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.


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

October 5, 2013

By Don Heckman

It’s always a pleasure to hear Herb Alpert and Lani Hall up close and personal. The veteran showbiz couple, whose prolific careers reach back to the ’60s, are still at the peak of their considerable creative powers.

On Thursday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., the elegant, Bel Air night club founded by Alpert, they celebrated the release of their new album, Steppin’ Out, with one of their too-rare Southland appearances.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

And the results were memorable – as they so often are when Alpert and Hall are on stage, especially in their own room, working before an enthusiastic, supportive crowd, backed by the stellar accompaniment of pianist/singer Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Lani Hall

Lani Hall

The selections reached across the Great American Songbook, providing an especially gripping set of classic tunes for Hall to display her mesmerizing story-telling skills. Among the most compelling interpretations, her songs ranged from “Moondance,” “Fever,” “Fly Me To the Moon” and “Let’s Face the Music” to “All In the Game” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (brightened by a hard grooving scat contribution from Cantos).

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Herb Alpert

On some pieces, Alpert played burnished trumpet solos before joining Hall in intimate vocalizing. On “This Guy’s In Love with You,” he sang (and played) the 1968 Burt Bacharach/Hal David song that resulted in Alpert’s first #1 single. Both his trumpet playing and his singing affirmed the lyricism – vocally and instrumentally – that is at the heart of his music. Gifted with a knack for melody, he applied it to every song he touched, whether singing with a warmly intimate vocal interpretation or arching through his characteristically embracing trumpet lines.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

I’ve been writing about this remarkable couple – individually, paired and collectively (Alpert with the Tijuana Brass, Hall with Brazil 66) – since the late ’60s. And each performance I’ve experienced, live and on recording, was the work of a pair of gifted musical artists. As recently as last July they opened the Hollywood Bowl’s summer jazz schedule on a brilliant program with Sergio Mendes’ Brazil 66.

This time out, more than six months later, they played much of the repertoire heard at the Bowl. But there was no resisting the appeal of whatever they played, however familiar it may have been.

The unforgettable performance ended with an entertaining selection from the new Alpert album, Steppin’ Out, scheduled for release on November 19.  On either side of the stage, big screen projections displayed the album’s prime video, “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” with the music performed live, in perfect sync with the video images. It was the perfect closure for an evening of superb offerings from a pair of the music world’s most creative practitioners.

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Video courtesy of Herb Alpert.

Photos by Faith Frenz.  To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


Live Music: Robert Davi at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

August 19, 2013

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA.  Robert Davi’s appearance at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Sunday night was my third opportunity to hear the talented actor/singer in action. Once again, the program was devoted to his Frank Sinatra tribute. And no one does the Sinatra catalog, in all its entertaining essence, as well as Davi.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

But the Sinatra catalog, for all its appeal, is only one aspect of a Robert Davi performance. As in past appearances, he sang most of the Sinatra classics – from “Fly Me To The Moon” and “I’ve Got the World On A String” to “My Way” and “It Was A Very Good Year.” Each was delivered with prime musicality by Davi’s warm and pliable baritone voice.

And he didn’t stop there, singing a wide ranging program of Great American Songbook tunes – “Day In, Day Out,” “Nice and Easy,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “At Long Last Love,” “”Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and topped off his nearly two hour set with the less familiar, bu equally compelling “Summer Wind,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and “What Is America To Me?”

If that looks like a long list of tunes, that’s exactly what it was. And Davi spent a substantial amount of time moving into the audience, singing through a wireless microphone, engaging the enthusiastic crowd with up close and personal phrases from each of the songs. That’s a fairly common technique among experienced singers. But in Davi’s hands, combined with humorous exchanges with his six piece band, along with his between-songs tales about working and hanging out with Sinatra, the impact was enormously effective.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Davi’s acting skills, enhanced by his irresistible abilities as a born story-teller, were even more on target with songs driven by rich inner emotions.

