Live Music: “The Philharmonic Dances” — The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Opening Night Concert and Gala

September 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

Gustavo Dudamel

The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Music Director Gustavo Dudamel opened the new season at Walt Disney Hall Thursday night with a smartly conceived and beautifully performed program titled The Philharmonic Dances.  Opening nights at Disney have become stellar events over the past few years – musically and socially.  And this one was no exception.

There was the usual fund raising gala, of course, an important destination for L.A.’s social and entertainment elite, with plenty of familiar (and not so familiar, depending upon one’s orientation) celebrities strolling across a red carpet strategically positioned at the Grand Ave. entrance for convenient media access.

But the most intriguing aspect of the night was what took place on the Disney stage.  From the audience perspective, it was a rarely seen Disney Hall vista.  The orchestra was spread out in all its instrumental glory, the players occupying all the far-reaching space that had been designed, specifically, for them.  The broad riser behind them, however, showcased several selections by dancers.  Their presence, closely viewable from every seat, high or low, made for a remarkable music and dance tableau.

The opening work – The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)—  was a gripping, musical visualization by composer John Adams — inspired by his opera, Nixon in China—in which he imagines Chairman Mao dancing with his mistress, Chiang Ch’ing.  Newly commissioned (by the L.A. Philharmonic) choreography by Barak Marshall, rigorously executed by the ten dancers of BODYTRAFFIC, had an appropriately collective quality.

Veronika Part and Roberto Bolle

Selections by Stravinsky (Variation d’Apollon) and Saint-Saens (The Dying Swan) followed, the former danced by soloist Roberto Bolle, the latter by Veronika Part.  Both dancers then joined together for selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Whether dancing as soloists or together, Bolle and Part were exquisite interpreters as well as masters of their craft, especially in the Swan Lake Pas de deux, with choreography modeled on the classic interpretation by Marius Petipa..  The Philharmonic, guided by Gustavo Dudamel, provided a setting as intimate as it was embracing.

The climactic selection from Leonard Bernstein – “Three Dance Episodes” from On the Town – started as a tour de force for Dudamel and the Philharmonic, shimmering with urban rhythms and an undercurrent of jazz accents.  Josh Rhodes’ choreography (commissioned by the L.A, Phil.)  featured four dancers – Sam Cahn, Marty Lawson, Andy Millis and Christopher Vo – garbed in sailor’s outfits.  Their high energy, often acrobatic routines clearly recalled the similar sailors’ dancing from the original On the Town production.

An impressive evening of music and dance.  Most of the headlines and photos emphasize the celebrity presence at the opening night gala.  But the real pleasures of the evening traced to the utterly superb, creatively empathic efforts of Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a stageful of gifted dancers (along with a little help from Adams, Stravinsky, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein).

All of which bodes well for the 2012-13 season at Disney Hall.

Gustavo Dudamel photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Pop CD Review: Shemekia Copeland’s “33 1/3”

September 28, 2012

 Shemekia Copeland

33 1/3 (Telarc)

By Devon Wendell

Shemekia Copeland has proven to be one of the most important and vital forces in the world of modern blues since she began recording and touring, as well as opening up shows for her father, the legendary late great Texas bluesman Johnny “Clyde” Copeland over 15 years ago.

Her tough yet vulnerable vocal style can fit in any genre of American music, from blues to rock, gospel, r&b, country to pop. Copeland is also a poignant and imaginative lyricist. All of these aspects of her talent are prevalent on her latest album 33 1/3 (Telarc).

Copeland is backed by the album’s producer, Oliver Wood of The Woody Brothers, on guitar, Ted Pecchio on bass, and Gary Hansen on drums.

Although there are many covers on the album, it’s Copeland’s own material that shines a light on her profound lyric writing. This is the case on the album’s opener, “Lemon Pie.” which is an angry one-two punch rocker about the greedy rich and those living in abject poverty.

Copeland belts out her blues about the haves and the have- nots.

 “Lemon pie for the poor,

that’s what we’re working for.

I hope you weren’t expecting more

than lemon pie for the poor.”

Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go” was a big hit for Lucinda Williams. Copeland slows down the tempo of Williams’ version, takes the country music elements out of the tune and turns it into her own funky blues. Her ferocity and aggressive vocal delivery along with Wood’s slashing slide guitar make this one of the album’s many highlights.

Copeland tackles domestic violence (both physical and emotional) on the slow and haunting “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo.” Copeland’s lyrics are full of dark yet clear imagery of a woman trying to get out of a dangerous relationship.

