Jazz With An Accent: Drummin’ Back Out Into the World — CDs by Arturo O’Farrill and Ginger Baker

August 6, 2014

By Fernando Gonzalez

Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra

The Offense of the Drum (Motema)

Maestro Mario Bauzá — trumpeter, saxophonist and music director of Machito and His Afro- Cubans, direct link between Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo and a key figure in blending jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms — scoffed at the label Latin Jazz.

“What they call Latin jazz is not Latin jazz. That’s Afro-Cuban jazz,” he would say in his inimitable growl. It wasn’t just that “Latin jazz” blurred the Afro-Cuban contribution. It was also that, for him, Latin jazz suggested a different, more varied mix — incorporating Argentine tangos, Colombian cumbias, Venezuelan joropos or Puerto Rican bomba y plena.  He would then name artists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Gato Barbieri or Jorge Dalto as worthy
practitioners.

It was the 1980s and it was a short roll call.  Today, he would’ve had a much longer and broader list.

But Bauzá would have been specially proud of the work of pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill, the son of his friend and collaborator, the great Cuban arranger and bandleader Chico O ́Farrill.

For 12 years, sometimes seemingly hidden in plain view, Arturo O ́Farrill has carried on an extraordinary effort, not only organizing and keeping alive an 18-piece big band but doing so while also expanding the vocabulary of Afro-Cuban jazz into a truly Pan-Latin Latin jazz.  By now, the book of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) includes not only some of the great standards of Afro-Cuban jazz but also pieces blending in tangos, choros and Peruvian festejos.  In The Offense of The Drum, O ́Farrill both takes it further out and brings it all home.  With the drums as the foundational center of the music, the ALJO connects diverse traditions  creatively but also rather organically.

So a tribute to the shared spirits and grooves in Havana and New Orleans, a musical dialogue  in “On The Corner of Malecón and Bourbon,” flows into a sly Colombian porro groove and  allusions to Colombian papayera band (a type of brass street band) on “Mercado en Domingo.”  But exploring the groove doesn’t preclude a reflective “Gonossiene 3 (Tientos),” which  explodes Erik Satie’s music Arabic elements with a flamenco perspective.

And O’Farrill is neither afraid of collaborations — such as those with pianist Vijay Iyer (the odd  metered “The Mad Hatter”) and DJ Logic (“They Came” which also explores spoken poetry)  — nor having a good time, as with the eminently danceable salsa track, “Alma Vacía,” or the  classic “Iko Iko” – featuring alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, a Big Chief Mardi Gras Indian –  reinvented here as a joyous, bouncing Cuban/New Orleans party groove.

Throughout, the arranging is imaginative, exploring the character of the music and the  instrumental possibilities of the band, while the soloing (especially by O’Farrill and Iyer on  piano, Rafi Malkiel, euphonium and Harrison on sax) is consistently smart and purposeful.  Creative, swinging and open to the world, The Offense of The Drum is Latin jazz at its best.

Offense of the Drum Electronic Press Kit

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Ginger Baker

Why? (Motema)

While lasting only two years, 1966 – 1968, the British trio Cream had an oversized impact in  modern popular music. At different times, Cream has been claimed as ancestor and inspiration  by rock musicians of nearly all stripes, from fusion to heavy metal.

But jazz has more than a fair claim to their legacy too. In fact, one doesn’t need to go back to  their epic version of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” in the group’s final Goodbye, to connect the  dots between the jazz tradition and their instrumental virtuosity, their approach to improvisation  and open-ended treatment of the blues. Set aside the pop-rock imagery for a second and think of, say, a saxophone playing the guitar lines and you are closer to an avant-jazz trio than a rock band.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. The two guys working the engine room of Cream, bassist  Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, were educated in, and fans of, jazz. Guitarist Eric Clapton was a different story — and his post-Cream, MOR career is evidence enough. In his autobiography, Bruce seems to suggest that two-thirds of Cream thought of it as a jazz trio adding, jokingly one would hope, that they just wouldn’t tell Clapton about it.

With his new album Why?, his first in 16 years, Baker, 75, seems to be closing the circle, returning once again, in one gesture, to his old loves — jazz (including two appealing trio records in the 90s with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden), African music and, essentially, the trio format (replacing the guitar with a horn and in fact playing without a chordal instrument this time).

Baker’s band these days, Jazz Confusion, features Pee Wee Ellis on sax, Alec Dankworth, bass and Abass Dodoo, percussion, and offers the drummer a smart, strong, no-frills vehicle.  The repertoire in Why? also suggests a bringing-it-all-home feel.

It’s comprised mainly of Baker’s originals, including “Ain Temouchant,” recorded with Frisell and Haden on Going Back Home (1994); “Cyril Davis,” (sic) a tribute to the British harmonica blues player Cyril Davies, and trumpeter Ron Miles’ “Ginger Spice,” both first recorded on Baker’s Coward of the County (1998); and the title track, a meditation on his life and work including a tip of the hat to the late bandleader Graham Bond.

The set also includes “Aiko Biaye,” an update of a Nigerian song Baker recorded in 1970 with Air Force, his short-lived sui generis big band; Ellis’ “Twelve and More Blues,” and a couple of jazz standards, Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and the irresistible “St. Thomas,” by Sonny Rollins.  Throughout, Ellis is an economic and tightly focused improviser, even as he takes flight on  tracks such as “St Thomas” and his own “Twelve and More,” remade here with a post-bop
swing. Dankworth is solid and fluid throughout, anchoring the group and providing measured, eloquent soloing.

