Picks of the Weekend: December 13 – 15

December 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Mike Stern

Mike Stern

- Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun.) Mike Stern Quartet. Guitarist Stern moves convincingly across jazz styles with ease. And he’s backed by a band – featuring Randy Brecker, Anthony Jackson and Dave Weckl – that is equally versatile – and swinging. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun) “Christmas with Gustavo.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays the Nutcracker Suite (complete), under the celebratory baton of Musical Director Gustavo Dudamel. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Dec. 13. (Fri.) Don Menza Quartet. Saxophonist Menza is high on the list of first call players, regardless of style. This time out, she steps into his own musical spotlight. Vibrato. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 13. (Fri.) The Oak Ridge Boys. Christmas Time’s A Comin’” with the iconic country group presenting their own warm and fuzzy Christmas celebration. Valley Performing Arts Center (818) 677-8800

April Williams

April Williams

- Dec. 15. (Sun.) The Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra and April Williams. “It’s A Big Band Holiday.” Christmas music in a big jazz band setting, with Ron Jones 21 piece big band, featuring holiday classics sung by tuneful April Williams. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

- Dec. 13 & 14. (Fri. & Sat.) Sheila E. Birthday Celebration. Singer/percussionist Sheila Escovedo is a compelling performer who is as musically gripping as she is entertaining. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

Chicago

- Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun.) The Fred Hersch Trio. Pianist Hersch’s playing recalls the engaging aspects of the jazz piano trio style that reaches back to Bill Evans. The Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

 New York City

Fourplay

- Dec. 13 – 15. (Fri. – Sun) Fourplay. With Bob James, keyboards, Chuck Loeb, guitar, Harvey Mason, drums, Nathan East, bass, Fourplay continues to maintain its well-deserved reputation as a world class contemporary jazz ensemble. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

 Copenhagen

- Dec. 15. (Sun.) Love & Peace. The Music of Horace Parlan. Bop piano stylist Parlan has had medical problems intruding on his playing in recent years. But his music is being keep alive in Copenhagen by the American/Danish ensemble of Bob Rockwell, tenor saxophone and Doug Raney, guitar, from the U.S. and Jesper Lundgaard, bass, Henrik Gunde, piano and Aage Tanggaard, drums, from Denmark. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.

 Tokyo

Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack

- Dec. 14 & 15. (Sat. & Sun.) Roberta Flack. Singer/songwriter Flack may be in her mature years, but she’s still singing with the vitality of a gifted young artist. Hopefully she’ll include “Killing Me Softly” and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in her program. The Blue Note Tokyo.+81 3-5485-0088.


Picks of the Week: August 12 – 18

August 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

- Aug. 13 & 15. (Tues. & Thurs. Dudamel conducts Verdi’s Requiem. The Los Angeles Philharmonic players, under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, apply their superb versatility to Verdi’s magnificent work. Hollywood Bowl,. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 13. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar night. It’s been a virtual Southland jazz institution for decades. And now John Pisano’s Guitar Night moves to a new location. But the quality of music, as always, will be great. Cody’s Viva Cantina in Burbank.  (818) 845-2425.

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

- Aug. 14. (Wed.) An Evening With Natalie Cole. Nat “King” Cole’s daughter is a major talent in her own right, applying the gifts of her legacy to a far-reaching musical repertoire. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 14 & 15. (Wed. & Thurs.) Bill Cunliffe Big Band. Something intriguing happens whenever pianist/composer/arranger Cunliffe writes for his big band. This time, the performance will be a live recording session at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905

- Aug. 15. (Thurs.) Cat, Sip and Chiodini. They’re back. Singer Cat Connor, saxophonist/clarinetist Gene “Cip” Cipriano and guitarist John Chiodini have found another location for their always-engaging evenings of vocal and instrumental jazz pleasures. Spoonful Restaurant,  (323) 512-4800.

John Daversa

John Daversa

- Aug. 16. (Fri.) John Daversa Big Band. Trumpeter Daversa is also a gifted composer, writing some of the most compelling big band charts on the contemporary music scene. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Aug. 16 & 17. (Fri. & Sat.) Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks. It’s one of the major summer highlights at the Bowl, with the L.A. Phil performing everything from Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italiene to the 1812 Overture. Robert Moody conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic with brass and drum corps. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 17. (Sat.) MUSE/IQUE. Always performing in adventurous fashion, Muse/Ique wraps “Summer of Sound” 2013 with “Lose Your Senses,” featuring Ellis Hall, Tower of Power’s lead singer and keyboardist. Expect to hear music embracing Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and even Bach, Beethoven and Vivaldi. Caltech’s Beckman Mall.  (626) 395-4652.

