Live Music: James DeFrances at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

April 3, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

The line kept coming to mind Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s elegant restaurant and jazz club Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc, while we were listening to singer James DeFrances.  No, not because DeFrances was thinking – or even singing – about New York. He’s actually from the Philadelphia area.

James DeFrances

James DeFrances

But the fresh-faced, ambitious young vocalist (he’s 24) performed with the sort of enthusiasm present in the classic Kander/Ebb song about the Big Apple. Except that – for DeFrances – the line applied to his rapidly accelerating career in Los Angeles.

His performance at Vibrato also had another “New York, New York” connection. And that, of course, was the impact that Frank Sinatra has had upon DeFrances’ musical vision.

It’s not surprising that a talented young male singer would choose Sinatra as a model – especially when such highly successful performers as Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. have preceded him in his affection for Ol’ Blue Eyes.

On Tuesday night DeFrances, appropriately tuxedoed, sang a program of songs overflowing with Sinatra references. Starting with “The Girl From Ipanema” he shifted quickly into a hard-driving “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Pat Senatore and James DeFrances

Pat Senatore and James DeFrancis

He followed with “The Way You Look Tonight,” “ They Can’t Take That Away From Me” before winding up with “All The Way” and “Just In Time.”

DeFrances sang the ballads – especially “All The Way” – with warm musicality. And rhythm tunes such as “Witchcraft” and “It Had To Be You” were done with propulsive, briskly swinging energy.

The Sinatra inspiration was present in most of the tunes. At his best, DeFrances made the most of the connection, usually shaping his interpretation well within the templates of the original Sinatra versions.

But the finest moments came in the passages in which his own warm, youthful sound and lyrical expressiveness took charge of his singing. And one could sense the impressive future that DeFrances faces, especially as he moves beyond the Sinatra references into his own mature interpretations.

Still relatively unfamiliar to the wider pop audience, DeFrances’ performance clearly showcased his growing skills as one of the significant male artists rapidly emerging into the arena of jazz and big band oriented pop music.

Pat Senatore, James DeFrances and Tina Raymond

He was superbly backed by the trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Tina Raymond. Filling in before the show opened and on the set breaks, the trio romped through their own program of standards, bringing dynamic enthusiasm to songs reaching from “Emily” and “Autumn Leaves” to “The More I See You.”

Working closely with the solid musical embrace of Ranier, Senatore and Raymond, DeFrances clearly established his future potential, thoroughly underscoring his ability to “make it anywhere.”

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: March 5 – 9

March 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Betty Bryant

Betty Bryant

- March 6. (Thurs.) Betty Bryant. Singer/pianist Bryant’s engaging style recalls an era of briskly swinging, warmly interpretive jazz cabaret. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Savion Glover

Savion Glover

- March 7. (Fri.) Savion Glover’s StePz. Tap dancer Glover has brought more jazz qualities to contemporary tap dancing than anyone since Fred Astaire. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-3000.

- Mar. 7 & 8. (Fri. & Sat.) West Side Story. The Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim classic musical rendering of the Romeo and Juliet story in a Nuyorican setting is a memorable theatre piece that should be seen by everyone – at least once or more. The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Les Ballets De Monte Carlo

Les Ballets De Monte Carlo

- March 7 – 9. (Fri. – Sun.) Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. The highly praised Monte Carlo ensemble returns to Segerstrom after their acclaimed 2011 debut. This time, they perform Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- March 8. (Sat.) “The Marvelous Music Box.” Young Musicians Foundation 59th Benefit Gala. Some of the Southland’s finest young classical musicians assemble for a benefit program featuring the music of Bach, Saint-Saens, Bernstein, Stravinsky and more. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall. .  (310) 825-4401.

Gerald Wilson

- March 9. (Sun.) Gerald Wilson Big Band. At 95, arranger/composer/bandleader brings irresistible musical vitality to every performance with his hard swinging big band. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- March 9. (Sun.) Fred Hersch and Julian Lage. Innovative jazz pianist Hersch, always in search of new creative ventures, finds an intriguing young musical partner in highly praised young guitarist Lage. Schoenberg Hall. A CAP UCLA event.  (310) 825-4401.

