Live Music: Tori Amos at the Greek Theatre

July 30, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Last week at the Greek Theatre, Tori Amos reminisced to an adoring crowd that several of the songs she would perform were born just down the street around Franklin and Gower. If the songs are her babies then her audience plays a role in raising them. Many of the tunes she played Wednesday were around 20 years old and were fondly received like old friends. It seemed quite apparent that many of these folks had seen her multiple times over the years and the vibe when she hit the stage was one of reconnecting with a good friend.

It usually takes a whole band to play a venue the size of the Greek Theater and have an impact. In lieu of a band, one had better have strong material, and most importantly, a whole bundle of charisma to get the point across. Tori Amos came to play with plenty of both.

A petite and adorably animated woman, she skipped on stage Wednesday dressed in black and wearing a stylish set of glasses, which she rarely removed.  She also brought a manila folder full of notes, lyrics, and setlists that were certainly going to require those glasses stay right there.

Her stage setup is basically that of a piano bar. There was a grand piano and an electronic Hammond organ arranged back to back so that she could play them in tandem for much of the night. Once she had bounded on, she would pivot on the bench and strike up the tunes in elegant two legs forward and to the side postures. Behind the pianos were six tastefully arranged sections of faux bricks to evoke that piano bar ambience. Around halfway through the set, one of the sections grew a neon sign and we were in the Lizard Lounge where one would expect to hear piano covers. She did three good ones, Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” an intriguingly controlled version of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Around (like a record),” and a chugging version of Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

Tori Amos

T. A.’s piano style uses arpeggios to spin and push the vocal line along. From measure to measure we could hear the tensions between the piano and her voice bubbling away. She also is deft with dynamics and within each tune her sound was consistently morphing.

Amos’ vocal range is dynamic. Within one stanza she would easily transition from a bluesy growl to a soaring Celtic wail. This approach to phrasing made a song like “Fire on the Side” into an enormous entity. It’s a song about almost winning the love of a married man and the heartache that comes with this sort of thing. I happened to be standing next to a woman who was singing along with T.A. What struck me was how perfectly she sang along with it through every emotion in the song, likely because she had been there before and had it to help her through the ordeal. And I started to notice how many other people were connecting with all of the songs in the same fashion.

As I listened to Amos sing “Crucify,” I found myself musing on how the best songs often take an unhappy subject like being hypercritical of our selves and turn it into several minutes of haunting beauty. Beauty and sadness together do draw us in.

During “Wedding Day,” Amos relied on a bit of gadgetry to make the song come alive. Her electronic keyboard had a patch that made the keys sound like a guitar. The intervals played through this patch are what will really make it sound like someone is playing a guitar. Of course, she did voice it like a guitar and the effect brought out a double take or two. Then she used a layered harmonic effect to get the harmonies on the original recording, and also added a percussion patch. But to her credit, she delved into these enhancements very sparingly.

The bond between Tori Amos and her audience is clearly rock solid. Wednesday’s show at the Greek felt like a homecoming of sorts for yet another musician who paid dues just a few miles away in Hollywood and has returned for a simple stop on the tour itinerary. The adoration coming from the audience was remarkable, as was the respect she gave back to them in song.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Music: Gloria Estefan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in an “America & Americans” Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

July 28, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Many music purists and snobs might balk at the mere mention of Gloria Estefan and dismiss her as being just another celebrity pop-star.  But Estefan proved to be a stellar musician with the chops, versatility, and stage presence of a great jazz singer at The Hollywood Bowl Saturday evening.

Estefan performed two sets consisting of her greatest hits and material from her 2013 Grammy nominated album The Standards featuring her own soulful twists on some of the most familiar standards from the American songbook.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Backed by a focused and subtle band featuring some of the greatest session musicians ( Shelton Berg: piano and musical director, Dean Parks: guitar, Carlos Puerto: bass, Ray Brinker: drums, Edwin Bonilla: percussion, Cynthia Medina and Socrates Perez on backing vocals and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (Conducted by Thomas Wilkins). Estefan kicked off the festivities with “Good Morning Heartache,'” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Jobim’s “Yo Se Te Voy A Amar.”  Instead of dancing across the stage as she did over 30 years ago, Estefan stood poised, elegantly gripping the microphone like a true jazz crooner. Her voice has deepened with age in all the best ways. Her thick vibrato and dynamic phrasing fit these standards perfectly.  The choice of material never sounded forced for one moment.

