Highlights of the Long Weekend: In Los Angeles

April 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Mutter Bronfman Harrell Trio. Three international virtuosi – violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Lynn Harrell – apply their remarkable skills to a program of classic piano trios: Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 “Archduke” and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

Pat Senatore

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Pat Senatore Trio. A cross-generational performance, with veteran bassist Senatore finding common creative ground with rising young stars Josh Nelson, piano, and Dan Schnelle, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– April 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Neeme Jarvi, perform an evening of Brahms: Symphony No. 4 and the Tragic Overture. Violinist Martin Chalifour is aso featured on Suk’s Romantic Reverie. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

-April 17. (Fri.) Jason Lee Bruns Jazz Collective. Drummer Bruns and singer Kevin Bachelder celebrate the release of their dynamic new CD, Cherry Avenue. The E-Spot at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) An Evening With Gilberto Gil. The great Brazilian singer/songwriter makes a rare Southland appearance. Center for the Art of Performance at U.C.L.A.  (310) 825-0768.

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

-Apil 18. (Sat.) Judy Wexler. Convincingly singing and swinging her way across pop through jazz, Judy is a uniquely original artist.  This time out, she celebrates her “Surreal 60th Birthday Bash.” The E-Spot at Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) The Martha Graham Dance Company. The great dance company performs a set of Graham classics: Appalachian Spring, Lamentation Variations, Errand and Echo-Foniadakis. Valley Performing Arts Center.
(818) 677-8800.

– April 19 (Sun.) Omar Sosa. For years, Sosa has been finding fascinating creative connections between jazz and many other areas of the world’s music. He’s backed by Leandro Saint-Hill, saxophones, flute; Ernesto Simpson, drums; Childo Tomas, electric bass. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Denise Donatelli

Denise Donatelli

– April 19. (Sun.) Denise Donatelli. Listening to Denise’s warm embracing voice and the buoyant swing she brings to every performance — recorded and live — inevitably raises the question as to why this gifted vocalist still hasn’t received a Grammy. But, awards or not, she continues to offer performances that are always memorable events. Don’t miss this one. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


A Twist Of Doc: Jazz Appreciation Month

April 6, 2015

By Devon (Doc) Wendell

So April is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don’t know exactly what this means but I hope it will have a positive impact upon jazz and the jazz community.

Jazz has really taken a beating from the outside world; from the false representation of jazz education in last year’s award winning film Whiplash, to a report by David La Rosa of The JazzLine News in early March stating that “jazz has become the least popular genre in the U.S.”

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

This report was solely based on Nielson’s 2014 end of the year totals. Of course these statistics don’t count independent label sales and releases, which renders it an outmoded means of learning what’s truly selling and not selling for any genre of music today.

We in the jazz world are used to dealing with disrespect on a constant basis. From ridiculously untrue stereotypes portrayed by Hollywood; from the historically inaccurate Bird directed by Clint Eastwood, to Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight with its cheesy romanticized clichés that give the non-jazz educated viewer the impression that jazz is a old man in exile in Paris.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Anti-jazz propaganda is everywhere. One blogger here says John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was the “last true jazz recording”; another one there says “jazz is dead”; and on and on. Some of us might complain about Whiplash (which portrays a supposed “jazz instructor” who resorts to physical violence and humiliation in order to inspire his students to greater heights) or some disrespectful comments about Wayne Shorter. But the jazz world moves on fast.

There’s music to be made and we knew the odds were stacked up against us from the very start. But none of it will ever be as potent and as focused as the music, which keeps on growing and swinging. Sure we struggle, but that moment when everyone is playing beyond themselves and challenging one another on the bandstand or in the studio is the true reward and enough to drown out all of the bullshit.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis

Jazz is about being in the moment. A perfect moment even born out of an imperfection or two, depending on the day and the many moods of the players involved. Jazz, at its best is total honesty and clarity. No images of violence, junkies dying in Paris street alleys, or uninformed blogs can take that away from the music.

With all of that said: I truly hope that Jazz Appreciation Month will support and encourage more positive images of the music and the musicians. With or without the negativity, jazz will last forever.

