Live Jazz: Fred Hersch and Julian Lage at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall

March 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

There were only two musicians on stage Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at the University’s cozy Schoenberg Hall. But no more were needed. The musical encounter between pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage offered a definitive display of jazz improvisation at its finest.

Fred Hersch

Fred Hersch

Hersch’s long, musically rich career has showcased him in a far ranging array of settings. He is a prime improviser, a superb vocal accompanist, an intriguing composer and a master of various jazz genres. It’s not surprising that Vanity Fair described him as “The most restlessly innovative pianist in jazz over the past decade or so.”

Lage is more than a generation younger than Hersch. But the 26 year old guitarist is also a musical adventurer, open to new ideas, with a similarly inventive approach to improvisation.

Julian Lage

Their performance together at Schoenberg produced an evening of memorable musical delights. Playing material that reached from a group of compelling original works by Hersch to various jazz and songbook items, the duo played with the sort of creative intimacy one recalls from the duo performances of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

The 90 minute program glowed with one highlight after another. Hersch opened the performance with some originals, including a piece dedicated to his mother. Standards on the bill included an especially imaginative rendering of “You and the Night and the Music.” And the interaction between Hersch and Lage was especially responsive to jazz works by Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller and Egberto Gismonti, as well as a captivating dedication to the late Jim Hall..

It was also fascinating to observe the interactive presence of the audience. Responding to every number enthusiastically, they were linked to each of the Hersch/Lage excursions in a rare example of what can happen, at its best, between performers and listeners.

CAP UCLA”s /Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds – who is responsible for Saturday’s performance, along with an upcoming season of similarly compelling events – has best described how events such as the memorable Hersch/Lage performance fit into the broad concept of her programming philosophy:

“We are all part of a collaborative essentialness in the art of performance,” writes Edmunds, “involved in expanding dialogues that inform our unique experiences.”

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Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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


CD Review: Helen Sung “Anthem For A New Day” (Concord Jazz Records)

January 15, 2014

By Devon Wendell

Pianist and composer Helen Sung has quickly established herself as a jazz veteran over the past decade, performing and recording with icons such as; Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, T.S. Monk, Lonnie Plaxico, and Terri Lyne Carrington to name a few.

She is one of the most consistently brilliant recording artists in jazz today. And her sixth and latest release, Anthem For A New Day, scheduled for release on January 28th,  is her hardest swinging album to date. The album is also produced by Sung.

Helen Sung

Sung wastes no time, kick starting the album with her hard-bop tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled “Brother Thelonious.” The horn section of Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and Seamus Blake on tenor sax has a Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley at the earliest stages of The Jazz Messengers feel to it. Sung’s solo proves that she has a clear understanding of Monk’s harmonic complexities and knows how to incorporate them into her own virtuosic style.

Paquito D’Rivera’s melodic clarinet soloing dances around Sung’s polyrhythmic textured piano playing on her adventurous arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba.”

Another guest is Regina Carter who offers some tasteful and thematic violin lines to Sung’s “Hidden.” Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet truly shines on this piece, as does Sung’s elegant phrasing on Fender Rhodes electric piano.

One of the most impressive elements of this album is how clean the rhythm section (Reuben Rogers, bass, Obed Calvaire, drums, and Samuel Torres on percussion) was recorded. No effects, compressors, or reverb were added to the drums and upright bass, which is refreshing in a time when many traditional and contemporary jazz recordings are destroyed by overly adventurous producers and engineers.

There’s a wonderfully pure tone to this album as a whole. Sung’s reading of Duke Ellington and Irving Mills’ swing anthem “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is an album highlight. Sung uses her own chordal voicings, and her improvisations blend bop-styled pedal tones with classical elements in a completely natural way.

Sung’s originals — “Hope Springs Eternally” and the album’s title track – dip into a more late ‘60s fusion- jazz groove with a hint of third stream. John Ellis provides colorful bass clarinet shadings atop Sung’s funky staccato Fender Rhodes arpeggios on the album’s title track.

Sung’s rendition of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” is the perfect vehicle for the piano trio format. Obed Calvaire’s drums are subtle and melodic and Reuben Rogers’ bass solo is dynamic and mournful.