Actor Andy Garcia made a guest appearance, playing congas on a very sexy salsa reading of Gershwin’s “You Made Me Love You.” This was a highlight of the evening. Estefan’s smoky yet playful vocals jelled beautifully with the pure Latin jazz horn hooks and percussion delivered by Estefan’s band and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Another program highlight was Estefan’s rendition of Fredrick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” dedicated to Estefan’s hubby of 36 years, Emillio. The band played at the level of a whisper. Berg’s stark and minimalistic piano accompaniment complimented every carefully delivered phrase and nuance by Estefan.

Estefan also played more mature,, jazzier versions of her biggest hits such as “Here We Are,” a slow, jazz-tinged arrangement of “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” giving the show a sense of continuity and focus.

On “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” Estefan was joined by The Youth Orchestra Of Los Angeles. These kids really knew how to swing hard, adding more excitement to the program.

Another guest was Estefan’s teenage daughter Emily, who played acoustic guitar and sang Neil Sedaka’s “Where The Boys Are” with her mom singing background vocals on this doo-wop ballad. Emily sounded a lot like her mother when she was starting out in the late ’70s with the Miami Sound Machine.

After a brief intermission, Estefan presented her second set which was more subdued, aside from her classic pop anthems “Bad Boy” and “1-2-3,” although her classic ballads “I Can’t Stay Away From You,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “Anything For You” had a sad and haunting feel to them. The lyrics felt more sincere than when they first hit the charts almost a quarter of a century ago.

Estefan’s renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smile” and “What A Wonderful World” had a beautiful darkness to them, especially Shelton Berg’s arrangement of the Louis Armstrong classic. Estefan has one of the most powerful and rich vocal vibratos I’ve ever heard and I hadn’t heard so vividly until this evening’s performance.

As haunting as the material felt at times, Estefan’s warm and humorous stage presence created a nice balance in the show’s overall mood.

The most interesting experiment of the entire evening was a sexy, R&B fueled take on George Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Dean Parks’ rhythm guitar comping played sweetly along with the steady bass line played by Carlos Puerto. Estefan’s vocal delivery proved that she not only has a strong understanding of the complex chord changes but also a deep felt knowledge of the mature lyrical content which separates a good singer from a great one.

Estefan ended the show with the disco anthem “Turn The Beat Around” accompanied by an incredible fireworks display that was synchronized with the music. All in attendance were having a blast, especially the “Glo-Heads,”Estefan’s most loyal fans who took up a third of the upper portion on the Bowl, sporting purple glow sticks.

As an encore, Estefan performed a heartfelt, bluesy reading of the Carol Leigh standard “Young At Heart” to cool things down. The strings, harp, and brass of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra sounded perfect behind Estefan, creating a dream like ambiance.

Gloria Estefan performed one of the finest concerts I’ve witnessed in a long time, destroying all notions I had of her just being a pop singer. Estefan can do it all and her mature, sultry performance was the perfect fit for a summer concert at The Hollywood Bowl.

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


Picks of the Week: July 15 – July 20. (Tues. – Sun.) in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London and Paris.

July 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

- July 16. (Wed.) Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, Boz Scaggs, Eliane Elias. It’s a line-up filled with masters of far-reaching jazz genres (and beyond). Expect an evening of jazz for every taste. Look for an iRoM review later this week. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. .

- July 16. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. She still hasn’t been recognized for her rapidly growing skills as a new jazz vocal star. See Saputo now and join her growing cadre of fans. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16. (Wed.) The Ron Eschete Trio. Veteran guitarist Eschete displays his impressive mastery of the seven-string instrument. Don’t miss him in action. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

