Live Jazz: Highlights From the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl.

June 16, 2015

By Devon Wendell

It’s hard to believe it’s that special time of year again. Yet another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. And with it, memories of drunken conga lines, the smell of cheap weed in the summer air, and a plethora of musical acts ranging from actual jazz, r&b, rock, and even gospel.

It’s already been stated many times and by many journalists that the Playboy Jazz Festival isn’t for jazz purists so let’s skip all of that and get started with my highlights of the two days.

Saturday

The Los Angeles County High School For The Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble ( Abigail Berry, Lee Anilee, Jordyn Warren, Sofie Thurston, Crisia Regalada, Keana Peery, Ezra Behem, Haley Carr, Griffin Faye, Pedro Ramirez, Wesley Tani, Henry Tull, Caleb Collins, Isaac Sims Foster, and Evan Wright on vocals, Dornell Carr, piano; Julian Gomez, bass and Alec Smith on drums. Directed by Pat Bass) kicked off Saturday’s program and they were marvelous.

The vocal harmonies that these kids produced were complex, soulful, and mature. The band’s rendition of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was one of the high points of Saturday’s program. Soloists Evan Wright, Henry Tull, and Caleb Collins scat sang with total mastery. These kids could easily be the next Manhattan Transfer.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana is one of the most unique tenor saxophonists in the jazz world today. Although you can hear hints of influences like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins in her playing, Aldana already has her own distinct voice on the tenor sax at the tender age of 25. Aldana and her solid trio (Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums) played a set of all originals such as the mellow “New Points,” the bop flavored “Bring Him Home,” and the Latin swinging “Desde La Lluvia.”

Aldana plays mostly in the upper register sounding more like an alto sax than a tenor. And she has an original sense of harmony and texture. The highlight of Aldana’s set was her original tribute to Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.” On this piece, Aldana sounded a little like Sonny Rollins’ early 60’s playing on the RCA/Victor label but for the most part she stuck to her own style with confidence and ease.

Aldana is definitely an artist to watch out for.

Try to imagine John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” being performed by a loud, gritty, gospel-rock steel guitar band from the Deep South. That is exactly what A Sacred Steel Love Supreme: The Campbell Brothers “A Love Supreme” sounded like during their performance at The Bowl on Saturday. The Campbell Brothers performed all four suites of “A Love Supreme”: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” This wasn’t your typical Coltrane tribute by any means but his message of love, unity, and spirituality are what gospel music is all about so this soulful experiment made perfect sense. And this music brought the Bowl crowd right to the heart of American “roots music.”

Chuck and Derrick Campbell’s Steel Guitars produced an eerie, hypnotic, and psychedelic effect like blues you would hear from Mississippi’s Northern Hill Country. And the rhythm section (Carlton Campbell on drums, and Daric Benettt on bass) was sublimely funky. This is something you have to see to believe. Legendary jazz composer and arranger Gerald Wilson passed away on September 18th, 2014 at the age of 96. Wilson’s son Anthony Wilson and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Anthony Wilson, conductor and guitar; Carl Saunders, Winston Byrd, Chris Gray, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpets; Les Benedict, Francisco Torres, George Bohanon, Robbie Hioki: trombones; Scott Mayo, Randall Willis: alto saxophones; Rickey Woodard, Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophones;Terry Landry, baritone: sax; Brian O’Rourke: piano; Reggie Carson: bass; Mel Lee: drums; Yvette Devereaux: violin; and Eric Otis on guitar) celebrated the master’s illustrious legacy with a fantastic set of real big band jazz.

The set included some of Wilson’s most inspirational compositions and arrangements, such as “Triple Chase” with a burning tenor sax solo by Kamasi Washington, “Blues For Nya Nya” and Wilson’s incredible arrangement of ‘Perdido.” The entire band was swinging beyond belief and the arrangements were true to Wilson’s original charts.

On “Nancy Jo,” trumpeter Winston Byrd played one of the most original trumpet solos I’ve heard in years, demonstrating true range, imagination, and originality.

Anthony Wilson not only conducted, but also played some Kenny Burrell style electric guitar on “Blues For The Count” (Wilson wrote this piece for Count Basie in 1945) and the legendary George Bohanon’s trombone solo cooked.

