Picks of the Week: May 31 – June 5

May 31, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Bruce Cockburn

– May 31. (Tues.)  Bruce Cockburn and Jenny Scheinman.  Versatile guitarist/composer Cockburn performs selections from his latest album, Small Source of Comfort, with the aid of eclectic violinist Scheinman.  The El Rey. http://www.theelrey.com (323) 936-6400.

– May 31. (Tues.)  Wayne Bergeron Big Band.  One of the jazz world’s finest, most versatile trumpeters, Bergeron displays even more abilities, leading his own stellar big band.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– June 1. (Wed.) Michael Formanek. Bassist Formanek’s decades long resume includes gigs and recordings with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Lovano and beyond.  He makes a rare Southern California appearance with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908

– June 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Bad Plus.  More than a decade together, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King have been redefining the inspiration and the territoriality of the jazz piano trio.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– June 3. (Fri.)  Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.  An intimate, all-acoustic evening, featuring a pair of veteran singer/songwriters, singing side by side, alternating songs from their remarkable careers.  CSUN.  Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-3000.

– June 3. (Fri.)  Larry Goldings.  Pianist Goldings finishes up a tour with James Taylor to celebrate the release of his latest recording, In My Room in a concert featuring special guests singer Gaby Moreno and guitarist David PiltchVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Peter Erskine

– June 4. (Sat.) Peter Erskine.  Drummer Erskine shares his birthday party a day early with a performance by his New Trio – with Vardan Ovsepian, piano, and Damian Erskine, bass.  They’ll perform selections from his new Joy Luck CD.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– June 4. (Sat.)  REO Speedwagon.  One of the hottest rock bands of the ‘80s, the Speedwagon has had a revolving door of personnel.  But the hits are as appealing as ever.  And for this appearance, the excitement level will no doubt be cranked up by the guest star appearance of Rick Springfield The Greek Theatre.   (877) 686-5366.

– June 5. (Sun.) Playboy Jazz: Patrice Rushen, Ndugu Chancler, The Nikhil Korula Band and Johnny Polanco y su Conjunto Amistad.  The jazz umbrella at the second of 2011’s free Playboy Jazz Festival concerts reaches far and wide.

Patrice Rushen

Start with the agile, hard swinging work of pianist Rushen and drummer Chancler.  Then on to the gumbo of calypso, rock, reggae and jazz from the Korula Band.  Add the irresistible rhythms of Johnny Polanco’s dynamic Conjunto Amistad.  And don’t forget the talented, high achieving youngsters of the Calabasas High School Jazz Band will be opening the show.  And the price is right.  A Playboy Jazz Festival Free Concert  at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills. 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.     (310) 450-1173.

San Francisco

– May. 31 & June 1. (Tues. & Wed.)  George Winston.  Pianist and multi-instrmentalist Winston has had considerable visibility as an icon of New Age music.  But his skills reach far beyond that limited genre, into stride, blues, Americana and beyond.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.   (510) 644-2020.

– June 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Hiromi: The Trio Project.  With special guests.  Anthony Jackson, bass, Simon Phillips, drums.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

– June 4. (Wed.)  The Rova Saxophone Quartet.  More than three decades together, the four members of Rova continue to adventure through musical areas encompassing free jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, traditional and pop music.  They perform with DJ Olive and DJ P-Love.    An SFJAZZ Spring Season event at Swedish American Hall.  (866) 920-5299.


Allen Toussaint

– May 31 & June 1.  (Tues. & Wed.)  Allen Toussaint. One of the iconic figures of New Orleans music, as a pianist, singer, composer, producer and more.  Here’s a chance to hear him up close and personal in a rare Seattle appearance.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.



– June 2 – 5.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Freddy Cole. Like his brother Nat, Freddy plays piano and has the Cole vocal sound.  But what he does with it is all his own.  Jazz Showcase.   (312) 360-0234.

New York

– June 2 – 5. (Thurs. – Sun.) Don Byron.  Clarinetist Byron displays his far ranging abilities in a pair of very different ensembles.  On Thursday and Friday with his Ivey-Divey Trio featuring Geri Allen and Charlie Persip.  On Saturday and Sunday with The New Gospel QuintetJazz Standard. (212) 576-2232.

