Sincere best wishes to all for a healthy, happy and music-filled 2008!
December brought the news of two untimely deaths, namely saxophonist Frank Morgan and producer Joel Dorn. Since beginning to write about jazz regularly, I have had the privilege of interviewing many wonderful artists. An unexpected highlight was my conversation with Frank Morgan, in conjunction with his appearance at the Kentucky Center at the Jazz Factory Series in April 2005. As I stated in a preview written for the Kentucky Center's BackStage Pass, "both his playing and his conversation demonstrate[d] a quiet confidence that makes him an inspiration to those who have come after him." He leaves a legacy of recordings which go back to the bebop era and, following a hiatus, continued through the past several years on the HighNote label.
Joel Dorn was a record producer whose jazz roster included Herbie Mann, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Mose Allison and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, not to mention many non-jazz artists. He launched his own series of labels after working for others and today Hyena Records bears his eclectic imprint, with recordings ranging from vault releases by Kirk to new recordings by such inheritors of his spirit as Skerik and John Ellis. His adventurous spirit, as well as his openness to and support of new artists and their works will be missed.
First of all, I voted for this great New Orleans band in the JazzTimes poll; these guys have been together almost three decades and their most recent date at the Jazz Factory (Saturday, October 20) shows how their musical telepathy serves them well. Saxophonist Tony Dagradi, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton combine an edgy modern jazz sensibility with second-line New Orleans rhythms and masterful musicianship. Over the course of their two sets, they performed mostly original material. The first set included two songs scheduled for release on their next album, "Angel Song" and "Dike Finger." The former opened with a Coltrane-like invocation by Dagradi before the theme, while the latter was an intense, riff-driven piece which featured composer Singleton in an amazing solo which went from arco, to arco over a pizzicato loop, to a slapping barrelhouse romp. After performing Thelonious Monk's "Bye-Ya" in the first set, the group paid further homage to Monk in the second set with an original inspired by him, "Spherical." These are just a few of the highlights of the band's performance, which closed with the title track from an earlier CD, "Voodoo Bop." In N'awlins, the crowd would have been up and dancing to this piece, whose title itself is an apt metaphor for Astral Project's music.
Earlier in the year, Astral Project released its first DVD, Live in New Orleans, recorded at Snug Harbor, a venue similar to the Jazz Factory in many ways. The DVD is packaged with a CD which does not include quite all of the performance; however, all songs are available as "bonus" material in mp3 format. Watching the band on home turf shows them relaxed yet intense, enjoying themselves and the audience. The camera work is straightforward and includes good footage of the members' interaction with one another, as well as closeups during solos. "Dark Sage" is a Masakowski showpiece; Dagradi's reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" is beautiful; "Johnny V's" rap shows the humorous side of the band and Vidacovich himself. Singleton's basswork throughout is exceptional. More information is available at the band's website, www.astralproject.com and the package is available through www.cdbaby.com, if you can't find it locally. I highly recommend this recording.
Veteran singer, pianist and composer Mose Allison kicked off a truly astonishing week of concerts here in Louisville when he played the Jazz Factory on Saturday, November 7. The following Monday night brought the Pat Metheny Trio to the Brown and the eight-day week concluded the following Saturday with the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Memorial Auditorium. Last month's columns included my reviews of Metheny and Brubeck, so here's my take on Allison. Allison is, of course, a songwriter par excellence, having penned "Young Man Blues," "Your Mind Is On Vacation (But Your Mouth Is Working Overtime)," and "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy," to cite just a few examples. He is also a vocal stylist, whose reworkings of blues standards such as "That's All Right," and "Baby Please Don't Go," and country classics like Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" mark him as a distinctive artist. In fact, between his wry lyrics and his patented singing style, it is sometimes easy to overlook his fleet-fingered piano playing.
As is his wont, he opened both sets with lengthy instrumental pieces, ably accompanied by Jim Anderson on bass (from Cincinnati) and Louisvillian Jason Tiemann on drums. Now 80 years old, Allison kept Anderson and Tiemann on their toes through both sets. Allison's performance was, in some ways, a crash course in how to re-imagine post-1930 jazz, as he performed his interpretations of Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me," and Buddy Johnson's "The Stuff You Got to Watch." With the exception of "Young Man Blues," all the original songs mentioned above were performed over the course of his sets. His performance of "I'm a Certified Senior Citizen" may have replaced "Young Man," and other tunes such as "When 'Am' Turns to 'Was'" imply that Allison is taking a musical look over his shoulder without becoming maudlin.
