While not known for his bop licks, Janus, the two-headed Roman god of doorways, entrances and exits for whom January is named, could be seen crying from all four eyes as he looked back to the special jazz programming which used to enhance WFPK-FM, 91.9 and its "Jazz and Information Station" predecessor, WFPL-FM, 89.3. Year in and year out, for over two decades, Louisville's Public Radio stations broadcast the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Playboy Jazz Festival, the Paul Winter Consort's annual Winter Solstice Concert and the coast-to-coast jazz greeting of the New Year live by satellite. This year's New Year's Eve broadcast will include, among others, a set from the Lincoln Center featuring Frank Morgan with Cyrus Chestnut's group, which in addition to its intrinsic merit would serve as a wonderful "sneak preview" of the Morgan /Chestnut Kentucky Center concerts at the Jazz Factory. While we jazz fans here in Louisville will have the opportunity to enjoy an hour of organist Tony Monaco's "Late Set at the Jazz Factory" on the radio at 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve, the station will then return to its annual countdown pop programming. As the late Mr. Bono sang with his then-wife Cher, "teeny bopper is the new-born king . . . and the beat goes on." Requiescat in pace.
Mike Marshall and Edgar Meyer at the Lonesome Pine
Friday night, November 19, was filled with music from old friends and new. First was the Lonesome Pine concert by Mike Marshall and Edgar Meyer at the Kentucky Center. Marshall, a multi-instrumentalist, concentrated on mandolin for most of the two sets, while Meyer strayed from his bass once during the second set to play piano. The music ranged from improvisations on traditional Celtic tunes such as the "Golden Eagle Hornpipe" to original compositions so new that they were not yet titled. While not jazz, the sense of adventure inherent in improvisational music crossed over genres to enthrall the packed house at the Center's Bomhard Theater. This music was as intricate as jazz, yet the duet setting made it seem like adventurous chamber music. These talented musicians, who have recorded with everyone from Joshua Bell to David Grisman and beyond, represent a music which can't (and shouldn't) be pigeonholed.
BMR4 at the Jazz Factory
Following the Mike Marshall/Edgar Meyer performance, my Louisville jazz Society colleague Jim Coryell and I ventured over to the Jazz factory to catch the highly talented young Chicago quartet BMR4. BMR4 consists of Chris Bernhardt, bass; Jay Moynihan, saxophone; Mike Rodbard, drums; and Matt Pimzutti subbing for regular guitarist Neal Alger. They opened with Milt Jackson's classic swinger "Bags Groove," with Pimzutti taking a Herb Ellis-style solo [thanks, Jim!]. The next song was either Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time" or a reasonable facsimile thereof and featured funky solos by Pimzutti and Moynihan. To my great surprise and pleasure, the next song was "What Does She Hope To Be" by Sonny Sharrock. Moynihan did not attempt to imitate Pharoah Sanders' soloing on the original, instead using a bluesier approach. Sonny Rollins' immortal calypso, "Saint Thomas," was next, beginning with a tenor/drums duet before the ensemble joined in the fireworks. Bobby Timmons' soul jazz classic "Moanin,'" immortalized by Art Blakey was next. After an appropriately soulful "The preacher," the group covered Steppenwolf's "Sooki Sooki" [okay, that's the version I remember best], to the amusement of the audience. Jackie McLean's "Appointment in Ghana," from BMR4's forthcoming album, closed the set. Bernhardt told me afterwards that the band will be working on some original material, but for now, their spirited readings of many of the jazz classics was most enjoyable.
Matt Lawson at the Seelbach Jazz Bar
I have been meaning to catch up with trumpeter Matt Lawson for some time now and finally did so on Saturday, December 4, at the Seelbach Jazz Bar with the Dick Sisto Trio, with Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. The versatility of the players kept the sound varied, both in the set overall and sometimes even within the same song. For example, the group played a bossa nova arrangement of "Body and Soul," in which Wheeler played a very fluid electric bass and Sisto soloed first on vibes and then piano. This was followed by the classic mid-period John Coltrane composition, "Giant Steps," during which Lawson's playing against Sisto's piano created dramatic tension. During "Speak Low," a trumpet solo led to an intense vibes/drums duet, before Tiemann got a chance to solo with his customary combination of grace and chops. On the Disney tune famously appropriated by Miles Davis, "Some Day My Prince Will Come," Sisto stayed on vibes while Lawson's muted playing evoked the Dark Prince. Throughout, Lawson showed a command of both the stage and his instrument.
