Live Jazz: Sara Gazarek at Vitello’s

August 19, 2012

By Don Heckman

Sara Gazarek’s performance at Vitello’s Saturday night called up recollections of the first time I heard her in action.  That was six years ago at The Vic in Santa Monica.  In my Los Angeles Times review I wrote that “she may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer.”

That quote has been reprinted many times since 2006, almost always in  misleading fashion as “the next important jazz singer” — without my qualifying phrase “she may well turn out to be…”  Which is probably just as well, since Gazarek still hasn’t reached that exalted level of accomplishment.

Sara Gazarek

Some of her show at Vitello’s repeated material from Gazarek’s appearance at The Vic – most notably a deeply swinging “You Are My Sunshine,” and a medley of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” with the ‘20s standard ‘Bye Bye Blackbird.”  Once again, both songs benefited from the side by side musical positioning.

Gazarek has said that she is more intrigued by the interpretation of lyrics than she is by melodic paraphrase.  And that overview was ever present in a two set performance reaching from such familiar standards as “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “So Lucky To Be Me” and “Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You” – to Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and originals by Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson.

Every number – slow, fast, medium – was delivered by Gazarek with dynamic enthusiasm.  Rarely standing still, her lithe movements were sometimes directly responsive to the words she was singing, sometimes grooving with instrumental solos, and always an expression of her close relationship to a song.

Among the standout numbers: an intense rendering of the Gershwins’ “My Man’s Gone Now”; a quirky, unexpected but entertaining tribute to the legendary Sophie Tucker in “Some of These Days”; “O Pato,”  the obligatory boss nova (sung in Portuguese); and a pair of songs – including “And So It Goes” – sung with the sole accompaniment of Nelson’s empathetic piano.

Like several other musically adventurous singers – including Tierney Sutton and Gretchen Parlato – Gazarek’s arrangements often position her vocals in an intimate, almost instrumental-like relationship with the musicians in her ensemble.  And with players such as Nelson, bassist Hamilton Price, drummer Zach Harmon and special guest Larry Goldings on organ, the creative interplay that resulted had much to offer.

Her performance, including tunes from Gazarek’s new CD, Blossom and Bee, suggested that the potential I saw in her 2006 performance continues to grow.  But moving up to the next level will call for her to pay attention to a need for a richer palette of vocal tone and timbre.  When her adventurous lyrical and musical interpretations are enhanced by a more fully expressive sound, the sky may well be the limit for Gazarek’s future possibilities.


Live Music: Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble at Vitello’s

April 2, 2012

By Don Heckman

Once upon a time there was something called Third Stream.  No one agreed on exactly what it was, but almost everyone had an opinion about it.  The most common consensus was that Third Stream was a new kind of music, one that combined elements of jazz and classical music.  Two streams blending in a Third Stream.  Get it?’

But most of the time the blending seemed to go awry.  A big, thick-textured classical segment would slowly be superseded by a walking jazz bass.  Improvisation would break out for a while, and then more classical textures returned. Two Streams flowing along, sometimes intermingling, more often not.  Maybe that’s why Third Stream faded into the distant horizon, one of the obscure byways in the obscure histories of both the other Streams.

Why all this looking back?  Because of the performance by pianist/composer Bill Childs’ Jazz-Chamber Ensemble at Vitello’s Saturday night.  The very name of the ensemble suggests a possible connection with Third Stream.  But only in name alone.  Because Childs’ works represented one of the rare examples of what Third Stream might have been, maybe should have been.  And even that association doesn’t accurately describe the extraordinary qualities of music that accepts no fixed definitions, no limitations of genre — music that was expressive only of the far reaching imaginations of the composer and the players.

Billy Childs

In addition to the impressive program of Childs’ works, that task was accomplished superbly by the Jazz-Chamber Ensemble players – guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist/flutist Bob Sheppard, harpist Carol Robbins, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Steve Hass, with the additional aid of the Calder String Quartet.

