Live Jazz: Highlights From the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival At The Hollywood Bowl.

June 16, 2015

By Devon Wendell

It’s hard to believe it’s that special time of year again. Yet another annual Playboy Jazz Festival has come and gone. And with it, memories of drunken conga lines, the smell of cheap weed in the summer air, and a plethora of musical acts ranging from actual jazz, r&b, rock, and even gospel.

It’s already been stated many times and by many journalists that the Playboy Jazz Festival isn’t for jazz purists so let’s skip all of that and get started with my highlights of the two days.

Saturday

The Los Angeles County High School For The Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble ( Abigail Berry, Lee Anilee, Jordyn Warren, Sofie Thurston, Crisia Regalada, Keana Peery, Ezra Behem, Haley Carr, Griffin Faye, Pedro Ramirez, Wesley Tani, Henry Tull, Caleb Collins, Isaac Sims Foster, and Evan Wright on vocals, Dornell Carr, piano; Julian Gomez, bass and Alec Smith on drums. Directed by Pat Bass) kicked off Saturday’s program and they were marvelous.

The vocal harmonies that these kids produced were complex, soulful, and mature. The band’s rendition of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was one of the high points of Saturday’s program. Soloists Evan Wright, Henry Tull, and Caleb Collins scat sang with total mastery. These kids could easily be the next Manhattan Transfer.

Chilean born Melissa Aldana is one of the most unique tenor saxophonists in the jazz world today. Although you can hear hints of influences like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins in her playing, Aldana already has her own distinct voice on the tenor sax at the tender age of 25. Aldana and her solid trio (Pablo Menares on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums) played a set of all originals such as the mellow “New Points,” the bop flavored “Bring Him Home,” and the Latin swinging “Desde La Lluvia.”

Aldana plays mostly in the upper register sounding more like an alto sax than a tenor. And she has an original sense of harmony and texture. The highlight of Aldana’s set was her original tribute to Sonny Rollins called “Back Home.” On this piece, Aldana sounded a little like Sonny Rollins’ early 60’s playing on the RCA/Victor label but for the most part she stuck to her own style with confidence and ease.

Aldana is definitely an artist to watch out for.

Try to imagine John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme” being performed by a loud, gritty, gospel-rock steel guitar band from the Deep South. That is exactly what A Sacred Steel Love Supreme: The Campbell Brothers “A Love Supreme” sounded like during their performance at The Bowl on Saturday. The Campbell Brothers performed all four suites of “A Love Supreme”: “Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” This wasn’t your typical Coltrane tribute by any means but his message of love, unity, and spirituality are what gospel music is all about so this soulful experiment made perfect sense. And this music brought the Bowl crowd right to the heart of American “roots music.”

Chuck and Derrick Campbell’s Steel Guitars produced an eerie, hypnotic, and psychedelic effect like blues you would hear from Mississippi’s Northern Hill Country. And the rhythm section (Carlton Campbell on drums, and Daric Benettt on bass) was sublimely funky. This is something you have to see to believe. Legendary jazz composer and arranger Gerald Wilson passed away on September 18th, 2014 at the age of 96. Wilson’s son Anthony Wilson and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Anthony Wilson, conductor and guitar; Carl Saunders, Winston Byrd, Chris Gray, Bobby Rodriguez: trumpets; Les Benedict, Francisco Torres, George Bohanon, Robbie Hioki: trombones; Scott Mayo, Randall Willis: alto saxophones; Rickey Woodard, Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophones;Terry Landry, baritone: sax; Brian O’Rourke: piano; Reggie Carson: bass; Mel Lee: drums; Yvette Devereaux: violin; and Eric Otis on guitar) celebrated the master’s illustrious legacy with a fantastic set of real big band jazz.

The set included some of Wilson’s most inspirational compositions and arrangements, such as “Triple Chase” with a burning tenor sax solo by Kamasi Washington, “Blues For Nya Nya” and Wilson’s incredible arrangement of ‘Perdido.” The entire band was swinging beyond belief and the arrangements were true to Wilson’s original charts.

