Live Music: Diana Krall, Gregory Porter and The Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2015

 

Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

By Devon Wendell

Los Angeles.  It was a night of sheer “crossover” bliss with Gregory Porter and Diana Krall with The L.A. Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday night.

Diana Krall took the Bowl stage with her current touring band (Anthony Wilson, guitar/arranger, Stuart Duncan, violin, Patrick Warren, keyboards, Dennis Crouch, bass and Karriem Riggins on drums) along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It’s already well known that Krall is an amazing singer with a subdued and sultry cool contralto voice but what I noticed the most on Friday night was her incredible piano work which was in the style of Duke Ellington, in fact, I felt the presence of Ellington’s ghost throughout Krall’s entire performance. So few jazz- based artists today play piano in that delicately swinging, stride style of Duke Ellington. Krall is a master at it and it accompanies her breathy and dynamic vocal phrasing wonderfully.

Diana Krall

I thought of Duke from the very start of Krall’s set which opened with Johnny Mercer’s “Day In, Day Out”, which Ellington performed frequently throughout his career. It wasn’t just Krall’s piano playing that conjured up Ellington’s spirit; Stuart Duncan’s violin style was very reminiscent of Ray Nance’s violin work in Ellington’s band during the 1930s, especially on the more jazz oriented standards.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s string and brass section fit Krall’s choice of material like a glove. Krall’s set was extremely diverse; from George Gershwin’s “Do It Again”, and Harold Arlen’s classic “Let’s Fall In Love” to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights”, and Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower” (the title track to Krall’s latest album).  Anthony Wilson’s virtuosic guitar playing was magnificent throughout. He’s easily one of the finest guitarists I’ve heard in a long time.Wilson also arranged Krall’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” which swung hard. Anthony Wilson is the son of the late great Gerald Wilson and his skill and devotion to jazz is proof that he’s following in his father’s footsteps.

Ellington’s influence on Krall could even be heard on her more pop/rock flavored material from her Wallflower album such as Leon Russell’s “Superstar”, John Phillip’s “California Dreaming”, and Crowder House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Krall would often alternate between acoustic piano and a Wurlitzer.

Karrien Riggin’s versatile and melodic drumming swung beautifully with Dennis Crouch’s thoughtful and steady bass lines.

Krall’s take on Tom Waitts’ “Temptation” was sexy and funky but went on a little too long with some overindulgent solos by Krall and her band.

A highlight of the entire show was an intimate reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”.  Krall has the uncanny ability to make you truly understand and feel the lyrics to any song she chooses to cover and this was certainly the case here. It felt as if she were addressing a dear friend with love and sincerity. It’s obvious that Krall loves, understands, and respects the material she sings, which is rare these days.

I’ve never heard such a meaningful version of Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” in my life. It was like the sweetest lullaby imaginable.

After a delightful big band arrangement of Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages’ “Just You, Just Me” (with more of Krall’s Ellington-esque piano chops), Krall, her band, and The LA Phil returned for an encore of Nat King Cole’s “I’ll String Along With You.” Duncan played an electric violn. This was Krall’s most powerful vocal performance of the evening. I can’t think of a better cover to fit her laid back and refined style.

For the last 6 years, Gregory Porter has been captivating audiences all over the world with his distinct fusion of jazz, R&B, gospel, and pop. Porter’s sensitive soulful vocals and his poignant lyrics make him one of the greatest “crossover” jazz singers to surface in many years. His set at the Bowl on Friday night was magnificent. Porter and his band (Chip Crawford, piano/musical director, Emanuel Harrold, drums, Jahmal Nichols, bass, and Yosuke Sato on alto saxophone) kicked off their part of the evening’s program with a brief set of some of his most familiar material such as “Painted On Canvas”, “On My Way To Harlem”,  and “No Love Dying”. The band was delicate and supportive. Sato’s alto sax work was brilliant and soaring. Porter’s stage presence was poised and charmingly engaging.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

“Liquid Spirit” is pure gospel. Porter tried to get the mellow crown to engage in some call and response but it kind of fell flat. Porter joked; “It worked when I did it at The Newport Jazz Festival.”

