Picks of the Week: Sept. 18 – 22

September 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. Emerging young jazz vocal star Saputo shares the stage with a talented group of L.A.’s finest singers — Courtney Lemmon, Dave Damiani and Mark Christian Miller. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) The Sammy Cahn-cert. Vocalist Kurt Reichenbach sings the marvelous far-ranging tunes from the Sammy Cahn songbook. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. It’s been nearly two decades since the Orquesta Buenta players began to enlighten the world about the great music of Cuba. And they’re still at it. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau sings in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English, enlivening the tradition of international cabaret styles. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob McChesney Quartet. McChesney’s superb trombone playing has thoroughly established him as one of the instrument’s great jazz masters. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob Sheppard Group. He’s everyone’s first call saxophone and woodwind player and with good reason. Here’s a chance to hear him in action with the stellar aid of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Kass. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

- Sept. 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway. The talented Callaway sisters get together to display talents reaching from jazz and pop to Broadway classics. Catalina Bar & Grill.  466-2210.

- Sept. 21 (Sat.) Sing-a-long Sound of Music. It’s an annual event, inviting enthusiastic audiences to sing along with the memorable songs from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 21. (Sat.) Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Swing music is still alive and well in the hard jiving hands of the Voodoo Daddys. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

- Sept. 21 & 22. (Sat. & Sun.) Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. The gifted players of the LACO begin their season with Jeffrey Kahane conducting a program of Beethoven, Mozart, Lutoslawski and Kodaly. Featured soloist is young violinist Benjamin Beilman. Sat: the Ambassador Auditorium; Sun. Royce Hall. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  (213) 622-7001.

- Sept. 22. (Sun.) Los Angeles Master Chorale. The extraordinary singers of the LAMC celebrate the ensemble’s 50th anniversary with a retrospective look at the highlights in their remarkable performance history. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Amjad Ali Khan and Sons. Classical Indian master of the sarod, Khan has passed his skills on to a generation of gifted offpsring. SFJAZZ. Miner Auditorium. -(866) 920-5299.

Chicago

- Sept. 19 – 22 (Thurs. – Sun.) Miguel Zenon and Rhythm Collective. Alto saxophonist and winner of a MacArthur “genius:” award Zenon reveals the far-reaching range of his improvisational skills. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

- Sept, 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. Steve Kuhn, a veteran performer with Coltrane, leads a talented band of young players in a revisit to the Coltrane legacy. Birdland.  212) 581-3080.

London

- Sept. 18 – 19. Wed. & Thurs. Remembering Oscar Peterson. With pianists James Pearson and Dave Newton, Featuring selections from Peterson’s Canadiana Suite. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747 .

Copenhagen

- Sept. 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) French Jazz Festival. Denmark celebrates the high quality of French jazz artists. Among the featured performers: violinist Didier Lockwood, guitarist Michael Felderbaum and saxophonist Lionel Belmondo. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) Jonathan Butler. South African singer Butler has been blending the music of his roots with a gift for crossing over into international pop, soul and blues. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Jazz: the 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl (Day #2)

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood, CA.  For the most part, it’s not just the music that has made The Annual Playboy Jazz Festival a Los Angeles summer tradition, but instead, it’s the music combined with the ever present party atmosphere.  And this year was no different. Amidst the clouds of pot smoke and spilled beer on the ground, The 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival featured an eclectic blend of artists in the genres of jazz, funk, pop, blues and more.

Before getting to my highlights of Sunday’s program, I thought I’d include just a few exciting additions from Saturday’s show to follow up on Mike Katz’s coverage.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

From pop to bop, the amazing 21 year old saxophone titan Grace Kelly played a stellar set which included be-bop and pop influences, playing bop style instrumentals and catchy pop infused jazz vocal tunes.  Kelly proved to be one of the most original and fascinating new faces in jazz. Her childlike vocals on “Nighttime Star,” fused with her vast knowledge of both bop and post-bop saxophone playing was astounding.  When she plays alto sax, you can hear Bird, Art Pepper and Jackie Mclean, but with a new, youthful, feminine and energetic swing to it.

Kelly was joined by the legendary Phil Woods (also a major influence on her alto sax playing) for “Man With The Hat,” which the two had recorded together in 2011.

