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.”

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA


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.

* * * * * * * *

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


Live Jazz: Sunday at the Monterey Jazz Festival 56

September 26, 2013

Impressions from MJF 56, Sunday

By Michael Katz

Sunday brought its share of legendary virtuosos to the Monterey Fairgrounds, but before we go there, a word about the kids.

Jazz education is the mission of the MJF, and Sunday afternoon demonstrated how successful they have gotten at it. The Night Club had healthy audiences to see the winning high school jazz combos and vocal ensembles. The previous night, the Coffee House had turn-away crowds for the terrific Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors. But the signature group is the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and they put on a terrific show in the Arena Sunday afternoon. Paul Contos led the band through some fresh arrangements of standards like “Sunny Side of the Street” and Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” Soloists included a fine pair of tenor sax men, Julian Lee and Jyron Walls. Vocalist Brianna Rancour-Ibarra sang “Out of Nowhere,” with polish and verve.

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

It was great seeing Joe Lovano working in the context of a big band again, and his soloing on his own “Streets of Naples,” “The Peacocks” (with more lovely singing by Brianna) and “Birds Eye View” were worthy additions to his work as Artist-In-Resident. Elena Pinderhughes added some swinging flute work on “Got A Match.”

Peter Gabrielides

Peter Gabrielides

A special shout out to guitarist Peter Gabrielides, representing New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL) where this writer once stumbled through many a first period on the tenor sax. Gabrielides, who had several blazing solos, made all of us alums proud.

Bob James and David Sanborn were a perfect antidote for the typical Sunday afternoon heat. Teamed with drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus, they led an acoustic quartet through a combination of previous hits and new compositions from their Quartet Humaine CD.

David Sanborn

David Sanborn

Sanborn has one of the more recognizable sounds; it crosses over from smooth to funky jazz and blues. During most of the show the group was pleasant, if not earthshaking, but there were surely some memorable moments. James’ composition, “You’d Better Not Go To College” was a delightful romp. Sanborn’s ballad “Sophia” gave James the opportunity for a sweet piano turn, Sanborn answering with a soulfully plaintive run on his alto. Marcus Miller’s “Maputo” was the source of one of Sanborn’s signature riffs, and “Follow Me” was James’ venture into complicated time signatures, a la the late Mr. Brubeck.

The “hammock” period between arena shows was an opportunity for sampling more from the cornucopia of talent on the grounds. I caught singer Judy Roberts and tenor man Greg Fishman in one of their eight sets from the Yamaha Courtyard stage. This one featured Judy in two of her favorite modes – Brazilian, with an inspired version of “Agua de Beber” (Fishman providing the Stan Getz-inspired accompaniment), and, a few minutes later, a take on Charlie Parker music, testing Roberts’ scatting ability with “Scrapple From The Apple” and a closing Parker vocal riff.

Meanwhile, back at the Garden Stage, the Minnesota group Davina and the Vagabonds, led by Davina Sowers, was tearing things up. Like the California Honeydrops the day before, they had a definite New Orleans sound. Davina is singer, pianist and provocateur, with a little bit of the Divine Miss M in her. Whether belting out a blues like “I’d Rather Go Blind,” or a good-time tune like “I Gotta New Baby,” she was full of life, and the Garden Stage crowd was on its feet for much of the 90 minute show.

MJF 56 was down to its last group of acts, now, and one could be forgiven for making one last trip to the food court and loading up on shrimp-ka-bobs and peach cobblers before they ran out. There were B-3 organs everywhere in the Grounds area, in various concoctions, and even though I was headed for the Arena, I had a vague feeling that I’d be back.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter was leading an 80th Birthday celebration on the main stage, with an all-star group that featured Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blades on drums. Shorter was playing soprano sax, and no one quite gets the lyrical sound out of that difficult instrument like him. With Perez dipping and dancing around him, it was like watching a pair of eagles soaring through the thermals.