Baker drives the music forward with his distinct drive and African-tinged tom-tom and hi-hat sound. There it might not be in his playing the relentless, maniacal intensity of his heyday (how could there be?) but Baker’s craftiness and musicality more than makes up for what he might lack at this point in energy. In Why? Baker embraces his past — but don’t expect a warm-and fuzzy nostalgia trip. To quote the title of the terrific Jay Bulger 2012 documentary about him, Beware of Mr. Baker. Yep. And that’s a good thing.

Beware of Mr. Baker

To read more posts, reviews and essays by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE


Picks of the Week: October 2 – 6

October 2, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Diane Hubka

Diane Hubka

– Oct. 2. (Wed.) Diane Hubka. Singer/guitarist Hubka celebrates the release of her new CD, West Coast Strings. She’ll be backed by a prime group of players: Guitarists John Pisano, Barry Zweig & David Eastlee, organist Bobby Pierce, bassist Jeff D’Angelo and drummer Kendall Kay. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 2. (Wed.) Teka & New Bossa. Brazilian singer/guitarist Teka displays her authentic view of Brazilian music, backed by Quinn Johnson on piano, Kevin Winard on percussion, Doug Webb on saxophone and Randy Tico on bass. Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

Christian McBride

Christian McBride

– Oct. 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun. Christian McBride Trio. Bassist Christian McBride, every leader’s first call for a world class rhythm section, plays selections from his album Out There with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr,. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 4. (Fri.) Lucy Guerin Inc. Weather. Australia’s much-honored choreographer presents a new work that “embodies human patterns within those of the elements.” CAP UCLA at Royce Hall.  (310) 825.2101.

Anat Cohen

Anat Cohen

– Oct. 4 – 6. (Fri. – Sun.) The 6th Annual Angel City Jazz Festival begins with a weekend brim full of musical activity. On Fri.: Free concert at LACMA with the Zach Ramacier Group and Nicole Mitchell Sun Dial Ensemble. On Sat: Dave Holland Prism and the John Scofield Uberjam Band. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall. On Sun: Richard Sears group, Albert Tootie Heath, Kneebody, Yosvany Terry Quintet, Greg Osby Group with special guest Anat Cohen. Ford Amphitheatre. The Angel City Jazz Festival.

– Oct. 5. (Sat.) Sandi Patty. One of the major stars of Christian music, Patty is a uniquely talented singer whose work is not limited by her popularity in the Christian music genre. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8501

– Oct. 6. (Sun.) Carol Duboc. Versatile Duboc, a singer/composer and actress, celebrates the release of her latest album, Smile, in the musical companionship of Jeff Lorber, keyboards, and Jimmy Haslip, bass. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Miguel Zenon

Miguel Zenon

– Oct. 5. (Sat.) SFJAZZ Collective Jam Session. The SFJAZZ Collective has thoroughly established itself as one of the irresistiblly appealing contemporary jazz ensembles. The gifted players include Miguel Zenón alto saxophone, David Sánchez tenor saxophone, Warren Wolf vibraphone, Edward Simon piano, Matt Penman bass, and Obed Calvaire, drums. An SFJAZZ event at the Joe Henderson Lab. (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

– Oct. 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.) Karrin Allyson. Grammy-nominated jazz singer Allyson continually reveals a musical curiosity that has taken her from bossa nova and the blues to John Coltrane. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729

Chicago

– Oct. 3 – 6. (Thurs. – Sun.) Bobby Watson Quartet. Eclectic alto saxophonist Watson has moved convincingly from bebop and hard bop to cutting edge contemporary jazz. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Donald Harrison

Donald Harrison

– Oct. 3 – 6. (Wed. – Sun.) The Messenger Legacy Celebrating Blakey. Drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers legacy is celebrated by Brian Lynch, trumpet, Donald Harrison and Billy Pierce, saxophones, Donald Brown, piano, Reggie Workman, bass, Ralph Peterson, drums. Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

– Oct. 4 & 5. ( Fri. & Sat.) John Mayall and Friends. The influential English blues artist, whose influence reaches from Eric Clapton to Mick Fleetwood and beyond, celebrates his 80th birthday. The Iridium. h ( 212) 582-2121.

Copenhagen

– Oct. 3. (Thurs.) Soren Kristiansen. Pianist Kristiansen, largely viewed as one of Denmark’s finest, most imaginative jazz artist, displays influence from Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Art Tatum in a stellar evening of solo piano jazz improvisations. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

– Oct. 3. (Thurs.) Nicholas Payton. Trumpeter Payton, a world class, Grammy-winning product of New Orleans music, is always a pleasure to hear in action. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Live Jazz: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival — Sunday

September 19, 2011

By Michael Katz

Monterey, California.  Sunday at Monterey began with a group of precocious teenagers and ended with an ageless octogenarian, concluding a festival that had highlights from every corner of the musical world.  The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, MJF’s signature contribution to jazz education, is more than just a group of talented kids gathered from all precincts. Under the leadership of Paul Contos, it has become a first-class band that will challenge your perception of what young players can accomplish.  From their first notes Sunday afternoon at the Arena, it was clear that they had filled the one hole in the Arena’s scheduling: a bona fide large jazz ensemble.

