It Don't Mean A Thing 'Cause It Ain't Got That Swing
(apologies, again, to Duke Ellington)
This will, regrettably, be the third month in a row I am forced to deal with the continuing loss of jazz and other unusual programming on WFPK-91.9 FM. To be mercifully brief, Louisville's so-called "nonprofit public radio" has become a pseudo-hip Clear Channel wannabe. The only jazz programming during the week will be ghettoized into the 1 AM to 6 AM time slot, replacing the syndicated "Echoes" show. The daily afternoon jazz slot, initiated by the inimitable Phil Bailey almost twenty years ago, will give way to still another DJ playing the same tight playlist of "AAA" CD cuts that has already been airing from 6 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For those who might question the championing of "Echoes" in a jazz column, it was far more than snoozy wallpaper music. "Echoes" was worth setting the recorder timer to capture interviews and in-concert segments with artists ranging from such non-jazz luminaries as Brian Eno, Mickey Hart and the late Michael Hedges, to nonpareil jazz artists such as Pat Metheny and Michael Manring. Canned jazz will not be worth taping for later replay. The only remaining jazz during the week will be from 11 p.m. to midnight, the excellent "Late Set at the Jazz Factory." Otherwise, jazz will now only be heard on Sundays until 6 p.m..
I have been a financial contributor to Louisville's Public Radio since the late 1970s, when news and public affairs shared air time with programs featuring in-performance jazz such as "Jazz Alive," "America Jazz Radio Festival," "Four Queens Jazz Night from Las Vegas," the satellite broadcasts of the Chicago Jazz and Blues Festivals and other such programs. I have canceled my membership and urge all fans of jazz and in-performance programs to do likewise. And as previously mentioned here, 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 email@example.com and WFPK's program director Dan Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Concerts And Events
Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC)
The big event this past month snuck up on yours truly, in the form of the Percussive Arts Society's International Convention (PASIC), right here in River City, from Wednesday, November 19 to Saturday, November 22. There was good coverage in both LEO and the Courier-Journal shortly before PASIC, but since most of the events were for enrolled attendees, there was little opportunity for most folks to enjoy the incredible variety of workshops and concerts. I could fill this column with nothing but comments about the sessions I missed, but that would be depressing for me and boring for you so let's move to the good stuff. There were several notable jazz drummers and percussionists involved with this year's PASIC. My first opportunity to check out PASIC came on Thursday, when I attended a workshop given by Steve Smith, leader of the electric jazz band Vital Information and one-time drummer for Journey. While much of his presentation might have been geared to aspiring drummers, he had some intriguing comments to make regarding what makes American music unusual. According to Smith, it is the "swing pulse," which makes up the fundamental feel behind all music created in the U.S., including gospel, country the blues and, of course, jazz. He demonstrated the building blocks of rhythm, playing first a two-beat, then a three-beat, then combinations of two over three and three over two to illustrate his thesis. He commented on how these polyrhythms come directly from Africa and are not linear, but harmonic, with one layered on top of the other. He concluded his lecture, after a stunning solo, with a tour-de-force tribute to jazz masters Papa Jo Jones and Max Roach on just the high hat.
Peter Erskine, perhaps best known for his stint in the drum chair of Weather Report, had last been in town for a concert with his piano trio about a year ago. He returned for a workshop at PASIC on Saturday afternoon. He emphasized the art of listening and not just coming on to a and situation and "doing your own thing." He was assisted in his presentation by his colleague, Mike Mainieri, on vibes and Louisville's own Tyrone Wheeler on bass. An unexpected jazz reference came during the workshop given by Jim Chamberlin, best known as Smashing Pumpkins' drummer. He seemed genuinely humbled to be a presenter rather than just an attendee, mentioning his admiration for Erskine, Joe Morello (who I regrettably missed) and others. His influences in the jazz world included Elvin Jones and the late Tony Williams. He commented on how shading and dynamics come form jazz, while "rock can be pedestrian," and mentioned that he is beginning work on a fusion album and hopes to enlist Alan Holdsworth in that effort.
