Live Jazz: The Jon Mayer Trio at H.O.M.E.

January 10, 2013

By Brick Wahl

Beverly Hills, CA.  Saw Jon Mayer Tuesday in Beverly Hills at a club called H.O.M.E.  A trio gig, with rock solid down the middle Chris Conner on bass, always good, and Roy McCurdy on drums. They don’t make drummers like Roy anymore. All that power. Not Elvin Jones power, but metrical power, swinging like he swung everybody, Cannonball Adderley and everybody. Jon was playing a huge piano that was last tuned in 1967 or thereabouts but he didn’t seem to have much trouble with it.

I was at Charlie O’s one night — might have been this very same trio — and I was sitting with John Heard back at the bar. Heard was digging Mayer’s playing, totally digging it, and said Mayer was the real thing. “That’s the way they used to play” he told me, “trying stuff on the fly, taking big risks like that. Just pure creativity. They don’t do that anymore.” He said something like that, anyway, back at the bar downing a brandy, me a whiskey. We listened to Mayer working through whatever it was he was aiming at, and I got it.  Heard what John Heard was hearing.  Saw in Jon Mayer’s face that creative process Heard was marveling at.

Jon Mayer

Jon Mayer

Sometimes an idea wouldn’t pan out and Jon would curse to himself and strain a second to rebuild it into something that would work. Fearless improvisation, falling back on nothing but the centrifugal force of pure jazz improvisation to carry it along. It’s like Mayer doesn’t see a beautiful lattice of possible patterns, nothing he learned in school, nothing somebody else did before. That doesn’t even seem to exist to him. He’s not making art, like pianists tend to do anymore, he’s making jazz. Pure jazz.

At H.O.M.E., it was jazz the way it was played in NYC in the 1950′s, when Jon was first gigging. You can imagine the heavy cats he had to play with, play for — hell, there was a session with Trane, even — back when jazz was at its absolute apogee. Those were the days that all jazz musicians look back at now as Olympian, as something jazz players now would give anything to be part of, and Jon Mayer was there, really was. You can hear it in those crazy clustered chords of his, these sensitive yet almost dissonant things he drops in where almost everyone would lay out a straight melodic line. I mean not dropping any huge Monk clomps, not even dropping one handed bombs like McCoy Tyner, but instead turning the melody into pieces, oddly shaped pieces he lays out with spaces between them that distill into single notes that splash on the keys like drops of rain water. He does this even in the most gorgeous tunes, a magnificent “Green Dolphin Street” or something by Tadd Dameron, or something he’s drawn up himself.

I dunno, I find writing about jazz piano impossible, absolutely impossible, and I flail around looking for ways to explain something that I don’t even understand. I wrote about jazz in the LA Weekly for seven years and never did learn how to write about jazz piano. I failed again with this. But Jon Mayer’s piano playing affects me like no other, I just listen in disbelief wondering how his musical thought process works. And I wonder if anyone else in town realizes what a treasure this jazz player is, and why they aren’t lining up to see him. He’s that good.

To read more posts by Brick Wahl on his personal website click HERE.


Live Music: Gershwins With A Groove: SING! SING! SING! at Keyboard Concepts

September 26, 2012

By Norton Wright

Judy Wolman

It was another extraordinary afternoon on Sunday with SING! SING! SING!, the unique 9-person group of rehearsed singers led by Artistic Director Judy Wolman.  Sprightly swinging on piano with Chris Conner on bass, Jack LeCompte on drums, Wolman and raconteur Howard Lewis melded the history of composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin with performances of twenty of their most remarkable songs.And invited the audience to sing along.

Why is a performance so special with the SING! SING! SING! group  (6 women and 3 men, including the multi-talented host, Howard Lewis)?  It’s because the singers have such a good time with the tunes that their enjoyment is happily infectious, and soon the whole audience is singing and sharing in the groovy toe-tapping.

Howard Lewis

And memory, too, plays a big role in the experience as SING! SING! SING!’s sparkling renditions of the Gershwins’ songs also led us to fondly recall Sarah Vaughan’s jazz take on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Chet Baker singing “But Not For Me,” Diane Schuur’s “The Man I Love,” Shirley Horn’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” and Louis and Ella on “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The myriad ways that the Gershwin Songbook can be rendered demonstrates why we regard that songbook as so great.

For those who have not experienced SING! SING! SING!, it should be noted that the group’s performance is much more than a “follow-the-bouncing ball” sing-along. There is something intensely touching in the sound of an audience, essentially of strangers, moved to sing together, to join the SING! SING! SING! performers in what emerges as a kind of surprise bonding, a rare coming-together, a veritable musical communion of performers and audience.

Facilitating that performer-audience interaction in Keyboard Concepts’ mini-theater on Sunday, lyric sheets were given to all audience members, and the sheets designed by Artistic Director Wolman not only clarified the oft confused definitions of “verse,” “refrain,” “chorus,” “bridge” and “release,” but also graphically indicated to the audience how a jazz vibe on the Gershwin tunes can be achieved by rhythmic pauses in the lyrics.