One of the early highlights was a crisp arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Here Comes McBride,” an ode to the bassist that kicked off with a round of blues solos, anchored by the band’s own bassist Daryl Johns.  There were terrific soloists in this group, including pianist Chase Morrin, who contributed an award winning composition, “Mumphis,” and trombonist Calvin Barthel, who sat in admirably with the Berkeley Flamenco group Saturday and is headed there on scholarship, as well as trumpeter Tree Palmedo.  Alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley did a stunning turn on Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.” Vocalist Hope Flores wowed the crowd with simmering renditions of “Dancing Cheek To Cheek” and “Gee, Baby, Aren’t I Good to You.”  Then came the alumni. Joshua Redman joined the band for a scintillating chorus on “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” surpassing his brilliant performance of the night before. Tenor Donnie McCaslin had a soaring solo as did pianist Bennie Green,  joining the band for Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” closing the show to a standing ovation from the sun-kissed crowd.

From there I did some skipping around, making sure I didn’t miss my annual dosage of barbecue, cobblers and a cold microbrew. In between I managed to catch the end of an impressive set on the Garden Stage by pianist John Donaldson, featuring alto sax player Shay Salhov.  Walking in on their last two numbers, I wished I’d seen more. And I took in the last portion of a set on the Courtyard Stage with singer/keyboardist Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman on sax, Judy delivering a cool “Senor Blues” and Greg joining for a terrific version of “Four.”

Bruce Forman

The highlight of the mid-afternoon was guitarist Bruce Forman’s Cow Bop, a western tinged quintet that performed with zest and humor. Starting with the tune Sonny Rollins turned into a jazz classic, “I’m An Old Cowhand,” the quintet featured fiddler supreme Phil Salazar, Alex King on bass and Jake Reed on drums. “Pinto Pam” Forman provided western style vocals with pizzazz, adding just the right amount of swing on classics like “Besame Mucho” and Gene Autry’s “Back In The Saddle Again.”  There were some jazz standards like “Slow Boat to China,” where Foreman unloaded his considerable guitar chops, aided by bassist King, and a cha-cha version of “Comes Love.” Stellar western guitarist Rich O’Brien joined the group for Louis Armstrong’s “Sweet Temptation,” bringing the crowd to its feet, trading licks with Forman and Salazar.  There were more fireworks with “El Combanchero,” with Forman mixing in samples from Dizzy’s “Night In Tunisia” and “Bebop.”  Cow Bop finished off the set with their slant on “Get Along Little Doggies,” and the aforementioned “Back In The Saddle.”  The crowd, by this time jammed into every nook and cranny of the Garden Stage, roared their approval.

At 5:30, the Garden Stage crowd was treated to an extended set by emerging tenor sax player Tia Fuller. Fuller, who came out of the Stanford program and tours with pop star Beyonce, was a sight to behold in tight dress and stiletto heels, but she has the chops for straight ahead jazz. I caught about half the set, in which she played mostly songs from her latest recordings. Her band included a terrific young pianist, Shamie Royston.

Benny Green

Once again there was too much going on Sunday to catch everything, but I wasn’t going to miss the Benny Green Trio with Donald Harrison, doing a set of Thelonious Monk’s music at the Night Club. Green’s superb trio consisted of Ben Wolfe on bass and Kenny Washington on drums.  There are so many Monk tunes that it was possible to begin with one the casual listener might be unfamiliar with — the lilting, low-key “Jackie-ing.” Green moved on to the quieter “Reflections,” but the trio really caught fire with one of Monk’s first recorded tunes, “Thelonious.” Green’s dazzling technique on the infectious line was augmented by Wolfe on the bass. Donald Harrison then joined the group, occupying with fiery distinction the sax chair filled in Monk’s time by the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Rouse. Harrison provided the emphatic melody to “Epistrophy,” with Green deftly adding the counter tempo. They followed with another of Monk’s engaging lines, “Nutty,”  Green and Wolfe reading each other’s minds on piano and bass, while Harrison, seemingly effortlessly, had complete command of his alto.  Lest you take him for granted, Kenny Washington was an exquisite performer, enunciating Monk’s complex rhythms, adding his own measures of dash and accent when called for.

There were too many highlights to mention in this set, but among them were an up tempo version of “52nd Street Theme,” with Benny providing a knockout piano solo, following Harrison’s insistent introduction of the theme. Compelling bass work by Wolfe ensued, then Washington broke loose with his own solo.  If there is one essential Monk tune it is “Round Midnight.” Harrison introduced it with a lovely run through the opening chords, then Green took over for a sensitive exploration of the familiar theme. There were a couple of more swinging numbers, including “Calling The Blues.” “Bye Ya,” was a natural finale, Benny Green contributing a delightful, bouncy solo, with a sprightly contribution by Harrison. The set concluded with the consistent brilliance of Wolfe and a final flourish by Kenny Washington.

Sonny Rollins

And then there was Sonny.  Taking to the spotlight in a flowing red shirt, bent forward as he roamed the stage, Lear-like, Sonny Rollins closed the festival with a performance that was sui generis.  The unmistakable Rollins intonation is still there.  If it has been stilted somewhat by virtue of his eighty-one years, it was hardly noticeable.  For much of the set this was classic Road Show Sonny, with Rollins establishing a theme, repeating it, embellishing it,  stalking  the stage as he explored every facet of a seemingly simple line.  Backed by his longtime stalwarts Bob Crenshaw on bass and Sammy Figueroa on percussion,  and drummer Kobie Watkins, Rollins had the additional support of world class guitarist Peter Bernstein. Bernstein’s rhythms gave the Caribbean numbers a breezy feel, and he was the main supportive soloist when Rollins needed a breather. The material alternated between ballads and island themes, with Rollins speaking only a few times to the audience. “Nice Lady,” which was included in Road Show Vol 1, was a typically bright Caribbean tune, with Figueroa’s congas and Bernstein’s rhythms pushing it along and Sonny wailing away. There was one new tune, “Professor Paul,” the literary connection unexplained, but the tune had enough quirky intelligence that you could get the picture.

