May 7, 2015

Los Angeles. This coming season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center includes Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (October 8-11, 2015), the West Coast premiere of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Second City (November 6-8, 2015), The Music Center debut of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (January 29-31, 2016), Complexions Contemporary Ballet (April 15-17, 2016), Compagnie Käfig (June 17-19, 2016), and American Ballet Theatre (July 8-10, 2016).

At the same time, new Music Center initiatives will showcase some of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming dance ensembles, which are forging new ground and attracting new audiences, and provide ways to engage audiences in their own dance experiences. This includes the introduction of a site-specific series, The Music Center Presents Movies After Dark™ (July 13, 14, 20, and 21, 2015). Held on the nights in which The Music Center theatres are typically “dark,” or not in use, Movies After Dark will present works by Ate9, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ana María Alvarez, and BodyTraffic. Also presented will be the return of the much-in-demand Dance Downtown on Friday nights during the summer on The Music Center Plaza (June 5 and 19, 2015; July 3, 17, 2015 and 31; August 14 and 28, 2015), as well as Los Angeles’ National Dance Day public celebration (July 25, 2015).

Dance at The Music Center 2015-2016 Season

Mariinsky Ballet and OrchestraAlexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Southern California Premiere), October 8-11, 2015, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

St. Petersburg, Russia’s world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov Ballet) opens the season with the Southern California premiere of its celebrated work, Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, Ratmansky’s Cinderella takes a fresh look at the classic story-ballet with vibrant choreography, feisty humor and a glamorous 1930s twist. Commissioned for the Mariinsky Theatre and premiering in March 2002, the ballet launched Ratmansky onto the world stage. He weaves together a magnificent array of different styles that are interpreted through virtuous classical language along with a monumental, dramatic score. The result is a fresh, witty and sardonic account of the story. Ratmansky combines the grand spectacle of ballet from Soviet Russia with innovative choreography that has a contemporary edge, offering audiences endearing characters and a sense of sophistication.

Cinderella is portrayed as a lonely dreamer and her stepmother as a vicious, tantrum-prone social climber. The choreography builds to a pas de deux of aching beauty and tenderness between Cinderella and her prince. The performances are complemented by spectacular sets and costumes that portray a more modern world of the 20th century. The Washington Post said, “Ratmansky’s treatment echoes the sharp and piercing modernism in the score…” while The New York Times said, “[Ratmansky] appreciates how Prokofiev’s ballet is poised between touching romance and biting sarcasm.”

Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Valery Gergiev is artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second CityThe Art of Falling (West Coast Premiere), November 6-8, 2015, Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center

In an example of contemporary dance meets comedic excellence, Dance at The Music Center presents Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second City, with a unique collaboration, The Art of Falling, from two of Chicago’s most creative and compelling companies. This lively, charming and sometimes absurd performance is the brainchild of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 dancers and actors. Helmed by Jeff Award-winning director Billy Bungeroth, The Art of Falling combines contemporary dance with comedy in three distinct, interwoven storylines punctuated by short vignettes. The cross-disciplinary creative collaboration spotlights the improvisational nature of contemporary performance. “Second City may have pioneered sketch comedy since its formation in 1959, but this latest collaborative project takes the art form to visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying new heights,” proclaimed The Huffington Post, while the Chicago Tribune praised the performance as “Hugely entertaining and strikingly emotional…not-to-be-missed.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s core purpose is to bring artists, art, and audiences together to enrich, engage, educate, transform and change lives through the experience of dance. Currently celebrating its 37th season, Hubbard Street continues to be an innovative force, supporting its creative talent while presenting repertory by major international artists.

Rooted in the improvisational games of Viola Spolin, and founded by Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, the Second City opened in Chicago in December 1959 and began developing its entirely unique way of creating and performing comedy.

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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of TaiwanRice (The Music Center Debut), January 29-31, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

Making its Music Center debut, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Asia’s most renowned contemporary dance company, and the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese speaking community, presents a stunning production of Rice. With dancers trained in meditation, Qigong (an ancient form of breathing exercise), internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre transforms ancient aesthetics into thrilling original performances that integrate the use of spectacular visual sets.

Created by Founder and Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min, who has been heralded as one of the most important choreographers in Asia, Rice was inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan, a farming village that was tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer, but which has now regained its title as the “Land of Emperor Rice” by adapting organic farming methods. Lin’s creation includes exuberant, powerful movements that are woven into his story of the land and the contemplation of the destruction of the Earth. To emphasize the messages, the production uses projection of vivid video images of flooding, growth, harvesting and the burning of the fields. The soundtrack mixes Hakka folk songs, Western opera, Taiwanese and Japanese drums and the sound of nature – wind, rain and thunder recorded on-site.

