Picks of the Weekend: May 3 – 5 in Los Angeles

May 3, 2013

By Don Heckman

Electricity and internet problems in iRoM land prevented the posting of a full week of International Picks.  But now we finally have enough power and web access to list some Picks of the Weekend here in L.A.  Next week, Picks of the Week will be back on track with our global overview.

Los Angeles

Billy Childs

Billy Childs


- May 3. (Fri.)  Billy Childs Allstar Jazz.  Pianist Childs is constantly in search of new musical adventures.  His All Star Jazz Group, with bassist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Joey Heredia and saxophonist/flutist Katisse Buckingham is his latest jaunt into new creative territory.  The Baked Potato.   (818) 980-1615.

- May 3. (Fri.)  Brandon Fields.  He’s been a first-call session saxophonist for decades, with a resume filled with stellar relationships.  But Fields is a fine jazz artist in his own right, which will be self-evident in this headlining gig, backed by bassist Pat Senatore, drummer Mark Ferber, and pianist tba. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. http://www.vibratogrilljazz.com  (310) 474-9400.

- May 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  Andy Garcia and the Cine Son All Stars.  An Academy Award-nominated actor, director and writer, Garcia has also had a fascinating parallel career as a convincing Latin jazz percussionist and musician.  Here’s one of the rare opportunities to see him in high powered musical action. Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com  (323) 466-2210.

Lang Lang

Lang Lang

- May 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Lang Lang.  It’s a world-class combination, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concert No. 1. and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4.   Disney Hall. http://www.laphil.com/tickets/dudamel-and-lang-lang/2013-05-02  (323) 850-2000.

- May 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Deana Martin. She’s had a career as an actress and a singer, with a top selling workout video.  But her father’s memory is most present in her engaging singing style.  This time out, she celebrates that relationship with “Deana Sings Dino: A Tribute to Her Father.”  Pianist/arranger John Proulx conducts.  Vitello’s.  http://www.vitellosrestaurant.com  (818) 769-0905.

- May 4. (Sat.)  Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus with special guest Joshua Redman. Three of the contemporary jazz world’s most cutting edge musical entities get together for a compelling evening of wide open improvisational exploration.  A CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.  http://cap.ucla.edu  (310) 825-4321.

- May 5. (Sun.)  The Playboy Jazz Festival’s Free Community Concert in Beverly Hills.  Featuring the New Jump Blues Band with Antonio Fargas.  He’s best known for his role as Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch¸but he’s currently leading the New Jump Blues band in their dynamic romps through jazz, blues, calypso and a lot more.  Also on the bill: the Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band under the direction of Bill Bradbury.  The Beverly Hills Civic Center Plaza.  Playboy Festival Hotline: (310) 450-1173.  http://www.playboyjazzfestival.com/events2013.html

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

- May 5. (Sun.) Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  94 year old Gerald Wilson is still a compelling band leader, inspiring vitality and swing in his large jazz ensemble whenever he steps to the front of the stage and gives a down beat. Hear him at every opportunity, and anticipate the pleasures of his memorable compositions and arrangements as well.  Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com  (323) 466-2210.

- May 5. (Sun.)  2nd Annual Los Lobos Cinco de Mayo Festival. The Greek Theatre 2013 schedule begins with a spectacular line-up of Southland favorites, Los Lobos, Robert Randolph, Los Super 7, Willie G of The Midnighters.  The full day of music and celebration begins at 3 p.m.  The Greek Theatre.  http://www.greektheatrela.com/events/event_details.asp?id=2516  (323) 665-5857.

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Billy Childs photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

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.


- 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.


- 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.


- 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 Rock: Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos at the Greek Theatre

July 31, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night a not quite sold out, but certainly revved up, Greek Theater audience was treated to a most appealing double bill of high profile American Latino rock bands.   Beginning their impressive career well over three decades ago,  Los Lobos first blazed the trail that Los Lonely Boys now walk.   Now, Los Lonely Boys are a hot young act that headlines above Los Lobos. But the two bands are friendly and the members mixed and sat in freely during each others’ sets all evening long. The night’s music was a celebration of blues, Norteno music, rock ‘n roll, and Tejano music, to name but a few of the influences that converge somewhere near the borders of California and Texas with Mexico.

