2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk

December 30, 2014

By Devon Wendell

2014 was a strange year for music. I recall thinking to myself halfway through The Playboy Jazz Festival in June; “Okay, so everyone is going funk now. Wynton Marsalis’ head would explode!” To many jazz purists, funk is considered to be sellout music.

Critics and fans freaked out when Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock adapted the influence of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into their music. And it’s still a topic of debate.

Good funk, real funk thumbs its nose at people and musical genres that take themselves too seriously and engage in sniveling, purist nitpicking. Funk also incorporates jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, gospel, hip-hop and disco. Anything can be thrown into the funk stew if you’re sincere about it. Funk is more than a musical genre; it’s an attitude and lifestyle that makes the wildest of rockers look like squares. Primarily, funk is about shaking your ass with pride.

George Clinton

George Clinton

2014 was the year that George Clinton released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years. First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate features 33 songs, a song for ever year that there wasn’t a Funkadelic release. This may be Clinton’s most adventurous recording since 1972’s America Eats Its Young. George is accompanied by such P-Funk veterans as Rodney “Skeet” Curtis, Michael Hampton, Blackbyrd Mcknight, Michael B. Patterson, Garrett Shider, Kendra Foster, and dozens more. The music is very diverse on this record.
Funkadelic of today tackles electronica, hip-hop, heavy metal, and neo-soul with that one of a kind, in your face, over the top George Clinton attitude.

Sly Stone is also featured on 4 tracks on this 3 plus hour package of glorious filth. Clinton even uses the auto-tune effect the way Sly Stone and Roger Troutman used a talk-box several decades ago. To enhance the music, not correct it.

Prior to the album’s release, George Clinton released his first ever memoir along with writer Ben Greenman; Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Which is one of the most compelling and candid musical memoirs ever released. The book shines a light on the many tales and experiences of founding father of Parliament/Funkadelic. Click HERE for my iRoM review.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic continue to tour the world, putting on 3-4 hour shows a night.

Cosmic space-bass pioneer Bootsy Collins hit the road again strong in 2014, using the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band again with most of the original Rubber Band members intact. At the age of 63, Bootsy (who played bass and wrote for James Brown and P-Funk on some of their most influential recordings) shows no sign of slowing down. I’m hoping he and the Rubber Band make their way to Los Angeles soon so this funkateer can get down!

Of course, if I didn’t mention Prince’s contributions to funk in 2014, I’d be risking my life!

Prince

Prince

The Purple one released two albums back to back this year; Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. Prince’s guitar work, vocals, and production are stellar on both releases but I did find these albums to be a bit derivative and sounding a bit too close to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and late ‘70s Funkadelic. These albums are funky, but left me wanting more.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

 

 

And then you had pop artist Bruno Mars jumping on the funky band wagon with his “Uptown Funk” collaboration with Mark Ronson. It’s a little too close to James Brown and Zapp for my taste but the public loves it and this may help the pop world take funk more seriously as a genre onto itself.

 

 

 

Last but not least, after a 14 year hiatus from recording, D’Angelo returned with Black Messiah. This may be the most overly hyped release of any record that I’ve witnessed in many years. D’Angelo started out in a neo-soul bag but in recent years, he’s tackled songs by Parliament/Fukadelic during his live shows and grown as a musician, writer, and vocalist.

There’s no doubt that this album owes a lot to Sly & The Family Stone’s darker recording of the early ‘70s (There’s A Riot GoinOn & Fresh) in it’s dissonance. At times it’s too much and the lyrics are inaudible.

D'Angelo

D’Angelo

Songs like “Till It’s Done (Tutu”), “The Charade’, and “1000 Deaths” speak directly to the political climate in America today but I wish I could understand the lyrics more clearly. That Quaalude/Depressed introspective slurred vocal effect was mastered by Sly Stone but Sly’s lyrics were clearer than this. Black Messiah is still undoubtedly funky. The band (called “The Vanguard”)features some of the greatest musicians in the world from Questlove Thompson from The Roots on drums, master session player Pino Palladino on bass, to trumpeter Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and P-Funk’s Kendra Foster on vocals. Foster also co-wrote seven of the albums tracks. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest is also a credited writer.

