CD Reviews: Anat Cohen’s “Luminosa” and Eliane Elias’ “Made In Brazil”

March 29, 2015

By Don Heckman

It would be hard to find two better examples of some of the changes that have taken place in jazz during the new century than the presence and the playing of Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias. Tel Aviv-born Cohen and Sao Paulo-born Elias have convincingly established themselves as significant instrumentalists. And, in the case of Elias, as a significant instrumentalist/vocalist. In one fell swoop, these two gifted artists have played prominent roles among the generation of gifted female musicians who have lately been cracking open the glass ceiling signifying the gender bias that has been present in jazz for most of its long history. And they’ve done it as international performers.

All of which may be intriguing as sociology, but what really matters is what’s in the music. And these two new releases are eminently listenable programs of 21st century jazz at its finest. Add to that the further linkage between them in the sense that the music on both albums is deeply rooted in the long love affair between jazz and the music of Brazil.

Anat Cohen

Luminosa (Anzic Records)

In listening to Luminosa, one is frequently drawn to thinking of it as “Anat’s Brazil album,” especially understandable, perhaps because her affection for the choro genre, with its buoyant rhythms and improvisational aspects, is very much present on Luminosa.

As a former clarinetist, I’ve watched Anat’s growing mastery of the instrument, which was paralleled by an equally extraordinary growth as an improviser. And her playing on Luminosa takes her to yet another step higher.

I hesitate, however, to emphasize individual tracks. After several listens, I began to view Luminosa as a contemporary jazz suite, enriched by many aspects of Brazilian music. Like most effective suites — in jazz, classical and beyond – it demands a complete hearing. Once one begins to be enthralled by the opening “Lilia,” the embrace of the tunes continues, touching a far reaching range of emotions before winding up in the climactic “Wein Machine,” in which Anat offers some quick, convincing doubling on tenor saxophone.

Call Luminosa a musical experience not to be missed – by former clarinetists as well as every other lover of captivating improvisational music at its finest. Let’s hope the Grammy voters will agree.

* * * * * * * *

Eliane Elias

Made In Brazil (Concord Records)

I first wrote about Eliane Elias in a review for the Los Angeles Times in the late ’80s. (We were very young at the time – well, she was.) Among other complimentary remarks, I described her playing as “state of the art contemporary jazz.”

It’s a description I wouldn’t hesitate to use now in reference to both her piano playing and her vocals on this evocative new CD. Add to that the fact that it was recorded in Brazil with all the rich musical resonance that the location and the players could provide, and – as with Anat Cohen’s Luminosa – the result is an album that demands nomination for the next Grammy Awards.

Eliane Elias hand on hipIt’s also a homecoming for Eliane, the first recording she’s made in Brazil since she came to the U.S. in 1981. And she’s made the most of it, adding a full cast of Brazilian players, among them Roberto Menescal and Ed Motta, as well as her talented daughter Amanda Brecker, the superb orchestrating skills of Rob Mathes and the incomparable vocal textures of Take 6.

That list alone speaks for itself. But I can’t neglect the repertoire, as well – which includes Eliane’s originals, along with classics from Menescal, Ary Barroso, and a pair of memorable Antonio Carlos Jobim standards.

The result is an utterly captivating musical program reaching across a wide spectrum of music. There are too many highlights to mention them all. But they begin with Barroso’s anthemic “Aquarela do Brassil,” move on to Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco” and a medley of his “Este Seu Olhar and Promessas,” Menescal’s “Voce” and “Rio.” Topping it off, Eliane reveals yet another aspect of her eclectic creativity with a pair of her own well-crafted songs, “Some Enchanted Place” and the lyrical “Searching.”

Also like Anat Cohen’s Luminosa, Eliane Eliase’s Made In Brazil is more than a collection of songs. It’s a rich, full-bodied, suite-like assemblage of irresistibly appealing music. And the more you hear it, the more it reaches out to reward its listeners with the fullest range of emotional riches.

Let’s hope that some thoughtful record company has the good judgement to record these two gifted women performing together.  (And if an experienced, empathic producer is required, give me a call.)


Picks of the Week in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, London, Copenhagen and Tokyo

March 23, 2015

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer

– Mar. 23 & 24 (Mon. & Tues.) Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.  The two most masterful vocal ensembles of the past few decades get together for the first time. No wonder it’s called “The Summit” as they perform at the start of a national tour. Catalina Bar & Grill .