Toward the end of the set, the tone shifted to vintage Rollins, the style he established in the heart of his career.  From the opening cadenza, when you could pick out the notes to Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” this was Sonny at his best, exploring the melody of a standard, challenging it with every nuance of his horn’s tonal depth,  moving in and out of the chorus,  placing his own emblem on the song.  It could have been the perfect ending to a show that had already gone well over an hour, but Sonny had much more in reserve. He went back into Caribbean mode and now the entire arena was up on its feet, swaying back and forth.  Sonny carried forth, trading solos with guitarist Bernstein, backed by Figueroa, Watkins and Crenshaw. Fifteen minutes later you got the feeling the audience was exhausted from dancing, but Sonny played on. A gentleman of a certain age standing behind me remarked, “I didn’t have that much energy when I was 21.”

Finally, Sonny put the horn down and addressed the crowd. “We’ll see you next time,” said the man who had had performed at the first Monterey Jazz Festival. “Long live Monterey!”

Amen to that.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Friday click HERE.

To read Michael Katz’s review of Monterey Jazz Festival Saturday click HERE.


The Playboy Jazz Festival (Saturday) at the Hollywood Bowl

June 13, 2011

By Michael Katz

The first day of the Playboy Jazz Festival on Saturday presented a panoply of talented musicians to blow away the persistent marine layer that had enveloped the Hollywood Bowl, providing a joyful party for all. At the same time it caused one to think about the relationship between musicianship and showmanship, and the role of jazz in jazz festivals these days.

As has been the case for many years now, if you are a jazz maven you had better get there on time, for the best acts tend to be early in the program, with the louder and more pop oriented groups closing out the show. Happily, the bowl was filled to near capacity not long after the 3 pm start, no doubt spurred by the appearance of trumpeter Ambrose Akimusire. The ascension of a young trumpet player is always a spotlight grabber. From Satchmo to Miles, Freddie Hubbard to Wynton Marsalis, the first trumpet chair has always symbolized jazz’s standard bearer.

Ambrose Akinmusire

Akimusire, in both tone and appearance, seemed to channel an inner Freddie, his sharp, piercing tones and gutsy solos reminding one of Hubbard’s late sixties work with Atlantic. His quintet featured the estimable Walter Smith III on tenor sax; the two of them traded the lead aggressively, abetted by some fine piano work by Sam Harris. If the set seemed more suited for a late night at Catalina’s than 3 PM on a cloudy afternoon, it still kept the attention of the crowd. The compositions were unannounced – Akimusire didn’t speak to the audience until the end of his set – and with the exception of a pretty, muted ballad towards the end, tended to be hard boppish. There were times when the performance seemed a collection of inspired solos in search of a theme, but it was certainly an impressive festival debut.

Bill Cosby, of course, has no problems communicating to an audience, either as festival MC or as nominal leader of his annual Cos of Good Music. This year’s version had A-list  talent everywhere, with Ndugu Chancler and Babatunde Lea on drums and percussion, Dwayne Burno and Alphonso Johnson on string and electric bass.

But the real stars were the front line of  Anat Cohen on clarinet/tenor sax and veteran George Bohanon on trombone, with Geri Allen sparkling on piano and keyboards. Bohanon, a longtime LA resident,  has delighted  audiences here for years, a steady presence in the area’s many large jazz ensembles. He rumbled delightfully throughout, from the spirited opener, through a lovely rendition of “Laura” and especially on Curtis Fuller’s “The Egyptian.”

Anat Cohen and George Bohannon

But it was Anat Cohen and Geri Allen, in from New York, who electrified the crowd. Cohen started out on clarinet, though her initial aggressive, swinging solos were amplified almost to the point of distortion. The clarinet just doesn’t stand up to that kind of amplification, but she fared much better on Harold Arlen’s lovely “Last Night When We Were Young.”  Her robust performance on tenor, especially on the Lieber/Stoller hit “Searchin’” was first rate.

Geri Allen was a force everywhere, supportive on “Laura,” dynamic on “Four on Six,” funky on “The Egyptian.” Cosby was visible throughout, sitting in on drums and cowbells. His ability to round up bands such as this one is an indispensable asset to the festival.

The HBO show Treme has brought many of New Orlean’s finest musicians to the national spotlight, most notably Trombone Shorty, who thrilled audiences here a year ago and absolutely tore up last year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. At first, any group that lacked Shorty seemed to pale by comparison, but the Rebirth Brass Band built up fervor slowly and steadily; soon enough, umbrellas were sprouting up like mushrooms, with beads circulating through the crowd. From younger players like Donald Harrison Jr. on alto and vocals, and lead trumpeter Kermit Ruffin on trumpet and the veteran Dr. Michael White on clarinet, the Rebirth Brass Band was a perfect match for the eager-to-party Bowl crowd. There were traditional New Orleans standards like “St. James Infirmy,” which featured Dr. White, and material as diverse as Herbie Hancock’s funky “Chameleon,” which seemed to fit in perfectly with the band’s Big Easy stomp. And, of course, “When The Saints Go Marching In” closed out the set, to the crowd’s roaring, dancing, bead-jangling approval.

The non-stop musical pace of the festival, with bands changing on the revolving stage, can at times make for a difficult transition . It is challenging to follow the New Orleans fervor of Treme with no time for the audience to digest it or for the buzz to dissipate. The San Francisco Jazz Collective, which followed, is an eight man ensemble which chooses a different theme each year and interprets it through its distinctive members.

SF Jazz Collective

This year, the Collective is celebrating the music of Stevie Wonder. That isn’t unprecedented for jazz artists – Stanley Turrentine and Nneena Freelon come to mind, among others. The SF group’s material is a little more demanding, however, in that it spreads its arrangements among its members, diffusing the point of view. The soloists are certainly first rate: Vibist Stefon Harris was the leader, at least in terms of speaking to the crowd, and his rhythmic approach was a backbone of the show, with Edward Simon on piano, Matt Penman on bass and Eric Harland on drums.

The driving front line consisted of Greg Osby on alto, David Sanchez on tenor, Robin Eubanks on trombone and Avashai Cohen on trumpet. That’s a powerful group, and with the amplification it almost sounded orchestral at times. They went through classic Wonder material, presented with raucous funk on “Do I Do” and “Visions.”  Simon’s arrangement of “My Cherie Amour” seemed a little cluttered to me. It’s at heart cheerfully romantic, probably Wonder’s most covered song, and doesn’t really stand up to anything that tinkers with the mood. “Superstition” featured dynamic work by Stefon Harris and was a great vehicle to get the crowd going, with Cohen doing some outstanding work on trumpet and Osby, Sanchez and Eubanks all joining in to bring the set to a close.

There probably isn’t a better jazz vocalist to play at this festival than Dianne Reeves. It was her eighth time, not to mention many appearances at the Bowl’s LA Phil Jazz series, and she was in command from the start. When the stage rotated, her backup quartet was present, formally dressed, but jazz diva Reeves entered regally from stage left, dressed in an electric blue outfit. Her voice is alternately caressing or bluesy/funky. She moved easily from an Abbey Lincoln tribute to standards like “Stormy Weather.” Reeves kept up a friendly patter with the crowd, communicating in a conversational vocalese, keeping the pace brisk. She has her own standards, such as “Today Will Be A Great Day,” dedicated to her mother. Her stellar back up group included Peter Sprague with some wonderful guitar soloing, Reginald Veal on bass, Peter Martin on piano and Terreon Gully on drums. Reeves was well-rewarded by the audience, which brought her back with several standing ovations. Her last number, a pastiche of folk rhythms and jazz quotes, featured bits of “Summertime” – and by this time summer had actually made an appearance, with the late afternoon sun breaking through – and finished with a nod to “Afro Blue.”

Eddie Palmieri

From this point on, jazz started to give way to its various by-products, with mixed results. The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra is a great dance band and featured some outstanding soloists. Brian Lynch on trumpet is well known to LA audiences, but Conrad Herwig on trombone is less often seen here. He went on a rampage in the set’s latter portions, and had a great partner in Jimmy Bosch. Karen Joseph, a young flutist, had lots of room in the spotlight and took full advantage. Palmieri and his rhythm/percussion section blasted away throughout. The volume was up, though it was only a precursor of what was to come.

The penultimate act was the smooth jazz quartet FourPlay, with Chuck Loeb taking over from Larry Carleton on guitar. Bob James, Harvey Mason and Nathon East rounded out the group. They are all outstanding musicians – James, especially, is inimitably listenable — with memorable compositions like the theme from the TV show Taxi and “Nightcrawlers.” But the group pretty much lives up to its billing as a preeminent smooth jazz band. For more hard core jazz fans, their repertoire seems unchallenging and on the tame side.

Roots, the hip hop group that closed the show, could hardly be called tame. They romped on stage with the decibels amped up to eardrum-splitting levels. I suppose the inclusion of a tuba would make them tangentially related to jazz, and Terence Blanchard was billed as a guest artist, but like a good portion of the crowd, I  preferred to preserve my hearing for another day and joined the early exodus to the Park and Ride buses, which were filling up and scooting off to their destinations long before the show ended.

While I understand the argument that these pop/crossover acts are needed to fill the Bowl, I would point out that, at least Saturday, the audience was larger for the outstanding slate of diverse performers that led off the program. It’s natural that the louder acts, especially the ones that get people up and dancing like Rebirth Brass and Palmieri, get the most raucous responses, yet the genuinely enthusiastic reaction to the earlier musicians, culminating in the repeated standing O’s for Dianne Reeves, showed that jazz in all its variations, well-presented by talented, Bowl-savvy performers, can still have wide appeal.

In the meantime, let’s give the Playboy Jazz Festival credit for bringing some great musicians to town, some of them exciting new voices, others veterans but infrequent visitors, and bringing them before a large and supportive crowd that wouldn’t see them otherwise. That’s undeniably good for music here in LA.

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

Photos of Akinmusire, Anat Cohen and George Bohannon, and Eddie Palmieri by Tony Gieske.

