Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival All Stars at the Valley Performing Arts Center

January 25, 2013

By Michael Katz

Northridge, CA.  There were lots of good vibes, not to mention some friendly apparitions, circulating through the Valley Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, as the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars brought their tour to the campus of Cal State Northridge. The sextet, which had closed the curtain on the 55th MJF last September, featured vocalist  Dee Dee Bridgewater, the world class rhythm section of Benny Green, Lewis Nash and musical director Christian McBride, and a front line of Chris Potter on tenor sax and young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

As they did at Monterey, Dee Dee Bridgewater and McBride opened with a duet, this time Billie Holiday’s “My Mother’s Son-In-Law.” Bridgewater lithely covered McBride’s fingerings, giving the song an intimate, conversational feel that invited the audience into the performance.  Throughout the evening the group would split into various permutations – duets, trios, a stunning piano solo to open the second set by Green – as they explored the many nuances of improvisational music.

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

In a “Super Group”  of this sort, you never know who will stand out on any given night, and on this evening it seemed Benny Green was charged up right from the start.  His work on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga,” the group’s first trio presentation, was inspired.  He subtly shifted tempos, his right hand dancing over the keyboard, while across the stage Lewis Nash was pulsating with sticks and brushes.  As for McBride, we sometimes forget, for all his versatility, what a terrific trio anchor he is, and he would turn the format on its ear later in the evening.

Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire provided robust counterpoints for the group,  giving Bridgewater some added oomph (not that she needed much) on “All of Me” and Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty.” Potter, who can reach out to the edges of Coltrane-inspired territory, stayed mostly straight ahead with this group. Akinmusire, the ascending star who was the MJF Artist-In-Residence in 2012, provided some spirited riffs, and teamed with Potter on his haunting composition “Henya” in the second set.  The trumpeter had some terrific soloing as the concert progressed, but it would have been nice to see him take command of another  tune on his own, whether a more familiar ballad or a hard charger, just to give the audience a taste of his potential as a leader.

As readers of this space know, I think Dee Dee Bridgewater is on the short, short list of the best vocalists around. Last night she did a lovely version of Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born,” softly modulating the rarely heard lyrics, with the trio backing her up in spare accompaniment. Later, in the second set, she reached for the opposite end of the spectrum, interpreting “God Bless The Child” with a gospel verve that would have made Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples proud.  The audience, which had a substantial and appreciative segment of CSUN students, (many of them no doubt from their award winning big band) was on its feet.

Benny Green, as noted earlier, walked out alone to start the second set. He set up his extended solo with the chords of “The Man I Love,” and dived into an improvisational mode, tossing in quotes from “I Can’t Get Started,”  among others, gathering steam and moving to a crescendo before pulling back for the denouement and gently bowing out.

I mentioned a couple of apparitions. The first would be the late, great bassist Ray Brown, whose wife, Cecelia, was in the audience.  The rhythm trio has all played with Brown and their adoration was evident. On “East of The Sun, West of the Moon,” Christian McBride took the main line on the bass, his notes clear, crisp and swinging. He segued from melody to improvisation, setting the stage for more great stick work behind him from Lewis Nash.  In a night full of highlights, the virtuosity of McBride and the trio was a delight.

The other apparition was the recently departed Dave Brubeck, who meant so much to everyone at the Monterey Jazz Festival. After blazing through Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” to nominally close the show, the group reassembled and chose one of Brubeck’s less familiar tunes,  “Mr. Broadway.” It was a perfect choice to honor his memory, one that avoided the trap of mimicking “Take Five” or “Blue Rondo.” It provided a swinging framework for the front line to go out charging – I thought Akinmusire’s trumpet solo was one of his best moments of the evening. And Dee Dee Bridgewater provided some tender vocalizing, slipping into the lines of “Take Five” at the end, a perfect coda to the performance.

As difficult as it is to transfer the ambience and spirit of the Monterey Jazz Festival to another performance venue, the MJF All Stars managed to do it.

