Live Jazz: Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival 56

September 23, 2013

Impressions from MJF 56, Saturday

By Michael Katz. 

Saturday at MJF is a sprawl of music, food, and a friendly wave of humanity washing over everything. After years of vacillating between the supposedly bigger names in the sun-baked arena and the fun of the Garden Stage, I opted this year to grab a bench seat at the Garden and soak it all in. As it turned out, you could have camped out for 3 days and nights there in your lawn chair and done just fine. Saturday afternoon was opened by the California Honeydrops, a band from Oakland with a distinct gumbo flavor, augmented by the blues-tinged piano of guest artist Charlie Hickox. Lech Wierzynski was a genial leader on vocals, guitar and trumpet. He varied the pace, from a sultry “Let The Good Times Roll,” to the New Orleans standard “You Rascal You,” and some rollicking blues.

The California Honeydrops on the March

The California Honeydrops on the March

When the metaphorical Honeydrops turned to real raindrops, the band marched into the crowd for a spirited “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Johnny Bones wailed away on the tenor, with Lorenzo Loera on bass. Benjamin Malamont and Warren Jones handled drums and percussion. In recounting their adventures playing in the BART tunnels, they brought out a washboard, Jones spinning out a tactile tap dance through “Pumpkin Pie.”

Somewhat regretfully, I left the Honeydrops behind to drop in on baritone sax player Claire Daly at the Night Club. She was doing a set of Monk tunes from her Baritone Monk CD, and the promise of an hour of Thelonious tunes was enough to draw me inside. Daly opened up with “52nd Street Theme,” then switched to some lesser known compositions, including “Light Blue,” which featured an arco solo by her bassist, Mary Ann McSweeney. It was nice to bring tunes like “Teo” and “Two Timer” to light, but there was a lot of mileage left in the more familiar compositions as well.

Claire Daly

Claire Daly

Daly has a graceful touch with the bari sax, strong chops and an easy patter with the audience. She knew when to vary the tone, switching to flute for “Ruby, My Dear,” where she had some fine support from Steve Hudson on piano. Her “Merrier Christmas” medley was quite amusing, especially given the hot and sticky conditions inside the Nightclub. When she mentioned the word “cool” in introducing “Let’s Cool One,” the very sound of it was refreshing; her version of it was brisk and swinging. I especially liked her interpretation of “Bright Mississippi,” which, despite the intended irony in Monk’s title, was bright and bouncy. Drummer Peter Grant had a nice flourish toward the end to conclude a terrific set.

There were a few quick stops before the evening program kicked in. I caught the end of George Benson’s Arena show, walking into a blazing (if way too heavily amped) “Mambo Inn,” which was followed by a couple of his pop standards, and then a foot stomping signature version of “On Broadway.”

Charnett Moffett

Charnett Moffett

Back at the Garden Stage, bassist Charnett Moffett kicked off the 10 Years of Motema Music celebration with 20 minutes of solo bass. It was a triumph of rhythm and dexterity, his nimble fingers reminiscent of Ron Carter, deftly weaving from Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” There was “Frere Jacques” as you’ve never quite heard it, and a stand-up bass/electronic-assisted nod to Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner.”

Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano

I started the evening at the Arena, where Artist-In Residence Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas led their Sound Prints quintet. Lovano has been much into free jazz of late – I had caught the end of his Us Five band Friday night. His soloing is vigorous and full of extemporaneous glee, while Douglas has always been out there on the edge. But I thought that pianist Lawrence Fields was superb – his chordal structures and gentle prodding formed the background to the band, a kind of gravitational pull that kept the soloists from breaking too far from their orbits. The centerpiece of the show was two Wayne Shorter compositions commissioned for the festival, “Destination Unknown” and “Sail Beyond The Sunset.” The first was a somewhat basic line augmented by some more nice work by Fields. I found the second more compelling, with trumpeter Douglas providing some clarity with his voicings. Lovano soaring as usual and Linda Oh adding some insistent bass work. Joey Baron backed it all up nicely on the drums.

Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans

I cannot go through an MJF without at least one piano trio set at the Coffee House, so I headed over to catch Orrin Evans’ 9:30 set. Evans is a unique talent. Start out with a muscular style, a la the late Mulgrew Miller or McCoy Tyner, then add in the ability to find calm in the center, like the eye of a hurricane. Evans has had a long association with his bassist, Eric Revis, and the interplay between the two was fascinating throughout. They opened with a Revis composition, “Black Elk Speaks,” which had some abstract qualities, but later moved on to standards like “Autumn Leaves.” Drummer Donald Evans contributed precise stickwork, and Evans again demonstrated his ability to produce thunderous riffs and then segue to lovely, quieter moments. The hour flew by, ending on the spiritual side with Luther Vandross’ “Brand New Day” from The Wiz, and then Evans singing a gospel-like, “The Eternal Truth,” by Trudy Pitts.

There was no shortage of reverence and appreciation for the late Dave Brubeck at MJF 56, but nothing quite brought his spirit to life like the Brubeck Brothers Quartet at the Nightclub.

Chris Brubeck

Chris Brubeck

Bassist and trombonist Chris Brubeck, as affable as he is talented, kept everything in perspective, adding family insights to a collection of standard and not-so-standard compositions by his father. Brother Dan was quiet verbally but boisterous on the drum set. The band itself stood out for its contrast to the basic Dave Brubeck quartet. Instead of a sax, there was superb guitarist Mike DeMicco. He shared the leads with pianist Chuck Lamb – the two of them often alternating bars on the main lines. The substitution of guitar for sax presented opportunities for fresh arrangements, and here the band excelled. I especially liked “Kathy’s Waltz,” which had a bright, energetic swing to it, with a terrific solo by Lamb. “The Jazz-anians” was a tour de force for Dan, and emphasized the cultural impact Dave had. There was a quiet interlude for Lamb, who soloed in “Strange Meadowlark,” then Chris picked up the trombone, offering a sweet and lovely interpretation of one of my favorite Brubeck tunes, “In Your Own Sweet Way.” There was also recognition of the recent passing of Marian McPartland. Dave Brubeck had recorded a series of wonderful compositions in which he took a performer’s name and worked out tunes that seemed to match them. “Marian McPartland,” which he recorded with her on “Piano Jazz,” was wonderfully re-invented with Chris providing nimble bass work. The Brubecks understood that the audience still wanted the most famous tunes – but Chris added to the understanding with a narrative of the quartet’s tour under the aegis of the State Department, which inspired “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” If you wondered how they’d pull this off without a saxophone, Mike DeMicco answered with an intricate reading, carrying the melody with Lamb, then pulling off the “Blue” part with some raucous guitar licks.

Capping it off was “Take Five,” in which Dan Brubeck breathed new life into the obligatory drum solo, taking a turn that might have become de riguer and treating the audience to as fine an extended performance as has been rendered on one of jazz’s most famous tunes.

That put the cap on a wonderful day 2 at Monterey, with the promise of one more afternoon and evening to come.

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Photos of the California Honeydrops, Charnett Moffett and Chris Brubeck by Michael Katz.

Photos of Claire Daly, Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas, and Orrin Evans courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival. 

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.Don’t forget to check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available in paperback and E-book at Amazon.  And Read Mike’s Blog at Katz of the Day.

 


Picks of the Week: Sept. 18 – 22

September 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gina Saputo

Gina Saputo

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. Emerging young jazz vocal star Saputo shares the stage with a talented group of L.A.’s finest singers — Courtney Lemmon, Dave Damiani and Mark Christian Miller. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) The Sammy Cahn-cert. Vocalist Kurt Reichenbach sings the marvelous far-ranging tunes from the Sammy Cahn songbook. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 18. (Wed.) Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. It’s been nearly two decades since the Orquesta Buenta players began to enlighten the world about the great music of Cuba. And they’re still at it. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Annie Trousseau

Annie Trousseau

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Annie Trousseau. Multi-lingual singer Trousseau sings in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English, enlivening the tradition of international cabaret styles. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob McChesney Quartet. McChesney’s superb trombone playing has thoroughly established him as one of the instrument’s great jazz masters. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) The Bob Sheppard Group. He’s everyone’s first call saxophone and woodwind player and with good reason. Here’s a chance to hear him in action with the stellar aid of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Kass. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

- Sept. 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway. The talented Callaway sisters get together to display talents reaching from jazz and pop to Broadway classics. Catalina Bar & Grill.  466-2210.

