Here’s my latest review from International Review of Music:
Live Jazz: A Brief History Of The World (Piano Division) with Alan Pasqua and Tom Schnabel
By Michael Katz
Jazz on the Westside found a cozy nook to curl up in Monday night, as radio station KCRW presented an Up Close event with pianist Alan Pasqua and music host Tom Schnabel at the New Roads School in Santa Monica. The goal of the evening, a one hour tour of the history of jazz piano, was nothing if not ambitious – it takes Ken Burns an hour just to say hello. And unlike Burns, Messrs. Pasqua and Schnabel elected not to leave out everything after 1950. The idea was to focus on a dozen or so icons, and naturally there were a few interesting inclusions and omissions. Most enjoyably, there was some exquisite solo playing by Pasqua, particularly in celebration of a new CD dedicated to Bill Evans.
Pasqua began with a nod to Jellyroll Morton. Playing a brief version of “Tomcat Blues,” circa 1920, he gave the audience a demonstration of how Morton moved the music from its ragtime roots to the edge of stride and what would become the trademark sound of Louis Armstrong and others. Progressing to the era of Basie and Ellington, Pasqua discussed how Duke used his piano style to recreate the full sound of his orchestra, through brief interludes of “Take The A Train” and “Sophisticated Lady.”
There are certain players who can’t be left out in a Tour De Jazz Piano: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Errol Garner. Their contributions are found in various combinations of brilliant compositions and technical and harmonic stylings. Monk, in particular, has a trove of compositions that invite contemporary interpretation. Given the relatively brief time of the show, it was nice that Pasqua chose to explore one Monk tune fully. He filled in the opening bridge of “Round Midnight” with a flourish and extended the standard with his own lively adaptation. Whereas with Bud Powell, he discussed jazz contrafact, demonstrating how Powell took the chord changes from “How High The Moon” and converted them to his own dense style in Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”
The one name that most in the audience were unfamiliar with was Jaki Byard, best known for his work with Eric Dolphy and, through much of the sixties, Charles Mingus. More significantly to this evening, he was a teacher and mentor to Alan Pasqua, so if his presence in this list seems slightly biased, that’s quite all right. “Tribute To The Ticklers” was a nod to Fats Waller and the stride pianists. It is noteworthy that in the turbulent sixties, when Byard wrote this piece, he was able to reach backwards and create something contemporary, a reminder that jazz is a living time machine, able to go in every direction in ways unlike most other musical forms.
There were nods to others, including McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, and time constraints didn’t allow Pasqua to get to Dave McKenna and Keith Jarrett. Not surprisingly there were some notable omissions, most obviously Dave Brubeck. Pasqua allowed in the Q and A afterward that he didn’t think he could attempt to approach Brubeck without a rhythm section, though I don’t think you can leave him out of the conversation. Same with Oscar Peterson, ditto Mary Lou Williams. And the show’s format had such a resemblance to Marion McPartland’s Piano Jazz series, that she probably deserved a mention as well.
I’ve left Bill Evans for last, because he’s such a clear influence on Pasqua. There was a brief quote from “Green Dolphin Street,” followed by a lovely medley of Evans’ composition “Very Early,” and his classic interpretation of “Sleepin’ Bee.” Evans’ use of harmonics, his ability to sound almost lush and yet breathtakingly simple at the same time, challenge any type of written transposition. Pasqua’s new CD Two Piano Music is a nod to Evans’ Conversations With Myself, consisting of dual solo piano tracks. Pasqua’s composition “Grace” is on that CD, and that is how he concluded the hour long performance Monday night.
KCRW host Schnabel provided a bright counterpoint throughout the evening, offering a wealth of jazz knowledge to go along with Pasqua’s own musical history. He’s planning a similar evening focusing on Brazilian music later on this year, and that is good news for jazz fans in Santa Monica, and one assumes listeners of KCRW as well.
