Picks of the Week: Aug. 30 – Sept. 4

August 30, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

MIchael Wolff

– Aug. 30 & 31. (Tues. & Wed.)  Michael Wolff Quartet.  Pianist and television personality Wolff does a live recording with the stellar ensemble of trumpeter/film composer Mark Isham, bassist John B. Williams and drummer Mike ClarkVitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 31. (Wed.)  George Benson, George Duke, Marcus Miller and David Sanborn.   It’s an evening of blues, funk, crossover and smooth jazz.  But straight ahead jazz fans can rest assured that all of these high visibility artists are also firmly rooted in traditional jazz skills.  The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2040.

Janis Mann

– Aug. 31. (Wed.)  Janis Mann Quartet.  Versatile singer Mann’s soaring vocals are underscored by solid musicality and a masterful story-telling skills.  She performs with pianist Andy Langham, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Roy McCurdyCharlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

– Sept. 1. (Thurs.)  Pat Tuzzolino.  Watching Tuzzolino in action is to marvel at his eclectic skills, as he plays a synth keyboard with one hand, a bass synth with the other, while delivering warm, engaging, hard swinging vocals.  He performs with guitarist Barry Zweig and drummer Billy PaulVitello’s.  (818) 769-0905

– Sept. 1. (Thurs.)  The Ron Eschete Trio.  Seven string guitarist Eschete manages to generate the sort of rich, harmonic textures and flowing rhythms that would seem to only be possible on a keyboard instrument. And he does so with far reaching creative imagination. Keyboardist Joe Bagg and drummer Kendall Kay will back him.  Steamer’s.    (714) 871-8800.

Charlie Haden's Quartet West

– Sept. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.  Haden’s veteran, all-star band, one of the West Coast’s great jazz ensembles, celebrates their 25th anniversary.  And it comes at an appropriate time, with pianist/arranger Alan Broadbent moving to the New York area in the near future.  Hopefully Haden will find a way to keep the Quartet together, from time to time.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 2 – 5. ) Fri. – Mon.  Sweet & Hot Music Festival.  The 16th annual celebration of the timeless pleasures of classic jazz.  The names are too numerous to mention.  But suffice to say there’ll be over 200 musicians, 20 bands, 8 venues, 180 scheduled events and 4 dance floors – all sizzling with everything from New Orleans jazz to Swing and Bebop.  The LAX Marriott Hotel.  http://www.sweethot.org

– Sept. 3. (Sat.)  Steve Huffsteter.  Trumpeter Huffsteter’s extensive resume includes appearances with a complete lexicon of jazz and pop artists.  Much honored by his musical associates, he’s too rarely heard on his own, in the spotlight.  Here’s a great opportunity to experience the articulate subtlety of his playing.  He’s backed by the Pat Senatore Trio.  Vibrato.

San Francisco

– Sept. 1 – 3. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Ivan Lins Quartet.  Singer/songwriter/pianist Lins has been one of Brazil’s – and the world’s – great musical treasures for decades.  Like all iconic artists, he should be heard at every opportunity – especially in a musically compatible setting such as Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

Ron Carter

– Aug. 30 – Sept. 4 (Tues. – Sun.)  Ron Carter Big Band.  At the pinnacle of a career that has embraced every imaginable musical setting, bassist Ron Carter celebrates the release of an album expressing his affection for classic big band jazz: Ron Carter’s Great Big Band.  His assemblage of horn-playing all stars will be backed by the solid rhythm team of Carter, guitarist Russell Malone, pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Willie Jones III.   Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

– Sept. 1. (Thurs.)  Roseanna VitroThe Music of Randy Newman.  Vitro’s jazz-driven exploration of the emotionally multi-layered songs of Newman has been one of the headline items of 2011’s vocal CDs.  Hopefully the Recording Academy voters will have the good sense to give it a Grammy nomination.  Here, she offers her interpretations up close and live.  The Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Live Music: Brian Wilson at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts

August 29, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

On Saturday night Brian Wilson played a homecoming show of sorts at the Cerritos Center for the Performing  Arts, a gorgeous venue with a sound that is on a par with its architecture.  In the late ‘50s/early ‘60s Wilson and his brothers grew up in Hawthorne just a few miles west of Cerritos.  While living in Hawthorne, they developed the sound that would become recognizable worldwide as the Beach Boys.    Nearly 50 years later that sound is as iconic as it ever was.

