Live Music: Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus at the Greek Theatre

September 8, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Sometimes life can be so poetic. In 1980, as Peter Frampton’s career was at a low ebb, he lost his most prized possession. He lost his Les Paul black beauty. This was his main axe and a huge, iconic part of his musical identity. It’s the one he played on Humble Pie’s Rockin’ the Fillmore and on Frampton Comes Alive. The guitar wasn’t stolen from him. It actually went down off the coast of Venezuela in a fiery airplane crash. The pilot died and the plane sank with all of Frampton’s gear including his prized and simply one of kind Les Paul black beauty.

Well, apparently the guitar was rescued quickly and was actually played by a local musician in Curacao for decades, with no idea of the instrument’s history. A local guitar repairman there, with the help of a Dutch Frampton fan helped get the ax back to Pete in 2011. Now at age 62, Frampton’s career and his guitar playing have been on a wonderfully climbing arc since that time. He actually played the black Les Paul in all of its battered, matted glory in late August, when he brought his Guitar Circus into the Greek Theatre before a full house.

And what about this Guitar Circus? The Guitar Circus format calls for different well known artists in each city to come onstage and play with Pete and his band. It’s a return to featured jamming and it’s quite entertaining. While the bill also features BB King and Sonny Landreth, there is nightly anticipation about who will be PF’s guests onstage. This is because guests on previous nights have included talents as diverse as Roger McGuinn, Steve Cropper, Robert Cray, and Leslie West.

Frampton’s Greek Theatre set featured a sampling of his tunes from the ’70’s and 2000’s along with a tasty array of covers that served to showcase his enormous guitar prowess. His solo material has aged quite well. Songs like “Lines on My Face,” “I’ll Give you Money,” “ Show Me the Way ,” and “Do You Feel Like I Do,” were as familiar, vibrant and balanced as ever. He can go from an appealingly light pop song such as “Baby I Love Your Way,” to a cover of a crunching alternative metal tune like “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden,…and they both sound as though they belong to be heard back to back. Crossing genres and eras is something that Frampton has mastered. The songs sound fresh and vibrant in his hands.

In terms of guitar playing, it’s not that Frampton plays blindingly fast, though at times at the Greek he most certainly did. It’s his tone, which is basically second to none. He lives in the sweet spot of every guitar sound he uses. His tone is a pure, clean, mid range. It’s bright but not shrill, cool and airy but fat too, when he wants it to be.

To watch Frampton and his band (Dan Wojciechowski-Drums, Rob Arthur- keys, guitar, harmony vocals , Adam Lester- Guitar, and Stanley Sheldon – bass) lay it down is to watch a clinic on letting dynamics and strategic restraint do great work for you. Another thing was obvious too, that it never hurts the effort to be heard when you have a Fender Rhodes keyboard in the mix.

Frampton and co. always found the open space for the guitar’s purest tones to shine in. But the bottom line is that he can just flat out rip it up on guitar. Having a band that sets the table so well is icing on the cake. He looked so satisfied plunging into song after song and laying down each line, obviously knowing how sweet it would sound. Remarkable.

The first guest of the night was Dean De Leo of Stone Temple Pilots. He came on and led the band through “Interstate Love Affair,” and “Vaseline,” doing all the solos himself and with Peter’s son Julian doing the singing. Frampton and the guys clearly enjoyed a chance to back someone else and step outside of themselves for a bit.

Next on was no less than Andy Summers of the Police carrying his familiar red Stratocaster. He piloted the band through “Message in a Bottle” as rhythm guitarist Adam Lester did a fine job delivering the Sting vocals. Summers played his rear end off on this tune, much more vigorously than with the Police. Brilliant! Next, they did a jam on “Synchronicity I” where Pete and Andy exchanged composed yet frenzied leads. No doubt about it, Andy Summers came to play.

The encore turned out to be a great version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Frampton, DeLeo (through a wah wah pedal), and Summers all took solos in a heavy but clear send up for the evening.

BB King was second billed and at the age of 87 rapidly approaching 88 next month he did do a lot of sitting and kibitzing onstage like a lovable grandpa. He did not tickle his black Gibson semi-hollow body, Lucille that often … but she did have a lot of sustain behind her. Towards the end of the set, Frampton came out, sat down next to BB and while listening to the stories, grinning ear to ear, snuck in a devastating run or two or three.

At his age BB has earned the right to play a little less. He sounded good when he did play but he did far more talking. He even looked downright impressed as he looked across and checked out PF laying down the blues over his band.

