Here, There & Everywhere: Jazz at the Federal

April 23, 2012

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

By Don Heckman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Picks of the Week: Dec. 27 – Jan. 1

December 26, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Jane Monheit

– Dec. 27 – Jan 1.  (Tues. through Sunday)  Jane Monheit.  The beautiful Monheit gets an early start, ramping up all week to the big Saturday night New Year’s celebration.  And what better way to bring in 2012 than by hearing her velvet voice and gentle swing delivering “Auld Lang Syne.”  Catalina Bar & Grill.    (323) 466-2210.

– Dec. 28. (Wed.)  Joe Bagg Organ Trio.  Bagg’s unique approach to the B-3, which happily avoids most of the predictable repetitions often heard from the instrument, makes his gigs especially appealing musical events.  He’s backed by Steve Cotter, bass and Ryan Doyle, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Dec. 28. (Wed.)  Gerald Clayton Trio. Pianist Clayton, blessed with musically rich genes (his Dad is bassist/composer/bandleader John Clayton, his uncle alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton) has thoroughly established himself as one of the most important new jazz arrivals of the past few years.  Steamers.   (714) 871-8800.

Luciana Souza

– Dec. 29. (Thurs.)  Luciana Souza.  Brazil’s Souza brings far-ranging musicality to the jazz vocal art, adept in the music of her native land, well-versed in jazz and contemporary classical music, always a pleasure to hear because of her quest to explore fascinating creative territories.  She’ll be well-aided toward that goal by guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist David PiltchBlue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Dec. 29. (Turs.)  Woody Allen & His New Orleans Jazz Band.  Yes, the filmmaker/comedian really does play the clarinet, and does it well via a deep understanding of the essential elements of New Orleans music in general, and the New Orleans clarinet style in particular.  Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

– Dec. 29. (Thurs.)  Billy Mitchell & Friends.  Pianist and all-around entertaining jazz artist Mitchell is featured at In-House Music’s early New Year’s Eve party, complete with cocktails, party hats, streamers, dancing and more.  With Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet, Rob Kyle, saxophone, Tomas Gargano, bass, Frank Wilson, drums.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza LAX.  Information: In-House Music.   (310) 216-5861.


Billy Childs

– Dec. 20 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.)  Billy Childs Quartet.  The live performance by pianist Child’s musically compelling quartet — with Childs’ exploratory, ever searching piano playing in company with the saxophones of Bob Sheppard, the bass of Tim Lefebvre and the drums of Gary Novak — will also be delivered over FM radio via a live broadcast on NPR.  Blue Whale.   (213) 620-0908.

– Dec. 31. (Sat.) Brazilian New Year’s Eve Celebration.  Here’s a spectacular new way to celebrate the arrival of 2012, aboard the historic ocean liner, The Queen Mary. Rio’s Marcos Ariel, his keyboards and his Quartet will cover the full range of Carioca music — from samba to bossa nova to chorinho.  The samba dancers of Joany’s Samba Show will display the latest dance moves, and DJ Chris Brasil will keep the beat alive.  At midnight, 2012 will come in amid a spectacular fireworks show.  Rio de Janeiro at the Queen Mary.  (818) 566-1111.

– Dec. 31. (Sat.)  Sherry Williams.  The smooth sounding voice, effortless swing and artful interpretive skills of Williams still don’t receive the full attention they deserve.  She’ll be backed in this elegant celebratory night by the Pat Senatore QuartetVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Dec, 31, (Sat.)  Frank Strazzeri. Pianist Strazzeri’s diverse career path has led from Dixieland jazz (with Al Hirt) through the bop years (with Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman), West Coast jazz (with Art Pepper, Chet Baker and more) and still swinging into the present.  This time out, he’ll be leading his stellar Legacy Group, with George Harper, tenor saxophone, Steve Johnson, trombone, Jeff Littleton, bass and Kenny Elliott, drums.   JAX Bar & Grill.    (818) 500-1604.

– Dec. 31. (Sat.)  Jane Monheit.  New Years Eve celebration.  See above.  Catalina Bar & Grill.    (323) 466-2210.

Pink Martini

– Dec. 31. (Sat.) New Year’s Eve with Pink Martini.  The ultimate cabaret act, Pink Martini – mixing their originals with such camp-edged classics as “Amado Mio” from the film Gilda — find common ground between French cabaret, jazz, Latin dance music, Brazilian samba and a lot more.  They’ll bring in the New Year with a memorable collection of songs. Disney Hall.   (323) 650-2000.

– Dec. 31. (Sat.)  Chris Williams Sextet.  Moving freely across mainstream, Latin and bebop territory, Williams spices his vocals with a dramatic ability to find the essential meaning of a song.  Steamers.    (714) 871-8800.

