Live Jazz: Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter and the Robert Glasper Experiment at the Hollywood Bowl

August 8, 2014

By Don Heckman

There was a strikingly diversified array of jazz at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night – a program signifying the L.A. Phil’s desire to present America’s improvisational music in its many varied manifestations, all of them intriguing in one way or another.

Appropriately the headline act was veteran pianist/composer Herbie Hancock, who has also been the Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz since 2010. In a career reaching back to the early ’60s, Hancock has demonstrated a creative versatility reaching across a complete range of musical expressiveness.

And he did so at the Bowl on Wednesday, as well.

Backed by bassist James Genus and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Hancock offered a program of his originals – including such now-classics as “Maiden Voyage,” “Jessica” and “Speak Like a Child,” as well as “Footprints,” one of the best known works by his friend and frequent musical companion, Wayne Shorter. (Surprisingly, Shorter was a rare absentee from a Hancock performance.)

A trio program by Hancock, Genus and Colaiuta alone would have provided a memorable evening of jazz at its finest. But there was much more, in the form of a full orchestra and the arrangements (and conducting) of Vince Mendoza, whose orchestrating credits reach from Sting to Joni Mitchell.

Herbie Hancock with orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza

The results were extraordinary, with the combination of Hancock’s arching melodies and lush harmonies with Mendoza’s masterful orchestrations recalling a much earlier musical partnership: the compelling Maurice Ravel orchestrations for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with orchestrations by Maurice Ravel.

But what made this combination unique was the presence of Hancock himself at the keyboard, adding his ever-imaginative improvisations to the orchestra’s rich tapestry of sound. Swinging hard in some spots, adding gorgeous lyricism in others, verging occasionally into passages with distinctly classical touches, he brought his familiar songs vividly to life. (One couldn’t, however, resist the desire to have heard more of Hancock’s eclectic classics in this fascinating setting – classics such as “Canteloupe Isand,” “Watermelon Man” and the offbeat “Rockit.” But maybe next time.)

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

Singer Gregory Porter added a different touch to this musically diverse evening. Establishing himself as a major jazz vocal artist in a few short years, with a Grammy nomination for his first album, Water. in 2010, Porter has been gathering a dedicated audience ever since.

Not only is Porter blessed with a lush baritone voice, he also seems to have an intuitive gift for phrasing and a laid-back sense of swing. Add to that the fact that he is one of the jazz world’s few singer/songwriters. And, although most of the originals he sang were unfamiliar, some had the catchy hooks and repetitive choruses that help listeners stay in touch with a song. By the time he finished his brief set, strongly aided by the stunning alto saxophone work of Yosuke Sato, the reasons for Porter’s rapidly growing popularity had become eminently clear.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

The remaining act on the list of performers in the program was pianist Robert Glasper and the group he calls his “Experiment.” The title alone underscores Glasper’s apparent desire to remain on the cutting edge, envelope stretching areas of contemporary jazz.

Some of Glasper’s pieces harkened back to the avant-garde free improvising of the ’60s, especially when saxophonist/vocorder player Casey Benjamin was playing alto saxophone. Scouring his instrument for every sound it could make, he reached from multi-phonics to screeching high harmonics, low honks and busy fingered flurries.

Glasper also tossed in varied linkages with contemporary pop, rock and hip-hop, most of it ending up as a busy smorgasbord of sound that did little to please one’s appetite for jazz in the traditional sense. But give Glasper credit for a desire to add more to the mainstream menu.

As I noted earlier, it was an evening of jazz in many different hues. And the Philharmonic should be praised for providing a broad palette of so many musical colors.

Herbie Hancock and Gregory Porter Photos by Faith Frenz.



Picks of the Week: July 23 – 28.

July 23, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– July 23.  (Tues.)  The Postal Service.  The electropop band – featuring Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello – celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Greek Theatre   (323) 665-5857.