Los Lonely Boys

Los Lonely Boys are brothers Henry Garza on guitar, Jojo Garza on bass, and Ringo Garza on drums, out of San Angelo, Texas, and they call their music Texican rock ‘n roll.  While they have an appealingly huge, warm, and busy sound, they also manage to give each other a lot of room to flap their instrumental wings at any moment.   They aren’t locked into a rigid set of arrangements, but what they play is ultra tight, and they do love to jam.   On Friday, these jams percolated  and would burst into snips of songs like “Sunshine of Your Love.” As LLB tap an idea around between them – much like kicking a musical hackeysack — these fellows sound as though they have been playing music with each other all their lives.  Moreover, when Henry and Jojo sang together it was often in unison.   Their voices are different enough to contrast but similar enough to blend as one.

Los Lonely Boys’ songs are based mostly on blues progressions fleshed out with a lot of smooth syncopation.  Each song had a lot of room for experimentation.  Every idea was laid down, elaborated upon enough to advance the song and then gave way to the next one. The lyrics were mostly about desire as in “Oye Mamacita,” and “Road to Nowhere” or lifting the spirit and making the world a better place, as in as in their huge hit, “Heaven.”   Then again, “16 Monkeys” was quite whimsical and playful.   It will be intriguing to see where a group this talented will take their songwriting in the future.

No power trio will fly without a charismatic leader who plays hot lead guitar and sings.   Henry Garza is cut from this rock star cloth.   He is tall with long hair, long arms, long legs, and a very engaging vibe to him onstage.  Most importantly he has the sound – the big, sizzling Texas Stratocaster sound made popular by Stevie Ray Vaughan and several others after him.    His style on guitar brimmed with showmanship and motion, but he stayed within himself and allowed his sound, rather than an excess of notes,  to get the point across. We first got a glimpse of him during Los Lobos set when he walked on and guested on three songs, tearing it up with the Wolves on “Hey Joe,”  and “La Bamba/Good Lovin’.”

The power trio is a tried and true lineup in rock which demands that each player cover a lot of musical ground to keep the sound interesting.  What actually put LLB over the top instrumentally was Jojo’s bass performance.  He plays a six string bass, which gives him chordal possibilities not available on 4- or 5- string basses.    In its higher ranges, a six string bass moves into the realm of a baritone guitar, which meant that Jojo could meet his brother Henry in the same tonal registers and then peel off elegantly up or back down to the bass registers.   Since a 6 string bass has an extra high and low string Jojo’s lines were riveting, as he skillfully constructed his runs to include the high highs and the low lows.  It gave them a modern sound and proved that a six string bass can work beautifully in a rock band.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos opened the show, hitting the stage as the sun went down, and powered through favorites like “La Bamba,” “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” Their 90-minute performance also included two runs through “Cumbias,” a high-energy style of Latin dance music. Over the years (30+) the Wolves have built up a very impressive catalogue of songs in both English and Spanish.  On Friday no less than four of their tunes were sung in Spanish.   “Yo Canto” was a standout and the title cut of their new album Tin Can Trust was mesmerizing.   The band has always featured its members changing instruments.   While we are used to seeing David Hidalgo switch from guitar to accordion routinely, he actually sat in on drums with the Lonely Boys on “Heaven.”   At times the sound system at the Greek didn’t really seem to achieve the separation between the two guitars and Steve Berlin’s baritone sax that it has before.   Still, it wasn’t the sort of inconvenience that could stop a band like Los Lobos from making its musical points.

As the show progressed it became clear that this was a double billing of bands who play great music and live to play.  The stage was at times a revolving door for members of both bands and their delight in the moment was infectiously obvious.  It made for a very special night of music, indeed.

To see more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Picks of the Week: July 25 – 31.