To find out more about Jazz Appreciation Month click HERE, and to find out about International Jazz Day on April 30 click HERE.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


Live Chamber Music: The Elias String Quartet at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall

April 6, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon.  The Elias String Quartet was the headliner Friday night at the SOU Music Recital Hall —  the  last ensemble in the Chamber Music Concerts 2014-2015 schedule of stellar string quartet performances.  And the  CMC  couldn’t have made a better choice to top off their string quartet season.

The string quartet programs were, without exception, definitive displays of classical quartet music, surveying the repertoire – and beyond – with captivating performances. And the Elias ensemble was the perfect finalist on a list of extraordinary groups that also included the Tesla, Hugo Wolf and Daedalus Quartets.

The Elias players – Sara Bitlloch and Donald Grant, violins; Martin Saving, Viola; Marie Bitlloch cello – added to the Friday program’s superlative qualities by performing works by Mozart, Beethoven and contemporary composer Henri Dutilleux.

The Elias Quartet:

The Elias Quartet: Sara Bitlloch, Donald Grant, Martin Saving, Marie Bitlloch

The program opened with Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major, KV 465. It’s the last in a group of six quartets influenced by, and in some respects competitive with, Haydn’s six Opus 33 quartet. It is a superb example of Mozart’s mastery of classical string quartet composition.

Mozart

Interestingly, the opening Adagio-Allegro drew some gasps of surprise from the audience. Their responses underscored why the title “Dissonance” was long ago bestowed upon the Quartet in C Major. But dissonance and chromaticism in the hands of Mozart are experiences to remember. And the Elias players Illuminated the experience with a blend of timbres that brought irresistible energies to Mozart’s dense harmonic textures. By the time they reached the dynamic final Allegro molto, the more light-hearted Mozart had taken over, pouring out buoyant passages seasoned with occasional traces of the opening dissonance. Here, too, the Elias players moved in a symbiotic linkage with the final Mozart musical delights.

Henri Dutilleux

Henri Dutilleux

Dutilleux’s “Ainsi La Nuit” (“Thus the Night”), a seven movement work, took a very different slant on string quartet composition. Finished in 1976, it can hardly be called an Impressionistic work. But Dutilleux has provided descriptive titles such as Miroir d’espace, Constellations and Temps suspendu for each of the piece’s seven movements. From a listener’s point of you the titles offered somewhat of a reference point. However “Ainsi La Nuit” with its reference to night music, is a more accurate narrative to describe the surprisingly evocative sounds – at times orchestral in nature — Dutilleux drew from the quartet instrumentation. And here, too, the Elias Quartet responded impressively with the far-reaching range of stringed instrument techniques called for in Dutilleux’s colorful score.

Beethoven

Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-Sharp minor. OP. 131 climaxed the program, as Beethoven works do so well. The challenges it provided for the Elias players were far different from those of the Dutilleux work. But they were compelling examples of the dramatic changes Beethoven was bringing to the classical music of the early 19th century. In the talented hands of the Elias Quartet it was no less than gripping to hear Grant, Saving and the Bitlloch sisters soar through Beethoven’s sprightly fugues, touching melodies and consistently creative development passages.

One more event remains on the Chamber Music Concerts 2014-2015 season: a vocal performance by baritone Christopheron Nomura on Friday, April 24.  Beyond that, here’s looking toward another great Chamber Music Concerts season to begin in the Fall.


Live Music: Van Halen Make It Interesting As They Rock Hollywood Blvd. For The Jimmy Kimmel Show

April 3, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Hollywood, CA  On Monday evening the buzz was in the air above Hollywood Boulevard. LA’s favorite sons, Van Halen, were shooting a live mini-concert in support of their new live album, Tokyo Dome Live In Concert . This show was in front of easily a thousand or so of their most connected/lucky fans and was to be aired live over two nights on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

Van Halen with Jimmy Kimmel: Wolfgang Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth

Van Halen with Jimmy Kimmel:
Wolfgang Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth

Within the camp of Van Halen fans, the dividing line is Van Halen with David Lee Roth or without him – meaning with Sammy Hagar, whom they hired to fill Roth’s one-of-a-kind shoes. Given the band’s gargantuan, top of the world status between about 1977 and 1985, it’s bewildering that they had never done live TV with their original lineup. But Monday they finally did it with Diamond Dave, deservedly so as his voice and antics are as much a part of the band’s legend as its sound. Monday turned out to be a classic night of band drama and the spontaneity that it can bring about.