Jazz in the Pines

- Aug. 17 & 18. (Sat. & Sun.).  Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines.  The 20th anniversary of a jazz festival that balances great music programs with an appealing summer weekend in the mountains.  The highlights of this year include: On Saturday: Diane Schuur, Harvey Mason, John Daversa, Janis Mann, Denise Donatelli, Tim Weissberg, Clayton Cameron’s Clifford Brown-Max Roach Project, and more.  On Sunday: Izzy Chait, Amina Figarova, the Euphoria Brass Band, Mark Winkler, and a lot more here, too.  Don’t miss this one.   Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines.

Patti Labelle

Patti Labelle

- Aug. 18. (Sun.) Patti Labelle. Grammy Hall of Famer Labelle has been a prominent pop music figure since the ’60s, and she’s still going strong. Cerritons Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

- Aug. 18. (Sun.) Robert Davi. No one does the Sinatra with the sort of musical and lyrical authenticity that Davi brings to every performance of his tributes to Ol’ Blue Eyes. Vibrato.  (310) 474.9400

San Francisco

- Aug. 15 & 16. (Thurs. & Fri.) Eliane Elias. She’s always been a superb jazz pianist. And over the past few years she’s emerged as an eminently listenable jazz singer, as well. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655.5600.

New York City

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Aug. 15 – 18. (Thurs, – Sun.) Dr. Lonnie Smith. One of the definitive jazz organists, Smith has assembled a talented array of young jazz players for his ”In the Beginning Octet.” The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

Washington D.C.

- Aug. 16 – 18., (Fri.- Sun,) The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet & Richie Cole. The lush vocal harmonies and articulate vocalese of the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet are the perfect blend for the equally exploratory alto saxophone of Richie Cole. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

Berlin

- Aug. 15 & 16. (Thurs. & Fri.,) Joao Bosco. Guitarist/composer Bosco’s playing has been described – with good cause – as among the most auspicious in Brazilian music.” A-Trane.  030 / 313 25 50.

Tokyo

- Aug. 16 – 18, (Fri., – Sun.) Terence Blanchard. Trumpeter Blanchard spends part of his busy schedule as Artistic Director of the Monk Institute and the Henry Mancini Institute. But he’s one of his generation’s major players of his instrument, and should be heard at every opportunity. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music Theatre: John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary” at Disney Hall

March 10, 2013

A Musical Tidal Wave of Surprises!  

By Norton Wright

New Yorker Magazine’s jazz critic Whitney Balliett in 1959 shorthanded a definition of jazz as “the sound of surprise.”  So today, when so very little in the arts genuinely surprises, the shock and awe generated by contemporary composer John Adams and director/librettist Peter Sellars is the real deal. They truly have “jazz hearts” as their The Gospel According to the Other Mary proves.

In their 2-hour oratorio, performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall Friday night by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and a singer-dancer cast of nine, Adams and Sellars have created a musical show rife with conflict, death, injustice, labor strife, faith, doubt, romance — and miracles. Yes, it’s the account of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.  But the action is set in the contemporary slums of Los Angeles and the story is told from the viewpoint of Mary Magdalene, a young woman chafing at the cruelty and injustice of the skid-row life in which she and so many others live.

Given that the giant musical mosaic that Adams has composed (Johnny Richards’ jazz orchestra of yesteryear comes to mind as do the Lydian chromatic tonalities of George Russell), you might easily be swept away from the story by Adams’ pulsing melodic lines, modal harmonies, jazzy tempos and syncopations.  As well as the exotic instrumental orchestrations (including cimbalom, almglocken, gongs, chimes, bass guitar, three thundering percussionists, three featured singers, a trio of powerhouse countertenors singing in the high stratosphere, with brass, woodwind, and string sections delivering a chromatic spectrum from the muscular to the ethereal). So to clarify and balance the story and the musical score, the singers’ libretti were projected like sub-titles onto a screen above the stage to help the audience track the fast and free-wheeling plotline.