Now, only eight more months to MJF 56.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 21 – 27

January 21, 2013

By the iRoM Staff

Los Angeles

Vicky Ray

- Jan. 22. (Tues.)  Vicki RayPiano Spheres.  Exploration of contemporary music is at the heart of the Piano Spheres program.  This time, adventurous pianist Ray (with a chamber ensemble of musician friends) interprets the music of Stravinsky as well as new works by composers from Asia, Europe and the U.S.    Zipper Hall, Colburn School.

- Jan. 22 & 23. (Tues. & Wed.)  Shen Yun 2013 World Tour.  Founded by expatriate Falun Gong practitioners in New York, works to “revive the essence of 5000 years of Chinese culture” via extraordinary displays of Chinese classical, ethnic and folk dance.  With Orchestra.  The Fred Kavli Theater in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.   (805) 449-2787.

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour.  High quality music is the basic foundation of the MJF.  And this rare evening underscores how captivating that music can get in the hands of artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter, Ambrose AkinmusireValley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-3000.

Mike Lang

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  Mike Lang.  Pianist Lang’s long productive career reaches from Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles to Lee Konitz to Barbra Streisand, John Lennon and dozens of stops in between.  He’s also recorded more than 2000 film scores.  But here’s a chance to hear the ultimate inner Lang, musically up close and personal in a trio setting.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  “A Jazzy Tribute to the Negro Baseball Leagues.”  Film maker and singer Byron Motley and special guests guitarist Phil Upchurch and pianist Corky Hale-Stoller celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of the great athletes of the Negro Baseball Leagues.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 24. (Thurs.)  John Beasley Residency IIIThe Monk’estra Big Band. Beasley’s impressive skills as a pianist and composer are applied to a fascinating evening of large group jazz.  The Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

Stanley Clarke

- Jan. 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Stanley Clarke Band. The brilliant bass playing of Clarke brings vivid life to wherever he plays.  And it’s even better when he’s leading his own band of talented young artists.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Conductor Ludovic Morlot, leads the L.A. Phil in a program of great classics – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 — and contemporary French composer Henri Dutilleux’s Shadows of Time. Walt Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Jan. 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Helmuth Rilling offers a rare performance of Mozart’s poignant Requiem and  his classic Symphony No. 39. With the aid of the USC Thornton Chamber Singers.  Sat: at the Alex Theatre. http://www.alextheatre.org    Sun: At Royce Hall. http://cap.ucla.edu/visit/royce_hall.asp  (213) 622-7001.

Roger Kellaway

 

- Jan 27, 28 and 29.  (Fri., Sat. & Sun.)  The New West Symphony.    The N.W.S., under the baton of Marcelo Lehninger,  performs the West Coast Premiere of “Visions of America: A Photo Symphony.”  Music by Roger Kellaway.  Lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman.  Photography by Joseph Sohm.  Vocals by Judith Hill and Steve Tyrell. With piano by Norman Krieger.   And a recorded narration by Clint Eastwood. Friday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Saturday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and on Sunday at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica.

- Jan. 27. (Sun.)  Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra.  The Jazz Influence Orchestra returns to Vitello’s for yet another banquet of big band jazz, played by the Southland’s finest musicians.  To read a recent iRoM review of the Jazz Influence Orchestra click HERE.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Lisa Hilton

Lisa Hilton

- Jan. 27. (Sun.)  Lisa Hilton.  Her highly personal style, as a pianist, a composer and an improviser, has established Hilton as one of the uniquely individualistic performers on the contemporary music scene.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- Jan. 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Joe Lovano’s Us Five.   Adventurous saxophonist Lovano leads the way for his current Us Five ensemble, featuring Esperanza Spalding, James Weidmann, Otis Brown III and Francisco MelaYoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

- Jan. 26. (Sat.) Turtle Island Quartet.  The Grammy-winning string quartet, always trying out new ideas, offers a program of original works and music inspired by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.  Freight and Salvage.   (510) 644-2020.