San Francisco

- March 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Lavay Smith. Bay area songstress Smith offers a four night survey of songs associated with Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Etta James and Sarah Vaughan. An SFJAZZ event at the Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- March 6 – 9 . (Thurs. – Sun.) Sergio Mendes and Brazil 2014. Half a century after he arrived on the music scene with Brazil ’66, Mendes reforms the vocal/instrumental Brazilian format that first brought Brazilian sambas and bossa novas to an international audience. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

- March 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Lee Ritenour. Versatile guitarist Ritenour showcases his articulate ease with jazz genres reaching from straight ahead swing to contemporary grooves. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

Eliane Elias

- March 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.) Eliane Elias and her Trio. After a four night run drawing overflow audiences to Catalina Bar & Grill, Brazil-born Elias takes her irresistibly appealing piano stylings and intimate vocalizing to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.  To read an earlier iRoM review of Elias’ L.A. Performance, click HERE.

- March 6 & 7. (Thurs. & Fri.) Jimmy Webb. Singer/songwriter Webb is understandably on everyone’s Hall of Fame list. Songs such as “Wichita Line Man,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and “MacArthur Park” (to name only a few) have become Songbook Classics. Here’s a rare chance to hear him perform in a club setting. Iridium. (212) 582-2121.

London

- March 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.) Claire Martin. Alert fans of jazz singing view Martin (with good reason) as one of England’s finest jazz artists. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

Benny Green

- March 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.) Benny Green Trio. The fast-fingered, hard-swinging Oscar Peterson style is vividly alive in the technically adept, improvisationally inventive hands of Green. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Moscow

- March 5. (Wed.) Igor Butman Quartet. Saxophonist/band leader/club owner Butman takes a break from his big band to lead a propulsively hard driving quartet in his own club. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 632-92-64.

Milan

- Mar 5 – 7. (Wed. – Fri.) Paolo Fresu Quintet. Highly regarded jazz trumpeter Fresu leads a quintet of stellar players, underscoring the lyrical qualities Italian artists have always brought to their jazz interpretations. +39 02 6901 6888.  Blue Note Milano. 

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Eliane Elias photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Benny Green photo by Ron Hudson.


CD Review of the Day: Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz “Genevieve & Ferdinand”

February 10, 2014

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz

Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside Communications)

 By Brian Arsenault

To get so much music out of one voice and one guitar is to reach back to Kate McGarry’s Irish roots in Boston and across the Sea, to a time before electronics and amplification.

Wait, that sounds like a description of what’s generally called folk music and the first two songs — Paul Simon’s remarkable “American Tune” and McGarry’s own “Ten Little Indians“– indeed seem like the opening of a folk album. But McGarry’s a much admired jazz singer, n’est pas?

Then again, you know what Louis Armstrong said: “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”

On this album, Genevieve & Ferdinand, McGarry does indeed sing a song (eleven in fact) accompanied by husband Keith Ganz’ acoustic guitar work and they alone comprise a fine band.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz

Perhaps nowhere on the album is this true more than on their clearly personal version of Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine.” They play off each other so nicely. Her deeply felt but offhand slightly humorous vocal; his jazz “master class” guitar work.

Both have this marvelously expressive economy in their music, not one extraneous flourish, straight to the heart of the matter. Except for “American Tune,” recorded in a single take, the album is a concert recording without a blemish. At least that I could hear.

Wait, didn’t I say this opened like a folk album. Then a jazz classic. What’s up?

What’s up is music without stylistic borders, opening and closing with true “American tunes,” journeying to Brazil, dipping into the American songbook with most respectful treatment but a new twist or two.

Particularly intriguing is their take on Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” This is a more dramatic, nearly desperate version than I suspect you’ve often or ever heard. Achingly alluring, it raises into stark view the avoidance of troubles with dance and music.

Did Berlin perhaps intend this? “Soon we’ll be without the moon.”

The song touches on an American sadness, like dear lovable Emily who dies in childbirth in the great American play Our Town and says from the grave about the people she’s left in life: “From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled.” The same “troubles” are just below the surface in “Smile,” Charlie Chaplin’s touching encouragement to keep going, hard as life can be. Courage always required. Don’t let them see your pain.

