Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing at the Kentucky Center
Mark O'Connor, violinist/fiddler extraordinaire, returned to Louisville after too long an absence for a Lonesome Pine Special appearance on Saturday, October 1, with his "Hot Swing Ensemble," featuring guitarists Bryan Sutton and Howard Alden, vocalist Annie Sellick and bassist Jon Burr. That morning O'Connor gave a lecture and demonstration at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Children (mine and others) as well as adults, musicians and fans, listened as O'Connor recounted his experiences. He began his career as an award-winning child prodigy on the bluegrass circuit and branched out stylistically after his exposure to classical music and jazz. O'Connor spoke of how he seeks an "American School" of playing and commented on how the blues "informs" bluegrass, mentioning his own "In the Cluster Blues" as an example of his efforts in both finding a common ground and expanding it into a new vocabulary. On a more philosophical note, he discussed how music should transport people and also of how his music spoke out to dancers (including Twyla Tharp). He concluded with something of a low-key pitch for his summer fiddle camps, which attract a wide range of musicians.
That night, in the intimate Bomhard Theater, he paid homage to Stephane Grappelli not by merely imitating him, but by using Grappelli's signature melodic style as an inspiration. The contrast between the well-known jazz guitarist Howard Alden (who has appeared at the Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Workshops several times) and the more bluegrass/"newgrass" styling of Bryan Sutton added to the musical colors. Guest vocalist Annie Sellick, who has appeared at the Jazz Factory both with Joey DeFrancesco and on her own, seems to have grown artistically, since her first appearance here. She added panache to pieces such as ""No More Blues," using both her voice and body language to emphasize the emotions of the songs. An instrumental high point was O'Connor's original "Fiddler Going Home," dedicated to his friend and inspiration, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, who passed away last year at age 96. This was a spare, gorgeous piece, at times reminiscent of some of O'Connor's Appalachian-inspired music. The encore returned to the early days of the Hot Club, for a fun and fast version of "Hold That Tiger" ["Tiger Rag"].
In a pre-performance e-mail interview, O'Connor explained how he put together the musicians for this Hot Swing tour: "I kept Jon (Burr) from the Hot Swing Trio, I added two guitars to add another kind of dimension and fullness to the sound. There is also added depth, stylistically, between them as they have varied musical backgrounds. And I chose a female jazz singer to extend the idea of working with a vocalist as we did on our prior Hot Swing CD."
O'Connor has three recent releases on his own OMAC label: Hot Swing!, Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio Live in New York and Thirty-Year Retrospective. The first two feature an earlier version of his Hot Swing Ensemble, with bassist Jon Burr and guitarist Frank Vignola (the "Frank" of the "Frank and Joe Show"), while the retrospective features mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Bryan Sutton and bassist Byron House in a two-CD set recorded live in Nashville, with more of a progressive bluegrass feel to it (think of the David Grisman Quintet recordings as a musical first cousin). Fans of O'Connor's swing will enjoy both of the albums featuring Vignola, as well Vignola's own fans. For further information, O'Connor's website is www.markoconnor.com.
The Louisville-New Orleans Connection
Dr. Michael White: Second Line Gypsy
I have previously written about New Orleans clarinetist, composer, bandleader and educator, Dr. Michael White, most recently in April in a combined 2004 Jazzfest Review and 2005 Preview. Dr. White brought his longtime trumpet player, Gregory Stafford, along with banjoist Detroit Brooks and bassist Mitchell Claire to Louisville for three days of performances intended to raise awareness and funds for New Orleans relief, from Friday September 23 through Sunday September 25. I was only able to catch his Saturday night performance, at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue.
The audience reacted with warm enthusiasm when the musicians began with the old Andrews Sisters hit, "Bei Mir Bist du Schön." After this opening number, Dr. White and his colleagues performed liturgical music and then a set of both traditional New Orleans numbers as well as originals in the traditional style. The Jewish High Holy Days, beginning with the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and continuing through the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), were just around the corner, so many of the pieces performed during the first half of the concert were related to this solemn period of Jewish life. Before "Eyl Nora Alilah," Dr. White commented that this Sephardic melody reminded him of the New Orleans classic "Muskrat Ramble."
