Live Music for the Holidays: The Manhattan Transfer at Walt Disney Concert Hall

December 19, 2014

By James DeFrances

As Janis Siegel sang “the sun is shining, the grass is green, there’s never been quite a day in Beverly Hills LA” (the verse to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”) it became apparent that the Manhattan Transfer singers are just as comfortable in LA as they are back home in New York.

Walt Disney Concert Hall lit up Tuesday night with the holiday spirit as audience members hummed and swayed along with the familiar tunes. Members of the legendary quartet were outfitted in green and red accessories with red Santa hats. The scene was set and with that their sleigh ride of musical wonderment was underway.

Of course things were a little different this time around since the recent and untimely passing of Tim Hauser, the group’s founder and patriarch. It was with joy and sadness that each remaining member of the group – Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul – expressed their gratitude for all that Hauser had done and what a great friend he had been to them over the years.

The Manhattan Transfer (Trist Curless, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul)

His role for these holiday shows was covered seamlessly by the young vocalist and voice actor, Trist Curless. In Hauser’s honor the group dedicated “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Groovin’.” Felix Cavalieri of The Young Rascals had actually phoned Paul just days before the concert, asking him to perform the songs in homage and they were undoubtedly the high points of the evening.

A great rhythmic change of pace followed when they rolled out a lively and engaging salsa version of “Frosty the Snowman.” Most of the other holiday songs were sourced from the Transfer’s 1992 hit record The Christmas Album. which in and of itself is worthy of mention. Other tunes on the table this evening were “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

This wasn’t only a holiday show, though. A handful of non-holiday songs made their way to the set list. Most notably was Paul’s tender and moving rendition of “All The Way” (the Van Heusen and Cahn hit popularized by Frank Sinatra). Paul dedicated the song to Angela and Arielle his wife and daughter. The group followed the ballad with the energetic 1975 megahit “Operator,” a tune which they cannot leave out regardless of the theme of the show.

After a standing ovation and minutes of thunderous applause, the Transfer reappeared for an encore to perform “The Christmas Song.” Finishing with a vamping reprise of “Happy Holidays,” they took their final bows and wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

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To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.


Live Jazz: Karrin Allyson at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 13, 2014

By James DeFrances

Hollywood. The holiday season was in full swing Thursday night at Catalina’s Jazz Club in Hollywood with some good old fashioned yuletide cheer. 4-time Grammy nominee singer-pianist Karrin Allyson took center stage to entertain the eager crowd.

Her show was a bit of a departure from a typical straight ahead jazz event though. The configuration of the band, for one, was unique in the fact that there was a Hammond B3 organ and a rhythm guitar. And the material was special, too, for this time of year, a specific holiday format

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson

Allyson had just flown into Southern California earlier that day and at one point she mentioned that “being on a plane for 6 hours messes with your head a bit.” But honestly I don’t think anyone could tell she had been traveling. To me she seemed completely calm, confident and fully capable of showing off her vocal bag of tricks!

Her set list ranged from acoustic, unplugged type arrangements to soulful blues-esque rhythm pieces. Her whimsical phrasing and expert “play by feel” timing brought each and every song to life. Allyson conversationally said to the crowd that she had always wanted a backup singer, or to be a backup singer with a glass half empty/glass half full tone of voice. What this statement actually intended to do was introduce the sprightly young vocalist and songsmith Aubrey Caswell who had written a few tunes recently for Allyson. She was amongst the audience tonight and was promptly invited up on stage to perform two duets. Aubrey is the daughter of Chris “Kazz” Caswell who was already on stage as part of the band, playing the organ.

Aubrey Caswell and Karrin Allyson

Aubrey Caswell and Karrin Allyson

The audience warmly received the younger Caswell, her well refined stage presence and her vocal talents. Allyson and Caswell performed “Winter Oasis” from her most recent album Yuletide Hideaway. Other highlights of the evening included Allyson’s moving solo performance of Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” (she even did the verse!) and Mose Allison’s “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

In a world of cookie cutter duplicates Karrin Allyison sometimes recalls Norah Jones and Liza Minnelli. But her musical stamp is purely her own. She’s a one of a kind talent, and there’s everything to praise about that!

