Live Brazilian Music: Teka at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 22, 2014

By James M. DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Teka Penteriche’s performance at Vibrato last Sunday night had the approval of everyone in the crowd, including veteran crooner Tom Jones.

Teka

Teka

The smooth sounds of the Brazilian born singer-guitarist and her New Bossa Band filled the air of Herb Alpert’s cozy and elegantly appointed club in Bel Air. Her song choices too were apparently just what the doctor ordered for the late night weekend patrons in West LA.  Over a glass of white wine and a bowl of the club’s extraordinary Cream of Mushroom soup I too was able to experience first hand what everyone had told me about,

Teka is sensational. Her set list offered a wide variety of Brazilian jazz with songs sung in both Portuguese and English. Teka’s arrangements and adaptations are uniquely her own and her voice and the band synced up the way every band hopes for. Highlights of the evening included her renditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classics — including a beautifully done version of “Aguas de Marco” and the song that the audience seemed to appreciate the most “Summer Samba” the crowning achievement of Brazilian composer Marcos Valle.

Teka and her New Bossa Band

Teka and her New Bossa Band

She was backed superbly by her New Bossa band – saxophonist/flutist Doug Webb, pianist Tom Zink, bassist Randy Tico and percussionist Kevin Winard.

Teka and her husband Paris had to make quite the trip down from Santa Barbara but it was a trip well taken as the audience was ready for more, even at the conclusion of her second and final set. Many audience members purchased a CD from Teka’s collection of albums as they left the club – a solid indication that her performance was a hit!

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Photos by James M. DeFrances.


Live Music: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

October 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. became a very special place when Herb Alpert took it over a few years ago, transforming a small venue in a mini-mall at the top of Beverly Glen into a fine food connoisseur’s delight and a world class showcase for jazz.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

And it becomes even more special when Alpert, his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, and their all star band put in an appearance. As they did Tuesday night.

The fact is that there’s nothing quite like hearing Alpert perform in his own club. There’ve been musician club owners over the years – Shelly Manne, Ronnie Scott, Igor Butman, to name a few – all of whom played in their own venues from time to time.

Herb Alpert

But when Herb Alpert plays in Vibrato, he’s not just on stage at his own elegant Bel Air bistro. He’s performing in a virtual art gallery, surrounded by walls displaying his large, colorful abstract expressionist paintings and his sculptures of musicians in the act of playing. Add to that the remarkable collection of repertoire that he brings to his performances – selecting material reaching from his latest albums to hit songs from his Tijuana Brass successes of the ’60s.

At the center of his music, Alpert – at 79 – reminded us that he is still a remarkable trumpeter and a gifted improviser. Not often given sufficient credit for the quality of his instrumental skills, he once again displayed his Miles Davis-inspired ability to bring a song vividly to life.

And let’s not overlook Alpert’s unspoken, but significant subtitle of “philanthropist” in recognition of the large generous funding he has bestowed upon University music programs and gifted young artists in many genres.

All those elements and more were present Tuesday night when Alpert and Hall – backed by pianist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro – celebrated the release of their new album, In the Mood.

The Herb Alpert Band

When Alpert noted that the performance was the start of a tour introducing the album, he also added, whimsically, that they did not include the classic Glenn Miller hit “In The Mood” on the CD, or in their set of the night. But no problem there. After romping through “Chatanooga Choo Choo” the band also dug into “Blue Moon,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Let it Be Me” and more from an album displaying all the signs of presenting Alpert with his next Grammy Award.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Other highlights included entertaining looks at both Alpert’s and Hall’s stellar pasts. The Tijuana Brass medley called up stirring memories of the Alpert band that topped Bob Dylan and the Beatles on the Billboard charts in the mid-’60s. And an Antonio Carlos Jobim medley showcased Hall’s mastery of bossa nova songs (and Portuguese), reaching back to her stint with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 as she applied her warm, intimate contralto to songs such as “The Waters of March,” “Corcovado” and “”Samba de Uma Nota Só.”

As always, Alpert and Hall were superbly backed by Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro who consistently found the perfect balance between energizing the rhythm while supporting the headliners’ many interpretive subtleties. And Cantos, a versatile singer/instrumentalist in his own right, has recently added colorful synth textures to his fine piano work, as well as his own back up vocals on a few tunes.

