Live Jazz: Jose Rizo’s Mongorama and the Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band in the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival’s First Community Concert

May 9, 2012

By  Devon Wendell

It was a beautiful, perfect, sunny California day in Beverly Hills for the first of 2012’s free Playboy Jazz Festival community concerts, featuring two diverse acts. One demonstrating the bright future of jazz to come, the other celebrating the musical legacy of one of the most influential artists and composers in the history of Latin Jazz.

The first was the Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band, carefully conducted by Bill Bradbury. Their set consisted of big band covers of classics by such diverse artists as Herbie Hancock, Dean Martin, and Miles Davis.  It was refreshing to see these teens put their own spin on the show opener, Michael Sweeney’s jelly roll blues “Hog Squeelin’, Rip-Snortin’, Belly Achin’ Blues,” Dean Martin’s hit Mambo-swing “Sway,” and Miles Davis’s blues-bop anthem “Four.”  Young trumpeter Jac Won Chung soloed with a mature sense of taste, space, and soul on all of these numbers.

Alto sax player Jason Lee was also quite impressive with his bluesy solo on The Freshmen Classic “Traces,” which was certainly an interesting ballad for a big jazz band to tackle. And it was the choice of such covers that made this set most interesting, especially the band’s reading of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.”  On this jazz/electro- funk classic, tuba player Young Jung, and the trombone section featuring; Eric Frazer, Juliana Jones, and Tommy Marcus playing tight, syncopated bass lines with bassist Julius Kim, mimicking Hancock’s keyboard effects on the original recording. Lead guitarist Omid Shamoil served up a distorted Jeff Beck lead here with plenty of teenage angst in every lick.

The Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band wasn’t perfect. At times they’d go out of tune, but it was obvious by the look on their faces that this was due to nervousness and who could blame them? Despite a few flaws, these kids showed a lot of promise, dedication, and joy.

Jose Rizo’s Mongorama

Headlining the show was a carefully hand-picked band paying tribute to Afro-Cuban Jazz legend Mongo Santamaria with a presentation titled Mongorama. KJAZZ musical director and band leader for the popular Jazz On The Latin Side All Stars, Jose Rizo seemed to instinctively know the perfect musicians for this project.   Their 2011 album, Mongorama, was nominated for a Grammy.

The eight-piece band, led by Rizo, consisted of: Danilo Lozano, flute and musical director; Justo Almario, tenor sax; Oscar Hernandez, piano; Dayren Santamaria (no relationship to Mongo), violin; Alfredo Ortiz, congas; Christian Moraga, timbales; Jonathan Pintoff, bass; and Fermin Sifontes, lead vocals.

The band’s set consisted of Santamaria classics like “Bacoso,” and “Palo Mayombe,” as well as a band original “Asi Es La Vida,” all  featuring amazing solos by Lozano and especially Almario. Even with Almario’s hard-bop influence, he and the other soloists never got away from the song’s thematic melodies for a second, a rare qualities these days. It was also apparent that Rizo and his band were intent on staying within the Cuban tradition of charanga, which made dance music popular in the ‘40s and also incorporated European instruments such as the violin.  Rizo introduced the various soloists and give the history of the music between each number.

Unfortunately most of the set was plagued by a low vocal mic, making Sifontes almost totally inaudible.  But the raw power of the band made up for this, especially the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms laid down by Ortiz and Moraga. Those rhythms made it impossible for the audience not to get up and dance.

The set’s highlight was their rendition of Mongo Santamaria’s “Gaujira At the Blackhawk.” Hernandez held down the rich melody line and his solos had a dynamic and imaginative quality that often brought to mind the stylings of Eddie Palmieri. Dayren Santamaria’s violin solo was fluid yet percussive, melodic, and the most amazing example of virtuosity of the entire show. This was truly an inspirational moment that even left the other band member’s jaws dropping. Her violin would weave in and out of the rhythms effortlessly while adding her own layered harmonies without missing a step. From her performance on this composition alone, Santamaria is certainly a brilliant talent to check out, if you haven’t already.

