Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 24, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air. Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s elegant Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. at the top of Beverly Glen last night. And, as always happens in his performances, he spent most of his program demonstrating his belief in the Great American Songbook as “America’s Shakespeare.”

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Davi, whose acting career began in a film starring Frank Sinatra, has been one of the most convincing Sinatra-influenced vocal stylists for most of his career. But, unlike the growing cadre of Sinatra wannabees, he’s never been an imitator. Inspired by Ol’ Blue Eyes, he has instead invested the lyrical expressiveness and rhythmic swing of the style with his own considerable interpretive skills.

As he did Thursday night at Vibrato. Backed by a solid, six piece band led by his music director, pianist Andy Waldman, Davi offered a program mixing Sinatra classics with an intriguing range of tunes from a variety of other sources.

For many responsive listeners, the Sinatra songbook items – “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “That Old Black Magic,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “That’s Life” among them – were the high points. And there’s no disputing the fact that they were brought vividly to life within a Sinatra framing shaped by the Davi imagination.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Roberto Davi and his band.

Other songs were equally persuasive: a warmly intimate reading of “Moonlight In Vermont”; a stunning medley of “Old Man River” and “River Stay Away From My Door,” thoroughly displaying the rich timbres of Davi’s mellow baritone voice; a Broadway stage-worthy version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”; and a rendering of “New York, New York” deeply touching the heart of every former New Yorker (including this one) in the room.

Robert Davi walking the room

Robert Davi walking the room

Davi enhanced lengthy segments of many songs with tours through Vibrato’s forest of tables, using a wireless microphone to create an informal, living room setting. And he was typically humorous, as well, often jokingly arguing with some of his show biz friends in the crowd about the correct identities of various songwriters. In one especially amusing segment, he recalled meeting “Russia’s Frank Sinatra” during a concert program in Russia. Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with what can best be described as a hilarious Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

As he has done in past performances, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from a mid-’40s short film, featuring Sinatra. The film, rare for the time, offered powerful opposition to Anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. And Davi, always a strong supporter of the best characteristics in American culture, underscored the song’s contemporary value at a time when those characteristics are most needed.

In sum, Davi’s performance was a virtual seminar in how to bring imagination, creativity, musicality and the sheer pleasures of entertainment to a beautifully expressed evening of song. And it was done so well that it aroused – for this listener – a feeling I’ve occasionally had at past Davi performances: the desire to hear his extraordinary skills at the service of a even wider repertoire of songs.

Among the possibilities: more works by the incomparable Alan and Marilyn Bergman; more songs by Leonard Bernstein; and Davi is more than versatile enough, as well, to find some offbeat musical riches in the singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s.

That said, Davi’s performance was another musical night to remember. And when he returns to the Vibrato stage, we’ll be there once again, packing the house, along with his legions of enthusiastic fans.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Live Brazilian Music: Teka at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 22, 2014

By James M. DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Teka Penteriche’s performance at Vibrato last Sunday night had the approval of everyone in the crowd, including veteran crooner Tom Jones.

Teka

Teka

The smooth sounds of the Brazilian born singer-guitarist and her New Bossa Band filled the air of Herb Alpert’s cozy and elegantly appointed club in Bel Air. Her song choices too were apparently just what the doctor ordered for the late night weekend patrons in West LA.  Over a glass of white wine and a bowl of the club’s extraordinary Cream of Mushroom soup I too was able to experience first hand what everyone had told me about,

Teka is sensational. Her set list offered a wide variety of Brazilian jazz with songs sung in both Portuguese and English. Teka’s arrangements and adaptations are uniquely her own and her voice and the band synced up the way every band hopes for. Highlights of the evening included her renditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classics — including a beautifully done version of “Aguas de Marco” and the song that the audience seemed to appreciate the most “Summer Samba” the crowning achievement of Brazilian composer Marcos Valle.

Teka and her New Bossa Band

Teka and her New Bossa Band

She was backed superbly by her New Bossa band – saxophonist/flutist Doug Webb, pianist Tom Zink, bassist Randy Tico and percussionist Kevin Winard.

Teka and her husband Paris had to make quite the trip down from Santa Barbara but it was a trip well taken as the audience was ready for more, even at the conclusion of her second and final set. Many audience members purchased a CD from Teka’s collection of albums as they left the club – a solid indication that her performance was a hit!

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Photos by James M. DeFrances.