Most of the music traced to a pair of recent Childs albums, Jazz- Chamber Music, Vol. 1. Lyric and Autumn: In Moving Pictures Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 2 , each of which contained a Grammy-winning composition.  Opening with a unique recasting of Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby” (featuring rich, articulate soloing from harpist Robbins), the program proceeded to include such idiosyncratically titled Childs compositions as “Man Chasing the Horizon,” “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “Hope, in the Face of Despair” as well as a work commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival and another unique arrangement, this time of the traditional English ballad, “Scarborough Faire.”

Words fail in an effort to describe the complexities and the subtleties of Childs’ musical imagination, which is far-reaching.  But several aspects in this performance should be mentioned.  The first harkens back to my original comment about Third Stream music.  Child’s works did not simply place genres side by side.  Instead, they found a common creative ground reminiscent of Rumi’s “community of the spirit.”

Similarly, Childs also chose his own way of dealing with elements from both genres.  His approach to unusual meters, for example, always followed the path of rich musicality.  Instead of pounding out a repeated 7/4, 9/4 or whatever, his metric shifts were organic, never arbitrary, flowing and shifting through a piece as part of its inner tapestry.  The propulsion of Price and Hass, brilliantly linking rhythmic foundations with rhythmic movement, was essential to that process.

Add, as well, the visual and emotional components that were inherent to Childs’ musical conceptualizing.  If any label applies to much of his music, it’s one that he himself favors – contemporary impressionism, a view that is often underscored by the titles he chooses for his works, as well as by their atmospheric visual imagery.

Equally important, there was the interfacing between improvisation and through-composed sections.  With superb improvisers such as Koonse and Sheppard — as well as his own inventive playing — soaring through the composed tonal densities of the Calder Quartet players, Childs succeeded thoroughly in his quest to create music with the capacity to come alive, in a constantly changing form, in every performance.

But don’t call it Third Stream.  Just call it great.

* * * * *

Billy Childs photo by Tony Gieske.


Live Jazz: The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble at Vitello’s

November 7, 2011

By Tony Gieske

Billy Childs comes right out and admits it: He was inspired by Laura Nyro.  He liked her collaboration with Alice Coltrane on Christmas and the Beads of Sweat.

And so he formed the Jazz Chamber Ensemble, which also has at its nucleus, piano, acoustic guitar, and harp. A version of this he brought to Vitello’s Saturday ((Nov. 5))  with salutary results, to paraphrase Walter Pater.

Marvin "Smitty" Smith

Naturally, his familiar guitarist partner Larry Koonse gave Childs as good as he got during this improvisation-laden evening.

And there were a couple of added solo attractions riding the dashing rhythm section  of Hamilton Price, bass, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums.

One was harpist Carol Robbins, who found a groove as down-home as you could ask with no flowery embellishments.  The other was the avant-garde saxophonist Katisse Buckingham, whose tonality bucking duel with Childs on the latter’s extended work in E flat partook of the historic in its last measure-for-measure exchanges.

(Robbins had preceded the Buckingham performance with some fours-trading of her own.)

Childs likes to create tone poems based on physical landscapes. Tonight, however, he worked with a foundation of music alone, which in my opinion is what one ought to do. Hate to have to thank Laura Nyro.

Photos by Tony Gieske.


Picks of the Week: Feb. 8 – 14

February 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Daversa

- Feb. 8. (Tues.)  The John Daversa Progressive Big Band. Trumpeter/composer/arranger  Daversa takes the big band instrumentation into fascinating new musical areas.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 8. (Tues.)  Lianne Carroll.   BBC Jazz Award winner Carroll, who accompanies her vibrant vocals with equally dynamic piano playing, makes her North American debut. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The Clare Fischer Voices and Latin Jazz Group. A fascinating blend of vocal and instrumental jazz from Clare Fischer’s prolific musical imagination.  Brent Fischer directs the ensemble.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 9. (Wed.)  The John Altman Quartet.  Busy alto saxophonist Altman takes a break from his composing, arranging and producing for laid back jazz jam with Mike Lang, piano, Frank De Vito, drums, Putter Smith, bass.  Charlie O’s.

Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg

- Feb. 9. (Wed.)  Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with the New Century Chamber Orchestra. Now the conductor of the NCCO, violinist Salerno-Sonneberg joins with the ensemble in a diverse program of Bartok, Piazolla and Tchaikovsky.  The Broad Stage.   (310) 434-3200.

- Feb. 9 & 10. (Wed. & Thurs.) Oz Noy.  Israeli-born guitarist Noy leads a jazz/rock/fusion trio with Dave Weckl on drums and Darryl Jones (of the Rolling Stones) on bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Kodo.  The entertaining Japanese percussion collective bring their colorful collection of instruments and irresistible rhythms to Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Lorraine Feather

- Feb. 10. (Thurs.)  Lorraine Feather.  Singer/songwriter Feather writes songs in which jazz is the root and poetry the blossom.  There’s no one quite like her, and she should be heard at every opportunity.  Backing her: Russell Ferrante, piano and Mike Valerio, bass.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 10 & 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Natalie Cole. She’s a beyond definition artist, as comfortable with jazz as she is with the blues and classic pop songs.  No doubt she’ll be unforgettable (and probably sing it, as well) with the Pacific Symphony, conducted by Richard Kaufman. Segerstrom Concert Hall (714) 556-2787.

- Feb. 10 – 13. (Thurs. – Sun.)  and Feb. 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Who’s “Tommy. It’s one of the classics of the sixties, still a compelling work of musical art.  This version is a Chance Theatre Production. Segerstrom Concert Hall Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

- Feb. 11 (Fri.)  Tessa Souter.  Souter’s warm sound and intimate interpretive style are backed in this pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, by the solidly supportive playing of guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Steve Haas.  Musicians Institute. A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.  (310) 271-9039.

Larry Karush

- Feb. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  Larry Karush Solo & Quartet. Pianist/composer Karush, ever in search of new musical horizons, displays his creative adventures in both a solo and an ensemble setting.  The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

- Feb. 11 – 14. (Fri. – Mon.) and Feb. 17 – 20 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Steve Tyrell.  Singer Tyrell’s nouveau-pop style, with its traditional pop echoes, is successfully aimed at finding the life in great American song.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Feb. 12. (Sat.)  Inner Voices“An A Cappella Valentine Show.” The Southland’s masterful a cappella ensemble apply their extraordinary vocal magic to a program of Valentine standards. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Jazz at Lincoln Center OrchestraLeonard Slatkin conducts Gershwin’s An American In Paris, Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.1 and the West Coast premiere of Wynton MarsalisSwing Symphony (commissioned by the LAPA).  Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- Feb. 13. (Sun.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Charmaine Clamor

- Feb. 14. (Mon.)  Charmaine Clamor.  .  Jazz vocalist Clamor is rapidly establishing herself as one of the uniquely creative, rising vocal stars.  The equally incomparable Bubba Jackson hosts.  KJAZZ Valentine’s Day Jazz Dinner The Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hollywood \Hotel.  (562) 985-2999.

San Francisco

Maria Volonte

- Feb. 8. (Tues.) Maria Volonte.  Argentine singer/songwriter/guitarist Volonte’s music is an appealing blend of traditional roots rhythms – tango, candomble, etc. – with the sounds of contemporary jazz, pop and funk.  The Rrazz Room. (415) 394-1189. To read an earlier iRoM review of Volonte click HERE.

- Feb. 8 & 9 (Tues. & Wed.) Kenny Garrett Quartet. Grammy award-winning alto saxophonist Garrett has a resume reaching from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis.  This time out, he offers his envelope-stretching sounds at the front of  his own quintet.  Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

- Feb. 10 – 14. (Thurs. – Mon.)  Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Pete Escovedo and the Escovedo family have been energizing Latin jazz since the ‘60s.  And they’re all still at it.  This time out, the band includes special guests Sheila E. and Peter Michael EscovedoYoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

New York City

Gato Barbieri

- Feb. 10 – 12 (Thurs. – Sun.) Gato Barbieri.  Tenor saxophonist Barbieri’s long, checkered career has reached from the avant-garde years of the ‘60s through his Grammy-winning score for The Last Tango In Paris to more recent smooth jazz outings.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

- Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chris Potter Trio. Tenor saxophonist Potter takes on the familiar Sonny Rollins challenge of performing with only bass and drums as a rhythm team.  His companions: bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

- Feb. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.)  Freddy Cole “Valentine Swing” with Harry Allen.  Cole’s sound and style are clearly, and unabashedly, influenced by his big brother Nat.  But Cole has a way of adapting those qualities to his own engaging musical identity.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (212) 258-9800.

