Picks of the Week: Aug. 30 – Sept. 5

August 30, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Karen Lovely

– Aug. 31. (Tues.)  The Karen Lovely Band. Rising vocal star Lovely is applying her powerful singing to classic blues, richly investing the  styles of the ’30s and ’40s — Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, etc. — with her uniquely contemporary perspective.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Aug. 31. (Tues.)  Lisa Hilton. Jazz pianist Hilton leads her quartet — saxophonist J.D. Allen, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston —  focusing on her playing and her compositions in a performance that will no doubt include some selections from her recently released CD, Nuance. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.  .

– Aug. 31. (Tues.)  John Altman. He’s been a visible factor in jazz and pop music for decades, as a composer, arranger, producer and conductor.  But Altman’s also an impressive alto saxophonist as well.  Hear him in one of the Southland’s most laid back jazz settings.  Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– Aug. 31. (Tues.)  Yuval Ron EnsembleSeeker of the Truth. The Ron Ensemble performs ecstatic music of the Sufi and Jewish traditions, with the Whirling Dervish Aziz and sacred dance artist Maya Karasso.  Also on the program, the vocals of Maya Haddi and the qawwali singing of Pakistan’s Sukhawat Ali KhanSeeker of the Truth.  Morgan-Wixson Theatre, Santa Monica.    Info: (818) 505-1355.

– Aut. 31. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  With Howard Alden.  You may not recognize Alden by sight, but you’ve heard his playing if you saw Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, in which it was dubbed over Sean Penn’s air guitar.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

Herbie Hancock

– Sep. 1. (Wed.)  Herbie Hancock Seven Decades – The Birthday Celebration. The Hollywood Bowl’s jazz highlight of the summer season.  The program includes selections from Hancock’s new crossover album,  The Imagine Project.  Among his stellar companions for the night: Wayne Shorter, India.Arie, Jack DeJohnette, Zakir Hussain, Juanes, Esperanza Spalding, Lisa Hannigan, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and others.  The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.  Click HERE to read Herbie Hancock’s conversation with iRoM about the making of  “The Imagine Project.”

– Sept. 2. (Thurs.) Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.  A Los Angeles Philharmonic concert staging of Bernstein’s operetta featuring singers Anna Christy, Alek Shrader and Richard Suart with the LA Master ChoraleThe Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Sept 2. (Thurs.)  Dr. John and the Lower 911.  New Orleans rhythms take over the Santa Monica Pier for a dynamic summer evening.  Dancing, if there’s room, is optional, but probably irresistible.  With Eddie Baytos and the Nervis BrothersTwilight Dance at the Santa Monica Pier.  (310) 458-8900.

– Sept. 2. (Thurs.)  Gail Pettis.  She spends most of her time in her Seattle orthodontist’s office, but Pettis has all the qualities of a breakout jazz vocalist.  She’s not here often, so don’t miss the opportunity to hear her.Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400. 

Gaea Schell

– Sept. 1 & 2. (Wed, & Thurs.) Gaea Schell Quartet Pianist/singer Schell, whose vocals are intimately blended with her articulate piano work, makes a pair of appearances, backed by bassist Essiet Essiet at Vibrato , (310) 474-9400, on Wednesday, and with Essiet, saxophonist Chuck Manning and drummer Sylvia Cuenca at the Crowne Plaza Brasserie Jazz Lounge,  (310) 642-7500, on Thursday.

– Sept. 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.) Mary Wilson You know her from her chart busting performances with the Supremes, and Wilson continues to honor that legacy.  But she’s also emerged as a talented, jazz and blues artist in her own right.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.  .

– Sept. 3 & 4. (Fri. & Sat.)  Earth, Wind & Fire celebrate their 40th anniversary, performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and FireworksThe Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Sept. 3 – 6. (Fri. – Mon.)  Sweet & Hot Music Festival.  The 15th installment of this annual event celebrates the great jazz mainstream – from up tempo swing to seductive blues and balladry.  Featured artists include  Ernestine Anderson, Herb Jeffires, Banu Gibson, Jack Sheldon Orchestra, The Mills Brothers, Harry Allen, Howard Alden and dozens of others.  Over 200 musicians performing at eight different locations in 180 events, with four dance floors encouraging fancy footwork. .  LAX Marriott Hotel.  Sweet & Hot Music Festival.   (909) 983-0106.

Louie Cruz Beltran

– Sept. 5. (Sun.)  La Vida Music Festival.   An evening of music celebrating L.A.’s rich array of Latin musical cultures.  With Louis Cruz Beltran, Poncho Sanchez.  Real Tango, the Mariachi Divas, Robert Kyle’s Brazilian Quartet and Chalo Eduardo’s Brazilian BeatTommy Hawkins hosts.  Ford Amphitheatre. (323) 461-3673

– Sept. 6. (Mon.) Fantasea One Labor Day Yacht Party.  A mini-cruise and barbeque with four decks of live entertainment, DJs, games, free barbeque, cabanas and more.  Departing from Marina Del Rey at 4 p.m., returning at 8 p.m.  (310) 821-5371.   8th Annual Labor Day Yacht Party.

San Francisco

– Aug. 31 – Sept. 1. (Tues. – Thurs.) Jacky Terrasson.  France’s Terrason burst onto the jazz stage in 1993 as the winner of the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition.  And he didn’t stop there, receiving a pair of Grammy nominations and a string of awards inhis native country.  Always compelling, he makes few West Coast appearances.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600. 

– Sept. 2 – 4 (Thurs. – Sat.)  Marlena Shaw. She’s been crossing genre boundaries – from jazz to soul, disco and beyond – since the mid-‘60s.  And she’s still in rare form.  The Rrazz Room.   (415) 394-1189.

– Sept. 3 – 5. (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Burrell Quintet.  Veteran guitarist/educator Burrell leads the scintillating ensemble of saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, bassist Roberto Miranda, pianist Mike Wofford and drummer Clayton Cameron.  To read a recent iRoM review of the Burrell Quintet click HEREYoshi’s Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.


Roy Haynes

– Sept. 3 – 6. (Fri. – Mon.)  31st Detroit International Jazz Festival.  This year’s event has as stellar a line up as any jazz festival of the year.  But the price is right for this one.  Here are some of the highlight performers: Roy Haynes and his Fountain of Youth Band, Maria Schneider, Branford Marsalis, Myra Melford, Freddy Cole, Ledisi, Mulgrew Miller & Kenny Barron Duo, Ray Brown Tribute, Danilo Perez, Tower of Power,  Ernie Andrews, Kurt Elling, Ernie Watts, Tower of Power, Gerald Wilson, The Manhattan Transfer and much more.   Free Event.  Detroit International Jazz Festival. At locations in downtown Detroit.


– Sept. 2 – 5. (Fri.- Sun.)  The 32nd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival, presented by CareFusion.  Another grat Midwest jazz festival, also priced for everyone’s pocketbook.  Here are some of the high points of a line up that also includes an array of Chicago-based talent of all ages.  Brad Mehldau, Henry Threadgill, Kurt Elling, Rene Marie, Ramsey Lewis, Chuchito Valdes, Brian Blade Fellowship Band, Charisma with a Lee Morgan Tribute, Ted Sirota.  Free Event.  At locations throughout Chicago.  Chicago Jazz Festival (312) 427-1676.   (313) 447-1248.

New York

– Aug. 31 – Sept. 1 (Tues. & Wed.) Jimmy Scott.  He’s been one of jazz, soul and r&b’s most unique stylists since he first arrived on the scene.  Still a master of interpretation, he performs here in the companly of jazz harmonica player Gregoire MaretThe Blue Note (212) 475-8592.

Leny Andrade

– Aug. 31 – Sept. 4. (Tues. – Sat.)  Leny Andrade“Return to Birdland: Bossas, Boleros and Jazz.” Andrade’s ability to illuminate the natural jazz roots of bossa nova has made her one of Brazil’s finest jazz vocal artists.  Birdland.   (212) 581-3080.

– Aug. 31 – Sept. 5. (Tues. – Sun.)  Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell.  It’s as all-star as it gets, with three masters of their art working in spontaneous tandem.  Don’t miss this one.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

– Sept. 1. (Wed.)  “Endangered Species; The Music of Wayne Shorter” The Irididium opens Big Band Month with a performance by the Wayne Shorter Tribute Big BandDavid Weiss leads the ten piece ensemble in a program surveying music from the full breadth of Shorter’s remarkable catalog of compositions.  Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

– Sept. 2 – 5. (Wed. – Sun.)  Tuck & Patti.  They started out as a definitive jazz voice and guitar duo, and they continue to bring imagination and musicality to everything they perform.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Live Rock: Led Zepagain and Abbey Road at the Santa Monica Pier

August 29, 2010

By Mike Finkelstein

On Thursday night two of the better tribute bands rocked a Twilight Dance program at the Santa Monica Pier to a hugely enthusiastic crowd of thousands.  On a day that reached 104 F in some places, it was a pleasant 40 degrees cooler on the pier when the show started.  The Pier concerts have two levels for viewers, the stage level itself and the beach below, which was filled with picnickers and beach blankets.  By all appearances everyone had a great time.

