Live Music: The Bill Frisell Quartet at the Ashland Armory.

January 31, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. It’s been considerably more than two decades since I first wrote about a Bill Frisell program – a review in 1989 for the Los Angeles Times. I covered several other Frisell events for the Times in the interim, as well. And, although there were a few performances that aroused some disapproving responses, most of what I heard was consistent with a comment I made in that first review: “Frisell may well become one of the most provocative voices of the ’90s.”

Which he did, and which he has continued to do, well into the new century. And his performance at the Ashland Armory Thursday night was a good example of another comment I made in that early review, describing Frisell as “an artist with serious intentions.”

Intentions that were fully on display in the hour and a half set offered by Frisell and his creatively supportive associates, steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scheer and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

Greg Leisz, Tony Scheer, Kenny Wollesen and Bill Frisell

The performance was consistent with the approach Frisell has taken in recent years – a musical collective impressively blending pre-planned arrangements with vividly alive, improvisational spontaneity. The impact was enhanced by an almost non-stop flow of music. A few numbers concluded with lengthy, emotionally layered endings. More often, one piece after another blended amiably together without a break, handled with ease by Frisell and his world class musical companions.

This fascinating approach was applied to Frisell’s characteristic interest in a wide stylistic range of material. And he touched most of his interests – from country and Americana to blues, groove and beyond. Some of the instantly compelling moments were provided by a ¾ country tune juxtaposed against some country swing, a touching version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the Americana classic, “Shenandoah” and a few compelling excursions into blues and rock.

Typically, Frisell had almost nothing to say to the enthusiastic, packed house crowd, clearly preferring to let the music speak for itself, a wise choice. Suffice to say that Frisell and his world class players were in rare form, individually and collectively.

And, as this captivating evening came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel pleased that my decades-old comments about the future potential of Frisell’s artistry had accurately forecast the extent of his remarkable, still growing career.

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Photo by Paul Moore courtesy of Bill Frisell.

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It’s also worth noting that this was my first review of a performance at the Ashland Armory. And, despite the venue’s large, open space, its acoustics were surprisingly good. I look forward to doing more reviews in this musically friendly space.


Picks of the Weekend: January 23 – 25 in Los Angeles

January 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

It’s a slow week for music venues around the world, but there’s always a lot happening in L.A. Here’s a sampling for this weekend.

Tango Buenos Aires

Tango Buenos Aires

Jan. 23 (Fri.) Tango Buenos Aires. The Argentinian dance ensemble applies the erotic dance movements of the tango to “The Song of Eva Peron,” a work inspired by one of Argentina’s most memorable historical figures. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-8800.

Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax

   – Jan. 23 – 25 (Fri – Sun.)   Emanuel Ax Plays Chopin. The revered veteran pianist Ax performs Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya. And there’s more – the Phil, conducted by Harth-Bedoya, also offers a performance of Prokofiev’s rarely heard Suite from the ballet Cinderella. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Jan. 23 (Fri.)  Tony Galla.  His warm baritone voice sets the mood all over television in shows such as The L Word, The Wedding Planner and more.  Here’s an opportunity to hear Galla’s eclectic balladry up close and personal.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Jan. 23 & 25. (Fri. & Sun.) The Jazz Ministry. The father and son team of drummer Abraham Laboriel, Jr. and bassist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. join up with keyboardist Greg Mathieson and guitarist Michael Landau in an inspiring exploration of the soulful roots of jazz. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

Lauren Chipman

Lauren Chipman

- Jan. 24. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Conducted by Boris Brott, one of the Southland’s most adventurous ensembles takes on a far reaching program that includes Respighi’s Pines of Room, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien and Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. Also on the bill – Mike Garson‘s newly comissioned Viola Variations on a Theme of Paganini, featuring violist Lauren Chipman. The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. . (805) 449-2100.