 


Picks of the Week: June 6 – 12

June 5, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– June 6. (Mon.)  Candi Sosa: Bolero Meets Jazz.  Cuban born singer Sosa finds surprisingly compatible musical linkages between jazz and the lyrical Latin ballad style. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– June 7. (Tues.)  Jennifer Leitham Trio.  Bassist/singer Leitham celebrates the release of her DVD, The Real Me Live!, the chronicle of an extraordinary talent and an amazing life.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Sally Kellerman

– June 8. (Wed.) Sally UnpluggedSally Kellerman.  Hot Lips returns with a bundle of songs reaching from jazz and blues to country and pop.  And she does them all with utter authenticity, finding the heart of the story in everything she sings. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– June 9 – 11. (Thurs. – Sat.)  “Rhapsody in Blue.”  The Pacific Symphony conducted by James Gaffigan, performs a program of Gershwin (the Rhapsody in Blue and Variations on I Got Rhythm) and Rachmaninoff (Symphony No. 2).  Orion Weiss is the piano soloist for the Rhapsody.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

– June 9 – 11. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Diane Schuur.  Deedles, as she is known to friends and fans alike, makes a few of her too-rare appearances in the Southland, celebrating the release of The Gathring, her debut album on Vanguard.  On Thurs. she’ll be at the Grammy Museum.    And on Fri. and Sat. at Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– June 10. (Fri.)  Julie Kelly.  Versatile in everything from atmospheric Brazilian music to jazz balladry and lively scatting, Kelly’s singing is always a pleasure to hear.  She’s backed by the John Heard Trio.   Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

– June 11. (Sat.)  Jethro Tull.  More than four decades since Ian Anderson first demonstrated the potential for the flute as the lead instrument in a rock group, he’s still romping with Jethro Tull.  The band will perform their Aqualung album in its entirety, with a sampling of other hits, as well. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 554-5857.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

– June 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Playboy Jazz Festival.  The Hollywood Bowl.  It’s that time again.  The weekend that jazz fans anticipate with pleasure.  A two day jazz party in the sun, filling every nook and cranny of the Hollywood Bowl with all the amazing sounds grouped under the broad colorful umbrella of contemporary jazz.  This year’s program includes:

Saturday

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves, The Roots with Terence Blanchard, Fourplay, Eddie Palmieri’s Salsa Orchestra, the SFJAZZ Collective, A Night in Treme with the Rebirth Brass Band (and guest artists Donald Harrison, Jr., Kermit Ruffins, Dr. Michael White and Big Sam Williams), Bill Cosby’s Cos of Good Music (featuring Geri Allen, George Bohanon, Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Anat Cohen and Babatunde Lea), The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet and the LASUD All City HS Big Band (directed by Tony White and J.B. Dyas).

Sunday

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy, the Lee Konitz New Quartet, John Scofield and Robben Ford, Naturally 7, Harmony 3 with Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley and Stanley Jordan, Geri Allen’s Timeline Band, Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown (featuring Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Vusi Mahlasela), Bill Cunliffe with the Resonance Big Band in a Tribute to Oscar Peterson, featuring Marian Petrescu, Carlos Varela and the Pullum HS Jazz Big Band (directed by Fernando Pullum).  The Playboy Jazz Festival.     (310) 450-1173.

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– June 12. (Sunday)  Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  One of the great masters of large ensemble jazz composition and orchestration, ninety-two year old Wilson still knows how to lead a band with enviable dynamic energy.  Don’t miss him in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– June 10 & 11. (Fri. & Sat.)  The Yellowjackets with special guest Robben Ford.  Fusion, funk, groove masters the Yellowjackets team up with the equally blues-driven guitarist Ford.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Karrin Allyson

- June 11 & 12. (Sat. & Sun.)  Karrin Allyson Quartet.  A singer who brings musicality, believability and a gorgeous vocal instrument to all her songs, Allyson appears on the crest of her new album, ‘Round Midnight.  Pianist Bruce Barth is featured in her fine back-up group. Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Healdsburg

Denny Zeitlin

– June 6 – 12. (Mon. – Sun.))  The Healdsburg Jazz Festival continues with its presentation of world class jazz in delightful settings.  Among the highlights: Mon: John Stowell Guitar Trio; Tues.: SF Jazz High School All-Stars; Wed.: Sandy and Natalie Cressman.  Thurs: Geri Allen, solo piano; the Babatunde Lea Quintet in a tribute to Leon Thomas.  Friday: Sangam with Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland.  Saturday: Denny Zeitlin, solo piano; the John Heard Trio; George Cables All Stars.  Sunday: Charlie Haden and Allen Broadbent.  At the Raven Theatre and other locations in Healdsburg, CA.  The Healdsburg Jazz Festival.  (707) 433-4633.

Seattle

– June 9 – 12 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Earl Klugh.   One of Detroit’s finest products, guitarist Klugh’s articulate style brings life and substance to the smooth jazz/fusion genre.  Jazz Alley.    (206)441-9729

New York

Ron Carter

– June 6. (Mon.)  Jim Hall and Ron Carter Duo“Alone Together, Again.”  A pair of the great jazz masters in action.  One only hopes that they continue to do these “Alone Together” gigs – again and again.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

– June 7 – 12. (Tues. – Sun.) The Joe Lovano Nonet.  Saxophonist Lovano’s Grammy winning Nonet admirably carries the torch lit by the Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool band.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– June 9 & 10. (Thurs. & Fri.)  The Steve Cropper Band.  Guitarist, songwriter and producer Cropper has backed the likes of Booker T., Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and many others, while writing tunes good enough to trigger his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Iridium.    (212) 582-2121.

Washington D.C.

– June 12. (Sun.)  Jazz on the National MallClaudia Acuna Quartet, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Eddie Palmieri All-Star Orchestra, Frederic Yonnet, Toby Foyeh and Orchestra Africa.  A free, live performance of world class jazz, presented by the D.C. Jazz Festival.  Jazz on the Natonal Mall.    The National Mall, Washington, D.C.  (202) 457-7628.