From mid-afternoon, this gig was an exercise in patience and a testimonial to the patience, endurance, and loyalty of the true fans. I waited with a die-hard fan who had flown out, touch and go, from Baltimore about $1200 ago. To simply access the street was a matter of waiting in a series of roped-off holding-areas and waiting for the blazing sun to go down for the best lighting.

When at long last the sun went down and the band hit the stage at 7:30 everyone was pumped. Van Halen launched into “Panama” and as Roth showed us his martial arts skills with a spinning samurai mike stand…it bopped him square on his beezer less than a minute into the set. One can only imagine being a fly on the wall for the post show band meeting after this. The polarized dysfunction in the band over Roth’s antics, and Eddie’s preoccupation with the music is legendary. Hell, these guys couldn’t even make it onstage to perform together when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Knowing a retake was available, Roth apologized and left the stage to get his nose taped and ready for “Panama – Round 2.” This left three Van Halens on stage, Ed, his brother Alex on drums, and Ed’s son Wolfgang on bass … left them there alone to jam it out until their singer was ready again. These moments are often a magical time, in which a band must really be in the moment and make it happen unrehearsed. It can be the sort of thing that both good and bad legends grow from.

Though only the live audience saw it, Ed did do some tasty leads and effects with his vibrato arm and the rhythm section held it down super steady to give him room and space to work in. Save for the evening’s unplanned spontaneity, this is the Van Halen blueprint. The rhythm section really only gets fancy when Alex sees an opportunity and he doesn’t do it too often.

Early 80’s Van Halen: Michael Anthony, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen

The bass, Michael Anthony’s for years and Wolfgang’s now, is there primarily to map out the musical boundaries to feature Ed. For many/most of the band’s fans, it’s all about Ed’s guitar playing (including his noodling) and waiting to hear what he will come up with next.  With his sound and technique Ed basically knocked the rock guitar world on it’s collective ass. People had to really dig in to keep up with him. So, this minute and a half or so of free reign was great to see.

After the festivities, Monday’s gig was 8 songs and one retake long. The band put out huge energy on stage, too, if not in the same fashion as, say, 1980. The athletic jumping around that Ed used to do…gone, it’s why he had hip surgery. Roth’s patented leaping kicks…not like they used to be. Alex still sounds like a well-oiled engine, though. Wolfgang is no Michael Anthony on bass or vocally but there are filters to sing through that can diminish that reality.

Fans of Van Halen still wonder why Michael Anthony was ever canned from the band. His voice was the signature Van Halen harmonies and his bass playing was simple, solid, and by now, it’s actually iconic as an example of how to tastefully showcase a hot guitar player.

In the end, the fans got what they wanted, a glimpse of Van Halen live on Hollywood Blvd, television got what it needed, footage of VH to show the world. And, Van Halen themselves showed (some of us) a living breathing example of the dynamics of show biz

Gotta love live TV!

* * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


CD Review: The Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann — “A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America”

April 2, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

In the largely forgotten film Eddie and the Cruisers, Eddie turns to his lyricist with index and middle fingers pressed together and overlapping and says: “Words and music, words and music” to express the interlinking of a song and its words. The film doesn’t really earn the line but this long titled album does.

A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America by the Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann singing is a brave attempt to match the words of poets and authors from Bertold Brecht to Walt Whitman, from Maxwell Anderson to Ogden Nash and, perhaps most delightfully, the poet Langston Hughes to music mostly by Kurt Weill.

Theo Bleckmann and Julia Hulsmann

Some is already classic and part of the American jazz/pop songbook and is well handled here:

“Mack the Knife” is of course present, though the lyrics used herein are even more gruesome than most of what Bobby Darin sang.

We Americans have a cultural memory of monotone sentimentalist Jimmy Durante’s version of “September Song” with all its poignancy.

“Speak Low” may be less familiar, but the Nash lyrics touch deep:

         Speak low when you speak love

Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon

Those last two love songs actually written about mature people, even older people, certainly no longer in the first blush of youth. Rare that, at least before some of Sinatra’s best work.

