Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration” at the Hollywood Bowl

August 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA. The Hollywood Bowl‘s diverse set of Wednesday night programs – from jazz and pop to blues and soul – hit a peak this week with an entertaining tribute to the incomparable James Brown, timed, no doubt, to the recent release of the Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Given the “Godfather of Soul”’s vast catalog of hits, combined with the far-ranging stylistic genres present in that catalog, there was a lot from which to choose in the planning of the program. And the results were well worth the effort.

FH

Christian McBride

Christian McBride

It didn’t take long for the evening to get up to speed, perfectly managed by bassist and Brown fan Christian McBride. Starting with a slide show illustrating Brown highlights, the music, ornamented by a pair of busy dancers, switched quickly into “live” mode with a set by a 14 piece House Band featuring such members of the original Brown band as saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. And it was no surprise that the music was a characteristically hard-driving blend of funk and blues with a seasoning of jazz.

The balance of the evening was handled by four singers, performing with the sort of spirit and enthusiasm that could only be characterized by dedicated Brown disciples. Performances dedicated to artists who have passed away sometimes emerge as imitations without authenticity. But not with this group of singers, all talented in their own right, all thoroughly tapped into the Brown artistry.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette has never quite received the accolades her soul-driven singing style deserves. But, at 68, she can still bring a song to life, as she did in her set, which peaked with a stunning interpretation of “It’s A Man’s World.” Captured by the intensity of her version, clearly inspired by Brown, one couldn’t help but hope to see LaVette again soon in a performance dedicated to her own dynamic interpretations.

Up next, singer Aloe Blacc charged on stage with Brown-like dynamism. And, at 35, with skills as an instrumentalist (trumpet) and complete ease in genres reaching from r&b to jazz and funk to hip hop, he brought his unique diversity and high spirits to a Brown program that began with “The Payback” and ended with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.”

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo

Benin’s Angelique Kidjo added another intriguing aspect to a richly colorful program. Describing the impact Brown’s music had upon her as a child growing up in Africa, she applied her irresistibly charismatic powers to “Say It Loud” and “I Feel Good.” Stalking the stage, she demanded more interaction with the crowd, dancing across the curved walkway in the garden section, bringing her listeners into her ecstatic calls for musical action. Kidjo has always been an incredibly kinetic performer, and – captivated by the Brown aura — she was even more exciting in her remarkable set.

D Angelo

D Angelo

The evening climaxed with yet another high voltage performance, this one by singer/keyboardist producer D’Angelo. Adding yet another musical slant to an evening overflowing with uniquely engaging efforts to honor James Brown, D’Angelo was joined onstage by actor Chad Boseman, who portrays Brown in the Get On Up biopic. Together they urged the crowd to join them in a spirited singalong version of “Soul Power” – an appropriate ending for a musical evening to remember.

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Full stage, McBride, LaVette and Kidjo photos by Faith Frenz.  D’Angelo photo courtesy of D’Angelo.

 

 


Live Jazz: Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter and the Robert Glasper Experiment at the Hollywood Bowl

August 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

There was a strikingly diversified array of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night – a program signifying the L.A. Phil’s desire to present America’s improvisational music in its many varied manifestations, all of them intriguing in one way or another.

Appropriately the headline act was veteran pianist/composer Herbie Hancock, who has also been the Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz since 2010. In a career reaching back to the early ’60s, Hancock has demonstrated a creative versatility reaching across a complete range of musical expressiveness.

And he did so at the Bowl on Wednesday, as well.

Backed by bassist James Genus and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Hancock offered a program of his originals – including such now-classics as “Maiden Voyage,” “Jessica” and “Speak Like a Child,” as well as “Footprints,” one of the best known works by his friend and frequent musical companion, Wayne Shorter. (Surprisingly, Shorter was a rare absentee from a Hancock performance.)

A trio program by Hancock, Genus and Colaiuta alone would have provided a memorable evening of jazz at its finest. But there was much more, in the form of a full orchestra and the arrangements (and conducting) of Vince Mendoza, whose orchestrating credits reach from Sting to Joni Mitchell.

Herbie Hancock with orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza

The results were extraordinary, with the combination of Hancock’s arching melodies and lush harmonies with Mendoza’s masterful orchestrations recalling a much earlier musical partnership: the compelling Maurice Ravel orchestrations for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with orchestrations by Maurice Ravel.

But what made this combination unique was the presence of Hancock himself at the keyboard, adding his ever-imaginative improvisations to the orchestra’s rich tapestry of sound. Swinging hard in some spots, adding gorgeous lyricism in others, verging occasionally into passages with distinctly classical touches, he brought his familiar songs vividly to life. (One couldn’t, however, resist the desire to have heard more of Hancock’s eclectic classics in this fascinating setting – classics such as “Canteloupe Isand,” “Watermelon Man” and the offbeat “Rockit.” But maybe next time.)