As to the concerts, some were for PASIC attendees only, while others were open to the public. One of the open performances was a Thursday night concert by drumset player Roland Vazquez, who brought his ensemble to the lobby of the Hyatt. His group included multiple percussionists doubling on a variety of instruments, including congas, bongos, vibes and marimba, together with an electric bass player and a saxophonist. This could be seen as a "preview of coming attractions," as Vazquez will return to Louisville in February as part of U of L's Jazz Week. Most of the material was original and extremely well-played. An intriguing uptempo "Latinized" version of Thelonious Monk's brilliant "`Round Midnight" showcased Vazquez's arranging talent. Another performance for the public, by Bobby Sanabria, got off to a late start on Saturday, so I could only catch a taste of his Afrocuban stylings.
Mike Mainieri and American Diary
A special treat was the concert given on Saturday night by Mike Mainieri and his group American Diary. Although not as well known as some of his fellow vibraphonists, Mainieri has spent most of his lengthy career bringing new concepts and styles to the art of vibraphone playing. His long-time collaborators, Peter Erskine and saxophonist George Garzone, were joined by new addition John Benitez on bass. Benitez and Erskine opened the concert with a duet introduction to the standard "Bye Bye Blackbird," with Mainieri and Garzone accelerating the tempo after they joined in. Throughout this piece and, indeed, the entire concert, Erskine's playing provided a wonderful example of his workshop comments regarding listening to others, "thinking] of the spaces between the notes" and using the drum kit for playing melodies. He moved adroitly from brushes to sticks and back again. A medley of "The Riddle" and "Los Lamentes" came after "Blackbird." "The Riddle" used a rockish bass riff, while "Los Lamentes" was a ballad featuring Erskine's mallet artistry and superb solos by Mainieri and Garzone. A boppish arrangement of an Aaron Copland piano sonata was next, followed by the funky yet lilting Erskine composition, "The Music of My People." Mainieri entranced the audience with an unaccompanied rendition of the Billy Strayhorn ballad "Lush Life," never straying far from the gorgeous melody. "Somewhere," from West Side Story, was next and the concert concluded with a Latin reworking of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Garzone and Erskine engaged in a powerful duet, with Benitez joining in, after which Garzone stepped aside for an Erskine/Benitez duet, before the ensemble returned to bring the song and, unfortunately, the concert, to a conclusion.
Mainieri then brought Garzone to the Seelbach to sit in with Dick Sisto's group. The two vibists formed something of a mutual admiration society, playing a mix of jazz and popular standards to an overflow crowd. During much of the first set, Sisto played piano to back Mainieri, but joined him in a vibes duet for a reprise of "Bye Bye Blackbird." Throughout both the American Diary concert and the session at the Seelbach, Garzone's reed artistry was both dazzling and tasteful, making one wonder why his is not a household name in the jazz community.
In a followup telephone interview, Mainieri mentioned that 2004 will mark the 25th anniversary of his group, Steps Ahead. Touring plans are not yet firm, but he hopes to do some shows here in the US and Europe and definitely returning to steps Ahead's birthplace, Japan. In addition to his work as a musician, bandleader and composer, Mainieri is also the CEO of his own CD label, NYC Records (www.nycrecords.com). I asked if this was something he enjoyed, or just a chore and he responded that it is a labor of love which he does, in fact, enjoy. He began the label, at least in part, to try to regain the rights to some of his earlier recordings which have either been unavailable, or available only on Japanese or European labels which do not pay royalties. He added his encouragement to other musicians to retain their rights to their work. After watching him in the context of being both a bandleader and a guest artist, I asked if he enjoyed sitting in with others. He "loves being in that situation," and noted that after the untimely loss of his friend and colleague, saxophonist Bob Berg, he took some time off from leading a group and toured Europe as a guest artist. He commented that our own Dick Sisto "is a wonderful guy," and that he was thrilled to "meet someone . . . with a history and love of the music . . .." He also commented that he wished "there was more of that [sitting in] happening. When I first started, that was the atmosphere, now it's more of a conservatory."