San Francisco

– Dec. 29 – 31. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Maceo Parker’s New Year’s Party. Alto saxophonist Parker has been a definitive voice of funk and soul since his prominent visibility with James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic.  And he’s still going strong. Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.


Roy Hargrove

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 1.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Roy Hargrove Quintet. Grammy winning trumpeter Roy Hargrove has thoroughly established himself – at 42 – as one of the jazz world’s most versatile artists, moving compellingly across jazz and pop styles, from small groups to his own big band.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

Washington, D.C.

– Dec. 28 – 31. (Wed. – Sat.)  Monty Alexander.  Alexander’s articulate jazz skills made him one of the most admired post-Oscar Peterson, bebop-driven pianists.  But more than that, he’s enhanced those skills with fascinating inner tinges of the sounds and rhythms of his native Jamaica.   Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York

Wynton Marsalis

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  Wynton Marsalis: ”The Music of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver.”  Few contemporary jazz artists understand – or even care to understand – the compelling musical delights of the music of Morton as well as Wynton Marsalis does.  And in addition to authenticity, Marsalis brings joyful, timeless swing to his memorable performances of works from these iconic jazz figures.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  The Bad Plus.  The trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King continue to carry the torch for ever-evolving new views of the classic piano jazz trio.  Village Vanguard. l  (212) 255-4037.

– Dec. 27 – Jan. 1. (Tues. – Sun.)  Chris Botti.  An epic three week run — with two shows every evening — wraps up with a climactic New Year’s weekend for trumpeter Botti and his all-star collection of players.  Enhancing the music — the far-ranging versatility of singer Lisa Fischer.  Tickets may be hard, even impossible to get.  But it’s worth the effort to hear the best-selling American jazz instrumental artist in action.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.


– Dec. 27 – Dec. 31. (Tues. – Sat.)  The Harlem Gospel Choir. The 40-voice choir has established itself over the past 2 ½ decades, in performances around the world, for their expressive interpretations of the classic gospel repertoire. The Blue Note Milano.


– Dec. 29 – 31. Thurs. – Sat.)  Fourplay.  The Fourplay quartet, often identified in the contemporary, even the smooth jazz, arena has always nonetheless maintained a solid connection with mainstream jazz roots.  And the addition of guitarist Chuck Loeb to the original trio of keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason has further enhanced Fourplay’s musical solidity.  The Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

Billy Childs and Wynton Marsalis photos by Tony Gieske

Live Jazz: Dave Douglas at The Jazz Standard

December 12, 2011

By Rachel Cantrell

Last Thursday marked the opening sets of a four-night jazz series at The Jazz Standard, featuring trumpeter Dave Douglas and music from his recent 2011 releases on the Greenleaf Portable Series. The Key Motion Quintet, a fusion of another Dave Douglas group, Keystone, and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s group, Perpetual Motion, was a personal nod to my roots at home in Los Angeles with the presence of keyboardist Adam Benjamin, a prominent member of the eclectic Los Angeles-based jazz group, Kneebody.

The band already had a youthful appeal before the start of the set — Douglas, donning a black hat and laid-back attire, was surrounded by a predominantly younger group of jazz musicians. Keyboardist Benjamin and bassist Tim Lefebvre both had their individual sets of electronic effects units, meticulously making adjustments to pedal boards and otherwise, signifying a considerable amount of electronic distortion to come.  The disjointed union of two very separate spheres of music also hinted at a greater potential appeal to younger listeners like me — Douglas and McCaslin both held traditional jazz instruments in their hands, while Benjamin and Lefebvre’s electronic equipment looked closer to something out of Meshuggah than the usual setup on The Jazz Standard’s stage.

Dave Douglas

The theme of connecting the old and the new was immediately apparent within the opening minutes of the band’s first piece, “Moonshine,” and was held consistently throughout the set. Atop the energetic, electronic vamp created by Benjamin, Lefebvre, and Mark Giuliana on the drums, Douglas improvised a virtuosic solo that easily could have been played in a traditional bebop setting. This bebop-esque solo, combined with Giuliana’s aggressive drumming, heavy with tiny subdivisions and intricate patterns, and Lefebvre and Benjamin’s individual electronic ebbs and distortions, was a clear gesture towards this marriage between traditional jazz styles and modern electronic influences. Douglas did this once again later in the set, this time with a muted trumpet solo reminiscent of a cool-jazz-era Miles Davis, still over the context of the pulsing electronics from Benjamin and Lefebvre and the unwavering polyrhythmic patterns from Giuliana.

