Here, There & Everywhere: Jazz at the Federal

April 23, 2012

This post is part of the Jazz Journalists Association’s international “Blogathon.”

By Don Heckman

It’s always a significant event when a new room for jazz opens. Whether it’s small or large, daily or weekly, it’s still something to acknowledge, at a time when existing music venues are struggling to survive and new arrivals are in short supply.

So I was glad to be part of an enthusiastic crowd at the Federal Bar and Restaurant in North Hollywood’s NoHo district last Wednesday, when April Williams kicked off her Jazz at the Federal. In its beginning stages, it will only be scheduled for Wednesday nights, But given the success that hard-working April has had with her Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programs, it’s a fair expectation that she’ll do similarly well with her Federal programs. At least one hopes so.

Underscoring her desire to program first rate jazz – ranging from big bands and straight ahead jazz to funk and TK – the opening night headliner was the Bob Sheppard’s stellar quintet, with the leader on soprano and tenor saxophones, John Beasley on piano and keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

The program ranged from Sheppard originals to a line by Freddie Hubbard (once an employer of both Sheppard and Beasley), And the ensemble interaction during the more intricately arranged passages was first rate. But the musical focus of the evening had less to do with complex charts than with some prime, showcase playing from the two principal soloists, Sheppard and Beasley.  World class players with impressive resumes, both have enhanced the bands of leaders with far broader visibility. But each can stand on his own – as they did this night – as avid improvisational adventurers. And with the equally intrepid support of Lefebvre and Hass the musical expeditions journeyed through one fascinating musical territory after another.

All this took place in the Federal’s large, high ceilinged second floor – a space alternately recalling a Greenwich Village jazz club of the ’60s and a timeless French cellar bistro. Although the brick walls and exposed beams tended to muddy low tones somewhat, it was a problem that sound reinforcement can resolve. Otherwise, the room is an amiable audio location.

When April Williams begins to present her continuing shows in May, Jazz at the Federal will begin to establish itself as the jazz destination it has all potential for becoming. The schedule forecast includes Arturo Sandoval’s 20 piece big band, the jazz funk of Bernie Dressel’s supercharged instrumental/vocal band, Bern, and Grammy winning Gordon Goodwin’s 18 piece Big Phat Band.

Only time – and the audiences – will tell, of course, but the future of Jazz at the Federal looks promising. Let’s hope the room and its programs become well attended additions to the rich diversity of jazz in Los Angeles.

For more information about April Williams’ Jazz at the Federal, click HERE.


 


Picks of the Week: April 16 – 22

April 17, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Robert Davi

- April 17. (Tues.) Robert Davi. The warm, expressive sound, brisk rhythms and lyrical phrasing recall Frank Sinatra. But Davi is no Sinatra imitator. Inspired by Ol Blue Eyes, Davi has taken the style and shaped it into his own creative identity. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- April 17. (Tues.) Fat Tuesday” Jazz Nights – celebrating “the amazing jazz roots of the Big Easy” – begin at the LAX Jazz Club every Tuesday night. Opening the celebration in the right style – jazz/blues vocalist Sweet Baby Jai.  (310) 258-1333.

- April 18. (Wed.) Anthony Wilson. Guitarist Wilson’s third installment in his month-long, Wednesday night residency at the Blue Whale finds him in the first rate musical companionship of guitarists Larry Koonse, John Storie and Jeffrey Stein. Blue Whale (213) 620-0908

Bob Sheppard

- April 18. (Wed.) The Bob Sheppard Group opens“Live at the Federal.” One couldn’t have asked for a better choice to open the doors at a new L.A. Jazz venue than saxophonist/composer Bob Sheppard. Impresario April Williams has promised that the inviting new room, on the second floor of the Federal Bar & Restaurant in the heart of North Hollywood’s NoHo district, will feature “live fusion jazz, funk and big band sounds. Sheppard won’t have a big band – at least not this time – but he’ll be covering the other styles in his usual energetic fashion. Expect this to be the start of something special. The Federal. (818) 980-2555 Ext, 2.

- April 19. (Thurs.) Judy Wexlers Birthday Bash. Numbers don’t count when it comes to a singer with a spirit as youthful and imaginative as Judy Wexler. So wish her a happy birthday and then sit back and let her provide an evening of delightful musical gifts. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- April 19 – 21. (Thurs. – Sat.) Lynda Carter. She may be best known as Wonder Woman, but Carter is an appealing singer, as well. Hopefully, she’ll offer some of the songs from her latest album, Crazy Little Things, a blend of standards, pop and country. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- April 20. (Fri.) Lorraine Feather. In addition to her versatile vocal skills, Feather is a brilliant lyricist, who has written lyrics for instrumental pieces by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and other jazz greats. Her latest album, Tales of the Unusual, is a compelling display of her ability to bring life to familiar musical themes. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- April 21. (Sat.) Kate McGarry. She’s been described as having “the soul of a folk singer and the facility of a jazz instrumentalist.” And the proof is there for all to hear on her new CD, Girl Talk. Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908

Anoushka Shankar

- April 21. (Sat.) Anoushka Shankar. The daughter of legendary Indian sitarist. Ravi Shankar, Anoushka has slowly moved beyond the encompassing shadow of her powerful father to become an impressive interpreter of Indian classical music in her own right. Luckman Fine Arts Complex  (323) 343-6600. Also at Irvine Barclay on April 22. (Sun.) (949) 854-4646.