“Chaos Theory” brings to mind early Weather Report with fast changing meters, and piercing alto-sax runs by Seamus Blake. This composition shows off Sung and her band’s tight chemistry and creative fearlessness.

In order to truly capture the spirit of Thelonious Monk, a musician must bring forth what makes them truly unique when covering one of the High Priest’s compositions. And Sung and company achieve this on an utterly funky, gospel take of “Epistrophy.” The energy of the band is ecstatic. There’s lots of love for Monk here.

The album closes with a beautifully haunting solo piano cover of the great Stanley Cowell’s “Equipose.”

What stands out most on Anthem For A New Day is not only Sung’s fluid and imaginative piano playing but her awe-inspiring talent as a truly unique composer and arranger. Her music is adventurous, personal, and a powerful force to be reckoned with in the jazz world.

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


Live Jazz: Jane Monheit at Catalina Bar & Grill

December 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Jane Monheit’s in town again this week for another of her holiday season visits.  She opened at Catalina Bar & Grill on Friday, continued on Saturday and will also perform at the club tonight (Sunday) and Monday, finishing up Tuesday with a New Year’s Eve appearance. And that’s great news for fans of prime jazz vocalizing.

Monheit’s first real visibility in the jazz community took place in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute’s Vocal Competition, when – at 21 – she was the first runner-up to veteran singer Teri Thornton in a field of competitors that also included Tierney Sutton and Roberta Gambarini.

Jane Monheit and RIck Montalbano

Jane Monheit and RIck Montalbano

She’s released a dozen or so recordings since then, and received a pair of Grammy nominations.  But as appealing as all of her CDs have been, there’s nothing like hearing – and seeing – Monheit perform live, especially with the solid backing of her trio: pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Neal Miner and her husband, Rick Montalbano, on drums. Each of the frequent performances she’s done at Catalina Bar & Grill over the past few years has been both unique and memorable. And this one was no exception.

Call it a Great American Songbook set, a program of familiar classics, starting with Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night,” and concluding with Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” And we can’t overlook the equally memorable “I Was Born To Be Blue,” “Moonlight In Vermont,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “Never Let Me Go.”

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

Add to that Monheit’s reference to what she described as the jazz aspects of Judy Garland via a richly blended medley of “The Boy Next Door” and “The Man That Got Away.”

All of the above titles are essential elements in the repertoire of most jazz and adult contemporary singers. But the real question lies in what a singer does with such classic items. And Monheit has thoroughly established herself over the past decade as one of the prime imaginative singers of the current music world.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

In song after song, Monheit’s Saturday night program unfolded with the gripping expressiveness of a true musical story teller. Blessed with an extraordinary instrument, she employed all her vocal skills – a far-reaching range, variable tonal qualities, briskly swinging rhythmic articulation and penetrating emotional intensity – at the service of her interpretations. Topping it off, she dipped into some scat singing on a few tunes, delivered with an inventiveness that would probably have delighted Ella Fitzgerald.

Call it a great evening of music for every member of Monheit’s enthusiastic audience. But I couldn’t help but feel that this was a performance that should be heard by other singers, too – a performance with sufficient creative information to aid anyone with ambitions for a vocal career. With three more performances this week, Catalina’s should draw more full houses to her seminars in the art of expressive vocalizing.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz and World Music: the 9th Annual Filipino American Jazz & World Music Festival at Catalina Bar & Grill.

December 23, 2013

By Don Heckman

The room was filled with an enthusiastic crowd at Catalina Bar & Grill Friday night for the 9th Annual Filipino American Jazz & World Music Festival. And with good reason. A long sequence of performances in the Festival once again underscored both the quality and the quantity of first rate Filipino and Filipino-American musicians.

Many were unfamiliar to the non-Filipino members of the audience. But by the time the music wound to a close with a rendering of the Filipino national anthem, in which most of the participants joined Charmaine Clamor — singer and founder of the Festival — on stage for a climactic ending, any doubts about the quality of Filipino jazz artists had been thoroughly dismissed.