– July 24. (Wed.)  Dave Damiani and the No Nonsense Orchestra.  Vocalist and leader Damiani sings with the colorful sounds and swinging rhythms of his No Nonsense Orchestra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

– July 24. (Wed.) Josh Nelson: A Tribute to Mulgrew Miller.  Pianist Nelson, rapidly emerging as one of the stellar pianists of his generation offers a tribute to one of his influences.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– July 25. (Thurs.)  Bill Cunliffe’s Imaginacion Quintet. Composer/arranger/pianist Cunliffe displays his affection for Latin jazz in a collection of his fine arrangements. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– July 26. (Fri.)  Geoffrey Keezer “Heart of the Piano.”  Grammy-nominated Keezer celebrates the release of his CD, Heart of the Piano, his first solo project in 13 years.   Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– July 27 & 28. (Sat. & Sun.)  Chicago: The MusicalThe six Tony Award-winning show receives a sensational production on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl.  Brooke Shields directs, and Samantha Barks performs the role of Velma.  The Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant

– July 28. (Sun.)  Amy Grant.  Grammy Award-winning Grant stretches her appealing vocal skills from gospel to pop.  The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

– July 27 – 28. (Sat. & Sun.)  The John Pizzarelli Quartet with Jessica Molaskey.  Guitarist/singer Pizzarelli and his wife, musical thatre star Molaskey have become an always-entertaining, musically fascinating performance act.  Yoshi’s Oakland.     (510) 238-9200.


Diane Schuur

Diane Schuur

– July 25. (Thurs.)  Diane Schuur. As she approaches 60, Schuur continues to develop the musical possibilities of a beautifully soaring voice and a Sarah Vaughan-influenced style. Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.


– July 25 – 28. (Thurs. – Sun.)   The Ron Blake Quartet. Fast-fingered, improvisationally adept saxophonist Blake continues to expand his impressive jazz skills.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York City

– July 23 – 28.  (Tues. – Sun.)  The Fred Hersch Trio with Joe Lovano. A pair of jazz veterans, each a deeply imaginative artist get together for a rare and compelling exchange of improvisational ideas.  The Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

– July 23 – 27. )Tues. – Sat.)  The Masters Quartet.  The title – “Masters” – doesn’t overstate it at all.  How else to describe a quartet that includes pianist Steve Kuhn, saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy HartBirdland.    (212) 581-3080.


Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

– July 23 & 24. (Tues. & Wed.)  The Wynton Marsalis Quintet. London is gifted with a very rare opportunity to hear the always-compelling playing of trumpet/impresario Marsalis in a night club setting. Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.


Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper

– July 25 & 26.  (Thurs. & Fri.)  Robert Glasper Experiment. Pianist/composer Glasper is in an exploratory phase, producing live performances and recordings revealing a creatively curious, musically questioning mind.  Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.


Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander

– July 27 (Sat.)  Eric Alexander Quartet. Saxophonist Alexander finished just behind Joshua Redmand and ahead of Chris Potter in the 1991 Monk Saxophone Competition.  And he’s been aiming for the sun ever since with his articulate, hard-swinging style. Tokyo Blue Note.   +81 3-5485-0088.

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Wynton Marsalis photo by Tony Gieske

Robert Glasper photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Live Jazz: The 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Day #1

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood CA. One happy problem with an eight hour music fest that runs uninterrupted through the shifting temperatures of a near-summer’s day at the Hollywood Bowl is a lineup so strong you don’t want to leave your seat. That was the occasion on Saturday, Day 1 of the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. It was a show that featured some bright new names in the jazz realm, a blur of world music and vocal skills, plus cameos and guest appearances from jazz legends and LA icons.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The most notable new face was comedian and actor George Lopez, who took over the emcee duties from Bill Cosby. Lopez smartly kept his patter brief and enthusiastic. Cosby, himself, never tried to upstage the music, and although his Cos of Good Music bands are dearly missed, their spirit was reflected in some adventurous booking, particularly a powerhouse mid-day lineup that had the sold-out house dancing in the aisles.

Some snarling traffic (not to mention my Park and Ride bus that broke down halfway between Westwood and the Bowl) resulted in a crowd filtering in through the first several acts. I entered to a pleasant set by percussionist Pedrito Martinez, with Ariacne Trujillo on keyboards and vocals. Their Latin rhythms set up a relaxed atmosphere as the crowd gathered and settled into party mode. But things got down to business immediately thereafter, with the appearance of Grace Kelly and her quintet.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

The vivacious Kelly, only 21 years of age, has a half-dozen albums already to her credit. She plays mostly alto sax and doubles as a vocalist, excelling at both. Her alto tones are clean and driving, her own compositions melodic and well served by her lovely voice. Her band included one of LA’s premier young pianists, Josh Nelson, and an outstanding young trumpeter from Boston, Jason Palmer, who gave us some of the handful of great trumpet licks of the afternoon.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