Still, I was beginning to feel restless, and with the minutes ticking away from the festival clock, I decided to go back to the grounds and check out Jazz Master Lou Donaldson on his alto. I suppose I shouldn’t have considered that an unexpected treat. Donaldson, at 87, may not get around so easily, but the chops are still there, as is a delightfully raspy blues voice and a deft sense of humor. And what a group he had behind him – guitarist Randy Johnston is a leader in his own right, and Akiko Tsuruga added a lush layer on the B3 organ. When I walked in, Fukushi Tainaka was in the middle of a rousing drum solo; Donaldson then stepped up with a blues vocal, Johnston casually laying off one riff after another. Donaldson’s classic “Alligator Blues” followed, with Lou ripping off the main line and leaving plenty of room for the others. Then, a crack-up blues number, LD singing “It Was Just A Dream.” And finally, a delicious romp through “Cherokee.”

It was back to the Jimmy Lyons Stage for the curtain closer, an extended set with Diana Krall. Diana has had a magical relationship with Monterey, dating back to her debut there at MJF 40. Sunday night she had a new look. Gone was the standard trio, and gone also the full orchestra that had gotten a little stodgy. Her new group provided a fresh perspective, especially with fiddler Stuart Duncan, most recently heard with Yo Yo Ma on the Goat Rodeo sessions. He was a perfect fit for the material from Krall’s new CD, Glad Rag Doll and sparkled throughout.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

Diana established the tone early with “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye.” She retains the ability to take nearly forgotten material from decades past and bring it to life, as she did a few minutes later with “Just Like A Butterfly Caught In The Rain.” But her diversity is startling, or would be if she didn’t pull it off so effortlessly. She did an extended version of Tom Waits’ “Tempation,” complete with reverb mic, and before the evening was out, would touch base with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Jimmie Rodgers and more.

There was a time when Krall was reticent to talk to the audience, but she has developed an easy rapport now, inviting the crowd in for some family patter and a little musical background. Best of all, she had a sizeable amount of solo time, just her voice and piano playing, which remains first rate. “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” had a freshly dramatic quality, separated from the symphonic background. Then there was the Dave Frishberg classic, “Peel Me A Grape.” When she first performed it here at MJF 40, Krall presented it with a delicious sex kitten mystique. But 16 years later, Diana smartly stepped back and sang it with the brisk irony that Frishberg (and Blossom Dearie) intended. “Frim Fram Sauce,” is still wonderfully saucy, and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” didn’t need much adjustment. It is still the same heartbreaker, full of longing.

The quintet behind provided plenty of support. Aram Bajakian shone on guitar (and ukelele, on “Everything Made For Love”), Patrick Warren filled in the sound on keyboards, and the rhythm section was held down by Dennis Crouch on bass and the estimable Karriem Riggins on the drum set.

Meanwhile, Krall continued on with a remarkable tour through her own particular North American Songbook. There was Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” delivered with touching simplicity, and “Sunny Side of the Street,” with Duncan performing a lively jaunt on his fiddle. Another nod to Nat King Cole with “Just You, Just Me” (not to mention a nod to Bill Evans). And from there, a bluesy blast of The Band’s “Ophelia.”

It is hard to imagine another vocalist who has that kind of range today, and can do it all so movingly.

Finally, Krall shared with us the only song, or so she claims, that her 7 year old twin boys actually like. It was Jimmie Rogers’ “Prairie Lullaby,” delivered again with simplicity and grace. A perfect way to close the curtain. And that was it for MJF 56.

A few closing thoughts on the festival…It’s been noted by some that overall attendance was down a little, thanks mainly to a storm that rattled through the Bay Area Saturday, cutting down on some of the traditional walk-up gate. That’s too bad, because the Grounds line-up was diverse and outstanding from start to finish. There was plenty to like at the Arena, too, but it’s worth noting that practically every act had appeared in LA within the last six months, most of them this summer. Of course it is difficult to book 5 shows of headliners without dipping into the summer tours, but it would nice to have a few more “Made For Monterey” acts that traditionally make the Festival a can’t-miss event for us SoCal types.