Charmaine Clamor and the Fil Am Jazz & World Music Festival

There were plenty of memorable performances. Among the highlights:’

Angela Vicente

- Singer Angela Vicente, singing the classic Duke Ellington standard “In A Mellow Tone” started with a properly laid back mellowness. But she soon shifted rhythmic gears into high speed scatting, improvising with the articulate, swinging expressiveness of a jazz instrumentalist. Although she’s not familiar to American jazz audiences, Vicente is a first rate candidate for a jazz album to bring wider attention to her impressive skills.

- The unusual band, Vanishing Tribe, was led by pianist Winston Raval. Mixing jazz textures and rhythms with the occasional tonal textures of Filipino instruments, the group made a convincing case for the blending of mainstream jazz with the fascinating sounds of rarely heard traditional instruments.

- Baritone saxophonist Edison Patrick Gregory Salvador demonstrated an impressive ability to balance his saxophone excursions with appealing vocals.

Jon Irabagon

Jon Irabagon

- And tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Saxophone competition, revealed all the reasons why he has become one of the jazz world’s compelling new arrivals.

Call it an intriguing display of the fascinating results that can be produced by an interfacing of jazz and traditional musics. And give credit to Charmaine Clamor for leading the way in the development of what she calls Jazzipino music. If there was any flaw in the program, it was the absence of a full set by the gifted Clamor. One looks forward to hearing her again in a full evening of her fascinating jazz talents.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: The Bill Cunliffe Big Band and Quartet with Harry Allen at Vitello’s

December 10, 2013

By Don Heckman

Bill Cunliffe’s accomplishments are many. Not only is he a world class jazz pianist, composer and arranger. He’s also acknowledged for his many skills by his musical compatriots. He’s been honored with a Grammy Award, a Down Beat Award, multiple Grammy nominations, and several Emmy nominations. Add to that a winner’s award from the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano competition.

Bill Cunliffe

Bill Cunliffe

It’s unlikely that either Cunliffe or his full house audience at Vitello’s Saturday night were giving much thought to his many attainments. The focus on this engaging evening of music was on the here and now of Cunliffe’s multiple skills, as he opened the performance with his sterling quartet and topped off the evening with a big band full of the Southland’s finest players digging into his rich textured, briskly swinging music for large jazz ensemble.

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

The Bill Cunliffe Big Band

The performance was enhanced by the presence of tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, one of the rare contemporary masters of traditional and swing style improvising. Working with Cunliffe’s quartet in a program of tunes ranging from standards (“But Not For Me”) to Christmas tunes (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”), his soloing flowed with the captivating lyricism of such predecessors as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.

Harry Allen

Harry Allen

Like them, Allen’s playing recalled the old admonition that jazz improvisers, when playing standards and ballads, should also be familiar with the words of the songs. Each melody he played came to life with the intimate, story-telling connectivity of a jazz vocalist.

Allen also soloed brilliantly with Cunliffe’s big band, as well, playing with such appealing musicality that the band’s five saxophonists – whenever they had a rest – were completely focused on his warm, inventive improvising.

But the band, playing Cunliffe’s ever-fascinating compositions and arrangements, also offered their own superb playing. The charts, which included selections from a soon to be released Cunliffe big band recording, were definitive displays of his far-reaching creative imagination. The high points included the bossa nova classic, “The Girl From Ipanema, a hard-driving Cunliffe original – titled “Bonecrusher” – from his Latin CD, and a glorious take on “’Round Midnight” featuring Allen at his finest. Topping off the big band set, guest artist Grammy-winning composer/arranger Nan Schwartz conducted her own briskly swinging arrangement of “Sunny Side of the Street,” and dedicated it to her mother, a former Swing era big band singer.

Memorable musical nights at Vitello’s are not unusual. And this one was no exception. How could it be, with Cunliffe in the command position, aided by the stellar work of Allen, the superbly crafted arranging of Schwartz, and – above all – the splendid playing of the gifted musicians, including the Southland’s finest, in the Cunliffe band.

So give thanks to April Williams, Vitello’s music manager, for opening the door for Cunliffe, his music, his guests and his players. Let’s hope they return again, soon.