It takes plenty of self-assurance for a young musician to invite Phil Woods on as a guest and then stand up to him, lick for lick, but Kelly was up to the task. They dueted on her composition “Man In A Hat,” (from the CD of the same name) written as an homage to Woods. His presence seemed to inspire Ms. Kelly, and I don’t think a blindfold test could have separated the two of them. They later romped through a medley of “How High The Moon” and “Ornithology” with equally fine results. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Bill Goodwin rounded out this terrific band. Grace Kelly, originally from Boston, has settled here in the LA area, which is great news for local jazz fans – if they can catch her on a break from an ambitious touring schedule.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

I had caught the end of an electrifying set by Gregory Porter last September at the Monterey Jazz Festival (where he will be the opening act this year), so it was no surprise to see him light up the Playboy stage, even in the shank of the warm afternoon. Porter has it all. His deep, evocative voice has the authority of a Joe Williams; he has an engaging stage presence that can command even a crowd settling down for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Porter was in a romantic mood, with a ballad, “No Love Dying,” from a soon-to-be-released album. His band features a sparkplug in altoist Yosuke Sato, who whipped the crowd up with ascending riffs that arced into the pungent afternoon air like tracers. Porter continued on, imploring the audience to “Hold On,” while segueing into Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” The title song to his new CD, Liquid Spirit, featured some terrific piano work by Chip Crawford. Porter’s closer, (as in the Monterey set), was “1960 What,” an ode to the unrest in sixties Detroit, sung with a gospel fervor that recalled Les McCann’s vocals from the seventies. Porter shone throughout. The LA native, by way of Bakersfield, is clearly on the cusp of something special.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper has been a ubiquitous presence lately, bridging the gap between jazz and pop with his straight ahead jazz trio and his “Robert Glasper Experiment,” which usually includes a guest from the hip hop world. On Saturday he featured Casey Benjamin on sax and vocoder, as well as the terrific jazz bassist Derrick Hodge and Mark Colenburg on drums. I’ll freely admit that I prefer the “jazz trio” – I put that in quotes because whatever Glasper does has a spirit of adventure to it. Glasper has a quick wit and engaging patter – he’s clearly the jazz performer most likely to host his own TV show. The Experiment is, no surprise, amped up and electronic, and went over fine with the crowd. But Glasper still found the occasion to invite Bowl favorite Dianne Reeves onstage. True to the Experimental spirit, she sang Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to “Afro Blue,” circling on and off the beat, letting the audience find their way into the song.

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting performer for a music festival than Angelique Kidjo, from Benin. I’ve seen her twice, now – the first time anchoring the Sunday afternoon stage show at Monterey a few years ago. Her unique blend of African rhythms, elucidated in several languages, French, Yoruba and Swahili among them, is intoxicating. The pulsating rhythms and percussions, familiar to U. S. audiences through such artists as Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mumbazo, were highlighted by a terrific guitarist, Dominic James, and percussionists Magatte Sow and Yayo Serka, along with Itaiguara Brandao on bass.

As if that was not enough, Hugh Masekela joined the group for several numbers. Kidjo exudes warmth – even if you can’t decipher her lyrics, the spirit of inclusiveness permeates everything she does.

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Masekela’s flugelhorn remains deceptively simple, his tones clear and bold. His gravelly voice counteracted with Kidjo’s, and the two of them brought the crowd to their feet early and for the duration. Kidjo’s finale included promenading into the crowd and bringing back selected audience members onto the stage – I don’t know whether she does some magical on-the-spot scouting or just counts on divine inspiration, but it works wonderfully. Magatte Sow took center stage on his conga drum and provided the transformational spell, while the audience had a blast, onstage and off.

I’ve always thought that the Playboy Jazz Festival might benefit from a ten or fifteen minute break sometime during the show. It would give the audience a chance to wind down, break out the picnic baskets, talk to their friends without having to shout over the music. If there was ever a time to do it, it would have been after Angelique Kidjo’s set, which was impossible to follow. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band would seem to be a perfect candidate, with the impressive sound of a 20 piece ensemble.

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

They opened with two burners and a great solo on alto sax by Eric Marienthal, but the audience wasn’t ready to be engaged by what is basically a performance band. They finally found a little traction with Goodwin’s Grammy-winning arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin, after all this time, can still make people sit up and pay attention. After a brief appearance by “The Voice” vocalist Judith Hill, the band found some more familiar and appealing ground when they were joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour. Ritenour brought one of his most successful arrangements, his adaptation of Jobim’s “Stone Flower” into the Big Phat Band groove. His second number was a tight Goodwin arrangement of his tribute to the late Les Paul, simply titled L.P. That was the Big Phat Band and Ritenour at their best, weaving smart guitar licks into the larger sound. They kept the audience with them for the final tune, “Race To The Bridge,” with sax player Brian Scanlon and Andy Martin on trombone leading the way out.