(323) 466-2210.

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) The London Philharmonic conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with pianist Yuja Wang. Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Bitten’s Four Sea Interludes. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Sue Raney. She’s been receiving accolades for her singing sine she was a teen-ager, and Sue Raney is as dynamic and musically compelling as she was shen she first stepped on stage. Sue’s celebrating the release of her album, Late in Life.        Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

Bob Sheppard and Pat Senatore

– Mar. 27 (Fri.) Bob Sheppard with the Pat Senatore Trio. A musical encounter not to be missed. Sheppard is one of the jazz world’s most versatile,saxophonists, and equally gifted on clarinet and flute. He’ll be backed by bassist Senatore’s equally adept rhythm section. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400

–  Mar. 27. (Fri.) George Benson. Hitmaker singer/guitarist Benson is always entertaining, always disovering new jazz territories. Expect to hear some familiar songs. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. (714) 556-2787.

Art Pepper

Art Pepper

– Mar. 27. (Fri.) An All Star Celebration of Art Pepper. With Richie Cole, Doug Webb, Don Shelton, Gaspare Pasini, the Art Pepper Quartet Reunion and more. Presented by Ken Poston’s West Coast Jazz Heritage Series. Hermosa Beach Community Theatre. Reservations: (562) 200-5477.

Seattle

– Mar. 26. (Thurs.) Great Guitars! Featuring Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pisano and Mundell Lowe. “Great Guitars” doesn’t begin to describe this encounter between such Olympian players. Don’t miss this one; it’s a true musical rarity. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.

New York City

 

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

– Mar. 24 – 29. (Tues. – Sun.) James Moody 90th Birthday. Saxophonist/singer Moody was a much loved and honored jazz artist. He was also a friend to almost everyone he met. So it’s no surprise that this tribute has attracted such stellar participants. Featured peformers include Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Antonio Hart, Russle Malone, Randy Brecker, Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Janis Siegel and more. Call the club for schedules. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

London

– Mar. 24 – 26. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project. Gypsy jazz at its best. Calling up memories of Django Reinhardt and the unque, swinging improvisational style he brought to the jazz world. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 20 7439 0747

Copenhagen

– Mar. 26 – 28. (Thurs. – Sat. Rosa Passos Quartet. Passos is one of the true blenders of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. She’s been doing it a long time, and she still does better than most. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94

Tokyo

Gerald Albright

Gerald Albright

 

– Mar. 24. (Tues.) Gerald Albright. Name a jazz genre and Gerald Albright can play it convincingly.  And he’s equally adept as an instrumentalist, moving easily from world class saxophone playing to bass, keyboards,, vocals and more.  Don’t miss him in action.  Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Sara Gazarek and Josh Nelson at the Artistic Piano Gallery

March 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Medford, Oregon. The creative interaction between a jazz vocal artist and his/her accompanist is one of the most sensitive encounters in the entire musical world. All of which was on fascinating display Friday night in the performance of singer Sara Gazarek and pianist Josh Nelson at Medford’s Artistic Piano Gallery.

The talented young artists have already had a long musical relationship. And the far-reaching, irresistible musical quality of their performance called up memories of such classic jazz singer/accompanist connections as Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.

But the Gazarek/Nelson duo made it clear – as they do in all their performances – that their linkage is founded upon interactive, musically exploratory adventures.

Josh Nelson and Sara Gazarek

Start with the fact that Nelson is a superb arranger/pianist who founds his interpretive interaction upon the classical view of the piano as an orchestra in itself. Gazarek has her own arranging ideas, blending them with Nelson’s vision, adding her gripping story-telling qualities to the lyrics of every song she touches.

All of which resulted in a compelling performance within the Artistic Piano Gallery’s warm and intimate setting.

The Gazarek/Nelson program was a combination of evergreens from the Great American Songbook sprinkled with original songs by both artists. The first half of the program was enhanced by such classics as “Without A Song,” “No Moon At All,” along with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and “Single Petal Of A Rose.” Add to that the Bonnie Raitt hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Joao Gilberto’s bossa nova tribute to a duck, “O Pato” and Nelson’s “Petit Papillon.” The set was topped off by a high velocity romp through “Sunny Side of the Street,” featuring a set of bebop variations sung and played in unison by voice and piano.

The second set was shorter, but no less engaging, featuring – among its many highlights – “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and a group of songs covering various aspects of love. Among them: the original, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Where Is Love?” and “Love You Madly.”

A performance with half those songs would be impressive for most vocal artists. But in the talented hands (and voice) of Nelson and Gazarek it offered an evening of the jazz vocal art at its best.

Call it a high point in this season’s Siskiyou Music Project, which continues from April 2 through May 27 with programs reaching from jazz (Ken Peplowski) to country music (Tim & Myles Thompson) and more. Click HERE for details about the rest of the Project’s programs.


An Appreciation: Lew Soloff, R.I.P.

March 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

I’m still experiencing some of the stunned feelings I had last weekend when I received an email from Bobby Colomby telling me that Lew Soloff had died. And to say that I couldn’t believe it doesn’t at all describe my reaction.

Lew Soloff

Lewie died?! How could that be? This great trumpet player, irresistible humorist, incomparable character gone? But it was true. It is true. And music and the world will both be a little emptier than they were when Lewie was still with us.

Bobby knew Lew longer than I did. Bobby was the founder and the first drummer of Blood, Sweat & Tears. And Lewie was the band’s lead trumpet in their salad years from 1969 – 1973. During which time Bobby and the B,S&T players gathered a virtual book-sized collection of Lewie stories – all of which became told and retold memorabilia, and which will no doubt be with us forever (and probably gathered into what would be an immensely entertaining book).

“Possibly the most beloved person I’ve ever known,” wrote Bobby in another email he sent the day after we got the news,“and most beloved musician. I can only smile when I think of him. It’ll be a while before I’m able to process that he’s no longer with us”

I first met Lew in 1971 when I was co-producing Blood, Sweat & Tears 4 with Bobby and Roy Halee. At which time I, too, became one of the many members of his array of friends and admirers,. And over the following decades I gathered my own Lewie memories – musical, humorous and otherwise — along with my own collection of Lewie tales. At times, he was a little kid in a grown man’s body; at times he was an imaginative jazz trumpeter with the skills and the ideas to place him on the Olympia of jazz greats. But he was always lovable, always humorous, always warm and supportive of young players, and always a pleasure to hear.

Ordinarily, I would have written his obituary for the Los Angeles Times, but budget glitches at the paper intervened, and the obit was written by a staffer. I regret not having had the opportunity to write about some of the real Lewie story, reaching beyond the list of celebrity stars he backed.

Even so, the memories of Lew  Soloff, himself, will always be with me, as they will with everyone –- musicians, fans and friends – who had the good fortune to spend time within his captivating, unforgettable aura.


A Highlight of the Week: James DeFrances at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 10, 2015

By Don Heckman

Wednesday March 11. Bel Air.  Call it nepotism if you like for iRoM to be plugging James De Frances’ gig at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. tomorrow night.

Yes, he’s a frequent and thoughtful reviewer here, but – fine singer that he is – he’s also an impressive performer in his own right, who deserves attention for his own skills.  And this is a rare opportunity to hear him in action, in a setting that provides an appropriate musical backdrop.

James calls it his Suit and Tie Release Party, and it will feature a live performance of “Suit and Tie,” the lead single off his debut album Pop Swings. Limited edition autographed CD’s will be available for purchase.

The pre-show begins at 6:30 p.m. with red carpet and photo opps. Expect a celebrity crowd. Call (310) 474-9400 for reservations.

Don’t miss this one.

Click HERE to read iRoM’s review of James first L.A. performance.

* * * * * * * *

Photo by Faith Frenz.

 


Picks of the Week: January 5 – 11

January 6, 2015

As we move into the first weeks of 2015, the iRoM Picks of the Week will begin to reach beyond the Los Angeles-centric choices of the past few years. We will, of course, continue to survey L.A.’s ever-changing banquet of musical pleasures. But we will also begin to highlight and emphasize a broad range of choices reflecting the International perspective which is at the heart of our mission and our name.