Moving from Jewish to Christian religious music, the first piece of the second half of the concert was "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," traditionally a part of the march to the cemetery during New Orleans funerals. "Give it Up," subtitled "Gypsy Second Line," was next, taken from Dr. White's most recent Basin Street records CD, Dancing in the Sky. Dr. White introduced the Gershwin classic, "Summertime," with a comment that it provided a Jewish/African American connection, citing Sidney Bechet's hit version from the 1930s. The concert closed with a song which could have been trite in lesser hands but was played with freshness and spirit: "When the Saints Go Marching In." Throughout the performance, I could not help but reflect on the historic Diaspora experiences of Africa-Americans and Jews and the many ways in which both groups would use a combination of faith and music to help them survive and thrive. For more information, go to www.basinstreetrecords.com.
Astral Project at the Big Rock Jazz Fest
New Orleans music of a more contemporary nature was presented by the Astral Project just a week after Dr. White's appearances here. The Louisville Jazz Society was one of several organizations helping to sponsor the Big Rock Jazz Fest in Cherokee Park. It was held on a drop-dead gorgeous afternoon on Sunday, October 2. The University of Louisville and Bellarmine University Jazz Ensembles played very professionally as they opened for New Orleans' finest and possibly longest-lived modern jazz groups, Astral Project.
Astral Project has performed in Louisville before, at the Rudyard Kipling and the Jazz Factory. Saxophonist Tony Dagradi, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton, had been on the road and arrived shortly before they were scheduled to go on stage. Neither road weariness nor concerns about their hometown hampered their performance, however. From the beginning, they played with brilliant intensity. Masakowski's seven-string guitar was clear and crisp; Dagradi's tenor work warm and incisive. Singleton and Vidacovich long ago transcended any notion of "rhythm section," as they were soloing almost continuously, yet in a way which supported the music and did not serve merely to show off their formidable chops. Vidacovich has been the inspiration for many younger drummers, as he has synthesized the second line rhythms of New Orleans and the progressive jazz styles of folks such as Elvin Jones in a way which might be compared to the late Ed Blackwell. Among the songs presented were the title tracks from two of their recent recordings, "Mr. Big Shot" and "The Legend of Cowboy Bill." If all you think of when you hear the term "New Orleans jazz" is Preservation Hall and Louis Armstrong, you owe it to yourself to hear how the New Orleans tradition of innovation is carried forward by the Astral Project (see www.astralproject.com).
Moutin Reunion Quartet at the Rudyard Kipling
Twin brothers Francois Moutin (upright bass) and Louis Moutin (drums) anchor the Moutin Reunion Quartet, featuring Rick Margitza (saxophones) and Pierre de Bethmann (piano). The group appeared at the Rudyard Kipling on Wednesday, September 28, for a small but attentive and most appreciative audience, including several of Louisville's premiere players, such as Jason Tiemann and Mike Tracy. While the instrumentation may have been standard, the setup was not. Francois' bass was at the back, in the center, while Louis' drums were set up on audience right, facing de Bethmann's vintage Fender Rhodes, while Margitza was just to the treble end of the keyboard. The group opened with Francois' "MRC," featuring a strong opening statement by the brothers, who were joined in turn by de Bethmann and then by Margitza. The "piano trio" then began soloing together, before Margitza returned with a fast Shorter-esque solo. This led to a bass solo, gently supported by piano and drums, before the tune ended. Another Francois original, "Echoing," was next, introduced by a long bass solo. The music grew as de Bethmann and Louis (using brushes) joined in, before Margitza began a unison line with the piano, reminiscent of some of the work on "In a Silent Way." A French standard, "La Vie en Rose," was a showcase for the brothers, demonstrating how bass and drums could become a full band. A piano introduction led into the first Louis composition of the evening, "Take It Easy.' As the song developed, the brothers added bass and drums before Margitza entered with a statement of the theme. After a brief trio segment, Margitza and Louis engaged in a duet reminiscent of some of the John Coltrane//Rashied Ali performances. The spirit seemed to overcome Francois, as he danced ecstatically with his bass. "Surrendering," by Francois, was next and the set ended all too soon with the title track of their new CD, "Something Like Now." This composition, by Louis, began with a bass and drums segment which also seemed to invoke the "Silent Way" vibe without being merely imitative. When the brothers were joined by de Bethmann, the pace turned to fast swing and Margitza's solo took the group even higher. They had to bring their set to a close after a little more than an hour, due to the previously scheduled weekly jam, dubbed the Open Air Transmissions, which got off to a good start after a brief interlude. Although the audience was small, the group played its collective heart out, reminding me of a performance some 30 years ago by the Sam Rivers Trio (with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul), in a long-defunct Main Street club, during which the audience was hardly larger than the trio itself. I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Francois with the song titles.