Woods was in strong form and Kelly played like a waterfall, with endless ideas and a superb technique. This was easily one of the finest moments of the festival.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter’s performance at the festival demonstrated why he has received so many accolades from all over the world. This time out, Porter focused more on his gospel and R&B influences than jazz during his brief set, which made it all the more interesting.

This was the case on Porter’s rendition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song,” in which Porter opened the song with a few verses of Leadbelly’s “Alberta.” Porter’s controlled and carefully crafted phrasing along with his magnetic stage presence brought the Bowl crowd to church.

Sunday’s program had a lot more fire and electricity than Saturday’s.

It’s hard to imagine combining jazz and rock piano with a dance ensemble but acclaimed pianist Elew (joined by Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble) did just that and made it work.

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew stood up while playing, looking like a mad scientist while he stared intensely at the audience. The Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble did graceful, ballet interpretations of Elew’s readings of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside.”

Elew fused the stride piano styles of James P. Johnson with Horace Silver. Though asking a lot of the festival audience, this was a fascinating experiment both visually and sonically.

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

One of the purest jazz acts of the festival was The Brubeck Brothers, lead by Dave Brubeck’s sons, Chris Brubeck on bass and trombone, and Dan Brubeck on drums.

The two were joined by Mike Demicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano, making up a tight, focused, and dynamic quartet. The brothers paid a warm, heartfelt Father’s Day tribute to their legendary father, Dave Brubeck who passed away on December 5, 2012.

Their set included many Brubeck classics such as; “Kathy’s Waltz,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and “Take Five.” The group performed these songs with elegance, dynamics, and devotion. Pianist Lamb’s use of well spaced block chords were reminiscent of the late Brubeck’s piano style and Chris’s fusion style electric bass locked in tight with Dan’s soft and melodic drumming. Demicco’s guitar solos were tasteful and served the compositions perfectly.  Altogether, they produced a terrific performance – one that Dave Brubeck would surely have been proud of.

Taj Mahal

Very few artists know the history of American blues like Taj Mahal. At The festival, Mahal was joined by The Real Thing Tuba Band which consisted of four tuba players (Earl McIntyre, Howard Johnson, Bob Stewart, and John Daley) with Mahal playing acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica. John Simon played keyboard, with Buddy Williams on drums and Larry Fulcher on guitar.

If anyone else tried this format, it would be a cluttered mess but Mahal had the brilliance and wit to pull it off.

The Mahal set consisted of country blues standards that he has been performing for decades – tunes such as his own, “Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blues,” “EZ Rider,” as well as Fats Dominos’ “Hello Josephine,” Charlie Patton’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond” and “Way Back Home.”  The tubas played the harmony parts that would normally be sung by background singers, while occasionally soloing tastefully.  Mahal and the band’s set brought some much needed blues to the festival, taking the audience on a journey back down South to the true roots of American music.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

To celebrate Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performed a set of such Jones big band classics as “The Birth Of A Band,” “G’Wan Train,” “Nasty Madness” (which Jones had written for Count Basie) and Jones’ arrangement of  Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’.”

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, conducted by John Clayton, was superb on these big band swing blues classics. After a proud Jones took a bow from his Bowl seat, The great jazz flutist Hubert Laws (who’s known and worked with Jones since 1969) joined the Orchestra on “Hello” and “Killer Joe.” Laws’ fluid and melodic style danced over the slick and funky rhythms with syncopation and ease.  This was not only a touching tribute to Jones but a wonderful insight into big band arrangements which were inspired by Count Basie, and Jay Mcshann’s earliest works.

Very few artists can combine traditional forms of jazz with pop and fusion like Bob James and David Sanborn. Together with James Genus on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums, James and Sanborn brought their smooth and soulful sound to the festival.

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

James’ fluid and inventive piano style blended perfectly with Sanborn’s confident, melodic playing and it’s always great hearing Steve Gadd on drums in any setting. The high point of the set was Sanborn’s composition “In The Weeds.” Here, Sanborn broke free from many of his smooth jazz clichés and played some hard-bop tenor sax in the vein of John Coltrane and Joe Henderson.

