Live Jazz: A Brief History Of The World (Piano Division) with Alan Pasqua and Tom Schnabel

May 21, 2013

By Michael Katz

Jazz on the Westside found a cozy nook to curl up in Monday night, as radio station KCRW presented an Up Close event with pianist Alan Pasqua and music host Tom Schnabel at the New Roads School in Santa Monica. The goal of the evening, a one hour tour of the history of jazz piano, was nothing if not ambitious – it takes Ken Burns an hour just to say hello. And unlike Burns, Messrs. Pasqua and Schnabel elected not to leave out everything after 1950. The idea was to focus on a dozen or so icons, and naturally there were a few interesting inclusions and omissions. Most enjoyably, there was some exquisite solo playing by Pasqua, particularly in celebration of a new CD dedicated to Bill Evans.

Pasqua began with a nod to Jellyroll Morton. Playing a brief version of “Tomcat Blues,” circa 1920, he gave the audience a demonstration of how Morton moved the music from its ragtime roots to the edge of stride and what would become the trademark sound of Louis Armstrong and others. Progressing to the era of Basie and Ellington, Pasqua discussed how Duke used his piano style to recreate the full sound of his orchestra, through brief interludes of “Take The A Train” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

Alan Pasqua

Alan Pasqua

There are certain players who can’t be left out in a Tour De Jazz Piano: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Errol Garner. Their contributions are found in various combinations of brilliant compositions and technical and harmonic stylings. Monk, in particular, has a trove of compositions that invite contemporary interpretation. Given the relatively brief time of the show, it was nice that Pasqua chose to explore one Monk tune fully.  He filled in the opening bridge of “Round Midnight” with a flourish and extended the standard with his own lively adaptation. Whereas with Bud Powell, he discussed jazz contrafact, demonstrating how Powell took the chord changes from “How High The Moon” and converted them to his own dense style in Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”

The one name that most in the audience were unfamiliar with was Jaki Byard, best known for his work with Eric Dolphy and, through much of the sixties, Charles Mingus.  More significantly to this evening, he was a teacher and mentor to Alan Pasqua, so if his presence in this list seems slightly biased, that’s quite all right. “Tribute To The Ticklers” was a nod to Fats Waller and the stride pianists. It is noteworthy that in the turbulent sixties, when Byard wrote this piece, he was able to reach backwards and create something contemporary, a reminder that jazz is a living time machine, able to go in every direction in ways unlike most other musical forms.

Tom Schnabel

Tom Schnabel

There were nods to others, including McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, and time constraints didn’t allow Pasqua to get to Dave McKenna and Keith Jarrett. Not surprisingly there were some notable omissions, most obviously Dave Brubeck. Pasqua allowed in the Q and A afterward that he didn’t think he could attempt to approach Brubeck without a rhythm section, though I don’t think you can leave him out of the conversation. Same with Oscar Peterson, ditto Mary Lou Williams. And the show’s format had such a resemblance to Marion McPartland’s Piano Jazz series, that she probably deserved a mention as well.

I’ve left Bill Evans for last, because he’s such a clear influence on Pasqua. There was a brief quote from “Green Dolphin Street,” followed by a lovely medley of Evans’ composition “Very Early,” and his classic interpretation of “Sleepin’ Bee.” Evans’ use of harmonics, his ability to sound almost lush and yet breathtakingly simple at the same time, challenge any type of written transposition. Pasqua’s new CD Two Piano Music is a nod to Evans’ Conversations With Myself, consisting of dual solo piano tracks. Pasqua’s composition “Grace” is on that CD, and that is how he concluded the hour long performance Monday night.

KCRW host Schnabel provided a bright counterpoint throughout the evening, offering a wealth of jazz knowledge to go along with Pasqua’s own musical history. He’s planning a similar evening focusing on Brazilian music later on this year, and that is good news for jazz fans in Santa Monica, and one assumes listeners of KCRW as well.

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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.


Picks of the Week: April 24 – 28

April 24, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison

- April 24. (Wed.) Barbara Morrison.  A legend in her own right, the versatile Ms. Morrison celebrates the music of the iconic Ella Fitzgerald.  She’ll be backed by pianist Stuart Elster, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Lee SpathVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

-April 24. (Wed.)  Miles Evans Big Band.  Gil Evan’s trumpet-playing son (and Miles Davis namesake) keeps his father’s superb music alive, while taking it into compelling new musical areas.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- April 25.  (Thurs.)  Cat’s Birthday Bash. Singer Cat Conner celebrates with an evening of prime jazz.  Her special guests include singer Lee Hartley and woodwind master Gene “Cip” Cipriano, with stellar backing provided by pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Steve SchaefferVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- April 25. (Thurs.)  Nutty.  Seven piece Nutty is a one of a kind band, applying their ‘Mashups” style to a blend of “jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, served up with a swinging, old school Vegas swagger.” They perform at L.A.’s elegant new jazz room.  H.O.M.E.  l  (310) 271-4663.

