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

August 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

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

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

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

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

Herbie Hancock with orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza

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

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

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

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

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

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

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

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

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

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

Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter Photos by Faith Frenz.

 

 


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

August 4, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

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

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

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

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

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

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

 

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

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

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

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

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

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan

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

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

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

Seattle

Fourplay

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

Chicago

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

New York City

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

London

Michel_Legrand

Michel_Legrand

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

Berlin

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

Stockholm

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

Moscow

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

Tokyo

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


Live Music: Gloria Estefan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in an “America & Americans” Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

July 28, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Many music purists and snobs might balk at the mere mention of Gloria Estefan and dismiss her as being just another celebrity pop-star.  But Estefan proved to be a stellar musician with the chops, versatility, and stage presence of a great jazz singer at The Hollywood Bowl Saturday evening.

Estefan performed two sets consisting of her greatest hits and material from her 2013 Grammy nominated album The Standards featuring her own soulful twists on some of the most familiar standards from the American songbook.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Backed by a focused and subtle band featuring some of the greatest session musicians ( Shelton Berg: piano and musical director, Dean Parks: guitar, Carlos Puerto: bass, Ray Brinker: drums, Edwin Bonilla: percussion, Cynthia Medina and Socrates Perez on backing vocals and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (Conducted by Thomas Wilkins). Estefan kicked off the festivities with “Good Morning Heartache,'” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Jobim’s “Yo Se Te Voy A Amar.”  Instead of dancing across the stage as she did over 30 years ago, Estefan stood poised, elegantly gripping the microphone like a true jazz crooner. Her voice has deepened with age in all the best ways. Her thick vibrato and dynamic phrasing fit these standards perfectly.  The choice of material never sounded forced for one moment.

Actor Andy Garcia made a guest appearance, playing congas on a very sexy salsa reading of Gershwin’s “You Made Me Love You.” This was a highlight of the evening. Estefan’s smoky yet playful vocals jelled beautifully with the pure Latin jazz horn hooks and percussion delivered by Estefan’s band and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Another program highlight was Estefan’s rendition of Fredrick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” dedicated to Estefan’s hubby of 36 years, Emillio. The band played at the level of a whisper. Berg’s stark and minimalistic piano accompaniment complimented every carefully delivered phrase and nuance by Estefan.

Estefan also played more mature,, jazzier versions of her biggest hits such as “Here We Are,” a slow, jazz-tinged arrangement of “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” giving the show a sense of continuity and focus.

On “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” Estefan was joined by The Youth Orchestra Of Los Angeles. These kids really knew how to swing hard, adding more excitement to the program.

Another guest was Estefan’s teenage daughter Emily, who played acoustic guitar and sang Neil Sedaka’s “Where The Boys Are” with her mom singing background vocals on this doo-wop ballad. Emily sounded a lot like her mother when she was starting out in the late ’70s with the Miami Sound Machine.

After a brief intermission, Estefan presented her second set which was more subdued, aside from her classic pop anthems “Bad Boy” and “1-2-3,” although her classic ballads “I Can’t Stay Away From You,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “Anything For You” had a sad and haunting feel to them. The lyrics felt more sincere than when they first hit the charts almost a quarter of a century ago.

Estefan’s renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smile” and “What A Wonderful World” had a beautiful darkness to them, especially Shelton Berg’s arrangement of the Louis Armstrong classic. Estefan has one of the most powerful and rich vocal vibratos I’ve ever heard and I hadn’t heard so vividly until this evening’s performance.

As haunting as the material felt at times, Estefan’s warm and humorous stage presence created a nice balance in the show’s overall mood.

The most interesting experiment of the entire evening was a sexy, R&B fueled take on George Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Dean Parks’ rhythm guitar comping played sweetly along with the steady bass line played by Carlos Puerto. Estefan’s vocal delivery proved that she not only has a strong understanding of the complex chord changes but also a deep felt knowledge of the mature lyrical content which separates a good singer from a great one.

Estefan ended the show with the disco anthem “Turn The Beat Around” accompanied by an incredible fireworks display that was synchronized with the music. All in attendance were having a blast, especially the “Glo-Heads,”Estefan’s most loyal fans who took up a third of the upper portion on the Bowl, sporting purple glow sticks.

As an encore, Estefan performed a heartfelt, bluesy reading of the Carol Leigh standard “Young At Heart” to cool things down. The strings, harp, and brass of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra sounded perfect behind Estefan, creating a dream like ambiance.