What Douglas did for me, on another note, was in my experience previously unimaginable. For the first time since I began my studies here in New York City, I brought with me a friend who wasn’t a jazz musician. With my previous exposure to Benjamin through Kneebody and Giuliana through the Avishai Cohen Trio, I already expected to be enjoying the show — but would she? This was answered when I glanced over at her halfway into the set — she was gaping in awe at Giuliana’s technical dexterity, nodding in approval at Benjamin’s reverberating chords on the Rhodes.

Douglas’ ability to tastefully place elements of traditional jazz into a more youthfully relatable context allowed me, in turn, to feel more secure and comfortable in sharing this music outside of my usual small circle of jazz students and enthusiasts. Through Dave Douglas and the Key Motion Quintet I was able, for the first time since I began my first semester in the city, to leave a jazz show with the affirmation that it would also be accessible to a broader set of younger listeners — both jazz fans and non-jazz fans alike.

To read more postings by Rachel Cantrell on her personal blog site click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Jan. 25 – Jan. 31

January 25, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Jan. 25. (Mon.)  The Saxtet.  A cluster of L.A.’s finest jazz saxophonists get together.  Dave Angel, Gene Cipriano, Phil Feather, Roger Neumann, Bob Carr, Dave Koonse, Kendall Kay Charlie O’s.    (818) 989-3110.

– Jan. 25. (Mon.)  Larry Goldings Organ Night. It’s boogaloo night this time, with a dance floor set up for the exhibitionists in the crowd.  Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 26 – 28. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Celebrating Django Reinhardt at 100.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass. Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210.

Josh Nelson

– Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Karmetik Machine Orchestra.  Featuring appearances by North Indian sarodist Ustad Aashish Khan, electronic artist Curtis Bahn, Balinese gamelan master I Nyoman Wenten, vocal synthesizer Perry Cook, with a theatrical set designed by Michael Darling. SCREAM Festival.  REDCAT.   (213) 237-2800.

– Jan. 27. (Wed.)  Josh Nelson Duo.  With Pat Senatore.
An intgriguing combination — Pianist Nelson’s youthful adventurousness and the always solid, veteran bass work of Senatore.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.

– Jan. 28. (Thurs.)  Mary Ann McSweeney Quartet.  Bassist McSweeney’s program explores an unusual range of music, from Harold Arlen and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Featuring special guest Claire Daly, trombone, Bill Cunliffe, piano and Paul Kreibich, drums.  The Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX.  (310) 642-7500.

– Jan. 28.  (Thurs.)  John Beasley Jazz Circle.  Pianist Beasley will perform music scanning his career, from his first album, Cauldron, to the recent, heavily charted Positootly.   Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 28 – 31. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Joffrey Ballet. Cinderella.”  The scintillating Joffrey dancers perform the classic version by Sr. Frederick Ashton to the gorgeously atmospheric Prokofiev score.  The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.   (213) 972-7211.

Roseanna Vitro

– Jan. 29. (Fri.) Roseanna Vitro Quartet. Vitro doesn’t bring her warmly intimate singing to L.A. very often.  Don’t miss this rare chance to hear her up close and personal. Upstairs at Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Bern.  Drummer Bernie Dresel’s played with just about everyone.  But he seems to have most fun when he’s propulsively driving his own band, Bern.   Spazio. (818) 728-8400. 

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Herb Alpert and Lani Hall.  The music world’s ultimate power couple.  And they can still deliver it.  Hall has been, and remains, one of the underrated jazz singers.  And trumpeter Alpert knows how to find both the space and the center in an improvisation.  Disney Concert Hall. (323) 850-2000.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sony Holland.  Singer Holland’s recent move to the Southland has brought another imaginative jazz voice to Los Angeles.  She sings with Theo Saunders QuartetThe Culver Club in the Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Westside.  (310) 649-1776.  l

– Jan. 29 & 30.  (Fri. & Sat.)  Django 100 A Century of Hot Jazz.  Gypsy guitarists Dorado Schmitt and Samson Schmitt, Marcel Loeffler, accordion, Pierre Blanchard, violin, Brian Torff, bass.  Orange County Performing Arts Center.  (714) 556-ARTS.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Feb. 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)  Laurence Hobgood Trio.  Grammy-nominated pianist/composer Hobgood celebrates the release of his CD When the Heart Dances, with Hamilton Price, bass and Kevin Kanner, drums.  Hobgood is a long-time accompanist for singer Kurt Elling, also Grammy nominated, who will be in town to co-host the pre-telecast Grammy program.  Will Elling make a surprise appearance at one of Hobgood’s gigs?  Stay tuned.  Cafe Metropol.  (213) 613-1537.

