Picks of the (Valentine) Week: Feb. 12 – 16

February 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Feb. 13 – 16. Thurs. – Sun. Steve Tyrell. Four days to enjoy Valentine’s Day at L.A.’s primo jazz room, captivated by Tyrell’s warm voice and engaging musical storytelling. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- Feb. 13 & 14. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Moscow Festival Ballet showcases a trio of ballets perfectly chosen for Valentine’s Day: Giselle, Chopiniana and Romeo & Juliet. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Dream Street. Led by guitarist/arranger Stan Ayeroff, Dream Street brings superb musicality to all their compelling interpretations.  However, singer Bobbi Paige, a regular member, will not be present, due to a family emergency and will be replaced by “fill-in” vocalists.. Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Anna Mjoll. Icelandic jazz vocalist Mjoll celebrates the romance of Valentine’s Day with a program of love songs from the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Maria Rita. Brazilian singer Rita,the daughter of the iconic Brazilian vocalist, Elis Regina, has become a vocal star in her own right. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000

- Feb. 15. (Sat.) Clint Black. Grammy-winning, country male vocalist of the year, puts a unique country twist on a program of ballad classics. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

New York City

- Feb. 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.) Cyrille Aimee. French-born jazz singer Aimee has been described, accurately, by Will Friedwald as “one of the most promising singers of her generation.” Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- Feb. 13. (Thurs.) Tierney Sutton. One of L.A.’s finest jazz pleasures, Sutton has lately been bringing her many skills to compelling, jazz-driven interpretations of Joni Mitchell songs.  Click HERE to read a recent review of a Sutton performance in Los Angeles.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. (212) 258-9595.

Copenhagen

- Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Warren Wolf. Vibist Wolf has been bringing new, imaginative ideas to his instrument. He’s backed in his Danish appearances by American drummer Billy Williams, Danish pianist Jacob Christoffersen and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.

 London

All Jarreau

All Jarreau

- Feb. 16. (Sun.) Al Jarreau. The seven-time Grammy award winner and all around versatile jazz artist celebrates the 30th anniversary of his album, Jarreau the Album. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Milano

- Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Ray Gelato and the Giants. Vocalist Gelato and his European jazz masters describe their music in the all-inclusive label of “Swing + Rhythm ‘n’ Blues + Jive.” Expect to be well-entertained. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 28 – Nov. 3

October 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- Oct. 30. (Wed.)  Amanda McBroom.  The singer, actress and songwriter (“The Rose” is one of her songs) takes a break from her busy acting career to make a rare musical appearance in Los Angeles.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 31. (Thurs.)  Kate Reid and Larry Koonse Duo.  Guitarist Koonse, who is at the top of everyone’s rhythm section list, has a strong musical connection with singer/pianist/educator Reid. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Vivaldi with Perlman.  Violinist Itzhak Perlman conducts and solos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Vivaldi, Weber and Berlioz.  Walt Disney Hall. /2013-11-01  (323) 850-2000.

- Nov. 1. (Fri.)  Bob Sheppard Trio. He’s a prime, first-call tenor saxophonist, but Sheppard is also a versatile woodwind (clarinet, flute and other saxophones) artist as well.  Hear him in the warm acoustic ambiance of Herb Alpert’s elegant jazz club.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson.  Multiple Grammy nominated Allyson performs superbly in genres reaching from folk to cabaret to jazz to bossa nova and beyond. Her L.A. performances are rare, and always worth attending.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Nov. 2. (Sat.)  Joanne Tatham.  “Soundtrack New York: Music from Movies Made in Manhattan.  It’s a fascinating idea for a program of songs, with dozens from which to chose.  And Tatham delivers it well, via her warm, seductive sound and musical story-telling skills.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- Nov. 3. (Sun.)  The Pat Senatore Trio.  With Josh Nelson, piano and Mark Ferber, drums.  Bassist Senatore leads a stellar group of players in a CD release party celebrating the release of the Trio’s new album, AscensioneVibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Oct. 30 & 31.  (Wed. & Thurs.)  The Four Freshmen.  Their history dates back to the late ‘40s, when the Freshmen were creating harmonically lush, jazz-driven jazz vocalizing, accompanied by their own multiple instrumental skills.  This is a younger version of the Freshmen, but their music continues to be richly compelling.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Gerald Albright. He’s well known as a much-admired, contemporary jazz saxophonist, but Albright is also a multi-instrumentalist who brings genre-crossing sounds to all his performances.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

- Nov. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.)  Arturo Sandoval.  Every performance by Cuban-born Sandoval is a stunning display of his musical range and instrumental eclecticism.  Whether playing Dizzy Gillespie-influenced trumpet, rhapsodic piano, dynamic drumming, or singing, he does it all with complete musical mastery.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Oct., 31 – Nov. 3.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Vijay Iyer Trio.  Pianist Iyer’s Grammy-nominated Trio is an engaging vehicle for his playing, which incorporates aspects of his Indian heritage with his dynamic piano style.  Jazz Standard.

- Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Ron Carter Nonet. Carter has performed as everyone’s favorite bassist on more than 2500 albums.  But he’s less-known as a composer and band leader in his own right, who should be heard at every opportunity.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

Dave Holland

Dave Holland

- Nov. 2 & 3.  (Sat. & Sun.)  Dave Holland Prism.  Prism is the latest in bassist Holland’s numerous ensembles.  And like all his musical efforts, it leads his listeners through inventive musical adventures.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

- Nov. 1 & 2. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Ben Sidran Quartet.  “Don’t Cry For No Hipster.”  The versatile Sidran, a Renaissance jazz man, moves comfortably from performing jazz, rock and beyond to work as a producer, educator and radio host.  Here, he’s on piano and vocals, backed by Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone, Billy Peterson, bass and Leo Sidran, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

- Oct. 30 & 31. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jack DeJohnette Group.  Drummer DeJohnette, always creatively curious, leads an ensemble that features the equally inventive clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron Blue Note Milano.     +39.02.69016888.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 14 – 20

October 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Josh Nelson

- Oct. 17. (Thurs.) All Star Quartet. Pat Senatore, bass, Josh Nelson, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Mark Ferber, drums. “All Star” is the right label for this quartet of four of the Southland’s finest players. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun. Steve Gadd Band. Drummer Gadd has played with everyone from pop and rock stars to jazz headliners. This time he’s backed by the equally stellar ensemble of Michael Landau, Larry Goldings, Walt Fowler, & Jimmy Johnson). Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 18 – 20. (Fri. – Sun.) Disney Hall 10th Anniversary Celebration. Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to a familiar podium to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a celebratory program of Debussy, Bartok and Lindberg, with cello soloist Anssi Karttunen and the women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

- Oct. 19. (Sat.) Carol Welsman. “Reflections of Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman.” Pianist/singer Welsman applies her many talents to a program of Swing band classics. She’s joined by versatile saxophonist/vocalist Don Shelton. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 19 (Sat.) Eva Ayllon. Multiple Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, one of Peru’s most honored musicians, makes a rare L.A. Appearance. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-.2101.

- Oct. 19. (Sat.) Bernadette Peters. Musical theatre star Peters’ many talents reach from film and television to the stage, where her many starring roles include Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, Into the Woods and more. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

- Oct. 20 (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Jeffrey Kahane conducts the LACO in works by Britten, Haydn, Mozart and Bruce Adolphe, featuring cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.  (310) 825.2101.

Brian Wilson

- Oct. 20. (Sun.) Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck. It’s a rare combination of pop music greats, joining with Wilson’s former bandmates, Al Jardine and David Marks in a program that includes a great deal of the Beach Boys classic catalog of songs. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

- Oct. 19 & 20 (Sat. & Sun.) Michel Camilo, solo. The Dominican Republic’s gift to jazz piano playing performs a rare solo display of his rich improvisational skills. An SFJAZZ concert at Miner Auditorium. (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) Fourplay. Together for more than two decades, the members of Fourplay – Bob James, Nathan East, Harvey Mason and Chuck Loeb continue to lead the way in finding the roots of contemporary jazz. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

Russell Malone

- Oct. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) Russell Malone Quartet. Guitarist Malone has demonstrated his considerable versatility with the likes of Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Jr. and Jimmy Smith, and he continues to be a player adept with all seasons of jazz styles. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

- Oct. 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Phil Woods Quintet. Still one of the definitive bebop players, veteran alto saxophonist Woods is one of the trune jazz originals. Here he’s joined by the world class backing of Brian Lynch, trumpet, Bill Charlap, piano, Bill Goodwin, drums, Steve Gilmore, bass. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

