Live Jazz: Charlie Haden, Larry Goldings and Tri-Tone Asylum at Castle Press

February 14, 2013

By Don Heckman

Pasadena CA.  It was a night to remember.  A jazz concert in a printing company. The machine-filled Castle Press in Pasadena, to be precise.  With some of the performers positioned on a stage that consisted of a 460-ton printing press.   Add to that the party-like atmosphere, with listeners scattered across folding chairs and bleacher seats, quaffing wine as they enjoyed the music and the unusual setting.

But  what made last Monday’s program so special — beyond the remarkable location — was the announced presence of iconic bassist Charlie Haden.  Teaming up with pianist Larry Goldings, he was performing a day after he had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Recording Academy (the Grammys).

Haden was stricken with post-polio syndrome in 2010 (the consequence of a polio attack when he was 15).   Beyond some jamming at home with Pat Metheny,  he has performed rarely since 2011. And some audience members, aware of his physical maladies, apprehensively awaited his appearance as the climactic moment in the performance.

Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden

But there was no need to worry about the quality of Haden’s playing.  He and Goldings only did one number, but they made the most of it.  And it was a distinct pleasure to again hear the rich, dark timbres and melodic lyricism that have always been the uniquely appealing characteristics of Haden’s bass playing.   Add to that his intimate musical dialog with Goldings, occasionally calling up his classic Jasmine recording with Keith Jarrett.

The evening’s program, presented by MUSE/IQUE, was titled Jazz Laid Down.  In addition to Haden and Goldings, it featured the determinedly contemporary cross-over jazz of the electro-acoustic band TriTone Asylum.  The six piece ensemble included Allen Mascari,  tenor saxophone, Peter Sepsis, bass, Todd Wolf, drums, Jameson Trotter, piano, Andy Waddell, guitar, and Philip Topping, EVI.

Trit-Tone Asylum

TriTone Asylum

And what, you might ask is an EVI?  The initials stand for Electronic Valve Instrument.  Although it contains its own synthesized sounds, it also can be used  with sampled sounds, and is played with the same lip control and three-valve articulation of an acoustic trumpet.

Both the ensemble sound and the players’ interaction were impacted by the textures of Topping’s EVI playing.  Blending the basic acoustic setting of a jazz quintet with the variable tones of the EVI, they brought some fascinating new views to such familiar jazz items as Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” Ralph Towner’s “Icarus” and Hampton Hawes “Sonora.”  The latter item also served as accompaniment for a jazz-driven solo dance by Haylee Roderick.

Ultimately, however, it was Haden’s appearance that was the high point of this unusual evening.  And one left with the hope that his impressive performance was an important step on his road to full recovery.

Photos by Ben Gibbs.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 12 – 17

February 13, 2013

By The iRoM Staff

Los Angeles

Valentine’s Day

Steve Tyrell- Feb. 13 – 17. (Wed. – Sun.)  Steve Tyrell.  Vocalist Tyrell applies his appealing, jazz-driven style, enhanced by his warm Texas roots, to five evenings of memorable Valentine’s Day celebrating.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 14 (Thurs.)  Dream Street & Bobbi Page.  The combination of guitarist Stan Ayeroff, the amiable acoustic chamber music of Dream Street, and the tender, evocative singing of Page is a welcome choice for another celebration of the day of love.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 14. (Thurs.)  Carol RobbinsTony Gala.  Harpist Robbins sets the Valentine’s Day mood in the first set, followed by the romantic vocals of Gala.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 14. (Thurs.) Nancy Sanchez.  Award-winning jazz vocalist Sanchez displays her many impressive talents.  Steamers.     (714) 871-8800.

Denise Donatelli

Denise Donatelli

- Feb. 14. (Thurs.)  Denise Donatelli.  She was nominated again, but Denise didn’t win a Grammy this year, although she should have.  And here’s a great opportunity to hear why her singing is so special, as she applies her lustrous sound and intimate interpretations to a program of Valentine love songs.  Prestons at the Loew’s Hotel Hollywood.   (323) 491-1000.

- Feb. 14. (Thurs.)  Taylor Eigsti.  Once a youthful piano prodigy, Eigsti is now a fully matured jazz artist.  He’s joined by Dayna Stephens, saxophone, Harish Raghavan, bass and Eric Harland, drums.  Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Sue Raney

Sue Raney

- Feb. 14. (Thurs.)  “A Gershwin Valentine.”  And a colorful Valentine at that, enhanced by a full spectrum of musical vocalizing from Sue Raney, Michael Dees, Kurt Reichenbach and Pinky WintersA Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.    (310) 271-9039.

- Feb. 14 – 16. (Thurs. – Sat.)  “Romance at the Phil”  Celebrate a classical music Valentine’s week with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Charles Dutoit, with soloists Gautier Capucon, cello, and Carrie Dennis, viola, in a program of romantic classics from Mendelssohn, Mozart and Strauss.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 14 – 17. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The 13th Annual Newport Beach Jazz Party. It would take much more space than we have to mention all the world-class jazz talent at the annual Newport event.  But trust that – as always – the four engaging days of the Party will offer non-stop jazz at its finest.  The Newport Beach Jazz Party at the Marriott Newport Beach Hotel and Spa.  For details, check the web site.    (949) 759-5003.