Eliane Elias

– May 31 – June 5. (Tues. – Sun.)  Eliane Elias Quartet. Elias’ stunning jazz piano credentials were established early in her career.  More recently, she’s added her elegant vocalizing to her creative mix – reaching into unusual musical territory on her new CD, Light My Fire. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9800.

– May 31 – June 5. (Tues. – Sun.)  Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron. It’s hard to beat this lineup.  And it will be especially intriguing to hear the interaction between alto saxophonist Konitz and guitarist Frisell – two of the jazz world’s greatest individualists.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

Washington, D.C.

– June 3 – 5.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Pieces of a Dream.  Thirty years since the release of their first album, Pieces of a Dream continue to be one of the definitive smooth jazz groups.  Jazz Alley.   (202) 337-4141.


Cleo Laine

– May 31 – June 2. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Dame Cleo Laine.  Dame Cleo’s versatility has been one of the hallmarks of her career.  She is the only female performer to have received Grammy nominations in jazz, pop and classical categories.  But when she settles into a jazz groove, it’s hard to understand why she hasn’t fully received the accolades from the jazz audience that her brilliant talent deserves.  She’ll be backed by the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


– June 2 – 4. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Dionne Warwick.  She’s one of the biggest hit makers of the last decades of the 20th century, with 56 of her singles charting in the Billboard Hot 100.  And with good reason.  Her engaging voice was, and continues to be, one of pop music’s most memorable sounds  The Blue Note.   03-5485-0088.

Quotation of the Week: Pete Seeger

May 29, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

“Where have all the graveyards gone?

Long time passing

Where have all the graveyards gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the graveyards gone?

Covered with flowers every one

When will we ever learn?

When will we ever learn?”

– Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson (from “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”)


To read more Quotations of the Week click HERE.

Blues CD Review: Marty Grebb’s “High Steppin'”

May 26, 2011

Marty Grebb

High Steppin’  (Luna Chica)                                

By Devon Wendell

As is the case with many of the most talented artists, Marty Grebb is a household name among mostly the top and more well known musicians — most of whom he’s played with as a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and composer over the past four decades — rather than the non-playing, pop music buying public. Grebb has recorded and performed with everyone from Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Etta James, and Buddy Guy, to name only a few.

Grebb’s latest CD, High Steppin’, is a loving tribute to the blues and soul music he grew up with in Chicago. The album has already gotten the attention of peers such as Leon Russell and Garth Hudson.

Bonnie Raitt commented about it: “Marty has always been one of the most soulful, and versatile artists I know. From our years playing together in my band, to his broad history playing on his own and with many of the greats, Marty is one of the very few musicians who can nail singing, keyboards, saxophone, guitar, bass, drums, songwriting, and arranging with equal passion and authenticity. He’s made another great, funky record in High Steppin’. Terrific all the way around.”

Long before joining The Buckinghams in 1967, Grebb was signed to Vee Jay records with the Exceptions when he was 16 years old. During that time, he met Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and Etta James, all of whom helped to shape his deeply sincere, blues-based sound, and most of whom Grebb would end up working with throughout his career.

On High Steppin’, Grebb plays every instrument: piano, Hammond organs, electric and upright bass, drums, vocals guitar, resonator guitar, and has written all the horn arrangements.

“Heartbreaker” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” (both co-written with Leon Russell) are  low-down, minor key blues that have Grebb playing down and dirty Otis Rush-style Chicago blues guitar leads with tightly punctuated horn hooks. Grebb’s vocals are exceptionally soulful. There’s a hint of Ray Charles and Bobby “Blue” Bland” at first, but he eventually departs from the obvious influences and demonstrates a totally unique sound. His alto sax solo on “Heartbreaker” is brilliantly melodic.

Clifford’s Mood is an instrumental dedication to Bill Doggett’s original tenor sax master, the late Clifford Scott. Grebb’s tenor work has sparks of Scott’s style, but he again departs into his own bag of tricks. This takes the listener back to those classic Doggett sides on King records of the mid ‘50’s. Grebb also serves up a smooth and funky guitar solo that is true to the style and era. This is one of the most daring recordings laid down in a long time.

“Dem Dat Know” and the title track, “High Steppin’,” have a true Mardi Gras New Orleans feel. Here we get a taste of both Grebb’s rollicking piano and slick tenor-sax playing with more great, sincere vocals. Grebb actually co-wrote “Dem Dat Know”  with the late Cajun/country legend Bobby Charles.

Grebb’s slowed down, funky rendition of Rufus Thomas’s “Walkin’ The Dog” is one of the greatest and most original readings of this Memphis classic ever recorded. Grebb’s stinging lead guitar solo is pure, with a delicious blend of Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Albert King without sounding derivative. Grebb’s churning keyboard work in the background and passionate vocals make this worth the purchase of the CD alone.

The rocking soul of “Tulsa Town” and “Lowdown Blues Again” combine the vintage blues/r&b sound of Atlantic records of the early 60’s with the looser, blue-eyed soul of Leon Russell in the late 60’s and 70’s (to which Grebb was a key contributor).

“Treat Your Daddy Mean” (dedicated to Muddy Waters) is the kind of pure blues not recorded in a long time and one of the album’s most inspired recordings. Along with some terrific blues harp and acoustic guitar playing, Grebb’s vocals on this number put him in the ranks with some of the all time great blues singers. It’s hard to believe this track was recorded in this day and age.  The same could be said about “One Night” and “Let A Butterfly Cross The Road” — slow Ray Charles blues numbers that not only pay tribute to the “Father Of Soul” but give the late master a run for his money, with Grebb’s pleading and mournful vocals and soft, dynamic piano playing.

“Never Gonna Let You Go” may be the most commercial sounding track on the album, with its Motown- esque vocal hooks and reverb laden horn lines.  But it doesn’t, for one moment, take away from the power and genius of High Steppin’. 

High Steppin’ is a powerful statement that real blues and soul presented with authenticity still exists. Coming from a man some might have overlooked as a session player over the years, Marty Grebb comes out swinging, playing every instrument at a jaw-dropping level of brilliance and devotion.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Picks of the Week: May 24 – 29

May 24, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Gene Harris

– May 24. (Tues.)  A Tribute to Gene Harris.  This is as close as live music gets to the irresistible sounds of the late Gene Harris’   Quartet.  Pianist Bradley Young takes the lead role, backed by a trio of alumni from the original Harris ensemble – Luther Hughes, bass, Paul Kreibich, drums, Frank Potenza, guitar.  Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– May 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Royal Danish Ballet. With a history dating back to 1748, the company has longevity and maturity on it side, whether performing classics or new works.  Program I (Tues. & Wed.) features new works by Nordic choreographers.  Program II (Fri. – Sun.) presents a new production of August Bournonville’s classic Napooli.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2787.

– May 25. (Wed.) Bob Sheppard Quartet.  Everyone’s first-call jazz saxophonist steps in the leader’s spotlight for once, backed by the solid playing of  John Beasley, piano, Darek Oles, bass, Steve Hass, drums.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– May 25. (Wed.)  Lisa Hilton. Pianist Hilton’s lyrical, highly personal style has been described by Down Beat magazine as “A deeply expressive style of coaxing sounds from keys.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– May 26. (Thurs.)  Nicholas Payton“Happy 85th Birthday Miles Davis”  Expect to hear some of the great classics of contemporary jazz when trumpeter Peyton celebrates what would have been Miles’ 85th birthday.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.    (310) 271-9039.

Anna Mjoll

– May 27. (Fri.)  Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to contemporary jazz vocalizing brings her unique style to songs that reach easily across the jazz boundaries.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

– May 27. (Fri.) Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.  Drummer Bonham leads a dedicated tribute band in a powerful evening of Led Zeppelin songs, accompanied by atmospheric video and light shows.  The Greek Theatre.    (877) 686-5366.

– May 28. (Sat.) War and Tower of Power.  They’re back.  Two of the definitive crossover rockbands of the seventies make their annual Summer appearance at the Greek Theatre. (877) 686-5366.

San Francisco

– May 26. (Thurs.)  Laurie Antonioli.  Singer Antonioli is a rare talent, too rarely seen beyond the Bay area.  She’ll hopefully do material from her recent album, American DreamsFreight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkley.   (510) 644-2020.

Rickie Lee Jones

– May 27. (Fri.)  Rickie Lee Jones. Veteran singer/songwriter Jones, a compelling performer for more than three decades, will revisit songs from her debut album, 1979’s Rickie Lee Jones and 1982’s Pirates.  An SFJAZZ Spring Season event at Davis Symphony Hall.   (866) 920-5299.

– May 27 – 29. (Fri. – Sun.)  Hiroshima.  Genre boundaries mean nothing to the versatile members of Hiroshima, who have been blending Asian, Latin and jazz elements for more than three decades.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

– May 28. (Sat.) Tony Bennett. Still going strong at 84, Bennett’s every performance is a definitive display of how to bring jazz-tinged life to the Great American Songbook.  An SFJAZZ Spring Season event at Davis Symphony Hall.   (866) 920-5299.


– May 24 & 25. (Tues. & Wed.)  Bucky Pizzarelli Trio. The master of the seven string guitar continues, at 85, to provide some object lessons in jazz guitar to younger generations of players (and listeners).   Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.


– May 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Miguel Zenon Quartet. Alto saxophonists, one of the most original saxophone voices of his generation, has already had his impressive skills acknowledged with a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

 New York

Stanley Clarke

– May 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.)  Stanley Clarke.  A bass players’ bassist and musicians’ musician, Clarke, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday brings creative enlightenment to everything he plays.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

– May 26 – 29. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Cedar Walton, Javon Jackson, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash.  The list of names tells you all you need to know – that this will be an all-star evening of prime jazz.  Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington D.C.

– May 26. (Thurs.)  Roseanna Vitro.  Always adventurous, jazz singer Vitro’s latest album, is a creatively convincing exploration of the songs of Randy Newman.  Blues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.


– May 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Ronnie Scott’s. Veteran Brazilian singer/pianist Tania Maria authentically blends Brazilian rhythms with urban blues and pop, hip-hop and funk.  Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747.


– May 27. (Fri.) Ron Carter Trio.  The iconic acoustic bassist Carter performs with his superb Golden Striker trio – guitarist Bobby Broom and pianist Mulgrew Miller.   Blue Note Milano.    02 69 01 68 88.


Gretchen Parlato

– May 25. (Wed.)  Gretchen Parlato. One of the most imaginative of the new generation of young singers performs material from her new CD, The Lost and Found. New Morning.

Nagoya, Japan

– May 23. (Mon.)  Cheryl Bentyne.  Taking a break from her Manhattan Transfer chores, singer Bentyne displays her far-reaching jazz vocal skills.  Blue Note Nagoya.    052-961-6311.  To read a recent iRoM review of Cheryl Bentyne click HERE.

Rickie Lee Jones and Stanley Clarke photos by Tony Gieske.

CD Review: Jimbo Mathus “Confederate Buddha”

May 23, 2011

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition

Confederate Buddha (Memphis International Records)

By Devon Wendell

Mississippi native and Squirrel Nut Zipper founder Jimbo Mathus has always been  fearless in his pursuit of purity in the realms of country, blues, and Southern-fried soul.  And that’s certainly the case on this gloriously under-produced, upcoming CD (scheduled for release today, May 24).

The album takes a mystical trip down the river through cotton country with a definitive band sound delivered by Mathus’s latest group of cohorts, the Tri-State Coalition: Justin Showah, bass and harmony; Matt “Pizzle” Pierce, Telecaster and harmony; Austin Marshall, drums; and Eric “Carlos” Carlton, piano and organ.

Mathus and company kick off with the high charged Southern rocker “Jimmy The Kid,” featuring stinging, twang-filled guitar riffs by Mathus and a no-nonsense pedal steel guitar solo by Forrest Parker.  The perfectly delivered, sloppy backing vocals and lyrics that flood the listener with images of a train-hopping “Son of a gun” bring to mind the sound of The Band’s earliest work, but with more warmth and sincerity.  Mathus’s gin-soaked vocals are also reminiscent of Levon Helms, with just the proper sprinkling of Hank Williams, especially on “Town With No Shame”  and “Glad It’s Dark.”   This is real country music with no effort to repackage or water it down for pop and rock audiences.

The harmonies on the album are outstanding. “Wheel Upon Wheel” features wonderfully crafted backing vocals by The White Angels (Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Gin Gin Carlton, and Rosamond Posey), which weave in and out of the delicate acoustic and steel guitar tracks. This taste of true Southern folklore is one of several highlights, along with the mournful ballad “Walk Beside,” which, in addition to its fine harmonies, also features some sweet guitar leads by Mathus and pedal steel player Forrest Parker. There’s a sadness and longing to Mathus’s vocals which shadows this track and most of Confederate Buddha.

Mathus is not only a skilled musician but also a powerful and underrated lyricist who knows how to tell compelling stories: about escaping deadly floods on “Too Much Water” and “Cling To The Roots”; tales of gamblers and outlaws on “Aces & Eights” and “Shady Dealing.”  And he does so with the sort of clear and imaginative imagery that many of today’s song writers lack.  “Days Of High Cotton” is a sentimental tale of better times not forgotten. The track features Mathus’s most melodic and soulful lead guitar playing as well as his most heart felt vocal delivery.

Oddly, the most disappointing number on the album is a rendition of Delta blues father Charlie Patton’s “Leash My Pony” which feels more like a milk-toast, pop-friendly cover a la The Rolling Stones, Taj Mahal, and The Black Crows.  What it lacks is the true grittiness of such other Mississippians as Howlin’ Wolf, Tommy Johnson, and John Lee Hooker, who have previously covered this blues classic with more purity.

But that’s a rarity in this otherwise fascinating CD.  Mathus’s former comrade, legendary producer and musician Jim Dickenson, once called Jimbo “the singing voice of Huck Finn,” which is the feeling the listener gets throughout Confederate Buddha.  As his song suggests, Mathus “Clings to the Roots” of Americana music with soulful harmonies, love and devotion in a manner that is refreshing and true for these times.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Jazz: Jane Harvey at Catalina Bar & Grill

May 20, 2011

By Tony Gieske

No need to add encomia to the already overloaded resume of  the great Jane Harvey,  who transformed Catalina’s into a hip little branch of the Apple the other night.

She probably could have gotten by with just singing her resume, this lady. (Lorraine Feather could have written the music.)

Harvey might have started the job list with her employment on the Benny Goodman band back in the 1940s. Her version of  “He’s Funny That Way,” recorded with Goodman’s sextet (Slam  Stewart on bass!) as the war clouds departed, still gives off plenty of steam in the version  you can still hear on the net.

Then she could put down the band of  Desi Arnaz before he met Lucy,  when he worked with Bob Hope.

There’d be a subhead for television, headed by Steve Allen on “The Tonight Show” and proceeding to Jane Pauley on “The Today Show”; a Broadway section (”Bless You All” with Pearl Bailey); and a long stretch of recordings as they advanced from 78 rpm to mp3.

At Catalina’s, Harvey did  utterly convincing, if not transformative, performances of tunes from her newly re-released CD,  “Jane Harvey Sings Sondheim.” Not too many gals in their 80s are out there pushing their latest sides, right?

I was struck by the unusual skill with which she sang, and with her adroitly supportive trio of piano, bass and drums.  Her time and her pitches were kept precise.  That, of course, got her carefully weighed phrasing working. Each lyric became a moving little drama — tragic, comic, anecdotal… no sweat.

The savvy old chanteuse kept the program moving right along. For every “Send in the Clowns” tear dropper there was a sarcastic “Could I Leave You.” She made “Send in the Clowns” quite palatable; she even saved the inevitable “I’m Still Here” with a touch of weariness that proved moving, even to the sated L.A culture  quaffers — present company excepted — who came to listen to this remarkable artist.

Photos by Tony Gieske.  To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE.

Quotation of the Week: Bill Cosby

May 19, 2011



“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

-Bill Cosby



To read a Q & A about Bill Cosby, jazz and the Playboy Jazz Festival click HERE.

To read more Quotations of the week click HERE.


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