Spoiler Warning per the upcoming story synopsis:

The major story beats unfolded as follows –

1) Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha run a sanctuary for homeless women in a Los Angeles slum. A young man, Jesus, comes to live with them and help with the center.

2) Mary realizes Jesus is of a spiritual origin and though she comes to care for him deeply, she struggles with faith and the act of praying.

3) Mary and Martha are overcome with grief when their brother, Lazarus, dies… Compassionate Jesus miraculously brings Lazarus back to life, and the grateful Mary realizes that she has fallen passionately in love with Jesus.

4) In his resurrection of the dead Lazarus, Jesus signals that he is anticipating his own death and resurrection.

5) The police arrest Jesus in Mary and Martha’s homeless center.

6) Mary, Martha, and women friends protest Jesus’ arrest and are themselves brutalized by the police.

7) As Jesus is arraigned before Pilate, another protest by empowered women in California is unfolding. Praying for survival, Dolores Huerte and Cesar Chavez overcome crushing police brutality in a reminder of their 1996 “people’s march” to Sacramento to establish The United Farm Workers Union.

8) Jesus is crucified and buried. Mary mourns — and prays — for him.

9) Mary returns to the garden where Jesus has been buried and is stunned to discover that his body is not there and that he has risen from the dead.  Jesus, disguised as a gardener tending the grounds, comes to Mary and in a sudden and touching moment of recognition, she realizes that Jesus is alive both spiritually and in her heart.

* * * * * * * * * *

John Adams

John Adams

The recounting of Jesus’ passion (suffering) has always made for compelling drama, but in their Gospel of the Other Mary, Adams and Sellars create eye-opening and ear-opening surprises as they contemporize the tale into a heartrending love story of a firebrand young  woman and her man of mystery.

Casting the lovely, young mezzo-soprano Kelly O’Connor as “Mary,” the soulful Tamara Mumford as “Martha,” and the imposing tenor, Russell Thomas, as “Lazarus” is a coup.  As “Narrators,” the countertenor trio of Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Nathan Medley sing with high head tones and otherworldly sonorities worth the price of admission.  Dancers Michael Schumacher, Anani Sanouvi and Troy Ogilvie are strong and inventive, and Sanouvi’s take on Lazarus coming back to life is marked by his breathtaking martial-arts choreography. Life is tough, but returning to it even tougher.

As always, the Los Angeles Philharmonic amazed in its ability to master the most complex of John Adams’ scores, the 50-person Los Angeles Master Chorale (all dressed in raggle-taggle skid-row-like clothes) was equally at home both singing and physically acting out the show’s riot scenes.  And in the Friday night performance, Chorale director Grant Gershon was faultless in replacing conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who had just been called to Caracas to conduct at the memorial service for president Hugo Chavez.

The Gospel of the Other Mary is now headed for performances in Europe and NYC.  But the next time it is performed in L.A., whether you are a jazzhead or a classicist, don’t miss it. It is truly “the sound of surprise.”

To read more posts by and about artist/writer Norton Wright, click HERE.


Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

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

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry


Picks of the Week: October 9 – 14

October 10, 2012

BY DON HECKMAN

Los Angeles

Dr. John

Oct. 11. (Thurs.)  Dr. John, the Lower 911 and the Blind Boys of Alabama“Spirituals To Funk.”  The title is right on target, with Dr. John’s inimitable, funk-driven, Crescent city swing and the gripping spirituals of the Blind Boys.  Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

- Oct. 11. (Thurs.)  Frank Petrilli.  The jazz accordion is alive and well in the talented hands of Frank Petrilli.  He’s backed by the equally skilled John Chiodini, guitar, Pat Senatore, bass and Enzo Tedesco, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Oct. 11 – 14. (Thurs. – Sun.).  “Where the Wild Things Are.”  Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a mixed media performance of Oliver Knussen’s one act opera based on the famous children’s book by Maurice Sendak.  Also on the program: Ravel’s charming Mother Goose.   Walt Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

Bajofondo

Oct. 12. (Fri.)  Bajofondo.  Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla leads an eight person collective of musicians from Argentina and Uruguay in a program of innovative Latin music ranging from tango and electronica to contemporary and alternative sounds.  A CAP UCLA  concert at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

Oct. 12. (Fri.)  Marilyn Crispell and Myra Melford.  Pianist/composer Crispell performs a solo/duo set, followed by pianist Melford and Snowy Egret, her six person music and dance ensemble.  At REDCAT as part of the ANGEL CITY JAZZ FESTIVAL.    (213) 237-2800.