Sonny Landreth and his trio from New Orleans got the evening going with a short set before the sun went down. He plays in a uniquely arpeggiated style, combining slide guitar and fretted leads. It seemed that it shouldn’t sound that intricate when his fingers actually didn’t look the least bit busy. His right hand is a big part of this sound. He often passes on a plectrum and attacks the strings with his fingers extended much like a bassist.

All in all this was an extraordinary night of music at the Greek. To see Frampton making that same battle-scarred black Les Paul sing again looked and sounded like destiny. I hope there is more to come.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein 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.

Q & A: Israeli Singer Noa (Achinoam Nini)

March 22, 2012

By Don Heckman

Israeli singer/songwriter Noa, whose given name is Achinoam Nini, makes one of her rare Los Angeles appearances on Saturday night in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall.  Her remarkable resume encompasses performances and/or collaborations with artists reaching from Pat Metheny, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli to Lokua Kanza, Khaled and Mira Awad, to name only a few of many.  As well as her musical partner of more than two decades, guitarist/producer Gil Dor.  Noa  has performed with ensembles ranging from a duo with Dor to the Israeli Philharmonic, in major venues throughout Europe, the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Japan and beyond.  Through it all, she has been a tireless advocate for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.    

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DH: Noa, your Saturday night performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall will be one of your rare appearances in Los Angeles.  So let’s get down to basics.  Can you give me a little advance word about the program we’ll be hearing.

NOA: Since I do not often perform in the US and even less often in LA, I chose to take advantage of the wonderful stage I have been given to present a range of my original material in English, Hebrew and Yemenite. There will be a selection of songs from various albums made over the past 22 years of creative work with my musical director and guitarist Gil Dor.  And, in addition, a special spot for ‘the Israeli songbook,’ a collection of classic Israeli songs we recorded together with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

DH: What about the ensemble?  You’ve performed with everything from a full symphony orchestra to a duo with Gil Dor.  Who will be with you at U.C.L.A.?

NOA: Of course Gil Dor will be with me, playing guitar, as he has been for 22 years.  We also have a wonderful multi-instrumentalist named Gil Zohar, who will play piano, bass and flute. I myself will be singing and playing percussion.

DH: An intimate, but obviously very musical ensemble.

NOA: We try to make music that stands on its own, regardless of the ensemble.

DH: Your New York appearance a couple of weeks ago was with Mira Awad, the Palestinian singer. She won’t be here in L.A.  Will that – in this concert — in any way diminish the dialogues for peace which have played such a prominent role in your performances?

NOA: Mira and I have known each other for over ten years and have done many concerts together. I myself have been performing for twice as long and have collaborated with Arab artists from around the world on numerous occasions. I convey my message of peace in many different ways: in interviews, on my blog or other written platforms (social and such), through collaborations and with specific texts I write and put to music (like the song ‘Shalom, Shalom’). Having said that, I am first and foremost a singer/songwriter. I am happy for the opportunity to share my music with whoever will come out to hear us in Royce Hall.

 DH: Expanding on that thought, can you say something about what brought you to the point at which your art became an expression of your belief in the changes that you feel need to take place – in the world, in general, and in Israel, in particular?

NOA: As I said in my previous answer, I do not consider my art as a platform for specific ‘political’ beliefs. My art is a study in the complexities of the diverse, ever changing human spirit. What I do is use my privileged position as a public personality whose voice is heard. In that context, I convey my message any way I can. I realized early on that as an Israeli artist I had two choices: running away from politics or tackling them. I chose the latter, and have become a sort of informal ambassador for all those people in Israel who share my views of dialogue, compassion and peace.

DH: What would you see as the ideal conclusion to your quest for change, in Israel and elsewhere?

NOA: I dream of a world driven by kindness, compassion, generosity, empathy, sharing, creativity, respect and love. A world where ‘we’ becomes much more important than ‘me,’ without compromising either. A world where religion would assume more modest proportions and serve only as an instrument of solace and enlightenment, never of self-righteousness, hatred and violence. Yes, a more modest world. A simple trip to the neighborhood planetarium will help you screw your head on straight any time.

DH: Your music reaches out to embrace many styles and genres.  Has the application of your music to your desire for change in any way limited the expression of your far-reaching creative interests?

NOA: Art is always about making choices and limiting yourself in one way or another. Though I have far-reaching interests and a diverse musical and cultural palette, I do try to ‘speak a language’ — one that Gil and I have been perfecting and deepening over the years. Granted, our slightly off beat definition of ‘style’ has made us harder to market, as we do not fall squarely into any one genre.  But we are very particular and uncompromising about what we do, and strive for the highest level of excellence. We’ve always said, we bow only to the God of Music.