The highlight of Porter’s set was  “Wolf Cry”, which is a sweet and tender ballad. Crawford’s tasteful and thematic piano accompaniment added to the romantic atmosphere of the song’s lyrics. Porter’s vocal range and phrasing reminds me of a great tenor saxophone player. He’s the kind of singer that instrumentalists copy.  Porter ended his set with a quick gospel reading of the Temptation’s “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone” and “Musical Genocide” which is Porter’s protesting response to much of the violent content churned out by the hip-hop industry.

Porter’s set was a reminder of the importance and influence of gospel music in pop, soul, and contemporary jazz. No one does it like Gregory Porter.

This was the perfect night at The Hollywood Bowl. Porter and Krall are both masters of the American song. Their dignified and original approach to “crossover” jazz was enjoyed by everyone present and I’m sure Duke was listening and was very proud.

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


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEKEND IN LOS ANGELES

August 18, 2015

By Don Heckman

Wednesday August 19 at Catalina Bar & Grill

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

She may be best known for her high visibility role as “Hot Lips Houlihan” in the film M*A*S*H.  But Sally Kellerman has been a gifted singer since she was a teen-ager.  And in her post-acting career, Sally has displayed the qualities of a musical artist with the imaginative skills to move across genres reaching from pop and country to blues and jazz.  Appropriately, and convincingly, her current performances are headlined “A Little Jazz, a Little Blues, a Little Rock ‘n’ Roll.”  Expect to enjoy every minute.

Catalina Bar & Grill  (323) 466-2210.

 

Wednesday August 19 at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

Veteran bassist Pat Senatore has played with just about every performer in the music world, regardless of genre, whenever he isn’t serving as the music director for Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. or providing solid backing for the club’s diversified line up of acts.  This time, however, Pat takes center stage for an evening he describes as “Pat Senatore’s Big Bad B-Day Celebration.” Joining him is a stellar list of players, including Steve Hufsteter, Chuck Manning, Tina Raymond, his Ascensione Trio, featuring Josh Nelson, and probably more.  Don’t miss the fun.

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Friday August 21 at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist in Goleta CA.

Teka

Singer/guitarist Teka is most frequently heard in her home territory around Santa Barbara.  As she will for this performance.  But it’s well worth a trip north for Angelenos to hear this extraordinarily gifted performer in live action with her New Bossa group. The Southland is blessed with a plethora of Brazilian artists.  But Teka is one of a kind, an artist who balances a strikingly authentic foundation of Brazilian roots, tracing to her youthful years in Sao Paulo, with the imaginative inventiveness of a mature jazz artist.  Experience the live thrills of Brazil up close and swinging.

Live Oak Unitarian Universalist in Goleta CA.

Friday August 21 at Catalina Bar & Grill

Mark Winkler

Mark Winkler

Mark Winkler

Singer/lyricist Winkler celebrates the release of his latest album, the appropriately titled, Jazz and Other Four Letter Words.  The whimsical Winkler isn’t kidding about the importance of his commitment to jazz, which has evolved into the foundation of his vocal art.   And he underscores the title of the album by listing a few of the “Four Letter Words” he has in mind — words such as Jazz, Cool, Neat, Bird, Duke, Prez and Mark.  All will no doubt be present in this exhilarating jazz evening, no doubt enhanced by the guest star presence of his frequent singing partner, Cheryl Bentyne.

Catalina Bar & Grill  (323) 466-2210.

Saturday August 22 at Catalina Bar & Grill

Terry Bozio

Terry Bozio

Terry Bozio

In a career reaching back to the seventies, dynamic rock drummer Terry Bozio has been an especially high voltage performer with Missing Persons and Frank Zappa.  Always an exciting performer to hear in his appearances with a range of bands, he now reveals his leadership qualities as well, bringing his irresistible groove to a rare Southland club performance.

