Live Music: The Real Vocal String Quartet in a Siskiyou Music Project Concert

May 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

Talent, Oregon. “Real Vocal String Quartet.” The words on the program guide seemed almost contradictory. What was it to be? One or the other? A vocal ensemble or a string quartet?

But when the four gifted members of the Real Vocal String Quartet began their concert Sunday night in the performance room of the beautiful Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon, all the seemingly contradictory aspects of their name immediately disappeared.

The transformation began with “Kyili Turam,” a piece inspired by the Quartet’s fascination with world music, in this case from Macedonia. Starting with a full bodied string quartet opening, the four instrumentalists – still playing — moved close to their vocal microphones and enriched the string sounds with lush, four voice harmonies. The effect was astonishing, orchestral in its size, utterly gripping in its emotional impact. And it was just the beginning of the memorable program offered by the versatile artists of the Real Vocal String Quartet – violinists Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose, violist Matthias McIntire and cellist Jessica Ivry.

The Real Vocal String Quartet at the Paschal Winery

To say that the music was imaginative in every aspect of the word would only begin to describe a program that reached across a boundary-less array of genres. Classical, jazz, blues, Americana, fiddle music, world music and much more, all of it performed via a mesmerizing blend of authenticity and brilliant inventiveness – vocally, instrumentally and in combinations of both.

Titles were either unannounced or identified too quickly to register. But no matter; the significant information resided in the fact that most of the music was original, written or arranged by the four players – offering even more evidence of the expansive skills of this remarkable ensemble.

There were far too many highlights to list in the group’s eclectic selections. One of the most fascinating was a free improvisation, a completely spontaneous, unwritten, on-the-spot, brilliant four part composition. It’s a technique other groups have tried – dating back to the free jazz era of the ’60s. But I’ve rarely heard it delivered with the Vocal String Quartet’s inventive musical authority.

Another piece – violist Matthias McIntire’s whimsically titled “California Residents Blissful Despite Impending Earthquake” – displayed another quality, employing the group’s vocal/instrumental timbres with impressionistic impact.

The Real Vocal String Quartet (Matthias McIntire, Jessica Ivry, Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose)

In addition to their remarkable skills as an inventive musical collective, the four principals of the Vocal Jazz Quartet also displayed unique solo abilities. Each revealed convincing improvisational abilities. The two violinists – Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose – tossed riffs back and forth, slipping and sliding through blues licks, with the ease of a bebop jam. McIntire added an equal jazz authenticity to his soloing. And cellist Jessica Ivry energized the rhythm with Ron Carter-like bass lines interspersed with arching, classical counter melodies.

It was, in short, an evening overflowing with much to enjoy. The Real Vocal String Quartet, despite its seemingly confusing title, left this listener, no doubt among many others, with an evening that will be long remembered.

* * * * * * * *

First photo by Faith Frenz.

Second photo by Lenny Gonzalez, courtesy of Real Vocal String Quartet.


Picks of the Weekend on the Left Coast

April 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, California

 

Damien Rice

Damien Rice

 

– April 24. (Fri.) Damien Rice.  Highly praised Irish singer/songwriter Rice celebrates the release of his latest CD, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, already receiving rave international reviews. The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

– April 24. (Fri.) Pete Christlieb Quartet. Saxophonist Christlieb has been a first call player for the full run of his stellar career. Here he is up close and in action, backed by some of the Southland’s prime rhythm section artists. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham

– April 24 – 26. (Fri. – Sun.) Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40. Percussionist Cobham’s diversity of musical interests are fully present in the eclectic playing of his Spectrum 40 band, with Ric Fierabracci,
Dean Brown and Gary Husband.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– April 26. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. Fluent in several languages, engagingly musical in everything she sings, Bach-y-yRita is especially appealing with the music of Brazil, Spain and Portugal. She’ll be superbly backed by Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar, John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– April 26. (Sun.) Esperanza Spalding. Grammy-winning bassist, singer and songwriter Spalding presents a program of works performed by her Chamber Music Society and Radio Music Society. , Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco, California

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

– April 24 – 26. Fri. – Sun. Charles Lloyd Quartet. One of the great, iconic players of the jazz saxophone. His remarkable accomplishments reach back to the edgy sixties, and Lloyd continues to be one of the cutting edge jazz artists of the new millenium. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear and see him. SFJAZZ. . (866) 920-5299.