The goals in presenting tributes to iconic bands like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin are to look and sound exactly like the eminent originals.   If the audience can suspend their doubts and allow the band to convince them that they are watching the originals, then a tribute band has succeeded.  Details are crucial and the more a band delivers, the better they will succeed with audiences who are very likely to scrutinize every aspect of the performance with a fine-toothed comb.  In photos and film footage, there is much documentation available as to how the rock idols moved, dressed and played.  Ideally, the members of a tribute band will bear a very close physical resemblance to the original persons they portray and have the spot-on musicianship to play their parts perfectly.   Add appropriate period clothes and instruments, and a first rate tribute band can develop a convincingly authentic show.

Led Zepagain has been delivering the goods for upwards of a decade, paying tribute to perhaps the biggest enchilada of them all in rock and roll: Led Zeppelin.  Over the years they have won awards and even the praise of Jimmy Page, who founded LZ.   The crowd at the Pier was revved up for what would probably be the closest that most of them will ever get to seeing a live, vintage Led Zeppelin show.  And it’s a resounding compliment to Led  Zepagain’s power to evoke a Led Zeppelin concert that the crowd was this pumped all the way through the performance.

Led Zeppagain

Led by “Robert Plant” (Swan Montgomery) Led Zepagain hit the stage dressed in Houses of the Holy era Zeppelin threads and, without costume changes, laid down a comprehensive but involved set of the LZ catalog through the Physical Graffiti album.   “Jimmy Page” (Steve Zukowsky) wore the familiar black dragon and stars ensemble and played sunburst Les Pauls, black DanElectros for slide, and even a cherry red Gibson double-neck 6- and 12-string electric.  His Marshall cabinet was complete with Page’s Zoso logo.  He even had a violin bow and theremin rig like the one Page used for dramatic effects.  Wearing a long curly wig, he had all the moves, flair, riffs, chops, and equipment to pull it off.   In fact, his sound was a actually a bit more polished than Page’s was over 20 years ago.  Since Led Zeppelin was a live jam band as much as anything else, improvising was a big part of the Pier show.  Steve Z incorporated his own facility into Page’s style to include all the signature hooks and sounds, but made the matrix in his solos his own, and it served to advance the performance.  He portrayed Jimmy Page as well as anyone could hope to.

No tribute band stands a chance of being convincing without a commanding and believable front man.   Led Zepagain had this presence with Montgomery as Plant.    Dressed in the iconic open gypsy cloth shirt, hip hugging jeans, and blond hair, he had all the physical nuances of RP down pat.  Swan’s voice was strongest in the high registers, where Plant was unequalled in his time.   Although it was a bit thin in the lower registers, he compensated with a fine and authentic delivery.

Listening to the Led Zepagain rhythm section drove home how skilled the band is and just how magnificent but challenging the original songs can be to play.  Songs like “In My Time of Dying” featured slamming syncopated turnarounds and a demanding interplay between the bass and drums.   John Paul Jones and John Henry Bonham were as dynamic a rhythm section as there’s ever been in rock and roll.  And Jim Wootten as bassist Jones and Jim Kersey as drummer Bonham gave us a potent reminder of what a special engine powered Led Zeppelin.   They played the songs impressively from the inside out, performing all this thunder on a sunburst Fender Jazz Bass and an amber plexiglass Ludwig drum kit, just like Jones and Bonham

Because a tribute band must think comprehensively, the Led Zepagain set list was more interesting than the Zeppelin set list often was.   Songs like “Ramble On,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Good Times, Bad Times” made it into the show.   And the performance also included an acoustic section where Wootten switched to mandolin on “Going to California,” which went over famously on the Santa Monica Pier.  No wonder Led Zepagain was received so famously.   From 100 yards away in the ocean night, they might as well have been Led Zeppelin.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road opened the show as the sun went down, and proceeded to present every detail of an early Beatlemania, vintage Beatles concert (save for the screaming that eventually made the band stop gigging) with fine results. In tightly tailored matching black suits, Cuban heeled boots, with unexaggerated Liverpool accents, and three of four members in mop top wigs, the lads cut quite a convincing profile onstage. “Ringo” (David Byers) had his vocal mic hanging from the boom in authentic fashion. “Paul” (John Gilbert) was left-handed, and played a Hofner violin bass.   “George” (Rick Valente) had a hollow body Gretsch, and “John” (Scott Krejci) had a small scale black Rickenbacker – all of it just like the Beatles.