The Moutin Reunion Quartet was touring in support of its third album: Something Like Now (Lightyear/WEA). Jazz fans seeking music which is progressive yet not so "outside" as to seem chaotic should check this out. For additional information, see www.moutin.com.
Adelante Latin Jazz Festival at the Jazz Factory
The Adelante Latin Jazz Festival takes place from September 30-October 8. Unfortunately, I missed Festival opener, trumpeter Humberto Ramirez, not to mention a dance party with music by Enclave, the Tringo Latin Jazz Ensemble, a Latin Jazz Jam Session and Kalór, a Louisville-based Latin Jazz group. However, I was able to catch the final two nights, with performances by the Chuchito Valdés Afro-Cuban Ensemble on Friday and the Miguel Zenón Quartet on Saturday. Taken together, these two ensembles provided contrast and served to demonstrate how even a niche such as "Latin Jazz" can embrace different styles and approaches. Valdés led his Afro-Cuban Ensemble in two sets of somewhat showy but highly crowd-pleasing music. There were dancers in the crowd, people joined the band with various percussion instruments and at times Valdés seemed to be the love child of Carmen Miranda and Jerry Lee Lewis with his showmanship and very physical playing. He began the first set with an a cappella and very ornate rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," before bringing on trumpeter Kenny Anderson, 5-string electric bassist Bryan Doherty, conguero Frankie Ocasio and traps/timbales player Ruben Alvarez. Most of the song titles were not announced, but recognizable were such standards as "Bye Bye Blackbird" (performed as a piano trio), a Duke Ellington tribute which included "Satin Doll" and "A Train," and a second set singalong of "Besame Mucho." Special mention should be made of the contributions of Kalór's timbalero on several numbers.
Miguel Zenón was here in the Spring as part of the San Francisco Jazz Collective and recently released his second CD, Jíbaro, on the Marsalis/Rounder label. He was joined by pianist Edward Simon, bassist Ben Street and a drummer whose name, regrettably, escapes me at the moment. The quartet provided two sets of challenging, progressive music, drawn mostly from Jíbaro. A more complete commentary on this important young artist and his performance here will be presented next month.
NEW NATIONAL CD RELEASES
Last month, due to space limitations, the following CD reviews were included online but not in print. To access them, go to www.louisvillemusicnews.net, click "Prior Issues," then October 2005, then "Jazzin'." Under the heading "Give the Drummer Some," I covered Jim Payne: energie (HighNote), Babatunde Lea: Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost (Motema MTM-0000-2) and Paul Motian (with longtime collaborators Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano): I Have the Room Above Her (ECM 1902). There is also a brief preview of the new CD by the John La Barbera Big Band: Fantazm (Jazz Compass Records); and a discussion of the new solo concert recording: Keith Jarrett: Radiance (ECM 1960/61).
