Picks of the Week: Sept. 4 – 8

September 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s a light, holiday week, with 100-plus temperatures here in L.A.  But there’s still some very fine music to hear in various parts of the world.

Los Angeles

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

- Sept. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove has appeared frequently with his big band lately. But this time he fronts a straight-ahead quintet, showcasing his fine solo work. Catalina Bar and Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 4. (Wed.) Bruce Forman Quartet. Guitarist, novelist and educator Forman, a true multi-hyphenate, takes a break from his many activities to do a live performance. Don’t miss it. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 6. (Fri.) Richie Cole Quartet. Bebop is always on the loose when alto saxophonist is in the room. And especially so when he’s backed by the propulsive backing of pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dick Weller. Jazz at the Radisson Hotel.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

- Sept. 6 & 7. (Fri.& Sat.) The Blue Man Group. The musically and visually eccentric members of the Blue Man Group have brought a new supply of unique instruments to an evening of new music with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 8. (Sun.) ABBA Fest. A non-stop evening of music by the hit-making Swedish band. First, via a competition of collegiate a cappella Abba groups; second via a performance by the great tribute band ABBA, the Concert. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

ABBA Fest

ABBA Fest

San Francisco

- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.). Terence Blanchard is always in search of new musical adventures. This time out, his Sextet features saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and and African jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke. SFJAZZ. The SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium.  (415) 398-5655.

Seattle

- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs., – Sun.) Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House Reunion Band. Guitarist Coryell revives the music of the fusion band he led in the’70s. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Washington, D.C.

- Sept. 6 – 8. (Fri. – Sun.) Patricia Barber. Singer/pianist Barber continues her quest to find new creative ways to approach the songs of the Great American Songbook. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- Sept. 4. (Wed.) J.D. Walter. Jazz Standard. Walter is a singer who prefers to take adventurous musical pathways… which may explain why he hasn’t yet received the attention his singing deserves. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Cassandra Wilson- Sept. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.) Cassandra Wilson. The jazz vocal genre has largely been dominated lately by fast-arriving young female artists. But Wilson continues to be a pathfinder with her own inimitable style. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

- Sept. 7. (Sat.) Barbara Carroll. She was described in 1947 by Leonard Feather as the “first girl to play bebop piano.” And, at 88, she’s still going strong, performing here in duo with bassist Jay Leonhart. Birdland. http://www.birdlandjazz.com/event/350551-barbara-carroll-new-york (212) 581-3080.

Berlin

- Sept. 4 – 7. (Wed. – Sat.) Sommerwochenkonzert. Don Grusin and Chuck Loeb. Keyboardist Grusin and guitarist Loeb display their easygoing blend of mainstream and crossover jazz genres.. A-Trane.  +49 30 3132 ext. 550.

Copenhagen

- Sept. 6 – 7. (Fri. & Sat.) Dado Moroni, Reuben Rodgers, Alex Riel. The Art of the Trio. Italian jazz pianist Moroni has been delivering his authentic jazz perspectives since the ’80s. He’s backed here by American bassist Rodgers and Danish drummer Alex Riel. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

- Sept. 3 – 5. (Tues. – Thurs.) Bob James & David Sanborn. James and Sanborn have pioneered their swinging versions of contemporary jazz fusion and crossover for decades – and doing it in memorable fashion. They’re accompanied on this tour by the equally imaginative drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

Gregory Porter

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- Sept. 6. (Fri.) Gregory Porter. At a time when the distaff side has been dominating most of the newly released jazz recordings, the warm baritone of Porter has been bringing impressive new interpretations to the the world of jazz vocalizing. Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.


Live Music: Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 2013 jazz season at the Hollywood Bowl reached a peak Wednesday night with an 80th birthday celebration for saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The participants featured, of course, Shorter himself, playing in duo with his close friend and creative associate Herbie Hancock, with his own quartet, and with the woodwind ensemble the Imani Winds. Other performers included the Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet and the trio A.C.S. (with pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding).