They played through Vox amps as the Beatles did and all the guys in the band had the physiques, postures, gestures, and nuances of their characters down perfectly.   Playing a song selection culled mostly from the Meet The Beatles and Beatles ’65 albums, the harmonies, arrangements and playing were tantalizingly close to spot on, with Valente, as George offering a wonderfully authentic version of “This Boy.”  (At one point, I overheard a fellow in the audience tell his girlfriend that they should have played a D minor chord instead of a D7.   Perhaps… )

Thursday night’s show illustrated that the actual concept of a tribute band, as authentic and noble as it may be, is one step removed from reality.  The tribute will always be bound by comparison to the original.  Abbey Road, acting out the Beatles’ live act, had to have every detail perfectly locked in place, since the Beatles didn’t improvise much when playing live.  Led Zepagain had the opportunity to establish the Led Zep sound and then run with it freely, as LZ used to do.  At a certain point it all really can become like splitting hairs.  But for this performance, both bands performed like champions — a great night in the rock and roll time machine.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click here.

Live Jazz: The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

August 27, 2010

By Tony Gieske

When the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra starts a set, John Clayton likes to have it sound a strong — never loud — chord that is shockingly  lovely and foreshadows the rich and sonorous banquet of sound that is about to be served up.

This he did at Vibrato Tuesday, and the night went on in this exact way, full of top flight soloists, and top flight charts and touchingly terrific tuttis.

First earful was “Captain Bill,” which sounded suspiciously like “One O’Clock Jump.”  That might lead you to believe that Captain Bill was a nom de big band for Count Basie, whose theme it was, and who liked to wear a nautical cap and whose name was William.  But it was just a fine little chart by Ray Brown.

Former Poncho Sanchez trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo got his teeth into a burning bunch of bebop on this provenance heavy piece, and the fleet baritone sax player Lee Callet didn’t do bad either.

Horace Tapscott, the too-seldom celebrated South Los Angeles band leader, was honored with a piece featuring alumnus Charles Owens on soprano saxophone.  Owens played a trill — or was it a grace note? — over and over again for 32 bars while using circular breathing.  Except for this, his improvisation was exemplary.

The legendary trombonist George Bohannon spread his rippling icing across a slow ballad during the spaces when the flutes and mutes of John Clayton’s celebrated sound palette were not elevating the humble pop foundation.

Graham Dechter, a reasonably fresh face on the teeming local guitar scene, played several reasonably fresh sounding solos, notably on “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.”  Here he was able to maintain a superslow groove without any dead spots and a well-maintained sense of swing.  He’s got a nice, warm sound that’s juicy and delicious as an apple.

Co-leader Jeff Hamilton linked up with Dechter in his dauntless drum fashion, and with bassist Christopher Luty and pianist Tamir Hendelman they provided a firm, unstoppable foundation that Basie might have envied.  Hamilton also supplied one of his renowned solo passages with the brushes as Dechter’s gaze followed every nuance from the adjoining chair.

John Clayton in action

And if your ears were thus oversupplied, there was food for the eye in the expressive gestures of the other co-leader as he danced in his inspirational way in front of the whole wonderful band.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  Read and see more of Tony’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.

Live Music: Gershwin Across America, with Nancy Wilson, Monica Mancini, BeBe Winans, Jason Mraz and Annie Clark at the Hollywood Bowl

August 26, 2010

By Don Heckman

It was Gershwin night at the Bowl on Wednesday.  And there wasn’t a moment’s doubt about the identities of the real stars of the show.  Although the line up embraced a collection of singers ranging from BeBe Winans, Monica Mancini and Jason Mraz to Annie Clark and Nancy Wilson, I’m sure that each of those stellar artists would have been quick to list the Brothers Gershwin as the evening’s true headliners.

Add to that the big band with strings, with an impressive instrumental collective that included many of the Southland’s finest jazz artists, and the full breadth of the performance’s potential for a display of Gershwiniana at its best becomes apparent.

George and Ira Gershwin

The program was clearly planned to survey many of the brothers’ high points – their stunning catalog of songs, selections from their opera, Porgy and Bess, a healthy sampling of George’s Rhapsody In Blue and a small taste of An American In Paris.  And the verdict that arrived from the application of such an eclectic range of styles to such a wide sampling of performers was the simple fact that the Gershwins’ creativity is utterly timeless, fully capable of surviving, even prospering, in whatever genre comes down the musical pike.

Bebe Winans, opening the show, displayed the easygoing applicability of his gospel-based, r&b spiced sound to a classic such as “How Long Has This Been Going On.”  Later in the show, singer/songwriter Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent) applied her unique style and quirky phrasing to an appropriately murky version of “A Foggy Day” and a jaunty take on “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Jason Mraz started with the ‘60s-revisited aspects of his style, adding in his own jazz sensibilities to an intriguing “Summertime,” before digging up Ira Gershwin’s too rarely heard, whimsical lyrics for “Blah, Blah, Blah.”

Jazz was a constant presence, of course, sneaking in, around and through the differing interpretations –- understandable, since Gershwin tunes have been essential elements in the jazz lexicon since “I’ve Got Rhythm” became (after the blues) the most often heard jazz chord chart.  And with players such as Arturo Sandoval, Shelly Berg, Tom Scott, Bob Sheppard, Gordon Goodwin, Eric Marienthal in the house, the jazz glories of Gershwin’s music were on full display – its possibilities broad enough to even make room for some smooth jazz showboating from Dave Koz.

Nancy Wilson

Monica Mancini

That said, the highlights of this highlight-filled evening were provided by a pair of very different divas nearly a generation apart in age.  Monica Mancini comes from a noble lineage, to be sure, but her singing has now moved well beyond its roots to position her as one of contemporary music’s most engaging vocal artists.  The lush sound, rhythmic flow and insightful storytelling she brought to a medley of “I Loves You Porgy”/”My Man’s Gone Now,” “But Not For Me” and “”I’ve Got Rhythm” were irresistible, precisely what the music of the Gershwins’ deserves.

Nancy Wilson, at the performance’s peak, added a final touch of musical elegance.  Always a masterful ballad singer, she took three of the Great American Songbook’s ultimate classics – “Embraceable You,” “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay” – offering them as definitive examples of the very special music coursing through this very special evening.

Live Pop: Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey Rae at the Greek Theatre

August 26, 2010

By Michael Katz

Norah Jones brought her world tour to a near-capacity audience at the Greek Theatre Wednesday, lending her rich vocals to a versatile mix of country, bluesy pop and a bit of bluegrass before the night was over. Since Jones burst on the scene in 2002 with the Grammy winning  Blue Note release Come Away With Me, she has been a difficult musician to categorize. Her presence on Blue Note seemed to project a jazz background, but her current work clearly evokes the roots of Roy Orbison, ably abetted by the presence of lead guitarist Smoky Hormel.

Jones plays a strong electric guitar, but it was Hormel’s instrument, with its deep, vibrant tones, that provided the emphatic backdrop for the beginning of the set.  Jones opened with “What Am I To You” and “Tell Yer Momma,” both energetic tunes in the country/rockabilly style. She settled into an entertaining pace, which led to “Chasing Pirates,” her hit from the latest album, The Fall. From there she offered some effective covers of Neil Young’s “The Losing End” and Willie Nelson’s “What Do You Think of Her Now.”

When Jones moved over to acoustic piano for “Cold, Cold Heart,” the tone of the evening became more intimate. Jones has a nicely nuanced style when she accompanies herself, especially on her own compositions – the vocals have a softer edge, and you could sense the audience connecting with her as she sang “Waiting” and “Back To Manhattan.”  “Carnival Town” had a honky tonk piano feel to it and the band behind her featured marimbas and acoustic bass, adding to the musical pastiche.

Jones seemed to nurture her relationship with the audience in the Greek’s intimate amphitheatre as the 90 minute performance went along. “Man of the Hour” was a folksy, piano-backed ode to her dog. “Don’t Know Why,” her hit single from Come Away With Me, retains its effectiveness, perhaps because it reflects a sense of loss not always evident in a career that has been so successful from the start.

After concluding the scheduled set with “Come Away With Me,” the band returned for two more numbers, “Sunrise” and “Creepin’ In,” both of them brightly bluegrass, with Jones on acoustic guitar.

It’s quite clear that Norah Jones is blessed with a lovely voice, and a musical diversity that reflects itself both in her songwriting and instrumental playing.  Though she clearly enjoys leading a girl rockabilly troupe,  she still connects most viscerally with her audience when she is in front of the piano.