Catalina Bar & Grill  (323) 466-2210.

Sally Kellerman photo by Bonnie Perkinson, Pat Senatore photo by Bob Barry.

 


Live Music: Buddy Guy At UCLA’s Royce Hall

August 14, 2015

By Devon Wendell

 

 

Los Angeles. Buddy Guy kicked off the 2015-2016 Center For the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday night with a truly mesmerizing performance.

Buddy Guy is the last true prophet of the blues, especially since we recently lost B.B. King. Buddy and his Damn Right Blues Band (Marty Sammon, keyboards, Orlando Wright, bass, Ric Hall, guitar, and Tim Austin on drums) performed a blistering set of no-nonsense Chicago Blues and much more. Since the early ‘60s, Guy has performed and recorded with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Son House and B.B. King (to name only a few). He has the uncanny ability to channel them all in a single performance. This is exactly what he did at Royce Hall on Thursday night.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

This was one of the most focused and coherent Buddy Guy shows I’ve ever witnessed. Guy is often forced to play a medley of familiar blues standards due to the time restraints of the blues festival circuit. The good people at Royce Hall gave Guy and his band an entire hour and forty-five minutes to stretch out and that’s exactly what he did.

Guy played songs in their entirety, opening his set with “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” Eddie Boyd’s slow and pleading “Five Long Years” and Muddy Waters’ boastful “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Sure, Guy would occasionally fall back on his bag of stage tricks, like walking through the audience during a long guitar solo, playing the guitar behind his back and with his teeth, and even playing the guitar with his crotch. However, the greatest moments of the show were when Guy would just stand there onstage and play.

Buddy Guy

Guy also has the greatest backing band. Marty Sammon played some brilliant keyboard solos, even dipping into some apparent jazz influences on “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Orlando Wright and Tim Austin act as the anchors, keeping the groove no matter how wild Guy’s playing can go. Ric Hall is a stellar guitarist with his own distinct sound as well.

Carlos Santana once told me that Buddy Guy is “The Ornette Coleman of electric blues guitar” and he was right. Guy played some piercing, lightning fast runs and a furry of gut wrenching string bends which created tones that no other guitarist can emulate. And these are things that only happen at that exact moment and never repeated again.

A perfect example of this was Guy’s rendition of Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do.” Slim was one of Guy’s earliest and most potent influences. Guy learned a lot of his stage antics from watching Slim play in Louisiana in the ‘50s. Guy’s version was true to the original and like Guitar Slim, his guitar had gotten way out of tune during this performance. But his tone was so harsh and beautifully evil that it didn’t matter.

The performance started to lose some of its focus during a brief acoustic portion of Guy’s set. Guy and Ric Hall played acoustic guitars and were joined by Wright and Austin on Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” “Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Cream’s “Strange Brew.” It would have been more fitting if Guy performed some deep Delta blues on acoustic like he did on his 2003 album “Blues Singer” (Silvertone), but it was still a lot of fun.

The highlight of Guy’s set was the title track from his new album Born To Play Guitar (RCA) which was a pure Chicago blues in the style of his former mentors and employers Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. On this number, Guy preaches about his love for his instrument and where it’s taken him throughout his incredible life.

Guy played an electric sitar on his 2008 soul ballad “Skin Deep.” He didn’t play the electric sitar in an “orthodox” manner, and thank God for that. He conjured up sounds on the instrument that no one would have thought possible when it was invented in the late ‘60s.

Guy finished his show with his baby-boomer crowd pleasing medley of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child”, and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” This was a beautiful performance. Guy is still one of the most powerful singers in the history of American music.

Opening up for Guy was Los Angeles’s own The Record Company (Chris Vos, vocals, guitar, lap-steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, harmonica), Alex Stiff, (bass, guitars, piano, vocals), and Marc Cazorla, (drums, piano, and vocals.)