On “Nancy Jo,” trumpeter Winston Byrd played one of the most original trumpet solos I’ve heard in years, demonstrating true range, imagination, and originality.

Anthony Wilson not only conducted, but also played some Kenny Burrell style electric guitar on “Blues For The Count” (Wilson wrote this piece for Count Basie in 1945) and the legendary George Bohanon’s trombone solo cooked.

On “Viva Tirado,” Bobby Rodriguez played an amazingly melodic trumpet solo and Yvette Devereaux’s violin solo was reminiscent of Ray Nance’s work in Duke Ellington’s Band.
This was a warm and loving tribute to Gerald Wilson and it’s always refreshing to hear true big band jazz at the Playboy Jazz Festival or anywhere else for that matter.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Whenever Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock get together, you never can predict what they are going to do but it’s always something special. Shorter and Hancock were joined by The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble, consisting of Michael Mayo on vocals, David Otis on alto sax, Daniel Rotem on tenor sax, Ido Meshulam on trombone, Carmen Staaf on piano, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The set began with The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble performing an ethereal arrangement of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” The young players in The Monk Institute Band were phenomenal. Daniel Rotem’s tenor sax work was original and flowed with countless ideas. Vocalist Michael Mayo’s voice floated magically over the instrumentalists as they all soloed.

After this number, Shorter and Hancock joined the band for Daniel Rotem’s “Who Is It?” which showcased Rotem’s originality as a composer as well as tenor sax player. Wayne Shorter played soprano sax. His lines were sparse and perfectly placed. Hancock shared solos with the wonderful Carmen Staaf who gave Herbie a run for his money.

After a brief version of Hancock’s classic “Cantaloupe Island,” The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble exited the stage, leaving Shorter and Hancock alone. What happened next was one of those truly magical moments between two giants who have played together for over half a century.

On Hancock’s “Speaks Like A Child’” the two men had a beautiful musical conversation through their instruments. Hancock played big block chords on his synthesizer while Shorter improvised some powerful syncopated lines on the soprano sax. It was like they could read each other’s minds.

The Monk Institute Of Jazz Performance Ensemble returned to the stage after this number, performing Carmen Staaf’s composition “New April.” Staaf’s elegant but swinging piano chops went with the theme of the composition perfectly and Rotem, Otis, Meshulam, and Shorter all traded solos. It’s was “true democracy” to quote Shorter. Each band member was supportive of one another without any egos getting in the way.

Next, a true festival highlight. Eddie Palmieri is a true genius and master on all levels. His performance on Saturday night with his Afro-Caribbean Jazz Band (Eddie Palmieri, leader, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero, congas; Anthony Carrillo, bongo, and Carmen Molina on timbales.) was one of the great moments of the entire weekend.

Palmieri and his band were joined by some very special guests. On the funky classic “Coast To Coast,”
Palmieri and company were joined by the amazing Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. Cuber’s baritone lines danced gleefully with the percussionists and with the instantly identifiable Eddie Palmieri percussive piano accompaniment.

The highlight of the set and of the Saturday program was “Samba De Sueno.” Joe Locke was the guest soloist. Locke played all of Cal Tjader’s original vibe parts (Palmieri originally recorded this piece with Tjader) and Palmieri played one of the greatest piano solos I’ve even heard him play. His one of a kind sense of space, dynamics, and syncopation on piano swung harder than life itself. Palmieri just gets better and better with age.

Alfredo De La Fe danced across the stage as he played his red violin along with Palmieri and the band. De La Fe’s virtuosic skills and showmanship had Palmieri grinning from ear to ear. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison sat in on “VP Blues.” Harrison was on fire, playing a wonderfully original alto sax solo. Palmieri’s piano solo was totally different but equally as brilliant as on “Samba De Suneo.” This time Palmieri played softly and gently, showing what a dynamic musician he truly is. This was Latin jazz at its best.

Sunday
Sunday’s program started off with The LAUSD/Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band (Steve Murillo, Jamir Pleitez, Ashton Sein, Ellis Thompson, Max Kim, saxophones; Anna Menotti, Harshpreet Suri, Karl Wylie, Rene Cruz, Christopher Vargas, trombones; Andrea Palacios, Nathan Serot, Mark Trejo, John Morillas, trumpets; Giancarlos Arzu, Gabe Feldman-Franden, Keelan Walters, Tyler Kysar, James Morgan, Cameron Evans, rhythm section. Under the direction of Tony White and JB Dyas.)

These kids may be young but they played some amazing original big band arrangements of John Scofield’s “I’ll Take Les,” Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins Con Carne” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” These weren’t just kids forced to play this music in school. You could feel their love of jazz and knowledge of big band swing. These kids surely have a bright future ahead of them.
The Jones Family Singers came all the way from Texas to perform a set of no-nonsense, gospel music that was truly one of the most electrifying sets of the festival.

On originals such as “I Am,” “Bones In The Valley” and ‘Down On Me,” lead singer Alexis Jones belted out some of the most powerful tenor vocals I’ve ever heard. The call and response between Alexis, Bishop Fred A. Jones, and the backing vocalists were mesmerizing. And they were backed by the tight yet funky rhythm section of Kenneth Freeman on bass and Mathew Hudlin on drums. You couldn’t help but shake something or get up and dance to this music. The Festival people should have put them on much later, when there were more people in the audience to take part in the joy of this music. The Jones Family singers danced across the stage in unison and urged the crowd to get up, dance, and rejoice. Those who got to the Bowl early enough did just that.

I cannot think of many musical things better in life than seeing tenor sax master Jimmy Heath play with The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. That is exactly what went down as The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band (Jimmy Heath, tenor sax; Sharel Cassity, tenor sax, flute; Antonio Hart, alto sax; Mark Gross, alto sax, vocals, and flute; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Frank Greene, lead trumpet; Caludio Roditti, Freddie Hendrix, Gregory Gisbert, trumpets; Jason Jackson, lead trombone; Steve Davis, Jeff Nelson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Abelita Mateaus, piano; John Lee, director, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Roger Squitero, congas, percussion.) performed on Sunday afternoon.

The big band arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (popularized by Gillespie in 1945.) swung beautifully. Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax solo was elegant, soulful, and inventive, as was Antonio Hart’s alto solo. On “Beboppin Too,” Mark Gross sang Gillespie’s vocal parts followed by a fine trombone solo by Jason Jackson. The highlight of the set was hearing all of the trumpeters trade solos on Gillespie’s masterpiece “Things To Come.” Claudio Roditi’s trumpet style sounded closest to Gillespie’s. Although the band added some new twists to these compositions, the arrangements were respectful to the originals and performed with love of this amazing, timeless music. I would have come to the festival just for this.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Mark Braud, trumpet, vocals; Charlie Gabriel, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Rickie Monie piano; Joe Lastie Jr., drums; Clint Maedgen, saxophone, vocals; Ronell Johnson, trombone; Ben Jaffe, bass sousaphone.) delivered a set of fun New Orleans jazz that delighted the Bowl crowd. The band took the Bowl straight to Bourbon Street on tunes like “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Think I Love You,” and “Rattlin Bones.” Braud, Gabriel, and Maedgen all shared the lead vocal spots. The horn lines danced around each other with joyful precision and by the time the band got to the funky “It’s Your Last Chance To Dance,” the entire bowl crowd was forming conga lines and dancing through the isles. New Orleans Jazz is about having a good time and this was one of the most delightfully fun moments of the weekend, capturing the true spirit of The Playboy Jazz Festival.

Blue Note’s 75th Anniversary Presents: Our Point Of View (Robert Glasper, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet) was an interesting tribute to the Blue Note Records sound of the early to mid ‘60s.

The band opened with Wayne Shorter’s “With Hunt” with fantastic solos by Strickland, Loueke, Glasper, and Akinmusire. Glasper’s piano solo was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s on the original recording but with a little more blues to it. Akinmusire sounded more like Woody Shaw than Freddie Hubbard, and Kendrick Scott definitely paid homage to Elvin Jones on this post-bop classic.