Tatiana Parra

Tatiana Parra

- July 17. (Thurs.) Tatiana Parra with the Vardan Ovsepian Trio. Her name may not yet be as familiar to American audiences as it should be. But Parra is a remarkable talent, fully capable of blending the best qualities of jazz and Brazilian music. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent album by Tatiana. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 17. (Thurs.) Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson. Singer Gazarak and pianist Nelson have become an impressive musical team, interacting with intuitive creativity. The Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- July 18. (Fri.) Pat Senatore Trio. Bassist Senatore’s remarkable versatility is on display almost every night at Vibrato with a variety of artists. This time out he leads his own masterful trio, with Josh Nelson, piano, and Mark Ferber, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 18. (Fri.) Nutty. You may not have heard of Nutty, but you’ll never forget them after you experience their enhancement of classic rock tunes with swinging jazz settings. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

- July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Dreamworks Animation in Concert. Actor Jack Black hosts an evening celebrating 20 Years of Dreamworks animation shows. Thomas Wilkins conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/calendar.

- July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Denise Morgan. Completely at ease with gospel, classical, jazz and beyond, Morgan is an impressively eclectic vocal artist. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

- July 20. (Sun.) Carol Welsman. Singer/pianist Welsman offers her first Sunday Vespers appearance with her trio — bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dave Tull.  Welsman’s richly interpretive vocals and briskly swinging piano work are a pleasure to hear under any circumstances.  And this performance offers, as she says “a unique experience of jazz and spiritual reflection.”  All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, CA. (626) 583-2725. (Admission is free.)

- July 20. (Sun.) Midnight Caravan. Actress/singer Linda Purl celebrates ‘The Great Ladies of the Glamorous Nightclub Era. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Benny Green

Benny Green

- July 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has sustained, in stellar creative manner, the Oscar Peterson jazz piano legacy. An SFJAZZ event in Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York City

- July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Julian Lage Trio. A prodigy as a young guitarist, Lage has matured into an impressive new jazz star. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232,

London

Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade

- July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Leny Andrade. She’s arguably Brazil’s most convincing jazz-based vocal artist. Don’t miss this chance to hear her live. Ronnie Scott’s.  +14(0)20 7439 00747.

- July 19. (Sat.). (Fri. & Sat.) Take 6. There’s no vocal group quite like Take 6, with its blend of irresistible rhythms, lush harmonies and far- ranging vocal imagination. Ronnie Scott’s. +14 (0) 20 7439 00747.

Paris

- July 16. (Tues.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet. Trumpeter Akinmusire has been embraced, with good reason, as one of the new jazz stars of his generation. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41
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Live Music: Chris Botti and Chris Isaak at the Hollywood Bowl

July 14, 2014

By Don Heckman

There were two guys named Chris on stage at the Hollywood Bowl Friday and Saturday nights. Despite their identical first names, their styles traced to very different genres. And despite those different sources, they both offered performances rich in musicality and compelling entertainment.

Friday evening opened with the first Chris – jazz trumpeter Chris Botti — backed by his own group and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Bramwell Tovey.

Chris Botti

Chris Botti

Although Botti was often identified with the smooth jazz style in his early years, he has always been a player whose music was filled with the authority of jazz authenticity. Over the past two decades his ever-curious, inventive imagination has taken him to jazz settings reaching from performances with full symphonic orchestras, to straight ahead mainstream jazz, and explorations reaching the outer limits of free improvisations.

Much of that territory was explored in his gripping performance at the Bowl.

Botti began with a warm tribute to Miles Davis, applying his trademark, warm tone to a composition long associated with Davis – Rodrigo’s Concierto De Aranjuez. To Botti’s credit, he made the piece’s lush Spanish melodies his own. He was equally expressive with Davis’ “Flamenco sketches.

And when he added some familiar standards – “When I Fall In Love” and “The Very Thought of You” – he once again emphasized his embracingly warm sound and expressive tone to every melodic phrase.

Botti also showcased his skills as a leader, urging the members of his band – pianist Geoff Keezer, guitarist Ben Butler, bassist Richie Goods and drummer Billy Kilson – into their own far-reaching skills. Add to that the mesmerizing violin playing of guest artist Caroline Campbell on the Grammy-nominateed “Emmanuel,” as well as George Komsky’s soaring vocal rendering on “Time To Say Goodbye,” and the stunning versatility of singer Sy Smith.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Botti’s easygoing communication with his audience. Strolling the stage, offering occasional interchanges with his listeners, he added a quality of warm connectivity too rarely seen in jazz performances.

Chris Isaak

One could also say the same about the other Chris on the program – rocker, singer/songriter, actor and talk show host Chris Isaak. Completely at home on the broad Bowl stage, Isaak moved into an even wider arena, moving across the narrow platform intersecting the box seats, then demanding a spotlight as he moved into the audience itself, singing, shaking hands with listeners, welcoming them throughout his set into an environment as comfortable as his living room.

Thirty years after he made his first recording, Silvertone, Isaak still maintains a dedicated audience. And his set embraced many of the high points of his twelve album discography. Add to that the numerous songs and musical themes he’s created for television and films.

His entertaining program encompassed memorable selections from all those sources. Among them: what is perhaps his best known song, “Wicked Game.” Add to that “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing” from the Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut and a string of a dozen or so somewhat less familiar, but equally compelling songs.

Strongly supported by his comfortable ease with his enthusiastic audience, and buoyed by his solid back up band, the lead guitar work of Hershel Yatovitz and lush timbres of the Los Angeles Phil, Isaak presented a program reaching far beyond his rock roots.

The program closed with yet another highlight: Chris Botti and Chris Isaak performing together in a brief set blending their disparate but amiable skills in tunes reaching from “Besame Mucho” to “Love Me Tender.” Call it the appropriate climax for a two-Chris performance to remember.


Ballet: “Les Nuits” by Ballet Preljocaj at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 22, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Les Nuits, by Angelin Preljocaj, inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, is a magic carpet ride of a ballet, flying to an imaginative realm where myth and psyche meet. On the surface it’s a marvelous entertainment, but beneath the pure pleasure of the ballet, is an exploration of woman’s role in society, our cultural prejudices, and what constitutes sexual intimacy.

With a cast of eighteen uniquely talented dancers, Preljocaj (pronounced prel-YO-tsa in Albanian and prel-zho-KAHJ in France where the company resides) manages to create movement that feels organic to his subject matter, suggesting the fantasy East of the Western colonialist’s mind without condescension or cliché. He is treading on dangerous territory here, but he manages to offer sly and subtle commentary, while providing seductive treats galore. The result is bewitching.

Ballet Prelokaj dancers

The poetic atmosphere is enhanced by the moody lighting of Cécile Giovansili-Vissière. In fact, Preljocaj is adept at choosing all of his collaborators. The Minimalist sets suggestive of Arabic arches and onion domes by Constance Guisset, and the modernist costumes of fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa create a harmonious whole, adding a seductiveness to Les Nuits without overstatement or glitz. Similar to Diaghilev, who created collaborations with contemporary artists for the Ballets Russes, Preljocaj surrounds himself with artists of his day. The lavishness of Leon Bakst’s famed set and costume designs for Fokine’s Scheherazade, however, is a far remove from the simplicity of Les Nuits.

The original music of Natacha Atlas and Samy Bishai is also at a remove from Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush melodies. Instead we have a potpourri of Western and Eastern music including electronic beats, popular song, dripping water, chirping birds, hypnotic chants, and Arabic instrumentations. Though musical transitions from dance to dance are abrupt at times, the overall impression is hypnotic and satisfying.

Drawn mainly from Persian and Indian folklore and literature, One Thousand and One Nights centers on the character of Scheherazade as she weaves tales to entertain the king and keep herself alive from one dawn to the next. Sinbad, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin are familiar to generations of children; but the unexpurgated tales have their dark and erotic side. It is the sensuality of the stories that intrigue Preljocaj, so leave the little ones at home.

The sensuality strikes the moment the ballet begins. Reclining on the floor, turbaned and draped in white, ten women, bathed in dappled light and rising vapors, sway languorously. We are in a suggestion of a harem with all the potency of Ingres’ painting, The Turkish Bath. Odalisques from every period of art come to mind – Jacques-Louis David, Edouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso to name but a few. There is more at work here than mere eroticism, however: the dancers move in defined patterns, slowly coalescing into two groups, creating a kaleidoscopic arrangement. Structure and form are everywhere, testifying to the true artistic capabilities of the choreographer. No matter how intense the sexual atmosphere or free the dancing, Preljocaj organizes space with the eye of a painter composing a canvas, while movements are carved with the precision of a sculptor. Languid arms, throbbing torsos, and pliant legs all serve his artistic vision, never veering into extremes or unfolding for the sake of originality alone.

