Happy New Year, jazz fans and anyone else who wanders here. Sincere best wishes to each of you and your families for a year filled with peace, health and music.
Double Feature: Umphrey's McGee at Headliners and Greg Osby at the Jazz Factory
As I stated last month, The Dreaded Deadline Curse meant postponing reviews of Greg Osby's November 16th performance at the Jazz Factory and Umphrey's McGee's November 16th performance at Headliners to wait this month. While it may be overly convenient to place them together because of the coincidence of their performing on the same night, I hope that by doing so I can further explore the improvisational and cultural connections between jazz and improvisational rock.
Osby, by way of brief introduction, is a saxophonist and composer who has not only led his own groups for many years but also has collaborated with artists ranging from mainstream jazz icons Dizzy Gillespie and Jim Hall to such avant-garde figures as Sam Rivers and Andrew Cyrille, as well as being part of the M-BASE Collective and a member of Jack DeJohnette's group for many years. He has even performed and recorded with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and appeared here at the Palace with Lesh this past July. He brought his current working group, dubbed "Channel Three Plus One" (from the Blue Note CD Channel Three, reviewed here in July, 2006) to Louisville. It featured bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Tommy Crane and was augmented with the special addition of pianist Frank LoCrasto (who, at age 23, already has an astonishing resume of his own). After attempting to pitch a preview to other media, with no success, I e-mailed my fellow Louisville Jazz Society Board members in an effort to come out to hear this group. Regrettably, the Jazz Factory was, at best, only half-full for this evening of progressive yet accessible jazz.
Osby opened with Ornette Coleman's "Mob Job," with Brewer's unaccompanied bass presaging the entrance of LoCrasto's piano and Crane's drums, before Osby took his first solo; LoCrasto followed with an almost free solo accompanied by the inventive pulse kept by Brewer and Crane. Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" was next, with Osby soloing first, followed by LoCrasto, whose work was more straightahead than on "Mob Job," yet did not fall into stereotypical "Monk-isms." A re-imagined "Caravan" emerged as a Flamenco piece, which somehow metamorphosed into a ballad featuring dexterous brushwork by Crane, which in turn segued into a short, fast, unnamed composition. The chameleonic ensemble ended the first set with a piece that could best be described as "Charlie Parker meets Ornette Coleman," a boppish piece with "outside" soloing.
The tunes of the second set were not announced and, with the exception of "All the Things You Are," I did not recognize them. I was intrigued by the way in which Osby and his colleagues paced the set, with some songs ending almost abruptly, while others seemed to flow effortlessly into one another. The first piece began with almost military drumming before easing into a mid-tempo groove. A ballad followed, which made a transition into a piece reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Impressions." A gentle piano introduction to the following song formed the basis for a waltz in which Crane had a chance to demonstrate his skill with brushes. Again, this piece led into a song that sounded like a cross between Coltrane's "Ole!" and Osby's work with the funkier side of M-BASE. This, too, flowed into the next song, the previously mentioned "All the Things . . .," which in turn gave way to a fiery funk workout, allowing Osby to show his grittier side.
There are times when artists, their public relations people, or venue managers are kind enough to add me to the guest list in order to provide you with reviews of the performances, while other times I pay full fare; tonight I was I the latter category and proud to help support one of the more progressive saxophonists of our time, Greg Osby. I can only hope that the light turnout does not result in the Jazz Factory turning its back on those outside the bop mainstream, other than the Late Night Salon Series. As they say in New Orleans, jazz fans, "where was you at?" More information about Osby can be found on his website, www.gregosby.com, which also contains links to purchase his recordings.
After Osby's second set, I took off for Umphrey's McGee at Headliners, arriving just in time for the beginning of their second set. The ambience was quite different - a much larger, smoke-filled venue, packed with mostly younger people who were, as the title to their first set opener goes, "Partyin' Peeps." For this information, as well as a copy of the whole show, I again offer thanks to UK student Ryan Sims, who taped the show and subsequently mastered it to CD. The second set whirled in adventurous fashion through a series of songs with multiple segues, such as the opening sequence of set two: "40's Theme" > "Hajimemashite" > "Uncle Wally." The band's influences ranged from Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead to Talking Heads (whose "Making Flippy Floppy" showed up later that night), to various jazz artists and others. After hearing this fine young band perform abbreviated sets in 2005 in New Orleans and as part of WFPK's Listener Appreciation concerts earlier in 2006, it was a treat to finally get to hear them do what they do best: stretch out and jam. Umphrey's McGee is Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar, Moog, synthesizers, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Andy Farag (percussion), Kris Myers (drums, vocals) and Ryan Stasik (bass). The band's website is www.umphreys.com, from which all the usual band merchandise, biographical data and so forth is available, as well as links to soundboard/matrix mixed shows which can be downloaded for reasonable prices.