While I wonder why so many of today’s singers are drawn to the song, somehow I smile through it. That’s the point, isn’t it?

On the Ganz penned “Mr. Long Gones,” it’s great to hear him play alone for a while. McGarry says listening to him here is like a walk in the woods. Yeah, I follow that as I look up the snow covered grove rising behind my house.

She comes in along the way to lay a wordless vocal accompaniment over his pristine playing that’s perfect. Melodic like the best and most melodic of CS&N, but that’s the same thing isn’t it?

The album closes with Paul Curreri’s arresting song/poem “Beneath a Crozet Trestle Bridge” with its reference to a “busted looking-glass.” James Joyce said a maid’s cracked mirror was a symbol for Irish art and I think this is where we came in.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz are currently touring in support of the album’s release.

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


Dance: Wayne McGregor Random Dance Performs “FAR” at Royce Hall

January 26, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Animalistic movement – the posturing of monkeys, ostriches, storks, fish – paired with the occasional arabesque, attitude, or jeté of ballet, forms the vocabulary of Wayne McGregor’s FAR. On Friday evening at UCLA’s Royce Hall his dancers performed this hour-long piece with skill, vigor, and total commitment to the vision of McGregor.

by_Ravi_Deepres(3)It’s an elaborate vision: McGregor is known for his interest in cognitive science. For FAR, the program notes explain that the scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment, regarding the newly grasped connection of mind and body, inform the piece. Reference to the Enlightenment might be gleaned from the opening: four dancers holding torches appear on stage. Vocal music of Vivaldi plays and a tender duet is performed. But there, any suggestion of Enlightenment concerns ends and we are left without touchstones or focus. The overriding sense of a sci-fi dystopian future prevails in this essentially numbing hour.

There is much to marvel at: the minimalist purity of a rectangular board of lights by rAndom International – pinpoints on a grid – at times flashing sequentially or spewing numbers across its surface; the stark beauty of Lucy Carter’s lighting design; the seamless transitions of Ben Frost’s score; and the powerful athleticism of the dancers. But ultimately the choreography felt more like a work in progress, random improvisations by individual dancers as fodder for a piece yet to be finished.

On the rare occasions when partners or the corps moved in tandem, it was a welcome relief. Patterns emerged, the stage ignited. There is optimism inherent in a group working together – a sense of community. Individual dancers moving to their own inner necessity for most of the piece created a sense of isolation and randomness – in and of itself not a problem if it were more judiciously sprinkled throughout the hour.

Many of McGregor’s movements – torqued bodies that convey trauma – have a peculiar beauty all their own; and yet a steady diet of contorted spines and broken limbs made one long for a glimmer of sensuality, a hint of elegance and mystery. I found the occasional extension of an unbroken line a much-needed balm.

med_FAR_Image_4._Photo_by_Ravi_Deepres(1)

Ben Frost’s original music, self-described as structured sound art fused with militant post-classical electronic music, contributed to the overall malaise. Mechanistic grindings, sounds of static, and electronic vibrations formed the soundtrack, occasionally interspersed with vocal music, but for the most part reinforcing the sameness of the various sections.

We live in an anxious age of joblessness, environmental catastrophe, and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, where technological advancements rush us headlong into a dubious future. Much of contemporary dance addresses these concerns or is informed by them, no matter what the subject matter of the production. The Age of Enlightenment, on the other hand, mixed the excitement of discovery with a sly look at human nature, and gave us the Candide of Voltaire, the Jacques of Diderot. One wished that McGregor had utilized a hint of their humor to lighten his very serious investigations in FAR.

Photos by Ravi Deepres, courtesy of CAP UCLA.

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.  


Live Jazz: Cat & Cip – Cat Conner and Gene Cipriano – at Vitello’s

December 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

What a great way to spend a birthday. Hearing music at Vitello’s, and digging into the restaurant’s tasty Italian cuisine, is always a worthwhile plan, birthday or not. But Wednesday in fact was my birthday. And the combination of Vitello’s warm and friendly environment and the always engaging music of Cat & Cip made an irresistible choice for music, dinner and a celebration.