The band closed the show with “Que Maravilloso,” and Mongorama original “Tin Marin.”  Sifontes was able to overcome the mic problems by belting out a vocal performance that showed off his smooth and traditional vocal style. It felt as if the band surrendered blissfully to the beautiful and hypnotic rhythms and all swapped brief solos, never giving into self- indulgence. Every note served the song and style.

The long timbale solo on “Tin Marin” really got the few Beverly Hills wallflowers on their feet. Hernandez locked in with Pintoff’s bass in a way that seemed as if they had ESP.  Almario and Lozano played hooks on just tenor sax and flute that sounded like an entire brass section, which was nothing short of brilliant.  The show ended in a thunderous blaze of percussion and smiles.

Both The Beverly Hills High School Jazz Band and Jose Rizo’s Mongorama performed sets dedicated to the jazz history of many cultures with soul and knowledge and most importantly, fun.  Which was the perfect announcement and the greatest way to usher in the 34th annual Playboy Jazz Festival.


Picks of the Week: Mar. 13 – 18

March 13, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Willie Nelson

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Willie Nelson and Family. Legendary is a word that actually has some veracity when applied to the music and the career of superstar Nelson.  He makes his first appearance at Disney Hall on a bill that also includes his family members, as well as a group led by his son, Lukas NelsonDisney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar NightPat Kelley’s the guest guitarist, celebrating his birthday in Guitar Night’s loose and swinging format.  Bassist John Belzaguy and drummer Kendall Kay lay down the heat that will keep the music cooking.  Lucy’s 51. Toluca Lake.  (818) 763-5200.

Janicey Brar/Billie Holiday

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Janicey Brar. Tribute to Billie Holiday  “Tribute” performers – singers and musicians who take on the persona, the performing style and the image of famous artists – are far more rare in jazz than they are in popular music.  But Milwaukee’s Brar, who spent years impersonating Tina Turner, is one of the exceptions.  The simulation of Billie Holiday that she’s doing for this performance has been praised for its impressive musical and visual qualities.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Mar. 14. (Wed.)  Otmaro Ruiz.  Venezuelan-born pianist/composer Ruiz moves comfortably and authentically across stylistic and genre boundaries, playing straight ahead jazz, Latin jazz, pop, rock, salsa, fusion and beyond.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400. http://www.in-housemusic.com/calendar.html

- Mar. 15. (Thurs.) Julie Kelly and Stephanie Haynes. A pair of veteran jazz singers, each with her own unique style, get together for an evening of vocal jazz magic. Neither is heard in the Southland as often as they should be, so don’t miss this chance to check out their engaging skills.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza.  (310) 258-1333.

"Casablanca"

- Mar. 15. – 17. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Casablanca.  Here’s the formula for a truly fascinating evening.  Max Steiner’s memorable score for Casablanca performed by the Pacific Symphony under Richard Kaufman, live in sync with a big screen projection of the cinematic masterpiece.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.  (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The T.S. Monk Sextet.  Drummer Monk, blessed with the genetic heritage of his father, Thelonious Monk, has established himself as a solid musical talent in his own right.  Carpenter Performing Arts Center.    (562) 985-7000.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Jose Rizo’s “Mongorama.” Jose Rizo’s knack for assembling solid musical aggregations continues with the nine-piece Mongorama’s exciting explorations of Mongo Santamaria’s charanga-jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Frankie Valli

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  Frankie Valli. The ‘60s teen heartthrob, lead voice of the Four Seasons, revisits some of the iconic group’s hits – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” “Sherry,” and more. Segerstrom Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Mingus Dynasty. More than 30 years after the passing of Charles Mingus, his music is still being kept vividly alive in the hands of the seven piece Mingus Dynasty Band.  Expect to hear such classics from the large Mingus catalog as “Better Git It In Your Soul, “ “Haitian Fight Song” and Pithecanthus Erectus.”  Royce Hall.  A UCLA Live concert.    (310) 825-2101.  To read Michael Katz’s Reflections on Charles Mingus click HERE.

