PRELUDE: "DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?"
As I write this, I am watching the Lincoln Center Higher Ground Relief Fund Benefit, Saturday night, September 17. The musicians volunteering their time and talent to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina range from New Orleans jazz artists such as Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis and Dr. Michael White, to New Orleanians representing other styles, most prominently Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville and Buckwheat Zydeco. Jazz and popular artists ranging from Diana Krall and husband Elvis Costello, to Norah Jones, McCoy Tyner, Paul Simon and James Taylor, to name but a few, all have donated their time and added their unique artistic visions to help raise money to revive the Birthplace of Jazz.
Just two nights earlier, I was proud to be a small part of the Louisville Jazz Society's Katrina Benefit, held at the Jazz Factory. After opening their club for this fundraiser, foregoing "business as usual," clubowners Ken Shapero and Dianne Aprile went the extra mile and touched my heart in the process, by also making an additional cash donation. At press time, a rough estimate of $600 was raised, to go to general relief efforts. A future fundraiser will be held to focus on aiding needy New Orleans musicians.
I plan on writing extensively about Jazzfest (The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) in the Spring, when I will combine a full review of the 2005 Fest with a preview of 2006. However, post-Katrina, a few things should be mentioned without delay. The 2004 Fest initiated a series of live recordings by a variety of artists, produced by MunckMusic, which has previously provided live after-the show recordings for the post-Jerry Garcia "The Dead," Bruce Hornsby and others. Proceeds from each sale of the Jazz Fest Live Compilation will go to the MusiCares® Hurricane Relief Fund. Individual recordings by a variety of artists are available at very reasonable prices, including the following who might be of the most interest to the jazz community: Astral Project, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe,
Galactic, Papa Grows Funk, the Original Meters Reunion, Dirty Dozen Brass Band. For details, go to https://www.munckmusicnews.net/wms/jazzfest/index.html. While full reviews will have to wait until another issue, I can vouch for both the performance and sound quality of the 2004 Astral Project and the 2005 Meters Reunion and Papa Grows Funk recordings.
Jennifer Lauletta at the Jazz Factory
I have mentioned on many occasions that Louisville is blessed with a surprising number of high quality jazz musicians and singers. One example of the latter category is Jennifer Lauletta, who has just released Things We Said Today [disclaimer: I wrote a paragraph for the back of the cover, which is also posted on her website, www.jenniferlauletta.com]. The Jazz Factory hosted a CD release party for her on Tuesday, August 9. She was accompanied by the same musicians who recorded with her, namely Steve Crews (piano), Ron "Butch" Neeld (bass) and husband Joe Lauletta (drums). Family obligations and an early start for the first set meant that she had just started the second set when I arrived. One highlight was a song not on the album, "Night and Day," taken at a very fast tempo. This was followed by Thelonious Monk's classic "'Round Midnight," which is on the CD. She introduced this song by saying that she performs it "to convince the jazzers that I'm a jazz singer." She need not have worried, as even the Beatles' "And I Love Him [Her]" was performed both live and on the CD with attention to phrasing and arrangement that is clearly from the jazz rather than pop world. She graciously allowed Crews to perform "Star Eyes." Crews took this jazz standard from a Latin feel to swing and back again. Later, on "Georgia On My Mind," Crews' piano and Lauletta's voice sounded like they were having a very intimate conversation, as he echoed her vocal changes and provided tasteful accompaniment. She closed with another tune not on the album, "That's All," from the Nat "King" Cole songbook. Throughout her performance, it was clear that Lauletta was enjoying herself and the audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm. I must mention one of my favorite performances from her CD, Joni Mitchell's "I Don't Know Where I Stand," from Mitchell's second album, Clouds. Lauletta revives this beautiful song with grace and class and may help to lead others to discover some of the earlier works by Joni Mitchell. Lauletta also lends her touch to other songs from the jazz canon, including Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce."
