Prelude to a Miss(apologies to Duke Ellington)
If you only read the print edition of my column in the November Louisville Music News, you would have been left hanging due to a production glitch which lopped off almost one-third of Jazzin'. Fortunately the glitch did not extend to the cyberworld, where the column was (and is) available in its entirety, at www.louisvillemusicnews.net. Click prior issues, then go to November and click Jazzin'. I mention this not out of vanity, but out of concern for one issue that was raised but not available except online. That issue is the loss of jazz programming on WFPK-91.9 FM. At the risk of boring those of you who saw this online, I am reproducing the missing paragraph here. First, a brief note as to what else was cut: the conclusion of my review of John Stowell at the Jazz Factory, previews of the Avishai Cohen Quartet, noted trumpeter Warren Vache and Don Braden (among others) at the Jazz Factory, Tunnels with Sarah Pillow at the Rudyard Kipling, updates of the Seelbach Jazz Bar and more.
"After the Fall Fundraising Drive, featuring numerous pitches for jazz, WFPK cut back its jazz programming significantly. After almost a quarter century of nightly jazz programming, there is now no jazz on Thursdays and nine hours of jazz on Friday night into early Saturday morning has been reduced to one hour. Furthermore, three hours of eclectic live concert programming, "Mountain Stage" (two hours) and "E-town" (one hour) have been eliminated in favor of more of the same "Adult Alternative" pop CD cuts which are already played to death. While neither "Mountain Stage" nor "E-town" were "jazz" shows per se, they featured in-concert performances which ranged stylistically from bluegrass to blues to jazz to rock and folk and which included jazz performers such as John Scofield, Charlie Hunter and Bob Thompson (the house pianist for Mountain Stage) among others. "E-town" is supposed to return around the first of the year, but this does not make up for the loss of programming currently available to public radio listeners outside of Louisville. As this is written, a show featuring avant-garde jazz guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer and the jamband of Derek Trucks (whose latest album is heavily jazz-influenced) is missing in action for Louisvillians. The only bright spot in this otherwise gloomy picture is the new "Late Set at the Jazz Factory," as previewed in this column last month. This will air every Friday night at 11 p.m. on WFPK, 91.9 FM. If you think jazz should reclaim its rightful spot on Louisville public radio, contact Public Radio Partnership's CEO, former nightly jazz host Gerry Weston, at firstname.lastname@example.org and WFPK's program director Dan Reed at email@example.com."
After the above was written, "Beale Street Caravan," the only blues concert program carried by WFPK, was also axed in favor of (believe it or not), yet another DJ playing the same ol' same ol' pop CD cuts. Adding insult to injury, this was done in 2003, the Year of the Blues. Is this what our city really needs? Lest you wonder why this point is being made in the jazz column, have you ever heard Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's swinging band tear into "Take the `A' Train?" You could have heard it in performance, not just a studio version, on "Beale." Of course, where would Count Basie, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis have been without the blues? I rest my case. There seems to be a Gannett-ization of our public radio going on, so that soon there will be a McStation where once there was original and varied programming that was truly unique. Sic transit gloria.
RECENT CONCERTS AND EVENTS
Tunnels with Sarah Pillow
Last month you read (if you were online, at least) of the return to our fair city of the fusion band Tunnels. Its best-known member is Percy Jones, bassist extraordinaire of the British progressive rock/fusion band Brand X. When Tunnels came through earlier this year, Jones was joined by Tunnels' founding father, Marc Wagnon on vibes and synthesizers and Frank Katz on drums. (For a review, see the April Jazzin' column). This time, Katz was unavailable, so the drum chair was filled by Lance Carter. In addition to the change in the drum chair, the program was divided into two distinct segments. During the first set, Tunnels performed its own music. Highlights included the set opener, the title tune of its Progressivity CD, which featured Wagnon playing a standard vibes sound against a funky backbeat. Later, "Frank's Beard" provided a showcase for Jones' virtuosic electric bass, while "Syzygy Incident" closed the set with a trip through styles ranging from MIDI woodblock sounds into a spacey excursion reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream and Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd. Throughout, Carter's jazz background added subtle variations to the heavy backbeat favored by Tunnels.
