Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Happy Thanksgiving! While giving thanks for the blessings of family, friends, food, health, and more, let's also give thanks to all of Louisville's talented jazz artists. They deserve it!

RECENT CONCERTS

MIKE TRACY and HARRY PICKENS CD RELEASE PARTY

Saxophonist Mike Tracy recently released a CD of duets with his friend and colleague, pianist Harry Pickens. Entitled Conversations (SeaBreeze Jazz SBJ-3088), it is warm and engaging (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes). On a gorgeous late summer afternoon (September 21), at the beautiful home of jazz aficionados and supporters Rande and Don Swann, Tracy and Pickens played selections from the disc. The only song not on the recording was the opener, Duke Ellington's bluesy "Take the Coltrane."

Having immersed myself in the music of the CD to prepare for writing the liners, I had set it aside for a while. Hearing the pieces performed live in this intimate setting was a reminder of how special this duo really is. After listening to Steve Allee's recent release (see Big Rock, below), with his gentle rendition of his original "Conversation with Bill [Evans]," it was intriguing to hear the alternate arrangement by Tracy and Pickens. I fell in love with the Argentine ballad "Alfonsina y el Mar" on the CD, and its wistful longing was also a highlight of the concert. I offer special thanks to the Swanns for their graciousness in hosting this concert. Copies of the CD should be available at Ear X-Tacy and through Tracy's website, www.michaeltracy.com.

A NIGHT OF JAZZ AT THE COMEDY CARAVAN

Drummer and composer Bobby Falk presented the second in his series of "A Night of Jazz" at the Comedy Caravan on Tuesday, September 23. As in the prior month's installment, variety was the watchword. The opening act was the Rascals of Ragtyme , with Charlie Niehoff on trumpet, Doug Finke on trombone, Buddy Jones on clarinet and tenor sax, Stan Moon on banjo, Sam Goodson on washboard and assorted percussion, and Quentin Sharpenstein on tuba. The set included chestnuts such as "Saint Louis Blues," and "Sweet Georgia Brown (complete with a Harlem Globetrotters whistling solo by Moon). The high point for me was the group's spirited rendition of "Saint James Infirmary," with an all-too-brief, fast-paced collective counterpoint workout.

Next up was this month's version of the Bobby Falk Group , with Kris Eans on trumpet, Dave Dorkin on guitar, Dave Clark on saxophones, Brian Healey on keyboard, Falk on drums, and John Scharfenberger on bass. Before talking about the set, I want to quote the leader, from an e-mail he sent me in reply to my request for help with the other musicians' names. "That's the biggest (and possibly) baddest group I've ever had. I love that big rich, thick sound   jazz 'chamber music' as I call it, especially with the colors of the keyboard/guitar playing at the same time within the arrangements." Falk opened with his uptempo arrangement of the standard "Beautiful Love," which featured solos by Eans and Dorkin. After his "theme," "Ballad for Serenity" (from his 2006 CD Turning the Tables> )>, Falk turned to his recent composition, "Jobim's Dream." Healey's electric piano introduction sounded "right," rather than sounding like an imitation acoustic piano. While time and space do not allow for a complete setlist and commentary, here's a special shout-out for the group's version of John Coltrane's "Equinox," performed as a guitar/bass/drums trio. Falk commented that Dorkin is Louisville's "best kept secret," which should not continue to be the case. Dorkin's fretwork is edgy and exiting without going over the top.

Closing out the night was the Todd Hildreth Trio , with bassist Chris Fitzgerald, drummer Paul Culligan, and special guest vocalist Amber Estes. Where Hildreth's performance on the first "Night of Jazz" featured his quirkily enjoyable band Squeeze-bot, this time around the tried and true trio format worked to showcase the keen jazz sensibilities of Hildreth and his colleagues. After opening with Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile," the trio remained in the modern jazz canon for an astonishing version of John Scofield's "Wabash." Amber Estes joined the trio for her original "Dream Dancin'" followed by a bone-chillingly intense version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Estes' final selection with the group was Björk's "Isobel." Estes showed her original take on jazz singing throughout her segment of the set. Hildreth introduced the final number, "Clint Eastwood," as "by that great jazz quartet, the Gorillaz." The humorous outlook remained through the musical introduction before the trio took it into serious improvisational territory. All in all, this "Night of Jazz" was another night of eclectic and enjoyable music.