Gloria Estefan performed one of the finest concerts I’ve witnessed in a long time, destroying all notions I had of her just being a pop singer. Estefan can do it all and her mature, sultry performance was the perfect fit for a summer concert at The Hollywood Bowl.

* * * * * * * *

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


Picks of the Week: July 21 – 27 In Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another warm Summer week, with many international jazz clubs shuttered in their annual July -August hiatus. But there’s still some fine music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- July 22. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah, showcase their irresistibly eclectic playing in one of their rare L.A. Appearances. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 22 & 24. (Tues. & Thurs.) Dudamel & Beethoven. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the kinetic conducting of Gustavo Dudmel illuminates a July evening with an all-Beethoven’s program featuring the classic Symphony No. 5 and the fascinating Triple Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- July 24. (Thurs,) Robert Davi. “Davi Sings Sinatra.” Actor/singer Davi’s association with Frank Sinatra dates back to the 1977 film Contract on Cherry St. Since then he has become the most musically convincing of the Sinatra-styled singers, applying his own creative imagination to the “Blue Eyes” style. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 24. (Thurs.) Noura Mint Seymali. The compelling voice of Mauritanian singer is featured in the opening event in the Skirball Cultural Center’s 18th Free Sunset Concert Series. The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- July 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.) The Ron Carter Trio. Ron Carter may well be the most recorded bassist in jazz history. But he’s also a fine composer and the leader of his own impressive trios. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

- July 25 – 26. (Fri. & Sat.) America & Americans Festival: Gloria Estefan. The L.A. Phil’s celebration of the music of North and South America continues with an appearance by Grammy-nominated vocalist Setefan with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Juy 26 (Sat.) Elliott Deutsch Big Band. Trumpeter/arranger/composer Deutsch leads his briskly swinging ensemble with the skills that have made him the arranger of choice for the likes of Cheryle Bentyne, Bill Watrous and others. Vitello’s.  (213) 620-0908.

- July 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. A spectacular assemblage of world class jazz in L.A.’s most memorable jazz setting. Featured artists include Kamasi Washington and Next Step, Patrice Rushen & Ndugu Chancler, Mongorama, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Michael Session, Ernie Andrews, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and more. Admission is free. The Central Ave. Jazz Festival.

- July 27. (Sun.) Peggy King and Corky Hale. She may be best known as “pretty, perky Peggy King” on the ’50s George Gobel television show. But in her later career, King’s matured into an impressive vocal artist. She performs with the superb accompaniment of pianist Corky Hale, who has been at the keyboard (or the harp) with everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- July 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) Tierney Sutton. “Songs of Joni Mitchell.” A gifted vocalist with an emotionally rich style of her own, Sutton is one of the rare singers to have the musicality and the interpretive skills to handle the complex Mitchell catalof of songs. Click HERE to read an earlier iRoM review of Sutton singing Mitchell. An SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab. (866) 920-5299.

New York City

- July 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) John Pizzarelli and the Swing Seven. Singer/guitarist Pizzarelli is in his most appealing medium when he’s digging into the pleasures of Swing, backed by an equally swinging bunch of players – as he is here. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker

- July 22 – 24. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Brecker Bros. Reunion Band. Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Michael Brecker were one of the gifted brother acts in modern jazz. Since the death of Michael in 2007, Randy has kept the memories of the Brecker Bros. Band alive and well. He’s joined by his wife, Ada Rovatti, in the band’s saxophone chair. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 24. (Thurs.) The Mike Stern & Bill Evans Band. Expect some blues grooves and fusion fireworks when Stern and Evans get together with drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Tom Kennedy. New Morning Paris.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 25 – 27. (Fri. – Sun.) Jose James. In his own unique way, vocalist James is searching for, and often finding, a blend between jazz, soul and hip-hop. Will it please the fans of each genre? Check him out and see. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Live Music: Eliane Elias, Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, and Boz Scaggs at the Hollywood Bowl.

July 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

lt usually takes a while before a performer can generate enough dynamic energy to begin to steal the show. But at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night, the opening act – Brazilian pianist/singer Eliane Elias – claimed a large chunk of the evening’s creative territory before her relatively brief half hour set was concluded.

That’s not to minimize the effectiveness of the other major musical acts on the bill: the duo of guitarist Lee Ritenour and keyboardist/composer Dave Grusin (and their band); and veteran rock star Boz Scaggs.

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

And we’ll get to them. But let’s get back to Eliane.