Ellis Marsalis

– Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis. Favorite Love Songs.  The patriach and the trombonist of the Marsalis clan perform some classic material with John Clayton and Marvin “Smitty” Smith Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Los Lobos.  The pride of East L.A, the Grammy winning masters of Latin roots music.  With an afternoon family performance of Disney tunes, and an evening set of their signature classics.  UCLA live at Royce Hall.   (310) 825-4401.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Christian Howes, Robben Ford.  The encounter between Howes’ adventurous electric violin playing and Ford’s blues guitar should generate some colorful creative sparks.  Spazio. (818) 728-8400.

– Jan. 30. (Sat.)  Mark Winkler.  Singer/songwriter Winkler not only interprets the American Songbook with convincing ease, he also writes songs with equally timeless potential. Upstairs at Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Alfredo Rodriguez

– Jan. 26. (Tues.) Alfredo Rodriguez.  The young Cuban pianist has been startling audiences with his uniquely inventive improvisations.  To check my review of his Los Angeles appearance a few months ago click here.   Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

– Jan. 29 – 31. (Fri. – Sun.) Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica BlowoutA Muddy Harp Tribute with blues of every stripe and color.  Featuring James Cotton, Paul Oscher, Mojo Buford, Willie Smith, Johnny Dyer.      Yoshi’s Oakland (510) 238-9200.

– Jan. 29 – Feb. 4. (Fri. – Thurs.)  SF World Music Festival.  Forty-three bands in 11 showcases over 7 days, featuring The Action Design, Rykarda Parasol, Dave Smallen and The Trophy Fire.  At the Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th Street), Thee Parkside (1600 17th Street) and DNA Lounge (375 11th Street).   SF World Music Festival.

New York

– Jan. 25 – 27. (Mon. – Wed.) Gato Barbieri.  Still one of the true unique saxophone sounds in jazz, Barbieri recaps his classics and tries a few new things as well. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Jan. 26. (Tues.)  Somi. The American born daughter of parents from Rwanda and Uganda, Somi’s songs — and her singing — are compelling blends of traditional music, jazz and her own utter originaliy.  Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.

Tierney Sutton

– Jan. 26 – 27.  (Tues. – Wed.)  Cindy Blackman Explorations. her dynamic drumming traces in a direct line to the innovative playing of her mentor, Art Blakey, and to her source of inspiration, Tony Williams. The brilliant young trumpeter Dominick Farinacci is opening act on Wed.   Zinc Bar.   (212) 477-9462.

– Jan. 26 – 30.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Tierney Sutton.  Sutton brings an impressive blend of musicality, imagination and believeable story telling to everything she sings. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

– Jan. 28. (Thurs.) Wayne Krantz Trio.  The Trio, with Tim LeFebvre on bass and Keith Carlock on drums is one of the major pace-setters in contemporary jazz fusion. 55 Bar(212)  929-9883.

– Jan. 29. (Fri.)  Sam Sadigursky.  The saxophonist/composer celebrates the release of Words Project III: Miniatures, the third installment in his Words Project series.  The unique set of works combine his diverse compositional views with poetry from Emily Dickenson, Carl Sandburg, Maxim Gorky and others.  Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn. (718) 222-8500

Picks of the Week: Sept. 8 – 13

September 8, 2009

By Don Heckman

Los AngelesNatalie Cole

– Sept. 9. (Wed.) Natalie Cole and Hollywood Bowl Orch. The versatile, always entertaining Cole returns to action, like the veteran trouper she is, after kidney transplant surgery. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000

– Sept. 9. (Wed.) Jacob Fred Odyssey. One of the most intriguing of the nu-jazz groups makes a rare L.A. appearance. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 10 – 13. (Thurs.. – Sun.) Frank Sinatra, Jr. and his Band. No one knows the Sinatra lexicon better than Junior, and no one sings it with a more convincing connection with the original. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210

– Sept. 11. (Fri.) Manhattan Transfer bring their remarkable harmonies to a performance benefiting the Society of Singers. El Portal Theatre. North Hollywood. (818) 995-7100

Highlight: Brazil Comes To L.A.

– Sept. 11, 12 and 13. (Fri. – Sun.) Blame It On Rio.  A Fireworks Finale featuring Bebel Gilberto, Seu Jorge and the Hollywood Bowl Orchstra conducted by Thomas WilkinsThe Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000

– Sept. 12. (Sat.) Brazilian Day in L.A. The Consulate General of Brazil and the Brazil Foundation sponsor a Brazilian afternoon at the La Brea Tar Pits hosted by Sergio Mielniczenko.  Among the performers: Triorganico, Brasilidade, Andrea Ferraz, Pepeu Gomes and DJ Marlos. The La Brea Tar Pits. 12 noon to 6 p.m.  Free.