Jerusalem

Noa

– June 9 & 11. (Thurs. & Sat.) Noa.  Israeli/American singer Noa (her full name is Achinoam Nini) is as comfortable and effective with a symphony orchestra as she is with the guitar of her frequent musical companion, Gil Dor.  But no matter what she’s singing, whether it be rock, blues, Yemenite or folk, in Italian, French, Hebrew or Arabic, she’s one of the world’s great vocal artists.  Here, she performs with Dor, as well as the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, celebrating the release of her new album, The Israeli Songbook.  The Henry Crown Hall, Jerusalem.    1-700-70-4000.

London

– Jan 7 – 9. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Michel Legrand.  The French pianist/composer combines an appealing jazz performance style with a catalog of superb, memorable songs.  He’ll be backed in this relatively rare night club performance by Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars.   Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747 4000.

Istanbul

Dervish Aziz

– June 9. (Thurs.)  Yuval Ron Ensemble.  Oud master Yuval Ron has assembled a remarkable array of musicians for  “A Concert For Peace in the Middle East.”  The participants include whirling Dervish Aziz, qawwali master Sukhawat Ali Khan, Armenian woodwind master Norik Manoukian, Israeli-Yemenite singer Maya Haddi, and Virgine Alimian, playing kanoun, Jamie Papish and David Martinelli on percussion.  FREE but reservations for the free tickets are required. Please email for the free tickets to: sevdearpaci@gmail.com. “A Concert For Peace in the Middle East.”   Sultanahmet Square AmpheTheatre. Istanbul.

Tokyo

– June 8 – 11. (Wed. – Sat.)  The Mike Stern Band featuring Randy Brecker.  Guitarist Stern, a six-time Grammy nominee, leads the solid ensemble of bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Dennis Chambers in a multi-layered set of sounds reaching across the spectrum from groove blues to straight ahead jazz.  The Blue Note Tokyo.

Sally Kellerman, Dianne Reeves, Buddy Guy and Ron Carter photos by Tony Gieske.


News/Preview: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival

April 21, 2011

By Michael Katz

This is the time of year when Monterey Jazz Festival diehards pour over the newly released lineup, plotting strategy for seeing as many of the 500 + artists spread over six venues as humanly possible. This year’s 54th Monterey Jazz Festival, September 16-18, promises to be one of the best.

To begin with, the Main Arena schedule is loaded.

Hiromi

Friday night’s show opens with the sublime Japanese pianist Hiromi and her trio, followed by Radio Deluxe guitarist John Pizzarelli’s quartet featuring his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey and his dad Bucky. Anchoring the show will be Poncho Sanchez with special guest, Monterey favorite Terence Blanchard, doing a tribute to Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. The Grounds venues include Richard Bona and Raul Midon in the first of two appearances, featured artist Robert Glaspar in a piano trio setting, young pianist Helen Sung and Portuguese singer Carmen Souza.

Saturday afternoon is the blues/funk/roots program. Last year Trombone Shorty took over the festival and this year the main stage features “An Afternoon in Treme” with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Kermit Ruffins, and others, followed by Huey Lewis and the News. If the place is still standing it’ll be back to jazz at night, with a promising slate that begins with pianist Geri Allen and Timeline featuring tap dancer Maurice Chestnut in the commissioned piece, a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr.

Joshua Redman

Artist –in– Residence Joshua Redman is next with his James Farm group, and Herbie Hancock closes out the show. Meanwhile, on the Grounds stages, you can check out sax greats Donnie McCaslin and Chris Potter, who is playing with bassist Scott Colley, as well as singer Pamela Rose and many others.

Sunday afternoon is devoted to the Next Generation, and a special shout out to local L.A. schools. The L.A. County School for the Arts won the big band competition for the third year in a row and will be performing on the main stage, and also has a vocal ensemble performing on the grounds; Hamilton High has a combo group, Cal State Long Beach and USC both have big bands performing.  The more pop oriented Sunday afternoon stage show features India.Arie and Israeli Idan Raichel on their Open Door Tour.

Bruce Forman

One of the festival highlights is always the late afternoon ensembles at the Garden Stage, which this year feature sax player Tia  Fuller and guitarist Bruce Forman with Cow Bop, a country/jazz/swing group. Singer/pianist Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman on sax perform throughout the festival on the small Yamaha stage.

Sunday night on the main arena begins with a Miles Davis/Gil Evans retrospective, featuring music from Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Miles Ahead,  featuring Terence Blanchard, Peter Erskine and Miles Evans.

Sonny Rollins

Many of us in SoCal saw this performance at the Hollywood Bowl two years ago, so our eyes will shift to the Night Club on the grounds, where pianist Benny Green and his trio will team with saxophonist Donald Harrison for a program of Monk Music. The annual B-3 blowout is also taking place in Dizzy’s Den, with Wil Blades opening, followed by Joey DeFrancesco with special guest Bobby Hutcherson.  Pianist Eldar is at the more intimate Coffee House.  The one and only Sonny Rollins closes things out on the main stage.

Exhaustion follows, but at that point, who cares?

Joshua Redman photo by Tony Gieske.