India.Arie

India.Arie

India.Arie brought her unique style of “acoustic soul” to the festival. Arie’s songs, such as “Because I Am Queen,” “I Am Light” and “I Am Not My Hair, were filled with self empowering lyrics and a sound that fused vintage soul with gospel, hip-hop, and even folk rock and reggae. Arie’s vocals were at moments sweet and delicate, then tough and preachy. Her graceful stage presence and physical beauty provided a perfect match for her songs of inner strength and spirituality.  Unlike so many female R&B artists of the day, Arie has a style of her own with soulfully crafted arrangements and poignant lyrics.

Sheila E rocked The Playboy Jazz Festival last year. Although her set this year felt a little more laid back and less focused than last year, no one puts on a show like Sheila E.

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Her set opened with The USC Trojan Drumline marching onto the stage, followed shortly by Sheila, who raced to her drum kit in a short black leather skirt. After several long drum and conga solos, she welcomed her father Pete Escovedo to the stage for a Father’s Day jam on Tito Puente’s classic “Oye Como Va.” Escovedo played timbales while his daughter pounded furiously on congas.

Sheila E

Sheila E

Pop Escovedo departed, and Sheila dug into some of her biggest hits of the ‘80s: “Love Bizarre,” “Holly Rock,” “Koo Koo” and a steamy version of “Erotic City”, written by her longtime collaborator Prince.

Though Sheila E’s set consisted of too many over indulgent jams with drum solo after drum solo, followed by the guitar hysterics of her bandmate, Nate Mercereau, it was Sheila’s sensual stage presence and magnetism that had the entire Bowl crowd on its feet.

She brought audience members up onstage to dance and engaged in many crowd pleasing sing alongs, as she danced suggestively from her drum kit, to her congas and her timbales.

And, as the final act, Sheila E’s success at getting everyone on their feet was the best way to end the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

And so another Playboy Jazz festival has come and gone. Though there were no conga lines going through the crowd this year, the lineup had something for everyone, a little jazz, rock, pop, blues, funk, Salsa, fusion, but most importantly, a lot of fun.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Live Jazz: The 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Day #1

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood CA. One happy problem with an eight hour music fest that runs uninterrupted through the shifting temperatures of a near-summer’s day at the Hollywood Bowl is a lineup so strong you don’t want to leave your seat. That was the occasion on Saturday, Day 1 of the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. It was a show that featured some bright new names in the jazz realm, a blur of world music and vocal skills, plus cameos and guest appearances from jazz legends and LA icons.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The most notable new face was comedian and actor George Lopez, who took over the emcee duties from Bill Cosby. Lopez smartly kept his patter brief and enthusiastic. Cosby, himself, never tried to upstage the music, and although his Cos of Good Music bands are dearly missed, their spirit was reflected in some adventurous booking, particularly a powerhouse mid-day lineup that had the sold-out house dancing in the aisles.

Some snarling traffic (not to mention my Park and Ride bus that broke down halfway between Westwood and the Bowl) resulted in a crowd filtering in through the first several acts. I entered to a pleasant set by percussionist Pedrito Martinez, with Ariacne Trujillo on keyboards and vocals. Their Latin rhythms set up a relaxed atmosphere as the crowd gathered and settled into party mode. But things got down to business immediately thereafter, with the appearance of Grace Kelly and her quintet.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

The vivacious Kelly, only 21 years of age, has a half-dozen albums already to her credit. She plays mostly alto sax and doubles as a vocalist, excelling at both. Her alto tones are clean and driving, her own compositions melodic and well served by her lovely voice. Her band included one of LA’s premier young pianists, Josh Nelson, and an outstanding young trumpeter from Boston, Jason Palmer, who gave us some of the handful of great trumpet licks of the afternoon.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

It takes plenty of self-assurance for a young musician to invite Phil Woods on as a guest and then stand up to him, lick for lick, but Kelly was up to the task. They dueted on her composition “Man In A Hat,” (from the CD of the same name) written as an homage to Woods. His presence seemed to inspire Ms. Kelly, and I don’t think a blindfold test could have separated the two of them. They later romped through a medley of “How High The Moon” and “Ornithology” with equally fine results. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Bill Goodwin rounded out this terrific band. Grace Kelly, originally from Boston, has settled here in the LA area, which is great news for local jazz fans – if they can catch her on a break from an ambitious touring schedule.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

