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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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

 

 


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.

* * * * * * * *

Video courtesy of Herb Alpert.

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


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.

* * * * * * * *

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 Jazz: Lauren White at Vitello’s

April 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City CA.  A loudly expressive full house crowd was waiting for singer Lauren White when she came on stage Saturday night at Vitello’s.  Which was somewhat of a surprise, given White’s still emerging visibility as a jazz artist.  But, although she hasn’t yet found the full audience her singing deserves, she has begun to receive considerable critical accolades.  Veteran jazz critic Scott Yanow has described White as “poised to make a strong impact on the jazz world.”

That achievement may take a little while, but her performance at Vitello’s was filled with enough intriguing moments to underscore White’s impressive potential.

Lauren White

Her program was largely devoted to selections from her new album, Meant To Be. And the far reaching selections underscored the musical curiosity and eclectic interpretive range that are essential elements in White’s growing skills.  Among the many highlights: Matt Dennis’ classic jazz ballad, “Angel Eyes”; Dave Frishberg and Alan Broadbent’s “Heart’s Desire”; Stephen Sondheim’s “Now You Know:’ Bernard Ighner’s Everything Must Change”; and Ivan Lins’ gorgeous “Meant To Be (“Saudades de Casa”), with English lyrics by Lani Hall.

That’s a remarkable collection of  songs, by any definition, and there were that many more, equally remarkable.  White has been described accurately as an adept practitioner in cabaret as well as jazz, with both skills amply present in the selections she chose for her virtually non-stop 90 minute program.

She was backed superbly by pianist Quinn Johnson, saxophonist/flutist Bob Sheppard, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Kevin Winard.  The well-crafted arrangements by Johnson provided precisely the right settings, with brightly rhythmic swing on the faster tunes, and lush, impressionistic harmonies on ballads, enhanced by the soaring tones of Sheppard’s flute.

Lauren White and Trey Henry

Lauren White and Trey Henry

At her best, White made the most of her warm voice and embracing vibrato.  Occasionally, she called up memories of the late Irene Kral.  Although she is a few steps away from the memorable interpretive accomplishments of Kral, White approached each of her selections with a similarly determined effort to reach into the heart of a song.

Often, she succeeded admirably in finding the emotional center of that inner heart beat.  Occasionally, especially in the more unfamiliar numbers, she appeared to be more focused on the beauty of her sound rather than the intimacy of the lyrics.

But she’s on her way.  And when White’s musical story telling skill reaches its fullest level of expressiveness, she may well be positioned to fulfill Yanow’s description of her potential “impact on the jazz world.”

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


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