There’s one more chance to hear Karrin Allyson — tonight (Saturday) at Catalina Bar & Grill.  Don’t miss her.  And be sure to check out her Christmas CD, Yuletide Hideaway.

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Photos by James DeFrances.


Live Music: Ron Dante and more at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 6, 2014

By James deFrances

A warm nostalgic breeze was ushered into Hollywood last Thursday night by Ron Dante and “his friends.” Patrons at Catalina Bar & Grill on Sunset Blvd couldn’t help but feel the energy and sing along as rock ‘n roll legends of yesteryear performed their hits on stage. The audience was comprised of notable entertainment heavyweights too, ranging from record executive and radio host Jerry Sharell to former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ron Dante

Ron Dante

Sly Stallone

Sly Stallone

On the bill with Dante (of the animated Archies) were the likes of Bo Donaldson (of the Heywoods), John Claude Gummoe (of the Cascades), Dennis Tufano (of the Buckinghams), Kyle Vinson and Frank Stallone. There was a very distinct aura in the club, for this wasn’t merely some cheesy cover show, these were the original arrangements performed by the original artists. I always find it enthralling to see how the bands have aged with their music and how their current interpretation differs from the studio version all these decades later.

Bo Donaldson

Bo Donaldson

As expected, there were many highlights of the night with each classic chart-topper evoking an emotional response among the audience. Songs like “Sugar Sugar,”  “Kind of a Drag,” “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “Rhythm of the Rain” to name a few that had the fans on a trip down memory lane.

I could overhear some folks behind me saying: “Oh I remember this song from our high school prom!” and “Don’t you remember when your brother bought that on a 45 RPM single?” These songs and these performers defined an entire generation and it is kind of hard to fathom that they were all together on one stage. But they were, and furthermore still performed with the kind of intensity and quality that made them popular more than 50 years ago.

Dennis Tufano

Dennis Tufano

Each act brought something special to the stage. Dante jokingly remarked that the only reason he wore a blazer was because this performance was at a jazz club, eventually he took the coat off and seemed to be more relaxed. Toward the end of the evening he began a dialogue with the crowd explaining how grateful he was for his fans’ support and how he wanted to talk briefly about some of the highlights of his career.

Ron Dante

Ron Dante

He showed the audience a video montage of his many TV commercial jingles from the 1970s. On the projector roll were commercials for McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Yoplait, Dr. Pepper and more. Dante’s dynamic talents include singer, songwriter, arranger, composer and producer. He also mentioned his production work for Barry Manilow and Pat Benatar which he was particularly proud of.

With Dante’s never ending credit list and his evidently large rolodex, one can’t help but look forward to his next big hoorah. He is still in fine voice, good spirits and apparently great health.

Everyone got their 35 dollar’s worth and then some on this fine evening. I bet each act could have demanded that for a solo show alone. This wonderful event may not have been for the typical jazz fare at Catalina’s jazz room, but from what I could gather, no one seemed to mind!

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Photos by James deFrances.


Live Music: Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood. Any evening of music with the names of Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at the top of the program is pretty much guaranteed to offer plenty of memorable moments. Which is exactly what happened Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The overflow crowd of enthusiastic fans, filling virtually every table in Catalina Popescu’s large, but still warm and cozy venue, were there because of their awareness of the stellar qualities of the two headliners.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale

 

 

The versatile Hale is a remarkable multi-hyphenate, doubling impressively on harp and piano, and a first call studio player on both instruments, singing with her own uniquely interpretive vocal qualities and a frequent discoverer and supporter of new young vocal talent. (Add to that her year round efforts to support candidates of the Democratic Party – more evidence of the vitality that has been present over the course of Hale’s long dynamic career.)