Rita Coolidge

- April 25 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Rita Coolidge. Grammy-winning singer Coolidge – know as “Delta Lady” after Leon Russell wrote the song for her – is still, at 67, a convincing vocal practitioner in the pop and soft rock genres.   Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- April 26. (Fri.) An Evening with Medeski, Martin & Wood.  M, M & W have been exploring new genre combinations – jazz funk, jazz fusion, avant-jazz, etc. – for two decades.  And they’re still working at the cutting edge.  CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

- April 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Bringuier and Thibaudet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  An evening of French delights.  French conductor Lionel Bringuier and French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet perform a program of Ravel and Saint-Saens.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- April 27. (Sat.)  Larry Koonse – Alan Pasqua Duo.  Two of the Southland’s most highly praised players, first call rhythm section experts and superb soloists in their own right, get together in a duo setting.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- April 28. (Sun.)  The Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band.  She’s a blonde girl from the mid-West who plays violin, but Hansen has been providing some of L.A.’s most authentic and dynamic Latin jazz, salsa and swing for more than two decades.  She’ll be joined by guest vocalist Valerie Petersen. Be prepared to dance in the aisles.  The Huntington Beach Art Center.  www.huntingtonbeachartcenter.org  (714) 536-5258.

San Francisco

Chick Corea

Chick Corea

- April 25 – 28. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Chick Corea & the Vigil.  Always in search of newly expressive music, the inimitable Corea performs with his newest band, featuring saxophonist Tim Garland, bassist Hadrien Feraud, guitarist Charles Altura and drummer Marcus GilmoreYoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

New York City

- April 25 – 27. (Thurs. – Sat.) Celebrating Duke EllingtonWynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra explore their deeply insightful understanding of the classic Ellington musical canon.  Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Rose Theatre.    (212) 258-9595.

Boston

- April 27. (Sat.)  Gato Barbieri. Veteran Argentine saxophonist Barbieri has moved across genres from the free jazz of the ‘60s to his Latin jazz specialties of the ‘70s and beyond. He’ll no doubt play his hit version of his music for the film Last Tango In Paris.    Regatta Bar.   (617) 661-5000.

Milan

Avishai Cohen

Avishai Cohen

- April 28 (Sun.)  Avishai Cohen, Omer Avital and Iago Fernandez Camano. Critically praised Israeli trumpeter Cohen performs in a true international jazz trio with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Iago Fernandez CamanoBlue Note Milano.    +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- April 28 & 29. (Sun. & Mon.)  The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin.  Pianist/composer Akiyoshi and her husband, saxophonist Tabackin return to Japan to perform with Akiyoshi’s superb big jazz band. Blue Note Tokyo.   +81 3-5485-0088.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 2 – 7

October 1, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Emmylou Haris

- Oct. 2. (Tues.)  An Evening with Emmylou Harris and Her Red Dirt Boys.  Grammy winning country music icon Harris possesses one of the pop/country world’s finest voices.  Hopefully she’ll apply it to some of the memorable songs from her catalog of classics.  CAP UCLA  Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

- Oct. 2. (Tues.) Josh Nelson and Pat Senatore Duo.  Rising young pianist Nelson and veteran bassist Senatore play together with some regularity.  And the results are always a pleasure – fascinating musical encounters between players a generation or so apart who nonetheless find common creative ground. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler

- Oct. 2. (Tues.)  Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne“West Coast Cool.”  They’re back.  The Winkler/Bentyne Cool Jazz Road Show.  They’ll once again celebrate, in high spirited song, their affection for cool jazz and its legendary practitioners. Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of the dynamic duo.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 4. (Thurs.)  Arnold McCuller.  Singer McCuller’s resume includes long associations as a back up singer with the likes of James Taylor, Phil Collins, Bonnie Raitt and numerous others.  But he’s also a superb up front vocalist as well.  Here he is, making a rare appearance in the spotlight.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 4 – 7. (Thurs. –  Sun.)  Dudamel conducts Beethoven. Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes joins Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning in a three-year presentation of Beethoven’s music for piano and orchestra, including the five numbered concertos and the Choral Fantasy. Disney Hall.     (323) 850-2000.