“They say 30’s young but I’m feeling old,

I guess that’s when the night got even cold.

Ain’t gonna be your tattoo, faded and blue.”

Buddy Guy appears on guitar with his unique out-of-phase Stratocaster screaming guitar leads which make the song even more menacing.

“Somebody Else’s Jesus” is a gospel flavor rock number about so many dishonest preachers who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

The slow country ballad “A Woman” is a masterpiece. Wood’s slide guitar shadows each verse about how a woman really wants to be treated by a man. Copeland’s lead vocals and backing harmonies combine country, blues, and gospel in a way that is completely unique. This is one of the most powerful vocal performances recorded in years.

“I’ll Sing The Blues” has that slow, and wonderfully sexy feel, reminiscent of the late Etta James. Though this song is gritty and powerful, it lacks the intimacy and intensity of the rest of the album’s material.

“Mississippi Mud” is a raw blues-funk tune.  J.J. Grey guests on vocals. The interplay between the band members is stellar, and mixed perfectly without sounding polished.  In “Don’t you get stuck in that Mississippi Mud,” Copeland warns people about the perils of one way thinking and resting on one’s laurels.

Copeland also covers her father’s slow minor key blues “One More Time.” Her phrasing is frighteningly close to her dad’s gravely vocals on the original.  The band’s muddy and bleak sound is similar to something heard on one of Bob Dylan’s latest albums.

So many artists have covered Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News”, and Copeland’s version is nothing special, but it’s the album’s only weak point. The vocals are strong but the arrangement falls flat.

“Hangin’ Up” has a country-rock feel, especially the song’s chorus and layered guitar harmonies. Copeland’s vocals are totally sincere and filled with a pain and vulnerability.  Producer Wood’s guitar work stands out once again.

Copeland’s vocal range from rough and tough to angelic and sweet is perfectly exemplified on a beautiful and delicate reading of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” which closes the album. Of the thousands of Dylan covers over the last 50 years, this is one of the greatest to date. The band plays at level of a whisper behind Copeland’s childlike yet eerie vocals.

Shemekia Copeland’s 33 1/3 is not only her finest album, but one of the most original, compelling, and powerful blues albums released in a long time. Copeland is a blues singer and a poet, which is rare to find today. This recording is destined to get a lot of well deserved attention.

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

Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs from Jesse Cook, Melvin Taylor and Saul Zonana

September 27, 2012

 Of Cooking, Burning and Breaking

By Brian Arsenault

Jesse Cook

The Blue Guitar Sessions (Entertainment One Music)

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

When I decided to review three guitar-based albums, I didn’t expect Jesse Cook’s The Blue Guitar Sessions to be my favorite.  I listened to it last, half expecting to largely dismiss it with a few lukewarm lines. Thus are prejudices to be avoided.

It is a remarkable album, I think, softly buffeting against a world perhaps too noisy for it.

To hear Cook’s acoustic, nylon stringed guitar supported and complemented by cello,  accordion, violin and piano, separately at times and in combination at others, is to be invited into a secret world with its own language.  The classic Miles Davis jazz album, Kinda Blue — to which it is a distant homage — did that. The best of Enya does that.

Here we are transported to guitar and accordion (Tom Szczesniak) buskers playing on the streets of  an imaginary Paris in “Witching Hour” and later a West Bank café, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” sung by Emma-Lee.  Cook spent his early years in Paris, of course, and Lee and he share a hometown of Toronto.

Emma-Lee also provides the vocal on the marvelous lead tune, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ recast “I Put A Spell on You.” Think it can’t be done soft and sultry? Give a listen.

Of course, I was prejudiced (there’s that word again) in favor right away since Cook chose a song with the immortal line: “I don’t care if you want me, I’m yours.”

“Broken Moon” is a moody night with Amy Laing’s dark cello perfectly complementing Cook’s guitar. “Miles Shorter,” with guitar and piano keeping company, reaches long into something deep. “Ocean Blue” in my estimation could be played in a classical program with wide acceptance. And “You,” well, it’s beautiful.

Most of the playing here is soft; linked by mood, themes, emotion. But it is not understated.  It is softly stated. Lyrical. Poetic. Ours is a harsh age but you may remember. Or yearn.

 Melvin Taylor

Beyond the Burning Guitar (TK)

Maybe Melvin Taylor shouldn’t have gone beyond. What is left is not a burning tour de force. Instead, it’s a two disc sampling of various styles and techniques and I‘m not sure which are his.

