HIGHLIGHT OF THE NEW YORK WEEKEND: SINGER/SONGWRITER/PIANIST ELLA LEYA PERFORMS SUNDAY NIGHT AT JOE’S PUB

July 31, 2015

By Don Heckman

Singer/songwriter and pianist Ella Leya makes her New York debut at Joe’s Pub on Sunday night.  It’s a rare performance by a gifted artist who should not be missed.

“It’s the voice of Ella Leya that first grabs you,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in reviewing her first album releases. “Simmering with a dark timbre, its velvet surface is occasionally tinged with flashes of sunlight.”

Add to that gently floating rhythms, and the story telling phrases which bring every song she sings vividly to iife.

Ella Leya

Ella Leya

Ella, who was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, eventually reaching the current identity she humorously as a “Russian/Californian living in London.”

All of which is true, as well as a creative history which reaches from a career as a well-known Russian jazz singer to more jazz singing in the U.S., followed by a sequence of albums that includes such well reviewed titles as Queen of Night, Secret Lives of Women and Russian Romance., film and television music for Ocean’s Twelve, Dirty, Sexy Money and more.

Her recent album, Russian Romance showcases one of the most irresistibly passionate Russian art song forms, often described as “Russian blues.” The album features combinations of  the lyrical music she has composed to the passionate, often erotic, poetry of some of her favorite Russian poets, including Alexander Pushkin, Anna Akhmatova and others.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Ella’s first novel, The Orphan Sky — which takes place in Communist Baku of the ’70s and ’80s — was described by the New York Journal of Books as “visceral and exotic as any spy novel and as authentically convincing as The Kite Runner.”

Ella Leya’s performance at Joe’s Pub will touch upon the full range of her creative life, including her captivating vocals, songs and piano stylings as well as a brief reading or two from The Orphan Sky.

Her set will also include a special guest artist: Janina Gavankar, star of True Blood and the Mysteries of Laura.

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Ella Leya sings her song “I Wish I Could” (from The Secret Lives of Women) in a video featuring Janina Gavankar.


An Appreciation: Gunther Schuller

June 24, 2015

By Don Heckman

I was so sorry to hear that Gunther Schuller had passed away on Sunday. A composer, teacher, world-class French Horn player, journalist, author, and much more, he was a true Renaissance man who had a powerful effect on music, worldwide, from the last part of the 20th century and well into the new millennium.

Neither jazz nor classical music will ever be as limited as they were before Gunther found the common ground between both musics in a still-compelling genre he called Third Stream.

I was fortunate enough to have had Gunther as a teacher, a mentor and a friend. And his impact upon my career as a music journalist and a composer will continue to be present in all my creative work.

I’m sure you’re making some heavenly sounds where you are now, Gunther. R.I.P.


Vocal Jazz Highlight of the Week In Los Angeles: Eliane Elias in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast Tonight

June 18, 2015

By Don Heckman

Eliane Elias is back in L.A. tonight, performing at the Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.  And that’s great news for lovers of fine jazz vocalizing. And lovers of fine jazz piano. And lovers of both talents in the same artist. Which is what audiences experience at an Eliane Elias performance.

Wish we could be there, but we’re in Oregon, and I’m sure our L.A. jazz friends will turn out for a memorable evening.

I’ve written numerous times about how impressed I was the first time I heard a youthful Eliane, decades ago, when she was barely out of her teens. Her Brazilian roots were already bringing a uniquely mesmerizing richness to her brilliant improvising. And this was before she added jazz singing to her resume. But her solo piano playing was on the verge of astonishing.

And it has only improved over the years, its impact supplemented with her singing. In the process, she has matured into a world class vocal/pianistic artist. In recent decades, she has firmly established her valid inclusion in the iconic list of singing jazz pianists reaching from Shirley Horn, Barbara Carroll, Carmen McRae, Nat “King” Cole, Diana Krall and beyond.

Eliane performs in Southern California once a year or so. Which really isn’t enough. So don’t miss this Jazz Bakery Movable Feast appearance at the Moss Theatre, in which she’ll be playing with bassist Marc Johnson (her husband), guitarist Rubens De La Corteo and drummer/percussionist Rafael Barata. No doubt she’ll offer some selections from her latest album, Made In Brazil.

Click HERE to read our review of a recent L.A. appearance by Eliane.

And here’s a video taste of Eliane Elias in action. Which is great. But don’t miss this – or any – opportunity to experience her performances up close and alive.

Eliane Elias performs in a Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.  Click HERE for information.


Live Jazz: Occidental Gypsy at Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon

June 16, 2015

By Don Heckman

The Siskiyou Music Project is offering a continuing flow of high level talent in the final weeks of its Summer schedule. On SMP’s Sunday night event at the Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon, a packed house enthusiastically greeted the oddly titled but musically memorable jazz quintet Occidental Gypsy.

In fact, the title was right on target. As the group came on stage in the Winery’s warm, welcoming environment, with the early evening sunlight beaming across the surrounding vistas of mountains and vineyards, the first thought that came to mind was the memory of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. Although the quintet instrumentation was slightly different (Occidental Gypsy consisted of two guitars, bass, drums and violin; the Hot club instead had an additional rhythm guitar instead of a drummer.), the similarities resonated through much of the program

Occidental Gypsy (Eli Bishop, Jeff Feldman, Erick Cifuentes, Jeremy Frantz and Brett Feldman

When Occidental Gypsy began to play, the link with the Hot Club, as well as a convincing association with much of the pre-bebop era of jazz became vividly apparent.