Aside from the differing "scenes," between the Osby and Umphrey's McGee performances, I came away from this long night of live music reinforced in my belief that there is a strong connection between jazz and improvisational rock. Stylistically, the differences are obvious: more emphasis on a swing or funk pulse in jazz, more of a steady 4/4 in rock, although these generalities are subject to many exceptions. Another difference is danceability; while jazz was for many decades a music to which people danced, it became more of an "art" music, beginning with Duke Ellington's large-scale works and the innovations of the beboppers; rock never really stopped being a dance music. Of course, bands like Charlie Hunter's groups and John Scofield's Uberjam bands rely more on the funk element and bring dance grooves to jazz, but it is rare to see anyone (at least outside of New Orleans) dancing to straightahead jazz. But rising above these differences is the common thread of taking a chance, of trying to take the music to a different place each performance rather than simply learning "how we did it on the record" and repeating it night after night until the spontaneity and sense of adventure is lost. Greg Osby's band and Umphrey's McGee are but two examples of how creative artists can keep the spark alive; it is just a shame that 10% of the crowd at Headliners didn't check out Osby first; the Jazz Factory would have been full and the jamband community would have experienced jamming of a different order.
Fans of Max Roach's M'Boom! and Mickey Hart's Diga Rhythm band and Planet Drum ensembles would have felt right at home when the Louisville Leopard Percussionists performed its annual "Big Gig" at the Brown Theatre on Sunday, December 3, at 4 p.m., a time which allowed families with children to take in a concert without school night bedtime problems. The "Leopards" is an ensemble of over 50 children who perform in a wide range of styles with percussion instruments including marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones, drum set, congas, bongos and timbales. Of special interest to readers of this column is the fact that most of the repertoire for this performance came from the jazz world.
Led by Artistic Director Diane Downs, the performance began with the soul classic "Green Onions" and was followed by Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." The Beginners Group, with a mere eleven weeks of practice, came out and performed a perfectly delightful version of Benny Golson's "Killer Joe." The Beginners returned after intermission to play Miles Davis' classic "So What," and it is a tribute to the children, their parents, Ms. Downs and Assistant Director Brittany Lee that these youngsters performed these songs at a very high level.
Without going through the entire program of material performed, I would like to note that in addition to the jazz standards already mentioned, there were other works from the jazz canon, including Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" and his trombonist Juan Tizol's "Caravan," Chick Corea's "Spain," and others. Non-jazz pieces ranged the gamut from the N'awlins funk of the Meters' "Cissy Strut" to J. S. Bach's "Invention No. 1" to Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and an exciting encore of the song forever associated with Gene Krupa, "Sing, Sing, Sing." At times, including the encore, the Leopards were joined by alumni and other guests to vary the sound. The basic ensemble was noteworthy for not only the collective level of ability, but for the way in which the young musicians were able to switch from instrument to instrument and play them all well.
Louisville is fortunate to have such a jewel in its artistic crown as the Louisville Leopards Percussionists. You don't have to take my word for it; Harry Pickens is one of the members of the Leopards' Advisory Committee and has written a special report entitled "Success Strategies of the Louisville Leopards," which he has offered to make available by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I urge you to support this talented and hardworking group of young achievers.