- Sept. 21 (Sat.) Sing-a-long Sound of Music. It’s an annual event, inviting enthusiastic audiences to sing along with the memorable songs from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 21. (Sat.) Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Swing music is still alive and well in the hard jiving hands of the Voodoo Daddys. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

- Sept. 21 & 22. (Sat. & Sun.) Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. The gifted players of the LACO begin their season with Jeffrey Kahane conducting a program of Beethoven, Mozart, Lutoslawski and Kodaly. Featured soloist is young violinist Benjamin Beilman. Sat: the Ambassador Auditorium; Sun. Royce Hall. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  (213) 622-7001.

- Sept. 22. (Sun.) Los Angeles Master Chorale. The extraordinary singers of the LAMC celebrate the ensemble’s 50th anniversary with a retrospective look at the highlights in their remarkable performance history. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- Sept. 19. (Thurs.) Amjad Ali Khan and Sons. Classical Indian master of the sarod, Khan has passed his skills on to a generation of gifted offpsring. SFJAZZ. Miner Auditorium. -(866) 920-5299.

Chicago

- Sept. 19 – 22 (Thurs. – Sun.) Miguel Zenon and Rhythm Collective. Alto saxophonist and winner of a MacArthur “genius:” award Zenon reveals the far-reaching range of his improvisational skills. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

- Sept, 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. Steve Kuhn, a veteran performer with Coltrane, leads a talented band of young players in a revisit to the Coltrane legacy. Birdland.  212) 581-3080.

London

- Sept. 18 – 19. Wed. & Thurs. Remembering Oscar Peterson. With pianists James Pearson and Dave Newton, Featuring selections from Peterson’s Canadiana Suite. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747 .

Copenhagen

- Sept. 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) French Jazz Festival. Denmark celebrates the high quality of French jazz artists. Among the featured performers: violinist Didier Lockwood, guitarist Michael Felderbaum and saxophonist Lionel Belmondo. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

- Sept. 20. (Fri.) Jonathan Butler. South African singer Butler has been blending the music of his roots with a gift for crossing over into international pop, soul and blues. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Preview: The 56th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival

September 15, 2013

By Michael Katz

Every year I head up to the Monterey Jazz Festival with a battle plan for seeing as much of the three days and over 500 artists as reasonably possible, and every year that plan gets shredded almost from the opening notes. Musicians whom I’d intended to sample (like Gregory Porter last year) keep me riveted for the duration of a set; a soft breeze and a bluesy band at the outdoor Garden Stage finds me hopelessly planted in my lawn chair; a piano trio at the Coffee House Gallery (Bill Carrothers, two years ago) holds me spellbound into the witching hour.

My initial take for MJF 56, coming up next weekend, was that the Arena line-up is so strong I’d be doing less wandering than usual. Certainly Friday night, with Gregory Porter opening the show, followed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck and then the Buena Vista Social Club is all too good to miss – unless I want to catch a little of pianist Uri Caine at the Coffee House or Carmen Lundy at the Night Club. Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano are playing separately on the grounds Friday night, but together Saturday night at the Arena.

Decisions, decisions….

Saturday presents lots of conundrums. There’s the traditional blues/roots program that leads off with the Relatives at the Arena, (with a late afternoon encore at the Garden Stage) and the usual collection of funky sounds all afternoon at the Garden. George Benson is the featured afternoon act at the Arena. But a young woman I haven’t heard, baritone player Claire Daly, is doing a Monk program at 2:30 in the Night Club, so I’m already figuring out how to catch most of that, and still see the last half of Benson’s show. Meanwhile, during the break between the Arena Shows, bassist Charnett Moffett will be holding forth, and by 8 PM a flood of talent hits the festival, with the Lovano/Douglas group, Marc Cary, Ravi Coltrane, Craig Taborn and Orrin Evans all performing in various venues at the same time.