Marcus Miller

- Oct. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Marcus Miller Band. A much admired string bassist – both acoustic and electric – a bass clarinetist, producer and arranger, Miller’s musical vision is always focusing on new ideas.  Expect this time out to once again hear him open the door to illuminating jazz perspectives.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 5. (Fri.)  Doc Severinson and the San Miguel Five.  He may not be leading a big band anymore, but Severinson still has a firm grip on his trumpet.  This time out, he’ll be urged on by the Latin jazz rhythms of the San Miguel Five.    Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8501.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- Oct. 5. (Fri.)  Lee Hartley.  The versatile Hartley ranges freely from jazz and pop to gospel.  She’ll perform with the Eric Reed Trio featuring Les McCann.  Looks like an evening with some interesting potential.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)  Akram Khan Company“Vertical Road.”  One of the most honored choreographers of his generation, Khan has assembled dancers from Asia, Europe and the Middle East to perform his “Vertical Road,” to a score by Nitin SawhneyCAP UCLA  Royce Hall.       (310) 825-2101.

- Oct. 6. (Sat.)  Chick Corea, Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet. Long time musical partners, pianist Corea and vibraphonist Burton have been seeking new musical adventures together since the early ‘70s.  On this evening, their explorations will be aided by the Harlem String Quartet.   Valley Performing Arts Center.     (818) 677-3000.

Bob Mintzer

- Oct. 6. (Sat.)  Bob Mintzer, Alan Pasqua, Darej Oles and Ignacio Berroa.  That list of names could represent a law firm.  But no firm with these guys, who are among the Southland’s jazz elite, coming together to challenge themselves and each other.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.)  The Angel City Jazz Festival 2012.  The Angel City Festival once again presents a set of concerts underscoring the extent of the Southland’s extraordinary population of world class jazz artists.  Add to that the participation of several major international artists and the ACJF is rapidly establishing its creds as a major musical event.  On Friday, the Anthony Lucca Quintet and the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble perform at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  On Saturday, Anthony Wilson, Larry Goldings and Jim Keltner are at REDCAT.  On Sunday, Peter Erskine’s New Trio, the Mark Dresser Quintet, the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet and the Archie Shepp Quartet perform at the Ford Amphitheatre.  With more to come next week.   The Angel City Jazz Festival.

- Oct. 7. (Sun.)  Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  The LACO offers its own participation in Royce Hall’s opening week with a program of Ravel, Beethoven and more.  In addition to the Ravel Piano Conerto in G Major and the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, there will be West Coast premieres of new compositions by Andrew Norman and James MathesonCAP UCLA Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

San Francisco

- Oct. 3 & 4. (Wed. & Thurs.)  An Intimate Evening with Helen Reddy.  The hit-making Australian singing star returns to performing after a decade hiatus.  Eager listeners will hope to hear songs such as “I Am Woman,” “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” “Delta Dawn” and more. Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Chicago

- Oct. 4 – 7). (Thurs. – Sun.)  Benny Green Trio.  Pianist Green is one of the mainstays in the effort to find new jazz territory without abandoning the jazz homeland.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

Jim Hall

- Oct. 2 – 6. (Tues. – Sat.)  Jim Hall Quartet.  Hall has been described as “the reigning master of the jazz guitar” by the Wall St. Journal.  And while there are a lot of things I’d disagree with the Journal about, this isn’t one of them.  The ever-fascinating Hall will be in the company of alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve Laspina and drummer Joey Baron Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.

- Oct. 2 – 7. (Tues. – Sun.)  John Scofield Trio.  Guitarist Scofield is always searching for new musical environments.  And he’s found a winner this time, in the stellar team of bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill StewartThe Blue Note.     (212) 475-8592.

- Oct. 5 & 6. (Sat. & Sun.)  Brad Mehldau: Solo.  A solo performance by Mehldau is always a compelling musical experience, ranging across the full extent of his classically-trained, jazz-invested skills.  The Allen Room in Jazz at Lincoln Center.    (212) 258-9800.

London

Hiromi

- Oct. 4 – 6. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Hiromi: The Trio Project.  Hiromi’s virtuosic piano playing combines with her imaginative musical vision to suggest a new view of the classic jazz piano trio.  She performs with bassist Steve Smith and drummer Anthony Jackson Ronnie Scott’s.    20 7439 0747.