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

Singer Gregory Porter added a different touch to this musically diverse evening. Establishing himself as a major jazz vocal artist in a few short years, with a Grammy nomination for his first album, Water. in 2010, Porter has been gathering a dedicated audience ever since.

Not only is Porter blessed with a lush baritone voice, he also seems to have an intuitive gift for phrasing and a laid-back sense of swing. Add to that the fact that he is one of the jazz world’s few singer/songwriters. And, although most of the originals he sang were unfamiliar, some had the catchy hooks and repetitive choruses that help listeners stay in touch with a song. By the time he finished his brief set, strongly aided by the stunning alto saxophone work of Yosuke Sato, the reasons for Porter’s rapidly growing popularity had become eminently clear.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

The remaining act on the list of performers in the program was pianist Robert Glasper and the group he calls his “Experiment.” The title alone underscores Glasper’s apparent desire to remain on the cutting edge, envelope stretching areas of contemporary jazz.

Some of Glasper’s pieces harkened back to the avant-garde free improvising of the ’60s, especially when saxophonist/vocorder player Casey Benjamin was playing alto saxophone. Scouring his instrument for every sound it could make, he reached from multi-phonics to screeching high harmonics, low honks and busy fingered flurries.

Glasper also tossed in varied linkages with contemporary pop, rock and hip-hop, most of it ending up as a busy smorgasbord of sound that did little to please one’s appetite for jazz in the traditional sense. But give Glasper credit for a desire to add more to the mainstream menu.

As I noted earlier, it was an evening of jazz in many different hues. And the Philharmonic should be praised for providing a broad palette of so many musical colors.

Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter Photos by Faith Frenz.

 

 


Live Music: Warren Haynes and The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, in a Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration at Red Rocks Amphitheater

August 8, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Denver, Colorado.  Last Sunday night Warren Haynes and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra picked up where they left off a year ago in their collaborative tribute to the music and spirit of Jerry Garcia. Garcia has been dead and gone for 19 years now and this show happened to fall in the middle of Jerry Week…a week of remembrance and celebration of his musical legacy, tied to the August dates of his August 1 birth and August 9 death.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Remarkably, the older end of the Grateful Dead community is still there to rally and show up in large numbers for a tribal gathering like this. And the Red Rocks Amphitheater, for centuries, an actual sacred site for Native American tribal gatherings, is a perfect place for a labor of love gig like this.

The show was divided into two sets, the first starting at dusk in magnificent blue skies and the second under a perfect half moon.  Opening with a concise version of the GD’s usually ultra extended “Dark Star,” the ensemble next swung into “Uncle John’s Band,” a crowd pleasing opportunity to sing along and do the deadhead shuffle. By the time they got to “Shakedown Street,” the orchestra’s horn section supplied some serendipitous funk to the mix.

The orchestra is of course the wild card, the fresh element to all of these new readings of familiar songs. Mainly, the orchestra took familiar parts of the tunes and either magnified their background presence or took familiar lines and transformed them into something familiar but new with the multi-instrumental layering. “Here Comes Sunshine” got the symphonic makeover and between the harmonies of backup singers Alecia Chakur and Jasmine Muhammad, and the orchestral re-embellishment of the song’s melody, we had something very new to enjoy and sing along with on the song’s now tremendous chorus. The orchestra also pumped up the lunges, and the stops and starts of “Morning Dew,” a GD staple for many years. And similarly the prominent line in “Terrapin Station,” and “Birdsong.” A symphony orchestra does present the potential for a lot of oomph in the dynamics and it worked well for this program.

Warren Haynes and his players and singers with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Haynes himself has done a masterful job of staying true to the original live sound and feel of all the material, without simply recreating it. Guitar-wise, he has been given the keys to the family car by the Jerry Garcia estate … as he actually played Garcia’s mainstay guitar from the mid 70’s, the iconic Doug Irwin built, “The Wolf.” He also used a Mutron pedal to snare Garcia’s signature “auto-wah” ’70’s sound that coated each note in the wah tone. As less is often more, he didn’t overuse it, just put it out there for contrast.