Maybe the problem is being compared to Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana when you’re really doing more of a jazz guitar album.  You can say, hey, that’s not his fault but that’s what’s on the album jacket and in the press packet.

Are those comparisons supposed to encourage “cross over” listeners.  They are more likely to set up the disciples of those rock guitar gods for disappointment.

Oh, it’s not that Taylor isn’t accomplished. It’s that he’s mostly playing jazz here and it’s probably jazz you have heard elsewhere.  The rock and blues numbers, not so many in number, seem thrown in to say, see, don’t forget I can play like that too.

Well done but who is he? He’s not terribly distinctive jazz like Graham Dechter, though really very good. He’s not living rock n roll like Stevie Ray or Jimi. So I’m left somewhere in the middle.

 Saul Zonana

Fix the Broken (TK)

Saul Zonana has a certain charm about him with a stripped down, neatly produced (and not the dreaded overproduced) album.  It seems largely like a collection of singles for radio during the era when it played three minute hits. Maybe a couple of country headliners will do some  hit-making with the songs here, now that he’s moved from New York to Nashville.

On his own, the problem may lie in the line “How do I get you to notice me?” from the CD’s first song, “Notice.”  Could be he’s asking all of us.

No doubt a strong road musician in a variety of bands and plenty good in the studio backing up whomever; he may not be broken, just not pushing the limits hard enough to get our attention.

There’s some Beatles harmonies on “The Music” and there’s a bit of Lennon later on. “Abandoned Sky” even sounds like a Lennon title. Zonana can slow it down on “A Kiss When I’m Gone”. Show his new Nashville base on “Fly”.

As he says on “I Don’t Either,” there’s “no need to apologize”.  It’s honest, even earnest, workmanlike. But it’s not inspired.

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

CD/DVD Review: The Blues Broads; Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, and Annie Sampson

September 26, 2012

The Blues Broads (Delta Groove)

 By Devon Wendell

In a world where the blues is dominated by male, six stringing show offs, four reigning queens of blues (Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Stehli, and Annie Sampson) have joined forces to celebrate the soulful joy and rich harmonies of not only the blues but also gospel, rock n’ roll, and R&B.

The Blues Broads

Backed by a no-frills, no-nonsense blues band (Steve Ehrmann: bass, Paul Revelli: drums, Gary Vogensen: guitar, and Mike Emerson on keyboards. with special guest Deanna Bogart on vocals and keyboards.), these four legendary ladies perform a live set of originals and covers recorded live at The Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley California, on November 4th, 2011. The CD also comes with a DVD of the show which includes a few extra highlights.

Tracy Nelson

Former Mother Earth front-woman Tracy Nelson leads the band through the Texas shuffle of “Livin’ The Blues.”  Although Nelson is a more than competent vocalist, her voice is often flat throughout this number; but the backing vocals of Strehli, Morrison, and Sampson make up for this distraction.  Nelson’s vibrato is rich, even, and totally original.

Annie Sampson

Forming member of Stoneground and longtime session giant Annie Sampson performs her original composition “Bring Me Your Love.”  Sampson’s confidence and vocal control make her one of the standout members of the “Broads” from her very first phrase. Sampson brings her unique blend of rock and gospel to this fiery number.

Angeli Strehli

Angela Strehli’s name has been synonymous with Texas blues for decades. She sings about discovering the blues of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Eddie Taylor on the radio and how it transformed her life in her autobiographical song, “Two Bit Texas Town.” The band’s groove here is similar to Koko Taylor’s arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” and Strehli’s vocals share some similarities to that of Taylor’s, especially when she growls.

Most of the set consists of covers which are easily the highlights of the album.  Nelson’s greatest vocal performance is on the Anne Peebles’ classic slow blues “Walk Away” which is stunning in its intensity, with a tasty Chicago blues lead guitar solo by Gary Vogensen. What’s more powerful even than the lead vocals are the collective gospel background harmonies created by the ladies.  It’s true of this song and most of the material such as “Blue Highway” (lead by Dorothy Morrison) and J. Leslie McFarland’s gospel anthem “It Won’t Be Long.” The latter features special guest Deanna Bogart playing some jaw-dropping syncopated boogie-woogie piano and swapping vocals with Nelson.

The finest cover is a slow Memphis, churchified ballad rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now /Baby Blue” by Annie Sampson alone with the rhythm section. Sampson’s phrasing is perfect and she creates and even darker mood than on the original. This performance is only on the DVD but is easily one of the standout moments of the show.