Rice was heralded by The Guardian as “a sharply moving synthesis of man and nature, east and west, death and rebirth…Lin’s own song of the earth.” The New York Times said, “Lin Hwai-min has succeeded brilliantly in fusing dance techniques and theatrical concepts from the East and the West.”

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Complexions Contemporary BalletProgram TBD, April 17-17, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a contemporary ballet company run by two esteemed alumni of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Artistic Directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Founded in 1994, the Company has a focus on reinventing dance with an emphasis on the artistic and aesthetic appeal of the multicultural. The Company combines technical precision, athleticism, passion and the occasional pop song, using 20 incredibly trained classical and contemporary dancers.

Winners of many awards, including The New York Times’ “Critics Choice” Award, Complexions has appeared throughout the United States and internationally. Heralded by the Washington Post as “Cross-cultural ballet with attitude…wearing toe shoes has never looked like so much fun,” the Company creates an open, continuously evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of the world and all of its cultures as an interrelated whole. According to Rhoden and Richardson, dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them, and should transcend a single style, period, venue or culture. The Company will deliver an exciting genre-bending performance that blurs the boundaries of ballet and contemporary dance.

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Compagnie KäfigKäfig Brasil and More (To Be Announced) (The Music Center Debut), June 17-19, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

In a Music Center first and making its Music Center debut, Franco-Brazilian Compagnie Käfig will explore the confluence of the many arts subgenres that have contributed to the development of Hip Hop globally. Established in 1996, the Company flavors its works with dare-devilish circus skills, street dance, martial arts and the fun and energetic Hip Hop vocabulary. Compagnie Käfig brings the street to the stage with an all-male cast of 11 dancers who combine Hip Hop, Capoeira, Samba, electronic music and the Bossa Nova for a performance that showcases astonishing acrobatic skills along with energy and invention.

Led by Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki, who applies a multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of Hip Hop, the company will present Käfig Brasil, a rhythmic and muscular dance that the Times Union said is, “…animated by waves of energy, as if volts of electricity were travelling from muscle to muscle and limb to limb. Then that tightly controlled power explodes into fireworks.”

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American Ballet Theatre – Mixed Repertoire including Firebird (The Music Center debut), July 8-10, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

The 2015-16 season of Dance at the Music Center concludes with five performances by American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky brings his choreographic vision in a full evening of works, including his 2012 Firebird and a selection from the Company’s 2012-2013 presentation of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. Ratmansky’s reimagined Firebird, set to the iridescent music of Igor Stravinsky and performed by a live orchestra, tells an enchanting tale of a mythical bird who possesses magical powers and helps two lovers overcome an evil sorcerer.

American Ballet Theatre’s “Firebird”

Firebird takes audiences on an extravagant adventure. The ballet received its world premiere under the title L’Oiseau de Feu by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and scenery and costumes by Alexander Golovine and Leon Bakst, and premiered in the United States as Firebird with the same company in New York on January 17, 1916. Firebird, with choreography by Adolph Bolm and scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall, first entered the repertory of ABT on October 24, 1945, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This new production, with choreography by Ratmansky, had its world premiere in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on March 29, 2012. The Los Angeles Times said, “…choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has updated the iconic ‘Firebird’ into an extravagant and fanciful adventure…” while The Wall Street Journal called it “…a freshly told fantastical tale.”

Recognized as one of the premier dance companies in the world, American Ballet Theatre brings the highest quality dance and dancers to audiences across the globe. Under the artistic direction of former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie, the Company remains steadfast in its vision as “American” and continues to bring the art of dance theater to the great stages of the world.

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Season tickets/subscriptions for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center are on sale now. For information, call (213) 972-0711 or visit

Firebird photo by Gene Schiavone

Picks of the Week: January 5 – 11

January 6, 2015

As we move into the first weeks of 2015, the iRoM Picks of the Week will begin to reach beyond the Los Angeles-centric choices of the past few years. We will, of course, continue to survey L.A.’s ever-changing banquet of musical pleasures. But we will also begin to highlight and emphasize a broad range of choices reflecting the International perspective which is at the heart of our mission and our name.