– Sept. 12. (Sat.) George Benson. “Tribute to Nat King Cole.” It may seem an unlikely connection, but Benson finds a way to apply his trademark voice and guitar style to a catalog of songs closely associated with Cole’s voice and piano. The Cerritos Center.  (562) 916-8501

barbara-morrison-jpg– Sept. 12. (Sat.) Barbara Morrison’s Jazz & Blues Party. Morrison begins a weekend of birthday celebrations — her own, as well as all musicians turning 60 this year. Special guests include James Moody, Charmaine Clamor, Ernie Andrews and Tierney Sutton. The  Ford Amphitheatre.  (323)  461-3673

– Sept. 12. (Sat.) The Count Basie Orchestra with Nnenna Freelon. The beat goes on with the big band that has never stopped swinging and a singer who knows how to find the heart of a song. The CBO celebrates the release of their new album, “Salute to the Jazz Masters.”  CalState University Northridge Performing Arts.  (810) 677-5768.

– Sept. 12 & 13. (Sat. & Sun.) A Tribute to Scott LaFaro. Two concerts featuring the music of Bill Evans and Scott Lafaro and a book signing by Helene LaFaro-Fernandez celebrating the release of “Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro.” Saturday: Terry Trotter, John Giannelli and Joe LaBarbera. Sunday: Dave MacKay. John Giannelli and Joe Correro. Giannelli Square. (818) 772-1722.

– Sept. 13. (Sun.) Anne Walsh. The soaring soprano voice of Walsh moves comfortably from musical theatre songs to Brazilian classics to lyricized instrumental tunes. Spazio.  (818) 728-8400

– Sept. 13. (Sun.) Barbara Morrison’s Birthday Bash: “Up Close and Personal.” The Morrison birthday party continues, this time in the elegant setting of Vibrato, with a line up of surprise guests. Vibrato Grill Jazz. (310) 474-9400.

POW back to back– Sept. 13. (Sun.) Painted on Water. The Turkish duo, vocalist Sertab Erener and guitarist Demir Demirkan — two of their country’s most celebrated musicians — make a rare Southland appearance with their fascinating, idiosyncratic blend of traditional music, rock, jazz and pop. Good Hurt Club. .(310) 390-1076.

San Francisco

– Sept. 11 – 13 (Fri. – Sun.) Hiroshima.  Smooth jazz with an Asian Groove.  Yoshi’s Oakland.(510) 238-9200The_Bad_Plus

– Sept. 11 – 13. (Fri. – Sun.  The Bad Plus.  One of the defining groups of the decade’s crossover, nu-jazz, the Bad Plus break out of the box with a music vision wide enough to encompass almost every imaginable genre.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York

Sept. 8 – 12. (Tues. – Sat.) Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The Cuban expatriate pianist combines improvisational inventiveness with a rich harmonic imagination. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

– Sept. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sun.) The premiere performance of the Overtone Quartet — as all-star as an all-star band can get. With Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Jason Moran and Eric Harland. The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

– sept. 8 – 13. (Tues. – Sat.) The Kenny Barron Quintet. Barron expands the lush palette of his piano work into the multi-textural possibilities of a quintet featuring trumpeter Brandon Lee, alto saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake. The Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.

– Sept. 9 & 10. (Wed. & Thurs.) Bedrock. An imaginative name for the power trio of magos herrerakeyboardist Uri Caine, bassist Tim LeFebvre and drummer Zach Danziger. Club 55. (212) 929-9883

– Sept. 11. (Fri.) Magos Herrera. Mexico-born singer Herrera’s voice soars across the rhythms if jazz-tinged Latin music with a remarkably appealing quality of musical mystery. Saxophonist Tim Ries guests. Joe’s Pub.  (212) 967-7555.

Sept. 12. (Sat.) Henry Grimes and Friends in a benefit concert for Harlem Textile Works. Featuring Grimes’ adventurous bass playing, with Andrew Lamb, woodwinds, flute and percussion, and Michael Wimberly, drums and percussion. At the Black Box Theatre, Harlem. (212) 926-3101.

Jazz CD: Krantz Carlock Lefebvre

September 4, 2009

Krantz Carlock Lefebvre (Abstract Logix)

By Casey Dolan

Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock and Tim Lefebvre have thrown down the gauntlet with their new album, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, (Abstract Logix, Aug. 18), showering the listener with swaths of tone, color and dynamics. This is a remarkable release that sets the barre for all current guitarists, bassists and drummers.

As the first full album recording for the trio since 2003’s Your Basic Live and Krantz CDKrantz’ first studio album in 16 years, it bears significance. All three musicians have proven themselves as young turks of the post-fusion jazz world since the early ‘90s – Krantz with Steely Dan and his several solo albums, Carlock also with Steely Dan and Sting and Lefebvre with Chris Botti — but the new album takes in more influences than what is normally perceived as jazz: from drums ‘n’ bass to nu metal; from open-stringed folk modalities to hard-edged funk; from jam band excursions to pop.