The Record Company

The Record Company

This band sounds like a cross between The Yardbirds of the late ‘60s, Elmore James, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Their performance was electrifying. Chris Voss played some incredible slide guitar on his lap, using an acoustic guitar that the late Johnny Winter had given him. He alternated between guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals. Alex Stiff’s bass playing was tight and funky and Marc Cazorla’s drumming was hypnotic and in the pocket.

The band played such original material as “Goodbye Sad Eyes,” “Got Me On The Move,” “Feel So Good”and finally “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely” during their brief set which truly rocked the house. Voss is a magnetic front-man whose dedication to the blues was apparent during the band’s entire performance. The Record Company was raw, loud, nasty, and the perfect band to start the evening’s festivities. This is a band to look out for if you haven’t already.

This was a perfect evening of raw blues performed by both a band of newcomers dedicated to the heart and soul of the music, and a true legend and master who is the last of the “old” bluesmen. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off UCLA’s CAP new concert season.

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


Musical Theatre: “A Night With Janis Joplin” at the Pasadena Playhouse

August 10, 2015
Mike Finkelstein

Mike Finkelstein

By Mike Finkelstein

If you have even a kernel of curiosity about the legend of Janis Joplin or if you simply want to see some great rock-related live musical theater, you will want to get to the Pasadena Playhouse and see A Night with Janis Joplin before it closes on August 23. Putting this production into this beautifully restored venue in Old Towne Pasadena is a superb match.

They nailed the hippie esthetic — a classy set in a classy theater. The stage was covered with some of the snazziest hippie tapestries available, an iconic Egyptian-styled chair that Janis made famous, several very groovy, fringed lamps, and of course the velvet, boas, fringes, and beads in the costuming.

This production, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, is signed, sealed and delivered with the uncanny performance by Tony-nominated Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin.

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin

To say she becomes Janis Joplin for the role may sound clichéd, but it was downright mesmerizing to watch Davies nail all of Janis’ mannerisms, quirks, and nuances in speech, song, and posture. Her speaking voice had the same giggling, twang and her hair even hung down from her temples just the way Janis’ did when she bent down to belt out a phrase. It seemed to me that Davies didn’t need to stretch much to carry the role of Janis Joplin.

And Davies was hardly in a talent bubble with a supporting cast of similarly powerful girl singers surrounding her as the Joplinaires. The girls also played the part of the girl group the Chantels, whose haunting gem “Maybe” was a huge influence on young Janis’ appreciation of how well music can put across powerful emotions. Yvette Cason (Aretha Franklin/Nina Simone), Sylvia MacCalla (Bessie Smith/Odetta), and Jenelle Lynne Randall (Etta James) all did justice to the luminaries they portrayed.

A Night With Janis Joplin is not a plot heavy show. In fact, the format is more or less like a VH1 Storytellers show, where the performer chooses material, introduces it anecdotally, and then performs it with a band. In A Night With Janis Joplin, Janis affably welcomes us into her life and presents us with the songs and the emotions that powered them for her. Because it’s musical theater, we get to see her talk about Etta James, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin and Bessie Smith, and then have these characters come out and proceed to lay down exactly what Janis is talking about.

The script is cleverly written to allow Davies to welcome us with stories from Janis’ vantage point. She leads with stories like when she and her siblings made their house cleaning chores into a production, performing Porgy and Bess and other musicals to records supplied by their mother as they worked. Following this lead-in is a great comparison of “Summertime,” sung bluesy and powerfully by Jenelle Randall and then rearranged by Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band’s version of this ubiquitous song was an early glimpse of the possibilities in interpreting traditional tunes with a rock slant. The elegantly busy bass lines, the beautiful harmony guitar lines, and the wonderful dynamics of the new version were an innovative high water mark at the time. Janis’ vocal on it was classic and to watch Davies sing it Friday was to know that she has been doing it for most of her life. She owned it. The band gave “Summertime” a real workout as they also did to “Piece of My Heart,” and “Cry Baby.”