Santa Cruz, California

April 23. (Thurs.) Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy. Drummer Igoe’s funk-driven Groove Conspiracy has been labeled – accurately as “a rock band in a jazz band’s body.” Expect an evening of irresistible rhythmic excitement. Kuumbwa Jazz 40. If you don’t make this one be sure to catch their next appearance. (831) 427-2227.

Ashland, Oregon

Christofuren Nomura– April 24. (Fri.) Christopheren Nomura. The rich baritone voice of classical singer Nomura meets the challenge of a versatile program of Schubert, Mahler and Ravel. Chamber Music Concerts in the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall. (541) 552-6154.

Seattle, Washington

– April 24 – 26. (Fri. – Sun.) Sergio Mendes He’s been one of the international voices of Brazilian music in general and specifically the bossa nova, reaching back to his breakthrough Brazil 66 band of the sixties. And he’s still at it.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729,


Highlights of the Long Weekend: In Los Angeles

April 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Mutter Bronfman Harrell Trio. Three international virtuosi – violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Lynn Harrell – apply their remarkable skills to a program of classic piano trios: Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97 “Archduke” and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

Pat Senatore

– April 16. (Thurs.) The Pat Senatore Trio. A cross-generational performance, with veteran bassist Senatore finding common creative ground with rising young stars Josh Nelson, piano, and Dan Schnelle, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– April 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Neeme Jarvi, perform an evening of Brahms: Symphony No. 4 and the Tragic Overture. Violinist Martin Chalifour is aso featured on Suk’s Romantic Reverie. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

Kevin Bachelder and Jason Lee Bruns

-April 17. (Fri.) Jason Lee Bruns Jazz Collective. Drummer Bruns and singer Kevin Bachelder celebrate the release of their dynamic new CD, Cherry Avenue. The E-Spot at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) An Evening With Gilberto Gil. The great Brazilian singer/songwriter makes a rare Southland appearance. Center for the Art of Performance at U.C.L.A.  (310) 825-0768.

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

-Apil 18. (Sat.) Judy Wexler. Convincingly singing and swinging her way across pop through jazz, Judy is a uniquely original artist.  This time out, she celebrates her “Surreal 60th Birthday Bash.” The E-Spot at Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– April 18. (Sat.) The Martha Graham Dance Company. The great dance company performs a set of Graham classics: Appalachian Spring, Lamentation Variations, Errand and Echo-Foniadakis. Valley Performing Arts Center.
(818) 677-8800.

– April 19 (Sun.) Omar Sosa. For years, Sosa has been finding fascinating creative connections between jazz and many other areas of the world’s music. He’s backed by Leandro Saint-Hill, saxophones, flute; Ernesto Simpson, drums; Childo Tomas, electric bass. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Denise Donatelli

Denise Donatelli

– April 19. (Sun.) Denise Donatelli. Listening to Denise’s warm embracing voice and the buoyant swing she brings to every performance — recorded and live — inevitably raises the question as to why this gifted vocalist still hasn’t received a Grammy. But, awards or not, she continues to offer performances that are always memorable events. Don’t miss this one. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Highlight of the Mid-Week in L.A.: Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill at the Gardenia

March 31, 2015

by Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. No April Foolin’ around on this April 1st at the Gardenia, Hollywood’s musically rich cabaret room. The arrival of Bay area singer Wesla Whitfield and her pianist/husband Mike Greensill is a guarantee that Wednesday night will showcase a memorable evening of classics from the Great American Songbook.

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

Wesla Whitfield and Mike Greensill

I first wrote about Wesla in a Los Angeles Times 1988 Review, describing her “as a singer who not only tells a story with the dramatic sensitivity of a superb actress, but who has evolved into a marvelously subtle, jazz-based interpreter.” In the intervening decades I heard Wesla many times and wrote more reviews. And in each, I had to stretch my vocabulary of praise in an effort to describe the growing expressiveness and musicality of her art.