- Feb. 8 – 14. (Tues. – Mon.)  Hilary Kole.  Jazz singer Kole, who usually hosts Birdland’s Sunday Jazz Party, does a full week’s run at the club.  And her rich way with a ballad is the perfect lead-in to Valentine’s Day.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

Denise Donatelli

- Feb. 11 & 14. (Fri. & Mon.). Denise Donatelli.   Grammy-nominated singer Donatelli makes a pair of too-rare Manhattan appearances which will inform New York jazz fans about what Angelenos have known for years — that she is a singer with the sound, the skill and the imagination to be included at the top levels of the jazz vocal art.  Donatelli is backed by the Geoff Keezer arrangements and quartet featured on the Grammy-nominated “When Lights Are Low.”  Fri.: Coca-Cola Circle of Fashion Lounge, Time Warner Center, 6:30 p.m.  Mon.: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 7:30, p.m.  (212) 258-9800.


Picks of the Week: Dec. 7 – 12

December 7, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Neil Sedaka

- Dec. 8. (Tues.)  Neil Sedaka.  Hitmaker Sedaka showcases his memorable catalog of songs in a performance replacing a date cancelled in late October. Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Dec. 8. (Wed.)  Carol Welsman Canadian-born Welsman has the rare ability to surround the supple timbres of her voice with an intimate piano style.  Her versatility reaches from American standards to songs in French, Italian and Portuguese.  With any luck, she’ll offer her intimate version of the lovely Italian song, “Estate.”  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 8. (Wed.)  Emil Richards/Joe Porcaro Quartet.  Featuring Abraham Laboriel, bass and Mike Lang, piano. A quartet of veteran players reveal the broad, generational reach of masterful jazz.  Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- Dec. 8. (Wed.)  The Celtic Tenors Holiday Show. An evening of musical holiday cheer from the soaring voices of the Celtic tenors, embracing classical, Celtic, Americana and pop music.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

Natalie Cole

- Dec. 9. (Thurs.)  Natalie Cole.  The eclectic Cole, who – like her Dad – reaches convincingly across genres from jazz to blues and pop, makes her Disney Hall debut.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Dec. 9. (Thurs.)  Adam Schroeder.  Rising star jazz saxophonist Schroeder hosts a pair of release parties for his new CD, A Handful of Stars.  W. Graham Dechter, guitar, John Clayton, bass, Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.   Also Dec. 10 (Fri.) at the The Culver Club for Jazz at the Radisson L.A. West Side Hotel.   (310) 649-1776 Ext. 4137.

- Dec. 9. (Thurs.)  Eric Reed Trio.  Once a teen-age pianistic jazz prodigy, Reed is now firmly established as mature jazz star.  He performs with Hamilton Price, bass, Kevin Yokota, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Dec. 9. (Thurs.)  Denise Donatelli. The Southland is blessed with an impressive array of gifted jazz vocalists.  Donatelli’s one of the best – here and elsewhere.  To read a recent iRoM performance review click HERE. Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

- Dec. 9 – 11. (Thurs. – Sat.)  The Pacific Symphony with pianist Kirill Gerstein in an evening of memorable classics.  On the program: the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 and Dvorak Symphony #9 (from the New World).  Segerstrom Concert Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center.   (714) 556-2787.