Gene (Cip) Cipriano, Tom Warrington, Scott Whitfield, Cat Conner and Dick Nash

The moment that the band arrived on stage to set the holiday mood with a briskly swinging “Jingle Bells” it was apparent that I was going to have the delightful birthday present of an evening of music by Cat, Cip and their stellar players: pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera, with guest appearances by trombonists Dick Nash and Scott Whitfield, and drummer Colin Bailey.

Don Heckman, Cat Conner and Les McCann

As that wasn’t enough, the incomparable soul jazz singer/pianist Les McCann was also in the audience. And, in one memorable performance of “Merry Christmas Baby,” sung with the right touch of stylishness by Cat, McCann added a briskly swinging set of scat choruses. Despite his health problems, McCann is still a captivating performer. It’s been more than a year since he performed superbly with Lee Hartley and the Eric Reed Trio at Vitello’s. And his brief musical interaction with Cat triggered the desire to hear him once again, in a full set of tunes.

There was much more, as well, all of it celebrating the holidays with an irresistible combination of musical enthusiasm.

Among the many high points:

Cat Conner

Start with Cat Conner’s warm-toned, richly expressive interpretations of everything she sang, from “I’d Like You For Christmas” to “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

In another duo-exchange, trombonists Nash and Whitfield brought a taste of Kai Winding & J.J. Johnson to “”Let It Snow” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

Pianist Rainier, a versatile jazz artist who is an equally fine woodwind player, switched to clarinet on “Heart and Soul,” and dipped into “After You’ve Gone” via a swinging exchange of solos with Cip.

Cip and Cat

Cip and Cat

Cat’s partner, Gene Cipriano, played tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass oboe with marvelous ease and imagination. And when he wasn’t demonstrating his instrumental skills he was delighting the audience with hilarious musicians’ tales.

Guitarist Chiodini, as always, was superb on all musical levels, writing most of the arrangements and combining his always imaginative soloing with his solid rhythm selection contributions.

And I can’t omit one of the evening’s more personal notes, when Cat, Cip and their players dug into a jazz-driven version of “Happy Birthday” at which time a Vitello’s waiter arrived at our table with a candle-lit birthday cake. when it was presented to me with a request to extinguish the candles with a birthday wish, I managed to blow them all out in one fell swoop.  (Aided by my ancient history as a saxophonist.)

So call it a night (and a birthday) to remember. And I will remember it, with recollections of a high spirited, holiday night of music, offered with affectionate musicality by some of the Southland’s finest players. The sort of night that all jazz fans should have the good fortune to experience on at least one of their birthdays.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


CD Review and Commentary: The Rolling Stones “Got Live If You Want It!”

December 1, 2013

The Rolling Stones

Got Live if You Want It! (Original recording remastered)(Abkco)

By Brian Arsenault

Black Friday was a wondrous holiday for two reasons:

The video of women fighting in malls, one even with a taser. The release of the half century old Brit version of The Rolling Stones’ EP Got Live If You Want It!  

When consumer excess reaches the point that people are willing to go beyond pushing and shoving and actually start throwing punches, I begin to admire the excess. It becomes sort of like a religious fervor– our faith in electronic gadgets beyond all normalcy, worthy of faith-based warriors. The new Knights of Malta with Hospitallers much needed. Just too good.

overStill, there are icons (don’t you hate the overuse of that word, sub in “articles of faith“) to be found. Mick and the original boys (Bill Wyman and the late Brian Jones as well as Charlie Watts and Keith) were becoming saints when the true religion of the day was rock ‘n roll. The early faith hysteria just need to be calmed a bit.

This has been a good year or two for vinyl. Several releases of classic Stones albums — Beggars Banquet among others — stuff from the Animals, Ten Years After, others. There have even been serious (at least mock serious) articles about The Return of Vinyl.

Look, I love it too but it’s really a bit of nostalgia don’t you think. It’s rather like collectors of old cars. They sure are neat but you don’t really expect everyone to start driving around in old Studebakers, do you?

