Quotation of the Week: Michael Jackson (2)

September 30, 2009


“Music has been my outlet, my gift to all the lovers in this world.  Through it — my music — I know I will live forever.”

Michael Jackson (Ebony Magazine, Dec. 2007)


To read iRoM’s first Michael Jackson Quotation of the Week click here.

To read more Quotations of the Week, by John Lennon, Elvis Presley and others, click here.

Picks of the Week: Sept. 28 – Oct. 4

September 28, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Sept. 30 (Wed.) Otmaro Ruiz and John Belzaguy Duo. Expect a musically stirring encounter between Venezuela-born Ruiz’s rich textured, Latin-tnged piano and Belzaguy’s sturdy, rhythmically versatile bass. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9499.

– Sept. 30. (Wed.) Bob Sheppard Quartet. W. Larry Koonse, guitar, Gabe Noel, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums. Sheppard is a first call saxophonist for every imaginable style, but he’s at his best when he’s stretching out with a band of similarly gifted all-stars like this one. Upstairs at Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

JLCO Live Tan Suits

– Oct. 1. & 2. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The big jazz band is America’s symphony orchestra, and the JLCO with Marsalis continue to preserve the classic repertoire while finding new ways to explore the instrumentation’s almost limitless possibilities. Thursday: The Orange County Performing Arts Center: Segerstrom Concert Hall. (714) 556-2787. Friday: UCLA Live at Royce Hall.  825-4401.

– Oct. 1 – 3 (Thurs. – Sat.) John Beasley Band featuring Nicholas Payton, Victor Bailey and Terri Lyne Carrington. Pianist/composer Beasley’s remarkable resume includes television scoring (Cheers, Star Trek, etc.), and gigs with everyone from Miles Davis and Barbra Streisand to Chaka Khan and James Brown. He’ll no doubt be playing some of the grooving funk, bop and bossa selections from his latest CD, Positootly. Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com (323) 466-2210.

Terese and LBB– Oct. 2. (Fri.) Terese Genecco. San Francisco’s own Swing Diva performs with her Little Big Band and the enthusiasticc backing of legendary bongo player Jack Costanzo. The M Bar & Restaurant.  (323) 856-0036.

– Oct. 2. (Fri) Pretzel Logic. Spazio. Keyboardist Steve Chernove‘s 12 piece tribute band does a startlingly effective presentation of Steely Dan‘s remarkable music. And, since this is music that almost demands more frequent live hearing, don’t miss this opportunity to hear it in living color. Spazio.  (818) 728-8400.

– Oct. 2. (Fri.) Loggins & Messina. More than thirty-five years after Sittin In’, and four years after 2005’s Sittin’ In Again reunion tour, the dynamic duo from the ’70s are back again, spinning their always engaging way with a song. Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-3125.CSN3

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Crosby, Stills & Nash. There’s nothing quite like the sound, the substance and the hit-making potential that characterized the partnership of these three remarkable musical talents. Forty years after the release of their self-titled debut album, their music is still alive, still relevant. (Tickets for the Sept. 23 date will be honored for this rescheduled show.) The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-3125.

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Marianne Faithful. The life and times of Marianne Faithful represent one of the most remarkable odysseys of the rock music, and beyond, era. Now 62, she brings a lifetime of emotional and creative complexities — ranging across her youthful connection with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, her sundry relationships, her battles with addiction and her struggle to find her own Muse — to every performance. UCLA Live at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-4401.

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Hafez Nazeri. Iranian composer Nazeri’s unique blend of Eastern and Western classical musics will feature his Rumi Symphony Project: Cycle One, performed by an ensemble of Iranian and American players. The highlight of the work will be the extraordinary singing of the poetry of Rumi by Shahram Nazeri (Hafez’s father) — a singer whose brilliant vocal excursions are one of the great pleasures of Iranian music. The Pantages Theatre. (800) 745-2000.