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Michael Tilson Thomas celebrates his 70th birthday by conducting the L.A. Phil. and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a spectacular, world premiere production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with video and lighting design. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Lee Ritenour Band. He’s been called “Captain Fingers” for his impressive guitar technique, but Ritenour is also an imaginative, hard swinging jazz artist. He performs here with the fine backing of Dave Weckl, drums, Tom Kennedy, bass and pianist Makoto Ozone. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 6. (Tues.) John Proulx Trio. Proulx is on many first-call lists for his fine piano work. But Proulx is an engaging vocalist as well, building a career as a prime entry in the slowly growing cadre of male jazz singers. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. A singer with a voice to remember, Bach-y-Rita (her name is Catalan) brings convincing interpretations and rhythmic ease to songs reaching from samba and salsa to crisp jazz rhythms, often in 4 or 5 languages. She’s especially worth seeing and hearing in the elegant setting of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Jan. 8 – 11, (Thurs. – Sun.) Pharoah Sanders. The far-reaching jazz explorations of the avant-garde ’60s are still alive and well in Sanders’ adventurous tenor saxophone. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium (866) 920-5299.

– Jan. 9. (Fri.)  The San Francisco Symphony and The Godfather.  Justin Freer conducts the Symphony in a live orchestral performance of Nino Rota’s film score in sync with a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s film masterpiece.  Davies Symphony Hall.  (415) 864-6000.


Portland – Jan. 7. (Thurs.) The Mel Brown B3 Organ Group has been playing at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland for more than 16 years. No wonder George Benson once said “if this band played in New York City, they’d be a sensation.” Jimmy Mak’s.  (503) 295-6542.

Ashland – Jan. 9 & 10. (Fri. @ 7:30 p.m. & Sat. @ 3 p.m.) The Tesla Quartet. The stellar young artists in the Tesla Quartet have established themselves as a significant international chamber ensemble in the few years since they graduated from Julliard. They’ll perform works by Bartok, Dvorak, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Webern, Beethoven and others. Chamber Music Concert Series at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.  (541) 552-6154.

New York City

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

– Jan. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.) The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour. Here’s a rare chance to experience some of the impressive music from what is arguably one of the finest jazz festivals in the world. The featured players in this stellar aggregation include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and the Gerald Clayton Trio. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 8 – 10. (Thurs. – Sat.) The 2015 NYC Winter Jazzfest. The three day Jazzfest, which takes place at theatres and clubs across Greenwich Village offers a rare display of jazz eclecticism. With talent ranging from iconic names to new arrivals, with stylistic explorations of every jazz genre, it provides a brilliant survey of jazz in all its irresistible shapes and forms. The 2015 Winterjazz Fest.

-Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lisa Hilton. Composer-pianist Hilton debuts new compositions from her album Horizons in a live performance with saxophonist J.D. Allen, drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Ben Street, and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn. Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall).


– Jan. 5 – 7. (Mon. – Wed.) Scott Hamilton Quartet. Jazz history, past and present is vividly alive in Hamilton’s buoyant tenor saxophone work. The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.

Tania Maria

Tania Maria


– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) Tania Maria. The loving partnership between Brazilian music and American jazz is on full display with everything the versatile Tania Maria sings and plays. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lang Lang. The gifted young Chinese pianist makes one of his rare European appearances. Stadt-casino – Hans Huber Saal, Basel.


Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

– Jan. 9. (Fri.) Joshua Bell and his violin take center stage with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields European Tour: Andorra. The dynamic program reaches from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The tour also includes performances in Mannheim (Jan. 14), Vienna (Jan. 15) and Hamburg (Jan. 16).



– Jan. 5 – 11. (Mon. – Sun. The Nutcracker: A Ballet in Two Acts. The Bolshoi Ballet accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra.

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet

What will surely be a memorable performance in the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theatre.




– Jan. 10 & 11. (Sat. & Sun.) The Richard Bona Group. Bassist Bona, born in Cameroon, burst onto the New York jazz scene in the mid-’90s, quickly establishing his uniquely original style with the likes of George Benson, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Kahn Randy Brecker and others. Since then he’s led a sequence of his own musically compelling ensembles. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.

2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk

December 30, 2014

By Devon Wendell

2014 was a strange year for music. I recall thinking to myself halfway through The Playboy Jazz Festival in June; “Okay, so everyone is going funk now. Wynton Marsalis’ head would explode!” To many jazz purists, funk is considered to be sellout music.