- Oct. 16 – 19. (Wed. – Sun.) Wayne Henderson’s Jazz Crusaders. Trombonist Henderson works hard to keep the classic jazz/funk/soul of the Crusaders alive and well. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Milan

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

- Oct. 15. (Tues.) Monty Alexander Trio. Jamaican-born pianist Alexander successfully manages to blend the sounds and rhythms of Jamaica with his extraordinary, Oscar Peterson-influenced jazz stylings. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- Oct. 20 – 22. (Sun. – Tues.) John Scofield’s “Uberjam.” Always in search of new creative ideas, veteran jazz guitarist Scofield’s Uberjam band explores linkages with contemporary pop styles. Blue Note Tokyo. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Pop Music: The Rascals “Once Upon A Dream” at the Greek Theatre

October 13, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On a brisk Thursday evening none other than the Rascals presented their autobiographical stage show, Once Upon a Dream, at the Greek Theatre. It comes as a pleasant and uplifting surprise to know that all the original members are alive and well, and sounding quite good, indeed. With a strong push from longtime fan, New Jersey disciple, and powerful shaker and mover, Steve Van Zandt, the Rascals have pieced together a fast-paced and engaging narrative centered on their stay at the top of the pop charts. Their career absolutely flourished during the craziest and most turbulent times the mid/late sixties had to offer.

It has been 40 years plus since the Rascals were in their heyday, but on Thursday the music was intact. It was tight and crisp. The guys have aged, of course, and all but Brigati wore hats for this show. Brigati, has put on a fair amount of girth and no longer resembles the striking picture of youth he once was. Who could? But to watch him sing and sway with two tambourines was to see the connection with the past.

For OUAD the entire back wall of the Greek was outfitted with a huge projection screen. Silhouetted in front of the screen were the Rascals, with Cornish and Brigati standing in front, and Cavalliere and Danelli on cool circular risers. This vivid and enormous look delivered a vibe that appropriately evoked a 60’s TV show, perhaps Ed Sullivan.

The Rascals in Action

The Rascals in Action

The key to the success of OUAD lies in its pacing. None of the songs included goes much beyond three minutes and many are less than that. Because their material was tailored to the AM radio-friendly format, very little of it needed to be pared down. The show contained 30 songs over a course of two hours. Spliced with topical footage of the times (psychedelic Sgt Pepper-ish images, plenty of shots of hippie youth communing) and the narrative pieces, the presentation presses a great many memory buttons as it rolls along at a light but very entertaining clip. The shots of Central Park for “Groovin’,” were perfect, just as I had always pictured it.

The show plays up the band’s east coast New York/New Jersey roots skillfully, cutting together the live tunes with vignettes of the band and their accomplices recounting how it all came together and went down. Each member of the group sits on a chair and reminisces. In heavy accents, they told us short but intriguing stories that move the show along. Then the band played another song or two. At other times, younger actors reenacted key moments in the band’s history. The story of the count-in to “Good Lovin’,” was winsome, “Why don’t all three of youse count it in?” But, the long view is that The Rascals’ development began as an amazing covers band, moving into interpreting songs written just for them, and finally testing their wings writing their own tunes with huge success.

We learned that Felix Cavaliere had already been a college student when he hit the east coast bar band club circuit, that guitarist Gene Cornish was hugely influenced by rockabilly cats like Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore and James Burton. Drummer Dino Danelli winsomely recalls how, at age fifteen, he would sneak into clubs and watch drumming legends like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. He was actually allowed to live at one of these clubs for a while. And we also learn of singer Eddie Brigati’s bizarre route into the Rascals, including singing on a hit record with his brother Dave in Joey Dee and the Starliters, being shot by his brother Dave as a kid, routinely upstaging other singers on the circuit by singing convincingly “black,” and entering a three day coma after a traffic accident – as legend has it, all he remembered was how to sing the Rascals repertoire of covers.  We even learned that in 1963 the Beatles opened for them in Sweden, when both bands were in the business of playing “blue-eyed soul” (white guys playing black music-soul and R&B).

The Rascals in Rehearsal

The Rascals in Rehearsal

On Thursday night you couldn’t help but be impressed with how many of these songs were just instantly recognizable. If any band provided a running soundtrack to American popular culture between 1965 and 1970, it would have to be the Rascals as they became a prominent voice of the Love Generation. They were four enormously talented guys making great music and developing as young men in some of the more intense times this country has seen.