Shorter himself did not actually arrive on stage, however, until the program was well underway. His connection with the opening act — the Lovano/Douglas quintet — seemed elusive, despite the fact that the band has reportedly been influenced by Shorter.  In fact, the seemingly random improvising that was a prominent element in the Lovano/Douglas set often leaned more in the direction of the wide open free jazz ’60s style associated with Ornette Coleman.  Although it was delivered with considerable skill, it often displayed more technical virtuosity than inventive imagination.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

One of the evening’s creative highlights actually traced to the Hancock/Shorter duo, with Shorter playing soprano saxophone. Very much in the mold of the duet performances and recordings they explored two decades ago, the playing had the inventive flow of symbiotic improvising. Too bad more time wasn’t allocated for the always musically fascinating encounters between these two gifted players.

The A.C.S trio took a somewhat more straight ahead jazz approach than the Lovano/Douglas group. But the improvising was no less ebullient, with Allen’s soaring piano lines underscored by the propulsive bass of Spalding and the irresistibly dynamic percussion of Carrington.

Shorter had two more principal appearances after his duo segment with Hancock. Each had its own appeal. The first was illuminated by the highly engaging, compatible interaction between Shorter’s ever-adventurous playing and the spontaneous responses from the group he’s worked with frequently in recent years: pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

The second showcased another aspect of Shorter’s far-ranging creative skills via the selections he composed for the Imani Winds woodwind quintet. Here, too, the evening provided yet another perspective of Shorter’s iconic status as one of the most gifted members of his jazz generation.

What was missing from Shorter’s 80th birthday celebration, however, was any on-stage acknowledgment of the event. Grant the fact that it was a pleasure to see and hear Shorter’s still potent musical artistry in action. But why couldn’t the production of the program also have included a host – possibly a celebrity host – with a thorough introduction of Shorter’s long career and superb accomplishments.

And, too, there could have been something acknowledging the birthday and providing an opportunity for the more than 8,000 audience members to share the celebration. A singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Wayne? Why not? I’m guessing Shorter would have enjoyed it immensely, especially if the musical accompaniment had been led by Hancock’s always imaginative piano playing.

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Photos courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl.


Live Blues: Buddy Guy, the Funky Meters and Quinn Sullivan at the Hollywood Bowl

August 23, 2013

By Michael Katz

Hollywood, CA. “I’m 74 years young,” sings Buddy Guy, “and there ain’t nothin’ I haven’t done.” After a few verses, Buddy admits to being 77, but the extra few years haven’t diminished anything, most importantly his ability to engage an audience. Dressed in his trademark polka dot shirt, Guy’s voice is clear and his tone assured. His fingers are nimble, whether picking out Delta blues or raging through fiery Chicago licks. Most of all, he is a great story teller, modulating his performance to suit his mood, carefully controlling the thermostat. While so many other players start out at a high volume and never let up, Buddy Guy has moments when you can hear a pin drop. He stands at the front of the stage, the blues guitar resonating, at first quietly, then insistently, growling out some of the classic lines:

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Got a few good tricks up my sleeve
I know everything that a good woman needs
I show respect and I treat ‘em right
They all keep coming back night after night

When it come to loving, I ain’t never done
I’m 74 years young.”

Buddy had lots of help Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. His band featured Marty Sammon on keyboards, parlaying a strong right hand into some wonderful honky-tonk rhythms. Tim Austin commanded the drums and Orlando Wright provided a steady pulse on base, while veteran Chicago bluesman Ric Hall added a terrific second blues axe. There was plenty of familiar material, beginning with “I Got The Blues,” after which Guy proceeded to march into the crowd, to the delight of the box seat patrons. If there was any justice in the world he would have made it into the Bowl’s upper reaches, but I suppose if there was justice, we wouldn’t have the blues.

There was an extended version of “Five Long Years,”  with Guy alternating lightning blues licks with the plaintive lyrics. (“Lord I work five long years for one woman, And she had the nerve to kick me out…Lord, have you ever been mistreated?”)

Somewhere in that scenario was a segue to “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” which seemed completely appropriate. Then there was a bow to Buddy’s newest double CD, Rhythm and Blues, with the rousing “Meet Me In Chicago.” As a native Chicagoan, I want to salute the courage of guitarist Ric Hall, who wore a White Sox jersey throughout the evening. Given the team’s current rate of deconstruction, he was lucky to make it through the show without being traded for a player to be named later.