As fine as this performance was, it was the band originals that were harmonically most fascinating. Kendrick Scott’s “Cycle Through Reality’ and Marcus Strickland’s “The Meaning” had a modal feel with a dash of the avant-garde to them. Glasper’s piano work was stellar on both pieces. Unfortunately towards the end of the set, the band started to venture too far into overused funk/fusion clichés which distracted from the originality of the first three numbers.

Third World is a legendary reggae band. Maybe it was the contact high I was getting from all of the weed smoke around me but these guys kept sounding better and better. They performed their hits “96 Degrees,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” But the biggest surprise of their set was the bands pure reading of Andrea Boccelli’s “Time To Say Goodbye.” The band’s lead singer AJ Brown not only sang this song in operatic style but he sang it in both Italian and English. This won the band a standing ovation. Neither I nor the other audience members saw this coming. It was great to see a rock fueled reggae band with such range.

Well that’s all folks. That’s my highlights from the 37th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. There were some spectacular moments followed by some not so inspiring ones but everyone was having a blast under the warm Southern California sun and that is the whole point of the festival. See you next year.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: Nov. 6 – 9

November 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

– Nov. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Add an amiable Texas twang to a jaunty sense of swing and a convincing way with a lyric, and that still doesn’t add up to the magic that happens when Tyrell digs into the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill. http://www.catalinajazzclub.com (323) 466-2210.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. The veteran jazz trumpeter/painter/sculptor and his vocally superb wife are back again at their home base – Alpert’s jazz friendly, elegant Bel Air club. They’ll no doubt be working over material for their current touring. And that’ll be a musically captivating gift for anyone who can squeeze into what will no doubt be a full house crowd. But it’ll be worth the effort. Click HERE to read a review of the dynamic duo’s most recent appearance at.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 6. (Thurs.) David Ornette Cherry. He’s the son of trumpeter Don Cherry, who worked frequently with free jazz icon Ornette Coleman– thus David Ornette Cherry’s middle name. A keyboard player with his own unique approach to contemporary improvisation, he’s an imaginative jazz artist who deserves a hearing on his own right. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Los Lobos

Los Lobos

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys. The mutiple Grammy-winning group from Los Angeles are one of the popworld’s most eclectic ensembles. Blending everything from Latin pop and Chicano rock to TexMex and Americana their music has a fascinating body-moving appeal. Opening the bill, Texas’ Los Lonely Boys follow a similar musical path. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Dimitri Matheny Quartet. Matheny’s warm, engaging flugelhorn playing has thoroughly established him as one of the most emotionally expressive improvisers of his generation. He performs with the sterling backing of Joe Bagg, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Dick Weller, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) Johnny Mathis. He doesn’t show up often any more in the Southland, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear the hit-maker of the ‘6os and 70s up close in action. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Nov. 8. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. Marcelo Lehninger conducts the gifted players of the NWS in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, and the Dvorak Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell. The Cavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. (805) 449-2100.

HIGHLIGHT EVENT: SATURDAY AND SUNDAY NOVEMBER 8 & 9

The 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and All-Star Gala Concert

Thelonious Monk

The annual jazz competitions produced by the Thelonious Monk Institute are among the most celebrated jazz events of the year. And the 2014 installment is no exception. This year’s competition again showcases a talented, ambitious group of young players. The semi-finalists will first meet at U.C.L.A.’s Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Nov. 8. (The semi-final event is free and open to the public.)

The three finalists will then perform in the Competition’s Gala event on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Dolby Hall. The distinguished panel of judges for both stages of the competition includes trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Terence Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Quincy Jones and Arturo Sandoval.

Following the finalists’ performances and the selection of this year’s winner, an All-Star Gala concert will feature Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ron Carter, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Dianne Reeves and others.

In another highlight of the Gala, the Institute will present its prestigious Founders Award to President Bill Clinton.

The Thelonious Monk Institute 2014 International Jazz Trumpet Competition  (310) 206-9700.


Picks of the Week: July 15 – July 20. (Tues. – Sun.) in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London and Paris.

July 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour

– July 16. (Wed.) Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin, Boz Scaggs, Eliane Elias. It’s a line-up filled with masters of far-reaching jazz genres (and beyond). Expect an evening of jazz for every taste. Look for an iRoM review later this week. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. .

