JOSHUA BREAKSTONE at the JAZZ FACTORY
It has been too long since guitarist Joshua Breakstone played here in Louisville, in concerts for the Louisville Jazz Society and the Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Workshops. This New York-based guitarist played the Jazz Factory on Thursday, February 24. He is firmly planted in the mainstream of jazz guitar. In an e-mail before the concert, Breakstone said that based on his work with our fine local musicians in the past, he was looking forward to performing here with drummer Jason Tiemann and bassist Brian Vinson. Indeed, Vinson and Tiemann interacted very well with Breakstone.
The first set was in progress as I arrived; the first full tune I heard was introduced as "a Country and Western tune, big in Japan." It turned out to be "Red River Valley," which jazz guru Jamey Aebersold mentioned was from Grant Green's Going West album. Breakstone seemed to enjoy taking this "C&W" classic through all sorts of straightahead jazz permutations, including numerous quotes from other songs, which sounded like a hip "Name that Tune."
In a remark to a guitar student between sets, Breakstone spoke of the need to "have control of your instrument. Direct the way things are going, then tempo isn't a concern." Much of the second set seemed to be a living example of this advice. The second set opened with "The More I See You," and was followed by "Be Anything (But Darling Be Mine)." After extended improvisations on these themes, Breakstone introduced a song by the pianist Elmo Hope, entitled "Freffie." Playing on jazz changes rather than pop progressions seemed to enliven Breakstone. He played two more pieces before taking it out with Miles Davis' "Theme." Throughout, it was intriguing to note that Breakstone relied not on pedals, a rack of effects or even on a battery of different guitars. Instead, he concentrated on simply playing his tail off with one subtly amplified guitar. Indeed, he frequently seemed at one with his instrument, bouncing, moving with the music and looking quite happy.
Over the years, Breakstone has recorded with some of the finest players, including several with pianist Kenny Barron. His most recent recording is A Jamais, on Capri, recorded overseas with French musicians and his prior releases include three on the Aebersold family's Double-Time label. A Jamais features mostly Breakstone originals and given the same instrumentation as he used for his most recent Louisville performance, it would make an excellent introduction to his work if you are unfamiliar with him and a solid addition to his discography in any event.
THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE'S 2005 JAZZ WEEK
As it has done for over a decade, the University of Louisville (U of L) School of Music presented some of the finest of the jazz elders in the 2005 Jazz Week (this year in abbreviated form, from Thursday, February 24 through Sunday February 27). On opening night, which I missed due to the conflict with the Joshua Breakstone concert, adjudicators from around the country performed. On Friday and Saturday nights, the format featured a guest artist performing first with a U of L faculty ensemble, (Jim Connerley on piano, Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums); and then with the U of L [Student] Jazz Ensemble I, led by Grammy-nominated John LaBarbera. Friday's spotlight was on saxophonist Bud Shank, whose alto playing was lyrical throughout. Looking like a bebop Santa Claus perched on a stool, the 78-year-old Shank gave a somewhat uptempo and aggressive reading of the standard "My Funny Valentine." Wheeler and Shank provided a lengthy and sensitive introduction to the following piece before being joined by Connerley and Tiemann; during Connerley's solo it was delightful watching his interplay with Wheeler and Tiemann as he led them through dynamically diverse changes. They closed with a Charlie Parker tune, taken at a fast tempo.
During their performances on both Friday and Saturday, the students of Jazz Ensemble I ("JEI") performed on a very professional level. It would take too much space and time to try to cover each solo taken by the students, but I would like to take this opportunity to commend each and every one and list all the players: Jazz Ensemble I, John LaBarbera, Director; Saxophones: Drew Miller, alto; Bruno Pegoraro, alto; Michael Arthurs, tenor; Jacob Goran, tenor; David Whiteman, baritone; Trombones: Matt Yarborough, Charlotte, Chris Fortner, Dan Moore, Aaron Gaither; Trumpets: Ryan Nottingham, Andy Mill, Brian Koning, Kevin Byrne, Matthew Janssen; Rhythm: Sam Farley, piano; Aaron Young, guitar; Jason Foureman, bass; and Dan Dorff, drums.
On Friday, LaBarbera gave the audience a tease as he led JEI in a Slide Hampton arrangement of a Duke Ellington medley. Next up was a composition by John's brother, saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, introduced as "a minor blues with a twist," entitled "Yours or Mine or Blues." Shank joined his young colleagues for "Mayreh" a Horace Silver composition from LaBarbera's Grammy-nominated CD, On the Wild Side (Jazz Compass JC 1007) on which Shank also took a hot solo. Three arrangements by Bill Holman followed: "You Go To My Head," Ticker," and "The Gift." This last song was originally a surprise 70th birthday present to Shank from his wife, who commissioned the piece from Holman. In a tribute to both LaBarbera and JEI, Shank commented after the concert that the piece had rarely been performed and that this evening's performance with the students really captured the essence of "The Gift."