Paris

- Oct. 3. (Wed.)  Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Trio.  Pianist/composer Weston has written a few jazz classics – “Hi-Fly” and “Little Niles” among them.  And he’s equally dedicated to the African music at the roots of jazz, exploring them in performances of ensembles such as his African Rhythms Trio.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

- Oct. 4. (Thurs.)  The Al Foster Quartet.  Drummer Foster has been a high visibility presence in the bands of Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson.  But he’s also been the effective leader of his own groups.  This one includes Wayne Escoffery, saxophones, Adam Birnbaum, piano, Doug Weiss, bass.  A-Trane.    030/313 25 50.

Milan

- Oct. 4 & 5. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Scott Henderson, Dennis Chambers and Jeff Berlin. Here’s high energy jazz rock of the most intense order.  Henderson, Chambers and Berlin are all instrumental virtuosi in their own right.  Together, they’re sheer excitement.  Blue Note Milano 02.69016888.

Copenhagen

Gretchen Parlato

- Oc. 4 & 5. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Gretchen Parlato Quartet.  Always her own person, eager to find her own pathway in partnership with instrumentalists, singer Parlato is performing with a collective fully capable of sharing her creative explorations. With Taylor Eigsti, piano, Burmiss Travis, bass, Kendrick Scott, drums.  Jazzhus Montmartre.  (+45) 70 15 65.

Tokyo

- Oct. 6 & 7. (Sat. & Sun.)  Composer, pianist, songwriter Michel Legrand has been having an impact on contemporary music for decades.  This time out, he’s celebrating his 80 birthday.   Blue Note Tokyo.     03.54850088.


Live Jazz: April Williams with Alan Pasqua, Bob Sheppard, Darek Oles and Peter Erskine at Vitello’s.

July 23, 2012

By Don Heckman

April Williams spends a lot of nights – and a few afternoons, too – at Vitello’s Restaurant in Studio City.  Under her guidance, Upstairs at Vitello’s has become one of L.A.’s best new jazz venues.

She was there on Saturday night, as well.  But not for her usual routine of cruising the room to make sure everything’s working the way it should, while occasionally darting backstage to be certain that the performers are ready to go with everything they need.

That’s not to say that she didn’t do a few of those chores on Saturday, too.  But her real focus was with the evening’s performers, who included pianist Alan Pasqua, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter Erskine.

Along with the featured singer: April Williams.

April Williams with Alan Pasqua and Bob Sheppard

That’s right, April took a break from booking and supervising the music to have a little fun with something she loves to do: sing.  She does so with a substantial background in musical theatre, and a weekly exposure to some of the Southland’s finest vocal artists in action.

But what quickly became apparent was the fact that April has a unique style of her own, based upon a quest to illuminate the story within every song she sings.

After her stellar musicians romped through a jaunty rendering of “How Much Do I Love You?” April began her set with an atmospheric take on “Love For Sale.” Followed by a sparkling arrangement of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.”

April Williams

She sang “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” in harmonized phrasing with Sheppard’s soprano saxophone – accomplishing the demanding task while capturing the song’s tricky lyrics.  Her jazz phrasing was front and center in the classic “Honeysuckle Rose,” which also featured a stunning, full-chorus solo from Erskine.

Another jazz classic, “Angel Eyes,” was on shakier ground.  But April more than made up for it with a delightfully raucous “Don Juan” from the musical Smokey Joe’s Café.  In the mood for more humor, she followed with a whimsical take on Dave Frishberg’s “Peel Me A Grape.”

Still displaying her versatility, she then sang a warm and intimate “We’ll Be Togrther Again,” her musical narrative enhanced by a lovely solo from bassist Oles.  And she wrapped up her far-ranging set of songs with a pair of classic Jobim bossa novas: “Sad” (“Triste”) and “No More Blues” (“Chega De Saudade).  Neither song has an English translation as touching as the original Portuguese.  But to April’s credit, she delivered the English version of both with convincing believability.

Tonight, April Williams will no doubt be back at her task of keeping  Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programming alive and cooking.  And she can be pleased that on Saturday night, she accomplished that task superbly – not just as a music room manager, but as a featured artist, and a good one. Let’s hope she steps on stage again, and soon.

Performance photo by Bob Barry.