For Example:  “Someone To Watch Over Me” (1926) Words by Ira Gershwin.

Verse:

There’s a saying old, Says that love is blind, ____ Still we’re often told,
“Seek and ye shall find.” ____ So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had____ in mind. ____
Looking ev’rywhere, Haven’t found him yet; He’s the big affair I cannot forget.____
Only man I ever think of with regret. _____
I’d __ like _ to add his initial to my monogram. ___
Tell __me, __ Where is the shepherd for this __ lost ___ lamb? ____

Refrain:
There’s a somebody I’m longing to see. __ I hope that he __ turns out to be __
Someone who’ll watch ___ over _ me. ______
(etc., etc.)

The audience participation on Sunday was robust and reminded one of those show biz evenings of old on NYC’s West End Avenue where Broadway folk would casually gather round an apartment’s piano and sing the night away. And there were some cool surprises from the SING! SING! SING! group as Ruth Davis stepped forward on stage to solo in a wise and dramatic rendition of “He Loves And She Loves.”  Later, Judy Wolman and Howard Lewis drew Chuck Marso from the audience to sing the Gershwin brothers’ rarely heard but oh so optimistic “Beginner’s Luck,.

Susan Watson

For a  guest finale, invited up from the audience was Susan Watson — fresh from her year-long run in “Follies” at Washington’s Kennedy Center, on Broadway, and at the Ahmanson Theater here in Los Angeles — to sing a touching rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

Though the individual singers of SING! SING! SING! may not have jazz star names like “Deedles,, “Sassy,” “Dizzy,” or “Zoot,” they delivered a musical powerhouse performance and merit star recognition  as follows — Tina Appel, David Beraru, Gloria Birnkrant, Ruth Davis, Pamela Jackson, Jackie Manfredi, Anita Royal, Judith Farber Weissman, Jerry Weissman.  

Bottom line — for a unique and emotionally-moving musical experience, keep your internet eyes out for the monthly programs and venues of SING! SING! SING! You’ll have a wonderful time!


LIve Jazz: Stephanie Haynes and the Karen Hammack Trio Upstairs at Vitello’s

September 21, 2012

By Don Heckman

Stephanie Haynes was back last night.  Back from years in Las Vegas, performing again at a premiere Los Angeles jazz club as she so often did in the closing decades of the 20th century.  In those remembered evenings, she could be heard at such now-departed venues as Spazio or the Jazz Bakery.  This time it was at a newer, but no less celebrated room – Vitello’s.  And, once again, her audience was liberally sprinkled with other jazz singers, there to hear this skillful artist display her musical wares.

After a brisk, opening romp through the Arlen/Mercer ‘40s hit, “My Shining Hour,” by the Karen Hammack Trio – with Hammack, piano, Chris Conner, bass and Paul Kreibich, drums – Haynes went to work.

“Blue Gardenia” her first choice, was delivered with an upbeat intensity strikingly different from the classic Dinah Washington and Nat “King” Cole versions.  And it set the stage for Haynes’ characteristic decision to offer an impressively diverse collection of songs.

Stephanie Haynes

As she has done so often in the past, she included less familiar, but worthy songs such as “Down Here On the Ground,” Kern & Hammerstein’s “Nobody Else But Me,” the Gershwin’s “Shall We Dance,” and the emotionally touching “Here’s To You Lady Day,” written by Haynes’ close musical associate, Jack Prather.

That’s not to say that she ignored the headline items from the Great American Songbook. Warren & Gordon’s “I Wish I Knew,” Arlen & Mercer’s “Out of This World,” the DePaul/Ray jazz standard, “I’ll Remember April” and the Styne/Kahn film song for Doris Day, “It’s You Or No One” were sung with the deep blend of musicality and lyrical expressiveness that are essential elements in everything Haynes touches.

The highlight item on the program, however, was a seasonal medley, prepared and articulately arranged for Haynes by the equally versatile Hammack.  And here, too, the choices ranged from the familiar (“Autumn Leaves – sung in French and English – “Moonlight In Vermont” and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”) to the lesser known “Summer Nights” and “That Sunday, That Summer.”

It’s hard to recall a recent singer’s set that included anything close to such a remarkably far-reaching collection of songs.  And the program’s high points – especially those passages in which the trio backed off their occasional tendency to produce an excess of rhythmic heat – recalled the intimate, musically communicative qualities that defined Haynes, decades ago, as one of the Southland’s finest vocal artists.

Let’s hope that this time out represented the opening lines of yet another chapter in her creatively imaginative career.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 4 – 8

January 3, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Jan. 4. (Wed.)  Kris Bowers.  22 year old pianist Bowers, a graduate student at Julliard, was the winner of the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition in 2011.)  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Jon Mayer

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.)  Jon Mayer Quintet.  Veteran pianist Mayer, whose resume includes gigs with the likes of Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane and the Manhattan Transfer, leads the all-star assemblage of saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Roy McCurdy.  LAX Jazz Club in the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  (310) 258-1333.

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.  Alan Ferber Quartet.  Versatile trombonist/educator Ferber, a Down Beat poll winner, makes a rare Southland appearance.  He performs with pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Pat Senatore and his twin brother Mark Ferber on drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Tierney Sutton

 

- Jan. 6. (Fri.)  The Tierney Sutton Band.  Together for nearly two decades, the Sutton Band, with Tierney’s rich-hued voice surrounded by an irresistible instrumental embrace, is one of the jazz world’s most musically appealing ensembles.  Expect to hear some selections from the TSB’s remarkable new album, American Road.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

 

 

- Jan. 7 & 8. (Sat. & Sun.)  Barbara Morrison.  Despite her recent medical difficulties, Morrison is courageously back in action, bringing insightful musical versatility to everything she sings. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

San Rafael

- Jan. 5. (Thurs.)  Roberta Donnay Jazz Quartet.  Donnay’s stylish jazz vocalizing will be the opening entry in a newly established jazz policy at San Rafael’s sleek, 40ish night club.  George’s Nightclub.    (877) 568-2726.

Washington D.C.

- Jan 5 – 8.  (Thurs – Sun.)  Mose Allison. The sage of the bayou, always fun to hear, balances sardonic wisdom with an infectious rhythmic swing. Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York

Cassandra Wilson

 

- Jan. 4 – 7. (Wed. – Sat.)  Cassandra Wilson. Grammy winner Wilson’s dark, seductive sound and intuitive way with a song are applied to material ranging from straight ahead jazz to pop, always delivered with fearless musicality.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

 

 

- Jan. 4 – 8.  (Wed. – Sun.) Jimmy Owens: The Monk Project. Trumpeter Jimmy Owens takes on the challenging music of Thelonious Monk in the company of a world-class musical ensemble: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, tuba and baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Winard HarperDizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- Jan. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.)  Nicholas Payton.  Trumpeter Payton puts his far-reaching musical versatility on full display, leading his stellar quartet on Tues. – Thurs. as well as the Nicholas Payton Television Studio Orchestra on Fri. and Sat.    Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Brad Mehldau

- Jan. 4 – 8. (Wed. – Sun.)  Brad Mehldau Trio.  Always musically compelling, regardless of the setting, pianist Mehldau kicks off the new year in the familiar creative environment of his trio, with Larry Grenadier, bass and Jeff Ballard, drums.  Village Vanguard.    9212) 255-4037.

- Jan. 5 & 6. )Thurs. & Fri.)  Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble.  Veteran trumpeter Harrell leads an octet that supplements his jazz quintet with flute, violin and cello to explore the subtle connections between jazz, Debussy, Ravel and beyond. The Jazz Standard.    (212) 447-7733.

Tokyo

- Jan. 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Lalah Hathaway. Donny Hathaway’s “First Daughter of Soul” continues to produce chart-topping r & b and soul classics in the idiom of her gifted father.  The Blue Note Tokyo.    03. 5485. 0088.

Brad Mehldau photo by Tony Gieske


Here, There & Everywhere: Sing! Sing! Sing!

December 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Christmas caroling was a regular seasonal activity in my young life.  Growing up in an Eastern Pennsylvania rust belt city, singing carols while slip-sliding our way across icy sidewalks was as necessary to the holiday as going to Mass on Christmas eve.  In a way, it was an equally necessary counter to the darker side of what we’d done on Halloween, when enacting tricks was a lot more common than  asking for treats.

All of which went through my mind last night when Faith and I took our lovely ten year old granddaughter, Maia, to the Victorian Mansion for “Candlelight Carols” by Judy Wolman, Howard Lewis and “Sing! Sing! Sing!”  And one couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully atmospheric setting to join in a holiday music singalong than the elegant wood-paneled room that jazz fans will recall as the former site of the much-missed jazz club, “The Vic.”

At the beginning, Wolman reminded me that she, Lewis and their group of singers had been doing these holiday celebrations for 20 years.  Not only that, of course, but also their continuing programs of participatory jaunts through the rich musical landscape of the Great American Songbook.  (Programs devoted to Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael and others are already scheduled for 2012.)

The “Candlelight Carols” program characteristically reached out to embrace the Songbook – with selections from Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc. — as well as a collection of traditional carols.  And the format was as comfortable and inviting as a holiday evening in a close friend’s living room.

Lewis introduced each number with some fascinating background, often including nuggets of insight into the song, as well as its creators.  Then Wolman — a superb piano accompanist, backed by Chris Conner’s bass, Dick Weller’s drums and some warm melody-making from harmonica player Ron Kalina – led the way into the song.

Maia

The audience, using lyric sheets provided by Wolman, sang along enthusiastically, sometimes even more than that.  And our granddaughter, Maia, not especially familiar with all the standards, nonetheless applied her already burgeoning musicality to every song, singing, smiling, enjoying every minute of this engaging new experience.

And what a collection of songs it was: “It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “My Favorite Things,” “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”  As well as “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” “The First Noel” and much, much more.

Between the singalong segments, individual singers from the Sing! Sing! Sing! vocal ensemble – Chuck Marso, Anita Royal, Jackie Manfredi and Ruth Davis – soloed.  And songwriter Jim Mann presented a brand new Christmas song, “Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!”

The sidewalks weren’t icy, and there was no snow in the forecast as we left the Victorian.  But the wind was blowing, and, as we walked hand in hand to our car, the words to one of the evening’s songs – with their perfect holiday sentiments — kept coming to mind.

           “The wind is blowing

           But I can weather the storm

            What do I care how much it may storm?

            I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”


Picks of the Week: May 3 – 8

May 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Leon Russell

- May 3. (Tues.)  Leon Russell.  One of the great iconic figures of the golden era of rock makes a rare local appearance in a relatively small venue.  There’ll also be a special performance by Booker T. JonesThe El Rey.   (323) 936-6400.

- May 3. (Tues.)  Emil Richards, Mike Lang, Abraham Laboriel, Joe Porcaro.   A quartet of L.A.’s finest, veteran jazzmen get together to provide a few effortlessly swinging lessons in the benefits of bebop and beyond.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– May 4 & 5. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Josh Nelson’s “Kansas City-L.A Project.  Pianist Nelson leads  Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Bob Reynolds tenor saxophone, Ben Leiffert, bass and Zack Albetta, drums in a colorful musical excursion.  Wed. at Steamers in Fullerton (714) 871-8800
and on Thursday at the Blue Whale Bar in Los Angeles.   (213) 620-0908.

Roy Hargrovw

- May 4 – 8. (Wed.- Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove is playing in every imaginable setting these days, but it’s always a special pleasure to hear him in a straight ahead, jazz quintet performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- May 5. (Thurs.) Cinco de Mayo at the Conga Room.  For the sheer joy of music and movement, there’s no better place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than the Conga Room.  And it’s especially sizzling this year with the electro music of Maria Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser, the three piece, electro-pop party band, Cosmopolitan and L.A.’s own Son Jarocho collective, Las CafeterasThe Conga Room.    (213) 745-0162.

- May 5. (Thurs.)  Jon Mayer.  Here’s another performance by a quartet of the Southland’s finest veteran jazzers.  Expect the mood to be swinging and the sounds to be memorable. With Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone, Chris Conner, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums.   LAX Jazz Club at the Crown Plaza LAX.  (310) 258-1333.

- May 5 – 7. (Thurs. – Sat. )  Ravel with the Pacific Symphony.  Conductor Carlos Miguel Pietro leads the Pacific Symphony in a journey across the Iberian peninsula via the music of Albeniz (Iberia), Sarasate (Carmen Fantasy), De Falla (The Three Cornered Hat) and Ravel (Bolero and Tzigane.  Violinist Philippe Quint solos.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.   (714) 556-2787.

Shirley MacLaine

- May 6. (Fri.)  Shirley McLaine.  It’s hard to know what to expect from any given appearance by the fascinating Ms. McLaine.  But there’s no doubt she’ll share some of her film moments with some revelations about her life, career and interests in spirituality.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-8800.

- May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Mikado. One of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most entertaining musical delights, performed by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- May 7. (Sat.)  Ceu.  Brazilian singer Ceu comfortably steps across genres – Brazilian music, pop, rock, jazz – in a single bound.  El Rey.     323) 936-6400.

- May 7. (Sat.)   Wavefest.  The 15th annual Wavefest has morphed into something more than music to relax to.  There’ll be a lot more energy than that, and a lot more interest, too, in a program featuring Roberta Flack, KEM, Macy Gray and Sheila E. & the E. FamilyThe Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- May 8. (Sun.)  Alan Broadbent and Pat Senatore.  Pianist Broadbent and bassist Senatore have played with just about everyone in their long productive careers.  Here’s a chance to hear them exchanging musical ideas in an elegant, laid back setting.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Cameron Carpenter

- May 8. (Sun.)  Cameron Carpenter.  Carpenter isn’t just a brilliantly virtuosic organist, he’s also a charismatic entertainer who understands how to balance his astonishing technical displays with interpretive authenticity.  In this performance he finds the heartbeat of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture  and Prelude and Fugue in G minor.  Disney Hall.  (323) 650-2000.

 San Francisco

- May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The CrusadersJoe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder, three of the original Jazz Crusaders, revive their unique blend of jazz, soul, bop, blues and groove.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- May 7. (Sat.)  Yanni.  One of the most popular international artists in the world, Yanni’s lyrical piano playing, combined with his warm and fuzzy orchestrations have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.  The Warfield.    (415) 345-0900.

 Seattle

May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Keiko Matsui.  Keyboardist Matsui was one of the first artists to make the most of the fertile territory between smooth jazz, fusion and New Age, and do so with a subtly appealing undercurrent of swing.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

- May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  Omar Sosa.  Cuban pianist/composer Sosa’s Afri-Lectric Quintet finds fascinating common ground with special guest Benin-born guitarist Lionel LouekeThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- May 3 – 8. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Julliard Jazz Quintet.  A cross-generational jazz quintet that balances scholarly know-how with inventive swing.  With Ron Carter, bass, Rodney Jones, guitar, Frank Kimbrough, piano, Carl Allen, drums and Ron Blake, saxophone. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

Danny Aiello

- May 4. (Wed.)  Danny Aiello.  He’s given one memorable film performance after another – including a pair of Academy Award nominations along the way.  But Aiello’s singing chops are every bit as impressive.  The New York Times called it right when it said “Aiello has the bounce of his idols Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima, and the throaty lyricism of another idol, Tony Bennett.”  The Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington, D.C.

- May 6 & 7. (Fri. & Sat.)  Azar Lawrence Quintet.  Tough tenor Lawrence applies his muscular style to an encounter with the equally dynamic Eddie Henderson, trumpet, Benito Gonzalez, piano and Billy Hart, drums.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

Boston

- May 5. (Thurs.)  The Mahavishnu Project. Drummer Gregg Bendian leads his sturdy band of players in the performance of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra’s complete Visions of the Emerald Beyond.  John McLaughlin offers his support: “To hear you guys playing those tunes in such an unbelievable way is quite amazing.”   The Regatta Bar.   (617) 395-7757.

 Chicago

- May 5 – 8. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Eric Alexander/Harold Mayburn Quartet. Fiery saxophonist Alexander combines his hard driving, fast fingered skills with the veteran bop chops of pianist Mayburn.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

London

PHaroah Sanders

May 2– 4. (Mon. – Wed.)  Pharoah Sanders Quartet. Adventurous, Grammy-winning tenor saxophonist Sanders continues the exploratory journeys he began in the avant-garde ‘60s.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747

May 8. (Sun.) The Atomic Mr. Basie.  Led by Pete Long,the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, with its stellar assemblage of U.K. jazz talent, performs the complete program from Basie’s classic 1957 album.  Ronnie Scott’s.    020.7439.0747

 Paris

May. 6. (Fri.)  The Kora Jazz Trio.  Keyboardist/composer Abdoulaye Diabate, kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara and percussionist Moussa Sissokho are creating a compelling fusion of the Mandinka tradition and the free flying, improvisational qualities of jazz.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


Live Jazz: The Steve Huffsteter Big Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

April 25, 2011

By Tony Gieske

Let’s talk about that undermeditated topic, lighting. The lighting at Vibrato’s voluminous listening room, for instance, is without stain and healthy, which is to say clean and well.

Equally clean and well lighted, if you’ll forgive the segue, was the Steve Huffsteter big band, a precision ensemble that played the room last week.

They did not take their cue from the leader, whose trumpet playing was not at all clean and well lighted. On the contrary, his tactic, as he stood quietly in darkness before the gentlemen and lady of the ensemble, was to glitter with intelligence and gleam with subtlety.

Not that he learned that from his first foray into the big time as a member of the Stan Kenton trumpet section, the echoes of which still lurk in various L.A. crannies. He just seems to have it in him to glitter, not that he’s gay.

We’re talking about a guy who also played with the bands of Sy Zentner, Les Brown, Ray Charles, Louis  Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mike Barone, Kim Richmond, Bill Berry, Benny Carter, Bill Watrous, Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, Clare Fischer, Bob Florence, Gordon Brisker, Matt Cattingub and Tom Talbert. Quite a learning process.

The sidemen who soloed were not to be disdained by comparison with the maestro, either.

These included the great Doug Webb, Jerry Pinter and Rick Keller on saxophones, whose dueling musketry was rich and urgent — make that trueling. Fine trombone solos came from Andrew Lippman and Les Benedict. Dave Tull, drums, and Chris Conner, bass, kept the going targeted and unobstructed, assisted by the silver-haired D Huffsteter on congas.

“Steamroller” opened the set I caught, and it lived up to its title, which could fortunately not be said for many of the other numbers.”7th Heaven” was a good example, an earthy passage all in 7th chords. The stars on the stand raised it to the skies.

“Backseat 56″ celebrated that funkless decade, the one in which Eisenhower and Miles Davis ruled, with a decidedly 21st century vibe.