Dorothy Morrison

The wonderful Dorothy Morrison (the legendary lead vocalist for The Edwin Hawkins Singers) sounds younger and stronger than ever on the Spinners’ “Mighty Love.”  Though the rhythm arrangement is the same as the original recording, Morrison owns this soul classic with her tough tenor voice and sassy, boundless confidence.

It just wouldn’t be right to feature Dorothy Morrison and not have her perform the song that she made a hit all over the world with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Oh Happy Day.”

On this night, it feels as if her electrifying power is challenging the other band members and each of them rise to that challenge, belting out their best gospel chops. This joyful performance is the perfect way to end the set.

The ladies also did an acapella performance of the gospel standard “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget.” Each member gives every drawn out-phrase everything they’ve got as they all share the spotlight.

“The Blues Broads” act isn’t overproduced and doesn’t feature celebrity guests to win over a pop-oriented audience. These are four ladies who don’t need any of that. Throughout this recording, it sounds like these women have been singing together all of their lives, especially in the backing harmonies. Hopefully this is only one of many projects by the “Broads.”

To read an iRoM review of the Blues Broads’ performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.

To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE

Live Music: Gershwins With A Groove: SING! SING! SING! at Keyboard Concepts

September 26, 2012

By Norton Wright

Judy Wolman

It was another extraordinary afternoon on Sunday with SING! SING! SING!, the unique 9-person group of rehearsed singers led by Artistic Director Judy Wolman.  Sprightly swinging on piano with Chris Conner on bass, Jack LeCompte on drums, Wolman and raconteur Howard Lewis melded the history of composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin with performances of twenty of their most remarkable songs.And invited the audience to sing along.

Why is a performance so special with the SING! SING! SING! group  (6 women and 3 men, including the multi-talented host, Howard Lewis)?  It’s because the singers have such a good time with the tunes that their enjoyment is happily infectious, and soon the whole audience is singing and sharing in the groovy toe-tapping.

Howard Lewis

And memory, too, plays a big role in the experience as SING! SING! SING!’s sparkling renditions of the Gershwins’ songs also led us to fondly recall Sarah Vaughan’s jazz take on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Chet Baker singing “But Not For Me,” Diane Schuur’s “The Man I Love,” Shirley Horn’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” and Louis and Ella on “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The myriad ways that the Gershwin Songbook can be rendered demonstrates why we regard that songbook as so great.

For those who have not experienced SING! SING! SING!, it should be noted that the group’s performance is much more than a “follow-the-bouncing ball” sing-along. There is something intensely touching in the sound of an audience, essentially of strangers, moved to sing together, to join the SING! SING! SING! performers in what emerges as a kind of surprise bonding, a rare coming-together, a veritable musical communion of performers and audience.

Facilitating that performer-audience interaction in Keyboard Concepts’ mini-theater on Sunday, lyric sheets were given to all audience members, and the sheets designed by Artistic Director Wolman not only clarified the oft confused definitions of “verse,” “refrain,” “chorus,” “bridge” and “release,” but also graphically indicated to the audience how a jazz vibe on the Gershwin tunes can be achieved by rhythmic pauses in the lyrics.

For Example:  “Someone To Watch Over Me” (1926) Words by Ira Gershwin.


There’s a saying old, Says that love is blind, ____ Still we’re often told,
“Seek and ye shall find.” ____ So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had____ in mind. ____
Looking ev’rywhere, Haven’t found him yet; He’s the big affair I cannot forget.____
Only man I ever think of with regret. _____
I’d __ like _ to add his initial to my monogram. ___
Tell __me, __ Where is the shepherd for this __ lost ___ lamb? ____

There’s a somebody I’m longing to see. __ I hope that he __ turns out to be __
Someone who’ll watch ___ over _ me. ______
(etc., etc.)

The audience participation on Sunday was robust and reminded one of those show biz evenings of old on NYC’s West End Avenue where Broadway folk would casually gather round an apartment’s piano and sing the night away. And there were some cool surprises from the SING! SING! SING! group as Ruth Davis stepped forward on stage to solo in a wise and dramatic rendition of “He Loves And She Loves.”  Later, Judy Wolman and Howard Lewis drew Chuck Marso from the audience to sing the Gershwin brothers’ rarely heard but oh so optimistic “Beginner’s Luck,.