The Monterey Shore

The Monterey Shore

So now I type these last words on a Tuesday morning from my B and B in Pacific Grove, where I hung on for an extra day. It seems empty – my friends that came up for the festival are gone. All those wonderful music fans and musicians who reunite the third weekend in September have dispersed, returning to far flung homes, or back on the road. The last chords of music echo from venues now reverted to fairgrounds out-buildings. The Hyatt Lounge is just another bar.

One last walk along the sea shore, listening to seals playfully barking, pelicans on the wing overhead.

See you next year, Monterey.

********

All photos, except Wayne Shorter, by Michael Katz.

Wayne Shorter photo by Tony Gieske.

.

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: 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.

********

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. 

.

.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.

 


Preview: The 56th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival

September 15, 2013

By Michael Katz

Every year I head up to the Monterey Jazz Festival with a battle plan for seeing as much of the three days and over 500 artists as reasonably possible, and every year that plan gets shredded almost from the opening notes. Musicians whom I’d intended to sample (like Gregory Porter last year) keep me riveted for the duration of a set; a soft breeze and a bluesy band at the outdoor Garden Stage finds me hopelessly planted in my lawn chair; a piano trio at the Coffee House Gallery (Bill Carrothers, two years ago) holds me spellbound into the witching hour.

My initial take for MJF 56, coming up next weekend, was that the Arena line-up is so strong I’d be doing less wandering than usual. Certainly Friday night, with Gregory Porter opening the show, followed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with a tribute to the late Dave Brubeck and then the Buena Vista Social Club is all too good to miss – unless I want to catch a little of pianist Uri Caine at the Coffee House or Carmen Lundy at the Night Club. Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano are playing separately on the grounds Friday night, but together Saturday night at the Arena.

Decisions, decisions….

Saturday presents lots of conundrums. There’s the traditional blues/roots program that leads off with the Relatives at the Arena, (with a late afternoon encore at the Garden Stage) and the usual collection of funky sounds all afternoon at the Garden. George Benson is the featured afternoon act at the Arena. But a young woman I haven’t heard, baritone player Claire Daly, is doing a Monk program at 2:30 in the Night Club, so I’m already figuring out how to catch most of that, and still see the last half of Benson’s show. Meanwhile, during the break between the Arena Shows, bassist Charnett Moffett will be holding forth, and by 8 PM a flood of talent hits the festival, with the Lovano/Douglas group, Marc Cary, Ravi Coltrane, Craig Taborn and Orrin Evans all performing in various venues at the same time.

Later on that night, after more potential bouncing between Dave Holland, Charlie Hunter, Mary Stallings and others, another dilemma is at hand. Bobby McFerrin is sui generis, and I surely won’t want to miss him. But the Brubeck Brothers, Chris, Daniel and their band, will be performing at the Night Club at about the same time. I saw Chris a few years ago at MJF with his funky blues band Triple Play, as well as with his Dad in the memorable Cannery Row Cantata. He’s a wonderful and spirited performer on bass and trombone, as is Daniel on the drums. Given their Dad’s lasting contributions to MJF, I get the sense that their show Saturday will be a heart stopper.

I issue my annual alert for Sunday: don’t miss the Next Generation Band. This group of all-star high school age kids opens the Arena Show Sunday, and they are a great reason to brave the midday Monterey sun. Joe Lovano will be joining them for a couple of guest solos. The Bob James-David Sanborn group will be anchoring the show, for what figures to be a fun session of funky, bluesy jazz. The “hammock” time between Arena shows is always a perfect occasion to hang out at the Garden Stage. This year Bay Area vocalist Tammy Hall performs between 4 and 5, while the Twin Cities’ Davina and the Vagabonds has the 5:30 – 7 slot. And if you haven’t caught Chicago’s own Judy Roberts with sax player Greg Fishman at one of their eight performances on the Courtyard Stage, check them out between 5 and 5:30.