There is so much to intrigue one here that I will list just a few of the many stunning dances in the piece: Insect-like sexual coupling, which speaks of human behavior; a chorus line of women who move in super-model like posturings before breaking out into gestures of domination and anger; three pairs of men – one man of each pair “shaving” the other (is it grooming or does it refer to torture?); four carpets held aloft and in front of sixteen dancers whose legs and feet are the only body parts visible (deliciously funny); a demented picnic of twittering limbs and torsos on the four fallen carpets; a pas de deux reminiscent of an Indian miniature painting of Rajasthan; a riff on the Orientalism of the James Bond movies;

the highly charged eroticism of women dancing on large urns into which they finally descend (this isn’t your Arabian Coffee movement from Nutcracker anymore); and finally, a dance set behind screens of filigreed bars conjuring Javanese shadow puppets.

The only false note for me was a hookah-smoking dance near the end of the hour and a half – it was the first time I felt cliché intruding on the piece. Beautiful though it was, my attention flagged, and I felt ready for the closing movement. But whatever its minor shortcomings, Les Nuits weaves a narrative spell that carries us along to the end of the ballet when dawn breaks and Scheherazade, still alive, lives to tell another fabulous tale of man’s foibles and desires.

Photos courtesy of Ballet Prejlocaj. 

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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children

 

 

 

 


Here, There & Everywhere: Al Jarreau and the 36th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival

June 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again. The time when Summer is ushered in by the inimitable musical pleasures of the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.   This weekend, to be precise, with two days of world class jazz artists arriving on the Bowl’s rotating stages, offering non-stop music – on Saturday from 3 to ll p.m., and on Sunday from 3 to 10:30 p.m.

Call it a musical party with jazz for all musical tastes, from big band to blues, from Latin jazz to funk, from soaring vocals to in the pocket grooves. And a lot more.

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

Few, if any, artists are more familiar with the Playboy Festival than the musically innovative, always entertaining, multi-Grammy Award winning vocalist Al Jarreau, whose presence at the Festival dates back for decades.

“It’s always a blast and a great shot in the arm to do the Festival at the Bowl,” says Jarreau. “To be there with 17,000 or so other people, making special music.”

George Duke

George Duke

 

Jarreau’s presence at this year’s Festival is particularly significant, given his long association with the late keyboardist/composer George Duke, whose far-ranging career will be celebrated at the Festival with a special tribute. Close friends since they were youngsters in the Bay area, Jarreau is filled with memories of their youthful musical years together.

“George and I had an outrageously close friendship,” he recalls. “We go back to the Half Note in San Francisco, where I met him in 1965. We were both puppies, but he helped me with everything musical. He used to come over to our place, and when we’d get into it, my mother used to say, ‘Get George out of here. You have to go to church in the morning’.”

But their musical friendship survived parental disciplining and continued into their mature years.

“The wonderful thing about it for me,” explains Jarreau, “was that George and I shared this love for a lot of different kinds of music. I’m as much an r&b pop singer as I am a jazzer. And the music was where George and I crossed paths. There was some stuff I didn’t do – like try to sing in a high sweet voice. But there were other things that I could do. Including some of the things I did with George, often with the walk along bass, spang a lang tunes that George and I did so well together. So I just had to be involved in Playboy’s tribute to George.”

Jarreau’s affection for Duke and his music reaches beyond this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival. On Tuesday, two days after the Bowl’s rotating stage delivers its last act to an eager audience, Jarreau’s latest album, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke will be released.

George Duke and Al Jarreau

George Duke and Al Jarreau

“I’m going to sing a couple of songs from the new CD,” says Jarreau. “I’ll sing with Diane Reeves, and Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller are going to play, and a bunch of people from George Duke’s band will be there, too. It’s going to be a real reading and a real honoring of George’s music.”

Whether describing his performance at the Festival, his numerous recordings or his many years of performing before eager audiences, Jarreau – like his close friend Duke – underscores the pleasures of his chosen line of work.

“How good it is,’ he says, “to wake up in the morning and go to something that you’d do for free, and it makes you laugh and smile. And other people laugh and smile when you do what you’re doing. It’s amazing. Something that you love to do that you’d do for free, and I don’t mean having sex.”

“And I’ll bet,” concludes Jarreau, “ That all the other players at the Playboy Jazz Festival also honor the creative thing that we’ve been given to do. To create something new, starting with an instrument, a blank page or a blank canvas. There is something so powerful in that. To write, to paint, to record and (he breaks into amiable laughter) to make healthy records.

“Who could ask for anything more?”

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For Playboy Jazz Festival ticket and schedule information click HERE.

 

 

 


Picks of the Week: May 12 – 18

May 13, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Pisano

John Pisano

May 14. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. With Ron Eschete, Chuck Berghofer and Kendall Kay. John Pisano’s Guitar Night performances have been a vital destination for jazz guitar fans for years. And they just keep getting better and better. Viva Cantina (818) 8452425.

May 14. (Tues.) Marcos Ariel & Justo Almario Duo. A pair of Latin jazz’s finest practitioners get together for an evening of memorable music. The Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

- May 15. (Thurs.) Eden Alpert’s Birthday Celebration. Herb Alpert’s daughter hosts an entertaining birthday party featuring a rare appearance in L.A. By international DJ Lorenza Calamandrei and other special guests. Happy Birthday, Eden!! Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 15. (Thurs.) Danny Freyer. Jazz vocalist Freyer celebrates the release of his new CD Must Be Love. Described as having :Dean Martin looks and a Sinatra voice,” Freyer is an intriguing new talent. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- May 15 (Thurs.) Cheryl Barnes. The talented Ms. Barnes may be best known for her role in Milos Forman’s 1979 film version of Hair. Since then, Cheryl’s considerable vocal skills have been getting netter and better. H.O.M.E.  (310) 271-4663.

- May 16. (Fri.) Andy Martin with the Pat Senatore Trio. Trombonist Martin, a favorite choice of most musicians, is equally favored by most jazz fans who’ve heard him in action. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May. 16. (Fri.) The Bob Mintzer Big Band. Saxophonist/composer/arranger Mintzer is one of contemporary jazz’s finest big band writers. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear his large ensebmle work. Jazz at the Cap. (818) 990-2001.

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

- May 17. (Sat.) Billy Childs Ensemble. Pianist/composer Childs is always a compelling performer. It’s not clear which of his various ensembles he’ll be leading for this date. But he always provides a unique musical experience for his listeners.The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

- May 17. (Sat.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. Multi-woodwind instrumentalist Sheppard’s impressive resume encompasses every aspect of jazz and beyond. He’s often seen playing in someone’s back up band. But here’s a chance for him to step into the spotlight, backed by Pat Senatore’s stellar trio. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 18. (Sun.) Buddy Rich Big Band. Featuring Gregg Potter on drums. The always swinging arrangements of the Rich big band are showcased in dynamic living color, with Potter sitting in the Rich drum chair. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

- May 17 & 18. (Sat. & Sun.) Herbie Hancock. A gala celebration of the artistry of Herbie Hanock on May 16 climaxes with performances by Hancock himself, backed by a stellar band of world class jazz artists. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299.

London

- May 15 – 17. Thurs. – Sat. The Kenny Barron Trio. Piano master Barron is every major jazz artist’s first choice for their rhythm section. And he’s even more special when he leads his own trio. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Berlin

- May 18. (Sun.) Bill Evans’ Soulgrass. Multi-skilled saxophonist/keyboardist/vocalist Evans and his’group Soulgrass know how to get into a deeply swinging groove. A-Trane.  030 / 313 25 50.

Milan

Mike Stern

Mike Stern

- May 14 – 16. (Wed. – Fri.) The Mike Stern Trio. Featuring Tom Kennedy and Steve Smith. Versatile guitarist Sternm adept at jazz, blues, funk and beyond, leads a trio with equally hard driving skills. The Blue Note Milan.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- May 16 – 18. (Fri. – Sun.) Kirk Whalum. Saxophonist Whalum is a master of funk and groove jazz. Expect the room should be rocking for this one. The Blue Note Tokyo.  03 5485 0088.

 

John Pisano photo by Bob Barry.