Later on that night, after more potential bouncing between Dave Holland, Charlie Hunter, Mary Stallings and others, another dilemma is at hand. Bobby McFerrin is sui generis, and I surely won’t want to miss him. But the Brubeck Brothers, Chris, Daniel and their band, will be performing at the Night Club at about the same time. I saw Chris a few years ago at MJF with his funky blues band Triple Play, as well as with his Dad in the memorable Cannery Row Cantata. He’s a wonderful and spirited performer on bass and trombone, as is Daniel on the drums. Given their Dad’s lasting contributions to MJF, I get the sense that their show Saturday will be a heart stopper.

I issue my annual alert for Sunday: don’t miss the Next Generation Band. This group of all-star high school age kids opens the Arena Show Sunday, and they are a great reason to brave the midday Monterey sun. Joe Lovano will be joining them for a couple of guest solos. The Bob James-David Sanborn group will be anchoring the show, for what figures to be a fun session of funky, bluesy jazz. The “hammock” time between Arena shows is always a perfect occasion to hang out at the Garden Stage. This year Bay Area vocalist Tammy Hall performs between 4 and 5, while the Twin Cities’ Davina and the Vagabonds has the 5:30 – 7 slot. And if you haven’t caught Chicago’s own Judy Roberts with sax player Greg Fishman at one of their eight performances on the Courtyard Stage, check them out between 5 and 5:30.

Whew! We haven’t even talked about the food. About this time, if I haven’t had my ribs and peach cobbler, I’m loading up, to say nothing of a last Margarita. Meanwhile, the Festival will end with a blast. The annual Hammond B-3 showcase has guitarist Anthony Wilson’s Trio featuring Larry Goldings on the organ and drummer Jim Keltner at Dizzy’s Den, followed by MJF favorite Lonnie Smith. Over in the Night Club, altoist Lou Donaldson opens, and vibist Bobby Hutcherson follows with a tribute to the late, great Cedar Walton, who had been scheduled to appear in that slot.

With all that, it’s still hard to pass up the Arena’s final show, with Wayne Shorter celebrating his 80th birthday backed up by his superb quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. There are certain performers who always seem to save their best for Monterey. Diana Krall has had a love affair with MJF, dating back to her knockout debut at MJF 40, and her curtain-lowering show Sunday night promises to keep everyone in their seats until the end.

Sorry, I know I’ve left out more than a few of the MJF 500 +. Find your way up to the Monterey Peninsula and discover it all for yourself.

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Don’t forget to check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available in paperback and E-book at Amazon.  Read Mike’s Blog, Katz of the Day.


Picks of the Week: Sept. 4 – 8

September 4, 2013

By Don Heckman

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

Los Angeles

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

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

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

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

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

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

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

ABBA Fest

ABBA Fest

San Francisco

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

Seattle

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

Washington, D.C.

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

New York City

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

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

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

Berlin

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

Copenhagen

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

Tokyo

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

Gregory Porter

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


Live Music: Noa at the American Jewish University

June 20, 2013

By Don Heckman

Bel Air.  Israeli singer/songwriter Noa was back in L.A. this week.  Which was great news to the full house crowd that showed up Tuesday night for her appearance at the American Jewish University.

In an expansion of the performance she gave at Royce Hall early last year, Noa – who is known in Israel as Achinoam Nini – was accompanied by her long time musical companion, guitarist/composer/arranger Gil Dor, a string quartet and a percussionist.  The rich textured string quartet sounds and surging rhythms provided an appropriately far-ranging backdrop for Noa’s vocals, which can best be described as extraordinary.

Noa

Noa

Singing with ease in languages reaching from Italian and English to Hebrew and Yemenite Jewish, she also displayed strikingly authentic vocalizing in styles embracing traditional music, songs from the Israeli Songbook, selections from a musical about Pope John Paul II, a virtuosic, operatic-like aria based on children’s songs, several compelling works by Noa and Dor, and an  all-join-in climactic version of “Shalom-Shalom.”

As if all that wasn’t enough, Noa also played various Middle Eastern percussion instruments with skill and fluidity, including one song in which she accompanied herself with the traditional Yemen instrument – a large, empty oil can.  Add to that the warmth she communicated in her songs and in her narrative, often humorous connections with her listeners, as well as her graceful, balletic movements, bringing a mesmerizing sense of musical intimacy to everything she sang.