Picks of the Week: July 18 – 22

July 18, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- July 18. (Wed.) The  Chris Walden Big Band with special guest Tierney Sutton. Walden takes a break from his busy schedule of studio arranging and composing to lead his always dynamic big band.  And it will be especially fascinating to hear the versatile Ms. Sutton singing in a setting very different – but no doubt equally compelling — from that of her own band.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

John Pizzarelli

- July 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.)  John Pizzarelli Quartet.  He plays the guitar, he sings, he’s as witty and humorous as a stand-up comic.  And he does it all with warm amiability.  If all that isn’t enough, check out his ear-grabbing scatting in unison with his fast-fingered guitar soloing.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- July 19. (Thurs.)  Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  The gifted violinist performs the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and joins up with Edgar Meyer to perform the bassists Double Concerto for Violin and Double Bass. The Philharmonic, under Ludovic Morlot, also plays Weber’s Der Freischutz and Oberon overtures. The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

- July 19. (Thurs.) Nick Mancini.  Vibes artist Mancini, one of L.A.’s busiest studio players, takes a break to showcase his own Mancini Collective.  And what better way to hear first rate  jazz than in Descanso Gardens.  Bring a blanket, picnic food and friends for a laid-back, relaxed musical evening.  Seating on a first come basis.  Descanso Gardens.  (818) 949-4200.

- July 19. (Thurs.)  Judi Silvano.  One never knows what to expect from singer/composer Silvano other than the certainty that she will offer an evening of music that constantly intrigues and entertains.  She’ll be working with pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall Kay. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- July 20. (Fri.)  The Josh Nelson Group. Pianist Nelson is in the vanguard of the Southland’s most gifted young jazz artists, releasing  his first recording at 19.  This time out he’s stretching the envelope in the company of guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter John Daversa and live sci-fi video art.  The Blue Whale.     (213) 620-0908.

Smokey Robinson

- July 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.)  Smokey Robinson.  Blessed with superb songwriting skills and one of the most warm and soothing voices in all of pop music, it’s no wonder Robinson has long been called the King of Motown. The Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

- July 21. (Sat.)  The Gift: the stellar assemblage of pianist Alan Pasqua, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Darek Oles offer the gift of their world class accompaniment as a belated birthday present to singer April Williams, in the room she has established as one of L.A.’s best jazz venues.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- July 21. (Sat.)  The Pasadena POPS with Marvin Hamlisch and Michael Feinstein.  Conductor Hamlisch and the POPS open the summer season with a program featuring the master of the Great American Songbook.  The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.  The Pasadena Symphony and Pops.   (626) 793-7172.

San Francisco

Leo Kottke

- July 22. (Sun.)  Leo Kottke.  Veteran guitarist Kottke is an entertaining artist, illuminating his vocals with humorous monologues.  But it is his impressive, finger-picking guitar playing that is the centerpiece of his performances.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

New York

- July 17 – 22. (Tues. – Sun.)  Igor Butman & the Moscow State Jazz Orchestra.  Saxophonist/bandleader Butman is the Wynton Marsalis of Russia, using his connections with the power elite to support the growing presence of jazz in his country.  His Orchestra includes some of Russia’s finest players. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- July 18. (Wed.)  A CIM Faculty Concert.  Four cutting edge improvisational artists from the Center for Improvisational Music — pianist Andy Milne, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tom Rainey – will perform works by all members of the group.  The Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.

- July 19. (Thurs.)  An Enchanted Evening: The Songs of Richard Rodgers. “Enchanted” is the right word to describe an evening of Rodgers performed by the ensemble of Bill Charlap, piano / Barbara Carroll, piano & vocals / Sachal Vasandani, vocals / Warren Vaché, cornet /Jon Gordon, alto sax / John Allred, trombone / Jay Leonhart, bass / Sean Smith, bass / Tim Horner, drums.  The 92nd St. Y.   (212) 415-5500.

London

Stanley Clarke

- July 20 & 21.  (Fri. &.  Sat.)  The Stanley Clarke/Stewart Copeland Band.  A pair of world class jazz individualists – bassist Clarke and drummer Copeland – combine their unique visions into an irresistible blend of jazz, fusion and rock with an occasional tinge of classical.  They’re joined by keyboardist Ruslan Sirota and guitarist Brady Cohen.    Ronnie Scott’s.

Paris

- July 21. (Sat.)  The Christian Scott Quintet. Trumpeter Scott has been a vital new figure on the jazz scene since his first album, Rewind That, was released in 2006.  He’ll no doubt feature pieces from his latest album, Christian aTunde Adjua. arrival in   New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.

Milan

- July 21. (Sat.) Esperanza Spalding. Winner of the Best New Artist award in the 2011 Grammys, bassist/singer Spalding has been crossing genres ever since.  She has modeled her career, she says, on those of Madonna and Ornette Colema.  Blue Note Milan.    02.69.01.68.88.