Here, There & Everywhere: A Weekend at Vitello’s

November 13, 2013

By Don Heckman

Studio City, CA. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. An evening of well prepared Italian food, fine wine and even finer music at Vitello’s is a great way to experience world class jazz.

And this past weekend offered a superb opportunity to all that and more. On Friday night by the Bill Holman big band, on Saturday by the stellar musical combination of singer Lee Hartley, the iconic veteran keyboardist Les McCann and the Alphonse Mouzan band, and on Sunday by jazz vocalist Judy Wexler.

Start with the Bill Holman Band. As always for a Holman gig, the stage was overflowing with a collection of the Southland’s finest players. Not surprising, since the appeals of Holman’s superb charts are a virtually irresistible drawing point that always attracts the best musicians.

For this performance, there was an even more tempting aspect – one that undoubtedly appealed to both players and listeners. What was it? It was an opening set devoted to Holman’s memorable arrangements of Thelonious Monk tunes first heard on the Holman Grammy Award-winning album Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk.

Bill Holman conducts his band

Bill Holman conducts his band

The results were extraordinary, and fully apparent to anyone who’s heard the album. From the classic Monk ballad, “Round Midnight” to the title track and the swinging “Rhythm-A-Ning” to the driving blues of “Straight No Chaser” the music unfolded with one marvelous jazz episode after another.

Bill Holman

Bill Holman

As if that wasn’t enough, Holman finished the set with some equally sterling charts of originals and standards – like the Monk tunes, brought to life with vividly creative intensity. Bottom line, Holman once again displayed his mastery of the big band format that is the virtual symphonic ensemble of 20th and 21st century American music.

Regrettably, I couldn’t make it to the Lee Hartley Saturday night show. And the loss was mine. I’d heard Lee Hartley sing before on an earlier Vitello’s show with Les McCann, and every note was worth hearing. To check out my review of that performance click HERE. Unfortunately I haven’t heard Alphonse Mouzon’s band in a long time. I’ll have to make up for that on a future gig.

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

Sunday night’s performance was a creatively textured appearance by singer Judy Wexler, in which the diminutive but musically gifted jazz vocalist presented a selection of songs from her latest album “What I See.” Backed by the solid accompaniment of a seven piece band that included trumpeter Ron Stout, trombonist Scott Whitfield, guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Jeff Colella, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Steve Hass. She emphasized the far-reaching aspects of her interpretive versatility in a program of songs written by or associated with the likes of King Pleasure, Benny Carter, Rickie Lee Jones, Richie Havens. And she made the most it all, balancing her well-developed skills as an actress with her equally impressive musical way with a song.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


Picks of the Weekend: Nov. 8 – 10

November 8, 2013

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Bill Holman

Bill Holman

- Nov. 8. (Fri.) Bill Holman Big Band. Holman’s music is always a pleasure to hear live. And this is an even better opportunity, since the band will be performing (on the first set only) its highly praised all-Thelonious Monk album, Brilliant Corners, in its entirety. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 8. (Fri.) Anna Mjoll. Iceland’s gift to jazz is also one of the Southland’s intriguing female jazz vocalists. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Nov. 8 – 10. (Fr. – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. Bringing his own musical gifts to the Great American Songbook, Tyrell’s appealing interpretations are always a pleasure to hear. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Nov. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, with trumpet soloist Alison Balsom, perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. and Tovey’s trumpet concerto, Songs of the Paradise Saloon. Disney Hall (323) 850-2000.

- Nov. 9. (Sat.) Lee Hartley. Jazz singer Hartley surrounds her self with a stellar collection of world class artists, including the great Les McCann and the grooving Alphonse Mouzon Band. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 9. (Sat.) Susan Marshall & Company. Featuring Marshall’s Play/Pause, described as the “ultimate mash-up: postmodern dance-theater meets indie rock on both real and virtual stages.” A CAP UCLA event at Royce Hall.  (310) 825-4401.