Some people love D’Angelo’s “comeback” album and many others are on the fence but the same can be said about Funkadelic’s latest. As George Clinton has said; “Funk is like a fine wine, it gets better with age” so time will tell how well these records fare with fans.

So 2014 was one funky year, in more ways than one. Musically, some bold statements were made by some bold artists. Funk is still the most sampled music in hip-hop and you hear the music’s influence in rock, jazz, blues, and soul. Although the music industry has treated funk as a novelty since the ‘70s, it will now be forced to look at it as a serious art form that is constantly developing and moving into many diverse directions.

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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE


A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

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


Radio Jazz: Time To Get Sirius?

July 29, 2013

By Michael Katz

There is nothing like driving around in a remote area to underline the virtues of good music. So I’d like to say a few kind words about Sirius XM. And also Avis, whose rental car was equipped with it. I recently spent a week in Yellowstone National Park, the setting for my new novel, Dearly Befuddled.

Yellowstone is a driver’s paradise or nightmare, depending on the vagaries of bison and elk, and the tourists who want to photograph them. A typical day checking out the geyser basins, waterfalls and hiking trails involves at least several hours on the road. Thanks to Sirius, I was able to share them with Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and many others.

I’m sure those of you with functioning long term memories can remember when driving across lonesome stretches of the West meant searching through the vast emptiness of AM radio, where the choices were country music, country music, Jesus, Jesus en Espanol, country music en Espanol, and a fading baseball game from Mars. Sirius offers something for everyone, and multiple versions of it. There are several jazz channels, but Channel 67 (Real Jazz) seemed to be more Straight Ahead, as the late, great DJ Chuck Niles would have said. In addition to Miles and Stan and Freddie, my relatively brief sampling had favorites such as Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, Dave Brubeck, as well as current names like Warren Wolf, Marcus Miller, the Clayton Brothers and Roy Hargrove.   The DJs, including Miller and Mark Ruffin, are knowledgeable, although chat is at a minimum. There are live recordings of concerts, too, from Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center.

I’ve got to admit it is pretty amazing to walk  away from the eruption of Giant Fountain Geyser and listen to Shirley Horn sing “I’ve Got The World On A String.”

Giant Fountain Geyser

Or drive away from the Black Sand Basin as Jackie Terrason plays “Smile.”

Black Sand Basin

Then there is the question, what do you do while you are stuck in traffic, while, unknown to you, a bison is playing Grand Marshal to the Road To West Yellowstone Parade.

I am somewhere behind the bison.

The answer is, you switch to B.B. King’s Bluesville on Channel 70 and listen to Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Doug MacLeod. “Got them Wanderin’ Bison, Rubberneck Tourist Blues.” The time just flies by, really.

This begs the question, should I pay up and subscribe at home. I’ve tried to be loyal to our local station, KJazz 88.1. I understand the importance of a local station, promoting local players and events (if only…). In Kjazz’s defense, they cannot run separate channels for blues and smooth jazz as Sirius does. But in the end, we all vote with our feet (or our index fingers). And Kjazz needs to spend more time with current and/or local artists, and less time recycling the same hackneyed playlist over and over.

In the meantime, if you are hitting the road, don’t leave home without Sirius.

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.


An Appreciation: Remembering Dave Brubeck

December 12, 2012

By Mike Katz

When Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” became a runaway hit, it was 1959 and I was in the third grade.  By the time I started seriously listening to jazz, in the late sixties, Brubeck’s original quartet had broken up and the jazz scene was in a flux. Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis were going electric. Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, among others, had gravitated to the CTI label and would soon be flirting with disco. The jazz that found its way onto the college campuses Brubeck once cultivated had been repackaged as fusion, backing up bands like Blood Sweat & Tears or Chicago.

“Take Five,” meanwhile, had become sort of a pre-curser to Pac-Man, munching up everything else the Brubeck quartet had produced.  That would be some considerable munching, since Brubeck, Paul Desmond and company had spent a decade atop the charts, playing to SRO crowds, with Dave becoming the first jazz artist to grace the cover of Time Magazine long before the Time Out LP was ever conceived.  But for the general audience, “Take Five” was Brubeck and to a certain extent always would be.