– July 16. (Wed.) Gina Saputo. She still hasn’t been recognized for her rapidly growing skills as a new jazz vocal star. See Saputo now and join her growing cadre of fans. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– July 16. (Wed.) The Ron Eschete Trio. Veteran guitarist Eschete displays his impressive mastery of the seven-string instrument. Don’t miss him in action. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

Tatiana Parra

Tatiana Parra

– July 17. (Thurs.) Tatiana Parra with the Vardan Ovsepian Trio. Her name may not yet be as familiar to American audiences as it should be. But Parra is a remarkable talent, fully capable of blending the best qualities of jazz and Brazilian music. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent album by Tatiana. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 17. (Thurs.) Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson. Singer Gazarak and pianist Nelson have become an impressive musical team, interacting with intuitive creativity. The Blue Whale. (213) 620-0908.

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

– July 18. (Fri.) Pat Senatore Trio. Bassist Senatore’s remarkable versatility is on display almost every night at Vibrato with a variety of artists. This time out he leads his own masterful trio, with Josh Nelson, piano, and Mark Ferber, drums. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 18. (Fri.) Nutty. You may not have heard of Nutty, but you’ll never forget them after you experience their enhancement of classic rock tunes with swinging jazz settings. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

– July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Dreamworks Animation in Concert. Actor Jack Black hosts an evening celebrating 20 Years of Dreamworks animation shows. Thomas Wilkins conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000. http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/calendar.

– July 18 & 19. (Fri. & Sat.) Denise Morgan. Completely at ease with gospel, classical, jazz and beyond, Morgan is an impressively eclectic vocal artist. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

– July 20. (Sun.) Carol Welsman. Singer/pianist Welsman offers her first Sunday Vespers appearance with her trio — bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Dave Tull.  Welsman’s richly interpretive vocals and briskly swinging piano work are a pleasure to hear under any circumstances.  And this performance offers, as she says “a unique experience of jazz and spiritual reflection.”  All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena, CA. (626) 583-2725. (Admission is free.)

– July 20. (Sun.) Midnight Caravan. Actress/singer Linda Purl celebrates ‘The Great Ladies of the Glamorous Nightclub Era. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Benny Green

Benny Green

– July 17 – 20. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has sustained, in stellar creative manner, the Oscar Peterson jazz piano legacy. An SFJAZZ event in Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York City

– July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Julian Lage Trio. A prodigy as a young guitarist, Lage has matured into an impressive new jazz star. The Jazz Standard. (212) 576-2232,

London

Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade

– July 15 & 16. (Tues. & Wed.) Leny Andrade. She’s arguably Brazil’s most convincing jazz-based vocal artist. Don’t miss this chance to hear her live. Ronnie Scott’s.  +14(0)20 7439 00747.

– July 19. (Sat.). (Fri. & Sat.) Take 6. There’s no vocal group quite like Take 6, with its blend of irresistible rhythms, lush harmonies and far- ranging vocal imagination. Ronnie Scott’s. +14 (0) 20 7439 00747.

Paris

– July 16. (Tues.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet. Trumpeter Akinmusire has been embraced, with good reason, as one of the new jazz stars of his generation. Paris New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41
.

 


Live Music: George Benson Salutes Nat “King” Cole at the Hollywood Bowl

September 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. George Benson’s tribute to Nat “King” Cole at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night was a major musical effort. He could have simply performed a program of Cole-related songs with a small group comparable to the classic Cole Trio. Instead, Benson and the L.A. Phil elected – as Cole occasionally did – to produce a musical setting with a 50+ piece orchestra and a six voice choir.

The results were well worth the effort. Benson has always had an appealing baritone voice, comfortable in Cole’s vocal range and equally rich with the rhythmic flavoring of jazz. And his affection for Cole’s music was fully apparent in the more than an hour long program he devoted to most of the many highlights in the Cole song catalog.

George Benson

George Benson

Benson opened the set with a characteristically brisk and swinging “Walking My Baby Back Home” before digging into “Nature Boy,” a song strongly associated with Cole, and one of his major hit releases.

