Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band At Walt Disney Concert Hall

June 29, 2015

Norton Wright

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  It was SHOWTIME at Disney Hall on Saturday night as Gordon Goodwin’s 18-piece Big Phat Band performed like an inextinguishable stick of dynamite, exploding number after number in its featured hour-long set marking KJazz Radio’s third annual benefit concert.
The recipient of the 2015 GRAMMY Award for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble,” this band is ignited by its larger-than-life bandleader/composer/arranger /performer, Gordon Goodwin, who doubled as a voluble, high-energy Master Of Ceremonies clearly aiming to put on an entertaining show for the sold-out audience in the elegant and spacious Disney Hall. Goodwin combined his own good-humored anecdotes about his band, about the night’s “Swinging Tribute to Count Basie,” and about the star talents in his band who, in the old, big-band tradition, stride downstage to microphones to solo.

Gordon Goodwin and The Big Phat Band

When a band has the likes of Andy Martin’s trombone, Wayne Bergeron’s trumpet, Brian Scanlon’s tenor, Bernie Dressel’s drums, and Kevin Axt’s bass, the soloing is fiery and precise. Sal Lozano’s clarinet on “Rhapsody In Blue” put the audience away, and alto saxist Eric Marienthal’s solos built beautifully from the soulful and unhurried to the electrifying and urgent.

Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour

An array or surprises helped shape the show. Grammy Award winning guitarist icon, Lee Ritenour, dropped in halfway into the band’s performance. His opening comments, “This band is burning!” said it all.

And he said even more, playing with incredible dexterity his newest composition titled “L.P.”, a tribute to the old, guitar master, Les Paul.

Gregg Field, the producer of The Big Phat Band’s last two recent records, sat in on drums for a couple of numbers, driving the band with a hard-swinging command and reminding us that great, jazz musicianship can also make for great jazz CD producers.

Building toward his show’s finale, Goodwin had some fun. He explained that the band was going to try a “head arrangement” and that he had no idea what riffs the woodwind section, the trombone section, and the trumpet section might have in their heads and  would choose to play behind the soloists. The musicians in each section, ham actors all!, made a big show of their supposed confusion in deciding what riff each section would undertake.

Gordon Goodwin

Gordon Goodwin

Needless to say, their selections were well chosen and the blues number proceeded, as one after another, each section kicked in its selected riff neatly dovetailing their selection with those of the other sections backing the soloists who in turn were having a wailing good time!

For the finale, Goodwin joked that the chemistry of musicians in a big band is rife with competition. As an example, the band’s entire trumpet section — Dan Forneo, Wayne Bergeron, Willie Murillo, and Dan Savant — came downstage to a set of microphones and battled each other in a cut session, with each appearing to want to outdo the others with furious fingering and stratospheric notes. The result was a display of dazzling improvisations that had the crowd on its feet. But when these trumpeters, understandably proud of their display of chops, turned to return to their section seats, they discovered that the entire woodwind section — Brian Scanlon, Kevin Garren, Adam Schroeder, Sal Lozano, and Eric Marienthal – were all playing flutes and piccolos in a riff clearly designed to outdo the trumpets. The trombone section — Craig Gosnel, Francisco Torres, Ryan Dragon, and Andy Martin – followed suit with their own bone licks challenging the trumpet section’s  show of force. The trumpeters in mock dismay returned to their seats, and the crowd in Disney Hall went wild!

The night had been more than the performance of a great band – it had been a genuine SHOW shaped by a first-class showman, Gordon Goodwin.

Sara Gazarek

Sara Gazarek

It should also be mentioned that the evening had opened with jazz songstress, Sara Gazarek and her trio, the always amazing pianist Geoff Keezer, fine bass soloist, Dave Robaire, and Dan Schnelle’s tastily discreet drums.