Whew! We haven’t even talked about the food. About this time, if I haven’t had my ribs and peach cobbler, I’m loading up, to say nothing of a last Margarita. Meanwhile, the Festival will end with a blast. The annual Hammond B-3 showcase has guitarist Anthony Wilson’s Trio featuring Larry Goldings on the organ and drummer Jim Keltner at Dizzy’s Den, followed by MJF favorite Lonnie Smith. Over in the Night Club, altoist Lou Donaldson opens, and vibist Bobby Hutcherson follows with a tribute to the late, great Cedar Walton, who had been scheduled to appear in that slot.

With all that, it’s still hard to pass up the Arena’s final show, with Wayne Shorter celebrating his 80th birthday backed up by his superb quartet featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. There are certain performers who always seem to save their best for Monterey. Diana Krall has had a love affair with MJF, dating back to her knockout debut at MJF 40, and her curtain-lowering show Sunday night promises to keep everyone in their seats until the end.

Sorry, I know I’ve left out more than a few of the MJF 500 +. Find your way up to the Monterey Peninsula and discover it all for yourself.

********

.

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


Live Music: Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

The 2013 jazz season at the Hollywood Bowl reached a peak Wednesday night with an 80th birthday celebration for saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

The participants featured, of course, Shorter himself, playing in duo with his close friend and creative associate Herbie Hancock, with his own quartet, and with the woodwind ensemble the Imani Winds. Other performers included the Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet and the trio A.C.S. (with pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding).

Shorter himself did not actually arrive on stage, however, until the program was well underway. His connection with the opening act — the Lovano/Douglas quintet — seemed elusive, despite the fact that the band has reportedly been influenced by Shorter.  In fact, the seemingly random improvising that was a prominent element in the Lovano/Douglas set often leaned more in the direction of the wide open free jazz ’60s style associated with Ornette Coleman.  Although it was delivered with considerable skill, it often displayed more technical virtuosity than inventive imagination.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

One of the evening’s creative highlights actually traced to the Hancock/Shorter duo, with Shorter playing soprano saxophone. Very much in the mold of the duet performances and recordings they explored two decades ago, the playing had the inventive flow of symbiotic improvising. Too bad more time wasn’t allocated for the always musically fascinating encounters between these two gifted players.

The A.C.S trio took a somewhat more straight ahead jazz approach than the Lovano/Douglas group. But the improvising was no less ebullient, with Allen’s soaring piano lines underscored by the propulsive bass of Spalding and the irresistibly dynamic percussion of Carrington.

Shorter had two more principal appearances after his duo segment with Hancock. Each had its own appeal. The first was illuminated by the highly engaging, compatible interaction between Shorter’s ever-adventurous playing and the spontaneous responses from the group he’s worked with frequently in recent years: pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

The second showcased another aspect of Shorter’s far-ranging creative skills via the selections he composed for the Imani Winds woodwind quintet. Here, too, the evening provided yet another perspective of Shorter’s iconic status as one of the most gifted members of his jazz generation.

What was missing from Shorter’s 80th birthday celebration, however, was any on-stage acknowledgment of the event. Grant the fact that it was a pleasure to see and hear Shorter’s still potent musical artistry in action. But why couldn’t the production of the program also have included a host – possibly a celebrity host – with a thorough introduction of Shorter’s long career and superb accomplishments.

And, too, there could have been something acknowledging the birthday and providing an opportunity for the more than 8,000 audience members to share the celebration. A singalong of “Happy Birthday” to Wayne? Why not? I’m guessing Shorter would have enjoyed it immensely, especially if the musical accompaniment had been led by Hancock’s always imaginative piano playing.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl.


Live Music: Steely Dan Live At The Nokia Theater

August 28, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Los Angeles, CA.  While a countless number of teenie-bopper drones sat at home and fell for MTV’s latest publicity stunt featuring Miley Cyrus on Sunday night, Steely Dan put on a stellar show featuring some of their greatest hits for an enthusiastic crowd of fans at The Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on the group’s Mood Swings tour.

Opening the show was the Deep Blue Organ Trio (Chris Foreman: Hammond B3, Greg Rockingham: drums, and Bobby Broom on electric guitar.) which performed a brief set of funky swing blues and hard-bop numbers ala Larry Young and Groove Holmes.