After the intermission, Tunnels was joined by Julien Feltin on electric guitar (from the Swiss group Les Vautours) and Wagnon's wife, Sarah Pillow, on vocals. This set served as an introduction to Pillow's newest release, Remixes. The recording features one disc of traditional arrangements of songs from the late 1500s and 1600s and a second disc of the same songs, in the same playing order, reinterpreted for playing by electric jazz band (i.e., Tunnels and guests). Perhaps because I was accompanied by a friend who is a child of `60s rock, I kept thinking of some of the more esoteric Jefferson Airplane performances, such as "ReJoyce" (from After Bathing at Baxter's) and "Bear Melt" (from Bless Its Pointed Little Head) in this set. (In fact, my friend nodded with appreciation during the first set when I suggested Jack Casady as a precursor to Jones' playing.) The house lights were low and Pillow's classically trained voice wrapped itself around songs such as Henry Purcell's "If Musick Be The Food of Love" and William Lawes' "To Dewes" (featuring a lover's lament of needing quenching from his burning for a lady who noticeth him not). Also featured were songs from a similar project, Nuove Musiche. Feltin's guitar leads throughout were an enjoyable addition to the Tunnels sound. The set, overall, might be described as electric chamber music, as it did not exactly convey a sense of jazz and certainly took liberties with the original settings of these pieces. Pillow and Tunnels have crafted a unique blend of material and approach and the experiment worked extremely well.
In a pre-show conversation, Pillow said she was glad not to have to choose between classical singing and jazz/progressive rock styles, eschewing categories while echoing Duke Ellington's maxim that there are only two kinds of music, good and otherwise. She did acknowledge a degree of frustration at having recently sold out an 1100 seat concert hall for a classical performance, while playing to sparse audiences in clubs during the current tour. In an earlier telephone interview, Wagnon commented that performing and touring with his wife was "wonderful and difficult - we have this whole universe." He also mentioned that his own musical background included starting off as a drummer, moving into piano, pursuing classical percussion training and going to Berklee as he became more interested in vibraphone. In both his conversation and his playing, his desire to "do something new and different" comes through clearly. His ability to accomplish this goal was much enhanced when he discovered MIDI-vibes some twelve years ago. For those who enjoyed the performance, or are curious to hear more, the recordings under both Tunnels' name and Pillow's are available on Buckyball Records, www.buckyballmusicnews.net (which also features archival Brand X recordings).
The Avishai Cohen Quartet
The Jazz Factory presented the Louisville premiere of the Avishai Cohen Quartet on October 31 and November 1. While Cohen is best known for his work with Chick Corea in the late '90's, he has led a variety of groups over the past few years and has also formed his own CD label, Razdaz, which has just released Cohen's Lyla. Cohen's touring group included Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry from the CD, keyboardist Sam bar-Sheshet, of Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers and drummer Mark Guiliana (also on the CD). In performance on the second night, the quartet covered a wide range of material. The title tune, "Lyla" ("Night" in Hebrew) began with a slow introduction, then picked up the pace for a vocal (simply repeating the title) and concluded with a beautifully bowed segment. A new tune, broadcast the previous night on WFPK's "Late Set from the Jazz Factory," was next and was actually a medley whose working title, at least, is "Ballad/Punk DJN." The opening segment, as would be expected from the title, was unhurried, featuring Guiliana's brushwork, a soprano solo by Terry, followed by an unaccompanied Cohen solo. This provided a bridge to the second, faster piece, during which sticks were substituted for brushes and Terry changed to alto for an intense solo. The dynamics again shifted, as bar-Sheset played a beautiful and slower-paced piano solo, before the quartet took it out in a high-energy ending. Throughout the performance, I was impressed by not only the musicianship, but by the excellent acoustics which emphasized a rich wood sound for Cohen's bass.