July 25, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Justo Almario

- July 26. (Tues.)  Justo Almario Quartet.  Saxophonist/flutist Almario is one of the Southland’s great jazz treasures, a player who moves convincingly across every jazz arena. Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 27. (Wed.)  Gladys Knight and James Ingram.  The one and only Grammy-winning Empress of Soul shares the stage with the smooth sounds of balladeer Ingram.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2040.

- July 28. (Thurs.)  David Angel’s Saxtet.  Angel continues his quest to showcase the jazz saxophone in all its glories.   Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

- July 28. (Thurs.)  Red Baraat.  The band that has convincingly married the Punjabi bhangra percussion rhythms with spunky New Orleans brass makes its West Coast premiere appearance.  The Skirball Cultural Center.   Free.  Seating on first come basis.  (310) 440-4500.

Ann Hampton Callaway

- July 28 – July 30.  (Thurs. – Sun.) Ann Hampton Callaway.  Blessed with one of the jazz vocal world’s most gorgeous, emotionally pliant voices, Callaway is also a convincing pianist and a masterful musical storyteller. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- July 29. (Fri.)  Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos.  One of the major pop music breakthroughs of the past decade, the Grammy winning, platinum producing Lonely Boys share the stage with the older, more established, but no less compelling Los Lobos. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

- July 29. (Fri.)  John Proulx, Kristin Korb and Dave Tull. Trio’s like this don’t come along very often.  Pianist Proulx, bassist Korb and drummer Tull are all first rate instrumentalists  But each of them is also an appealing jazz vocalist.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- July 29 & 30. (Fri. & Sat.) Michael Feinstein and the Singing Stars of Television.  Pianist/singer Feinstein, who matches his musical adroitness with a dedication to the glories of American song, performs with Wayne Brady, Florence Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson and Dick Van Dyke.   Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2040.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Trouble in Tahiti. The too-rarely seen Leonard Bernstein one-act opera receives a rare and unusual performance in a night club setting.  Jessica Marney and Phil Meyer star.   Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Shoghaken Ensemble and Tigran.  An evening overflowing with the colorful, far-reaching melodies and rhythms of Armenia.  Grand Performances.

(213) 687-2159.

- July 30. (Sat.)  Chuck Manning Quartet.  Versatile tenor saxophonist Manning brings an inventive point of view to his bop-influenced, straight ahead style.  His stellar backing includes Jay Daversa, trumpet, Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  At 6:30 and 10:30, the Otmaro Ruiz duo.   Vibrato.  (310) 474-9400.

Peter Frampton

- July 30. (Sat.)  Peter Frampton.  One of the icons of classic rock, Frampton was a co-founder of the group Humble Pie when he was only eighteen.  Still a star, this time out he performs his multi-platinum album Frampton Comes Alive! in its entirety.  Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

- July 30 & 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  The 16th annual festival, always a showcase for the Southland’s finest, takes place in one of the founding places of Los Angeles jazz.  This year’s line up includes: on Saturday: Pete Escovedo, Kamasi Washington, the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, Karen A. Clark Project, Ashley Siris, Dorian Holley, The LAUSD All-City High School Jazz Band.  On Sunday: The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Katia Moraes and Sambaguru, Deacon Jones with Ray Goren, Ernie Andrews, Jazz America tribute to Buddy Collette.  The Central Avenue Jazz Festival takes place on Central Ave. between 42nd and 43rd streets.  Free.  (213) 473-2309.

San Francisco

New West Guitar Group

- July 27. (Wed.)  New West Guitar Group. A trio of gifted young guitarists – John Storie, Perry Smith and Jeff Stein, the New West players have thoroughly authenticated their ability to move freely and imaginatively across jazz, rock, folk and beyond.  Freight & Salvage.   http://www.thefreight.org  (510) 644-2020.

- July 29. (Fri.)  Lavay Smith’s Crazy in Love with Patsy Cline.  The one and only sultry siren finds entertaining common ground between jazz, blues and country.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020.