Tokyo

Dionne Warwick

- July 19 – 21. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Dionne Warwick. Iconic pop singer Warwick was one of the big hit-makers of the rock era.  Best known for association with songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, she is a five-time Grammy winner (plus seven other nominations). And she’s still going strong. Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.


Q & A: Chris Botti

June 1, 2012

By Don Heckman

 Trumpeter Chris Botti has moved, over the past decade, from visibility in the smooth jazz genre – an identity that never really seemed quite right for him – to international prominence as a versatile jazz artist with a unique style of his own.  Described by his record company, no doubt accurately, as the best selling jazz artist in the world, Botti has worked hard at getting to, and maintaining, his high level of achievement.  Often on the road, at stops around the globe, for more than 300 days and nights a year, he maintains a rigorous schedule of keeping in close touch with his legions of fans.  We caught him for a Q & A before his Los Angeles appearance at the Greek Theatre tomorrow night.

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 DH: Chris, I know you came from a musical family environment, growing up in Oregon.  Your Mom was a concert pianist.  But what was it that made you want to play jazz and the trumpet?

CB: The thing that made me want to play trumpet – and jazz — was hearing Miles Davis play “My Funny Valentine” when I was twelve.

DH: Why?  What was it that you heard, at that young an age, that had such an impact?

CB: I’ve always loved it, even then, when I can hear the space in what the horn is playing.  That’s probably why I gravitated much more toward Miles’ band with Wayne and Herbie than toward the more straight ahead styles of, say, Kenny Dorham or Freddie Hubbard, even though I love those guys.  I marvel at the incredible technique and the joy that Freddie and Clifford Brown had, and Dizzy as well, but I’ve always tended to gravitate toward the kind of music that ultimately just breaks your heart.  When Miles plays “Old Folks” or something like that, the music sounds so pretty and at the same time haunting.  That’s always what I was drawn to.

DH: Your shows have always seemed to be more than just instrumental performances.  On Saturday, in addition to your group, you’ll have Lisa Fischer doing vocals.  And, even more than that, you reach out, connect and interact with your audiences in a way that’s done by very few jazz musicians.

CB: I think it’s very important, especially nowadays, to reach out to your audience, and to be grateful that there’s an audience out there.  Because that’s the element that propels everything.  When you see a live concert, whether it’s me or a classical player like Lang Lang,  or Joshua Bell – something without lyrics – you want to hear, at some point, or see and feel a sort of visceral bang.  Miles saw bandleaders like Dizzy and Louis when he was coming up, and he saw that they had all that joy on stage, and he probably thought ‘How am I going to separate myself?  I can’t out-Dizzy Dizzy.  So I’ve gotta somehow come on with something of my own, some sort of brooding, artistic vibe.  And that might light a fire under people.’  And he was right.  It certainly did.

DH: You spent a substantial portion of your early career in the back-up bands of pop artists – most notably, Sting, but a lot of others, as well.  Did those experiences serve, in any way, as templates for figuring out how to do your own reaching out to an audience?

CB:  That’s completely true in regards to Sting, to Paul Simon and to Joni Mitchell, among others.  One of the first things I learned was that their way into success was to surround themselves with incredible musicians.  And they all did that.  I was in a Paul Simon band with Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and Richard T — all in the same band —  with some West Africans and some Brazilians.  And then when I went with Sting, it was the same thing.  He really features his side musicians.  He opens his audience to them, and them to his audience.

DH: That’s one aspect of influence that you’ve definitely followed.  Your bands have been stellar assemblages.  But you learned more, too, from those prominent pop artists in those early years, didn’t you?  Something in the way you present yourself?

CH: You bet.  Whether it was Peter Gabriel or Joni or Sting or Paul Simon, I watched the way they worked.  How they crafted a song, how they paced a show. How they introduced people.  All that was a huge asset for me in the way I do my own show..

DH: And there’s another aspect to the success you’ve had over the past decade, isn’t there?  An aspect with the initials B.C., who was once the drummer with another hugely successful pop act, Blood, Sweat & Tears?

CB:  Right.  Bobby Colomby. My manager.  He’s the guy who’s been swinging for the fences on everything.  And in hindsight, the best deal I ever made in my life was to force Bobby to become my manager – begrudgingly at first, but now he’s way into it.  He did it kicking and screaming at first, but now he just loves it.  Which is fantastic.

DH: Your new album, Impressions, like your previous albums of the last decade, was the result of a combined creative consultation between you and Colomby, right?