I first heard her three decades ago at Catalina Bar & Grill. Barely into her twenties, she was not a singing performer at the time. Her emphasis was on her jazz piano work, which was extraordinary. I can still recall a stunning, piano solo rendering of “Body and Soul” that breathed remarkable new creative life into an often overdone standard.

In the intervening years, Eliane added vocals to her arsenal of musical skills, as well as a warmly engaging performance style that invited her listeners into the intimacy of her playing.

As she did at the Bowl on Wednesday.

Backed by the sterling rhythm of guitarist Graham Dechter, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata, Eliane cruised with masterful ease from the classic bossa nova at her roots to the jazz that has become an equally vital element in her musical artistry. Her singing on Brazilian classics such as “Chega de Saudade” was balanced perfectly by her interpretations of standards from the American songbook – notably “And I Thought About You” from her memorable album tribute to Chet Baker.

And her piano work, driven by irresistible musical spontaneity, charged the enthusiastic audience with excitement, building to a climactic sequence of robust exchanges with drummer Barata.

As I noted above, everything Eliane did, from beginning to end was enough to establish her set as the most singular event, the centerpiece of a high intensity musical evening.

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Ritenour and Grusin sustained much of Eliane’s jazz excitement when they dug into their set, a rapid fire sequence of works. Backed by the potent rhythm section of bassist Abraham Laboriel and drummer Chris Coleman, the two leaders focused most of the music on the fusion, funk and smooth jazz that has enlivened much of Ritenour’s busy career. And let’s not overlook the melodic appeal of Grusin’s compositions, as well as the spontaneous arrangements that he brought to many of the tunes via his line up of electronic keyboards.

Add to that the always entertaining presence of bassist Laboriel, who danced, hummed and snapped his electric instrument with non-stop verve, enhancing virtually every tune with injections of his unique, high velocity style.

The Ritenour/Grusin set finished with a surprising climax – a rendering of “Happy Birthday” to acknowledgment of Grusin’s recent 80th birthday, which took place on June 26. Appropriately, Grusin was the principal soloist in the performance, offering a delightfully imaginative set of variations to underscore his own birthday celebration.

Boz Scaggs

The final set of the evening featured the veteran rocker, guitarist and singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs. Although he, too, celebrated a birthday in June (his 70th), there was no repeat offering of “Happy Birthday.”

Scaggs instead laid down a familiar line up of hits from the ’70s and ’80s, some written by Scaggs, some by others, among them: “What Can I Say?” “Miss Sun,” “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle.”

The most appealing part of the set reached beyond the tunes, into Scaggs’ sheer pleasure in what he was doing. Playing impressive rock guitar from time to time, he and his band recalled the sheer foot-tapping, body-moving pleasures of ’70s and ’80s rock. And the high point arrived at the close in a joyously spirited duet between Scaggs and his back up singer, Conesha Owens.

Vastly different from what Eliane Elias had offered, Scaggs nonetheless clearly delighted the many who had come to the Bowl to hear him recall the music of their youth.

And for those whose view of jazz is illuminated by funk, fusion and smooth jazz, Ritenour and Grusin also provided plenty of musical highlights.

Finally, recalling the program’s extraordinary opening set, with its authentic blending of jazz and Brazilian music, the only element missing from this eclectic musical evening was an additional half hour of music from Eliane Elias and her players. Maybe next time.

 


Picks of the Week: July 15 – July 20. (Tues. – Sun.) in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London and Paris.

July 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

- July 16. (Wed.) Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, Boz Scaggs, Eliane Elias. It’s a line-up filled with masters of far-reaching jazz genres (and beyond). Expect an evening of jazz for every taste. Look for an iRoM review later this week. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. .

- July 16. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. She still hasn’t been recognized for her rapidly growing skills as a new jazz vocal star. See Saputo now and join her growing cadre of fans. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16. (Wed.) The Ron Eschete Trio. Veteran guitarist Eschete displays his impressive mastery of the seven-string instrument. Don’t miss him in action. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

Tatiana Parra

Tatiana Parra

- July 17. (Thurs.) Tatiana Parra with the Vardan Ovsepian Trio. Her name may not yet be as familiar to American audiences as it should be. But Parra is a remarkable talent, fully capable of blending the best qualities of jazz and Brazilian music. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent album by Tatiana. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 17. (Thurs.) Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson. Singer Gazarak and pianist Nelson have become an impressive musical team, interacting with intuitive creativity. The Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- July 18. (Fri.) Pat Senatore Trio. Bassist Senatore’s remarkable versatility is on display almost every night at Vibrato with a variety of artists. This time out he leads his own masterful trio, with Josh Nelson, piano, and Mark Ferber, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 18. (Fri.) Nutty. You may not have heard of Nutty, but you’ll never forget them after you experience their enhancement of classic rock tunes with swinging jazz settings. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

- July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Dreamworks Animation in Concert. Actor Jack Black hosts an evening celebrating 20 Years of Dreamworks animation shows. Thomas Wilkins conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/calendar.