On “Viva Tirado,” Bobby Rodriguez played an amazingly melodic trumpet solo and Yvette Devereaux’s violin solo was reminiscent of Ray Nance’s work in Duke Ellington’s Band.
This was a warm and loving tribute to Gerald Wilson and it’s always refreshing to hear true big band jazz at the Playboy Jazz Festival or anywhere else for that matter.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Whenever Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock get together, you never can predict what they are going to do but it’s always something special. Shorter and Hancock were joined by The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble, consisting of Michael Mayo on vocals, David Otis on alto sax, Daniel Rotem on tenor sax, Ido Meshulam on trombone, Carmen Staaf on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The set began with The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble performing an ethereal arrangement of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The young players in The Monk Institute Band were phenomenal. Daniel Rotem’s tenor sax work was original and flowed with countless ideas. Vocalist Michael Mayo’s voice floated magically over the instrumentalists as they all soloed.

After this number, Shorter and Hancock joined the band for Daniel Rotem’s “Who Is It?” which showcased Rotem’s originality as a composer as well as tenor sax player. Wayne Shorter played soprano sax. His lines were sparse and perfectly placed. Hancock shared solos with the wonderful Carmen Staaf who gave Herbie a run for his money.

After a brief version of Hancock’s classic “Cantaloupe Island,” The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble exited the stage, leaving Shorter and Hancock alone. What happened next was one of those truly magical moments between two giants who have played together for over half a century.

On Hancock’s “Speaks Like A Child’” the two men had a beautiful musical conversation through their instruments. Hancock played big block chords on his synthesizer while Shorter improvised some powerful syncopated lines on the soprano sax. It was like they could read each other’s minds.

The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble returned to the stage after this number, performing Carmen Staaf’s composition “New April.” Staaf’s elegant but swinging piano chops went with the theme of the composition perfectly and Rotem, Otis, Meshulam, and Shorter all traded solos. It’s was “true democracy” to quote Shorter. Each band member was supportive of one another without any egos getting in the way.

Next, a true festival highlight. Eddie Palmieri is a true genius and master on all levels. His performance on Saturday night with his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band (Eddie Palmieri, leader, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas; Anthony Carrillo, bongo, and Carmen Molina on timbales.) was one of the great moments of the entire weekend.

Palmieri and his band were joined by some very special guests. On the funky classic “Coast To Coast,”
Palmieri and company were joined by the amazing Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Cuber’s baritone lines danced gleefully with the percussionists and with the instantly identifiable Eddie Palmieri percussive piano accompaniment.

The highlight of the set and of the Saturday program was “Samba De Sueno.” Joe Locke was the guest soloist. Locke played all of Cal Tjader’s original vibe parts (Palmieri originally recorded this piece with Tjader) and Palmieri played one of the greatest piano solos I’ve even heard him play. His one of a kind sense of space, dynamics, and syncopation on piano swung harder than life itself. Palmieri just gets better and better with age.

Alfredo De La Fe danced across the stage as he played his red violin along with Palmieri and the band. De La Fe’s virtuosic skills and showmanship had Palmieri grinning from ear to ear. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in on “VP Blues.” Harrison was on fire, playing a wonderfully original alto sax solo. Palmieri’s piano solo was totally different but equally as brilliant as on “Samba De Suneo.” This time Palmieri played softly and gently, showing what a dynamic musician he truly is. This was Latin jazz at its best.

Sunday
Sunday’s program started off with The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band (Steve Murillo, Jamir Pleitez, Ashton Sein, Ellis Thompson, Max Kim, saxophones; Anna Menotti, Harshpreet Suri, Karl Wylie, Rene Cruz, Christopher Vargas, trombones; Andrea Palacios, Nathan Serot, Mark Trejo, John Morillas, trumpets; Giancarlos Arzu, Gabe Feldman-Franden, Keelan Walters, Tyler Kysar, James Morgan, Cameron Evans, rhythm section. Under the direction of Tony White and JB Dyas.)

These kids may be young but they played some amazing original big band arrangements of John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” These weren’t just kids forced to play this music in school. You could feel their love of jazz and knowledge of big band swing. These kids surely have a bright future ahead of them.
The Jones Family Singers came all the way from Texas to perform a set of no-nonsense, gospel music that was truly one of the most electrifying sets of the festival.

On originals such as “I Am,” “Bones In The Valley” and ‘Down On Me,” lead singer Alexis Jones belted out some of the most powerful tenor vocals I’ve ever heard. The call and response between Alexis, Bishop Fred A. Jones, and the backing vocalists were mesmerizing. And they were backed by the tight yet funky rhythm section of Kenneth Freeman on bass and Mathew Hudlin on drums. You couldn’t help but shake something or get up and dance to this music. The Festival people should have put them on much later, when there were more people in the audience to take part in the joy of this music. The Jones Family singers danced across the stage in unison and urged the crowd to get up, dance, and rejoice. Those who got to the Bowl early enough did just that.

I cannot think of many musical things better in life than seeing tenor sax master Jimmy Heath play with The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. That is exactly what went down as The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (Jimmy Heath, tenor sax; Sharel Cassity, tenor sax, flute; Antonio Hart, alto sax; Mark Gross, alto sax, vocals, and flute; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Frank Greene, lead trumpet; Caludio Roditti, Freddie Hendrix, Gregory Gisbert, trumpets; Jason Jackson, lead trombone; Steve Davis, Jeff Nelson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Abelita Mateaus, piano; John Lee, director, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Roger Squitero, congas, percussion.) performed on Sunday afternoon.

The big band arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (popularized by Gillespie in 1945.) swung beautifully. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo was elegant, soulful, and inventive, as was Antonio Hart’s alto solo. On “Beboppin Too,” Mark Gross sang Gillespie’s vocal parts followed by a fine trombone solo by Jason Jackson. The highlight of the set was hearing all of the trumpeters trade solos on Gillespie’s masterpiece “Things To Come.” Claudio Roditi’s trumpet style sounded closest to Gillespie’s. Although the band added some new twists to these compositions, the arrangements were respectful to the originals and performed with love of this amazing, timeless music. I would have come to the festival just for this.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud, trumpet, vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Rickie Monie piano; Joe Lastie Jr., drums; Clint Maedgen, saxophone, vocals; Ronell Johnson, trombone; Ben Jaffe, bass sousaphone.) delivered a set of fun New Orleans jazz that delighted the Bowl crowd. The band took the Bowl straight to Bourbon Street on tunes like “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Think I Love You,” and “Rattlin Bones.” Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgen all shared the lead vocal spots. The horn lines danced around each other with joyful precision and by the time the band got to the funky “It’s Your Last Chance To Dance,” the entire bowl crowd was forming conga lines and dancing through the isles. New Orleans Jazz is about having a good time and this was one of the most delightfully fun moments of the weekend, capturing the true spirit of The Playboy Jazz Festival.

Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point Of View (Robert Glasper, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet) was an interesting tribute to the Blue Note Records sound of the early to mid ‘60s.

The band opened with Wayne Shorter’s “With Hunt” with fantastic solos by Strickland, Loueke, Glasper, and Akinmusire. Glasper’s piano solo was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s on the original recording but with a little more blues to it. Akinmusire sounded more like Woody Shaw than Freddie Hubbard, and Kendrick Scott definitely paid homage to Elvin Jones on this post-bop classic.

As fine as this performance was, it was the band originals that were harmonically most fascinating. Kendrick Scott’s “Cycle Through Reality’ and Marcus Strickland’s “The Meaning” had a modal feel with a dash of the avant-garde to them. Glasper’s piano work was stellar on both pieces. Unfortunately towards the end of the set, the band started to venture too far into overused funk/fusion clichés which distracted from the originality of the first three numbers.

Third World is a legendary reggae band. Maybe it was the contact high I was getting from all of the weed smoke around me but these guys kept sounding better and better. They performed their hits “96 Degrees,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” But the biggest surprise of their set was the bands pure reading of Andrea Boccelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye.” The band’s lead singer AJ Brown not only sang this song in operatic style but he sang it in both Italian and English. This won the band a standing ovation. Neither I nor the other audience members saw this coming. It was great to see a rock fueled reggae band with such range.

Well that’s all folks. That’s my highlights from the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. There were some spectacular moments followed by some not so inspiring ones but everyone was having a blast under the warm Southern California sun and that is the whole point of the festival. See you next year.

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

 


Live Jazz: Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter and the Robert Glasper Experiment at the Hollywood Bowl

August 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

There was a strikingly diversified array of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night – a program signifying the L.A. Phil’s desire to present America’s improvisational music in its many varied manifestations, all of them intriguing in one way or another.

Appropriately the headline act was veteran pianist/composer Herbie Hancock, who has also been the Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz since 2010. In a career reaching back to the early ’60s, Hancock has demonstrated a creative versatility reaching across a complete range of musical expressiveness.

And he did so at the Bowl on Wednesday, as well.

Backed by bassist James Genus and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Hancock offered a program of his originals – including such now-classics as “Maiden Voyage,” “Jessica” and “Speak Like a Child,” as well as “Footprints,” one of the best known works by his friend and frequent musical companion, Wayne Shorter. (Surprisingly, Shorter was a rare absentee from a Hancock performance.)

A trio program by Hancock, Genus and Colaiuta alone would have provided a memorable evening of jazz at its finest. But there was much more, in the form of a full orchestra and the arrangements (and conducting) of Vince Mendoza, whose orchestrating credits reach from Sting to Joni Mitchell.