And More

Tierney Sutton and the Turtle Island Quartet

Tierney Sutton and the Turtle Island Quartet

- Feb. 15. (Fri.)   Tierney Sutton and the Turtle Island Quartet. “Poets and Prayers.” The unique combination of vocalist Sutton and the Turtle Island players finds inspiration in the music of Joni Mitchell and John Coltrane, and the poetry of Hafiz and Rumi.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at Zipper Hall.    (310) 271-9039.

- Feb. 17. (Sun.)  The Chieftains. The irresistible playing and singing of the Chieftains remind us of the many pleasures of Irish music.  Disney Hall. http://www.laphil.com/tickets/calendar  (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 17. (Sun.)  Tim Weisberg Band.  Vitello’s.  Flutist Weisberg leads the fine musical collective of keyboardist Barnaby Finch,  bassist David Hughes, drummer David Derge and guitarist/vocalist Chuck AlvarezVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 17. (Sun.)  Pat Senatore Trio with Josh Nelson.  Jazz crosses the generations via the well-crafted, veteran bass work of Senatore and the adventurous piano playing of the youthful Nelson.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Paco Pena Flamenco Vivo” The brilliant Flamenco guitarist Pena is joined by a dynamic band of guitarists, singers and dancers.   Fri.: Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.      Sat.: Valley Performing Arts Center. (562) 916-8501.     (818) 677-3000.

San Francisco

The Manhattan Transfer

The Manhattan Transfer

- Feb. 15 – 17.  (Fri. – Sun.)  The Manhattan Transfer.  No one does jazz vocal ensemble singing better than the Transfer.  And they’re back to their best with the welcome return (from an illness hiatus) of the superb singing of Cheryl BentyneYoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 128-9200.

Washington D.C.

- Feb. 14 – 17. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jerry “The Iceman” Butler.  Once the lead singer of the Impressions, soul singer Butler – at 73 – is still out there, fully justifying his entry into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- Feb. 12 – 18. (Tues. – Mon.)  The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.  Monday night big band jazz was a favorite, for years, on the Vanguard stage.  This time, the swinging ensemble is in residency for a week.   The Village Vanguard.    (212) 255-4037.

- Feb. 14 – 17. )Thurs. – Sun.)  Rachelle Ferrell. With a remarkable vocal range and a simmering, blues-driven style, Ferrell knows how to apply it all to her intriguing jazz interpretations.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

London

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

- Feb. 17. (Sun.)  Eliane Elias, Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera.  A world class jazz trio, with Elias’ imaginative piano lines backed by the dynamic rhythm of bassist Johnson and drummer LaBarbera.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Berlin

- Feb. 17. (Sun.)  Cedar Walton Trio.  Pianist Walton, everyone’s favorite rhythm section player, steps out in front, backed by bassist David Williams and drummer Willie Jones III.  A-Trane.  030/313 25 50.

Tokyo

- Feb. 13 – 16. (Wed. – Sat.)  Nicola Conte and Till Bronner.  Versatile Italian guitarist Conte teams up with the equally eclectic German trumpeter Bronner.  The Tokyo Blue Note.     03-5485 0088.

Steve Tyrell photo by Bob Barry

Denise Donatelli and Sue Raney photos by Faith Frenz.


Here, There & Everywhere: The 2013 Jazz Grammy Awards

February 11, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 55th annual Grammy Awards are now history.  But not exactly history-making, especially in the Jazz categories.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being surprised by most of the results.  Or, in fact, by most of nominations.

That’s not to demean, in any way, the work of the jazz artists who did receive Grammy statuettes yesterday.  The list of winners includes Chick Corea and Gary Burton, Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, Arturo Sandoval and the late Clare Fischer’s Latin Jazz Big Band, in the five Jazz categories; and Chick Corea, the late Gil Evans and Spalding and Thara Memory in the Composing and Arranging categories, which have become virtual adjuncts to the Jazz listings.  One could never dispute their skill, artistry or worthiness as winners.

On the upside, it’s good to see the Latin Jazz Category returned to the line-up this year.  But the overall process itself is still uneven, to say the least.  Start with the first category, “Best Improvised Solo.”  What in the world are the standards a voter should use to make choices here?  Improvisation, by definition, is improvised.  How does one determine which spontaneous musical invention is “Best”?

“The Best Jazz Vocal Album” category mixes male and female singers in the same group.  Aside from the reduced number of possible nominees that can be chosen in a gender non-specific category, is it really fair or logical to ask voters to make comparisons between, say, Esperanza Spalding and Al Jarreau?

“The Best Instrumental Jazz Album” is a fairly straight-forward category.  But there are a pair of Chick Corea nominations in this group (especially since he also has two other nominations and a couple of wins in this year’s Awards).  Chick is one of the world’s finest jazz artists, and always worthy of being heard.  But, with the relatively small acknowledgment of jazz in the overall Grammy Award process, shouldn’t the honors be spread around a bit more?

The “Best Large Jazz Album” is hard to figure. It includes only three nominees – especially odd given the surprising numbers of large ensemble jazz recordings that have been arriving lately.

The ”Best Latin Jazz Album” winning choice is a much-deserved acknowledgement of the prolific and musically compelling Latin jazz work of the late Clare Fischer.  And it is done so amid a gifted group of artists reaching across the wide territory of Latin jazz.

Finally, the Best Instrumental Composition, Best Instrumental Arrangement, and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) categories can all be praised for the high quality of the nominations, all much deserved.  And it’s especially rewarding to see the honoring of the late master arranger Gil Evans – with nominations and a win – for selections from the Centennial album, a collection of previously unrecorded Evans compositions and arrangements.

Last year I signed off on my Grammy comments by underscoring the fact that every jazz player –like every other musical artist – has to be delighted to receive a gold statuette.  The same applies this year, and every year.  But once again the significance of the Grammys to jazz, and the Awards’ commitment to truly honoring one of America’s greatest cultural contributions, continues to diminish.  Jazz deserves better care.

Here are the Nominees and the Award Winners:

JAZZ AWARDS

31. BEST IMPROVISED SOLO

.

***WINNER:CHICK COREA AND GARY BURTON

”Hot House”  (Track from  Hot House Concord Jazz)

.

.

- RAVI COLTRANE

“Cross Roads” (Track from Spirit Fiction Blue Note)

- CHICK COREA

“Alice in Wonderland” (Track from Further Explorations Concord Jazz)

- KENNY GARRETT

“J.Mac” (Track from Seeds From the Underground Mack Avenue Records)

- BRAD MEHLDAU

“Ode” (From Ode Nonesuch)

 * * * * * * * * * *

 32. BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM

.

***WINNER: ESPERANZA SPALDING

Radio Music Society (Heads Up International)

.

.

.

DENISE DONATELLI

Soul Shadows (Savant Records)

 - KURT ELLING

1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project Concord Jazz)

-  AL JARREAU  (and the Metropole Orkest)

Live (Concord)

- LUCIANA SOUZA 

The Book of Chet (Sunnyside Records)

 * * * * * * * * * *

 33. BEST INSTRUMENTAL JAZZ ALBUM

.

***WINNER: PAT METHENY UNITY BAND

Unity Band (Nonesuch)

.

.

- CHICK COREA, EDDIE GOMEZ, PAUL MOTIAN

Further Explorations (Concord Jazz)

- CHICK COREA AND GARY BURTON

Hot House (Concord Jazz

- KENNY GARRETT

Seeds From the Underground (Mack Avenue Records)

 - AHMAD JAMAL

Blue Moon (Jazz Village)

* * * * * * * * * *

34. BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM

.

***WINNER: ARTURO SANDOVAL BAND

Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) (Concord Jazz)

.

.

.

- GIL EVANS PROJECT

Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (ArtistShare)

- BOB MINTZER BIG BAND

For The Moment (MCG Jazz)

 * * * * * * * * * *

 35. BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM

C

,

***WINNER: THE CLARE FISCHER LATIN JAZZ BIG BAND

Ritmo! (Clare Fischer Productions/Clavo Records)

,

,

- CHANO DOMINGUEZ

Flamenco Sketches (Blue Note)

- BOBBY SANABRIA BIG BAND

Multiverse (Jazzheads)

- LULCIANA SOUZA

Duos III (Sunnyside Records)

- MANUEL VALERA NEW CUBAN EXPRESS

New Cuban Express (Mavo Records)

* * * * * * * * * *

 59. BEST INSTRUMENTAL COMPOSITION

.

.

***WINNER: CHICK COREA

“Mozart Goes Dancing” (from Hothouse, Concord Jazz)

.

.

- CHUCK LOEB

“December Dream” (from Esprit De Four Heads Up International.)

 - CHRIS BRUBECK AND DAVE BRUBECK

“Music of Ansel Adams: America” with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra (BCM&D Records)

- BILL CUNLIFFE

Overture, Waltz and Rondo” with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra (BCM&D Records)

- BILL HOLMAN

“Without A Paddle” (from High On You Bosco Records)

 * * * * * * * * * *

 60. BEST INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT

.

***WINNER: GIL EVANS (Gil Evans Project)

“How About You” (from Centennial:Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans ArtistShare)

.

.

- MICHAEL PHILIP MOSSMAN (for the Bobby Sanabria Big Band)

“Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite For Ellington” (from Multiverse Jazzheads)

- BOB MINTZER  (for the Bob Mintzer Big Band)

“Irrequieto” (from For The Moment MCG Jazz)

-WALLY MINKO (for Arturo Sandoval Band)

“A Night In Tunisia (Actually An Entire Weekend!) (from Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You Concord Jazz)

- GORDON GOODWIN  (for Arturo Sandoval Band)

“Salt Peanuts (Mani Salado)”  (from Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You Concord Jazz)

 * * * * * * * * * *

 61. BEST INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENT ACCOMPANYING VOCALIST (S)

.

***WINNER – THARA MEMORY & ESPERANZA SPALDING (for Esperanza Spalding)

“City of Roses” (from Radio Music Society Heads Up International)

.

.