- Mar. 16 – 18. (Fri. – Sun.)  Chuck Loeb Quartet. Guitarist Loeb celebrates the release of his CD, Plain and Simple, hewing to the title with a program of lively, hard swinging music, baked by the stellar ensemble of  Mitchel Forman, keyboards, Lionel Cordew, drums and Eric Marienthal, saxophones. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Johnny Mandel

- Mar. 17. (Sat.) Johnny Mandel Big Band. One of the true treasures of contemporary American music – reaching from jazz to film to song and beyond – Mandel makes one of his too rare club appearance, leading a band of all-stars in a program that will be filled with familiar melody and irresistible rhythm.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Mar. 17. (Sat.)  Spectral Scriabin. Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton enliven composer Alexander Scriabin’s desire to blend the spectrum of colors with the full panorama of musical pitches.  The performance includes excerpts from Scriabin’s Poeme Languide in B Major and the Feuillet d’Album in F-sharp Major.  The Broad Stage.    (310) 434-3200.

San Francisco

Dave Grisman

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The Dave Grisman Quartet.  Mandolinist Grisman has been one of the primary shapers of contemporary acoustic music for decades. And he’s still finding new expressive methods – currently with a group that includes bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh and guitarist Grant GordiYoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

- Mar. 18. (Sun.)  The Uri Caine Trio. Mention an area of musical expression – from early classical to contemporary electronics to staright ahead jazz –  and pianist/composer  Caine has been there at one time or another.  His current interest focuses on his acoustic jazz piano trio, with John Hebert, bass and Ben Perowsky, drums.  The San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  An SFJAZZ 2012 Spring Season Event.     (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Stanley Jordan

- Mar. 15 – 18.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Stanley Jordan.  Solo guitar.  The master of the tap-on style of jazz guitar playing Jordan is always at his best in a solo setting that allows his improvisational imagination to roam freely.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York

- Mar. 13 – 18.  (Tues. – Sun.)  The Heath Brothers.  Jazz history comes alive when Jimmy Heath, saxophones, Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums get together to recall the high points of their decades of jazz prominence.  They’ll be backed by Jeb Patton, piano and David Wong, bass.  The Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

- Mar. 13 – 18. (Tues. – Sun.)  Eddie Palmieri.  The veteran pianist/composer/bandleader celebrates  his 75th birthday.  A musical pioneer virtually from the time of his appearance on the scene in the ‘50s, Palmieri has been one of the principal creative forces in the growth of Latin jazz.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Mira Awad and Noa (Achinoam Nini)

- Mar. 15. (Thurs. )  Noa and Mira.  Israeli singers Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad are superb artists, dedicated to peaceful coexistence in their country.  Singing in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Israel’s top Jewish (Noa) and Arab (Mira) singer/songwriters perform together on behalf of the Abraham Fund.      The Rose Theatre at Lincoln Center. (212) 258-9800.

Boston

Mar. 17. (Sat.) Betty Buckley.  Tony Award winner (for her role in Cats), Buckley also has a resume listing performances reaching from Broadway musicals to film, television and recordings.  And she is especially compelling when she’s in an up close and personal night club setting, bringing utter believability to every musical story she tells.    The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.

London

Iain Mackenzie

Mar. 18. (Sun.)  Iain Mackenzie & Swing City.  Mackenzie, one of the U.K.’s favorite jazz singers uses his strong baritone and brisk sense of swing to carry the torch for the vocal tradition of Mel Torme, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra and more.  He’ll be backed by the solid drive of the eight piece Swing City band.  He’ll do a pair of matinee shows – at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.

Milan

Mar. 15. (Thurs.)  Miroslav Vitous.  Czech-born Vitous was one of the ground breaking acoustic bassists of the ‘70s, often grouped with the likes of Scott Lafaro, Dave Holland and others. Emphasizing his compositional interests in recent years, he makes one of his rare club appearances.  He’ll perform with Robert Bonisolo, saxophone and Aydin Esen, piano.  Blue Note Milan.    02.69.01.68.88.

Tokyo

Mar. 14 – 16.  (Wed. – Fri.)  Billy Childs Quartet. Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his Chamber Ensemble performances and his role in Chris Botti’s band to stretch out with the world class companionship of Steve Wilson, alto saxophone, Scott Colley, bass and Brian Blade, drums.  Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5484-0088.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers