Irish Tales I: “Alive Alive-O”

April 22, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

There she stands with her cart, sweet Molly Malone, just below the intense shopping of Dublin’s Grafton Street. She’s selling cockles (whatever they are) and mussels and she is delightfully well endowed. Perhaps that’s why the locals sometimes call her “the tart with a cart” and her bosoms have been polished to a whole different sheen than the rest of the statue — by what?

Molly Malone

Molly Malone

Oh well, one shouldn’t think bad thoughts. I think there’s an Italian saying to that effect.

Immortalized in song Molly is. Yet many of us miss that last verse where she dies “of a fever and no one could save her.” It was a cholera epidemic, the sadness of Molly’s life in a country where sadness seems so much a part of its history. Perhaps that’s why ’tis so easy to find a smile and a kind word there. Don’t cost nothin’. Be grateful for a good day.

Lots of Irish songs are sad. Chesterton wrote that “all their wars were merry and all their songs were sad.” Neither side of that equation is completely true but it makes a point about Ireland and the Irish.
And Irish songs on the whole tell a story. Often an historical one, frequently a hysterical one. Ever hear the one about the value of a rooster in getting hens to lay?

Feeding the swans in St. Stephens Green

So you have this musical/poetry tradition but what do you get on Irish radio? Uh, Whitney Houston and Tony Bennett and here come the Eagles. Musical drones blasting away the native habitat. It seems like a kind of cultural imperialism — a reason to not exactly hate us Yanks but maybe resent the hell out of us. Yet the Irish are so welcoming and they do seem to like our music. American pop is worldwide.

Maybe it’s why the Stones can draw huge crowds to a show in Abu Dhabi or Tokyo. I know, I know the Stones are Brit by birth, so stay calm and carry on but don’t most of them live in the States by now? And where do those blues tunes come from?

River Liffey flows to the sea.

So you get used to Irish radio stations that sound like American oldies broadcasts.

It’s television that’s the real horror. It’s bad enough that “Two and a Half Men” plays endlessly. The Sheen episodes are occasionally funny and the show has the redeeming quality of ceaseless crudity and bad taste.

But “King of Queens”!!! Never funny, never and endless promotion of the American male as emasculated twerp.

Then throw in the episodes of “Law & Order” that are so old that the lead detective has passed away. CSI and other letter shows to boot.

It’s enough to make you apologize to every Irishman you meet. Except I think they might watch the stuff.

Two differences though.

In Irish pubs from Dublin to the West at least a couple nights a week you can go hear the music of the country, old and new, played by talented local musicians and gifted singers. Kath and I were just usually too tired after a day of trying to walk across Dublin without passing a pub — Bloom doubted it could be done — to do much after dinner but read a bit and nod off.

Second difference: we were in two Irish homes during our stay and in neither one was the telly turned on.

Ah, it’s like the Irish to wage guerilla war against an oppressor.

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Photos by Kathy Arsenault.

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

 

 

 

 

 


Picks of the Week: Feb. 5 – 10

February 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles 

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

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

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

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

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

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

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

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

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

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

San Francisco

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

Washington D.C.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman

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

New York City

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

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

Paris

Marianne Faithfull

Marianne Faithfull

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

Copenhagen

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

Milan

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

Tokyo

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander

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

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


Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

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

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

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry


Live Music: Judy Collins at the Valley Performing Arts Center

December 23, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. Judy Collins was back in town Friday night for her second major Southland appearance in less than a year.   This time, she was performing at CSUN’s beautiful almost-new Valley Performing Arts Center.

Once again, her performance was a virtual spoken memoir with songs.  Collins’ musical and personal history has taken her through some of the most fascinating eras and compelling personalities in the history of 20th century music.  And the full house crowd signaled their approval of her many songs and tales with repeated, enthusiastic applause.

Garbed in a svelte, white silk gown for her opening set, her pure white hair flowing freely, she accompanied herself on 12-string guitar along with the piano backing of her music director, Russell Walden.  In the second half, she emerged wearing a black tights outfit and headed straight to the piano, accompanying herself for the balance of the show.

J

Her manner, her appearance and the selection of material underscored the stylistic diversity of Collins’ art, as both an interpreter and a songwriter. At 73, her voice is still a warmly expressive instrument, fully capable of roaming convincingly through a range of fascinating musical byways.