A Night with Janis Joplin - Photo by Joan Marcus

A Night with Janis Joplin – Photo by Joan Marcus

Janis brought up the notion that songwriters ask so many good questions…but don’t answer them. The choices of songs like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” “Down on Me,” and “Tell Mama,” give us a sense of what rang true to Janis in other people’s music. One major theme of Janis Joplin’s life was that though she yearned for real love, she also needed to be on stage to be whole. And these considerations were often at odds with each other. She made the point that she just might not choose a good man over a good audience. This was a person who would not hesitate to go against the grain if it meant being true to herself.

It’s impossible to think about Janis Joplin without confronting the fact that alcohol and drug abuse led to her untimely death at the young age of 27. There’s no way around the fact that she was one of the founding members of the “27 club,” which also tragically includes mega-talents like Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. Though she casually picks up a bottle once in the show, the subject of booze, drugs, and self-medication are just not part of the program. It would have been fun to listen to the spunky and insightful rationale for this behavior that Davies’ Janis could surely have supplied.

Towards the end of her abruptly shortened career, Janis severed ties with Big Brother and took on Full Tilt Boogie as her backing band. It was with them that she made some of her most appealing and tastefully arranged music. Songs like “Half Moon,” and “Move Over,” and “Get It While You Can” would have been worthy of making the cut in the production, even though “Kozmic Blues,” and “Bobby McGee” did. Still it’s six of one and half dozen of the other. The material in the production is top flight, and it’s played and sung impeccably. Davies is a true dynamo as Janis, and transcended the show into something very special.

A NIght With Janis Joplin, photo by Earl Gibson III

A NIght With Janis Joplin, photo by Earl Gibson III

Walking out of the Pasadena Playhouse, I felt like I’d gotten to experience more of Janis than I had anticipated, both musically and spiritually. As I watched people sporting flowers in their hair, bell bottoms, and headbands like it was a costume party, I had to once again realize that the hippie days were, at their purest, a very creative time in history, and Janis Joplin was as iconic a hippie personality as there ever will be. But those days are long gone and a show like this is the closest most people will probably come to connecting with it. I’m delighted to have known her music years before she died and to know that a show like this one does real justice to her legacy. And what could be more important than that?

A Night With Janis Joplin continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through August 23.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Jazz: The Jennifer Scott Trio in a Siskiyou Music Project performance at the Paschal Winery.

August 4, 2015

By Don Heckman

Talent, Oregon. Singer/pianist Jennifer Scott drove through the forest fire smoke in southern Oregon Sunday to perform a memorable evening of jazz versions of Great American Songbook classics – and a lot more. Her Trio included her husband, bassist Rene Worst, and guitarist Ed Dunsavage.

As the creative director of the Siskiyou Music Project‘s programming, Dunsavage has produced dozens of fine jazz programs. And this was one of his best, in part because of the superb musicality of the Canadian couple of Scott and Worst. But also, too, due to Dunsavage’s own impressive jazz skills.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott

The Scott Trio has been playing dates together recently, and the blend between these three gifted players might best be described as creatively symbiotic music-making.

Scott was the focus of an essentially vocal evening of music. And with good reason. Blessed with a voice that soars across octaves, she also possesses a warmth and intimacy of tone, and the interpretive musical skills of a born story teller. And she sounded completely at home in the company of her Trio’s bass, guitar and her piano, a setting that also provided ample space for each player to solo freely.

Well thought-out arrangements added an additional touch to an evening of music further enhanced by the colorful setting of the Paschal Winery.

Rene Worst and Ed Dunsavage

Rene Worst and Ed Dunsavage

Scott’s choice of songs was superb, ranging from blues to bossa nova, from standards to songs of the sixties. And she handled each genre with interpretive authenticity.

The blues came early, starting with “Rocks In My Bed” followed much later by a closing jam showcasing Scott’s impressive scat singing.

The Brazilian material included “Sonho Meu,” a song associated with Maria Bethania, and the Jobim classic “Agua De Beber.” Add to this the gorgeous Italian song “Estate,” often sung with a bossa nova foundation. And here, too, Scott revealed yet another convincing musical perspective – with the aid of Worst and capturing the subtle flow of Brazilian rhythms.

