PRELUDE: "Walkin' to New Orleans"
The 2006 New Orleans jazz and Heritage Festival is on; that is the biggest news. Following much uncertainty, the lineup for 2006 was announced shortly before the deadline for this column. A preview will appear next month, in tandem with a review of the 2005 Fest. A few highlights of the first weekend, April 28-30 are: The Meters, Dave Matthews Band, Bob Dylan, Yolanda Adams, Allen Toussaint with special guest Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Dr. John, Hugh Masekela, Keb' Mo', Yerba Buena, Rebirth Brass Band, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Galactic, Snooks Eaglin, Cowboy Mouth, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Terence Blanchard, Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters, Sonny Landreth, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews with special guest Steve Turre. The following weekend, May 5-7, will includeFats Domino, Jimmy Buffett, Lionel Richie, Paul Simon, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Doug Kershaw, Little Feat, Koko Taylor, Donald Harrison (with special guests George Coleman & Eddie Palmieri), Roland Guerin with special guest Marcus Roberts, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ellis Marsalis with special guest Lew Tabackin, Astral Project and Nicholas Payton. For further information, go to www.nojazzfest.com. This is a way to show concrete support for helping the Crescent City, by patronizing this unique musical gumbo as New Orleans slowly rebuilds.
The John La Barbera Big Band at the Jazz Factory
The John La Barbera Big Band sold out two shows at the Jazz Factory on Friday, February 3. John brought his talented brothers Pat (saxophones) and Joe (drums) in, along with pianist and organist Bill Cunliffe. These musicians formed the core of the big band heard on John's recent Jazz Compass release, Fantazm, (reviewed here in January) and its predecessor, the Grammy-nominated On The Wild Side. John is a professor at the University of Louisville and has coaxed forth remarkable performances from his students there. He did likewise with the ensemble heard at the Jazz factory, which, in fact, featured several former students.
The first set opened with Woody Shaw's composition "The Moontrane," with Louisville's own Matt Lawson taking the first solo, on trumpet. A small ensemble backed Pat on tenor before the rest of the big band joined for the rest of his tenor solo. Pat's composition, "Yours or Mine or Blues," was next. It opened with a piano trio reminiscent of John Coltrane's classic rhythm section of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones (with Jeremy Allen on bass), before the whole band swung forth. John's composition for trombonist Bill Watrous, "Tiger of San Pedro," was introduced with underplayed humor as "the largest-selling marching band arrangement in the world." A song which Pat performs with Santana as a guest artist, "Love Theme from 'Apache,'" also known as "My Love and I," was gorgeous; one could almost hear the singing notes of Carlos' guitar interwoven into the piece.
The lesser-known Duke Ellington composition, "Fantazm," utilized a tympani effect by Joe which at times was reminiscent of such Ellington (and company) compositions as "Caravan." The first set closed with "Pythodd Fellows," during which Cunliffe switched to B-3 for a swinging romp reminiscent of some of Jimmy Smith's recordings with Oliver Nelson back in the '60s and"Zin Zak," dedicated to John's close friend and copyright attorney for over thirty years, the late Joseph Zynczak. Presumably, limited rehearsal time for such a large group from various locales led to some repetition of material in the second set. Joe's composition for Art Blakey, entitled "Message for Art," made its first appearance during the second show. A generous encore followed a reprise of "Moontrane," an as-yet-unrecorded composition entitled "Brother Griff McSmith." As suggested by its title, it paid homage to the classic organ trio sounds of Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, et al., in a groove similar to "Pythodd Fellows."
A mere recitation of songs and featured soloists does not really do justice to the massive undertaking which was so successfully realized here. As noted in my prior CD reviews, John La Barbera does not write for other arrangers, he writes for the musicians in the group. Much of his concept is built around augmenting the basic jazz quintet with the colors and power of a big band. The audience was wildly enthusiastic, the musicians worked together as if they had been on the road for months and leader John La Barbera was able to step out of the shady and sometimes sheltered groves of the academic world and into the spotlight he richly deserves.
Pat and Joe La Barbera with Bill Cunliffe at the Seelbach Jazz Bar
The following night found John La Barbera taking some well-deserved time off, enjoying the music made by his brothers and Bill Cunliffe with house band leader Dick Sisto on vibes and bassist Tyrone Wheeler. They opened with an uptempo version of the standard, "The Night Has 1,000 Eyes," which gave everybody but Wheeler the opportunity to stretch out and loosen up. Wheeler soon got a turn in the spotlight, however, with "It Could Happen To You," accompanied by John's elegant brushwork. Other highlights of the set and a half I caught would have to include "Body and Soul," which began with only Pat and Wheeler before the other musicians joined in. Two John Coltrane pieces, "Mr. P.C." and "Naima," seemed to pay homage not just to the composer, but to Elvin Jones, with whom Pat recorded and toured for many years. His solo in "Mr. P.C." elicited the first spontaneous applause of the evening. When the group played the beautiful ballad "Naima," it was taken at a mid-tempo pace rather than the familiar slow treatment. Joe's musicianship was showcased, as he played his set with his hands and mallets, creating patterns which were melodic as well as rhythmic. Bill Cunliffe's subtle accompaniment seemed lost on the mix during much of the evening, which was unfortunate. All in all, this was a rare opportunity for local jazz lovers to see world-class players in an environment which was intimate and in a musical setting where they could interact without the pressure of a formal concert.
Reviews of The Tony Monaco Trio and the great Jimmy Scott at the Jazz Factory will have to wait until next month; as the old saying goes, stay tuned!
ON THE HORIZON
A special fundraiser for Community Living will take place on Saturday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the River Bend Winery, 120 South 10th Street, Louisville. Featuring Mike Tracy and friends, this event will benefit the efforts to provide residential programs for people with mental retardation. For more information or reservations, call 502‑585‑5272.
The lineup for March for The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992‑3242) as available at press time, follows; more information may be found at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. March is Women's History Month and the Jazz Factory will feature an all‑female jazz quartet on March 2, with Monika Herzig (from Beeblebrox) on piano, Alexis Marsh on saxophones, Natalie Boeyink on bass and Tina Raymond on drums. Mardi Gras will be welcomed with The West Market Street Stompers, plus New Orleans stride pianist John Royen on March 3‑4; other announced performers for march, as of press-time, are: The Open World Jazz Quintet: 3/1; Louisville Metro Big Band 3/7; Bluegrass Meets Jazz: 3/8; The Todd Hildreth Trio: 3/9; The Rob Allgeyer Quartet: 3/10‑3/11; The Steve Crews Quintet: 3/17‑3/18; Jazz and The Spoken Word: 3/22; The Steve Snyder/Gordon Towell Quartet: 3/24‑3/25. A few announcements for after march include the return of Chicagoan Ryan Cohan on April 14‑15; Kenny Werner (date in Spring TBA); the return of the delightful Lynne Arriale Trio on April 28; funky drummer Jim Payne on May 19 and the always amazing Dave Liebman Quartet on June 23‑24.
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 his trio (with bassist Tyrone Walker and drummer Jason Tiemann). Featured guests during March will be announced later.
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: Danilo Perez Trio - March 17; Pat Martino Trio - March 29; Steve Smith & Vital Information - April 3; and the Fareed Haque Group - April 15.
Information on Cincinnati's "Jazz at the Hyatt," was not available at press-time; details are available at www.jazzincincy.com.
Galactic at Headliners
Galactic is another of the bands that I like to tell jazz folks about that, while not jazz, embraces the jazz ethos of improvisation. In fact, I have covered prior appearances here in Louisville, as well as on Galactic's home turf in New Orleans. Galactic returns to Louisville on Friday, March 31, with opening act the Gamble Brothers, described by Galactic's Robert Mercurio as a hot Memphis soul band. Bassist Robert Mercurio spoke to me from Denver, a few hours before a show featuring N'awlins guests Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias (a Mardi Gras Indian tribe) and singer Sistah Teedy. Galactic has parted company with vocalist Theryl "Houseman" de Clouet, so I asked Mercurio about how this has affected the music. It was "exciting at first . . . [and] a little bit of a challenge to get over to the audience." However, by being an all-instrumental band, "we can arrange our setlist any way we want . . . it's a little more wide open." When asked about how close the band came to jazz, he replied that "a lot comes from the jazz sensibility; many of our songs are built on a head-solos-head arrangement." He was quick to note the "funk" rather than "Swing" element in the band's grooves. Throughout the conversation, Mercurio returned to the theme of "spreading and celebrating New Orleans culture." In the wake of Katrina, all but saxophonist Ben Ellman have returned to New Orleans and are active in trying to contribute to the rebirth of the Birthplace of Jazz. If you haven't yet checked this band out yet, this is a great opportunity to catch them before they return to New Orleans for a series of shows during Jazzfest.
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.louisvillemusicnews.net).
NEW CD RELEASES: TWO BASS HIT, SLIGHT RETURN
In last month's column, I covered releases by two bassists, Nicholas D'Amato's Royal Society: Nullium in Verba and Brian Bromberg: Wood II and Alan Broadbent: 'Round Midnight, on Bromberg's label and featuring him. This month I would like to bring your attention to two releases on ECM, Marc Johnson's Shades of Jade and Miroslav Vitous' Universal Syncopations. Vitous came to prominence in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a string of recordings supporting Herbie Mann, Chick Corea and others. When Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul left Miles Davis to form Weather Report, Vitous was their original bassist, appearing on the first two albums and on the still-unreleased-in-America Live in Tokyo, a two-record set from which side two of I Sing the Body Electric was culled. During this period, Vitous began recording as a leader, most notably with Infinite Search, later reissued as Mountain in the Clouds. Featuring John McLaughlin, Joe Henderson, Joe Chambers and Herbie Hancock, this remains a classic of intelligent jazz-rock fusion, with a killer version of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," as well as originals from Vitous and his colleagues. Fast forward three-and-a-half decades and Universal Syncopations shows how Vitous has matured as both a composer and a bassist. This recording features saxophonist Jan Garbarek, pianist Chick Corea, guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Jack DeJohnette, with occasional brass overdubs by Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), Valerie Pomomarev (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Isaac Smith (trombone). All of the core musicians do not appear on all tracks; the opening "Bamboo Forest," for example, is a trio with Garbarek and DeJohnette. The all-too brief "Miro Bop" captures the edgy feel of "Freedom Jazz Dance." McLaughlin shines on "Faith Run," after a more subtle solo on "Univoyage."
Marc Johnson became widely known as bassist for pianist Bill Evans. Over the years, he has maintained a steady stream of recordings as both sideman and leader, the latest of which is Shades of Jade. This CD, like Universal Syncopations, features a core group of players who are occasionally augmented by additional musicians. The trio of Johnson, pianist Eliane Elias and drummer Joey Baron are the only musicians on several tracks, such as the beautiful "Snow." The ubiquitous Joe Lovano adds his tasty tenor saxophone to a number of tracks, including the slinky opening number "Ton Sur Ton," which also features Lovano's frequent collaborator and former employer, guitarist John Scofield. Whenever heard, Scofield is tasteful and more mainstream than on some of his solo outings. "Since You Asked" is a beautiful bass meditation, with occasional cymbal washes added for color. The pace is picked up for "Raise," featuring all of these musicians with the addition of Alain Mallet on organ. All compositions are by Johnson, Elias, or both of them and they show a range of concepts which are unified by a larger artistic vision. The closing track is a haunting Armenian song, "Don't Ask of Me," with gorgeous arco playing over the subtle tones of Maillet's organ.
Taken together, these two releases demonstrate the skillful use of interest-holding compositions, topnotch players and the expected pristine production values associated with ECM. Both are worthy additions to a contemporary jazz library.
As always, I am interested in your comments. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.