There is something magnetic about Buddy Guy’s blues playing. He’s come from the fields of Louisiana, through the South Side of Chicago, and there he is on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, the crowd top heavy with expensive box seat patrons. But he reaches out to everyone, whether nodding to Jimi Hendrix or celebrating his own classics, including “Hoochie Coochie Man” and variations on “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Always there is a laconic, if sometimes profane, sense of humor. (Though he admitted, compared to hip hop, his lyrics are almost tame.)

Quinn Sullivan

Quinn Sullivan

Late in the concert, tweener phenom Quinn Sullivan joined the band with “Getting There,” from his own album. I hope it isn’t damning Sullivan with faint praise to say that he is pretty good for a 14 year-old. The kid really does have some chops. He seems more at home in the Clapton/Hendrix camp, but then you can’t really expect him to be singing, “I gotta job in a steel mill, I been shucking steel like a slave.” (Unless he moves to China). He’s been performing with Guy and other blues pros for several years now, and it is good for the music to have an exciting young talent out front.

The Funky Meters

The Funky Meters

The evening opened with a fine set by the Funky Meters, the latest incarnation of the Meters group that dominated recording sessions in the late sixties and seventies. Founding member Art Neville was the backbone of the group on the Hammond organ, along with fellow original George Porter Jr. on bass. Guitarist Brian Stoltz and drummer Russell Batiste Jr. rounded out the funk driven quartet. They played a combination of Meters hits like “FiYo” and “Cissy Strut” and had the crowd dancing in the aisles with the New Orleans standard “Hey Pocky Way.” Mixed into the middle of a mostly nonstop hour was a nod to Bob Dylan, with a few choruses of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

All in all, a stellar evening of funk, rhythm and blues, led by the irrepressible Buddy Guy.

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Check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available at Amazon.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.



Live Music: Tony Bennett at the Hollywood Bowl

August 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

Any night one hears Tony Bennett in action is a night to remember.  And his performance Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl was no exception, made even more memorable by the fact that it was taking place the day before his 87th birthday.

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Hearing mature artists in performance at the Bowl is not unusual.  But hearing an artist approaching 90, in complete mastery of his skills, doesn’t happen often.  And Bennett’s performance, lasting nearly an hour and a half, singing more than two dozen hits – most of them tracing to his extraordinary, multi-Grammy winning career – was an event for the memory books of the packed house, enthusiastic audience.

In fact the songs, as always in a Bennett performance, were the heart of the program.  No distractions, no complicated stage settings, no orchestra.  Only Bennett, backed superbly by the sterling accompaniment of pianist/music director Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Harold Jones, singing a collection of great song classics magnificently.

Tony Bennett with Lee Musiker, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood and Harold Jones

Tony Bennett with Lee Musiker, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood and Harold Jones

Bennett, like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat “King” Cole and others, came to maturity as a musical artist at a time when popular music meant the classics – from Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern and other song-writing giants – of the Great American Songbook.

But the key aspect of any Bennett appearance, including this one, traces to his remarkable ability to combine the warmth and intimacy of his rich, baritone voice with his utterly convincing musical storytelling.  Whether he was singing upbeat songs such as “Watch What Happens” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” or darker musical tales such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or “Who Can I Turn To,” Bennett displayed his masterful capacity to reach into the deepest heart of a song.  And that quality was present whether he was singing such unlikely tunes as Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” or such familiar Bennett hits as “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or “The Good Life.”

Tony and Antonia Bennett with bassist Marshall Wood

Tony and Antonia Bennett with bassist Marshall Wood and a birthday cake

The musical pleasures of the evening wound up with anther familiar song,  “Happy Birthday,” offered by the audience in an all-join-in interpretation led by Bennett’s daughter, Antonia Bennett.  A jazz oriented singer in her own right, she had thoroughly revealed her excellent musical legacy by opening the evening with her versions of Songbook classics ranging from “Too Marvelous” to “From This Moment On.”

Call the evening a memorable performance by a veteran musical artist still very much at the peak of his powers.  Whatever elixir – or vitamins — Tony Bennett is taking these days should be made universally available.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Dr. John, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Brunious Celebrate the Life and Music of Louis Armstrong at the Hollywood Bowl

August 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

The first cold night of the summer at the Hollywood Bowl made for a chilly celebration last Wednesday of the life and music of Louis Armstrong.  Fortunately, with Dr. John, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Blind Boys From Alabama and an all-star line-up of jazz trumpeters there was plenty of heat on stage, much of it reaching out into a near capacity crowd of enthusiastic listeners.