Tom Scott

Tom Scott

Jan. 24. (Sat.) Tom Scott with the Ron Kobayshi Trio. Grammy Award winner Scott, always a compelling improviser, will be at his best in the sterling company of the Kobayshi players. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

Jan. 25. (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra plays Vivaldi and Schubert. The ensemble’s deeply descriptive interpretive skills are at their most impressive in a program reaching across a century of classical genres. A CAP UCLA concert at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2210.

Jan. 25. (Sun.) Ron Jones Influence Jazz Orchestra and singer Seth MacFarlane. Catalina . (323) 466-2210. Animation producer, director and creator (of show such as Family Guy and American Guy) MacFarlane also has ambitions to display his creativity as a singer, as well. Click HERE.To read an iRoM review of a previous performance by MacFarlane and the Jones Orchestra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.


Here, There & Everywhere: the 2015 Grammy Jazz Nominations

December 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s that time of year again, when the Grammy nominations are posted for members of the Recording Academy to vote for their favorite performances of the previous year.  After decades of membership, I’m no longer a member of the Academy.  But it’s always fascinating to check out the nominations.  And, although it’s interesting to see who wins the awards, it’s even more compelling to check out the surprises (or lack of same) in the choices for nominees in the various categories.

So here are the nominees in the five jazz categories.  And I suspect that most jazz listeners and observers would suggest that there are few surprising entries in the lists.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the choices.  Any of these nominees would be a worthy winner of the Grammy award in their category.  But, as with most annual lists of Grammy nominees there’s little to suggest real interest in encouraging the efforts of new, young talent.

That said, here’s a list of the choices (not forecasts) I would vote for in the five categories:

Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Always the most difficult category of all, given the question of how one judges the “Best” of a group of improvisations.  Anyhow, my choice would be Chick Corea, who never fails to surprise me in a solo, and he’s in fine shape in this one.  It’s also worth mentioning that his playing sounds even more impressive in the context of the stellar competition of three other superb pianists and the tenor saxophone styings of Joe Lovano.

Best Jazz Vocal album:  Why in the world does the Academy group all jazz vocal artists — male, female and ensembles — into one category.  I’m musically pleased by all these artists.  But I think Tierney Sutton’s remarkable tour de force with guitarist Serge Merlaud is a brilliant performance, as unique a vocal effort as I can recall since Sheila Jordan’s first recordings with solo bass accompaniment.

 

Best Jazz Instrumental Album: As with the Best Improvised Solo category it’s difficult to determine what standards of excellence to use in choosing a winner.  Note, as well, that both Chick Corea and Fred Hersch have nominations in both categories — a temptation for winners to split their ballot to vote for one or the other in one of the categories.  I, however, favor Jason Moran’s illuminating tribute to Fats Waller.

 

The Best Large Ensemble is overflowing with enough big jazz group sounds to delight those of us who will always be delighted by the big jazz ensemble in its many forms and sounds.  But I was especially pleased by the Clayton-Hamilton’s tribute to some of the memorable talent in the L.A. jazz world. Always — in the gifted writing and playing of John Clayton — a superb ensemble, they’re once again at their finest in this outing.  As an alternative, I could easily have chosen the briskly swinging performance by Gordon Goodwin’s always listenable Big Phat Band.

The Best Latin Jazz Album: As in the Large Ensemble category, I’ve found myself having to choose between two entries: Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and Conrad Herwig’s The Latin Side of Joe Henderson.  Ultimately I couldn’t resist the presence of Joe Lovano playing Joe Henderson tunes.  But it was a tough call.

 

And here are all the jazz nominees.  Make your own choices.

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Best Improvised Jazz Solo

The Eye Of The Hurricane
Kenny Barron, soloist
Track from: Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio (Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio) (Whaling City Sound)

Fingerprints
Chick Corea, soloist
Track from: Trilogy (Chick Corea Trio) (Concord Jazz)

You & the Night & the Music

Fred Hersch, soloist                                                                                                                           Track from “Floating” (Fred Hersch Trio) (Palmetto Records)

Recorda Me

Joe Lovano, soloist
Track from: The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano) (Half Note)

Sleeping Giant (Nonesuch)
Brad Mehldau, soloist
Track from: Mehliana: Taming The Dragon (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) (Nonesuch)
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Best Jazz Vocal Album