In sum, call it one of the most notable musical experiences of the year. All of the Vibrato appearances of Alpert and Hall have been memorable. As was this one. And I (along with, I suspect, the many members of the packed house) look forward to many more.

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Photos by Faith Frenz

 


Live Music: Robert Davi at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

July 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

Robert Davi was back at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Thursday night. And that was great news for fans of the Great American Songbook – as well as fans of Great American pop singing, which Davi does brilliantly.

A highly visible actor, Davi is one of the most memorable tough guys since the era of Humphrey Bogart. In his first film, Contract On Cherry Street, he shared the spotlight with Frank Sinatra, a forecast of a connection that would unfold in his music career. He was also seen as the villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond film, License To Kill. Add to that his presence in the TV series, Profiler and dozens of other pictures, ranging from Diehard, Showgirls and The Goonies to the more recent films The Iceman and The Expendables 3.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Musically, he’s one of the most authentic successors to the Sinatra style. His recent album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance, hit #6 in Billboard‘s Top 10 Jazz Chart.

But his achievements as an actor and a singer – despite their stylistic orientation – cannot be described as type-casting. Whatever assignment Davi takes on, in both arenas, he makes his own. And his Thursday night performance at Vibrato was a definitive example of how he has transformed his affection for the Sinatra style into a uniquely engaging musical expressiveness. And he has done so while including a substantial number of Sinatra related songs in his catalog.

Singing to a packed house at Vibrato, Davi was backed by the stellar ensemble of pianist/music director Randy Waldman, vibist Emil Richards, guitarist Mitch Holder, saxophonist/flutist Gene “Cip” Cipriano and drummer Dave Tull.

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

Robert Davi and his band at Vibrato

As in any Davi performance, the first aspect one noticed was the rich, warm intensity of his voice. Trained operatically, blessed with a superb natural instrument, he used his remarkable vocal assets at the service of his equally impressive interpretive skills.

The program sparkled with Sinatra-related tunes, among them the opening “I’ve Got The World On A String,” as well as “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Tender Trap,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and a lot more. Davi sang most of them while roving among the tables with a wireless microphone, delighting his enthusiastic listeners by delivering his songs with up close musical intimacy.

There were other intriguing moments in the program, as well. Shifting into his humorous mode, Davi – who recently returned from working on a film in Moscow – described meeting the “Russian Sinatra.” Imitating what he heard, Davi sang “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else” with his version of a Russian accent.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

In a very different mode, he offered a dedication to Maya Angelou before singing “Old Man River,” with the full range of his remarkable voice, then following it with “River Stay Away From My Door.” Interestingly both songs were performed by both Sinatra and Paul Robeson.

Add to that the rarely heard Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart song (which was also performed by Sinatra) “I Love My Wife.” In addition, Davi included a touching version of “Send In the Clowns,” yet another example of his expanding catalog of songs.

There was one more aspect to this extraordinary evening which was, in addition to its entertainment, a benefit for the organization “America’s Mighty Warriors.” Davi has long been a supporter of the men and women in America’s armed forces. And, midway through the performance actor Jon Voigt introduced Debbie Lee, founder of the organization, whose son, Marc Allen Lee, was killed in action in Iraq while defending his companions.

To Find Out More about “America’s Mighty Warriors” click HERE.

Appropriately, Davi also sang “The House I Live In,” from the short 1946 film of the same name (which featured Sinatra) opposing anti-semitism and racial prejudice.

In sum, the Thursday night performance at Vibrato was memorable in many ways. And Robert Davi deserves full credit for bringing all its elements together. More than a singer and an actor, he is an artist with his own growing, creative vision.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Here, There & Everywhere: The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts

May 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Describing Herb Alpert as a philanthropist doesn’t accurately identify the full generosity of his activities over recent decades. Many of his awards have been institutional, to UCLA, USC, CalArts and beyond. And in each of those cases, his generosity has had a significant impact upon the effectiveness of their music education programs.

But Alpert has done much more. For the past twenty years, his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has annually given $75,000 prizes each to five mid–career, risk–taking artists in dance, film/video, music, theatre, and visual arts.

“Over the last twenty years,” says Alpert, “we’ve been lucky enough to have given a boost to choreographers, musicians, visual and media artists, and theatre makers, those who keep on searching, and making powerful, spirited work. For all of us to enjoy…or not.”