Warren Haynes with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Warren Haynes with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Vocally, he evokes but doesn’t duplicate Garcia’s approach. The timbre of his voice sets him down close to Garcia’s voice but with enough distance to add his own nuances and still keep it sounding both new and familiar. And that’s a fine line worth approaching.  Compared to the rhythm sections of the Grateful Dead or even the Jerry Garcia Band, drummer Jeff Sipe and bassist Lincoln Schleifer played things close to the vest. Then again, they were playing with an orchestra. Throughout the show, the band delivered the orchestra to departure points where they or Haynes would seize on elements of each song. This worked well during “Bird Song,” as the orchestra and then the band, was riffing on Branford Marsalis’ classic horn lines from his guest appearance on a legendary 1990 version of the song.

A sweeter couple of songs than Sunday’s encore of “Ship of Fools,” and “Stella Blue,” one does not often find. “Ship of Fools,” is a gem of a tune, with an elegant mesh of chord structure, melody, and poignant lyrics. “Stella Blue,” is cut from the same melodically haunting cloth … and rumored to be Garcia’s favorite of his own songs.

After all of this, the crowd ventured home, grinning contently.

Photos by Mike Finkelstein.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Picks of the Week: August 4 – 10 in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow and Tokyo

August 4, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Aug. 5. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. The official release party for Pat Kelley‘s new CD, Overtones 4 Two Guitars. With Pisano, Kelley, Kendall Kay, drums, and John Belzaguy, bass. Viva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

- Aug. 5 & 6. (Tues. & Wed.) The Gypsy Allstars. If you like the Gipsy Kings, you’ll be equally impressed by the Gypsy All-Stars who play a similar repertoire, energized by Gipsy Kings alumni Ced Leonardi and Mario Reyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

- Aug. 6. (Wed.) Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter. A classic jazz night at the Bowl. On the bill: orchestral renderings (arranged by Vince Mendoza) of selections from the Hancock songbook; and a program of song by jazz vocal star, Porter. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) The Haden Triplets. Charlie Haden’s talented three daughters carry on the Haden tradition of family music making Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Michael McDonald and Toto. McDonald and Toto have been getting together to make music for years, dating back to the 1986 album, Farenheit.  Expect musical excitement from this compelling musical reunion.  The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857

 

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

- Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Judy Wexler. The versatile musical story-teller with a briskly swinging style performs with the sterling backing of Jeff Colella, piano, Kenny Wild, bass and Devin Kelly, Drums. The Merc at 42051 Main St. in Temecula. (866) 653-8696.

- Aug. 8. (Fri.) Kamasi Washington and the Next Step. Saxophonist Washington is rapidly establishing himself as one of the Southland’s must-hear jazz artists. Jazz at LACMA. (323) 857-6000.

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Gladys Knight and Kool and the Gang. Grammy-winning soul queen Knight is joined by funksters Kool and the Gang for an evening of rhythmic and vocal delights. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Jay Leonhart and Josh Nelson. Bassist Leonhart is often called “the wittiest man in jazz” for his whimsical narratives, but he’s also a world class player as well. Writing in the L.A. Times, Don Heckman described Leonhart as “the Fred Astaire of jazz.” The pairing of Leonhart with the gifted young pianist Josh Nelson should produce some irresistibly intriguing musical results. On Friday at Vitello’s;  on Saturday at Cornerstone Music Conservatory on West Pico Blvd.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan

- Aug. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) Stanley Jordan Trio. There’s no one quite like Jordan, who plays guitar with a tapping technique that allows him to create textures, sounds and harmonic clusters rarely heard on the instrument. Add to that his inventive gifts as a jazz improviser. Don’t miss this chance to hear this remarkable artist in action. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band. Violinist Susie Hansen may be a blonde mid-Westerner, but she’s been leading authentically exciting Latin jazz bands for more than two decades. since the early ’90s. As Don Heckman noted in the L.A. Times, “Susie creates a brand of music that is as physically moving as it is intellectually stimulating.” Knott’s Berry Farm. 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park.  (714) 220-5200.

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Tom Peterson Quartet. Saxophonist and woodwind artist Peterson is a first call player, with good reasons. Here’s a chance to hear him in the spotlight with a stellar rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Seattle

Fourplay

- Aug. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.) Fourplay. Bob James, Chuck Loeb, Nathan East, Harvey Mason. They’ve got a reputation for funk and contemporary styles, but this veteran band of superb, veteran jazz artists bring everything they have to whatever genre-of-the-moment they’re playing. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- August 7. (Thurs.) Charles McPherson. Well-known for his long run with the Charles Mingus band of the ’60s, alto saxophonist/flutist McPherson is also a convincing practitioner of classic bebop. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

- Aug. 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)Django Reinhardt NY Festival “15th Anniversary Celebration.” It’s one of the great annual jazz celebrations, recalling the glories of the great Django Reinhardt with some of his finest musical descendants. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Michel_Legrand

Michel_Legrand

- Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Michel Legrand Trio. Pianist/composer/songwriter does it all – writing songs (often with the Bergmans), scoring films, performing with his jazz trio – and he does it with stunning brilliance. He isn’t heard often in clubs, so don’t overlook this rare opportunity to hear him. Ronnie Scott’s  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Berlin

- Aug. 6 & 7. (Wed. & Thurs.) Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove and his band were in Paris last week. Keeping his numerous European fans happy, Hargrove appears this week in Berlin. A-Trane Jazz. +49 30 3132550.