Other hits followed: “Too Young,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” “Mona Lisa,” “Ramblin’ Rose” and more, all of it convincingly true to the Cole musical canon.

Add to that some special items: the too rarely heard, “That Sunday That Summer,” accompanied by the choir and the string section; a beautiful duet with soprano and choir director Janey Clewer on “When I Fall In Love”; equally touching Benson versions of “Mona Lisa” and the inevitable “Unforgettable”; gripping takes on “Route 66” and “Smile”: and a climactic interpretation of the major Cole hit, the Grammy-nominated “Ramblin’ Rose.”

One couldn’t help but sense the presence of Cole’s musical identity in Benson’s readings of each of the songs. Often, the vowels in his lines, as well as his song phrasing itself, seemed deeply affected by Benson’s obvious familiarity with the sound and textures of the original Cole versions.

But Benson is no imitator. Like Cole, he is a major vocal artist, as well as a significant instrumentalist in his own right. And a good portion of the pleasures in this intriguing musical event traced to the performance’s subtext – which was the interfacing between the comparable talents of two gifted creative artists.

It’s worth mentioning, as well, that Benson was superbly served by a stageful of world class musicians, playing superb arrangements by pianist/musical director, Randy Waldman. Like everything else in this memorable evening all the elements surrounding Benson came together with a blend of precise accuracy and stunning musicality.

One suspects Nat “King” would have loved it.

The evening opened with a high spirited performance by the L.A. Philharmonic’s first Creative Chair For Jazz, singer Dianne Reeves.

Every performance by Reeves is a spontaneous musical adventure, and this one was no exception.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves

She was backed by an impressive ensemble, which prominently featured keyboardists Peter Martin (also Reeves’ Musical Director) and Geoff Keezer, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully.

Reeves’ vocal melodies were the lead lines soaring above this remarkable musical collective. And, as always, her phrases reached well beyond the songs she was singing, adding her own spontaneously improvised passages. And she finished her set with one of her frequent inventive touches, creating a spontaneous song in which she musically introduced each of her musicians by name.

The contrasts between Benson and Reeves were many. But there were unique musical similarities as well. Together they provided a perfect climax to the colorful array of musical happenings in the Hollywood Bowl’s 2013 summer jazz season.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Record Rack: Gerald Clayton, Steve Kuhn and Roberta Piket

March 15, 2013

Pianos On The Loose

By Don Heckman

 Gerald Clayton: Life Forum (Concord Music)

I’ve been listening to and marveling at the playing of Gerald Clayton since he was displaying all the makings of a unique jazz artist while still a teen-ager.  Now 28, with three Grammy nominations, his credentials have been thoroughly established, and never more so than on this far-ranging set of performances.  Working with his regular associates – bassist  Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown – he moves confidently and inventively through a compelling collection of intriguing original works.  Clayton’s rich imagination reaches out to embrace the contributions of saxophonists Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani and poet Carl Hancock.  That’s a diverse collection of musical sounds, styles and substance – a challenge fully met by a pianist well on his way toward the top of his field.

Steve Kuhn: The Vanguard Date (Sunnyside)

With a track record that reaches from John Coltrane in the ‘60s into the multi-hued present, Steve Kuhn has been a pianist whose creative accomplishments embrace the entire jazz spectrum, from bebop to avant-garde.  The Vanguard Date, first released in 1986 on the Owl label is a stunning display of Kuhn in his fully mature mode, moving with utter confidence from the grooving bop of Tadd Dameron’s “Superjet” to the soaring lyricism of his own “Lullaby.” At the heart of the program — his virtually symbiotic interaction with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster.

Roberta Piket: Solo (Thirteenth Note Records)

The rich thoughtfulness that characterizes Roberta Piket’s inventive improvising is immediately apparent on the first track of Solo, in which she plays a darkly moody version of “I See Your Face Before Me” in a style reminiscent of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1.  Her previous three albums have ranged through strings and woodwinds, electric instruments and the classic piano trio.  But this time out she approaches the piano in the classic solo sense, as a virtual orchestra in itself.  In the process she brings new light to such familiar jazz lines as “Monk’s Dream” (in two variations), Chick Corea’s “Litha,” Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” and Duke Ellington’s “Something To Live For.”  Add to that a lyrical rendering of “Estate” and a final, gently blues-driven piece by her father, Frederick Piket.  The result, in sum, is an intriguing overview of a jazz pianist who still hasn’t quite received the ovations that her unique talents deserve.