The generations coming up who get their music from devices some of us can’t even operate aren’t going to have much time for turntables or even something that actually has to be “played.” It simply needs to be summoned, increasingly by voice command.

Still, I take enormous pleasure in a Side Two, in putting down the needle to the groove, in, my god, 45 revolutions per minute. Doesn’t seem fast, does it?

What’s really remarkable here is the quality of the band — they were kids then. The recording sounds a bit like you were in the next room and it’s mono, of course. But the Stones could really pound it. Charlie especially has already mastered the backbeat which will pulse the band down through ages.

The songs are great. Otis Redding’s “Pain in My Heart,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On,” a bit of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” It reminds us that the Stones began wanting to play blues and r&b. That’s what Jones’ ad for musicians that Keith and Mick responded to made clear.

One almost wishes they had covered even more of such masters as Muddy and John Lee than they have down through the many years.

There’s an absolutely rippin fast version of “Route 66.” That must be Keith speeding along. The Stones make the song their own. They were so young.

It seems to me that the Stones, more than the Beatles ever did, overcame the screaming, pre-teen girls to become a terrific concert band. Still out there, aren’t they? Part of it, and you hear it on this album, was that they play so fast and so loud that the screamers can’t drown them out as they seemed to with the Beatles.

Not that the Beatles didn’t try. There’s a piece of the footage of the Beatles’ first US tour in the ballpark in New York and Paul is singing “Long Tall Sally.” He has said he couldn’t even hear himself for the screaming, yet even with the lousy audio quality on the film, he sounds pretty good.

The Beatles eventually gave up the live stuff for the most part to become the pre-eminent rock recording band ever. Their efforts through the remarkable Rubber Soul and Revolver would culminate in the near masterpiece Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album, one of the art treasures of the Twentieth Century.

To be The World’s Greatest Rock ’n Roll Band, though, the Stones had to master the stage and soon the arena, with dazzling live performances as well as always top notch and occasionally startling albums — think Exile on Main Street, also reissued this year.

What’s so interesting about this little 45 is that you don’t go, “Hey, you can see how good they’re gonna be.” You rather think, “Hey, they were always good. Right from the start.”

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


Here, There & Everywhere: The Music I’m Thankful For

November 28, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again.  Thanksgiving Day has arrived.  And here’s my annual, continual and growing list of the many musical reasons I have to be thankful.

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Charlie Parker

.

- Every note Charlie Parker ever played.

- Ditto for Louis Armstrong.  And Miles Davis.

- Bebop, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, Ray Brown, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown and more.

- The magical spells of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

- Ditto for Don Redman, Sy Oliver, Benny Carter, Neal Hefti, Ralph Burns, Gil Evans, George Russell, Bill Holman, Thad Jones and Oliver Nelson. Maria Schneider and her Orchestra.  The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  The Big Phat Band.  The “Ghost Bands.”

- Count Basie‘s rhythm section (with Freddy Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page).

Billie Holiday

.

- Billie Holiday‘s “Strange Fruit.”

- Nina Simone‘s “I Loves You Porgy.”

- Ella Fitzgerald‘s Song Books.

- Joe Williams‘ “Here’s To Life.”

- Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.

- Coleman Hawkins playing “Body and Soul.”

- Ben Webster playing a ballad – any ballad.

- Sonny Rollins playing “St. Thomas.”

- Almost anything by Miles, Herbie, Wayne, Ron and Tony.

Charles Mingus

- Ditto for Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz.

- Ditto for Thelonious Monk.

- John Coltrane playing “A Love Supreme.”

- Ravi Coltrane playing — right now   Along with Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis, Christian Scott, Jason Moran, Brian Blade, Anat Cohen, Joe Lovano, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins , Chris Botti, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes and many many more.

- Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao  Gilberto, Elis ReginaGal Costa, Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, Eliane Elias, Heitor Villa-Lobos and all the rest of the creators of the marvelous music of Brazil.

Michael Jackson

- The life, accomplishments  and music of Michael Jackson.

- The life and music of Eva Cassidy.

- The life the beliefs and the music of John Lennon.

