Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

PRELUDE:

Eh las bas, laissez le bon temps rouler! Mardi Gras comes early this year, February 5, so don't forget to do some second-lining while grabbing for beads as you consume your red beans and rice and king cake. There are many recordings to help you in your celebration by a myriad of artists, including non-jazz folks such as Dr. John and the Neville Brothers and, of course, our forefathers Louis Armstrong and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. A more contemporary artist who is steeped in the New Orleans jazz tradition is trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who brought his Barbecue Swingers to the Kentucky Center for the 2006 Mardi Gras. He still calls the Crescent City home after Katrina. He has two weekly gigs, one of which is at Vaughan's. Kermit Ruffins Live at Vaughan's (Basin Street Records BSR 0106) captures his Louis Armstrong/Louis Prima vibe so well you can almost smell the beer. From New Orleans standards such as Danny Barker's "Palm Court Strut" to Sly and the Family Stone's "If You Want Me to Stay" to Ruffins originals such as "Drop Me Off in New Orleans," this is a serious party record. If you can't find it locally, www.BasinStreetRecords.com is offering a limited special of a Mardi Gras 2008 CD that contains songs from Ruffins, Los Hombre Calientes and others. (Note: Ruffins' compilation CD was reviewed here in February 2005 and is still available.)

RIP, OSCAR PETERSON (1925 - 2007)

Pianist Oscar Peterson passed away recently, from kidney failure. While perhaps best known for his prodigious technique, he also was much admired in later years for his comeback after suffering a stroke. I still remember the one opportunity I had to see this great pianist, in a very special concert with Herbie Hancock as part of the Cincinnati Jazz Fest a quarter of a century ago. While the details are hazy, I will always recall having been able to see and hear these two artists together. Although he will be missed, Peterson leaves a tremendous legacy through many recordings, including a famous series going back to the 1950s with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis. He also collaborated many times over the years with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, often billed together as "the Very Tall Band." He was also a frequent artist on the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts and recordings.

RECENT CONCERTS

JAVA MEN REUNION AT THE JAZZ FACTORY

Once upon a time, in a coffeehouse long ago but not far away, a trio was born, namely the Java Men. With Todd Hildreth on keyboards, primarily organ, Craig Wagner on guitar and Ray Rizzo on drums and percussion, they developed a loyal fanbase with their adroit blend of funk, mainstream and fusion. A later edition, with Paul Culligan drumming and Chris Fitzgerald added on acoustic bass, took the group into new territories before the Java Men finally disbanded. The original trio reunited for one performance to a packed house at the Jazz Factory on Thursday, December 27.

They opened with Wagner's "Cellophane Mary," a shorthand description of which might be "Jimmy McGriff meets Pat Metheny." Hildreth's "Hip Like Me" allowed the members to show their skills as they played intricate lines executed as if they were simple blues figures. "Chaz Has Imploded" had a Thelonious Monk feel, while the loops and funky drive of "Embrace the Void" found the Java Men exploring territory not unlike the music from other adventurous bands such as Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood (MSMW) or Charlie Hunter/Bobby Previte's Groundtruther projects. The kicker is that the Java Men CD Void, where this song originally appeared, came out way back in 1997.

Throughout the course of two enthusiastically received sets, Hildreth, Wagner and Rizzo demonstrated a high degree of musical empathy. While this might be partially explained by the fact that Hildreth and Wagner still perform together in other lineups, the material in both sets was taken almost exclusively from the three Java Men recordings, which date back to 1995, 1997 and 1999. I don't know how much rehearsal time the Java Men had before their Jazz Factory performance, but their work on this night was unfailingly outstanding and deserving of the lengthy ovation that followed their closing piece. Hildreth hinted that the reunion might become an annual event, when Rizzo comes back to Louisville from New York again. If so, get your tickets early. Also, as of the performance, the availability of the three CDS (Letter To St. Paul, Void and Orbituary) was an open question; some of them are available locally at Ear X-Tacy and online through www.cdbaby.com and www.itunes.com. You can also contact Hildreth through www.javamen.com and his tongue-in-cheek-named site, www.groovytodd.com, for limited mail order availability.

BOBBY FALK AT THE JAZZ FACTORY

Drummer/composer/bandleader Bobby Falk, already a veteran of the Louisville jazz scene at the ripe old age of 27, turned in a great performance at the Jazz Factory on Thursday, January 10. His first album, Turning the Tables, came out in August of 2006 and regrettably, I was unable to catch any of his live performances until now. His group consists of Jake Goran on saxophones, John Epley on guitar, Wade Honey on keyboards and Lee Puckett on bass; he told me between sets that Epley and Honey are usually with him, while he likes to rotate bass and sax players. From the cohesiveness of the playing, one would not have guessed that Goran and Puckett were not regulars. Falk's repertoire ranges from jazz standards such as "Autumn Leaves," to more contemporary pieces such as Steely Dan's "Josie," while leaving room for self-penned compositions such as the title track to his CD, "Turning the Tables." "Ballad for Serenity," as performed on Turning the Tables, had a midtempo Latin feel. Curiously, as performed live, it was neither a ballad nor serene; rather, it was fast-paced and funky. Puckett's delicate electric bass was an understated feature in the "piano trio" version of "Do Nothing 'Till You hear from Me" (which Falk described as an homage to the recently departed Oscar Peterson).

The second set opener, David "Fathead" Newman's classic "Hard Times," featured juicy organ sounds from Honey's keyboards and swooping slide guitar work from Epley. Goran turned in a swinging version of Sonny Rollins' "Saint Thomas" which managed to pay homage to the master without imitating him stylistically. A new Falk composition, "Time Runs Dry," found the leader switching to piano and performing with guitar and tenor sax only. Throughout both sets, Falk engaged the audience with not only his performing, but also his between-song comments. Even one of my buddies who is not really a jazz fan has become a fan of Falk's and he greatly enjoyed the music this night, too. For more information on Falk, including gigs and ordering information for the album, his website is www.myspace/bobbyfalk.com.

MIKE TRACY AT THE JAZZ FACTORY

Mike Tracy is a man of many talents, ranging from saxophonist to educator to international jazz ambassador. [Disclaimer: Tracy has asked me to write the liner notes for his forthcoming CD of duets with Harry Pickens.] He brought a topnotch group with him for his gig at the Jazz Factory on Friday, January 11, namely Craig Wagner on guitar, Jason Tiemann on drums and Doug Elmore on bass. From the outset, it was clear that these guys were on fire. "Some Time Ago" began as a ballad, with the leader taking the first solo, but after Wagner's fleet-fingered solo, Tracy returned and, together with Tiemann's switch from brushes to sticks, brought the energy level up appreciably. Tracy introduced Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Never Come to Me" by noting that he, Wagner and Tiemann would soon embark for Brazil (Elmore's teaching position wouldn't accommodate the schedule). The warm rendition of this song took the audience to Brazil without need of a passport. The second set brought the intensity level up even further, as the group opened with Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" and then paid homage to John Coltrane with "Lonnie's Lament," during which everyone simply burned. For a saxophonist to perform a Coltrane composition without imitating Trane's playing style, as was the case here, takes both guts and imagination. Likewise, Tiemann's drumming and Elmore's basswork were not imitations of Elvin Jones or Jimmy Garrison; they each made their own musical statements. A former student of Tracy's, the great Don Braden, contributed a new piece to the upcoming CD, "The Wayfarer," which was rearranged for quartet and featured the leader on soprano rather than tenor. The second ser concluded with a series of standards, "Old Folks," "Triste" (another Jobim piece), "In a Sentimental Mood" and, as set-closer, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." The second set was recorded for WFPK-FM's "Late Set at the Jazz Factory" series and may be available for streaming at www.wfpk.org. If so, check it out for some inspired playing.

ON THE HORIZON

CHICK COREA AND BÉLA FLECK AT THE BROWN THEATRE

Pianist Chick Corea and banjo artist Béla Fleck are engaging in a very limited tour in support of their 2007 recording The Enchantment (Concord CCD-30253), a subtle and sophisticated album of intricate interplay. They will perform here in Louisville on Monday, February 18, 2008, at the Brown Theatre. Tickets are available through the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts at 501 W. Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202, 502-584-7777 (or online at www.kentuckycenter.org).