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Frank Marocco, backed by John Whinnery, alto saxophone, John Giannelli, bass and Kendall Kay, drums, demonstrates — as he has been doing for many years — the rich, often under-rated, potential of the accordion in jazz. Gianelli Square.  (818) 772-1722

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Bienvenido Gustavo!. He’s here. DudamelGustavo Dudamel, the much-anticipated savior of classical music in L.A. (and beyond) begins his inaugural season as the new Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic with a Target Free Community Concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The gifted young Venezuelan conducts the YOLA – EXPO Center Youth Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, followed by a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 by Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Other artists on the program include Andrae Crouch, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock, David Hidalgo, Taj Mahal and Alfredo Gonzalez. (Although tickets are no longer available, there may be some cancellations, up to the date of the concert.) The Hollywood Bowl (323) 850-2000.

– Oct. 4. (Sun.) Mon David. Filipino singer David has already established himself as one of the rising stars in the largely understaffed arena of male jazz singing. He celebrates the release of his new CD, Coming True in the scintillating company of the Jazzipino Queen, Charmaine Clamor. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

Hubert_Laws– Oct. 4. (Sun.) La Vida Music Festival. Summer’s end brings with it one of the year’s most action-packed programs, with a cast of players reaching across the spectrum of Latin jazz. Featured artists include Hubert Laws, Pete Escovedo, Luis Cruz Beltran, Mariachi Elias Son, Robert Kyle Brazilian Band, Chris Bennett (saluting the Ladies of Latin Jazz), and Chalo Eduardo and the Brazlian Beat. The Ford Amphitheatre.  (323) 4613673.

San Francisco and the Wine Country

Oct. 1 – 3. (Thurs – Sat.) Earl Klugh. With twelve Grammy nominations and twenty-three Top Ten Billboard-charting records (including four #1s) Klugh has thoroughly established himself as one of the most listenable guitarists in contemporary jazz. Yoshi’s Oakland. .

– Oct. 2. (Fri.) Gil Scott-Heron. Poet, musician, activist, author and charismatic personality Scott-Heron’s 70s’ work had a signficant impact upon the emergence of rap and hip-hop. He has returned to performing after a series of incarcerations for alleged drug violations. The Regency Ballroom. San Francisco.  (800) 745-3000.

– Oct. 2 – 4. (Fri. – Sun) Ramsey Lewis. The entertaining, musically prolific pianist offers material from his Concord Records debut Songs From the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey, released on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

– Oct. 3. (Sat.) Linda Kosut. San Francisco-based Linda Kosutjazz/cabaret vocalist Kosut — yet another amazing Bay Area canary — brings her skills as an actress to her insightful interpretations of songs underscored with a fusion of jazz, pop and folk. She performs in an atmospheric venue that blends the pleasures of wine and jazz. Backing her: the Max Perkoff Band (Perkoff, piano & trombone), Fred Randolph, bass and Ranzel Merritt, drums). Silo’s Jazz Club. Napa, California. (707) 251-5833.

New York

– Sept. 28 & 30. (Tues. & Wed.) Mike Stern Trio. Stern, for decades one of contemporary jazz’s most versatile guitarists, rarely has time in his busy schedule to do a gig like this — with a solid trio in the intimate setting of one of Manhattan’s ultimate jazz bars. So don’t miss this one. He performs with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Lionel “King” Cordew. 55 Bar.

karrin_allyson_2l– Sept. 29 – Oct. 4. (Tues. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson displays her eclectic musical tastes, swinging rhythms and engaging personality in the Diet Coke Women in Jazz Festival. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola (212) 258-9800.

– Sept. 29 – Oct. 4. (Tues. – Sun.) Conrad Herwig and “The Latin Side of Miles and Coltrane.” Trombonist Herwig digs into the surpriaingly substantial catalog of Latin rhythms simmering through the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Special guest Eddie Palmieri adds his own inimitable  enhancements. The Blue Note.

Live Theatre: “An Evening Without Monty Python”

September 25, 2009

By Dave Gebroe

I didn’t realize at first, as I walked into the Ricardo Montalban Theater last Wednesday night, that my stomach was clenched in nervous anticipation. What if all this amounted to was an evening of sawdust-coated taxidermy, a lifeless trotting-out of the Python troupe’s greatest hits in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink reminder to purchase the DVDs? Well, I needn’t have worried.