- Dec. 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Mike Stern Quartet.  Guitarist Stern leads an ensemble of guys, all of whom, fly freely across a colorful array of jazz genres.  With Randy Brecker, trumpet, Dennis Chambers, drums and Anthony Jackson, bass.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Dec. 10 – 12. (Fri. – Sun.)  Hilary Hahn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Hahn applies her rich, interprettive style to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducts the LA Phil in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

James Ingram

- Dec. 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Colors of Christmas.  It’s been one of the annual pleasures of Christmas for nearly two decades, with Peabo Bryson, James Ingram, Oleta Adams and Stephanie Mills bringing holiday musical joy to the season.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501.

- Dec. 12. (Sun.)  Red Holloway and Plas Johnson.  Two of the most inimitable jazz tenor saxophonists in the business team up for a holiday jazz celebration.  The irrepressible Bubba Jackson hosts.   KJAZZ Sunday Champagne Brunch.   (323) 491-1000.

- Dec. 12. (Sun.)  Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz.  Grammy-nominated McGarry performs selections from her album, Less Is More, Nothing is Everything, with her husband, guitarist Keith Ganz.  The Royal T. (310) 559-6000.

San Francisco

Charlie Hunter

- Dec. 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Charlie Hunter.  Guitarist Hunter, who sometimes manages to make his diverse guitar playing sound like a one man band, arrives for his eleventh annual December appearance at Yoshi’s Oakland. (510) 238-9200.

- Dec. 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Los Van Van.  The great Cuban band, crossing genres in every stylistic direction, and doing it with vitality and substance, makes a rare San Francisco appearance.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

New York

- Dec. 7. (Tues.)  Theo Bleckmann & Ben Monder Duo.  The unique duo of Bleckmann and Monder trigger musical magic via the blending of voice, live electronics and guitar.  The Cornelia St. Café. (212) 989-9319

- Dec. 7 – 11. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Roy Haynes Quartet.  Ageless, 85 year old drummer Haynes, continues to give seminars in the art of swinging, backed by his Fountain of Youth Quartet.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

- Dec. 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.)  Robert Glasper Trio.  Pianist Glasper is one of the rare young jazz artists who can bring authenticity to the combination of jazz, rock, hip hop and more.   Village Vanguard.   (212) 929-4589.

Manhattan Transfer

- Dec. 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Manhattan Transfer. Vocal music – jazz, pop, blues and beyond – doesn’t get any better than the Transfer. Forty years together and their performances are still utterly mesmerizing.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

- Dec. 9 – 12. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Patricia Barber. Pianist/singer Barber is one of a kind, opening new vistas in every song she sings.  Hopefully she’ll play an advance tune or two from her upcoming album, The Storyteller, due out in 2011.   Jazz Standard (212) 576-2232.


Live Jazz: The Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble at Vitello’s

November 23, 2010

By Tony Gieske

I was thinking all night that nobody at Vitello’s could possibly deserve, much less grasp, all the wonders that Billy Childs and his ensemble were bestowing on us last Saturday.

Billy Childs

Childs was playing in his flawless and bounteous way on the piano, in front of which sat Larry Koonse, listening to him with a smile on his face and occasionally playing flawlessly if not bounteously.

Caroline Campbell

Just beyond them onstage was the beautiful Caroline Campbell, first violin in the Sonus String Quartet, whose every solo chance was Paganinian, and very pretty as well.

Supplying hard swinging drive or elegant harmonicism, whichever the Childs pen had bidden, were the bassist Hamilton Price and the drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. Carol Robbins got her harp into the rhythm-section work, although it was sometimes imperceptible within the aural avalanches.

Bob Sheppard

Saxophonist Bob Sheppard stood about as far away from the Childs keyboard as you could get in Vitello’s vast upstairs room, but he got more work than anybody else, since he had to enunciate the fiercely complex themes that Childs had written for him, then proclaim his grasp of the gnarls by improvising on them at length.

Up against the wall, he was never less than authoritative and enjoyable in that task.

Authoritative and enjoyable will do as adjectives for Childs’s playing, too, but the reader must endure many more.

Larry Koonse

He calls this group the Jazz-Chamber Ensemble, and its first CD was nominated for three 2006 Grammy awards, winning for the vast and ambitious Into the Light.  The latter was the salient feature of the Vitello night. I won’t attempt to bore you with a verbal map, there’s just too much to go over. It wowed me.