- April. 22. (Sun.) Melissa Morgan. Climaxing a week in which Vitello’s has been bursting with impressive female jazz singers, the talented young Morgan arrives with a stellar band, ready to display some of the blues-driven material on her almost completed new CD. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- April 22. (Sun.) John Daversa Big Band. Baked Potato. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Daversa offers a too-rare opportunity to hear his adventurous excursions into new, big jazz band timbres, textures and rhythms.  The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

- April 22. (Sun.) Joan and Marcus Belgrave. Veteran trumpeter Belgrave, who’s played with everyone from Ray Charles and Charles Mingus to Tony Bennet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra does a gig featuring the soothing, sexy vocals of his wife, Joan Belgrave. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

- April 22. (Sun.)  Mike Lang.  Pianist/composer Lang’s credits reach from Ray Charles and Lee Konitz to film scores by Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein and beyond.  Add to that the material he’s composed for Stan Getz, Herb Alpert and others.  But the full extent of Mike’s skills is best revealed in the sort of gig he’s playing this weekend — an “Up Close and Personal” performance with the sole accompaniment of bassist Michael Valerio.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Music Den at Keyboard Concepts.  Sherman Oaks.  (310) 271-9039.

-April 22. (Sun.) Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Kahane 2. The celebration of music director Jeffrey Kahane‘s 15th anniversary with LACO climaxes with a performance featuring the music of his son, Gabriel Kahane. In addition, the Orchestra showcases its remarkable versatility with performances of Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 and Charles Ives’ Three Places In New England. UCLA Live at Royce Hall. (310) 825-4401.

San Francisco

Charles Lloyd

- April 22. (Sun.) Charles Lloyd New Quartet. Saxophonist/flutist Lloyd continues to take an ever exploratory musical path — one of jazz’s great innovators since the ’60s and still going strong. In addition to his New Quartet, Lloyd will be joined by Maria Farantouri, the remarkable Greek vocalist featured on Lloyd’s latest ECM abum, Athens Concert.  An  SFJAZZ. 2012 Spring Season concert at the Herbst Theatre.  (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- April 17 & 18. (Tues. & Wed.) Tuck & Patti. It’s a simple combination – guitar and voice. But what guitarist Tuck and singer Patti – partners in music and life – make of it is sheer musical beauty. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-97

New York

- April 17. (Tues.) Lainie Cooke. At a proud sixtysomething, Cook still hasn’t receive either the visibility or the accolades that her vocal imagination deserves. But her passionate performances should be heard at every opportunity. Cornelia St. Cafe. (212) 989-9319.

- April 17 – 22 (Tues. – Sun.) Joshua Redman Trio. Tenor saxophonist has been taking on the challenge of the basic trio format – without a harmony instrument – and succeeding admiraby. Here he performs with Matt Penman, bass and Greg Hutchinson, drums. The Village Vanguard.  (212) 929-4589.

- April 17 – 22 (Tues. – Sun.) The Jim Hall Quartet featuring Julian Lage. One of the iconic figures of jazz for decades, guitarist Hall teams up with young prodigy Lage for a cross generational musical encounter. They’re backed by Scott Colley, bass and Joey Baron, drums. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Boston

Luciana Souza

- April 20. (Fri.) Luciana Souza and Romero Lubambo Brazilian Duo. It doesn’t get much more Brazilian than the irresistible musical combination of the versatile vocalist Souza and the equaly eclectic guitarist Lubambo. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

Washington, D.C.

- April 19 – 22 (Thurs. – Sun.) Keiko Matsui. A pioneer in the smooth jazz realm, keyboardist Matsui has been leading the way in the crossover style with her gentle groove and colorful harmonies for decades. Blues Alley.(202) 337-4141.

London

- April 16 – 21 (Mon. – Sat.) Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. The only performer to knock the Beatles out of a #1 chart position (way back in the ’60s), Fame, now a virtual pop legend, is still a dynamic performer. Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747

Paris

- April 20. (Fri.) Brian Blade and Music from Moma Rosa. One of the most highly praised jazz drummers of his generation, Blade has taken a giant leap into a new area, as a guitarist and singer’/songwriter, with a group of songs inspired by his grandmother. New Morning. 01 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

- April 17. (Tues.) The Fly Trio. Like Joshua Redman, saxophonist Mark Turner and Fly – Larry Grenadier, bass and Jeff Ballard, drums – are exploring the minimalist horn and rhythm format founded by Sonny Rollins decades ago. They’ll perform selections from their ECM album Sky & Country. A-Trane.  030 / 313 25 50.

Milan

- April 18 – 21. (Wed. – Sat.) Marcus Miller Sextet. Bassist/composer Miller – a major participant in the Miles Davis fusion bands, continues the exploratory tradition with his own sextet. Blue Note Milano. 02.69.01.68.88.

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Bob Sheppard and Charles Lloyd photos by Tony Gieske.  


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