New York

- Jan. 22. (Tues.) Taarka.  The husband and wife leaders of  the acoustic group Taarka – the duo of mandolinist David Tiller and violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller — celebrate the release of their new CD, Adventures in Vagabondia.  Barbes in Brooklyn.    (347) 422-0248.

Ann Hampton Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway

- Jan. 22 – 26. )Tues. – Sat.)  Ann Hampton Callaway. Callaway not only has a gorgeous voice, she also knows exactly how to use it.  And it’s especially memorable when she applies it – along with her talents as a musical story teller – to the classics of the Great American Songbook. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Jan. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Omar Sosa and Paolo Fresu. They seem to be an unlikely combination – Cuban keyboardist Sosa and Italian trumpeter Fresu.  But the stirring results of their partnership attest to the true globalization of jazz.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

London

- Jan. 25 & 26. (Fri. & Sat.)  Milton Nascimento. He’s one of the icons of Brazilian music, as a performer and as a composer.  And at 70, he’s still going strong.   Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 (0)7439 0747.

Paris

- Jan. 24. (Thurs.)  Steve Cropper and the Animals. The guitarist in Stax Records legendary house band, Cropper takes his unique blend of soul, blues, funk and beyond on the road with a band of eager associates. New Morningn  01 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

Judy Niemack

- Jan. 22. (Tues.)  Judy Niemack presents “New Voices in Jazz 2013.” A gifted, imaginative singer as well as an admired educator, Niemack introduces a collection of talented, if still relatively unknown young vocal artists: Zola Mennenöh, Laura Winkler, Anna Marlene Bicking and Sophie-Charlott GötteA-Trane.    030/313 25 50.

Milan

- Jan. 23. (Wed.)  Philip Catherine.  Belgian jazz guitarist Catherine’s resume reaches from the ‘60s to the present with artists such as Dexter Gordon, Jean-Luc Ponty, Chet Baker, Charlie Mariano, Stephane Grappelli and more.  At 70, his playing continues to be as eclectic as it is accomplished.  Blue Note Milan.    02.6901 6888.


Picks of the Week: Jan. 7 – 13

January 8, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

- Jan. 9.  (Wed.)  Ariana Savalas and Corky Hale.  Yes, the name “Savalas” is familiar; Ariana is the daughter of the veteran actor Telly Savalas.  But as a singer, she has an appealing style that is uniquely her own.  She’s backed by the musically supportive accompaniment of pianist/harpist Hale. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  Betty Bryant.  Singer/pianist Betty Bryant gives another seminar in jazz piano and vocals, as entertaining and swinging as she is musically inventive.  H.O.M.E.  Beverly Hills.   (310) 271-4663.

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  John Beasley.  Pianist/composer Beasely begins a January residency at the Blue Whale, starting with a duo with the unique vocalist Dwight TribleThe Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.) Gerald Wilson Orchestra. At 94, arranger/composer/bandleader Wilson still brings his Orchestra vividly to life everytime he gives the down beat on one of his memorable arrangements.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Amadeus Leopold

Amadeus Leopold

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.)  Amadeus Leopold.  The brilliant young Korean violinist Leopold – whose original name was Hahn-Bin – applies his technical prowess and emotional imagination to a uniquely imaginative view of the classical repertoire.  CAP UCLA.  Royce Hall.

- Jan. 10. (Thurs.)  Ibrahim Maalouf Quintet. (Concert cancelled due to visa problems.) Lebanese trumpeter Maalouf effectively blends Arabic traditional sounds and rhythms with contemporary jazz funk and roots rock.  Theatre Raymond Kabbaz.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

- Jan. 11. (Fri.)  Sinne Eeg.  Highly praised Danish singer Eeg performs with the stellar backing of Larry Koonse, Peter Erskine, Darek Oles and Roger NeumannVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 11. (Fri.)  Los Lobos. The multiple Grammy-winning band from East L.A. continues to continue to find linkages between Chicano rock, Tex-Mex, r&b and traditional Hispanic styles.  The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan

- Jan. 11 – 13. (Fri. – Sun.)  Lainie Kazan.  Actress/singer Kazan’s checkered career reaches from understudying Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl to dozens of high visibility film roles.  But she’s also a uniquely gifted singer with a lush sound and a gift for richly emotional interpretations of the book of standards.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  Steve Ross.  Puttin’ on the Ritz.  “The Music of Fred Astaire.  Singer Ross presents a cabaret show to remember, with some of the greatest songs from film musicals.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Curtis Stigers

Curtis Stigers

- Jan. 13. (Sun.)  Curtis Stigers & His Band.  Saxophonist/singer Stigers has spent most of his career emphasizing his vocal skills, producing some memorable, jazz-tinged, charting songs since the release of his self-titled, platinum debut recording in 1991.  Kirk Douglas Theatre.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast.    (310) 271-9039.

- Jan. 13. (Sun.)  Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour.  The MJF prides itself on the iconic line up of performers for the annual September Festival programs.  And here’s an equally iconic group of artists – Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire – proudly carrying the MJF banner in the off season.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2787.   (The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour also performs at the Valley Performing Arts Center on Jan. 23.

San Francisco

Wesla Whitfield

Wesla Whitfield

- Jan. 9. (Wed.)  Wesla Whitfield with the Mike Greensil Trio.  Whitfield has been offering her view of the Great American Songbook for more than three decades, most often with the backing of her husband, pianist Greensil.  Together they provide an irresistible evening of memorable music.Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

New York

- Jan. 10.  (Thurs.) Janis Ian.  Singer/songwriter Ian made her breakthrough with “Society’s Child” in the mid-‘60s, followed by her Grammy Award-winning “At Seventeen” in the mid-‘70s.  At 81, she’s still going strong.  City Winery.    (212) 608-0555.

- Jan. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  The 2013 NYC Winter Jazzfest.  Six venues around Greenwich Village feature performers such as James Carter, Monty Alexander, Claudia Acuna, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Rez Abbasi and numerous others, young and mature.  The Winter Jazzfest.

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

Carol Welsman, Peter Marshall and Denise Donatelli

- Jan. 11 – 14. (Fri. – Mon.) “And Then She Wrote.”  With Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman and Denise Donatelli.  Emmy Award-winner singer/actor Marshall has created an entertaining overview of the many memorable songs in the Great American Songbook written by women.  And he couldn’t have chosen a better pair of singers to join him in a delightful evening of music, dance and humor than Juno Award nominee Welsman and Grammy nominee Donatelli.   Click HERE to read an iRoM review of the Los Angeles performance of And Then She Wrote.”  The Metropolitan Room.   (212) 206-0440.

- Jan. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.)  Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli.  Straighten Up and Fly Right: A Tribute to Nat “King” Cole.  What a great combination: the spirited piano work of Lewis, the lively singing and guitar of Pizzarelli, and the great book of songs associated with Nat Cole.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Washington D.C.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

- Jan. 8. (Tues.)  Grace Kelly.  Korean/American alto saxophonist and singer Kelly, who just turned 20 in 2012, has firmly established herself as one of the gifted jazz artists of her generation.  Blues Alley.     (202) 337-4141.

London

- Jan. 9 & 10.  (Wed, & Thurs.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart.  Described in the ‘90s by the New York Times as the “best organ trio of the last decade,” the Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart combination continues to get better and better.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- Jan. 10 & 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  “A Tribute to Anita O’Day.”   Signe Juhl and the Nikolaj Bentzon 3. Singer Juhl, backed by pianist Bentzon’s prime trio, celebrates the lively musical history of Anita O’Day.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 263 267.

Milan

- Jan. 11 & 12. (Fri. & Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Grammy-nominated Brazilian singer/pianist and composer has been described as Brazil’s finest native jazz artist.  At 64, she continues to produce memorable recordings and live performances.  The Blue Note Milano.     02.6901 6888.


Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

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

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

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

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

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

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

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

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

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

John Pisano

John Pisano

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

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

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

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

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

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

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

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

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

Happy New Year to all.

