Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Recent Concerts And Events

As my fearless leader, LMN's editor/publisher Paul Moffett stated in his "July Live Music" Spread, "this month is certainly a choice one for jazz fans . . .. " And, at this writing, indeed it has been. If you didn't partake in any of the live jazz offerings in July, then you were either out of town, or should be reading the metal or bluegrass columns instead of this one. Jamey Aebersold, internationally known and respected, can always be relied on to present a cornucopia of fine performances during the course of his two-week Summer Jazz Camp and this year was no exception. The July 2 concert started out strongly with a group consisting of Hank Marr on organ, Gene Walker and Louisville native Don Braden on tenor saxes and Louisvillian Jason Tiemann on drums. They swung through such warhorses as "Just Friends" and "Body and Soul" (which started out sounding suspiciously like "My Funny Valentine," which did appear later in the set). They introduced vocalist Jennifer Shelton, who scatted through the Jimmy Smith standard "Back at the Chicken Shack," then sang "Valentine" and the Cole Porter song "Get Out of Town," before the instrumentalists ended the set with the Dizzy Gillespie classic "Night in Tunisia." Throughout the set, Braden and Walker could generally be distinguished from one another by their different styles. Although this may be an overgeneralization, Braden's sound owed more to post-bop while Walker's was more grounded in the r&b style.

The second group of musicians was on an equally high plane with the first. Trombonist Rick Simerley was the nominal leader of this all-star group, which also included Scott Wendholt on trumpet, the much-recorded excellent saxophonist Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine on piano, Lynn Seaton on bass and the wonderful drummer Steve Davis. To my ears, Hazeltine's contributions were marred by a piano which seemed overamplified. Nonetheless, his playing was superb throughout. The second number, a Simerley original entitled "Tequila Mockingbird," provided a showcase for Seaton, whose singing along with his arco playing on this "gutbucket blues" seemed to channel Slam Stewart. The group followed this with Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," which appropriately enough featured Wendholt. Their final number was the bebop classic "Wee," taken at breakneck speed, making the famous version from The Quintet [Parker/Gillespie/Powell/Mingus/Roach] at Massey Hall sound like a relaxed stroll through the woods. Throughout this set, Davis played with an infectious enthusiasm.

The final ensemble of the night featured pianist Andy LaVerne, bassist Rufus Reid, alto saxist Jim Snidero, trumpet and flugelhorn player Jim Rotondi, trombonist Conrad Herwig and drummer John Riley. Their first song was a mid-tempo Latin piece composed by Snidero, entitled "Ventura." After Snidero's solo, Rotondi was featured in a mellow flugelhorn solo, followed by Herwig, who emphasized the middle and upper registers of his instrument. A LaVerne solo led back to an ensemble statement to end the song. A Reid original, "Forever on My Mind," began with a beautiful solo by LaVerne, taken at a slow pace, before the band joined in and revved up the tempo. As one with a "day job," I had to leave after this piece. I certainly did not feel deprived, however, after hearing some two and a half hours of excellent mainstream modern jazz by masters who are not only excellent players, but also have a commitment as instructors to keeping the heritage alive.