Critics and fans freaked out when Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock adapted the influence of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into their music. And it’s still a topic of debate.

Good funk, real funk thumbs its nose at people and musical genres that take themselves too seriously and engage in sniveling, purist nitpicking. Funk also incorporates jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, gospel, hip-hop and disco. Anything can be thrown into the funk stew if you’re sincere about it. Funk is more than a musical genre; it’s an attitude and lifestyle that makes the wildest of rockers look like squares. Primarily, funk is about shaking your ass with pride.

George Clinton

George Clinton

2014 was the year that George Clinton released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years. First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate features 33 songs, a song for ever year that there wasn’t a Funkadelic release. This may be Clinton’s most adventurous recording since 1972’s America Eats Its Young. George is accompanied by such P-Funk veterans as Rodney “Skeet” Curtis, Michael Hampton, Blackbyrd Mcknight, Michael B. Patterson, Garrett Shider, Kendra Foster, and dozens more. The music is very diverse on this record.
Funkadelic of today tackles electronica, hip-hop, heavy metal, and neo-soul with that one of a kind, in your face, over the top George Clinton attitude.

Sly Stone is also featured on 4 tracks on this 3 plus hour package of glorious filth. Clinton even uses the auto-tune effect the way Sly Stone and Roger Troutman used a talk-box several decades ago. To enhance the music, not correct it.

Prior to the album’s release, George Clinton released his first ever memoir along with writer Ben Greenman; Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Which is one of the most compelling and candid musical memoirs ever released. The book shines a light on the many tales and experiences of founding father of Parliament/Funkadelic. Click HERE for my iRoM review.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic continue to tour the world, putting on 3-4 hour shows a night.

Cosmic space-bass pioneer Bootsy Collins hit the road again strong in 2014, using the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band again with most of the original Rubber Band members intact. At the age of 63, Bootsy (who played bass and wrote for James Brown and P-Funk on some of their most influential recordings) shows no sign of slowing down. I’m hoping he and the Rubber Band make their way to Los Angeles soon so this funkateer can get down!

Of course, if I didn’t mention Prince’s contributions to funk in 2014, I’d be risking my life!



The Purple one released two albums back to back this year; Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. Prince’s guitar work, vocals, and production are stellar on both releases but I did find these albums to be a bit derivative and sounding a bit too close to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and late ‘70s Funkadelic. These albums are funky, but left me wanting more.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars



And then you had pop artist Bruno Mars jumping on the funky band wagon with his “Uptown Funk” collaboration with Mark Ronson. It’s a little too close to James Brown and Zapp for my taste but the public loves it and this may help the pop world take funk more seriously as a genre onto itself.




Last but not least, after a 14 year hiatus from recording, D’Angelo returned with Black Messiah. This may be the most overly hyped release of any record that I’ve witnessed in many years. D’Angelo started out in a neo-soul bag but in recent years, he’s tackled songs by Parliament/Fukadelic during his live shows and grown as a musician, writer, and vocalist.

There’s no doubt that this album owes a lot to Sly & The Family Stone’s darker recording of the early ‘70s (There’s A Riot GoinOn & Fresh) in it’s dissonance. At times it’s too much and the lyrics are inaudible.



Songs like “Till It’s Done (Tutu”), “The Charade’, and “1000 Deaths” speak directly to the political climate in America today but I wish I could understand the lyrics more clearly. That Quaalude/Depressed introspective slurred vocal effect was mastered by Sly Stone but Sly’s lyrics were clearer than this. Black Messiah is still undoubtedly funky. The band (called “The Vanguard”)features some of the greatest musicians in the world from Questlove Thompson from The Roots on drums, master session player Pino Palladino on bass, to trumpeter Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and P-Funk’s Kendra Foster on vocals. Foster also co-wrote seven of the albums tracks. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest is also a credited writer.

Some people love D’Angelo’s “comeback” album and many others are on the fence but the same can be said about Funkadelic’s latest. As George Clinton has said; “Funk is like a fine wine, it gets better with age” so time will tell how well these records fare with fans.

So 2014 was one funky year, in more ways than one. Musically, some bold statements were made by some bold artists. Funk is still the most sampled music in hip-hop and you hear the music’s influence in rock, jazz, blues, and soul. Although the music industry has treated funk as a novelty since the ‘70s, it will now be forced to look at it as a serious art form that is constantly developing and moving into many diverse directions.