I had caught the end of an electrifying set by Gregory Porter last September at the Monterey Jazz Festival (where he will be the opening act this year), so it was no surprise to see him light up the Playboy stage, even in the shank of the warm afternoon. Porter has it all. His deep, evocative voice has the authority of a Joe Williams; he has an engaging stage presence that can command even a crowd settling down for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Porter was in a romantic mood, with a ballad, “No Love Dying,” from a soon-to-be-released album. His band features a sparkplug in altoist Yosuke Sato, who whipped the crowd up with ascending riffs that arced into the pungent afternoon air like tracers. Porter continued on, imploring the audience to “Hold On,” while segueing into Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” The title song to his new CD, Liquid Spirit, featured some terrific piano work by Chip Crawford. Porter’s closer, (as in the Monterey set), was “1960 What,” an ode to the unrest in sixties Detroit, sung with a gospel fervor that recalled Les McCann’s vocals from the seventies. Porter shone throughout. The LA native, by way of Bakersfield, is clearly on the cusp of something special.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper has been a ubiquitous presence lately, bridging the gap between jazz and pop with his straight ahead jazz trio and his “Robert Glasper Experiment,” which usually includes a guest from the hip hop world. On Saturday he featured Casey Benjamin on sax and vocoder, as well as the terrific jazz bassist Derrick Hodge and Mark Colenburg on drums. I’ll freely admit that I prefer the “jazz trio” – I put that in quotes because whatever Glasper does has a spirit of adventure to it. Glasper has a quick wit and engaging patter – he’s clearly the jazz performer most likely to host his own TV show. The Experiment is, no surprise, amped up and electronic, and went over fine with the crowd. But Glasper still found the occasion to invite Bowl favorite Dianne Reeves onstage. True to the Experimental spirit, she sang Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to “Afro Blue,” circling on and off the beat, letting the audience find their way into the song.

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting performer for a music festival than Angelique Kidjo, from Benin. I’ve seen her twice, now – the first time anchoring the Sunday afternoon stage show at Monterey a few years ago. Her unique blend of African rhythms, elucidated in several languages, French, Yoruba and Swahili among them, is intoxicating. The pulsating rhythms and percussions, familiar to U. S. audiences through such artists as Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mumbazo, were highlighted by a terrific guitarist, Dominic James, and percussionists Magatte Sow and Yayo Serka, along with Itaiguara Brandao on bass.

As if that was not enough, Hugh Masekela joined the group for several numbers. Kidjo exudes warmth – even if you can’t decipher her lyrics, the spirit of inclusiveness permeates everything she does.

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Masekela’s flugelhorn remains deceptively simple, his tones clear and bold. His gravelly voice counteracted with Kidjo’s, and the two of them brought the crowd to their feet early and for the duration. Kidjo’s finale included promenading into the crowd and bringing back selected audience members onto the stage – I don’t know whether she does some magical on-the-spot scouting or just counts on divine inspiration, but it works wonderfully. Magatte Sow took center stage on his conga drum and provided the transformational spell, while the audience had a blast, onstage and off.

I’ve always thought that the Playboy Jazz Festival might benefit from a ten or fifteen minute break sometime during the show. It would give the audience a chance to wind down, break out the picnic baskets, talk to their friends without having to shout over the music. If there was ever a time to do it, it would have been after Angelique Kidjo’s set, which was impossible to follow. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band would seem to be a perfect candidate, with the impressive sound of a 20 piece ensemble.

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

They opened with two burners and a great solo on alto sax by Eric Marienthal, but the audience wasn’t ready to be engaged by what is basically a performance band. They finally found a little traction with Goodwin’s Grammy-winning arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin, after all this time, can still make people sit up and pay attention. After a brief appearance by “The Voice” vocalist Judith Hill, the band found some more familiar and appealing ground when they were joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour. Ritenour brought one of his most successful arrangements, his adaptation of Jobim’s “Stone Flower” into the Big Phat Band groove. His second number was a tight Goodwin arrangement of his tribute to the late Les Paul, simply titled L.P. That was the Big Phat Band and Ritenour at their best, weaving smart guitar licks into the larger sound. They kept the audience with them for the final tune, “Race To The Bridge,” with sax player Brian Scanlon and Andy Martin on trombone leading the way out.

Naturally 7 is a contemporary vocal band, sort of a capella meets hip hop, led by baritone Roger Thomas. This was their third Playboy appearance in four years, so they were warmly received throughout their set. The group combines elements of Doo-Wop, Hip Hop, and McFerriana. Their “vocal play” extends past the traditional vocal levels and instruments; it includes “DJ” and “Beat Box.” Whatever the simulation, it was pretty heavily amplified from the start, proving it is possible to have too much bass, even if you don’t have a bass. But it was a tight and lively show, emphasizing Doo – Wop in “Summer Breeze” and providing a playful narrative with “Englishman In New York.”

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock joined them with one of his “keytars;” it seemed altogether fitting that he would jam with them on “Chameleon.” The opening bass line to that Herbie classic still galvanizes an audience, and Hancock continued with splashes of electronica throughout his appearance.  The group finished off with George Harrison’s Beatles classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” At that point you could look back pleasingly at the versatility of the entire Saturday lineup; in a matter of a few hours you could go from Gershwin to Jobim to Herbie Hancock to George Harrison and somehow fit it all under the jazz tent.

And there was still some Coltrane to come. Maybe not quite enough; Poncho Sanchez’s set was entitled Ole’ Coltrane, after the 1961 Coltrane album of the same name, though the set was more Ole’ than Coltrane. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending an hour with Poncho’s band, whatever the circumstances. Along with Sanchez’s formidable conga work, his group featured Musical Director Francisco Torres, doing double duty (he also soloed with the Big Phat Band.)

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

But I was especially impressed by Ron Blake, who delivered some feisty trumpet cadenzas in the opening Latin numbers. We didn’t hear a lot of lead work from the staple jazz instruments over the day’s program, which was heavy on vocals and large ensembles, so it was a pleasure to hear Blake and then James Carter, who provided the Fest’s primary blast on the tenor sax.  Carter provided scorching work on a Latinized arrangement of Trane’s “Giant Steps,” and more laid back and melodic playing on Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz,” which Ellington recorded with Coltrane. Poncho’s version had a tinge of the Mingus Latin feel to it, with some excellent supporting work by Torres. That was it, though, for the Coltrane material. Carter rejoined the band for a final number, Poncho’s always entertaining version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Regrets to George Duke, whose final blasts into the night came after much of the crowd had left, thoroughly sated by such a pleasing mixture of jazz and funk, performed by ensembles large and small, and by players seasoned and refreshingly new. It was one of the best days at the Playboy Jazz Festival in recent memory and a great start for the two day event.

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

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.


Here, There & Everywhere: The 35th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival

March 1, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s coming up to that time of year again.  Summer doesn’t really seem to spread its golden wings in Los Angeles until the annual middle of June Playboy Jazz Festival.  And the first advance word about the annual event is always presented in a mid-February press conference at the Playboy Mansion.

As it was yesterday, when producer Darlene Chan introduced the line-ups for this year’s two-day Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.  Before she began to announce the names, however, she presented the Festival’s new master of ceremonies, replacing Bill Cosby who retired from the job last summer after more than thirty years.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The new emcee is versatile entertainer/actor/comedian George Lopez.  Best known as the star of the ABC sitcom, George Lopez he also had his own talk show, Lopez Tonight on TBS and twice hosted the Latin Grammy Awards show.  Aiding Chan in the introduction of the Festival line-ups Lopez effectively demonstrated the intriguing combination of ebullient humor and jazz awareness that he will bring to his new role.

No mention, however, was made of the stellar Bill Cosby-led bands – the Cos of Good Music – that brought so many immensely engaging jazz ensembles to past Festivals.  Apparently Lopez will not be fronting his own Lopez of Good Music.

That said, there’s nothing to argue about with the two day line ups for the 35th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival. The first problem facing producer Chan is the fundamental issue of how to fill 18,000 Hollywood Bowl seats for two consecutive days.  As I’ve mentioned in past Playboy Festival reviews, current jazz programming doesn’t have the luxury of the sort of iconic line ups – Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. – that were available in the Festivals early years.

