Spring is celebrated in many cultures in many ways, most of which allude in some fashion to concepts of death (winter) and renewal (spring). In that spirit, we bid farewell to pianist Andrew Hill, who recently passed away. The renewal comes unexpectedly, in the form of a brand new recording by Michael Brecker, whose passing was recently mourned here. He was able to record his final album, Pilgrimage (Heads Up HUCD-3095) in August 2006, while fighting the leukemia that would also take him from us prematurely. Pilgrimage features a truly all-star lineup: pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, guitarist Pat Metheny, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist John Patitucci. While the word "amazing" is bandied about all too frequently, it is most appropriate when describing this album. Brecker plays with intensity and high energy throughout. Despite his failing body, all the songs are mid-to-uptempo except for the touching "When Can I Kiss You Again?" Its title comes from the question asked by Brecker's teenaged son, during a period when the hospitalized father was hospitalized and not allowed physical contact with family members. It would be easy to say that this CD is a fitting tribute to a master musician, yet it is much more - it is a testament to the strength and fortitude of a very special artist. The music is excellent throughout and the other musicians seem to be more pushed by Brecker's urgency than the other way around. If you have ever been moved by Brecker's music in the past, you need to know that this may ultimately stand as his masterpiece and is not a cheap attempt to put out some music to cash in on a tragic loss. It is pilgrimage and it signifies renewal of spirit.
Last month I had to postpone a few reviews of live performances, so here's my take on several recent performances that should have been covered before now.
Illness and family concerns prevented me from making all the performances during the fourteenth Annual University of Louisville Jazz Week. I was MIA for the Open World Jazz Quintet, featuring musicians from throughout Russia, and pianist Chuck Marohnic's Trio, with Chris Fitzgerald and Jason Tiemann (Wednesday, February 22); U of L's Jazz Ensemble II with Bob Lark - trumpet, Thom Matta - trombone and Shelley Yoelin - saxophone the following night; and Bob McChesney, trombone, with Jazz Ensemble I and Faculty Jazz Combo on Friday, February 24. I was back in the saddle for the Saturday, February 25 performance of David "Fathead" Newman, with Jazz Ensemble I and Faculty Jazz Combo; and the Sunday, February 26 concert by the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet.
David Newman was here back in December of 2005 and it was good to see and hear him again, accompanied by some of U of L's finest musicians, both student and faculty. For his first set, he was joined by Jim Connerley, piano, Tyrone Wheeler, bass and Jason Tiemann, drums. Newman's flute artistry was showcased on "Goldfinger" and "What a Wonderful World," the latter from his new CD Life (HighNote) and featuring a rich solo by Wheeler. Newman looked regal in black slacks and shirt, with a blazer and an African skullcap. When not playing flute, his sax work was warm and inviting on pieces such as his former employer's "Georgia on my Mind," Hank Mobley's "This I Dig of You," and the closer, Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia." He relaxed on a stool while checking out his bandmates' solos. Wheeler and Tiemann were superb, as always and pianist Connerley deserves wider exposure. In his second set, an enthusiastic student big band kicked off with John LaBarbera's "Pythodd Fellows," from his second CD Fantazm. Newman's own "Cousin Esau" was next, another flute feature with a "Wade in the Water" feel [and quote]. Newman's classic "Hard Times," from his first LP Ray Charles Presents Fathead took the audience to church and Duke Pearson's "Cristo Redentor" transported those present to the high climes of Brazil with gorgeous saxophone foundation and brass accents. The Newman closed with a "bossa funk" arrangement of a piece he first performed with Herbie Mann, an O'Donel Levy tune entitled "Keep the Spirits Singing."
Paquito D'Rivera's Quintet closed out the 2007 Jazz Week in fine, hot Latin style. D'Rivera's band members Oscar Stagnaro (electric bass), Mark Walker (drums), Israeli Alon Yavnai (piano) and Diego Urcola (trumpet), showed the universality of the language of jazz. D'Rivera included both standards, such as "All the Things You Are" (retitled "All the Things We Are" as an acknowledgment of unity) and the encore, "Manha de Carnaval" from the film Black Orpheus, as well as originals. D'Rivera's "To Brenda, With Love," was an opportunity for Urcola to play trombone and Stagnaro was showcased in a fleet and fluid solo. Urcola contributed "A Rose for Astor Piazzolla," a tricky tango in honor of the master of the "New Tango." Urcola's trumpet solo exhibited a clean flurry of notes, followed by Yavnai's piano solo, which built from a slow burn to a forest fire, following which D'Rivera engaged him in a duet before the group returned to finish the song. D'Rivera's "Dojo" [sp?] was dedicated to an 89-year-old trombonist with Japanese and Hispanic parents. The leader's sax solo built up to the point where he was dancing by the end of it. In introducing a song by Dizzy Gillespie, D'Rivera showed his own sense of humor by referring to the composer as one of "the great artists of the Twentieth Century [who] loved the music of illegal aliens." This provided D'Rivera the opportunity to shine on clarinet. Throughout the concert, Walker was a virtual one-man trapset and Latin percussion section, with the ability to play straightahead jazz and switch effortlessly to Cuban or Brazilian rhythms.