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

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

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry


Live Jazz: Monterey Jazz Festival Notebook; Day 3

September 24, 2012

By Michael Katz

It is Monday morning, and a layer of fog has settled over Monterey Bay. The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival is now an empty fairgrounds. Places with names like Dizzy’s Den and the Nightclub are now bland outbuildings connected by an empty midway. But if you close your eyes, you can still imagine a magical place, where a high school flutist can say she followed Ambrose Akinmusire on the stage of the Jimmy Lyons Arena, or a young singer can say she stood in front of a big band on the same stage and was the hottest thing going. And that was just a prelude to the concluding day, which brought Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny and an All-Star MJF combo to conclude one of MJF’s best festivals.

Next Generation Jazz Orchestra

The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra led by Paul Contos kicked things off with some terrific arrangements, including a knockout version of “Harlem Nocturne.” A few of the highlights included the winning composition, “Something Small,” by Christopher McCarthy, and vocalist Laila Smith, who shone on “Only You” and an upbeat arrangement of “Smile.” Artist-in-Residence Ambrose Akinmusire made his first Arena appearance of the festival with a couple of numbers that featured his searing horn. You can only imagine the confidence director Contos had in Elena Pinderhughes to have her follow Akinmusire’s extended riff with a zesty flute solo of her own, and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, who shared the stand with Akinmusire for his final tune.

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding had to be the perfect choice to anchor the Sunday afternoon show. She has the crossover creds to draw a young audience into the Arena, yet her jazz chops endear her to the Monterey faithful. She brought a solid eleven piece ensemble to the Arena in support of her current hit CD, Radio Music, that included rising tenor star Tia Fuller and Chris Turner on supporting vocals. Emerging in a flowing white gown and trademark Afro, she led her band through a jam session that won over the audience from the start.  If there was one unavoidable timing glitch, it was having a lovely ballad set in the midst of what turned out to be the flyover of Thunderbird F-16s from the nearby Salinas Air Show, but by then crowd knew what was coming and waited patiently for the jets to finish, while Spalding adapted with panache.

It’s possible that Esperanza had a little case of Trombone Shorty-itis, as she tried to get a crowd going that was still suffering a bit of an emotional hangover from the day before. Her style is gentler, her voice at its best wafts sweetly over her bass tones. Her finale, an extended rendition of the Radio Music theme, brought home her point about falling in love with music through the radio, but it seemed to leave the set a tad on the short side. One more smaller, more dramatic vocal (and let the crowd take care of itself) might have been more fulfilling.

Mads Tolling

The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always some of my favorite moments. They are a chance to wind down from what tends to be a raucous atmosphere in the Arena and set the stage for the evening’s jazz headliners. Danish violinist Mads Tolling was a wonderful example of this Sunday. The Turtle Island veteran led a quartet that featured sterling guitar work from Michael Abraham and support from bassist George Ben-Weiss and drummer Eric Garland. Together they exploited every aspect of Tollings’ instrument, from Danish folksongs to jazz standards to extended flights in homage to Jean Luc Ponty. My favorites included the opener, “Danish Dessert,” which began with some nice counter plucking between violin and guitar, “Take Off Blues” by Danish legend Svend Asmussen and Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rumba.”  Tollings had a gorgeous extended solo in “Beatrice,” then brought the group back for another Jean Luc tribute, “Pontification.”

Pat Metheny

There was plenty of activity going on throughout the festival as the curtain went down Sunday night, but by that time I was content to stay at the Arena for what turned out to be a superb evening. Pat Metheny returned to the stage with his Unity Band quartet, featuring Chris Potter on reeds, Antonio Sanchez on percussion and upcoming bass star Ben Williams. Metheny remains something of a mad scientist, with his “Orchestrion” lurking in the background like some sort of cross between a super computer and an alien spaceship. This was all linked to something resembling an apothecary shelf at the right of the stage, filled with bottles and beakers that lit up like Christmas lights  throughout the show.