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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE

Live: Guitar Town’s 10 Latest Sculptures Unveiled In WeHo

July 27, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Bruce Springsteen used to tell a story about how his father, tired of hearing him practicing electric guitar in the bedroom, never wanted to know if it was a Gibson guitar or a Fender guitar.  To him it was just a “God-damned” guitar. For budding guitar slingers like Bruce, Gibson and Fender were the two top shelf considerations in an instrument.   Though there are many more guitar makers now, these two remain the most desirable for those who know.  There is nothing that looks more iconic than the solid body, single cutaway shape of a Gibson Les Paul.   In clever fashion, Gibson has been lending this shape to artists to create something special for the community and tying it in with local charities.

Seashell guitar:
“Les Paul” Utopia guitar transformed with seashells, semiprecious stones, and iridescent paint treatment – by Kathy Rose.”

On Wednesday night at Hornburg Land Rover on Sunset Strip, ten more giant guitars were unveiled as a third installment of Guitar Town on the Sunset Strip. Guitar Town is a philanthropic project of the Gibson Foundation under the wing of the Gibson Guitar Company.  The format gives local artists a 10-foot tall Les Paul shaped replica guitar to work with.  Then, drawing on personal musical inspiration the artists go to town on their new canvases.   After the guitars are completed, they are displayed on the Sunset Strip or any of several other special locations, and then auctioned off for charity.

Joan Jett guitar:
“Les Paul guitar body sporting a striking rendition of Joan Jett rocking it properly – by Tsipi Mani.”

The Sunset strip in West Hollywood has now hosted Guitar Town three times.  Given its intimate history with the music industry and the clubs on the boulevard, the Strip could, at times, lay as strong a claim as any to being ground zero for rock ‘n’ roll.  That said, Guitar Town has also been on display in Nashville and London, for country and rock ‘n’ roll considerations, in Waukesha, Wisconsin (the hometown of Les Paul, who pioneered the solid body electric guitar), and in Miami.   The GT project is an obvious boon for the artists involved, for the charities, and for a while, the public gets to enjoy some very diverse, unique, larger than life, and beautiful artwork.

Mosaic Guitar:
“Detail of Les Paul guitar beautifully adorned with tile, dominoes, stones, glass and grout – by Juliana Martinez.”

The electric guitar has turned out to be one of the more powerful tools of personal expression ever seen in popular culture.   A good idea can grow enormous when electric guitars become involved.   So, it follows that a huge electric guitar would make a perfect canvas for an artist to develop a local or musical theme for a street display.    Much as an actual electric guitar can blow a song up for a musician and reach listeners everywhere, the huge guitars in Guitar Town draw the viewer in from far away and reveal more detail up close.

The new guitar art ranged from album cover graphics (Love’s Forever Change), to vivid acrylic portraiture (Joan Jett),  to gorgeous mosaic (Jose Feliciano), to actual statuary (Debbie Harry), to actual semi precious stone, seashells, and model seabirds (Alanis Morisette’s  Utopia album).  All of these guitars are attention grabbers and several are downright stunning.  Anyone who can find the time in the near future should check the guitars out along the Strip.  It is the perfect place for ten larger than life guitars.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein 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.

Live Jazz: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival — Sunday

September 19, 2011

By Michael Katz

Monterey, California.  Sunday at Monterey began with a group of precocious teenagers and ended with an ageless octogenarian, concluding a festival that had highlights from every corner of the musical world.  The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, MJF’s signature contribution to jazz education, is more than just a group of talented kids gathered from all precincts. Under the leadership of Paul Contos, it has become a first-class band that will challenge your perception of what young players can accomplish.  From their first notes Sunday afternoon at the Arena, it was clear that they had filled the one hole in the Arena’s scheduling: a bona fide large jazz ensemble.

One of the early highlights was a crisp arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Here Comes McBride,” an ode to the bassist that kicked off with a round of blues solos, anchored by the band’s own bassist Daryl Johns.  There were terrific soloists in this group, including pianist Chase Morrin, who contributed an award winning composition, “Mumphis,” and trombonist Calvin Barthel, who sat in admirably with the Berkeley Flamenco group Saturday and is headed there on scholarship, as well as trumpeter Tree Palmedo.  Alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley did a stunning turn on Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Vocalist Hope Flores wowed the crowd with simmering renditions of “Dancing Cheek To Cheek” and “Gee, Baby, Aren’t I Good to You.”  Then came the alumni. Joshua Redman joined the band for a scintillating chorus on “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” surpassing his brilliant performance of the night before. Tenor Donnie McCaslin had a soaring solo as did pianist Bennie Green,  joining the band for Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” closing the show to a standing ovation from the sun-kissed crowd.

From there I did some skipping around, making sure I didn’t miss my annual dosage of barbecue, cobblers and a cold microbrew. In between I managed to catch the end of an impressive set on the Garden Stage by pianist John Donaldson, featuring alto sax player Shay Salhov.  Walking in on their last two numbers, I wished I’d seen more. And I took in the last portion of a set on the Courtyard Stage with singer/keyboardist Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman on sax, Judy delivering a cool “Senor Blues” and Greg joining for a terrific version of “Four.”

Bruce Forman

The highlight of the mid-afternoon was guitarist Bruce Forman’s Cow Bop, a western tinged quintet that performed with zest and humor. Starting with the tune Sonny Rollins turned into a jazz classic, “I’m An Old Cowhand,” the quintet featured fiddler supreme Phil Salazar, Alex King on bass and Jake Reed on drums. “Pinto Pam” Forman provided western style vocals with pizzazz, adding just the right amount of swing on classics like “Besame Mucho” and Gene Autry’s “Back In The Saddle Again.”  There were some jazz standards like “Slow Boat to China,” where Foreman unloaded his considerable guitar chops, aided by bassist King, and a cha-cha version of “Comes Love.” Stellar western guitarist Rich O’Brien joined the group for Louis Armstrong’s “Sweet Temptation,” bringing the crowd to its feet, trading licks with Forman and Salazar.  There were more fireworks with “El Combanchero,” with Forman mixing in samples from Dizzy’s “Night In Tunisia” and “Bebop.”  Cow Bop finished off the set with their slant on “Get Along Little Doggies,” and the aforementioned “Back In The Saddle.”  The crowd, by this time jammed into every nook and cranny of the Garden Stage, roared their approval.

At 5:30, the Garden Stage crowd was treated to an extended set by emerging tenor sax player Tia Fuller. Fuller, who came out of the Stanford program and tours with pop star Beyonce, was a sight to behold in tight dress and stiletto heels, but she has the chops for straight ahead jazz. I caught about half the set, in which she played mostly songs from her latest recordings. Her band included a terrific young pianist, Shamie Royston.

Benny Green

Once again there was too much going on Sunday to catch everything, but I wasn’t going to miss the Benny Green Trio with Donald Harrison, doing a set of Thelonious Monk’s music at the Night Club. Green’s superb trio consisted of Ben Wolfe on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.  There are so many Monk tunes that it was possible to begin with one the casual listener might be unfamiliar with — the lilting, low-key “Jackie-ing.” Green moved on to the quieter “Reflections,” but the trio really caught fire with one of Monk’s first recorded tunes, “Thelonious.” Green’s dazzling technique on the infectious line was augmented by Wolfe on the bass. Donald Harrison then joined the group, occupying with fiery distinction the sax chair filled in Monk’s time by the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse. Harrison provided the emphatic melody to “Epistrophy,” with Green deftly adding the counter tempo. They followed with another of Monk’s engaging lines, “Nutty,”  Green and Wolfe reading each other’s minds on piano and bass, while Harrison, seemingly effortlessly, had complete command of his alto.  Lest you take him for granted, Kenny Washington was an exquisite performer, enunciating Monk’s complex rhythms, adding his own measures of dash and accent when called for.

There were too many highlights to mention in this set, but among them were an up tempo version of “52nd Street Theme,” with Benny providing a knockout piano solo, following Harrison’s insistent introduction of the theme. Compelling bass work by Wolfe ensued, then Washington broke loose with his own solo.  If there is one essential Monk tune it is “Round Midnight.” Harrison introduced it with a lovely run through the opening chords, then Green took over for a sensitive exploration of the familiar theme. There were a couple of more swinging numbers, including “Calling The Blues.” “Bye Ya,” was a natural finale, Benny Green contributing a delightful, bouncy solo, with a sprightly contribution by Harrison. The set concluded with the consistent brilliance of Wolfe and a final flourish by Kenny Washington.