- NAN SCHWARTZ  (for Whitney Claire Kaufman)

“ Wild Is the Wind”  (from The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin” LSO Live)

- GIL EVANS  (for Gil Evans Project and Luciana Souza)

“Look To the Rainbow” (from Centennial:Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans ArtistShare)

- SHELLY BERG  (for Lorraine Feather)

“Out There” (from Tales of the Unusual Jazzed Media)

- VINCE MENDOZA  (for Al Jarreau and the Metropole Orkest)

“Spain (I Can Recall)” (from Live  Concord Records)


Live Jazz: A Busy Friday Night at Vitello’s and the Out Take Bistro

February 10, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sometimes a music reviewer just has to do a lot in a single night – often unexpectedly.  As I did on Friday.  Even though it hadn’t actually started out that way.

My schedule for the evening originally included a stop at Vitello’s  to hear the Bill Cunliffe big band in action.  I”d written about the band fairly recently, but with Cunliffe nominated for a Grammy in today’s 2013 Awards (after winning a statuette in the 2012 Grammys), it seemed a good time to give another listen to his richly textured big band writing.  Add that the fact that he’d promised to include more selections from his jazz interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and it was a performance that clearly offered some fascinating musical attractions.

The most gripping big band arrangements and compositions are usually well crafted combinations of inspired writing and inventive soloing.  And Cunliffe’s composing and arranging have always blended those qualities into irresistibly appealing musical banquets, enhanced by the playing of a world class assemblage of Southland players.

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

On this night, as always, the Cunliffe band was overflowing with fine artists.  All deserve mention for their ensemble and solo playing.  But I have to highlight the especially impressive work of Bob Sheppard, playing lead alto (and lead soprano) in the saxophone section, the strong tenor saxophone soloing of Rob Lockart and Jeff Ellwood, the always superb trumpeting of Bob Summers and Carl Saunders, the equally sterling trombone work of Bob McChesney and Andy Martin, and the propulsive rhythm section work of drummer Joe LaBarbera, bassist Jonathan Richards and guitarist Larry Koonse.

Bill Cunliffe

Bill Cunliffe

The first part of the set was mostly dedicated to Cunliffe’s originals, which roamed freely across a gamut of styles, delivering them with convincing jazz authenticity.   Next, a pair of vocals added a different perspective: first, Dawn Bishop soaring through “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”; next, April Williams – who, as Vitello’s jazz producer, has transformed the club into a major jazz venue – sang a delightfully evocative version of “You Can Always Count On Me” from the musical City of Angels.  Listening to her, one couldn’t help but wish that she would make more singing appearances in the room, especially with the musical theatre material she does so well.

There was also an unexpected, but welcome performance by a guest artist – trombonist/composer Chris Brubeck.  Nominated (with his late father, Dave Brubeck) for a Grammy in the same category as Cunliffe, Chris was invited to share the stage the day before the Awards.  Chris responded with a warmly ingratiating trombone solo on the lovely ballad written by his father and mother, “In Your Own Sweet Way.”

The Cunliffe Band’s set closed with his re-imagining of the Bach Goldberg Variations, which he has re-titled The Goldberg Contraption.  But it was far more than a “Contraption” – more like a smoothly functioning Swiss watch, with Cunliffe’s transformation of Bach’s flowing harmonies and shifting counterpoint into an utterly believable jazz framework.

And there was more on the Vitello’s agenda before we could leave.  When the Cunliffe Band set concluded in the upstairs room, more jazz sounds were heard downstairs, where pianist John Campbell was playing for late diners and bar-hoppers in the club’s just-added musical setting, “Downstairs Piano Nights.”  No one interprets the Great American Songbook with more imaginative readings than Campbell.  And, even in a room filled with chatting listeners, he easily managed the demanding task of entertaining his audience, while approaching each song with fascinating creativity.

Cat Conner

Cat Conner

But we had another stop to make before our evening was over.  Leaving Vitello’s, heading straight down Tujunga to a right on Ventura Blvd., we quickly arrived for the last few tunes at the Out Take Bistro.    It’s a Friday night gig usually featuring “Cat & Cip” — the vocals of Cat Conner and the saxophone and clarinet of Gene “Cip” Cipriano.

On this night, however, they were joined by a stellar array of players in a virtual jam session format.  The group included trombonist Dick Nash and guitarist John Chiodini (frequent partners of Cat and Cip), as well as clarinetist Alex Budman, soprano saxophonist John Altman and trumpeter Brian Swartz.

Gene Cipriano and John Chiodini

Gene Cipriano and John Chiodini

.

We arrived just in time for an all-join-in jam on “Take the A Train” allowing plenty of space for the talented crew to stretch out.  And the final wrap up reached out to feature Cat’s warm, engaging vocal in a jaunty song reaching back more than a hundred years – “Hello, Ma Baby.” It was the perfect ending to a musical evening embracing everything from big band jazz and the music of J.S. Bach to the Great American Songbook, ragtime, and beyond.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Song: Sally Kellerman at Vitello’s

February 8, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Sally Kellerman was at Vitello’s again Wednesday night. So were a lot of the songs she sang in her previous few bookings at the venue.  And it occurred to me that – if Sally was going to repeat the same material — then I might as well also repeat some of my comments about those previous reviews.  For full disclosure, I’ll print those previous comments in italics.