One 1970-ish day I was idly flipping through a record store in Evanston and found a double album compilation of the Brubeck quartet called Adventures In Time. It had all of the famous Brubeck tunes (most of them unknown to me): “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” “Three To Get Ready,” “It’s a Raggy Waltz,” “Unsquare Dance,” many of them in different takes or performances than the originals. All the songs but one were composed by members of the quartet. All but one were in time signatures other than  4/4.  Listening and listening and listening some more, until the grooves were worn down, I finally figured out what these guys were doing – not that it was really necessary. Incessant foot tapping and aimless humming as I wandered the Northwestern campus were explanation enough.

Looking back, it seems strange that Brubeck endured criticism for not being, for lack of a better word, jazzy enough. Jazz is improvisation and experimentation, and what could be bolder than taking the basic 4/4 march time, not only of jazz but all popular music, and standing it on its ear? And there was more. When Brubeck, in 1957, released “Dave Digs Disney,” there was much sniggering from critics, yet “Someday My Prince Will Come” became a standard for Miles Davis and “Alice In Wonderland” one of Bill Evans’ best known tunes from the Village Vanguard sessions.  Still, while jazz searches for the “next” Miles Davis or John Coltrane or Bill Evans, we never hear about the “next” Dave Brubeck.

Perhaps that is because he really never left.

Although it’s been written that he devoted much of his post-original quartet years to larger orchestrations and cantatas, there was plenty of jazz left in the Brubeck oeuvre. Most musicians would have loved to have the mid-life career Brubeck shared with Gerry Mulligan in his second major quartet.  The baritone sax may seem the polar opposite to Paul Desmond’s “sound of a dry martini,” but it still sounded great. Check out LPs like Last Set At Newport, or some of the tracks with Mulligan on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s  release Live At The MJF. Brubeck continued to compose in the jazz space as well. His 1995 release Young Lions and Old Tigers featured lovely themes for Roy Hargrove, James Moody and flugelhornist Ronnie Buttacavoli, as well as two wonderful tunes with Mulligan and a duet with George Shearing on Brubeck’s classic, “In Her Own Sweet Way.” And that is just one CD out of dozens.

One of the joys of becoming a regular at the Monterey Jazz Festival was getting to see Brubeck perform live in a milieu that had become in many ways a second home for him. He was “discovered” by festival  co-founder Jimmy Lyons, played at MJF 1, MJF 50, MJF 52 and many, many times in between.  Two of my favorite memories are the cantata, co-written with his wife, Iola, based on John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, featuring Roberta Gambarini and Kurt Elling, performed at MJF 49 in 2006; and his MJF 50 duet with Jim Hall the next year. Their rendition of “Take Five” was stunning, and one can only hope both those performances, now in the MJF archives, will someday be shared with the public.

So, finally, Dave Brubeck has left us. Certainly “Take Five” never will, as long as there is someone walking down the street, humming and tapping and daydreaming.

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.


Q & A: Chris Botti

June 1, 2012

By Don Heckman

 Trumpeter Chris Botti has moved, over the past decade, from visibility in the smooth jazz genre – an identity that never really seemed quite right for him – to international prominence as a versatile jazz artist with a unique style of his own.  Described by his record company, no doubt accurately, as the best selling jazz artist in the world, Botti has worked hard at getting to, and maintaining, his high level of achievement.  Often on the road, at stops around the globe, for more than 300 days and nights a year, he maintains a rigorous schedule of keeping in close touch with his legions of fans.  We caught him for a Q & A before his Los Angeles appearance at the Greek Theatre tomorrow night.

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 DH: Chris, I know you came from a musical family environment, growing up in Oregon.  Your Mom was a concert pianist.  But what was it that made you want to play jazz and the trumpet?

CB: The thing that made me want to play trumpet – and jazz — was hearing Miles Davis play “My Funny Valentine” when I was twelve.

DH: Why?  What was it that you heard, at that young an age, that had such an impact?

CB: I’ve always loved it, even then, when I can hear the space in what the horn is playing.  That’s probably why I gravitated much more toward Miles’ band with Wayne and Herbie than toward the more straight ahead styles of, say, Kenny Dorham or Freddie Hubbard, even though I love those guys.  I marvel at the incredible technique and the joy that Freddie and Clifford Brown had, and Dizzy as well, but I’ve always tended to gravitate toward the kind of music that ultimately just breaks your heart.  When Miles plays “Old Folks” or something like that, the music sounds so pretty and at the same time haunting.  That’s always what I was drawn to.