- The life, music and ideas of George Russell.

- The lives, music and teaching of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar.

- The music in the poetry of Rumi.

- The mugham of Azerbaijan.

- The lives and music of Blossom Dearie, Russ Garcia, Louie Bellson, Maurice Jarre, Les Paul, Mary Travers, Mercedes Sosa and many more no longer with us.

The singing of Cassandra Wilson, Carol Welsman, Denice Donatelli, Angelique Kidjo, Jane Monheit, Andrea Wolper, Roberta Gambarini, Lyn Stanley, Gretchen Parlato, Tierney Sutton, Karrin Allyson, Nnenna Freelon, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cheryl Bentyne and many of the others in the overflowing arena of talented female singers.

The Beatles

- The poetry of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  The songs of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon,  Carole King, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bacharach and David,  Sting and all the other singer-songwriters.

- The music of Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joan Baez, The Who, David Bowie, Nirvana, Kanye West (among others).

- Selmer saxophones and clarinets, Fazioli pianos, Pro Tools and Logic Pro.

- The composers and the lyricists whose music will live forever in the Great American Songbook.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

- Everything and anything by Mozart, but especially the Clarinet Concerto and the Clarinet Quintet.

- The madrigals of Gesualdo.

- Beethoven‘s Piano Sonata No. 32.

- The songs of Schubert.

- Chopin‘s Etudes, Preludes and Waltzes.

- Beethoven‘s 3rd,  Schubert‘s 8th, Mendelssohn‘s 4th,  Brahms‘ 4th,  Tchaikovsky‘s 6th, Prokofiev‘s 1st.

Johan Sebastian Bach

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- The Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, the Goldberg Variations, the Cello Suites the Brandenburg Concertos and almost everything else he ever wrote.
- Stravinsky‘s Sacre du Printemps.  His Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet.

- The String Quartets of Beethoven, Debussy and Ravel.

- Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 3.

- The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. His String Quartets No. 3 and 4.

The music, dance and shamanic drumming of Alessandra Belloni.

West Side Story

- L’Orfeo, The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, Falstaff, Madam Butterfly, Die Fledermaus, Tristan Und Isolde, Three Penny Opera, Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pal Joey, West Side Story

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Plus the numerous other gifted artists I haven’t mentioned.


Record Rack: Kellye Gray and Redmond Langosch Cooley

November 20, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

Of Collapsing Boundaries

Musicians tend not to be as knot headed about musical genres as, oh say, music critics are. They listen across boundaries and take things new ways, move things new ways. Think Hendrix and Dylan, for example. Or the Isley Brothers and early Beatles.

Now come Kellye Gray and Mary Ann Redmond. Lucky us.

Kellye Gray

And They Call Us Cowboys (Grr8 Records)

I don’t know if anyone ever packed more pain into a song than Roy Orbison in “Only the Lonely.” Not only does Kellye Gray provide us a magnificent tribute to Roy in her version, she brings us her own depth of feeling that rises through the longing of the lyric.

Kellye Gray CDShe reaches down the note scale of pain as pianist Pamela York follows right along with her. Deep stuff.

She brings a jazz sensibility to what might be called the Texas Songbook, which is a big part of the American Songbook after all, without self consciousness or apology. She simply loves this music.

If I Needed You” is the equal of “Only the Lonely” in depth of feeling and voice, accompanied again by York’s fine piano work. Voice and instrument both pure. Angel stuff.

I mean if she can turn “Dang Me” — familiar to most of us in Roger Miller’s usual cloying style – into a jazz tune, and she does, then Ella look out. This is a jazz singer of rare air.

Even her rendition of “In the Ghetto” pleases to a point with a deeper soulfulness and bluesy quality than the Elvis hit. Of course, by the time Elvis recorded the tune everything he did tended to sound like a movie track.

The song still has that sappy, sing-song melody but she tries, even adds a little scat but it’s probably the least successful song on the album.

Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Trough The Night” isn’t. It’s a great opening to the album done in bossa nova motif. Kellye adds an “R” rated dimension to the devilish behavior. It’s a little sexier here and Jack Langley’s guitar is as smooth as her singing.