The main drawback of An Evening Without Monty Python, Monty Pythona Monty Python stage revue revisitation co-directed (with B.T. McNicholl) by Eric Idle — fresh off his success with “Spamalot” — is cheekily implanted right there in the title, effectively sideswiping all griping about where the production inevitably falls short. You simply cannot replace Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin, Gilliam, and Jones. Theirs was a chemistry that had no precedent, and will never be replicated.

What we have, instead, is a joyous reminder of their prowess as sketch comedy writers: we’re treated to such classic bits as “The Minister of Silly Walks,” “Albatross,” “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink,” “The Spanish Inquisition,” “Dead Parrot” and “The Lumberjack Song.” The cast — Jeff B. Davis, Jane Leeves, Alan Tudyk, Rick Holmes and Jim Piddock, with music directed by John Du Prez — ranges from competent to hysterically funny in parts. And although it never amounts to more than a reminder of how great the original troupe was, you could do far worse than subject yourself to some of the most clever pieces of humor ever dreamt up.

And if you squint here and there, you can almost pretend it’s them.

An Evening Without Monty Python
runs at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Los Angeles through October 4 and at Town Hall in New York City October 6 – 10.

Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival (I)

September 23, 2009

By Michael Katz

What happens when the world’s greatest jazz festival meets the era’s worst economy? The recession made its presence felt at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival, with arena seats available at curtain time for the first time in memory. Even the official program was slimmed down by about 20 pages. But by any other measure the Festival was a stunning success, a cornucopia of diverse musical formats and virtuosity unmatched in the decade or so I’ve been attending. From the opening warmth generated by saxophonist Roger Eddy, floating Brazilian melodies over the Garden Stage, to the closing chords of Chick Corea’s acoustic trio, the festival was a series of highlights, spread over 6 stages, far too much for one person to take in.

Esperanza spaulding Monterey

Esperanza Spalding

The Friday arena show opened with Esperanza Spalding, the young singer/ bassist who’s been causing such a stir. Tall and willowy, her hair styled a la Billie Holliday, Spalding presented a set full of verve and sensuality. Alternating between stand-up and electric bass, she bridged the territory between Wayne Shorter-inspired jazz funk and the lush Brazilian melody of Milton Nascimento’s “Ponta de Areia.” Though I’m partial to her upright, her vocals often seem more effective when she was playing the more compact electric bass, as on her bouncy hit, “Sunlight.” There is such a disparity in octaves between her alto voice and the deep, rich tones of the stand-up that they sometimes seem to compete, or at least give the illusion there-of. There were times when it might have been a better idea, especially on ballads, just to put the bass aside. Still, it was an appealing set that got the arena series off to a rousing start.

Russell Malone Monterey

Russell Malone and Kiyoshi Kitagawa

The second set was a breathtaking performance by the 2nd edition of the Monterey All Stars. Anchored by pianist Kenny Barron’s trio with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, the band featured violinist Regina Carter, Russell Malone on guitar and vocalist Kurt Elling. The fact that most of this group had played with one another previously in one shape or form more than made up for lack of rehearsal time. Starting with a swinging rendition of “When I Get Too Old To Dream,” with everyone providing an introductory solo, they moved on to the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain,” featuring first Barron and then a heart-tugging violin solo by Carter. Malone took over with a nod to Wes Montgomery on “Road Song,” Kenny Barron chiming in with a spirited riff. Then Kurt Elling nearly stole the show with a Kerouc-inspired free-poetic reading of Barron’s “What If.” Everyone in the band was burning at this point, but there was more to come, with Barron’s composition “Calypso” featuring Malone and Carter, and then Elling with a nod to Jon Hendricks on “Soul Food.” Russell Malone is always terrific on up-tempo tunes, but when he does a ballad, the earth stops. He described the advice he had been given, that a ballad should be “like a kiss, sweet, deep and slow” and proceeded to show why with an achingly beautiful “Time After Time.” They closed with an Elling-led romp through “Nature Boy.” This group will be touring in the winter, and hopefully will release a CD of this performance, as did the first edition of the All Stars. They are not to be missed.

