Live Music: Charles Aznavour at the Greek Theatre

September 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.

There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.

Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.

Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.

The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.

But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.

Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson


Live Music: “Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration” at the Hollywood Bowl

August 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood CA. The Hollywood Bowl‘s diverse set of Wednesday night programs – from jazz and pop to blues and soul – hit a peak this week with an entertaining tribute to the incomparable James Brown, timed, no doubt, to the recent release of the Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Given the “Godfather of Soul”’s vast catalog of hits, combined with the far-ranging stylistic genres present in that catalog, there was a lot from which to choose in the planning of the program. And the results were well worth the effort.

FH

Christian McBride

Christian McBride

It didn’t take long for the evening to get up to speed, perfectly managed by bassist and Brown fan Christian McBride. Starting with a slide show illustrating Brown highlights, the music, ornamented by a pair of busy dancers, switched quickly into “live” mode with a set by a 14 piece House Band featuring such members of the original Brown band as saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Clyde Stubblefield. And it was no surprise that the music was a characteristically hard-driving blend of funk and blues with a seasoning of jazz.

The balance of the evening was handled by four singers, performing with the sort of spirit and enthusiasm that could only be characterized by dedicated Brown disciples. Performances dedicated to artists who have passed away sometimes emerge as imitations without authenticity. But not with this group of singers, all talented in their own right, all thoroughly tapped into the Brown artistry.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette has never quite received the accolades her soul-driven singing style deserves. But, at 68, she can still bring a song to life, as she did in her set, which peaked with a stunning interpretation of “It’s A Man’s World.” Captured by the intensity of her version, clearly inspired by Brown, one couldn’t help but hope to see LaVette again soon in a performance dedicated to her own dynamic interpretations.

Up next, singer Aloe Blacc charged on stage with Brown-like dynamism. And, at 35, with skills as an instrumentalist (trumpet) and complete ease in genres reaching from r&b to jazz and funk to hip hop, he brought his unique diversity and high spirits to a Brown program that began with “The Payback” and ended with “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.”

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo

Benin’s Angelique Kidjo added another intriguing aspect to a richly colorful program. Describing the impact Brown’s music had upon her as a child growing up in Africa, she applied her irresistibly charismatic powers to “Say It Loud” and “I Feel Good.” Stalking the stage, she demanded more interaction with the crowd, dancing across the curved walkway in the garden section, bringing her listeners into her ecstatic calls for musical action. Kidjo has always been an incredibly kinetic performer, and – captivated by the Brown aura — she was even more exciting in her remarkable set.

D Angelo

D Angelo

The evening climaxed with yet another high voltage performance, this one by singer/keyboardist producer D’Angelo. Adding yet another musical slant to an evening overflowing with uniquely engaging efforts to honor James Brown, D’Angelo was joined onstage by actor Chad Boseman, who portrays Brown in the Get On Up biopic. Together they urged the crowd to join them in a spirited singalong version of “Soul Power” – an appropriate ending for a musical evening to remember.

* * * * * * *

Full stage, McBride, LaVette and Kidjo photos by Faith Frenz.  D’Angelo photo courtesy of D’Angelo.

 

 


Live Jazz: Chick Corea and The Vigil at Catalina Bar & Grill

August 14, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. There seems to be more and more good news for jazz lately at Catalina Bar & Grill. A couple of weeks ago it was a stunning performance by the Ron Carter Trio.

And this week offers another memorable set of performances with the arrival Tuesday night of Chick Corea and his superb new band, The Vigil. Add to that the good news that Chick and The Vigil will be performing at Catalina’s through Sunday.

Why is that important?

Chick Corea

Because every day this week at Catalina’s will provide a great evening of jazz.

Because Chick – who seems to put together one extraordinary musical partnership after another – has come up with yet another winner in The Vigil. The band, which includes saxophonist/woodwind player Tim Garland, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto. drummer Marcus Gilmore (who is Roy Haynes grandson), guitarist Charles Altura and percussionist Luisito Quintero played with an irresistible blend of musical synchronicity and improvisational fireworks.

Tuesday’s program included a pair of Chick’s pieces from The Vigil’s eponymously titled first CD: “Planet Chia” and “Royalty” (a dedication to drummer Roy Haynes). Underscoring the band’s versatility, Chick also included “Fingerprints,” which he said had been inspired by Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” the Van Heusen/Burke songbook classic, “It Could Happen To You.” and plenty of space for some dynamic drumming from Gilmore and Quintero.

The Vigil’s Tim Garland, Charles Altura, Carlitos Del Puerto and Luisito Quintero

Tim Garland

Tim Garland

I could easily spend the rest of this review describing the extraordinary soloing, and ensemble work, from each of the assemblage of gifted young artists. As always, Chick was a generous leader, allocating far-reaching solo opportunities to each of the players.