 

 

 

Eloise Laws

Eloise Laws

 

 

Laws is, of course, a member of the remarkable Laws family – which also includes flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Ronnie Laws and singer Debra Laws. But her lengthy and busy career – reaching back to the ’70s is her own. Although she has demonstrated prime talents as a back up singer, she has firmly established herself as master of crossover styles reaching across pop, blues, r&b and jazz. Nor can we overlook her skills as a producer, actress and writer for the stage.

 

The performance by Hale and Laws – titled “Sister! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – provided an excellent opportunity for each to display her various talents. Hale moved frequently from piano to harp, pausing on a few occasions to take the vocal microphone herself. Laws, occasionally interacting humorously with her listeners, displayed her stylistic range with a rich program of songs.

Each also dealt with some occasional uncertainty about which song was coming next, transforming the confusion into improvisational banter. Although it may have seemed disorienting from the performers’ on stage perspective, it was – for the audience – another of the evening’s many delights.

Add to that, the music itself. Among the numerous highlights:

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Laws quickly dug into the theme of the show – “Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – with a a briskly swinging romp through “How High the Moon” recalling the classic Ella Fitzgerald version. And she followed with other salutes – to Billie Holiday with “God Bless the Child,” Peggy Lee with “Fever,” and Shirley Horn with “Here’s To Life” (accompanied by pianist Artie Butler, who composed the song with lyricist Phyllis Molinary), and more. Further displaying her interpretive range, she offered a lyrical reading of “Send in the Clowns” and dueted with Hale’s harp accompaniment on “My Ship” and guitarist John Chiodini’s backing on “I’m Old Fashioned,”

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Hale was the dynamo for the entire performance. Moving from the piano to the harp and back to the piano, energizing the backing of the rhythm section and keeping track of the program, she only had the opportunity to sing a few vocals. When she did – especially on “I Want To Be Happy” and “S’Wonderful” – she left the audience (and this listener) wishing for more. Hale’s generosity with other singers, often present in her performances, was an essential part of this evening, as well. And the results made for a program overflowing with entertaining musicality.

Still, as I’ve written in past reviews of Hale’s appearances, I hope that she will also continue to find – amid her immensely busy life – time to express her own musical creativity, as well.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: December 1 – 7 in L.A. and Beyond

December 1, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Eloise Laws nd Corky Hale

Eloise Laws nd Corky Hale

- Dec. 3. (Wed.) Corky Hale and Eloise Laws. Pianist/harpist and all around music master Hale gets together with the engaging, Laws family vocalist Eloise for an evening of prime time music making. Her appropriate title for the evening is “Sisters! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz, featuring a special suprise guest. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

- Dec. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Mussorgsky’s always compelling Pictures at an Exhibition. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Dec. 5. (Fri. ) Vijay Ayer: The Rites of Holi and Mutations I – X. Pianist/composer Ayer’s Rites of Holi was inspired by the Hindu Rite of Spring celebration and based upon Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (on the classic work’s 100th anniversary).  The Music of Transformation, written for piano, string quartet and electronics is Ayer’s first classically oriented work, driven by the improvisational imagination central to his creativity.   A CAP UCLA at Royce Hall event.  (310) 825-2101.

Dr. John

Dr. John

- Dec. 6. (Sat.) Dr. John. New Orlean’s jazz piano/vocal master and his Night Trippers can be counted on to produce an evening filled with sounds to remember. A CAP UCLA at Royce Hall event.   (310) 825-2101.

- Dec. 6. (Sat.) Judy Collins. Any performance by Judy Collins is a special event. And even more so when she does her warmly captivating program of holiday songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- Dec. 6. (Sat.) Bill Cunliffe nnd Imaginacion. Pianist, composer and Grammy winner Cunliffe displays his mastery of the rhythmic pleasures of Latin jazz. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Brad Mehldau

- Dec. 6. (Sat.) The Brad Mehldau Trio and The Bad Plus. Here’s an intriguing program contrasting the differing, but fascinating jazz adventuring of pianist Mehldau and the piano oriented trio work of The Bad Plus. Valley Performing Arts Center (818) 677-8800.