DH: Given those creative interests, what haven’t you as yet done that you would like to do?  With whom could you imagine having a satisfying musical encounter?

NOA: I dream of meeting and possibly writing/singing with my heroes: Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor. I also dream of singing at the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.   I would also love to be able to bring my symphonic project to places like Carnegie Hall in New York City (my dream since childhood) and Disney Hall in L.A.  But really, my greatest wish is to just keep at it, keep travelling this fascinating road of music. The journey is the dream.

DH: Speaking of traveling, you’ve had a very unusual life’s journey – so far.  You lived in the U.S. from the age of 2 to 17.  Basically your childhood, adolescence and teen-age years.  How has that affected you, if it has?

NOA: I was very fortunate to have the childhood that I had, which was not at all simple but so enriching. I grew up in a Yemenite Israeli home, a small apartment in an old tenement building in a lower middle class Bronx neighborhood populated by every type of race and color, and studied in a predominantly Ashkenzi yeshiva. Needless to say this was a source of much confusion to my budding  identity. Culture and music were everywhere, from the Yemenite songs my grandmother taught me at home to the Broadway musicals I adored, my mom’s opera obsession and trips to MOMA. I was immersed in art and culture and drank it up with thirst and passion. My parents are the most supportive loving people in the world. They drove me to piano lessons, dance class, choir practice, what not. They listened to the songs I started writing at age 8 and clapped as enthusiastically as if I were Barbara Streisand reincarnated. When I fell in love with an Israeli man — I was 16 — and asked to leave the States and return alone to Israel, they let me go, and they have been enthusiastically following my career and helping me with my three children ever since.

DH: After all that, what was it like to make the transition from essentially being an American teen-ager to returning to Israel and serving in the Army?

NOA: Israel was a shock — still is, after 25 years! — and so was the army. It was a bucket of freezing water poured over my head. I had a hard time in the military, no place for a free spirit, but I learned a lot, and after those two years I was full of ambition and energy, ready to gobble up the world.

DH: But, given conditions in Israel and the Middle East, along with the hazards that an outspoken artist who performs in public might encounter, have you ever considered relocating back to the U.S. – which could be a kind of homecoming for you – and raising your children, as you were raised, in this country?

NOA: I have considered it, but will only do so if things get really, really bad in Israel. The definition of ‘bad’ is very subjective of course, but I guess I’ll know when the time comes. For the moment, I’d rather stay in Israel, which I love, and fight for what I believe in, than replace one promised land for another…

DH: Noa, a final question about a very significant moment in your life – in many people’s lives.  You were at the Tel Aviv peace rally in 1995 when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.  Can you say something about the impact it had on you?

NOA: I was there on stage, in one of the happiest moments of my life, performing for the many hundreds of thousands of people that had come out to encourage Rabin on his quest for peace, post Oslo [Accords, establishing the Palestinian National Authority].  Twenty minutes later, the dream was blown to bits by a mad assassin. I was so shocked and horrified.  I think I haven’t recovered to this day. I pledged then to do my utmost, even at the expense of personal security, comfort and commercial success, to carry the torch that had fallen from his hand that awful night, and work for peace. That is what I have been doing, stubbornly, ever since.

DH: Thank you, Noa, for this illuminating conversation.  It’s been a pleasure.  I look forward to hearing you at Royce Hall on Friday night.

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To read more iRoM Questions and Answers, click HERE.  

CD Review: “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International”

January 26, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

I am always a bit suspicious of organizations aligning themselves with art and artists, even one as “pure” as Amnesty International.  Organizations, you see, always have agendas and the only agenda artists should have is their art.

It might not be fair to say but I rather envision Amnesty International supporters as being among those booing Dylan long ago at Newport because he had the audacity to think great music could be coupled with instruments that are electrified.  Even though the liner notes deny that, sort of. Ultra lefties have their own problems with tolerance of viewpoints in disagreement with their own.

So the only reasonable thing to do then is to consider this massive tome of 75 songs —  a salute to the activism of Amnesty International and the music of Dylan — as a work of art, not simply a political statement.  On that basis, for a huge chunk of this work, there is a single word:


Disc 2 alone can stand as a great album on its own. Speaking of lefties, Brit activist Billy Bragg demonstrates that there are some artists who simple “feel” Dylan at a higher level with his rendition of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” about being a prisoner of you own music. Dylan was never that, or at least of other people’s ideas of him and his work.