Judy Wexler

Judy Wexler

- Nov. 10. (Sun.) Judy Wexler. Always a pleasure to hear in action, the small, but musically exciting Wexler celebrates a CD release party for her new album, What I See. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 10. (Sun. Brunch Performance) Betty Bryant. Veteran singer/pianist Bryant celebrates her anniversary with a Birthday Bash Brunch and CD release party. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Nov. 10. (Sun.) Bill Cunliffe and Imaginacion. Grammy-winning pianist/composer/arranger Cunliffe digs into his Latin jazz perspectives. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

 San Francisco

- Nov. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) Paula West. A standout among the Bay area’s many fine female jazz artists, West displays her virtuosity with an appealing set of songs, including her take on June Christy’s version of “Something Cool.” SFJAZZ at Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

 New York City

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

- Nov. 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.) Steve Kuhn Trio. Pianist Kuhn has been carving out his own musical directions since he played with John Coltrane as a young arrival. Here he’s backed by the propulsive accompaniment of Buster Williams, bass and Billy Drummond, drums. Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.

- Nov. 8 – 10. (Fri. – Sun.) The Django Reinhardt New York Festival recalls the inimitable jazz artistry of the great Django Reinhardt with an ensemble featuring the Django Festival All-Stars. With Special Guests: Cyrille Aimee, Freddie Cole, James Carter & Edmar Castaneda. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

 Boston

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan

- Nov. 8. (Fri.) Jackie Ryan. In the crowded field of female jazz vocalists, Ryan continues to be a standout, an imaginative artist who still hasn’t quite received the accolades her extraordinary talents deserve. She celebrates the release of her latest CD. Regatta Bar.  (617) 661-5000.

 London

- Nov. 8 & 9. Fri. & Sat. Soul Jazz Alliance. You can bet that the title of this group is an accurate description of what to expect from a world class collection of players, featuring Vincent Herring and Jeremy Pelt and special guest Sachal Vasandani. Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

Sheila E.

Sheila E.

- Nov. 8. (Fri.) Sheila E. Gifted with jazz skills inherited from her Escovedo family background, Sheila E. can do just about anything, from her driving percussion work to her ability to musically dominate a stage. New Morning.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Milano

- Nov. 8 & 9. (Fri. & Sat.) Maceo Parker. A saxophone star with James Brown, Parker is still – at 70 – a master of the soul, funk and bebop genres. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Live Jazz: Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival 56

September 23, 2013

Impressions from MJF 56, Saturday

By Michael Katz. 

Saturday at MJF is a sprawl of music, food, and a friendly wave of humanity washing over everything. After years of vacillating between the supposedly bigger names in the sun-baked arena and the fun of the Garden Stage, I opted this year to grab a bench seat at the Garden and soak it all in. As it turned out, you could have camped out for 3 days and nights there in your lawn chair and done just fine. Saturday afternoon was opened by the California Honeydrops, a band from Oakland with a distinct gumbo flavor, augmented by the blues-tinged piano of guest artist Charlie Hickox. Lech Wierzynski was a genial leader on vocals, guitar and trumpet. He varied the pace, from a sultry “Let The Good Times Roll,” to the New Orleans standard “You Rascal You,” and some rollicking blues.

The California Honeydrops on the March

The California Honeydrops on the March

When the metaphorical Honeydrops turned to real raindrops, the band marched into the crowd for a spirited “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Johnny Bones wailed away on the tenor, with Lorenzo Loera on bass. Benjamin Malamont and Warren Jones handled drums and percussion. In recounting their adventures playing in the BART tunnels, they brought out a washboard, Jones spinning out a tactile tap dance through “Pumpkin Pie.”

Somewhat regretfully, I left the Honeydrops behind to drop in on baritone sax player Claire Daly at the Night Club. She was doing a set of Monk tunes from her Baritone Monk CD, and the promise of an hour of Thelonious tunes was enough to draw me inside. Daly opened up with “52nd Street Theme,” then switched to some lesser known compositions, including “Light Blue,” which featured an arco solo by her bassist, Mary Ann McSweeney. It was nice to bring tunes like “Teo” and “Two Timer” to light, but there was a lot of mileage left in the more familiar compositions as well.

