August is all that I know
She's with me wherever I go
She's with me when I need a friend
She brings me good weather
She keeps me together
She picks me up when I'm down.
"August," Arthur Lee, from Four Sail, by Love
August has been and as I write this, will continue to be, a busy month for jazz lovers here in Louisville. In one week alone, the Jazz Factory hosted the Louisville premieres of the Frank and Joe Show from New York and Jamie Baum, also based there. Lexington-born Zach Brock, now residing in the Windy City closed out the week with two nights featuring his excellent band, the Coffee Achievers. Headliners yet to come this month at the Jazz Factory include the premiere of Canadian Jane Bunnett and Spirits of Havana, as well as the return of Delfeayo Marsalis. Walker and Kays are gigging regularly at the baseball field, the Java Men will be celebrating the grand opening of the downtown Borders Books and Music (which has a quite respectable jazz selection) and Dick Sisto reigns at the Seelbach. This coming weekend (previewed here last month, to be reviewed next month) will be Hulabalou at the Iroquois Amphitheater, including Garaj Mahal among others and the Kentucky Center Jazz Fest the next evening (with Fattlabb [formerly Splatch], Sonya Hensley, Babatunde Lea and the Lou Donaldson Quartet featuring organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. And, friends and neighbors, this is just off the top of my head. If I left you or your favorite jazz musicians off, I apologize; I am just trying to make the point that even without the exposure jazz used to have on WFPK, it still thrives. The announcement of a new Vice-President at Public Radio, Michael Bright, who has actually been doing a two-hour "Sunday Jazz Brunch" program, may leave at least a little cautious optimism that the local jazz scene may yet receive at least some of the coverage it once did, rather than being banished from the dial during all but overnight hours and Sundays. Hope springs eternal, to coin a phrase.
Michael Manring at the Rudyard Kipling
As Snoopy might say, "It was a dark and stormy night . . . ." The brave souls who ventured out on Friday July 30 were treated to a superlative solo recital by electric bass wizard Michael Manring. Manring has visited Louisville at least twice before, once with the group Montreux and once accompanying the late guitarist Michael Hedges. He was only able to play an abbreviated set, due to a late start brought on by the weather and the scheduled performance of all-around musician and good guy John Gage and his sons. Nonetheless, in slightly less than an hour, Manring utilized his custom-made instruments, including one dubbed the "hyperbass," and ventured through a diverse range of material. The opening number was a danceably funky workout replete with chords, tapping and pull-offs. This was followed by a spacier piece which reminded me, at times, of vintage Pink Floyd (in the band's pre-pretensions psychedelic days). The third number was Sebastian Bach's "Prelude, Suite #1, for Solo Cello," as re-imagined for a capo'd electric bass. This was followed by a Beatles medley, which began with a ferocious "Get Back" during which Manring utilized loops to set a background to a high end solo. Other tunes in the medley included "Blackbird," "Day Tripper," and "Here Comes the Sun." He returned to the hyperbass for the final two songs, original compositions entitled "Selena" and Helios," after the Greek gods. "Hyperbass?" you ask; "what is this guy talking about?" Instead of the standard four tuning keys attached to the top of the instrument, the tuning keys are on levers, allowing Manring to change tunings while playing. After a while, as impressed as I was watching his dexterity, I had to close my eyes to focus on the music. There were hints of Jaco Pastorius, yet throughout, Manring maintained his own individual approach and style.
We had a chance to talk briefly after his performance. He told me that he has recently finished recording an album, although it is not yet mixed. After problems with some of the larger labels, Manring intends to market this himself. In addition to his solo work, he is on the recently-released Yo! Miles! Sky Garden, as well as anchoring its predecessor. Yo! Miles! Is a tribute to the early 1970s electric Miles Davis and features such heavyweights as trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, guitarist Henry Kaiser, drummer Steve Smith, saxophonists Greg Osby and John Tchichai, tabla master Zakir Hussain and keyboardist Tom Coster. Overall, Manring expressed the hope that his music could help "bring everything together, [because] things have gotten so fractured, [with] labels and concepts floating around . . .," noting that he and some of his colleagues want to "find common ground among the genres." For more information on this imaginative and thoughtful musician, check out www.michaelmanring.com
The Frank and Joe Show at the Jazz Factory
Guitarist Frank Vignola and percussionist Joe Ascione form the nucleus of the Frank and Joe Show. Their first CD, titled 33 and 1/3, on Joel Dorn's Hyena label, was released early this year and showcases their virtuosity with occasional guest shots by the likes of Dr. John, Jane Monheit and the Manhattan Transfer's Janis Siegel. The album comes off as a genial potpourri of swing-based styles ranging from the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt to the Western Swing of Bob Wills. In concert, Frank and Joe are augmented by bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, guitarist Ken Smith and percussionists Rich Zukor and Chuck Ferruggia. I arrived during the first set, as the ensemble was playing the Cream song "White Room." Going from the sublime to the whatever, they next played the 70s pop hit "Alone Again, Naturally." The musicality picked up with a very Django-esque version of the "Spiderman Theme," which was followed by a lilting samba entitled "The Baseball Song,' which in turn was followed by "Sway With Me." A lovely reading of "Stardust" contrasted with a seriously silly version of "Don't Fence Me In," which showed that the musicians were not fenced in stylistically, as they alternated singalong choruses with fast, swinging instrumental sections, which ultimately gave way to the set's closer, "Flight of the Bumblebee." Their second set continued the mix of excellent playing and light-hearted fun. Highlights included a medley of the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'" into an original, "Tell Mozart." They closed with the swing era classic, "Begin the Beguine." The overall approach reminded me of the album title from Frank Zappa's 1986 live recording Does Humor Belong in Music? Merely asking the question suggests that the answer must be "yes," at least if the music is performed at the high levels demonstrated by the Frank and Joe Show.
Jamie Baum at the Jazz Factory
Flutist Jamie Baum brought her excellent quartet to the Jazz Factory on Thursday, August 12. Perhaps the best known of her musicians is drummer Jeff Hirshfield. Bruce Dudley on piano and Todd Parks on bass, both from Nashville, were both outstanding choices, as they complemented Baum's playing with great taste and style. What I enjoyed most about the performance was the adventurous choice of cover material. While Baum is clearly at home with jazz standards such as Horace Silver's "Nutville," and American popular chestnuts such as "It Could Happen To You," she also brings her talent to bear on such lesser known material as pianist Donald Brown's "Playground for the Birds" and, stunningly, Miles Davis' "Frelon Brun" ("Brown Hornet"), from Filles de Kilimanjaro. Baum is not only a superb instrumentalist and interpreter, but also an accomplished composer. I was only able to catch her second set, which opened and closed with her songs "Down Way" and "Pine Creek." The opener was inspired, she said, by the Caribbean "Banana Boat Song" made famous by Harry Belafonte. "Pine Creek" was primarily in 5/4, with 4/4 interludes and was noted as being a very recent composition. Throughout the evening, I was impressed with her originality and her ability to play music that was challenging yet engaging. Her performance here coincided with the release of her new album on Omnitone, entitled Moving Forward, Standing Still. A review copy arrived too late to fully discuss here, but the opening songs showcase her writing and arranging for a septet whose sonic colors range from the little big band sound of some of the Charles Mingus ensembles to the restrained blend of electric and acoustic instrumentation found in the transitional Miles Davis albums such as Filles and Miles In the Sky.
Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers at the Jazz Factory
Lexington native Zach Brock brought the Coffee Achievers back to the Jazz Factory for two nights of eclectic jazz, played with virtuosity and a true sense of group camaraderie. Although they had not been gigging together since back in December, they had rehearsed for several days in Chicago, in anticipation of recording a new album the week after their shows here. The Saturday performance which I attended generated a great deal of audience excitement, despite the fact that the songs were, with rare exception, originals by Brock, Sam Bar-sheshet on piano, organ and melodica and Matt Wigton on bass. Throughout both sets, drummer Nori Tanaka was all over his kit, soloing throughout most of the songs while never losing sight of the importance of serving the song and his fellow band members. Between sets, Brock mentioned to me that "these guys won't let me fall," and acknowledged the truth of my response that it had to be a two-way street. His parents came in from Lexington and following the second set, his father, trumpeter Dan Brock, told me of his pride in seeing the musical growth of his son.