Stockholm

- Aug. 9. (Sat.) Sonny Fortune Quintet. “In the Spirit of Miles.” Alto saxophonist/woodwind player Fortune, a veteran of Miles Davis’ group of the mid-’70s – brings striking authenticity to his Davis musical celebration. Fasching Jazz Nightclub.  08-20 00 66.

Moscow

- Aug. 5. (Tues.) Alexander Vinitsky. Russian guitarist Vinitsky may not be well-known (yet) in the U.S., but he’s a gifted player who deserves wider international exposure. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 792-21-09.

Tokyo

- Aug. 9 & 10. (Sat. & Sun.) Akiko Yano Trio. Eclectic artist Yano moves comfortably from piano playing to composition to singing and songwriting. This time out, she’s in a trio setting with bassist Will Lee and drummer Chris Parker. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Picks of the Week: July 29 – Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another hot week, with a lot of venues still in the midst of their Summer hiatuses.  But there’s still some fine, selective music to hear.

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- July 29. (Tues.) Amanda McBroom and George Ball. Musical theatre and cabaret star Amanda McBroom and actor/singer George Ball present a program of classic songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- July 30. (Wed.) Lola Haag, Mark Massey and Friends. The sultry voice of Lola Haag is backed by the jazz piano stylings of Mark Massey and his stellar group. Steamers7.  (714) 871-8800.

- July 31. (Thurs.) Chuck Manning & Steve Huffsteter Quartet. A pair of Los Angeles’ world class jazz artists – saxophonist Manning and trumpeter  Huffsteter take a break from their busy bookings as sidemen to step into the spotlight.  They perform in a piano-less quartet with bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Matt GordyVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) “Hair.”  The classic rock musical of the sixties takes over the Bowl for a rare three night run. A must-see for all boomers. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- Aug. 2. (Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah are back, making a second L.A. appearance in the past two weeks. Don’t miss them. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

(July 31 – Aug. 3.(Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria Sings Jobim. Guitarist/singer Canturia, one of bossa nova’s most authentic interpreters, illuminates the Antonio Carlos Jobim catalog of songs. SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Melba Moore

Melba Moore

- Aug. 1 & 2. (Friday & Sat.) Melba Moore. Grammy-nominated, Tony-Award winning r&b, soul, and blues singer Moore is a master of contemporary pop music styles with hits reaching back to the ’70s. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

 New York City

- July 31 – Aug. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.) The legendary Count Basie Orchestra. The irresistible rhythms and big band classics of the Count Basie Orchestra live on, with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart leading the way. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

London

- July 28 – Aug. 2 (Mon. – Sat.) The Average White Band. Four decades after their hit-making years of the ’70s and ’80s, the Scottish Average White Band is still playing their soul, r&b and funk classics. Two original members – Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre – are still present, along with three new members from the U.S. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

Aug. 1 ;& 2. (Fri. & Sat.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Versatile trumpeter Hargrove steps away from his big band to lead a swinging quintet of jazz stars. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 29.  ( Tues.)  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The classic sounds of New Orleans jazz are alive and well in the swinging playing of the preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 


A Twist of Doc: “Everything Is On The One”

July 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Lately I’ve been harkening back to a time in my hazy youth in which rock n’ roll seemed too square and being a jazz musician felt unattainable. I was a frustrated self-taught blues guitar player in his teens in search of something else.

As much as I worshipped the blues, by the time I was 13 the image, true attitude, sound, and feel of greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Son House had all but vanished.

There were still many blues legends with a lot to offer but for the most part blues had morphed almost completely into blues-rock. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the leader of the pack and he had thousands of clones. Vaughan passed away in 1990 but today it’s still the same. Blues clubs and radio stations are still flooded by men and women who all dress like a discount combo of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan on layaway. And they all fall back on the same overindulgent stock blues licks.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

I saw the writing on the wall back at the age of 13. Once again the rock establishment was co-opting the blues for a white audience, as had been done in the ‘60s and I didn’t approve or want to go along.

I had always been a geeky wallflower who had sat on the floor at school dances or avoided them altogether. I wasn’t going to ditch the blues or give up trying to play jazz, but I was in search of a more primal sound that could get to the core of all contemporary musical genres and didn’t take it self too seriously. I found what I was looking for in funk.

