Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival All Stars at the Valley Performing Arts Center

January 25, 2013

By Michael Katz

Northridge, CA.  There were lots of good vibes, not to mention some friendly apparitions, circulating through the Valley Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, as the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars brought their tour to the campus of Cal State Northridge. The sextet, which had closed the curtain on the 55th MJF last September, featured vocalist  Dee Dee Bridgewater, the world class rhythm section of Benny Green, Lewis Nash and musical director Christian McBride, and a front line of Chris Potter on tenor sax and young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

As they did at Monterey, Dee Dee Bridgewater and McBride opened with a duet, this time Billie Holiday’s “My Mother’s Son-In-Law.” Bridgewater lithely covered McBride’s fingerings, giving the song an intimate, conversational feel that invited the audience into the performance.  Throughout the evening the group would split into various permutations – duets, trios, a stunning piano solo to open the second set by Green – as they explored the many nuances of improvisational music.

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

In a “Super Group”  of this sort, you never know who will stand out on any given night, and on this evening it seemed Benny Green was charged up right from the start.  His work on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga,” the group’s first trio presentation, was inspired.  He subtly shifted tempos, his right hand dancing over the keyboard, while across the stage Lewis Nash was pulsating with sticks and brushes.  As for McBride, we sometimes forget, for all his versatility, what a terrific trio anchor he is, and he would turn the format on its ear later in the evening.

Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire provided robust counterpoints for the group,  giving Bridgewater some added oomph (not that she needed much) on “All of Me” and Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty.” Potter, who can reach out to the edges of Coltrane-inspired territory, stayed mostly straight ahead with this group. Akinmusire, the ascending star who was the MJF Artist-In-Residence in 2012, provided some spirited riffs, and teamed with Potter on his haunting composition “Henya” in the second set.  The trumpeter had some terrific soloing as the concert progressed, but it would have been nice to see him take command of another  tune on his own, whether a more familiar ballad or a hard charger, just to give the audience a taste of his potential as a leader.

As readers of this space know, I think Dee Dee Bridgewater is on the short, short list of the best vocalists around. Last night she did a lovely version of Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born,” softly modulating the rarely heard lyrics, with the trio backing her up in spare accompaniment. Later, in the second set, she reached for the opposite end of the spectrum, interpreting “God Bless The Child” with a gospel verve that would have made Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples proud.  The audience, which had a substantial and appreciative segment of CSUN students, (many of them no doubt from their award winning big band) was on its feet.

Benny Green, as noted earlier, walked out alone to start the second set. He set up his extended solo with the chords of “The Man I Love,” and dived into an improvisational mode, tossing in quotes from “I Can’t Get Started,”  among others, gathering steam and moving to a crescendo before pulling back for the denouement and gently bowing out.

I mentioned a couple of apparitions. The first would be the late, great bassist Ray Brown, whose wife, Cecelia, was in the audience.  The rhythm trio has all played with Brown and their adoration was evident. On “East of The Sun, West of the Moon,” Christian McBride took the main line on the bass, his notes clear, crisp and swinging. He segued from melody to improvisation, setting the stage for more great stick work behind him from Lewis Nash.  In a night full of highlights, the virtuosity of McBride and the trio was a delight.

The other apparition was the recently departed Dave Brubeck, who meant so much to everyone at the Monterey Jazz Festival. After blazing through Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” to nominally close the show, the group reassembled and chose one of Brubeck’s less familiar tunes,  “Mr. Broadway.” It was a perfect choice to honor his memory, one that avoided the trap of mimicking “Take Five” or “Blue Rondo.” It provided a swinging framework for the front line to go out charging – I thought Akinmusire’s trumpet solo was one of his best moments of the evening. And Dee Dee Bridgewater provided some tender vocalizing, slipping into the lines of “Take Five” at the end, a perfect coda to the performance.

As difficult as it is to transfer the ambience and spirit of the Monterey Jazz Festival to another performance venue, the MJF All Stars managed to do it.

Now, only eight more months to MJF 56.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Live Jazz: Michael Feinberg at The Blue Whale

January 22, 2013

By Cathy Segal-Garcia

Los Angeles. Michal Feinberg, writes All About Jazz,  “is a vibrant young bassist/composer whose voice conveys a distinct musical vision, (he) continues to bring fresh ideas to life with music that incorporates jazz, hip hop, and rock, as well as influences from his Middle Eastern and Eastern European heritage.”

At this time Michael is 25 years old, living on the east coast.  Already having played for years with such fine jazz musicians as Slide Hampton, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lee Ritenour, Kenny Werner and many others, he is making his way via recording, touring, teaching, garnering attention from magazines and receiving awards.