Last Friday, Alpert and his wife Lani Hall hosted the announcement of his year’s awards at an annual award lunch. And, once again, the line up of winners included an impressive array of creative artists.

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, DAniel Joseph Martinez

Michelle Dorrance, Matana Roberts, Deborah Stratman, Herb Alpert, Lani Hall Alpert, Annie Dorsen, Daniel Joseph Martinez

Here are the winners in the various categories, along with comments from Irene Borger, Director of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, regarding the reasons for their selection:

- Dance: Tap dancer Michelle Dorreance. Chosen for her “inventive sophistication and transporting the field into radically new places.”

- Music: Composer, avant-garde saxophonist and sound artist Matana Roberts. Chosen for her charismatic, powerful renderings of sound.”

- Film/Video: Documentary Filmmaker Deborah Stratman. Chosen for her “important body of films, and the ways she grapples with tough issues.”

- Theatre: Theatre artist Annie Dorsen. Chosen for her “audacious investigations, unrelenting pursuit of ideas, and new theatrical forms.”

- Visual Arts: Post-conceptual artist Daniel Joseph Martinez. Chosen for his “his fearless, continually evolving practice, unwavering commitment to art and politics, to the field, and to Los Angeles.”

Alpert summed up the significance of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in a final comment, perfectly reflecting the adventurousness of his own long career as an imaginative, improvising jazz artist always in search of new ideas:

“What happens,” says Alpert, “when you support artists with that special spark? You don’t know — and that’s exactly part of the magic.”

It’s a magic that Alpert has either been creating or supporting – and sometimes both – over the course of the music he’s been making from the early days of the Tijuana Brass to his most recent recordings and performances with his wife Lani Hall Alpert.

Add to that the equally magical works Alpert has been producing in his remarkable career as a highly regarded painter and sculptor. No wonder he relates so empathically with the simlarly imaginative winners of his Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.

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Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

 

 


Live Jazz: Ariana Savalas at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill, Jazz…etc.

April 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. Ariana Savalas. The name may have a familiar ring to it. Especially the surname “Savalas” which will be familiar to most fans of television and movies. And especially familiar when a first name is also included, adding up to “Telly Savalas,” the late actor best known for playing the title role in the ’70s crime drama Kojak and numerous villains in dozens of films.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas’ daughter (the youngest of six siblings), and a rapidly emerging actress and musical star in her own right. Her performance at Vibrato on Thursday night – one of her too rare appearances in the Southland – was an impressive display of her creative skills. Not only is Ariana a musical artist who delivered her songs with the gripping qualities of a born musical story-teller. She also engaged her audiences between songs with a warm blend of wit and humor.

Backed by the stellar ensemble of Joe Bagg, Andy Senasi and Steve Venz, Ariana made the most of a program of songs reaching from standards to her own originals. Kicking off her set with the Yiddish classic, “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” she opened with a dynamic interpretation, clearly pleasing the overflow crowd.

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana followed with one appealing standard after another: “You and the Night and the Music,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “I See Your Face Before Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Making Whoopie” and more. Each was interpreted with her unique creative view.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale

Some of the additional intriguing moments of the evening took place when veteran singer/pianist/harpist Corky Hale – who has been an avid supporter of Ariana’s rising star – moved from her seat in the audience on stage to the piano bench. Backing Ariana’s intimate renderings of several tunes, Corky also added a brief but appealing vocal interpretation of her own.

Ariana followed with an expanded display of her versatility, singing several of her original songs, as well as  the intriguing “Mechanical Man,” and accompanying herself on both piano and ukulele.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

No wonder the restless audience insisted upon warming up in the glow of Ariana Savalas’ musical artistry, asking for as many encores as she would provide. The result was another of the many nights to remember at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Let’s hope that, in future weeks and months, there’ll be more frequent performances by this gifted young talent.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 

 


Live Music: James DeFrances at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

April 3, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”

The line kept coming to mind Tuesday night at Herb Alpert’s elegant restaurant and jazz club Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc, while we were listening to singer James DeFrances.  No, not because DeFrances was thinking – or even singing – about New York. He’s actually from the Philadelphia area.