Tenor saxophonist Don Braden has deep roots in Louisville, having grown up here and being involved for many years with Jamey Aebersold's Jazz Camps. Last year he came to town for a Thanksgiving weekend performance; this year he was here for two nights of swinging, soulful jazz in mid-December. I caught the Saturday night performance, with organist bobby Floyd (another Aebersold Jazz Camp instructor), Cincinnati guitarist Dan Faehnle (of Diana Krall fame) and our own Jonathan Higgins on drums. In the audience were Braden's wife, daughter and parents, so it was a special evening on both sides of the bandstand. Many of the tunes were from Braden's most recent HighNote releases, Workin' (a live date) and The New Hang, both with organ and drums. Braden opened the first set with "Without a Song," from The New Hang and continued with "She's On Her Way," from Workin'. The latter was dedicated to his daughter "who I hope is still awake" [she was] and was written while he was on tour before she was even born. The 1970s were revisited with works such as "The Closer I Get to You" which followed "She's On Her Way," and Earth, Wind & Fire's "You Can't Hide Love" in the second set. Braden, having been given his first big break by Betty Carter, admitted that he (and his daughter) have a thing for vocalists. He introduced Kentucky native Kemba Cofield, now living in Atlanta, as a guest vocalist for "How High the Moon" and the previously mentioned "The Closer I Get to You" in the first set and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and the standard "Night in Tunisia" in the second set. In her all-too-brief appearances, Cofield moved with apparent ease from singing lyrics to scatting and back again. After her appearance in the first set, Braden closed on a hard bop note with his original "The Vail Jumpers" (also on Workin'). As strange as it may sound, with Floyd's deft footwork on the B-3, I didn't even realize until this last song of the set that there was no bassist. Throughout both sets, the musicians enjoyed a camaraderie that led to a free flow of musical ideas and "conversations." Braden kept things interesting by not falling into "organ trio sax" clichés, with a progressive edge to his work.
In speaking to Cofield between sets, I learned that she has her own website, www.kembacofield.com and has one CD, Shades of Kemba Cofield, which features a vast array of well-known musicians, including Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Reginald Veal and others. "How High the Moon" is one of the standards on this well-produced album, which also features many new pieces. It is available through her website and www.cdbaby.com).
Braden, too, has his own site, www.donbraden.com. In a conversation after the second set, I asked if the organ trio format was his focus nowadays. He replied that the basic group on Workin' and The New Hang, namely drummer Cecil Brooks III and organist Kyle Koehler, is his main working group, but that he likes to augment it with different players, including trombonist Conrad Herwig (who guests on The New Hang), guitarist Dave Stryker and others. He is planning to use a horn section on his next recording, with Jeremy Pelt and others. Braden is also writing for orchestra and big band and hopes for the opportunity to record these compositions as well. Braden is a warm and engaging man as well as an excellent and frequently exciting musician. He has gone far already and should continue to rise in the jazz world.
Selected Club Listings
Following is a partial and highly subjective listing for January at The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992?3242). A complete schedule, with updates and more details may be found at the website: www.jazzfactory.us. Todd Hildreth plays piano jazz 5-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, for free; 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. On Wednesday January 3, bassist Paul Davis' Trio with Todd Hildreth on piano and Paul Culligan on drums, plus singer Lucy Bickett, who spent six seasons with the Kentucky Opera; The Matt Lawson/Ochion Jewell Group on January 4; Louisville native Dave Leonhardt, a pianist and composer who has worked with many of the greats, including legendary singer Jon Hendricks and saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, will come back home for performances on January 5-6; Dick Sisto comes to The Jazz Factory with Seelbach bandmates bassist Tyrone Wheeler and drummer Mike Hyman on the 10th; Cincinnati drummer Dan Dorff leads a group the next night; saxophonist Ron Jones returns on the 12th; and pianist Chuck Marohnic, who has many Louisville connections, will appear with the Dick Sisto Trio on the 12th. Vocalist Gail Wynters, accompanied by guitarist Greg Walker, appears on January 16 and there will be an open-to-all jam session the following night.
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 Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317?253?4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com), presents Lavay Smith & the Red Hot Skillet Lickers on Sunday, January 7, 2007; the remainder of the schedule was unavailable at press time. Also, January shows from Cincinnati's "Jazz at the Hyatt," were not available by deadline time, so check www.jazzincincy.com for information.
The schedule for the Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241?WISP; includes Wednesday night performances by the Blue Wisp Big Band; the Art Gore Quartet on January 12-13 and other great jazz nightly Wednesday through Saturday each week; for the complete schedule and, go to www.bluewispjazzclub.com.
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.net).
Time and space considerations, in tandem with a mid-December round of killing allergies and an overdue deadline have conspired to require me to post some reviews online after the print deadline passes. Look for two very different Miles Davis collections featuring his early quintet with John Coltrane on The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions and his blistering 1970 electric band on The Cellar Door Sessions 1970. Similarly, I will also cover early John Coltrane on the Fearless Leader box which contains his entire output as a leader on the Prestige label and a previously unreleased live set from 1965, One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note. There will be more, but you will just have to go online to www.louisvillemusicnews.net and go to my column there (or perhaps to a separate set of reviews; all will be clear by the time you go to the website). My apologies to those of you who may not have Internet access (all three of you?).
I am always interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.