The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall
The big news this month, of course, is the previously unreleased (indeed, previously not known to have existed) The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall. The pairing of Monk and Trane is the stuff of legends. A newly sober Coltrane found both musical challenges and personal support in Monk. Their brief history of performing together has, until now, been officially documented only in a few songs cut in the studio and one rather poorly recorded concert release. Thus, the issuance of this Carnegie Hall set, recorded for the Voice of America, but apparently never previously broadcast, is cause for celebration. Through two brief (25+ minute) sets, this quartet shows us the magic of what inspired jazz can be. The quartet is rounded out by Shadow Wilson on drums and Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass. From the opening notes of "Monk's Mood" through the last notes of an incomplete take of Monks' theme, "Epistrophy," these four musicians play with inspiration, class, chops and simpatico. The sound quality is superb and the booklet is replete with previously unseen photographs and multiple essays. This release, in short, belongs in the library of every jazz enthusiast.
University of Louisville Professor John La Barbera was able to present a special lecture to music students as well as jazz lovers from the public when he presented Larry Appelbaum on Friday, October 7, 2005. Appelbaum, a librarian for the Library of Congress, as well as a jazz radio announcer and writer for JazzTimes, spoke like a jazz instrumentalist; he did not use a "score" (notes), but rather took the basic structure from his segment of the liner notes to The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall and extrapolated on them. He presented tantalizing snippets of other Library of Congress "finds' (including a new-on-the scene Sonny Rollins, from the same 1957 Carnegie Hall performance as Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane). His knowledge was presented in a very unstuffy manner, making the presentation enjoyable for the "real" students as well as the "students" such as myself and some of my colleagues from the Louisville Jazz Society.
JAZZIN' AND JAMMIN': NEW JERRY GARCIA RELEASES
For some, "Jerry Garcia" and "the Grateful Dead" were virtually synonymous. However, Garcia pursued a variety of musical challenges outside of the Grateful Dead, ranging from progressive bluegrass to performing with jazz legend Ornette Coleman. In the past few months, three archival releases have been issued, each featuring a different group of musicians. Bay Area pianist and organist Merl Saunders was a frequent collaborator and is the keyboardist on
The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 1: Legion of Mary, a 2-cd set of performances taped between December 1974 and July 1975. A third bonus disc is included for those who order from www.jerrygarcia.com. Besides Saunders, Garcia is joined by saxophonist Martin Fierro, bassist John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt. The repertoire ranges from Bob Dylan covers such as "Tough Mama" and "Wicked Messenger" through Motown classics like "I Second That Emotion" and "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You." An especially sweet version of Allen Toussaint's "I'll Take a Melody" is a highlight of this set. An untitled "LOM Jam" on the bonus disc is the only piece that really illustrates the looser, jazzier side of this group. The liner notes by Blair Jackson, a well-respected author within Grateful Dead circles, allude to Legion of Mary performances of songs such as Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance' and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower." They are, unfortunately, AWOL on this release. While this set can be recommended without reservation to fans of jamming rock and of course to Garcia fans, jazz fans looking for Garcia tackling the jazz canon would be better served for now by his collaboration with David Grisman on What's New (Acoustic Disc and by The Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders Band: Keystone Berkeley, September 1, 1974 (Pure Jerry, Vol. 4), previously reviewed here in the March 2005 issue.
In 1978, the Jerry Garcia Band ("JGB"), consisting of Dead bandmates Keith Godchaux (keyboards) and his wife, Donna Jean Godchaux (vocals), John Kahn on bass and drummer Ron Tutt were joined by Maria Muldaur for what many consider to be Garcia's finest solo project, Cats Under the Stars and a series of live shows. The recently issued Jerry Garcia Band: Warner Theatre, March 18, 1978 captures this group (substituting Buzz Buchanan for Tutt) in fine form. The first set was broadcast on FM and has long been a favorite among traders. This official release offers soundboard recording and the complete second set, which had not been aired. The show contained, as usual, a mix of covers and originals. Motown meets the JGB, as the first set opens with "I Second that Emotion," followed by the then-new "They Love Each Other," one of several reggae-flavored tunes. Bob Dylan is represented by a s...l...o...w version of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" in the first set and "Simple Twist Of Fate" in the second. In both his voice and guitar, Garcia was a sublime interpreter of Dylan. "Midnight Moonlight" is given a jammy rock treatment, after its earlier progressive bluegrass incarnation from the Garcia/Grisman/Vassar Clements group Old and in the Way. The second set concludes with an almost 20-minute "Lonesome And A Long Way From Home," followed by the rarely performed "Palm Sunday." Both Godchaux and Muldaur add rich background vocals, giving the ensemble a fuller sound than might be expected. Garcia's playing shows verve and delight throughout. While not "jazzy," this set offers excellent example after example of improvisational rock music.