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Michael TIlson Thomas

Michael TIlson Thomas

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Michael Tilson Thomas celebrates his 70th birthday by conducting the L.A. Phil. and the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a spectacular, world premiere production of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with video and lighting design. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Lee Ritenour Band. He’s been called “Captain Fingers” for his impressive guitar technique, but Ritenour is also an imaginative, hard swinging jazz artist. He performs here with the fine backing of Dave Weckl, drums, Tom Kennedy, bass and pianist Makoto Ozone. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 6. (Tues.) John Proulx Trio. Proulx is on many first-call lists for his fine piano work. But Proulx is an engaging vocalist as well, building a career as a prime entry in the slowly growing cadre of male jazz singers. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Carol Bach-y-Rita. A singer with a voice to remember, Bach-y-Rita (her name is Catalan) brings convincing interpretations and rhythmic ease to songs reaching from samba and salsa to crisp jazz rhythms, often in 4 or 5 languages. She’s especially worth seeing and hearing in the elegant setting of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Jan. 8 – 11, (Thurs. – Sun.) Pharoah Sanders. The far-reaching jazz explorations of the avant-garde ’60s are still alive and well in Sanders’ adventurous tenor saxophone. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium (866) 920-5299.

- Jan. 9. (Fri.)  The San Francisco Symphony and The Godfather.  Justin Freer conducts the Symphony in a live orchestral performance of Nino Rota’s film score in sync with a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s film masterpiece.  Davies Symphony Hall.  (415) 864-6000.

Oregon

Portland – Jan. 7. (Thurs.) The Mel Brown B3 Organ Group has been playing at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland for more than 16 years. No wonder George Benson once said “if this band played in New York City, they’d be a sensation.” Jimmy Mak’s.  (503) 295-6542.

Ashland – Jan. 9 & 10. (Fri. @ 7:30 p.m. & Sat. @ 3 p.m.) The Tesla Quartet. The stellar young artists in the Tesla Quartet have established themselves as a significant international chamber ensemble in the few years since they graduated from Julliard. They’ll perform works by Bartok, Dvorak, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Webern, Beethoven and others. Chamber Music Concert Series at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.  (541) 552-6154.

New York City

Ravi Coltrane

Ravi Coltrane

– Jan. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.) The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour. Here’s a rare chance to experience some of the impressive music from what is arguably one of the finest jazz festivals in the world. The featured players in this stellar aggregation include trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and the Gerald Clayton Trio. The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 8 – 10. (Thurs. – Sat.) The 2015 NYC Winter Jazzfest. The three day Jazzfest, which takes place at theatres and clubs across Greenwich Village offers a rare display of jazz eclecticism. With talent ranging from iconic names to new arrivals, with stylistic explorations of every jazz genre, it provides a brilliant survey of jazz in all its irresistible shapes and forms. The 2015 Winterjazz Fest.

-Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lisa Hilton. Composer-pianist Hilton debuts new compositions from her album Horizons in a live performance with saxophonist J.D. Allen, drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Ben Street, and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn. Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall).

London

– Jan. 5 – 7. (Mon. – Wed.) Scott Hamilton Quartet. Jazz history, past and present is vividly alive in Hamilton’s buoyant tenor saxophone work. The Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.

Tania Maria

Tania Maria

Milan

- Jan. 9 – 11. (Fri. – Sun.) Tania Maria. The loving partnership between Brazilian music and American jazz is on full display with everything the versatile Tania Maria sings and plays. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Switzerland

– Jan. 11. (Sun.) Lang Lang. The gifted young Chinese pianist makes one of his rare European appearances. Stadt-casino – Hans Huber Saal, Basel.

Andorra

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

– Jan. 9. (Fri.) Joshua Bell and his violin take center stage with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields European Tour: Andorra. The dynamic program reaches from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The tour also includes performances in Mannheim (Jan. 14), Vienna (Jan. 15) and Hamburg (Jan. 16).

 

Moscow

– Jan. 5 – 11. (Mon. – Sun. The Nutcracker: A Ballet in Two Acts. The Bolshoi Ballet accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra.

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Ballet

What will surely be a memorable performance in the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theatre.

Tokyo

Richard-Bona

Richard-Bona

– Jan. 10 & 11. (Sat. & Sun.) The Richard Bona Group. Bassist Bona, born in Cameroon, burst onto the New York jazz scene in the mid-’90s, quickly establishing his uniquely original style with the likes of George Benson, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Kahn Randy Brecker and others. Since then he’s led a sequence of his own musically compelling ensembles. Tokyo Blue Note.  +81 3-5485-0088.


A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2014

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s over, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”


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