As this is being written, only a week ago eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter was touring the region with his trio, featuring saxophonist John Ellis and drummer extraordinaire Derrek Phillips. On three consecutive nights, they played in nearby Indianapolis at the Jazz Kitchen, in Newport at Jack Quinn's and in Lexington at the Dame. I was fortunate enough to catch the Newport performance on July 8. The venue is part of a three-establishment mini-chain of Irish restaurants and pubs. To the very pleasant surprise of my friend and me, the performance space was smoke-free. In this environment, Hunter seemed more relaxed and interactive with both his bandmates and the audience than when I saw him in New Orleans during Jazzfest. Most of the material came from the current Hunter release on Ropeadope, Right Now Move. Although the performance was by the trio, the CD features his Quintet, with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and chromatic harp player Gregoire Maret. Even without these two, the sound was very full, due in part to Hunter's use of a custom-made guitar featuring three bass strings and five regular ones. The first song, "Try" sounded like "Hard Work" meets "Funky Good Time." "Freak Fest" followed, a funky samba which included a drum solo using both sticks and hands. Other highlights included "Darkly" which transformed itself from a freeform introduction, to a game of musical tag amongst the players, to a Monk quote, to a "clap your hands" segment, finally concluding with Phillips performing as a human beatbox, with Hunter and Evans joining him on wood flute and concert flute respectively, creating a sound evoking the introduction to Herbie Hancock's reworked version of "Watermelon Man" from Headhunters. Another instrument showcasing Hunter's virtuosity is the Brazilian pandeiro. Although it looks like a tambourine, it is capable of being played in different pitches and at times it seemed that Hunter must have had twelve fingers instead ten, for all the accents and runs on this percussion instrument. Throughout the evening, Phillips' drumming evoked the best of the JBs and the New Orleans second line funk of the Meters, all the while interpolating the complex rhythms and counterrhythms of modern jazz into his work and making it look easy. Evans' playing on tenor sax, bass clarinet and flute was excellent and showed a mastery of styles ranging from progressive to traditional jazz to soulful funk a la Maceo Parker. Jack Quinn's is building a reputation as a major regional venue for a variety of acts, not just jazz. Although the following night featured Flecktones' saxist, Jeff Coffin, other artists scheduled include guitarist Adrian Legg on August 9 and blues singer Alvin Youngblood Hart on August 23. The young manager, Chad King, a Paducah native, seemed to be in his element as he told me of the musicians he has been able to book. For additional information, check www.jackquinn.com, then click on Covington tickets.

Another performance straddling the rock and jazz line was the recent appearance of saxophonist Karl Denson and his Tiny Universe at Headliners. Where Hunter emphasizes the Southern backbeat found in Memphis soul, the tricky syncopation of New Orleans second line and, of course, James Brown's heavy backbeat, Denson's sound pushes ahead on the upbeat, sharing similarities with Philly soul (TSOP), the polished sound of Chicago R&B and others. His band was tight and Denson's saxophone workouts left plenty of room for solos by all. His flute work on "Music Is Good for Your Soul" was especially impressive. Before that was "32," a funky ballad and "If It's Good for You, It's Good for Me," a crowd favorite. The first set concluded with a very fast piece entitled New York City. While Denson has strong jazz roots and has recorded several straight jazz albums, he appears to be highly comfortable fronting a dance band. Shades of Basie and Ellington! When I asked a friend of mine, who had seen KDTU several times, how the first set compared to his other experiences hearing Denson, he replied to the effect that this was not music for analysis but for dancing.

Recent Regional Recordings

A native son, albeit from neighboring Lexington, is violinist Zach Brock. His first CD, Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers, has just been released. Brock also appeared here in town recently, at both the Jazz Factory and the Seelbach. His CD offers lots of space for his colleagues, Sam Bar-sheshet on piano and organ, Matt Wigton on bass and Nori Tanaka on drums. "Now I Know," a Brock original, starts the CD on a fast paced mainstream note, with solos by all. Next up is the only organ feature on the album, another Brock song entitled "Common Ground." Bar-sheshet seems to evoke the spirit feel of the late Larry Young on this piece. A waltz by Wigton, "Turn," follows. Two short Brock sketches, "Winter Transition" and "The Coffee Achiever" both seem to be sound portraits of their respective titles. Brock plucks rather than bows throughout the jumpy title tune. "A Solitary Candle" begins with a bass solo by composer Wigton before the other players join in on this reflective piece which is reminiscent in both title and feel of the Ralph Towner composition "The Silence of a Candle." The final two tracks are faster paced numbers, "Low Sco" by Bar-Sheshet and Brock's "Mister Shaw" (as listed on the CD; "Mr. Shah" as spelled in various places on Brock's website, www.zachbrock.com). The former is a tribute to a high school's "kinetic wellness" class, not to John Scofield as I originally assumed. It alternates fast and slow sections, featuring a slow bass solo. The latter is a tribute to both an otherwise unnamed friend and to the late trumpeter and composer Woody Shaw. It opens with a seemingly invocational section, followed by fast ensemble playing. All in all, this is an impressive solo debut.