Chris Potter

Metheny started with a type of combination guitar/harp known as the Pikasso. He was joined by Potter on bass clarinet in a lovely pairing that was augmented by some terrific bass lines by Williams. The band went through material from the new Unity album; like most everything Metheny does, it is hard to categorize. If you are a jazz purist you tend to love his full sound and wandering melodies. You sometimes cringe at the more rock-style riffs, but there was relatively little of that Sunday night, and it was kept earthbound by the fine work of Potter, whose soprano matched Metheny’s occasional trips into the stratosphere.

There were times when I felt a little sympathy for Antonio Sanchez, whose masterful rhythms seemed to be competing against the bells and chimes of the Orchestrion. Once or twice I thought I’d stumbled into a soundtrack for the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium. But as the show went on Sanchez had plenty of room to stretch out. And the final moments of the ninety-minute set, when Potter doubled on flute and did a lovely duet with Metheny, brought the audience to its feet.

Christian McBride

The final performance at the Arena would have highlighted any night, but it was a perfect coda to MJF 55. The MJF Jazz Festival on Tour started out with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Christian McBride sharing the stage, with an inspired version of “Do What You Want To Do.” Bridgewater teased the audience as she synched with McBride’s bass, the two of them interweaving riffs.  The rest of the band followed: pianist Bennie Green; Chris Potter doing double duty, bridging the gap between avant garde and straight ahead; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Lewis Nash.  Bridgewater led a spirited version of Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” and Akinmusire stretched out on McBride’s composition “Shade of The Cedar Tree.”

In recent years MJF has shifted the Sunday show to two 90 minute performances, and this works perfectly for the All-Star groups. In the past, with only an hour, it seemed like they were just warming up when the curtain fell. And the fact that the group had played Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den gave the Arena crowd the benefit of their additional time together. If there’s one player who ought to especially benefit from the extended tour, which will begin in January, it is Akinmusire, who will surely get some added recognition from his presence, as well as the opportunity to test his compositions against this stellar group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

But there were plenty of highlights from everyone, including wonderful brushwork by Lewis Nash with the group reduced to a trio for Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga.”   Bobby Hutcherson’s “Highway One,” featured Akinmusire and Potter, and Chris shone in his composition “Salome’s Dance.” Still, if there was a first among equals it had to be Dee Dee Bridgewater.  She mesmerized the crowd with “Don’t Explain,” and later closed the show leading the band in “All of Me.” It is impossible to compare any singer with prior eras, where a national spotlight shone on Sarah and Ellie and Billie, but Dee Dee Bridgewater, at this stage of her career, belongs in the conversation.

As the MJF Touring all-stars finished “All of Me” to a standing ovation, from a crowd that had braved yet another chilly night, there were a few wistful remarks about the paucity of “real jazz” on the Arena schedule. While that may be a narrow definition, I can understand the sentiment. But the umbrella of jazz has spread wide, and there were nearly countless opportunities on the various stages to see jazz of every fashion.  The venues played to near capacity crowds almost everywhere.  It was sad to see the closing curtain fall, as it meant farewell to friends seen too seldom, and a spirit of art and friendship unmatched anywhere in the world.

See you next year, Monterey.

Photos courtesy  of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Live Jazz: Mike Katz’s Monterey Jazz Festival Top Ten

September 13, 2012

By Mike Katz

Every year the Monterey Jazz Festival program features a Top Ten list from Artistic Director Tim Jackson, and I always think that’s interesting, but what does he tell everybody else? And how can he not mention (your favorite here). So I figured I’d take a stab at my own Top Ten, but with a slightly different angle, for this year’s Festival, which begins Fri. Sept. 21.  Here in LA we get to see a good deal of the major touring names (Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Palmieri) as well as others who live or have lived here (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Tierney Sutton, Gerald Clayton, among others.)

I always look forward to new configurations of talent, and introductions to new players, as well as a few familiar names that we don’t see too often on the Left Coast. So here’s my list, in order of appearance, with a special effort to highlight most of the festival’s venues.