Herbie Hancock with orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza

The results were extraordinary, with the combination of Hancock’s arching melodies and lush harmonies with Mendoza’s masterful orchestrations recalling a much earlier musical partnership: the compelling Maurice Ravel orchestrations for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with orchestrations by Maurice Ravel.

But what made this combination unique was the presence of Hancock himself at the keyboard, adding his ever-imaginative improvisations to the orchestra’s rich tapestry of sound. Swinging hard in some spots, adding gorgeous lyricism in others, verging occasionally into passages with distinctly classical touches, he brought his familiar songs vividly to life. (One couldn’t, however, resist the desire to have heard more of Hancock’s eclectic classics in this fascinating setting – classics such as “Canteloupe Isand,” “Watermelon Man” and the offbeat “Rockit.” But maybe next time.)

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

Singer Gregory Porter added a different touch to this musically diverse evening. Establishing himself as a major jazz vocal artist in a few short years, with a Grammy nomination for his first album, Water. in 2010, Porter has been gathering a dedicated audience ever since.

Not only is Porter blessed with a lush baritone voice, he also seems to have an intuitive gift for phrasing and a laid-back sense of swing. Add to that the fact that he is one of the jazz world’s few singer/songwriters. And, although most of the originals he sang were unfamiliar, some had the catchy hooks and repetitive choruses that help listeners stay in touch with a song. By the time he finished his brief set, strongly aided by the stunning alto saxophone work of Yosuke Sato, the reasons for Porter’s rapidly growing popularity had become eminently clear.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

The remaining act on the list of performers in the program was pianist Robert Glasper and the group he calls his “Experiment.” The title alone underscores Glasper’s apparent desire to remain on the cutting edge, envelope stretching areas of contemporary jazz.

Some of Glasper’s pieces harkened back to the avant-garde free improvising of the ’60s, especially when saxophonist/vocorder player Casey Benjamin was playing alto saxophone. Scouring his instrument for every sound it could make, he reached from multi-phonics to screeching high harmonics, low honks and busy fingered flurries.

Glasper also tossed in varied linkages with contemporary pop, rock and hip-hop, most of it ending up as a busy smorgasbord of sound that did little to please one’s appetite for jazz in the traditional sense. But give Glasper credit for a desire to add more to the mainstream menu.

As I noted earlier, it was an evening of jazz in many different hues. And the Philharmonic should be praised for providing a broad palette of so many musical colors.

Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter Photos by Faith Frenz.

 

 


Picks of the Week: August 4 – 10 in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow and Tokyo

August 4, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Aug. 5. (Tues.) John Pisano’s Guitar Night. The official release party for Pat Kelley‘s new CD, Overtones 4 Two Guitars. With Pisano, Kelley, Kendall Kay, drums, and John Belzaguy, bass. Viva Cantina. (818) 845-2425.

– Aug. 5 & 6. (Tues. & Wed.) The Gypsy Allstars. If you like the Gipsy Kings, you’ll be equally impressed by the Gypsy All-Stars who play a similar repertoire, energized by Gipsy Kings alumni Ced Leonardi and Mario Reyes. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

– Aug. 6. (Wed.) Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter. A classic jazz night at the Bowl. On the bill: orchestral renderings (arranged by Vince Mendoza) of selections from the Hancock songbook; and a program of song by jazz vocal star, Porter. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 7. (Thurs.) The Haden Triplets. Charlie Haden’s talented three daughters carry on the Haden tradition of family music making Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

– Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Michael McDonald and Toto. McDonald and Toto have been getting together to make music for years, dating back to the 1986 album, Farenheit.  Expect musical excitement from this compelling musical reunion.  The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857

 

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

– Aug. 7. (Thurs.) Judy Wexler. The versatile musical story-teller with a briskly swinging style performs with the sterling backing of Jeff Colella, piano, Kenny Wild, bass and Devin Kelly, Drums. The Merc at 42051 Main St. in Temecula. (866) 653-8696.

– Aug. 8. (Fri.) Kamasi Washington and the Next Step. Saxophonist Washington is rapidly establishing himself as one of the Southland’s must-hear jazz artists. Jazz at LACMA. (323) 857-6000.

– Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Gladys Knight and Kool and the Gang. Grammy-winning soul queen Knight is joined by funksters Kool and the Gang for an evening of rhythmic and vocal delights. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Jay Leonhart and Josh Nelson. Bassist Leonhart is often called “the wittiest man in jazz” for his whimsical narratives, but he’s also a world class player as well. Writing in the L.A. Times, Don Heckman described Leonhart as “the Fred Astaire of jazz.” The pairing of Leonhart with the gifted young pianist Josh Nelson should produce some irresistibly intriguing musical results. On Friday at Vitello’s;  on Saturday at Cornerstone Music Conservatory on West Pico Blvd.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan

– Aug. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) Stanley Jordan Trio. There’s no one quite like Jordan, who plays guitar with a tapping technique that allows him to create textures, sounds and harmonic clusters rarely heard on the instrument. Add to that his inventive gifts as a jazz improviser. Don’t miss this chance to hear this remarkable artist in action. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Susie Hansen Latin Jazz Band. Violinist Susie Hansen may be a blonde mid-Westerner, but she’s been leading authentically exciting Latin jazz bands for more than two decades. since the early ’90s. As Don Heckman noted in the L.A. Times, “Susie creates a brand of music that is as physically moving as it is intellectually stimulating.” Knott’s Berry Farm. 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park.  (714) 220-5200.

– Aug. 9. (Sat.) The Tom Peterson Quartet. Saxophonist and woodwind artist Peterson is a first call player, with good reasons. Here’s a chance to hear him in the spotlight with a stellar rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Seattle

Fourplay

– Aug. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.) Fourplay. Bob James, Chuck Loeb, Nathan East, Harvey Mason. They’ve got a reputation for funk and contemporary styles, but this veteran band of superb, veteran jazz artists bring everything they have to whatever genre-of-the-moment they’re playing. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

– August 7. (Thurs.) Charles McPherson. Well-known for his long run with the Charles Mingus band of the ’60s, alto saxophonist/flutist McPherson is also a convincing practitioner of classic bebop. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

– Aug. 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)Django Reinhardt NY Festival “15th Anniversary Celebration.” It’s one of the great annual jazz celebrations, recalling the glories of the great Django Reinhardt with some of his finest musical descendants. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Michel_Legrand

Michel_Legrand

– Aug. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Michel Legrand Trio. Pianist/composer/songwriter does it all – writing songs (often with the Bergmans), scoring films, performing with his jazz trio – and he does it with stunning brilliance. He isn’t heard often in clubs, so don’t overlook this rare opportunity to hear him. Ronnie Scott’s  +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Berlin

– Aug. 6 & 7. (Wed. & Thurs.) Roy Hargrove Quintet. Trumpeter Hargrove and his band were in Paris last week. Keeping his numerous European fans happy, Hargrove appears this week in Berlin. A-Trane Jazz. +49 30 3132550.

Stockholm

– Aug. 9. (Sat.) Sonny Fortune Quintet. “In the Spirit of Miles.” Alto saxophonist/woodwind player Fortune, a veteran of Miles Davis’ group of the mid-’70s – brings striking authenticity to his Davis musical celebration. Fasching Jazz Nightclub.  08-20 00 66.

Moscow

– Aug. 5. (Tues.) Alexander Vinitsky. Russian guitarist Vinitsky may not be well-known (yet) in the U.S., but he’s a gifted player who deserves wider international exposure. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 792-21-09.

Tokyo

– Aug. 9 & 10. (Sat. & Sun.) Akiko Yano Trio. Eclectic artist Yano moves comfortably from piano playing to composition to singing and songwriting. This time out, she’s in a trio setting with bassist Will Lee and drummer Chris Parker. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Gloria Estefan and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in an “America & Americans” Concert at the Hollywood Bowl

July 28, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Many music purists and snobs might balk at the mere mention of Gloria Estefan and dismiss her as being just another celebrity pop-star.  But Estefan proved to be a stellar musician with the chops, versatility, and stage presence of a great jazz singer at The Hollywood Bowl Saturday evening.

Estefan performed two sets consisting of her greatest hits and material from her 2013 Grammy nominated album The Standards featuring her own soulful twists on some of the most familiar standards from the American songbook.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Backed by a focused and subtle band featuring some of the greatest session musicians ( Shelton Berg: piano and musical director, Dean Parks: guitar, Carlos Puerto: bass, Ray Brinker: drums, Edwin Bonilla: percussion, Cynthia Medina and Socrates Perez on backing vocals and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (Conducted by Thomas Wilkins). Estefan kicked off the festivities with “Good Morning Heartache,'” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Jobim’s “Yo Se Te Voy A Amar.”  Instead of dancing across the stage as she did over 30 years ago, Estefan stood poised, elegantly gripping the microphone like a true jazz crooner. Her voice has deepened with age in all the best ways. Her thick vibrato and dynamic phrasing fit these standards perfectly.  The choice of material never sounded forced for one moment.