Jim "the Funky Drummer" Payne
On Friday, November 20, Jim "the Funky Drummer" Payne played the first of a two night stand at the Jazz Factory. I knew him as a producer of a variety of recordings with Pee Wee Ellis, Maceo Parker and other James Brown alumni, who also played drums on some of these recordings, as well as the author of a definitive book on funk drumming, entitled Give the Drummer Some. His trio included guitarist Bill Bickford (an alumnus of the Billy Cobham finishing school) and organist Jerry Z [nee Zaslavsky]. Much of the two sets included material from his new release on Savant Records, Sensei (meaning "teacher," ) (www.jazzdepot.com). I can highly recommend Sensei to fans of the organ trio, especially those of you with an inclination to the backbeat. In concert, however, before getting his groove on, he began each set with some serious straightahead swing. In this regard, the second set opener, Horace Silver's "Blowin' the Blues Away." Other high points included a tribute to "the Turbanator," organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, entitled "Scram," extended far past the brief take on the album. A rendition of the Headhunters' arrangement of "Watermelon Man" was a crowd pleaser in the first set. It was followed by a piece that reminded me of James Brown's "Funky Good Time," but turned out to be a tune entitled "Espresso" which Payne said was inspired by King Curtis' "Soul Serenade." I was delighted to hear the trio take on John Scofield's "Hottentot," from Sco's collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood. The second set featured the title tune from Sensei, as well as others from that CD and some new material as well.
In a between-set conversation, Payne covered a lot of ground in a short time. I noticed that noted jazz author Bill Milkowski had written the liner notes for Sensei and I asked if Payne, as a writer himself, had chosen him, or if it was a record company decision. He responded that it was his choice and mentioned that he and Milkowski had discussed working together on a second edition of his book. When I told him I perceived not only James Brown influences on his album, but also some New Orleans funk a la Meters, he waxed ecstatic about the Meters' drummer Ziggy Modeliste. He said that he had studied Modeliste's style and transcribed much of his work, but problems with Modeliste's manager led to his exclusion from Give the Drummer Some. He also said that in addition to his work with his current trio, he also plays in a group called Moon Pool, which is an improvisational band dedicated to the concept of "just start playing and create in the moment." His cohorts in Moon Pool are saxophonist Eric Person, keyboard player Marc Puricelli and bassist Gene Torres.
`Twas the night before deadline and all through the house at the Jazz Factory (on December 17), Splatch mixed a heady brew of originals and reconstructed covers. After starting with a somewhat Latin-feeling straightahead pieced composed by keyboardist Pete Peterson (who celebrated his birthday by first playing a solo on acoustic piano), the mood turned more eclectic and electric, with Peterson switching to electric keyboard. Standouts were a totally revamped version of "Basin Street Blues," which seemed to channel Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and "Acknowledgment," the first movement from John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, with a bass line which reminded me of the version found on the Carlos Santana/John McLaughlin classic Love, Devotion and Surrender. Brothers Tony McDaniel on trumpet and Kenneth McDaniel on electric bass, together with peters and their drummer (whose name I cannot recall, please forgive me) will soon change the name of the band from Splatch to fattlabb [sounds like a hiphop name to me, but then, they never asked for my two cents worth].
On The Horizon
A few upcoming special events would include the Kentucky Center's presentation of Wynton Marsalis leading the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on February 10, 2004 and the University of Louisville's Jazz Week 2004, February 23 - 29, opening with the Ahmad Jamal Trio on the 23rd and closing out in grand style on the 29th with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. A complete preview of Jazz Week should grace next month's issue.