- July 31 – 31. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Fab Four.  Tribute bands seem to be proliferating in every direction.  But none do a more entertaining job of it than the Fab Four’s ear and eye catching versions of the Beatrles. Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

New York

- July 26 – 30. (Tues. – Sat.)  Leny Andrade“From Rio With Love.”  The title is great, but it doesn’t say it all.  Andrade, in fact, has for years been one of Brazil’s most proficient jazz vocal artists, combining her deep understanding of Brazilian rhythms with an equally inventive jazz style.  Birdland.     (212) 581-3080.

- July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Fourplay. Guitarist Chuck Loeb joined founding Fourplay members Bob James, keyboards, Nathan East, bass and Harvey Mason, drums in 2010.  The result has been a further musical enhancement of a group that has always had the ability to find the creative heart of whatever style they elect to play.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Claudia Acuna

- July 26 – 31. (Tues. – Sun.)  Claudia Acuna.  In a jazz world overflowing with talented female vocal artists, Acuna continues to soar freely at the highest levels of the art.  Chilean born, she mastered the basics quickly, but what makes her special is the way she has shaped her version of those basics into her own mesmerizing musical story telling. (212) 258-9800.   Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.


- July 29. (Fri.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Tenor and soprano saxophonist Coltrane has successfully accomplished the difficult task of creating his own convincing musical identity, expanding inventively from year to year, inspired but undistracted by the greatness of his father.  New Morning.    01 45 23 51 41.

Justo Amario photo by Tony Gieske.

Live Rock: Robert Plant and the Band of Joy at the Greek Theatre

April 24, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

Once, more than 40 years ago, Robert Plant and John Henry Bonham emerged out of their Band of Joy and into the New Yardbirds, led by a talented upstart studio musician named Jimmy Page. The original Band of Joy was a vehicle for Plant and Bonham to play the music they loved — traditional blues, English folk music and San Francisco vintage hippie music (Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane etc) – as well as they possibly could.  And if critical success was in the cards then so be it.    Plant and Bonham certainly caught Page’s ear and, with their new singer and drummer, the New Yardbirds morphed into the infamous Led Zeppelin.  The rest was truly iconic rock history. Now, some 30 years later, Plant has formed a new Band of Joy.  And in support of their new self titled “LP,” they put on a splendid show Saturday night for a full house at the Greek Theatre.

The new Band of Joy consists of Marco Giovino (percussion), Patty Griffin (vocals and guitar), original member Byron House (electric and acoustic bass), Buddy Miller (guitar, baritone guitar, mandoguitar and vocals) and Darrell Scott (vocals, mandolin, guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo).   In this band,  Plant has assembled a group that sounds rootsy, bluesy and quite folky as they put their interpretive spin on a set of songs ranging from Los Lobos’ “Angel Dance” to Townes Van Zant’s “Harm’s Swift Way” to Porter Waggoner’s “A Satisfied Mind,” as well as the Led Zeppelin material. The folkier yet very recognizable Led Zeppelin tunes really do lend themselves well to the stripped down/turned down treatments that the Band of Joy thrive on.

Robert Plant

When Robert Plant walks on stage it’s only natural to realize that you are looking at one of the true living legends in rock history.  And Saturday night’s audience knew it well, most of them having grown up listening to Led Zeppelin throughout their formative years.  To look at him, Plant doesn’t give the appearance of one of hard rock/heavy metal’s most vaunted front men. At 62, he remains slender, his hair is still long and he wears a short goatee.   He never has actually looked much the part of a heavy metal deity, per se. Never has he looked like a bad-ass. He is without excessive piercings, tattoos, and all the other frills that go with the genre. His style has always leaned more towards jeans and a boutique shirt.

Of course he did sound the part while at his peak during the Led Zeppelin years.  His voice then was a prototype for fusing sheer power and tender expression. On Saturday, he walked onstage unassumingly with his black shirt out and loose fitting over his jeans.   Many times during the evening, he stood on the backline to deliver background vocals as his band mates carried the tune. At stage front, he had a memorable way of tiptoeing as he danced through the changes like a nomad cutting across a meadow.   Occasionally he would kick the mike stand up, as he did in the old days.  But generally speaking, we were watching a man who has happily reinvented himself over the years, taking things tastefully low key for the long run.