Start with the playing, especially when it emphasized the hard swinging similarities between the Occidental Gypsy togetherness of violinist Eli Bishop, bassist Jeff Feldman, drummer Erick Cifuentes, guitarist/singer Jeremy Frantz and guitarist Brett Feldman and the classic Hot Club interaction between guitarist Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. The results were irresistible, a virtual definition of an era when jazz was often described as “hot” music. And when Occidental Gypsy’s rhythm section, usually driven by the surging rhythm guitar of Brett Feldman, hit one irresistible rhythmic groove after another, “hot” was the best applicable adjective.

Jeremy Frantz and Brett Feldman

The soloing was equally sizzling. Both of the Occidental Gypsy guitarists soloed with a stunningly effective blend of high speed technique and inventive inspiration. Violinist Eli Bishop frequently added an even more fervent rapidity to his lines. And the exchanges between Bishop and Brett Feldman repeatedly called up audio imagery of Reinhardt and Grappelli.

Eli Bishop, Jeremy Frantz and jeff Feldman

Add to all that the program of songs, reaching back to a time when pop music, musical films and Broadway theatre were producing the material that became the primary source material for jazz artists. Occidental Gypsy’s set list overflowed. Among some of the more memorable, period-invoking titles:
“It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Shine,” “Dark Eyes,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Over the Rainbow” and many more, Including a unique Occidental Gypsy interpretation of the far more contemporary “Thriller.”

Further enhancing the group’s presentation, many tunes were sung in a warm, lyrical, richly interpretive manner by guitarist Jeremy Frantz.

In sum, it was yet another Siskiyou Music Project to remember. No wonder we’re looking forward to the remaining stellar events on the SMP’s summer schedule.

For more information about SMP’s schedule, click HERE.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


Ornette Coleman: An Obituary

June 12, 2015

By Don Heckman

Obituaries are never fun to write.  Especially when the subject is something more than a public figure.

Ornette Coleman was a lot more than that for me.  He was a musical inspiration, a creative challenge, a true pathfinder.

And a good friend.

But his obituary had to be written for the L.A. Times.  And it was.  With Ornette’s music flowing through my mind as I wrote.  And as it will continue to flow through my mind for years to come.  Either when I’m writing, or when I pull my alto saxophone out of its case to actually experience Ornette’s music in its expressive essence.

Here’s the direct link to the Ornette obit I wrote for the Times.

Ornette Coleman L.A. Times Obituary.

 


Live Jazz: Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio in a Siskiyou Music Project Concert

May 30, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. In a fast happening program Wednesday night, a full collection of jazz perspectives were showcased in an entertaining evening of music reaching from small groups to the Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band. Topping it off, there was the stellar presence of veteran, award-winning clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski and the briskly swinging playing of the Ed Dunsavage Trio (guitarist Dunsavage, basist Joe Cohoon and drummer Gary Hirsch).

The Rogue Valley All-Star Big Band was all that and more, alternating their hard-driving big band sounds with various smaller groupings in groove-driven, solo-filled selections reaching from Count Basie to Cannonball Adderley.

The Rogue Valley All Star Big Band

The Rogue Valley All Star Big Band

The young, student-level players were mostly at the stage of finding themselves as improvisers. But they were doing so with high-spirited enthusiasm, eager to find their way in fascinating offerings articulately played under the adept guidance of the group’s conductor, Martin Behnke.

Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio

Ken Peplowski and the Ed Dunsavage Trio

The evening’s musical high point began with the arrival of Peplowski and the Dunsavage Trio. In an era in which the clarinet has not been

Ken Peplowski and Ed Dunsavage

one of the primary jazz wind instruments, Peplowski is one of the few clarinetists working to keep the instrument’s remarkable creative potential alive and well. And he kept its roots vividly alive in this set by playing “Let’s Dance,” the Benny Goodman theme song and Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray.”

Peplowski was backed superbly by the Dunsavage Trio, dynamically driving Peplowski’s finger-busting up-tempos, and finding the lyricism in a set of Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington tunes climaxing with a romp through “A-Train.”

Ken Peplowski

Ken Peplowski

And Peplowski didn’t stop there. On a few numbers he displayed his warm engaging adeptness as a tenor saxophonist.

Add in the whimsical, wry sense of humor in his between tunes commentaries. And equally important for the evening’s young jazz players, there were Peplowski’s warm, supportive efforts to personally interact with various collections of players. Simultaneously an inspiration, a mentor and a fatherly leader, he gave the young players an evening of musical memories that will be with them for many years.

For the numerous players’ parents who were in the audience, as well as the dedicated jazz fans, it was the best sort of musical evening – one which underscored the timelessness of America’s improvisational art.

All best to Ed Dunsavage for having created another memorable Siskiyou Music Project. The Summer Series 2015 begins June 6 & 7. Click HERE for more information.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.


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.


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