As I finish writing this, my deadline is history and to the possible relief of my editor and yourselves, gentle readers, I must cut back on the scope of this month's column. A bout with a sinus infection, coupled with out-of town family and unexpected day job pressures has led me to this dismal state of affairs. Some reviews must wait until next month and the usual listing of upcoming musical events has been pared back to the barest of minimums. As always, I encourage you to subscribe to the Louisville Jazz Society's biweekly jazz schedule updates by sending your e-mail address to email@example.com
It is most peculiar that even with Public Radio's moving jazz to the inaccessible ghetto of 1 Am to 6 AM, except on Sundays and the excellent Friday night "Late Set at the Jazz Factory," jazz continues to thrive in Louisville. March and early to mid-April continued the roll of excellent live performances which began earlier this year. Additionally, as noted here last month, the University of Louisville's John La Barbera has just released a new album, On the Wild Side, on Jazz Compass Records. A full review must wait for next month. A first listening revealed a combination of the discipline necessary for a successful mainstream big band with enough blowing room to allow for the individual expressiveness of the many talented soloists, including John's brothers Pat on saxophone and Joe on drums. Not bad for a world class city that used to have world class jazz programming on public radio.
RECENT CONCERTS AND EVENTS
As I was unable to attend the March 17, 2004, Louisville Jazz Society's presentation of the Steve Crews Quartet with guests Dave Klingman on clarinet and vocalist Gail Wynters at the Jazz Factory, my friend and Jazz Society colleague, Jim Coryell, offered these observations: The Louisville Jazz Society produced another winner with Gail Wynters, Steve Crews and David Klingman at the Jazz Factory on St. Patrick's Day. What a blast! The venerable Lady Wynters exuded charisma, class and warm, sophisticated vocals throughout the night. Complementing her intricate vocal lines across a variety of beautiful standards, Klingman played inventive and exciting lines with his clarinet. His playing was amazingly fresh and engaging. He brought a contemporary and intelligent take on every tune that played off of Gail's charming exuberance. Steve Crews provided musical leadership to the group. His comping and embellishments perfectly pitched the mood and direction of each composition. Each solo was well formed and infused the music with energy and creativity. It is no wonder Gail, David and Steve sounded so good when they are supported by a couple of the best guys in town-Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. Wheeler's style is always lyrical and his ability to adapt to the stylistic nuances of whomever he plays with is a mark of his musicianship. Tiemann is without doubt one of the most creative, inventive and polished jazz drummers around. The crowd was enthusiastic and attentive throughout the evening, but was a little noisy in between tunes and during quieter moments.
Pianist Dick Berkman brought saxophonist and long-time cohort Dick Oatts to the Jazz Factory for concerts on March 26 and 27, in a group which also featured Chicagoans Timothy Fox on bass and Tom Hipskind on drums. Fox and Hipskind have worked together regularly in the Windy City and were enthusiastic to be part of Berkman's group during the Midwest leg of a tour. Oatts had recently been a featured soloist with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, during University of Louisville's Jazz Week. It was a treat to hear him in a small ensemble, where he could stretch out. A few highlights of the Saturday night sets included two pieces dedicated to fellow musicians, "Back in the Nineties" for the late pianist Kenny Kirkland and "Tom Harrell," for, of course, the talented trumpeter and composer of the same name. "Tom Harrell" was introduced by a slow Berkman solo, before gaining momentum with the other musicians joining in. "Back in the Nineties" evoked the spirit of Kirkland in its use of fast-paced and sometimes tricky playing. The second set featured the too-seldom heard flute of Oatts on a lovely Brazilian-flavored piece, "Tangled Web," from Berkman's Leaving Home CD on Palmetto.
Ben Monder is a New York-based guitarist who graced the Jazz Factory with stunning performances on April 2 and 3. He was accompanied by two of Louisville's first-call musicians, bassist Chris Fitzgerald and drummer Jason Tiemann. Monder's approach was described as "dark" by one enthusiast. He occasionally evokes the "jazzier" side of Pat Metheny while maintaining his own vision of the music. I overheard other musicians talking between sets of the challenge inherent in playing with Monder, a challenge that included the need for speed and virtuosity, in tackling Monder's arrangements of standards as well as his own original material. Fitzgerald and Tiemann proved themselves up to the task. An example of his unique approach was his reworking of the standard "Lover," in which Monder took a fast solo against the slow balladic playing of Fitzgerald and Tiemann. In lesser hands, the piece would have sounded either like the guitarist was playing out of tempo, or that the bass and drums were unable to keep up with the speedier tempo of the guitarist, yet in performance it was clear that Monder's solo would have carried far less interest if Fitzgerald and Tiemann had merely speeded up their playing. In each set, Monder also played solo on his own compositions. On "Double Sun," which concluded the first Saturday night set, Monder kept a steady bass pulse with his thumb, while weaving variations that were almost hypnotic with his other fingers. My notes from that night included the following description: "Segovia meets Fripp." The second set solo piece was a fifteen minute dark fantasia entitled "Oceana." It was driven more by an internal logic than standard melody. In a brief conversation after his second set, Monder mentioned that of his two Arabesque recordings, Excavation and Dust, he preferred Excavation. Dust is the earlier of the two recordings (1997) and features Monder playing all originals except for an idiosyncratic reading of the classic "You Are My Sunshine." Excavation, released in 2000, includes wordless vocals by Theo Bleckmann, in addition to bassist Shuli Sverrisson and drummer Jim Black. The moods explored on this CD are similar in effect to the solo pieces he performed at the Jazz Factory. When I asked Monder if he also enjoyed playing in a big band setting as a member of Maria Schneider's Big Band, he specifically responded that he likes playing in her band, noting that she writes well for guitar. All in all, I highly recommend Monder as an individual voice on the guitar.