Wesla and Mike are based in the Bay area, performing in major venues across the U.S. and beyond. But her appearances in the Los Angeles area are rare, making Wednesday’s performance at the Gardenia – a room with the intimacy to see and hear Wesla up close and personal – an opportunity not to be missed.

** * * * * * *

So How Great Were Wesla and Mike In Their Performance At The Gardenia?

Here’s a brief review by a member of the audience.

By Bruce Lohman:

Wesla’s performance was extraordinary.  She really has it all—a truly lovely timbre, perfectly placed pitch, sustained pianissimo high notes that make your heart stop, fresh compelling takes on standards that you don’t want to end, compelling takes on not-so-standards that you don’t want to end, endings that suspend in mid-air leaving you holding your breath,  a gifted husband who provides piano support that is not only arresting in and of itself, but is perfectly matched to her style and grace.

And I have to say, the combination of Mike Greensill, Wesla, and the sweetness of the Gardenia piano, along with the stars, were simply in perfect alignment.  It wasn’t just a performance—it was a musical experience.  Mike even sang himself—yet another ear-opening revelation in this memorable night.

The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood. (323) 467-7444.

 


Picks of the Week in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo

March 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

– Mar. 23 & 24 (Mon. & Tues.) Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.  The two most masterful vocal ensembles of the past few decades get together for the first time. No wonder it’s called “The Summit” as they perform at the start of a national tour. Catalina Bar & Grill .

(323) 466-2210.

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) The London Philharmonic conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with pianist Yuja Wang. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Bitten’s Four Sea Interludes. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Sue Raney. She’s been receiving accolades for her singing sine she was a teen-ager, and Sue Raney is as dynamic and musically compelling as she was shen she first stepped on stage. Sue’s celebrating the release of her album, Late in Life.        Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

– Mar. 27 (Fri.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. A musical encounter not to be missed. Sheppard is one of the jazz world’s most versatile,saxophonists, and equally gifted on clarinet and flute. He’ll be backed by bassist Senatore’s equally adept rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400

–  Mar. 27. (Fri.) George Benson. Hitmaker singer/guitarist Benson is always entertaining, always disovering new jazz territories. Expect to hear some familiar songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

Art Pepper

Art Pepper

– Mar. 27. (Fri.) An All Star Celebration of Art Pepper. With Richie Cole, Doug Webb, Don Shelton, Gaspare Pasini, the Art Pepper Quartet Reunion and more. Presented by Ken Poston’s West Coast Jazz Heritage Series. Hermosa Beach Community Theatre. Reservations: (562) 200-5477.

Seattle

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Great Guitars! Featuring Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pisano and Mundell Lowe. “Great Guitars” doesn’t begin to describe this encounter between such Olympian players. Don’t miss this one; it’s a true musical rarity. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

New York City

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Mar. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.) James Moody 90th Birthday. Saxophonist/singer Moody was a much loved and honored jazz artist. He was also a friend to almost everyone he met. So it’s no surprise that this tribute has attracted such stellar participants. Featured peformers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Antonio Hart, Russle Malone, Randy Brecker, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Janis Siegel and more. Call the club for schedules. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Mar. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project. Gypsy jazz at its best. Calling up memories of Django Reinhardt and the unque, swinging improvisational style he brought to the jazz world. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Mar. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat. Rosa Passos Quartet. Passos is one of the true blenders of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. She’s been doing it a long time, and she still does better than most. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94

Tokyo

Gerald Albright

Gerald Albright

 

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) Gerald Albright. Name a jazz genre and Gerald Albright can play it convincingly.  And he’s equally adept as an instrumentalist, moving easily from world class saxophone playing to bass, keyboards,, vocals and more.  Don’t miss him in action.  Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Highlights of the Weekend: In Los Angeles

February 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Stanley Clarke

 