Claire Daly

Claire Daly

Daly has a graceful touch with the bari sax, strong chops and an easy patter with the audience. She knew when to vary the tone, switching to flute for “Ruby, My Dear,” where she had some fine support from Steve Hudson on piano. Her “Merrier Christmas” medley was quite amusing, especially given the hot and sticky conditions inside the Nightclub. When she mentioned the word “cool” in introducing “Let’s Cool One,” the very sound of it was refreshing; her version of it was brisk and swinging. I especially liked her interpretation of “Bright Mississippi,” which, despite the intended irony in Monk’s title, was bright and bouncy. Drummer Peter Grant had a nice flourish toward the end to conclude a terrific set.

There were a few quick stops before the evening program kicked in. I caught the end of George Benson’s Arena show, walking into a blazing (if way too heavily amped) “Mambo Inn,” which was followed by a couple of his pop standards, and then a foot stomping signature version of “On Broadway.”

Charnett Moffett

Charnett Moffett

Back at the Garden Stage, bassist Charnett Moffett kicked off the 10 Years of Motema Music celebration with 20 minutes of solo bass. It was a triumph of rhythm and dexterity, his nimble fingers reminiscent of Ron Carter, deftly weaving from Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” There was “Frere Jacques” as you’ve never quite heard it, and a stand-up bass/electronic-assisted nod to Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner.”

Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano

I started the evening at the Arena, where Artist-In Residence Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas led their Sound Prints quintet. Lovano has been much into free jazz of late – I had caught the end of his Us Five band Friday night. His soloing is vigorous and full of extemporaneous glee, while Douglas has always been out there on the edge. But I thought that pianist Lawrence Fields was superb – his chordal structures and gentle prodding formed the background to the band, a kind of gravitational pull that kept the soloists from breaking too far from their orbits. The centerpiece of the show was two Wayne Shorter compositions commissioned for the festival, “Destination Unknown” and “Sail Beyond The Sunset.” The first was a somewhat basic line augmented by some more nice work by Fields. I found the second more compelling, with trumpeter Douglas providing some clarity with his voicings. Lovano soaring as usual and Linda Oh adding some insistent bass work. Joey Baron backed it all up nicely on the drums.

Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans

I cannot go through an MJF without at least one piano trio set at the Coffee House, so I headed over to catch Orrin Evans’ 9:30 set. Evans is a unique talent. Start out with a muscular style, a la the late Mulgrew Miller or McCoy Tyner, then add in the ability to find calm in the center, like the eye of a hurricane. Evans has had a long association with his bassist, Eric Revis, and the interplay between the two was fascinating throughout. They opened with a Revis composition, “Black Elk Speaks,” which had some abstract qualities, but later moved on to standards like “Autumn Leaves.” Drummer Donald Evans contributed precise stickwork, and Evans again demonstrated his ability to produce thunderous riffs and then segue to lovely, quieter moments. The hour flew by, ending on the spiritual side with Luther Vandross’ “Brand New Day” from The Wiz, and then Evans singing a gospel-like, “The Eternal Truth,” by Trudy Pitts.

There was no shortage of reverence and appreciation for the late Dave Brubeck at MJF 56, but nothing quite brought his spirit to life like the Brubeck Brothers Quartet at the Nightclub.

Chris Brubeck

Chris Brubeck

Bassist and trombonist Chris Brubeck, as affable as he is talented, kept everything in perspective, adding family insights to a collection of standard and not-so-standard compositions by his father. Brother Dan was quiet verbally but boisterous on the drum set. The band itself stood out for its contrast to the basic Dave Brubeck quartet. Instead of a sax, there was superb guitarist Mike DeMicco. He shared the leads with pianist Chuck Lamb – the two of them often alternating bars on the main lines. The substitution of guitar for sax presented opportunities for fresh arrangements, and here the band excelled. I especially liked “Kathy’s Waltz,” which had a bright, energetic swing to it, with a terrific solo by Lamb. “The Jazz-anians” was a tour de force for Dan, and emphasized the cultural impact Dave had. There was a quiet interlude for Lamb, who soloed in “Strange Meadowlark,” then Chris picked up the trombone, offering a sweet and lovely interpretation of one of my favorite Brubeck tunes, “In Your Own Sweet Way.” There was also recognition of the recent passing of Marian McPartland. Dave Brubeck had recorded a series of wonderful compositions in which he took a performer’s name and worked out tunes that seemed to match them. “Marian McPartland,” which he recorded with her on “Piano Jazz,” was wonderfully re-invented with Chris providing nimble bass work. The Brubecks understood that the audience still wanted the most famous tunes – but Chris added to the understanding with a narrative of the quartet’s tour under the aegis of the State Department, which inspired “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” If you wondered how they’d pull this off without a saxophone, Mike DeMicco answered with an intricate reading, carrying the melody with Lamb, then pulling off the “Blue” part with some raucous guitar licks.

