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.

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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.


Opera: LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 23, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  Before there was Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, before Renoir’s Rules of the Game or Sturges’s The Lady Eve, there was Mozart and Da Ponte’s The Marriage of Figaro. Through beautifully delineated characterizations, both musically and poetically, Mozart’s tender and often hilarious opera reminds us what it is to be human – to love, to rage, and to accept our weaknesses.

Though we may marvel at the machinations of the plot, which contains more confusion, deception, and disguises than an episode of I Love Lucy, like all heartfelt comedy, love and reason finally prevail: Figaro, Susanna, and Countess Almaviva foil the count’s attempted seduction of Susanna on the night of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding; the lustful Cherubino escapes punishment to love another day; and Rosina and the count reconcile.

The cast of “Marriage of Figaro”

A gifted cast, assembled for LA Opera’s revival of an earlier production, was supported by the sublime colors and textures fashioned by James Conlon and his musicians. The evening was a true symbiosis of voice and orchestra.

Though the opera’s title bespeaks Figaro as the driving force behind the chicanery, it is really the two women, Susanna and Countess Almaviva, who unite to bring about the happy conclusion they so richly deserve.

Guanqun Yu as the Countess and Pretty Yende as Susanna.

Nowhere else in the opera is the class equality that Beaumarchais advocated so apparent as in the relationship of the two women. For all Figaro’s intelligence and interference, Almaviva still remains the master – Figaro and the household tiptoeing around him at every turn. However, between Susanna and the countess Rosina there is no power struggle but rather sisterhood. They deeply understand the workings of the human heart and it is their alliance that makes all things right.

Pretty Yende as Susanna.

In her debut as Susanna, Pretty Yende, first impressing LA audiences as Micaëla in Carmen in 2013, brought a warmth and richness to her singing, which underscored the humor and intelligence of her characterization. With her agile voice, she was particularly beguiling in her Act Four aria, “Deh, vieni, non tardar.”

Guanqun Yu, as Rosina, appeared here this season as the same character in Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Affecting in both operas, she was a lustrous presence capable of soaring top notes contrasting with the darker harmonies needed to express her pain over her husband’s philandering, so keenly illustrated in her second aria “Dove sono.” And together Yende and Yu melted hearts in the Act Three letter duet.

Renee Rapier as Cherubino and Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro.

A bass baritone working primarily in Europe, Roberto Tagliavini’s warm, shaded, and expressive instrument had the power to convey all of Figaro’s dynamics from smooth patter to simmering rage. His acting, however, could use some fine-tuning in a role where one expected wily grace and a bit of swagger.

Ryan McKinny, however, never falls short in the acting department (apparent also in his portrayal of Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire seen here in 2014). He is all the arrogant, entitled count – handsome, sensual, and duplicitous – which made his comic sequences all the funnier. Nor did his singing disappoint with his pleasing, lyrical baritone.

As Cherubino, Renee Rapier was appropriately lustful, bringing a goofy, awkward, adolescent quality to the role and was affecting in her Act Two canzone, “Voi che sapete.”

Setting the piece in the 1950’s neither detracted from nor added to the opera’s enjoyment, though one felt a slight uneasiness when Almaviva donned a military uniform. Was he a member of Franco’s regime? The circle skirted dresses of Rosina and Susanna, and the highly styled, extravagant ensembles of Marcellina were certainly a nod to the fifties and in keeping with their characters. The attractive interior sets of Act One, Two, and Three, gave way to the sparse outdoor set of Act Four. The lack of a lush garden was compensated for by the colorful fireworks display both vocal and pyrotechnic at the opera’s conclusion.

Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo.

As Marcellina, who is foiled in her attempt to wed Figaro when she discovers he is none other than her lost child, Lucy Schaufer (seen here as Berta in The Barber of Seville and as Susanna in The Ghosts of Versailles) proved again that she is a marvelous comedic actress and singer of considerable power and finesse. The rest of the cast, including Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo, Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, So Young Park as Barbarina, and Philip Cokorinos as Antonio, were delightful.

With The Marriage of Figaro LA Opera, under the superb direction of Maestro Conlon, has completed its Figaro trilogy, an enlightening and warmhearted gift to Los Angeles.

The LA Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro continues through April 12.

Cast:
Figaro: Roberto Tagliavini
Susanna: Pretty Yende
Count Almaviva: Ryan McKinny
Countess Almaviva: Guanqun Yu
Cherubino: Renée Rapier
Doctor Bartolo: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marcellina: Lucy Schaufer
Don Basilio: Robert Brubaker
Don Curzio: Joel Sorensen
Barbarina: (3/21 – 4/4) So Young Park
Barbarina: (4/9 – 4/12) Vanessa Becerra
Antonio: Philip Cokorinos

Production:
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Ian Judge
Scenery Designer: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday
Costume Designer: Deirdre Clancy
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Original Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Choreographer: Chad Everett Allen

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Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of LA Opera.

To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 

 

 


Live Music: The Ghazal Ensemble at the Skirball Cultural Center

March 18, 2015

By Bonnie Perkinson

March is a festive month. In India there is Holi, a festival of color and love, good over evil. It is mentioned in the Vedas, the most sacred books of India and the earliest record of Indo-Aryan civilization. Persia gives us Nowruz, celebrating rebirth and a joyous sense of belonging, going back thousands of years to Zoroastrianism.

Both festivals mark the end of winter and the arrival of abundance and with it, the joy of Spring.

On Sunday, March 15, the Ides of March (a Roman Holiday), the place to be was the Skirball Cultural Center. What a delight to welcome Springtime with the Ghazal Ensemble.

the Ghazal Ensemble

the Ghazal Ensemble

We had the privilege of hearing a musical marriage of two majestic cultures. The exquisite interplay of Indian Raga and Persian Dastgah, with their many tonal similarities, enables them to converse naturally. In the hands of the unparalleled musicians of the Ghazal Ensemble, the music soared.

Simply put, Raga is Sanskit for the act of coloring or dyeing the  mind, mood and emotions. (A tonal framework for composition and improvisation.) Dastgah is Persian for “pattern” or “set of directions”. (A musical modal system in traditional Persian music.)

The Ghazal Ensemble included three remarkable artists:

Shujaat Husain Khan

Shujaat Husain Khan

 

 

Shujaat Husain Khan, a legendary sitar player, born in Calcutta to a family of  musicians going back seven generations.

Kayhan Kalhor

Kayhan Kalhor

 

 

 

 

 

Kayhan Kalhor, born in Teheran, an innovative master of the kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle).

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Sandeep Das

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandeep Das, an acclaimed tabla player, born in Patna, the capital of Bihar in northern India, who performed at the age of 16 with the late Pandit Ravi Shankar, rounded out the pulsating trio.

 

 

All of these gentlemen are composers and peerless on their instruments. Shujaat Khan also has a superb voice. More than once we had the pleasure of hearing him sing. He sounded magnificent and noble.

With the enormity of talent on stage from these Grammy-nominated premier musicians, the audience knew it was  going to be an excursion into human emotion from the first note.

Four ragas were performed: Ragas Darbari and Yaman, both night ragas; a south Indian raga called Kirwani; and Raga Pahadi, a most beautiful and touching raga, informed by the mountains near Shujaat Khan’s childhood home,.

Each piece was transcendent, full of longing, fulfillment and grace. One moment the music took its listeners on an exploration of deep melancholic depths, perhaps surrendering to tears for those who were brave enough. Next, fireworks of jubilation took place with seismic shifts of rhythm moving us to rapturous heights of hope.

The Ghazal Ensemble nurtured the listener with profound soulfulness, inventive improvisation, tenderness, and illuminated the triumphant power of love, as music can do, in the hands of grand and masterful inventors. A perfect way to welcome Spring.

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Photos by photo-journalist Bonnie Perkinson.


Live Jazz: Tierney Sutton at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts

March 17, 2015

By Kathy Schwarz

Brookville, New York. Tierney Sutton has frequently received accolades such as “a singer’s singer” and a “musician’s singer.” But she’s also a listener’s singer, and all three of those descriptions were on full display in her Friday night performance in the TiIles Center for the Performing Arts.

She was backed by the superb playing of guitarist Serge Merlaud, who was also with her on Tierney’s Grammy-nominated Paris Sessions album. As well as cellist Mark Summer, a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet.

And it was a remarkable combination, one that would reveal its unique qualities from the moment they walked on stage, greeted by gentle but enthusiastic audience applause.

Seated at stage center between her two musical companions, Tierney asked Serge for a key and the evening began – an hour and a half in which her listeners, with this writer included, would be mesmerized by Tierney’s exquisite vocal artistry.

Throughout the evening there was a beautiful blend of songs from Tierney’s After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Album and Paris Sessions album, as well as some jazz standards.

The show opened with a mix of “April in Paris/Free Man in Paris” from her Mitchell album. Tierney’s vocals were the third instrument on the stage. Pure and effortless, she sang to perfection. It was as if I were listening to these songs for the first time. Though I have heard Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” many, many times, Tierney’s version and arrangement were definitely her own.

The evening hit an especially memorable highlight when the trio — Serge, Tierney and Mark — played “Court and Spark.” The arrangement was brilliant and Tierney’s sultry jazz vocals gave this classic a whole new meaning for me.

One of the standards was “I Remember You,” done as a duo with Serge on guitar. Tierney’s range on the Johnny Mercer classic was unbelievable. This was the performance that really brought to light the proof that her voice is indeed a musical instrument. Her vocals are effortless and she plays her voice like an instrument, never pushing, just letting it resonate with beauty.

I feel very privileged to have experienced this performance. Being relatively unfamiliar with Tierney’s artistry, I was grateful and I truly felt my musical horizons had been widened. Her gentle and laid back way with every song made it especially enjoyable for me.

At the end of the evening she paid tribute to her fellow musicians and it was evident that there was tremendous mutual respect among the three artists.

And with good reason. Tierney Sutton is an exquisite performer with a beauty that lies deep beyond her voice, touching the soul of who she is.

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To read more reviews by Kathy Schwarz click HERE.


Live Music: Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson at the Artistic Piano Gallery

March 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Medford, Oregon. The creative interaction between a jazz vocal artist and his/her accompanist is one of the most sensitive encounters in the entire musical world. All of which was on fascinating display Friday night in the performance of singer Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson at Medford’s Artistic Piano Gallery.

The talented young artists have already had a long musical relationship. And the far-reaching, irresistible musical quality of their performance called up memories of such classic jazz singer/accompanist connections as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.

But the Gazarek/Nelson duo made it clear – as they do in all their performances – that their linkage is founded upon interactive, musically exploratory adventures.

Josh Nelson and Sara Gazarek

Start with the fact that Nelson is a superb arranger/pianist who founds his interpretive interaction upon the classical view of the piano as an orchestra in itself. Gazarek has her own arranging ideas, blending them with Nelson’s vision, adding her gripping story-telling qualities to the lyrics of every song she touches.

All of which resulted in a compelling performance within the Artistic Piano Gallery’s warm and intimate setting.

The Gazarek/Nelson program was a combination of evergreens from the Great American Songbook sprinkled with original songs by both artists. The first half of the program was enhanced by such classics as “Without A Song,” “No Moon At All,” along with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and “Single Petal Of A Rose.” Add to that the Bonnie Raitt hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Joao Gilberto’s bossa nova tribute to a duck, “O Pato” and Nelson’s “Petit Papillon.” The set was topped off by a high velocity romp through “Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring a set of bebop variations sung and played in unison by voice and piano.

The second set was shorter, but no less engaging, featuring – among its many highlights – “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and a group of songs covering various aspects of love. Among them: the original, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Where Is Love?” and “Love You Madly.”

A performance with half those songs would be impressive for most vocal artists. But in the talented hands (and voice) of Nelson and Gazarek it offered an evening of the jazz vocal art at its best.

Call it a high point in this season’s Siskiyou Music Project, which continues from April 2 through May 27 with programs reaching from jazz (Ken Peplowski) to country music (Tim & Myles Thompson) and more. Click HERE for details about the rest of the Project’s programs.


Backstage Magic Tricks at LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

March 13, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

If you like a little flash and dazzle with your Marriage of Figaro, Los Angeles Opera’s production, opening March 21, has it. After all who wouldn’t enjoy a pyrotechnical display at the end of one’s wedding festivities? And that’s exactly what Figaro and his bride Susanna have in store. Following the scheming to keep Susanna out of the clutches of Count Almaviva, following the disguises, the flirting, the jealousies, and the mistaken identities, and after the moment when everyone is restored to their rightful partners, we have Mozart’s touching conclusion followed by the onstage landscape ablaze with the light, color, and thunderous crackling of fireworks.

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Members of the press were treated to a preview on Friday morning courtesy of LA Opera’s Technical Director Jeff Kleeman and Pyrotechnician Tom Newman. According to Newman, the fireworks at the finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro are similar to those sports fans see at Dodger Stadium. At the stadium, aerials can rocket to one hundred feet. On the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion amidst the topiary and cypress trees, which dot Count Almaviva’s estate, the aerials shoot a more modest twenty-five feet. Nevertheless, it should be enough to please the roughly three thousand spectators in the audience and rouse the hearts of the forever scheming and always-exuberant Figaro and Susanna on the evening of their nuptials.

Timed to the musical finale, two dozen pyrotechnic devices are set to explode at the back of the Pavilion’s stage. With a sharp perspective created by lining the stage with dramatically receding cypresses and topiary, and with a large full moon beaming down on the Count’s villa, the fireworks erupt as if on the distant grounds of the estate. So move over Hollywood Bowl and the 1812 Overture, and make room for the sparkling sound and light show of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

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Photos By Bonnie Perkinson

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 

 


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