The solution – at Playboy, as well as at the Monterey, Newport, Montreal (and beyond) events – has been leaning toward diversity.  Rather than attempt to produce a pure jazz program, producers (Chan among them) are tending to stage a musical collective filled with artists from genres that fit compatibly with jazz, as well as artists who are expanding the definitions of the improvisational art.

Angelique Kidjo

Saturday’s bill, for example, includes: the extraordinary a cappella vocals of Naturally 7; the world music of Angelique Kidjo, the creative adventuring of the Robert Glasper Experiment; and the blending of Lee Ritenour’s guitar with the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band; Poncho Sanchez’s Latin jazz versions of John Coltrane classics.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

And don’t forget the presence of Herbie Hancock with Naturally 7,  as well as the more traditional excursions of George Duke, singer Gregory Porter, the immensely talented young saxophonist Grace Kelly, and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble.

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

The same, with a somewhat different slant, can be said for Sunday’s schedule, which is equally eclectic, reaching from the dynamic drumming of Sheila E. and the jamming of Trombone Shorty to the lush vocalizing of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo chorus and the interplay of pianist ELEW with the Jazz Antiqua Dance Ensemble.  All of it again interspersed with the irresistible jazz stylings of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with a tribute to Quincy Jones on his 80th birthday, the Bob James/David Sanborn group, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet (in a tribute to their father) and the vocals of India.Arie.

Hubert Laws, Quincy Jones, Jeffrey Osborne, George Lopez, Poncho Sanchez, Herbie Hancock

There’s more, as well.  All of it entertaining.  And one can praise producer Chan for having assembled a pair of consistently rewarding programs that provide appealing music for a wide range of audience tastes, while still remaining true to the essential identity of the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Here’s the daily line-up:

Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m. – 11. p.m.

George Duke with special guest Jeffrey Osborne

Naturally 7 with special guest Herbie Hancock

Angelique Kidjo with special guest Hugh Masekela

Ole Coltrane featuring Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band with special guest James Carter

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with special guest Lee Ritenour

Gregory Porter

Robert Glasper Experiment

Grace Kelly Quintet with special guest Phil Woods

Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo

The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble directed by Jason Goldman

Sunday, June 16, 3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Sheila E.

Bob James/David Sanborn featuring Steve Gadd and James Genus

India.Arie

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra celebrates Quiney Jones 80th birthday with special guests Patti Austin and Hubert Laws

Taj Mahal with the Real Thing Tuba Band

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet: A Dave Brubeck Tribute

Elew and Jazz Antiqua Dance Ensemble, Pat Taylor Artistic Director: A World Premiere Collaboration

The LAUSD Beyond the Bell Jazz Band directed by Tony White and J.B. Dyas.

Group photo by Bonnie Perkinson.  Other photos courtesy of the Playboy Jazz Festival

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Single day tickets for the Playboy Jazz Festival are available through Ticketmaster starting February 28.  (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 30 – Feb. 3

January 31, 2013

By the iRoM Staff

Los Angeles

Don Williams

Don Williams

- Jan. 31. (Thurs.) The Don Williams Group.  Percussionist Williams, a busy studio musician (not the country singer), takes a break to lead an all-star collective featuring saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Carl Saunders, trombonist Bill Reichenbach, pianist Christian Jacob and bassist Dave StoneVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 31. (Thurs.) The Miro Quartet.  The award-winning Miro quartet performs a program dedicated to three far-ranging Beethoven string quartets: Op. 18, , Op. 95 and Op. 131.  The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- Jan. 31. (Thurs.) Frank Petrilli.  A protégé of the late jazz accordionist Frank Marocco, Petrilli also emphasizes the rich musical potential of an instrument not always appreciated for what it can do.  He’s backed by guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Enzo TedescoVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Stanley Jordan Trio.  One of the true jazz guitar innovators, Jordan has spent a great deal of time as a solo performer, emphasizing his tapping technique.  But here he performs in a more musically diverse trio setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis

- Feb. 2. (Sat.) An Evening with Branford Marsalis. One of the high visibility members of the high achieving Marsalis family of New Orleans, saxophonist Marsalis makes a rare Southland appearance, backed by pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin FaulknerThe Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-3000.

