Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Prelude:

Inasmuch as the Blues may be seen as a prelude to Jazz, and without trying to steal the thunder of my colleague, Keith Clements, I would like to take a moment to mourn the passing of harmonica player and vocalist Sam Myers. Many of us enjoyed his work with the great Texas blues band, Anson and the Rockets. On a more positive note regarding the genre, I recently bought Muddy Waters: Classic Concerts (Hip-O/Universal DVD). As one who bought Muddy Waters at Newport 1960 (Chess, mono because it was a buck cheaper) as a young teenager 40 years ago, and who subsequently re-bought the stereo version, and then the expanded CD, all I can say is GO GET THIS NOW! There are three concerts presented here: the famous Newport Jazz Festival 1960 performance (featuring James Cotton on harp and Otis Spann on piano and vocal); Copenhagen Jazz Festival 1968 (Paul Oscher replacing Cotton), and Molde (Norway) Jazz Festival 1977 (Jerry Portnoy on harp and Pinetop Perkins on piano). The guitarists, bassists, and drummers change from year to year, but the deep Delta-based South Side Chicago blues performances demonstrate why "legendary" is too mild a word for Muddy Waters. The camera work is occasionally awkward in the Newport segment, but the performance of a still relatively young Muddy Waters on film is not to be missed. So, gentle reader, if you can't get no grindin', and your mojo's not workin', this DVD will put a tiger in your tank.

Recent Concerts

Dave Liebman at the Jazz Factory

Dave Liebman was back in town for a performance at the Jazz Factory on June 24. Liebman's history stretches back to the late 1960s soul grooves of Ten Wheel Drive, on through the Miles Davis and Elvin Jones bands and for more than three decades as a leader. His most recent appearance in Louisville before this was in February as part of the University of Louisville's Jazz Week, which was followed by an impromptu guest spot with the Larry Coryell Trio at the Jazz Factory. For this engagement, Liebman performed with faculty from the International Schools of Jazz Conference which was meeting here in Louisville. The group consisted of Jarmo Savolinen - piano, John Ramsey - drums and Chris Fitzgerald - bass. Unlike prior appearances leading his own working ensemble, in which the material was almost exclusively original, Liebman and company stuck to the standards. However, the high level of artistry was such that but for this reliance on classic material, one would have been hard pressed to figure out that this was not a working group.

The songs for the first set included Miles Davis' "Milestones," Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," Thelonious Monk's "`Round Midnight," and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." The second set consisted of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," Miles Davis and Bill Evans' "Blue in Green," and John Coltrane's "India," which led seamlessly into Miles Davis' "All Blues." By way of example of the unique approaches given to this material, Chris Fitzgerald opened "India" with an unaccompanied solo. He was then joined by Savolinen's piano, with Liebman on wood flute, before Ramsey's drumming upped the ante. Liebman switched from flute to soprano sax for an intense duet with Ramsey and switched again to tenor sax for an ensemble section before the transition to "All Blues." In short, Liebman and his colleagues epitomized the ability of jazz musicians, even those from different countries, to speak what David Friesen [below] and others have referred to as "the language of jazz," and to speak it eloquently.

Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops and Concerts

For the first time in years, I missed both Wednesday night performances of the Aebersold All-Stars at Masterson's; the first week due to day job responsibilities which carried over into the night; and the second week due to an out-of-whack back. Fortunately, I was able to catch bassist David Friesen and saxophonist Gary Campbell from the Aebersold faculty on Friday, July 14, at the Seelbach, with host Dick Sisto on vibes and Mike Hyman on drums. Friesen played an unusual bass, looking like a cross between a cello and an electric bass, as fashioned for a sci-fi flick. The tone was beautiful, however and Friesen's playing showed a keen sense of dynamics, as well as melodic invention. I found the following quote from Friesen regarding this Hemage bass online:

"The body's made out of cherry wood and it's got a regular bass fingerboard made of traditional ebony and it's got a regular traditional bridge so the string height is the same and the string length is the same. So my office space for the notes is the same. Obviously it's much smaller, it doesn't have a scroll, I tune it down below the bridge, so what acts as the tailpiece also acts as the tuning device." http://www.globalbass.com/archives/may2001/david_friesen.htm

Campbell's playing seemed largely informed by such masters as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, as he and the band performed two sets of mostly standard material. A highlight of the first set was Horace Silver's beautiful composition "Peace," during which Hyman's brushwork skill was displayed to good advantage and Friesen demonstrated the art of simultaneously comping and soloing. Campbell was heard to good advantage on Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple," demonstrating the ability to perform a classic piece associated with a historic saxophonist, while interpreting it in a personal way. The second set began with "a traditional 11-bar blues" composed by Friesen. The blues feel was so authentic that I did not notice the "missing" bar and would have been oblivious but for Friesen's humorous back announcement of the song. While I regret having missed the midweek concerts, I offer thanks here to Dick Sisto for bringing Campbell and Friesen to the Seelbach.