CB: Yes.  We’d had a lot of success on the heels of the Live in Boston album,  One of the things that people said to me over and over again in the past 2 ½ – 3 years since that record came out, was that they liked the variety so much.  They were really impressed by going from Steven Tyler to Yo Yo Ma to Sting.  They liked all that, not only the beautiful music but the approach of ricocheting all over the place.  So when Bobby and I started to formulate ideas for the record, we just kicked around some random ideas for guests, some kind of wish list.

DH: A wish list that included what?

CB: We started with Mark Knopfler and “What A Wonderful World.”  How different could we get than that?  Then, a year earlier, when the Polish government was reformed, they invited me to come and perform a piece on national television.  And they commissioned us to do this Prelude by Chopin to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. And another good starting point for the album.

DH: You also managed to get Herbie Hancock on that list, too.

CB: Well, that’s an interesting story.  We’d just performed at the White House, with Herbie.  And Bobby had this wacky idea.  He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you write something with Chris?’  Can you imagine how intimidated I felt?  I told Bobby, ‘Man, you’ve lost the plot.  You’ve let this gig of being my manager go to your head.’  And Bobby’s like ,’Trust me, it’s going to be fantastic.’  And I’m like, ‘Bobby, I’m nervous as hell.  But he insisted I show up at Herbie’s house, which is pretty close to mine.  Herbie’s idea was to just go to the piano – he had mics set up and his studio was downstairs.  “We’ll just improvise,’ he said.  So he just walked to the piano, delayed for a while, thinking, and then he played the first chord.  And I played this little phrase.  And we continued for about twenty minutes, recording it all, and then picked what we wanted and formed a song from that – with all the ins and outs…Alan Pasqua transcribed it for us, and Vince Mendoza who took all those ingredients and put them all together.  And I told Bobby, ‘Man, you were right again’.”

DH: There’s a lot more on Impressions, of course.  Standards like “Over the Rainbow” and ”Summertime,” a gorgeous cinematic piece by Gabriel Yared, another co-written piece, this time with David Foster.  And , much more.  You covered a lot of bases on this one.

CB: Yeah, We picked so much great material for this record that I don’t know what we’re going to do for the next one.  Bobby and I might have to retire.

DH: How do you feel about the way things are going now, Chris?  About where your career has brought you to, in all the years since you heard Miles play “My Funny Valentine?”

CB: We’re sitting in a real nice place to be right now, given the state of the record industry, and I feel forever grateful for that. People always ask me, ‘When are you going to take a break?’”  And I go, ‘The long list of musicians who have screwed up a successful career or just get lazy and let it go, is huge.  And I don’t want to be one of those.  So I’m going to take it while it’s here.’  The truth is, I’m so into it.  I can’t think of a better life.

DH: Thanks, Chris.  Looking forward to hearing you tomorrow night [Saturday] at the Greek Theatre.


Jazz With An Accent: New CDs from Vince Mendoza, David Murray Cuban Ensemble and Sammy Figueroa

October 15, 2011

By Fernando Gonzalez

Vince Mendoza

Nights of Earth (Horizontal)

Set to a generous, wide-angled perspective, and paced by smart, observant details, Nights on Earth plays like The World According to Vince.

In some ways, it suggests a personal summation of his career thus far: a deep knowledge of American music vernacular and European classical music, with a refined craftsmanship as a composer and arranger to match, now permeated by his encounters with a world of music styles.

And yet for all its stylistic variety Nights on Earth never feels like a sort of musical Whitman’s Sampler. The mix of references, styles and instrumental colors, at times eyebrow-raising, feels organic, one man’s invitation to open our ears to the possibilities.

The opening “Otoño,”  draws obviously from his experiences with flamenco  (check Jazzpaña (ACT, 1993) or El Viento (ACT, 2009) with the Netherland’s Metropole Orchestra of which he is Music Director and Chief conductor), given an improbable twist with a B3 organ. “Ao Mar,” a song co-written with vocalist Luciana Souza, plays on the standard expectations of a bossa nova before unfolding in unpredictable ways. Or, as in “Addio” or “The Night We Met,” Mendoza takes advantage of the bittersweet melancholy of the bandoneón, the button squeezebox that is the quintessential instrument of tango, without ever drifting into any facile references.

Throughout, Mendoza sets singers and soloists with a jeweler’s hand. He’s working here with an exceptional cast, most of them long time friends and collaborators  – including Joe Lovano and Bob Mintzer, sax;  John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Nguyen Le on guitar, Alan Pasqua and Kenny Werner, piano – and knows how to frame them slightly East or West of their comfort zone to elicit a fresher response. And in “Shekere,” a song co-written with Malian kora player singer Tom Diakite, he works the dramatic tension by subtly pacing the call and response between vocalist and group, managing dynamics and orchestral colors.