When he sang a song such as “New York, New York,” for example, his interpretation was enough to bring tears to the eyes of New York emigres in the audience. So, too, for the dramatic qualities of “My Way,” the believable patriotism of “What Is America To Me?” and the poignant passions of “It Was A Very Good Year,“ And, perhaps most unexpected of all, there was Davi’s stunning reading of “Old Man River,” an impressive vehicle for the full range of his baritone voice.

Each of Davi’s past appearances at Vibrato have had their memorable moments. This performance, however, stepped up to a higher, utterly convincing level of musical communication. Davi will no doubt continue to showcase his convincing versions of songs associated with Sinatra. But he’s well on the road to thoroughly establishing his own appealing creative identity.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Herb Alpert, Lani Hall and Sergio Mendes at the Hollywood Bowl

July 18, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 2013 summer season of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl clicked into place Wednesday night with the performances of Herb Alpert, Lani Hall and Sergio Mendes.

Alpert and Hall, in particular, offered a musically rich, rhythmically energetic program of material ranging across jazz classics and American Songbook standards spiced with the music of Brazil.

Although he may be best known for the establishment of the Tijuana Brass in the sixties, and for shaping it into one of the most successful groups in pop music history, Alpert has always been a determinedly jazz-focused trumpet player, as well.  And his performance at the Bowl offered an impressive recollection of the depth of his skills as a jazz artist. Add to that his similarly gifted talents as a visual artist, which were on display in the form of a large Alpert painting as a backdrop.

Bill Cantos, Lani Hall, Hussain Jiffry, Herb Alpert and Michael Shapiro

I’ve heard Alpert many times, playing impressively in many settings over the past decades.  But this time out, his opening set was a performance to remember.  Standing alongside his wife, singer Lani Hall — backed by pianist/keyboardist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro – he played with the cool,  musically imaginative aspects that have always been at the heart of who he is as a jazz improviser.  And he revealed the impressive extent of those aspects, no matter what he was playing – in songs reaching from the Tijuana Brass memories of “A Taste of Honey” to such far-ranging song classics as “Besame Mucho,” “Moondance,” “Lets Face the Music and Dance” and “La Vie En Rose.”

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

The always captivating musical presence of Hall added another convincing jazz element to the set.  The lush timbres of her voice, combined with a brisk sense of rhythm, have always been a vital part of her style, reaching back to the early ’70s.  But in recent years, Hall has become an even better musical story-teller, finding the heart of a song in all her expressively intimate performances.  And, in this concert, she did so in deeply musical, lyrically compelling readings of songs such as “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”  The latter tune, in particular was interpreted by Hall with a uniquely personal rendering that reached far more deeply into the song than the jaunty, often-imitated Sinatra version.

Alpert and Hall were extremely well served by the presence of Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro.  Each is an impressive player in his own right.  But they also added a collective, even symbiotic, coming together to find an utterly memorable approach to each of the songs in their program.

Sergio Mendes Band

Sergio Mendes Band

Less can be said for the Mendes part of the evening.  Performing with an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists comparable to his Brazil 66 (etc.) ensembles, he devoted most of his set to such familiar items as “Waters of March,” Agua De Beber” and “The Look of Love.”

The Brazil 66 sound and style of the ‘60s had its appealing qualities – qualities that underscored the band’s many pop music successes.  But in an apparent effort to reach out to a broader listener demographic, Mendes added a rapper to several tunes.  And the results largely obliterated the most appealing aspects of the Brazil 66 memories.

Fortunately, Alpert, Hall and their fine accompanists had already brought jazz authenticity to the Bowl’s 2013 schedule in their opening set.  Hopefully, their world class program will represent the start of an equally memorable summer at the Hollywood Bowl for Southland jazz fans.