The program for Saturday night relied on several chestnuts from the Zeppelin catalogue, as well as tasteful choices in covers from varied and unlikely sources.   The show opened with a transformed “Black Dog.” The audience recognized the song immediately and when the stops and starts that song is famous for didn’t materialize, they went with it and got into the new groove of that song.   Changing the pace allowed Plant to sing at a more natural pitch, with no need to wail, with room for every sound to breathe and for the words to set in.   “Black Dog” featured tastefully layered droning guitars, extensive tom work on the drums, light use of the cymbals, and a huge sense of open space between all the voices in the mix.   Later in the set, “Houses of the Holy” also received a dramatic but oh, so tasty reworking.   On this song in particular, his voice meshed with the angelic tone of one Patty Griffin to bring out hues in the song previously unheard.

Perhaps the most compelling instrumental voice in transforming the songs was the pedal steel guitar voicings of Darrell Scott.   Every time he came in on pedal steel it took a song up a notch. Led Zeppelin’s recording of  “That’s the Way it Ought to Be,” features Jimmy Page evoking a pedal steel guitar. On Saturday, Band of Joy did a show-stopping version of the tune in which Scott took the torch and ran with it on a real pedal steel guitar.   It was a realization of the sort of music that many LZ fans surely may have wondered about over time. Scott also made beautiful contributions on the banjo, lending an ultra bluesy feel to songs like “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” In fact, with all six voices in the band in an eerie low harmonic interval, the song was downright haunting.

Having garnered 5 Grammys in 2009 for his work with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand, the inclusion of their collaboration, “Please Read the Letter,” was obvious.  It is a simply beautiful tune and Plant’s and Griffin’s voices again shimmered together in harmony and in the wide open space Band of Joy provided them.  During the encore, the audience ecstatically received a sparkling version of “Ramble On” and a sparser version of the centuries old folk song “The Gallows Pole,” in which a man asks to be forsaken while hanging on the gallows pole.   Fittingly, the very last entry of the night was a very nearly (save for one guitar) a capella version of the Grateful Dead’s “And We Bid You Goodnight.”

Opening the show were the North Mississippi All Stars — on this evening a two man power house of musicianship represented by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of the late music legend, producer Jim Dickinson.   They proceeded to switch off between different instruments for each song.  Luther is a born killer on slide guitar and seemed to have a different guitar for each of many open tunings.   He even had what looked to be a custom made mock up of a cigar box guitar like the old time rural blues men used to make for themselves.   Cody spent most of the evening behind the drum set, occasionally coming out to play an amazing guitar duet with his brother.    It should be very interesting to see where these hugely talented guys take their music in the future.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Live Rock: The Steve Miller Band and Los Lobos at the Greek Theatre

July 14, 2010

By Mike Finkelstein

On Sunday night, the Greek Theater presented an attractive double bill featuring the Steve Miller Band and Los Lobos to a near capacity audience. This was a show that targeted the legions of classic rock fans who have typically attended a lot of concerts and rock shows for most of their lives.

Like many headlining bands SMB used a huge banner to accentuate their entrance, emerging from behind a star covered Space Cowboy image that covered the stage from top to bottom.  While many bands use huge two dimensional banners as backdrops, Miller has raised the bar up a notch with a very clever 3 dimensional spiral galaxy of guitars.  Dozens of bigger-than-life- to life- sized photos of Miller’s personal guitar collection plunged into a musical vortex behind a beautifully scaled, 30 foot sculpture of an Fender Stratocaster neck and headstock, detailed with colorized strings and spotlight tuning heads.  Fender must surely be elated by this arresting presentation.

Steve Miller

Miller and his cohorts hit the stage energetically, launching into “Jet Airliner,” one of many hits in their long and FM-friendly career.  Throughout the evening Miller wove together a whole grip of hits — “Take the Money and Run,” “Abracadabra,” and “The Joker” — with some very tasty, familiar blues and r & b covers such as “Mercury Blues,” “Come On,” and “I just Can’t be Satisfied,” keeping the show at a fresh pace.   The band had an unorthodox lineup for most of the night, with two guitars, drums and keys, without a bass guitar.   But the sound never suffered as keyboardist Joseph Wooten smoothly handled the bass lines with his left hand.   On songs like “Shubadadumama,” which features several quick and funky signature bass runs, Kenny Lee Lewis switched from rhythm guitar to five string bass and had it covered.   Drummer Gordy Knudtsen was steady and popping all night, too.