Corinne Bailey Rae opened the show with an hour long set, much in the spirit of the Norah Jones band that would follow.  Like Jones, she can play effectively on acoustic or electric guitar as well as keyboards. A native of Leeds in the UK, she was featured with Herbie Hancock on the title song of his Grammy winning CD, River. Her set featured music from her latest album The Sea.  Rae has a sweet, intimate voice that seemed overwhelmed at times early in the set by a band that sometimes featured three guitars plus drums, keyboard and bass. Later, as she made the switch to acoustic, her voice with its gentle British accent, came through more clearly, especially on her composition “The Blackest Lily.” The band did an appealing cover of the doo wop “I Only Have Eyes For You” about midway through the set, and closed with a slow, sultry version of “Que Sera Sera.”

Live Pop: Chris Isaak at the Greek Theater

August 26, 2010

By Mike Finkelstein

On Tuesday night Chris Isaak brought his unique take on American music of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s to the Greek Theater.   For nearly two hours he and his superb band, Silvertone, sauntered, skipped and sidled through a set in which each song evoked the time period in musical and visual style.

The band made their entrance first in matching, custom tailored, embroidered grey suits, followed by their leader in a striking black suit with elaborate sequin designs on the front and back and rising up his legs.  The suits rather directly evoked the country music tradition of performing all duded up in fancy matching rhinestone clothes.  Before playing the first song, he thanked the audience sincerely for breaking away from the TV set to come out and support live music.  And then we were off and rocking at various tempos through songs like “Lonely with a Broken Heart,” “Dancin’,” and “Somebody’s Crying.”

Isaak’s songs typically deal with the tensions and heartbreaks of romance.   They are streamlined tunes, featuring basic chord changes and simple but poignant lyrics.   The heart of these songs is brought out with sparse arrangements, clever embellishments, and subtle effects like tremolo, reverb and vibrato.   Isaak sang them powerfully and confidently from the heart with a polished set of pipes.   His uncommonly smooth voice, combined with his ability to navigate falsetto and yodels effortlessly, added even more dimension to the performance.  Several times he held a dramatic note for 12 measures and it only served to enhance the song.  The way Silvertone delivered the music backing him really was impressive.  They are all strong players and they know how to use their talent to advance a song, practicing considerable restraint in their arrangements. Whether soloing or backing each other up, no one played anything unnecessary or short of tasty.  As a result, all the songs breathed freely and every part was that much easier to appreciate.

Throughout the night, Isaak and Silvertone’s goal was all about putting on a classy rock and roll show.   Musically and visually, they did a remarkable job of creating an atmosphere that welcomed us into a different frame of mind.   They sang beautiful harmonies, played clean at a comfortable volume, dressed for the occasion, and played vintage and custom guitars that shimmered and sounded great together.   The band went from duck walking to choreographed moves, to just swaying with the music.  At one point bassist Roland Salley nearly danced himself off the lip of a darkened corner of the stage and Isaak nonchalantly pulled him back to safety.

No doubt about it, even at 54, Chris Isaak is still a heart throb.   So, when he took a stroll through the Greek while crooning Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” the ladies in the audience lapped it up.  Communicating the same appeal that pre-Army heartthrob Elvis had, he offered lots of style, a fine coif and a youthful demeanor.  He also crooned and rocked convincingly, displaying the rare ability to envelop an audience in his style. He brilliantly covered two Roy Orbison tunes, “Only the Lonely” and “Pretty Woman” – a task few singers would risk doing.  But in this performance, Isaak owned the Orbison songs.  Further displaying his versatility, he  even covered James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy” with style.

Issak’s between-songs banter was warm and engaging.  He was good at it, but there were times when it seemed he would have done better to play another song instead of continuing to engage us with the shtick.   The night went to a special level when the four members of the band came to the front of the stage to sit on stools and play some ballads.   Songs such as “Western Stars,” “We Lost Our Way,” and “Two Hearts” worked beautifully in this format.   Drummer Kenny Dale Johnson caressed his snare drum by sliding and stroking his brushes in a circular motion that was loaded with panache.  Johnson and Isaak have been singing phenomenally rich high harmonies together for more than twenty five years, and they sounded great together.   Below them swirled keyboardist Scott Plunkett on accordion, bassist Salley, and guitarist Hershel Yatovitz.   Yatovitz, too, was a valuable musical presence, and on “Take My Heart” he contributed some very tasty Les Paul styled licks on a pearl white Stratocaster.

Though most of Isaak’s songs do concern broken hearts, crying, angst and yearning, it’s hard to actually believe that a guy with that much style, charisma, and talent would be so blue.  Perhaps the truth is that he has really honed the craft of writing this type of sad love song.   Two of his tunes, “Wicked Game” and “Blue Hotel” are exceptional tracks, featuring hauntingly beautiful chords, and words that conjure up a very beautiful, wide open sense of loneliness and despair. “Wicked Game” is his best known hit and was very well received.