It is not, however, a three-ring circus of pastiche, but consistent throughout; it sounds like the work of a trio guided by one vision. It may not be the Wayne Krantz Trio, but it is to Krantz we must look for the album’s overall design and concept. They are his tunes and the music fits into an important chapter in his musical development.

Wayne Krantz made a commitment over a decade ago to issue live recordings, chiefly on his website, that made up in the spontaneity of performance what they lacked in audio quality. It was perhaps an impetuous reaction to his first two studio albums – Signals (1991) and Long to be Loose (1993) – the debut heralding a player of uncommon speed, dexterity and imagination with a post-bop background deeply influenced by Pat Metheny. Much of that was jettisoned by album number two (try to find a bop phrase on …Loose) and by the live third, 2 Drink Minimum (1995), it was clear that Krantz was determined to work without a net and let the music simply happen (although most of the tunes were tightly structured).

As time went on, Krantz became more entrenched in an ideology of improvisation. Interviews revealed a man determined to work from clean slates and his guitar manual, An Improviser’s OS, (2005) codifies what possibilities exist from any given sequence of notes, or “formulas.” If it was not for a weekly gig at New York’s 55 Bar and the occasional tour with Steely Dan and Donald Fagen, Wayne Krantz would have disappeared from sight except to a small group of players and music academics.

Sometimes his explorations worked; sometimes they didn’t. He would say that is part of the deal, you take your chances. By 1999’s Greenwich Mean, gorgeous jewel-like prayers or ferocious Hendrixian workouts would be followed by baffling, serpentine, seemingly aimless noodlings or, even worse, the hint of an undeveloped great idea. However, something else took form – this trio involving Keith Carlock and bassist Tim Lefebvre – that and a pronounced harder, louder edge to the sound. In short, Krantz rocked and the band, abetted by Carlock’s rolling thunder and Lefebvre’s uncanny ability to listen to his colleagues and play off them, became an almost-legendary powerhouse in New York’s live music circles. It was the classic definition of a power trio, much like Hendrix’ Experience, Cream or Tony Williams’ original Lifetime.

Rock had always been part of the Krantz palette. Screaming bluesy lines on 2 Drink Minimum would not have been amiss on a Jeff Beck album, but, in the late ‘90s, Krantz started adding effects – octave dividers, nasty overdrives, wah-wah and, most importantly, the ring modulator, causing the guitar to sound like an out-of-control microphonic ringtone…all part of the new musical landscape.

Krantz Carlock Lefebvre is both a summation of what has gone on before and the gateway to yet another bold new sound. There is increased accessibility: more structure than before – some might even call it “pop” structure — with verses, choruses and bridges. Only two tunes exceed six minutes and repeated, hummable phrases abound. Somehow, Wayne Krantz has found a way of putting his improvisation agenda into an almost-pop context.

The album begins with the declaration that “It’s No Fun Not to Like Pop” and swings mightily, but the video for the Prince-like funky tune could be one of Krantz’ few missteps. Every era has heard the implicit criticism that current music stinks (The Byrds’ “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” comes to mind as a critical perspective on the commercial packaging of pop and Frank Zappa made it a crucial theme in his career). True as it may be, the video, featuring a dissatisfied listener of new CDs, emphasizes its snobbish and snarky stance. Happily, though, the playing is a counterbalance to the sentiment and a portentous door of entry. Behold the mighty Carlock circus kick drum sound! Marvel at the playful syncopations in the phrasing (Krantz has a knack of beginning and ending phrases on off-beats; part of his bop training). Lefebvre is more felt than heard on this opening track, unfortunately, but that is not the norm for the album. Krantz sings the title several times (his only previous recorded vocal outing, to this writer’s knowledge, is on the album he shared with Leni Stern: 1996’s Separate Cages). No other lyric is required. Also making an early appearance is a descending scale. Simple, diatonic descending scales pop up with enough frequency on the album that they could even be regarded as a recurring motif.

“War-Torn Johnny” challenges the very notion of what is rock or jazz with a churning rhythm pattern evolving into a chorused Andy Summers-like head. Krantz has an opportunity to employ his quiver of sounds, most particularly the ring modulator. Carlock’s drumming has an almost African feel and timbre, another subliminal theme or subtext in the album, invoking talking drums and Moroccan hand drums. The interface between the mechanical (the ring modulator) and the real (Mr. Carlock, himself, surrounded by “skins”) becomes blurred.

The haunting “Rushdie” will recall guitarists Pat Metheny or Richard Thompson, but is wholly Krantz. It is one of the masterworks on the record with extraordinary performances by all. The second section of the tune features yet another descending scale with Lefebvre doubling Krantz over Carlock’s hybrid of swamp and military press rolls. A bridging section with Krantz on acoustic and Lefebvre, both soloing against each other, leads to an overpowering shattering electric section with Carlock unleashed playing 16ths then back to the main theme with a slight coda. The whole track is 3:59, but it’s all in there. All of it.