From out of left field (at least by conservative jazz standards), Spotlight Productions will bring the talented young guitarist Derek Trucks to Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Rd., phone 584-8088) on January 29. Those of you who are also fans of the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) will recognize him as one of the guitarists in the current incarnation of the ABB. However, his jazz chops are no less impressive than his blues abilities and his band's appearance here should appeal not only to jamband fans, but also to followers of jazz artists such as John Scofield, Soulive and so on. His most recent CDS are Joyful Noise and Soul Serenade, both on Columbia. Joyful Noise was recorded and released in 2002 and might be seen as an offshoot of the ABB sound and vibe. The first two songs sound like cousins of such ABB instrumentals as "Revival" and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The next song, "Home in Your Heart," as well as "Like Anyone Else," feature the King of Rock and Soul, none other than Solomon Burke, on vocals. The Derek Trucks Band (DTB) then takes a turn into modal jazz with "Maki Maani," featuring the vocals of Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on a piece that sounds a little like "Within You Without You" done by an updated organ trio. "Kam-ma-lay" veers into salsa territory, with a guest vocal by Ruben Blades. Much of this tune is given over to a very jazzy flute solo by DTB member Kofi Burbridge. "Every Good Boy" is like a jamband nursery rhyme, followed by "Baby, You're Right," featuring the blue-drenched vocals of Trucks' wife, Susan Tedeschi. The last two pieces on this album, "Lookout 31" and "Frisell" (named, of course, for jazz guitarist Bill Frisell) take the music back to jazz. "Lookout 31" seems like a DTB take on the Jack Johnson sessions by Miles Davis, while "Frisell" is an atmospheric, understated piece evocative of its namesake without merely copying him. While Joyful Noise may be seen as a varied mix of styles including, but not limited to blues, soul and jazz, Soul Serenade is, with one exception, a straightforward electric jazz album. Although recorded in October of 1999 and February of 2000, it was only released near the end of 2003. The opener is a medley of the King Curtis title song and Bob Marley's "Rasta Man Chant," featuring Trucks' slide guitar interplay with Burbridge's flute. "Bock to Bock" creates a Wes Montgomery feel, with a solid walking bass line. The only non-jazz piece on the CD is next, a reworking of the Ray Charles standard "Drown in My Own Tears," featuring a guest vocal by Gregg Allman, who ends the song testifying to some tasty Trucks counterpoint. The Mongo Santamaria standard, "Afro Blue," is next. It begins with a pastoral flute solo, before gradually morphing into the melody with the rest of the band. The dynamic range here is especially noteworthy, as the DTB moves gracefully from soft and slow to loud and fast and back again. A bluesy tribute to the incomparable drummer Elvin Jones, entitled simply "Elvin," manages to pay tribute to the master without drummer Yonrico Scott simply copying Jones' style. This is followed by another flute showcase, "Oriental Folk Song," as arranged by Wayne Shorter. The final piece, "Sierra Leone" is an original and with its delicate use of acoustic guitar, flute and shaker, evokes memories of the Duane Allman song "Little Martha." It may not be, as the cliche goes, "your father's jazz," but his appearance at Headliners should tempt the adventurous jazzers here as well as the jamband folks.
The schedule for the Jazz Factory (815 W. Main Street in the Glassworks) was not available by press time. For a complete schedule, check www.jazzfactory.us or phone 992-3242. Likewise, the schedule for the Seelbach Jazz Bar, presented by Dick Sisto, was not available. Other local venues also continue to support jazz, including the Comedy Caravan at the Mid-City Mall on Bardstown Road, home of the regular third Monday performances of the Roger Dane Jazz Orchestra. The Rudyard Kipling, 422 W. Oak St., 636-1311, sponsors the "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, as do the Third Avenue Cafe at Third & Oak, 585-2233 and Clifton's Pizza, 2230 Frankfort Avenue, 893-3730.
LMN's online calendar gets updated much more often than the paper: you can search by club name, act name, region,
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: email@example.com.
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, usually features weekend guest artists , as does the Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com).
Happy New Year
Remember, support jazz on the radio (if you can find any), in the clubs and concert halls. Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.