- July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Denise Morgan. Completely at ease with gospel, classical, jazz and beyond, Morgan is an impressively eclectic vocal artist. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

- July 20. (Sun.) Carol Welsman. Singer/pianist Welsman offers her first Sunday Vespers appearance with her trio — bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dave Tull.  Welsman’s richly interpretive vocals and briskly swinging piano work are a pleasure to hear under any circumstances.  And this performance offers, as she says “a unique experience of jazz and spiritual reflection.”  All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, CA. (626) 583-2725. (Admission is free.)

- July 20. (Sun.) Midnight Caravan. Actress/singer Linda Purl celebrates ‘The Great Ladies of the Glamorous Nightclub Era. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Benny Green

Benny Green

- July 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has sustained, in stellar creative manner, the Oscar Peterson jazz piano legacy. An SFJAZZ event in Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York City

- July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Julian Lage Trio. A prodigy as a young guitarist, Lage has matured into an impressive new jazz star. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232,

London

Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade

- July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Leny Andrade. She’s arguably Brazil’s most convincing jazz-based vocal artist. Don’t miss this chance to hear her live. Ronnie Scott’s.  +14(0)20 7439 00747.

- July 19. (Sat.). (Fri. & Sat.) Take 6. There’s no vocal group quite like Take 6, with its blend of irresistible rhythms, lush harmonies and far- ranging vocal imagination. Ronnie Scott’s. +14 (0) 20 7439 00747.

Paris

- July 16. (Tues.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet. Trumpeter Akinmusire has been embraced, with good reason, as one of the new jazz stars of his generation. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41
.

 


Live Music: Chris Botti and Chris Isaak at the Hollywood Bowl

July 14, 2014

By Don Heckman

There were two guys named Chris on stage at the Hollywood Bowl Friday and Saturday nights. Despite their identical first names, their styles traced to very different genres. And despite those different sources, they both offered performances rich in musicality and compelling entertainment.

Friday evening opened with the first Chris – jazz trumpeter Chris Botti — backed by his own group and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Bramwell Tovey.

Chris Botti

Chris Botti

Although Botti was often identified with the smooth jazz style in his early years, he has always been a player whose music was filled with the authority of jazz authenticity. Over the past two decades his ever-curious, inventive imagination has taken him to jazz settings reaching from performances with full symphonic orchestras, to straight ahead mainstream jazz, and explorations reaching the outer limits of free improvisations.

Much of that territory was explored in his gripping performance at the Bowl.

Botti began with a warm tribute to Miles Davis, applying his trademark, warm tone to a composition long associated with Davis – Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez. To Botti’s credit, he made the piece’s lush Spanish melodies his own. He was equally expressive with Davis’ “Flamenco sketches.

And when he added some familiar standards – “When I Fall In Love” and “The Very Thought of You” – he once again emphasized his embracingly warm sound and expressive tone to every melodic phrase.

Botti also showcased his skills as a leader, urging the members of his band – pianist Geoff Keezer, guitarist Ben Butler, bassist Richie Goods and drummer Billy Kilson – into their own far-reaching skills. Add to that the mesmerizing violin playing of guest artist Caroline Campbell on the Grammy-nominateed “Emmanuel,” as well as George Komsky’s soaring vocal rendering on “Time To Say Goodbye,” and the stunning versatility of singer Sy Smith.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Botti’s easygoing communication with his audience. Strolling the stage, offering occasional interchanges with his listeners, he added a quality of warm connectivity too rarely seen in jazz performances.

Chris Isaak

One could also say the same about the other Chris on the program – rocker, singer/songriter, actor and talk show host Chris Isaak. Completely at home on the broad Bowl stage, Isaak moved into an even wider arena, moving across the narrow platform intersecting the box seats, then demanding a spotlight as he moved into the audience itself, singing, shaking hands with listeners, welcoming them throughout his set into an environment as comfortable as his living room.