The band’s songs were ubiquitous on the radio then, on a level with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the show points out that the Rascals were not finished off by the British Invasion.  The Brits’ success with their own music actually opened the door for bands like the Rascals to do the same.

Many of the most memorable songs were ones that they wrote. Gems like “Lonely Too Long,” “You Better Run,” “See,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “It’s A Beautiful Morning,” and “People got to Be Free,” transported us all back to where we were when they were current. The footage was icing on the cake.

Though they were classified as blue-eyed soul, it was not that simple with the Rascals. They looked white but they were first generation Americans of Italian descent. As kids, they and their families had experienced the humiliation and injustice that come with the prejudice often directed at immigrants. This was nothing like Pat Boone covering Little Richard. They had a large black and white fan base, and it was band policy to make sure that their shows also featured top-notch black acts from the local area of each gig.

If you try to put your finger on what it is about any Rascals’ tune that gets you, it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. Vocally, Brigati and Cavaliere had something tremendously unique, and combined with the Hammond organ sound it was usually perfection. Cornish’s guitar parts were deceptively great, serving up power and subtle dynamics in the right measures for hit after hit. Danelli’s drumming, busy as it may get at times, is remarkable for the expression and clarity he gets from a light touch. It’s never cluttered.  He certainly learned from watching the masters.

Once Upon A Dream confirms that The Rascals’ music was and still is a truly special blend of the best elements of soul singing, gospel, rock ‘n roll, and pop. Their MO was to capture a vibe and build it into a 3-minute radio-ready send-up that would become timeless. When you hear their songs, you still remember to listen for those special hooks. Uncanny.

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


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 Music: Americanarama with Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Ryan Bingham at the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre

August 13, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Denver, Colorado. I caught the Americanarama tour in Englewood, CO while on a road trip last week.   I’m not so sure that the bands on the tour ( My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Bob Dylan and Ryan Bingham) are truly representative of the burgeoning Americana genre.   But if you get a chance to see Wilco and My Morning Jacket on the same bill, you should definitely make plans to get there no matter what it’s being called.  To see them open for Bob Dylan, yes, even better, go for it.

Because the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre is in the middle of a large business park in the Denver suburbs, the show had to begin at 5 o’clock.   At that time the mile high sun was shining full bore.   Five and a half hours later the show rolled through the finish line as Dylan closed his set.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is obviously one of the most compelling personalities there has ever been in American popular music.   And you could certainly make the case that he was one of the first Americana artists ever, as he has always fused blues, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, and country into his own uniquely American blend of music.

Dylan, however, has never made it too easy on his fans in terms of playing live.  He is famous for muttering his lyrics, changing the basic feel of his most popular songs from their recorded form, and challenging his audience to actually recognize the songs he’s playing.   None of this changed Wednesday. Much of the new material he chose is sharp and charged, but it’s also gruff…and hence, all the more difficult to decipher.   Even the old songs were so unrecognizable that singing along with “Tangled Up in Blue,” or “Desolation Row” just wasn’t going to be possible.

The presentation seemed to be compelling for reasons that had little to do with Dylan, himself.   Onstage the whole band, in matching white coats and black slacks, was lit like they were playing in a dark, shoe-box-shaped lounge.   This stage setup was a clever one.  There were old time spotlights propped up on tall stands and others were suspended above the band, casting shadows everywhere and making the band appear rather distant.   A huge pyramidal glass-enclosed torch, like the ones we see in outdoor restaurants, was there to quite effectively suggest flickering candles.  A curved curtain behind the backline was lit to mimic crushed velvet or cobbles to develop the intimate nightclub vibe.

Oddly enough, Dylan himself didn’t even pick up a guitar (!), just singing with his hand on his hip and occasionally sitting down to pound the piano or leaning into the mic for a harmonica solo.   His limitations as a harmonica player do stand out when they aren’t contrasted with his guitar strumming.  While the band included a fine bunch of players, they didn’t make much of an effort to project what they were doing to an audience of thousands, leaving that to Bob, who assumed the position of front man.  But he didn’t say one word to the crowd he was headlining for.  And throughout the set, people who had come to see Wilco and My Morning Jacket did start peeling out into the Colorado night.