Miller’s songs are at times rich in vocal layering and for this reason he has wisely hired the talented Sonny Charles to sing backups, harmonies and unisons with him onstage.  Charles’ voice is tailored to fit with Miller’s parts, particularly the unisons, and he is such a good blues vocalist that Miller, to his credit, turned the reigns over to him at times.   On several of the covers, like “Further On Up The Road,” Charles just nailed it.  Interestingly, Miller brought a pre teen-aged prodigy from his music school Kids Rock for Free onstage for “Rockin’ Me” and  “Fly Like An Eagle” at the end of the show.  The kid could really play, trading leads with Miller and playing in a rocker’s stance.   Miller was clearly delighted to see the boy get off on guitar in front of a full house, though one song would have gotten the message over just as well.

At the age of 66 and in the music business for more than 43 years, stories develop and fellow musicians pass on.  Recently, Miller lost two very close friends and reconnected with another.  Norton Buffalo played harmonica in the SMB for 33 years and died suddenly of cancer in October, 2009.  For his brother in harmony Miller played “Wild Mountain Honey” solo on acoustic guitar.  Les Paul, who died in August 2009, was Miller’s godfather and the best man at his father’s wedding.   Miller had known and learned from Paul for his entire life.  He dedicated the moving standard “Nature Boy” to him.   On a different note, SM told the story of an exemplary Martin 12-string guitar that had gotten away from him, stolen by an airline worker in 1980. It was actually returned to him 3 years ago by the FBI!   He played a simply beautiful, if obscure, song of his named “Seasons” on it.

Steve Miller Band

Miller’s material is shrewdly constructed using a lot of basic blues voicings. Most of his songs are stylized to feature simple rhyming lyrics about love and harmony that are meant to be sung along to the radio.  The bass lines are warm and often walk all over the place.   The drums are big but not over the top and very crisp.  The guitar lines and textures complement each other beautifully.

But guitar playing is really Miller’s calling card.  Alternating between Strats and Les Pauls to get a rich warm tone, Miller made it all look very easy.   Nor did he depend on a distorted sound to make his points..  His sound was basically clean and sustained, though he did use some delay in places on tunes such as “Fly Like An Eagle.” His style, honed over many years, is rooted in the nuances of the blues.   Like so many good blues players he says more with less, emphasizing the tone and subtlety of a phrase. Since he wore aviation sunglasses all night, we never did see his eyes.  And it appeared that he wasn’t big on facial contortions, either.

Anyone who was around in the mid ‘70’s and listened to FM rock radio undoubtedly heard all of Miller’s hits to the point of saturation.  A catchy song can become so familiar as to create a bit of a backlash at the time.  But there’s nothing like passing time to allow an old song to bring back memories of what we were doing when the song was all over the airwaves.   This was the case with Miller’s Sunday performance.  It’s also worth noting that in his prime, the vinyl LP was the main medium for listening to recorded music.  A 12-inch album cover is a much better format for looking at cool album art than a 5 inch jewel box CD.  His lush air brushed album covers of the time definitely dovetailed with his use of synthesizers to create a spacy mood that many people embraced then.  As he told us in “The Joker” he is… “A midnight toker.”   And so it was back in the day.

Los Lobos

The show was opened by the legendary East LA band Los Lobos, who have been together since 1973.  The band’s front five — Cesar Rojas, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and Steve Berlin — are as versatile a band as one could hope to find, and they covered a lot of musical ground in a little less than an hour.  From big beat Texas blues, to 50’s boogie-woogie rock and roll, to traditional Tejano (Texas/Mexico) music, to bluesy ballads and tight jangly pop they touched on all of it.