>Zach Brock at the Jazz Factory
Violinist Zach Brock and his group the Coffee Achievers returned to Louisville on Friday and Saturday, August 12-13, as part of a whirlwind weekend including shows in his hometown of Lexington. Old-timers Sam Barsh [formerly Bar-sheshet] on keyboards and Matt Wigton on bass were joined by new drummer Jon Deitemeyer for a mini-set at Ear X-Tacy during which Brock played "Common Ground," "One A.M. Gate," and "Justice." The crowd included my six-year-old ("but we're almost seven") fraternal twin daughters, who enjoyed the music as much as the other patrons, whose ages seemed to range from teens to well past eligible for Social Security. The real showcase, however, was later that night at the Jazz Factory. Right out of the gate, the band was moving with a tune from their first CD, Mr. Shaw, with Brock's lines at times reminiscent of Michael White's playing on the famous John Handy at Monterey album. Wigton's "One A.M. Gate" was reprised from the in-store and incorporated elements of reggae and funk, with a Barsh electric piano solo whose dynamic range showed both mastery and taste. "Turn," a Wigton waltz, was next, which in turn was followed by a lovely piece based on a Peruvian folk song. Wigton began "I Can't Help Myself" with a percussive bass performance, after which Brock tore into his violin for what may have been his most intense solo of the night. A Paganini piece arranged by the drummer (!) Was a pleasant change of pace which closed the first det. "Common Ground" opened the second set with an insistent riff, while Barsh sounded like he might have been channeling Larry Young. Wigton's "In Thoughts and Dreams" was a waltz with a touch of the "Spanish tinge" to it, while "Cold Turkey" brought to mind the high energy of John McLaughlin's original Mahavishnu Orchestra. After the performance, a buddy of mine who had just experienced Brock and the Coffee Achievers for the first time, commented that "I thought it would be Zach Brock and backup musicians, but I was impressed with the band." That this is truly a band was demonstrated throughout the night, as Brock and his group showed navigated tricky time changes and demonstrated an excellent understanding of playing with varied dynamics. Brock has just been written up in the new (October 2005) DownBeat, a sure sign that his playing is attracting the national attention that it deserves. Check out www.zachbrock.com for information on his touring and his CDS.
Ryan Cohan at the Jazz Factory
Chicago pianist and composer Ryan Cohan is always a welcome addition to the Jazz Factory lineup. In his most recent appearance, Friday and Saturday, August 26-27, he brought his longstanding quartet, consisting of saxophonist Geof Bradfield, drummer Kobie Watkins and bassist Lorin Cohen. During his Saturday performance. Cohan opened with his "Monkin' Around," in a very bluesy style. "Six Fortunes," another original, began with Cohen's arco bass moving from slow to midtempo before being joined by the other musicians. Continuing with another original, "Steppin' Up," Cohan and his colleagues returned to the blues, with a piano/drums duet after the head which had bassist Cohen bobbing his head and grinning. The only standard of the first set was the Ellington/Tizol "Caravan," which featured a salsa-styled drum solo. The second set opened with two more jazz standards, "Joshua," made famous by Miles Davis and Randy Weston's "Little Niles." Except for "Estate" ("Eh-sta-tay") later in the set, the other pieces were all originals, composed by the leader, other than "Bags of Ray" (for Milt "Bags" Jackson and Ray Brown), by bassist Cohen. During both sets, the band members were very much in communion with one another, staying together through changing dynamics and making complicated unison parts sound easy.
In a pre-concert e-mail interview, Cohan said that he was planning on having recorded a new CD by now, but: "I recently received a . . . grant from Chamber Music America in NY to compose a suite for my sextet and I want to include this piece on the recording. The plan now is to record at the very beginning of the new year." He hopes to have enough new material for not one, but two new recordings in 2006. He also noted that he and the quartet had "recently returned from a very successful short outing at some festivals in Canada, I have written for a couple recording projects including the theme for Ramsey Lewis' upcoming national TV show, Legends Of Jazz, played a bunch of dates locally as a sideman and just wrote an arrangement for the Grant Park Orchestra for a televised concert on PBS." Cohan did not elaborate on whether he sets aside time for eating and sleeping, given such a full schedule. In years to come, I predict that those of us who have seen Cohan here will be able to say "we knew him when." For now, keep up with Cohan at www.ryancohan.com.