Capping it off was “Take Five,” in which Dan Brubeck breathed new life into the obligatory drum solo, taking a turn that might have become de riguer and treating the audience to as fine an extended performance as has been rendered on one of jazz’s most famous tunes.

That put the cap on a wonderful day 2 at Monterey, with the promise of one more afternoon and evening to come.

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Photos of the California Honeydrops, Charnett Moffett and Chris Brubeck by Michael Katz.

Photos of Claire Daly, Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas, and Orrin Evans courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival. 

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.Don’t forget to check out Michael Katz’s new novel, Dearly Befuddled, available in paperback and E-book at Amazon.  And Read Mike’s Blog at Katz of the Day.

 


Live Jazz: Roberta Gambarini and Kenny Burrell at Catalina Bar & Grill

September 14, 2013

By Don Heckman

Roberta Gambarini didn’t waste any time establishing her impressive jazz credentials at Catalina Bar & Grill Thursday night. Relying on her perfect pitch and her brilliant interpretive skills, she strolled on stage, picked up a microphone and began to sing a stunning version of Cole Porter’s “So In Love” without a whisper of accompaniment from her stellar trio (pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Willie Jones III). Nor was anything other than her mesmerizing voice required in an interpretation that thoroughly introduced Gambarini’s extraordinary talents.

Roberta Gambarini

Roberta Gambarini

And it was just the beginning of a night that – for the lucky folks who’d turned out for the show – thoroughly introduced her full range of vocal skills. Singing a capella, romping through swinging up tempos, scatting with the clarity and harmonic accuracy of an instrumentalist, finding the heart of ballads with her trio, dueting with her guest, Kenny Burrell, she gave a performance to remember.

The highlights came one after another: continuing with a high speed romp through “Nobody Else But Me,” followed by Gambarini’s take on the Dizzy Gillespie version of “Sunny Side of the Street”; a deeply moving blend of ”Porgy, I Is Your Woman” and “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess.

The arrival of Burrell opened the way to more far-ranging selections of material, starting with a brisk “Just Squeeze Me,” followed by an exquisite Portuguese version of the classic bossa nova, “Chega De Saudade.” Shifting gears, Gambarini offered emotionally intimate renderings of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” called up memories of Billie Holliday with “Good Morning Heartache,” and followed with a steaming “Day In, Day Out,” delivered in another up-tempo display of her versatility.

Roberta Gambarini, Kenny Burrell and Chuck BerghoferChuck Kenny FFH

Gambarini then gracefully turned the stage over to Burrell. And the veteran guitarist, always a pleasure to hear whenever he takes a break from his multitude of responsibilities running the U.C.L.A. Jazz program, used the opportunity to offer a colorful medley of Duke Ellington songs reaching from “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” and “Prelude To A Kiss” to “A Sittin’ and a Rockin’.”

Appropriately, Gambarini returned to call up images of her native land with the lovely Italian song “Estate” (“Summer”). Finally, the musical banquet wrapped up with another hard-driving offering, this time the familiar blues of “Lester Leaps In.” Along the way, Gambarini used the microphone to create a convincing trumpet sound for a climactic improvised solo once again displaying her extraordinary musical inventiveness.

At a time when the jazz vocal world is overflowing with rapidly arriving young female talent, Gambarini stands well above the crowd. A third place finisher in 1998′s Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal competition, Grammy-nominated Gambarini still hasn’t begun to receive the recognition her remarkable talents fully deserve.

She performs at Catalina Bar and Grill again tonight (Saturday) with Burrell and her world class band. Don’t miss this too-rare opportunity to experience the pleasures of Roberta Gambarini’s music in full living color.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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