Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

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

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry


Poetry: “Desafinado”

October 4, 2012

BY MICHAEL KONIK

Life is a melody played repeatedly

By millions and billions of musicians

All trying, with various levels of success, to make the song sound right.

The normal hallmarks of practice — repetition, interminable repetition — don’t apply here, for there are no second chances, no do-overs at the beginning, no opportunity to return to the place where the mistake was made, where the song began to sound ugly and unlovely.

And so we bleat.

We ululate.

We raise our plaintive voices to the heavens,

Never mute, but slightly out of tune.


Short Takes: Of Poetry and Mortality and Angel Pirates

August 18, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

OK, OK, I know this first take isn’t really short but Long deserves some attention:

Losing My Brotherhood: A collection of poems by Bobby Long  (Music Publishing LTD)

Bobby Long

.

I don’t know singer-songwriter Bobby Long’s music so I come to his poetry fresh. Fresh like the poetry itself in Losing My Brotherhood, crisp as fall mornings, snapping like a brisk breeze in the trees.

The images range from the stark from “On a Bad Day“:

          “I’m a lone diner, a friend without friends . . .”

To the softly romantic as in “On a Good Day“:

          “A flowered dress can never lead to unhappiness. . .”

Still, perhaps one should first ask the question as to whether there can be poetry at all in the age of witless tweets and e-mail catch phrases and abbreviations.  OMG, we all know them by heart by now so I won’t list more of them here.  Do we have time and tolerance for carefully crafted images?

Pray that we do. Long gives us some hope.  At least he knows how to break a contemporary rule or two. Consider also from “On a Good Day“:

             “Coffee and cigarettes lead me to happiness. . .”

Can you still write that? Isn’t cigarette smoking effectively illegal in New York (Long’s a transplanted Londoner) along with big sodas?  Won’t coffee soon be a banned substance along with the white sugar some still use in it?

Oh the horror. Oh the humanity.  Oh well, as Long notes later:

“Manhattan and Berlin are both slowly falling.”

Humanity, humanness is the essence of Long’s poetry.  With poetry, it always should be.

From “A Man for the People‘:

“Maybe I need my father and the whim of a pretty girl’s hair

as it’s all misty and bitter today,

out in the world”

A pretty girl’s hair and other lyricism aside, Long is certainly dark enough for modern times but his mostly free verse isn’t above some occasional internal rhyming and pleasing rhythm.  He is a song writer and a singer after all.

From “You’re No Anne Boleyn“:

“the subdued enclosure of your famous disclosure

has me covering up the bits that you forgot

the fanatical reprieve of all the people you deceive

the rumor’s hit the road

the rumor’s hit the road”

Long’s poems are mostly short.  Crisp, as I said at the start.  A couple of images, fleeting moments quickly over, quirky considerations.

“When the time is right I’ll write for him

Like Salieri did for Mozart

Without the trek of deceit and jealousy”

That’s from “If I Saw Leonard Cohen.“  I like that poem very much.  Lou Reed appears in another poem.  Bobby has good taste in music.

By the way, there are some drawings by Ben Edge interspersed throughout the book that kind of depress me although they are very good.  They’re a lot like drawings in kids’ books that I read long ago. They depressed me too. But Long’s poetry doesn’t.

I haven’t yet read all the poems in Losing My Brotherhood. I’m glad about that.  Not just because I like Long’s work and I’m not anxious to be done with it.  Also, as with short stories, one wants each of them to stand on its own and not be amalgamated with all the rest.

There’s a bit of Brautigan in Long’s work, succinct, right to the heart of the matter.  Does anyone remember Richard any more.? In my youth, he was for a time all the rage.  Then again, sorry DK, so was Shelley once.  I haven’t seen a young girl with a book of Shelley’s poems in her hand for a long time. Pity.

Death Clarifies

I saw Amy Winehouse  performing somewhere on some cable station last night with a great band and superb backup singers.  She was in a word, GREAT.  When Jimi died it stopped all the foolish arguing about who was the greatest rock guitarist.  He was. We knew. When Amy died it should have ended all the talk about who the best singer of her generation was. She was. And we know it.

She wasn’t like Sinatra at all and yet she was. Like Frank, she just stood there and the music flowed out of her like it was easy, natural, why she was here. Wish she could have stayed longer but she may have been needed elsewhere in eternity.

Your Next Assignment

RJ of RJ and The Assignment may look like a scary pirate on the cover of his last CD but his playing is heaven sent.  I mean this guy makes wonderful tunes out of the M*A*S*H theme and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Really. Deceiving Eyes (the title) there may be, but your ears will ring true.

To read more reviews, posts and Short Takes columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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