Tull, the poor man’s Dave Frishberg, did not favor us with song, but made sure the shape of things that were coming stayed more than accessible.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 19 – 24

October 19, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Oct. 19 (Tues.)  Robert Glasper Trio.  More than most of his contemporaries, pianist Glasper has found ways to compatibly combine hip-hop, rock and r & b elements with his solid jazz skills.  Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com (323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 19. (Tues.)  Henry Franklin’s Big 70th Birthday Celebration.  Bassist Franklin, universally called “The Skipper,” hits 70 with plenty of creative fuel in the tank.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

Ravi Shankar

THIS CONCERT HAS JUST BEEN CANCELED.  THE PHILHARMONIC HAS ANNOUNCED IT HAS BEEN POSTPONED BECAUSE OF ILLNESS.  TICKET-HOLDERS SHOULD CONTACT THE PHILHARMONIC FOR FURTHER INFORMATION. - Oct. 20. (Wed.)  Ravi Shankar 90th Birthday Celebration. The man who virtually defines Indian classical music and the sitar for listeners both serious and casual, performs with the companionship of his gifted, sitar-playing daughter, Anoushka Shankar.   Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Oct. 20. (Wed.)  John Williams.  The superb, Grammy-winning guitarist performs original compositions as well as the works of Villa-Lobos and the Paraguayan guitarist/composer Agustin Barrios Mangore.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (562) 916-8501.

- Oct. 20 – 23.  (Wed. – Sat.)  Billy Cobham.  The eclectically versatile, veteran drummer offers selections from his far-reaching album, PalindromeCatalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Denise Donatelli

- Oct. 21. (Thurs.)  Denise Donatelli.  Always a pleasure to hear, Donatelli celebrates the release of her stellar new album, When Lights Are Low.  Featuring Geoffrey Keezer, pianist/arranger, Peter Sprague, guitar, Hamilton Price, bass, Rob Lockart, sax and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 21. (Thurs.)  Patrick Berrogain’s Hot Club Combo.  French-born guitarist Berrogain revives the musette and the gypsy jazz tradition of Django Reinhardt.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 21. (Thurs.)  Jimmy Branley Quartet.  First call drummer Branley, whose expertise reaches from Cuban rhythms to straight ahead jazz, steps into the spotlight with his own ensemble.  Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- Oct. 21. (Thurs,.)  John Mayer Quartet.  Pianist Mayer keeps bebop alive with his own imaginative ideas and driving sense of swing  He performs with Doug Webb, saxophone, Chris Conner, bass and Roy McCurdy, drums.  Crowne Plaza Brasserie Jazz Lounge. (310) 642-7500.

Taj Mahal

- Oct. 22. (Fri.)  Taj Mahal and special guest Vieux Farka Toure. The great, veteran blues and roots artist shares the stage with the equally compelling blues of Mali’s singer/guitarist Toure.  A UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-4401.

- Oct. 22. (Fri.)  Hiroshima.  30th Anniversary Concert.  The group that blended world music and jazz into an amiable sound that lifted it to smooth jazz stardom, celebrates the start of its fourth decade.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

- Oct. 22. (Fri.) Avishai Cohen Quintet.  Bassist Cohen leads his “Aurora” Project Quintet in a program of music that finds common ground between jazz and some compelling world music sounds.  Vocalist Karen Malka and oud player Amos Hoffman are featured, with pianist Shai Maestro and percussionist Itamar Doari.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Musicians Institute Concert Hall.   (310) 271-9039.

- Oct. 22. (Fri.)  Louis Van Taylor Band. Taylor’s saxophone and woodwind sounds have been heard with everyone from Ray Charles to Kool and the Gang and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  LACMA.  (323) 857-6000.  Also Oct. 29 at Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058

- Oct. 22. (Fri.)  Open Hands.  It’s a modest title for a group of L.A. all-stars: bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr., saxophonist Justo Almario, drummer Bill Maxwell and keyboardist Gregg MathiesonBaked Potato.   (818) 980-1615.

- Oct. 22 & 23. (Fri. & Sat.) Walt Weiskopf.  Tenor saxophonist Weiskopf’s resume reaches from Steely Dan to the Buddy Rich Band.  But he’s at his best when he’s displaying his enviable talents in front of his own quartet. With Bevan Manson, piano, Tom Warrington, bass and Dick Weller, drums.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Oct. 22 – 24 (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Los Angeles PhilharmonicCharles Dutoit conducts the Philharmonic in Berlioz’ lush Romeo and Juliet.  With the LA Master ChoraleDisney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

Grant Geissman

- Oct. 23. (Sat.)  Grant Geissman’s Cool Man Cool Band. Guitarist Geissman describes his current gig as “Cool music I like to play, with cool people I like to play with.”  Expect cool results.  Spaghettini.   (562) 596-2199.

- Oct. 24. (Sun.) Miles Evans Band. Gil Evan’s son, trumpeter Miles Evans continues on his mission to “pick up where Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius and Rashied Ali left the notes on the page.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.(323) 466-2210.

- Oct. 24. (Sun.)  The Mozart Classical Orchestra. Ami Porat conducts the MCO in a performance of the Mozart Symphony No. 33, the Bach Sinfonia Op.3 No. 2 in C Major and the Haydn Cello Concerto in C Major, performed by Timothy Landauer.  Performing Bach, Haydn and Mozart.  Irvine Barclay.  Irvine Barclay Theatre.  (949) 854-4646.

San Diego

- Oct. 21. (Thurs.)  Stanley Clarke & Hiromi.  Bassist Clarke and keyboardist Hiromi continue to develop their musically provocative relationship.  Anthology.  (619) 595-0300.