Highlights of the evening included "Mr. Shaw" from the first album and "Untitled Fast Tune" (per the announcement from Brock), which took off into early 70s Miles Davis territory. Bassist Wigton provided several superb compositions, including "Playa Blanca" and "In Thoughts and Dreams." After two sets of original material, the closing updated arrangement of Thelonious Monk's classic "Straight No Chaser" offered proof positive that these talented young musicians, while creating original works of their own, haven't forgotten their roots.
Diana Krall at the Palace
Opening act Ollabelle is a new roots band which focuses on arrangements of old gospel and blues songs. Blind Willie Johnson and the old standby P.D. Trad were among those covered. Selections included "John the Revelator," "Down by the River," and "Get Back Temptation." There was an aura of the Band, perhaps as Daniel Lanois might have produced them. Subdued lead and slide guitar work and vocal harmonies were highlighted in their set. While a jazz oriented opening act might have provided a more thematic introduction to Diana Krall, perhaps by her opting for a band with a very different vibe, she assured the audience that there would be no unfair comparisons.
Featured artist Diana Krall could have been billed as the Diana Krall Quartet, featuring Robert Hurst on bass, Anthony Wilson on guitar and Peter Erskine on drums. However, it might then have filled a club instead of the Palace. Diana Krall started her performance looking as though she were a bit uncertain about something. The first two songs stretched out in true jazz fashion to a total of some 30 minutes. The opening instrumental offered plenty of solo space for her as well as Hurst and Wilson. The next song, her first vocal number, "All or Nothing at All," opened up to let Wilson took a long solo which began almost teasingly gentle before Krall rejoined the song on piano and Wilson took the playing to another level of intensity. Krall's seeming distractedness left when she began the stop-time shuffle of Mose Allison's "Stop this World," beginning a more focused segment of her performance. She followed this with the title track from her new album, "The Girl in the other Room," co-written with her husband Elvis Costello. After a song about her early days trying to break into the jazz world, prefaced by a humorous introduction, she then took over Costello's earlier composition, "Almost Blue," and made it into her own. She followed this with Tom Waits' "Temptation," featuring a call and response segment between Krall (vocal) and Wilson, after which Krall played a piano solo while muting the strings with one hand. She returned to the standards canon with "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," which allowed Hurst an opportunity to stretch out. Staying in the same vein, she next took on the classic Irving Berlin number immortalized by Fred Astaire, "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Krall paid tribute to Nat "King" Cole with ""You Call It Madness, I Call It Love," and to Peggy Lee with "I Don't Know Enough About You," interspersed by a rapid-fire version of "Devil May Care" which features Erskine's only real solo of the night. For her encore, Krall actually performed a mini-set, beginning with Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow," followed by "Narrow Daylight," (another Krall-Costello song from the new CD) and concluding with the Chris Smither song immortalized by Bonnie Raitt on her first album, the bluesy "Love Me Like A Man."
Krall has come under fire by some in the jazz world, primarily because she is not only talented, but popular as well. She proved that in such heavy company as Wilson, Erskine and Hurst, she could hold her own as an instrumental improviser as well as a vocalist with great range, demonstrating that "jazz" and "popularity" need not be mutually exclusive.