Conrad Herwig Latin side

Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All-Stars

Friday’s arena program closed with trombonist Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side All Star Band, with veteran East Coasters including Bill O’Connell on piano, supplemented by the Festival’s featured artist Joe Lovano and Randy Brecker. It was Herwig who was the real revelation here, at least for those of us on the West Coast who hadn’t seen him. His tone is authoritative, his style swinging and technically brilliant, whether on ballads or Latin-peppered riffs. His band started with a salute to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, with Joe Lovano in fine form on the title tune and “Cousin Mary.” The band then moved to a Kind Of Blue tribute featuring Randy Brecker on “Flamenco Sketches” and a Latin funk version of “So What.” Brecker has a hard bop sound, closer in spirit to Freddie Hubbard than Miles Davis, and though the music was engaging, it seemed farther afield from its source than the Coltrane tunes. But no one could complain about the final number, “All Blues,” which has stood up to anything and everything over the years. Lovano returned to supplement the front line with Herwig and Brecker, and the three of them soared through to the conclusion. All in all, it was the most exciting opening night of a festival in I can remember. It was past one AM when the last stragglers cleared out of the fairground, and the festival was only beginning.

Photographs © Craig Lovell courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival

Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival (II)

September 23, 2009

By Michael Katz

Saturday dawned in a Monterey fog; the sun was just starting to burn through in what proved to be a cameo appearance as the MJF reconvened. Patrons entering through the main gate were greeted by one of the festival’s ongoing treats: singer/pianist Judy Roberts and alto sax player Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage. Really just a small platform surrounded by a pond, the Courtyard Stage has for years been an outlet for Yamaha to show off its keyboard instruments, with a pianist tinkling favorites for diners at the surrounding picnic tables. Yamaha upped the ante considerably by bringing in Judy Roberts at the last minute, to the considerable delight of the many Chicagoans at the festival who have followed her at clubs like the Backroom over the years. The new digital Yamaha Avant Grand will never sound better than it did with Roberts in front of the keyboard, mixing vocals in with standards like “What A Difference A Day Makes” and “Route 66,” and bossas like “Desafinado.” Fishman accompanied her with supple interpretations on “Stan’s Blues” and a wonderful vocal/piano/sax version of “Take Five.” The two of them played eight half-hour sets during the festival, and many of us couldn’t get past the opening gate without spending a half-hour with Judy and Greg.

Pete Seeger Monterey

Pete Seeger

A lot of folks were scratching their heads when Pete Seeger was booked to play the Saturday afternoon arena show, usually reserved for blues/funk/New Orleans rhythms. I wasn’t one of them. Though a longtime jazz fan, my first love was folk music: the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and behind it all, the voice and music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Clearly I wasn’t the only one; Seeger and his eight person band were greeted with a standing ovation when they walked out, and the bond between performers and audience never faltered. Launching right into “Midnight Special,” the group featured Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger on vocals, guitar and harmonica. Tao was the lead voice of the group – a tad higher than Pete’s rich tenor, but equally effective when he took the lead on “Cuban Cowboy Song” and “Guantanamera.” Mike Merenda played guitar and banjo and assisted on vocals, and his wife Ruth took the lead female vocals on “Golden Thread” as well as soloing on banjo and fiddle, with Laura Cortese also on fiddle and Jacob Silver on bass. Jason Crosby contributed a honky-tonk piano on “Dust Bowl Blues” and “Blue Skies.”

The trademark of Pete Seeger, though, is audience participation, and from the first strains of “Midnight Special,” the crowd was a more than willing accomplice. Tao led the crowd in “Sailin’ Up The River,” documenting their work to clean up the Hudson. A bit later, Pete told the story of a record company executive who extolled him to “Quit writing those protest songs and give me something I can sell.” Seeger set up his tape recorder and wove some verses from the Bible into “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which the executive sent to the Byrds. On this Saturday afternoon, generations later, Seeger bade the audience to sing along, reading the words in advance of the chords. I noticed not a few tears streaming down cheeks around me – perhaps because the meaning of the verses hasn’t diminished over the years, though of course our youthful times have. It was the most poignant moment of the festival. The show ended with “This Land Is Your Land,” Seeger again reading all the verses so the audience could join in. This remarkable group left as they arrived, to a swell of emotion and approval from the audience.