Focusing on Armstrong, less than a week before what would have been his 103rd birthday was an appropriate choice for the third event in the Bowl’s summer jazz schedule.

Dr. John and drummer Reggie Jackson

Dr. John and drummer Reggie Jackson

As one of the principal headliners, Dr. John was at the center of the rhythm section for virtually the entire program. And there’s no denying the New Orleans essence of both his inimitable singing and the funk-driven rhythms of his piano playing.

He was matched on several tunes, note for note and groove for groove, by the equally incomparable vocalizing of Dee Dee Bridgewater.  Bringing her stylish swing and stage-dominating persona to tunes such as “Blues in the Night” and “The Nearness of You,” she provided some of the evening’s most illuminating jazz moments.

Dr. John and Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dr. John and Dee Dee Bridgewater

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

And it was equally fitting that many of the highlights of the performance were provided by a stellar group of trumpeters: Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Brunious.

Each, in his own unique way, illustrated the influence that Armstrong had upon his playing, from the bop roots of Blanchard and Payton, the versatile style of the veteran Belgrave and the New Orleans authenticity of Brunious to the Latin jazz high notes of Sandoval (who, on one number, also found his way to the percussion section).

Intriguing in a very different way, the Blind Boys of Alabama offered their gospel driven harmonies and foot-tapping rhythms to every note they sang.

One might have hoped for a more direct connection with Armstrong – in both song selection and interpretation.  But memories of Satchmo are so strong that his presence coursed through the program, enhanced by the affection that was constantly expressed by each of this evening’s gifted artists.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Herb Alpert, Lani Hall and Sergio Mendes at the Hollywood Bowl

July 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 2013 summer season of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl clicked into place Wednesday night with the performances of Herb Alpert, Lani Hall and Sergio Mendes.

Alpert and Hall, in particular, offered a musically rich, rhythmically energetic program of material ranging across jazz classics and American Songbook standards spiced with the music of Brazil.

Although he may be best known for the establishment of the Tijuana Brass in the sixties, and for shaping it into one of the most successful groups in pop music history, Alpert has always been a determinedly jazz-focused trumpet player, as well.  And his performance at the Bowl offered an impressive recollection of the depth of his skills as a jazz artist. Add to that his similarly gifted talents as a visual artist, which were on display in the form of a large Alpert painting as a backdrop.

Bill Cantos, Lani Hall, Hussain Jiffry, Herb Alpert and Michael Shapiro

I’ve heard Alpert many times, playing impressively in many settings over the past decades.  But this time out, his opening set was a performance to remember.  Standing alongside his wife, singer Lani Hall — backed by pianist/keyboardist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro – he played with the cool,  musically imaginative aspects that have always been at the heart of who he is as a jazz improviser.  And he revealed the impressive extent of those aspects, no matter what he was playing – in songs reaching from the Tijuana Brass memories of “A Taste of Honey” to such far-ranging song classics as “Besame Mucho,” “Moondance,” “Lets Face the Music and Dance” and “La Vie En Rose.”

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

The always captivating musical presence of Hall added another convincing jazz element to the set.  The lush timbres of her voice, combined with a brisk sense of rhythm, have always been a vital part of her style, reaching back to the early ’70s.  But in recent years, Hall has become an even better musical story-teller, finding the heart of a song in all her expressively intimate performances.  And, in this concert, she did so in deeply musical, lyrically compelling readings of songs such as “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  The latter tune, in particular was interpreted by Hall with a uniquely personal rendering that reached far more deeply into the song than the jaunty, often-imitated Sinatra version.

Alpert and Hall were extremely well served by the presence of Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro.  Each is an impressive player in his own right.  But they also added a collective, even symbiotic, coming together to find an utterly memorable approach to each of the songs in their program.

Sergio Mendes Band

Sergio Mendes Band

Less can be said for the Mendes part of the evening.  Performing with an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists comparable to his Brazil 66 (etc.) ensembles, he devoted most of his set to such familiar items as “Waters of March,” Agua De Beber” and “The Look of Love.”