She started her set, appropriately, given the approaching holiday with “My Funny Valentine.”  But the next six tunes – “How Sweet It Is,” “The Look of Love.” “Walk on By,” “Spooky,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” – were done in an identical sequence she’s used in the past — more than once.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

            There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.  At her best – which is almost always the case, Sally’s performances are all utterly mesmerizing.  And this one was no exception, despite the repetitious material.  Hearing (and seeing) Sally wrap up her set with “Don’t You Feel My Leg” is only one of the many pleasures she offers.

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

  

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

          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.  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.

Those previous four paragraphs, describing her past performances, are completely applicable to Wednesday night’s appearance.  All of which underscores the extent of her abilities.  The songs may have been sung before, but what she brought to them was the expressive authenticity of a true musical story-teller.  Now its time for Sally to find more stories to tell.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.  


Live Jazz: The Clare Fischer Big Band at Typhoon

February 7, 2013

By Michael Katz

Santa Monica, CA.  Anyone who has followed the Latin jazz scene in Southern California is well acquainted with the work of Clare Fischer. The keyboardist and composer, who passed away in January, 2012, left a trove of compositions, including “Pensitiva” and “Morning” and a large jazz ensemble that his son, Brent, has been leading for the past decade. Tuesday night at Typhoon, in Santa Monica, Brent used the occasion of the band’s Grammy nomination to present an eclectic set of Latin, straight ahead and classically influenced jazz.

The Grammy nomination (Best Latin Jazz) is for Ritmo! and over two sets, the band  covered most of the tracks on the CD.  Its energy base stemmed from a pulsating rhythm section that featured Quinn Johnson on electric keyboards, providing the kinetic backdrop that Clare had contributed to the Cal Tjader sound. Billy Hulting kept things percolating on the congas and Ron Manoag was steady on the jazz drums and percussion. Brent Fischer provided splashes of support on the vibes, though he stuck mostly to gilding the basic melodic lines, and Ken Wild held forth on bass.

Brent Fischer and the Clare Fischer Big Band

Brent Fischer and the Clare Fischer Big Band

The opening numbers “Funquiado” and “Guarabe” showed off the depth of the band’s sections. The trumpets featured Rob Schaer as section leader and the veteran Ron Stout as lead soloist. Stout helped launch the evening with his work on “Funquiado,” while Josh Aguiar and Brian Mantz took the lead on “Guarabe.” The most stunning turn on that composition was by the great trombonist Francisco Torres. Torres, who has shined throughout the jazz scene here in LA, has a sound both lush and strident. His solos snapped both band and audience to attention, then melted back to the insistent beat of “Guarabe.”

Ten years ago, Brent Fischer recorded a jazz arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition and the various movements were integrated into both sets Tuesday night. Brent took full advantage of a woodwind section that had all the players doubling on saxophones, clarinets and flutes.  Alex Budman, the leader of the section, excelled on alto, flute, and even piccolo. In the movement that opened up the second set, tenor sax player Tom Luer picked up his flute and bari saxist Lee Callet completed the trio on alto flute. Later, on “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks,” the section switched to clarinets, with Kirsten Edkins delivering some beautiful work on soprano sax.

One of the highlights of the evening was “In The Beginning,” which I would list as my favorite Clare Fischer tune that I never knew he’d written until last night.  Hubert Laws recorded it on one of his classic CTI albums, with Clare on keyboards. The frenetic lines at the song’s outset reflect the chaos of Creation, then drop slowly into the primordial ooze of a funky blues riff. Lee Callet, on baritone sax, grabbed that blues line perfectly and carried it home, handing it off to Budman and then the rest of the band as Brent Fischer led the ensemble back to its early scramble.

There were lots of moments to admire over the evening’s performance. The space itself, on the second floor of the airport’s small terminal, provided surprisingly good acoustics; all the solos were robust and clear. Trombonist Scott Whitfield had a nice scat-singing chorus as the second set opened, to go along with strong playing throughout. I especially liked the tenor sax work of Tom Luer. There’s a select few on the instrument who possess an unmistakable sound.  I wouldn’t put anyone in the class of Trane or Getz on the basis of a few solos, but Luer’s tone was reminiscent of Ernie Watts; he’s someone I’d like to hear more from.

As the second set continued to a typically diminished LA crowd, I put my pen down and floated along with the rhythms of the band’s particular West Coast Latin sound,  one that was carved out  by the likes of Cal Tjader and Clare Fischer and continues on with Poncho Sanchez and Brent Fischer. It seems particularly suited to our climate, even on a chilly February night.  The band closed with a three part medley, “Canonic Passacaglia, Blues and Vamp ’til Ready,” which featured, among others, Tom Luer again on tenor and Josh Aguiar on trumpet.  Fischer added a flourish on vibes, and that was the end of the pre-Grammy celebration.

Whether they win or not, it’s a terrific legacy to a great sound.

* * * * *

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

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s new personal blog, Katz of the Day.


DVD Review: “Ferlinghetti A Rebirth of Wonder”

February 6, 2013

Christopher Felver’s Documentary (First Run Features)

By Brian Arsenault

Of all the poems in all the world my favorite is “Dog” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and unbeknownst to me till now there is actual footage of the dog in “Dog” and it’s in Christopher Felver’s film. I am extremely grateful.

Ferlinghetti A Rebirth of Wonder will open on Friday at New York’s Quad Cinema.