Bob Dylan's latest Louisville appearance, at Freedom Hall on Wednesday, October 17, reinforced my perception that he carries something of the jazz spirit within him. Several years before Miles Davis was assailed by some for adding amplified instruments to his sound, Dylan was booed at the Newport Folk Festival for the same audacity. Over more than four decades later, Dylan's Louisville songlist ranged from "oldies" such as the opening "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" and "Masters of War" to more recent pieces such as "Things Have Changed" and "Summer Days." By varying the arrangements, however, he kept the music fresh for himself, his band and the audience. This is what I mean by the jazz spirit - the reinvention of repertoire and the opening up of songs for jamming by the talented band members. Additionally, many of the songs are either blues or blues-based, thus making the jazz connection easier to justify.
Opening for Dylan was newcomer Amos Lee, a AAA fave, who was followed by jazz singer Diana Krall's husband, Elvis Costello. Costello proved that he does not need a band to be a powerful performer. Accompanied only by his own guitar, Costello shredded through an opening medley of early songs, "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes" and "Radio Radio." His Katrina-inspired "River in Reverse" was eloquent and his choice in cover material was intriguing, ranging from the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" to Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said." This was a wonderful night of music, genres be damned. Hey, even jazz columnists like a musical change of pace.
Unfortunately, I had to miss the performance of pianist Chick Corea and banjo artist Béla Fleck this past summer at the Indianapolis Jazz Festival; I have no intention of passing up their performance on Monday, February 18, 2008, at the Brown Theatre here in Louisville. 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). This is part of a very limited tour in support of their 2007 recording The Enchantment (Concord CCD-30253), a subtle and sophisticated album of intricate interplay.
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. Highlights include the Monty Alexander Trio, in two shows on Wednesday, January 16, at 7 and 9 instead of the usual 7:30 and 9:30 times. Jamaican‑born pianist Alexander has performed here before and is a dynamic musician.
Jazz pianist and composer Darius Brubeck, one of the talented sons of Dave Brubeck, plays Saturday the 19th with his friend and colleague, saxophonist Mike Rossi and Louisvillians Chris Fitzgerald and Jason Tiemann. If memory serves, he appeared many moons ago at the Lonesome Pine Special Series at the Kentucky Center with the Brubeck Brothers. Mark your calendars for the return of the Lynne Arriale Trio on Saturday February 9.
Some of the top local and regional acts during February include [full listing as of deadline time]: Bennett Higgins - January 2; Ansyn Banks - January 3; Phil DeGreg's Brazilian Quartet - January 5; Matt Lawson - January 8; Dick Sisto - January 9; Bobby Falk - January 10; Mike Tracy - January 11; Ron Jones - January 12; U of L International Jazz Quartet - January 23.
In addition to these featured performers, the Jazz Factory presents fine jazz every night, Tuesday through Saturday, with early specials, a revamped menu and an eclectic mix of acts Friday and Saturday nights after the second jazz set, for the Late Night Salon series.
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 any special January shows (unavailable at deadline time).
The January 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 125 and online editions (www.louisvillemusicnews.net).
With two just-turned nine‑year‑olds, it's hard to get out as much as I would like to hear music. As a result, picking and choosing which performances to catch sometimes require that I postpone seeing some of the local musicians and singers in order to not miss the one-night-stands from out-of-town artists. Invariably, I feel guilty, so in an effort to assuage my guilt and, more positively, to provide more exposure to our community of great local jazz performers, I am initiating this feature containing website and e-mail contact information. I am only including those artists who have given their permission to me; some have indicated a preference for website listing only; others have only e-mail addresses. If you wish to be included, drop a line to me with your permission and preferences, at email@example.com. I reserve the right to edit and to exclude those whose connection to jazz is, in my opinion, tenuous; and this feature may end up online if it begins to take up too much space in print.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, guitarist Jeff Sherman;
RON JONES: www.ronjonesquartet.com, email@example.com, saxophonist Ron Jones;
STEVE CREWS: www.jazzcrews.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, pianist Steve Crews.
I am always interested in your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.