Actor Andy Garcia made a guest appearance, playing congas on a very sexy salsa reading of Gershwin’s “You Made Me Love You.” This was a highlight of the evening. Estefan’s smoky yet playful vocals jelled beautifully with the pure Latin jazz horn hooks and percussion delivered by Estefan’s band and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Another program highlight was Estefan’s rendition of Fredrick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” dedicated to Estefan’s hubby of 36 years, Emillio. The band played at the level of a whisper. Berg’s stark and minimalistic piano accompaniment complimented every carefully delivered phrase and nuance by Estefan.

Estefan also played more mature,, jazzier versions of her biggest hits such as “Here We Are,” a slow, jazz-tinged arrangement of “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” giving the show a sense of continuity and focus.

On “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” Estefan was joined by The Youth Orchestra Of Los Angeles. These kids really knew how to swing hard, adding more excitement to the program.

Another guest was Estefan’s teenage daughter Emily, who played acoustic guitar and sang Neil Sedaka’s “Where The Boys Are” with her mom singing background vocals on this doo-wop ballad. Emily sounded a lot like her mother when she was starting out in the late ’70s with the Miami Sound Machine.

After a brief intermission, Estefan presented her second set which was more subdued, aside from her classic pop anthems “Bad Boy” and “1-2-3,” although her classic ballads “I Can’t Stay Away From You,” “Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “Anything For You” had a sad and haunting feel to them. The lyrics felt more sincere than when they first hit the charts almost a quarter of a century ago.

Estefan’s renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Smile” and “What A Wonderful World” had a beautiful darkness to them, especially Shelton Berg’s arrangement of the Louis Armstrong classic. Estefan has one of the most powerful and rich vocal vibratos I’ve ever heard and I hadn’t heard so vividly until this evening’s performance.

As haunting as the material felt at times, Estefan’s warm and humorous stage presence created a nice balance in the show’s overall mood.

The most interesting experiment of the entire evening was a sexy, R&B fueled take on George Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Dean Parks’ rhythm guitar comping played sweetly along with the steady bass line played by Carlos Puerto. Estefan’s vocal delivery proved that she not only has a strong understanding of the complex chord changes but also a deep felt knowledge of the mature lyrical content which separates a good singer from a great one.

Estefan ended the show with the disco anthem “Turn The Beat Around” accompanied by an incredible fireworks display that was synchronized with the music. All in attendance were having a blast, especially the “Glo-Heads,”Estefan’s most loyal fans who took up a third of the upper portion on the Bowl, sporting purple glow sticks.

As an encore, Estefan performed a heartfelt, bluesy reading of the Carol Leigh standard “Young At Heart” to cool things down. The strings, harp, and brass of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra sounded perfect behind Estefan, creating a dream like ambiance.

Gloria Estefan performed one of the finest concerts I’ve witnessed in a long time, destroying all notions I had of her just being a pop singer. Estefan can do it all and her mature, sultry performance was the perfect fit for a summer concert at The Hollywood Bowl.

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


Picks of the Week: July 21 – 27 In Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another warm Summer week, with many international jazz clubs shuttered in their annual July -August hiatus. But there’s still some fine music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

– July 22. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah, showcase their irresistibly eclectic playing in one of their rare L.A. Appearances. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 22 & 24. (Tues. & Thurs.) Dudamel & Beethoven. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the kinetic conducting of Gustavo Dudmel illuminates a July evening with an all-Beethoven’s program featuring the classic Symphony No. 5 and the fascinating Triple Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

– July 24. (Thurs,) Robert Davi. “Davi Sings Sinatra.” Actor/singer Davi’s association with Frank Sinatra dates back to the 1977 film Contract on Cherry St. Since then he has become the most musically convincing of the Sinatra-styled singers, applying his own creative imagination to the “Blue Eyes” style. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 24. (Thurs.) Noura Mint Seymali. The compelling voice of Mauritanian singer is featured in the opening event in the Skirball Cultural Center’s 18th Free Sunset Concert Series. The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

– July 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.) The Ron Carter Trio. Ron Carter may well be the most recorded bassist in jazz history. But he’s also a fine composer and the leader of his own impressive trios. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

– July 25 – 26. (Fri. & Sat.) America & Americans Festival: Gloria Estefan. The L.A. Phil’s celebration of the music of North and South America continues with an appearance by Grammy-nominated vocalist Setefan with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

– Juy 26 (Sat.) Elliott Deutsch Big Band. Trumpeter/arranger/composer Deutsch leads his briskly swinging ensemble with the skills that have made him the arranger of choice for the likes of Cheryle Bentyne, Bill Watrous and others. Vitello’s.  (213) 620-0908.

– July 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. A spectacular assemblage of world class jazz in L.A.’s most memorable jazz setting. Featured artists include Kamasi Washington and Next Step, Patrice Rushen & Ndugu Chancler, Mongorama, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Michael Session, Ernie Andrews, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and more. Admission is free. The Central Ave. Jazz Festival.

– July 27. (Sun.) Peggy King and Corky Hale. She may be best known as “pretty, perky Peggy King” on the ’50s George Gobel television show. But in her later career, King’s matured into an impressive vocal artist. She performs with the superb accompaniment of pianist Corky Hale, who has been at the keyboard (or the harp) with everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

– July 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) Tierney Sutton. “Songs of Joni Mitchell.” A gifted vocalist with an emotionally rich style of her own, Sutton is one of the rare singers to have the musicality and the interpretive skills to handle the complex Mitchell catalof of songs. Click HERE to read an earlier iRoM review of Sutton singing Mitchell. An SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab. (866) 920-5299.

New York City

– July 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) John Pizzarelli and the Swing Seven. Singer/guitarist Pizzarelli is in his most appealing medium when he’s digging into the pleasures of Swing, backed by an equally swinging bunch of players – as he is here. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker

– July 22 – 24. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Brecker Bros. Reunion Band. Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Michael Brecker were one of the gifted brother acts in modern jazz. Since the death of Michael in 2007, Randy has kept the memories of the Brecker Bros. Band alive and well. He’s joined by his wife, Ada Rovatti, in the band’s saxophone chair. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

– July 24. (Thurs.) The Mike Stern & Bill Evans Band. Expect some blues grooves and fusion fireworks when Stern and Evans get together with drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Tom Kennedy. New Morning Paris.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

– July 25 – 27. (Fri. – Sun.) Jose James. In his own unique way, vocalist James is searching for, and often finding, a blend between jazz, soul and hip-hop. Will it please the fans of each genre? Check him out and see. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Live Music: Eliane Elias, Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, and Boz Scaggs at the Hollywood Bowl.

July 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

lt usually takes a while before a performer can generate enough dynamic energy to begin to steal the show. But at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night, the opening act – Brazilian pianist/singer Eliane Elias – claimed a large chunk of the evening’s creative territory before her relatively brief half hour set was concluded.

That’s not to minimize the effectiveness of the other major musical acts on the bill: the duo of guitarist Lee Ritenour and keyboardist/composer Dave Grusin (and their band); and veteran rock star Boz Scaggs.

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

And we’ll get to them. But let’s get back to Eliane.

I first heard her three decades ago at Catalina Bar & Grill. Barely into her twenties, she was not a singing performer at the time. Her emphasis was on her jazz piano work, which was extraordinary. I can still recall a stunning, piano solo rendering of “Body and Soul” that breathed remarkable new creative life into an often overdone standard.

In the intervening years, Eliane added vocals to her arsenal of musical skills, as well as a warmly engaging performance style that invited her listeners into the intimacy of her playing.

As she did at the Bowl on Wednesday.

Backed by the sterling rhythm of guitarist Graham Dechter, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata, Eliane cruised with masterful ease from the classic bossa nova at her roots to the jazz that has become an equally vital element in her musical artistry. Her singing on Brazilian classics such as “Chega de Saudade” was balanced perfectly by her interpretations of standards from the American songbook – notably “And I Thought About You” from her memorable album tribute to Chet Baker.

And her piano work, driven by irresistible musical spontaneity, charged the enthusiastic audience with excitement, building to a climactic sequence of robust exchanges with drummer Barata.

As I noted above, everything Eliane did, from beginning to end was enough to establish her set as the most singular event, the centerpiece of a high intensity musical evening.

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Ritenour and Grusin sustained much of Eliane’s jazz excitement when they dug into their set, a rapid fire sequence of works. Backed by the potent rhythm section of bassist Abraham Laboriel and drummer Chris Coleman, the two leaders focused most of the music on the fusion, funk and smooth jazz that has enlivened much of Ritenour’s busy career. And let’s not overlook the melodic appeal of Grusin’s compositions, as well as the spontaneous arrangements that he brought to many of the tunes via his line up of electronic keyboards.

Add to that the always entertaining presence of bassist Laboriel, who danced, hummed and snapped his electric instrument with non-stop verve, enhancing virtually every tune with injections of his unique, high velocity style.

The Ritenour/Grusin set finished with a surprising climax – a rendering of “Happy Birthday” to acknowledgment of Grusin’s recent 80th birthday, which took place on June 26. Appropriately, Grusin was the principal soloist in the performance, offering a delightfully imaginative set of variations to underscore his own birthday celebration.