Langley, who also co-arranged the album’s songs with Kellye, is superb throughout on both acoustic and electric guitars as are all the sidemen, Texas musicians all.

The bravest effort on the album is perhaps “Always on My Mind.” It takes some guts to take on Willie’s “anthem”, a song so closely associated with another artist that one might be tempted to just do an identical cover or not cover it at all.

Instead, she doesn’t just imitate; she brings herself to the song and by adding a “woman’s touch” that somehow makes it her own. With just a hint of Janis near the end while Langley’s electric guitar work stretches from touches of rock to deep blues.

Lyle Lovett’s so damn touching “Night’s Lullaby” provides a comforting way to bring the album home. In “sweet mother’s arms.”

Redmond Langosch Cooley

Compared to What (Redmond Langosch Cooley)

Who can do Duke Ellington, Smokey Robinson/Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Irving Berlin and Lennon & McCartney in succession and then finish up with a great song of her own authorship. Mary Ann Redmond can. Oh how she can.

Take Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote” for example. This is one of the great American songs and you must treat it with care. She does, not straying terribly from the Mitchell arrangement but if Joni has chosen not to sing it for us an more, be glad that Mary Ann is here. Be glad anyway.

Move forward on the album but back decades and hear Ms Redmond easily time traveling with the Irving Berlin classic “What’ll I Do.” The song’s delicacy is safe in her hands and she pulls each note to its full beauty.

Keyboardist Jay Cooley shines here and elsewhere but no more than double bassist Paul Langosch who completes the self (last) named trio. Sitting in musicians, perhaps especially tenor sax man Bruce Swaim, complement and expand the trio’s sound.

It’s no insult to any of them to say that they wonderfully support Ms Redmond’s voice. It’s one of the great jazz voices.

Her own publicity says she is “primarily a regional artist” in the Washington DC area but that’s not quite right. She’s actually a great American artist who hasn’t been heard by nearly enough people. But if you are one who has, that’s your good fortune.

Her “I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good” is a slow jazz torch song, demonstrating as so much of the album does that her comfort range for material is astounding. I’m confident that Ellington would say that’s just how it should be sung, perfect. Swaim shines again also.

Or let’s jump to Leonard Cohen’s passionate and somehow disturbing (Cohen after all) “Dance Me To The End of Love” in samba pace. Or is that tango temp by the end. The heat certainly is.

Here and so often on the album it seems that the songs were written for her.

You’ll feel that as she does the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” where she calls out for the “fool” so intensely. His anguish is fully realized.

With Mary Ann, “Fool” becomes a big song where the Beatles intentionally understated it. Both work.

Even more dangerously, she makes “Ain’t That Peculiar” bluesier than Marvin and Motown did. Motown was after all a little afraid of the blues as “race” music and cross over meant everything.

Still, Mary Ann is also just as soulful as Marvin Gaye. And that’s saying something.

So in every way she earns the right to close out the album with her own “Love Me Anyway.” I expect it to be covered again and again as it takes its place in the Songbook.

The song is about what we all want, loved with warts and all, and maybe in the end it is the most moving song on the album. After all.


Live Jazz: Charles Lloyd and Bill Frisell in a CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall

November 19, 2013

By Don Heckman

Charles Lloyd made one of his rare Southland appearances Saturday night a Royce Hall in a CAP UCLA (Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA) concert. And, as often happens with the iconic jazz saxophonist and flutist, one couldn’t help but wish that Lloyd would leave his Santa Barbara home for more frequent local appearances.

Every Lloyd concert is unique. And this one, with special guests Bill Frisell  and Greg Leisz, was a striking display of contemporary jazz improvisation at its finest.

Barely a word was spoken from the stage during the entire 90 minute set (followed by a generous encore of several songs). Instead, Lloyd, with guitarist Frisell, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland and steel guitarist Leisz simply moved smoothly from one piece into another. Some were based on familiar source material – including at one point an unlikely passage from “Abide with Me” to “Red River Valley,” no doubt inspired by Frisell’s America interests. Other selections tapped into everything from Lloyd originals to traditional tunes and pieces by Gabor Szbo and Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” (from West Story).