Suffice to say that they all took creative advantage of the space they were offered. And a few distinct events come to mind:

The versatile Garland shifted easily from tenor to soprano saxophone, flute and hand percussion. In addition, his bouyant, enthusiastic stage presence had a positive effect upon the musically familial attitude that was present throughout the set.

Charles Altura

Charles Altura

Guitarist Altura, playing many of the fast-moving, rhythmically complex lines that were at the heart of Chick’s pieces, did so with stunning accuracy as well as a body-moving sense of swing.

Bassist Del Puerto, seeming deeply invested in the music, also played the quick runs and resonant dark tones called for by Chick’s music with precision, adding richly inventive soloing, pizzicato and arco.

Marcus Gilmore

Marcus Gilmore

And, as I noted above, the percussion team of Gilmore and Quintero provided the powerful rhythmic overdrive and surging swing that kept the music vibrant and alive.

Best of all, there was the constant feeling, flowing from the stage, that this was a band that was enjoying every minute, and eager to pull their listeners into their creative enthusiasm. That doesn’t happen as often as it should at a lot of jazz events. But it did here, and Southland jazz fans are fortunate to have four more nights (Tonight through Sunday) to experience the remarkable music of Chick Corea and the Vigil at Catalina Bar & Grill.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music and Humor: Jay Leonhart and Josh Nelson at Vitello’s

August 11, 2014

 By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA. What is there to say about a bassist who is a prime jazz player, sings, and writes his own hilariously whimsical songs?

A lot, actually, if his name is Jay Leonhart, who had a full house audience in stitches at Vitello’s Saturday night, aided by the brilliant support of pianist Josh Nelson.

Josh Nelson and Jay Leonhart

Josh Nelson and Jay Leonhart

But no description of what Leonhart did in his 1½ hour set can do full justice to the unique musical range of his performance – not surprising given a performance and recording resume that includes gigs with artists reaching from Tony Bennett to James Taylor and Marian McPartland to Bucky Pizzarelli and beyond.

Jay Leonhart

Jay Leonhart

He came on stage and immediately settled any L.A. doubts about whether a somewhat lesser-known New York bassist with a reputation as a Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg-like instrumental humorist could cut it as a jazz player. Suffice to say he did so, from first tune to the last, even though one of his best-known songs is “It’s Impossible to Sing and Play the Bass.”

Despite that whimsical reservation, his songs are at the center of any Leonhart show.  And he offered a non-stop array of appealing goodies. Among the many highlights:

- “Bass Aboard A Plane” – describing a problem faced by all bassists.
– “Me and Lenny” – in which Leonhart, sitting in first class, unexpectedly finds Leonard Bernstein next to him on a flight from New York to Los Angeles.
– Add to that: a song about history’s first double bass; a song inspired by Ivan Lins during a trip to Brazil; a song about an invasion of aliens from Venus titled “They’re Coming To Get Me.”
– A song about “Life on the Road.”
– As well as “Double Cross,” written after Leonhart had read a Robert Ludlum spy thriller.
All were masterful blends of humor, often sardonic, with catchy melodies and colorful harmonic schemes.

Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Further displaying his versatility, Leonhart included his own versions of “Stay Cool” (directly after the Bernstein song, of course) and Eddie Harris” “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

I mentioned Josh Nelson’s “brilliant support” on piano. And it was all that and more. Leonhart’s charts were broadly conceived, with numerous interactive as well as paired passages between bass and piano. As well as many areas in which Nelson had to interact, start and stop with spontaneous cues between both players. And it all happened perfectly – a pair of gifted players operating on precisely the same wave length.

There’s a lot I could add.  But none of it would be as on target as Leonhart himself in action. And the thought that kept recurring as we headed home after the performance was “When will Jay be back in L.A. again?.” Let’s hope it’s soon.

Photos by Faith Frenz.

 

 


Picks of the Week: July 29 – Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another hot week, with a lot of venues still in the midst of their Summer hiatuses.  But there’s still some fine, selective music to hear.

Los Angeles

Amanda McBroom

Amanda McBroom

- July 29. (Tues.) Amanda McBroom and George Ball. Musical theatre and cabaret star Amanda McBroom and actor/singer George Ball present a program of classic songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- July 30. (Wed.) Lola Haag, Mark Massey and Friends. The sultry voice of Lola Haag is backed by the jazz piano stylings of Mark Massey and his stellar group. Steamers7.  (714) 871-8800.