Brian Wilson

Saturday’s program included upwards of 40 songs representing the development of his career.  All of them quite faithfully recreated the original recordings, essentially track for track and voice for voice.  To account for all of the many esoteric sonic nuances in Brian Wilson’s arrangements is no simple task. These days Wilson is touring with a stellar 9-piece ensemble, an enlarged version of the Wondermints from LA.  Starting with a consistent minimum of 5-part harmony, The Wondermints accounted for every necessary sound in the set with panache, from a stage crowded with instruments and players. Instruments such as glockenspiel, full size xylophone, baritone guitar, alto flute, baritone sax, accordion, theremin and chromatic harmonica were also referenced repeatedly.

The expanded version of the Wondermints included 2 guitars (Nicky Wonder and Jeff Foskett), bass (Brett Simons), a two man percussion section (Mike D’Amico and Nelson Bragg), 3 multi-instrumental keyboard players (Gary Griffin, Scott Bennett, and Darian Sahanaja) , and a multi-instrumental wind player (Paul Mertens).   The rhythm section positioned D’Amico on a trap kit and Bragg using his hands on assorted cymbals, tambourines, and shakers.   The verve and showmanship of these two was winsome, particularly as D’Amico would raise his arms ala Ringo and at times kept his fills super simple to stay true to Dennis Wilson’s original tracks.  Bragg would change instruments on the beat within the measure, often crashing a cymbal with a tambourine.   Showmanship definitely pleases most when it augments the music.

Brian Wilson and the band

Wilson’s  songwriting career began with songs rooted in living the innocence and the delights of being young in America during plentiful and relatively uncomplicated times.   Songs about surfing (“Surfin’ USA,”  “Catch A Wave”), chicks  (“Surfer Girl,” “Help Me Rhonda”), cars (“Little Deuce Coupe”), dancing (“Dance Dance Dance”), being true to your school, and fun, fun, fun abounded.   These ideas all translated into hit records for the Beach Boys and many of them made the evening’s set list.   The simple genius in how these songs transport a person right into the vision of waterside fun remains wonderfully obvious.   The keyboards evoke amusement park calliopes while glockenspiels summon up images of high school marching bands.    Upon listening, you can feel the sun and the breeze drying your shoulders as the sylphs glide by.

As Wilson matured so did his songs became more wistful and introspective, and he brought out these emotions musically with long, driving bass notes, church organ tones, lush five part harmonies and imaginative instrumentation.   Wilson never came across as trendy in his sound selections, often trying exotic instruments rather than gimmicky production.   He was after the richest, purest sound he could get and that endures.

“When I Grow Up To Be A Man,” “Good Vibrations,” “In My Room,” and “God Only Knows,” (a top shelf fave of Paul McCartney) were as poignant as ever on Saturday, particularly due to the beautifully authentic harmonies from the Wondermints.   There were enough voices on stage to form gorgeous jazzy vocal chords with flatted intervals that brought the depths of Beach Boys’ songs like “Heroes and Villains”  to life on stage.   The sense of motion in some of these signature vocal chords became Wilson’s calling card and it is remarkable to hear live.   It’s not often attempted in a rock ‘n roll format, because it just isn’t an easy thing to do.

To watch Brian Wilson fade into and out of clarity before our very eyes points out that time is fleeting and it is a real opportunity to see a talent like his live.   Onstage, the scene at times approached surreal.  In the middle of all the swirling layers of harmony and texture calmly sat the architect of it all.  Yet, much of the time he appeared a bit detached and unto himself, arms drooping, not always playing, missing an occasional word here and there, staring ahead.   It made you a little nervous for him.  He seemed a little out of it, or was he?  You just couldn’t be sure until, out of his glaze, he would cue up one subtle line in the song after another from the very spot onstage it needed to come from.

His trademark falsetto vocals were largely and invaluably handled by guitarist Foskett to his immediate right.   In fact, the Wondermints were there to guide the music along and to supply every detail that Wilson had originally conceived.  It was a testimonial and an act of love for the music on the their part.

The estate of George Gershwin (dead of a brain tumor way too early at age 39) contacted Brian Wilson a few years ago and asked him to interpret and work with some unfinished pieces of music.   The result was the compelling 2010 album Brian Wilson Re-imagines Gershwin.  On Saturday we were treated to the lush Wilson vocal treatment of several Gershwin standards including “Summertime,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” “They Can’t Take That From Me,” and a marvelous instrumental take on “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’,” complete with banjo and chromatic harmonica.   The band also dug down a bit for another tasty instrumental, the title track of “Pet Sounds,” which featured some great processed guitar work from guitarist Nicky Wonder.