Mulgrew Miller at the Jazz Factory
The Jazz Factory was unusually crowded for a weeknight and for good reason: Mulgrew Miller was in the house on Thursday, September 8. Miller, a pianist who came up through the ranks in the sometimes jazz-lean days of the 1970s and `80s, brought with him bassist Rich Goods and drummer Rodney Green, both of whom have worked frequently with Miller for many years. Although the first set consisted of all standards (such as "My Foolish Heart" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody `n You"), the second set included a mix of classics such as "Body and Soul" and Miller originals, including "From Day to Day" and "Farewell to Dogma." On several pieces in both sets, Miller began a cappella to introduce the song, sometimes directly playing the melody, at other times improvising around it before cuing his colleagues to come in to state the theme in unison. Throughout both sets, Miller set a medium to fast pace, even on ballads such as "My Foolish Heart" and "You and the night and the Music." As Miller put it, "We're going to put a new twist on an old standard," before launching into a version of "Body and Soul" which began with the trio before Miller's unaccompanied solo, which even included some stride playing and Tatum-esque runs. Throughout the evening, whether in a Latin vein ("O Grande Amor") or fast bop ("Woody `n' You") or an uptempo waltz, both Goods and Green transcended the role of "accompanists" and fully contributed to the overall performance. Green's soloing revealed a very musical approach, rather than just crowd-pleasing showoff drumming. Likewise, Goods' basswork was always sensitive and, on the Miller original "From Day to Day," he soloed with both speed and eloquence. In short, the Mulgrew Miller Trio kept the crowd, which included such top local pianists as Steve Crews, Todd Hildreth and Jerry Carlon, captivated through two fine sets.
Between sets, Miller was gracious enough to spend some time talking with me. He said he had just completed a full summer of touring but would be slowing down a little as he assumed a teaching position with William Paterson College (which has a full jazz department). I commented that from my position behind him during the first set, I couldn't help but notice his left heel rocking solidly as he played. "That's my internal drummer, expressed externally," he replied. I mentioned that many of his recordings were in a trio format and asked if that was his preference. He gently reminded me of some of his recordings with his group "Wingspan," which over the years has included Kenny Garrett, Steve Nelson, Steve Wilson and Duane Eubanks, among others. Unfortunately, the economics of touring make it difficult for him to keep this group on the road, although he said they are able to play together on occasion, usually in festival settings.
Tierney Sutton at the Jazz Factory
My "deadline month" ended on a high note Friday September 16, with the appearance of singer Tierney Sutton at the Jazz Factory. Somehow, she had managed to stay under my radar until recently, notwithstanding her having released six recordings since 1999. Her newest CD, I'm With The Band (Telarc), features the same musicians who were here in Louisville: pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker, all of whom have been together for over a dozen years with Sutton (as well as alternate bassist Trey Henry, on the CD but not here in Louisville). Interestingly, the band members were configured in such a way that the drummer faced the pianist and the upright electric bassist could have just about poked the singer with his bow. The physical proximity of the members enhanced their group sound by allowing maximum visual as well as auditory communication.
She began her first set (or should I say, they began their first set) with Sutton's solo vocal introduction to "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise," also the opening song to the new live CD. I was struck early on by her hand mannerisms, which reminded me of the late Betty Carter. "Sunrise" was followed by three Irving Berlin songs, played back-to-back rather than strung together as a medley. As on the new CD, "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "Cheek to Cheek" were performed, after which, in a break from the album, she sang "Blue Skies." While the live recording captures the group's unique arrangements of these and many other songs, it does not contain much of Sutton's often wry between-song commentary.
There was nothing wry, however, in her accolades to her bandmates, whom she praised (deservedly) throughout both sets. In addition to selections from the new live CD, Sutton and company also performed several from her Unsung Heroes (Telarc), featuring vocal versions of instrumental pieces by Jimmy Rowles ("The Peacocks"), Wayne Shorter ("Speak No Evil") and others. Dancing In The Dark (also Telarc), featuring Frank Sinatra-associated songs, was represented here by "Emily" and others. What seems most remarkable about Sutton and her band is that they seem to revel in taking mostly older pieces from the American Songbook and reinventing them. The instrumental trio could well be a force with which to reckon, were the members not so well suited to their ensemble which just happen to include the vocalist (shades of "I'm With the Band"). There is already talk of a return engagement and this would be welcome news both for those who saw this performance, as well as those who will no doubt want o see what they missed the next time around.
NEW NATIONAL CD RELEASES
GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME
Jazz drumming is a special art, requiring not only the ability to keep time, but to interact with other musicians, to spur or complement soloists, to play around straight time when called for and to be sensitive to changing dynamics, to name but a few attributes. The past few months have seen new releases by several drummers, each with their own unique styles of drumming and with very different group concepts.
Jim Payne, who had the audacity to play the Jazz Factory while I was out of town at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, has just released energie (HighNote), a superb followup to his earlier release Sensei. Like Sensei, energie features Jerry Z on organ and Bill Bickford on guitar. John Scofield adds his distinctive fretwork to "Jabo," dedicated to James Brown drummer Jabo Starks and Headhunters drummer Mike Clark also guests on this CD. Payne has acknowledged being influenced by not only jazz drummers, but also by such funk drummers as the Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste and James Brown's Cylde Stubblefield, to name but two. It's no surprise, then, that energie contains lots of down'n'dirty jams. What may surprise, however, is the variety and high level of musicianship displayed over the course of this recording. Payne's website is www.funkydrummer.com, where you can also obtain information on his book Give the Drummers Some, a survey of funk drummers and other materials. He has also written the liner notes to the newly released The Essential Tito Puente (Sony/BMG), a survey of Puente's early RCA recordings.