Of course, the poem isn’t really about the dog, it’s about us and our world and what’s good about it and what isn’t.  And that’s the best summary I can make of Ferlinghetti’s work as he reaches his mid-90s.

It seems to me that’s the point of this documentary made about a child of Italian immigrants: raised in his early years in France; taken in by a rich family who sent him to reform boarding school for his thievery; educated by southern “ivy” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because Thomas Wolfe went there; Navy ensign on a converted yacht during World War II; trying to work his way up at Time Magazine before leaving in disgust for Paris and his friend George Whitman who opened the second Shakespeare and Company book store; finally finding his way “home” to San Francisco, the City Lights Bookstore, poetry and painting.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The film takes us on that physical journey and the artistic/spiritual journey of an artist who has said “fuck art, let’s dance” but thinks artists would be ok “if they would put more mustard on it.” He says in the film that he never was a “beat poet” but elsewhere refers to himself as a “beat” in the company of Allen Ginsberg and others.

Of his other art, painting, Ferlinghetti says that “reality painting is just another form of fiction.”  He seeks light, always light, in painting and poetry.  That’s better than “realism.”

All these treasures and more are in the film.

On the political side — and of course there is one with the “natural born nonviolent enemy of the state” that he is — it’s a delight to see Ferlinghetti define himself as an anarchist wishing for nothing more than the “withering away of all government.”  Think of America’s so-called left looking for nothing but larger and larger government.

He was a champion of free speech who risked jail by publishing Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. Yet when I clicked on my laptop to do this review, the first story up was about an Alabama teacher being removed from his post for saying Michelle Obama has “a fat ass.”  Battles to be won every generation.

A curious omission of this film is the link between the second Shakespeare and Company — named in tribute to the first that was shut down by the Nazis — and Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. The first was a bookstore frequented by Hemingway and Fitzgerald and that gang in the 1920s and was, under the remarkable Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Fearing lawsuits because Joyce had a nasty habit of putting real people in his stories, Irish publishers wouldn’t touch it.

The connection is that Ulysses, like Howl, was deemed obscene by the authorities. Not until a court case decided the question in the 1930s could Ulysses be published in the United States. Battles to be won every generation.

This documentary makes it sound like Ginsberg’s book of poems, published by Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, was the start of free literary speech in America.  Important as it was, the Howl case was won on the same grounds as the Ulysses case; that the work had redeeming social value.

But enough of that.  The film overcomes such a hole via a series of interviews with other writers and artists of the era and great footage of Ferlinghetti with Ginsberg, McClure, Corso, Kerouac, even Dylan.

The filmmaker also has a wonderful narrative sense and takes us through Ferlinghetti’s life till now like Kerouac taking us on the road. The film just flows along and time gets lost.

There are wonderful Ferlinghetti nuggets throughout:

- His parents met at Coney Island.  Coney Island of the Mind anyone?

Ÿ- At the height of a San Francisco “be in” with Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Timothy Leary onstage and Jefferson Airplane on the bill, Ginsberg turns to him and says “What if we’re all wrong?”

Ÿ- “There isn’t any away any more,” the world wandering poet warns. “There’s a Hilton in Tahiti. What can Gauguin do about that?”.

Ÿ- “Never trust the government,” the socialist poet warns. “It wants to destroy the subjective in each of us.”

Ÿ- Ferling was not the real family name he eventually finds out.  Many Italian immigrant families, including my mother’s, found that a few less vowels helped with acceptance and employment in the US of A.

- ŸAccepting grants from the National Endowment of the Arts is collaboration with a repressive government and poets and artists should never be collaborators.  Ha!

Ferlinghetti near the end of the film says that the world’s political, economic and environmental problems will never be solved until we achieve population control.  I don’t know about that. Who’s to say when the next Ferlinghetti might come along?

So see this film if you can, if it’s shown outside of a few big cities if you don’t live in one. Or hope for a DVD release. Like Twain, like Hemingway, Ferlinghetti is an American original.

So I must close with a bit of “Dog” that he wonderfully recites in the film:

“a real live barking democratic dog . . .

with something to say about reality and how to see it and how to hear it

with his head cocked sideways at street corners as if he is just about to have his picture taken . . .

and looking like a living question mark into the great gramophone of puzzling existence. . .”

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Ferlinghetti photo by Christopher Felver

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


Picks of the Week: Feb. 5 – 10

February 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles 

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- Feb. 6. (Wed.)  Sally Kellerman.  The inimitable Ms. Kellerman is back, this time with an evening of Valentine’s Day songs in a program titled, appropriately, “Love.”  Don’t miss it.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Robben Ford. Guitarist Ford, who moves easily across boundaries from blues to jazz and beyond, celebrates the imminent release of his new album, Bringing It Back Home.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Feb. 8. (Fri.)  Bill Cunliffe Big Band“Bach to the Future.”  Grammy-winning and Grammy-nominated pianist/composer/arranger Cunliffe leads his big band in his jazz imagining of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  Later, starting at 9:30 p.m., pianist John Campbell will perform in a new Vitello’s weekly event – Piano Night in the downstairs dining room.   Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.)  Rhythm of the Dance.  Irish step dancing in all its colorful variations, delivered by an expert company of dancers.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts  (562) 916-8501.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