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

Lloyd is a fascinating performer to watch. Slender and lithe, his movements were intimately related to the flow of the music, whether he was playing or not. When he dug into an especially mobile improvisational passage of his own, he became more involved with the music, lifting one leg after the other in his own unique dance moves.

Since the mid-sixties and the unexpected success of his live performance of “Forest Flower” Lloyd’s career has embraced everything from avant-garde jazz to some intriguing episodes with the Beach Boys. Over the course of the past four or five decades, he has firmly established himself as one of the most musically independent jazz artists of his generation. And, in this memorable performance, his inventive playing offered convincing evidence of his still vital, still imaginative skills.

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

But the performance offered more, its numerous fascinations triggered primarily by the continuing interaction between Lloyd and Frisell, supported the sturdy rhythm work of Rogers and Harland, as well as the dark, roving steel guitar work of Leisz. At the heart of it all, each of the players tailored their individual musical explorations to a non-stop musical journey shared by everyone, on stage and in the audience.  The results illuminated the essence of collective jazz improvising at its finest.

And it was Frisell who – in a conversation with the UCLA Daily Bruin – best described the essence of the interplay between the musicians:

“On stage with (Lloyd),” said Frisell, “there is no competition. There are no worries, no mistakes, no rights or wrongs….When you’ve been playing your whole life, you don’t need to talk about (music) in that way. I feel at home when I’m on stage with Charles Lloyd.”

By the end of the Lloyd quintet’s performance, it’s a fair bet to say that most members of the responsive Royce Hall audience also felt very much “at home” with every note played by Lloyd and his gifted musical associates.


Live Chamber Music: A Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra a la carte concert with violinists Margaret Batjer and Julie Gigante

October 1, 2013

By Don Heckman

“Making great music personal.” It’s a Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra slogan. And it fits perfectly in sync with LACO’s performances, which bring a deep sense of musical intimacy to everything they play, from Baroque classics to new contemporary perspectives.

Among the events that best reflect the slogan are the fund-raising LACO a la carte series. Presented at international residences throughout Los Angeles, they feature chamber music performed by LACO’s fine artists in up close and personal settings, usually at the fine homes of international diplomats.

Last Saturday, the opening concert in this season’s LACO a la carte was a prime example of the various pleasures in the programs. Start with the setting, which was the exquisite Hollywood Hills home of Giuseppe Perrone, the Consul General of Italy. The artists were violinists Margaret Bajer and Julie Gigante, who performed in a drawing room within a few feet of an enthusiastic audience.

When Bajer and Gigante concluded their program, the listeners were invited to an outdoor pool area to share a festive evening of Italian cuisine and beverages. Not exactly the setting of an 18th century aristocratic performance of a new work by Mozart. But close. And there was no denying the blend of delights in the setting, the music and the cuisine.

Still, for the most avid chamber music aficionados in the crowd, it was the continuing fascination of the two violin ensemble that provided an irresistible attention-grabber.

Margaret Batjer and Julie Gigante

Margaret Batjer and Julie Gigante

The program opened with a pair of works by Luigi Boccherini and Giovanni Vioti. Both were classical era composers who were also string instrumentalists. And their articulate familiarity with the violin was present in the works performed on the program. In the hands of Bajer and Gigante each of the works – both for two violins – came vividly to life.

So, too, for their rendering of a pair of compositions by Mozart and Vivaldi. The Mozart selection included a two-violin rendering of arias from Abduction from the Seraglio, performed with soaring lyricism by Bajer and Gigante. And when the masterful violin duo got to Vivaldi’s Sonata for Two Violins they made the most of both the melodic and structural repetitions that Vivaldi brought to so many of his numerous compositions.

Call it a memorable evening – as one is motivated to do by so many Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performances. And one left the magnificent setting of Consul General Perrone’s beautiful home and the superb playing of Margaret Bajer and Julie Gigante looking forward to the next LACO a la carte event – a string quartet program which takes place Sat., Oct. 5. in an Iranian setting. Click HERE for more information about all the LACO a la carte programs.

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Photo by Faith Frenz


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