Babatunde Lea, who graced the 2004 Kentucky Center Jazz Fest (see review in October 2004 column), is back with Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost (Motema MTM-0000-2). This CD features Glen Pearson on piano, Geoff Brennan on bass and Richard Howell on tenor saxophone and kalimba , all of whom were here last summer with Lea, as well as guest trombonist and conch player Steve Turre, with Ron Belcher playing bass on one tune ("On the T.L.") and "Bujo" Kevin Jones added on percussion. Lea utilizes an unusual drum kit, with both standard trap drums and cymbals combined congas and other Latin percussion. The liner notes discuss Lea's concepts as primary composer, dealing with issues of the Middle Passage of Africans to America during slavery times and the spiritual concerns for all of us today. Musically, however, this evokes more of a feel of, say, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers than the more overtly spiritual music of John Coltrane. Lea and his fellow musicians swing throughout, with the opening "Ancestral Stroll" recalling the bass vamps of some of Pharoah Sanders' works, while the next piece, "Motivation," could almost be a lost Blakey classic. A beautiful ballad, "Song for Ani," features Lea's rolling mallet work on the toms. An unlikely choice, James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," is given a midtempo Latinized workout. Throughout, Lea leads with grace and feeling.
Paul Motian reunites with long-time collaborators Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano for the exquisite I Have the Room Above Her (ECM 1902). Motian became widely known for his early work with Bill Evans and has maintained a low-key but consistent presence on the jazz scene for some fifty years now. His latest release is an hour of mostly original compositions, beginning with "Osmosis Part III," with a classic ECM feel of elegant and thoughtful chamber jazz. Motian's brushwork is highlighted on "Odd Man Out." "Shadows is an abstract original, followed by the title composition, a highly melodic piece by Kern and Hammerstein." Later, on Motian's "The Bag Man," Frisell's "Americana" guitar is featured in a song which is closer to mainstream modern jazz than most on this outing. The CD closes with a lesser-known Thelonious Monk's composition, "Dreamland."
When a locally based artist records on the West Coast and is nominated for a Grammy, the distinction between "local" and "national" tends to crumble. That said, I received the new release by the John La Barbera Big Band: Fantazm (Jazz Compass Records), too close to deadline to give it the full attention it deserves. It opens with a composition I first heard on Larry Young's Unity album and it is intriguing to hear how Young's organ lines are carried by the big band. The core personnel is the same as the Grammy-nominated On the Wild Side, featuring John's talented brothers Pat on saxophones and Joe on drums. Look for more on this release next month, or just trust your instincts and go get it now.
Keith Jarrett: Radiance (ECM 1960/61) is a 2-CD set of Jarrett in solo performance in Japan. It contains the complete concert from Osaka, on October 27, 2002 and part of the concert from Tokyo three days later; the latter date apparently will be released in its entirety as a DVD. Listening to this took me back to the early 1970s, when ECM was a fledgling label, with the motto "The most beautiful sound next to silence." Jarrett, whose acoustic playing had by then graced the records of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, recorded Facing You (1971), a studio solo work, which was followed by the now-famous The Köln Concert, originally a 2-record set, now on a single CD. These were groundbreaking efforts, as the art of the solo jazz piano had almost become extinct, particularly among the modern players, the earlier Thelonious Monk solo recordings being a rare exception. In addition, they were unique in that they relied on compositions by Jarrett (Facing You) and untitled improvisations (Köln), rather than on jazz or American Songbook standards. Radiance represents the first Jarrett solo concert release in years and is a welcome addition to his discography. Throughout, Jarrett plays with grace and beauty. Jarrett sometimes seems like a lightning rod for criticism due to his outwardly snobbish comments, yet Radiance presents evidence to support his claims of artistic integrity, much like Muhammad Ali's skill in the ring justified his boasting. The improvisations are all untitled, so it is hard to comment in the customary fashion. Notably absent from most of the recording is Jarrett's oft-maligned singsong vocalizations. The two discs represent what may be called reflective or meditative music for the most part, but there are moments where there is a reminder of boogie woogie (CD II, Part 15), as well as moments of more abstract dissonance (CD I, Part 7). In short, for fans of solo piano and especially for fans of Jarrett's own earlier solo recordings, this set is a welcome addition to the canon.
