me Move You” we hear Jimi trading leads with Lonnie Youngblood’s sax.  Sax, that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever heard featured in Hendrix songs I know. But it works like a bear in this so-fast, beer-drinking, butt-wiggling. road house song where a fight breaks out at 11:30 while it’s played.

“Izabella” is a true Jimi “love” song; longing and lust intermingle.  And “Crash Landing” tells of love’s labors lost with a whole lot of vitriol.

There’s some secondary stuff on the second half of the album, it’s true, and the closing song, “Villanova Junction Blues,” isn’t even a finished piece.

But the next to last song, “Hey Gypsy Boy,” got me to thinking there is in Jimi’s music some mysterious stuff. What is the wellspring?  Oh I can hear all the rock and blues and r&b influences too but there’s something that just came from somewhere else.

Charlie Parker had that too.  Part of the tradition.  A supreme realization of what came before crafted anew.  But where did he come from, really? Some other time and place we only imagine.

This isn’t truly an album.  It’s a thrown together collection of previously unreleased tracks. There will probably be more.  It’s about cash flow after all. But when it comes out March 5 those under the spell will of course get it. Because magic in pieces is still magic.

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


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