– Feb 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Stanley Clarke and Friends. Bassist Clarke’s “Friends” aren’t identified in the program for this gig. But Clarke, a world class artist with a stellar resume, can be counted on to surround himself with players capable of functioning at his Olympian jazz levels. In other words, expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Bel Air Wine Festival’s Celebration Day of Wine, Music and Eight Charities. The afternoon gala starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm. The evening portion of the day is 6pm – 10pm and will include a delectable dinner. The wine festival features wines from all corners of the globe, food prepared by Vibrato’s chefs and world class live entertainment. Hang Dynasty, whose members have worked with everyone from the Steve Miller Band , Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Pink Floyd and Ringo Starr will perform. There will also be a live auction during the evening gala. 100% of the Festival’s proceeds go to eight charities. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Ballet performs one of the great classics in their repertoire, The Sleeping Beauty. Valley Performing Arts Center. . (818) 677-8800.

The LA Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

The LA Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Venice Baroque Ochestra with mandolin soloist Avi Avital. Call it an evening of Vivaldi, performed by an ensemble, and a soloist adept at the special demands of Baroque era music. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. One of the Southland’s great large ensembles, the NWS once again displays its far-ranging stylistic mastery in a program featuring Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, Saint-Sean’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchstra Opus 22, and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 For Small Orchestra. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  (805) 449-2100.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) Wilson Phillips and Billy Ocean. It’s an offbeat combination, but one with a lot of apeal. The hit-making vocal sounds of Wilson Phillips and the r&b grooves of English born singer Billy Ocean. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Julian Lage Trio.  Guitarist Lage, a prodigy as a teen-ager, has matured into a world class jcazz artiat.  And here’s a booking not to miss, in which he’s backed by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric HarlandThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with The Ron Jones Jazz influence Orchestra. Entertainment world multi-hphenate MacFarlane is an actor, writer, producer, animator and, in recent years, a singer. He’s backed by the lush sound and solid swing of Ron Jones jazz Influence Orchestra. Click here to read a recent iRoM review of a MacFarlane vocal performance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Live Music and a Lot More: MY DAY AT THE NAMM SHOW

January 28, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Anaheim, CA.  For anyone who appreciates music, the NAMM show is a scene you simply must make once in your life, maybe more. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convenes twice annually, once in the winter at the Anaheim Convention Center and once in the summer, in Nashville. It has become more than a convention, and is now a four day event attended by thousands, with awards given to distinguished artists and manufacturers, concerts all day outdoors on a huge stage, celebrity signings, ongoing celebrity jams, intriguing food trucks, plenty of free stuff, and a whole lot of entertaining people to watch.

I was struck by how many people appeared to be dressed in their rock star costumes. These folks must look like they are on or near a stage every day. The multi-color hair and bizarre tats and piercings are a long-term proposition, a commitment. Of course, that’s rock and roll and we do love it. There were even people in costumes running around simply to provide photo ops, but that felt schticky, a little like Hollywood and Highland.

NAMM floor is a busy place, man!

Entry to NAMM is exclusive. Everyone who gets in must apply for and receive a badge to get through the doors. Physically getting to those doors isn’t so easy, either, as parking is at a premium. I had to park about a mile away from the site, and hoof it in. But it was a gorgeous day and I was with many other like-minded souls so it was cool…and free. Inside the convention center, vendors build a four story musical city, a multi-tiered grid of all conceivable music gear. And sometimes getting from one side of an aisle to the other is not unlike jaywalking in New York City. One must be alert as there are throngs of folks in constant motion on the NAMM floor.

Since so many manufacturers are represented under one roof, you can explore any curiosity on the spot, at the source. This worked out well for me. I cruised into the plush-carpeted Rickenbacker display, giddily strummed several of the shiny guitars, and inquired as to how pros actually deal with restringing their (in)famous 12-strings. These beautiful beasts are a well-known source of aggravation because the whole guitar must be unstrung and laboriously restrung even when one only string is a problem. But I was let in on the masking tape and long nose pliers solution to make things more efficient. Still, the ultra inconvenient “R” tailpiece will endure, as its design is classic and a part of an enduring image. Of course, the equally cool Ricky basses, have a much more string friendly design and will also stay the same.