Thirty years after he made his first recording, Silvertone, Isaak still maintains a dedicated audience. And his set embraced many of the high points of his twelve album discography. Add to that the numerous songs and musical themes he’s created for television and films.

His entertaining program encompassed memorable selections from all those sources. Among them: what is perhaps his best known song, “Wicked Game.” Add to that “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing” from the Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut and a string of a dozen or so somewhat less familiar, but equally compelling songs.

Strongly supported by his comfortable ease with his enthusiastic audience, and buoyed by his solid back up band, the lead guitar work of Hershel Yatovitz and lush timbres of the Los Angeles Phil, Isaak presented a program reaching far beyond his rock roots.

The program closed with yet another highlight: Chris Botti and Chris Isaak performing together in a brief set blending their disparate but amiable skills in tunes reaching from “Besame Mucho” to “Love Me Tender.” Call it the appropriate climax for a two-Chris performance to remember.


Live Jazz: “To Ella With Love” at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin

July 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

The L.A. Philharmonic came up with a great celebration of the memory of Ella Fitzgerald at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night.

The evening began with a stirring big band salute from the always-exciting Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – an appropriate beginning, given the long association Ella had with big bands, from her early years with Chick Webb to frequent associations with the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Count Basie

Count Basie

It was additionally appropriate that most of the program was enlivened by the crisp, swinging backing of the current Count Basie Orchestra, now led by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart.

Add to that the stirring presence of singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Patti Austin. Not only are both ladies at the very top echelon of the current jazz vocalist world; they also are imaginative musical artists, fully capable of bringing the same sort of mesmerizing interpretations in their singing that were always present in Fitzgerald. Which is exactly what they did on this memorable evening.

Also present, adding the sort of musical versatility that Ella always favored,  contributing their own impressive skills, the evening’s guests included young Malaysian pop singer Yuna, the musically versatile singer Clint Holmes, pianist Shelly Berg (offering his authentic view of the Basie piano style) and drummer Gregg Field.

And, in one of the night’s most touching moments, singer Carmen Bradford tearfully recalled visiting Fitzerald’s home after Ella’s death, and discovering that her latest recording was present on Ella’s CD player. Still captivated by her feelings, Bradford then delivered an emotionally vibrant version of “I Love Being Here With You” – a highlight in an evening glowing with highlights.

Among the many other stellar moments, here are a few that will no doubt remain in the memory banks of the enthusiastic, near capacity audience:

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

- The Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra only played four numbers, including “Cottontail” and “Basie/Ella Blues,” an improvised scat vocal transformed into a hard-driving big band number by John Clayton. But everything they offered provided convincing testimony of the still-vital big jazz band genre.

- The same could be said of the Count Basie Orchestra, repeatedly providing glorious memories of an era when big jazz bands and jazz vocalists represented marriages made in musical heaven.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- Dee Dee Bridgewater, as always, was masterful with every phrase she sang. And she sang a bunch, from her solo renderings of “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Mack the Knife” “Tea For Two” and “Blues in the Night” to duet pairings with Holmes on songs from “Porgy and Bess” and a soaring, scat-filled duo with Austin on the Fitzgerald classic, “Mr. Paganini.”

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

- Patti Austin was equally versatile, equally articulate musically. In addition to her duet with Bridgewater, she paired with Holmes on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Her solo moments (with the Basie Orchestra backing) glowed on “Satin Doll,” “Them There Eyes” and “I’m Beginnig to See the Light.” And Austin was the chosen voice to recall Fitzgerald with the unforgettable classic, “A Tisket A Tasket.”

- The less familiar guest vocalists made their own engaging tributes to Ella. In addition to his duos, Holmes scatted with tons of swing and enthusiasm on “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” and Yuna added a personal touch to “You’ve Changed” and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me.”

As I said earlier, it was a memorable night, surely one that touched the heart strings (and the rhythm strings) of Ella Fitzgerald’s many fans.