Earlier, on Disc 1, Patti Smith musically and thematically also evokes all that is best about Bob on “Drifter’s Escape.” You would have guessed that even before you heard this great version. It is Patti Smith after all.

But back to Disc 2:

Angelique Kidjo”s “Lay Lady Lay” may make you cry and it will certainly send a thrill through you. Is there anyone else in the world who can hit such pure notes. When you hear her sing you consider that there may have been a better time musically in the history of the world but you can’t imagine it.

Adele touches almost as deeply with a live recording of “Make You Feel My Love.” How does this kid have such command of a song, any song she sings.

Jackson Brown on Love Minus Zero (No Limit) provides a kind of tribute to Dylan phrasing without being merely imitative.

Jack’s Mannequin makes “Mr. Tambourine Man” as fresh as a spring stream in a meadow.

Lenny Kravitz laughs his way through “Rainy Day Women” but so did Dylan.

And there is Baez.  There had to be Joan Baez on this album. “Seven Curses” will make even the most ardent death penalty proponent consider James Joyce’s view that all executions are not only horrible but beyond the power that any government should have.

What girl should ever see the hangman’s limb bent by the weight of her father. You see, A.I., I’m suspicious but not unsympathetic.

All of the above on one of the four discs that comprise this collection.

There are delights and surprises on other discs though they may be less brilliant throughout.

Bryan Ferry convincingly touches on the youth and aging of Dylan’s generation with “Bob Dylan’s Dream” about the “first few friends I had.”  We really could get much older, the generation has discovered, hasn’t it?

Pete Townshend’s “Corrina, Corrina” made me smile. I’m not sure why.

Carly Simon brings a woman’s sensibility to “Just Like a Woman”. In fact, female renditions of Dylan tunes resonate throughout. Baez and Patti already mentioned along with the incomparable Kidjo. One of the delightful surprises here is Diana Krall’s “Simple Twist of Fate” wherein she brings out all the beauty of the song. A love song after all.

Disappointments?  Not many.  Sting does “Girl from the North Country”, a personal favorite, soft and sweet as it should be but he changes so many notes that by the end you almost think you are listening to a different song.  And Mark Knopfler continues the tradition begun with his work with Emmy Lou Harris of rendering himself and listeners nearly comatose on “Restless Farewell.”

As noted, though, there are nearly four score songs here and they couldn’t all be magnificent.

But almost.

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Holiday CD Reviews: Some Golden (Not So) Oldies

December 14, 2011

By Faith Frenz

Winter celebrations are upon us.  And aren’t we all digging deeply into our saved treasures,  surrounding ourselves with the holiday memories tucked away in our homes and our hearts, enriching and sharing the love and warmth we all need and crave?

As always, holiday time is arriving in the darkest of days and the wonder of the full moon.  Time to think about who we are, our heritage, our spiritual beliefs, our loved ones here and gone.  Time to rejoice in that spirit, and share in the wonder of the gift of life which is all too transient.

For me, Christmas is redolent with fragrant memories:  The search to find the perfect fir tree on a snowy evening.  The incomparable transcendence of  singing the Messiah in  a choir.  The poignant remembrance of sitting at the piano next to my grandfather, Peter Frenz, while he taught me to sing “Silent Night” in his native language… “Stille Nacht.”

Music and fragrance hold those memories for us all, which is why I want to share a few of my favorite holiday CDs — accumulated over the past few years, but all still readily available at Amazon and elsewhere.

The Canadian Tenors

The Perfect Gift (Decca 2010)

 Currently on tour before sold out audiences, the ravishing sound of the voices of the four Canadian Tenors — each uniquely different – is an intensely emotional experience to hear. On this year old holiday CD, they bring their exceptional blend of vocal talent to songs of worship and inspiration. One of the most moving songs is “Instrument of Peace”, a Christian prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi,  and not often heard.

All the songs are supported by lush orchestrations with choral backgrounds, and it’s almost impossible to select any one of the selections as more outstanding than the others.  But I do have my personal favorites: “O Holy Night”,” Silent Night”, “Ave Maria” , “Oviens Emmanuel.”  And, especially, a really memorable melody, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”  My advice is this — do not just buy one or two Mp3s of this CD.  The album needs to be experienced in its entirety.