The following night, trombonist/arranger Slide Hampton was the guest soloist, with Jamey Aebersold being featured as a second guest with Connerley, Wheeler and Tiemann. Hampton was fresh from winning a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for "Past Present & Future," from The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's The Way - Music Of Slide Hampton (Planet Arts Recordings). He featured two Benny Golson compositions during his set with the Faculty Ensemble, namely "Whisper Not" and "Stablemates." "Whisper Not" evoked the ambiance of darkened nightclubs, with Tiemann's brushwork providing subtle yet strong support for solos by the other musicians, including a delicate arco solo by Wheeler. The palpable sense of enjoyment of the musicians was evident. Since Aebersold is ubiquitous in the Louisville jazz community, as entrepreneur, teacher, publisher, camp sponsor and so forth, it is sometimes easy to forget that he is a superb saxophonist as well. He played with a sense of confident ease throughout the too-short set. Before the intermission, Professor Jerry Tolson presented Boogie Morton with an award for his many years if contributions to the local jazz scene (for more on Morton, see last month's blues column by my colleague, Keith Clements).
John LaBarbera led the JEI through his new composition, "Zin Zak," dedicated to his close friend and copyright attorney for over thirty years, Joseph Zynczak, who passed away of a heart attack this past June. Following this uptempo romp, the pace slowed for a Benny Carter song, "Katie Do." Slide Hampton then returned to the stage, introduced with a sense of both admiration and camaraderie by LaBarbera, who noted that they both came from family bands and that he used to copy Hampton's arrangements as a way of studying arrangement. Highlights included a Hampton composition for Dexter Gordon, "A Day in Copenhagen." Hoagy Carmichael's evergreen "Stardust" seemed arranged by Hampton more for a listening audience than a dancing one, with all the reeds switching to flutes except for a lone baritone saxophonist. The evening concluded with Hampton's arrangement of Eddie Harris' modern jazz classic "Freedom Jazz Dance." Hampton jokingly (?) introduced the piece by saying that "We hope we can play stadiums, not nightclubs - this has a funky beat, so we can all be pop stars." Indeed it did have a funky beat, perhaps a bit removed from Harris' serpentine lines, but highly danceable and fun. Like Shank the night before, in an after-concert reception Hampton praised the JEI for "getting it right." While he spoke specifically of their performance of his arrangement of "Freedom Jazz Dance," it was apt praise for all playing by the these young and talented musicians and their leader, John LaBarbera.
On Sunday, the format changed. Rather than a guest artist with U of L faculty and students performing evening concerts, the quartet of drummer Roy Haynes turned in a fiery matinee. Before the concert I was able to spend a little time with Haynes. While he declined a formal interview, I would like to share some advice he gave to a student: "Learning melodies would help your improvising. Miles and Trane would add to the changes of a song; Trane knew melodies and played them like he wrote them." In a moment which could have been staged but wasn't, Haynes had no sooner said that he preferred setting up and tuning his drums while his band was not present, when, as if on cue, in walked the other musicians from lunch.
Haynes, merely days away from his 80th birthday, led his "Fountain of Youth" group through originals and standards. This group, so-named after Haynes' recent Dreyfus release Fountain of Youth: Live (at Birdland, New York, December 4-5, 2002), consists of Marcus Strickland on saxophones, Martin Bermejo on piano and John Sullivan on bass. Throughout the concert, Haynes and his young colleagues displayed a winning combination of energy, taste and warmth. As an example of the "taste" factor, Haynes was careful to loosen his snares during the bass solos, avoiding the all-too-common annoying rattle, which, in lesser hands, too frequently competes with the soloist.
After the opening hard bop number, which seemed to limber everybody up, Strickland was featured in a ballad. Haynes used sticks rather than brushes and while he remained busy, he maintained a light touch, which did not overpower the song or the soloists. "Question and Answer," a Pat Metheny composition which Haynes has recorded with Metheny and Dave Holland, as well as with other ensembles including the Fountain of Youth Quartet, on the above-noted Live CD, was next. It offered Haynes his first extended solo spot, in which he utilized mallets and an astonishingly rapid-fire right foot on the bass drum to capture the audience. Haynes and his companions closed with a piece reminiscent of Chick Corea's Spanish-tinged songs and included a segment in which Haynes left his seat behind his drums and strolled the stage playing his sticks like castanets, ultimately inviting the audience to join in with rhythmic clapping. Due to a tight airline connection, a brief encore was all that could be performed. While CDS never fully capture the experience of "being there," the Fountain of Youth: Live is highly recommended for those who want a musical reminder of this outstanding performance.