JANE BUNNETT AND THE SPIRITS OF HAVANA IN BLOOMINGTON AND LOUISVILLE

On Saturday February 23, the Jazz Factory will host soprano saxophonist, flutist and bandleader Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana. Bunnett is a Toronto native who is thoroughly steeped in the music of Cuba and her band includes musicians from that country. She thoroughly enthralled the packed house at the Jazz Factory back in 2004; plan ahead for this one! See the club listings below for ticket information.

If you want a double dose, Bunnett will also be appear in Bloomington, presented by Jazz from Bloomington and Bloomington Arts Week. There will be a concert, workshop and panel discussion focusing on the music of Cuba. The concert will be Tuesday, February 26; tickets and further details ma be found at www.bloomingtonarts.info.

Selected Club Listings

The Jazz Factory (815 W. Market St. in The Glassworks, 502-992-3242) always has a complete and updated schedule, with more details, at the website: www.jazzfactory.us.

Last month I listed the return of the Lynne Arriale Trio on Saturday, February 9; however, this has been rescheduled for June. Highlights for February (my listing is subjective and omission of an act is due to space and time limitations, not quality judgments) include a Mardi Gras Celebration with The West Market Street Stompers on Friday February 1; vocalist Jeff Hall with The Dick Sisto Trio follow that Saturday. The great organist Joey DeFrancesco returns to Louisville for a Valentine's day show; call or check the website for details on dinner specials for this engagement. His prior visits here have been outstanding and this should be no exception. As noted above, Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana will perform Saturday February 23.

In addition to these featured performers, the Jazz Factory presents fine jazz every night, Tuesday through Saturday, with early specials, a revamped menu. Important Note: The Late Night Salon, which has enlivened Friday and Saturday nights after the second jazz set, has been placed on hiatus until sometime in Spring, while Jazz Factory proprietor Ken Shapero works to bring a fresh approach to this after-hours venture.

The Seelbach Jazz Bar, (500 S. Fourth Street, 502-585-3200), features vibraphonist and occasional pianist 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 nightly offerings of local and regional jazz; check the website for the full schedule and updates. February shows which you might think worthy of a road trip include: Friday, February 15: Fareed Haque Group www.fareed.com (guitar master Haque is a member of Garaj Mahal); Friday, February 22: Steve Allee Big Band; Friday, February 29: singer Jackie Allen; Saturday, March 1: Chuchito Valdés; Saturday, March 8: New York Voices, the Grammy Award winning vocal ensemble; Saturday, March 15: Monty Alexander Trio.

The February schedule for The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241-WISP), was unavailable, due to management changes at the club. There is a new website which you may visit for further information: www.thebluewispjazzclub.com.

Important Note, Part 2, Slight Return: "The Jazz E-News" service has been discontinued. The Louisville Jazz Society has revamped its website (www.louisvillejazz.org) and now offers a new means to disseminate news of live performances locally: be sure to sign up for the e-mail "Louisville Jazz Society's Jazz Insider." In any event, 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 of the weekly listings in the Courier-Journal and LEO and the Louisville Music News' monthly music listings, in both the print and online editions (www.louisvillemusicnews.net).

LOCAL JAZZ CONTACTS

BOBBY FALK: www.myspace/bobbyfalk.com, drummer and composer Bobby Falk;

WALKER & KAYS: www.walkerandkays.com, singer Jeanette Kays and guitarist Greg Walker;

JENNIFER LAULETTA: www.jenniferlauletta.com, singer Jennifer Lauletta;

JEFF SHERMAN: jeff.sherman@insightbb.com, guitarist Jeff Sherman;

RON JONES: www.ronjonesquartet.com, rjmusic@ronjonesquartet.com, saxophonist Ron Jones;

STEVE CREWS: www.jazzcrews.com, jazzcat@iglou.com, pianist Steve Crews.

CODA

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