Live Music: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Royce Hall

September 23, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles CA. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra can always be counted on to deliver an evening of rich musicality. And Sunday night’s performance at Royce Hall in Westwood was no exception.

The headline event in a rich program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. But, typically, LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane also scheduled a pair of intriguing works – Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5, with soloist Juho Pohjonen and Lines of the Southern Cross, the latter the premiere of a work newly commissioned by the LACO from Australian composer Cameron Patrick.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

The evening opened with the new Patrick composition. Introducing the work, Kahane noted that the music “acknowledged the traditional owners of Australia and custodians of the land, the Australian Aboriginal people.” Patrick did all that and more, in a work that also captured the broad, far ranging landscape of Australia, from its mountain peaks to its ocean depths via some especially expressive writing for the strings. And the LACO interpretation of Southern Cross convincingly introduced it as a significant new work that deserves wide hearing – in live performance and on recordings.

The Saint-Saens Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Egyptian, was described by the composer as the representation of a sea voyage. And there are passages in the piece that do so, in characteristically French impressionist style. The work is also a virtuosic showcase for the piano soloist, and Pohjonen was effective on all counts, from the lyric passages to the most technically demanding passages.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

The climax of the evening, understandably, was the Beethoven Symphony No. 5, one of the most frequently performed pieces in the entire catalog of classical music. And any well-interpreted performance of the work resonates with its long history. Written in the first decade of the 19th century, it was created at a time of considerable unrest for the Western world and for its composer. Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. And Beethoven, in his mid-thirties, was becoming aware of the fact that the deafness he had begun to experience was progressive, and would continue to worsen.

Since then, No. 5 has also been heard, and viewed, from a variety of symbolic interpretive perspectives, starting with the V for Victory aspects of its four note, opening motif.

Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

But ultimately it is the gripping quality of the music itself that makes No. 5 a work to be heard in every possible opportunity. In the capable direction of Kahane and the equally capable playing of the LACO’s masterful musicians, the music came to life in especially persuasive fashion. Perhaps best of all, the musically symbiotic togetherness of the LACO’s players, combined with Kahane’s seeming desire to open the way for the music to find its way produced a stunning performance, overflowing with passionate intensity.

Altogether, it was another significant entry in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s long lexicon of memorable performances.


Live Music: The Fab Faux at the Valley Performing Arts Center

September 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

Northridge, CA. Memories galore resonated through the architecturally grand, acoustically captivating Valley Performing Arts Center on the campus of CalState Northridge Saturday night. Memories, that is, of an era dominated by the Beatles.

The performance, by the Fab Faux, was yet another display of the Center’s growing presence as the creative center for the arts that has long been missing from the San Fernando Valley. And the overflowing packed house, full of 1700 enthusiastic listeners, underscored Executive Director Thor Steingraber’s quest to prove VPAC’s “commitment to arts and entertainment experiences of every variety.”

Which is exactly what listeners experienced in the Fab Faux. There are numerous Beatles tribute bands and cover bands in various parts of the world. But the Fab Faux are unique. Neither dressing in period Beatles costumes nor wearing Beatles hair-dos (or wigs), they focused instead upon the rich creative density of the Beatles’ extraordinary catalog of music.

The Fab Faux

The Fab Faux

The Fab Faux consist of bassist Will Lee, guitarist Jimmy Vivino, drummer Rich Pagano, guitarist Frank Agnello and keyboardist/guitarist Jack Petruzzelli, backed by the Creme Tangerine Strings and the Hogshead Horns.  All of the principal members also sang, doing so without resorting to attempts at imitating either the sounds or the accents of the original Beatles.

The first set was devoted to a broad selection of songs, mostly by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, reaching from “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Paperback Writer” to “Nowhere Man,” with dozens of stops in between.

On the second set, climaxing a long, musically stunning evening, the Fab Faux and their accomplices performed the classic Beatles album Abbey Road in its entirety.

As noted above, this was not a collection of imitations, in any sense of the word. While the musical spirits of the Beatles were ever present in virtually every note, there was another aspect of the Fab Faux performance that was even more closely related to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. And that was the persistent effort by the Fab Faux to find the creative potential that resides in the heart of the songs.

Guitarist Vivino may have described it best when he said, “This is the greatest pop music ever written, and we’re such freaks for it.”

In that sense, the Fab Faux and the Valley Performing Arts made the perfect pairing on this memorable night: classic pop music, played with the sort of creativity that inspired the original versions, in a setting perfectly framed for imaginative performances.


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.

 


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