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Here’s my exclusive review from International Review of Music:
By Michael Katz
When Wynton Marsalis led his star-studded Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra onto the stage at a sold-out Disney Hall last night, he was greeted so warmly that you could sense the mutual appreciation before the first note was played. That feeling lasted throughout a memorable evening, underpinned by the band’s roots in Ellingtonia and bolstered by a combination of new compositions and fresh arrangements of material by Gerry Mulligan, Chick Corea and more.
The talent in this orchestra is staggering. Consider the trumpet section, led by Ryan Kisor and featuring the terrific Marcus Printup and Mingus Big Band alum Kenny Rampton. Not to mention Marsalis, himself, who picked his spots in several riveting choruses. Then there’s the front line of saxophones, with tenors Walter Blanding and Victor Goines anchoring the flanks, Ted Nash and Sherman Irby in the middle, playing alto and flutes, and a rising star, Paul Nedzela on baritone.
Wynton Marsalis and the brass of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
I was less familiar with the trombone section, but they staked out their territory early, with section leader Chris Crenshaw’s composition “Creation.” After an opening fanfare from Printup and some gently swinging tenor work from Victor Goines, Crenshaw and his cohorts, Vincent Gardner and Elliot Mason, took over. The Ellington influence was clear in Crenshaw’s composition – not just in the harmonics, but in the idea of the jazz orchestra as an organic conduit for the range of human emotions. If that seems to oversell the idea a little, it does provide a heartbeat for the diverse menu that followed.
Marsalis led JLCO to the Count Basie book for Frank Foster’s “Blues in Hoss Flat,” which featured Wynton’s first turn with a muted horn, and another spirited run by Goines on tenor. But it was pianist Dan Nimmer who stole the number. With all the fine section playing in this band, Nimmer often gets the best opportunities for expansive solos (there is, after all, no piano section). He has a deft touch, subtly shifting moods and tempos. Marsalis wisely gives him room in this powerful ensemble to establish himself.
If their overall oeuvre seemed a little retro at that point, the next segment, a nod to the late Gerry Mulligan, brought the band squarely into the hearts of this LA crowd. The first Mulligan tune, “Over The Hill And Out Of The Woods,” epitomized Mulligan’s swing and grace. Nimmer carried the melody along, joined by Nash and Irby on flutes and a muted trumpet section behind them. There was lovely solo work by Kisor and Crenshaw. Oddly enough, the tune featured everything except the baritone sax. That was remedied quickly as Paul Nedzela and Dan Zimmer teamed up for a gorgeous version of “Lonesome Boulevard.” It is impossible to duplicate Mulligan’s lithe, almost effortless handling of the bari sax, but Nedzela did a splendid job of being reminiscent of the style without resorting to mimickry. The crowd was captivated by this extended performance, and rewarded him with a sustained ovation.
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Wynton, in the meantime, was comfortably ensconced with the trumpet line in the back row. In this age of megalomania, it is a revelation to see this band work without anyone standing out front. The pace is set subtly, with Sherman Irby sometimes counting things out from his front row center perch. But Marsalis is in charge, and last night he seemed particularly at home in the den-like atmosphere of Disney Hall. His reflections were witty and heartfelt, with the occasional spontaneous quips from the band. Following the Mulligan tribute, he introduced an Ellington line called “Braggin’ In Brass,” which he described as so difficult for the featured trombone section that Ellington only performed it once. The chorus indeed was a challenge, a burst of staccato playing by Crenshaw, Gardner and Mason, thankfully (for them) brief, abetted by some great brushwork by Ali Jackson on drums. As if to apologize for putting his ‘Bones through the wringer, Marsalis responded with an extended riff, rolling off brilliant cadenzas while the trombones caught their breadth.
The next two numbers featured the woodwinds of Ted Nash. First was a new arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Windows.” The song, which became a signature tune for flutist Hubert Laws, provided ample opportunities for Nash. He designated the theme to the trombone section, led by Vincent . They provided a lush backdrop, leaving Nash to explore the nuances with some lilting flute work before handing the melody back to Dan Nimmer for a gentle coda. After a brief anecdotal interlude by Wynton, there was a special treat. Dick Nash, the 85 year-old father of Ted, came on stage. With a tambourine intro by Ali Jackson and another piano flourish by Nimmer, Nashes pere et fil performed “All The Things You Are.” Dick Nash’s tones were as full and sweet as ever, his lanky frame a visual delight as well, maneuvering the slide trombone.