San Francisco

- Feb. 3. (Sun.)  Vieux Farka Toure.  The son of the great Malian guitarist/singer Ali Farka Toure, the younger Toure continues to carry the torch for a contemporary blend of blues, funk, rock and traditional rhythms.  Also on the bill, American blues artist Markus JamesYoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Seattle

- Jan. 31 – Feb. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Dr. John and his All-New Band.  There’s never a boring moment when Dr. John leads his new band in a definitive display of the rich, rhythmic gumbo of New Orleans music at its best.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli

- Jan. 31 – Feb. 2. (Thurs. – Sat.)  John Pizzarelli Quartet. Always engaging, guitarist/singer Pizzarelli has done a convincing job of following in the footsteps of such iconic artists as Nat “King” Cole, George Benson and others, while maintaining his own appealing style.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Jan. 31 – Feb. 2. (Thurs. – Sat.)  The Patricia Barber Quartet. Pianist/songwriter Barber has thoroughly established herself as one of the jazz world’s rare singer/songwriters. Click HERE to read a current iRoM review of Patricia Barber’s new CD, Smash.   Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

- Feb. 1. (Fri.) Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with the Wayne Shorter Quartet.  A classic evening of far-ranging music, one of many scheduled in various parts of the world to celebrate Shorter’s 80th birthday in August.  The program features three Shorter original works, along with Beethoven’s Overture: Creatures of Prometheus, and Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 3.  Carnegie Hall.  (212) 247-7800.

Berlin

Lily Dahab

Lily Dahab

- Jan. 31 – Feb. 1  (Thurs. – Fri.)  Lily Dahab.  Argentine singer Dahab has lived in Berlin, Madrid and Barcelona.  Along the way, she performed as a jazz singer and a musical theatre artist, defining one of contemporary world music’s most uniquely interpretive styles. A-Trane.    030/313/25 50.


Live Music: Overtone at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

August 2, 2012

By Don Heckman

The place was overflowing Tuesday night.  But it wasn’t exactly the sort of music one usually hears at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  The name alone says it.  Everyday musical cuisine at Herb Alpert‘s elegant jazz bistro, nestled in the high hills of Bel Air, is world class jazz, some occasional cabaret, musical theatre and world music.

But this was something else.  Six young guys lined up across the stage, without an instrument,  singing a cappella.  They hail from South Africa, and they call themselves Overtone.  From a musical perspective, imagine a combination of Sha Na Na and Take 6, with some added traces of South African traditional sounds and rhythms.

Overtone

If you saw Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film, Invictus, you’ve heard Overtone. Discovered by Eastwood’s wife, Dina, the group performs prominently on the picture’s sound track.  But they are still a relatively unknown quantity as a live act.  And, despite their first rate musicality and on stage enthusiasm, the pre-packaged quality of some of their numbers, as well as their between-songs patter, had the distinct quality of an ensemble still working to discover its identity.

That said, there were no arguments with the quality of the music.  With bass Riaan Weyers and vocal beatboxer Valentino Ponsonby (Tino) laying down a solid foundation, most of the material – even the numerous unfamiliar selections, surged with propulsive energy.  The four other singers – baritone Shane Smit, high tenor/soprano Eduard Leonard, tenor Ernie Bates and lead singer Emile Welman provided an impressively integrated ensemble sound, as well as atmospheric solo vocals.  On a few selections, Bates on guitar and Welman on piano added colorful instrumental backing.

After kicking off the set with the Satins’ “In the Still of the Night,” they tore into “Great Balls of Fire,” shifting gears for “I Wanna Be Around,” adding some African material and focusing on their hit version of “Nothing Else Matters.”  And there was much more, all of it thoroughly demonstrating the musical versatility of this talented vocal collective.

As noted above, the Overtone singers are still finding their way in some performance aspects.  But there’s no doubt that their impressive musicality is pointing them toward a bright future.

Photo by Faith Frenz.


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

June 19, 2012

 

By Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

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

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

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

Bill Cosby ant the Cos of Good Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Mimi Jones

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

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

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

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

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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

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

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

Ramsey Lewis

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

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

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

Jack Bruce and Cindy Blackman Santana

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

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

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

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

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

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


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