The final offering, Jerry Garcia Band, Live at Shoreline, is the first official DVD of the JGB. Shot in 1990, it shows an old-before-his-time Garcia with only John Kahn still on board from earlier incarnations of Jerry's bands. Organist Melvin Seals, drummer David Kemper and vocalists Jaclyn LaBranch and Gloria Jones rounded out this edition of the group. Visually, the shots are clear throughout, with no gimmickry to distract from the understated stage presence of the band. Garcia `s band was actually filling in for a Grateful Dead performance at the venue, which had previously been canceled due to the untimely death of the Dead's keyboard player, Brent Mydland. Whether this was on Garcia's mind during the performance cannot be ascertained, but on several songs his voice seems to crack with emotion, notably on "That Lucky Old Sun" (which sent me scurrying back to an old Ray Charles version of the song) and Van Morrison's sweet youthful tale from the classic Moondance album, "And It Stoned Me." The earlier gospel harmonies of Godchaux and Muldaur are deepened by the vocal interplay of LaBranch and Jones. The interaction of the musicians is captured throughout in a way reminiscent of jazz combos, with the musicians exchanging knowing glances and smiling at one another's playing. There are the usual DVD "extras" here, in the form of interviews and a songwriter mini-documentary. These are "icing on the cake," however, as the music is the message here. While both official releases and trader-circulated CDS from this era abound, the ability to watch Garcia and bandmates in the relatively relaxed atmosphere away from the sometimes crazed carnival of the Grateful Dead scene, makes this an important addition to the canon.
ON THE HORIZON
November gets off to a great start for jazz lovers here in Louisville, with the Turtle Island String Quartet and Kenny Barron joining together for a very special concert at the Kentucky Center, on November 11. Barron is featured in the new issue of DownBeat in a piece revolving around a series of performances with several different ensembles. (He was also the subject of a "Before and After" column by Larry Appelbaum in the October issue of JazzTimes.) The Turtle Island String Quartet, although not among those ensembles, should provide an interesting change of pace from the usual "piano trio" or "sax plus rhythm section" which have been so much a part of Barron's long and distinguished career. Further details are available at www.kentuckycenter.org. This is a don't-miss show.
The complete lineup for November for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992-3242) is available at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. A few brief highlights for the first half of the month are: The Steve Allee Trio: November 4 The Bennett Higgins Tribute Concert: November 8 Jazz and The Spoken Word: 11/9 The Eric Person Quartet: 11/10 U of L Football and Jazz with Tim Whalen: 11/11 The Ron Jones Quartet: 11/12 Artists for the remainder of November were not available by press time.
The Seelbach Jazz Bar normally features the Dick Sisto trio (with Tyrone Walker and Jason Tiemann). Featured guests during November will be announced later.
The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com) has the Caribbean Jazz Project (November 4).
As I have before, I urge you to subscribe to sign up for "Jennifer's Jazz E-News," by e-mailing Jenjenjazz@louisvillejazz.org. 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).
Last month, in covering Jennifer Lauletta's CD release party at the Jazz Factory, I incorrectly stated that the Beatles' "And I Love Him [Her]" was performed both live and on the CD. While she did indeed perform this song in concert, the only Beatles song on the CD, Things We Said Today, is the title track, "Things We Said Today." My apologies to Jennifer and to my readers.
Al DiMeola's concert at Jim Porter's on Sunday, October 9 was canceled due to lack of sufficient advance ticket sales. In an attempt to preview this show, I tried several times to find a way to contact DiMeola, both through his official website and a fan's site, but was unsuccessful.
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.