In contrast to his work on this recording, which frequently reminded me of Jerry Goodman or Jean-Luc Ponty playing in acoustic settings, his performance with the Dick Sisto Trio at the Seelbach evoked more of a Joe Venuti feel, with occasional nods to Stephane Grappelli. With the exception of the Sam Rivers composition "Beatrice," the other songs I heard were all standards, including ""Caravan," "Four" (by Miles Davis), Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and the pop tune "I remember You" which, surprisingly, featured some of the most heartfelt ensemble playing of the evening. Other tunes included Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight" (played by the trio) and a wonderful take on Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me." Tyrone Wheeler and Jason Tiemann, as always, provided a tightly knit base for the melodic improvisations of Sisto and his guest Brock. Regrettably, despite the Seelbach's emphasis on referring to its bar as the Jazz Bar, it continues to be marred by noisy crowds, smoke and "service" that included a twenty-minute delay in settling my one-beer tab. The music, however, was superb.

Between sets, I had the chance to talk briefly with Brock. He is an intelligent and articulate young man, now based in Chicago near his alma mater, Northwestern University. He grew up in a musical family and played jazz, blues and various ethnic styles of music with his father. He stated that he was a "huge" Grappelli fan and acknowledged Louisville violinist Peter McHugh as an important influence. He also told how, as a skatepunk rocker, he got turned on to the immortal Sonny Rollins (now considered by Brock to be another major influence) when his father gave him an album from the early 1960s which showed Rollins with his pre-punk Mohawk. This led him to explore more deeply the art of improvisation as exemplified on instruments other than violin and he spoke of how jazz musicians "have to be accountable" to the tradition of great jazz playing. He has worked with Louisville's Java Men and also cited them as being influential. All in all, Brock is a rising young star in the jazz world and if you missed his recent gigs here, be sure to catch him the next time through.

The late Ohio native, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, was something of an enigma to me during my earliest jazz listening days. He had been pigeonholed by some who should have been more knowledgeable than I as some sort of blind freak who showboated by playing two or three horns simultaneously. No sooner did I have him pegged as "progressive" than he came out with a Dionne Warwick cover and reinterpretations of Duke Ellington. Of course, I quickly figured out that he had lost his edge and was selling out. Then came his seminal live recording, Bright Moments, complete with New Orleans traditional jazz, spoken interludes and a variety of music beyond category. It belatedly hit me that what Rahsaan was about was avoiding labels and assimilating the traditions as well as the innovations of jazz. He embodied the slogan of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, "Great Black Music from the Ancient to the Future."

In concert, Rahsaan was in his element. Regrettably, except for Bright Moments, his live performances have been poorly documented on official releases. That is, until now. Hyena Records, the latest in a series of independent labels sired by legendary producer Joel Dorn, has just released Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom, a 1974 San Diego concert recording which captures Kirk in his glory. Whether you are a neophyte or a convert, this recording belongs in your collection. Rahsaan brought his own distinctive "bright moments" via music which he termed "miracle-ized." If he played more than one horn at a time, it was to further his personal expression of the music, not to create a sideshow. His circular breathing "breath-a-thons" were remarkable for their combined intensity and musicality. Whether you are a fan of the traditional New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band or the cosmic searching of John Coltrane, you deserve to hear how Rahsaan could find the linkages between them, all the while remaining true to his own inner vision of the music. His life was cut short following a stroke in the 1970s. I was privileged to have attended a post-stroke concert in a long defunct Lexington nightclub. That night, paralyzed on one side of his body and playing with only one hand, Rahsaan blew away virtually every saxophonist I have seen before or since. This newly-released recording captures as much of his fiery essence as can be preserved in a mere sound artifact. A few highlights would include his fiery rendition of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," followed by an eloquent reading of the classic ballad "My One and Only Love," featuring an a cappella solo conceptually, but not stylistically related to Coltrane's many unaccompanied flights during performances of "I Want to Talk About You." As for Rahsaan's rap on James Brown, his quote of "A Love Supreme," and more, you'll just have to check it out for yourself.