“Wine is the Thread” has a pleasant double-tracked vocal by Krantz and more shadowing of Krantz by Lefebvre. Lefebvre has his job cut out for him, locking in with Carlock or doubling Krantz’ impossibly syncopated lines. The melody goes into whole-tone territory, taking it out of the tonality and there’s a nasty treble overdrive lead which neatly plays against the A section.

The next track, the languidly magisterial “The Earth from Above,” is an essential distillation of everything important about the record. More echoes of vintage Richard Thompson with those open-stringed chords (or is he playing in a tuning?), sounding like something from the drone-y era of Thompson’s “Pour Down like Silver.” The descending scale is heard once more. Kudos must go to an understated Carlock. It’s not easy playing at a tempo this slow and the counterpoint between Lefebvre and Krantz is uncanny.

But, then in surprising fashion, we are woken from our dream state and thrown into the drums ‘n’ bass world of “Left it on the Playground,” sounding ever so much like a bang-your-head track from Squarepusher or Aphex Twin, with Carlock playing for real what those artists would have programmed. Krantz’ ring modulator work is extreme, sounding like a mad gamelan, with Lefebvre playing post-bop lines underneath. For all the notes, all the wonderful ring modulator space-age acid kitsch, this is really Carlock’s show. He alternates patterns at breakneck speed while never losing the funk, and delivers an inhumanly great performance for the books. If there is any criticism to be made, it might be that the track, the longest on the record at 8:59, goes on a bit and would not have suffered if it had been trimmed by a minute or so.

“Jeff Beck” follows, written for the man himself who elected not to perform it. Perhaps that is not surprising considering that it is difficult to assess what, beyond a few bluesy phrases, actually constitutes the song. It seems thin and lacks an emotional center, but Krantz and Lefebvre both shine with tight, funky playing.

There is no thinness at all with the manic, punk, noisy, adrenalized “I Was Like” which has so much going at once that your neighbors might think, during the solo section, that you are playing some industrial noise record. There’s a kind of hysterical busyness here that exhilarates, much like finding yourself in the middle of a riot. It features a frantic, almost out-of-breath Krantz vocal, not double-tracked, and is intended to be played loud.

“Mosley” (yet another song with a writer’s name) has a dirty, swampy groove that works as a soundtrack to Walter Mosley’s smog noir novels. Krantz gets an amazing overdriven wah-wah sound and when Lefebvre kicks in to the second section, the tune glides along on the bouncy shocks of a Roadmaster.

“Holy Joe” takes us back into manic land with the ring modulator with both Lefebvre and Carlock providing punchy accents. The tune ascends into a punk metal place, counterbalanced by an acoustic deftly placed in the mix.

But peace eventually comes to all: The album ends with “Rugged Individual,” another tune that seems to encompass everything right about the band and this album. Krantz’ Tyler is viscous, gliding through the opening contemplative theme, with a B section resolving into a bridge that has Krantz chording beautifully on the 1 and the 3. After an extended break with very subtle wah-wah, the bridge is repeated at the end, with Carlock playing so extraordinarily underneath (it’s basically a drum solo), that this listener could have heard an entire album of nothing but that section repeated endlessly.

Wayne Krantz continues to evolve. In some ways, he has come full circle back to the tight statements of “Signals,” but informed with even more confidence and the considerably freer playing and sonic expansion of the last ten years. With Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, he is affecting the kind of sea change that will be talked about by guitarists for years to come, much in the same way that John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Inner Mounting Flame” affected an earlier generation of guitarists.

I cannot recommend a CD more highly.

Live Jazz: Chris Botti, Renee Olstead and more at the Greek Theatre

July 11, 2009

By Devon Wendell

Renee Olstead

Renee Olstead

As flocks of devoted Chris Botti fans scurried to find their seats at the Greek Theatre Thursday night, they were first greeted by 20 year old singer, Renee Olstead. Although she may be best known as a TV star — appearing as a regular on the CBS sitcom Still Standing, and other family oriented programs — she has been tackling jazz and pop standards since her 2004 self-titled debut album. And her appearance as the opener for Botti was a natural, given their teaming up for his 2005 album To Love Again, and in 2006 for his highly acclaimed DVD Chris Botti- Live With Orchestra And Special Guests.

