Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

PRELUDE:

I have been meaning to write at some length about two recent recordings by Louisville musicians: The Harry Pickens Trio: The Shadow of Your Smile and Paradigm: Melodies for Uncertain Robots. They demonstrate the diversity and talent we Louisvillians may take for granted. Until I eke out more time to give these releases the attention they deserve, suffice it to say that Pickens provides music that ranges from romantic to meditational, while Paradigm's CD offers a refreshing blend of influences ranging from funk to electronica.

RECENT CONCERTS

Note: As mentioned last month, because of the closure of the Jazz Factory at the end of March, I have been holding back on some of the concert reviews as a small way to keep the memory alive for the next few months. Two more are presented (in chronological performance order) below.

MACE HIBBARD AT THE JAZZ FACTORY

Atlanta-based saxophonist Mace Hibbard sought to broaden his fan base by playing the Jazz Factory. Unfortunately, Hibbard's first appearance, on Saturday, March 15, was also his last at this venue, following the then-new announcement of the club's closure in two weeks. He brought with him bassist Marc Miller and drummer Justin Varnes and was pleased to reunite with an old colleague, pianist Steve Snyder, now teaching at Morehead State University here in Kentucky. Throughout his sets, Hibbard relied primarily on his own compositions, but also mixed in other composers' works as well. He was very personable, especially when telling the audience about the background of his original pieces. A special treat was the lesser-known Wayne Shorter composition "Deluge" in the first set. He introduced his own "Lullaby for Alex" by saying it was his mother's favorite composition. Varnes' brushwork was tasty and Snyder demonstrated his prowess in an unaccompanied piano solo, which was slow and deliberate. The group paid its collective respect to the standard repertoire with "You and the Night and the Music" before closing the first set with another Hibbard piece, the rollicking "Just a Little Harmless Fun."

The second set opener, "Captain Caveman," was fast-paced and full of energy. Another original followed, "Time Gone By," a waltz-time ballad with impassioned soloing by Hibbard. He switched from alto to soprano for another original, "When Last We Met," before performing the Willie Nelson classic "You Were Always on My Mind," which was crowd-pleasing without being condescending. After two more songs, Hibbard introduced Varnes' composition "One for 44," which allowed the drummer to let loose his inner Elvin. The closing Hibbard original, "My Prayer," was a soprano/piano duet, which could also work as a lullaby. If we still had the Jazz Factory, it seems likely that Hibbard would be a contender for a return engagement based on his top-notch performance this evening.

THE NEW YORK STANDARDS QUARTET WITH TIM ARMACOST AND DAVID BERKMAN AT THE JAZZ FACTORY

Saxophonist Tim Armacost has been a mainstay of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops for many years now. Hearing him play with his current band, the New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ), rather than one-off groupings, was a special treat. In addition to Armacost, the NYSQ consists of pianist David Berkman, bassist Yosuke Inoue and drummer Gene Jackson. Inoue has been named the number one bassist by the Japanese magazine Swing Journal, a point made verbally by Armacost several times, but, more significantly, demonstrated by Inoue's playing. Berkman has performed here before, including a great evening back in March 2004. Jackson contributed photography and cover design for the group's first CD, Live In Tokyo (TMA Records TACD 010), recorded in April of 2007 and just released. The performance here on Saturday, March 22, was part of a tour in support this album.According to Armacost, if you can't find this locally, it is available online at www.cdbaby.com., www.itunes.com and www.amazon.com.

Near the end of the first set, Armacost remarked: "Since we chose standards as our reason for being, we can just get up on the bandstand and play." The point was well-proved, as the band delivered a first set comprised of "Alone Together*," Monk's "Green Chimneys," "But Beautiful," and Charlie Parker's "Relaxin' at Camarillo." Picking up where they left off, another Parker tune, "Confirmation*," opened the second set, followed by "Star Eyes," McCoy Tyner's gorgeous "Search for Peace*," an exposition of "The Theme," and Benny Golson's "Stablemates." (Asterisks note songs from the CD.) Despite playing only four tunes the first set and five the second, the sets were 70 and 80 minutes long respectively. These artists clearly relish the opportunity to stretch out, with the knowledge that they are among highly accomplished peers.

"Alone Together," usually played at a slow tempo, was played uptempo and featured an explosive solo by Berkman, followed by Inoue. Jackson got "Green Chimneys" off to a rousing start, with more intense keyboard work by Berkman, a hot sax/drum duet, followed by a Jackson solo which wasn't "just another drum solo"; rather, it showcased not only his chops, but also his ability to maintain the feel and form of the song. While perhaps better known for his sax prowess, Armacost demonstrated mastery of the flute as well, on his beautiful solos during "But Beautiful" and "Search for Peace." The Live In Tokyo CD captures the energy and mastery displayed here in Louisville and shows how "the standards" can serve as a foundation for exploration, not just as museum pieces.

Next month will end the post-closure Jazz Factory concert reviews, with a look at the superb concert by the Larry Coryell Trio, with electric bassist Mark Egan and drummer Paul Wertico and the club's closing night extravaganza, which featured the Harry Pickens Trio, with numerous guests, on Saturday March 29.

SAMMY FIGUEROA AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE

The reconfigured University of Louisville (U of L) "Jazz Week" program, expanded to include performances in the Fall (Dave Brubeck) and the traditional February events, ended the season with a remarkable concert by Latin percussionist Sammy Figueroa and the Latin Jazz Explosion on April 4. The music was drawn from his 2007 CD, The Magician (Savant SCD 2079) and its 2005 predecessor, ...And Sammy Walked In (Savant SCD 2066), both of which received Grammy Nominations for Best Latin Jazz Album. The Latin Jazz Explosion members are: John Michalak, saxophone; Alexander Pope Norris, trumpet; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Gabriel Vivas, bass (5-string electric); and Goetz Kujack, drums.

During an interview with Figueroa for a concert preview in LEO (April 2, 2008), I became impressed with his modesty and humor, as well as his sense of obligation as a bandleader to both his audience and his musicians. These traits were demonstrated in abundance at U of L, as he entranced a house full of admirers ranging from elementary school-aged children to a trio of octogenarians seated in front of me. Figueroa led off with a Vivas composition from The Magician, which featured solos from Norris, Monasterios and the leader. Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots," from the same CD, had an easy flow from Latin to swing and back again. "Niko's Dream," from ...And Sammy Walked In, was introduced as "a cha-cha that we grew up with in the Bronx, inspired by Eddie Palmieri." Before starting his version of "Seven Steps to Heaven," (on The Magician), Figueroa said that "we're going to put some rice and beans in it to make it more Latin," and he and his bandmates did just that.

After a brief intermission, Figueroa and his musicians played a second set derived from The Magician, with the exception of "Syncopá O No," the leadoff piece from the first album. "Healing Man" featured a hot tenor solo, with the group's use of dynamics being especially effective. "The Magician" followed, with a sweet and warm flugelhorn solo, followed by gentle piano work. "Crossroads" demonstrated how the soloists could build their improvisations from slow to fast, with superb support by the other members. After "Syncopá O No," the band closed with a Hubert Laws composition as performed by the late Mongo Santamaria, "Together." Among the interesting aspects of the concert were the abandonment of the concept that each instrumentalist had to solo during each song. Thus, musical statements could be made without having to stretch each piece out to allow for additional solos. Also, of all the congueros I have seen over the years, Figueroa seemed to approach his playing with more subtlety. It seemed at tines that by using his fingers he was almost playing the drums as one might play a keyboard instrument. In short, this was a marvelous finale to the U of L 2007-2008 Jazz Fest.

ON THE HORIZON

BELLARMINE JAZZ GUITAR CLINIC AND CONCERT

Bellarmine University will host the 22nd Annual Jazz Guitar Clinic and Concert on Monday and Tuesday, June 9-10. The featured artists this year are Gene Bertoncini and Paul Bollenback. There will be a concert in Cralle Theater on the Bellarmine Campus June 9th at 7:30 p.m., with Bertoncini, Bollenback and Bellarmine Professor Jeff Sherman. Year after year, these concerts have, for me, served as the Jazz Rites of Summer. Especially now, with the closure of the Jazz Factory, this should draw jazz fans to Bellarmine. There is more information at: http://home.insightbb.com/~rush/Bellarmine/

INDY JAZZ FEST

As it has for several years, now, the Indy Jazz Fest will take place on Father's Day Weekend, Friday June 13 through Sunday, June 15. A few of the featured artists are: Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Freddie Hubbard, Ramsey Lewis and Paquito D'Rivera. For details: go to www.indyjazzfest.net.

SELECTED CLUB LISTINGS

The Comedy Caravan, 1250 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40204, 502-459-0022 www.comedycaravan.com, has long been a venue for quality musical acts. Prior to the opening of the Jazz Factory, jazz performers such as James Williams and Karin Allyson performed there. The Don Krekel Orchestra will perform the second Monday of each month and singer Brigid Kaelin is slated to perform with Krekel on June 9. In the words of owner Tom Sobel, it seeks to become a "home for other Jazz Factory orphans." Trombonist Eddie Clark will debut his new ensemble, the Louisville Jazz Collective, here on Monday, June 16. According to an e-mail from Sobel, Clark said the group would be "Mingus meets Gil Evans;" sounds like a winner to me. Contact the club for any post-deadline updates.

The Speakeasy, in New Albany, opened last summer and prior bookings have included Jamey Aebersold, David Hazeltine, Chuck Marohnic, Craig Wagner, Tim Whalen, Dick Sisto and more. Although June listings were unavailable by deadline time, you can obtain more information: SPEAKEASY JAZZ, 225 State Street, New Albany, IN 47150; 812-981‑0981, 1‑866‑498‑JAZZ; or surf to its website: www.speakeasyjazz.us

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. June shows which you might think worthy of a road trip include: rings guitarist Nels Cline (off from his day job with Wilco) on Wednesday the 4th; Lynne Arriale on Saturday June 7; and the Deep Blue Organ Trio, with guitarist Bobby Broom, organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham, on Friday and Saturday, June 27-28. Arriale and Broom were well-received during their engagements over the past several years at the Jazz Factory.

The June schedule for The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241‑WISP), includes the Lynne Arriale Trio on Friday, June 6, Dutch pianist Amina Figarova and her sextet featuring drummer Tim Horner on Thursday, June 26 and the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors Big Band on Saturday, June 28. Wednesdays remain the province of the Blue Wisp Big Band. The website is: www.thebluewisp.com.

Second line yourself to The Dame, 156 W. Main St., Lexington, KY 40507, 859-226-9204, www.dameky.com, on Wednesday, June 11th, for N'awlins' Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

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, it is both impossible for me to try to provide complete listings 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 and 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.