And there was more: An impressive display of Scott’s solid jazz skills in stunning romps through Thelonious Monk’s “Play Twice” and Chick Corea’s “Armandos Rhumba.” Here, as elsewhere, her piano comping and soloing also provided full and equal improvisational partnership to the bass and guitar.

Jennifer Scott

Jennifer Scott

Add to that the stylistic authenticity of Scott’s interpretations of standards such as “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “My Foolish Heart,” as well as such ’60s items as James Taylor’s “The Secret of Life.”

Then, calling upon her enthusiastic listeners to join in, she offered an emotionally touching reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” with everyone joining in on the chorus. It was the perfect climax to a perfect musical evening. Thanks to the Siskiyou Music Project for showcasing the Jennifer Scott Trio in a performance to remember.

The Siskiyou Music Project’s 2015 season closes on August 22 with “Celebrating Sinatra: Leslie Kendall and Friends.”

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

 


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York City

July 10, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Barbara Morrison

Barbara Morrison

– July 10 and 11. (Fri. & Sat. Barbara Morrison. She’s been busy around town lately, but Barbara Morrison is always a musical pleasure to experience. Here’s another welcome opportunity to hear her up close in action. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

– July 10 and 11. Fri. & Sat. Jack Jones. Grammy winner Jones, still sounding great in his late seventies, delivers songs in the classic pop and jazz style of the ’60s. Catalina Bar and Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Macy Gray

Macy Gray

– July 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.) Macy Gray. Multiple Grammy award winner singer/songwriter Gray celebrates her latest album The Way. Yoshi’s.  (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– July 10 -12. (Fri. – 12.) Boney James. Jazz Alley. Smooth jazz acts don’t often make the Picks of the Week here at iRoM. But if we’re going to choose one, there’s none more popular in ths genre than saxophonst Boney James.  (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

Pharez Whitted

Pharez Whitted

– July 10 – 12`. 9Fri. – Sun.) Pharez Whitted Quintet. Chicago’s trumpeter Whitted doesn’t yet have the visibility his skills deserve, but he’s doing his best to keep hard bop alive. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234

New York City

– July 12 (Sun.) The Cast of Phantom Sings Andrew Lloyd Webber. The current Phantom on Broadway, James Barbour joins the hit show’s cast in a tribute to the show’s composer. Birdland.

Washington D.C.

Jean Carne

Jean Carne

 

– July 10 – 12. (Fri. – Sun.) Jean Carne. ‘The 40 Year Tour). Veteran singer Carne celebrates a career that reaches across jazz, blues, pop and beyond. Blues Alley.   337-4141.

 

 


Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band At Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 29, 2015

Norton Wright

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  It was SHOWTIME at Disney Hall on Saturday night as Gordon Goodwin’s 18-piece Big Phat Band performed like an inextinguishable stick of dynamite, exploding number after number in its featured hour-long set marking KJazz Radio’s third annual benefit concert.
The recipient of the 2015 GRAMMY Award for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble,” this band is ignited by its larger-than-life bandleader/composer/arranger /performer, Gordon Goodwin, who doubled as a voluble, high-energy Master Of Ceremonies clearly aiming to put on an entertaining show for the sold-out audience in the elegant and spacious Disney Hall. Goodwin combined his own good-humored anecdotes about his band, about the night’s “Swinging Tribute to Count Basie,” and about the star talents in his band who, in the old, big-band tradition, stride downstage to microphones to solo.

Gordon Goodwin and The Big Phat Band

When a band has the likes of Andy Martin’s trombone, Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet, Brian Scanlon’s tenor, Bernie Dressel’s drums, and Kevin Axt’s bass, the soloing is fiery and precise. Sal Lozano’s clarinet on “Rhapsody In Blue” put the audience away, and alto saxist Eric Marienthal’s solos built beautifully from the soulful and unhurried to the electrifying and urgent.