-Dec. 6 & 7. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Ron Carter Golden Striker  Trio and Kenny Barron with Dave Holland.  Once again, the Jazz Bakery is offering a weekend of music to remember.  And it doesn’t get any better than this.  Saturday’s program features the iconic bassist Ron Carter with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone.  On Sunday, a pair of jazz masters — pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland — meet in what will surely be a primal jazz encounter.  Don’t miss this extraordinary weekend.  A pair of Jazz Bakery Movable Feasts — at Zipper Concert Hall in the Colburn School Saturday, and at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Sunday.  (310) 275-8961.

- Dec. 7. (Sun.) The Canadian Brass. First organized in 1970, the Canadian Brass quintet has gone through numerous personnel changes. But the quintet’s musical versatility has continued to increase. And they’re particularly engaging with their annual holiday program. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

San Francisco and Oakland

- Dec. 4. (Thurs.) Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. Yet another talented member of the musically adept Marsalis family takes center stage, first as a drummer, more recently displaying his capacity to bring new life to the jazz vibraphone. SFJAZZ Center. (866) 920-5299.

Denny Zeitlin solo.

- Dec. 5. (Fri.) Denny Zeitlin. An Evening exploring the Seminal Early Compositions of Wayne Shorter. Piedmont Piano Company, Oakland. Pianist and composer Zeitlin has been one of the music world’s true multi-hyphenates for years, balancing a career as a psychiatrist/educator with decades of masterful jazz performances and recordings. This time out, he finds inspiration in a probing, inventive exploration of the music of Wayne Shorter. The Piedmont Piano Company.  (510) 547-8188.

Seattle

- Dec. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove takes a break from his big band to display his always top level skills in the jazz quintet format. Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- Dec 2 – 7. (Tues. – Sun.) Pat Metheny Unity Group. Guitarist, like most world class jazz artists, is at his best when he’s leading a group of prime players, as he is here, with the sterling ensemble of saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Antonio Sanchez and multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

- Dec. 2 – 6. (Tues. – Sat.) Eliane Elias. As her many fans know, one can’t get enough of the piano and vocals of Elias, who is one of the true masters of an appealing blend of the lush pleasures of Brazilian music with imaginative excursions into jazz. Birdland.  212) 581-3080.

London

- Dec. 3. (Wed.) The London Philharmonic. Rachmaninoff: Inside Out. The Philharmonic explores the creative similarities of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1, Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F# minor and Szymanowski’s Concert Overture. Vladimir Jurowski conducts, with pianio soloist Igor Levit. Royal Festival Hall Southbank Centre  +44 844 875 0073.

Copenhagen

- Dec. 3. (Wed.) Aaron Goldberg Trio. Pianist Goldberg’s long term relationship with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland is resulting in a convincingly contemporary incarnation of the classic jazz piano trio. Jazzhus Montmatre.  +45 31 72 34 94

Milan

Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola

- Dec. 3 – 6. (Wed. – Sat.) Al di Meola. Always creatively curious, in search of new jazz territory, guitarist di Meola leads an ensemble rich with harmonic settings, surging rhythms and intriguing textures. His musical companions include Argentine pianist Mario Parmisano, Moroccan percussionist Rhani Krija and Hungarian drummer Peter KaszasBlue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.

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Eliane Elias photo by Bonnie Perkinson

Brad Mehldau photo by Tony Gieske.


Live Music: Tony Galla at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 29, 2014

By James DeFrances

What do you call a blues version of Tony Bennett…? Simple, call him Tony Galla. Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. Galla kept the Holiday energy going as he shifted from swinging jazz tunes to soulful blues ballads and literally everything in between. Galla and his trio have been a recurring act at Vibrato over the years and he has no problem packing the house with fans of like minded musical tastes.