Naturally 7 is a contemporary vocal band, sort of a capella meets hip hop, led by baritone Roger Thomas. This was their third Playboy appearance in four years, so they were warmly received throughout their set. The group combines elements of Doo-Wop, Hip Hop, and McFerriana. Their “vocal play” extends past the traditional vocal levels and instruments; it includes “DJ” and “Beat Box.” Whatever the simulation, it was pretty heavily amplified from the start, proving it is possible to have too much bass, even if you don’t have a bass. But it was a tight and lively show, emphasizing Doo – Wop in “Summer Breeze” and providing a playful narrative with “Englishman In New York.”

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock joined them with one of his “keytars;” it seemed altogether fitting that he would jam with them on “Chameleon.” The opening bass line to that Herbie classic still galvanizes an audience, and Hancock continued with splashes of electronica throughout his appearance.  The group finished off with George Harrison’s Beatles classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” At that point you could look back pleasingly at the versatility of the entire Saturday lineup; in a matter of a few hours you could go from Gershwin to Jobim to Herbie Hancock to George Harrison and somehow fit it all under the jazz tent.

And there was still some Coltrane to come. Maybe not quite enough; Poncho Sanchez’s set was entitled Ole’ Coltrane, after the 1961 Coltrane album of the same name, though the set was more Ole’ than Coltrane. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending an hour with Poncho’s band, whatever the circumstances. Along with Sanchez’s formidable conga work, his group featured Musical Director Francisco Torres, doing double duty (he also soloed with the Big Phat Band.)

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

But I was especially impressed by Ron Blake, who delivered some feisty trumpet cadenzas in the opening Latin numbers. We didn’t hear a lot of lead work from the staple jazz instruments over the day’s program, which was heavy on vocals and large ensembles, so it was a pleasure to hear Blake and then James Carter, who provided the Fest’s primary blast on the tenor sax.  Carter provided scorching work on a Latinized arrangement of Trane’s “Giant Steps,” and more laid back and melodic playing on Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz,” which Ellington recorded with Coltrane. Poncho’s version had a tinge of the Mingus Latin feel to it, with some excellent supporting work by Torres. That was it, though, for the Coltrane material. Carter rejoined the band for a final number, Poncho’s always entertaining version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Regrets to George Duke, whose final blasts into the night came after much of the crowd had left, thoroughly sated by such a pleasing mixture of jazz and funk, performed by ensembles large and small, and by players seasoned and refreshingly new. It was one of the best days at the Playboy Jazz Festival in recent memory and a great start for the two day event.

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

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.

Live Jazz: The Ron Carter Quartet and the Robert Glasper Trio at Royce Hall.

October 30, 2012

By Don Heckman

Ron Carter made one of his far too rare Southland appearances Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at Royce Hall.  His quartet starred in a long show that also included an extended set by the Robert Glasper Trio.

As the most recorded bassist in jazz history, it would be hard to find a significant jazz artist that Carter hasn’t recorded with.  But it’s equally fascinating to hear him in action in a musical setting of his own.  His adventurous musical ideas have been on display in dozens of recordings under his leadership.  And the group he brought to Royce – with pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Marales-Matos – offered an intriguing view of the many colors in Carter’s musical palette.

The Ron Quarter Quartet

His musical choices were far ranging — from Brazil to Miles Davis to some compelling stops in between.  One of the most unexpected was a Carter solo version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a remarkable display of his mastery of the bass, both as an instrument and as the voice of his improvisational imagination.

Another memorable moment traced to a lovely exchange between Carter and the always-imaginative Rosnes on “My Funny Valentine,” heightened by a passage featuring her Chopin-tinged embrace of the melody.

From a completely different perspective, much of what the Carter Quartet played was delightfully illuminated by Marales-Matos vast array of hand (and beyond) percussion.  Which he used to produce every imaginable percussive sound, from tiny snips, clicks and rustles to rushing roars and rumbles.  Add to that the stirring rhythmic lift of Crossley’s approach to the jazz drum kit.

To Carter’s credit, he clearly recognized the uniqueness of what Marales-Matos and Crossley had to offer, and freely allowed them to make their unique contributions to the music.  The result was yet another entry in the colorful catalog of Carter groups.