1. Mulgrew Miller,  Coffee House.  8, 9:30, 11, Friday night.   Every year I promise myself I will get to see at least one set in the cozy Coffee House, which features small groups playing before appreciatively quiet audiences. What better way to start off  the festival than with Mulgrew Miller, whose bright, swinging touch belies his impressively large physique.

Jack DeJohnette

2. Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy’s Den. 8:30 Friday night; Arena w/ Pat Metheny and Christian McBride, 9:20 Sat. night; Dizzy’s Den, Sunday night, 7:30 with Bill Frisell. The Festival’s Showcase artist, DeJohnette’s multi-faceted talents are reflected in these three different settings. I don’t know yet who the personnel will be in the Friday night  group but it is bound to be interesting; the Metheny trio can’t help but be great and I hope to catch at least part of the duet with guitarist Frisell on Sunday.

3. Gregoire Maret Quartet, Night Club, 9:30 Friday night. When you think about the harmonica in jazz, Toots Thielemans comes to mind, and then there is a long pause. Maret, from Geneva, Switzerland, has been getting some attention as Toots’ heir apparent, so here’s a chance to check him out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

4. Ali Ryerson-Mimi Fox Duo, Night Club, 2:30 Saturday Afternoon. Take a break from the raucous atmosphere at the Arena and check out flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox, both of them notable for exquisite phrasing. You’ll still have time to get back for most of Trombone Shorty’s set.

5. Tribute To Cal Tjader, Dizzy’s Den, 8  Saturday night.  Pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader in the ‘70s, has assembled an all-star group that features Warren Wolf on vibes, along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Robb Fisher and Vince Lateano.

Bill Frisell

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6. Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet, Arena, 8  Saturday night.  Night Club, 10:30 p.m. I know, you can’t be two places at once. Frisell’s commissioned piece promises to be a highlight. Visit the special Cloning Tent right next to the funnel cake stand.7.

Pat Metheny

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7. Pat Metheny, Arena, 9:20 Saturday night (See above) and 7 Sunday night. Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams. Two arena appearances for Metheny. The trio appeals to me the most, but you can’t lose with either one.

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8. Tony Bennett, Arena, 10:50 Saturday night. Need we say more?

9. Next Generation Band, Arena, 1:10 Sunday Afternoon. Yes, you have tickets for Esperanza Spalding. Don’t think it’s cool to skip the opening student groups. Last year’s NGB knocked everybody out. Artist-in-Residence trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits in.

10.  Mads Tolling Quartet. Garden Stage, 4 Sunday afternoon. The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always great fun. Turtle Island Quartet violinist Tolling fronts his own group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

11.  MJF ALL-STARS w/ Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter. Bennie Green, Christian McBride, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash, Arena, 9  Sunday night and Dizzy’s Den, 11 Saturday Night. This super group closes out the festival at the Arena, but you might have just as much fun seeing them Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.

Okay, that’s 11. And I didn’t even mention Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage throughout the Festival.

But…but…what about…Melody Gardot, Christian Scott, Robert Randolph?….excuse me, I’ve got to run. See ya next week.

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

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


Picks of the Week: June 5 – 10

June 5, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- June 5. (Tues.)  “And Then She Wrote.”  Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman, Calabria Foti.  Five time Emmy Award-winning Marshall (Yes, he sings, too) is joined by the lovely singer/instrumentalists Welsman and Foti in an evening of great standards written by women. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- June 5. (Tues.)  Corliss Dale and Lou Forestieri.  Pianist/arranger  Forestieri’s impressive resume reaches from Stanley Clarke to Mel Torme and beyond.  He and his singing wife Dale have released a pair of impressive albums of standards; Fascinating Rhythms and Crazy Rhythm.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- June 6. (Wed.)  The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.  The music from one of the most popular video games of all time is performed by a full orchestra.  The program features music based on story lines from “Ocarina of Time,” “The Wind Waker,” “Twilight Princess” and “A Link to the Past.” The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

Fabiana Passoni

- June 7. (Thurs.) Fabiana Passoni.  Her sultry vocals have earned Passoni the title of Best Brazilian Singer Living in the U.S. from the Brazilian International Press.  Despite the difficult interruptions of a three year battle with cancer, her musical journey has continued to discover new areas of creativity.  She’ll be backed by a ten piece band featuring the stellar presence of, among others, pianist Bill Cantos and guitarist Kleber Jorge. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.  Also at Yoshi’s San Francisco on Sun. (See below.)

- June 7 – 9. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Freddy Cole Quartet.  If the voice sounds familiar, don’t be surprised.  He’s Nat Cole’s younger brother, and he’s fashioned those memorable vocal timbres into an appealing style all his own.  At a time when engaging male jazz singers are in short supply, don’t miss the chance to hear Cole in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- June 7 – 9. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Peter Cetera.  If the name doesn’t instantly ring a bell, think “Chicago.”  And, no, not the city, the great rock group of the ‘70s that rode to fame on Cetera’s memorable vocals.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.     (714) 556-2787.

- June 8. (Fri.) Primus.  For nearly three decades Primus has been stretching the envelope in the style of Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd.  Also on the bill, Fishbone, a high visibility presence in L.A.’s alternative rock scene since the ‘80s.  Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

Ernie Watts

- June 8. (Fri.)  Ernie Watts.  Grammy-winner Watts’ versatile saxophone playing has been heard over the past four decades on more than 500 recordings in the company of artists reaching from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa.  And he’s still going strong.  LACMA.    (323) 857-6000.

- June 8. (Fri.) Big Phat BandGordon Goodwin’s collection of L.A. all-stars perform selections from his always-swinging book of originals and re-invented standards.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- June 10. (Sun.)  Los Angeles Master Chorale. Tribute to Gorecki.  The superb voices of the LAMC close the season with a trio of sonically mesmerizing works by the great Polish composer, as well as the Brahms motet for chorus, Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- June 10. (Sun.)  Chickenfoot.  All-star rock group Chickenfoot – Joe Satriani, Kenny Aronoff, Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar – arrive in support of their latest album, Chickenfoot III.  Also on the bill – Black Stone Cherry. Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Rick Braun

- June 8 – 10.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Rick Braun. Trumpeter/vocalist Braun, following in the Chet Baker footsteps, combining his warm and amiable vocals with an appealingly melodic trumpet style.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

June 10. (Sun.)   Fabiana Passoni.  Brazilian singer Passoni makes her second California appearance this week.  See above L.A. entry for more details.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Washington D.C.

- June 8 – 10.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Garrett. Cutting edge alto saxophonist Garrett’s early roots trace to a five year stint with Miles Davis’ electric bands.  But he’s traveled his own path since then, fully apparent in his latest album, Seeds From the Underground.  Blues Alley.  http://bluesalley.com/events.cfm  (202) 337-4141.

New York

Karrin Allyson

- June 5 – 9. (Tues. – Sat.)  Karrin Allyson. Twenty years after her debut album, I Didn’t Know About You, was released, Allyson continues to set standards for what great jazz singing can and should be – via her superb musicality, rich sense of swing and her utterly engrossing storytelling abilities.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- June 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Renee Rosnes Quartet.  Pianist Rosnes, always a jazz adventurer, checks out fascinating territories with the world class companionship of Steve Nelson, vibes, Peter Washington, bass and Lewis Nash, drums.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 929-4589.

- June 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Dudka Da Fonseca & Helio Alves.  “Samba, Jazz and the Music of Jobim”  An evening revealing, in delightfully rhythmic fashion, the creatively compelling links between jazz and the music of Brazil. With Anat Cohen, Claudio Roditi, George Mraz and Maucha Adnet.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- June 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Charles McPherson. Alto saxophonist McPherson has been convincingly carrying the torch for bebop since he performed on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s 1988 Charlie Parker film, Bird.   Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

London

Danilo Perez

- June 6 (Wed.)  Danilo Perez.  Panama-born pianist/composer/educator Perez’s career arc reaches from intimate musical relationships with Dizzy Gillespie to Wayne Shorter.  With a lot of stops in between, thoroughly establishing himself as one of the influential jazz voices of his generation.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


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