An emerging star, Gazarek radiates good-natured likeability. On this night, however, her ever-smiling rendition of her song selections could have benefited from a more varied and thoughtful approach. Her medley of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was sung jazzily and happily. But lyrics from the former: “Pack up all my care and woe, Here I go, Singing low, Bye bye blackbird” — and  from the latter:“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life” – suggest an interpretation with more gravitas, soul, and emotional unease than Gazarek chose to undertake.

Though Gazarek is very pretty, especially in her short-skirted dress revealing legs rivaling those of Betty Grable, such stage presence can detract from what is most important – that is, her approach to the song, her take on its lyrics, why the song is important to her. There were times on Saturday night when the ever-happy Gazarek gave the impression that she was presenting great jazz pipes and phrasing – but with little meaning.

And a final bug-a-boo for this writer. When an artist is on stage, every visual moment counts with the audience. The growing practice of singers these days to guzzle bottled water after completing a portion of a song can indeed break the mood of a piece and the audience’s emotional commitment to the singer and the song. In opera, if the diva upon completing “Un bel di” breaks out of character to gurgle a bottle of water on stage, the meaning and mood of the aria will surely be damaged.
In her performance Saturday night, Gazarek took on-stage water breaks several times to the detriment of her performance… If a singer needs water on stage, Judy Garland had a good answer: pre-position a big, water-filled wine glass on the nearby piano and use it as needed. The wine glass has a touch of class and allows the performer to drink while staying in character, perhaps even toasting her band or toasting the audience.

On stage, visual class matters.

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To read more posts by Norton Wright and view his jazz-inspired paintings, click HERE.


Ballet: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg Performs “Rodin” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

June 16, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Famous artists in torment are a subject of fascination in the popular imagination. Make it two tormented artists in a romantic relationship and the appeal doubles. Biographies, films, and even novelizations of the lives of, for example: Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, or Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre abound.

In this vein, Boris Eifman, the Russian choreographer known internationally for his heavily plotted, narrative ballets explores the intense relationship of the sculptor Auguste Rodin with the artist Camille Claudel. It is a subject ripe for the Eifman technique, which interweaves classical ballet movement, modern dance, and in the choreographer’s words, “ecstatic impulses” all at the service of psychological dance theatre.

In Rodin, we travel back and forth in time, largely between the mental asylum where Camille was incarcerated and Rodin’s workshop. Architecturally, the set by Zinovy Margolin is a marvel of lines and planes reminiscent of Russian Constructivist theatre sets of the early twentieth century. The angles, multi-levels, and platforms provide the backdrop for the workshop, the asylum, and various other locations such as the dance hall of Act Two.

Set to a selection of late nineteenth, early twentieth century French music by Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Debussy, and Satie, which is woven seamlessly throughout, the ballet has many moments of breathtaking beauty, imaginative choreography, and penetrating insight, all superbly danced by Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin, Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille, and Yulia Manjeles as Rodin’s lifelong companion, Rose Beuret.

Like the clay with which Rodin and Camille sculpt their forms, the choreography in Act One is tied to the earth, reminiscent of Martha Graham’s elemental movements. Echoes of Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography also haunt the piece, and awareness of his declining mental state adds another layer of meaning.

Art and sensuality seem inextricably mixed, particularly in the sensuality of the clay as depicted in Rodin’s “modeling” of form. In a mesmerizing scene, Rodin stands before a group of semi-nude male figures crouching on a rotating circular table. As Rodin pushes, twists, and strokes these figures, he seems to draw form out of this mass of bodies. Slowly a limb extends or a knee juts out, until the figures stand erect, becoming Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The magic is achieved by Eifman’s choreography, Gabyshev’s raw physical power, and the sculptural lighting of Gleb Filshtinsky.

Notable in Act One is a dance for the asylum inmates, women dressed in cream colored nightdresses and lace sleeping caps, who dance holding pillows, which in turn become babies cradled in their arms, toys they play with, or a repository for their tears. At some moments one thinks of the spectral Willis of Giselle, the victims of their sweethearts’ indifference, at another, the children at play in The Nutcracker, rocking their dolls or frolicking about the Stahlbaum house. Both instances help in heightening dramatic tension.