I cannot close this coverage of the 2005 U of L Jazz Week without extending my sincere appreciation to Prof. Jerry Tolson for his kind assistance and to Don Swann, my colleague in the Louisville Jazz Society, for opening doors of opportunity for me.
ON THE HORIZON
As I have before, I urge you to subscribe to sign up for "Jennifer's Jazz E-News," the successor to Lil Gascoyne's weekly jazz updates. Contact her at Jenjenjazz@louisvillejazz.org. Musicians, take note (no pun intended): if your gig is not listed through the venue, you may want to contact her to keep her up with your performance schedule. As I have noted before, there are so many opportunities to hear live jazz that it is both impossible for me to try to provide a complete listing here and it would be duplicative in any event. Also, Louisville Music News' monthly music listings are carrying more jazz events than ever, in both the print and online editions (www.louisvillemusicnews.net). Thus, as I have for several months now, I will simply attempt to highlight a few performances which I find of particular interest.
A few highlights for April for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, www.jazzfactory.us) include Sligo, with Liberation Prophecy's Jacob Duncan on sax, guitarist Craig Wagner and drummer Jason Tiemann on April 5. Guitarist Murali Coryell, who is working hard to not just be called "Larry's son," will play on April 14; not having heard him yet, I will note that his CD Strong As I Need To Be, available at www.cdbaby.com, is described as "soulful vocals, tight R&B-influenced songwriting and virtuosic blues-rock chops." Murali mentioned in a e-mail to me that this was reasonably accurate, although he also indicated that he would be doing some jazz standards, perhaps with his Uncle Jim Coryell of the Louisville Jazz Society. April 21 brings Jim Connerly [reviewed in the U of L section] and the Vintage Keys Project, described as Fender Rhodes work from the 60s and 70s. On April 22 Funky Drummer Jim Payne returns; his November 2003 performance was reviewed in my January 2004 column. on April 22 and Todd Hildreth doing double duty for Thunder Over Louisville, playing with the Java Men on the Glassworks rooftop before Thunder (special pricing with "extras") and with his trio after the Fireworks (standard pricing). On April 27 the Louisville Metro Big Band will have a Season Finale; followed on the 28th by Liberation Prophecy and the return of The Frank and Joe Show on April 29. Guitarist Frank Vignola and percussionist Joe Ascione form the nucleus of the Frank and Joe Show and their appearance here last summer (reviewed in my September 2004 column) was an amazing display of virtuosity leavened with a light-hearted approach. Their first CD, titled 33 and 1/3, on Joel Dorn's Hyena label, is due for a follow-up soon. Looking ahead, Freddy Cole is set for May 5-6. Keep an eye on www.louisvillemusicnews.net for updates.
The Jazz Factory and the Kentucky Center Concerts conclude with Frank Morgan and Cyrus Chestnut (April 8 and 9). As mentioned last month, I have written about this and the San Francisco Jazz Collective for the Kentucky Center's Backstage Pass magazine, but a concert of this significance would be covered here anyway. Morgan is an accomplished alto saxophonist who, regrettably, was out of the jazz world for much of the time from the late 1950s to the 1980s due to personal problems. He has not only returned, but has done so in a way which has enthralled critics and fans. His most recent release, City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard on HighNote, features George Cables on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass and Billy Hart on drums. He will be performing locally in a duo setting with Cyrus Chestnut on piano, whose work Morgan told me in an interview was inspiring. In a way, this will bring back memories of Morgan's 1992 Antilles release, You Must Believe in Spring, which featured duets with pianists Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Sir Roland Hanna and Hank Jones. Morgan and Chestnut have played a few duo gigs before and Louisville will be fortunate to have the opportunity to watch their intimate interplay. For details, go to www.kentuckycenter.org or www.jazzfactory.us.
The Seelbach Jazz Bar features the Dick Sisto trio (with Tyrone Walker and Jason Tiemann) with guests as follows: April 1-2: Mike Arthurs; April 9 - Bobby Broom on guitar, whose prior appearances with Sisto and his own group have been reviewed in prior columns; they will also play the following day, April 10, as part of the Jazz Cabaret Series at the Kentucky Center. Other guests include: April 15: Craig Wagner; April 16 - Jacob Duncan/Craig Wagner Quartet [no Sisto]; April 22 and 23 - Canadian Trumpet-Flugelhorn player Jim Lewis; and April 29-30: Pianist Steve Snyder.
The New York Voices will be the next attraction in the Jazz from Bloomington series, on
April 27th at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre. For details, check out www.jazzfrombloomington.org.