These are among the successes of the album — words and music blending seamlessly, pleasingly. In other places, though the music seems overwhelmed by the words. Halting, dragging, squeezed uncomfortably into place.

The band’s work on three Walt Whitman poems comes to mind in this regard. These aren’t Kurt Weill songs after all and they’re not quite up to it.

Ira Gershwin’s “This is New” is, though. Gershwin listened to Brecht’s lyrics no doubt, “I’m through with a shadowy past.” Is love confusion; if so also bliss.

An underrealized aspect of the album is Theo Bleckmann’s singing. He has the pipes but almost everywhere he is so understated, his singing at times almost bordering on a narration of the poetry rather than a sung interpretation.

That’s not the case on the album’s last song “Great Big Sky,” the marvelous Langston Hughes affirmation of what it is to be a man, to be human. Bleckmann seems to let himself go here, where so often he is so restrained on the album; and the result is a soaring success.

          It’s a great big sky
         And there’s room enough for all,
         Underneath the great big sky
        Where the earth’s a little ball
        And a man ain’t much
        And yet a man is all
        That stands up tall
        Between the earth and God, beneath the great big sky

The redoubtable Manfred Eicher produced the album, which is replete with his silences between notes. Pianist Julia Hulsmann is so sensitive to Weill’s nuances and so precise. Trumpeter and flugelhorn player Tom Arthurs supports the vocals almost like another singer. The rhythm section of Marc Muellbaurer and Heinrich Kobberling is excellent as well, though as with other European jazz bands I sometimes think the drummer is truly moving to his own beat.

As I said at the start, this is a brave work. Words and music, words and music.

 * * * * * * * *

Julia Hulsmann and Theo Bleckmann discuss — in German — the making of “A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill in America” and perform a few samples from the album

* * * * * * * *

Julia Hülsmann is bringing her group,  (without Tom Arthurs) to the U.S. to plaand playing release concerts with Theo Bleckmann:

           –  April 16-17 – New York, NY at Neue Gallerie Kurt Weill,

           –  April 18 – Baltimore, MD at An Die Musik Live!

And the Hülsmann Trio will return for Festival concerts in June:

             – June 23 – Rochester, NY at Rochester Jazz Festival

             – June 24 – Ottawa, Ont at Ottawa Jazz Festival

             -June 27 – Vancouver, BC at Vancouver Jazz Festival   

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 

 


Highlight of the Mid-Week in L.A.: Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill at the Gardenia

March 31, 2015

by Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. No April Foolin’ around on this April 1st at the Gardenia, Hollywood’s musically rich cabaret room. The arrival of Bay area singer Wesla Whitfield and her pianist/husband Mike Greensill is a guarantee that Wednesday night will showcase a memorable evening of classics from the Great American Songbook.

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

I first wrote about Wesla in a Los Angeles Times 1988 Review, describing her “as a singer who not only tells a story with the dramatic sensitivity of a superb actress, but who has evolved into a marvelously subtle, jazz-based interpreter.” In the intervening decades I heard Wesla many times and wrote more reviews. And in each, I had to stretch my vocabulary of praise in an effort to describe the growing expressiveness and musicality of her art.

Wesla and Mike are based in the Bay area, performing in major venues across the U.S. and beyond. But her appearances in the Los Angeles area are rare, making Wednesday’s performance at the Gardenia – a room with the intimacy to see and hear Wesla up close and personal – an opportunity not to be missed.

** * * * * * *

So How Great Were Wesla and Mike In Their Performance At The Gardenia?

Here’s a brief review by a member of the audience.

By Bruce Lohman:

Wesla’s performance was extraordinary.  She really has it all—a truly lovely timbre, perfectly placed pitch, sustained pianissimo high notes that make your heart stop, fresh compelling takes on standards that you don’t want to end, compelling takes on not-so-standards that you don’t want to end, endings that suspend in mid-air leaving you holding your breath,  a gifted husband who provides piano support that is not only arresting in and of itself, but is perfectly matched to her style and grace.

And I have to say, the combination of Mike Greensill, Wesla, and the sweetness of the Gardenia piano, along with the stars, were simply in perfect alignment.  It wasn’t just a performance—it was a musical experience.  Mike even sang himself—yet another ear-opening revelation in this memorable night.