Each band member played without flash or gimmicks and stayed true to the genre. This was a no-nonsense organ jazz trio. Broom’s guitar arpeggios and bluesy leads on the trio’s be-bop rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” blended perfectly with Foreman’s gospel-flavored B3 chops.

When Steely Dan (Jim Beard: keyboards, Keith Carlock: drums, Jon Herrington: guitar, Michael Leonhart: trumpet, keys, Jim Pugh: trombone, Roger Rosenberg: baritone sax, Freddie Washington: bass, Walt Weiskopf: saxophone, Catherine Russell, La Tanya Hall and Carolyn Leonhart-Escofferey: backing vocals) took the stage, tackling what sounded like an up-tempo Duke Ellington number, it was immediately evident that this band has gained a strong rapport by playing together over the last decade.

Steely Dan

Steely Dan

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker strolled casually onto the stage, leading the band through classics such as: “Your Gold Teeth,” “Aja,” “Show Biz Kids,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Black Cow,” “Deacon Blues” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

Fagen had the relaxed cool swagger of a hipper than hip bluesman, hitting syncopated chords on his Fender Rhodes keyboard. His vocals were more confident and daring than they were on the original recorded versions of these hits.

Becker’s guitar too has aged in a fine, soulful manner with a thick, rich vibrato reminiscent of a young Otis Rush. The long “soulful symmetry” between these two group founders could be felt on every nuance and number this evening.

The horn section was in top form. Roger Rosenberg’s baritone sax solo was a brilliant addition to “Show Biz Kids” and Walt Weiskopf nailed Wayne Shorter’s original sax solo on “Aja,” even taking it to new heights.

The backing vocals and dance moves of Russell, Leonhart-Escoffrey, and Hall added a sultry mood to the music and to the funky, laid back stage ambiance.

On guitar driven numbers such as “Black Friday,” “Peg,” and “Reelin’ In The Years,” Jon Herrington showed off his skilled guitar leads without trying to sound too close to the original solos. Becker’s solos were sweet, slow, and masterfully economic.

The highlight of the show was the band’s jazz/funk arrangement of “Do It Again,” featuring brilliant keyboard work by Fagen and psychedelic soulful guitar by Becker.

Fagen played the melodica on “Time Out Of Mind” proving that he is one of the only musicians to truly play this instrument on key.

Though Becker has only sung lead a few times in Steely Dan history, his low down, mellow voice was perfect on the pure blues of “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More.”

The show ended with rollicking but tight renditions of “My Old School” and an encore of “Kid Charlemagne.”

Steely Dan’s performance at the Nokia was skillful, flawless, and fun. Which are three qualities you don’t hear many rock ‘n’ roll oriented bands pull off – either today, or when Steely Dan first came on the scene over 40 years ago.

* * * * * * * *

Steely Dan photo courtesy of Steely Dan.

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


Live Jazz: Geoffrey Keezer at Vitello’s

July 28, 2013

By Don Heckman

Grammmy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer showcased his impressive solo talents at Vitello’s Friday night for an enthusiastic, overflow crowd sparkling with the presence of such stellar  music world listeners as Chris Botti, Billy Childs, Bobby Colomby, John Proulx, Mike Lang, Denise Donatelli, Mark Winkler and others.

Seemingly inspired by his audience, Keezer offered a far-ranging set of music, chosen from jazz, pop and folk sources. In his first solo performance in more than a decade, he celebrated the release of his latest album, also a solo effort, Heart of the Piano.

The piano is often described as a complete orchestra in itself, and Keezer clearly had that perspective in mind as he roved, adventurously, through one richly textured, rhythmically alive improvisation after another.  His program reached from tunes by Stevie Wonder, Alanis Morrisette, Peter Gabriel and Rush to Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter and Christian McBride.