Olstead ran through familiar chestnuts such as “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Taking A Chance On Love” and “A Sunday Kind Of Love.” Backed by pianist Tommy King, keyboardist Ruslan Sirotta, bassist Dominic Thiroux and drummer Donald Barrett, her timing and her breathy, sultry voice worked well for many of the chosen ballads (though she did hit a few sharp notes when attempting to go beyond her vocal comfort range). In the weaker moments her overtly pop-styled arrangements, country twang, and pop star image often seemed like a doing-the-standards episode of American Idol. Interestingly, Olstead’s most impressive performance took place on her original composition “Nothing But The Blame” from her latest CD, Skylark, with its bluesy feel and exceptional drumming by Donald Barrett.

Chris Botti Boston 2

Chris Botti

When Botti arrived on stage to thunderous applause, he wasted no time getting down to business with the brilliant Billy Childs on piano and Geoff Keezer on synthesizer, in a highly focused, poignant medley of “Ave Maria” and “When I Fall In Love.” Botti’s love of Miles Davis was felt in the latter, directly quoting Miles’s 1956 version of the tune, but with Botti’s distinct, reverb-laden tone. As the mood was set, the rest of Botti’s impressive band of top notch veterans — drummer Billy Kilson, bassist Tim Lefebvre and guitarist Mark Whitfield — fell in, adding ease and soul to the proceedings.

Continuing the Davis thread, Botti addressed the audience with humor and gratitude as he spoke lovingly of the classic album, Kind Of Blue, before gently launching into his own rendition of “Flamenco Sketches.” The performance easily put to rest the objections of anyone who might try to dismiss Botti as some sort of pop/smooth jazz sensation. He has done his homework and there were echoes of Miles, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, and even some Lee Morgan-esque slurred bends, as he alternated between playing open and with a mute. Instead of performing this classic note for note as it appeared on the original, Botti and the group sped up the tempo in some parts, slowed down and diminished the intensity in others. The wonderful interplay and phrasing between Botti and Whitfield was another highlight of the evening, most notably in Botti’s rendition of “Caruso,” which Botti described as a tribute to the tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Even with the lush arrangement of this piece, the symmetry between the two was awe-inspiring, highlighted by Whitfield’s Grant Green-like solo.

“Emmanuel” was included on the program as a tribute to violinist Lucia Micarelli, who usually performs on this piece and would have appeared this evening but had recently injured her hand in Italy. In her place was Caroline Campbell, who has recorded with a bevy of popular artists ranging from Josh Grobin and Andrea Bocelli to Garth Brooks. Despite some technical problems with her microphone, Campbell’s fluid playing, with its spot on intonation and strong vibrato, fit perfectly into the piece’s romantic qualities, as she and Botti traded solos. Campbell returned to the stage later for the evening’s most delicate and heartfelt number, the lovely theme from the film Cinema Paradiso. Billy Childs’ sparse but brilliant piano accompaniment fueled Campbell and Botti to great heights, with some audience members weeping at the gentility and grace of the performance.

Sy Smith

Sy Smith

The next guest in what was becoming an all-star evening, was popular R&B vocalist Sy Smith (Cousin of Mark Whitfield), who sang three numbers: a slow, funk rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look Of Love,” Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” and Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” Smith’s sly, laid back style brought to mind Erika Badu and Me’shell NdegeOchello at their jazziest, as the band fell right into the groove of post HipHop-flavored, soul fusion. Botti stood at the helm, often taking very short solos, then standing at the side of the stage, enjoying Smith and the band as they let loose. Billy Childs played the most laid-back supportive role, with Whitfield, Lefebvre, and Keezer taking the most leads behind the vocals.

In a change of pace, Botti introduced the next number by humorously telling the crowd about how he went from being an active member of Sting’s band, to opening up for him and then acquiring his drummer Billy Kilson – whose fearless, bombastic style then took flight into a free-form rock-jam version of “Indian Summer.” Whitfield cranked up the volume and fuzz, having fun with Kilson, who sounded like a younger, louder Dennis Chambers as they quoted familiar riffs from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It was obvious that everyone – players and audience — were having fun.

John Mayer

John Mayer

But the big surprise of the evening was the arrival of guitarist/singer John Mayer, who joined Botti and the band gang for a loungey, gleeful nod to Frank Sinatra on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Wisely, Mayer didn’t try to sound like Ol’ Blue Eyes, and he didn’t have to. As one of the male music stars of this generation, his presence alone was enough to excite the captivated audience.

To end this long, entertaining evening, first Botti described his two-week stint in Sinatra’s band, joking about how he earned only $200, then led his own band into what he called a “saloon song” reading of Frank’s “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).” In it, he played his best solo of the evening as he walked into the crowd, playing for a row of adoring fans. It was a prime display of the simple fact that Chris Botti – with his diverse choice of material, his engaging stage presence, and fine selection of guest artists — is a consummate musician who also knows and cares about what his audience wants to hear.


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