Robert Glasper

Pianist Robert Glasper, opening the show with his trio – with Derrick Hodges, bass and Mark Colenburg, drums – has been receiving rave reviews from much of the jazz critical community.  For the most part, the praise has been related to his efforts to blend his far-reaching jazz chops with an interest in various pop, rock, rap and hip-hop elements.

One could argue whether there’s any real compatibility in that mélange.   But what seemed more compelling to me about the Glasper trio was the virtually symbiotic interaction between the three players.  The piano trio has had many manifestations in jazz – some more successful than others.  And the Glasper trio is doing a convincing job of expressing their own vocabulary in a still-evolving fashion.  It will be worth watching – and listening – over the next few years to hear how effectively Glasper, Hodges and Colenburg  translate that vocabulary into a significant entry in the evolution of the piano jazz trio.

Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA

Picks of the Week – Oct. 24 – 28

October 24, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Sally Kellerman

– Oct. 34 (Wed.)  Sally Kellerman.  Hot Lips herself, in action.  But Sally’s a one of a kind vocalist, too, bringing interpretive magic to everything she sings. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 24. (Wed.)  Gabriel Johnson.  Emerging jazz trumpeter Johnson has been praised by Clint Eastwood and Chris Botti, and performed with everyone from Gladys Knight to Gerald Albright.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Robert Glasper Experiment.  Adventurous pianist Glasper has been pioneering the territory between jazz and contemporary pop.  His special guests include Jose James, Taylor McFerrin and Austin PeraltaCAP UCLA at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-2101

– Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Ariana Savalas. Singer/songwriter/actress Savalas, the offspring of a show biz family, is making her own way as a rising vocalist.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

– Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Kathy Kosins.  “The Ladies of Cool.”  Singer Kosins celebrates the work of such West Coast-oriented jazz vocalists as June Christy, Julie London, Anita O’Day and Chris Connor.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Bob Dylan

– Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler.  The legendary Dylan makes a rare appearance in Los Angeles in companionship with the British singer/songwriter/guitarist best known for his work with the band Dire Straits.  The Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

– Oct. 26 & 27. (Fri. & Sat.) Eddie Daniels.  The great clarinetist – and fine saxophonist, as well – makes his annual L.A. appearance, reminding us that the clarinet is still a great jazz instrument.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Buster Williams Quartet.  Versatile bassist Williams leads a stellar group of Southland players — keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Mark Gross and drummer Ndugu ChanclerCatalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 27. (Sat.)  Ron Carter Quartet.  Carter – for decades everyone’s first call bassist — has also offered some breakthrough music of his own. This time out he performs with the cutting edge musical ideas of the Robert Glasper TrioCAP at UCLA Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

– Oct. 27. (Sat.) Michael Feinstein.  “The Sinatra Project.”  One of the champions of the Great American Songbook, singer/pianist Feinstein interprets a program of songs associated with Frank Sinatra.  Segerstrom Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.    (714) 556-2746.

Leon Russell

San Francisco

– Oct. 24. (Wed.)  Leon Russell.  One of the vital singer/songwriters of the rock era, Russell, at 70 is still going strong.  Don’t miss this rare club appearance.  Yoshi’s Oakland.      (510) 238-9200.

New York

– Oct. 24 – 28. (Wed. – Sun.).  Jimmy Heath 86th Birthday Celebration.  NEA Jazz Master Heath goes back to his roots to celebrate his 86th birthday with the Jimmy Heath Big Band — an assemblage of New York’s stellar players.  The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Kendra Shank.  The ever-adventurous, always musically engaging  Shank performs the last Friday of every month at the 55 Bar.   (212) 929-9883.


– Oct. 26. (Fri.)  Steve Smith and Vital Information.  Smith has been voted #1 All-Around Drummer by Modern Drummer magazine five years in a row.  In addition to his far-ranging pop and rock activities, he also leads the high energy jazz group Vital Information  Ronnie Scott’s.   (0) 20 7439 0747.


– Oct. 24 & 25. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Roditi/Ignatzek/Rassinfosse.  The remarkable trio of trumpeter Claudio Roditi, pianist Klaus Ignatzek and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse have been performing together for 25 years, emphasizing the Brazilian songbook and the repertoire associated with Chet Baker.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    (+45) 70 15 65.


– Oct. 25. (Thurs.)  Kenny Werner.  Versatile pianist, composer and writer arrives in Italy with a world class ensemble: saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio SanchezBlue Note Milan.    02. 69016888.


The Manhattan Transfer


– Oct. 24 – 26. (Wed. – Fri.)  The Manhattan Transfer.  Nearly four decades in the jazz world spotlight, and the gifted members of the Transfer continue to produce music that brilliantly defines and expands the potential in vocal ensemble jazz.  Blue Note Tokyo.

Picks of the Week: Oct. 11 – 16

October 11, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Oct. 11. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar Night.  It’s a Los Angeles jazz institution, combining veteran guitarist Pisano with some of the Southland’s (and the world’s) finest guitarists.  This week, he’s trading riffs with Pat Kelley.  Vitello’s.     (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 11 – 13. (Tues. – Thurs.)  HIT Week.  Italian pop music in its many forms makes a three day stop in L.A.  And there’s a lot to hear.  On Tues. at Catalina Bar & Grill: Erica Mou and Nicola Conte.  Wed. at the El Rey: Apres la Classe and Caparezza.  Thurs. at The Key Club: Casino Royale and SubsonicaHIT Week in L.A. 

Daniela Mercury

– Oct. 13. (Thurs.)  Daniela Mercury.  One of Brazil’s true musical superstars, singer/dancer Mercury balances the creation of memorable hit records with live performances simmering with dynamic excitement. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.


– Oct. 13 – 16. (Thurs. – Sat.)  James Carter. There isn’t a saxophone – from soprano to bass – that Carter can’t make music with.  And impressive music at that, ranging from driving bebop to irresistible blues, with all stops between.   Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 14. (Fri.)  Lesa Terry Quartet.  Dr. Lesa Terry is a jazz/classical violinist, educator, composer and scholar.  And when she gets on stage with her quartet, she brings it all together into a fascinating musical mélange.  Jazz at LACMA.   (323) 857-6000.

Barbara Morrison

– Oct. 14 & 15. (Fri. & Sat.)  Barbara Morrison.  Recovering from severe medical problems, Morrison – one of Southland jazz’s crown jewels – does what she does best: bring life and vigor to everything she sings.  She’ll be celebrating Steamer’s 17th anniversary.  Steamer’s.     (714) 871-8800.

– Oct. 15. (Fri.)  Bryan Ferry.  Roxy Music’s Ferry makes his first solo U.S. tour in a decade, celebrating the release of his current studio album, Olympia.  Expect to hear new songs from the album, as well as Ferry’s take on tunes by Tim Buckley and Traffic.  The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Oct. 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Los Angeles Chamber OrchestraJeffrey Kahane conducts the LACO in an engaging program of music, featuring soprano Karina Gauvin performing works by Benjamin Britten.  The ensemble also plays Dvorak’s Nocturne in B Major and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3.  Sat. at the Alex Theatre.  Sun. at Royce Hall.  (213) 622-7001.  The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

San Francisco

– Oct. 11 & 12. (Tues. & Wed.)  Stanley Jordan Trio.  No one plays the guitar quite like Jordan, who taps the strings, producing sounds more pianistic than guitar-like.  And he does so with imagination and swing.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Steve Kuhn

– Oct. 13. (Thurs.)  Steve Kuhn.  Solo piano.  The list of names on Kuhn’s resume is a virtual history of the last fifty years of jazz.  Adept and creative in any style, he’s rarely heard in a solo setting.  So don’t miss this opportunity to hear his improvisational artistry in its most intimate form.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


– Oct. 11 & 12. (Tues. & Wed.)  Oregon.  Before world music was a genre, Oregon was blending elements from around the globe with jazz, producing one of the authentically original improvisational styles of the last four decades.  And they’re still at it.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729


– Oct. 13 – 16. (Thurs. – Sun.) Robert Glasper Trio.  Pianist Glasper continues to draw young listeners by finding ways to explore straight ahead jazz from a contemporary perspective.  Jazz Showcase.   (312) 360-0234.

Washington, D.C.

– Oct. 13 – 16. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jonathan Butler.  South African singer/songwriter/guitarist Butler has been delighting audiences with his sweet-sounding voice and energetic guitar work since the mid-‘80s.  Blues Alley.     (202) 337-4141.

New York

Pat Metheny

– Oct. 11 – 16. (Tues. – Sun.)  An Evening with Pat Metheny. Guitarist and musical innovator Metheny gets back to basics in a week of improvisational adventure, with bassist Larry Grenadier as his only companion.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.

– Oct. 11 – 16. (Tues. – Sun.)  Renee Rosnes.  Always a pleasure to hear, Rosnes’ dynamic piano work is in first rate company here, with the presence of vibist Steve Nelson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis NashDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– Oct. 13 – 16. (Thurs. – Sun.) Vinicius Cantuaria.  Brazilian guitarist Cantuaria started out as a percussionist, and it shows in the intensely passionate rhythms of his playing style.  The Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

– Oct. 15. (Sat.)  Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau Duo.  Saxophonist Redman and pianist Mehldau, two of the true jazz superstars of their generation, celebrate the 25th anniversary of the jazz program at the New School.  Tishman Auditorium.  (212) 229-54-88.


Cedar Walton

– Oct. 11 & 12. (Tues. & Wed.)  The Cedar Walton Quartet. Veteran jazz pianist Walton, now 77, has played with an iconic, all-star list of great jazz artists.  Listen to one set and you’ll understand why he’s been in such demand.   Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747


– Oct. 11. (Tues.)  The Billy Cobham Quartet. Drummer Cobham was one of the driving forces of jazz fusion, and he’s still going strong.  New Morning.   01 45 23 51 41.


– Oct. 11 & 12. (Tues. & Wed.) Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Time Machine.  Guitarist Rosenwinkel expands his musical horizons with a band that features saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits and Rosenwinkel doubling on piano.  A-Trane.    030 / 313 25 20.


Oct. 14 – 16. (Fri. – Sun.)  Sophie Milman.  Young Russian/Canadian singer Milman has been successfully finding a prominent place for her intriguing style amid the currently crowded field of female jazz vocalists.  Blue Note Tokyo.    03-5485-0088.

Live Jazz: The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival — Friday Night

September 17, 2011

By Michael Katz

Monterey, California.  The weather was chilly and overcast for the opening of the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival Friday night, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of jazz fans who were treated to a superb series of performances. There was anticipation in the air from the opening chords, as Featured Performer Robert Glasper, because of a scheduling quirk, took over the 6:30 slot at the outdoor Garden Stage. Usually this set has in informal feel, as old friends gather and schmooze, while a young local talent performs. But Glasper and his trio of bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Chris Dave had the crowd at rapt attention.

Robert Glasper

Glasper is an engaging talent. When he plays on the acoustic piano, his style is impressionistic, with a sometimes dense chordal structure, building themes dramatically, filling them in with scintillating runs. Playing his own compositions, “No Worries” and “North Portland,” he had the crowd on the edge of their seats. He was ably assisted by bassist Hodge, but especially by drummer Dave, who was something of a revelation. Dave has a crisp, emphatic, rapid fire delivery. His physique and intensity reminded me a little of former NBA star Alan Iverson.

When Glasper switches to the Fender Rhodes, his style turns funky.  He did another extended original, with a nod to Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” and later ended up with a Monkish tune that again highlighted Chris Dave’s stickwork.  Glasper has two more performances scheduled with his Experiment version of the band, which will feature Lionel Loueke and vocalist Bilal.  In addition to his playing, he has a sense of humor and a stage presence – you could see him hosting Saturday Night Live.

As usual MJF has so much happening at once that you are forced to make choices.  Hiromi was opening the Arena stage at 8:30, but I didn’t want to miss young pianist Helen Sung, so I ducked into the Coffee House Gallery for her 8 o’clock set. When you haven’t seen a performer before and note that her trio consists of Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and Reuben Rogers on bass, it’s a good bet you’re in for a treat.

Helen Sung

Sung more than lived up to my hopes, performing the type of trio music that invites comparisons to Bill Evans, Chick Corea and George Shearing. She has a deft touch on the keyboard and a soft, bright style. She opened with a reimagining of Shearing’s “Conception,” which she called “Reconception.” She moved on to an original composition, “Touch,” which was more dense and mysterious, then segued into Monk’s “Bye Ya.” Sung studied at the Monk Institute of Jazz Performance and the next few numbers were a nod to that experience, most notably “In Walked Bud.” The interplay between these three suberb players was exquisite, but I’d draw special attention to the duet work between Sung and bassist Rogers. Rogers is lithe and melodic, and the two of them interlocked themes magically during the last two numbers. You could see many in the intimate Coffee House Gallery had dropped in for a peek prior to the Arena’s opening – a few were drifting off, but I wasn’t going anywhere until “In Walked Bud” reached its rousing conclusion.


When I walked into Hiromi’s performance about midway through her set, the stylistic differences couldn’t have been more apparent. She was standing in front of the piano, which had an electric keyboard on top of it, alternating between the two, trading licks with electric bassist Anthony Jackson. The drummer, Simon Phillips, was barely visible behind a massive drum set that featured six cymbals. But it was clear the audience was fully behind her.  If Sung was perfect for the Coffee House, Hiromi’s trio was equally so for an opening set at the Arena.  She has complete command of the piano – even her more reflective pieces are projected with an emphatic tone, and her arpeggios, visually dramatic, all seem to make perfect sense musically. She moves seamlessly from the funky, bluesy tunes to the more personally intense, even incorporating a Latin feel to her closing number.

I’ve seen the criticism of Hiromi’s playing, that she seems to have absorbed every aspect of jazz and fires it back out in a sort of random way, but I don’t buy it. I’ve seen her twice in live performance, once as a solo act and this time with her trio, and each time she has utterly captivated the audience. Yes, she has the pyrotechnics, but practically everything she does is original, there are no standards for the audience to hang their hats on, yet they are with her for every note. She didn’t speak much to the audience, but her virtuosity and flair didn’t require much in the way of interpretation.

Jessica Molasky and John Pizzarelli

John Pizzerelli’s First Family of Cool followed, and it spoke to the diversity in styles that can be absorbed by the Monterey audience.  If you were lamenting the absence of wit and sophistication on the American scene in general and music in particular, you couldn’t have had a more delightful respite.  The opening numbers featured John and his wife, Jessica Molaskey,  weaving together pairs of songs, the lyrics intersecting wonderfully.  First there was Irving Berlin’s “The Best Things Happen While You Dance,” paired with Bobby Troup’s “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast,” then George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the Roberta Flack hit “Killing Me Softly.”  Then Molaskey singing “I Want To Be Happy” with Pizzerelli dropping in the lines from “Sometimes I’m Happy.” Larry Fuller did terrific work on the piano, particularly when they moved into Ellingtonia later on in the show with a brooding version of “Don’t Get Around Much Any More”/”East Saint Louis Toodle-oo.”  Martin Pizzerelli on bass and Anthony Tedesco rounded out the tight rhythm section and they all shined on a rollicking “C Jam Blues.”

The emotional and artistic highlight of the night came when Bucky Pizzerelli, John and Martin’s dad, came onstage for a series of guitar duets with John. From Bucky’s first few notes, he had the crowd captivated. Playing mostly lead to John’s rhythm,  he introduced “Body and Soul,” demonstrating the emotive qualities that can still be wrung out of that standard. They romped through “Tangerine” and then returned to the Ellington songbook in closing for “In a Mellow Tone.” If there was a common theme for the evening, it was how a great performer, no matter the age or the style, can take command of an audience.  There is certainly a sentimental quality to father and son up there on stage, but what raises it to a memorable performance is when you’ve got the chops,  and Bucky still has them.

Poncho Sanchez

Pancho Sanchez’s Latin Band closed the show with a tribute to the Cubano oeuvre of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo.  Sanchez is a terrific conguero and his eight piece band is filled with talent, particularly Francisco Torres on trombone and the whole rhythm section, but it was the addition of trumpeter Terence Blanchard that really lit the place up.  Blanchard had been honored the night before in the MJF Gala event, and he was in splendid form, beginning with a medley of Gillespiana, highlighting “Tin Tin Deo,” “Manteca,” and  “Wachiwado,” which Pancho performed countless times with Cal Tjader as “Soul Sauce.”  Sanchez,  who had earlier left the conga chair for vocals and cowbell,  was back on the drums for the remainder of the set. They moved on to “Con Alma,” with Blanchard augmenting the sweet familiar melody with a nice uptempo interlude before returning to the theme. The highlights of the set were the next two numbers, Dizzy’s “Groovin’ High” and the Pancho standard, “Besame Mama.” Blanchard’s fiery playing raised the level of everyone around him, especially the band’s front line. Robert Hardt contributed a spirited tenor sax solo, but it was the trumpet duels between Blanchard and Ron Blake that really stole the show.  Blanchard set the tone,  sending out spiraling cadenzas and Blake reached deep inside of himself to answer, bringing the crowd to its feet.

All in all it was a spectacular night, and of course there were was much else going on – it was overall the most loaded Friday night I can remember in my 12 festivals.  MJF 54 is certainly off to an auspicious start.

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

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


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