Sherman Irby took the spotlight for the next two numbers. His elegiac composition “Insatiable Hunger,” featured a Walter Blanding solo on his curved soprano sax and some nice muted trombone work by Crenshaw, as well as Irby’s dramatic alto. Then there was his muted brass arrangement of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” which featured Vincent Gardner on the vocals. It also featured a joyful bass solo by Carlos Henriquez, who had been steady throughout the evening, but began to find some solo room as the concert reached its conclusion.
The nominal end to the evening was Kenny Dorham’s “Stage West,” which gave some solo work to a few of the players from whom we hadn’t heard enough: Ryan Kisor, Eliot Mason, more great stick work from Ali Jackson and a terrific turn from Walter Blanding. Of course, the audience wouldn’t let the band leave, and they returned with a spirited Ellington extravaganza.
***** ***** *****
At this point, your critic puts his pen down and simply stands with the crowd, enjoying the romp. When it is over, the band leaves but Wynton stays, along with the rhythm section. He rewards the crowd with a brief quartet turn, a Satchmo-drenched blues, before trailing off into the night.
Photos by Tony Gieske.
And don’t forget to check out my photographs at Jack’s On Montana in Santa Monica, now through April 3rd.
Here’s my review from International Review of Music:
July 13, 2012
By Michael Katz
When you consider the arc of Ray Charles’ career – jazz, blues, R&B, country, it’s no surprise that it took a village Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl to pay tribute to him. There was an all-star jazz band, in addition to the Count Basie Band, strings, a choir, headliners from all the touchstones of Charles’ music, plus a loaded version of the Raelettes (Patti Austin!), all tied up in a ribbon by Tavis Smiley. If it only occasionally matched the searing genius of Brother Ray Himself, it did keep everyone on their toes.
Ray Charles’ voice was unmistakable – not just for the raw soulfulness mixed with lyric grace, but for the pain that was never far from the surface. There is a certain courageousness in that for a male singer, and it’s not surprising that the women on the program seemed to channel Charles’ spirit most effectively, with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ms. Austin exhibits A and 1A. More on that later.
The first half of he show was anchored by an all-star band led by drummer and musical director Gregg Field. The front line featured Terence Blanchard and Scotty Barnhart (Barnhart also led the trumpet section of the Basie band), with Dave Koz on alto sax, Houston Person on tenor and Tom Scott on baritone. George Duke sparkled throughout the concert on piano and electric keyboards, with Shelly Berg’s Hammond B-3 percolating underneath it all.
R&B singer BeBe Winans was the opening vocalist, smoothly working through “I Got A Woman” and a more expressive “Drown In My Own Tears.” Perhaps that is damning with faint praise, but the raw power of Ray Charles was lurking in the background, and anything short of that can’t help but be noticed. The band had “Them That Got” to themselves, featuring Dave Koz on alto and Tom Scott picking up his soprano. Koz is a star on the smooth jazz scene and dominated the sax solos during the show — this inevitably left less room for Houston Person, which was regrettable. That big tenor sound, exemplified by the late David “Fathead” Newman, whose name never came up during the evening, was a major part of the Charles sound.
And then came Dee Dee Bridgewater. Head shaven, clad in a stunning gold dress, she took over the show from the first note. She started with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by Houston Person in his one soulful excursion of the night. She followed with “I Believe In My Soul” and the rousing “I Got News For You,” which brought Blanchard out front on trumpet and Duke alternating from keyboards to piano. Dee Dee Bridgewater simply has it all – the booming voice in perfect pitch, the sassiness in her presentation, the hurt and tenderness when she needed to reach back for it. All of it flows naturally, not a note forced. Thankfully she wasn’t done for the night.