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

An array or surprises helped shape the show. Grammy Award winning guitarist icon, Lee Ritenour, dropped in halfway into the band’s performance. His opening comments, “This band is burning!” said it all.

And he said even more, playing with incredible dexterity his newest composition titled “L.P.”, a tribute to the old, guitar master, Les Paul.

Gregg Field, the producer of The Big Phat Band’s last two recent records, sat in on drums for a couple of numbers, driving the band with a hard-swinging command and reminding us that great, jazz musicianship can also make for great jazz CD producers.

Building toward his show’s finale, Goodwin had some fun. He explained that the band was going to try a “head arrangement” and that he had no idea what riffs the woodwind section, the trombone section, and the trumpet section might have in their heads and  would choose to play behind the soloists. The musicians in each section, ham actors all!, made a big show of their supposed confusion in deciding what riff each section would undertake.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon Goodwin

Needless to say, their selections were well chosen and the blues number proceeded, as one after another, each section kicked in its selected riff neatly dovetailing their selection with those of the other sections backing the soloists who in turn were having a wailing good time!

For the finale, Goodwin joked that the chemistry of musicians in a big band is rife with competition. As an example, the band’s entire trumpet section — Dan Forneo, Wayne Bergeron, Willie Murillo, and Dan Savant — came downstage to a set of microphones and battled each other in a cut session, with each appearing to want to outdo the others with furious fingering and stratospheric notes. The result was a display of dazzling improvisations that had the crowd on its feet. But when these trumpeters, understandably proud of their display of chops, turned to return to their section seats, they discovered that the entire woodwind section — Brian Scanlon, Kevin Garren, Adam Schroeder, Sal Lozano, and Eric Marienthal – were all playing flutes and piccolos in a riff clearly designed to outdo the trumpets. The trombone section — Craig Gosnel, Francisco Torres, Ryan Dragon, and Andy Martin – followed suit with their own bone licks challenging the trumpet section’s  show of force. The trumpeters in mock dismay returned to their seats, and the crowd in Disney Hall went wild!

The night had been more than the performance of a great band – it had been a genuine SHOW shaped by a first-class showman, Gordon Goodwin.

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

It should also be mentioned that the evening had opened with jazz songstress, Sara Gazarek and her trio, the always amazing pianist Geoff Keezer, fine bass soloist, Dave Robaire, and Dan Schnelle’s tastily discreet drums.

An emerging star, Gazarek radiates good-natured likeability. On this night, however, her ever-smiling rendition of her song selections could have benefited from a more varied and thoughtful approach. Her medley of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was sung jazzily and happily. But lyrics from the former: “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, Singing low, Bye bye blackbird” — and  from the latter:“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life” – suggest an interpretation with more gravitas, soul, and emotional unease than Gazarek chose to undertake.

Though Gazarek is very pretty, especially in her short-skirted dress revealing legs rivaling those of Betty Grable, such stage presence can detract from what is most important – that is, her approach to the song, her take on its lyrics, why the song is important to her. There were times on Saturday night when the ever-happy Gazarek gave the impression that she was presenting great jazz pipes and phrasing – but with little meaning.

And a final bug-a-boo for this writer. When an artist is on stage, every visual moment counts with the audience. The growing practice of singers these days to guzzle bottled water after completing a portion of a song can indeed break the mood of a piece and the audience’s emotional commitment to the singer and the song. In opera, if the diva upon completing “Un bel di” breaks out of character to gurgle a bottle of water on stage, the meaning and mood of the aria will surely be damaged.
In her performance Saturday night, Gazarek took on-stage water breaks several times to the detriment of her performance… If a singer needs water on stage, Judy Garland had a good answer: pre-position a big, water-filled wine glass on the nearby piano and use it as needed. The wine glass has a touch of class and allows the performer to drink while staying in character, perhaps even toasting her band or toasting the audience.

On stage, visual class matters.

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To read more posts by Norton Wright and view his jazz-inspired paintings, click HERE.


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