ON THE HORIZON
October gets off to a great start for jazz lovers here in Louisville. The Jazz Factory will be in the midst of its First Annual Latin Jazz Festival, the Kentucky Center will present Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing and Jim Porter's will be bringing in Al DiMeola. The Louisville Jazz Society, in conjunction with the Highlands Neighborhood Association, will present New Orleans' superb modern jazz group, Astral Project, at Big Rock Park, just to add to the festivities. What is amazing is how there is so much jazz activity in a city bereft of jazz on the radio (except for the graveyard shift and Sundays).
Astral Project @ Big Rock
The Louisville Jazz Society is one of several organizations helping to sponsor the Big Rock Jazz Fest in Cherokee Park. It will take place this year on Sunday., October 2, from 1 to 5 p.m.. The University of Louisville and Bellarmine University Jazz Ensembles will open 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. This is a remarkable opportunity to hear saxophonist Tony Dagradi, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton, for the eminently reasonable price of free.
Mark O'Connor @ the Kentucky Center
Many of us here in Louisville remember this stunning violinist from his fiddlin' days, when he performed with a variety of all-star bluegrass and progressive bluegrass groups. He has also composed and performed in the Western Classical genre. Unbeknownst to me until recently, O'Connor has been a longtime fan of the late Stephane Grappelli and has been inspired by him. For his Lonesome Pine Special appearance on Saturday, October 1, he will bring with him his "Hot Swing Ensemble," consisting of guitarists Bryan Sutton and Howard Alden, vocalist Annie Sellick and bassist Jon Burr. Alden has been a featured artist several times over the years at Bellarmine's annual Jazz Guitar Concerts and Sellick has performed previously at the Jazz Factory. In a brief e-mail interview, I asked O'Connor "How did you put together the musicians for this Hot Swing tour?" He answered that "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." I asked if he listened to other violinists these days and he answered with a range of artists from classical violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg to the Celtic musician Natalie MacMaster, among others. I will only add that my daughters' violin teacher almost swooned when I told her that Mark O'Connor was coming soon.
Al DiMeola @ Jim Porter's
All I can tell you is that the guitarist will be at Jim Porter's on Sunday, October 9. Look for more details online at our website, www.louisvillemusicnews.net the Friday and Saturday before the show.
The complete lineup for October for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992-3242) is available at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. The Adelante Latin Jazz Festival takes place from September 30-October 8. The Festival opens with trumpeter Humberto Ramirez on Friday and Saturday, September 30 and October 1. It continues with a dance party with music by Enclave on the roof at Glassworks on Sunday the 2nd. On Tuesday the 4th, it's the Tringo Latin Jazz Ensemble; a Latin Jazz Jam Session follows on Wednesday. Thursday's artist is Kalór, a Louisville-based Latin Jazz group. The Festival concludes with very special performances by the Chuchito Valdés Afro-Cuban Ensemble on Friday and the Miguel Zenon Quartet on Saturday. Zenon was here in the Spring as part of the San Francisco Jazz Collective and recently released his second CD, Jibaro, on the Marsalis/Rounder label. A few brief highlights following the Festival are: October 11: The Beat Goes On Benefit with Sarah Stivers to support the Lerman Memorial Music Library and Music Therapy Department at Norton Audubon Hospital. Another benefit follows on the next night: Jazz and The Spoken Word to benefit The Center for Women and Families. On October 13 The Don Krekel Orchestra rolls in, followed by two nights with the Rob Allgeyer Quartet from Cincinnati, featuring Allgeyer on B-3, plus guitar sax and drums. On Tuesday, the 18th, The Louisville Klezmer Orchestra; the next night is Kwyjibo, a quarter of Bloomington jazz musicians. The Louisville Metro Big Band is next, followed on Friday by the Jerry Tolson Quartet. Artists for the remainder of October 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 October will be announced later. Sisto's The Jazz Vibraphone Book, mentioned here last month, is published by Meredith/Hal Leonard and can be ordered at music stores and online. Sisto's website, www.dicksisto.com, is newly revamped and much improved.
The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com) has an intriguing lineup, with concerts including the Dave Weckl Band (October 10), Buster Williams (October 17), John Scofield performing the music of Ray Charles - (October 18-19), Lorraine Feather (October 22) and 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).
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.