Oct. 12. (Fri.) Smoky Joe’s Cafe.  The immensely popular, Tony-nominated musical features a program of memorable songs by Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501. /production.aspx?productionSeasonId=4128

Denise Donatellil

Oct. 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.)  Denise Donatelli.  The gifted, Grammy nominated Ms. Donatelli is backed by music director/pianist Geoffrey Keezer and his quintet in a release party for her new CD, Soul Shadows.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Oct. 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.)  Chris Minh Doky and the Nomads.  Danish/Vietnamese bassist Doky leads a hard driving, jazz fusion band featuring Dave Weckl, drums, Dean Brown, guitar and George Whitty, keyboards. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Oct. 13. (Sat.) Bill Frisell & Bill Morrison.  “The Great Flood.”  A creative collaboration between the music of guitarist/composer Frisell and Morrison’s film based on the 1927 Mississippi River flood.  A CAP UCLA/Angel City Jazz Festival concert at  Royce Hall.

Oct. 14. (Sun.)   An Evening with Vijay Iyer: Trio, Quartet and Sextet.  The much praised keyboardist leads several different group formats featuring saxophonist Steve ColemanA CAP UCLA/Angel City Jazz Festival concert at Royce Hall.

San Francisco

- Oct. 10. (Wed.)  “Monk’s Birthday.”  With Barry Harris, Jacky Terrasson and Alfredo Rodriguez. Three cross-generational jazz pianists celebrate the 95th anniversary of the birth of the incomparable Thelonious Monk.   An SFJAZZ concert at the Herbst Theatre.  .

New York

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

- Oct. 10 – 14. (Wed. – Sun.)  “GRP 30th.”  Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, a pair of long time musical companions, get together for the 30th anniversary of GRP Records, the company founded by Grusin and Larry Rosen.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

- Oct. 13 & 14. (Sat. & Sun.)  The SFJAZZ Collective Plays Chick Corea.  The stellar members of the SFJAZZ Collective perform the far-reaching, ever-fascinating music of Chick Corea.  SFJAZZ Collective is David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon, Avishai Cohen, Stefon Harris, Robin Eubanks, Edward Simon, Matt Penman and Jeff BallardJazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

London

- Oct. 11 & 13. (Thurs. & Fri.) Soulive.  Carrying the torch for the jazz organ trio format, the trio of Soulive – Eric Crasno, guitar, Neal Evans, keyboards and Alan Evans, drums, continue to keep the jazz groove alive.  Ronnie Scott’s.    (0)20 7439 0747.

Tokyo

John Scofield

- Oct. 10 – 13. (Wed. – Sat.)  The John Scofield Trio.  Guitarist Scofield, always in search of challenging playing environments, performs with a pair of great, veteran players – bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill StewartBlue Note Tokyo.  03.5485.0088.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 2 – 7

October 1, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Emmylou Haris

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

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

Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler

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

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

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

Marcus Miller

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

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

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

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

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

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

Bob Mintzer

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

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

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

San Francisco

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

Chicago

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

New York

Jim Hall

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

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

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

London

Hiromi

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

Paris

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

Berlin

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

Milan

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

Copenhagen

Gretchen Parlato

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

Tokyo

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


Live Music: “The Philharmonic Dances” — The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Opening Night Concert and Gala

September 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

Gustavo Dudamel

The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel opened the new season at Walt Disney Hall Thursday night with a smartly conceived and beautifully performed program titled The Philharmonic Dances.  Opening nights at Disney have become stellar events over the past few years – musically and socially.  And this one was no exception.

There was the usual fund raising gala, of course, an important destination for L.A.’s social and entertainment elite, with plenty of familiar (and not so familiar, depending upon one’s orientation) celebrities strolling across a red carpet strategically positioned at the Grand Ave. entrance for convenient media access.

But the most intriguing aspect of the night was what took place on the Disney stage.  From the audience perspective, it was a rarely seen Disney Hall vista.  The orchestra was spread out in all its instrumental glory, the players occupying all the far-reaching space that had been designed, specifically, for them.  The broad riser behind them, however, showcased several selections by dancers.  Their presence, closely viewable from every seat, high or low, made for a remarkable music and dance tableau.