The Rickenbacker 12 String

Before going to the NAMM show I wasn’t aware that guitar straps actually come in sizes like shirts do. So within a short exchange of dialogue I had learned about strap sizing. I also learned that there are several names for the extension adjustment strap on a leather guitar strap (“tongue” was the best that I heard), that they are sold separately, and can extend a strap by as much as 12 inches. The big idea was that huge vendors only carry some of many things. There is more variety available if one goes straight to the manufacturer, online or in person, than if one goes to a big distributor.

I had a feeling there would be some pleasant surprises nestled into the NAMM grid. Would you believe that somebody developed a product that allows you to actually be heard playing air drums? Yes, a special high-speed camera program gauges your movements, anticipating which drums you are reaching for and attaches sound. Voila, you can be heard. It was uncanny to watch, like some sort of illusion.

Fenders at NAMM. Surf all day, record all night… sounds like a plan!

One thing about the NAMM show, it borders on a muted din most of the time. There are so many displays where you can pick up an instrument to play and whether it was pianos, trumpets, or drums, there were usually a good dozen artists and regular folks just bashing away ecstatically. It’s a great way to make that much noise. The drum neighborhood at the end of the day was particularly lively. Big jam sessions up and down the block at every booth.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the NAMM show is that there are small concerts going on all the time in the booths. And a lot of these gigs are phenomenal. Sometimes it’s one person playing over a pre-recorded backing track. Other times it’s a whole ensemble.

Albert Lee bringing it at Music Man

These jams can get crowded but wow, if you have a good spot you’re in for a treat. I got lucky three times. Albert Lee was tearing it up at Music Man, and then I happened over to Godin guitars where Jose Roberto Hernandez and his friends were doing a sublime job of it. Beautiful guitar work from Hernandez, violin, acoustic bass guitar, and three hand percussionists made for some amazing, layered, poly-rhythmic music. Words won’t do it justice. On the other hand, I really couldn’t get a view of John Popper at Fender or of Doug Wimbash at Burgera.

All star jam in honor of Slash with Skunk Baxter, Richie Sambora, and Orianthi.

The best jam I saw was by far at the Mark Bass booth. If you can believe it, about thirty of us got to watch as guitarist Frank Gambale and six string bass ace Alain Caron strutted their chops and soared into the stratosphere together. The grin on our faces, and on theirs, was ear to ear. One person in the crowd actually had to steady the keyboard from falling off the corner of the amp it was perched upon. It was that casual, and yet that good.

Up on the third floor the heavy hitters of guitar set up shop with lavish booths and lots of decor. This would be Fender, Gibson, ESP, Schecter, and Paul Reed Smith. ESP in particular, had some sculpted guitars that looked as impressive as they were close to unplayable for more than an encore…or a photo session. Paul Reed Smith exhibited some wild inlay work, too.

Elaborate inlay work at Paul Reed Smith

Gibson had a whole table of headphones and Les Pauls to play privately, much like you would see in the Apple store. They seemed to be pushing their self-tuning guitar heads, but hey, the one I played just got confused and like in some silly sci-fi movie, the tuning heads spun about, taking the guitar nowhere close to being tuned. Hmm…

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar ...to ourselves.

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar …to ourselves.

At the big name booths I saw a whole lotta desks in sound-proof offices for making deals. People were here to deal and there was plenty of that going on. You literally couldn’t walk across the Martin Guitar booth without an obstacle course of office furniture. And interestingly enough, when I played one of their $6000 guitars, there was so much general commotion that I could scarcely hear what I was playing. It happens.

At six o’clock the lights dimmed as I was being serenaded with Norteno music and learning about Bajo Sextos and Bajo Quintos. That was a great little session. The show was over and it was time for most of us to trudge to our cars, while in the banquet rooms the VIP’s were just warming up for a night of music and awards. Just another day at the NAMM show. I was happily drained on the way home.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Mike Finkelstein. 

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


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