After a break, Cohen told the audience that "You are catching the best set," and the performance that followed demonstrated that this was not mere hype. The first piece, whose title was not announced, was like a journey. Cohen's arco bass and Terry's soprano introduction suggested a pastorale, but the pace picked up when the rest of the group joined them. An ensemble section was followed by an almost free duet between Cohen and terry, which led to another ensemble passage, before Cohen was featured for a solo which included his using his instrument for percussion as well as melody. After this musical adventure, Cohen featured another song from Lyla, the Beatles' classic "Come Together," a showcase for his soloing. After two more pieces, Cohen switched from acoustic to electric bass for a bar-Sheset arrangement of the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol classic "Caravan." Bar-sheset played Melodica on this song. This was followed by "Saba," which lived up to Cohen's introductory comment that "it rocks pretty hard." While I detected Jaco Pastorius influences on the CD, on this and the prior piece, Cohen seemed to take a different path from that of the late prodigy. Curiously, for a jazz performance, the first drum solo of the night was not "Caravan," but the encore, a medley of "The Watcher" (by rapper Dr. Dre) and Cohen's own "The Evolving Etude," both of which may be found on Lyla.
In a pre-show telephone interview from his New York home, Cohen commented that Lyla was very representative of his current music. Having heard the band in person, I can only add that the CD represents the diversity of Cohen's approach and material but without the added element of excitement which great improvisers bring to their live performances. He referred to his current band lineup as "wonderful, a nice blessing." He commented on how the late bass master, Jaco Pastorius, was "a big influence from the beginning," and that he was "proud to be mentioned in the same sentence" with him. Other influences on Cohen showed a wide range, from Paul Chambers and Jymie Merritt to the basswork of Stevie Wonder, to the compositions of Bach. Throughout the conversation, Cohen referred to the concept of freedom and this seems especially applicable to the way he has worked toward a wide-ranging and personal view of jazz composing and performing. If you missed his show, Lyla would be a great way to sample his versatility; if you were there, it would be a wonderful souvenir. For more information on this artist, see www.avishaimusicnews.net.
Linda Ronstadt with the Louisville Orchestra
I have to start with a complaint: Ronstadt all but stole my planned opening line for this review. I was going to rhetorically ask what Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Linda Ronstadt have in common and I was going to reply that they are all pop singers who have helped to keep alive the Great American Songbook and in so doing, have developed reputations as jazz-related artists. Well, two thirds of the way through her performance, Ronstadt co-opted me by telling the packed house at the Louisville Palace that she had been in Kentucky a few months ago to pay tribute to her late friend, Ms. Clooney. That she should feel an affinity to this singer from a different era was apparent from the choice of her material at the Palace. Although the advertisements focused on Ronstadt's pop-rock material, she chose to sing only songs from her three albums featuring the arrangements of Nelson Riddle, whose work with Sinatra in the 50s was considered groundbreaking. She opened with the title track to one of them, "What's New," and by the time she ended by drawing out the closing .".. I love you soooooo," she had turned the Palace into a sophisticated Manhattan lounge. Ronstadt then let the audience know that she was going to perform "only American jazz standards." Other standouts included her rendition of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," where she again showed that she could hold and stretch a note for dramatic effect. In introducing the Billy Strayhorn classic, "Lush Life," Ronstadt commented on how he would have been a classical composer if not poor and black in America in the `20s. Most of her program focused on ballads and torch songs, but she did make a dedication to "the people at Enron who brought us this recession ...," the Nat Cole classic "Straighten Up and Fly Right."