To make a retro presentation and not be perceived as contrived cannot be easy.  It’s a fine line for a performer to walk, but Isaak has been dancing along it expertly for over 25 years.    Transcending the moment, he simply drew his audience in on Tuesday night to everything he played.

The show was opened by Louisiana soul singer Mark Broussard.   He and his band turned in a restrained set of nicely arranged tunes.  But it wasn’t until the last song that the band began to cut loose.  It was a direction they should follow a bit sooner in future performances.

Picks of the Week: Aug. 24 – 29

August 24, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Aug. 24. (Tues.) Sarah Chang.  The gifted young violinist takes on the fascinating musical demands of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Slatkin,  plays the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 24. (Tues.)  Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The Southland’s always compelling contribution to the top tiers of big band jazz makes an infrequent club engagement. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Aug. 24. (Tues.) Otmaro Ruiz Quartet.  Versatile pianist Ruiz shares his views of Latin jazz with the talented vibraphonist, Nick Mancini.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

Monica Mancini

– Aug. 25. (Wed.) Gershwin Across America.  What could be more entertaining than a warm summer night at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to the timeless melodies of Gershwin sung and played by a cast of musical all-stars.  Featured artists include Monica Mancini, Jason Mraz, BeBe Winans, Nancy Wilson, St. Vincent, Shelly Berg, Arturo Sandoval, Tom Scott, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and others.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 25. (Wed.)  Dale Fielder Angel City Quartet.  Saxophonist Fielder leads his quartet in an evening dedicated to a tribute to Wayne Shorter as well as selections from his own Suite ClarityCatalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.  .

– Aug. 25. (Wed.)  Larry Goldings Quintet.  Film music is on the menu for pianist Goldings, who leads his players – guitarist Anthony Wilson, trumpeter Josh Welchez bassist Gabe Noel and drummer Kevin Kanner in a program of music by the likes of Bernard Hermann, Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, Leonard Bernstein and more.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Norah Jones

– Aug. 25. (Wed.)  Norah Jones. She burst onto the music scene with almost no advance warning.  And she’s been spreading her wings musically ever since, revealing the broad, eclectic reach of her performing, playing and composing skills. The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-3125.

– Aug. 25 & 26. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Jeremy Siskind.  The talented young pianist offers a tribute to Oscar Peterson, backed by guitarist Graham Dechter and bassist Will Snyder.  Wed. at Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.  Thursday at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– Aug. 26. (Thurs.)  BeatlesfestLed Zepagain. It’s tribute night on the Pier, with the sounds of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin spreading musical memories in every direction.   Twilight Dance at the Santa Monica Pier.   (310) 458-8900.

– Aug. 26. (Thurs.)  Peter Erskine and Friends. Expect high quality, world class jazz whenever drummer Erskine is leading the way.  And once again he’s got a band that knows how to deliver it. With Alan Pasqua, piano, Derek Oles, bass and Bob Mintzer, saxophones.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 26. (Thurs.)  Galway Plays Mozart.  Flutist John Galway – his instrument’s most visible performer — plays the Mozart Flute Concerto No 2, as well as Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Piston’s Incredible Flutist Suite.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, offers the Overture to Mozart’s The Magic FluteThe Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

Frank Sinatra, Jr.

– Aug. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Frank Sinatra Jr.  The Sinatra sound is alive and well in the voice and the style of son Frank, Jr.   At a time when Sinatra imitators are showing up everywhere, it’s good to hear the music coming from such an original source.  (323) 466-2210.    Catalina Bar & Grill.

– Aug. 27. (Fri.)  Cyndi Lauper. With 13 Grammy nominations, a pair of Emmys and a ton of MTV awards, Lauper continues to sustain musical stardom that reaches back to her hits of the ‘80s.  Her guest stars are New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint and guitarist David RhodesThe Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-3125.

– Aug. 27. (Fri.)  Dena DeRose. It took injuries to her hands to convince DeRose that she had vocal skills to match the quality of her piano playing.  Fortunately recovered, she now does both.  What she doesn’t do very often, however, is make Southland appearances.  So don’t miss this one.  Crowne Plaza Hotel.   (310) 642-7500.

– Aug. 28. (Sat.)  The Turtle Island Quartet.   The ever-adventurous Turtle Islanders perform music from their new CD, Have You Ever Been… — featuring the music of Jimi Hendrix and founder/composer in residence David BalakrishnanGrand Performances.  (213) 687-2190.