ON THE HORIZON
The Jazz Factory and the Kentucky Center are joining forces to bring a superb series to town. The opening concerts, on September 10 and 11, feature the Buster Williams Quartet. Williams is truly a bassist's bassist, having played bass in Ron Carter's quartet in the 1970s, in which Carter played piccolo bass while Williams played double bass. His recordings include many with the cooperative group Sphere, Herbie Hancock and many more. He has just released Griot Liberte' on HighNote, which features vibraphonist and marimba player Stefon Harris, pianist George Colligan and drummer Lenny White. On first listening, Griot Liberte' is intriguing in that the instrumentation of the Modern Jazz Quartet is utilized in a different and unique way. The ensemble performs mostly Williams originals, making room for a fresh reading of the ballad "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and a piccolo bass solo on "Concierto de Aranjuez." Lenny White shines throughout in his sensitive yet swinging support of the group. By utilizing marimbas in addition to vibes, Harris adds tonal colors and variety. He will bring most of these same musicians to Louisville for his upcoming performances. This is a "don't miss!" The remaining concerts include Renè Marie (November 5 and 6) and in 2005, Monty Alexander and Freddie Cole (February 18 and 19) and Frank Morgan and Cyrus Chestnut (April 8 and 9). The Center will also bring back the Jazz Cabaret series, beginning on September 12 with Gail Wynters, to be followed on October 31 by The Jerry Tolson Quartet. For the remaining artists in this series, as well as ticket information on both series, go to www.kentuckycenter.org. The collaborative series with the Jazz factory may also be accessed at www.jazzfactory.us
Under its own steam, the Jazz Factory will have a full month, with performances by some of Louisville's finest, including Hugh Peterson (September 1 and 17), Ron Jones (September 2), Steve Crews (September 3-4), Todd Hildreth (September 9), Ochion Jewell (September 18) and FattLab [formerly Splatch] (September 23. Out of town guests besides Buster Williams include organist Tony Monaco's Trio (September 24-25). Information from the Jazz Bar at the Seelbach was not available at press time, but Dick Sisto always provides excellent mainstream jazz, frequently with guest artists joining his trio.
This month I am initiating this new segment to catch up with new releases or other items from artists whose performances have previously been profiled here. Last month I covered the Indianapolis Jazz Fest, including the performance by John Scofield's "Real Jazz Trio," with Steve Swallow on electric bass and Bill Stewart on drums. This superb aggregation has been captured with topnotch fidelity on the recently released Verve CD, EnRoute, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York in December of 2003. The album opens with the Denzil Best composition, "Wee," a straightahead bop number updated by Sco's edgy tone. Swallow contributed the third song, "Name That Tune," a fast piece featuring a drum solo. The trio covers the Burt Bacharach theme "Alfie" with taste and sensitivity. The rest of the compositions are all by Scofield. "Hammock Soliloquy" and "Over Big Top" bring the funk of his Uberjam project to the more conventional instrumentation found here, to excellent effect. "Bag" features a bluesy, walking bass and made me think of the late Milt Jackson (a/k/a "Bags"). As one who received some audience recordings of from this group's French tour last September, I can heartily recommend this official release for its excellent recording as well as the expected musicianship of these three masters.
Charlie Hunter, whose first Louisville appearance and current Ropeadope CD, Friends Seen and Unseen, were reviewed in July, has just released Latitudes, on Thirsty Ear, with drummer and electronic percussionist Bobby Previte and saxophonist Greg Osby. A first listening revealed the fact that this is an adventurous and multi-layered work which requires serious concentration; thus, more on this one next month.
Tunnels is a group with a following which includes fusion fans as well as progressive rock listeners. They have performed in Louisville twice, both times at the Rudyard Kipling. Buckyball Records has just released Live: The Art of Living Dangerously, a collection of live recordings from 2003, which includes two songs from their March 2003 appearance here. The basic personnel of Marc Wagnon on vibes and synthesizers, Percy Jones on bass and Frank Katz on drums, is augmented by guest artists on some of the cuts, adding variety. For example, Marc Feldman's violin on "Lilly's Dolphin" moves the piece from a prog rock beginning into Mahavishnu territory. Guitarists Van Manakas, Julien Feltin and John Goodsall each add their own stylistic touches to the songs on which they appear. Overall, this album is highly recommended to fans of electric jazz.
Let me know what you think, at firstname.lastname@example.org.