Ronstadt brought with her the noted jazz pianist, Alan Broadbent, whose work with a wide range of artists from Woody Herman to Charlie Haden, as well as with Riddle, helped to answer the question of whether this music could rightly be called jazz. If you are among those who believe that Charlie Parker "sold out" when he recorded with strings, then Ronstadt's performance here would clearly not qualify. However, if you believe jazz may legitimately encompass not only spirited improvisation, but also carefully crafted arrangements which allow for swing, then Ronstadt could be seen as a legitimate songstress in the tradition of Clooney, Sinatra and others. It may beg the question, however, as to whether her self-proclaimed "jazz" repertoire could legitimately claim "jazz" status without the scatting or vocalise of, say, Ella Fitzgerald or Betty Carter. By referring to jazz-influenced vocalists as jazz singers, the lines between pop music and jazz tend to be blurred anyway. Ultimately the question must be whether the performance was good or not. Despite Ronstadt's comment that she had a cold, she nonetheless held notes, demonstrated an emotional connection with the music and provided 80 minutes of sophisticated music from such masters as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and others. Her musicians played with each other, with her and with the orchestra, in such a way as to provide elegant and understated swing to the evening.
ON THE HORIZON
As usual, the Jazz Factory, 815 W. Main Street in the Glassworks, has a full schedule of talented artists throughout the month of December. I am especially excited about the return of Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers on Friday and Saturday, December 26-27. His keyboard player, Sam bar-Sheset, was superb in his recent appearance with Avishai Cohen (see above). For further information about Brock's prior appearance, check the August Jazzin'. The University of Louisville's Jerry Tolson will bring his group in on Thursday December 4 to celebrate his new CD, followed by Matt Lawson: Sonic Ensemble on the 5th and 6th. Tolson's colleague, Harry Pickens will perform with his trio on Thursday through Saturday, December 11-13. The December 16 performance by Java Men is already sold out, but will be followed the next night by old-school fusion group Splatch. For a complete schedule, check www.jazzfactory.us or phone 992-3242.
Due to early deadlines, the December schedule for the Seelbach Jazz Bar, presented by Dick Sisto, was not available. However, Sisto continues to present excellent music Thursdays and Fridays with Sisto and bassist Tyrone Wheeler, with guests scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays. Other local venues also continue to support jazz. These include the Comedy Caravan at the Mid-City Mall on Bardstown Road, home of the regular third Monday performances of the Roger Dane Jazz Orchestra. Club owner Tom Sobel is a long-time fan and supporter of jazz and the venue is a good place for concerts (at least for the occasional non-smoking gigs).
The Rudyard Kipling, 422 W. Oak St., 636-1311, sponsors Ray Rizzo's "Open Air Transmissions" weekly jam session on Wednesdays, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.. Artemisia, 620 East Market Street has a regular lineup of small jazz groups, including December 2, Jeff Sherman Jazz Labs; December 5 and December 20, Bill Barnes Trio; and New Year's Eve, Jeff Sherman Trio. The Third Avenue Cafe at Third & Oak, 585-2233, will feature December 12, Mike Tracy; December 26, Ron Jones; December 27, Bill Barnes. Clifton's Pizza, 2230 Frankfort Avenue, 893-3730, presents on December 17, singer Jennifer Lauletta with Steve Crews, Butch Neeld and Joe Lauletta. Steam Fire & Ice, 2427 Bardstown Road, 454-9944, December 6, hosts vocalist Susannah Martin with pianist/vocalist Michael Roy.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
LIVE JAZZ IN THE AREA
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 following weekend guest artists in December: John Fedchock, trombone (who was excellent in his appearance at the Aebersold Jazz Camp concerts in Louisville this past summer), December 5-6;
Dan Faehnle, guitar, December 12-13; and Brent Gallaher, tenor sax December 19-20; the club will be closed December 26-27.
Due to early deadlines, the December schedule for The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com) could not be obtained, so call or check the website for any concert announcements, as well as the nightly listings.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Remember, support jazz on the radio (what's left of it) and in the clubs and concert halls. Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at email@example.com.