The next section of the show featured Ray Charles’ foray into Country and Western music. It started with a standout version of the Raelettes, with Patti Austin and Siedah Garrett. Garrett led Charles’ smoldering version of “You Are My Sunshine,” then Patti Austin took center stage. Austin is just too much of a presence to keep in the background. Her intro to “Come Rain or Come Shine” seemed effortless, but before you knew it she had you in her grasp – her version of the ballad stood right there with Ray Charles’s.
Country music singer Martina McBride closed the first half of the program. If you are mainly a jazz or R&B fan with a tangential knowledge of country, McBride’s voice fits in solidly with the post-Loretta Lynn/Patsy Cline tradition. Producers Gregg Field and the legendary Phil Ramone were smart to give her a variety of settings, instead of just covering Charles’ C&W oeuvre. “Bye Bye Love” had the Raelettes behind her, then a combination of strings and the Fred Martin/Levite Camp of Urban Entertainment Institute choir filled up the stage for “You Don’t Know Me” and “Take These Chains.” Finally, trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval came onstage and joined McBride for the Hank Williams standard “Hey, Good Lookin’.” Cuban Country Soul…you just don’t get that everywhere.
The second half of the show was anchored by the Count Basie Big Band, featuring the aforementioned Barnhart on trumpet and Reggie Thomas on piano. The main vocalist for much of the set was Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. He’s an appealing singer, his voice pitched a little higher than Winans, but he just doesn’t have the visceral appeal to carry this music. “Let The Good Times Roll” was a good vehicle to start his segment. There were Charles standards to follow like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Crying Time,” which featured Monica Mancini stepping out in front of the Raelettes.
But the real fireworks came as the program concluded. There was BeBe Winans reaching back for a little extra on “How Long Has This Been Going On?” Then Dee Dee Bridgewater came back out and tore the place up again with “Busted.” Before the final numbers, the video screens flashed a clip of Ray Charles as a guest on Saturday Night Live, Year 2, with Murray, Belushi, Gildna Radner et al playing a cover group, “The Young Caucasians.” It was at once hilarious and a reminder of how far Ray Charles’ music had brought us. It set the stage for “Georgia On My Mind,” which brought back Babyface as well as Patti Austin and the Raelettes, and then the whole production returned for “America The Beautiful.”
Despite the effort to sprinkle the program with all sorts of pop stars, the attendance was only around 10,000. Which makes me wonder, since it is supposed to be a jazz series, why not just give the microphone to Dee Dee Bridgewater, Houston Person, Patti Austin et al and let them try and fill the place up instead of relying on retro themes? I don’t think Ray Charles would have objected.
AND…a quick note for my blog readers. A couple of great Ray Charles tribute CDs are John Scofield’s That”s What I Say with Aaron Neville and Dr. John, and David Newman’s I Remember Brother Ray.
Watching Gerald Wilson, at 93 years of age, leading an 18 piece big band for nearly two hours last week at Catalina’s in Hollywood, was inspiring, to say the least. It does recall one of my favorite nights of music, at the 40th Monterey Jazz Festival in 1997, when Wilson debuted his “Theme For Monterey,” as the middle act of MJF’s Saturday night lineup. The opener? Diana Krall in her Monterey debut, bringing the raucous crowd to pindrop silence with “Ghost of a Chance.” Gerald Wilson followed with “Theme,” still my favorite commissioned piece from the festival. Closing the night was Sonny Rollins, giving a typical knock-em-dead live performance.
So here’s my review of Gerald Wilson, from International Review of Music:
Live Jazz: The Gerald Wilson Big Band at Catalina Bar & Grill
By Michael Katz
Gerald Wilson took a near-capacity crowd at Catalina’s on a Tour De Jazz Thursday night. The 93 year old composer/arranger/leader, possessed of undiminished enthusiasm, spun musical and verbal tales that began with his days in the Jimmie Lunceford Band and included Basie and Ellington, with deft nods to Stravinsky, Puccini and Miles Davis, not to mention two more generations of his own family.