James DeFrances

James DeFrances

But the fresh-faced, ambitious young vocalist (he’s 24) performed with the sort of enthusiasm present in the classic Kander/Ebb song about the Big Apple. Except that – for DeFrances – the line applied to his rapidly accelerating career in Los Angeles.

His performance at Vibrato also had another “New York, New York” connection. And that, of course, was the impact that Frank Sinatra has had upon DeFrances’ musical vision.

It’s not surprising that a talented young male singer would choose Sinatra as a model – especially when such highly successful performers as Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr. have preceded him in his affection for Ol’ Blue Eyes.

On Tuesday night DeFrances, appropriately tuxedoed, sang a program of songs overflowing with Sinatra references. Starting with “The Girl From Ipanema” he shifted quickly into a hard-driving “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Pat Senatore and James DeFrances

Pat Senatore and James DeFrancis

He followed with “The Way You Look Tonight,” “ They Can’t Take That Away From Me” before winding up with “All The Way” and “Just In Time.”

DeFrances sang the ballads – especially “All The Way” – with warm musicality. And rhythm tunes such as “Witchcraft” and “It Had To Be You” were done with propulsive, briskly swinging energy.

The Sinatra inspiration was present in most of the tunes. At his best, DeFrances made the most of the connection, usually shaping his interpretation well within the templates of the original Sinatra versions.

But the finest moments came in the passages in which his own warm, youthful sound and lyrical expressiveness took charge of his singing. And one could sense the impressive future that DeFrances faces, especially as he moves beyond the Sinatra references into his own mature interpretations.

Still relatively unfamiliar to the wider pop audience, DeFrances’ performance clearly showcased his growing skills as one of the significant male artists rapidly emerging into the arena of jazz and big band oriented pop music.

Pat Senatore, James DeFrances and Tina Raymond

He was superbly backed by the trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Tina Raymond. Filling in before the show opened and on the set breaks, the trio romped through their own program of standards, bringing dynamic enthusiasm to songs reaching from “Emily” and “Autumn Leaves” to “The More I See You.”

Working closely with the solid musical embrace of Ranier, Senatore and Raymond, DeFrances clearly established his future potential, thoroughly underscoring his ability to “make it anywhere.”

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 20, 2014

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

Bel Air, CA. It was another rare performance to remember Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. On stage, veteran jazz trumpeter, band leader and club owner Herb Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, were backed by their fine rhythm team: pianist/keyboardist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Offering a program reaching from jazz classics and Songbook standards to a medley of tunes from the hit recordings of Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, the performance took place at the center of the rich, colorful environment Alpert has been creating for Vibrato since he first bought the Bel Air club and transformed it into his perspective of what a fine jazz club/restaurant can be. In the process, his paintings and sculptures – abstract but visually gripping – combined with the re-designing of the room to provide the perfect setting for his always-engaging music.

There were no real surprises in the program for anyone who’s heard Herb and Lani in their recent performances at Vibrato. But no worries there. Whether Herb was playing “A Taste of Honey” or singing “This Guy’s in Love with You”; whether Lani was singing Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance” or the bossa nova delight “O Pato,” the results were always fascinating.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Hearing repetitions of familiar songs can be less than appealing from artists who basically play their “hits” like living juke boxes. With Herb and Lani, however, hearing them perform over the years –singing and playing together — has provided unique opportunities to experience a pair of gifted artists bring new interpretive perspectives to everything they played and sang. As they did on this memorable evening.

Herb has always had a gift for melodic paraphrasing in his solos, and recent years have seen him find even more expressiveness in his improvising, often suggesting the sort of clear-cut, lyrical melody-making long associated with Miles Davis.

Lani Hall

Lani Hall

Lani has been a fine musical story teller since the release of her first album Sundown Lady in the ’70s. In reviewing that album for the New York Times, I referred to her “mix of drama, song, soul and universal emotion that uncovers the real pathos in the lyrics of a song.” Which is precisely what she did in this performance with a deeply emotional interpretation of “Fly Me To The Moon.”

Add to that the superb support of the rhythm section of Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro, creating a warm setting for Herb and Lani, with Cantos contributing a briskly rhythmic scat version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Jiffry offering some guitar-like bossa nova backing on his bass.

In sum, call it a mesmerizing musical offering performed with dynamic creativity. No wonder that the overflow audience responded enthusiastically to every song, demanding and getting encores, and wishing for more.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


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