- Feb, 9. (Sat.)  Wayne Shorter Quartet with Esperanza Spalding and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Saxophonist/composer Shorter presents the world premiere of a work for Esperanza and the L.A. Phil, commissioned by the Philharmonic.  Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.  www.laphil.com

- Feb. 9. (Sat.)  Rob Lockhart Quartet.  Versatile saxophonist Lockhart, an A-list sideman, steps into the spotlight.  He’s backed by pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Mark FerberVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 9 & 10. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Russian National Ballet Theatre. One of Russia’s finest ballet companies presents a pair of classics.   Sat.: Sleeping Beauty.  Sun.: CinderellaValley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

- Feb, 10. (Sun.)  Ann Hampton Callaway.  “The Streisand Songbook”  Pianist/singer Callaway, who moves easily from jazz to pop to cabaret, offers a program of songs associated with Barbra Streisand.  Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- Feb. 7 – 10 (Thurs. – Sun.).  Dave Holland.  Bassist Holland displays his far-reaching musical versatility in four unique programs.  Thurs: Solo.  Fri.: Duo with Kenny Barron.  Sat.: Quintet.  Sun.: Dave Holland PrismSFJAZZ at Miner Auditorium.     (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

- Feb. 7 – 10 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Joshua Redman.  The always adventurous, Grammy-nominated saxophonist stretches the musical genre-boundaries in search of new and compelling improvisational ideas.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- Feb. 5 – 9.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Lou Donaldson Organ Quartet.  He’s one of the still active iconic jazz saxophonist, performing this time in the grooving environment of an organ quartet.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Feb. 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Ron Carter Quartet.  Carter is not only a brilliant bassist and composer, he’s also a stimulating leader who knows how to assemble an imaginative jazz group.  This time out, he’s with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Morales-MatosThe Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

Paris

Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull

- Feb. 9. (Sat.)  Marianne Faithfull and Bill Frisell.  It’s a fascinating combination.  Pop star/actress Faithfull has been an iconic figure since the ‘60s.  Versatile guitarist Frisell seems determined to try something new in every outing.  The combination should be intriguing.   New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.

Copenhagen

- Feb. 7 & 8. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Leszek Mozdzer/Lars Danielsson Duo.  The names may be unfamiliar to English-speaking jazz fans, but pianist Mozdzer and bassist Danielsson play together with a spirit of jazz togetherness that reaches beyond the limits of languages. Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 263 267.

Milan

- Feb. 7 – 9.  )Thurs. – Sat.)  Billy Cobham. Veteran drummer Cobham has assembled a band of players from France and England into a collective of true international jazz.   Blue Note Milano.    02.690 16888.

Tokyo

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

- Feb. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.)  Monty Alexander: The Harlem-Kingston Express.  It’s a perfectly named band, with Jamaica-born pianist Alexander blending his impressive jazz playing with the traditional sounds and rhythms of his roots. Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.

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Sally Kellerman, Wayne Shorter and Joshua Redman  photos by Tony Gieske.


Live Jazz: The Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Valley Performing Arts Center

February 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

Northridge, CA. I couldn’t help but wonder, Saturday night at the Valley Performing Arts Center, whether the Branford Marsalis Quartet was anticipating the hard driving energies of Sunday’s NFL Super Bowl game.  Playing at a peak level of intensity, much of what they offered could have served as the sound track for some of the more violent encounters between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco Forty-Niners.   (Which the Niners lost because the refs failed – in the final plays — to call an obvious pass interference by the Ravens.)

Actually, it’s unlikely that the Super Bowl was what NEA Jazz Master Marsalis had in mind.  More probable, I suspect,  was a desire to showcase the newest member of the quartet, Justin Faulkner, who is replacing Marsalis’ long time drumming partner, Jeff  “Tain” Watts.  And he did so by giving Faulkner, barely into his twenties, what seemed to be carte-blanche to drive his playing with several high voltage elements – including loudness, busyness and repetitiveness.

Faulkner was surely drawn in this direction by an awareness of Watts’ electrifying drumming – as well, no doubt, by the memorable percussive powers of the late Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, who have had significant impacts upon generations of young drummers.

Branford Marsalis Quartet

Branford Marsalis Quartet

Marsalis led the way by revealing eclectic patterns in his own playing, on both soprano and tenor saxophones.  At 52, he has been shaping a unique vision of jazz since the ‘80s, applying it to genres reaching from rock, rap, jazz, classical, theatrical and beyond.

Much of that versatility was on full display in a program ranging from bassist Eric Revis’ Monk-like “Brews” and pianist Joey Calderazzo’s lyrical ballad, “As Summer Into Autumn Slips,” to several displays of free-style improvising over hypnotic ostinato rhythm section patterns.  Topping it off, Marsalis probed the depths of his New Orleans roots with a delightful romp through the Original Dixeland Jass Band’s “Tiger Rag.”

At its best, the program underscored Marsalis’ musical identity as one of the most inventive players of his generation (and beyond).  There were times – perhaps a few too many – when his versatility surfaced in the over-the-top extrovertiveness of a bar-walking blues saxophonist.  Fortunately, he more often allowed the rich creative perspectives of his best playing to take precedence, guiding his quartet – along with Faulkner — into a compelling musical evening.