Rojas and Hidalgo both played guitar and traded off or combined their lead vocals from song to song.  Their voices mesh famously, with Rojas’ being lower and slightly more gravelly than Hidalgo’s smooth and higher voice.  Having these two contrasting vocal timbres available was one of the reasons they were able to take things in so many different directions.  Hidalgo is a fine lead player, too, and his leads were clean and articulate each time through. Rojas and Hidalgo were supported in style by Perez on third guitar and the steady grooving Lozano on bass.   To watch Lozano play was to watch a man dialed into the connection between his bass and __his band.   The way he walked it, let it growl and drove the band with it personified smoothness.  At the far end of the stage, Berlin skillfully colored each song, mostly honking the baritone sax but also rotating on tenor sax and keyboards.

Los Lobos could easily have headlined at the Greek.  As it was, they cruised through a quickly paced, very well played set.  Their catalogue of songs is as extensive as it is impressive and while they touched on many areas of what they do, they left the crowd wanting more.   Songs like “Shakin,’ Shakin,’ Shakes” and “Evangeline” (with its ‘50s structure and boogie woogie bass line) rocked, plain and simple.   “Evangeline” in particular, came across with a power and style that only Los Lobos could deliver.  Similarly, but on a completely different musical path, the haunting and beautifully evocative “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” went over beautifully, enhanced by the harmonies between Hidalgo’s accordion and Berlin’s keyboard. “Will the Wolf Survive?” a beautifully crafted bit of jangling guitars and vocal harmony recorded in the early 80’s, still sounds phenomenal, with Hidalgo’s voice as expressive as it was 26 years ago.  “The Neighborhood” allowed him to cut loose and play some great, biting blues, and the show ended with a quick but rocking medley of  “La Bamba” and “Good Lovin’.”   So much talent and material, yet too little time.

Even so, on this clear summer night, in the Greek’s remarkably pleasant, mountainside setting, Los Lobos left us with a memorable stanza of “The Neighborhood” -– words to live by which the band continued to sing as the song cooled down:

Thank you Lord for another day

Help my brother along his way

And please bring peace to the neighborhood…”

To read more of Mike Finkelstein’s reviews cliick here.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 25 – Jan. 31

January 25, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Jan. 25. (Mon.)  The Saxtet.  A cluster of L.A.’s finest jazz saxophonists get together.  Dave Angel, Gene Cipriano, Phil Feather, Roger Neumann, Bob Carr, Dave Koonse, Kendall Kay Charlie O’s.    (818) 989-3110.

- Jan. 25. (Mon.)  Larry Goldings Organ Night. It’s boogaloo night this time, with a dance floor set up for the exhibitionists in the crowd.  Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 26 – 28. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Celebrating Django Reinhardt at 100.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Josh Nelson

- Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Karmetik Machine Orchestra.  Featuring appearances by North Indian sarodist Ustad Aashish Khan, electronic artist Curtis Bahn, Balinese gamelan master I Nyoman Wenten, vocal synthesizer Perry Cook, with a theatrical set designed by Michael Darling. SCREAM Festival.  REDCAT.   (213) 237-2800.

- Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Josh Nelson Duo.  With Pat Senatore.
An intgriguing combination — Pianist Nelson’s youthful adventurousness and the always solid, veteran bass work of Senatore.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

- Jan. 28. (Thurs.)  Mary Ann McSweeney Quartet.  Bassist McSweeney’s program explores an unusual range of music, from Harold Arlen and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Featuring special guest Claire Daly, trombone, Bill Cunliffe, piano and Paul Kreibich, drums.  The Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX.  (310) 642-7500.

- Jan. 28.  (Thurs.)  John Beasley Jazz Circle.  Pianist Beasley will perform music scanning his career, from his first album, Cauldron, to the recent, heavily charted Positootly.   Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Joffrey Ballet. Cinderella.”  The scintillating Joffrey dancers perform the classic version by Sr. Frederick Ashton to the gorgeously atmospheric Prokofiev score.  The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.   (213) 972-7211.