So did the other works, such as “Hope in the Face of Despair,” which he began with merry Satie-like piano triplets in the right hand and ominous deep chords in the left.

Then Sheppard played a supersmart soprano sax chorus, among other delights. Childs returned with a songlike passage preceding some Ellington sounds.

All night, the strings were darling, the jazz sector just as cool, and the writing  more intelligent and effective than anything Gunther Schuller, Charles Mingus, John Lewis or any other Third Streamers had offered us previously.

Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble

I haven’t heard the Laura Nyro-Alice Coltrane work Childs cites as an influence, “Christmas and the Beads of Sweat,” if it actually exists. And I saw no foreshadowing of this night in Childs’ pastoral output for Windham Hill Jazz.

Said Childs at the end: “There was a lot of music to work on tonight…and a lot to listen to.”

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


Live Jazz: Denise Donatelli at Vitello’s

October 22, 2010

By Don Heckman

One of Denise Donatelli’s most unique characteristics as a jazz singer is her confident willingness to perform in complex musical settings with stellar jazz instrumentalists.  Her new CD, When Lights Are Low, is a good example.  Like her previous release, What Lies Within, it includes arrangements by Geoffrey Keezer that virtually translate some of the tracks into art song settings.

Attractive as the charts may be, they can also make their own demands.  But Donatelli can handle them.  Credit her innate musicality with her capacity to find her own interpretive pathways through an instrumental countryside that sometimes insists upon maintaining its own atmospheric milieu.

All of which was apparent Thursday night at Vitello’s, when Donatelli celebrated the release of the album, backed by Keezer, guitarist Pete Sprague, saxophonist/woodwind player Rob Lockart, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, with singers Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh adding back-up vocals on a few tunes.  In some cases – “Don’t Explain” was one – the ensemble sound was less lush in timbre than the larger, string-rich ensemble present for those tunes on the recording.  But, in most of the selections, her singing was showcased within carefully framed and structured arrangements.

Each chart called upon Donatelli’s vocal versatility.  Occasionally – as in segments of “It’s You Or No One” – she was asked to supplement her articulate rendering of a song by adding wordless vocal sounds to the textures of the instrumental ensemble. Often, her readings were surrounded by complex counterlines.  Yet, despite the fact that some of the extended soloing left her to simply stand there, listen and smile, despite the fact that Smith’s busy, high decibel drumming sometimes seemed to overwhelm Vitello’s intimate performance room, Donatelli appeared content to maintain an equally level playing field with her musicians.

But there also were passages – her vocals on “Don’t Explain” and “Kisses (Cantor de Noite)” – in which brief opportunities opened up for Donatelli to tell the musical story in her own way.  And it was in those moments – reminiscent of the voice and piano version of “Why Did I Choose You” on the album – that her rich interpretive skills came fully into the spotlight.

It’s worth noting that the sound reproduction didn’t help matters.  Given a more carefully blended audio mix, one in which the central focus was on Donatelli’s vocals, the integration of voice and background would have been far more effective.  As effective as it is on the album, When Lights Are Low, which underscores Donatelli’s growing visibility as she rises toward the highest levels of the jazz vocal art.

Photo by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Week: Oct. 19 – 24

October 19, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

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

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

Ravi Shankar

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

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

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

Denise Donatelli

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

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

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

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

Taj Mahal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant Geissman

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

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

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

San Diego

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

San Francisco

Lavay Smith

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

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

New York

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

George Wein

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


Picks of the Week: July 6 – 11

July 6, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Arturo Sandoval

- July 6. (Tues.)  Arturo Sandoval’s Big Band.  The versatile Sandoval showcases his trumpet playing, piano playing, percussion and vocals in the company of a powerful large ensemble,  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- July 6. (Tues.) A Glorious Celebration. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale launch the 2010 classical season at the Bowl with a program of works by Handel, Haydn, Vivaldi and Poulenc.  The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- July 6. (Tues.)  The Kate Reid Trio. Singer/educator Reid takes time away from the classroom for a practical application of her vocal skills. Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