Susan Tedeschi

Susan Tedeschi

Susan Tedeschi closed out the arena afternoon show, with a spirited blues performance. At first glance she seems somewhat after the style of Bonnie Raitt, but her blues renditions recalled Janis Joplin and had the fans in the front up and dancing. Her group had a robust sound, aided in no small part by Matt Slocum on keyboards. Slocum spent most of his time on the organ, and the sound filled out the group in a pulsating manner. Highlights of the set included Alan Toussaint’s “Breaking The Rules” and her New Orleans-tinged “700 Homes.” Following Pete Seeger was a tall order, but Tedeschi sent the crowd back onto the fairgrounds with a flourish.

It’s hard to tell where the afternoon ends and the evening begins at Monterey – though the fog will tell you if you’re not bundled up. At 5:30 the New Orleans All-Stars took to the Garden Stage, featuring Cyrille Neville on vocals and percussion and Henry Butler on piano. The Garden Stage, an outdoor amphitheatre with several sections of benches and bleachers, was filled to the brim and hundreds more took up every available green space with blankets and portable chairs. Even the surrounding oaks were populated with fans. I caught about thirty minutes of a set that lasted ninety, highlighted by Butler’s rousing, funky piano.

Joe Lovano Monterey

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano anchored the first arena show of the evening, fronting a quartet that featured Brian Blade, John Patitucci and John Scofield replacing the scheduled Hank Jones. Exchanging Jones for Scofield, who had performed earlier in the day with his Piety Street Band (reviewed on these pages a few weeks ago) would seem a pretty drastic change. The band came out amped up, especially Patitucci’s bass, and it needed a tune or so to calm it down. In the meantime, Lovano was burning through solos on “Fort Worth.” Brian Blade was lithe and lightening-like on the drums, contributing a mallet solo on the next number, which featured some wicked byplay from Scofield and Patitucci. Lovano brought out a double soprano sax for the finale, conjuring up the ghost of Roland Kirk and bringing the set to an exciting conclusion.

Dee Dee Bridgewater Monterey

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater followed with what seems to have become de rigueur for female vocalists – a percussion heavy ensemble with jazz drums and congas. Bridgewater is a compelling performer, comfortable entertaining a large crowd. She started with “AfroBlue” and moved on to her own lyrics for Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” retitled “Long Time Ago.” The highlights of this set were her final two numbers. The first, “Four Women,” an homage to Nina Simone, was performed with just the right mix of anger and compassion, Bridgewater displaying an actor’s flair for inserting herself into the psyche of the four women. Finally, she implored everyone to get up and dance, sing or anything else that would get them shaking along to the Eddie Harris/Les McCann 70’s anthem, “Compared To What.” It occurred to me that the arena crowd, having already joined in on Scofield and the Piety Street Band’s “When The Saints Go Marching In,” Seeger’s “This Land Is Your Land” and now “Compared To What” had in one day participated in every cultural anthem this side of “La Marseillaise.”

Walter Blanding and JALCO

Waltler Blanding and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis was this year’s Artist-In-Residence and he took the stage with his Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra for the final act Saturday Night. Curiously, he never left his chair in the trumpet section’s back row, except to stand for solos — it took the cameras shooting for the big video screen to find him – perhaps he was thinking of Sunday’s Children’s Day program (Where’s Wynton?) Not that this band needed a figurehead. Crisp, clear and dynamic from start to finish, there is so much talent in this orchestra that there hardly is time in one set to feature them all. Wynton took the spotlight with a searing solo on the opening “Stage West.” Next came “Blues Walk,” a Lou Donaldson tune that featured Sherman Irby on alto and Chris Crenshaw with a terrific muted trombone solo. Wayne Shorter’s “Free For All” provided a star turn for trumpeter Marcus Printup and Walter Blanding on tenor sax. The depth of this orchestra is mind boggling, with Ted Nash, Victor Goines and baritone saxist Joe Temperley rounding out the sax section; Ryan Kisor and Vitaly Golovnev on trumpet; and Vincent Gardner and Elliot Mason on trombones. “Ceora,” the lovely Lee Morgan composition, featured gorgeous section playing from the trumpets, saxes and trombones, as well as solos by Ryan Kisor and pianist Dan Nimmer. You could almost forget that we hadn’t really heard from Wynton since the opening number. He remedied that in the closing “Shade of Jade,” also featuring Ali Jackson on drums and bassist Carlos Henriquez. Not to be greedy, but it seemed the set could have used another number or two. It wasn’t that the audience was shortchanged time-wise – but there was so much talent in this group that an hour just didn’t seem long enough. Fortunately, the Orchestra had another set scheduled for Sunday night. No one should miss this group if they come to your area, or if you get to New York.

[Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform over the next week on Saturday (Sept. 26) at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza, on Sun. (Sept. 27) at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, on Tues. (Sept. 29) at Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego, on Thurs. (Oct. 1) at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, and on Friday, (Oct. 2) a UCLA’s Royce Hall.]

Photographs of Pete Seeger, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Joe Lovano © Craig Lovell courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival

Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival (III)

September 23, 2009

By Michael Katz

Sunday afternoon I was determined to spend some time at the grounds venues. Armed with my folding chair and an appetite for grazing, I set up camp under an oak tree at the front of the Garden Stage amphitheatre. First up was the Cal State University Long Beach Jazz Orchestra led by Jeff Jarvis. Clad in beach shirts, the band breezed through standards “Where Or When” and “Green Dolphin Street,” as well as some original compositions and featured some outstanding young talent, including Dan Kaneyuki and Chase Baird on saxes and Steve Wade on trumpet.

Between sets, I visited an addition to the midway, the Artisan Salad Bar, in an attempt to become more green, or at least a little more healthy. Located as they are in the middle of America’s salad bowl, it was bound to be a success, and festival patrons devoured everything well before the stand’s 4 PM closing time. This didn’t stop me, of course, from topping things off with a peach cobbler a la mode. But I digress…

Scotty Barnhart

Jamie Davis and Scotty Barnhart

I’d been looking forward to hearing Scotty Barnhart, whose CD “Say It Plain” had received a lot of airplay on K-Jazz the past few months. The 45 year old Barnhart, a long time educator and lead trumpet for the Count Basie Orchestra, has a clear, mellow tone and a gently swinging style that was perfect for a breezy Sunday afternoon. His CD’s title song, which opened the set, was a tribute to Martin Luther King, Sr., and featured Barnhart on muted horn, Bill Kennedy on tenor and Rick Lollar on guitar. Barnhart tiptoed into the opening of “All of You,” and shone dramatically on “Haley’s Passage,” a tribute to Roots author Alex Haley. The set reached a rousing crescendo when vocalist Jamie Davis joined the group for “Night and Day” and finished off with a tribute originally composed for a friend in the Desert Storm campaign but now intended for our soldiers in Iran and Aghanistan, “The Burning Sands,” which started as a trio and stretched out to include the entire group in a stirring finale.

Alfredo Rodriguez

Alfredo Rodriguez

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez arrived in Monterey without much of the fanfare that had preceded his appearances in LA. Few in the Garden Stage crowd knew much about him, but it only took a few notes to establish his authority on the keyboard and hush the audience. His playing on the first two unannounced compositions was mysterious and dense, leading to dramatic interplays with his trio, bassist Nathan East and drummer Francisco Mela. Mela, whose wiry physique and lithe counter rhythms reminded me of Brian Blade, was especially effective. Nathan East delivered a lovely intro to the one familiar number, “Body And Soul,” and then Rodriquez took over for a gorgeous interpretation. By this time the crowd had caught on, photographers scrambling to the front of the stage for pictures, the benches and bleachers filled to capacity. Rodriguez closed with another brooding melody, tinged with hints of foreboding, and left to a standing ovation.

The Coffee House is the smallest venue at the festival, a great place for small acoustic groups. I’d stopped in between sets at the Garden Stage to get a taste of guitarist Terrence Brewer’s trio doing a Wes Montgomery tribute. The venue was packed solid; after standing for a few minutes I was able to sit down for a couple of numbers before heading back to see Rodriguez.