San Francisco

Lavay Smith

- Oct. 20. (Wed.)  Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Lavay Smith & The Red Hot Skillet Lickers.  Swing is alive and well in the hands of the Daddies (who just celebrated their 20th anniversary) and the glamorous jazz divadom of the entertaining Lavay and her players.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

- Oct. 20 & 21. (Wed. & Thurs.) Avishai Cohen. Bassist Cohen leads his “Aurora” Project Quintet in a program of music that finds common ground between jazz and some compelling world music sounds.  Vocalist Karen Malka and oud player Amos Hoffman are featured, with pianist Shai Maestro and percussionist Itamar Doari. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

New York

- Oct. 19 – 23. (Tues. – Sat.)  Jane Monheit. The Grammy-nominated Monheit brings her svelte sound and intimate interpretations to Birdland just in time to celebrate the release of her new CD, Home. Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

George Wein

- Oct. 19 – 24. (Tues. – Sun.)  George Wein & The Newport All Stars.  Wein, who probably enjoys playing piano at least as much as he likes to produce concerts, celebrates his 85th birthday with the supportive musical companionship of trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Lew Tabackin, guitarist Howard Alden, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Lewis Nash & Some Very Special GuestsDizzy’s Club Coca Cola (212) 258-9800.


Live Jazz: Don Menza’s Stan Getz Tribute at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 19, 2010

By Don Heckman

Don Menza picked the right players for his Stan Getz tribute at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Tuesday night.  The saxophone quartet of Menza, Pete Christlieb, Gary Foster (on tenors) and Gene Cipriano (on baritone) brought plenty of experience, skill and Getz-knowledge to the proceedings. Trumpeter Don Rader added some cool contrast, and the team of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Chris Conner and drummer Dick Weller kept the rhythm swinging and authentic.

Pete Christlieb, Don Menza, Don Rader (in rear), Gary Foster, Gene Cipriano (photo by Hoss Zargaran)

The three tenors and baritone section sound, of course, owed as much to the Ralph Burns and  Jimmy Giuffre arrangements for the Woody Herman band of the late forties as it did to Getz.  But the warmth of that sound could hardly have existed without the light timbre, Lester Young-influenced tone that Getz brought to the Herman saxophone section of the era.

What made Menza’s Getz tribute ensemble so fascinating, however, was the way in which the saxes captured the light-toned, Getz-influenced timbres during the ensemble sound, while exploring the more far-reaching aspects of Getz’s rich style during their own improvisational passages.

Don Menza

Each of the principal tenor soloists reflected upon a different aspect of that style.  In tunes such as the opening ‘There’s A Small Hotel,” the classic bossa nova “The Girl From Ipanema” and the grooving blues of  “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid,” Christlieb dug into Getz’s often under-appreciated, hard driving approach.  In contrast, Foster tended to play more lyrically, filling his melodically-oriented lines with airy high notes.  And Menza, playing with the same sort of white Brilhart mouthpiece used by Getz, covered every aspect of his style, in phrasing, articulation and flow.

Cipriano spent most of the program anchoring the section, filling the bottom of the harmonies with his mellow sound, stepping out on his own with in-the-pocket solos on a pair of blues tunes.  Rader, who could barely be seen sitting behind the tenors, slipped past them from time to time, whipping through the faster pieces, shifting into subtly expressive ballad-mode for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”  And Ranier, as always, ranged from upbeat bop lines to lush chorded slow tunes.

The evening climaxed with a high speed, light cavalry charge through “It Don’t Mean A Thing” – a fitting closer for a tribute that honored its subject with the creativity he inspired in a group of gifted contemporary players.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 2 – 7

February 2, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Anthony Wilson

- Feb. 2. (Tues.)  John Pisano Guitar Night.  With Anthony Wilson.  Guitar Nights are always good.   This should be one of the best.  Guitarist, composer and bandleader Wilson is a stunningly versatile talent.   Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 4. (Thurs.) Beyond the Pale Skirball.  The Canadian band doesn’t hesitate to wrap klezmer around everything from bluegrass and jazz to reggae and funk.  (310) 440-4500.

Estaire Godinez

- Feb. 4. (Thurs.)  Estaire Godinez.  Percussionist/singer Godinez brings passionate intensity to eveerything she sings and plays.   She celebrates the release of her new CD.  Vibrato Grill Jazz… etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 5. (Fri.)  Yamaha Piano All Star Review.  A versatile line up of pianists pay tribute to the Yamaha brand with music reaching from romantic classical to straight ahead jazz.  Performers include Anna Grinberg, Danny Holt, Milen Kirov, David Roitstein, David Rosenboom, Juris Vikovs, and Liam VineyREDCAT.  (213) 237-2800.