The Louisville Jazz Society continued its Spring Concert Series with Ingrid Jensen and Project O. Trumpeter Jensen composed the bulk of the quartet's material, but the repertoire also included contributions from her saxophonist, Joel Frahm, her organist (and occasional pianist) Gary Versace, and her drummer (and fiancé), John Wikan. The Jensen/Versace/Wikan trio forms the nucleus of Project O, whose debut Justin Time CD, Now as Then, released in 2003, featured guest turns by saxophonists Steve Wilson, Seamus Blake, and Ingrid's younger sister Christine Jensen. Look for a concert review and review of this CD next month, together with a mini-interview with Jensen. Briefly noted, Project O tore up the Jazz Factory with its enthusiastic and adventurous music.
ON THE HORIZON
The Louisville Jazz Society's final offering in its Spring Concert Series at the Jazz Factory features the return of pianist Ryan Cohan with his Quartet on May 12. Cohan is a Chicago-based pianist whose quartet consists of Geof Bradfield on sax, Lorin Cohen on bass, and Kobie Watkins on drums. Cohan has played with Bradfield for many years, and has also performed with Watkins in the ensemble of trumpeter Orbert Davis. These musicians make up the core of the group of musicians heard on Cohan's 2001 recording, Here and Now, on the British Sirocco Jazz label. While some of the press material touts Cohan's compositions for recent Ramsey Lewis recordings, his own CD betrays none of the sometimes lighter pop tendencies found in much of Lewis' work. In an e-mail interview, Cohan remarked that: “Lorin and I have been playing together for nearly eighteen years from our beginnings into studying jazz, and I met Geof at DePaul in 1989. They have been with my quartet since roughly 1997. Kobie, whom I have been playing with for the past couple years with Orbert Davis' ensemble is the newest member of our group. He played his first gig with us at the Jazz Factory last November and it was like he had been with us all along.”
He also mentioned that while he has been focussed on performing his own compositions, he plans to do more standards in the future. For his upcoming performance, “we perform six or seven compositions from that CD (Here and Now). We are also playing new music that will be recorded on a new CD very soon, some older compositions of mine as well as some original arrangements of standards.”
For additional information, including ticket prices, go to www.louisvillejazz.org, or call LJS President Patty Bailey at 502-741-7272.
The May schedule for the Jazz Factory (815 W. Main Street in the Glassworks) was not available online past mid-May by press time (except for the legendary Mose Allison, June 11-12), so be sure to check www.jazzfactory.us or phone 992-3242, for updated listings. The Jazz factory will be closed on Derby Day, but though the first half of the month some of Louisville's finest artists will grace the stage, including the Matt Lawson Trio (May 4),
the Ron Jones Quartet (May 6-8), the Todd Hildreth Trio (May 11), the aforementioned Ryan Cohan Quartet on May 12, Bennett Higgins with Phil Burkhead (May 12) and 4U on May 14-15.
The May schedule for the Seelbach Jazz Bar, 500 South Fourth St., Louisville (585-3200) presented by Dick Sisto, was not available at press time, but Sisto swings hard with his own group and frequently features guest performers. Other local venues 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 and the Central Park Cafe, 316 West Ormsby Street with the Tyrone Cotton Trio on Fridays, with Reid Jahn on saxophone and clarinet and Danny Kiely on bass. Artemisia, 620 East Market Street has a regular lineup of small jazz groups, as does Clifton's Pizza, 2230 Frankfort Avenue, 893-3730, Also, the Bristol/Bardstown Road showcases the Bennett Higgins Trio on May 9 and 16 during Sunday Brunch. Rudyard Kipling's "Open Air Transmissions" weekly jam sessions continue on Wednesday evenings in Old Louisville; the City Cafe at the Mid-City Mall has started featuring jazz on weekends. The Good Times Pub, 12612 Shelbyville Road will have jazz on Sunday afternoons with pianist Jerry Carlon, guitarist Jeff Sherman and bassist Ben Ingram. The Blue Wisp (318 East 8th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 513-241-WISP; www.bluewispjazzclub.com), usually has guest artists to augment its nightly offerings, but its April schedule was unavailable at press time, as was that of The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com).
A complete compendium is beyond the scope of this column. 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.
OK, you know da rap by now: please support jazz in the clubs and concert halls and continue to express your dissatisfaction with the misguided programming changes which have turned WFPK into a narrowly-formatted, singles-oriented version of "AAA" programming. Public radio holds a special place in the broadcast community and a chase for numbers in competition with commercial stations is, at best, unseemly when it comes to serving the underserved constituencies which have formed the foundation of public radio for decades. Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at email@example.com.