Lawson and I spoke briefly during intermission. As it was not a formal interview, I will simply mention that he impressed me as a bright, warm-hearted young musician, who clearly loves music and who deserves a wider audience. His recent CD release, Midnight in Merizo on Jazz Factory Records, may help him to find that audience. This album is the first release on the Jazz Factory's own label and it is a class act from the packaging to the engineering to, most importantly, the music. The cover art is from a print by local artist Mary Lou Hess and it was produced by the University of Louisville's John LaBarbera, whose own 2003 Jazz Compass CD On the Wild Side just garnered a Grammy nomination [hooray for the home team!]. The recording quality is crystal clear, allowing the listener to hear the interplay among Lawson and his colleagues, pianist Steve Allee, saxophonist Jacob Duncan and two of his cohorts from the Seelbach gig, Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. Benny Golson's "Domingo" gets the CD off to a rousing start and is followed by three Lawson originals: "Gwyn's Dance," a pretty midtempo waltz; the title track and "Escape from Gorham." "Merizo" features a stunning solo by Duncan in addition to fine ensemble work and assured blowing by the leader. "Escape" picks the pace up with a tune that would not have been out of place in the Art Blakey book. The beautiful Leonard Bernstein ballad, "Some Other Time," features Lawson playing delicately with a mute and sympathetic brushwork by Tiemann. Wheeler gets a spotlight on "A Song that Is Always There," a composition by Gary Pack. The 70-minute CD concludes with lesser-known pieces by two of the jazz world's best composers, namely Wayne Shorter's "Mahjong" and Lenny Tristano's "Ablution." Throughout these pieces as well as the preceding ones, Lawson and company play vigorously and with consummate taste. For more information n Lawson, go to www.mattlawson.net. Midnight in Merizo is available at the Jazz Factory, Ear X-tacy and Borders, so there's no excuse for not checking out this great debut recording.
JAZZIN' AND JAMMIN'
Last month I highlighted some non-jazz releases from old masters the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band and the Jefferson Airplane. I indicated that I would follow up on some comments as to why jazzers might find something of interest with the Grateful Dead specifically, so here goes. First, if you know the band only through media hype or the few songs to get radio airplay (such as "Truckin'," or "Touch of Grey"), you don't really know the band. Whole books have been written detailing the genesis of the Dead in the Haight-Ashbury days of mid-60s San Francisco, so that's clearly beyond my scope here. Suffice it to say that from 1965 on, the Grateful Dead embodied a high degree of musical ability coupled with a driving force to do things their own way. During the course of a concert, they could go from gentle acoustic reworkings of folk songs to blistering blues and soul covers, to lengthy explorations of musical hyperspace. Akin to the ground-breaking Dave Brubeck recordings which broadened the rhythmic palette of jazz beyond 4/4 and the occasional waltz, the Grateful Dead were unique in their use of unusual time signatures such as 11/8 ("The Eleven"), 7/8 ("Estimated Prophet") and 10/8 ("Playing in the Band"). In the last few years before Jerry Garcia's untimely passing, in 1995, they became something of a victim of their own success, playing to sold-out large venues and lessening their reliance on group improvisation. Even so, Branford Marsalis, Ornette Coleman and David Murray all found occasion to sit in with the Dead and in 1996 Murray even released an album of his own arrangements of Grateful Dead material, entitled Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead on Astor Place. During their first peak from around 1968 to mid-1970, the group stretched out Coltrane-like for 20-minute plus improvisations on pieces such as "Dark Star." Following the five-year departure of second drummer Mickey Hart, the band became a bit more of a hit-or-miss proposition, but the wealth of vault material released over the past several years show that they could mix Marty Robbins cowboy songs with jazzy extended pieces such as "Dark Star" and "Bird Song."
Two new releases, the DVD of The Grateful Dead Movie and the 4-CD set of Dick's Picks, Volume 34, bookend the period of the Dead's hiatus from the grinds of touring. The Grateful Dead Movie was, in large part, Garcia's baby. Not only an inventive guitarist, Garcia was a lifelong serious fan of film and he provided much of the behind-the-scenes energy to get the movie out. Unlike most concert films, which primarily show various shots of the band and soloists, this attempted to recreate the actual concert experience (including getting in after the concert starts). For example, the music fades as the camera moves from the stage to the audience and brief interviews with fans and others sometimes overshadow the music. The best part about the reissue from a purely musical (as opposed to sociological or historical perspective) is the addition of almost 100 minutes of previously unreleased concert footage which showcases the dynamics and interplay of the band. While the mass media frequently focussed on Jerry Garcia as the nominal frontman for the group, the concert footage shows how bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir, keyboard player Keith Godchaux and drummer Bill Kreutzmann could work almost telepathically together through long and winding musical journeys such as "Dark Star" and a virtual suite of improvisation between the beginning and ending with "The Other One."