Geoffrey Keezer

Geoffrey Keezer

That’s a challenging collection of musical stimuli, and Keezer responded to it with a full-bodied expression of his creative imagination.  At times, his mastery of the piano, driven by fast, busy fingers, called up aural images of Shostakovich and Bartok.  At other times, he dug into his jazz roots, moving easily into alternating passages touching on everything from stride to bebop.  And Keezer did so with ease, investing the jazz segments with an irresistible sense of swing.

He was especially compelling on a pair of works that triggered rich, emotional interpretations – Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the Robert Burns/traditional tune “My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose” (inspired, Keezer said, by the Eva Cassidy version, and which he dedicated to his wife Susan).

Billy Martinez

Billy Martinez

Keezer climaxed  his performance with an improvisational duet with artist Billy Martinez, who painted on several tall canvas panels, as Keezer played.  While it was unclear if either artist was leading the way, they nonetheless seemed inspired by each other as they interacted in completely spontaneous fashion.  Searching together, they often found fascinating, common creative ground.

The only uncertain moments in this otherwise memorable musical evening, came when Keezer leaned a bit too strongly in the direction of the piano as an orchestra.  While these passages were stunning displays of his virtuosic improvisational skills, one also wished to hear more of Keezer’s gift for melodic lyricism.

G

.

That said, his solo piano playing deserves a wider hearing.  If you weren’t in the crowd for Friday night’s concert, most of the pieces Keezer played can be found in the CD that inspired the performance, Heart of the Piano.  Don’t miss it.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: “Jazz At The Philharmonic.” The KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert At Walt Disney Concert Hall.

June 26, 2013

By Norton Wright

Los Angeles, CA.  Over eleven hundred jazz buffs streamed into the Walt Disney Concert Hall last Saturday night for the first every KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert to hear three separate groups, each with its own unique style. There was something for every taste.

Kicking off the evening was Harvey Mason’s powerhouse, cutting-edge fusion sextet “Chameleon” –

Followed by the nostalgia of 60-year-old songstress Diane Schuur backed by pianist Alan Broadbent’s quintet. Schuur’s singing of jazz standards still brave and swinging –

And for the concert’s finale, the smooth jazz of pianist David Benoit’s and his quintet — but with an exciting surprise in store!

Walt Disney Concert Hall is an acoustic marvel, so the performances of the evening’s individual soloists were dramatic and wonderfully defined. You’ve got to love the positionings of the “Chameleon” sextet. Harvey Mason at his drum set stage left — Bill Summers stage right with his confectionary of four conga drums, a giant, rattle shaker gourd. assorted bells, chimes, and whistles and a beer bottle (to be explained)! Two keyboardists upstage, Mark De Clive-Lowe on piano and John Beasley on his two synthesizers — And downstage center, Jimmy Haslip playing his throbbing 5-string electronic bass, and Kamasi Washington, the LeBron James of tenor men, a giant stage presence structuring his solos with the power and finesse of a Dexter Gordon.

Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason

With Mason opening his set with Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Footprints,” the musical exchanges between “Chameleon’s” all-stars took off. Hard-driving arrangements were juxtaposed with diaphanous, almost mystical ballads. At one point, keyboardists Beasley and Clive-Lowe sitting side by side improvised a duet on their separate synthesizer keyboards creating a mosaic of wind-chime beauty.

And when Mason chose to solo toward the end of the set, instead of a show-off  “dreaded drum solo,” his work was organic to the tune being played and a delight to listen to. To fully appreciate the unfolding of Mason’s percussive tapestry, the listener does well to remember the drum figure just played and then hear how it leads on to Mason’s subsequent and inventive variation.

And finally for “Chameleon” fun, Bill Summers abandoned his conga drums, gourd shaker, and tambourine to wow the audience by playing the top of a beer bottle like a flute and creating a series of breathy, reggae-styled whoops and licks. At his solo’s end Summers drank the remaining beer and toasted the audience with his bottle raised on high! He got a standing ovation.