The Brazil 66 sound and style of the ‘60s had its appealing qualities – qualities that underscored the band’s many pop music successes.  But in an apparent effort to reach out to a broader listener demographic, Mendes added a rapper to several tunes.  And the results largely obliterated the most appealing aspects of the Brazil 66 memories.

Fortunately, Alpert, Hall and their fine accompanists had already brought jazz authenticity to the Bowl’s 2013 schedule in their opening set.  Hopefully, their world class program will represent the start of an equally memorable summer at the Hollywood Bowl for Southland jazz fans.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Live Music: Queen Latifah and Roy Ayers at the Hollywood Bowl.

July 11, 2013

By Don Heckman

Maybe the drops of rain that were scattering across the seats at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night should have been a warning.  Not that we were going to be driven away by a rare July thunderstorm.  No.  Although a few sprinkles persisted, there was no significant rainfall.

But there was a program coming on stage under the heading of the Bowl’s first jazz event for the 2013 season.  And the featured artists – soul, funk and r & b vibraphonist Roy Ayers and pop, rap, film and television star Queen Latifah – seemed almost as unlikely on a jazz program as a sprinkling of rain at the Bowl.

Roy Ayers

Roy Ayers

That’s not to say one couldn’t make a case for Ayers as a jazz artist.  With a career reaching back to the early ‘70s, he established himself as a convincing post-bop improviser who was musically receptive to the many new ideas reaching from funk and rap to house music and acid jazz.

On his Wednesday night Bowl appearance, he touched on most of those areas, doing so with high spirits and a string of powerful rhythmic grooves.  His 40 minute set included such familiar Ayers tunes as “No Strangers To Love,” “Runnin’ Away” and “Evolution.”  In total, however, his presentation appropriately set the stage for Latifah with an entertaining musical attitude that came far closer to instrumental pop than it was to jazz.

Queen Latifah’s approach was musically broader, despite the almost complete emphasis upon her singing.  Early in her program, she identified her presence on a jazz program as another one of the “crazy things I’ve decided to try.”  But, to her credit, she chose not to emphasize her modest jazz skills, instead presenting a menu of songs embracing rap, blues, pop and more.

Queen Latifa

Queen Latifa

Latifah was at her best when she kept it simple, with familiar songs such as Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You,” Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man,”  Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights” (“Corcovado”), Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and Johnny Mercer’s “Travelin’ Light.”

And, interestingly, the most appealing moments in her set took place at its end, when she was joined by the delightfully enthusiastic backing of the Soul Children of Chicago in an energetic romp through “I Know Where I’ve Been” (from Hairspray).

Did the presence of Latifah and Ayers as the headliners on the Bowl’s opening jazz program make sense?  Only in the quest to fill as many of the Bowl’s seats as possible.  But the jazz world in general, and Los Angeles specifically, are overflowing with gifted jazz artists.  Including some who have the potential to sell as many tickets as Latifah and Ayers did.

And even if they don’t, one can only hope that the L.A. Phil’s future jazz programming decisions will aim to provide the same musical authenticity that is an essential aspect of the classical music programs.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 


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

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

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

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

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

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

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

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

Gregory Porter

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

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

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

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

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

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

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

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

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

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

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

Taj Mahal

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

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

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

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

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

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

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

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

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

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

India.Arie

India.Arie

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

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

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

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

Sheila E

Sheila E

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

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

George Lopez

George Lopez

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

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

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

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

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

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

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

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

Robert Glasper

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

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

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

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

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

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

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

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

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

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

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

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

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

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

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

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

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

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

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.


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

March 1, 2013

By Don Heckman

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

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

George Lopez

George Lopez

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

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

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

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

Angelique Kidjo

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

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

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

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

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

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

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

Here’s the daily line-up:

Saturday, June 15, 3 p.m. – 11. p.m.

George Duke with special guest Jeffrey Osborne

Naturally 7 with special guest Herbie Hancock

Angelique Kidjo with special guest Hugh Masekela

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

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

Gregory Porter

Robert Glasper Experiment

Grace Kelly Quintet with special guest Phil Woods

Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Ariacne Trujillo

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

Sunday, June 16, 3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Sheila E.

Bob James/David Sanborn featuring Steve Gadd and James Genus

India.Arie

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

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

Taj Mahal with the Real Thing Tuba Band

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet: A Dave Brubeck Tribute

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

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

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

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


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