DH: Your shows have always seemed to be more than just instrumental performances.  On Saturday, in addition to your group, you’ll have Lisa Fischer doing vocals.  And, even more than that, you reach out, connect and interact with your audiences in a way that’s done by very few jazz musicians.

CB: I think it’s very important, especially nowadays, to reach out to your audience, and to be grateful that there’s an audience out there.  Because that’s the element that propels everything.  When you see a live concert, whether it’s me or a classical player like Lang Lang,  or Joshua Bell – something without lyrics – you want to hear, at some point, or see and feel a sort of visceral bang.  Miles saw bandleaders like Dizzy and Louis when he was coming up, and he saw that they had all that joy on stage, and he probably thought ‘How am I going to separate myself?  I can’t out-Dizzy Dizzy.  So I’ve gotta somehow come on with something of my own, some sort of brooding, artistic vibe.  And that might light a fire under people.’  And he was right.  It certainly did.

DH: You spent a substantial portion of your early career in the back-up bands of pop artists – most notably, Sting, but a lot of others, as well.  Did those experiences serve, in any way, as templates for figuring out how to do your own reaching out to an audience?

CB:  That’s completely true in regards to Sting, to Paul Simon and to Joni Mitchell, among others.  One of the first things I learned was that their way into success was to surround themselves with incredible musicians.  And they all did that.  I was in a Paul Simon band with Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and Richard T — all in the same band —  with some West Africans and some Brazilians.  And then when I went with Sting, it was the same thing.  He really features his side musicians.  He opens his audience to them, and them to his audience.

DH: That’s one aspect of influence that you’ve definitely followed.  Your bands have been stellar assemblages.  But you learned more, too, from those prominent pop artists in those early years, didn’t you?  Something in the way you present yourself?

CH: You bet.  Whether it was Peter Gabriel or Joni or Sting or Paul Simon, I watched the way they worked.  How they crafted a song, how they paced a show. How they introduced people.  All that was a huge asset for me in the way I do my own show..

DH: And there’s another aspect to the success you’ve had over the past decade, isn’t there?  An aspect with the initials B.C., who was once the drummer with another hugely successful pop act, Blood, Sweat & Tears?

CB:  Right.  Bobby Colomby. My manager.  He’s the guy who’s been swinging for the fences on everything.  And in hindsight, the best deal I ever made in my life was to force Bobby to become my manager – begrudgingly at first, but now he’s way into it.  He did it kicking and screaming at first, but now he just loves it.  Which is fantastic.

DH: Your new album, Impressions, like your previous albums of the last decade, was the result of a combined creative consultation between you and Colomby, right?

CB: Yes.  We’d had a lot of success on the heels of the Live in Boston album,  One of the things that people said to me over and over again in the past 2 ½ – 3 years since that record came out, was that they liked the variety so much.  They were really impressed by going from Steven Tyler to Yo Yo Ma to Sting.  They liked all that, not only the beautiful music but the approach of ricocheting all over the place.  So when Bobby and I started to formulate ideas for the record, we just kicked around some random ideas for guests, some kind of wish list.

DH: A wish list that included what?

CB: We started with Mark Knopfler and “What A Wonderful World.”  How different could we get than that?  Then, a year earlier, when the Polish government was reformed, they invited me to come and perform a piece on national television.  And they commissioned us to do this Prelude by Chopin to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. And another good starting point for the album.

DH: You also managed to get Herbie Hancock on that list, too.

CB: Well, that’s an interesting story.  We’d just performed at the White House, with Herbie.  And Bobby had this wacky idea.  He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you write something with Chris?’  Can you imagine how intimidated I felt?  I told Bobby, ‘Man, you’ve lost the plot.  You’ve let this gig of being my manager go to your head.’  And Bobby’s like ,’Trust me, it’s going to be fantastic.’  And I’m like, ‘Bobby, I’m nervous as hell.  But he insisted I show up at Herbie’s house, which is pretty close to mine.  Herbie’s idea was to just go to the piano – he had mics set up and his studio was downstairs.  “We’ll just improvise,’ he said.  So he just walked to the piano, delayed for a while, thinking, and then he played the first chord.  And I played this little phrase.  And we continued for about twenty minutes, recording it all, and then picked what we wanted and formed a song from that – with all the ins and outs…Alan Pasqua transcribed it for us, and Vince Mendoza who took all those ingredients and put them all together.  And I told Bobby, ‘Man, you were right again’.”