Jazz Festivals On WFPK

James Bickers, WFPK's afternoon jazz host and jazz director, is keeping his eyes open for special jazz programs to supplement the daily fare. To that end, he has arranged for WFPK to broadcast a two-hour special of excerpts from the 2002 Ford-Detroit Jazz Festival and three nights of music from the 2003 Playboy Jazz Festival. The Detroit program will air on Friday, August 1 at 9 p.m. and will feature Branford Marsalis, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Frank Morgan, Pete Fountain, Geri Allen, Carl Allen, Regina Carter, Joey DeFrancesco and many more. Then, on August 13 through 15, beginning at 9 p.m., the Playboy broadcasts will feature Lizz Wright, Roy Haynes, Dave Holland, Poncho Sanchez and the Blind Boys of Alabama (August 13); The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Boz Scaggs and others (August 14); and music from "Cos of Good Music" (featuring Bill Cosby's hand-picked group of all-stars), Dave Holland, Los Hombres Calientes, Roy Haynes, Al Jarreau and others (August 15). For full details, listen to WFPK 91.9 FM and check the website, www.wfpk.org. If you share my belief that these shows, which present the essence of jazz in its natural, live environment, are important, you owe it to yourself to let the station know that you appreciate this programming. No announcer, no matter how good, who is limited to whatever is available on CDS, can replace these concert shows. My hope (fantasy?) is that now that WFPK is no longer affiliated with NPR, its sister station WFPL will use its NPR affiliation to broadcast the annual New Years Eve Coast-to-Coast live jazz as WFPK did for many years. For now, kudos to Bickers and Program Director Dan Reed for promoting jazz and in particular the Louisville Jazz Society, during July.

On The Horizon

During August, local and regional artists will be featured at the Jazz Factory. From Thursday, July 31 through Saturday, August 8, alto saxophonist Ron Jones will lead his quartet, featuring pianist Frank Puzzullo. The following Thursday, August 7 through Saturday the 9th, Walker and Kays will sing and play. The Harry Pickens Trio will perform Wednesday, August 13 through Saturday the 16th. The Jazz Factory is located at 815 W. Main Street in the Glassworks complex (web: www.jazzfactory.us [not ."com"]; phone: 992-3242.

The Seelbach Jazz Bar, presented by Dick Sisto, continues to present excellent music featuring London pianist Geoff Eales on August 1-2.

Spotlight Promotions is bringing the jazz-rock sounds of Garaj Mahal to Uncle Pleasant's on Wednesday, August 13. This group features the outstanding guitarist Fareed Haque and virtuoso bassist Kai Eckhardt (whose resume includes performing with John McLaughlin), together with drummer Alan Hertz and keyboardist Eric Levy. On a weeknight, I can only hope for a not-too-late starting time, as this band is building a great reputation for its live shows and its high level of improvisational abilities.

While I try to keep my eyes and ears open for the special events in the area, as well as the ongoing gigs, it is impossible to be both complete and up-to-date. As a service to jazz fans, the Louisville Jazz Society (LJS) maintains an e-mail mailing list which sends out announcements of local jazz events and it is not limited to LJS members. If you wish to be added, send your e-mail address to: loujazz@bellsouth.net.

Live Jazz In The Area

The University of Kentucky's Spotlight Jazz Series has announced three of its four-concert series for the 2003-2004 season. The series kicks off on Friday, September 26, with the McCoy Tyner Trio. Regrettably, this is scheduled for Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish faith's High Holy Days. Next up is Karrin Allyson on November 7, with the Count Basie Orchestra set for February 18, 2004. The fourth show, at this writing, is still being booked, but look for a major name on the jamband circuit to help bring in some of the younger fans and to expose more traditional fans to some of the new improvisational music being played around the country in clubs, concerts and festivals.

The Blue Wisp (318 East 8th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 513-241-WISP; www.bluewispjazzclub.com), in addition to its nightly schedule, will feature the highly talented saxophonist Javon Jackson, an alumnus of "the Betty Carter school of the road," on Friday and Saturday, August 8-9, performing with The Phil DeGreg Trio. Other featured artists include Diana Krall's guitarist, Dan Faehnle leading his own quartet on August 1-2.

The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com) will present Acoustic Alchemy on September 6 and renowned pianist Monty Alexander on September 13.

Until Next Time, Boys And Girls

Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at mzkjr@louisvillejazz.org. And remember, if you don't support jazz on the radio and in the clubs and concert halls, you'll wonder where it went.