All in all the two hour show maintained a brisk but certainly not rushed pace as Wilson’s songs took everyone in a predominantly older audience vividly back into their memory banks.   The purity of lyrics and sound morphing into something emotionally bigger than the sum of the parts is what endures about Brian Wilson’s music.   Those qualities are quite nearly perfect in their conception.   Songs like “God Only Knows,” “In My Room,”  and “Do It Again” really do have an appeal that can transcend generations…or so you would think.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

An Appreciation: Ross Barbour

August 27, 2011

 Ross Barbour, last original singer of the ionic jazz vocal ensemble, Four Freshmen, died last Saturday at 82, at his home in Simi Valley.  Mr. Barbour, who arranged and sang with the group, described his long, lush voicings as “purple chords.”

By Bill Eaton

I will raise a glass tonight for Ross Barbour. His passing is a heart-wrench. The one time I was in his presence, I was 25 and too addled to speak. The Freshmen meant more to me than any individual or entity in my swim upstream into jazz waters. I loved the Modernaires, admired the Hi-los and have been dazzled by Take 6. But I wanted to be IN the Freshmen, to sing just like that, to sound just like that, and to be a part of creating that feeling.

I never came close to that feeling with any other vocal group. Their magic came from the fact that they sounded like guys; guys laced with vulnerability and yearning. That was the secret of the Four Freshmen’s appeal: the Y chromosome festooned with tendrils of vulnerability; a yearning from a place so deep as to make tears the price of admission. A thing so true, so filled with the moist breath of real life, that Barbour never used nor needed embellishments to pull you in. You wanted in.

There is no more mysterious, fascinating and appealing vulnerability than that of the male animal. Females carry theirs in a clutch purse. It must always be available for their offspring, and embracing it makes them more powerful than their mates can ever be. Before men can dig theirs out the chasm in which it’s stored, they have to acknowledge its existence, and that acknowledgement always comes with a pain for which there is no epidural. Ferreting it out and embracing it is a lifelong rite of passage. Men who create great art are awash with it, but it remains a stone in the shoe.

100 years from now there may still be an edition of the Four Freshmen, still singing Ross Barbour’s arrangements of those wonderful songs, still sounding like guys with their hearts on their sleeves. Never the most brilliant, but always, the most irresistible.

 Bill Eaton is a respected New York arranger-conductor, composer of the jingle “Charlie,”  and well known for his work with Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Ralph MacDonald and many others.

Live Latin Jazz: Arturo Sandoval, Natalie Cole, Omara Portuondo, the Buena Vista Social Club and Ninety Miles at the Hollywood Bowl

August 26, 2011

By Michael Katz

The infectious beat of Cuban music has been part of  the greater American consciousness since the post-World War II era.   Desi Arnaz’s band came into our homes every week in the fifties and sounds from Havana were frequently heard in clubs from Miami to New  York. Despite Fidel Castro’s repressive regime and the American boycott, we’ve still managed to maintain contact with the music, tenuous as it may have been until recently. On Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl, three generations of musicians presented rousing versions of the Cuban beat, bringing the near capacity crowd to its feet on numerous occasions.

Stefon Harris, David Sanchez, Christian Scott

Ninety Miles, the band featuring vibes virtuoso Stefon Harris, trumpeter Christian Scott and tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, kicked off the show with a too-brief set featuring three tunes from their current release of the same name, recorded in Havana with Cuban pianist/composers Rember Duharte and Harold Lopez-Nussa. Harris is first among peers in this group. His percussive licks on the vibes are a surging backdrop to everything that goes on, his solos catching the spirit of the Cuban rhythms. His composition “Brown Belle Blues,” which led off the program, features striking counter rhythms, augmented by conga player Mauricio Herrera and backed up by front-liners Scott and Sanchez.