She was immensely aided by the creative presence of Dor, who has been a close partner for more than twenty years.  Remaining modestly in the background for much of the time, Dor’s subtle guitar accompaniment provided an exquisite gold setting for the precious jewels of Noa’s vocal interpretations.

Gil Dor

Gil Dor

Dor was, in addition, responsible for the superbly crafted string quartet arrangements.  Written with the skill of an orchestrator who understands the subtle demands and deeply colorful potential of string quartet instrumentation, Dor’s settings – like his guitar work – revealed a thorough understanding of the full creative extent of Noa’s singing.

Noa has gained considerable visibility for her outspoken opinions as an activist for Middle Eastern peace.  She has regularly supported those views in her music and in performances with artists from other areas of the Middle East.

Ultimately, however, it is her remarkable art that defines Noa and her views.  And in this concert – as in so many of her concerts – her art was on full display, gifting her enthusiastic listeners with an evening overflowing with memorable moments.


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

June 18, 2013

Review by Devon Wendell

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

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

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

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

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

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

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

Gregory Porter

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

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

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

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

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

Elew and Jazzantiqua Dance Ensemble

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

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

Chris and Dan Brubeck

Chris and Dan Brubeck

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

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

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

Taj Mahal

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

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

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

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

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

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

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

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

Bob James and David Sanborn

Bob James and David Sanborn

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

India.Arie

India.Arie

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

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

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

Sheila E and Pete Escovedo

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

Sheila E

Sheila E

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

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

George Lopez

George Lopez

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

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

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

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

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

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

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

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

Robert Glasper

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

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

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

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

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

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

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

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

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

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

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

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

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

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

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

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

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

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

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.


Live Music: The Lado B Project at Vitello’s

May 17, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA.  Brazilian music nights are not uncommon in Los Angeles.  Not with the city’s substantial population of world class Brazilian players – along with the American musicians who have developed considerable competence with Brazilian music over the years.

The Lado B Project is a combination of both, blending a collection of players who brought a full palette of musical perspectives to a compelling musical evening.  Their performance at Vitello’s on Wednesday night was a magical display, underscoring the rich, panoramic qualities of Brazilian music.

Catina DeLuna

It could only have been done this way by some of L.A.’s most versatile musical artists.

Start with Brazilian-born singer/pianist/composer Catina DeLuna, whose many diverse activities include the founding in Sao Paulo of Serenata Braxileira, which specialized in classic Brazilian songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s.  Singing solo, playing hand percussion, occasionally moving to the piano to accompany herself, she was the central focus for most of the songs.

Otmaro Ruiz

Otmaro Ruiz

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Add the eclectic Venezuelan pianist/accordionist/arranger Otmaro Ruiz, whose resume, overflowing with credits reaching from Herb Alpert and John McLaughlin to  Arturo Sandoval and John McLaughlin, underscores his remarkable, genre-crossing skills. In addition to his solid piano accompaniment, he brought some atmospheric accordion playing to a few of the selections.

The guitar is an essential element in Brazilian music, and one couldn’t have asked for a more skilled player than guitarist Larry Koons, who is at the top of the list for virtually all music contractors, largely because he brings so much musicality to whatever genre of music he plays.  On this night, he used acoustic guitar, roving freely across the many Brazilian rhythms filling the evening’s program.

Larry Koonse and Catina DeLuna

The rhythm team added their own appealing qualities. Aaron Serfaty was a first call drummer in his native Venezuela before he moved to Los Angeles.  And bassist Edwin Livingston, also with an impressive resume, lists the Marsalis brothers, David “Fathead” Newman, Natalie Cole and Stanley Jordan among his many associations.

Directed by DeLuna’s informative musical guidance, with Ruiz’s arrangements, Koonse’ authentic guitar work, and the propulsive rhythms of Serfaty and Livingston, the music came vividly to life.  Much of it, reaching back to songs of the ‘20s and ‘30s, was unfamiliar to American audiences.  But there was no denying its appeal – or, for that matter, the appeal of more easily identifiable songs from Antonio Carlos Jobim, among others.