The very first bassist I played with in high school turned me onto George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. I was already deeply into the funk of Sly And The Family Stone and James Brown so this was the logical next step.

My first reaction was laughter. Hearing Parliament’s “The Mothership Connection” felt like the first time I had ever been truly stoned. Granted I probably was very stoned at the time. It was musically sophisticated with slick, jazz-inspired horn arrangements by Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (formerly of James Brown’s band), thumping baselines by ex-James brown protégé Bootsy Collins, and classically infused psychedelic keyboard work by Bernie Worrell. The most shocking element was George Clinton or “Dr. Funkenstein” rapping (more than a decade before rap music was around) over the music using street slang and profanity in an over the top, super silly fashion.

There was also the meteoric guitar work of P-Funk guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Mike Hampton, and Dewayne “Blackbyrd” Mcknight which cemented George Clinton’s concept of “organized chaos” and is still a huge influence on my playing today.

I also bought and taught myself electric bass after hearing the albums Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby, and Larry Graham’s slapping on Graham Central Station’s “The Jam.”

James Brown

James Brown

When it came to listening to funk music – whether it was James Brown, Sly Stone, or P-Funk — I felt I had to sneak off somewhere to do it, like I did with comedy albums by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. It wasn’t just the language; it was the attitude which made rock music seem like the squarest music in the galaxy. There was this delightful nastiness mixed with a true freedom to all of it and I started collecting funk records by the stack full. From James Brown, Sly Stone, all incarnations of P-Funk and Bootsy Collins, to The Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Brick, and Earth, Wind And Fire, I had to have it all. Suddenly I wasn’t too shy too dance and I was out there at funk concerts and parties shaking my ass and making a fool out of myself but not giving a shit. That’s freedom. That’s funk.

Of course my steady diet of marijuana and psychedelic drugs helped aid this drastic change and allowed me to see all things as being sublimely funky. My guitar playing became funkier and more focused on that “one” beat that is the spiritual core of funk music. James Brown emphasized the “one” and P-Funk took it to new and wonderfully ridiculous heights. The “one” is where all musicians meet up and are in sync with the universe.

Sly Stone

Sly Stone

Although funk remains as spiritually relevant with young music lovers and musicians today in a way similar to reggae, the music’s greatest pioneers and practitioners have constantly been dismissed as novelty acts by the mainly white controlled music industry and what’s left of it. Times have been hard for Sly Stone and George Clinton over the past few decades.

I’ve never truly understood why. Sly Stone was as talented, inventive, and revolutionary as all four Beatles combined. Sly not only influenced hundreds of funk and rock bands, he also changed the shape of jazz forever. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters would not exist without Sly. Miles Davis worshiped Sly and his music was forever changed by Sly’s influence.

Why is it that Sly Stone lives in a mobile home today? Why is George Clinton having to fight for the rights to his own music but still sells out concerts all over the world? The white rock bands of the ‘70s did as much drugs (if not more) as any of the funk legends and they’re still able to get record deals. The rock machine can stay behind and support the nostalgia of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young, or even The Rolling Stones no matter what trouble these artists have gotten into over the years or the dips in their record sales.

I can’t help but think that if these artists were black, they’d know how it feels to be relegated to novelty act status by main stream media and have to fight to keep what they created. Keith Richards can dress and act as crazy as he wants and there aren’t the same consequences as there have been with Sly Stone or George Clinton. It doesn’t make any sense.

With all that said and as overtly un-funky as the music business has always been, there are the fans. Since my introduction to funk back in my teens, I’ve learned that there are no fans like funk fans or “funkateers.” The love is felt all over the world by people of all ages. We ex-“Psychedelic wallflowers” keep the music fresh. Not to mention the millions of hip-hop and rap artists who have sampled funk records since day one and continue to do so.

George_Clinton

George_Clinton

Tuesday, July 22nd was the 73rd Birthday of George Clinton. I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Funkenstein in the studio over 23 years ago and we spoke many times during the ’90’s at airports or backstage as he and The P-Funk All- Stars toured constantly going “all around the world for the funk.” They’re still out there touring right now. So, today I thank you, Dr. Funkenstein, for freeing my mind and ass collectively and a very funktacular Happy Birthday. Never quit. Keep on funkin’, we need it now more than ever. I also thank all current and past members of P-Funk, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison , and Sly And The Family Stone, Larry Graham, James Brown, and the list goes on.

The record industry may be dying out, old, corny, and not able to dance, but thanks to you, Dr. Funkenstein, everything is still on the one.

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

 


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