Wilco came on stage while the sun was still blasting ¾ of the audience.   I had been cowering in the shadows of the seats closer to the stage…yes, I snuck up to stay in the shade…but I took my place in the sun for Wilco.   Half way through their set, the reliable Colorado afternoon weather kicked in and showered us for about ten or fifteen glorious minutes.   There is nothing more refreshing than summer rain on your scalp! Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy called the ensuing double rainbow, “Stupid,” …just before he suggested they would come back again to play beneath a “full on double rainbow.”

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy

Tweedy and company put on a fine, if streamlined, show.   They took us into and developed several different grooves, from ambling folk/rock like “Hansdhake Drugs” to blistering rock riffs and other more country-focused tunes like “Hesitating Beauty,” and “Jesus, Etc.”  They blended styles with an ease and balance that put them near the very top of this new genre.   Wilco are a band who have been doing it a long time and that’s why they sound as polished and dynamic as they do.  Nels Cline’s Fender Jazzmaster had a warm distorted bite that allowed his quick flurries to stand out above the mix.  This is key for a lead guitar tone when the rest of the mix includes two other guitars and keyboards.  And it’s always a welcome detail when the bass lines are as engaging as John Stirratt’s were coming from deep in the pocket.

Wilco had a lot of different motions in their sound from song to song.   Keeping all of this as balanced live as they did on songs like “Muzzle of Bees,” and “Solitaire” really is a delicate art and they didn’t let the seams show onstage.  They also lay down a slow introspective vibe with a soft touch on songs like “Misunderstood.”   At any moment Wilco like to turn on a dime and lurch from soft to heavy.  The dynamics of expansion and contraction in a well-written song are what get a band like Wilco over the rainbow on stage regularly.

My Morning Jacket hit the stage in blinding, blistering sunshine.  It’s definitely a bit of a handicap for any band to have to engage the crowd while they both cope with the ongoing distraction of bright, hot sunshine.  I snuck into the shady seats and totally dug their set.  Most impressive was the fact that lead guitarist Carl Broemel was multi-instrumental, switching off between several gorgeous Gretsch guitars, pedal steel guitar and soprano sax.   There was another sax on the opposite side of the stage that wasn’t played but MMJ’s versatility is a fine thing.   Like Wilco, they also love to blend acoustic and electric guitars together live.

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket

Being near the beginning of a long bill, MMJ had time constraints that reined them in a bit, but it was obvious that they could have run with it and glided way up there in the updraft if they’d had the time.   They are a band that has been known to play for four hours at a time and stretching out is something they do beautifully. My Morning Jacket were certainly the most psychedelic sounding act on the bill, using a lot of delay on their guitars and reverb on the vocals to create some extra atmosphere.  Tunes like “First Light” rocked hard, but there was plenty of room for them to soar when they opened it out.  Others like “The Way That He Sings,” caught a super pretty vibe with the right blend of guitars, tempo, vocal harmony, and Mellotron.  This was the sort of song that sounds so good on first listen you feel you must have heard it before.  Isn’t that one of the biggest payoffs for a songwriter?

When a tour of several big-time, basically headlining acts with growing career arcs of their own join together for a tour like this, beautiful new bonds can be established between them.  Everyone’s catalogue is established for the fans, and jamming and guest appearances in each other’s sets should be an added bonus for the bands and the audience.  There was a lot of this going on with Bingham, My Morning Jacket and Wilco and that was a lot of fun to see.   John Oates (Hall and Oates!?!) joined MMJ for an extended version of the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” and Ryan Bingham joined all of them for a rocking version of “Baby, Don’t Do It.”  Similarly, several of the guys in MMJ and Bingham again came on to join Wilco in a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.

It was a long show, well worth enduring the time constraints and bright sunlight.  But I’m still not sure why they ever decided to put a nice concert facility like the Fiddler’s Green smack dab in the middle of a business park.   I suppose it goes to show that the guys with the money don’t always know what they’re doing with it.

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


Live Jazz: Geoffrey Keezer at Vitello’s

July 28, 2013

By Don Heckman

Grammmy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer showcased his impressive solo talents at Vitello’s Friday night for an enthusiastic, overflow crowd sparkling with the presence of such stellar  music world listeners as Chris Botti, Billy Childs, Bobby Colomby, John Proulx, Mike Lang, Denise Donatelli, Mark Winkler and others.

Seemingly inspired by his audience, Keezer offered a far-ranging set of music, chosen from jazz, pop and folk sources. In his first solo performance in more than a decade, he celebrated the release of his latest album, also a solo effort, Heart of the Piano.