Diane Schuur

Diane Schuur

Diane Schuur has always been for me brave and beautiful. Blind since birth, she still comes on stage in a sparkly gown, wearing dark glasses and guided by a friend. And now after three decades of performing, she gleefully acknowledged the applause by bowing so deeply to the audience that her head almost touched the floor. Affection spilled out over the footlights in both directions.

Seated on a stool and backed by pianist Alan Broadbent’s quintet, Diane kicked into an up-tempo “’S Wonderful” and moved easily into Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” Suddenly it seemed like it was 1985 again. Deedles scatted through “I’ll Remember You” and then wrung our hearts so intensely with “Didn’t We” that Broadbent and his band, Ernie Watts (sax), Larry Koonse (guitar), Scott Steed (bass), and Clayton Cameron (drums) joined the audience in applauding her!

For a finale surprise, onto the stage walked Diane’s old pal, singer Steve Tyrell, and together they winged it on “How High The Moon” with Diane going stratospheric on the last note before she and Tyrell took a final bow to another standing ovation.

There are all kinds of beauty in the world. Certainly Diane Schuur doesn’t possess the physical beauty of the Alicia Keys cadre, but what spirit, gumption, and tenacity she’s displayed over the years! That’s another kind of beauty — and whether it’s Deedles with the Count Basie Orchestra back in 1987 or with Alan Broadbent’s combo today in 2013, she’s given the jazz world a bounty of beauty and meaning with her songs.

A special word is in order about Alan Broadbent who arranged all the songs for Schuur in this KJazz concert. Alan is that rare artist who provides marvelous support for a singer without overshadowing her with his own spectacular talent.

Note: Alan’s extraordinary piano work can most recently be heard on his solo album, Heart to Heart, (available on Amazon.com and on the CD Baby online music store) in which he dazzles with such complex and intricate keyboard work that without overdubbing, it still sounds as if he were playing duets with himself – probably with his rumored twenty-one fingers and a couple of toes!

In the KJazz Concert, Alan and his combo of all-stars provided solid backing for Schuur: Ernie Watts taking a particularly cool sax break on “I Remember You”; Larry Koonse’ guitar solo perfectly attuned to Diane’s bluesy feel on “Didn’t We”; Scott Steed’s bass solo providing a complex and nuanced reprise of the melody on the same number; and throughout Diane’s set, the reserved but tasty brush work of drummer Clayton Cameron.

And to end Diane’s set with a pyrotechnic change of pace, she and the band invited brush master Cameron to explode on “For Once in My Life” with a thunderous and mesmerizing drum solo featuring brushes and sticks on snare and bass drums, tom-toms, timbales, on an array of sparkling cymbals, and with the rarity of brushes played on bongos. Each percussion instrument was played with different combinations of brushes, drumsticks, timpani mallets, and pom pom sticks — each brush or stick set discarded onto the floor after its particular use. At solo’s end, a joyous Cameron sat atop of a mound of his exhausted and discarded brushes and drumsticks. This is a percussionist who is as much fun to watch as he is to hear.

David Benoit

David Benoit

In the concert’s finale, pianist David Benoit and his smooth jazz quintet paid homage to Benoit’s early idol, Vince Guaraldi, with a take on the “Charlie Brown/Peanuts” theme. But a surprise was in the offing as guest artist Christian Scott joined the ensemble with his crackling trumpet reminding so much of Freddy Hubbard’s aggressive drive on “Walking in Space.”  Scott lifted Benoit’s band into unexpected funky territory. Guitarist Grant Geissman caught fire on his solos with the feel of down-home, country blues. Tenor man David Sills, urged on by Benoit and Scott, began to wail. Bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate followed suit. With his piano lines becoming more muscularly baroque than his expected decorative rococo, Benoit was into robust stride piano licks by evening’s end, and he and his quintet ended the concert up-tempo and gutsy.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.