The opening work – The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)–  was a gripping, musical visualization by composer John Adams — inspired by his opera, Nixon in China—in which he imagines Chairman Mao dancing with his mistress, Chiang Ch’ing.  Newly commissioned (by the L.A. Philharmonic) choreography by Barak Marshall, rigorously executed by the ten dancers of BODYTRAFFIC, had an appropriately collective quality.

Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle

Selections by Stravinsky (Variation d’Apollon) and Saint-Saens (The Dying Swan) followed, the former danced by soloist Roberto Bolle, the latter by Veronika Part.  Both dancers then joined together for selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Whether dancing as soloists or together, Bolle and Part were exquisite interpreters as well as masters of their craft, especially in the Swan Lake Pas de deux, with choreography modeled on the classic interpretation by Marius Petipa..  The Philharmonic, guided by Gustavo Dudamel, provided a setting as intimate as it was embracing.

The climactic selection from Leonard Bernstein – “Three Dance Episodes” from On the Town – started as a tour de force for Dudamel and the Philharmonic, shimmering with urban rhythms and an undercurrent of jazz accents.  Josh Rhodes’ choreography (commissioned by the L.A, Phil.)  featured four dancers – Sam Cahn, Marty Lawson, Andy Millis and Christopher Vo – garbed in sailor’s outfits.  Their high energy, often acrobatic routines clearly recalled the similar sailors’ dancing from the original On the Town production.

An impressive evening of music and dance.  Most of the headlines and photos emphasize the celebrity presence at the opening night gala.  But the real pleasures of the evening traced to the utterly superb, creatively empathic efforts of Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a stageful of gifted dancers (along with a little help from Adams, Stravinsky, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein).

All of which bodes well for the 2012-13 season at Disney Hall.

Gustavo Dudamel photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Picks of the Week: Sept. 25 – 30

September 25, 2012

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

John Pisano

- Sept. 25. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  It’s an all-star congregation, with John Pisano celebrating the 15th anniversary of his always-entertaining Guitar Nights. Expect to see and hear a stage full of the Southland’s finest 6-stringers.  Lucy’s 51.    (818) 763-5200.

- Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  The Los Angeles PhilharmonicThe Philharmonic DancesOpening Night Concert and Gala.  The 2012-2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic season opens with a spectacular evening celebrating the long creative alliance between orchestral music and dance.  Gustavao Dudamel conducts the Philharmonic Disney Hall in a program reaching Saint-Saens and Stravinsky to Adams and Bernstein, with dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, from Broadway, and from BODYTRAFFIC.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Cirque Chinois.  If you were impressed by Cirque du Soleil, you’ll be at least that delighted – and probably more — by China’s Cirque Chinois, a gifted assemblage of acrobats, jugglers and contortionists who have been influencing circuses in the West for decades The Valley Performing Arts Center.

Cirque Chinois

- Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Andrea Marcelli Quartet. Italian drummer/composer Marcelli impressive track record includes working with Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer and more.  And his compositions can be heard on nearly 200 CDs.  This time out, he’s working with bassist Pat Senatore, pianist Mitchell Forman, and saxophonist Bob Sheppard.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Sascha’s Bloc Band.  The richly entertaining, mostly Russian,  Bloc Band moves easily through funk, jazz, blues and r&b with an impressive degree of jazz authenticity. How good are they? Click HERE to read a recent review of a Bloc Band performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Sept. 28. (Fri.)  Miles Davis House @ Dim Mak Studios.  A celebration of the life and music of Miles Davis on the 21st anniversary of his passing.  The event — described in its announcement as “a genre-bending odyssey, the ultimate jam session — is hosted by Davis son, Erin Davis, and his nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr.  Performers include Alexandra & the Starlight Band, David & Devine, Gabriel Johnson and Steven Roth.  There will also be DJ sets by Clifton Weaver AKA Soft Touch and Miles Tackett, and a Miles Davis shop with T-shirts, giveaways, etc.  Dim Mak Studios.  8 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.  1643 Cosmo St., Hollywood.