So, kudos to the L.A. Phil for its marvelously entertaining tribute to the “First Lady of Song.”
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Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: June 19 – 22

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

With Summer arriving in all its glory, I thought it would be helpful to concentrate the Picks for this long, mid-June weekend on the rich array of music to be heard here in the Southland.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- June 19. (Thurs.) Sally Kellerman. Sally’s back, and that’s great news for all fans of irresistible singing. Better known to many as “Hot Lips” from her role in the film version of Mash, Sal is a vocalist who brings vivid, story-telling qualities to every song. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of one of her recent Los Angeles performances. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Multi-instrumentalist Miller, moving smoothly from bass clarinet, brings a sparkling array of jazz inventiveness to everything he plays. His current group includes saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Lee Hogans, keyboardist Brett Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Ronald Burneer, Jr. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

- June 20, (Fri,) The Denny Seiwell Trio. Drummer Seiwell’s resume includes gigs with an array of world class bands in genres of every style. This time he leads his own stellar group, featuring John Chiodini, guitar and Joe Bagg, keyboards. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 20. (Fri.) Chuck Manning and Steve Huffsteter. Two of the Southland’s most inventive jazz horn players, saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Huffsteter wrap their improvisational skills around every tune, stimulating each other’s creative imaginations. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) The John La Barbera Big Band. La Barbera’s Big Band hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves, and here’s a chance to see them in action in Sherman Oaks, on the broad stage of Jazz at the Cap.  (818) 990-2001.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Here’s a rare, and not to be missed, display of jazz vocalese in the competent musical hands and soaring voices of this trio of world class singers. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 21. (Sat.) The Grand Reopening of the Alex Theatre.  Emmy and Tony award winning performer Martin Short joins Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a spectacular evening of song, dance, comedy and pure entertainment.  The Alex Theatre.  (818) 243-2611.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- June 21. (Sat.) Lee Hartley & the Les McCann All-Star Band. The appealing vocal team of Hartley and McCann are great on their own, and even better when their surrounded by the superb musical backing of guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Barney McClure, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Jazz at the Rad.  (310) 216-5861.

- June 21. (Sat.) “Nutty.” Jazz for Jetsetters. This always-intriguing jazz octet applies a broad stylistic array of jazz rhythms and styles to their interpretations of pop and rock classics. If you loved the ’60s, dopn’t miss these guys. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 21. (Sat.) Opening Night at the Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl kicks off a spectacular Summer season with the induction of Kristin Chenoweth, The Go-Go’s and Pink Martini into the . The celebration will climax with a spectacular fireworks display.  Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (323) 850-2000.

 

 

 


Live Jazz: Highlights from the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl

June 17, 2014

By Devon Wendell

So it’s that time again folks; another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. As most of us know, the first rule when attending the festival is that we pissed off jazz enthusiasts must check our inner jazz- purist at the security gate before the festivities begin because you could actually count the number of true jazz acts on one hand at most over the two days.

Although looking for real jazz at The Playboy Festival has increasingly become like searching for sushi at a Southern barbecue restaurant, there was plenty of jazz-influenced music such as funk/fusion, jazz/fusion, Rock/fusion, jazz/funk/rock/fusion, Latin jazz, and even enough modern R&B and pop to make the Grammy people jump for joy.

So let’s get started. Here are my Playboy Jazz Festival highlights for both Saturday, June 14th, and Sunday, June 15th.

Saturday

Who would have thought that actor Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas could actually swing in a jump blues format? Not me until I heard Fargas’ The New Jump Blues Band perform as the opening act of Saturday’s program. Fargas and his band ran through such jump blues classics as “Keep On Churnin’,” “All She Wants To Do Is Mambo” and “Train Kept A Rollin’.” Fargas shared vocals with Adrian Battle and Airreal Watkins. The horn section consisting of Bill Ungerman on tenor sax, Jim Jediken on baritone sax and clarinet, and Javier Gonzales on trumpet swung hard enough that they would have made Jump blues pioneers Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, and Tiny Bradshaw proud. Fargas’ confident vocals, dance moves, and overall stage presence went perfectly with the music and mood.

This was pure jump blues delivered with love and dedication.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone

Although Allen Stone looked like another pseudo-hippie burn out on Venice Beach, this Washington State born son of a preacher delivered a powerful set of gospel-inflected soul and country rock. Stone could go from sounding like Prince on R&B burners like “Love,” and “Say So” to a more Black Crows Southern fried rock on songs such as “Voodoo” and “Mama.” Stone is an astoundingly powerful vocalist. Stone’s band rocked, especially Greg Ehrlich’s rollicking Hammond B3 chops, and Trevor Larkin’s screaming blues guitar leads. Stone is a fresh new presence in the rock world and proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The second Kenny Barron and Ravi Coltrane took the Bowl stage and started playing it was like a breath of fresh air. Finally some actual jazz! And this was the real thing from the first note of Barron’s “And Then Again” which was pure bebop in the realm of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” Ravi Coltrane’s tenor sax work was soulful, daring, and it was evident that he has done his homework and truly respects this music. This was certainly the case on the Thelonious Monk classic “Ask Me Now” which brought to mind Joe Henderson’s version.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Coltrane’s angular tenor lines unraveled in a beautiful and dynamic fashion. Barron’s masterful piano on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” was closer to McCoy Tyner and the late great Cedar Walton than Monk’s approach to piano, though there were plenty of Monk-like voicings on the piece entitled “Calypso.” Jonathan Blake’s melodic bop drumming paid homage to Max Roach and Roy Haynes, and Kiyoshi Kittigawa was magnificent on bass. This was one of the festival’s finest moments. Everyone was swinging hard and having true musical conversations.

The Playboy Jazz Festival always includes some real New Orleans music in its program and nothing could be more authentic than seeing legendary New Orleans pianist Henry Butler with trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9. This was the real deal. Bernstein and Butler got together to form this band after Butler moved from New Orleans to Brooklyn. I’ve never heard pure New Orleans music like this in a live setting, which combined big band swing, Dixieland jazz, blues, and New Orleans funk.

Henry Butler

Henry Butler

Hearing Henry Butler sing and play piano on the Jelly Role Morton classic “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” was a real treat and nasty in all the best ways. Bernstein on trumpet along with Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Charlie Burnham on violin, Doug Wieselman on E-flat clarinet and tenor sax, Peter Apfelbaum on tenor & soprano saxes, and Erik Lawrence on baritone and soprano sax, all demonstrated just how modern, adventurous, and endlessly valid composer’s like Fats Waller, and Jelly Role Morton still are today, long after their deaths.

Examples of this were the band’s performance of Jelly Role Morton’s “Viper Drag” and “Wolverine Blues” which sounded more avante-garde than any jazz that came out of the ‘60s.

Henry Butler played some of the greatest, most creative piano I’ve ever heard in any genre of music in my life. I could have listened to his constant flow of ideas and straight blues vocals all day long.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is still the queen of jazz-soul. Her set at the festival was stellar. When Reeves covers another artist’s song, she owns it as she did on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Reeves’ unique scat singing, in which she jumps from the lower register of her voice to the upper with ease and confidence, gave these classics a jazzier sultry appeal. Trumpeter Sean Jones’ was terrific, especially on the Marvin Gaye number. Reeves’ relaxed, funky sound was accentuated by her amazing band of Peter Martin on piano, Geoffrey Keezer on electric keyboards, Romero Lubanbo on guitar, and Nadia Washington on backing vocals.

Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band brought back a set of much needed jazz. Although many of the performances were marred by sound problems, Sandoval and his Big Band swung hard. Actor Andy Garcia added some tasty congas on a set which combined bebop and Latin jazz in a Big band setting with some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles.

Trumpeter Wayne Bergeron engaged in a swinging and powerful trumpet duel with Sandoval on a Dizzy Gillespie big band inspired blues. Both players were in top form, especially Sandoval who hit those high notes that players half his age struggle with.

Henry Mancini’s daughter Monica sang a few of her dad’s compositions with the band, including the Brazilian flavored “Perhaps, Perhaps.” Sandoval’s “Having Fun” was a highlight of the set. Ed Calle’s tenor sax solo weaved in and out of the arrangements by the amazing horn sections (Dan Higgins, Rusty Higgins, Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins on saxophones, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Charlie Morrilas, Craig Gosnell on trombones, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant, Dan Fornero, and Jeff Bunnell on trumpets) beautifully while sticking with the thematic quality of the piece.

Patti Austin

Patti Austin

Patti Austin sat in for a few standards including an amazing reading of “Lady Be Good” in which she channeled Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in a delightfully frightening manner while the band swung hard behind her. On “Mambo Caliente” (From The Mambo Kings film) Sandoval played one of the most powerful trumpet solos I’ve ever heard him play, wailing away in the upper register with a virtuosity and command over the demanding instrument.

George Duke

George Duke

When I think of love, fun, and funk, I think of the late great George Duke. Keyboard extraordinaire and composer John Beasley put together a group of some of the greatest George Duke alumni players for an ultra-funky and loving tribute to the late master who passed away in August of last year. Although guest stars Al Jarreau, and Stanley Clarke sounded great on “Summer Breezing,” “Someday” (A duet between Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves) and “Wild Dog,” it was the old school funk of “Dukie Stick” (With Ndugu Chancler) “Morning Sun” and “Reach For It” that were the most fun and got the Bowl crowd up and dancing. Keyboard legend Greg Phillinganes’ voice harmonized beautifully with singer Josie James on “Morning Sun” and a heartfelt version of Duke’s soul ballad masterpiece “Sweet Baby.” Bassist Bryon Miller held down the groove tightly throughout the set and Paul Jackson Jr. proved to everyone why he’s one of the best guitarists in the World on “Hot Fire.” This was truly a festival highlight.

Sunday

Kicking off Sunday’s program was the legendary James Cotton. Cotton is the greatest living legend of Chicago blues harmonica. Cotton and his band (Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass, and Jerry Porter on drums) played a set of straight ahead, no-nonsense Chicago blues, including such classics as Cotton’s own “How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong,” plus Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” and Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” both of which Cotton had played on the original recordings with Waters and Rogers.

Things really got jumping when Cotton and his band were joined by the great Big Jay McNeely. Although McNeely is in his 80s, he sounded stronger than ever, playing some now standard blues lines on tenor sax. His voice has aged in all the best ways for a blues singer; still smooth but raw and nasty. McNeely sang about his love of the bigger ladies on “Big Fat Mama.” McNeely and Cotton traded solos and a few laughs. Unfortunately as McNeely sang his classic blues ballad “There Is Something On Your Mind,” he and the band were cut off as the stage rotated for another act. This was one of the finest moments of the day and it was sad to see these legends disrespected by being given way less time than Fantasia from American Idol, or at least it felt much shorter.

At first I didn’t know what to make of actor Jon Batiste (Star of HBO’s Treme) and his group Stay Human, joined by members of the LAUSD Beyond The Bell All District Honor Marching Band. I could tell he was a magnetic front-man and vocalist inspired by Sly Stone but he started off all over the place, combining R&B with a solo piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Benny Goodman’s theme song “Goodbye” and a little bit of Duke Ellington tossed in. And drummer Joe Saylor reciting Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks In Beauty” before a rock version of “Saint James Infirmary.” Yes folks, this started out messy but there was a refreshingly adventurous nature to Batiste and his band as they delivered one of the most exciting moments of the day. Batiste (on melodica) ascended onto the Bowl crowd while playing “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” with Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba, Brad Allen Williams, on banjo, Eddie Barbash on alto sax, and Jamison Ross on tambourine. The combination of instruments created a wonderful, swinging harmony in a true New Orleans style. This was one of the day’s purest and most enjoyable moments.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Although there was a lot of funk throughout Sunday’s program, especially bad fusion and rock funk by artists I chose not to cover, Dr. Lonnie Smith is still one of the most sincerely funky beings on the planet. He brought his one of a kind James Brown meets Jimmy Smith Hammond B3 style to the Bowl with a perfectly relaxed arrogance that only a true funk master can get away with. His set consisted of originals such as; “Falling In Love”, “Track 9”, and “Mama Wailer.” The horn section (Andy Gravish on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, Alan Ferber on trombone, and James Marshall on baritone sax) sounded just like the JB’s of the early ‘70s with those distinct Fred Wesley inspired horn hooks. Ed Cherry’s James Nolen meets Wes Montgomery electric guitar work was the perfect match for these compositions. Smith’s syncopated B3 solos were imaginative, in fact, his playing was more complex than his compositions and arrangements which, for the most part stayed on the one chord and rarely left.

After a long day of almost no jazz, it became clear that George Benson was as close as I was going to get by the end of the night. Benson was in particularly fine form Sunday evening. One of the highlights of the entire festival this year was Benson performing his hit originally written by Leon Russell “Masquerade.” He scat sang along with an extremely intense minor key guitar solo that was mesmerizing in every way.
George and his band also sounded great on his R&B hits “Living Inside Your Love,” “The Mambo Inn,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “Let Me Love You One More Time” and “Give Me The Night.” Benson’s energy was infectious, inspiring the festival audience to shake what they brought. Benson’s slick vocals sounded better than ever and he’s still a master guitarist in a class of his own.

George Benson and Earl Klugh

George Benson and Earl Klugh

Although Earl Klugh sounded good on a few instrumentals at the start of the set, it was his guitar duel with Benson on the colossal hit “On Broadway” that was the most enthralling moment between the two guitarists. Klugh’s harmonic explorations on acoustic guitar during this final number truly gave Benson a run for his money.

And so that’s it, the end of the 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Sure the festival could’ve used some more authentic jazz acts but what else is new? The Festival is less about the music and more about partying it up on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles weekend. See you next year folks.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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