Michael Feinberg

Michael Feinberg

Last Friday, in Michael’s second visit from New York to perform at L.A.’s Blue Whale, the Feinberg band’s first set found him playing with Louis Cole on drums, Miro Sprague on piano and Phillip Dizack on trumpet.  Guitarist Brent Canter (new on the L.A. scene, but already making inroads) was invited to come up to play at the end of the set.

They opened with a Branford Marsalis song — “Black Widow Blues.”  Having not heard the piece before, I’m not sure how it sounds when Branford does it, but this version was fun.  Louis Cole was playing the sort of intriguing beat that is right up his alley — funky but with a straight 16th notes feeling, and so creative.  Michael on (electric) bass, laid down a groove that drove the music on, with energetic matching and counter-rhythms.  And the theme was played between solos from everyone, with lots of shifting dynamics and full-on volume when they were building excitement.

Each player played well in this format, never crowding each other or the music, but playing full out.

Miro Sprague

Miro Sprague

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Pianist Sprague, currently at the Thelonius Monk Institute, has numerous impressive accomplishments in his resume, touring/teaching/recording with some fine artists.  And no wonder.  This young man’s touch on the piano has sensitivity, space, and interesting harmonic perspectives.

Phillip Dizack

Phillip Dizack

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Trumpeter Dizack has received sparkling reviews, filled with comments such as “potent,” “guts” and “grand vision.”  And he was indeed amazing to listen to — clear minded, with beautiful technique and great ideas.

Louis Cole

Louis Cole

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Drummer Cole attended USC, and grew up in a musical family.  I’ve seen/heard him several times, always intrigued by his combination of pop styles with jazz rhythms. Much of the music now played by younger jazz-oriented musicians such as Cole is great for fans of newer styles, and especially for younger listeners. It’s edgy at times, the volume is often louder, and it’s intense.  But it sustains the basic improvisational nature of jazz, while being completely in the here and now.

The Blue Whale is only three years old, but has already proven itself in many substantial ways.  The owner, Joon Lee, has been featured on NPR.  On New Year’s Eve 2011/2012 NPR did a broadcast from the club featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater.  And the highest quality musicians, from literally all over the world, are seeking out the Blue Whale as a desirable place to play. The environment is creative, and the room feels warm and intimate, great for acoustic playing and close listening.  There is no stage, with bands usually setting up at the end of the room.  Seating is mostly ottomans, with some chairs if a body needs one.  There’s good lighting and excellent sound.

On the angled ceiling, several Rumi quotes speak to the higher callings of ourselves, regarding music…

“I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears when that one steps near and begins to speak.”

To read more about Cathy Segal-Garcia on her own website, click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 21 – 27

January 21, 2013

By the iRoM Staff

Los Angeles

Vicky Ray

- Jan. 22. (Tues.)  Vicki RayPiano Spheres.  Exploration of contemporary music is at the heart of the Piano Spheres program.  This time, adventurous pianist Ray (with a chamber ensemble of musician friends) interprets the music of Stravinsky as well as new works by composers from Asia, Europe and the U.S.    Zipper Hall, Colburn School.

- Jan. 22 & 23. (Tues. & Wed.)  Shen Yun 2013 World Tour.  Founded by expatriate Falun Gong practitioners in New York, works to “revive the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture” via extraordinary displays of Chinese classical, ethnic and folk dance.  With Orchestra.  The Fred Kavli Theater in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.   (805) 449-2787.

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour.  High quality music is the basic foundation of the MJF.  And this rare evening underscores how captivating that music can get in the hands of artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter, Ambrose AkinmusireValley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-3000.

Mike Lang

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  Mike Lang.  Pianist Lang’s long productive career reaches from Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles to Lee Konitz to Barbra Streisand, John Lennon and dozens of stops in between.  He’s also recorded more than 2000 film scores.  But here’s a chance to hear the ultimate inner Lang, musically up close and personal in a trio setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  “A Jazzy Tribute to the Negro Baseball Leagues.”  Film maker and singer Byron Motley and special guests guitarist Phil Upchurch and pianist Corky Hale-Stoller celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of the great athletes of the Negro Baseball Leagues.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 24. (Thurs.)  John Beasley Residency IIIThe Monk’estra Big Band. Beasley’s impressive skills as a pianist and composer are applied to a fascinating evening of large group jazz.  The Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Stanley Clarke

- Jan. 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Stanley Clarke Band. The brilliant bass playing of Clarke brings vivid life to wherever he plays.  And it’s even better when he’s leading his own band of talented young artists.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Conductor Ludovic Morlot, leads the L.A. Phil in a program of great classics – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 — and contemporary French composer Henri Dutilleux’s Shadows of Time. Walt Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Jan. 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Helmuth Rilling offers a rare performance of Mozart’s poignant Requiem and  his classic Symphony No. 39. With the aid of the USC Thornton Chamber Singers.  Sat: at the Alex Theatre. http://www.alextheatre.org    Sun: At Royce Hall. http://cap.ucla.edu/visit/royce_hall.asp  (213) 622-7001.