The piano is often described as a complete orchestra in itself, and Keezer clearly had that perspective in mind as he roved, adventurously, through one richly textured, rhythmically alive improvisation after another.  His program reached from tunes by Stevie Wonder, Alanis Morrisette, Peter Gabriel and Rush to Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter and Christian McBride.

Geoffrey Keezer

Geoffrey Keezer

That’s a challenging collection of musical stimuli, and Keezer responded to it with a full-bodied expression of his creative imagination.  At times, his mastery of the piano, driven by fast, busy fingers, called up aural images of Shostakovich and Bartok.  At other times, he dug into his jazz roots, moving easily into alternating passages touching on everything from stride to bebop.  And Keezer did so with ease, investing the jazz segments with an irresistible sense of swing.

He was especially compelling on a pair of works that triggered rich, emotional interpretations – Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the Robert Burns/traditional tune “My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose” (inspired, Keezer said, by the Eva Cassidy version, and which he dedicated to his wife Susan).

Billy Martinez

Billy Martinez

Keezer climaxed  his performance with an improvisational duet with artist Billy Martinez, who painted on several tall canvas panels, as Keezer played.  While it was unclear if either artist was leading the way, they nonetheless seemed inspired by each other as they interacted in completely spontaneous fashion.  Searching together, they often found fascinating, common creative ground.

The only uncertain moments in this otherwise memorable musical evening, came when Keezer leaned a bit too strongly in the direction of the piano as an orchestra.  While these passages were stunning displays of his virtuosic improvisational skills, one also wished to hear more of Keezer’s gift for melodic lyricism.

G

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That said, his solo piano playing deserves a wider hearing.  If you weren’t in the crowd for Friday night’s concert, most of the pieces Keezer played can be found in the CD that inspired the performance, Heart of the Piano.  Don’t miss it.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Noa at the American Jewish University

June 20, 2013

By Don Heckman

Bel Air.  Israeli singer/songwriter Noa was back in L.A. this week.  Which was great news to the full house crowd that showed up Tuesday night for her appearance at the American Jewish University.

In an expansion of the performance she gave at Royce Hall early last year, Noa – who is known in Israel as Achinoam Nini – was accompanied by her long time musical companion, guitarist/composer/arranger Gil Dor, a string quartet and a percussionist.  The rich textured string quartet sounds and surging rhythms provided an appropriately far-ranging backdrop for Noa’s vocals, which can best be described as extraordinary.

Noa

Noa

Singing with ease in languages reaching from Italian and English to Hebrew and Yemenite Jewish, she also displayed strikingly authentic vocalizing in styles embracing traditional music, songs from the Israeli Songbook, selections from a musical about Pope John Paul II, a virtuosic, operatic-like aria based on children’s songs, several compelling works by Noa and Dor, and an  all-join-in climactic version of “Shalom-Shalom.”

As if all that wasn’t enough, Noa also played various Middle Eastern percussion instruments with skill and fluidity, including one song in which she accompanied herself with the traditional Yemen instrument – a large, empty oil can.  Add to that the warmth she communicated in her songs and in her narrative, often humorous connections with her listeners, as well as her graceful, balletic movements, bringing a mesmerizing sense of musical intimacy to everything she sang.

She was immensely aided by the creative presence of Dor, who has been a close partner for more than twenty years.  Remaining modestly in the background for much of the time, Dor’s subtle guitar accompaniment provided an exquisite gold setting for the precious jewels of Noa’s vocal interpretations.

Gil Dor

Gil Dor

Dor was, in addition, responsible for the superbly crafted string quartet arrangements.  Written with the skill of an orchestrator who understands the subtle demands and deeply colorful potential of string quartet instrumentation, Dor’s settings – like his guitar work – revealed a thorough understanding of the full creative extent of Noa’s singing.

Noa has gained considerable visibility for her outspoken opinions as an activist for Middle Eastern peace.  She has regularly supported those views in her music and in performances with artists from other areas of the Middle East.

Ultimately, however, it is her remarkable art that defines Noa and her views.  And in this concert – as in so many of her concerts – her art was on full display, gifting her enthusiastic listeners with an evening overflowing with memorable moments.