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Photos by Faith Frenz


Picks of the Week: July 15 – 21

July 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Kenny Burrell (Photo by Faith Frenz)

- July 15. (Mon.)  L.A. Jazz Orchestra Unlimited.  With Kenny Burrell.  Guitarist/educator Burrell leads an aggregation of some of the Southland’s fine big band players.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16. (Tues.)  Nora Rothman.  With an appealing vocal style, young jazz artist Rothman offers what she describes as her own “unique twist” on jazz standards.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16 & 17. (Tues. & Wed.)  Aaron Weinstein.  A violinist, mandolinist and arranger, Weinstein’s special talents have been drawing attention lately.  Here’s a chance to check out his skills in the warm musical environment of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

- July 17. (Wed.)  Sergio Mendes, Lani Hall and Herb Alpert.  After last week’s odd jazz opening night program featuring Queen Latifa, the Bowl summer jazz season finally arrives via an evening of stellar jazz with a Brazilian touch.  Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 18. (Thurs.)  Bob McChesney Quintet.  Trombonist McChesney always does a spectacular job of making other bands sound great.  Here he is in the spotlight leading his own group.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– July 19.  (Fri.) Brantley Gilbert.  Country superstar Gilbert makes his Greek Theatre debut .  Jack Ingram and Rachel Farley open the show.  The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

Freda Payne

Freda Payne

- July 19 & 20. (Fri. & Sat.)  Freda Payne.  The lovely Ms. Payne makes one of her infrequent Southland appearances, looking great as she applies her special vocal talents to a program of standards as well as her own hits (hopefully including “Band of Gold”) Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 19 – 21. (Fri. – Sun. )  Pink Martini with the L.A. Phil.  With singers China Forbes and Storm Large in the foreground, the 12-piece Pink Martini ensemble easily and entertainingly crosses genres from jazz and classical to pop and Latin.  Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- July 21. (Sun.)  Quattro.  The unique Quattro instrumentation (cello, percussion, violin and guitar), combine with their four-part vocals and imaginative interpretations to produce some of the most intriguing music on the contemporary music scene.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Eddie Daniels (Photo by Bob Barry)

- July 18. (Thurs.)  Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway.  It’s a rare combination – the superb clarinet work of Daniels and the similarly excellent piano of Kellaway – displaying a range of talents reaching easily from jazz to classical and beyond.  SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium.    (866) 920-5299.

- July 21. (Sun.)  Laurie Antonioli“The Music of Joni Mitchell.”  Antonioli is a pleasure to hear when she’s showcasing her impressive jazz skills.  Singing the songs of Joni Mitchell should stimulate an even more engaging set of creative interpretations. SFJAZZ Center.  Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York

Billy Childs (Photo by Faith Frenz)

- July 16 – 20.  (Tues. – Sat.)  The Billy Childs Quartet.  Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his chamber jazz ensemble to showcase his mesmerizing, straight ahead jazz skills.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

- July 17 – 19. (Wed. – Fri.)  Hermeto Pascoal.  Composer/multi-instrumentalist Pascoal has been setting a unique pathway through contemporary Brazilian music for decades. Hearing him in live performance is a memorable experience.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 17. (Wed.)  Roberta Gambarini.  She’s one of  the current jazz scene’s most fascinating vocal artists, balancing her superb ballad skills with incomparable scatting abilities. New Morning Paris.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

- July 18. (Thurs.)  The Steve Swallow-Carla Bley Quintet.  Bassist Swallow and pianist/composer Bley have been at the cutting edge of contemporary jazz for decades.  And they’re still a pleasure to hear in action.  New Morning Paris.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

- July 21. (Sun.)  Dave Douglas “Be Still.”  Always adventurous, trumpeter Douglas leads an ensemble of similarly envelope-stretching players, featuring Jon Irabagon, saxophones, Matt Mitchell, piano, Linda Oh, bass and Rudy Royston, drums.  A-Trane.    +49 30 3132 ext. 550.