Roger Kellaway

 

- Jan 27, 28 and 29.  (Fri., Sat. & Sun.)  The New West Symphony.    The N.W.S., under the baton of Marcelo Lehninger,  performs the West Coast Premiere of “Visions of America: A Photo Symphony.”  Music by Roger Kellaway.  Lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman.  Photography by Joseph Sohm.  Vocals by Judith Hill and Steve Tyrell. With piano by Norman Krieger.   And a recorded narration by Clint Eastwood. Friday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and on Sunday at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica.

- Jan. 27. (Sun.)  Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra.  The Jazz Influence Orchestra returns to Vitello’s for yet another banquet of big band jazz, played by the Southland’s finest musicians.  To read a recent iRoM review of the Jazz Influence Orchestra click HERE.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Lisa Hilton

Lisa Hilton

- Jan. 27. (Sun.)  Lisa Hilton.  Her highly personal style, as a pianist, a composer and an improviser, has established Hilton as one of the uniquely individualistic performers on the contemporary music scene.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Jan. 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Joe Lovano’s Us Five.   Adventurous saxophonist Lovano leads the way for his current Us Five ensemble, featuring Esperanza Spalding, James Weidmann, Otis Brown III and Francisco MelaYoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Jan. 26. (Sat.) Turtle Island Quartet.  The Grammy-winning string quartet, always trying out new ideas, offers a program of original works and music inspired by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.  Freight and Salvage.   (510) 644-2020.

New York

- Jan. 22. (Tues.) Taarka.  The husband and wife leaders of  the acoustic group Taarka – the duo of mandolinist David Tiller and violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller — celebrate the release of their new CD, Adventures in Vagabondia.  Barbes in Brooklyn.    (347) 422-0248.

Ann Hampton Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway

- Jan. 22 – 26. )Tues. – Sat.)  Ann Hampton Callaway. Callaway not only has a gorgeous voice, she also knows exactly how to use it.  And it’s especially memorable when she applies it – along with her talents as a musical story teller – to the classics of the Great American Songbook. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Jan. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu. They seem to be an unlikely combination – Cuban keyboardist Sosa and Italian trumpeter Fresu.  But the stirring results of their partnership attest to the true globalization of jazz.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

London

- Jan. 25 & 26. (Fri. & Sat.)  Milton Nascimento. He’s one of the icons of Brazilian music, as a performer and as a composer.  And at 70, he’s still going strong.   Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 (0)7439 0747.

Paris

- Jan. 24. (Thurs.)  Steve Cropper and the Animals. The guitarist in Stax Records legendary house band, Cropper takes his unique blend of soul, blues, funk and beyond on the road with a band of eager associates. New Morningn  01 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

Judy Niemack

- Jan. 22. (Tues.)  Judy Niemack presents “New Voices in Jazz 2013.” A gifted, imaginative singer as well as an admired educator, Niemack introduces a collection of talented, if still relatively unknown young vocal artists: Zola Mennenöh, Laura Winkler, Anna Marlene Bicking and Sophie-Charlott GötteA-Trane.    030/313 25 50.

Milan

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  Philip Catherine.  Belgian jazz guitarist Catherine’s resume reaches from the ‘60s to the present with artists such as Dexter Gordon, Jean-Luc Ponty, Chet Baker, Charlie Mariano, Stephane Grappelli and more.  At 70, his playing continues to be as eclectic as it is accomplished.  Blue Note Milan.    02.6901 6888.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 7 – 13

January 8, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

- Jan. 9.  (Wed.)  Ariana Savalas and Corky Hale.  Yes, the name “Savalas” is familiar; Ariana is the daughter of the veteran actor Telly Savalas.  But as a singer, she has an appealing style that is uniquely her own.  She’s backed by the musically supportive accompaniment of pianist/harpist Hale. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  Betty Bryant.  Singer/pianist Betty Bryant gives another seminar in jazz piano and vocals, as entertaining and swinging as she is musically inventive.  H.O.M.E.  Beverly Hills.   (310) 271-4663.

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  John Beasley.  Pianist/composer Beasely begins a January residency at the Blue Whale, starting with a duo with the unique vocalist Dwight TribleThe Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.) Gerald Wilson Orchestra. At 94, arranger/composer/bandleader Wilson still brings his Orchestra vividly to life everytime he gives the down beat on one of his memorable arrangements.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Amadeus Leopold

Amadeus Leopold

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.)  Amadeus Leopold.  The brilliant young Korean violinist Leopold – whose original name was Hahn-Bin – applies his technical prowess and emotional imagination to a uniquely imaginative view of the classical repertoire.  CAP UCLA.  Royce Hall.

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.)  Ibrahim Maalouf Quintet. (Concert cancelled due to visa problems.) Lebanese trumpeter Maalouf effectively blends Arabic traditional sounds and rhythms with contemporary jazz funk and roots rock.  Theatre Raymond Kabbaz.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

- Jan. 11. (Fri.)  Sinne Eeg.  Highly praised Danish singer Eeg performs with the stellar backing of Larry Koonse, Peter Erskine, Darek Oles and Roger NeumannVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 11. (Fri.)  Los Lobos. The multiple Grammy-winning band from East L.A. continues to continue to find linkages between Chicano rock, Tex-Mex, r&b and traditional Hispanic styles.  The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan

- Jan. 11 – 13. (Fri. – Sun.)  Lainie Kazan.  Actress/singer Kazan’s checkered career reaches from understudying Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl to dozens of high visibility film roles.  But she’s also a uniquely gifted singer with a lush sound and a gift for richly emotional interpretations of the book of standards.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  Steve Ross.  Puttin’ on the Ritz.  “The Music of Fred Astaire.  Singer Ross presents a cabaret show to remember, with some of the greatest songs from film musicals.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Curtis Stigers

Curtis Stigers

- Jan. 13. (Sun.)  Curtis Stigers & His Band.  Saxophonist/singer Stigers has spent most of his career emphasizing his vocal skills, producing some memorable, jazz-tinged, charting songs since the release of his self-titled, platinum debut recording in 1991.  Kirk Douglas Theatre.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

- Jan. 13. (Sun.)  Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour.  The MJF prides itself on the iconic line up of performers for the annual September Festival programs.  And here’s an equally iconic group of artists – Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire – proudly carrying the MJF banner in the off season.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2787.   (The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour also performs at the Valley Performing Arts Center on Jan. 23.

San Francisco

Wesla Whitfield

Wesla Whitfield

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  Wesla Whitfield with the Mike Greensil Trio.  Whitfield has been offering her view of the Great American Songbook for more than three decades, most often with the backing of her husband, pianist Greensil.  Together they provide an irresistible evening of memorable music.Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

New York

- Jan. 10.  (Thurs.) Janis Ian.  Singer/songwriter Ian made her breakthrough with “Society’s Child” in the mid-‘60s, followed by her Grammy Award-winning “At Seventeen” in the mid-‘70s.  At 81, she’s still going strong.  City Winery.    (212) 608-0555.

- Jan. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  The 2013 NYC Winter Jazzfest.  Six venues around Greenwich Village feature performers such as James Carter, Monty Alexander, Claudia Acuna, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Rez Abbasi and numerous others, young and mature.  The Winter Jazzfest.

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

- Jan. 11 – 14. (Fri. – Mon.) “And Then She Wrote.”  With Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman and Denise Donatelli.  Emmy Award-winner singer/actor Marshall has created an entertaining overview of the many memorable songs in the Great American Songbook written by women.  And he couldn’t have chosen a better pair of singers to join him in a delightful evening of music, dance and humor than Juno Award nominee Welsman and Grammy nominee Donatelli.   Click HERE to read an iRoM review of the Los Angeles performance of And Then She Wrote.”  The Metropolitan Room.   (212) 206-0440.

- Jan. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli.  Straighten Up and Fly Right: A Tribute to Nat “King” Cole.  What a great combination: the spirited piano work of Lewis, the lively singing and guitar of Pizzarelli, and the great book of songs associated with Nat Cole.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Washington D.C.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

- Jan. 8. (Tues.)  Grace Kelly.  Korean/American alto saxophonist and singer Kelly, who just turned 20 in 2012, has firmly established herself as one of the gifted jazz artists of her generation.  Blues Alley.     (202) 337-4141.

London

- Jan. 9 & 10.  (Wed, & Thurs.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart.  Described in the ‘90s by the New York Times as the “best organ trio of the last decade,” the Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart combination continues to get better and better.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- Jan. 10 & 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  “A Tribute to Anita O’Day.”   Signe Juhl and the Nikolaj Bentzon 3. Singer Juhl, backed by pianist Bentzon’s prime trio, celebrates the lively musical history of Anita O’Day.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 263 267.

Milan

- Jan. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Grammy-nominated Brazilian singer/pianist and composer has been described as Brazil’s finest native jazz artist.  At 64, she continues to produce memorable recordings and live performances.  The Blue Note Milano.     02.6901 6888.


Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day 3

September 24, 2012

By Michael Katz

It is Monday morning, and a layer of fog has settled over Monterey Bay. The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival is now an empty fairgrounds. Places with names like Dizzy’s Den and the Nightclub are now bland outbuildings connected by an empty midway. But if you close your eyes, you can still imagine a magical place, where a high school flutist can say she followed Ambrose Akinmusire on the stage of the Jimmy Lyons Arena, or a young singer can say she stood in front of a big band on the same stage and was the hottest thing going. And that was just a prelude to the concluding day, which brought Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny and an All-Star MJF combo to conclude one of MJF’s best festivals.

Next Generation Jazz Orchestra

The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra led by Paul Contos kicked things off with some terrific arrangements, including a knockout version of “Harlem Nocturne.” A few of the highlights included the winning composition, “Something Small,” by Christopher McCarthy, and vocalist Laila Smith, who shone on “Only You” and an upbeat arrangement of “Smile.” Artist-in-Residence Ambrose Akinmusire made his first Arena appearance of the festival with a couple of numbers that featured his searing horn. You can only imagine the confidence director Contos had in Elena Pinderhughes to have her follow Akinmusire’s extended riff with a zesty flute solo of her own, and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, who shared the stand with Akinmusire for his final tune.

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding had to be the perfect choice to anchor the Sunday afternoon show. She has the crossover creds to draw a young audience into the Arena, yet her jazz chops endear her to the Monterey faithful. She brought a solid eleven piece ensemble to the Arena in support of her current hit CD, Radio Music, that included rising tenor star Tia Fuller and Chris Turner on supporting vocals. Emerging in a flowing white gown and trademark Afro, she led her band through a jam session that won over the audience from the start.  If there was one unavoidable timing glitch, it was having a lovely ballad set in the midst of what turned out to be the flyover of Thunderbird F-16s from the nearby Salinas Air Show, but by then crowd knew what was coming and waited patiently for the jets to finish, while Spalding adapted with panache.

It’s possible that Esperanza had a little case of Trombone Shorty-itis, as she tried to get a crowd going that was still suffering a bit of an emotional hangover from the day before. Her style is gentler, her voice at its best wafts sweetly over her bass tones. Her finale, an extended rendition of the Radio Music theme, brought home her point about falling in love with music through the radio, but it seemed to leave the set a tad on the short side. One more smaller, more dramatic vocal (and let the crowd take care of itself) might have been more fulfilling.

Mads Tolling

The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always some of my favorite moments. They are a chance to wind down from what tends to be a raucous atmosphere in the Arena and set the stage for the evening’s jazz headliners. Danish violinist Mads Tolling was a wonderful example of this Sunday. The Turtle Island veteran led a quartet that featured sterling guitar work from Michael Abraham and support from bassist George Ben-Weiss and drummer Eric Garland. Together they exploited every aspect of Tollings’ instrument, from Danish folksongs to jazz standards to extended flights in homage to Jean Luc Ponty. My favorites included the opener, “Danish Dessert,” which began with some nice counter plucking between violin and guitar, “Take Off Blues” by Danish legend Svend Asmussen and Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba.”  Tollings had a gorgeous extended solo in “Beatrice,” then brought the group back for another Jean Luc tribute, “Pontification.”

Pat Metheny

There was plenty of activity going on throughout the festival as the curtain went down Sunday night, but by that time I was content to stay at the Arena for what turned out to be a superb evening. Pat Metheny returned to the stage with his Unity Band quartet, featuring Chris Potter on reeds, Antonio Sanchez on percussion and upcoming bass star Ben Williams. Metheny remains something of a mad scientist, with his “Orchestrion” lurking in the background like some sort of cross between a super computer and an alien spaceship. This was all linked to something resembling an apothecary shelf at the right of the stage, filled with bottles and beakers that lit up like Christmas lights  throughout the show.

Chris Potter

Metheny started with a type of combination guitar/harp known as the Pikasso. He was joined by Potter on bass clarinet in a lovely pairing that was augmented by some terrific bass lines by Williams. The band went through material from the new Unity album; like most everything Metheny does, it is hard to categorize. If you are a jazz purist you tend to love his full sound and wandering melodies. You sometimes cringe at the more rock-style riffs, but there was relatively little of that Sunday night, and it was kept earthbound by the fine work of Potter, whose soprano matched Metheny’s occasional trips into the stratosphere.

There were times when I felt a little sympathy for Antonio Sanchez, whose masterful rhythms seemed to be competing against the bells and chimes of the Orchestrion. Once or twice I thought I’d stumbled into a soundtrack for the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. But as the show went on Sanchez had plenty of room to stretch out. And the final moments of the ninety-minute set, when Potter doubled on flute and did a lovely duet with Metheny, brought the audience to its feet.