The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. (323) 467-7444.

 


CD Reviews: Anat Cohen’s “Luminosa” and Eliane Elias’ “Made In Brazil”

March 29, 2015

By Don Heckman

It would be hard to find two better examples of some of the changes that have taken place in jazz during the new century than the presence and the playing of Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias. Tel Aviv-born Cohen and Sao Paulo-born Elias have convincingly established themselves as significant instrumentalists. And, in the case of Elias, as a significant instrumentalist/vocalist. In one fell swoop, these two gifted artists have played prominent roles among the generation of gifted female musicians who have lately been cracking open the glass ceiling signifying the gender bias that has been present in jazz for most of its long history. And they’ve done it as international performers.

All of which may be intriguing as sociology, but what really matters is what’s in the music. And these two new releases are eminently listenable programs of 21st century jazz at its finest. Add to that the further linkage between them in the sense that the music on both albums is deeply rooted in the long love affair between jazz and the music of Brazil.

Anat Cohen

Luminosa (Anzic Records)

In listening to Luminosa, one is frequently drawn to thinking of it as “Anat’s Brazil album,” especially understandable, perhaps because her affection for the choro genre, with its buoyant rhythms and improvisational aspects, is very much present on Luminosa.

As a former clarinetist, I’ve watched Anat’s growing mastery of the instrument, which was paralleled by an equally extraordinary growth as an improviser. And her playing on Luminosa takes her to yet another step higher.

I hesitate, however, to emphasize individual tracks. After several listens, I began to view Luminosa as a contemporary jazz suite, enriched by many aspects of Brazilian music. Like most effective suites — in jazz, classical and beyond – it demands a complete hearing. Once one begins to be enthralled by the opening “Lilia,” the embrace of the tunes continues, touching a far reaching range of emotions before winding up in the climactic “Wein Machine,” in which Anat offers some quick, convincing doubling on tenor saxophone.

Call Luminosa a musical experience not to be missed – by former clarinetists as well as every other lover of captivating improvisational music at its finest. Let’s hope the Grammy voters will agree.

* * * * * * * *

Eliane Elias

Made In Brazil (Concord Records)

I first wrote about Eliane Elias in a review for the Los Angeles Times in the late ’80s. (We were very young at the time – well, she was.) Among other complimentary remarks, I described her playing as “state of the art contemporary jazz.”

It’s a description I wouldn’t hesitate to use now in reference to both her piano playing and her vocals on this evocative new CD. Add to that the fact that it was recorded in Brazil with all the rich musical resonance that the location and the players could provide, and – as with Anat Cohen’s Luminosa – the result is an album that demands nomination for the next Grammy Awards.

Eliane Elias hand on hipIt’s also a homecoming for Eliane, the first recording she’s made in Brazil since she came to the U.S. in 1981. And she’s made the most of it, adding a full cast of Brazilian players, among them Roberto Menescal and Ed Motta, as well as her talented daughter Amanda Brecker, the superb orchestrating skills of Rob Mathes and the incomparable vocal textures of Take 6.

That list alone speaks for itself. But I can’t neglect the repertoire, as well – which includes Eliane’s originals, along with classics from Menescal, Ary Barroso, and a pair of memorable Antonio Carlos Jobim standards.

The result is an utterly captivating musical program reaching across a wide spectrum of music. There are too many highlights to mention them all. But they begin with Barroso’s anthemic “Aquarela do Brassil,” move on to Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco” and a medley of his “Este Seu Olhar and Promessas,” Menescal’s “Voce” and “Rio.” Topping it off, Eliane reveals yet another aspect of her eclectic creativity with a pair of her own well-crafted songs, “Some Enchanted Place” and the lyrical “Searching.”

Also like Anat Cohen’s Luminosa, Eliane Eliase’s Made In Brazil is more than a collection of songs. It’s a rich, full-bodied, suite-like assemblage of irresistibly appealing music. And the more you hear it, the more it reaches out to reward its listeners with the fullest range of emotional riches.

Let’s hope that some thoughtful record company has the good judgement to record these two gifted women performing together.  (And if an experienced, empathic producer is required, give me a call.)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 247 other followers