Sonny Rollins

And then there was Sonny.  Taking to the spotlight in a flowing red shirt, bent forward as he roamed the stage, Lear-like, Sonny Rollins closed the festival with a performance that was sui generis.  The unmistakable Rollins intonation is still there.  If it has been stilted somewhat by virtue of his eighty-one years, it was hardly noticeable.  For much of the set this was classic Road Show Sonny, with Rollins establishing a theme, repeating it, embellishing it,  stalking  the stage as he explored every facet of a seemingly simple line.  Backed by his longtime stalwarts Bob Crenshaw on bass and Sammy Figueroa on percussion,  and drummer Kobie Watkins, Rollins had the additional support of world class guitarist Peter Bernstein. Bernstein’s rhythms gave the Caribbean numbers a breezy feel, and he was the main supportive soloist when Rollins needed a breather. The material alternated between ballads and island themes, with Rollins speaking only a few times to the audience. “Nice Lady,” which was included in Road Show Vol 1, was a typically bright Caribbean tune, with Figueroa’s congas and Bernstein’s rhythms pushing it along and Sonny wailing away. There was one new tune, “Professor Paul,” the literary connection unexplained, but the tune had enough quirky intelligence that you could get the picture.

Toward the end of the set, the tone shifted to vintage Rollins, the style he established in the heart of his career.  From the opening cadenza, when you could pick out the notes to Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” this was Sonny at his best, exploring the melody of a standard, challenging it with every nuance of his horn’s tonal depth,  moving in and out of the chorus,  placing his own emblem on the song.  It could have been the perfect ending to a show that had already gone well over an hour, but Sonny had much more in reserve. He went back into Caribbean mode and now the entire arena was up on its feet, swaying back and forth.  Sonny carried forth, trading solos with guitarist Bernstein, backed by Figueroa, Watkins and Crenshaw. Fifteen minutes later you got the feeling the audience was exhausted from dancing, but Sonny played on. A gentleman of a certain age standing behind me remarked, “I didn’t have that much energy when I was 21.”

Finally, Sonny put the horn down and addressed the crowd. “We’ll see you next time,” said the man who had had performed at the first Monterey Jazz Festival. “Long live Monterey!”

Amen to that.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Friday click HERE.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Saturday click HERE.

Live Jazz: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival — Saturday

September 18, 2011

By Michael Katz

Monterey, California.  Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival was a journey through eras, river basins, continents, climate zones, you name it. Mostly the volume was turned up, but if you navigated carefully, you could find some quiet pools for reflection amidst the soul, funk and a respectable helping of jazz, too.

For the second straight year, the gang from Treme took over the Arena for the afternoon show. This time there was no Trombone Shorty to tear the place up, but two groups, the Soul Rebels Brass Band and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, combined under the stage direction of actor Wendell Pierce serving as MC.  The Soul Rebels marched through the front of the Arena and then onto the stage, bringing bright sunshine with them, blasting through Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For the City” and a stew of contemporary NOLA favorites.

Kermit Ruffins

Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who acts in HBO’s Treme, was a featured soloist with both the Soul Rebels and Dumpstaphunk. Trombonist Glen David Andrews had to bow out because of illness and was replaced by Terence Blanchard, so for the second day in a row, the Arena audiences was treated to some sizzling horn battles. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia,” the one Diz standard that was left out of Poncho Sanchez’s set Friday night, got the sizzling treatment from Blanchard and Ruffins. They provided a number of other highlights, including “Shake it Off” and “Turn It Up,” which could have been the theme song for the afternoon.

Huey Lewis and the News was the headliner for the afternoon, and they brought a large and devoted following to the Arena. His latest CD,  Soulsville, featured the Memphis sound of Stax records and included hits such as the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” the title tune, and some lesser known songs such as “Um, Um, Um” recorded by Major Lance. There’s a lot of talent in the News, starting with Lewis’s still robust voice and harmonica playing. He talked about both his and drummer Bill Gibson’s late fathers being longtime MJF attendees, and the Soulsville selections blended in perfectly with the Saturday afternoon atmosphere. Of course Huey and the News are a rock and roll band, and with 90 minutes to perform they rewarded their loyal following with their own hits, including “Heart of Rock and Roll” and “I Want A New Drug,” as well as a blues vamp at the end of the set.