Picks of the Week: Mar. 12 – 17

March 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

– Mar. 12. (Tues.) Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  Marsalis and his JLCO players continue to bring life to the past, the present and the future of big band jazz.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

Mar. 12. (Tues.) Allison Adams Tucker.  “Women in Jazz.”  Jazz singer Tucker performs with a gifted, all-female ensemble – Kait Dunton, piano, Sherry Luchette, bass, Tina Raymond, drums and Lori Bell, flute.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Mar. 13. (Wed.)  Lou Marini.  New York-based veteran saxophonist Marini makes a rare L.A. appearance backed by a stellar array of players.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Lynda Carter

Lynda Carter

– Mar. 14. – 16.  (Thurs. – Sat.)  Lynda Carter. She’ll probably always be known as Wonder Woman, but Carter is an appealing singer, as well, with a convincing interpretive style.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

– Mar. 15 – 17. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ambrose Akinmusire.  Trumpeter Akinmusire has been receiving critical accolades and winning polls lately.  Here’s a great opportunity to hear him in action and make your own evalulation.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 16. (Sat.)  Johnny Mandel Big Band. Veteran arranger/composer Mandel showcases selections from his rich collection of classic arrangements and original works for big jazz band. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

– Mar. 17. (Sun.)  An Evening with Kenny Rogers.  Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the music of Grammy-winning, hit-making veteran singer/actor/songwriter Rogers.  Valley Performing Arts Center.    (818) 677-8800.

– Mar. 17. (Sun.)  Carol Robbins, Larry Koonse and Pat Senatore. An all-strings evening of music, featuring the fascinating timbres and jaunty swing of Robbins’ harp, Loonse’s guitar and Senatore’s bass. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Mar. 12 & 13.  (Tues. & Wed.)  “Miles Smiles”  A super-group of Davis alumni, including trumpeter Wallace Roney, organist Joey DeFrancesco, guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim, recall the Miles era.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke

– Mar. 12 & 13. (Tues. & Wed.)  Leo Kottke. Virtuosic, finger-picking guitarist intersperses his 6- and 7-spring playing with humorous, between-tunes monologues.  Jazz Alley.   (206) 441-9729.

New York City

– Mar. 13 – 17. (Wed. – Sun.)  Brazilian Jazz All-Stars.  Bossa nova and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim will be authentically performed by an all-star aggregation of Brazilian artists: Duduka Da Fonseca, percussion, Romero Lubambo or Vic Juris, guitar, Claudio Roditi, trumpet, Helio Alves, piano, Maucha Adnet, voice, Hans Glawishnig, bass.  Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

– Mar. 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Charlie Musselwhite.  Blues harmonica player Musselwhite, a veteran of the fertile blues and rock happenings of the ‘60s, is still going strong at 69.  He is alleged to be the model for Dan Aykroyd’s character in The blues Brothers.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

London

– Mar. 14. (Thurs.)  “Birth of the Cool.”  The Richard Shepherd Nonet celebrates the music from Miles Davis’ iconic Birth of the Cool recording, plus classics from Kind of Blue and Milestones.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.