Scott, playing a horn with the bell tilted up a la Dizzy, has a crisp, clear tone. One of the up and coming young trumpeters, this band is a great vehicle to get him in front of larger audiences. “E’Cha,” was one of four tunes on Ninety Miles, the CD,  composed by the Cuban pianists – this one by Lopez-Nussa, with Zaccai Curtis effectively taking over the piano chair for this concert. “And This Too Shall Pass,” another Harris composition, closed the set, allowing Harris to again set a rhythmic pace and build a solo on top of it, with Sanchez contributing his own robust sound. In a set this short, someone was bound to draw the short straw and it was Sanchez, who never quite got the opportunity to get going. Check out his ballad-like composition “The Forgotten Ones” on the CD to fully appreciate his contribution to this group.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval is one of the true home run hitters on the trumpet. His soaring flights into the horn’s upper register bring to mind Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie, the latter being his main stylistic influence.  His LA All-Star band rounded up some familiar names like Brian Scanlon on tenor sax, trombonist Andy Martin and trumpeter Wayne Bergeron. And of course the rhythm section sparkled with Johnny Friday and Joey De Leon Jr on drums and congas. “Funky Cha Cha” got the group started,  with some fine piano work by Wally Minko and Sandoval’s blazing horn, augmented by his doubling on timbales.

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole joined the band for an impassioned “Besame Mucho.” Ms. Cole is clearly a Bowl favorite; she has had to cancel some recent appearances for health reasons and if not quite up to her old self, she was still in fine voice. Her rendition of her father’s “Quizas” was a reminder of the influence Havana had on American music before the curtain dropped and what we have missed in between. Sandoval reclaimed center stage for “Cerezo Rosa,” blasting off into the stratosphere, with actor Andy Garcia sitting in on congas.

Sandoval then introduced a trio of guitarist/singers known as the Manolo Kings, who led the band through two spirited numbers,  “Taki Taki” and “Tahitiana.” The band’s closing number just about blew the dome off the stage. “Mambo Caliente” featured sizzling work on alto by Rusty Higgins,  the expected trombone excellence from Andy Martin, Sandoval, of course, backed up his trumpet section and a rousing piano solo from Minko. It was all pulsating, the audience up on their feet. If there was ever a time for an encore before intermission, this would have been it.

Omara Portuondo

The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, originally brought to our attention by Ry Cooder, is by now an established cultural franchise, in much the same way that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band represents New Orleans. The personnel has changed over the years, though plenty of traditional voices remain. At the heart is vocalist Omara Portuondo, who came out mid-set, but perhaps equally important is Barbarito Torres, who plays the laud, a pear-shaped guitar with a distinctive tone somewhat like a mandolin, but with a ringing quality. Torres set an energetic tone from the start. Musical director, trombonist  and vocalist Jesus Aguaje Ramos directed the band through a half dozen spirited numbers, including one trombone vamp around “As Time Goes By.” The early tunes featured one of the group’s standard bearers, Guajiro Mirabel on trumpet, as well as vocals by Idania Valdes. One of the best of the younger players was pianist Rolando Luna, who follows the lineage of stellar Havana pianists Chucho Valdez and Gonzalo Rubalcabo.

The highlight, of course, was the entrance of Omara Portuondo. She is a dynamo, her voice sprightly and full of drama, still able to capture the upper octaves. With a little English and a lot of panache, she communicated easily with the Bowl audience, charging through a quartet of numbers before delighting the crowd with her version of “Summertime.” Her Havana inflections only seemed to underline the poignancy of the lyrics, causing the audience to listen to them as if for the first time. Again, Rolando Luna provided lovely accompaniment.

All in all it was an invigorating evening, hopefully auguring a terrific future for the music along with honoring the icons of its past.

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.


Picks of the Week: Aug. 23 – 28

August 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Aug. 23. (Tues.)  Clay JenkinsGood Signs  CD concert.  Trumpeter Jenkins celebrates the September release of his new CD with the stellar band on the album — guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 24. (Wed.)  Alan Ferber Quartet. Versatile trombonist Ferber moves easily across numerous jazz styles, always with imaginative creativity.  Here he makes one of his rare Southland appearances, working with bassist Pat Senatore, pianist Josh Nelson, and his brother, Mark FerberVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Omara Portuondo

– Aug. 24. (Wed.)  Arturo Sandoval, Natalie Cole, the Buena Vista Social Club with Omara Portuondo and Ninety Miles, featuring Stefon Harris, David Sanchez and Christian Scott.  The Bowl sizzles with a far-ranging evening of Latin jazz in a wide array of manifestations and styles.  Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000

– Aug. 25. (Thurs.) Theo Saunders Quartet with Dave Binney.  Pianist Saunders, a probing musical artist on his own, gets together with alto saxophonist Binney, whose career has been filled with adventurous musical explorations.   Charlie O’s. (818) 994-3058.