Billy Childs photo by Bonnie Perkinson

Herbie Hancock photo by Faith Frenz

 

 

 


Pick of the Week: Teka at The Gardenia

April 27, 2014

THIS WEDNESDAY APRIL 30TH
BRAZILIAN SINGING STAR TÉKA AND HER NEW BOSSA TRIO CELEBRATE THE RELEASE OF HER NEWEST ALBUM, SO MANY STARS, IN A PERFORMANCE AT THE GARDENIA, A PRIME LOS ANGELES MUSIC VENUE

On Wednesday, April 30th at 9 p.m., Têka and her players in New Bossa – guitarist Chris Judge and percussionist/flutist Ruben Martinez – will take her listeners on a journey into the heart of Brazilian music at its finest.

​Featuring songs from her newest album, So Many Stars,  Téka will delight with her Brazilian  twist to American songbook classics as well as contemporary hits.  Téka is an artist with roots firmly planted in the traditions of Brazilian music…the samba, bossa nova, choro and more.

Today, her music has become a fusion of the sensual rhythms and harmonies of Brazil with the sophistication and improvisation of jazz – a fascinating musical blend she calls New Bossa.  She has performed and recorded with Brazilian legends Hermeto Pascoal , Gilberto Gil, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira.

Teka has also been featured as a soloist with The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, The San Luis Obispo Symphony Orchestra, and The Glendale Pops Orchestra. She has headlined at International Jazz Festivals and performs regularly at some of Los Angeles, Boston and New York’s best known jazz venues.

The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. For dinner/show reservations, all (323) 467-7444.
Dinner at 7:00pm
Show starts at 9:00pm
For more information about Téka, check out her web site: http://www.newbossa.com
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Opera: “A Coffin in Egypt” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

April 25, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Frederica von Stade had and always will have the ability to light up the stage with her incandescent presence and expressive voice. With her performance in A Coffin in Egypt at the Wallis Annenberg Center on Wednesday evening, nothing, in that regard, has changed. What has altered is the level of the vehicle for her talents. A chamber opera for five voices and four non-singing roles, A Coffin in Egypt never comes together as a unified whole, and its weaknesses tend to leave von Stade valiantly trying to breathe life into this ultimately unsatisfying work.

Frederica von Stade

Frederica von Stade

Ms. von Stade plays the role of Myrtle Bledsoe, the tragic ninety-year-old widow of  Horton Foote’s play. Reminiscing and recriminating, fantasizing and agonizing over her marriage to the heartless Hunter Bledsoe, she lays out before us her troubled past in Egypt, Texas and during her periodic escapes abroad. Elegant in a floor length red caftan, von Stade sings solo for most of this eighty-minute piece. There is more vibrato to her golden voice – one of the finest of her day – but her expressiveness is undiminished.  Unfortunately, one wishes for more nuance in the vocal scoring by Ricky Ian Gordon to allow us to hear some of the subtlety and humanity that Ms. von Stade brought to her most famous roles, notably Cherubino, Idamante, Rosina, and Cenerentola, to name a few.

Frederica von Stade and the Gospel Choir

Frederica von Stade and the Gospel Choir

Problems arise from the start because the production, with libretto and direction by Leonard Foglia, feels unformed: this is neither a one-woman show, nor a true ensemble piece. Von Stade is never given the opportunity to sing with her fellow performers. The four-person gospel chorus (admirably performed by Cheryl D. Clansy, Laura Elizabeth Patterson, James M. Winslow, and Jawan CM Jenkins) periodically chimes in with pleasant yet tepid musical commentary; but never do they sing or interact with Ms. von Stade.

The actors playing her husband and sister-in-law – a convincing David Matranga and Carolyn Johnson – are given dramatic moments with von Stade; but since they all communicate in spoken word rather than music, the exchanges seem tacked on rather than organic to the piece.

Frederica von Stade and David Matranga

Since von Stade has no arias with her leading man or her sister-in-law, the musical drama never achieves an organic, emotional intensity, but must be created by von Stade’s voice alone. Imagine Blanche singing of her past life, then having to “talk” to Stanley in their scenes together; or Scarlet singing about Tara only to revert to spoken word in her scenes with Rhett.