The only thing missing was some background on the earlier musical selections.  Printed programs are rarely present in night club performances.  But a list of song titles, composers’ names and genre descriptions of the selections from the pre-WWII years would have further enhanced this otherwise fascinating evening.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: May 14 – 19

May 14, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Brenna Whitaker

Brenna Whitaker

- May 15. (Wed.)  Brenna Whitaker.  She could have been a ‘30s platinum blond star.  But Whitaker doesn’t just look good; she can sing, too.  This time out she picks a set of tunes to enhance the birthday of Vibrato co-owner Eden Alpert.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- May 15. (Wed.)  Lado B Project.  A lively evening of Brazilian music, featuring Otmaro Ruiz, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Edwin Livingston, bass, Aaron Serfaty, drums and Catina DeLuna, voice.  Brazilian music.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- May 16. (Thurs.)  Lisa Hilton. The ever adventurous pianist/composer Hilton continues her quest for new musical territories for her to explore. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- May 16. (Thurs.)  John Proulx.  Singer/pianist Proulx has begun to claim a position in the rare category of male jazz singer.  Proulx, like his musical role model, Chet Baker, brings the flowing phrases of his instrumental playing to his vocal interpretations.    H.O.M.E. (House of Music and Entertainment)   (310) 271-4663.

- May 17. (Fri.)  Jim Snidero Group.  Saxophonist Snidero’s lengthy resume reaches from his own numerous recordings to performances with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Frank Wess. The Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Melissa Manchester

Melissa Manchester

- May 17 – 19. (Fri. – Sun.)  Melissa Manchester. She’s been producing memorable music since the ‘70s, including “Midnight Blue” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud.”  Here’s a chance to catch her in one of her rare club appearances. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- May 17 – 19. (Fri. – Sun.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart.  This is a stellar organ trio if ever there was one.  Each of the players is an influence in his own right.  Don’t miss them.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- May 17 – 19, 23 & 25. (Fri. – Sun., Thurs., Sat.)  Mozart/Da Ponte TrilogyThe Marriage of Figaro. The second of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s three year trilogy of opera by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The great comic opera is performed in a concert staged version by the Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and soloists.  Disney Hall.  http://www.laphil.com  (323) 850-2000.

- May 19. (Sun.)  Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  Concerto Finale.  The LACO players offer a fascinating evening of concertos, including Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto, and an offbeat bassoon concerto performed with a 1927 silent film.  Add the Beethoven Coriolan Overture and anticipate an engaging program.   CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-4321.

- May 19. (Sun.)  Deborah Voigt.  Critically acknowledged as one of the classical music world’s dramatic sopranos, Voigt – who roves freely from Wagner to Puccini – offers an intimate recital of works by Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Bernstein and more.  Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

San Francisco

Bela Fleck

Bela Fleck

- May 16 – 19 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Bela Fleck solo.  Banjo master Fleck has performed in every imaginable setting.  But he is especially compelling musically when he plays in the creative intimacy of a solo performance.  SFJAZZ Center Miner Auditorium.    (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- May 14 & 15. (Tues. & Wed.)  John Hammond.  Praised by the likes of Tom Waits and T-Bone Burnett, Grammy-winning guitarist/singer/harmonica player Hammond keeps the blues alive in everything he plays.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- May 14 – 18. (Tues. – Sat.)  Bossabrasil.  Featuring Dori Caymmi with special guest, Joyce.  Rio comes to Manhattan in the form of a pair of Brazil’s most versatile and gifted musical artists.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- May 14 – 19. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Gil Evans Project.  Directed by Ryan Truesdell.  An amazing week of music, featuring a large ensemble exploring the full range of Gil Evans’ extraordinary talents.  The selections for each night include Gil Evans’ music for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, “Out of the Cool,” “New Bottle, Old Wine,” “Great Jazz Standards,” “The Individualism of Gil Evans,” “Miles Ahead,” “Porgy and Bess,” Check with the club for scheduling.  The Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

London

Roy Haynes

Roy Haynes

- May 15 & 16. (Wed. & Thurs.)  The Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band. The Fountain of Youth has had the biggest impact upon the leader, drummer and role model in this band.  At 88, Haynes is still playing with the imagination and energy of youth.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 20 7439 0747.