Chris Botti

December (Columbia 2006)

 First recorded in 2002, December was reissued in 2006.  And now, almost a decade after its initial release, it has become a classic. Botti is that rarity — a trumpet player who plays his instrument as a vocal expression, as though he were singing through his horn.  And it’s not surprising that he is the number one selling jazz instrumentalist, continually touring the world, his albums produced by veteran hit-maker Bobby Colomby, his trumpet featured on several widely seen PBS fund-raising specials.

The album is chockful of classic Christmas carols along with a few popular holiday tunes. Among the highlights: rich, emotional renderings of “Ave Maria” and “Silent Night,” recorded in London.  And, here, as well as on the Canadian Tenors’ CD,  Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which — played without the original words, in Botti’s expressive style — perfectly suits the season

Diana Krall

Christmas Songs (Verve 2005)

 Diana Krall, aided by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, takes the opportunity to display her diverse talents with this collection of holiday golden oldies, done with a jazz twist.  The result is a program of familiar items overflowing with playfulness, sentiment, and humor. From the stirring, Clayton-Hamilton big band textures (“Let It Snow”), to lush orchestral sounds (“Have Yourself a Merry Christmas”), to Krall’s familiar small, swinging group backing (“White Christmas”).  Add to that her lovely  interpretation of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime Is Here” and “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas,” in touching versions arranged and produced by Johnny Mandel.

Christmas Songs concludes with a moving rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings, Instead Of Sheep.”  It’s not a  traditional holiday song, but how appropriate it is — not just  for the holiday season, but for every season. A charming personal footnote to this very special album.


If On a Winter’s Night (Deutsche Grammophon 2009)

 The album notes call this “a compelling and personal journey with music spanning over five centuries.”

It was introduced with this video in 2009 and utterly captivated me.

And with good reason.  Take a look:

When I received the CD, I listened to it every day for at least a month. The journey is drawn from traditional music of the British Isles, and the music was performed and recorded on Sting’s estate in Tuscany. Although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure there are those, like me, who will love the gentle, traditional folk style medieval madrigals, played on authentic string instruments such as the lute and harp. For those individuals I say take the journey.  It’s mesmerizing.

Apparently many others have had similar reactions.  In 2010, If On A Winter’s Night won the award for best music at the “Time for Peace” humanitarian film and music awards in Paris.

Take 6

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Heads Up 2010)

 An irresistibly happy and bouncy collection of holiday songs by this award-winning a capella group Take 6 is a collection of amazing singers who combine jazz, gospel, r&b and doo-wop into a truly unique sound.  “Sugarplum Dance” from The Nutcracker, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from Dr Seuss, and “I Saw Three Ships” stand out for their unique interpretations of familiar holiday music.

But the simple truth is that virtually every piece, traditional or otherwise, becomes something new and special when Take 6 take the song – and you — for a musical ride.

Yo-Yo Ma & Friends

Songs of Joy & Peace (Sony Classical 2008)

Any musical event featuring Yo -Yo Ma is a treasure, since his  classical roots and joyful spirit shine through everything he touches. The intentions of this production, which was a TV show in 2008, are stated here:  “Imagine a musical party inspired by the holiday season.  A party that celebrates the universal hopes, dreams and joy animating seasonal festivals the world over  That is what brought Yo-Yo Ma together with a remarkable group of friends – some new, some old – to create Songs of Joy & Peace.

The recording is star-studded with musical vignettes from the Brubecks, the Assad family, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, James Taylor, Joshua Redman, the Silk Road Ensemble, and many more.  Despite the eclectic variety and lack of continuity between the numbers, the cello of Yo-Yo Ma is the glue that brings cohesion to this ambitious event packed with such diverse talent.

My personal favorites are  a few gems: James Taylor’s sweet version of “Here Comes the Sun,” the gorgeous duets with Chris Botti on “My Favorite Things”,and “Old Land Syne,” and the Lennon/Ono song “Happy Xmas”, performed by Jake Shimabukuro on the ukulele  There are many more, but you’ll need to hear the album at close contact to choose yours.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 29 – Dec. 4

November 29, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles


– Nov. 30. (Wed.)  Sting. One of the iconic masters of popular song makes a rare Southland appearance as part of his extended, “Back To Bass” tour.   The  Wiltern.     (877) 686-5366.

– Nov. 30. (Wed.)   The Ron McCurdy Collective.  Trumpeter/educator McCurdy blends his soaring trumpet sounds with the lush harmonies of the four-voice Collective.  Catalina Bar *& Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 30 – Dec. 4. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Blue Man Group.  The blue-skinned, multi-media specialists blend comedy, music, technology into an evening of sheer audio-visual excitement.  Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.   (805) 449-2787.