In a dream sequence, which serves as a counterpoint to the earthier and more tortured dancing of Act One, couples dressed in silky charcoal grays, beautifully conceived by costume designer Olga Shaishmelashvili, dance with classical elegance to Saint-Saëns Dance Macabre. More confused however is the dance of the workshop assistants at the beginning of the act, which looks like a nod to the cowboys of Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo or the sailors of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free – cute and lively, but a bit out of place in a French sculptor’s workshop.

All in all, Act One is a gem of dance drama. Even the tortured, angst driven dancing manages to stay just on the right side of romantic sentimentality. Gabyshev’s Rodin as consumed artist and sexual predator has an iconic reality to it. Andreyeva’s Camille as Rodin’s ambitious, sensual, yet unstable student and fellow artist is a passionate performance. And Manjeles is majestic as the long-suffering Rose.

Act Two begins with another striking effect: Rodin creating the Gates of Hell. On metal scaffolding representing an immense doorway, dancers configure into positions reflecting Rodin’s famed relief sculpture.

Unfortunately, problems arise as Act Two progresses when the proverbial kitchen sink syndrome derails the ballet. What had been a precisely structured examination into the life of art, tackling issues of creativity, recognition, fame, love, and madness turns into a pastiche of nineteenth century dance references and an unnecessary heightening of the angst ridden choreography. A harvest wine dance à la Giselle, with girls in brightly clad peasant dresses, grows out of nowhere (justified by Rodin’s dreaming of his first meeting with Rose), followed a bit later by a Parisian dance hall cancan scene when Camille leaves Rodin for the bright lights of the big city. Both are crowd-pleasers, no doubt, but Eifman’s showmanship here gets in the way of his artistry. Further compromising Act Two is the overstated tension within the love triangle of Rodin, Camille, and Rose. The tortured dancing grows repetitive and dilutes the undeniable power of the first act.

Where Eifman succeeds in Act Two is in turning the hammering of stone, done first by Camille, and then in the ballet’s final scene by Rodin, into blazing dance movement. His back towards us and bare chested, Gabyshev works away at the stone, his body torqueing side to side; and we are left with the image of the artist as Hephaestus forging life out of the furnace of human will and desire.

Photos by Gene Schiavone courtesy of Eifman Ballet.

Dancers:

Rodin: Oleg Gabyshev
Camille: Lyubov Andreyeva
Rose Beuret: Yulia Manjeles

Production:

Choreography: Boris Eifman

Music: Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Sets: Zinovy Margolin
Costumes: Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky, Boris Eifman

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

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

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

 


Live Music: The Doobie Brothers and Don Felder at the Greek Theatre

June 10, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

At the Greek Theater Saturday night, the Doobie Brothers and Don Felder brought the instant name recognition that two set lists-worth of big FM hits from the 70’s will fetch, and put them on display for a large, enthusiastic audience at the Greek Theater. The hits rolled pretty much all night long.

The Doobie Brothers were/are a classic case of what it used to take to make it in the music business. It took considerable instrumental chops, still more songwriting ability, and a knack for adapting to and even influencing popular tastes as you went. The tunes had to remain fresh enough to keep people listening. The Doobies’ first smash hit was “Listen to the Music,” in 1973, which featured a funky inverted guitar riff with a soaring sing along chorus. It, like all the tunes this evening, was given a straight run through the changes, which allowed for the same tasteful breaks as the original recordings.

Throughout the mid-70’s the Doobies worked the guitar band angle beautifully. At the time, a Doobie Brothers album would showcase the possibilities of tastefully arranged electric rock and soul songs mixed with original acoustic tunes rooted in open tuning blues, bluegrass, folk and traditional jazz. Then as now, guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnson offered the whole package, as both were strong rhythm and lead players, sounded compelling when harmonizing their vocals, and both were prolific in writing personally stylized signature songs.