When the Grateful Dead squelched the rumors of breaking up by hitting the road again in 1976, Mickey Hart had returned, adding his multicultural polyrhythms to the mix. The latest installment of the archival Dick's Picks series presents a 4-CD collection of two days playing on home turf, co-billed with the Who for two consecutive "Days on the Green," October 9 and 10, 1976, at Oakland Coliseum Stadium. The Grateful Dead frequently served as its own warmup act, so the first sets of each day, discs 1 and 3 respectively, are mostly "tunes" rather than "jams." However, for their opening set on October 9, they stretched out for a twelve-minute "Scarlet Begonias." The first set of the next day found the musicians doing what jazz players have done throughout the history of the music, namely using popular songs as a springboard for improvising. Just as John Coltrane could redefine "Chim Chim Cheree" or "My Favorite Things," the Dead took the Motown classic "Dancing in the Streets" to a different plane, for 14:40 of collective interplay. The band twists and turns, stretching and compressing the familiar pop song and in the process raises the energy level higher, until they bring the dynamics down with a seamless transition into an original ballad, "Wharf Rat," after which they move just as seamlessly out of "Wharf Rat" into a reprise of "Dancing." The second set of the first day, disc 2, begins with the crowd-pleasing "Saint Stephen," which morphs into a 12-minute workout on Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," and then back to "Saint Stephen" again. A lengthy medley of very jazz-oriented pieces from their most recent album, Blues for Allah is next. The two drummers complement each other, rather than simply adding more volume and a heavy beat. The guitars twine around the rhythms and the music is clearly not simple rock'n'roll. Likewise, on the last set of the run (disc 4), the band goes for broke with a lengthy extemporaneous linkage of songs which begins and ends with "Playing in the Band" (you can count the ten beat pattern).
Now I am not trying to convert you. If Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings were not among the seminal "jamband" pressings, then jazz and jambands have less in common than I think. If your taste in improvisational music remains the classic jazz ensemble, with blue notes and swing rhythms, that's okay by me. I just wanted to take the opportunity to present this apologia for this jazz-lover's embrace of non-jazz improvisation at its finest. By the way, for an easily available look into the golden era of the Dead, you cannot do any better than the classic Live/Dead, which begins with a 23-minute "Dark Star," segues into "Saint Stephen" and then into "The Eleven," before blowing the dancers away with a 15-minute workout on the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic "Turn on Your Lovelight." And that's just the first 55 minutes of this remarkable CD (originally a 2-record set), which is on my "Desert Island List" right next to Trane's A Love Supreme and Miles' Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew and Mingus' Passions of a Man Atlantic anthology.
ON THE HORIZON
The complete lineup for January for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, www.jazzfactory.us) was not available by my deadline. The first half of January will feature the return of saxophonist extraordinaire Ron Jones, the local premiere of Los Angeles vocalist Kate McGarry, the return of "Jazz and the Spoken Word," Todd Hildreth, saxophonist Jacob Duncan's Liberation Prophecy, the Louisville Metro Big Band, Steve Crews and the return of Chicago's Ryan Cohan Quartet. Cohan was previewed here last May and reviewed in the June 2004 Jazzin'. Keep an eye on www.louisvillemusicnews.net for updates.
The Jazz Factory and the Kentucky Center Concerts continue with in February with Monty Alexander and Freddie Cole (February 18 and 19) and Frank Morgan and Cyrus Chestnut (April 8 and 9). 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) during the first half of January. If any guest musicians are announced later, look for updates on www.louisvillemusicnews.net
The Marvin Stamm/Bill Mays Quartet featuring Rufus Reid and Steve Houghton, at the Waldron Arts Center Auditorium is the next attraction in the Jazz from Bloomington series, on January 25, 2005. For details, check out www.jazzfrombloomington.org.
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com. Oh yes, lest we forget: have a healthy and happy and musical New Year!