Milan

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis

- July 21. (Sun.)  Branford Marsalis.  Not quite as visible as his brother, trumpeter/impresario Wynton, Branford Marsalis is, nonetheless, a compelling, musically creative jazz artist.  Blue Note Milano.    +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- July 17 & 18. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Dionne Warwick.  She’s been one of the hit-makers of the rock era, especially when she’s singing songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  And, at 72, she’s still a mesmerizing performer.  Blue Note Tokyo.   +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Robert Davi at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

June 2, 2013

By Don Heckman

Robert Davi conjured up more of his musical magic Thursday night at Vibrato.  Backed by the sextet that supported him at the club last December, he once again celebrated the Frank Sinatra legacy of song, style and story telling.

Although he may be best known for some of his high visibility roles in dozens of films – including the memorable villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond picture License to Kill –  Davi’s singing has been attracting attention since he was in high school.  But he didn’t fully display his vocal skills until a year and a half ago with the release of his first album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road To Romance.

The Sinatra connection was a natural for Davi, an Italian-American with a full, resonant baritone voice and a rich understanding of the classic songs in the American Songbook (which he identifies as “America’s Shakespeare”).  Add to that the fact that, in his first film, 1977′s Contract on Cherry Street, he worked side by side with Sinatra.

Robert Davi

All those qualities were once again on display Thursday when he strode on stage singing a high spirited take on “I’ve Got the World On A String.”  It was the first of several rhythmically irresistible Davi readings of Sinatra-associated songs.  More followed, including, “At Long Last Love,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “How Little We Know” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” among numerous others.

He was equally convincing with more differently-oriented tunes: the jaunty qualities of “The Tender Trap” and  “Pennies From Heaven”; the subtle emotions of “The Summer Wind”; the Las Vegas atmosphere of “Luck Be A Lady” (for which Davi was suddenly accompanied by a pair of sensually active female dancers); and the assertive anti-racism and anti-bigotry of “The House I Live In,” from a ’40s documentary of the same name, in which Sinatra was featured.

In between songs, Davi often identified songwriters, offered some whimsical recollections of his friendship with Sinatra, and strolled through the full house audience, amiably singing directly to individual listeners.  And when the volume level at the bar obliged him to deal directly with Vibrato’s usual noisy crowd, he got directly to the point:

“Be quiet and be respectful,” he said, with the authoritative tone of a Mafia Don, “Listen to the music or get out!”  After which the noise at the bar quickly diminished.

Robert Davi with bassist Anna Stadleman and vibist Emil Richards.

Davi was backed by a six piece band – Rich Ruttenberg, pianist and Musical Director, guitarist Mitch Holder, bassist Anna Stadleman, vibist Emil Richards, alto saxophonist/flutist Kim Richmond and drummer Dave Tull.  The sextet was a different musical animal from the usual Sinatra orchestral backing, and from the backing Davi had on his own album.  But the sextet arrangements — by Nic. tenBroek and Randy Waldman — were similar to those used by Sinatra in a world tour, providing the sort of sturdy, swinging sounds and atmospheric settings in the big band charts by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and others.

Ultimately, however, it wasn’t just the Sinatra associations that made Davi’s performance so convincing.  It was the musical authenticity of his singing, which was one of his closest linkages to Sinatra.  Davi’s goal is not to simulate or imitate Ol’ Blue Eyes.  It’s to honor, in full living color,  the importance of what Sinatra did for American (and beyond) popular music.  And Davi once again proved how well he does it

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Alan Broadbent at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The stage was almost empty Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  Almost, that is, except for one notable exception.

Seated at the club’s large concert grand, pianist/arranger/composer Alan Broadbent performed several generous sets over a memorable three hours.  Originally scheduled as a duo with bassist Pat Senatore, it became a solo night for Broadbent when Senatore had to remain at home to fight the flu.

