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.

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First photo by Faith Frenz.

Second photo by Lenny Gonzalez, courtesy of Real Vocal String Quartet.


The Herb Alpert 2015 Award in the Arts

May 1, 2015

 By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

 

Herb Alpert’s at it again, encouraging young talent to display their skills by acknowledging their abilities with supportive rewards.

Today, in a lunch at the Herb Alpert Foundation in Santa Monica, the 21st annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts was presented to five exceptional mid-career artists.

The awards recognize past performance and future promise to artists working in Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts; an outstanding candidate in each genre receives a prize of $75,000.

Herb Alpert with winners Maria Hassabi, Taylor Mac, Sharon Lockhart and Julia Wolfe

“It’s exciting,” said Alpert, “to be able to support these five unique artists who are always on the hunt for something they don’t yet know, something real that touches us in a deep place. Whether they are writing a concerto, making a film, an installation, a ruckus or a dance, they always look for something special and original to say. These are artists with the passion, talent and the restlessness that never makes them stop. They HAVE TO make art not just for themselves… but for all of US.”

The five 2015 winners, with the Alpert panel’s explanations for granting the awards,  are:

DANCE:
Maria Hassabi, for changing the nature of spectatorship, for challenging conventional ideas about performance, for stripping away busyness and the ornamentation of dancing to allow for rare contemplative experience.

FILM/VIDEO:
Sharon Lockhart, for her films which combine structural rigor, formal exactitude, exquisite beauty, intimate attention, commitment to a cinema of duration, and a sympathetic ethnographic eye in a post–minimalist aesthetic entirely her own.

MUSIC:
Julia Wolfe, for her fresh, uncompromising artistry, her vibrant, direct, and emotionally powerful works generous and bold in spirit and her engagement with socially conscious issues, a tradition that is passionately and unapologetically American to the core.

THEATRE:
Taylor Mac, for his fierce, disarming, beautiful, transgressive, emotionally vulnerable work; for social critique disguised as glitter, ambitious scope, and for effervescently rearranging audiences perceptions while creating a great time.

VISUAL ARTS:
Tania Bruguera, for the complexity, longevity, and urgency of her work, for her strong formal clarity and ongoing contribution to international conversations on freedom of speech and illegal immigration. The panel honors her for her commitment to resisting market pressures in order to seek an ethics of what art can do, and recognize the innovative ways she has reinvented the language of activism within contemporary culture.

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Herb Alpert photo by Faith Frenz.  Group photo by Steve Gunther.


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.


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.

 


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