March was Women's History Month; whether it was coincidence or planned, I cannot say, but the Jazz Factory featured three strong women pianists that month. The first was the Lynne Arriale Trio featuring Steve Davis on drums and Thomson Kneeland on bass, which made a triumphant return to The Jazz Factory on Friday March 9 in support of their latest release: Live (Motema Music MTM‑00007); this performance was reviewed here last month.
Rachel Z returned to The Jazz Factory on Wednesday, March 14, in support of her latest release Department of Good and Evil (Savoy Jazz 17630). Her bandmates, bassist Maeve Royce and drummer Bobby Rae are both on her latest release Department of Good and Evil (Savoy Jazz 17630), produced by Rae. Many of the pieces played throughout both sets incorporated her love of intelligent pop and rock music as well as jazz and were from the new CD. An example was the opening "Soul Meets Body" by Deathcab for Cutie, featuring Mingus-like basswork and Elvinish drumming - a strong reconstruction of the alt-pop song. Next was the Church's "Under the Milky Way," an intricately interlaced work featuring Rae's work with both brushes and sticks. Sting's "King of Pain," Joe Henderson's "The Inner Urge," an original whose title I didn't catch and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" followed and what was most impressive was the collective ability of the trio to take familiar pop songs and allow them to take on new lives through improvisation. In fact, "Inner Urge" and Herbie Hancock's "ESP" in the second set were the only compositions from the jazz canon. For older listeners, perhaps only Neil Young and Bill Withers were the only recognizable pop composers, contributing "Heart of Gold" and "Ain't No Sunshine," respectively, to the second set songlist. Depeche Mode's "It's No Good" and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" allowed more contemporary composers jazz exposure.
The highlight for me, however, was Bobby Rae's "Saint of New Orleans," a suite he composed for the musicians of the birthplace of Jazz. It opened with spare piano, complementing bowed bass, which led into Rae's mallet work and a faster section in which Maeve switched to pizzicato and concluded with a slower segment. In a post-performance conversation, Rae said that he "envisioned the piece as beginning with a cinematic overhead shot of New Orleans at night, moving into a sea storm swirling - the eruption we play - after the levees broke and then an epic calm aftermath." Rae noted strong emotional ties, stating that he sent a drum set to the city for its musicians to use. He also discussed his role as producer of the new CD and a focus on establishing the Department of Good and Evil as a group, with other projects such as a string section to augment the trio from time to time. Ms. Z, as the best-known member of the group (her resume includes work with such diverse artists as Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel) is taking an unusual step by promoting not "the Rachel Z Trio," but "the Department of Good and Evil;" it is a step which merits applause and a chorus of best wishes as she showcases the considerable talents of Rae and Maeve as well as herself.
The Monika Herzig Acoustic Project had the misfortune of playing on Saturday March 25, the same night as the truly legendary B.B. King was in town for what may have been his last Louisville date. The relatively light crowd did not deter he Bloomington, Indiana jazz pianist, who celebrated the release of her new CD, What Have You Gone and Done? (Acme 005MA-84922) with good cheer. She was joined by Kenny Phelps on drums, Frank Smith on bass and husband Peter Kienle on guitar, the same lineup as on the CD (which also featured a few guests). Her sets included a mix of 1960s-1970s rock and pop songs, such as "the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and "With a Little Help from My Friends," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," John Lennon's "Imagine," and Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." American Songbook tunes included "The Song Is You" and "What Is this Thing Called Love." The sets were filled out with originals, such as the pretty waltz "The Call," the uptempo shuffle "One Size Fits All," the midtempo guitar scorcher "And the Blues Must Go On," the almost Gospel feel of "The Hill Country," and the somber "Evening Mood." Herzig's infectious smile throughout the night was a nonmusical inspiration. Smith's basswork and Phelps' drumming remained flexible, in service to the music. Kienle frequently seemed bemused by the proceedings, sharing his wife's positive and upbeat outlook. The CD, with many of the songs featured in concert, is available through www.cdbaby.com, if you can't find it locally. Throughout the night, Herzig played acoustic piano, but her prior work with fusion band Beeblebrox (whose releases are also on Acme), demonstrates her skills on electric keyboards. Herzig is also involved with many educational projects for students of all ages and is committed to spreading the word about women musicians and composers, through workshops and recordings. Her formidable skills deserve more than regional exposure.
Pianist Steve Allee has long been a mainstay of the Indianapolis jazz scene and he brought his trio to the Jazz Factory for two nights to celebrate the release of his new CD, Colors (SA-0107). Accompanying Allee were bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner. As on the disc, the performance mixed Allee originals with classics from the mainstream jazz canon. Allee frequently introduced songs in such a way as to enhance the listeners' perception of the meaning behind the music. For example, during the first set, he noted that "Trees" [from the new CD] was "inspired by country living - the trees started talking to me." It had, as he mentioned, a "folk-type" melody; the song began with a laid-back piano introduction, after which Allee's playing became more intense as bassist Moring joined him, followed by drummer Horner. Two standards followed, Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere," which provided Horner a chance to demonstrate his impressive and expressive brushwork and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," during which he alternated deftly between brushes and sticks. The first set closed with another Allee original from the new CD, "Lucaya," which he said was inspired by "rain forests, turquoise waters and the people, an impressionistic piece." He opened the second set with "Bubbles," which maintained a groove reminiscent of Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time." Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" was next, with Horner's almost second line rhythms providing a different feel for this modern jazz classic; the musicians were beaming at one another by the song's conclusion. Most of this set was also comprised of standards. "The Very Thought of You," "If I Were a Bell," and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (featuring an arco solo by Moring) showed how Allee and company could take familiar tunes and keep them fresh. The Allee original "Thad" (for Thad Jones) employed a stop-time theme, while Cedar Walton's lesser-known "Cedar's Blues" employed a melody line that straddled the sometimes arbitrary lines between blues and jazz. The trio close with a fast waltz, "Pure Spirit," also the closing song of the new disc.
On Wednesday April 4, Steve Smith and Vital Information packed the house for two separately sold sets, which followed an almost full house for a drum clinic delivered by Smith. Much of the clinic focused on the history of the drum set as originated by American jazz drummers. Smith's premise is that all styles of drumset playing derive from the swing beat originated in jazz. Thus, country players, rock players, funk and soul players all share a common heritage. Toward the end, Smith entertained questions, which were technical in nature vis a vis playing techniques.
The concert itself smoked! The band currently features Tom Coster, a veteran of Welcome/Lotus-era Santana, on keys; Baron Browne on electric bass and Vinny Valentino on guitar and many of the pieces performed were from the forthcoming VitalizationCD, scheduled for release in June on the Hudson Music label. The first set featured wide range of music, from fast 'n' funky, to "Indian drum talk," on the piece "7 & 1/2," to the more straightahead feel of "J Ben Jazz." Coster performed his gorgeous "Europa," co-written with Carlos Santana, on accordion, giving this ballad an Impressionistic French watercolor feel. A Valentino original, "The Bottom Line," was a fast but subdued tribute to the New York club of the same name. The first set closed with the only piece which seemed overtly "fusion:" High Wire," from the Come On In CD. The second set opened with another tune from Come On In, "Cat Walk," which ranged in mood from a deep-in-the-pocket funk groove to a crisp electric "fusion" guitar solo. "Mr. TC," dedicated, of course, to Coster, was from Where We Live and went from funk to swing and back again in and featured fast interplay between guitar and keys. Smith's bass drum work utilized a double pedal to good advantage. A medley of "Interwoven Rhythms" and "Get Serious" allowed the band to again demonstrate its collective agility by moving from more Indian rhythmic exercises into a fast and funky workout. For all the images of "speed over substance" which fusion sometimes descends, it was refreshing to watch Smith show his mastery of classic jazz brushwork on "Positano," a lovely piece by Valentino from the new CD. "The Closer" also allowed Smith to show how musical the drummer's brushes can be and how a great drummer can also be a great bandleader, as he moved to sticks and the band moved from a slow soul jazz feel to an intensity reminiscent of the early Tony Williams Lifetime, with Browne getting down to the bone. A rare but well-deserved Jazz Factory encore brought the band back to play another tune from Vitalization, an aptly titled tribute to Jimmy Smith entitled "Jimmy Jive."
Bill Frisell is one of the most innovative guitarists playing today. Most of his current tour has him with a trio; however, for this special solo concert, he used acoustic and electric guitars, sometimes with loops, to create atmospheric reveries with occasional nods to such earlier innovators as Jimi Hendrix and Terje Rypdal. The concert took place Friday, April 6 at the 930 Listening Room, part of the new gallery space at The 930 Center at 930 Mary Street. Frisell played one set, during which one song frequently metamorphosed into something else. He rarely acknowledged the audience, which sat in rapt attention. He opened with subtle electric guitar improvisation, which meandered into a Thelonious Monk tune ("Brilliant Corners?"). Next was a dark take on the folk song "Pretty Polly," during which Frisell soloed on the bass strings after setting up treble loops. Next, a folk-sounding song turned into a lovely reading of "What t he World Needs Now." Frisell played without announcing songs and much of his set seemed extemporaneous. A lengthy electric extrapolation was edgy and effect-laden, but transformed into a sort of "free space' segment. Three familiar pieces, the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme," Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," and Hank Williams' "So Lonesome I Could Cry" closed out the all-to-brief (75-minute) concert. Here's hoping Frisell can return with his trio for a different take on his individualistic playing. Props are due to the energetic young folks who are behind this new venue, as there was a very positive vibration surrounding the gallery and the listening space and there was a fresh eagerness which I hope will carry this venture far.
Following is a subjective set of highlights for May at The Jazz Factory, (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992‑3242). A complete and updated schedule, with 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. Unless otherwise noted, all shows are 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday 5/1 The Don Krekel Orchestra; Wednesday 5/2 The Bennett Higgins Quartet with Roger Dane, piano, Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jonathan Higgins on drums; Thursday- Friday 5/3-4 Kevin Mahogany the stunning jazz singer; Tuesday 5/8 Through the Nothing, with some of the finest players from the University of Louisville Jazz Studies program; Wednesday 5/9 The Matt Lawson Quartet featuring Dick Sisto, Tyrone Wheeler and Mike Hyman; Thursday-Saturday 5/10-12 The Harry Pickens Trio with Chris Fitzgerald and Jason Tiemann; Sunday 5/13 Mulgrew Miller with his touring trio: Ivan Taylor (bass) and Rodney Green (drums) for a special Mother's Day performance at 6 p.m.; Tuesday 5/15 vocalist Gail Wynters with Chuck Marohnic, Chris Fitzgerald and Jason Tiemann; Wednesday 5/16 Jazz and The Spoken Word; Thursday 5/17 Swing 39, in the spirit of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli; Saturday 5/19 jazz singer Kate McGarry: The Target CD Release event, the fifth stop on a nationwide tour, featuring Keith Ganz (guitar), Gary Versace (organ and piano) and Otis Brown III (drums); Tuesday 5/22 The Miles Davis Quartet, featuring local saxophonist and instrument repair technician Miles Davis; Wednesday 5/23 The Atherton High School Jazz Band, with part of the proceeds besides the cover charge going to the school's jazz program; Thursday 5/24 Luca Mundaca, the Chilean‑born singer who performed at last year's Adelanted Latin Jazz Festival; Friday 5/25 Ron Jones, one of the best straightahead saxophonists in the region; Saturday 5/26 The Chuck Marohnic Group; Wednesday 5/30 Larry Coryell returns to the Jazz Factory with the great electric bassist Mark Egan; Friday-Saturday 6/1-2 The Bobby Broom Trio: CD Release Weekend for Chicago jazz guitarist Bobby Broom, with long‑time Chicago jazz colleagues Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums in support of their new CD, Song and Dance (Origin Records) - the trio has held down a weekly gig in Chicago since 1999.
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 Flecktones saxophonist Jeff Coffin and electronic percussionist Futureman with Feliz Pastorius on May 13; Kate McGarry on May 18; "Killer" Ray Appleton Quartet on May 19; the Four Freshman on May 20; Peter Erskine with Bob Sheppard and Dave Carpenter on May 21; Brian Auger on May 26; the Redd Holt Trio on June 3; Rachel Z on June 22. These are in addition to The nightly offerings of local and regional jazz; check the website for the full schedule.
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; with other performers including trombonist Conrad Herwig on 5/4-5; trumpeter Marvin Stamm on 5/18 and several performances throughout the month by pianist Phil DeGreg in various ensembles, including his trio and his Latin project, Brasilia. For the complete schedule, go to www.bluewispjazzclub.com.
An Evening with the California Guitar Trio at The 930 Center
On Tuesday May 8th, at 8 p.m., the California Guitar Trio will play the 930 Listening Center. While not jazz, in the strictest sense, the "CGT" is composed of three master musicians who freely mix western classical, folk and jazz styles. For further details on this show, go to www.the930.org/music.
As always, I urge you to subscribe to sign up for "The Jazz E‑News," by e-mailing Jenjenjazz@insightbb.com. 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).
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