The opening number, “Blues For The Count,” mixed in tributes to Basie and Lunceford, starting with Brian O’Rourke’s bouncy piano intro and opening splashes by Randall Willis on alto sax and Jeff Kaye, the first of three trumpeters to solo during the evening. Anthony Wilson kept up the rhythm, Freddie Green-like, and the band featured a new wrinkle with violinist Yvette Devereaux. Amplifying a violinist to stand up to an 18 piece band is a challenge; while the first go around was a bit strident, Devereaux adapted as the show progressed, with some splendid work later in the evening.
Wilson’s 18 piece band has a rhythm backbone that features his son, Anthony, well-established on the national scene by now as guitarist for Diana Krall, and O’Rourke, for two decades his regular pianist. The dominant section of the band, though, is the saxophones, a Wilson trademark, blending harmonies over a six man group. Kamasi Washington was the lead voice on tenor with Carl Randall close behind; Willis and Mike Nelson split up the alto duties, with Nelson doubling on flute; and Louis Taylor and Terry Landry filled out the bottom on baritones.
Anthony Wilson took over the band’s direction for his composition, “Virgo,” written for his father’s 90th birthday. It began with a lovely intro by O’Rourke, backed by muted trumpets, then gave way to Wilson’s upbeat soloing. The sax front line took over from there, featuring dueling altoists Nelson and Willis.
Gerald Wilson’s latest album, Legacy (Mack Avenue), features several adaptations of classical works. “Variations on a Theme by Stravinsky” is based on “Firebird.” The performance had an intense, urban feel to it, reminiscent of some of the film scores of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Kamasi Washington provided the fire on tenor sax and Ron Barrows contributed a piercing trumpet solo.
Wilson then handed the baton over to the third generation of his family, grandson Eric Otis, whose paternal grandfather was R&B great Johnny Otis. Eric led his composition, “September Sky,” a soft-toned elegy that featured Mike Nelson on flute, as well as the third trumpet soloist Harry Kim.
Wilson, weaving stories from his days with Basie and Ellington, held forth for nearly two hours, only stepping aside the two aforementioned times. The breadth of his work is enormous. There was another classical piece, “Variations on a Theme by Puccini,” which featured violinist Devereaux, now comfortably adapted into the sound mix, as well as the two bari sax players, Taylor and Landry. There were a couple of standards, brought to life by Wilson’s arrangements. “Perdido,” by Ellington and Juan Tizol, was ushered in by O’Rourke and the sax section, with some rousing solos by Nelson and Carl Randall. The trombone section, led by Les Benedict, didn’t get a lot of soloing this evening, but provided stout section playing throughout. Then there was “Milestones,” another Wilson arrangement which turned the Miles Davis tune into a terrific big band piece, featuring some great give and take with tenors Washington and Randall, and Anthony Wilson breaking loose on guitar.
Wilson closed with “Viva Tirado,” which he wrote in 1962 and was turned into a top forty hit by El Chicano in 1970. For the Wilson band it remains a signature, blow-the-roof-off –the-joint finale. It started with the familiar theme, then Jeff Kaye delivered a trumpet burst and Kamasi Washington belted out another funky tenor solo. Anthony Wilson and Yvette Devereaux took over from there with a down and dirty string duel that had the audience howling. By the end, all the horns were standing, drummer Mel Lee was maintaining some type of order in the back, and the crowd was on their feet as well.
Gerald Wilson presided over it all, a living testament to the vibrancy of Jazz Past, Present and Future.
Ever since I picked up a clarinet in the Central School band, I’ve had a soft spot for great big jazz bands. While my friends were lining up for the Stones and the Dead and some others we’ve blissfully forgotten by now, I was heading off to see Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich. And I couldn’t figure out why everybody else wasn’t doing the same.
Let me say right off that the term “Big Band” was much misunderstood, then and now. The general public still associates it with the Swing Era, and nine hours of “Ken Burns Jazz” didn’t do much to dissuade them. But the truth is, by the seventies most of the big bands had evolved from dance to performance bands, featuring textured compositions by the likes of Basie, Ellington and Kenton, dynamic originals and arrangements by Thad Jones, Herman and jazz covers of everyone from the Beatles to Frank Zappa. All that, plus knock-em-dead fireworks from the horn sections. If you have ever picked up a horn at any level, nothing beats the excitement of sitting in the middle of a sax or trumpet section, whaling away.
