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.


A Twist Of Doc: Jazz Appreciation Month

April 6, 2015

By Devon (Doc) Wendell

So April is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don’t know exactly what this means but I hope it will have a positive impact upon jazz and the jazz community.

Jazz has really taken a beating from the outside world; from the false representation of jazz education in last year’s award winning film Whiplash, to a report by David La Rosa of The JazzLine News in early March stating that “jazz has become the least popular genre in the U.S.”

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

This report was solely based on Nielson’s 2014 end of the year totals. Of course these statistics don’t count independent label sales and releases, which renders it an outmoded means of learning what’s truly selling and not selling for any genre of music today.

We in the jazz world are used to dealing with disrespect on a constant basis. From ridiculously untrue stereotypes portrayed by Hollywood; from the historically inaccurate Bird directed by Clint Eastwood, to Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight with its cheesy romanticized clichés that give the non-jazz educated viewer the impression that jazz is a old man in exile in Paris.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Anti-jazz propaganda is everywhere. One blogger here says John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was the “last true jazz recording”; another one there says “jazz is dead”; and on and on. Some of us might complain about Whiplash (which portrays a supposed “jazz instructor” who resorts to physical violence and humiliation in order to inspire his students to greater heights) or some disrespectful comments about Wayne Shorter. But the jazz world moves on fast.

There’s music to be made and we knew the odds were stacked up against us from the very start. But none of it will ever be as potent and as focused as the music, which keeps on growing and swinging. Sure we struggle, but that moment when everyone is playing beyond themselves and challenging one another on the bandstand or in the studio is the true reward and enough to drown out all of the bullshit.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis

Jazz is about being in the moment. A perfect moment even born out of an imperfection or two, depending on the day and the many moods of the players involved. Jazz, at its best is total honesty and clarity. No images of violence, junkies dying in Paris street alleys, or uninformed blogs can take that away from the music.

With all of that said: I truly hope that Jazz Appreciation Month will support and encourage more positive images of the music and the musicians. With or without the negativity, jazz will last forever.

To find out more about Jazz Appreciation Month click HERE, and to find out about International Jazz Day on April 30 click HERE.

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


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.

 


Live Music: Sasha’s Bloc at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc

March 25, 2015

By James DeFrances

Bel Air, CA. Last Thursday evening at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc. Sasha’s Bloc launched their new album – Heart On Fire – with a send off party in style.

Alex Gershman’s jazz super group pulled out the stoppers during the second night of festivities for their release party bash. Complete with limousines, red carpet, photographers, a custom interior set design and an all star cast, this was indeed Mr. Gershman’s Opus.

Sasha’s Bloc with guest star Jane Monheit

To commemorate the Heart on Fire album release, celebrity guest vocalists Jane Monheit, Alvin Chea, Nora Rothman and Tony Galla joined bandleader and bassist Gershman on stage and each performed a short set.

Sashas Bloc man and woman Seth

Sasha’s Bloc Guest Stars Alvin Chea and Glynis Leflore

The 8-piece small group which is Sasha’s Bloc sounded nothing short of amazing as they dazzled the capacity level VIP crowd. Songs like “Feels Like Jazz” and “Breakfast” were guest favorites, along with the sweet and melodic duet “Black and Blue.” Speaking of the songs, they are Gershman originals. And from my perspective, his writing is right up there with some of the classic songsmiths of the first part of the 20th century.

Alex Gershman

Alexander Gershman is not a jack of all trades; rather he is a master. He wears many hats and wears them all well: physician, surgeon, philanthropist, bandleader, songwriter and bassist to name a few.

My weather forecasts for the days ahead of Sasha’s Bloc look bright and sunny with no cloud cover. The band is a musical tour de force and has definitely turned the right heads. Look for Hearts of Fire,  currently available on iTunes music, and experience what I and so many others have already concluded: That Alex Gershman and Sasha’s Bloc are on a fast track to making musical history.

* * * * * * * *

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


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.


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