– Aug. 25. (Thurs.)  Mr. Vallenato.  The Skirball’s free Sunset  Concerts for 2011 close with a performance by Jorge Villarreal. a Mexican-American accordion virtuoso whose emotional romps through cumbia and vallenato music have prompted some reviewers to compare the excitement of his playing to that of the legendary Jimi Hendrix.  The Skirball Cultural Center.   Free.  Doors open at 7 p.m. for an 8 p.m. performance.  (310) 440-4500.

– Aug. 25. (Thurs.)  Ken Peplowski.  Clarinetist Peplowski has been doing an effective job of keeping the jazz clarinet alive (along with his equally impressive tenor saxophone work.  He’s backed by pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Paul Kreibich LAX Jazz Club Crowne Plaza Hotel.    (310) 642-7500.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.

– Aug. 25 – 27. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.  Married for more than forty years, McCoo and Davis continue to celebrate the entertaining music of the group that brought them together, the Fifth Dimension.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 26 & 27. (Fri. & Sat.) John Williams, Maestro of the Movies.  With one of the most impressive catalog of film scores in his resume, Williams fully deserves the “Maestro” title.  He conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a collection of his memorable music.  In an added highlight, James Taylor will be guest narrator.  Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 27. (Sat.)  Brian Wilson.  One of the rock music figures who truly warrant the label “legendary” makes a rare concert appearance.  Wilson – whose awards reach from Kennedy Center honors to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – will offer selections from many of his greatest Beach Boys hits.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.    (562) 916-8501.

San Francisco

Oliver Lake

– Aug. 25. (Thurs.)  Oliver Lake Organ Quartet.  Alto saxophonist Lake, a true Renaissance man, is also a poet, painter and performance artist.  For this appearance, he’ll focus on expanding the arena of the jazz organ quartet with organist Jared Gold, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and drummer Chris Beck. Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


– Aug. 25 – 31. (Thurs. – Wed.)  Ira Sullivan and Friends. Eighty year old multi-instrumentalist Sullivan has always been one of jazz’s most impressive, but also elusive performers, sticking close to the Chicago area.  Here he is again in his home territory, displaying his remarkable skills as a trumpeter, saxophonist, flutist and composer.   Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

– Aug. 23 – 27. (Tues. – Sat.)  Richie Beirach Quintet. Veteran pianist Beirach burst onto the jazz scene in the early ‘70s with Stan Getz.  And his multi-layered style is still a marvel of improvisational imagination.  He performs with the cutting edge ensemble of Randy Brecker, trumpet, Gregor Huebner, violin, George Mraz, bass and Billy Hart, drums.  Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

Jon Faddis

– Aug. 23 – 28. (Tues. – Sun.)  Jon Faddis Quartet with special guests Sean Jones and Terell Stafford.  Trumpeter Faddis, a protégée of Dizzy Gillespie, does his own mentoring in the company of young trumpeters Jones and Stafford.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.


– Aug. 23. (Tues.)  Buddy Greco and Lezlie Anders.  Veteran pianist/singer Greco, who turned 85 earlier this month, is still adeptly offering the blend of bop-tinged piano and soaring vocals that have characterized his music since he left the Benny Goodman band in the late ‘40s for a solo career.  He’ll perform with his wife, singer Lezlie Anders.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.


– Aug. 23 – 25. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Ramsey Lewis Electric Band.  Pianist/keyboardist Lewis continues to tour with his five piece electric band, mixing standards and new works with material from his 1974 gold album, Sun Goddes.   The Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.

Quotation of the Week: Jimi Hendrix (4)

August 19, 2011



“I feel guilty when people say I’m the greatest on the scene… Your name doesn’t mean a damn, it’s your talents and your feelings that matter.  You’ve got to know much more than just the technicalities of the notes; you’ve got to know what goes between the notes.”

Jimi Hendrix


To read more quotations by Jimi Hendrix, click HERE.

To read other Quotations of the Week, click HERE.