Map To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Masterworks)
(Billy Childs & Various Artists)

I Wanna Be Evil (Motema Music)
René Marie

Live In NYC (Obliqsound)
Gretchen Parlato

Beautiful Life (Concord Records)
Dianne Reeves

Paris Sessions (BFM Jazz)
Tierney Sutton

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Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Landmarks (Blue Note Records)
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band

Trilogy (Concord Jazz)
Chick Corea Trio

Floating (Palmetto Records)
Fred Hersch Trio

Enjoy The View (Blue Note Records)
Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco Featuring Billy Hart

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller (Blue Note Records)
Jason Moran

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Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The L.A. Treasures Project (Capri Records, Ltd.)
The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra

Life In The Bubble (Telarc International)
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project (Motema Music)
Rufus Reid

Live: I Hear The Sound  (Archie Ball)
Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra

OverTime: Music Of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts Recordings)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

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Best Latin Jazz Album

The Latin Side Of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
Conrad Herwig Featuring Joe Lovano

The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motema Music)
The Pedrito Martinez Group

The Offense Of The Drum (Motema Music)
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Second Half (Emilio Solla Music)
Emilio Solla Y La Inestable De Brooklyn

New Throned King (Label: 5Passion)
Yosvany Terry

 


Live Music: Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

Hollywood. Any evening of music with the names of Corky Hale and Eloise Laws at the top of the program is pretty much guaranteed to offer plenty of memorable moments. Which is exactly what happened Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The overflow crowd of enthusiastic fans, filling virtually every table in Catalina Popescu’s large, but still warm and cozy venue, were there because of their awareness of the stellar qualities of the two headliners.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale

 

 

The versatile Hale is a remarkable multi-hyphenate, doubling impressively on harp and piano, and a first call studio player on both instruments, singing with her own uniquely interpretive vocal qualities and a frequent discoverer and supporter of new young vocal talent. (Add to that her year round efforts to support candidates of the Democratic Party – more evidence of the vitality that has been present over the course of Hale’s long dynamic career.)

 

 

 

Eloise Laws

Eloise Laws

 

 

Laws is, of course, a member of the remarkable Laws family – which also includes flutist Hubert Laws, saxophonist Ronnie Laws and singer Debra Laws. But her lengthy and busy career – reaching back to the ’70s is her own. Although she has demonstrated prime talents as a back up singer, she has firmly established herself as master of crossover styles reaching across pop, blues, r&b and jazz. Nor can we overlook her skills as a producer, actress and writer for the stage.

 

The performance by Hale and Laws – titled “Sister! A Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – provided an excellent opportunity for each to display her various talents. Hale moved frequently from piano to harp, pausing on a few occasions to take the vocal microphone herself. Laws, occasionally interacting humorously with her listeners, displayed her stylistic range with a rich program of songs.

Each also dealt with some occasional uncertainty about which song was coming next, transforming the confusion into improvisational banter. Although it may have seemed disorienting from the performers’ on stage perspective, it was – for the audience – another of the evening’s many delights.

Add to that, the music itself. Among the numerous highlights:

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Corky Hale and Eloise Laws

Laws quickly dug into the theme of the show – “Salute to the Great Women of Jazz” – with a a briskly swinging romp through “How High the Moon” recalling the classic Ella Fitzgerald version. And she followed with other salutes – to Billie Holiday with “God Bless the Child,” Peggy Lee with “Fever,” and Shirley Horn with “Here’s To Life” (accompanied by pianist Artie Butler, who composed the song with lyricist Phyllis Molinary), and more. Further displaying her interpretive range, she offered a lyrical reading of “Send in the Clowns” and dueted with Hale’s harp accompaniment on “My Ship” and guitarist John Chiodini’s backing on “I’m Old Fashioned,”

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Corky Hale, Eloise Laws and their band.