- July 7. (Wed.)  Femi Kuti, Terence Blanchard, Richard Bona, Lula Washington Dance Theatre.  Hollywood Bowl. 2010 Jazz at the Bowl opens the season by reaching out to display the wide array of sounds, rhythms and movements that co-exist comfortably under the jazz umbrella. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Kellye Gray

- July 8. (Thurs.)  Kellye Gray.  San Francisco based Gray is as impressive with her riffing up-tempos as she is with her poignant ballad interpretations.  She’s backed by Otmaro Ruiz, Hamilton Price and Jimmy BranleyCrowne Plaza. (310) 642-7500.

- July 8. (Thurs.)  Kristin Korb.  Bassist Korb has moved from her role as a first call sideperson into the spotlight as a charismatic singer/instrumentalist. Steamers. (714) 871-8800.

- July 9. (Fri.)  John Proulx.  Impressive as a jazz pianist, Proulx has been displaying considerable vocal ability as well.  This time out, he plays and sings selections from his Chet Baker tribute CD Baker’s Dozen: Remembering Chet Baker. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- July 9. (Fri.) “Music in the Zoo.” World Music Night. The summer music season at the Zoo begins with an entertaining gumbo of world music performances.  On the bill: John Bilezikjian (Middle Eastern), the Marieve Harrington Band (French), Billy Mitchell presents World Music Featuring Marisa Kosugi (Japanese) and “Cui Cui” Rangel” (Mexican), Incendio (Salsa), Paddy’s Pig (Irish), Espino (Latin) and Masanga Marimba (Zimbabwean).  The Los Angeles Zoo.  6 p.m.   (323) 644-6042.

- July 9. (Fri.)  Yes.  Peter Frampton.  The Grammy Award winning progressive rock band Yes and the eclectic Frampton were a pair of the most ground-breaking musical artists of the seventies.  And they’re still going strong, with Frampton showcasing selections from his just-released CD Thank You Mr. ChurchillGreek Theatre (323) 665-3125.

Bill Holman (photo by Lesley Bohm)

- July 9. (Fri.)  Bill Holman Orchestra. An innovative composer and arranger for large jazz ensembles, Holman has been an utterly original stylist for more than five decades.  Far too rarely heard in person, the 80-something jazz icon leads a collection of L.A.’s finest in a program guaranteed to delight the senses and nourish the musical mind.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- July 9. (Fri.)  Bill Cantos. Singer/pianist/songwriter Cantos spends a lot of time making other performers sound good.  Here’s a chance to hear him in action with his own fine songs.  The Culver Club in the Raddison.   (310) 649-1776 ext. 4137.

- July 9 & 10. (Fri. & Sat.)  Todd Murray.  Romantic balladeer Murray’s title for this latest show is Croon, which gives a pretty good indication of the engaging style he brings to material from the Great American Songbook.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- July 9 – 11 (Fri. – Sun.)  A Beatles Celebration. Classic Beatles songs performed by a stylistically diverse line-up of singers, including Patti Austin, Joe Jackson, Rob Laufer, Betty LaVette, Brian Stokes Mitchell.  Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- July 10. (Sat.)  Chris Botti.  Botti’s rich-toned trumpet, fluent improvisations and imaginative way with a ballad have established him as one of the jazz world’s most popular artists.  And watch out for Katharine McPhee, whose electrifying singing has the potential to steal a show from anybody.  Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-3125.

- July 10. (Sat.)  Steve Wilson Quartet. Alto saxophonist Wilson has been receiving – with good reason — critical notices identifying him as one of the important new jazz arrivals. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- July 10. (Sat.)  Kayhan Kalhor.  Persian kamancheh virtuoso performs a program of traditional and improvised music from Iran and Turkey.  He’s backed by Turkish master baglama player, Erdal ErzincanGrand Performances.  (213) 687-2159.