Charmaine Clamor

– Aug. 28. (Sat.) Charmaine Clamor.  The Philippines’ gift to the world of jazz singing gets better and better with every performance, spreading her extraordinary musical versatility in all directions.  Hopefully she’ll offer a glimpse into the songs on her soon to be released new album, Something Good. And this time out, it won’t cost a penny to hear and see this world class artist at the  Levitt Pavilion in a free concert in MacArthur Park.   (213) 384-5701

– Aug. 28. (Sat.)  Jeri Brown.  Brown, whose voice is one of the jazz world’s most remarkable instruments, takes a break from her teaching activities in Canada to make a very rare Southland appearance.  If you haven’t heard her yet, you should start now.  Café Metropol.   (213) 613-1537.

– Aug. 28. (Sat.)  Ashley Maher.  Imagine the lyrical depths of Joni Mitchell embraced by the vital rhythms of Africa, and it still won’t quite describe the songs and singing of Maher, who deserves far more attention than she has received.  She performs with Haiti’s Jean-Paul.  The Kara Mack Band opens.  The Talking Stick, Venice.

– Aug. 28 & 29. (Sat. & Sun.)  Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines.  A great way to spend a late Summer weekend – an entertaining program of music in a delightful outdoor setting.  Featured artists include Tom Scott, Kenny Washington, Oscar Hernandez and David Benoit.  But there’s much more, from the Peter Sprague String Consort and the Jeff Tower Big band to Henry Franklin, Yves Evans, Graham Dechter and many others.  The inimitable Bubba Jackson is the master of ceremonies.  Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines.

= Aug. 29. (Sun.) Kleber Jorge.  Brazilian singer/guitarist Jorge, former lead guitarist with Sergio Mendes,  has also performed with everyone from Dori Caymmi to John Patitucci.  He celebrates the opening of a new Sunday brunch series at the Tiato Market Garden Cafe in Santa Monica.   (310) 866-5228.

San Francisco

– Aug. 24 & 25. (Tues. & Wed.)  Lenny White and Anomaly. Drummer White celebrates the release of Anomaly, his first album in ten years,  Determined to “put the rock back into jazz-rock,” he thoroughly succeeds in the task.  For a review of his performance at Catalina Bar & Grill last weekend, click here.   Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

Bob Dylan

– Aug. 25. (Wed.)  Bob Dylan and His Band. A rare and special event.  And it begins with what will surely be a virtual “happening” outside the theatre before the show begins.  Why?  Because all tickets are general admission and will be sold only on the day of the show.  $60, cash only, no credit cards, and no advance tickets will be sold.  Box office and doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show.  Line-ups will be allowed no earlier than noon on the day of the show.  The Warfield, San Francisco.

Aug. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat.) John Zorn.  A three night Zorn festival.  On Thursday he performs in a duo with composer Terry Riley; on Friday he plays Alhambra love songs at 8, and is joined by the Aleph Trio at 10; on Saturday he appears with the Rova Saxophone QuartetYoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

– Aug. 24 – 28. (Tues. – Sat.) Richie Bierach.  Pianist Bierach, a favorite of Stan Getz and Chet Baker, among others, performs with trumpeter Randy Brecker, violinist Gregor Huebner, bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy HartBirdland.  (212) 581-3080.

-Aug. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.)  Saxophone Summit: Salute to James Moody.  Special guests: Tues. — Chris Potter; Wed. – Eric Alexander and Antonio Hart; Thurs – Jimmy Heath; Fri. – Lew Tabackin; Sat. – Ada Rovatti; Sun. – Joe LovanoThe Blue Note. (212) 475-8592

– Aug. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. An evening of works by the man who created some of the most memorable songs of the late 20th century. Performed expertly by The Trio Da Paz, with Joe Locke, Harry Allen and Maucha AdnetDizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

Lee Konitz

– Aug. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.) Lee Konitz.  The veteran alto saxophonist, one of the jazz world’s true original artists, displays his extraordinary improvisational skills in the company of the alternating rhythm section teams of Ethan Iverson/Larry Grenadier (Thurs. & Sun.) and Reid Anderson/Jorge Rossy (Fri. & Sat.)  Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

– Aug. 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Gerald Clayton Quintet. Rapidly rising young pianist Clayton expands his trio with a pair of equally promising young instrumentalists – trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and alto saxophonist Logan RichardsonThe Jazz Standard. l (212) 576-3323.


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