Live Jazz: Joni’s Jazz with Herbie Hancock and an All-Star Ensemble at the Hollywood Bowl

August 18, 2011

By Michael Katz

Jazz has always attached itself to the popular musical idioms of the day, from Tin Pan Alley to the Beatles and even (gasp) hip hop.  But Wednesday night’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl highlighted a reverse aspect, Joni Mitchell’s mid-seventies adaptation of jazz into her own style of songwriting and performance. Make no mistake, even with musical giants like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and even absent Ms. Mitchell in person, the voice was distinctly Joni, her words weaving poetic narrative, her rhythms enticing and challenging.

Herbie Hancock

The program was divided into a first act of songs mostly from Court and Spark and Hejira, and the second act re-creation of The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Although Herbie Hancock won a Grammy for his CD River: The Joni Letters, all the arrangements Wednesday night were the work of co-leaders Brian Blade (drums and a sparkling blues guitar on “Strange Boy”) and Jon Cowherd (keyboards). They brought in a first rate ensemble, with Tom Scott and Mark Isham out front on tenor and trumpet.

Glen Hansard

The five guest vocalists all brought something different to the program, and it’s a pretty good bet that the disparate audience of diehard Joni fans and Wayne/Herbie followers made some new musical acquaintances. Glen Hansard, the Irish singer from The Frames and the film The Commitments made only one appearance in the first set, but it was a sprightly rendition of “Coyote,” which highlighted his own guitar playing, the percussion of Jeff Haynes and dueling solos from Tom Scott and Wayne Shorter, who played a soaring soprano sax throughout his appearances.

Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann comes closest to resembling Joni Mitchell in voice and appearance, which is probably an unfair comparison, akin to the trumpeters who assume the Miles Davis chair in re-creations of his bands. But she was out front to start the show with “Court and Spark,” steady and heartfelt, though the mix of the ensemble behind her was a little strong. Throughout the evening she had some of the signature Joni tunes, including “Free Man in Paris” and, in the second half,  “Shades of Scarlet Conquering” and the title track, “Hissing of Summer Lawns,” which featured Herbie Hancock providing some haunting piano accompaniment. Hancock only appeared on three tunes, but he was in top form each time.

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson brings her own unique style to everything she touches. Her voice is low and sonorous, her readings always with a spark of originality. She had three numbers in the first act, including “Hejira,” with a lush solo by Mark Isham, but most notably Joni’s hit “Help Me,” which started with the familiar opening chords and moved toward a plaintive, thick-as-molasses second chorus. Unscheduled but equally moving was “Blue Motel Room,” which turned into a duet with Tom Scott. Wilson’s vocals, which can fall an octave below the tenor’s midtones, make for a stunning combination, which was repeated during the second set’s opener, “In France They Kiss On Main Street.”  It’s a pairing that could easily stand up to an album of its own.

Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan projects an entirely different presence. She’s a diva, but played it with a degree of understatement and reverence toward the material. “Strange Boy,” with Brian Blade playing a Delta blues guitar and Greg Leisz on steel pedal guitar, was a soulful performance and “People’s Parties” was effectively funky, with her ability to soar into soprano at a moment’s notice. Her two contributions to the second set, “Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow” and “Sweet Bird,” were both sensitive and dramatic interpretations.

Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling always seems to rise to the forefront in these group presentations, although his introduction was a bit shaky, with a Sinatra reference that seemed out of place. “Black Crow,” coming early in the first set, featured a terrific solo by Shorter, but overall seemed a little disjointed. His later contribution to the first set, “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” (the lone piece from the Mingus album) was a perfect vehicle for him, and teamed him with some sparkling piano work from Hancock.  Elling’s voice has a stark clarity to it, no small advantage in an evening when five different singers are interpreting an artist whose lyrics are central to the show’s purpose. There were times, especially during the second act performance of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, — which despite its acknowledged excellence is still not as familiar to many as Joni Mitchell’s earlier work — when you had to adjust to the different intonations of the artists to pick up the lyrics.  Not so with Elling. “The Jungle Line” doesn’t require much in the way of subtlety, but “Edith and the Kingpin,” enhanced by Shorter and Scott on their saxes, was presented with the patented Elling sensibility.

Glen Hansard finally made it back with “The Boho Dance” and, to close the show,  “Shadows and Light.” By the end, the hope that Joni Mitchell might make an unscheduled appearance had given way to a satisfaction that a segment of her work, under-appreciated by many, had been revived in high style, artfully arranged by Blade and Cowherd and performed with heart and spirit by the group they had assembled.

To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click here.

Herbie Hancock photo by Tony Gieske.


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