Bebel Gilberto

- Sept. 28. (Fri.)  Bebel Gilberto.  The singer/songwriter daughter of the iconic Joao Gilberto, Bebel has created, in her own right, a starry career in Brazil as well as the rest of the world.  She’ll perform some numbers with special guests “Forro in the Dark.”  A CAP UCLA program at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

- Sept. 28 & 29.  Fri. & Sat.  Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble.  Armenian born pianist/composer Ovsepian displays his far-reaching creative versatility with his Chamber ensemble.  The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

- Sept. 28 – 30. (Fri. – Sun.)  Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Gustav Dudamel showcases his first performance of Stravisky’s Rite of Spring with the Philharmonic.  Also on the program: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunt and the world premiere of Steven Stuckey’s Symphony Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Bill Cunliffe

- Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Bill Cunliffe Big Band.  Pianist/composer/leader Cunliffe takes a break from his numerous small group outings to spotlight his versatile big band writing, performed by an aggregation of Southland first-call players. Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Sept. 30. (Sun.) Wilco.  Grammy Award-winning alternative rock band Wilco close the summer season with their first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.  They’ll be joined by singer/songwriter/harpist Joanna NewsomHollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

San Diego

- Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Nikhil Korula Band.  Jazz, rock and reggae are on the bill whenever Nikhil Korula and his musically adventurous six piece band step on stage.  Expect to hear some of Korula’s new compositions from his latest CD, Music of the New DayLongboard’s Grill.   (858) 270-4030.

San Francisco

Paula West

- Sept. 26 & 27. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Paula West.  The remarkable blend of rhythmic swing and emotionally touching phrasing, expressed via her warm honey voice, make West one of the finest individualist in today’s crowded category of female jazz singers.  Don’t miss a chance to hear her live.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 615-5600.

New York

- Sept. 25 – 30. (Tues. – Sun.) Gerald Clayton  Sextet.  Pianist/composer Clayton is completely familiar to Los Angeles jazz fans, who have experienced his remarkable creative growth since he was a teen-ager.  Now a new star, nationally and beyond, he performs an almost week-long with a four-horn sextet.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2561.

Toots Thielemans

- Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Toots Thielemans: Celebrating 90 Years.  He’s the definitive jazz harmonica player, a fine guitarist and an amazing whistler.  And Thielemans has been entertaining and exciting jazz audiences with versatility for decades.  And still at it.  The performance also includes Eliane Elias, Dori Caymmi, Kenny Werner, Oscar Castro-Neves and more.  The Rose Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center.  (212) 258-9800.

London

- Sept. 28 & 29. (Fri. & Sat.)  Ian Shaw with the Phil Ware Trio.  Arguably one of the U.K.’s finest male jazz singers, Shaw’s eclectic musical view embraces everything from the Great Standards to Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell and Burt Bacharach.  Ronnie Scott’s

Milan

- Sept. 27 – 29.  (Thurs – Sat.)  Sarah Jane Morris.  English-born singer/songwriter moves easily from pop, jazz and rock to r&b, doing it all with convincing authenticity.  Blue Note Milan.   02.690 16888.

Tokyo

Rickie Lee Jones

- Sept. 27 – 28. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Rickie Lee Jones. Singer and songwriter of styles beyond definition, Jones – approaching 60 – may not have the visibility she once did, but she nevertheless continues to be one of pop music’s most intriguing performers. Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.


Live Latin Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl: The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra and Ruben Blades

August 17, 2012

By Devon Wendell

To many, it would seem to make perfect sense to have Latin jazz pioneer Eddie Palmieri and Latin pop music, movie star, and political activist Ruben Blades both on the same bill, but it proved to be an odd mish mash at The Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night.

This was mainly due to both the extreme opposites in the energy generated by both performers and the unequal amount of time allotted to both acts.

Opening the night’s program was Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra. Although their set was tragically too short, Palmieri and his band put on an amazingly energetic and stellar performance – one that would prove to be a hard act to follow.

Eddie Palmieri

Palmieri and company kicked off their set with “La Libertad Logica,” which had a more complex rhythm arrangement than the original 1971 version from the album Vamonos Pal Monte.  Palmieri began by playing an elegant piano solo, followed by a tornado of percussion and marvelously structured horn hooks.

Lead vocalist Herman Olivera joined the band once the groove was established.  Olivera proved to be one of the most powerful vocalists in Latin jazz today from the first verse of this Palmieri classic. Palmieri came in unexpectedly with a few of his signature cluster of chords, adding even more colorful layers to the composition.

On “Lindo Yomba”, Palmieri played more of a subordinate role as far as his piano playing goes, but his skills as a band leader shined throughout this piece. The interplay between the percussionists (Jose Clauselle: timbales, Little Johnny Rivero: congas, Joseph Gonzalez: maracas, and Orlando Vega on bongos) was flawless and hypnotic.  Olivera shared vocals with tres guitarist Nelson Gonzalez. Gonzalez soon followed with a tres solo that danced around the groove locked in by Palmieri’s piano comping and the pulsating bass line delivered by Luques Curtis.

The band’s rendition of “Pa La Ocha Tambo” rivaled the excitement of the version featured on Eddie Palmieri With  Harlem River Drive Recorded Live At Sing Sing from 1971.  This was the highlight of the entire evening.  Palmieri played one of his distinct solos filled with space, percussive surprise twists, and dynamics (ala Thelonious Monk), which lit a fire under the already charged up band. As soon as his soloing was finished, the percussionists played more aggressively and trombonist Jimmy Bosch’s fluid yet delightfully syncopated solo felt like an inspired response to what Palmieri had played. This was a conversation amongst true musicians, the kind that could only take place between jazz players – despite their cultural background.

Palmieri and his orchestra didn’t let the mood cool down, performing the classic “La Malanga.” As Olivera, Nelson Gonzalez and Joseph Gonzalez sang the chorus in unison, Palmieri played the melody line. And the percussionists and horn section wove separate counter melodies on top of Palmieri’s, creating wonderful polyrhythms.

The set closed with a new reading of one of Palmieri’s greatest masterpieces; “Azucar Pa Ti” (which was inducted into the National Recording Registry of The Library Of congress in 2009), in which Palmieri and his Orchestra displayed their unique sense of harmonic layering between the piano, horns and vocalists. This version was sophisticated in its orchestration yet loose and funky at the same time. In a moment of sheer bliss, Palmieri, ran from the piano to the timbales and played them with the same focused imagination and skilled genius of his piano style.  Each member of the horn section swapped solos. Trumpeter Brian Lynch’s Dizzy Gillespie inspired bop- chops gelled beautifully with the salsa rhythms.

Unfortunately, however, just as the band was reaching its peak, it was time for them to stop. And it was truly painful watching Palmieri and the band exit the stage so early.

After a brief intermission, Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel introduced Latin music super star Ruben Blades. Blades was backed by Roberto Delgado and His Orchestra.

Though politically charged in his lyrics, Blades set felt stale and lackluster. The fire had been lit by the virtuosity of Palmieri and his Orchestra, but Blades’ usually charismatic stage presence seemed missing, and he unfortunately let that fire die quickly.

Ruben Blades

Blades performed many of his most popular songs — “Plastico,” “Calles,” Decisiones” and “Caina” among them. The band was tight and featured a strong horn section (Juan Carlos Lopez: trumpet, Francisco Antonio Delveccio: trombone, Idigoras Bethancourt: trombone, and Avenicio Nunez on trombone ).  But between Blades’ surprisingly monotone vocals and material that fell back on ‘80s pop synthesizer clichés (performed by keyboardist Luis Enrique Beccerra), the set mostly fell flat and lasted too long.

The few interesting and soulful moments of the set were provided by “Ojos De Perro Azul,”  (which was a soulful Salsa homage to the short stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez), “Todos Vuelven” (which featured a slick Afro-Cuban horn arrangement), and Blades’ hit rendition of  Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s standard “Mack The Knife.” But even on these numbers, Blades seemed tired and detached from the material.

Blades’ energy did start to gain some momentum towards the end of his program, especially on “Muevette,” with Blades beginning by singing the first verse of Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long,” with which this piece shared some melodic similarities. The chorus was catchy and fun. Drummer Ademir Antonio Berrocal’s r&b flavored style fit the song perfectly.

The show closed with “Patria” (Fatherland), Blades’ loving anthem to his homeland of Panama – a theme that is widely considered to be a second national anthem. This was the most emotionally charged performance of the set, with Blades looking teary eyed as he sang each verse.

Eddie Palmieri and Ruben Blades are stars in the world of Latin jazz. Both artists combine salsa, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and r&b.  But at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night, Palmieri proved to be the more creatively innovative and musically exciting performer (without any of the pop music trappings) of the two.  He clearly deserved much more stage time than he was given.

Eddie Palmieri photo by Juan Cruz.
To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Live Opera in Concert: Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl

August 14, 2012

By Jane Rosenberg

A tranquil Sunday summer night in the cradle of the Hollywood Bowl could hardly have been more antithetical to the musical selection of the evening: a concert performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto – a grand tragedy of a father’s failure to protect his innocent daughter from rape and ultimate death.

Giuseppi Verdi

Among the most beautiful of Verdi operas, replete with impassioned melodies, tender duets, and memorable tunes, Rigoletto is not only musically stunning but also Shakespearean in scope.  To be sure, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, captured the magnificence of the score; and though much of the singing was satisfying, the dramatic necessity of this most heartrending of all operas was lost in the staging.

As in most concert versions of operas, the soloists shared the stage with the orchestra and chorus. Positioned apart, squarely facing the audience at all times, the main principals, Zeljko Lucic as Rigoletto, David Lomeli as the Duke, and Irina Lungu as Gilda, along with the rest of the cast, sang enthusiastically but without much in the way of human interaction.  An occasional glance at one another was the extent of their contact. And though one could argue that the drama is sustainable by the vivid music alone; opera, after all, is more than music – it’s an all involving, all encompassing experience, bringing together music, drama, visual art, even, at times, dance.

Zeljko Lucic

Of the singers, Lucic, alone, sang with the conviction of his character, persuading us, both musically and dramatically, of his vengefulness on the one hand and his tender love for his daughter on the other.  His rich and pliant baritone, combined with his experience performing the title role of the hunchbacked jester at the world’s leading opera houses, offered the audience a glimpse into the depths of Rigoletto’s character – a character of near mythic quality, first penned by Victor Hugo in Le Roi S’Amuse and then reimagined in the Verdi opera.

David Lomeli, whose bright and graceful tenor rang out as the Duke of Mantua, pleased the ear, but nowhere was there dramatic evidence of his duplicitous character as the amoral Duke.  Irony is in abundance in Verdi’s and the librettist, Piave’s, masterpiece.  When the Duke sings in the final act “La donna e mobile: Qual piume al vento.” (Women are frequently fickle: he who trusts them is mad), there is a frightening undercurrent: the Duke is singing, not about women, but about his own detestable behavior – compromising innocent daughters for his own pleasure, leading inevitably to tragedy.  Standing alone, this aria seems lighthearted; however within the context of the opera, it should convey layers of meaning.

As Gilda, the Russian soprano, Irina Lungu, was off to a thin and tepid start, but her voice gained in expressiveness as the evening wore on.  Unfortunately, her performance suffered from a lack of dramatic conviction: no display of a daughter’s deep devotion, no rapturous love for her seducer in evidence.

Gustavo Dudamel

Drama, however, exuded from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the orchestra, and its conductor.  None of the performers, with the exception of Lucic, matched the intensity of Dudamel’s conducting, whose face and gestures were more expressive than the soloists.  From the first haunting chords of the opera to its tragic end, the orchestra played as a potently convincing whole.  The Master Chorale, seated behind them at the back of the stage, provided a wall of glorious sound; and Dudamel achieved a satisfying balance of soloists, chorus, and instrumentalists.  In the atmospheric storm music of Act Three, Verdi simulates the sound of the rising wind by the humming of off-stage voices.  One of the thrills of the evening was to hear the men of the Master Chorale, onstage, embody the wind as it traveled the length and breadth of the chorus, rising and falling with eerie precision.

In the role of the tragic Count Monterone, whose curse sets the entire opera in motion, Ryan McKinny displayed an elegant, if too understated, bass-baritone.  In the role of Sparafucile the innkeeper/assassin, Alexander Tsymbalyuk offered a lustrous bass, and as his sister Maddalena, Nancy Fabiola Herrera, with her earthy mezzo-soprano, had presence but was difficult to hear in the iconic final act quartet.

With his commitment to opera in full swing, from Mozart to Bizet to Puccini, and now Verdi, Dudamel has enriched the operatic life of the city, already blessed with the Los Angeles Opera.  Whether we sit in the sonorous Disney Hall and listen to the LA Phil’s upcoming Le Nozze di Figaro in 2013, or picnic at the Hollywood Bowl to the strains of Rigoletto, how lucky we are as Los Angelenos to share a Summer night under the stars and a glass of wine with friends, while listening to the ravishing music of Verdi.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for ChildrenJane is also the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.

To read more iRoM reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


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