Over the next six weeks here in LA we’ve got a bunch of terrific big bands coming through town, including Arturo Sandoval, Gerald Wilson, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and Christian McBride’s Big Band. Here’s my review of Cuban trumpeter Sandoval, from International Review of Music:
Live Jazz: The Arturo Sandoval Big Band at The Federal
By Michael Katz
The spirit of Dizzy Gillespie was much in evidence Wednesday night when trumpeter Arturo Sandoval brought a distinctly L.A.-flavored big band to The Federal in NoHo. It wasn’t just the fact that Sandoval’s new CD, Dear Diz, is a love letter to his late mentor. It was the combination of virtuosity, humor and generosity of spirit that made Gillespie beloved among musicians and audiences.
Sandoval can still reach the stratosphere with his piercing solos, but during the evening he explored the full range of the trumpet, reaching down deep on occasion, growling in the lower registers before leaping upward with startling cadenzas. He began with one of his older compositions, “Funky Cha Cha,” which allowed the band, comfortably ensconced on The Federal’s stage, to stretch out. That included the redoubtable Bob Sheppard on tenor, Andy Martin on trombone and a young pianist from Sri Lanka (by way of USC), Mahesh Balasooriya. Balasooriya sparkled throughout the set, providing a nuanced counterpoint to Sandoval’s performance.
From that point on the spotlight was on Gillespiana. Sandoval began with a sometimes hilarious explanation of be-bop, which featured him scat-o-lizing (patent pending) through the self-named tune, covering every instrument in Diz’s band. The actual performance of “Be-Bop” was a revelation. Gordon Goodwin’s arrangement started with a gently swinging presentation of the theme, Sandoval’s trumpet muted, exhibiting the in-the-pocket feel we’ve come to know from the Big Phat Band (several of whose members were in this group). Then the tempo picked up, with the saxophone section taking over and Arturo out front with a fiery riff. The band then backed down into a swinging groove, with Sandoval closing it out — not satisfied with the final cadenza, he took a mulligan and nailed it the second time, to the delight of the crowd.
As the set progressed, Sandoval shared the stage with terrific soloists. Trumpeter Gary Grant joined him out front for “And Then She Stopped,” taking Sandoval’s part from his recording with Diz, while Arturo echoed Gillespie’s solos. Then singer Becky Martin joined the band for a lush tune entitled “Sway,” which brought to mind the Cuban mambo bands.
The evening’s most poignant moments were provided by Sandoval’s vocals, as he performed his composition “Every Day I Think Of You.” His voice a tad raspy, his lyrics heartfelt, he conveyed his love for Gillespie, who brought him to the international stage and helped him escape the Castro regime in 1990. Pianist Balasooriya provided a perfectly understated accompaniment. There was even a moment of pathos as Sandoval’s trumpet solo was interrupted by a car alarm. Sandoval took it in stride, as if the alarm was just a slightly out of tune student.
Sandoval then invited another dynamic young LA musician, saxophonist Zane Musa, to the stage. Musa unwrapped his soprano and what followed was a whirlwind rendition of “Cherokee.” Watching Musa’s fingers flying over the soprano’s keys was a wonderment, and he did it with complete tonal control over the sometimes challenging instrument. Sandoval, meanwhile, took advantage of the old be-bop favorite to rip off some of the cadenzas the audience had been waiting for.
The set ended with the Diz classic “Woody’N You,” which Sandoval identified by its original title, “Algo Bueno.” The arrangement by saxophonist Dan Higgins was reminiscent of Goodwin’s earlier work – solid, swinging, in-the-pocket. It featured solos by Higgins and LA trombone stalwart Scott Martin. Sandoval, closing out the show, brought his trumpet down to an almost guttural lower register, then soared upwards for the finish.
The crowd, which filled the upstairs room at the Federal, was on its feet, boding well for the future of the venue as a jazz magnet.
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