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers

 

On Saturday, along with soul songs and funky shuffles like “Eyes of Silver,” and “Long Train Runnin’” we got crunching rock like “China Grove,” and the encore of “Road Angel.” Road Angel featured rockin’ boogie changes and harmony guitar lines – a classic, crowd pleasing mid-70’s guitar styled approach to the arrangement. But, the most interesting portions of the set list had to be the inclusion of the acoustic/folky “Fresh As the Driven Snow,” and “South City Midnight Lady.”

These songs were not FM hits but they were on 1973’s The Captain and Me, a mega million selling album in its time, which is why everyone recognized them as an unexpected gift. The former has a great build towards the end, which gathers speed and power as it moves seamlessly from folk to rock. The DB’s played it so well, right down to John McPhee’s pedal steel guitar, that it took us all decades back in time for a moment or two.

As the 70’s progressed and wound down, popular tastes evolved towards R & B and the Doobies, always well-connected musically, worked the musical turnstile that was Steely Dan in those days. They recruited both ace guitarist Jeff Baxter and singer Michael McDonald into their fold to take them in this direction. McDonald was a white soul singer with a very unique voice and they rode his sound to some huge hits. As Baxter and McDonald were not part of the lineup Saturday, the band only played one of these songs, “Taking It To The Streets,” (of course, they had to) but without McDonald’s vocal it did sound a bit hollow.

Personally, I had hoped the set list would go in the direction of the B-side cuts on albums like The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. I’m glad they went this way. It was a most welcome surprise to hear that material live.

Preceding the Doobies Saturday was none other than Don Felder, ex-Eagle and one polished performer, if there ever was one.

Don Felder

He may be well into his 60’s but he could pass for mid 40’s. Great hair, great teeth and still has his chops down. His band took the obligatory string of Eagles hits and a couple of solo hits like “Heavy Metal,” and with some top notch harmony singing, they basically reproduced each of these uber-familiar FM staples nuance for nuance. From “Victim of Love” to “Tequila /Sunrise,” to “Witchy Woman,” to “Hotel California,” every detail was accounted for. The band even used two talk boxes simultaneously at one point. But it sounded dead on…which is the point of playing those tunes live.

Saturday evening was a satisfying night for us 50-somethings to relive happenings 40 years ago. Music will do that for a person better than anything else. And, as long as the bands that defined rock radio in the 70’s can show up to play, their slightly younger audiences will continue to buy tickets to watch and listen to the soundtrack of their youth.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Music: Jeremy Siskind and The Housewarming Project at the Old Siskiyou Barn

June 8, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. I expected another memorable musical experience Saturday night when I looked at my schedule. And with good reason. For the past few weeks, I’ve heard and enjoyed a series of compelling evenings of music in concerts produced by the Siskiyou Music Project.

Saturday’s performance by Jeremy Siskind and the Housewarming Project – another musical group well-chosen by the SMP’s Artistic Director Ed Dunsavage — was no exception. It reached, in fact, beyond music, into a transformative event in which the players, the music and the location blended into an intimate togetherness, drawing its listeners into a kind of complete experiential participation.

The location was to me, as an Ashland newcomer, utterly gripping. It’s called the Old Siskiyou Barn. And that’s exactly what it once was.

The Old Siskiyou Barn

But now, despite its location in the woodsy mountain area south of Ashland, it has become a beautifully restored performance space (check the photo) with embracing acoustics, the earthy fragrance of ancient wood and the opportunity to experience the music up close and personal. Surrounding the Barn are banks of wild flowers, grassy green picnic areas and three ponds streaming with mountain waters. No wonder it is one of Ashland’s most popular performance areas, for local talent, as well as touring, stellar artists.

Saturday’s headliner, The Housewarming Project, was a trio led by pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind. His two creative companions were singer Nancy Harms and multi-woodwind player Lucas Pino.

The Housewarming Project. (Jeremy Siskind, Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino.)

The combination of a piano, voice and a collection of woodwind instruments doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to contain any unusually creative potential. Which might be the truth, if the players were anyone other than Siskind, Harms and Pino.

The music they offered on Saturday was utterly unique. Virtually all the selections – with the sole exception of a few standards – were composed and/or arranged by Siskind. A gifted pianist/composer, Siskind’s collection of material reached across a far range of material: cabaret tunes, a song calculated to be – in Siskind’s description – “a Paul Simon kind of song,” another inspired by Jack Kerouac, other works based on lyrical poetry with titles such as “Hymn of Things,” “Theme For A Sunrise,” “The Trees Don’t Need To Know,” and more.

Add to that the unlikely choice of an old Ink Spots tune called “Whispering Grass,” and standards “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and a newly harmonized take on “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Jeremy Siskind

Jeremy Siskind

 

It was a fascinating musical menu. But the magic here was what Siskind did with each of these songs, and what Harms and Pino did with their interpretive soloing.

 

Harms’ honey and bourbon sound blended intimately with the colorful tonal variations of Pino’s clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone playing.

Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino

Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino

Supporting them, Siskind’s pianistic work took full advantage of the piano as an orchestra in itself, from whispered high notes arching through Harms’ coloratura head tones to unison bass passages with Pino’s dark low notes.

As with previous Siskiyou Musical Project events, we headed for home with resonating echoes of appealing music still ringing in our ears. And looking forward to the next opportunity to experience another SMP musical evening in the embracing surroundings of the Old Siskiyou Barn.

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Photos of Old Siskiyou Barn, Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino by Faith Frenz.

Photo of Jeremy Siskind courtesy of jeremysiskind.com


Picks of the Weekend: June 5 – 7 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, London, Paris and Milan

June 4, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Eddie Daniels

June 5. (Fri.) Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway. The clarinet hasn’t been one of the lead jazz instruments since before the bebop era. But when it’s in the masterful hands of Eddie Daniels, lucky listeners have a chance to hear the full potential of the instrument that Mozart loved so much – and with good reason. Add to that the presence of the incomparable pianist/composer Roger Kelllaway and you can expect to hear a transformative evening of musical invention. Vittello’s E Spot Lounge.  (818) 769-0905.

June 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sa. The Oz Noy Trio. Israeli guitarist Oz Noy is a true stylistic virtuoso. With the number of elements active within any given performance it’s no wonder he says “It’s jazz; it just doesn’t sound like it.” But it’s always worth hearing, especially when the trio includes drummer Dave Weckl and bassist James Genus . Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

June 6. (Sat.) The Doobie Brothers. The Doobies have been entertaining us since the ’70s, and they’re still at it. But this’ll be a special event, with the participation of Pat Simmons, Jr., the son of founder Pat Simmons, along with the Eagles’ Don Felder. Be prepared for a show to remember. The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857.

Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli

June 7. (Sun.) Andrea Bocelli. The Hollywood Bowl. The great Italian singer, at home with everything from opera to Broadway classics, performs at the Bowl in a lease event, a production of
Andrew Hewitt and Bill Silva Presents. (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Bassist/bass clarinetist Miller is a uniquely compelling musical pleasure to hear — and always a creative surprise, as well. Yoshi’s  (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

– June 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Spyro Gyra. Expect to be captivated by the groove when Spyro Gyra’s in action; but there’s also a hard-swinging undercurrent of straight ahead traditional jazz. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

New York City

Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider

– June 5 – 6. (Fri. & Sat. ) The Maria Schneider Orchestra celebrates the release of a new CD, the first in a decade, titled The Thompson Fields. Birdland.

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Tootie Heath 80th Birthday Celebration. Drummer Tootie Heath will star in his own party in a jam with bassists Ben Street (Friday) and David Wong (Sat & Sun); pianists Ethan Iverson (Friday) and pianist Jeb Patton (Sat & Sun); and special guest saxophonist Jimmy Heath (Sun).  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9800.