Nights on Earth shows an artist at a peak of his craft and with a vision to match.

***

David Murray Cuban Ensemble

Plays Nat King Cole En Español (Mótema Music)

The work of singer and pianist Nat “King” Cole, and especially the work of Cole en español, might seem an unlikely subject for saxophonist David Murray. Then again, the one-time firebrand avant-gardist has been steadily evolving, sometimes seemingly in several directions at once, embracing a more classic approach on the horn, and growing, improbably, into a song stylist.   Thematically working on his own growing library of compositions while also exploring Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Gene Ammons and John Coltrane, but also The Grateful Dead, collaborations with master players of the gwo ka percussion and vocal traditions from Guadeloupe, and Latin music.

In David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español, Murray revisits Cole Español (1958) and More Cole Español (1962), part of a trilogy of albums by Cole in Spanish and Portuguese. (The third one is A Mis Amigos, recorded in 1959.)

Featuring a 10 piece group comprised of Cuban musicians and a string ensemble (the Sinfonieta of Sines), and recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sines, Portugal, Plays Nat King Cole includes nine reinterpretations of covers and one original, “Black Nat,” dedicated to Cole. Rocker-turned-tango-singer Daniel Melingo, a sort of Tom Waits of avant tango and in many ways the vocal opposite of smooth and cool Nat King Cole, contributes in four tracks. Bandoneón master Juan José Mosalini appears in one.

At his best, Murray, in the style of the old masters, doesn´t simply play the melodies here, he sings them on his horn. And if you know the lyrics of these songs, you´ll appreciate some of his choices. In “No Me Platiques,” a bolero he plays to a tart string accompaniment, Murray is positively Websterian as he states the theme before launching into a measured, but questioning solo. He lets Melingo’s ragged reading of the lyrics set the tone in a Caribbean-ized tango “A Media Luz,” before entering on bass clarinet, with an eloquent and smooth response to the singer’s call.

But Murray can be playful, too, as in the up-tempo version of Bobby Capó´s classic “Piel Canela,” or Consuelo Velazquez’s “Cachito.”  Throughout, Murray peppers his playing with some of the vocabulary of his earlier day – bursts of notes in quick runs, wide leaps, and probing the melody from the outer reaches of the instrument.

Murray’s Cuban Ensemble not only contributes a knowing, solid foundation and an easy swing, but also strong soloing – alto saxophonist Roman Filiu on “Cachito,” and tenor Ariel Bringuez on Murray’s “Black Nat.”

David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español is an idiosyncratic take on romance – restless, now tender, now tough, never quite easy, and never less than fascinating.

***

Sammy Figueroa

Urban Nature (Senator)

Sammy Figueroa’s Urban Nture is a substantial, beautifully constructed work that makes its points subtly.  It draws on the Afro-Caribbean Latin Jazz tradition – but adds to it by opening to more diverse sources and treading softly around well worn formulas.

Also, this is Figueroa’s third album as a leader and the second with the same band. He has been leading his own groups since 2002 – flutist Dave Valentin and former Irakere tenor man Carlos Averhoff were early guests.  But for the past five years he has been able to maintain a stable lineup — trumpeter Alex Pope Norris, saxophonist John Michalack, pianist Silvano Monasterios, bassist Gabriel Vivas and drummer Nomar Negroni. The effort is paying off.

It might strike as an odd compliment, but Urban Nature never sounds like Figueroa’s vehicle.  Here, the music is the story.

Featuring nine original pieces, seven of them by either Monasterios or Vivas, in Urban Nature, Figueroa gets to pay his respects to Mongo Santamaría (on Nicholas Martines’ “Cuco y Olga”) and fly around in the opening “Gulfillo.” But there’s more to this recording than that: pieces such as the updates of standard cha-cha-cha (“Cha Cha Pa’ Ti,” and the title track); the driving, Chick Corea flavored “7th Door to Your Left”; and Monasterio’s elegiac “Zuliana,” based on a Venezuelan folk rhythm.

Throughout, the playing here is at once muscular and nuanced, loose but focused and flavored with touches of humor.

Figueroa has long made a name for himself as a percussionist and sideman (most recently with Sonny Rollins).  Urban Nature might start establishing him as a leader.

To read more posts and columns by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE.


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