She sang John Denver songs – “Rocky Mountain High” and “Country Roads” among them – tapping easily into their country/folk roots.

From there she moved into more eclectic territory: Jacques Brel’s “Sons Of,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns,” Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and – surprisingly – “Over the Rainbow.”

Between songs, Collins was an engaging raconteur.  She described a night in the ‘60s, when she heard Bob Dylan writing “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  She briefly recalled the relationship with Stephen Stills that resulted in the songs “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes” and “Helplessly Hoping.  And she joked about the first time she saw Cohen, deciding that he looked so attractive that it didn’t matter whether he wrote great songs or not.

She also included several of her own songs, noting how much her songwriting had been encouraged by Cohen.  And she performed, with passionate intensity, one of her best known originals – “My Father.”

And there was more, much of it recalling the transformative late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Whether Collins was reminiscing about a past relationship or joking about the era – “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there” – she was an engaging performer, bringing her songs and stories vividly to life in another one of her memorable appearances.


Live Music: Mary Black at The Strand in Rockland, Maine

November 11, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

Rockland, Maine.  This short USA tour by Mary Black and her terrific band and daughter made the warm evening of Irish music even more special on a cold  Maine November night at The Strand. Winter’s not here but trying, as a show at another venue the prior evening was cancelled due to slippery roads.

Mary Black

It is not for any single song, I think, that people come to hear Mary, but rather the  way you are wrapped in a fine soft shawl of song and poetry that keeps the chill from your soul. Her distinctive clear voice moves smoothly over various music genres from traditional Irish to up-tempo jazz, yes jazz, returning always to the Irish folk that makes the room cozy for all.

The Goddess Fortuna, a well known bitch who sometimes favors mortals, may have short changed the Irish on land and wealth, but she was generous in the awarding of fine voices.

The show was opened by Roisin O’Reilly  (pronounced ra-sheen, sort of), Mary Black’s daughter (though she didn’t tell the audience that till near the end).  This is yet another amazing voice, pitched higher (younger?) than Mary’s but equally clear and affecting.

It may have been dark in the theater but one sensed a tear or two or twenty during Roisin’s rendition of “Caledonia.”  A few intimates of this music sang along quietly.

Roisin also did a Joni Mitchell song – one I didn’t know particularly — saying that she didn’t know if she was up to it. Her voice has much of a young Joni in it and she did just fine.

Mary Black followed her to the stage for two generous sets of her songs old and new.

Highlights from her newest album, Stories From the Steeples, included:

“Faith In Fate,” a sad love song (do the Irish do any others?) written by her son Danny O’Reilly.

“Mountains to the Sea,” a celebration and lamentation of the gypsy life of a musician on the road.

“Marguerite and the Gambler,” a sad tale (do the Irish do any others?) of a father’s wrath destroying the daughter he wishes to protect from her rogue of a lover.

Older songs were interspersed.  “Saw You Running” was among the audience favorites.  Actually, there wasn’t much of anything that wasn’t an audience favorite.

Like I said, though, it is the totality of the warmth and affection Mary Black brings to the stage and weaves through the audience that really defines her performance.

And that band.  The tour band is basically the band on Stories from the Steeples: Bill Shanley playing superb guitar that can softly support Mary’s voice and jump to a snappy lead; Pat Crowley making us see what a fine instrument the accordion can be when he wasn’t playing a Hammond Organ; Ritchie Buckley snatching up various saxophones to cut in just right; and Nick Scott and Liam Bradley, a fine rhythm section. Mary let them cut loose with some solos near the end and you almost wish there’d been more.

A quick word about the venue. The Strand is a beautifully restored version of a movie house/theater of a type that was once common in America.  There were once “Strands” all over the country and a few have been well cared for.  None probably better renovated than Rockland’s, with a spacious lobby, downstairs restrooms on carpeted stairs and seating that includes a true balcony and seems to have the original appointments.

When The Strand first opened in 1923 the first film shown was My Wild Irish Rose. For this wild Irish rose, the crowd stood more than once for an ovation and of course called Mary et al back for an encore. No one walked home cold.

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


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