– Dec. 1. (Thurs.)  Chris Walden Quintet.  Arranger/composer/conductor/trumpeter Walden, a true musical multi-hyphenate, takes a break from his large ensemble chores to lead a quintet of stellar L.A. players: featuring saxophonist Rob Lockhart, pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Pat Senatore. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Mike Stern Band.  Always an exciting, compelling player in his own right, guitarist Stern takes it up to an even higher level when he’s working – as he is here – in the company of players such as drummer Dave Weckl, bassist Richard Bona and saxophonist Bob Franceschini Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Mike Melvoin

– Dec. 2. (Fri.).  A Celebration of 50 Years of the Music of Mike Melvoin. A much deserved tribute to pianist/composer/activist Melvoin – a vital figure in the jazz and music world and a supporter of aid for musicians and entertainers for decades.  Participants include pianist Mike Lang, singer David Basse, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, bassist Jim Hughart, drummer Ralph Penland and more. Culvers Club For Jazz.  6161 W. Centinela Ave.  Inside the Double Tree Hotel.  Presented by In-House Music.

– Dec. 2 (Fri.)  The Shanghai Quartet.  Together since the mid-‘80s, the highly praised Chinese string quartet performs the Mozart Quartet No. 17 (“The Hunt”) and Schubert’s Quartet No. 15 in the beautifully atmospheric setting of the Doheny Mansion.  A Da Camera Society “Chamber Music in Historic Sites” program.    (213) 477-2929.

– Dec. 2 (Fri.)  “Holiday Doo-Wop.”  An evening of sheer doo-wop nostalgia, featuring The Crystals, Johnny Tillotson, Kenny Vance & the Pianotones, and Cleve Duncan (from the Penguins).  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.   (562) 916-8501.

– Dec. 3. (Sat.) Holiday Wonders: Festival of Carols.  The Los Angeles Master Chorale.  Disney Hall.  It’s one of the great holiday musical blessings – a program of favorite Christmas carols, performed by one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

Jane Birkin

– Dec. 3. (Sat.)  “An Evening With Jane Birkin.”  The image of ‘60s mod style, singer/actress Jane Birkin had a long, passionate, professional and personal relationship with iconic French singer Serge Gainsbourg. Her performance recalls the drama of their connection and the impact it had upon the ‘60s and ‘70s.   Luckman Fine Arts Complex.   (323) 343-6600.

San Francisco

– Dec. 1 – 4.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  The rhythms will be provocative, and there’ll be a great desire to get up and salsa.  But Latin jazz great Palmieri also adds an irresistible seasoning of jazz to almost everything he plays.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.


Benny Green

– Dec. 1 – 4 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Benny Green Trio. Pianist Green has been carrying the banner for straight ahead, bebop-driven jazz in his dynamic playing since he was an emerging jazz star in the ‘80s.  And he’s still at it.   Jazz Showcase.   (312) 360-0234.

New York

– Dec. 1. (Thurs.) Shane Endsley and the Music Band.  Versatile trumpeter Endsley was a founder of the Grammy nominated band, Kneebody.  But his colorful resume includes gigs reaching from Ani DiFranco and Pearl Jam to Steve Coleman and Slavic Soul Party.  For this gig, he leads a group that includes pianist Uri Caine, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown. Cornelia St. Café.   (212) 989-9319.


– Dec. 1. (Thurs.)  Jackson Browne.  Veteran rock singer/songwriter Browne takes up the cause of Occupy Wall St. with a live performance in Zuccotti Park at 1 p.m.  Also on the program — the California band Dawes.  Zuccotti Park at Liberty Plaza between 6th Ave. & Broadway.  Backpacks, camping gear and large bags are reportedly not permitted. 

– Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  “Tango Meets Jazz Festival.”  For the 11th year in a row, the Festival explores the surprisingly compatible common ground between tango and jazz.  This time out, the featured performers are nuevo tango master Pablo Ziegler with his quartet, jazz vibraphonist Joe Locke and jazz violinist Regina CarterThe Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

– Dec. 2 & 3.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Tudo Isto E Fado (“All This Is Fado”). Like American blues, Argentine tango and Brazilian samba, the fado is deeply rooted in the emotional expressiveness of its native culture.  Here, in two extraordinary nights of music, every aspect of fado – from  historical to contemporary – is on full display.  Performers include: On Fri.: Lisboa Soul and Camane.  On Sat.: Deolinda and Amalia Hoje.   The Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.    (718) 636-4100.