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 Music (and More): Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion at the Greek Theatre

June 11, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night Garrison Keillor and the cast of A Prairie Home Companion descended upon the Greek Theater ostensibly to record the latest installment of their delightfully entertaining radio show for public radio.    It was a beautiful evening as the sun started to set over Griffith Park.   You couldn’t imagine a more intimate feeling in a gathering of thousands.

As I headed to my seat, there seemed to be some commotion in front of me…and this was because Keillor had made his entrance by sauntering up in song from the stage and arriving all the way at the top of the theatre to savor the view.

A Prairie Home Companion is a unique slice of radio entertainment these days.  The show’s format is a throwback to old time radio variety shows.   It relies on the engaging voices of its host and cast to bring cleverly worded scripts to warm life.  True to the old radio tradition, listeners can’t help but let their imagination run with it to concoct their own vision of what they hear.   That’s a lost art in these times of nonstop video gratification. But the sound of it was vintage radio, even with the modern references.   How would it be with no need to imagine the proceedings?  I’m happy to say the results were thoroughly entertaining.

The Cast of A Prairie Home Companion

The rear of the stage had, naturally, a life size façade of a narrow two-story Minnesota prairie style house, as well as the logos of several of the mock sponsors of the show.    The 7-piece Shoe band, led by pianist Rich Dworsky and guitarist Pat Donohue, sat in several layers in front of the house.  Whether they were featured or setting up the atmosphere with background music, their blend of jazz, folk, and boogie was a perfect fit with the rest of the program.

To the side of the stage we had the fascinating table of gizmos and knick-knacks that Fred Farrell uses for sound effects.   His crop duster impression was perfection, as were his one-man cocktail party, flushing toilets, breaking branches (Styrofoam plate) and flapping wings.  Next to Farrell stood Tim Russell and Sue Scott.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

At center stage there was Garrison Keillor, moving the whole thing along so very smoothly.  The guests for the night included Martin Sheen reading scripted characters, Lily Tomlin reading scripts and making conversation, Paula Poundstone doing standup and also reading scripts and conversing.

It’s fun to watch actors and comedy artists do something formatted like reading a radio script as you can see their personalities leap forth while they read.  Ah, the lost art of simply reading aloud with panache.   Lily Tomlin got to deliver the line, conversationally, “What is reality but a collective hunch?” and Tim Russell got on a roll with his impressions of George W. Bush, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, and even Henry Kissinger.

The musical guests included semi-regular PHC members, the singing sisters Jearlynn and Jevetta Steele.   They gave the music a gospel feel when they sang, very up beat and just as joyous.  Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work, performed solo.  He is an engaging storyteller, a man with different guitar for each song, and he has a big, rich voice.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard “Overkill,” but I remembered how good the lyrics were when I first heard them.

Between the skits, monologues, musical numbers, and mock ads, one becomes aware that there is a prodigious amount of material and coordination that goes into putting these shows together on a weekly basis.   Whoa!   In one monologue Keillor told us about the descent into LAX and filled us in on fine details of places like Whittier, Southgate, and who is buried in the Inglewood Cemetery.  Speeches like this take a fair amount of research every week.

There was so much beautiful rhyme woven into the night’s dialogue.   It was also there in the lyrics of the songs, the ads, and even in a touching poem that Keillor wrote for a neighbor’s cat (“they are God’s beauty”).   Well, the show was sponsored by P.O.E.M (the Professional Organization of English Majors).

"The Adventures of Guy Noir"

“The Adventures of Guy Noir”

No PHC show would be complete without an episode of Guy Noir, private eye.  This installment featured erudite flirtations between Keillor and Tomlin, plenty of alliteration, and an amusing dissection of the lyrics to doo wop songs like “Who Put The Bomp,” and “Who Wrote The Book Of Love.”   The actors were clearly enjoying the humor in the written words and riffing a bit with it, too.

During this two and a half hours show there were a whole lot of ideas touched upon.  Many times we noticed how little time it took to get a pretty deep observation about people over to the audience.  Near the end of the show Keilor told us about the time he was asked to give the commencement speech at his high school.  He went on to describe how he didn’t speak about the lifelong bonds that we make with people from our youth (that they are our tribe), but about instead about success.   It turned into a heartfelt reminiscence of his youth — and then the principal mentioned how hard it is to get a good graduation speaker.

But I’m guessing Garrison Keillor actually gave a great speech at Lake Wobegon High School.

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Photos courtesy of the Prairie Home Companion.

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


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