Hiromi

– June 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Hiromi: The Trio Project. Always beyond definition in her pianistic encounters, keyboardist Hiromi is especially intriguing in the wide open environment of her trio, with drummer Anthony Jackson and bassist Simon Phillips. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– June 8. (Mon.) A Celebration of the Life and Music of Lew Soloff. The New York City jazz community assembles to honor the memory of Lewie Soloff, whose superb trumpet playing was matched by his warmth, amiability and deep capacity for life-long friendships. The celebration takes place at the Borden Auditorium in the Manhattan School of Music. Participating musicians include Wynton Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Owens, Cecil Bridgewater, Steve Tyrell, Chris Potter, Ray Anderson, Gil Goldstein, Danny Gottlieb, Mark Egan, Sammy Figueroa, Manhattan Brass, Jeff Berlin, Fred Lipsius, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Pete Levin and Jesse Levy. This event is free to the public and begins at 7:00 p.m.   Doors open at 6:15pm for early seating.

London

– June 5. (Fri.) Jacky Terrasson Trio. French pianist Terrasson is a jazz classicist, keeping the mainstream vividly alive, and even more so, with the sterling rhythm team of Thomas Bramerie, bass and Lukmil Perez, drums. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.

Paris

– June 7. (Sun.) Jazz Pour Le Nepal. A gathering of France’s finest jazz artists perform in an effort to raise support for the survivors of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Call it a jazz version of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. Jazz for Nepal. Paris New Morning.

Milan

– June 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.) New York Voices. The remarkable five part harmonies of the New York Voices are among the most appealing of the many jazz vocal ensembles. Don’t miss one of their rare appearances in Europe. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


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.


Live Music: Deana Martin at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 9, 2015

By James DeFrances

Perhaps we should be referring to her as the “Princess of Cool.” Last Sunday night, singer Deana Martin, daughter of the original “King of Cool,” Dean Martin, appeared at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. in Bel-Air. It was an evening of musical enrichment, great food and big smiles.

The adoration Deana’s fans have for her is unmatched by most other performers. At times throughout the night it seemed like a love-fest more than a concert! But Deana has a thorough understanding of what presenting a well-balanced show entails, and therefore she gives the onlookers metered doses from her figurative pyramid of entertainment. Whether it’s singing a song, telling a joke, recalling a story or providing commentary for her photo and video presentation, Deana is in complete control.

Deana Martin

Deana Martin

The room was full of friends, family, and legends of Hollywood’s golden age. Although it was an evening of classics and standards from the Great American Songbook, Deana has a knack for making something that’s very vintage into something entirely current. She also performed an abundance of her father’s songs, much to the delight of the audience, but she placed a very evident “Deana Martin” watermark on the tunes.

Songs like: “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and “Ain’t That a Kick in The Head” were crowd pleasers. Deana went on to perform an electronic duet of “True Love” which she recorded with her father at Capitol Records’ studios. The duet was complete with audio-video monitors of Dean singing with an orchestral backing track. Other tunes that dotted the set list included an engaging version of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a punch in the face version of “That’s Life” and an audience participation version of “That’s Amore.”

My personal favorite of the night was a tender, slow swing, bossa style arrangement of “Quando, Quando Quando.” The Pat Boone ’60s hit attracted the complete attention of the audience to center stage. And even though ”Quando, Quando Quando” is a song that’s done frequently by other singers, Deana’s breathtakingly good read and stellar arrangement left a vivid memory.

Deana Martin and her band.

Deana Martin and her band.

Expertly backed by a small group of Hollywood A-list musicians – including pianist Rick Krive, drummer Kendall Kay, saxophonist Mark Visher, bassist Chuck Berghofer and guitarist John Chiodini – the only way to go was up. But shows like these aren’t rare occurrences for Deana who, along with her man-of-many-hats husband John Griffith, completes over 280 performances annually all around the globe.

Deana is sprightly, full of youth and a genuinely nice person to strike up a conversation with. Match this with her concise phrasing, great pitch and superb resume and you have a winning trifecta.

Hey, maybe it runs in the family!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

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

 


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