All of which made for a considerably different musical evening, one that was completely focused on Broadbent’s gifted, far-ranging talents as a pianist, an improviser, a composer and arranger.  All those skills were present, as Broadbent framed each tune – fast or slow with spontaneous arrangements, embraced the melodies, dug into improvised passages, and brought every song he touched vividly to life.

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

A master of the diverse music in the Great American Songbook, Broadbent filled his sets with classic items, thoughtfully shaping songs such as “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “Spring Is Here,” “They Asked About You,” “You Go To My Head,” “Sophisticated Lady” and more.  Some of the ballads were offered with soaringly lyrical melodic phrases; some were tinged with rhapsodic classical touches.  And some were propelled forward via Broadbent’s laid-back, easy-going sense of swing. An occasional bebop line such as Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” moved intriguingly from forward-driving bop to a reminder of the ragtime which is at its roots.

There were offbeat choices, as well: Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” called up memories of its role as the theme song of the Benny Goodman orchestra. A medley of film themes focused on the atmospheric sounds of “Laura.” And John Lewis’ “Django,” a tribute to the great Gipsy jazz guitarist, was played with a sensitive awareness of its roots in J.S. Bach.

A Grammy nominee and a Grammy winner, the New Zealand-born Broadbent had been, until very recently, one of L.A.’s busiest first call musicians.  In addition to his briskly swinging, straight ahead jazz skills, singers such as Irene Kral, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others have deeply valued his ability to provide the perfect settings for their very different styles.  And his work with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West has produced some extraordinarily musical recordings and live performances ranging from Broadbent’s imaginative instrumental settings, some of them orchestral, to his compelling vocal arrangements on recordings such as Sophisticated Ladies.

Pianists performing either solo or in duos or trios at Vibrato have been known to be overwhelmed by audience noise, especially from the bar.  But on this evening, Broadbent’s playing was so musically mesmerizing that his listeners seemed completely in tune with the magic he brought to each song.

And, as the evening got thoroughly underway, there was no sense of emptiness on the stage. Operating on his own, with no back up players, Broadbent – on his own — nonetheless filled Vibrato with an irresistible sense of imaginative musical completeness.

Broadbent’s performance at Vibrato was a rare Southland appearance since his move to New York City a year or so ago.  But this listener (and no doubt many others) will happily welcome any future Broadbent L.A. visits – either on his own, or blending with the right compatible players, backing a singer, or displaying the rich complexities of his extraordinary arranging and composing skills.  He is truly one of a kind.

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Photo by Faith Frenz.  To see more of her photos click HERE.

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Picks of the Week: May 28 – June 2

May 28, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent

- May 28. (Tues.) Alan Broadbent.  Pianist/composer/arranger Broadbent was one of the Southland’s most gifted jazz artists for years.  But he’s moved to New York, and his L.A. appearances are rare.  Here’s one not to miss, as he performs in a duo with bassist Pat Senatore..  Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- May 29. (Wed.)  Carol Duboc and Jeff Lorber.  A CD release party in which singer/guitarist Duboc introduces her new album, Smile with the solid support of co-producer and keyboardist Lorber and bassist Jimmy Haslip.   Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- May 29 & 30.  (Wed. & Thurs.)  Robert Davi.  No one does Sinatra songs better than singer/actor Davi, who brings authenticity to his interpretations while still retaining his own musical identity.  Davi’s one of a kind, a rare and engaging talent.  Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- May 30 – June 2. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the baton of Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, performs Mozart’s Symphonies No. 3 and No. 40, and Brahms’ Three Hungarian Dances. Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

- May 30 – June 2. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jane Monheit.  Yet another CD release event, this time celebrating Monheit’s The Heart of the Matter, an album overflowing with her interpretations of a broad range of contemporary songs. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- May 31 – June 2. (Fri. – Sun.)  The Newport Beach Jazz Festival.  The emphasis of this year’s Festival is on contemporary and smooth jazz via a program that includes Al Jarreau, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Brian Culbertson, Jonathan Butler, Norman Brown, Najee, Poncho Sanchez, Earl Klugh and more.  The Newport Beach Jazz Festival.    (949) 360-7800.