DH: There’s a lot more on Impressions, of course.  Standards like “Over the Rainbow” and ”Summertime,” a gorgeous cinematic piece by Gabriel Yared, another co-written piece, this time with David Foster.  And , much more.  You covered a lot of bases on this one.

CB: Yeah, We picked so much great material for this record that I don’t know what we’re going to do for the next one.  Bobby and I might have to retire.

DH: How do you feel about the way things are going now, Chris?  About where your career has brought you to, in all the years since you heard Miles play “My Funny Valentine?”

CB: We’re sitting in a real nice place to be right now, given the state of the record industry, and I feel forever grateful for that. People always ask me, ‘When are you going to take a break?’”  And I go, ‘The long list of musicians who have screwed up a successful career or just get lazy and let it go, is huge.  And I don’t want to be one of those.  So I’m going to take it while it’s here.’  The truth is, I’m so into it.  I can’t think of a better life.

DH: Thanks, Chris.  Looking forward to hearing you tomorrow night [Saturday] at the Greek Theatre.


Live Jazz : The Jeff Lorber Fusion and The Washington Prep High School Jazz Ensemble in the Playboy Jazz Festival’s Free Community Concert at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall.

May 28, 2012

By Devon Wendell

The Playboy Jazz Festival held its second Free Community Concert at The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall yesterday, featuring two acts dedicated to the soul of fusion-jazz.

The California weather was sunny and perfect and as the show’s emcee Pat Prescott (KTWV 94.7 The Wave) put it, this was a “Perfect Memorial Day celebration.”

Headlining the show was the Jeff Lorber Fusion featuring Patrick Lamb on soprano and tenor saxes, Gary Novak on drums, and Nathaniel Phillips on bass.  Though Lorber is known as one of the great legends of fusion, it was his strong blues and gospel keyboard work that proved to be the most exhilarating during this set.

Jeff Lorber

The band opened with a track from Lorber’s latest CD, Galaxy (Heads Up/Concord Music Group), entitled “Live Wire” which brought to mind a mid ‘70s Stevie Wonder fusion-soul groove. Patrick Lamb played some impressive soprano sax, though at times it lacked character and originality.

The melody line on “Chinese Herbal Medicine” had an Asian feel at first but it was Phillips’ slap bass and Lorber’s blues runs that brought this tune back to America, more specifically Lorber’s hometown of Philly.

Phillips would get a little too slap happy on bass but he held up the funk end of the rhythm. Novak brought a frenetic be-bop sensibility to the band as Lamb and Lorber soloed and presented the song’s melody lines. Each band member’s identity really came through strongly on this piece making it a set highlight.

The greatest moment of the band’s set was “Tune 88,” in which Lorber and each band member tossed aside the expected fusion and went into straight blues. Lorber seemed most pleased when sounding like an electrified Horace Silver. Lamb switched to tenor and played like he was on the South Side of Chicago. Even Phillips’ bass solo was all blues with guitar-like string bends and trills.  The band’s energy got higher and higher as each member traded solos.

Unfortunately, after the song was done, the energy level took a slight dive. The rest of the set was made up of material that sounded like saccharine, cliched, smooth jazz radio-friendly fusion, giving way to overindulgence that went on a little too long until the final two numbers.  “Montserrat,” “Singaraja,” “Pixel” and “Water Sign” were all examples of this musical approach. The musicianship was outstanding; it was the material that felt  a little pedestrian.

The energy level did pick up on the popular “Rain Dance,” which had such a strong modern r&b groove that “Even Notorious B.I.G and Lil Kim sampled it” as Lorber explained to the enthusiastic crowd. Once again, it was Lorber’s roots based chops and comping that were most fascinating in this fusion context.

For an encore, the band played a version of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” which featured Lamb’s finest tenor sax work of the day. And whenever Lorber began to slip back into fusion style, he quickly loosened up and dove back into the blues.

Although there were a few lackluster moments during their set, the Jeff Lorber Fusion proved that they are a breed apart from other fusion artists in that they blend R&B, funk, blues, gospel, be-bop, and modern jazz stylings without sounding forced. Lorber has certainly earned every bit of his legendary status.

Opening the show was The Washington Prep High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Reggie Andrews. Instead of the usual high-school jazz big band, this ensemble was a quintet featuring Paris Tate on trombone, Daniel Del La Cruz on tenor sax, Jameel Bruner on electric keyboard, Jonathan Pena on drums, and Daniel Granados on bass.

Another aspect that set this high school band apart from the others was that there was a wonderfully relaxed arrogance to these youthful players without a hint of self consciousness.

Their set consisted entirely of early jazz-fusion, kicking off with Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” and Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa.” It was apparent from the start that the band members were really listening to each other. Tate and Del La Cruz played the melody line in unison then traded solos. Both showed soul, mastery, and most importantly, taste.

On the group’s reading of the Wayne Shorter classic “Footprints”, Del La Cruz, took a more minimalist approach and went for a breathy tone reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster, which was most refreshing considering the majority of young tenorists who try to go for John Coltrane showboating. The whole band’s approach to this piece was soft and delicate.

Jameel Bruner’s keyboard work was subtle with hints of Chick Corea and late ‘60s Herbie Hancock. His playing added color beneath the two reeds-men.

Closing the set was Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.” Here, bassist Granados’  Marcus Miller style bass lines locked in with Pena’s drums which sounded like that of a young Dennis Chambers, playing both ends of the kit with groove and aggression all at once.

The Washington High Prep School Jazz Ensemble was funky, tight, and well aware of its bright future.

The pairing of the Washington Prep High School Jazz Ensemble with the Jeff Lorber Fusion was as perfect as the weather.  At its best it was another fun way to usher in the 34th annual Playboy Jazz Festival, which arrives at the Hollywood Bowl on June 16th and the 17th.

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To read more posts and reviews by Devon Wendell click HERE


Here, There & Everywhere: Jazz at the Federal

April 23, 2012

This post is part of the Jazz Journalists Association’s international “Blogathon.”

By Don Heckman

It’s always a significant event when a new room for jazz opens. Whether it’s small or large, daily or weekly, it’s still something to acknowledge, at a time when existing music venues are struggling to survive and new arrivals are in short supply.

So I was glad to be part of an enthusiastic crowd at the Federal Bar and Restaurant in North Hollywood’s NoHo district last Wednesday, when April Williams kicked off her Jazz at the Federal. In its beginning stages, it will only be scheduled for Wednesday nights, But given the success that hard-working April has had with her Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programs, it’s a fair expectation that she’ll do similarly well with her Federal programs. At least one hopes so.

Underscoring her desire to program first rate jazz – ranging from big bands and straight ahead jazz to funk and TK – the opening night headliner was the Bob Sheppard’s stellar quintet, with the leader on soprano and tenor saxophones, John Beasley on piano and keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

The program ranged from Sheppard originals to a line by Freddie Hubbard (once an employer of both Sheppard and Beasley), And the ensemble interaction during the more intricately arranged passages was first rate. But the musical focus of the evening had less to do with complex charts than with some prime, showcase playing from the two principal soloists, Sheppard and Beasley.  World class players with impressive resumes, both have enhanced the bands of leaders with far broader visibility. But each can stand on his own – as they did this night – as avid improvisational adventurers. And with the equally intrepid support of Lefebvre and Hass the musical expeditions journeyed through one fascinating musical territory after another.

All this took place in the Federal’s large, high ceilinged second floor – a space alternately recalling a Greenwich Village jazz club of the ’60s and a timeless French cellar bistro. Although the brick walls and exposed beams tended to muddy low tones somewhat, it was a problem that sound reinforcement can resolve. Otherwise, the room is an amiable audio location.

When April Williams begins to present her continuing shows in May, Jazz at the Federal will begin to establish itself as the jazz destination it has all potential for becoming. The schedule forecast includes Arturo Sandoval’s 20 piece big band, the jazz funk of Bernie Dressel’s supercharged instrumental/vocal band, Bern, and Grammy winning Gordon Goodwin’s 18 piece Big Phat Band.

Only time – and the audiences – will tell, of course, but the future of Jazz at the Federal looks promising. Let’s hope the room and its programs become well attended additions to the rich diversity of jazz in Los Angeles.

For more information about April Williams’ Jazz at the Federal, click HERE.


 


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