Christian McBride

The final performance at the Arena would have highlighted any night, but it was a perfect coda to MJF 55. The MJF Jazz Festival on Tour started out with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Christian McBride sharing the stage, with an inspired version of “Do What You Want To Do.” Bridgewater teased the audience as she synched with McBride’s bass, the two of them interweaving riffs.  The rest of the band followed: pianist Bennie Green; Chris Potter doing double duty, bridging the gap between avant garde and straight ahead; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Lewis Nash.  Bridgewater led a spirited version of Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” and Akinmusire stretched out on McBride’s composition “Shade of The Cedar Tree.”

In recent years MJF has shifted the Sunday show to two 90 minute performances, and this works perfectly for the All-Star groups. In the past, with only an hour, it seemed like they were just warming up when the curtain fell. And the fact that the group had played Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den gave the Arena crowd the benefit of their additional time together. If there’s one player who ought to especially benefit from the extended tour, which will begin in January, it is Akinmusire, who will surely get some added recognition from his presence, as well as the opportunity to test his compositions against this stellar group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

But there were plenty of highlights from everyone, including wonderful brushwork by Lewis Nash with the group reduced to a trio for Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga.”   Bobby Hutcherson’s “Highway One,” featured Akinmusire and Potter, and Chris shone in his composition “Salome’s Dance.” Still, if there was a first among equals it had to be Dee Dee Bridgewater.  She mesmerized the crowd with “Don’t Explain,” and later closed the show leading the band in “All of Me.” It is impossible to compare any singer with prior eras, where a national spotlight shone on Sarah and Ellie and Billie, but Dee Dee Bridgewater, at this stage of her career, belongs in the conversation.

As the MJF Touring all-stars finished “All of Me” to a standing ovation, from a crowd that had braved yet another chilly night, there were a few wistful remarks about the paucity of “real jazz” on the Arena schedule. While that may be a narrow definition, I can understand the sentiment. But the umbrella of jazz has spread wide, and there were nearly countless opportunities on the various stages to see jazz of every fashion.  The venues played to near capacity crowds almost everywhere.  It was sad to see the closing curtain fall, as it meant farewell to friends seen too seldom, and a spirit of art and friendship unmatched anywhere in the world.

See you next year, Monterey.

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Live Music: A Ray Charles Tribute at the Hollywood Bowl

July 13, 2012

By Michael Katz

When you consider the arc of Ray Charles’ career – jazz, blues, R&B, country, it’s no surprise that it took a village Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl to pay tribute to him. There was an all-star jazz band, in addition to the Count Basie Band, strings, a choir, headliners from all the touchstones of Charles’ music, plus a loaded version of the Raelettes (Patti Austin!), all tied up in a ribbon by Tavis Smiley. If it only occasionally matched the searing genius of Brother Ray Himself, it did keep everyone on their toes.

Ray Charles’ voice was unmistakable – not just for the raw soulfulness mixed with lyric grace, but for the pain that was never far from the surface. There is a certain courageousness in that for a male singer, and  it’s not surprising that the women on the program seemed to channel Charles’ spirit most effectively, with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ms. Austin exhibits A and 1A. More on that later.

The first half of he show was anchored by an all-star band led by drummer and musical director Gregg Field. The front line featured Terence Blanchard and Scotty Barnhart (Barnhart also led the trumpet section of the Basie band), with Dave Koz on alto sax, Houston Person on tenor and Tom Scott on baritone. George Duke sparkled throughout the concert on piano and electric keyboards, with Shelly Berg’s Hammond B-3  percolating underneath it all.

R&B singer BeBe Winans was the opening vocalist, smoothly working through “I Got A Woman” and a more expressive “Drown In My Own Tears.” Perhaps that is damning with faint praise, but the raw power of Ray Charles was lurking in the background, and anything short of that can’t help but be noticed. The band had “Them That Got” to themselves, featuring Dave Koz  on alto and Tom Scott picking up his soprano. Koz is a star on the smooth jazz scene and dominated the sax solos during the show — this inevitably left less room for Houston Person, which was regrettable. That big tenor sound, exemplified by the late David “Fathead” Newman, whose name never came up during the evening, was a major part of the Charles sound.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

And then came Dee Dee Bridgewater. Head shaven, clad in a stunning gold dress, she took over the show from the first note. She started with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by Houston Person in his one soulful excursion of the night. She followed with “I Believe In My Soul” and the rousing “I Got News For You,” which brought Blanchard out front on trumpet and Duke alternating from keyboards to piano. Dee Dee Bridgewater simply has it all – the booming voice in perfect pitch, the sassiness in her presentation, the hurt and tenderness when she needed to reach back for it. All of it flows naturally, not a note forced. Thankfully she wasn’t done for the night.