Berlin

- May 17 & 18.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Lee Ritenour.  He used to be called “Captain Fingers” in honor of his high-speed dexterity.  But guitarist Ritenour has a more lyrical side as well, often employing octave melody style of his favorite musical model, Wes Montgomery.  A-Trane.    +49 30 3132 ext. 550

Copenhagen

- May 15 & 16. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Mark Whitfield.  Dubbed the “best young guitarist in the business” by the New York Times, Whitfield performs with a trio of prime Danish jazz musicians: Henrik Gunde, piano, Kasper Vadsholt, bass and Rasmus Kihlberg, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.   +45 31 72 34 94

Milan

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

- May 18. (Sat.) Anat Cohen.  Clarinetist/saxophonist Cohen is in the forefront of an impressive generation of female jazz instrumentalists.  She’s backed by Jason Lindner, piano, Stefano Bellani, bass and Daniel Freedman, drums.  Blue Note Milano.    +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- May 14 – 16. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Benny Golson Quartet.  Tenor saxophonist/composer Golson is still, at age 84, a player with a lot of music to express.  Hopefully he’ll also play some of his jazz hits such as “Killer Joe,” “Whisper Not,” “Along Came Betty” and more.  The Blue Note Tokyo.    +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Jazz: Rudresh Mahanthappa with Indo-Pak Coalition and Gamak at Royce Hall

March 3, 2013

By Don Heckman

At first glance, Saturday night seemed to offer one of the intriguing jazz events of the season: alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa appearing with his groups Indo-Pak Coalition and Gamak in a CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.  Over the past decade, Mahanthappa, a second generation Indian American, has received significant recognition from the Down Beat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association, as well as grants from the Guggenheim foundation and the New York Council on the Arts.

His West Coast appearances have been rare.  But anyone who’s dipped into Manhanthappa’s numerous far-ranging, eclectic recordings – as a leader and a sideman – had a fair idea of what to expect at Saturday’s performance.

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Even so, his first soloing with his Indo-Pak Coalition ensemble – a trio consisting of Mahanthappa, Pakistani guitarist Rez Abbasi and American drummer Dan Weiss – had a startling impact.  The alto saxophone is almost never heard as an instrument of Carnatic music.  One of its pioneers in that genre is Kadri Gopalnath, who partnered with Mahanthappa in the crossover 2008 album, Kinsmen. Both have found ways – perhaps using softer reeds – to bend pitches to the semi-tonal demands of Indian ragas.  And Mahanthappa’s playing began from a close Carnatic perspective filled with bright slashes of jazz lighting, enhanced by Weiss’s extraordinary rhythmic mobility as he moved from a standard drum kit to tabla drums.

The rest of Mahanthappa’s set with the Indo-Pak Coalition moved easily across boundary lines.  His alto saxophone solos, which dominated much of the entire performance, expanded its Carnatic aspects into something resembling the free jazz saxophone methods of the ‘60s associated with Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, among others.

In the second half of the program, Mahanthappa performed with Gamak, which also included bassist Francois Moutin, guitarist David Fiuczynski and Weiss, who played drum set, without the tabla drums. The genre scale weighed more heavily in the direction of jazz and jazz-rock with this ensemble.  And, although Mahanthappa reigned at center stage, the powerful guitar of Fiucznski played a vital role in every selection, often enhanced by dynamic duo exchanges between various members of the group – especially those between Fiucznski and Mahanthappa.

At its best, the music showcased a compelling interaction between East and West, finding the common linkages while maintaining firm contact with each genre.

In its less appealing moments, virtuosity appeared to be the prime goal, especially for Mahanthappa, who displayed extraordinary technique.  Often the fast fingers, multi-phonics and semi-tonal melodic phrases were fascinating, especially to other musicians.

Ultimately, however, he clearly authenticated why he has received so much attention from the jazz media and jazz support groups, becoming one of the most compelling saxophonists of his generation.  But, in this performance at least, one couldn’t help but wonder where, and whom, the real Mahanthappa was, amid the surging rhythms, Indian references and blurring bundles of notes.


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