Boz Scaggs

The final set of the evening featured the veteran rocker, guitarist and singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs. Although he, too, celebrated a birthday in June (his 70th), there was no repeat offering of “Happy Birthday.”

Scaggs instead laid down a familiar line up of hits from the ’70s and ’80s, some written by Scaggs, some by others, among them: “What Can I Say?” “Miss Sun,” “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle.”

The most appealing part of the set reached beyond the tunes, into Scaggs’ sheer pleasure in what he was doing. Playing impressive rock guitar from time to time, he and his band recalled the sheer foot-tapping, body-moving pleasures of ’70s and ’80s rock. And the high point arrived at the close in a joyously spirited duet between Scaggs and his back up singer, Conesha Owens.

Vastly different from what Eliane Elias had offered, Scaggs nonetheless clearly delighted the many who had come to the Bowl to hear him recall the music of their youth.

And for those whose view of jazz is illuminated by funk, fusion and smooth jazz, Ritenour and Grusin also provided plenty of musical highlights.

Finally, recalling the program’s extraordinary opening set, with its authentic blending of jazz and Brazilian music, the only element missing from this eclectic musical evening was an additional half hour of music from Eliane Elias and her players. Maybe next time.

 


Picks of the Week: July 15 – July 20. (Tues. – Sun.) in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London and Paris.

July 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

– July 16. (Wed.) Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, Boz Scaggs, Eliane Elias. It’s a line-up filled with masters of far-reaching jazz genres (and beyond). Expect an evening of jazz for every taste. Look for an iRoM review later this week. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. .

– July 16. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. She still hasn’t been recognized for her rapidly growing skills as a new jazz vocal star. See Saputo now and join her growing cadre of fans. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– July 16. (Wed.) The Ron Eschete Trio. Veteran guitarist Eschete displays his impressive mastery of the seven-string instrument. Don’t miss him in action. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

Tatiana Parra

Tatiana Parra

– July 17. (Thurs.) Tatiana Parra with the Vardan Ovsepian Trio. Her name may not yet be as familiar to American audiences as it should be. But Parra is a remarkable talent, fully capable of blending the best qualities of jazz and Brazilian music. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent album by Tatiana. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 17. (Thurs.) Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson. Singer Gazarak and pianist Nelson have become an impressive musical team, interacting with intuitive creativity. The Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

– July 18. (Fri.) Pat Senatore Trio. Bassist Senatore’s remarkable versatility is on display almost every night at Vibrato with a variety of artists. This time out he leads his own masterful trio, with Josh Nelson, piano, and Mark Ferber, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 18. (Fri.) Nutty. You may not have heard of Nutty, but you’ll never forget them after you experience their enhancement of classic rock tunes with swinging jazz settings. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

– July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Dreamworks Animation in Concert. Actor Jack Black hosts an evening celebrating 20 Years of Dreamworks animation shows. Thomas Wilkins conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/calendar.

– July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Denise Morgan. Completely at ease with gospel, classical, jazz and beyond, Morgan is an impressively eclectic vocal artist. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

– July 20. (Sun.) Carol Welsman. Singer/pianist Welsman offers her first Sunday Vespers appearance with her trio — bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dave Tull.  Welsman’s richly interpretive vocals and briskly swinging piano work are a pleasure to hear under any circumstances.  And this performance offers, as she says “a unique experience of jazz and spiritual reflection.”  All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, CA. (626) 583-2725. (Admission is free.)

– July 20. (Sun.) Midnight Caravan. Actress/singer Linda Purl celebrates ‘The Great Ladies of the Glamorous Nightclub Era. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Benny Green

Benny Green

– July 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has sustained, in stellar creative manner, the Oscar Peterson jazz piano legacy. An SFJAZZ event in Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York City

– July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Julian Lage Trio. A prodigy as a young guitarist, Lage has matured into an impressive new jazz star. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232,

London

Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade

– July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Leny Andrade. She’s arguably Brazil’s most convincing jazz-based vocal artist. Don’t miss this chance to hear her live. Ronnie Scott’s.  +14(0)20 7439 00747.

– July 19. (Sat.). (Fri. & Sat.) Take 6. There’s no vocal group quite like Take 6, with its blend of irresistible rhythms, lush harmonies and far- ranging vocal imagination. Ronnie Scott’s. +14 (0) 20 7439 00747.

Paris

– July 16. (Tues.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet. Trumpeter Akinmusire has been embraced, with good reason, as one of the new jazz stars of his generation. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41
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