Picks of the Week: Mar. 1 – 6

March 1, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Alan Bergman

– Mar. 1. (Tues.)  Alan Bergman.  It’s always fun to hear a songwriter perform his own songs.  But it’s even better when the songwriter is also a singer with a richly nuanced interpretative style.  In Bergman, you get all that and more.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.  http://www.vibratogrilljazz.com

– Mar. 2. (Wed.)  Bill Cunliffe Piano Trio.   Pianist, composer, arranger and Grammy winner Cunliffe applies his multi-hyphenate skills to the musical clarity of the jazz piano trio setting.  His associates are Joe La Barbera, drums, Ryan McGillicuddy, bass.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Mar. 2. (Wed.)  Isabel Rose.  She does it all — co-wrote and starred in the film, Anything But Love, has written a novel — intriguingly titled The J.A.P. Chronicles — and a one-woman musical.  As if that wasn’t enough, she also sings and swings on her CD Swingin’ From the Hip with an authenticity that reaches into the classic traditions of American pop song.    Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Mar. 2. (Wed.)  Baroque Variations: Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin.  Here’s a unique opportunity to hear a program of Baroque music performed by one of the world’s finest period instrument ensembles.  Walt Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 3. (Thurs.)  David Becker Tribune.  International guitar star Becker’s group Tribune has been bringing their global overview to dynamic jazz performances for more than two decades.  Mostly on tour around the world, they’re making a rare Southern California appearance.  Don’t miss it.  Becker, guitars, Bruce Becker-drums, Jim Donica bass, Aniela Perry cello.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

Gerald Clayon

– Mar. 3. (Thurs.)  Gerald Clayton Trio. Raised in the Southland in a highly visible musical family (his father is bassist John Clayton, his uncle is saxophonist Jeff Clayton), pianist Gerald Clayton has emerged, in  his mid-twenties as one of the most compelling, versatile and engaging jazz artists of his generation.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Mar. 3. (Thurs.)  “Mulligan Stew” Drummer Paul Kriebich celebrates West Coast cool jazz in a tribute to Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker.  His band includes Charlie Orenia, saxophone, Ron Stout, trumpet, Chris Conner, bass.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crown Plaza LAX.  (310) 258-1333.

– Mar. 3. (Thurs.)  Eric Reed Quartet. A jazz prodigy when he was still a teen-ager, pianist Reed’s resume has since included gigs with everyone from Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter to Quincy Jones and  Wynton Marsalis.  He performs with Jacques Lesure, guitar, Hamilton Price, bass, Kevin Kanner, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Mar. 3 & 4. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic. The much honored octet of players from the Berlin Philharmonic perform Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, Beethoven’s Septet in Eb Major and the Schubert Octet in F Major. Thurs.  UCLA Live Royce Hall.  UCLA Live at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.  Fri. Irvine Barclay Theatre.   (949) 854-4646.

Rebecca Coupe Franks

– Mar. 5. (Sat.)  Rebecca Coupe Franks.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  A Californian by birth, trumpeter Franks has become a New Yorker by career, performing with the likes of Lou Donaldson, Ben Riley, Kenny Barron and others.  She makes a rare Southland appearance.  (310) 474-9400.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

– Mar. 5. (Sat.)  Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter.  With Dave Holland and Vinnie Colaiuta.  It’s an iconic, all-star night when old musical pals Hancock and Shorter get together, backed by the dynamic bass of Holland and the multi-layered, hard-driving drumming of Colaiuta. Walt Disney Hall.  Disney Hall (323) 850-2000.

– Mar. 5. (Sat.)  The 11th Annual Brazilian Carnaval Exotica. The annual celebration of Brazilian carnaval in Los Angeles converts Club Nokia into an opportunity to indulge the senses and get lost in a pulsating sea of samba, sequins, masks and feathers.  In addition to Chalo Eduardo’s all-star band, the celebration will feature the Brazilian Nites Samba Dancers and a 100 piece community drum circle.  8 p.m. – 2 a.m.  Club Nokia.  (213) 765-7000.

– Mar. 5. (Sat.) Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Corea and Burton revive a partnership that began with the 1972 album Crystal Silence – described by NPR as “one of the seminal recordings of the decade.”   UCLA Live at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101.

Gerald Wilson

– Mar. 6. (Sun.) Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  At 92, Wilson has been leading impressive, hard swinging big bands for nearly seventy years.  And they’ve all reflected his free roaming imagination, his mastery of big band instrumentation and his fierce conducting techniques.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see and hear him in action. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

San Francisco

– Mar. 1. (Tues.)  Aaron Goldberg Trio. Pianist Goldberg is an A-list choice for Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  But the best way to hear him may be with his long standing trio – with Matt Penman, bass and Eric Harland, drums.  He’ll also be joined by some surprise quests from the SFJAZZ Collective. Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

– Mar. 3. (Thurs.)  Elvin Bishop. Bishop’s long musical road has reached from the Butterfield Blues Band and his mid-‘70s hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” to side trips into blues taverns, concert stages and music festivals around the world.  Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

New York

– Mar. 1 – 6 (Tues. – Sun.)  Donald Harrison, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham Trio. All-Star is the proper phrase to use in describing this impressive, cross generational collective of jazz masters. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

JD Walter

– Mar. 2. (Wed.)  JD Walter. He still hasn’t received anything like the recognition his talent deserves, but Walter is a jazz vocalist to remember.  No wonder the LA Times called him “an original in an art overpopulated with copycats.”  55 Bar.  (212) 929-9883.

– Mar. 2 – 6. (Wed. – Sun.)  Fred Hersch Duos & Trio +2.  Pianist Hersch spreads his considerable skills around in a series of musical encounters.  He’ll play duos on Wed. with singer Kate McGarry, on Thurs. with guitarist Julian Lage, and on Sunday with saxophonist Joshua Redman.  And on Fri. and Sat., he’ll perform with his trio and saxophonist Noah Preminger and trumpeter Ralph AlessiJazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

– Mar. 4 – 6. (Fri – Sun.)  Larry Coryell Power Trio.  Guitarist Coryell joins up with bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Lenny White to recall the rich textured sounds and fiery rhythms of jazz fusion.  Iridium.   (212) 582-2121.

Gerald Wilson photo by Tony Gieske.


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