Patti Austin

The next section of the show featured Ray Charles’ foray into Country and Western music. It started with a standout version of the Raelettes, with Patti Austin and Siedah Garrett. Garrett led Charles’ smoldering version of “You Are My Sunshine,” then Patti Austin took center stage. Austin is just too much of a presence to keep in the background. Her intro to “Come Rain or Come Shine” seemed effortless, but before you knew it  she had you in her grasp – her version of the ballad stood right there with Ray Charles’s.

Country music singer Martina McBride closed the first half of the program.  If you are mainly a jazz or R&B fan with a tangential knowledge of country, McBride’s voice fits in solidly with the post-Loretta Lynn/Patsy Cline tradition.  Producers Gregg Field and the legendary Phil Ramone  were smart to give her a variety of settings, instead of just covering Charles’ C&W oeuvre. “Bye Bye Love” had the Raelettes behind her, then a combination of strings and the Fred Martin/Levite Camp of Urban Entertainment Institute choir filled up the stage for “You Don’t Know Me” and “Take These Chains.” Finally,  trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval came onstage and joined McBride for the Hank Williams standard “Hey, Good Lookin’.” Cuban Country Soul…you just don’t get that everywhere.

The second half of the show was anchored by the Count Basie Big Band,   featuring the aforementioned Barnhart on trumpet and Reggie Thomas on piano. The main vocalist for much of the set was Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. He’s an appealing singer, his voice pitched a little higher than Winans, but he just doesn’t have the visceral appeal to carry this music. “Let The Good Times Roll” was a good vehicle to start his segment. There were Charles standards to follow like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Crying Time,” which featured Monica Mancini stepping out in front of the Raelettes.

Bebe Winans

But the real fireworks came as the program concluded. There was BeBe Winans reaching back for a little extra on “How Long Has This Been Going On?” Then Dee Dee Bridgewater came back out and tore the place up again with “Busted.” Before the final numbers, the video screens flashed a clip of Ray Charles as a guest on Saturday Night Live, Year 2, with Murray, Belushi, Gildna Radner et al playing a cover group, “The Young Caucasians.” It was at once hilarious and a reminder of how far Ray Charles’ music had brought us. It set the stage for “Georgia On My Mind,” which brought back Babyface as well as Patti Austin and the Raelettes, and then the whole production returned for “America The Beautiful.”

Despite the effort to sprinkle the program with all sorts of pop stars, the attendance was only around 10,000. Which makes me wonder, since it is supposed to be a jazz series, why not just give the microphone to Dee Dee Bridgewater, Houston Person, Patti Austin et al and let them try and fill the place up instead of relying on retro themes? I don’t think Ray Charles would have objected.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


The Playboy Jazz Festival: The First Ladies of the Skins

June 14, 2012

The 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, which takes place at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, features the rare presence of three world class female jazz drummers.  Writer/musician Devon Wendell describes his reaction when he first saw the Festival line up.  

By Devon Wendell

Growing up, I always thought of the drums as being this potent symbol of masculine power.  I’d listen to Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, and Roy Haynes.  These men sounded tough, pissed off, strong and as if they possessed boundless energy.  Bird, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, or Miles could be playing the sweetest melody you’ve ever heard and then this bombastic force would enter in a way that felt like Zeus throwing thunder bolts from the heavens – and at the same time it always complimented the music perfectly.

The initial experiences of that drum sound were so wild that it made me giggle as if I were listening to something forbidden.  It was a similar feeling that I had when sneaking off with my high school chums, smoking and listening to Richard Pryor albums when no adults were present.

Although I could play guitar, bass, harmonica, and some keys by my mid-teens, the drums always intimidated me. I felt too weak and geeky to be a drummer.  It was Max Roach with Bird on those classics Verve sides that scared me away from picking up those sticks.  Once I had second thoughts and was going to give it a go, I heard Philly Joe Jones’ drum solo behind Miles Davis on Miles’ version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Salt Peanuts” from those incredible Prestige recordings of 1956.  Once again I felt like the scrawny kid watching the jocks slamming into each other on the football field.

I knew that I could be lethargic, lazy and fake self confidence with an electric guitar but not with drums. Unless you’re playing an electric kit like that dreadful sound Phil Collins was selling to the public in the 80s, there’s nothing to hide behind on the drums. To me, this was a tough guy’s instrument.

My perception of drummers quickly shifted when I first saw Sheila E. performing with Prince on TV.  She bashed away at the kit, creating polyrhythmic bliss.  All of my sexist, preconceived notions of what a woman could and couldn’t do vanished like all my dreams and aspirations did in high school.  Sheila E. appeared just as confident and energetic as Elvin Jones playing with John Coltrane.