Susie Hansen

- July 11. (Sun.)  The Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band.  The dynamic five-string electric violinist, her exciting band and her irresistibly rhythmic Latin Jazz for dancing begin an every-Sunday gig at the Sage Restaurant and Lounge in Whittier with a celebration of the release of her new CD, Representante de la SalsaSage Restaurant and Lounge. (562) 945-1204.

- July 11. (Sun.)  The Phil Norman Tentet. Performing material composed and arranged by some of the Southland’s finest writer’s Norman’s Tentet revives the cool West Coast jazz sound into a briskly swinging contemporary experience.  Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

- July 11. (Sun.)  The Steve Miller Band. The platinum-selling Steve Miller Band hit #1 with their first single, then topped it with the ever-memorable “Fly Like An Eagle.”  Their most recent effort, “The Town and the City” affirmed that the Band is still in rare and entertaining form.  Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-3125.

San Francisco

- July 5 & 6. (Tues. & Wed.) Richard Bona. The African bass master has been using his mesmerizing blend of traditional African sounds with contemporary jazz elements to set new standards for his instrument. Tues.:Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.  Wed.: Yoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

- July 10. (Sat.)  Paul McCartney. Sir Paul brings his current group into a Beatles-sized venue – the official home of the San Francisco Giants.  Expect to hear some nostalgic classics.  AT&T Park.  San Francisco.

San Diego

Pete Escovedo

- July 9 & 10.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Pete Escovedo. 75th Birthday Celebration.  After demonstrating his potent rhythmic wares at the Playboy Jazz Festival, Escovedo and his talented offspring continue the joyous celebration of his extraordinary life and music.  Anthology, San Diego.  (619) 595-0300

New York

July 6 – 10. (Mon. – Sat.)  Louis Hayes Quintet Veteran drummer Hayes leads a stellar group – alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Rick Germanson and bassist Richie Goods in a tribute to his old boss with “The Cannonball Adderley Legacy.” Birdland. (212) 581-3080.

July 6 – 11. (Mon. – Sun.)  Enrico Pieranunzi.  The Italian pianist’s superb playing provides convincing evidence of the growingly global reach of first rate jazz artistry. Village Vanguard (212) 255-4037.

- July 6 – 11. (Mon. – Sun.)  Ben E. King.  The great ‘60s and ‘70s soul singer – the composer of “Stand By Me” — still knows how to find the heart of a song. The Blue Note. l (212) 475-8592.


Live Jazz: The Eric Reed Trio at Vitello’s

May 31, 2010

By Tony Gieske

Eric Reed had stationed the grand piano at stage left at Vitello’s Saturday night so as to give his trio members equal exposure — Ralph Penland, the drummer, at stage right and Hamilton Price, his young bassist, in the middle, next to the keyboard.

Eric Reed

It was a little bit like a surgeon preparing to operate, but when “Sweet and Lovely” came out in a gently loping version, it was all jazz, reaching back to the richly chorded days of the great Herbie Nichols. The latter was remembered later on in an equally swinging number called “ICHN.”

Count Basie was remembered, too, in the familiar plink, plank, plonk to end this number. Not to mention the warm and wonderful swing — yes, that old stuff — generated by Penland and Price.

Ralph Penland

“Autumn Leaves” kept things whirling along at a brisk tempo while Reed explored  more nooks and crannies of jazz piano history in his own well-balanced way.

“I Got Nothin’ ” was a Reed original in 3/4 time that pretty much lived up to its title, and a Billy Joel tune called “Honesty” could have been called “Triviality.” The leader redeemed them both with his unfailing creativity.

Thelonious Monk, the subject of one of Reed’s recent albums, was the inspiration of the night’s redeeming closer, “Blue Monk.”

Hamilton Price

Reed began it with a helping of old-fashioned rousing stride, then progressed with nary a dull moment through single finger and block chords to a big band ending. It was a feast for the ear, and although nobody’s feet did their stuff, the ghost of Fats Waller strolled invisibly along.

Price, known for his work with Gerry Gibbs, Billy Childs and Melissa Morgan, got a clear and in-tune sound in comping and soloed with sophistication, a word that pretty well describes the stalwart Penland.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read more reviews by Tony Gieske, click here.


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