Susan Watson

For a  guest finale, invited up from the audience was Susan Watson — fresh from her year-long run in “Follies” at Washington’s Kennedy Center, on Broadway, and at the Ahmanson Theater here in Los Angeles — to sing a touching rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

Though the individual singers of SING! SING! SING! may not have jazz star names like “Deedles,, “Sassy,” “Dizzy,” or “Zoot,” they delivered a musical powerhouse performance and merit star recognition  as follows — Tina Appel, David Beraru, Gloria Birnkrant, Ruth Davis, Pamela Jackson, Jackie Manfredi, Anita Royal, Judith Farber Weissman, Jerry Weissman.  

Bottom line — for a unique and emotionally-moving musical experience, keep your internet eyes out for the monthly programs and venues of SING! SING! SING! You’ll have a wonderful time!

Picks of the Week: Sept. 25 – 30

September 25, 2012

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

John Pisano

– Sept. 25. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  It’s an all-star congregation, with John Pisano celebrating the 15th anniversary of his always-entertaining Guitar Nights. Expect to see and hear a stage full of the Southland’s finest 6-stringers.  Lucy’s 51.    (818) 763-5200.

– Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  The Los Angeles PhilharmonicThe Philharmonic DancesOpening Night Concert and Gala.  The 2012-2013 Los Angeles Philharmonic season opens with a spectacular evening celebrating the long creative alliance between orchestral music and dance.  Gustavao Dudamel conducts the Philharmonic Disney Hall in a program reaching Saint-Saens and Stravinsky to Adams and Bernstein, with dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, from Broadway, and from BODYTRAFFIC.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

– Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Cirque Chinois.  If you were impressed by Cirque du Soleil, you’ll be at least that delighted – and probably more — by China’s Cirque Chinois, a gifted assemblage of acrobats, jugglers and contortionists who have been influencing circuses in the West for decades The Valley Performing Arts Center.

Cirque Chinois

– Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Andrea Marcelli Quartet. Italian drummer/composer Marcelli impressive track record includes working with Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer and more.  And his compositions can be heard on nearly 200 CDs.  This time out, he’s working with bassist Pat Senatore, pianist Mitchell Forman, and saxophonist Bob Sheppard.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Sept. 27. (Thurs.)  Sascha’s Bloc Band.  The richly entertaining, mostly Russian,  Bloc Band moves easily through funk, jazz, blues and r&b with an impressive degree of jazz authenticity. How good are they? Click HERE to read a recent review of a Bloc Band performance.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 28. (Fri.)  Miles Davis House @ Dim Mak Studios.  A celebration of the life and music of Miles Davis on the 21st anniversary of his passing.  The event — described in its announcement as “a genre-bending odyssey, the ultimate jam session — is hosted by Davis son, Erin Davis, and his nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr.  Performers include Alexandra & the Starlight Band, David & Devine, Gabriel Johnson and Steven Roth.  There will also be DJ sets by Clifton Weaver AKA Soft Touch and Miles Tackett, and a Miles Davis shop with T-shirts, giveaways, etc.  Dim Mak Studios.  8 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.  1643 Cosmo St., Hollywood.

Bebel Gilberto

– Sept. 28. (Fri.)  Bebel Gilberto.  The singer/songwriter daughter of the iconic Joao Gilberto, Bebel has created, in her own right, a starry career in Brazil as well as the rest of the world.  She’ll perform some numbers with special guests “Forro in the Dark.”  A CAP UCLA program at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

– Sept. 28 & 29.  Fri. & Sat.  Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Ensemble.  Armenian born pianist/composer Ovsepian displays his far-reaching creative versatility with his Chamber ensemble.  The Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Sept. 28 – 30. (Fri. – Sun.)  Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Gustav Dudamel showcases his first performance of Stravisky’s Rite of Spring with the Philharmonic.  Also on the program: Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunt and the world premiere of Steven Stuckey’s Symphony Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Bill Cunliffe

– Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Bill Cunliffe Big Band.  Pianist/composer/leader Cunliffe takes a break from his numerous small group outings to spotlight his versatile big band writing, performed by an aggregation of Southland first-call players. Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Sept. 30. (Sun.) Wilco.  Grammy Award-winning alternative rock band Wilco close the summer season with their first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.  They’ll be joined by singer/songwriter/harpist Joanna NewsomHollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

San Diego

– Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Nikhil Korula Band.  Jazz, rock and reggae are on the bill whenever Nikhil Korula and his musically adventurous six piece band step on stage.  Expect to hear some of Korula’s new compositions from his latest CD, Music of the New DayLongboard’s Grill.   (858) 270-4030.

San Francisco

Paula West

– Sept. 26 & 27. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Paula West.  The remarkable blend of rhythmic swing and emotionally touching phrasing, expressed via her warm honey voice, make West one of the finest individualist in today’s crowded category of female jazz singers.  Don’t miss a chance to hear her live.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 615-5600.