Huey Lewis and the News

By late afternoon the Treme gang had commandeered the Garden Stage, for a repeat of last year’s Trombone Shorty spectacular, but I was in the mood for something a little quieter so I went to the Coffee House Gallery to see this year’s version of the Berkeley School of Music Ensemble, which was a Flamenco quintet that enthralled the capacity crowd. Led by Ariadne Castellanos of Madrid, this international group took the Spanish flamenco folk rhythms and wove them into a spellbinding performance.  Ali Amr, from Ramallah on the West Bank, played the Qunan, an Egyptian string instrument that is something of a cross between a zither and a small harp. Enrique Kalani, listed from Trinidad but announced from Puerto Rico, played a sparkling flute, offering up superb glissandos and more serene moments as well. Spaniard Sergio Martinez on percussion and Israeli bassist Noam Wiesenberg were a sterling rhythm section.  Castellanos had a beautiful interpretation of a Paco de Lucia song, and Amr had several lovely solos on the Qunan.  The only drawback to the show was the sweltering condition of the room, due to NPR’s streaming of the event. They dictated the suspension of fans and air conditioning, causing many folks to leave. It’s a tribute to the performers that so many stayed until the end. It’s nice that NPR is involved in the festival, but inconsiderate to the paying customers.

Richard Bona

The evening performances presented the toughest choice I had to make, as Geri Allen was performing the commissioned piece in the Arena and one of my favorites, Richard Bona, was performing in duet with Columbian singer/guitarist Raul Midon at the Garden Stage. I’d hope to catch a little of each, but sound problems delayed the start of the Bona/Midon set, so I waited it out and never left. I’d previously seen Bona, a singer/bassist from Cameroon, in settings with a larger, more percussive group, so it was a different experience seeing him with Midon, performing tunes from their Dulawa Malambo Project. Certainly the sound crew did their jobs; both voices were clear, both with engaging qualities, Midon singing in English, Bona mostly in a lilting Douala. It’s a lovely sounding language – much like Portuguese, it is pleasant to listen to even if you don’t understand any of the words. Playing in this duet setting, Bona has a gentle touch on the electric bass, sometimes playing along with the lyrical beat, other times countering it.  Midon, meanwhile, played several acoustic guitars. His lyrics tend to be slyly simple. “Don’t Be A Silly Man” was a response from a fawned-upon musician, with a touch of Paul Simon playfulness. He sometimes employs a tap style to his guitar, other times picking out melodies between the rhythms. At one point, performing solo, Midon, who is blind, had a surprise drop-in from singer India.Arie, who performs on the main stage this afternoon. Midon also employs a muted trumpet effect, which adds another instrument to the mix.  On top of everything else, both Midon and Bona  have infectious personalities that, combined with their delightful playing and singing, showed there was plenty of room on Saturday for a more subtle musical tone.

Joshua Redman

It was back to the Arena for Artist-In-Residence Joshua Redman’s set, with his band James Farm that featured Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Penman on bass and Eric Harland on drums. The first thing you notice these days about Redman is his robust tone. He gets such a full, rich, sound out of the tenor, particularly in the mid to lower registers of the horn. It’s a pleasure to hear him stretch out, and he had plenty of opportunities to do so. The set featured original compositions by all four members of the group, starting out with bassist Penman’s “1981” which began with Redman in a reflective mood, offering an expansive solo followed by Parks taking the baton on piano. “If By Air,” the next song, was Redman’s, followed by Parks’ elegant theme “Bijou.”  As the set went on, it seemed the compositions were less individual expressions than movements in a suite. It speaks to the overall cohesion of the group. The interweavings of Parks and Redman, backed by the rhythms of Penman and Harland make for a tantalizing hour. It’s a distinct, harmonic sound, though lacking a little in the lyrical sense. You don’t walk away humming any of the tunes.

Herbie Hancock was closing out the night at the Arena, but I opted for a quieter end to the evening. I returned to the Coffee House to see Bill Carrothers’ piano trio with Drew Gress on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. The crowd was rather sparse to start, but Carrothers adapted easily, speaking to the gathering without a microphone, playing a mix of originals and standards, slightly altered in his own off center way. “Peg,” named for his wife, was an introspective piece, given to  long harmonic interplays with bassist Gress. He followed with a playfully dark version of “Keep Your Sunny Side Up,” again with nice bass work from Gress. There was an unnamed up tempo piece, which gave Stewart a chance to work out on the drums, and an engaging version of Clifford Brown’s “Gerkin for Perkin.”  A few more folks had straggled in by that point, looking for a last dollop of music to finish off a long, often loud, adventurous day. There was something poignant when Carrothers gently touched the keys with the opening to “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” You felt for a moment like you were alone in a bar somewhere. You didn’t really want the set to end, but it was the perfect ending. It was a  lovely version, a soft goodbye, then back out into the chill night Monterey air.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Friday click HERE.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Sunday click HERE.




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