Live Jazz: “A Tribute To Miles” with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Sean Jones at Disney Hall

April 25, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Los Angeles, CA. Any tribute to Miles Davis really goes against Miles’ core belief in always growing and never looking back at past ideas and concepts.  But when you gather five musicians (three of whom — Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller — played with Miles) who are constantly  pushing themselves beyond what they know, and collectively changing Miles’ compositions from all eras of his career, the result will likely be something Miles would have been proud of. This is what the Tribute To Miles performance achieved on Tuesday night at Disney Hall.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

Witnessing Hancock, Shorter and Miller, along with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and trumpeter Sean Jones together onstage, was in itself something to behold, whether it was a tribute to Miles Davis or not.   Throughout the night, the solo order was pretty much the same with Jones playing the first solo on trumpet, followed by Shorter on tenor and soprano saxes, then Miller and Hancock exchanging leads between bass and keys.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller

The band opened the show with “Walkin’,” giving this Miles hard-bop classic a funky/fusion twist to it, especially in the tight, slick groove laid down by Miller on bass and Colaiuta on drums. Jones’ trumpet style sounded very close to that of Miles’ mid-‘60s playing, which mixed perfectly with Shorter and Hancock, since both were core members of Mile’s second classic quintet of that time.

Although the harmonies and arrangements of each number were drastically altered, the long time connection between Hancock and Shorter could be felt during the entire program, especially on “Little One,” which was the only piece close to the ‘65 original in its melodic approach. This piece was rarely performed with the next Davis quintet, so it was exciting to see Hancock and Shorter revisiting it all these years later.

Vinnie Colaiuta

Vinnie Colaiuta

The arrangements of each song were changed so much that even the most devote Miles fan would have had to take a moment to figure out the tune, which kept the material fresh on classics such as “Milestones,” “All Blues” and “Directions.” Only true masters who understand Miles’ music intimately could have done this as successfully as these players did. The energy level grew with each nuance and it felt as though the players had ESP and were symbiotically feeding each other new ideas, pushing themselves beyond the parameters of the songs’ structures.

Miller’s mournful bass clarinet playing on “In A Silent Way” was truly haunting and mesmerizing, as the other band members dropped their sound down to a whisper.  Shorter alternated between tenor and soprano sax, Hancock moved from his grand piano to his various synthesizers, and Colaiuta played with sticks, brushes, and his hands, all over the kit from one moment to the next. There was constant motion within the band as well as reactions to ideas that happened in the moment.

Sean Jones

Sean Jones

Although neither man actually played with Miles, Sean Jones’ youthful energy and aggression, matched with Colaiuta’s dynamic fire and bombast, pushed Miller, Shorter, and Hancock to amazing heights. This was especially the case in an up-tempo, joyful reading of “Fran Dance.” Here, Hancock played a fluid solo that quoted directly from Bill Evan’s piano part on the original recording from 1958.  Jones played muted trumpet and only emphasized syncopated segments of the original melody line, with Shorter filling in those spaces on tenor sax. The results were brilliant on all levels.

The highlights of the entire evening were stark, sinister versions of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and Shorter’s masterpiece “Footprints.” Shorter played a brief soprano sax solo on “Footprints” that screamed and shrieked into a place beyond good or bad as only a genius like Shorter could pull off. And he made it look easy, as if it wasn’t and couldn’t have been rehearsed.

Even with all of Hancock’s adventurous synthesizer experimentations, the bebop qualities were not lost on “Dr. Jackle.”  Jones’ trumpet squealed into the upper register, venturing into a Don Cherry, avant-garde style, and Miller switched to upright bass. Colaiuta conjured up the spirit of Tony Williams and Philly Joe Jones, without abandoning his own unique musical presence.

The band finished with an encore of “Jean Pierre.” Miller played the slap-happy bass line with the same youthful vitality he expressed on the original recording with Miles in 1981.  Hancock made some delightfully peculiar sounds on his many synthesizers to match Miller’s live vocal special effects. And all the players were laughing and having fun.

The Tribute to Miles was a powerful statement of focus, soul, and wisdom by some of the greatest musicians in the world. The constant energy and movement made it seem as if Miles were there watching each musician with the intense look that only Miles could give – a look that meant that you’d better give it your best.  And these remarkable players did just that.

* * * * * * * *

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers