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.

Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs and DVDs from Peggy Duquesnel, Roy Orbison, Julie Cain and Favorites from 2013

December 21, 2013

For Last Minute Shoppers Only

(We Need All the Help We Can Get)

By Brian Arsenault

 Peggy Duquesnel

All I Ask For Christmas (CD Baby)

There’s a real neat Christmas music album that for whatever reason I didn’t get around to reviewing. Peggy Duquesnel’s All I Ask For Christmas is the complete package.

You get a CD of instrumental Christmas classics because she’s a first rate pianist and arranger as well as a fine singer. So you also get her singing some Christmas tunes you will know and some she composed on a second CD. There’s a jazz feel here, great sidemen and enough Christmas music to get you through dinner and keep you awake until desert.

One more plug also for Jonathan Butler’s Merry Christmas to You. A warmer Christmas album you will not find. Great by the Fire.

Wall to Wall Roy

There’s just a whole lot of newly released Roy Orbison stuff available. I previously reviewed The Last Concert recorded heart breakingly only two days before he passed. It’s great. Included are a DVD of his last interview and performance videos.

The biographical DVD In Dreams is also just out with more performances and interviews with many of his admirers from the music world. The impressive Black and White Night wherein Roy performs with many of those admiring giants of rock is also available.

You could give an Orbison orbiter the Christmas of a lifetime.

Worth Searching For

If you can find it, get one of the truly remarkable if under appreciated albums of the year — Little Lonely (Julie Cain). She sings of the America where most people live — poignant, insightful, unsparing but very, very caring. Quick to laugh, long to lament. A truly original American voice in all ways. Willie, Cash and Emmylou at their thoughtful, poetic best walk some of the same streets. To read my review of Little Lonely click HERE.

More From 2013

The more I think about it the less I like “Best Of” lists. There are so many ways for works of art to be good (or bad) that saying one or another is “best” tends to diminish other fine stuff out there. That being said, a few of my favorites from 2013:

Cheryl Bentyne with and without Mark Winkler

George Benson’s Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

– The reissue of the amazing Jimi Hendrix Experience Purple Box Set. The stuff from the Paris concert alone is worth the hefty price.

– Vinyl reissues from The Rolling Stones, especially the early stuff and the amazing Exile on Main Street.

What else are you gonna buy coming down the stretch?

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

CD Review: Roy Orbison

December 7, 2013

In Dreams

 The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition (Legacy)

 By Brian Arsenault

There was a time – about when the British Invasion occurred and for some years thereafter — when Roy Orbison had faded from America’s musical consciousness. He hadn’t had a hit for a while after a seemingly unending stream of them in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Yet he soldiered on at small clubs; the Something Beach Casino, the Thirsty Lounge, the Whackadoodle. You know the kind of place or, maybe not if you’re less than a certain age. Will smell of beer unto eternity.

Sparse band – guitar, bass, drums, sometimes a backup singer or two. Playing in a dimly lit room and wearing sunglasses. And black clothes. Just black.

He could always get gigs because the room would always be full. His fans never went away, but what we didn’t know at the time was that those fans included the giants of the day.

Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Keith Richards, so many more. Orbison would emerge from the shadows to play with some of them, most of them. He would more than carry his weight in the Wilburys. The biggest of the big were more thrilled to work with him than he was with them. He was just gracious. As always.

He finally took his place among the Immortals. And then he died.

I had a boss back in my ad agency days who used to say: “Life sucks and then you die.” Maybe so, but it never sucked when you saw Roy Orbison perform or listened to his records. Also best in the dark, alone, as Springsteen has pointed out.

By the time of the show captured in The Last Concert 25th Anniversary Edition, he had a pretty slick multi-piece band — strings even and bongos and congas and fine support singers — but it was still that voice they came to hear. You can hear them, devoted as a Joni Mitchell crowd, urging him on, cheering more with each song.

A man who’d had so much loss in his life sang about your loss, our loss, everybody’s loss. Only the dead and those who’ve never been lonely — raise your hands; what?, none? — can hear “Only the Lonely” without at least a small twinge of the heart. And he hits the high notes of pain at the end like he had a thousand, ten thousand times before. Perfecto.

In an era when men didn’t cry they could hurt and hurt bad in Roy’s songs. That bittersweet pain as in “Crying” when “just the touch of your hand . . .” Did you think you were over her? Did you? The crowd loves it. Loves it. Don’t we? And don’t we know why?

That magnificent torch song (maybe they all are) “It’s Over” sung like it was a flippin’ opera. Maybe an opera could be constructed around Orbison’s lyrics and music if the artist was great enough. Your baby doesn’t love you any more. It’s over.”

Can you hear it? I can’t stop hearing it.

One song on the album I think suffers from an overwrought arrangement. My second favorite of all his tunes after “Only the Lonely” is the soft regret of “Blue Bayou.”

The original 45 is just so good and Linda Ronstadt’s version is to break your heart. I think he wrote that last note with her in mind, even if he didn’t know her then. On this CD, there’s some cluttered instrumentation and backup singing.

A small flaw, though, when you are to be possessed by the Jamaican rhythms of “Leah,“ the mournful loss of “In Dreams,” the rockabilly of “Dream Baby,” and the hope, finally hope, of “Pretty Woman.”

He had lost a lot. I know, I said that. I didn’t write about it here but it’s well documented elsewhere and just so damn sad. Through it all somehow, Roy Orbison gave a lot. Then we lost him. Now when you need him, only in the dark, in music, in dreams.

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

An Appreciation: Lou Reed

October 27, 2013


By Brian Arsenault

I was feeling pretty good. Saw both my real football and American football teams win this weekend. It’s been cold and windy. But sunny.

Then I went on the damn internet and saw that Lou Reed had died.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Lou who took me to Berlin — “Oh baby, it was paradise” — that magnificent work that the critics first panned and the public ignored.

How do ya think it feels,” Lou?  It kind of feels alone.

I just watched the film of your 2006 concert performance of Berlin which reminded me that people finally came to see what a great work it is.

And before that, when all those West Coast hippy bands were writing cute little tunes about Marrakesh and tokin’, you took us to the damn damage of lurking heroin. Dangerous not because it made you feel bad but so damn good while it was killing.

Was “Sweet Jane” a he or a she? We weren’t sure but we damn sure knew the pain was real.

You knew a lot about pain. The pain your parents gave you with electroshock treatments to keep you from being bi. The pain of watching lesser lights become what they call “superstars” while radio stations feared you.

The pain of misfits on the street: drag queens, junkies, failed musicians, angry poets. You know, people.

They finally invited you to the White House. How did that ever happen? How did it feel? But you did nice at the White House and as Ken Bruen writes of Jack Taylor, you didn’t do nice.

What you did was honest and raw and so effen real. Some got titillation from “AWalk on the Wild Side,” but you knew it was damn hard to walk through a life.

Glad you could be with us as long as you could. You took a hard edge to tell us something about what it is to be human. Can’t ask for more than that from a poet.

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

Video of the Day: Hans Groiner Corrects Thelonious Monk

September 8, 2013

Hans Groiner (Larry Goldings in disguise) offers some new perspectives on the music of the inimitable Thelonious Monk — with a few laughs along the way. 

Record Rack: Salsa De La Bahia, Mark Dresser Quintet, Fred Fried and Core

August 14, 2013

Of Body, Mind and Heart

By Brian Arsenault


Salsa De La Bahia: (Patois Records)

A Collection of SF Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz

Maybe this remarkable album should be reviewed by a Spanish speaker. But maybe not. The music is universal even if you dance like an awkward gringo (present) or don’t dance at all (yeah).

Sitting down is not really possible for this two disc album from the Salsa scene in San Francisco. You may even find some hidden rhythm in your yankee bones, if that‘s what you have. Joy is also universal.

Who knew there was even a Salsa scene in the Bay Area. Not this writer in the far northeast.

The album notes say that is partly because so much of the music was released on indie labels.

That’s a reality of much of the music scene these days. Albums are easier to make because of digital technology and independent recordings are many. Problem is, indie distribution lacks the power of national and international labels and much goes unnoticed in the larger world. But at least it gets made.

Still, low level distribution is a pity on many levels. Not the least of which is the tendency to think of Latin jazz and dance music as mostly based in Miami, say hello to my little friend, and New York, where there are large Caribbean populations.

Of course, there’s also the political problem of keeping Cuba isolated from the States as if some kind of pretending the Commies aren’t there will make it so in the hemisphere. Monroe Doctrine perversity.

But never mind that. Get these two discs and play them loud. You will feel better. I know you will. There’s a bunch of bands and a simply glorious feeling. And after a while, you might even begin singing in Spanish.

Much of the credit goes to trombonist/arranger Wayne Wallace who sounds a lot more like a Scot than a Cuban. So I don’t feel so bad.

The album will be followed by a documentary film, The Last Mambo, next Spring.


Nourishments (Clean Feed Records)

Mark Dresser Quintet

I really wasn’t sure I liked this album at first but I couldn’t stop listening. Something intriguing, original, creative. Nourishing even.

It was track 2, “Canales Rose” (more Bay Area connection), that really got me. Michael Dessen’s trombone opens like an Ellington blues number. Then comes Rudresh Mahanthappa’s also saxophone — you really need to hear this guy play.

The two play solos and then together like some kind of demonic Kinda Blue. Much of this album has a dark dream quality. In large part because always, always there is Dresser’s double bass underneath.

This is deeply cerebral stuff. You may think you are having profound thoughts and perhaps you are. Or, it’s the ruminations of the music.

It’s sometimes hard to follow ala Monk or Mingus but it comes back to you to entrance. The music wants to take you to different places but it doesn’t want to lose you.

I just can’t get over Dessen’s trombone amidst it all. So rounded. So rich.

His sound particularly stirs images of a late ’40s black and white movie. Maybe Bogie is walking in the door. Or a 50s French film about the end of an affair. Evocative is the reviewer’s oft used word, but it works here.


Fred Fried and Core Bacharach (Fred Fried and Core)

Fred Fried

If I put these albums in the order of personal favorite, Fred Fried’s acoustic power trio on Core Bacharach would come first.

You’ll hear Burt Bacharach tunes as you know them — and don’t we all know them. At the start anyway.

Then they flow through Fried’s “prism” as he puts it. Burt never lost but pondered, explored, expanded.

All the poignancy of the songs is there without the lyrics. They aren’t needed. Fried “sings” all the meaning.

Fried plays eight string guitar with an extra string at both the low and high ends to give him greater range. He also plays his guitar nearly vertical without strap just because it feels right.

He has borrowed such stuff from others but is a true original. Most originals have borrowed but somehow created something fresh and new.

Michael Lavoie on bass and Miki Matsuki on drums provide such balance that they seem his co-conspirators not his rhythm section.

At times, Fried and Lavoie are seemingly trading leads. Seems strange to make the comparison but I haven’t heard anything quite like it, however different, since Clapton and Jack Bruce. Does that mean Miki has to be Baker? She looks too calm and kind for that.

Fried lives on Cape Cod. That makes him practically a neighbor. I’ll have to see if I can find out when he’s playing nearby.

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

Live Music: Robert Davi at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

June 2, 2013

By Don Heckman

Robert Davi conjured up more of his musical magic Thursday night at Vibrato.  Backed by the sextet that supported him at the club last December, he once again celebrated the Frank Sinatra legacy of song, style and story telling.

Although he may be best known for some of his high visibility roles in dozens of films – including the memorable villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond picture License to Kill —  Davi’s singing has been attracting attention since he was in high school.  But he didn’t fully display his vocal skills until a year and a half ago with the release of his first album, Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road To Romance.

The Sinatra connection was a natural for Davi, an Italian-American with a full, resonant baritone voice and a rich understanding of the classic songs in the American Songbook (which he identifies as “America’s Shakespeare”).  Add to that the fact that, in his first film, 1977’s Contract on Cherry Street, he worked side by side with Sinatra.

Robert Davi

All those qualities were once again on display Thursday when he strode on stage singing a high spirited take on “I’ve Got the World On A String.”  It was the first of several rhythmically irresistible Davi readings of Sinatra-associated songs.  More followed, including, “At Long Last Love,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “How Little We Know” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” among numerous others.

He was equally convincing with more differently-oriented tunes: the jaunty qualities of “The Tender Trap” and  “Pennies From Heaven”; the subtle emotions of “The Summer Wind”; the Las Vegas atmosphere of “Luck Be A Lady” (for which Davi was suddenly accompanied by a pair of sensually active female dancers); and the assertive anti-racism and anti-bigotry of “The House I Live In,” from a ’40s documentary of the same name, in which Sinatra was featured.

In between songs, Davi often identified songwriters, offered some whimsical recollections of his friendship with Sinatra, and strolled through the full house audience, amiably singing directly to individual listeners.  And when the volume level at the bar obliged him to deal directly with Vibrato’s usual noisy crowd, he got directly to the point:

“Be quiet and be respectful,” he said, with the authoritative tone of a Mafia Don, “Listen to the music or get out!”  After which the noise at the bar quickly diminished.

Robert Davi with bassist Anna Stadleman and vibist Emil Richards.

Davi was backed by a six piece band – Rich Ruttenberg, pianist and Musical Director, guitarist Mitch Holder, bassist Anna Stadleman, vibist Emil Richards, alto saxophonist/flutist Kim Richmond and drummer Dave Tull.  The sextet was a different musical animal from the usual Sinatra orchestral backing, and from the backing Davi had on his own album.  But the sextet arrangements — by Nic. tenBroek and Randy Waldman — were similar to those used by Sinatra in a world tour, providing the sort of sturdy, swinging sounds and atmospheric settings in the big band charts by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and others.

Ultimately, however, it wasn’t just the Sinatra associations that made Davi’s performance so convincing.  It was the musical authenticity of his singing, which was one of his closest linkages to Sinatra.  Davi’s goal is not to simulate or imitate Ol’ Blue Eyes.  It’s to honor, in full living color,  the importance of what Sinatra did for American (and beyond) popular music.  And Davi once again proved how well he does it

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Photos by Faith Frenz.


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