- June 1.  (Sat.)  The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra“Artistry – A Tribute to Stan Kenton.”  Saxophonist Richmond’s assemblage of L.A.’s world-class instrumentalists apply their imagination and skill to an evening of Kenton’s finest charts.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

June 1 (Sat.)  Teka.  Los Angeles has an impressive population of Brazilian musical artists.  And Sao Paulo’s singer/guitarist Teka is one of the finest.  As I wrote in an LA Times review, “she [brings] everything into a unified expression, combining her vocal lines and rhythmic guitar accompaniments into a distinct buoyant musical blend.” Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  https://www.lacma.org/event/t%C3%A9ka-0 (323) 857-6000.

Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler

Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler

- June 2. (Sun.) 1+One. Here’s this year’s second concert in the Playboy Jazz Festival’s annual programs of exciting jazz events free to the public  Keyboardist Patrice Rushen and percussionist Ndugu Chancler team up with special guest Paul Jackson Jr. in a program simmering with jazz, soul and r&b.  Also on the bill, the Harmony Project, which aids at-risk children with the study and performance of music, will showcase its talented young Harmony Project Jazz Ensemble.  At Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.    (310) 450-1173.

San Francisco

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

- May 28. (Tues.)  Sara Gazarek. Blessed with a superb vocal instrument and an expressive interpretive style, Gazarek is one of the most listenable jazz singers of her generation.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- May 28 & 29. (Tues. & Wed.)  The Seasons Guitar QuartetAnthony Wilson, Julian Lage, Chico Pinheiro and Larry Koonse. One couldn’t ask for a more gifted quartet of guitarists, performing together.  Expect to hear an intriguing program reaching from Wilson’s compositions to Brazilian classics and more.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729

Washington D.C.

- May 29. (Wed.)  Eldar Djangirov Trio.  A child prodigy as a pianist, Djangirov, born in Kyrgystan, was performing on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz when he was 12 years old.  Now, at 26, he’s become a mature jazz artist with an adventurous style of his own. .Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141

New York City

- May 28. (Tues.)  Terese Genecco and her Little Big Band.  With special guest KJ Denhert. Genecco and her three horns and five rhythm “put on an unstoppable juggernaut of a set,” wrote critic Will Friedwald in the Wall St. Journal.   Iridium.  (212) 582-2121 t

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

- May 28 – June 2. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Joe Lovano Nonet“Streams of Expression” is Lovano’s current expressive ensemble, loaded with some of NYC’s finest players, among them Lovano, tenor sax, Tim Hagans, Barry Ries, trumpets, Steve Slagle, alto sax, Ralph Lalama, tenor sax, Gary Smulyan, baritone sax, Larry Farrell, trombone, James Weidman, piano, Cameron Brown, bass, Steve Williams, drums.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

- June 1. (Sat.)  Barbara Carroll with bassist Jay Leonhart. Pianist/singer Carroll has been displaying her impressive jazz skills since the ‘40s.  At 88, she continues to offer her still fine-tuned musical wares. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

- May 29 & 30. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Claire Martin.  Often described – with good reason – as England’s finest jazz singer, Martin has been offering solid evidence to justify the label since the early ‘90s.  She performs with the Dave Newton TrioRonnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- May 30 – 31. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Scandinavian jazz at its best in this stellar trio of Denmark’s Christina Von Bulow, alto saxophone, and Thomas Clausen, piano, with Sweden’s Palle Danielsson, bass.  Jazzhus Montmarte.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson

- May 31. (Fri.)  Cassandra Wilson. One of the rare contemporary jazz singers with a style and imagination that have placed her among the new millenium’s  uniquely adventurous vocal stylists. Blue Note Tokyo.    +81 3-5485-0088.


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