In Lexington, the Dame presents the Derek Trucks Band on April 12. The club is at 56 W. Main St., Lexington, KY 40507, 859-226-9204, firstname.lastname@example.org.
MILES DAVIS: SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN
Columbia Records was Miles Davis' primary label through most of his career and 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the relationship between the artist and the label. Late last year, in something of a sneak preview, Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963 - 1964 was released, comprising all of Miles Davis' recordings during the period of April 1963-September 1964. Like all the entries in the series of Miles boxes, it is handsomely packaged and contains detailed discographical information as to dates, places and personnel, all pulled together with a lengthy and informative essay by Bob Blumenthal. Unfortunately, it is difficult to relate the CDS to the original recordings, as there are no album cover reproductions and the songlist for each CD must be coordinated with a listing of the original albums elsewhere in the 92-page booklet and both must be coordinated with a third group of entries denoting the personnel for each song. That said, it is wonderful to have these recordings available, many for the first time on domestic CDS. With the exception of the first CD, from which the set took its name, all of the music here was recorded in concert.
The last two CDS make available for the first time the entire Berlin and Tokyo concerts from July and September of 1964. They were previously released stateside in edited form on the 2-LP set Miles Davis - Heard 'Round the World and even then, not until 1983. The Tokyo performance documents a short-lived version of the group, with saxophonist Sam Rivers bringing more abstract and "outside" influences to the standard repertoire. The Berlin performance marks the emergence of what has been called Miles' Second Great Quintet, with Wayne Shorter bringing his unique and highly personalized conceptions of saxophone playing (and, later, composing) to the band. Throughout the box set, there is much repetition of repertoire, yet the rapid development of the band shows how even the warhorses such as "Autumn Leaves" and "Walkin'" could be reinvented with the interaction of Miles and his younger musicians. In any event, the music is superb, as it showcases some of the early work of the remarkable Herbie Hancock/Ron Carter/Tony Williams "rhythm section." Why the quotes? Much like the contemporaneous John Coltrane Quartet, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, the "piano trio" driving the horn players in each group were self-contained units whose role was to play music with the leaders, not just be backup bands for them.
Now in the aftermath of the Seven Steps box, these recordings are being released as single CDS, the first of which was My Funny Valentine, one of two albums released to document the performances of the Miles Davis Quintet at Philharmonic Hall on February 12, 1964. Curiously, it is being marketed as being true to the original album, but when Columbia released The Complete Concert 1964: My Funny Valentine + Four and More as a 2-CD set back in 1992, the previously unreleased group introductions were added and they are conspicuous in their absence here. The only reason they were omitted from the original vinyl releases was that the albums were already remarkably long and couldn't hold the announcements. There is no excuse for excising this bit of historical color in the CD era. A kinder, gentler way of approaching this issue might be to note that My Funny Valentine was originally intended to emphasize the balladry while the later-released Four & More focused on the uptempo numbers, so perhaps the intros would spoil the romantic mood. While this edition of the recording offers new liner notes by Ron Carter, there is nothing in the way of bonus cuts to make it necessary to replace the earlier reissue of The Complete Concert 1964, if you already own it. However, the box set does present the concert in the order in which the songs were originally played and presents the previously unreleased (even on the "Complete" version) "Autumn Leaves" from this performance. So you pays your money and you takes your choice, as the saying goes.
The second batch of single CDS from the box was just released in March and solves the problem of how to access this material if one already had some of the prior versions of this material and did not want to duplicate it in the 7-CD box, or if one simply wanted to pick up certain recordings one or two at a time rather than en masse. Each disc contains the original art and liner notes, as well as new liner notes commissioned for these reissues (and not duplicative of the box set's notes). The same minor quibble regarding My Funny Valentine could be made as to Four, inasmuch as it, too, reproduces the vinyl sequencing rather than the original performance sequence of the songs. Otherwise, these discs play like upgraded and lengthened versions of the original LPs. On several, such as the Berlin and Japan concerts, songs that were shortened for vinyl release are restored to their true running times and additional songs, where available, are added to take advantage of the greater capacity of the digital media.
If one listens in chronological sequence, one quickly picks up how the interaction of Hancock/Carter/Williams axis spurred Miles and his various saxophonists during this period to reinvent the repertoire. They frequently pushed the tempo of each piece while opening up new avenues for melodic improvisation which were not merely dependent on faster playing. In moving from the mainstream saxophone work of George Coleman in the studio recordings making up Seven Steps to Heaven and the first of the live recordings, to the more progressive sounds of Sam Rivers, it is as if the listener could imagine a pendulum swinging from the more traditional to the more progressive, before settling into a new yet more advanced middle represented by the work of Wayne Shorter.
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.