Tony Galla

Tony Galla

Wearing a contemporary black suit and holding his classic Gibson Les Paul guitar, Galla explained how he couldn’t leave out one particular song. That song was a duet actually, but Galla claimed he would sing both parts and that the audience had heard it before. I, of course hadn’t, being that it was my first time seeing his show, and I couldn’t quite figure what to expect. He went on to describe a duet between James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti and immediately a light bulb went off in my head…it was “This is a Man’s World.”

Based on a live recording from 2005, Galla proceeded to perform the song stating that his trio would be “imitating a symphony.” It was certainly one of the more obscure musical happenings I had ever heard up to this point with Galla playfully mimicking both Brown’s and Pavarotti’s vocal stylings and the trio playing about as large as possible. He was right, the crowd did know it and they liked it too.

Tony Galla with his trio

Tony Galla with his trio

It was an evening played by feel and not by form, with Galla trying to accom0date as many audience requests as possible, much to their approval. After quite a few Sinatra themed requests Galla said: “OK now we are going to do a 40 minute medley of Frank Sinatra and over every song he ever recorded!” His humor was well received and his talents were apparent to everyone in the room. Galla is dynamic and can play a lot of angles.

When you see his show, you are basically seeing a 3-in-one deal and each part is done well. Other notable tunes of the evening were his renditions of “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Witchcraft” and his closing number, the B.B. King classic “The Thrill is Gone.” With his high energy on-stage antics and his wide variety of song selections, Galla’s show is sure to find a common ground with almost every listener!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

 


Live Music: Seth MacFarlane at Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc.

November 25, 2014

By James DeFrances

Bel Air.  Sunday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. one performer had the world on a string. That person was Seth MacFarlane and his name should ring a bell. MacFarlane has been the long time creator of Fox’s animated series Family Guy, as well as the brains behind the 2012 feature film Ted and the host of the 2013 Academy Awards telecast…for starters.

Seth MacFarlane

On this occasion, though, he was appearing in a different capacity, as a big band singer. Which wasn’t such a far cry for MacFarlane, who released his debut album Music is Better Than Words, a late ’50’s/early ’60’s style big band vocal record, in 2012. Recorded at Capitol Records studios in Hollywood he showcased his unique voice in a style very much like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. His TV show Family Guy also relies heavily on lush orchestral Swing style cues in between scenes and for the main theme song. His affection for this kind of music is ever apparent in all aspects of his career.

On Sunday night he was backed by the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra, which includes an A-list of Hollywood studio musicians.

Seth MacFarlane with Ron Jones and the Influence Jazz Orchestra

Crooning to a packed house of fans from all facets of his career, MacFarlane would have even made Frank Sinatra proud if he had been there. And speaking of Sinatra, there was plenty of his music in the set list. And it was quite a rare treat to actually hear the song choices, as they were not all necessarily chart-topping hits for Sinatra. Songs like: “It’s Always You,” “No One Ever Tells You” and “The Look of Love” stood out.

What was even more exciting was the fact that he used original Sinatra arrangements penned by such legendary orchestrators as Sy Oliver, Nelson Riddle and Billy May. MacFarlane’s voice was fully up to the task, as he cruised through each tune with a relaxed demeanor and plenty of power and vibrato on tap when it was needed.

Armed with a glass of scotch and a wired Shure microphone, he also explored many classics and standards from stage shows and films of days gone by. Among them were songs like “One For My Baby,” “Come Fly With Me” and “Just in Time.”

Seth MacFarlane sings with the Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra

The show seemed to have gone by almost too quickly when MacFarlane announced the final number. In a Vegas-like move, he opted to close the night out with “Luck be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls featuring the iconic 1963 Billy May arrangement for Frank Sinatra.

For a few brief hours on Sunday night it really felt like 1966 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with the whiskey flowing and the horns blowing. MacFarlane’s star shined bright at Vibrato and it seems as if the world is his oyster, he really can do it all!

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Photos by James DeFrances.


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