Milan

Brad Mehldau

Brad Mehldau

– Mar. 15 & 16. (Fri. & Sat.)  Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana.  Mehldau steps away from his classically oriented acoustic jazz with Mehliana – an electric funk duet project with drummer Guiliana.  Blue Note Milano.   +39 02 6901 6888

Tokyo

– Mar. 12 & 13. (Tues. & Wed.) Kenny Barron Trio. High on the list of every major jazz artist’s first-call pianists, Barron is also a compelling, musically adventurous player in his own right – especially when he’s working with his trio.  Blue Note Tokyo.    +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Jazz: The Monterey Jazz Festival All Stars at the Valley Performing Arts Center

January 25, 2013

By Michael Katz

Northridge, CA.  There were lots of good vibes, not to mention some friendly apparitions, circulating through the Valley Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, as the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars brought their tour to the campus of Cal State Northridge. The sextet, which had closed the curtain on the 55th MJF last September, featured vocalist  Dee Dee Bridgewater, the world class rhythm section of Benny Green, Lewis Nash and musical director Christian McBride, and a front line of Chris Potter on tenor sax and young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

As they did at Monterey, Dee Dee Bridgewater and McBride opened with a duet, this time Billie Holiday’s “My Mother’s Son-In-Law.” Bridgewater lithely covered McBride’s fingerings, giving the song an intimate, conversational feel that invited the audience into the performance.  Throughout the evening the group would split into various permutations – duets, trios, a stunning piano solo to open the second set by Green – as they explored the many nuances of improvisational music.

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire

In a “Super Group”  of this sort, you never know who will stand out on any given night, and on this evening it seemed Benny Green was charged up right from the start.  His work on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tanga,” the group’s first trio presentation, was inspired.  He subtly shifted tempos, his right hand dancing over the keyboard, while across the stage Lewis Nash was pulsating with sticks and brushes.  As for McBride, we sometimes forget, for all his versatility, what a terrific trio anchor he is, and he would turn the format on its ear later in the evening.

Chris Potter and Ambrose Akinmusire provided robust counterpoints for the group,  giving Bridgewater some added oomph (not that she needed much) on “All of Me” and Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty.” Potter, who can reach out to the edges of Coltrane-inspired territory, stayed mostly straight ahead with this group. Akinmusire, the ascending star who was the MJF Artist-In-Residence in 2012, provided some spirited riffs, and teamed with Potter on his haunting composition “Henya” in the second set.  The trumpeter had some terrific soloing as the concert progressed, but it would have been nice to see him take command of another  tune on his own, whether a more familiar ballad or a hard charger, just to give the audience a taste of his potential as a leader.

As readers of this space know, I think Dee Dee Bridgewater is on the short, short list of the best vocalists around. Last night she did a lovely version of Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born,” softly modulating the rarely heard lyrics, with the trio backing her up in spare accompaniment. Later, in the second set, she reached for the opposite end of the spectrum, interpreting “God Bless The Child” with a gospel verve that would have made Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples proud.  The audience, which had a substantial and appreciative segment of CSUN students, (many of them no doubt from their award winning big band) was on its feet.

Benny Green, as noted earlier, walked out alone to start the second set. He set up his extended solo with the chords of “The Man I Love,” and dived into an improvisational mode, tossing in quotes from “I Can’t Get Started,”  among others, gathering steam and moving to a crescendo before pulling back for the denouement and gently bowing out.

I mentioned a couple of apparitions. The first would be the late, great bassist Ray Brown, whose wife, Cecelia, was in the audience.  The rhythm trio has all played with Brown and their adoration was evident. On “East of The Sun, West of the Moon,” Christian McBride took the main line on the bass, his notes clear, crisp and swinging. He segued from melody to improvisation, setting the stage for more great stick work behind him from Lewis Nash.  In a night full of highlights, the virtuosity of McBride and the trio was a delight.

The other apparition was the recently departed Dave Brubeck, who meant so much to everyone at the Monterey Jazz Festival. After blazing through Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty” to nominally close the show, the group reassembled and chose one of Brubeck’s less familiar tunes,  “Mr. Broadway.” It was a perfect choice to honor his memory, one that avoided the trap of mimicking “Take Five” or “Blue Rondo.” It provided a swinging framework for the front line to go out charging – I thought Akinmusire’s trumpet solo was one of his best moments of the evening. And Dee Dee Bridgewater provided some tender vocalizing, slipping into the lines of “Take Five” at the end, a perfect coda to the performance.

As difficult as it is to transfer the ambience and spirit of the Monterey Jazz Festival to another performance venue, the MJF All Stars managed to do it.

Now, only eight more months to MJF 56.

* * * * * * * *

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.


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