Live Music: Gilberto Santa Rosa and Sheila E. in an Americas & Americans Performance at the Hollywood Bowl

July 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

The L.A. Phil’s entertaining Americas & Americans series came up with a stellar musical double-header Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Which was not surprising, given the headlining onstage presence of Sheila E. and Gilberto Santa Rosa. Both of whom are major figures in the Latin music world – and beyond.

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

It’s no mystery that Sheila E., the highly visible offspring of the talented Escovedo family, is a startlingly gifted percussionist, and she displayed her drumming skills throughout her program in various areas of the stage, opening her segment with a set that began in high velocity and continued to build until its final climactic ending.

She’s also a gifted vocalist, dancer and extraordinarily talented entertainer. Add to that her ability to create a show reaching across the full gamut of the contemporary music world.

Her program unfolded in a series of escalating segments, spotlighting her far-ranging musical gifts in the company of a similarly talented group of musicians and dancers. Surrounding her with break-dancing, hip-hop and rap, crisply rhythmic back-up vocals and a rich mosaic of sound and emotion, her players and dancers provided the perfect setting for her eclectic creativity.

Call it a remarkable performance, one which continually elicited enthusiastic responses from a crowd that seemed to adore every move and every sound she made.

Puerto Rican singer Santa Rosa was greeted by an equally delighted audience esponse. And understandably so, for a performer who has been awarded five Grammys, had 14 number 1 hits on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart, and released numerous gold and platinum albums.

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Like Sheila E., Santa Rosa delivered a non-stop performance surrounded by a cadre of performers who combined to produce a musical and visual extravaganza. Remaining largely in center stage, occasionally strolling – with a dance step or two – from one side to the other, he frequently acknowledged the contributions of his hot-stepping back-up singers and high flying horn players.

Given the hits he’s delivered in his more than three decade career, Santa Rosa, sometimes called “El Caballero de la Salsa,” had plenty of familiar items to sustain his lengthy set. Understandably, most were supported by fiery salsa rhythms, dynamically delivered by his 12 piece ensemble.

At 51, Santa Rosa’s voice is still an appealing instrument, and his warm vocals soared lyrically through his numerous salsa hits, with an occasional pause to offer a romantic bolero.

Americas & Americans?” Yes, indeed. Santa Rosa and Sheila E. offered all that and a lot more.

The only problematic aspects of this extraordinary pair of performances traced to the decibel level of the sound system. Both Santa Rosa and Sheila E. are brilliant performing artists. And each is capable of delighting an audience without having the sounds of their singing amplified to the edge of pain.

That complaint aside, kudos to the L.A. Phil for presenting an appealing entry in the Americas & Americans series. Another follows on Friday and Saturday in the appearance of singer Gloria Estefan and YOLA (Youth Orchestra LA).

* * * * * * * *

Sheila E. photo by Bonnie Perkinson.


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
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Live Jazz: The KJAZZ Summer Benefit Concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 30, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles.  There was a full house, enthusiastic crowd in attendance Saturday night at Disney Hall for the KJAZZ benefit concert. As there should have been.

The importance of FM radio station KJAZZ 88.1 to jazz fans cannot be under-estimated. I may not agree with the programming 100% of the time, but KJAZZ is nonetheless at the top of our radio buttons, in our cars and our living room. And deejays such as Bubba Jackson, Helen Borgers, LeRoy Downs, Bob Parlocha and others have become familiar and friendly jazz voices.

There was a lot to like about the KJAZZ benefit concert, as well. The presence of singer Steve Tyrell and pianist Jason Moran as headliners offered a range of jazz elements, with a lot to please different tastes.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

Tyrell, as always, applied his appealing Texas twang and gently swinging jazz phrasing to a scintillating list of offerings from the Great American Songbook. Ranging from standards such as “It Had To Be You” and “I’ll Take Romance” to more recent singer/songwriter items such as “On Broadway” and “Will You Still Love Me,” he thoroughly demonstrated his authenticity as an appealing jazz artist.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

On several numbers he was joined by the warmly engaging vocalizing of Jane Monheit and the articulate playing of pianist and KJAZZ deejay David Benoit.

The evening was kicked off by the highly regarded young pianist Jason Moran. Praised by the New York Times, Down Beat and Jazz Times, he quickly revealed the adventurous quality of his playing.

Jason Moran

Jason Moran

At the heart of his imaginative improvising, Moran approached the piano in a way reflecting the view of the instrument as an orchestra in itself. While some of his excursions roved into complex, busy-fingered areas, he was never less than an appealing artist, and surely one of the finest jazz artists of his generation.

Add to all that, there was the presence of a stellar back up band including pianist Quinn Johnson, guitarist Steve Cotter, trumpeter Bijon Watson, bassist Lyman Medeiros and drummer Kevin Winard. Along with especially appealing solo efforts from Cotter, Johnson and Watson.

Call it a memorable evening – one that informed, entertained and reminded us of the significance of KJAZZ as a valued entity in the Southland jazz community. Let’s hope that the concert raised the funds needed to keep KJAZZ alive, well and swinging.

* * * * * * * *

 Steve Tyrell photo by Bob Barry.

Jane Monheit photo by Faith Frenz.

Jason Moran photo by Tony Gieske.

 


Picks of the Week: June 24 – 29

June 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer has arrived, with all its distractions, and many of the music venues — in the U.S., Europe and beyond — are either closed or booking with reduced schedules.  But there’s still good music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

- June 25. (Wed.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau is described in her press material as offering “some impressive musical reminders of Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.” Which should make for an evening of eminently fascinating music. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 26. (Thurs.) “Tenors For Two” Tenor saxophonists Tom Peterson and Roger Neumann recall the jazz glory days of the “battling tenors.” Expect these two fine players to stretch the limits. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- June 26. (Thurs.) Heartbeat Brazil. They may be Los Angeles-based, but Heartbeat Brazil approaches classic Brazilian music with a convincingly authentic approach to bossa nova, samba, etc. And the highlight of the night may well be the presence of guest singer, Jason Gould, Barbra Streisand’s son. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jack Jones

Jack Jones

- June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Jack Jones. Jones’ mellow, baritone voice carried the torch for traditional pop music during the rock ‘n’ roll sixties. And the Grammy winner is still going strong, still recalling the glories of the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 27 & 28: (Fri.,  & Sat.)  Andrea Marcovicci. Actress, singer, and “Queen of Cabaret,” Marcovicci’s resume reaches from the White House and Carnegie Hall to films and television.  She returns to celebrate her 29th Anniversary at The Gardenia with a program of torch songs titled “Let’s Get Lost.”  The Gardenia.

- June 28. (Sat.) KJAZZ Summer Benefit Concert. Aways one of the most memorable musical experiences of the year, the annual KJAZZ Benefit concert features Steve Tyrell, Jane Monheit, Jason Moran and David Benoit. Don’t miss this one. Disney Hall.  (562) 985-2999.

- June 29. (Sun.) Moulin Russe. Cabaret meets jazz when the Moulin Russe performers bring the delights of traditional French music, in all its glories, to Los Angeles. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones

- June 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat,) Rickie Lee Jones. Crossing comfortably from jazz to pop in the ’70s and ’80s, identifying herself as a high visibility star and winning Grammys along the way, Jones was one of the most signigicant artists of her generation. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

Boston

- June 26. (Thurs.) Sadao Watanabe. One of the rare Japanese to break into the national jazz arena, Watanabe thoroughly established himself as a significant player; and he’s still going strong at 80. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

New York City

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) The Tierney Sutton Quartet. “After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Project.” Sutton and her band have been creating some of the most impressive vocal jazz of the past decade. The stunning versions of Joni Mitchell classics featured on her most recent CD will provide the centerpiece for her current tour. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- June 25 – 28. (Wed. – Sat.) Stanley Jordan. Famous for his unique method of playing the guitar with a string tapping technique, Jordan creates some of the jazz world’s most appealing sounds. Iridium.  (212) 582-2121.

London

- June 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) Curtis Stigers. Singer/saxophonist continues to establish himself as one of the rare male jazz vocal artists on the current scene. Ronnie Scott’s.  (0)20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 28 – 30. (Sat. – Mon.) Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra. Featuring Sheila E. It’s always family time when the Escovedos get together on stage. And anyone who hears them in action leaves with significant musical memories. The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Live Jazz: The 36th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl

June 16, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a Festival that loses its way?

It’s a question that kept running through my mind during the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festival Saturday and Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl.

That’s not to challenge the quality of the sounds beamed from the Bowl stage to a capacity audience. Whatever the genre of music being offered from the rotating center stage, it was true to its essential identity.

But back to that question. Am I implying that the Playboy Jazz Festival lost its way in this latest installment?

Let’s take a look at the programming to see if it provides an answer.

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

Saturday’s bill included pianist Kenny Barron and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, singer Dianne Reeves, singer/pianist Jamie Cullum, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his Big Band with vocalists Monica Mancini and Patti Austin, and vocalist Al Jarreau with Stanley Clarke in a tribute to George Duke.
On Sunday, the program featured bassist Dave Holland’s PRISM, and guitarist/singer George Benson with specical guest Earl Klugh.

Both days opened with stirring sets from a pair of Los Angeles High School jazz bands: the Beyond the Bell Jazz Band and the Esperanza High School Jazz Band.

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

Dianne Reeves and Al Jarreau

No doubt that this list is a prime assemblage of authentic jazz artists, a list consistent with the Playboy Jazz Festival’s history of offering memorable jazz performances in every year’s programming.

But let’s take a look at the remaining line up:

The additional acts on Saturday’s program included: the New Jump Blues Band, saxophonist Tia Fuller, singer/songwriter Allen Stone, and the Hot 9 with singer/pianist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein.

The additional acts on the Sunday program included the James Cotton Blues Band, Juan DeMarcos & the Afro-Cuban all Stars, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, singer/songwriter Jose James and dynamic singer Fantasia, and Los Amigos Invisibles.

These latter two lists include a far-ranging assemblage of musical styles, all of it delivered with effective dedication to a color array of stylistic performances embracing the blues, funk, Latin rhythms, performance music and beyond.

Jamie Cullum

Jamie Cullum

Did it all – no matter how well it was done – belong on a program titled “Playboy Jazz Festival?

That’s an easy question to ask, and hard to answer. But my first response is “Not really.” Some of it was intriguing, some gripping, some annoying, some doing its best to include jazz influences here and there. But an overview of the entire program would have to identify the first artists I’ve listed above – from Jamie Cullum and Kenny Barron to Arturo Sandoval and Al Jarreau to Dave Holland and George Benson – as the most authentic jazz highlights of this year’s Festival.

To give credit to Festival 36 producers, it’s worth noting that the sort of iconic, stellar jazz artists (from Dizzy Gillespie to Ella Fitzgerald and beyond) who were available to past Festival programmers are no longer with us. In addition, this year’s Festival production has moved from Playboy to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And a glimpse at the overall program line-up seems to suggest a desire to reach an audience beyond the jazz demographic.

Nothing wrong with that, so long as the jazz roots that have been essential elements in past Festivals continue to be a vital, far-reaching presence. Which was not always the case with Saturday and Sunday’s program.

So, to wrap up with my first question, did the Festival lose its way this year, with its uneven programming?

And the answer is “No.”

But this listener, who has attended and reviewed many Playboy Festivals  over the past few decades, hopes that next year’s production – in the hands of the L.A. Phil – will pay closer attention to the dedication to jazz that has consistently made the Playboy Jazz Festival one of the year’s most memorable jazz experiences.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.

 

 


Picks of the Week: June 10 – 15

June 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Summer is upon us, and the live performance schedules around the world are largely dominated by the irresistible big venue festivals. But there’s still a lot of compelling music to be heard in smaller venues, as well.

Los Angeles

Strunz & Farah

Strunz & Farah

- June 10. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. Jorge Strunz, born in Costa Rica and Ardeshir Farah, from Iran, has been exploring every imaginable area of guitar duo music since they first got together in 1980. Constantly in search of new improvisational territory, they’re always a pleasure to hear. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 10. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. It’s one of the musically dependable picks of every week. And this week, once again, offers some memorable guitar jazz, with Pisano hosting Howard Alden and John BelzaguyViva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

- June 12 & 13. (Thurs. & Fri.) Taylor Eigsti. A jazz prodigy as a teen-ager, pianist Eigsti has matured into a world-class musical artist. He performs solo on Thurs., with his trio on Fri. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

- June 12 – 14. (Thurs. – Sat.) Jane Monheit Duo. Musically versatile singer Monheit is a pleasure to hear regardless of the setting. This time out, she performs songs of Frank Wildhorn with Clint Holmes. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- June 13. (Fri.) Gina Saputo. Still emerging as a gifted young jazz vocalist, Saputo is just beginning to reach the enthusiastic audience that her impressive talents deserve. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 13. (Fri.) Allison Adams Tucker. She likes to describe her vocal style as “World Jazz,” and her far-ranging programs – emphasizing her mastery of languages and her fascination with various world musics transform her performances into memorable experiences. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Mark Copeland

Mark Copeland

- June 14. (Sat.) Mark Copland. At a time when Frank Sinatra-inspired male singers are surfacing in venues across the country, it’s good to hear – among the Sinatra wannabes – a vocalist who brings authenticity and enthusiasm to his fondness for Old Blue Eyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 14 & 15. The Playboy Jazz Festival. Always the jazz event that kicks off the summer season, this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival continues its quest to provide two days of non-stop, hard swinging, imaginative jazz.

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

Among the headliners: Al Jarreau, Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Barron, Dianne Reeves, Dr. Lonnie Smith, George Benson, Earl Klugh, James Cotton, Jose James, as well as a tribute to George Duke. George Lopez is once again the Master of Ceremonies. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850.2000.

- June 15. 21st Annual Brazilian Summer Festival. The annual Brazilian festivals produced by Brazilian Nites are always compelling events. This year, the performances celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup competition currently taking place in Brazil. The Ford Amphitheatre (323) 461-3673.

New York City

- June 10 – 14. (Tues. – Sat.) Stacey Kent. Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kent has been living in the U.K., building a dedicated English fan base. She selebrates the release of her new, Brazilian-tinged album, The Changing Lights. Birdland. (212) 581-3080/.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

- June 10 – 15, (Tues. – Sun.) Anat Cohen Trio. The gorgeous, Israel-born Cohen has thoroughly established herself as one of the most imaginative jazz instrumentalists of her generation, while returning the clarinet to the top echelon of jazz expressiveness. Her trio also includes Martin Wind, bass, and Matt Wilson, drums. The Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.

Boston

- June 13. (Fri.,) Diane Schuur. “Deedles,” as she is known to friends and fans alike, continues to enliven the soaring, lyrical vocal style first established by Sarah Vaughn, now the trademark of Deedle’s imaginative singing. The Regatta Bar.
(617) 661-5000.

London

Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

- June 11 – 13. (Wed. – Fri.) Courtney Pine. Saxophonist and multi-woodwind player Pine’s adventurous playing has taken him to the top of the English jazz world and beyond, playing a blend of styles embracing merengue, ska, calypso with a solid jazz imagination. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0) 20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

- June 11 – 15 (Wed. – Sun.) Tak Matsumoto. A Grammy-winning guitarist/composer/singer/producer and more, Matsumoto moves freely and convincingly across musical genres of every hue. The Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5485-0088.

 

 

 

 


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