Hale was the dynamo for the entire performance. Moving from the piano to the harp and back to the piano, energizing the backing of the rhythm section and keeping track of the program, she only had the opportunity to sing a few vocals. When she did – especially on “I Want To Be Happy” and “S’Wonderful” – she left the audience (and this listener) wishing for more. Hale’s generosity with other singers, often present in her performances, was an essential part of this evening, as well. And the results made for a program overflowing with entertaining musicality.

Still, as I’ve written in past reviews of Hale’s appearances, I hope that she will also continue to find – amid her immensely busy life – time to express her own musical creativity, as well.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Tony Galla at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

November 29, 2014

By James DeFrances

What do you call a blues version of Tony Bennett…? Simple, call him Tony Galla. Friday night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz etc. Galla kept the Holiday energy going as he shifted from swinging jazz tunes to soulful blues ballads and literally everything in between. Galla and his trio have been a recurring act at Vibrato over the years and he has no problem packing the house with fans of like minded musical tastes.

Tony Galla

Tony Galla

Wearing a contemporary black suit and holding his classic Gibson Les Paul guitar, Galla explained how he couldn’t leave out one particular song. That song was a duet actually, but Galla claimed he would sing both parts and that the audience had heard it before. I, of course hadn’t, being that it was my first time seeing his show, and I couldn’t quite figure what to expect. He went on to describe a duet between James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti and immediately a light bulb went off in my head…it was “This is a Man’s World.”

Based on a live recording from 2005, Galla proceeded to perform the song stating that his trio would be “imitating a symphony.” It was certainly one of the more obscure musical happenings I had ever heard up to this point with Galla playfully mimicking both Brown’s and Pavarotti’s vocal stylings and the trio playing about as large as possible. He was right, the crowd did know it and they liked it too.

Tony Galla with his trio

Tony Galla with his trio

It was an evening played by feel and not by form, with Galla trying to accom0date as many audience requests as possible, much to their approval. After quite a few Sinatra themed requests Galla said: “OK now we are going to do a 40 minute medley of Frank Sinatra and over every song he ever recorded!” His humor was well received and his talents were apparent to everyone in the room. Galla is dynamic and can play a lot of angles.

When you see his show, you are basically seeing a 3-in-one deal and each part is done well. Other notable tunes of the evening were his renditions of “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Witchcraft” and his closing number, the B.B. King classic “The Thrill is Gone.” With his high energy on-stage antics and his wide variety of song selections, Galla’s show is sure to find a common ground with almost every listener!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

 


Live Music: Members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in an Austria a la Carte Performance

November 9, 2014

By Don Heckman

Brentwood, CA. The final event in the 2014 Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s a la Carte performances took place last night in the grand residence of the Honorable Ulrike Ritzinger, Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles. As with all of LACO’s a la Carte events, it combined an intimate chamber music performance with a reception and dinner in the style of the host country – in this case, Austria.

Consul General Ritzinger deserves high praise for providing the welcoming environment and the perfect setting for an event that showcased works by such Austrian composers as Mozart, Haydn, Toch and Eisler. And so, too, were the LACO musicians – horn player Richard Todd, oboist Allan Vogel, violinist Jacqueline Brand, violist Robert Brophy and cellist Armen Ksajikian – equally praiseworthy for the high quality of their performances.

Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn

The program began with Haydn’s Divertimento for Horn, Violin and Cello. The most prominent element – several virtuosic passages for Horn – made significant demands upon Todd, who responded with impressive results.

The next two works – Ernest Toch’s Divertimento for Violin and Viola and Hanns Eisler’s Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H. For Violin, Viola and Cello – touched upon very different musical styles. Toch and Eisler were Austrians known for their skills as classical composers who also scored music for films in Europe and the U.S. Given the emotional orientation of both works, the strings deserve credit for bringing them to life beyond the film score aspects that snuck into many passages.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The highlight of the program, however, was the final piece, the Mozart Oboe Quartet. Instrumental concerti are only as good as a composer’s familiarity with the solo instrument. And Mozart was especially familiar with piano and violin. But his handling of the oboe, with all its unique characteristics was extraordinary in the Quartet.

Add to that the fact that the performance of a concerto is only as good as the ability of the soloist. And Allen Vogel wasn’t simply good; he was brilliant. Ranging across the instrument’s complete spectrum, he was stunningly virtuosic wherever virtuosity was required. And he was equally lyrical wherever one of Mozart’s memorable melodies flowed through the floating sounds of the strings. Call it a masterful performance by Vogel of a Mozart classic.

Interestingly, while having a cocktail with Consul Ritzinger after the performance she jokingly noted that – as much as she loved Mozart’s music – she had heard a lot of it, as did most Austrians. And I laughed and responded that, as a non-Austrian, I had a lot of Mozart to go before I’d even come close to having heard enough, especially as played by the dedicated artists of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.


An Appreciation: Farewell Jack Bruce

October 28, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Jack Bruce passed away on Saturday at the age of 71. It’s yet another hard-to-accept cold shot for any rock fan who fondly remembers what the rock medium had to offer in its late ’60’s/early ’70’s heyday. The luminaries of the field are disappearing slowly but surely. But around that time, rock was the most interesting, cutting edge genre around. Short-lived as it was, to call it inspiring in its time would be to understate the point.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

And Jack Bruce was at the forefront of all of this. He was a founding member of perhaps the first supergroup out of England, the mind-blowing power trio Cream…(as in the Cream that rises to the top). Their sound was bigger than the sum of the parts. Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream put psychedelic blues-rock on the map with a sonic boom. The group featured guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker, and one Jack Bruce on bass. The band blew the doors open in the blues-rock field. Their jams were marathon sequences of long solos, top-flight musicianship, and decibels-a-plenty. Twenty minutes for a song like Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” became de rigeur and a true showcase for players as strong as they were. Ginger Baker still complains that he lost most of his hearing having to be near Bruce’s unbearably loud bass rig, night after night.

As a writer, lyricist, and playing harmonica and bass, Jack Bruce was actually the wild card in Cream. His fingerprints were all over their many iconic songs from what we now remember to be an incredibly brief period between 1967 and 1969. But what a run it was. The lyrics Bruce wrote to songs like “SWLABR,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “White Room,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “I Feel Free,” were beautifully evocative meshes of blues, mythology, and juxtaposition – yet they were also full-on psychedelic anthems. Great imagery from him! And Cream arranged for the album art to match the music. Just to see their albums in the local record store was to look at things differently. But upon listening to the record, it was so hard to believe there were only three guys putting all of those ideas and huge sound across so deftly. They did set a standard. Many folks might argue convincingly that Cream was a career zenith for Clapton, as well.

As a bass player Jack Bruce certainly took the busy angle of things a long, long way. His solos would often be as long as Clapton’s. But he was unusually melodic, and downright intriguing to listen to. Live, he was one of the busiest bassists to come along. He played leads on his bass. Guys like John Entwhistle of The Who were also playing sizzling lead bass lines at the time, but Bruce was going for broke on the same stage as Eric Clapton, in his prime. Gotta step it up to do that! In this way he was hugely influential to a generation of developing bass players. It became obvious that it was going to be OK to stretch out as a rock bassist…if you had the chops and the ideas. Many people I know literally wore the grooves out of albums like Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire, learning to play either guitar or bass. Cream offered that much talent to draw from.

After Cream was through, Bruce continued to hook up throughout the ‘70’s with guitar heavyweights like, Leslie West (no pun intended), Mick Taylor, and Robin Trower. While the psychedelia was over, the music continued to flow. Some of the stuff Bruce did with Carla Bley and Mick Taylor in the mid ‘70’s was brilliant, part of an impressive musical arc for Bruce, post-Cream.

Ultimately, Jack Bruce will be remembered most for his work with Cream and when people think of that band, it’s impossible not to be taken with the many levels they succeeded on. Whether lyrically, compositionally, or instrumentally, Jack Bruce’s legacy will continue to inspire people who can grasp what he was doing then. It was quite brilliant, indeed.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Photo of Jack Bruce at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival by photo-journalist Bonnie Perkinson.

 

 


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