– Dec. 4. (Sun.)  Bobby Avey Quartet. Winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition for Composition in 2011, pianist Avey is a certified emerging jazz star.  His impressive group includes MacArthur “genius” award winner, Miguel Zenon on saxophone, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Cornelia St. Café.    (212) 989-9319.


Jeff Lorber

– Dec. 2 (Fri.)  Jeff Lorber Fusion.  Keyboardist Lorber’s original fusion band virtually defined the crossover styles that led to contemporary groove jazz, smooth jazz and more.  But Lorber’s music – past and present – has also always simmered with swinging jazz authenticity.  Expect the same, from a group that includes saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak A-Trane.    030 / 313 25 50.


– Dec. 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.)  David Sanborn.  Not only does alto saxophonist Sanborn have one of the most unique sounds in jazz, he also has one of the most influential.  Transforming the blues styles of Hank Crawford and David “Fathead” Newman, he’s been among the most imitated saxophonists of the past four decades.  The Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.

Q & A: Nathan East

October 28, 2010

By Devon Wendell

Nathan East’s long, illustrious career has firmly established him as one of the world’s top bass players and an impressive composer.  Recently I had the chance to speak with with him about his latest release with the group Fourplay, “Let’s Touch The Sky,” as well as some of the high points in his work with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder and many other major stars.

DW: Let’s start with the new album, Nathan.  How does it differ from past Fourplay albums?

NE: Let’s Touch The Sky marks the beginning of a new  chapter in the Fourplay songbook with the addition of our newest member, guitarist Chuck Loeb.  Chuck brings a  fresh  energy to the mix with his compelling guitar style and sophisticated compositions.  This project also contains  three vocal songs when we normally only include one.

DW: Your smooth and soulful vocals are featured on your composition “I’ll Still Be Loving You.”  How do you approach singing and vocal arranging?

NE: I have a great deal of respect for a variety of singers like Sam Cook, James Taylor, Nora Jones, even John Mayer and although I’d never try to jump in the ring with them, I imagine how they would approach a vocal and I try to sing with that kind of spirit.  It’s nice to have role models!  I also try to write in a range that I know my voice can handle, so I normally gravitate toward the soft & soulful ballad which suits my voice.

DW: From Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, and Michael Jackson, to Lionel Ritchie, Eric Clapton and Herbie Hancock (To name a few), you’ve recorded with such a diverse list of the greatest musicians ever. What were some of the greatest highlights of your career?

NE: There certainly are many wonderful highlights that I will be forever grateful for, among those is sharing the stage with the late George Harrison who also became a very dear friend.  Hanging out in the studio recording with Quincy Jones & Michael Jackson was very special, everyone involved is at the top of their game, and you know while you’re recording that history is being made .. it’s very exciting!  Performing for the Queen of England and Nelson Mandela at the Royal Albert Hall in London was most memorable especially having the opportunity to meet them after the performance!  But I’d have to say that performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to an audience of two million people at the Inauguration Concert for Barack Obama pretty much tops the list of highlights.  I must admit I’ve been blessed with some good ones!

DW: How has jazz inspired your playing and composing?

NE: Again there are so many wonderful role models like Bob James, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny & Keith Jarrett that have set such a high standard for playing and composition that it’s easy to be inspired merely at the thought of such excellence. In jazz, you’re always composing whether you’re improvising a solo or writing a song, the creative process never stops and it’s most inspiring to study the greats and try to figure out how they arrived at such masterful conclusions.

DW: Who were some of your earliest influences?

NE: Wes Montgomery (my all time favorite guitarist), Vince Guaraldi, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro, Charlie Mingus, McCoy Tyner, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley & Quincy Jones to name a few.

DW: Tell me about how Fourplay was formed.

NE: In 1990, Bob James recorded an album called Grand Piano Canyon.  He asked Harvey Mason and Lee Ritenour to recommend a bassist for the project.  As my good fortune would have it, they both recommended me.  Bob,who held an executive position at Warner Bros Records at the time,was so intrigued by our musical chemistry that he proposed the idea of forming a quartet.  He even suggested the name Fourplay.  A few months later we were in the studio recording our quartet as new artists on Warner Bros. otherwise known as Fourplay.  Thank you Bob for that vision.

DW: As a bassist and composer what do you try to bring to the table when recording with other artists?

NE: I try to bring musical integrity and a positive spirit to every session.  My goal is to support and enhance the musical environment whatever it may be.  I shoot for creativity and uniqueness in my performance. There’s an intangible ingredient in music that completes the connection between the mind, heart and soul.