On Opera: Director Barrie Kosky in Conversation with LA Opera’s Christopher Koelsch

October 19, 2014

 By Jane Rosenberg

Ebullient, outspoken, and intelligent, Barrie Kosky, artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, and stage director of LA Opera’s upcoming production of the double bill Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle presented his concept of this unusual opera pairing during a conversation with opera president, Christopher Koelsch at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday. (This is the first in a series of live streaming conversations on the LA Opera’s website – a welcome addition to the Opera’s continuing efforts to offer insights into their productions as they do with their regular pre-performance talks).

Barrie Kosky

Barrie Kosky

If you were lucky enough to see the LA Opera’s production of The Magic Flute in November of last year, then you may know that Kosky, along with his collaborators Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, were the team responsible for this clever and visually arresting re-imagining of The Magic Flute. If Kosky brings the same level of ingenuity to Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle then the audience is in for a remarkable evening.

Conductor Constantinos Carydis conceived of the unconventional pairing of the two operas and though Kosky acknowledged that the operas, written more than two hundred years apart, are from two entirely different sound worlds, there are narrative parallels and psychological truths common to them both. Both deal with obsessive love, loneliness, loss, and on a spiritual and intellectual level: the theme of arrival and departure. Aeneas arrives in Carthage, gains Dido’s love, only to leave again, unknowingly destroying the woman he loves and the empire she rules. Judith arrives at Bluebeard’s Castle, only to find herself trapped in a nightmare world of secrets and unable to leave.

Favoring Minimalist stagings to allow the emotional power of the music and the performances to provide maximum heft, Kosky, in one of his many moments of humor, called himself an “Opulent Minimalist.” Certainly, his production of The Magic Flute gave the audience a very crowded visual field, however, the structures supporting the video projections were simple. For him, and certainly visual artists would agree, Minimalism entails distilling things to their essence.

The essence of Bluebeard, in Kosky’s staging, is not about the architecture of the doors and walls in Bluebeard’s castle; but about the primacy of the performer and the human voice. In the narrative, Judith’s curiosity compels her to open door after door, looking for a way to let light into the enchanted, dark world of the castle. In this new production, set on a slowly revolving white circle, the doors and walls are replaced by bodies harboring those secrets, in a very clever and compelling piece of staging. Emotions are raw and exposed – a veritable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in Hungarian – as Kosky explained to his amused audience.

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from "Bluebeard's Castle," presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from “Bluebeard’s Castle,” presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

For Dido and Aeneas, fragility seems to be the essence of the unfolding tragedy for Kosky: the fragility of Purcell’s score, the fragility of life, and the condition that Dido finds herself in – trapped between the needs of her court and her love for Aeneas. Kosky jokingly urged everyone to bring a box of tissues to cope with the raw power and emotional catharsis of Dido’s final aria and ensuing death.

It is this raw power that interests the director who asserted that opera as an art form should take the audience out of its emotional comfort zone. Opera “fundamentalists,” as he called those who insist on productions that hark back to their originals, miss the point. Opera isn’t a fixed form, with only one viable approach, but rather, like all theatre, an interpretive art form always open to investigation.

As for his working methods, he said: it all starts with choosing the right piece of musical theatre, then “riding the surfboard on the wave” of the music. After assembling a first rate cast, anything becomes possible, because he trusts great performers to draw out character and present human truths. A director, with a musical education, Kosky first plays through the score on the piano to digest the music, then listens to as many CDs as he can. Ideas emerge from the process. The rehearsal period is a long one as he and the conductor grapple with how sound should convey the meaning of the words of the libretto. One of the joys of his profession, he said, is directing the chorus. Rather than leaving them as a static entity, he prefers to move them into the action to create a deeper level of performance.

And how do you see the future of opera? Christopher Koelsch asked Kosky in conclusion. The director felt that every hurdle faced by an opera house was unique to each house and its city. But the fundamental issue was accessibility. It’s all about the ticket prices, he explained. Because opera is subsidized in Germany, the lowest ticket price at the Komische Oper is eight Euros. Subsidies allow Kosky to reach a broad audience and at the same time maximize the productions with full orchestra, full chorus, and top performers. In his view, opera is here to stay. It is the only theatrical form that links us to the ancient Greeks – to Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles; and because of that, we are linked to something primal… and one hopes, eternal.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of LA Opera.


Live Music: Dee Dee Bridgewater at Catalina Bar & Grill

October 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I love Dee Dee Bridgewater. I don’t hesitate to say that in public because I know my wife loves her as much as I do. And we both love her even more after experiencing the remarkable performance she gave at Catalina Bar & Grill last night.

To say that what Dee Dee and her impressive quintet offered in their ten song program was dynamic is like describing an atomic bomb as just an explosion. She and her players – trumpeter and leader Theo Croker, alto saxophonist Irwin Hall, keyboardist Michael King, bassist Eric “E-Dub” Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall – fit together like the workings of a fine Swiss watch. And they did so with a combination of sizzling spontaneity, hard driving swing and interactive inventiveness.

Eric “Dub” Wheeler, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Theo Croker, Kassa Overall and Irwin Hall

Blessed with a voice that soars effortlessly across octaves with an astonishing range of timbres, Dee Dee transformed each of her songs into a dramatic short story, delivered in a compatible musical setting perfectly illuminating every emotional twist and turn that she brought to her vocal narratives.

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Michael King

The range of selections was extraordinary: from “”Afro-Blue” to “A Foggy Day,” from “Blue Monk” to “Love For Sale.” With occasional in between stops at tunes such as “Save Your Love For Me” and “Living For the City.” But whether the source was Thelonious Monk or the Gershwins, Dee Dee found the heart of the song, in brilliant creative exchanges with her musicians.

I’ve already mentioned interactivity several times in describing this memorable evening, and with good reason. All singers value a strong linkage with their players.

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

Theo Croker, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irwin Hall

But what took place between Dee Dee and her musicians could more accurately be compared to what has taken place in some of the classic instrumental ensembles in jazz history (think those of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Modern Jazz Quartet). And, by the way, Dee Dee’s players – Croker, Hall, King, Wheeler and Overall – are not as well known as they should be.

Dee Dee wrapped the night by stepping down into the table area, cruising among the enthusiastic, hand-clapping crowd, singing Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic of a Sacred World.” Occasionally bestowing hugs along the way, she concluded her magical music by inviting her listeners into her creative “Sacred World.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater and her players have one

more night to go at Catalina Bar and Grill. Don’t miss her one of a kind musical experiences. And when she asks you to get up and join her song, do it.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.

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Picks of the Week: October 15 – 19 in Los Angeles, New York City and London

October 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- Oct. 16 – 18. (Thurs. – Sat.) Dee Dee Bridgewater. She’s a Grammy and Tony award winner, an actress, a radio star and a U.N. Ambassador. As if all that wasn’t enough, she’s also a dynamic jazz artist, a singer with a unique style and a creative imagination. She doesn’t make a lot of L.A. Club performances, so don’t miss this one. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 16. (Thurs.) Gregg Arthur. Add Australian singer Arthur to the growing list of male vocal artists finding inspiration in the Sinatra style and the Great American Songbook repertoire. And he does it with authority. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

- Oct. 17. (Fri.) Billy Childs. Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro. Pianist/composer Billy Childs showcases a live performance of his new recording, finding new creative aspects in the music of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. He’s aided by the vocals of Becca Stevens, Moira Smiley and Lisa Fischer. Segerstrom Center.  (714) 556-2787.

- Oct. 17. (Fri.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Prokofiev and Dvorak. In an evening of extraordinary international taent, Basque conductor Juanjo Mena leads the L.A. Phil in performances of the Dvorak Symphony No. 7 and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, with Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- Oct. 18. (Sat.) Laura Pausini. Consider it good timing for Italian singer Pausini to make a Southland appearance in the week of Christopher Columbus celebrations. A major Italian star, she should be heard by American listeners, as well. The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) Jane Monheit.   “Hello Bluebird: Celebrating the Jazz of Judy Garland.”  Monheit applies her rich vocal timbres and and brisk rhythms to a fascinating view of the Garland’s jazz roots.  Saban Theatre. (888) 645-5006.

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) The Buddy Rich Band. It may no longer be led by the charismatic drumming of the late Rich, but his band still retains the character and the spirit of the original. Catalina Bar & Grill. (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Mozart Serenade. Douglas Boyd conducts Mozart’s Serenade in D Major and George Benjamin’s First Light, and cellist Steven Isserlis is the soloist for Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major. A CAP UCLA event at Royce Hall.  310-825-2101.

 

* * *  L.A.’s HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK   * * *

TEKA and her NEW BOSSA QUARTET

Oct. 19. (Sun.)

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

 Brazilian singer/guitarist Teka and her New Bossa Quartet perform music rich with free flying jazz, the irresistible rhythms and melodies of Brazil, and the lyrical pleasures of the Great American Songbook.

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New York City

- Oct. 14 – 18. (Tues. – Sat.) Benny Green Trio. The virtuosic Green is one of the few pianists influenced by Oscar Peterson who does so with convincing improvisational authority. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Oct. 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) Cassandra Wilson. A jazz singer who is one of the few uniquely original performers in the field of jazz vocalists. Blessed with a voice rich with warm, expressive timbres, she uses it at the service of a compelling creative imagination. The Blue Note.

London

- Oct. 15 & 16. (Wed. & Thurs.) Al Di Meola plays Beatles and More. Always in pursuit of new expressive arenas for his superb guitar playing, Di Meola applies his remarkable skills to the classics of the Beatles songbook. And more. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.


Live Music: Experience Hendrix at the Greek Theatre

October 14, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

Los Angeles, CA.  Of all the guitar players to come along in the 20th century, none have been more influential than Jimi Hendrix. Forty-four years after his death, his presence is still felt vividly by anyone with ears open. On Friday night, the Experience Hendrix tour 2014 vintage rolled into the Greek Theatre to share the love and appreciation for Jimi’s music and style. This tour featured hot-shot guitar players from all over the stylistic map, but culling mostly from blues, and rock ‘n roll … between which there is often a very thin line. You could say that Jimi Hendrix set up camp on this line and expanded his style into a very inspired original realm.

On Friday we had people like Zakk Wylde (from Ozzy Ozbourne’s band), Rich Robinson of the Black Crows, Jonny Lang, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd — all of whom were barely out of the crib or not yet born when Hendrix checked out — paying homage to him. Eric Johnson on the other hand was 16 by the time Hendrix died and had the time to take him in, way in, while he was current. Buddy Guy was actually an elder contemporary of Hendrix’s. And on Friday Jimi’s old Army buddy and Band of Gypsies mate Billy Cox, who helped arrange the tour, played on several tunes, including “Red House,” “Message to Love” and “Them Changes.”

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

As a popular music artist, Jimi Hendrix brought the whole package to the table. He was legendarily influential in how electric guitars would sound and be played after him…and he played his Stratocaster left-handed and upside down! He also was an electrifying performer and an inspirational songwriter. The cherry atop it all was that Hendrix was an African American young man coming at the world, fusing Delta blues and rock ‘n’ roll, via swingin’ London, having blown away all the rock gods of the time away in their hometown. The world took notice. But these were turbulent times and copious drug use was absolutely the norm. By age 27, Jimi was a tragic casualty of the lifestyle, after only about 4 years in the limelight.

Yet, it appears that in many circles his legacy is still thriving. Then and now, he set the bar several dozen notches higher than it had been before, for anyone who was (or is) getting serious about playing rock guitar. If one can do justice to several of Hendrix’ tunes, then they just may be getting the real hang of the instrument.

There is one caveat about Hendrix’ music. It has seduced many guitar players into wanking out on their solos far too often, particularly on blues jams. Hendrix was such a great instrumentalist that he could pull off extended solos in a rock format when few others could. With his popularity and Eric Clapton’s concurrent years with Cream, many guitarists seized on stretching out and were nothing much more than boring.

Zack Wylde

Zack Wylde

When you have a night of people jamming Hendrix it’s a given that a whole lot of notes will be played for a long time. Generally speaking on Friday, only two guys went a little too long. They were Zakk Wylde (who looked like he’d clobber you like a cave man if you suggested as much) on “Manic Depression,” and Kenny Wayne Shepherd who did sound amazing as he went on and on over the soft and hard versions of “Voodoo Chile/Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Wylde is a first string heavy metal dude. But, as deft a player as he is, his guitar style can get long winded and histrionic enough so as not to allow him to perhaps let it breathe the way blues-based music needs to. But he did add the elusive piano part to Eric Johnson’s version of “Are You Experienced?” that put it over into one of the top performances of the evening. Shepherd actually had an amazingly authentic tone to work with and did real justice to two of the litmus test tunes on the learning curve of rock guitar.

Eric Johnson and Scot Nelson

Eric Johnson and Scot Nelson

Friday’s show also did a fine job of spotlighting many of Hendrix’ most popular and most inspirational tunes. The song list was top shelf, with many of Jimi’s best deeper cuts and B-sides taking up the lion’s share of the program. “Stone Free,” “Manic Depression,” “Purple Haze” and “Little Wing” all made the list.

Ana Popovic

 

But so did a very soulful version, from Rich Robinson, of the bluesy but atypical “Up From the Skies,” Eric Johnson’s ripping version of “Ezy Rider,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd and singer Noah Hunt’s revved up version of “Gypsy Eyes,” a sparser, more poignant version of “House Burning Down,” from the lovely, guitar-slinging Ana Popovic, and a very tasty version of “Angel” from Doyle Bramhall II, which he has covered since he was in the Arc Angels.

Chris Layton and Doyle Bramhall II

It should be pointed out that the rhythm section was impeccable. Rock steady bassists Tony Franklin (The Firm, Whitesnake), who played fretless basses most of the night, and Scot Nelson were in fine form playing with the one and only Chris Layton. The laconic Layton was Stevie Ray Vaughn’s drummer for many memorable years and on Friday he made it look so easy to hold down the enormous bottom end of these songs – the calm in the middle of the storm.

Experience Hendrix featured one fine tune after another and it still leaves me incredulous that all of Jimi Hendrix’s music was produced in what amounts to about 4 short years. To say the least, he was taken away from the world far too early. Hendrix had some now legendary plans in the works to collaborate with Miles Davis and Emerson Lake and Palmer. What a shame it is that we never got to hear the sound of any of this.

But what he did put out remains stellar and it’s reaffirming to see that it still carries big weight with musical people. That’s why they come out to celebrate it at shows like this one.

* * * * * * * *

Photos of Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Layton, Ana Popovic, Eric Johnson and Scot Nelson by Mike Finkelstein.


Live Music: Members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in a France a la Carte Performance

October 10, 2014

By Don Heckman

Beverly Hills, CA. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s A La Carte performances, which take place in private international residences throughout Los Angeles, are among the Southland’s most appealing musical events. Each features a chamber music performance by distinguished members of LACO, along with gourmet dinners and prime beverages celebrating the cuisine of the host country.

On Thursday night LACO’s A La Carte France event took place in the Beverly Hills home of the Honorable Axel Cruau, the Consul General of France in Los Angeles, and Mrs. Dourene Cruau. The program, appropriately, featured French music. But what made the program especially intriguing was the focus on Baroque music by French composers Jean-Philippe Rameau, Francois Couperin, Jean-Baptiste Anet and Michel Blavet.

The France A La Carte Trio

The France A La Carte Trio

The performance took place in an intimate drawing room opening on to the lush greenery at the rear of the house that would soon be filled with white tables for the after-concert feasting.

Josefina Vergara

Josefina Vergara

The artists – violinist Josefina Vergara, who also led the ensemble, flutist David Shostac and harpsichordist Patricia Mabee – began the program with Couperin’s four movement Concerts Royaux No. 1. And two aspects became immediately clear: that the trio would perform with warmly empathic musical interaction; and that the French Baroque catalog of music is as unique and engaging as the more familiar German style.

David Shostac

David Shostac

Before the next pieces were played, Vergara offered an explanation of the use of ornamentation – the application of decorative notes, often complex, usually improvised, added to a written melody. Each of the players offered a passage without ornamentation followed by the same passage with varying degrees of ornamentation.

The brief seminar, with its description and demonstration of ornamentation, created a more informed, more responsive audience. And the trio responded with a pair of pieces: Anet’s Sonata For Violin and Harpsichord and Blavet’s Sonata in B minor for Flute and Harpsichord. Each was performed with articulate enthusiasm, with some of the ornamented passages drawing bits of applause and glances of approval.

Patricia Mabee

At the heart of the music, harpsichordist Mabee brought a convincing sense of authenticity to her final feature work, Rameau’s enigmatic Pieces de clavecin en concert (La Marais, La La Popliniere, La Timide, Tambourin). Great demands are placed upon the keyboard instruments in most Baroque music. And Mabee delivered on all counts, romping through the improvised figured bass passages, playing with vigor that brought each piece vividly to life..

All in all, it was another successful A La Carte event, and like others I’ve heard in recent years, it was one to remember. If you haven’t yet experienced any of LACO’s A La Cartes, there are two remaining performances on the 2014 schedule: Germany is featured on Oct. 25 with a complete performance of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen; Austria is featured on Nov. 7 with the music of Mozart, Toch, Eisler and Haydn.

Don’t miss these last two opportunities. In addition to the pleasures of the performances, proceeds from the A La Carte events support the artistic and education programming of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  Click HERE for more information about LACO’s A La Carte.


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