Between sets, I had a chance to speak briefly with both of the visiting artists. Friesen commented that the material being played that night was part of "the language of jazz . . . [we] speak the language and have a conversation and listen and respond creatively." He noted that his own writing tended to be less predictable than the repertoire for the evening, but was quick to add," Not more artful, just different." His website is www.davidfriesen.net and it was a revelation to me to discover the huge number of recordings available, including those with Friesen as leader, co-leader and as supporting musician.

Campbell, too, has a website: www.garycampbelljazz.com. He is an Associate Professor of Jazz Performance/Saxophone at Florida International University, with two excellent CDS under his own name: Intersection (Milestone) and Thick & Thin (featuring John Abercrombie) (on the Aebersold Double Time Jazz label). In addition to his teaching, Campbell said that he is a member of the band led by the great bassist Miroslav Vitous. In performance, he said, they include two pieces from Vitous' Universal Syncopations (reviewed here in March), as well as material from Vitous' days as a founding member of Weather Report. Interestingly, both Campbell and Friesen independently commented on the difficulties of recording music which reflects their own musical personalities, as opposed to playing what a label may think will sell.

Phil Lesh and Friends at the Louisville Palace

As I mentioned here last month and in a separate feature for the Courier-Journal, former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh brought his latest edition of Phil Lesh and Friends to town on Tuesday, July 18, for a packed house at the Palace. He was joined by Joan Osborne, vocals; Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan's band for nine years) on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and vocals; Greg Osby on alto and soprano saxophones; Rob Barraco, keyboards and vocals (from the post-Garcia incarnation of the band which called itself "The Dead"); Barry Sless on pedal steel guitar (a founding member the Grateful Dead's extended family band, the David Nelson Band); and John Molo on drums (formerly with Bruce Hornsby and John Fogerty). They opened with a cover of the Band's "This Wheel's on Fire," followed by an intriguing jam. The remainder of the first set showed how creatively Lesh and company could rework songs which have been part of the Grateful Dead canon for some 35 years, with Lesh's singing better than expected and Osborne smokin' whenever she was onstage. Rather than reciting a full setlist, which is available at www.phillesh.net, I will simply mention that "Friend of the Devil" showed off Campbell's mandolin prowess, in an arrangement more like that on American Beauty than the slow reggae version favored by the Dead in later years. Osby found a way throughout to weave melodic lines through the songs, sometimes playing almost straight R&B, while at other times stretching out and adding his own personalized musical commentary.

The second set began with "He's Gone," with Osby not returning to stage until the band started stretching out into a jam that led into "All Along the Watchtower." For many, the highlight of the night came later in the set, when "Cryptical Envelopment" emerged from an improvisational segment and in turn segued into "The Other One," with Osby seeming to enjoy playing to the insistent cyclical rhythm. A stretched-out version of "The Wheel" seemed to mark the end of the risk-taking, as the band settled into a comfortable "I Know You, Rider," followed by "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad." As always, Lesh returned for an encore preceded by his "Donor Rap," encouraging audience members to sign up for organ donation. This performance, as is true of many of the "Phil and Friends" shows, is available through www.instantlive.com. For those with high-speed internet connections, the July 9, 2006 show from Bethel, NY, is being offered as a free CD-quality (lossless) download from Lesh's website. This Halloween, look for a DVD of a performance from May of this year, with guitarist John Scofield instead of Barry Sless and which will include as a bonus a roundtable discussion on improvisation featuring Lesh, Osby and Scofield.

Eighth Notes

John Ellis: By a Thread (Hyena HYN-9348). Over the past several years, former Kentuckian John Ellis has been a member of the Charlie Hunter Trio and Quintet. His One Foot in the Swamp CD was reviewed here back in March of 2005. His newest release also is his first after leaving Hunter. Ellis plays soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and ocarina and is joined by Aaron Goldberg on piano, Mike Moreno on guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. The opening song, "Ferris Wheel," finds the band in straight ahead mode, while "Tall Drink of Water" demonstrates progressive playing over a funk beat. "Little Giggles" is more relaxed and gives Rogers a chance to stretch out, followed by the Oriental-sounding "Old Man" (not the Neil Young song). For all of Ellis' funk experience with Hunter and others, he doesn't really bring it on until the closing "Moore's Alphabet," for Galactic and Garage a Trois drummer Stanton Moore. The other songs manage to be varied yet, because of the group interaction, do not mean that the album does not hold together cohesively. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you have enjoyed Ellis' work in the past with Hunter or on his own.

Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky (Hyena HYN-9349) In past columns and in essays on New Orleans Jazzfests, I have mentioned saxophonist Skerik in the context of the group Garage a Trois, which also features guitarist Charlie Hunter, percussionist Mike Dillon and drummer Stanton Moore (from Galactic). This recording is the first opportunity I have had to hear Skerik leading his own band and performing his own compositions. The overall effect is similar to such progressive groups as Sun Ra's Arkestra or Charles Mingus' bands, or the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with a touch of Frank Zappa for good measure. Just as these groups combine technical precision with a sometimes raucous sense of humor, so too does the Syncopated Taint Septet. For fans of Louisville's Liberation Prophecy, this CD will be a natural. The politically motivated will search for meaning in "Go to Hell Mr. Bush," which begins with a sweet and lovely flute solo over a gentle electric keyboard; go figure. Some of the other song titles should help prepare one for the auditory journeys on this excellent album: "Fry His Ass," "Irritaint," and "Summer Pudding." The emphasis is on arrangements and the ensemble, rather than virtuoso soloing.

New Jazz DVDs

Two of the most influential pianists on the jazz scene have released DVDs in the past few months, namely Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Solo (ECM 5501 DVD) is a companion piece to the double CD set, Radiance (ECM 1960/61), reviewed here last October. The final four tracks of the second CD featured music from the pianist's 150th concert in Japan, a solo performance at Tokyo's Metropolitan Festival Hall, all of which is documented here. As this is a document of spontaneous improvisation/composition, there are no song titles; the DVD chapters are marked "Part 1a-c" and "Part 2a-e," until the end, when Jarrett offers his individualistic interpretations of the following standards: "Danny Boy," "Old Man River" and "Don't Worry `Bout Me." Throughout, the camera work is attentive to Jarrett's performance. As he feels the music, he rises from his bench and sits back down, grimaces and occasionally even smiles. His hands are featured in many close-ups, so that his prodigious technique can be more full appreciated. This is, simply, essential for any fan of Jarrett and will bring much enjoyment to lovers of the piano and of the art of improvisation.

Chick Corea released Rendezvous in New York (Image Entertainment ID1796IEDVD), a 10-DVD set, late last year. It documents a series of performances at the Blue Note in New York, in honor of Corea's 60th birthday. More recently, the performances have been released on individual discs, although the box set was issued with a bargain suggested price of $99.99. The tenth disc is a documentary about this series of concerts; the other nine discs document reunion performances of "akoustic" ensembles from throughout Corea's career, beginning with a performance of duets with gifted vocalist Bobby McFerrin and continuing through with the "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" trio with Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous, the "Remembering Bud Powell" band, with Haynes, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and Terence Blanchard and many more. The playing throughout is powerful and joyous; the camera work captures not only the prodigious technique of Corea and his many fellow musicians, but also the obvious warmth, respect and pleasure experienced by the musicians during these concerts. The set is handsomely packaged and well worth the modest price for its wealth of wonderful performances.

On The Horizon

Following is a selective listing of just a few of the highlights for August at The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992-3242). A complete schedule and more details may be found at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. As always, Todd Hildreth plays piano jazz 5-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, for free and the West Market Street Stompers perform Fridays, 5-6:30 p.m., also for free. The Late Night Salon takes place Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. The Matt Lawson Quartet returns August 1; followed that week by Bluegrass Meets Jazz (August 2) and the Harry Pickens Trio (August 3-5); Hugh Petersen Quartet on the 9th; singer Spider Saloff brings with her Lexington native and Louisville favorite Zach Brock on violin (August 10); the deservedly popular Frank & Joe Show (previously reviewed here) returns on August 12; the Roy Merriwether Trio plays on the 18th; and Freddy Cole also returns, for two shows on the 24th. There are many more talented performers scheduled; please do check the Jazz Factory website and local Courier-Journal and LEO listings, not to mention the always informative website of this very publication, www.louisvillemusicnews.net.

The Seelbach Jazz Bar, (500 S. Fourth Street, 502-585-3200), features Dick Sisto, who always provides excellent mainstream jazz, frequently with guest artists joining him. The schedule for August was unavailable at press time, but Sisto, his trio and their guests always present superlative jazz.

The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com), in addition to good local and regional talent, has announced the following: Roy Merriwether Trio on August 20 and Ken Navarro on the 25th.

Highlights from Cincinnati's "Jazz at the Hyatt," (details are available at www.jazzincincy.com) include: August 11: Visions From Los Angeles; August 25: Freddie Cole Quartet; October 6: Larry Coryell Trio; October 13: Charles McPherson; and October 20: Carmen Lundy.

The schedule for the Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241-WISP; www.bluewispjazzclub.com) was unavailable at press time.

Liberation Prophecy Orchestra will play in-store at Ear X-Tacy on Saturday August 19 at 4 p.m..

As always, 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.louisvillemusic.com).

Coda

As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at mzkjr@yahoo.com.