DW: At what moment did you feel you had truly arrived in the big leagues of the music business?

NE: Touring the country with Barry White & The Love Unlimited Orchestra at age 16 was a good indication of things to come.  Also, getting calls from people like Quincy Jones, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Lionel Richie .. a pretty good indicator that you’re in good company.

DW: Usually bass players are either “pocket” players or more melodic. Your style balances both. Do you feel that dichotomy is lost among today’s younger generation of players?

NE: As a young player, you just go for it and stay in the moment which is not a bad thing but with experience comes wisdom and that’s when I think the balance and good instincts come into play.

DW: Name some bass players out today that have caught your ear — if any.

NE: Esperanza Spalding! She’s a bright and shining star with a compelling career ahead of her.  Hadrien Feraud and Dominique Dipiazza .. these two players from France are absolute virtuosos with impressive technique and taste.  I still enjoy Pino Palladino, Marcus Miller and of course Abraham Laboriel Sr.

DW: Name some of your personal favorite recordings you’ve done so far.

NE: With three decades of recordings to draw from, I have quite a few favorites.  I’m very proud of all of our Fourplay recordings including this latest one.  Also all the Anita Baker records especially Compositions.   Birdland from Quincy Jones Back on the Block, Eric Clapton Change  the World and Tears in Heaven, Michael McDonald Motown, Philip Bailey Chinese Wall, Kenny Loggins Love Will Follow and recent CD’s by Andrea Boccelli & Michael Bublé.  These are just a few of my favorites.

DW: Have other instruments other than bass influenced your style?

NE: Absolutely.  I was influenced by the lyrical playing of sax men Cannonball Adderley, Charlie “Bird” Parker & John Coltrane.  I gravitated early on to the piano of Vince Guaraldi, I loved his music on the Charlie Brown specials.  Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino & Pat Metheny’s masterful guitar styles are all still very influential.

DW: If you had to classify your style, what would you call it?

NE: That’s a bit tricky because I love playing in different genres, Jazz-R&B-Pop-Rock-Classical but if had to come up with a classification for my style, it might be “Warm-n-Fuzzy”. [He laughs.]

DW: Are there any artists you haven’t recorded with that you’ve always wanted to, if so who are they?

NE: Pat Metheny, Donald Fagen, Sting & Paul McCartney.

DW: What kind of bass are you currently playing?

NE: I play my Yamaha BBNE-2 Signature series 5-String bass.

DW: You started out on cello. What initially made you want to play electric bass?

NE: I’d listen to the high school stage band rehearse from outside the closed door and the bass just sounded so cool supporting all those horns.  The Motown records also caught my ear, mostly because of the genius of James Jamerson’s incredible bass lines.  My ear just gravitated to the bass in most of the music I was listening to and again I’m just thankful for the many role models of the bass.

DW: You were a member of Eric Clapton’s band for quite a number of years from the ’80’s to the ’90’s. Explain what that experience was like.

NE: It’s a wonderful experience on so many levels to make music with such an iconic musician.  Eric became like a brother to me, we had many laughs, shared some tears and covered a lot of ground traveling around the world for more than 20 years.  I’ve learned so much from him about life in general and I’m grateful for the life-long friendship that we established.

DW: Funk pioneers like Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins have certainly influenced most bass players in all genres. How has the funk effected your approach to playing?

NE: I’ll never forget hearing Larry and Bootsy for the first time.  They both blew the roof off of the house when they played and revolutionized the way we all approach the bass.

DW: What lessons do you hope younger bass players will learn from your style?

NE: Well, not necessarily just from my style, but I hope young players become well rounded musicians and continue to push the boundaries of the instrument. Listen to all styles of music and incorporate them into your own development.

DW: What does the future hold in store for Nathan East?

NE: In the immediate future, Fourplay will do a bit of touring in the US and Japan in support of our new project.  (tour dates are listed on

I’m moving more toward writing and producing these days which I really enjoy.  I’m currently in production on a new Anita Baker CD.  We’ve worked together since the early 1980’s and it’s been fun to watch her progress since her very first Songstress album.  You can imagine how honored I was when she called and asked me to produce her.  Anita’s voice is a national treasure and to work with such a gifted artist is a producer’s dream.  I’m also working on a book documenting some of the amazing experiences that have contributed to the blessed life I live and love so much.  Lastly, one of my long time ambitions is to record my own solo project with some of my friends that I’ve made music with over the years, simply celebrating music!

DW: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Nathan.  It’s been a pleasure.

To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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