Roseanna Vitro

- Jan. 29. (Fri.) Roseanna Vitro Quartet. Vitro doesn’t bring her warmly intimate singing to L.A. very often.  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear her up close and personal. Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Bern.  Drummer Bernie Dresel’s played with just about everyone.  But he seems to have most fun when he’s propulsively driving his own band, Bern.   Spazio. (818) 728-8400. 

- Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation.  Disney Concert Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sony Holland.  Singer Holland’s recent move to the Southland has brought another imaginative jazz voice to Los Angeles.  She sings with Theo Saunders QuartetThe Culver Club in the Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Westside.  (310) 649-1776.  l

- Jan. 29 & 30.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Django 100 A Century of Hot Jazz.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass.  Orange County Performing Arts Center.  (714) 556-ARTS.

- Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Feb. 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)  Laurence Hobgood Trio.  Grammy-nominated pianist/composer Hobgood celebrates the release of his CD When the Heart Dances, with Hamilton Price, bass and Kevin Kanner, drums.  Hobgood is a long-time accompanist for singer Kurt Elling, also Grammy nominated, who will be in town to co-host the pre-telecast Grammy program.  Will Elling make a surprise appearance at one of Hobgood’s gigs?  Stay tuned.  Cafe Metropol.  (213) 613-1537.

Ellis Marsalis

- Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis. Favorite Love Songs.  The patriach and the trombonist of the Marsalis clan perform some classic material with John Clayton and Marvin “Smitty” Smith Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Los Lobos.  The pride of East L.A, the Grammy winning masters of Latin roots music.  With an afternoon family performance of Disney tunes, and an evening set of their signature classics.  UCLA live at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-4401.

- Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Christian Howes, Robben Ford.  The encounter between Howes’ adventurous electric violin playing and Ford’s blues guitar should generate some colorful creative sparks.  Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

- Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Mark Winkler.  Singer/songwriter Winkler not only interprets the American Songbook with convincing ease, he also writes songs with equally timeless potential. Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Alfredo Rodriguez

- Jan. 26. (Tues.) Alfredo Rodriguez.  The young Cuban pianist has been startling audiences with his uniquely inventive improvisations.  To check my review of his Los Angeles appearance a few months ago click here.   Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

- Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.) Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica BlowoutA Muddy Harp Tribute with blues of every stripe and color.  Featuring James Cotton, Paul Oscher, Mojo Buford, Willie Smith, Johnny Dyer.      Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

- Jan. 29 – Feb. 4. (Fri. – Thurs.)  SF World Music Festival.  Forty-three bands in 11 showcases over 7 days, featuring The Action Design, Rykarda Parasol, Dave Smallen and The Trophy Fire.  At the Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th Street), Thee Parkside (1600 17th Street) and DNA Lounge (375 11th Street).   SF World Music Festival.

New York

- Jan. 25 – 27. (Mon. – Wed.) Gato Barbieri.  Still one of the true unique saxophone sounds in jazz, Barbieri recaps his classics and tries a few new things as well. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

- Jan. 26. (Tues.)  Somi. The American born daughter of parents from Rwanda and Uganda, Somi’s songs — and her singing — are compelling blends of traditional music, jazz and her own utter originaliy.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Tierney Sutton

- Jan. 26 – 27.  (Tues. – Wed.)  Cindy Blackman Explorations. her dynamic drumming traces in a direct line to the innovative playing of her mentor, Art Blakey, and to her source of inspiration, Tony Williams. The brilliant young trumpeter Dominick Farinacci is opening act on Wed.   Zinc Bar.   (212) 477-9462.

- Jan. 26 – 30.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Tierney Sutton.  Sutton brings an impressive blend of musicality, imagination and believeable story telling to everything she sings. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Jan. 28. (Thurs.) Wayne Krantz Trio.  The Trio, with Tim LeFebvre on bass and Keith Carlock on drums is one of the major pace-setters in contemporary jazz fusion. 55 Bar(212)  929-9883.

- Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sam Sadigursky.  The saxophonist/composer celebrates the release of Words Project III: Miniatures, the third installment in his Words Project series.  The unique set of works combine his diverse compositional views with poetry from Emily Dickenson, Carl Sandburg, Maxim Gorky and others.  Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn. (718) 222-8500


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