Sheila E.

Many years later I saw Sheila E. perform with her father – the brilliant and legendary percussionist and composer Pete Escovedo.  There must have been six or seven percussionists up their on stage, and they all seemed to be having a hard time keeping up with Sheila E., who had this ferocious look on her face. Her teeth were gritted as she stared down her father and his comrades.  I could imagine her saying, “Take that boys!”  I found this confidence to be extremely sexy.

Cindy Blackman

One night while I was attending college, I ventured down to the Knitting Factory in NYC to see Pharoah Sanders.  Although he was great in his own right, it was his drummer that got my attention.  Here was this slender woman with big, wild hair tossing back and fourth on her head, and her arms flailing all over the drums. She looked totally relaxed but played as aggressively as Tony Williams. I rushed over to the sound man to find out who she was and he told me, “Man, that’s Cindy Blackman.”

At times, her facial expressions revealed possible shyness, which I could not match with her total control and mastery of the drum kit.  Her ideas kept flowing.  She played the top and bottom of the kit while taking risks and never missing a beat.  I instantly had a crush on Blackman, whose appearance was that of a modern day, elegant, psychedelic goddess. But I wasn’t cool enough to approach her, not even close.  I barely saw Sanders and whoever else was in the band that night. I knew that this drummer was someone who was going to get a lot of attention.

The next time I saw Blackman play was a year later with Lenny Kravitz at some God awful rock festival in New Jersey.  Behind Kravitz, she played a funkier, more subordinate roll, but the effect was just as compelling.  She gave Lenny some much needed groove.

In 2003, I was in Atlanta and went to see Herbie Hancock, who was set to play with fellow legend, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.  This was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed.  Once again, the drummer caught my ears and eyes.

Terri Lyne Carrington

Hancock introduced her, and the name Terri Lyne Carrington has stayed with me ever since.  What struck me about Carrington was her sense of dynamics.  Amazingly, she could play soft and hard all at once, using high hat flourishes with the bass drum in a way that was completely unique.  Herbie may have been the band leader, but Carrington was the driving force, taking the band way up and then down to where you could hear “A rat piss on cotton,” as Ella Fitzgerald used to put it.  It was as if Carrington was aware of what Hancock, Hutcherson, and bassist Scott Colley were going to do before they did. She played melodically the way Art Taylor did behind Jackie McLean. The jazz dork in me was in love again.

All three women let it be known that they are proud and strong and can give any male drummer a run for their money. Cindy Blackman (now Cindy Blackman Santana) has said, “I wouldn’t care if Art Blakey was pink with polka dots wearing a tutu or if Tony Williams was green.  Me being a female drummer has nothing to do with anything except for the fact that I wear bras and panties and guys don’t.”  (Well, some guys.)

Terri Lyne Carrington says of her latest musical venture (and fifth album as a bandleader) The Mosaic Project: “This particular project really is to celebrate women artists, women musicians, and women instrumentalists and singers.” Like bassist Esperanza Spalding, (who has also proven to be a great innovator on a male dominated instrument), Carrington is also a uniquely soulful vocalist.  The Mosaic Project won a Grammy this year in the Best Jazz Vocal category.  The album not only celebrates woman musicians and artists but features such great ladies as Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Gerri Allen, and Sheila E.  All the musicians on the album are women. Sheila E. said about the project, “I dare any man to come and try to do this!”

You can see all three artists perform at The 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival this weekend.

Sheila E. will be playing a set with her own band on Saturday, June 16th, the opening day of The Festival.

Cindy Blackman Santana appears on Sunday’s program with her latest band, Spectrum Road, which is a tribute to Tony Williams (featuring Vernon Reid: guitar, John Medeski: keyboards, and Jack Bruce on bass) performing music from their self-titled debut album Spectrum Road on Sunday.

And Terri Lyne Carrington and her Mosaic Project – with Gretchen Parlato, Carmen Lundy, Tia Fuller, Ingrid Jensen, Helen Sung, Linda Taylor, Mimi Jones, Patrice Rushen, Angela Davis (and some surprise guests) are also on the Sunday Playboy Festival line up.

I can visualize Max, Elvin, Philly Joe, Art Blakey, and Billy Higgins all standing together, dressed to the nines, looking down from heaven at these three women playing and then slapping each other five and saying, “Yeah, they got it covered,” and maybe even looking somewhat envious at what they see and hear.

* * * * * * * *

For information about the 34th Playboy Jazz Festival, call the Festival hot line –  (310) 450-1173 — or click HERE.

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


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