Dominick Farinacci

I returned at 5 PM to see Dominick Farinacci, a 25 year old trumpeter from Cleveland who had been a member of the MJF’’s Next Generation Band and toured with them to Japan before attending Julliard. Again, the venue was SRO, and Farinacci put on one of the best shows of the festival. To say he is a heartthrob-in-the-making – one of his biggest ovations was for taking off his jacket – would be accurate, though unfair to his talent. He has a rich, luxurious tone which leans toward the romantic. With Hollywood good looks and a ready wit, he had an ease about him that connected with the audience. He also put together a thoughtful program, starting with an Argentinean tango, then moving to a muted blues and a nod to Nina Simone with “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” Following that, he did a medley beginning with a Puccini aria and segueing to the theme from the movie “Babel.” While in Japan, Farinacci had seen the animated film Ponyo, since released in the U.S. and dubbed in English. He was so taken with the film that he transcribed the theme and arranged his own interpretation, which was utterly charming. It was released as a bonus on the Japanese addition of his CD, Lovers Tales and Dances, and hopefully he will include it on a release here. His quintet, which featured Dan Kaufman on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, Carmen Intorre on drums and Matthias Kunzli on drums, played for ninety minutes, the closing numbers highlighted by Farinacci’s composition, “Vision.”

My plans for a relaxed break before the final arena concert were scuttled by Farinacci’s extended performance – I had only a few minutes to retrieve my folding chair from the Garden Stage lawn, dash outside the fairgrounds to deposit it in my car and bundle up for the last act as the fog rolled in. There was barely time for BBQ’d chicken-on-a-stick and a dash to the arena for pianist Jason Moran’s commissioned piece, “Feedback,” which turned out to be one of the few misfires of the festival. Harkening back to Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 Monterey Pop Festival appearance, he somehow transcribed Hendrix’ guitar feedback, chopped it up into some sort of composition and played alongside of it, as well as leading the audience in some chants-in-the-round. I’ll leave it to Hendrix devotees to explain this one. To me, it sounded like a flock of seagulls on acid, but hey, it’s a big tent.

Dave Brubeck Monterey

Dave Brubeck

In between sets, Dave Brubeck was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the Berklee College of Music, with Clint Eastwood and Chick Corea joining in the ceremony. Brubeck, still possessed with a quick wit and agile fingers, was soon back in front of the piano, leading his quartet of bassist Michael Moore, drummer Randy Jones and Bobby Militello on alto and flute. I don’t know what to say about Brubeck that hasn’t already been said, so let me say a few words about Militello. He has played with Brubeck for over twenty-five years and deserves to be known as more than the guy who followed Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan. Militello has a robust style. If Desmond’s alto was, as famously described, the sound of a dry martini, Militello’s is the sound of a Heinekin Dark — full bodied and hard-charging. It’s no surprise that Brubeck, in the live appearances I’ve seen, stays away from most of the Desmond material except the obligatory “Take Five.” He began his set with Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” and segued into “Take The A Train,” both of them fine vehicles for his own swinging style as well as Militello’s vibrant sax. They next did a terrific version of “Yesterdays,” again featuring Militello, who then switched to flute for a ballad, providing a fine counterpoint to his alto playing. He has a haunting style – check out “Tritonis” on the MJF recording, “50 Years of Dave Brubeck at Monterey” for an example. All in all, another wonderful set from the Brubeck quartet.

Chick Corea Monterey

Chick Corea

The festival closed with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. I had just seen them in a memorable performance at the Hollywood Bowl, but when the curtain opened at Monterey revealing only a Yamaha Grand piano, the chance to see Chick in an all acoustic setting was irresistible. He opened up with an improvisational dance around the chords of “Green Dolphin Street,” embellished by the interplay with Clarke, and continued with Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debbie.” He moved on to what he called his “No Mystery Tour,” featuring the title song from the Return to Forever album that featured White and Clarke. That album was largely electric, but the music was haunting on acoustic piano, and seemed well-suited to the occasion. Next up was a ballad featuring Clarke with a beautiful solo, starting with some extended bow work, then progressing to a plucking, slapping tour de force. The group finished up with “500 Miles High,” featuring White on the drums, along with Chick on a closing flourish.

Then it was time to tie a ribbon around one of the great MJFs in memory, bid goodbye to friends seen once a year, grab a cup of hot cocoa for the road, to chase the memories and margaritas. So long til next year.