The simplicity of the staging is effective: a single column suggesting the architecture of a stately Texas home and undulating panels, which form a backdrop for projected cotton blooms. Though the panels are beautifully constructed and arranged, the cotton feels more like distracting wallpaper than the suggestion of nature outside.

With Kathleen Kelly sensitively conducting, the nine-person ensemble of musicians does credit to the score. Though the music never offers the pathos of Samuel Barber in his Knoxville: Summer of 1915, or the sweep of Aaron Copland, Gordon’s attempt to create a musical vocabulary of Americana succeeds best in the pit when scoring instruments without accompanying voice.

There are moments of beauty and poignancy during the evening: we come to understand that the widow cares more for maintaining her dignity in the eyes of others than permanently escaping from her faithless, murderous husband. And we feel the inability of the average woman to create her own destiny during the period of Myrtle’s youth.

In the final moments of the opera, with her daughters, husband, and sister-in-law all dead, Myrtle laments, “Who’s left to come to my funeral?” I felt a tug at my heart – an inkling of what this original material by Horton Foote might have supplied and perhaps still could.

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Photos by Lynn Lane.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


Irish Tales III: Go to Hell or Connaugh

April 24, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

The West of Ireland may be more Irish than Ireland. There’s a reason for such — that bastard Cromwell, who did his best to invent genocide and said the native Irish (read Catholics) could choose Hell — he slaughtered many — or Connaugh in the far West of the country.

Many fled there. And in the far West of Connaugh there is a land that meets the Atlantic. Windswept, rockier than the rest of the country, criss-crossed endlessly with rough hewn rock walls. Starkly beautiful.

Such a place is Carna, where Kathy’s forebears came from and where there is still family living, though not many. Carna has less than 2,000 full time residents. There were about 8,000 before the potato famine in the 1840s and the population never recovered.

Still, the town and the surrounding area are a center for the study of the Irish language. “Gaelic” is what Americans call it, but in Ireland you hear that people “speak Irish.”

Kathy’s grandmother grew up in a house high on a knoll with her parents and nine siblings, the house no larger than the double garage of many American homes. The house still stands and is used as a shed next to the new family home, also modest in size but housing only one older fellow, retired from a job in the States and come home.

The scale of those old Irish thatched houses make you feel like you have too much — too big a house, too many possessions, too much of everything.

The pull of the land there is strong. When we visited, so too had come other relatives from as far away as San Francisco. A family wedding is enough to fly 15 hours.

Peat is still the major heat source for many families and it is available in abundance for only the cost of hard work digging it. The mule cart to bring it to the house has been replaced by a pickup or a small wagon behind the family car.

Into the 1950s a horse cart was used to transport the departed to the cemetery near the ocean’s edge where a cousin told us it is said the wind never stops blowing. All the headstones face east so that on the final day the resurrected will face that last sunrise and their Maker.

The family of a Maine governor came from Carna. Director John Ford’s (Feeny) family came from the West as well. The regular folks worked the Portland docks when there was cargo to unload and prayed for a case of Irish whiskey headed for Canada during Prohibition.

There are relatives of Kathy’s not only in Maine but predominantly Chicago, a city that drew many Irish with opportunities for work, as did Boston and New York.

In much of the West, there are lovely hillside fields as green as the green in Ford’s The Quiet Man. Remember Maureen O’Hara’s hair whipped alluringly around her face by strong wind?

The green fields in the west of Ireland

As you drive west of Galway, though, the ground gets rougher, hillier, boulders strewn about, peaks in the distance getting closer and closer. Already narrow roads skinny down to little more than a single lane. You sometimes stop and pull over a bit for a car going the other way, often at a high rate of speed. It’s a long way to anywhere as you head deeper into the country.

Then you finally reach a place where people still speak of banshees and other spirits, where it is sometimes said the space between this world and the next grows thin. Where to fall asleep under an oak tree, if you can find one, means you might awaken in the land of the faeries.

Of course, we are modern and cynical even of our own myths. We wouldn’t believe in such things. Still to stand on a high rise above the sea in the wild West and feel that wind journeyed across the whole Atlantic whirl about you. . . then you just might become a little Irish.

Photos by Kathy Arsenault

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


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