- July 31. (Thurs.) Chuck Manning & Steve Huffsteter Quartet. A pair of Los Angeles’ world class jazz artists – saxophonist Manning and trumpeter  Huffsteter take a break from their busy bookings as sidemen to step into the spotlight.  They perform in a piano-less quartet with bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Matt GordyVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 1 – 3. (Fri. – Sun.) “Hair.”  The classic rock musical of the sixties takes over the Bowl for a rare three night run. A must-see for all boomers. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- Aug. 2. (Sat.) Strunz & Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah are back, making a second L.A. appearance in the past two weeks. Don’t miss them. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

(July 31 – Aug. 3.(Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria Sings Jobim. Guitarist/singer Canturia, one of bossa nova’s most authentic interpreters, illuminates the Antonio Carlos Jobim catalog of songs. SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Melba Moore

Melba Moore

- Aug. 1 & 2. (Friday & Sat.) Melba Moore. Grammy-nominated, Tony-Award winning r&b, soul, and blues singer Moore is a master of contemporary pop music styles with hits reaching back to the ’70s. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

 New York City

- July 31 – Aug. 3. (Thurs. – Sun.) The legendary Count Basie Orchestra. The irresistible rhythms and big band classics of the Count Basie Orchestra live on, with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart leading the way. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

London

- July 28 – Aug. 2 (Mon. – Sat.) The Average White Band. Four decades after their hit-making years of the ’70s and ’80s, the Scottish Average White Band is still playing their soul, r&b and funk classics. Two original members – Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre – are still present, along with three new members from the U.S. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

Aug. 1 ;& 2. (Fri. & Sat.) The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Versatile trumpeter Hargrove steps away from his big band to lead a swinging quintet of jazz stars. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 29.  ( Tues.)  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The classic sounds of New Orleans jazz are alive and well in the swinging playing of the preservation Hall Jazz Band.  The Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 


Live Jazz: The Ron Carter Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill.

July 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

There was good news for jazz Friday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

Good news because the Sunset Blvd. Jazz club – L.A.’s principal destination for world class jazz groups – was packed.

Good news because the enthusiastic crowd seemed captivated by the music.

And, best of all, good news because the headlining act – the Ron Carter Trio – played a set that was a virtual definition of jazz at its finest.

The Ron Carter Trio: Donald Vega, Ron Carter and Russell Malone

The Ron Carter Trio: Donald Vega, Ron Carter and Russell Malone

The Trio’s instrumentation – Carter playing bass, Donald Vega playing piano, and Russell Malone playing guitar – was a stunning example of jazz minimalism: no drummer, no horns. And they handled it brilliantly.

Ron Carter

Ron Carter

The atmosphere on stage was a blend of jam session spontaneity with the subtle but complex interplay of a classical chamber ensemble. Collective passages seemed both organized and off the cuff. Solo passages flowed imaginatively through open spaces in the ensemble, allowing each player to reach into his deepest well of creativity.

Carter made a few soft-voiced comments between selections. But, for the most part, the music unfolded with a natural connectivity, regardless of the specific selection.

Malone was featured on “Candlelight,” a dedication to guitarist Jim Hall. Vega soloed on “My Funny Valentine.” And Carter chose “You Are My Sunshine,” a classic country tune he also selected as an unlikely solo vehicle a couple of years ago in a performance at Royce Hall.

A veteran player who was highly visible for years as a close musical companion to Diana Krall, Malone brought his far-ranging versatile eclecticism to his solo passages. Blending fast-fingered virtuosity with appealing lyricism, his soloing recalled, and honored, similar qualities in Hall’s memorable playing.

Vega, a jazz prodigy as a teen-ager, now a mature artist, found new ideas in the often-played “My Funny Valentine.” Approaching the classic standard from a new perspective, he often lured Carter and Malone into collective passages, instantly providing contrast and support for his stunning solo lines.

And Carter, the most recorded bassist in jazz history, once again had fun with “You Are My Sunshine.” Approaching his instrument with the pizzicato accents of a cello, he roved freely across the familiar melody. Digging into its roots, lining up the theme in his own unique fashion, his playing occasionally recalled a classic version of the tune recorded by Sheila Jordan and George Russell. But by the time he had melded his soloing back into the Trio collectivity, he had completely made it his own.

No wonder the audience was so reluctant to allow the Carter Trio to leave the stage. The opportunity to hear a performance as stunningly imaginative as his Trio had offered was a rare experience indeed. And this listener, no doubt like the rest of the applauding crowd, looks forward to the music Ron Carter will bring to his next, too-rare appearance in the Southland.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Chris Botti and Chris Isaak at the Hollywood Bowl

July 14, 2014

By Don Heckman

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

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

Chris Botti

Chris Botti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Isaak

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

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

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

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

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


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