Photographs of Dave Brubeck and Chick Corea © Craig Lovell courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival.  Photograph of Jame Davis and Scotty Barnhart by Michael Katz.

Live World Music: “India Calling!” at the Hollywood Bowl

September 22, 2009

By Don Heckman

Indian culture has created one of the world’s most sophisticated forms of musical expression. The raga/tala system, with its juxtaposition of ragas (similar to, but far more complex, than Western modes) and talas (rhythmic cycles) is a unique combining of melody, rhythm, composition, improvisation, spirituality and history. Beyond a few similarities in some Middle Eastern musics, there’s nothing quite like it.

The “India Calling!” concert at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night promised to present the broader outlines of that music via a program nominally reaching from traditional and classical to Bollywood and pop. In doing so, it displayed both the beauty of Indian music as well as the distractions that have been caused by the infusion of international pop styles.


Anoushka Shankar

The first half of the program was far and away the most intriguing, despite its virtual absence of any purely classical offerings. A thirty minute piece, composed by the great Indian master Ravi Shankar, (who was in the audience), performed by members of the Ravi Shankar Centre Ensemble and conducted by his daughter Anoushka Shankar, was a splendid example of Shankar’s capacity to marry Indian and Western forms without sacrificing the integrity of either. Although the piece did not rove into the more complex rhythmic areas of Indian classical music, its composed accents inferred those complexities while still remaining accessible to Western ears. The roving melodies, performed superbly by a large group of singers, soloists and instrumentalists, were rich in lyricism and emotional intensity.

The Rhythm of Rajasthan, a six member ensemble consisting of five musicians and a dancer, fused traditional music reaching across Hindu and Muslim cultures in a performance that offered the evening’s most convincing connection with the roots of Indian music. Among the highlights — the remarkable double flute playing of Habib Khan Langa and Sesh Nath and the spinning, dervish-like dancing of Suva Devi.

Anousha Shankar’s set, closing the program’s first half, for the most part concentrated upon the fusion music that has occupied her thinking over the past few years. To her credit, she has found ways to believably synchronize seemingly contradictory musical forms, matching her own skills with equally adept performers from other genres. Even within this blended conceptual package, however, Shankar’s virtuosic sitar playing, combined with her lifelong immersion in the subtleties of Indian classical playing, invested her every note with layers of musical substance. The most memorable moment in her set was a brief passage in which the other players laid out, while Shankar’s sitar and Ravichandra Kulur’s tabla playing engaged in a too-brief exchange in the classic style.

The second half of the program was an animal of an entirely different stripe. The opening entry — a performance by Yogen’s Bollywood Step Dance Troupe — was an entertaining example of the sort of Busby Berkeley-revisited choreography typical of Indian musical films.


Kailash Kher

Kailash Kher, one of the most popular singers on Indian soundtracks, offered a dynamic set, backed by his group Kailasa (led by his two brothers, Naresh and Paresh). By this point in the program, however, the connection with Indian classical and traditional musics had largely disappeared, despite the presence of some Indian and Middle Eastern percussion and stringed instruments in Kailasa. Kher’s voice, rich with warm timbres, arching across a rumbling, rhythmic undercurrent, affirmed his success as an international pop act.


Malkit Singh

Punjabi singer Malkit Singh, a star of Bhangra music for more than two decades, closed the show with a collection of the genre’s current rock-infused qualities. Despite his popularity, the music — for the casual Western listener — was filled with endless repetitions of short phrases, a characteristic of the style’s tendency to employ short couplets in the lyrics. A few segments of male Bhangra dancing added some visual interest. But for the most part, the lack of variation in Singh’s set pretty much gave it the character of a one-trick pony.

“India Calling!” was preceded by an extensive set up of Indian craft booths from different parts of the country, as well as areas featuring Indian dancers and musicians. The stage lighting (despite a caustically critical remark from Kailash Kher at the close of his set) was richly atmospheric, showcasing the Bowl itself at one point with an illumination suggesting the sculptures and textures of a Hindu temple.

So give credit to KCRW’s World Festival for having created a rare opportunity to experience many aspects of Indian culture. Too bad that — as KCRW has done with much of its world music coverage — more emphasis was placed upon contemporary pop elements than the vital heritage of a great creative culture.


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