New York

– Sept. 25 – 30. (Tues. – Sun.) Gerald Clayton  Sextet.  Pianist/composer Clayton is completely familiar to Los Angeles jazz fans, who have experienced his remarkable creative growth since he was a teen-ager.  Now a new star, nationally and beyond, he performs an almost week-long with a four-horn sextet.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2561.

Toots Thielemans

– Sept. 29. (Sat.)  Toots Thielemans: Celebrating 90 Years.  He’s the definitive jazz harmonica player, a fine guitarist and an amazing whistler.  And Thielemans has been entertaining and exciting jazz audiences with versatility for decades.  And still at it.  The performance also includes Eliane Elias, Dori Caymmi, Kenny Werner, Oscar Castro-Neves and more.  The Rose Theatre, Jazz at Lincoln Center.  (212) 258-9800.


– Sept. 28 & 29. (Fri. & Sat.)  Ian Shaw with the Phil Ware Trio.  Arguably one of the U.K.’s finest male jazz singers, Shaw’s eclectic musical view embraces everything from the Great Standards to Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell and Burt Bacharach.  Ronnie Scott’s


– Sept. 27 – 29.  (Thurs – Sat.)  Sarah Jane Morris.  English-born singer/songwriter moves easily from pop, jazz and rock to r&b, doing it all with convincing authenticity.  Blue Note Milan.   02.690 16888.


Rickie Lee Jones

– Sept. 27 – 28. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Rickie Lee Jones. Singer and songwriter of styles beyond definition, Jones – approaching 60 – may not have the visibility she once did, but she nevertheless continues to be one of pop music’s most intriguing performers. Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

Live Jazz: The Carol Robbins Sextet Upstairs at Vitello’s

September 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Among the many instruments listed in jazz polls as “miscellaneous,” the harp is surely one of the most rare participants. As unlikely an actual jazz voice as it may seem, however, the instrument has been played in strikingly innovative fashion by the likes of Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Corky Hale and Betty Glamann (among a very few others).

Carol Robbins

Add Carol Robbins to that list.

A busy L. A. studio player whose resume embraces everything from film, television and recordings to celebrity weddings, she has also gradually positioned herself as an intriguing jazz harpist, composer and band leader. On Sunday night at Vitello’s, all those skills were on full display in a performance celebrating the release of her new CD, Moraga.

Her six piece ensemble was a congregation of state of the art Southland players including – in addition to Robbins – guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Billy Childs, saxophonist Rob Lockart, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Dan Schnelle. Childs, Koonse and Oles are on the recording. And most of the evening’s generous, two hour program was devoted to selections from Moraga.

Billy Childs and Larry Koonse

Starting the evening with four original works, Robbins introduced the essence of her style, as composer, player and leader. Each piece was articulately conceived, ranging from crisp jazz lines to lush, floating impressionist harmonies.

Darek Oles and Rob Lockart

Soloing was intrinsic to each work. Childs was the principal soloist in the first two, his far reaching dissonances and surging rhythms providing gripping counterpoint to the layered emotions of Robbins’ writing.

Dan Schnelle

For the balance of the program, the close wedding of composition and improvisation was essential to Robbins’ compositional perspective. And with soloists such as Lockart, Koonse and Oles, strongly supported by Schnelle’s propulsive – but never intrusive, drumming – the music unfolded like the mesmerizing chapters of a much loved novel.

Among the high points: The intimate dueting between Koonse (especially on acoustic guitar) and Robbins, the blending textures of their strings and the lyrical interplay of their solo lines on pieces such as “Dolore” and “Mojave.” Robbins’ exquisite rendering of the Cole Porter classic, “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” her instrumental expressions perfectly recalling the poignant lyrics.

Equally remarkable was the way in which she brought Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Caminhos Cruzados” to life, playing the clustered harmonies of the Joao Gilberto guitar style on her harp. The ease with which she outlined one bebop phrase after another – a seemingly near-impossible task on her large, many-stringed instrument.

Larry Koonse and Carol Robbins

And, perhaps most important of all, the intrinsic blend of rich musicality, inventive soloing and warm creative comradeship that is intrinsic to Robbins’ art.

After hearing her generate an evening of such immensely entertaining music with her harp in the central role, it was hard to imagine anyone ever referring to Carol Robbins’ grand-looking, beautiful-sounding instrument as “miscellaneous.”

All photos by Bonnie Perkinson.


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