Ballet: The Joffrey Ballet “The Rite of Spring,” “Son of Chamber Symphony,” and “After the Rain”

February 3, 2013

by Jane Rosenberg

It’s hard to believe that one hundred years have passed since Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes premiered Le Sacre du Printemps. As famously reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer (under the artistic supervision of Robert Joffrey) and in performance by the Joffrey Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler through February 3, “The Rite of Spring” remains startlingly modern and vivid – a breathtaking evocation of pre-Christian Slavic man – still working its magic in the twenty-first century.

Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Stravinsky

Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Stravinsky

By now, dance and music lovers are well aware of the notorious 1913 premiere in Paris, branding “Rite” as one of the most controversial and important works of art of any century.  The music, with its complex rhythms and pounding dissonances, and the choreography, the antithesis of classical ballet with its hunched postures, bent arms, and turned in feet, enraged the audience, eliciting boos and fistfights in the aisles. By most accounts, Stravinsky was in despair. Diaghilev, however, was delighted with the scandal, while poor Nijinsky had to count out the rhythms over the roar of the jeering crowd because the dancers were unable to hear the music.

Seated with a respectful and enthusiastic audience Friday evening, I couldn’t help but reflect on the arc of modernism and its integration into our contemporary vocabulary.  No longer are dance audiences shocked by quaking bodies or the sexual implications of dancers writhing on stage. No longer do music audiences balk at percussive dissonances and polyrhythms.  And no longer are dancers unable to follow offbeat accents and shifting time signatures (as Nijinsky stated, while in rehearsal he had to pound a floorboard so the dancers could feel the cues.).  After all, we’ve absorbed and assimilated Stravinsky’s musical achievements and Nijinsky’s groundbreaking choreography.  Yet when one thinks of what the work must have represented in 1913 – how shocking and advanced it was – it only adds to our appreciation of this seminal piece of art.

Thanks to Archer and Hodson’s exhaustive research, not only does the stage come alive with Nijinsky’s genius, but also with Nicholas Roerich’s sparkling backdrops and costumes.  An archaeologist, folklorist, and painter, Roerich worked closely with Stravinsky on the scenario for the ballet. The result is the perfect marriage of music, visual art, and dance, which stands at the summit of artistic achievement.

The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet

Under the baton of the Joffrey Ballet’s music director, Scott Speck, the orchestra –composed mainly of L.A. Opera musicians — did full credit to Stravinsky’s iconic score.  First, the plaintive bassoon wove its spell, then as other instruments joined in, the curtain rose on Roerich’s verdant landscape.  As the insistent pulse of the music gained momentum, the dancers, dressed in white, red, and ochre began the foot stomping choreography that so enraged Parisian audiences.  The men, crouched and bent, exploded into motion, their movements emanating from their hips and stomachs; the women raced in with their legs flying and then quickly reverted to flat feet with toes turned inward, their heads slanted on necks like rag dolls.  As I watched Act I, “The Adoration of the Earth” unfold, I felt as if I was witnessing early man’s encounter with the mysteries of existence.

Act II, “The Sacrifice,” features a circle of young girls trudging counter-clockwise in a fatal march towards destiny.  As the music grows ominous, the sacrificial maiden, dubbed The Chosen One, is forced into the center of the circle.  Men, dressed in bearskins, lumber onto the stage and surround her, pawing the earth with their feet like feral creatures.

The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet

In a bravura performance, Erica Lynette Edwards danced an uncanny range of emotions, cycling from fear to supplication to anger, her body bursting into bent knee jumps, her hands chopping air, her arms flailing, her fists pounding the earth.  With knees shaking in terror, she spasmed into violent arcs and mad spinning – a dance to exhaustion and imminent death.

If the measure of a ballerina’s dramatic abilities in the nineteenth century repertory is Giselle and her mad scene, then surely the twentieth century standard should be the agonized terror of The Chosen One. Here we have a ballet for all time, a moment when sophisticated Western civilization meets the roots of man’s consciousness.

Opening the evening was Stanton Welch’s “Son of Chamber Symphony” with music by John Adams followed by Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” with music by Arvo Pärt from “Tabula Rasa” and “Spiegel im Spiegel.” Both dances were an intelligent pairing with “Rite of Spring” bringing the radical artistic lessons of the past into the minimalist present.

“Son of Chamber Symphony,” with Adams’ winning score, was securely handled by the orchestra.  The ballet displayed the beauty of classical dance coupled with the geometric abstraction of bodies in space, defined by the elegant lines of legs and arms and the sharply spherical tutus that bounced and swayed, taking on a life of their own.

“After the Rain” mesmerized, particularly when the female corps, exhibiting a strong technique, crouched in a row, each rotating a single leg in unison.  The movement seemed to refer to the hands of a clock, circling the dial, as time and the music flowed on.  The reverence on display in Pärt’s music was at its height in “Spiegel im Spiegel,” when, against a rose colored background, Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels danced a stirring pas de deux.

With “Rite of Spring” and these two additions to their repertory, the Joffrey dancers once again prove a company worthy of the treasures of the world’s most interesting choreographers.

To read more reviews and posts by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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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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