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.


Live Chamber Music: The Elias String Quartet at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall

April 6, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon.  The Elias String Quartet was the headliner Friday night at the SOU Music Recital Hall —  the  last ensemble in the Chamber Music Concerts 2014-2015 schedule of stellar string quartet performances.  And the  CMC  couldn’t have made a better choice to top off their string quartet season.

The string quartet programs were, without exception, definitive displays of classical quartet music, surveying the repertoire – and beyond – with captivating performances. And the Elias ensemble was the perfect finalist on a list of extraordinary groups that also included the Tesla, Hugo Wolf and Daedalus Quartets.

The Elias players – Sara Bitlloch and Donald Grant, violins; Martin Saving, Viola; Marie Bitlloch cello – added to the Friday program’s superlative qualities by performing works by Mozart, Beethoven and contemporary composer Henri Dutilleux.

The Elias Quartet:

The Elias Quartet: Sara Bitlloch, Donald Grant, Martin Saving, Marie Bitlloch

The program opened with Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major, KV 465. It’s the last in a group of six quartets influenced by, and in some respects competitive with, Haydn’s six Opus 33 quartet. It is a superb example of Mozart’s mastery of classical string quartet composition.

Mozart

Interestingly, the opening Adagio-Allegro drew some gasps of surprise from the audience. Their responses underscored why the title “Dissonance” was long ago bestowed upon the Quartet in C Major. But dissonance and chromaticism in the hands of Mozart are experiences to remember. And the Elias players Illuminated the experience with a blend of timbres that brought irresistible energies to Mozart’s dense harmonic textures. By the time they reached the dynamic final Allegro molto, the more light-hearted Mozart had taken over, pouring out buoyant passages seasoned with occasional traces of the opening dissonance. Here, too, the Elias players moved in a symbiotic linkage with the final Mozart musical delights.

Henri Dutilleux

Henri Dutilleux

Dutilleux’s “Ainsi La Nuit” (“Thus the Night”), a seven movement work, took a very different slant on string quartet composition. Finished in 1976, it can hardly be called an Impressionistic work. But Dutilleux has provided descriptive titles such as Miroir d’espace, Constellations and Temps suspendu for each of the piece’s seven movements. From a listener’s point of you the titles offered somewhat of a reference point. However “Ainsi La Nuit” with its reference to night music, is a more accurate narrative to describe the surprisingly evocative sounds – at times orchestral in nature — Dutilleux drew from the quartet instrumentation. And here, too, the Elias Quartet responded impressively with the far-reaching range of stringed instrument techniques called for in Dutilleux’s colorful score.

Beethoven

Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-Sharp minor. OP. 131 climaxed the program, as Beethoven works do so well. The challenges it provided for the Elias players were far different from those of the Dutilleux work. But they were compelling examples of the dramatic changes Beethoven was bringing to the classical music of the early 19th century. In the talented hands of the Elias Quartet it was no less than gripping to hear Grant, Saving and the Bitlloch sisters soar through Beethoven’s sprightly fugues, touching melodies and consistently creative development passages.

One more event remains on the Chamber Music Concerts 2014-2015 season: a vocal performance by baritone Christopheron Nomura on Friday, April 24.  Beyond that, here’s looking toward another great Chamber Music Concerts season to begin in the Fall.


Live Music: Van Halen Make It Interesting As They Rock Hollywood Blvd. For The Jimmy Kimmel Show

April 3, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Hollywood, CA  On Monday evening the buzz was in the air above Hollywood Boulevard. LA’s favorite sons, Van Halen, were shooting a live mini-concert in support of their new live album, Tokyo Dome Live In Concert . This show was in front of easily a thousand or so of their most connected/lucky fans and was to be aired live over two nights on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

Van Halen with Jimmy Kimmel: Wolfgang Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth

Van Halen with Jimmy Kimmel:
Wolfgang Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth

Within the camp of Van Halen fans, the dividing line is Van Halen with David Lee Roth or without him – meaning with Sammy Hagar, whom they hired to fill Roth’s one-of-a-kind shoes. Given the band’s gargantuan, top of the world status between about 1977 and 1985, it’s bewildering that they had never done live TV with their original lineup. But Monday they finally did it with Diamond Dave, deservedly so as his voice and antics are as much a part of the band’s legend as its sound. Monday turned out to be a classic night of band drama and the spontaneity that it can bring about.

From mid-afternoon, this gig was an exercise in patience and a testimonial to the patience, endurance, and loyalty of the true fans. I waited with a die-hard fan who had flown out, touch and go, from Baltimore about $1200 ago. To simply access the street was a matter of waiting in a series of roped-off holding-areas and waiting for the blazing sun to go down for the best lighting.

When at long last the sun went down and the band hit the stage at 7:30 everyone was pumped. Van Halen launched into “Panama” and as Roth showed us his martial arts skills with a spinning samurai mike stand…it bopped him square on his beezer less than a minute into the set. One can only imagine being a fly on the wall for the post show band meeting after this. The polarized dysfunction in the band over Roth’s antics, and Eddie’s preoccupation with the music is legendary. Hell, these guys couldn’t even make it onstage to perform together when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Knowing a retake was available, Roth apologized and left the stage to get his nose taped and ready for “Panama – Round 2.” This left three Van Halens on stage, Ed, his brother Alex on drums, and Ed’s son Wolfgang on bass … left them there alone to jam it out until their singer was ready again. These moments are often a magical time, in which a band must really be in the moment and make it happen unrehearsed. It can be the sort of thing that both good and bad legends grow from.

Though only the live audience saw it, Ed did do some tasty leads and effects with his vibrato arm and the rhythm section held it down super steady to give him room and space to work in. Save for the evening’s unplanned spontaneity, this is the Van Halen blueprint. The rhythm section really only gets fancy when Alex sees an opportunity and he doesn’t do it too often.

Early 80’s Van Halen: Michael Anthony, Edward Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen

The bass, Michael Anthony’s for years and Wolfgang’s now, is there primarily to map out the musical boundaries to feature Ed. For many/most of the band’s fans, it’s all about Ed’s guitar playing (including his noodling) and waiting to hear what he will come up with next.  With his sound and technique Ed basically knocked the rock guitar world on it’s collective ass. People had to really dig in to keep up with him. So, this minute and a half or so of free reign was great to see.

After the festivities, Monday’s gig was 8 songs and one retake long. The band put out huge energy on stage, too, if not in the same fashion as, say, 1980. The athletic jumping around that Ed used to do…gone, it’s why he had hip surgery. Roth’s patented leaping kicks…not like they used to be. Alex still sounds like a well-oiled engine, though. Wolfgang is no Michael Anthony on bass or vocally but there are filters to sing through that can diminish that reality.

Fans of Van Halen still wonder why Michael Anthony was ever canned from the band. His voice was the signature Van Halen harmonies and his bass playing was simple, solid, and by now, it’s actually iconic as an example of how to tastefully showcase a hot guitar player.

In the end, the fans got what they wanted, a glimpse of Van Halen live on Hollywood Blvd, television got what it needed, footage of VH to show the world. And, Van Halen themselves showed (some of us) a living breathing example of the dynamics of show biz

Gotta love live TV!

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein 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.

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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.

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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.  

 

 

 


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