- Feb. 5. (Fri.)  Sony Holland.  Vocalist Holland’s intimate sound and dramatic phrasing find a perfect blend with the Theo Saunders Quartet Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

Dave Liebman

- Feb. 5. (Fri.)  Dave Liebman.  A too-rare Los Angeles appearance by the versatile, veteran saxophonist Liebman, enhanced by the all-star Southland quartet of  Bob Sheppard, bass, John Beasley, piano, Darek Oles, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums.  Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 5. (Fri.)  Laurence Hobgood Trio. Pianist Hobgood has had a lot of visibility as Kurt Elling’s musical associate, but he’s a gifted artist in his own right.  Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear him in action.  Café Metropol. (310)  613-1537

- Feb. 5. (Fri.)  Jon Mayer Quartet. Pianist Mayer is a bop master, but he crosses comfortably into other mainstream jazz areas as well.  He’s backed by the vertain team of Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone, Chris Conner, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums.  Spazio.   (818) 728-8400.

- Feb. 5 & 6.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Strunz & Farah.  The guitar duo, with roots in Costa Rica and Iran have been stretching the limits of flamenco jazz and fusion since world music was just becoming a genre on its own. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210

- Feb. 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)   Sambaguru.  When the super-heated Katia Moraes and her accomplices in Sambaguru hit the stage, the Brazilian rhythmic pyrotechnics never stop.Friday at Culver Club Raddison.  Sat. at Spazio. .   Sambaguru.

- Feb. 6. (Sat.)  Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. They’ve gone through several incarnations since their founding in 1994, but JFJO continue to blur the boundaries between jazz, rock, funk and avant-garde.  The Mint.   (323) 954-9400

- Feb. 6. (Sat.) Lanny Morgan.  Another bebopper on the loose, alto saxophonist Morgan is also a lyrical ballad player.  He performs with the John Heard Trio.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

Repast

- Feb. 6. (Sat.)  Repast.   The Baroque instrumental trio — Amelia Roosevelt (baroque violin), John Mark Rozendaal (baroque violoncello and viola da gamba), and Avi Stein (harpsichord) — are joined by baroque violinist Claire Jolivet and soprano Nell Snaidas for an evening of music from Amsterdam.  Th performance complements the Getty’s current exhibit of drawings by Rembrandt and his students.   The Getty.   (310) 440-7300.

- Feb. 6 – 19.  (Sat. – Fri.)  Bob Barry Jazz Photography Exhibit.  Barry’s extensive jazz performance photos are on display as part of the two week Celebration of Jazz at the  Brand Library of Music and Art.   (818) 548-2051

- Feb. 7. (Sun.)  Mike Lang. The ever-versatile, always-swinging pianist appears with the solid backing of bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. and drummer Walter RodriguezCatalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Paula West

- Feb. 2 – 28.  Paula West.  One of the Bay area’s many fine jazz vocalists, West still hasn’t received the recognition her extraordinary talent deserves.  She sings with the George Mesterhazy QuartetThe Rrazz Room.   (415) 394-1189.

- Feb. 4. (Thurs.)  John Handy. Educator and long-time cutting-edge alto saxophonist brings his admirable skills to a rare one-nighter. Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

- Feb. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun)  Charisma!: The Music of Lee Morgan.  Selections from the catalog of the great jazz trumpeter are performed by the sterline ensemble of  Benny Maupin, Bill Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Geri Allen, Dwayne Burno, Billy HartYoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

- Feb. 6. (Sat.)  Dionne Warwick.  The iconic hit-maker of the ’60s and ’70s still knows how to bring a song to life — even if it wasn’t written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.Castro Theatre. (415) 392-4500.

New York

- Feb. 2 & 3.  (Tues. & Wed.)  Dorado Schmitt‘ continues his cross-country celebration of the Django Reinhardt centennial.  This time with special guest Curtis StigersIridium.   (212) 582-0161.

Gretchen Parlato

- Feb. 2 & 3. (Tues. & Wed.)  Afinidad — the adventurous ensemble formed by Edward Simon and David Binney moves into even more colorful musical territory with special guests Gretchen Parlato, Ben Monder, Rogerio BoccatoJazz Standard. (212) 576-2232.

- Feb. 2 – 6. (Tues. – Sat.)  Oregon, the trail-breaking jazz/world music ensemble is still making superb music — forty years after its founding.  With Ralph Towner, guitar, keyboards and trumpet, Paul McCandless, woodwinds, Glen Moore, bass and Mark Walker, drums.  Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Feb. 2 – 7. (Tues. – Sun.)  Jimmy Heath Big Band.  Veteran saxophonist/educator Heath has been leading big bands of one sort or another for most of his long, productive musical life.  And, at 84, he’s still at it.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Feb. 3. (Wed.)  Mary Foster Conklin.  Somewhere between cabaret and jazz, Mary Foster has found an utterly believable musical home.  She’s always worth hearing, and never more so than at  Café Vivaldi.  (212) 691-7538.

- Feb. 4 – 6. (Thurs. – Sat.)  David Sanchez Group.  Puero Rican tenor saxophonist Sanchez has been honing and shaping his unique musical voice since he arrived on the scene.  And it just keeps getting better.   Jazz Standard. http://www.jazzstandard.com/red/index.html (212) 576-2232.


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