THE HARRY PICKENS TRIO AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE

I felt as though I were engaging in some sort of guilty pleasure when, only three days after the Tracy/Pickens concert described above, I was able to see Pickens again with his trio, consisting of Chris Fitzgerald on bass and Jason Tiemann on drums. They performed at U of L's Comstock hall, in the School of Music, on Wednesday, September 24. From the opening number, "Time after Time," through the closing medley of "Imagine/Lady Madonna/Imagine," the trio demonstrated three qualities enunciated mid-concert by Pickens: "a shared vocabulary, the quality of listening to one another, and total and complete surrender to the moment." In fact, had Pickens not mentioned that the three of them had not performed together for several months, one would never have known, given the musical communion onstage. Only two songs from the most recent recording, The Shadow of Your Smile> ,>> were performed, namely "Sting's "Fragile" and Luiz Bonfa's "Gentle Rain." A former student, Matt Yarborough, added his trombone to an impromptu midtempo blues. Whether performing uptempo, as on Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," or in ballad mode, such as on the gorgeous "The Nearness of You," Pickens and company kept the audience enthralled. For more information on Pickens, including ordering information for his CDS, you can check his website, www.harrypickens.com.

BIG ROCK JAZZ FESTIVAL

The 9th annual Big Rock Jazz Festival was again blessed with gorgeous weather. The format changed from strictly jazz this year to a more eclectic musical offering. In reverse order, the day closed with The Stray Cat Blues Band Reunion , which had the crowd shaking its collective booty to blues classics such as Otis Rush's "Homework" and Slim Harpo's "King Bee." T he always entertaining Juggernaut Jug Band deftly mixed musicality and silliness, with a tip of the hat to Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys on "My Window Faces the South."

The only jazz band this year was the opening act, Indianapolis pianist Steve Allee and his Quintet, with Rob Dixon on tenor sax, Kevin Kaiser on percussion; Frank Smith on bass, and Kenny Phelps on drums. Not surprisingly, most of the selections (and all noted below) were from his recently released CD Dragonfly (Owl 0017). While the CD is primarily a trio recording, with guest saxophonists on three of its ten cuts, Allee wrote expanded arrangements for the quintet, all of whose members perform regularly in his big band. "Morning Glory," from Dragonfly> ,>was a lilting, mellow, perfect fit for the beautiful, warm afternoon. Next up was "Yummy," aptly described by the leader as "a fancy, funky blues." It offered plenty of solo space for all the musicians. Leonard Bernstein's beautiful "Somewhere" was played as a trio, allowing Allee to stretch out tastefully. The quintet closed with the rollicking "Bus to Belmopan," with Allee again giving his band members lots of room to solo. What struck me throughout the set was that the solos emphasized musicality rather than flashiness or technique for technique's sake. Allee's website is www.steveallee.com

ON THE HORIZON

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. Following the demise of the Jazz Factory, the Comedy Caravan entered into an agreement with Ken Shapero to use the Jazz Factory name and logo as it becomes home to the "Jazz Factory Orphan Series." The Don Krekel Or chestra performs the second Monday of each month, which falls on November 10.

On Monday, November 3, at 7:30 PM drummer/composer/bandleader Bobby Falk presents the next installment of his " A Night of Jazz " series. In addition to his own group, Falk will present the Doghouse Serenaders (gypsy/acoustic swing jazz), and Sandpaper Dolls (a cappella/experimental). On Sunday, November 16, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM, singer Jennifer Lauletta will have a CD release party for her new disc, The Mind of Love: Jennifer Lauletta Sings the Songs of k.d. lang> .>On Monday, November 17, vibraphonist/pianist/drummer/singer John Cocuzzi , will headline a concert with former Diana Krall guitarist Dan Faehnle , and Joe Lukasic on clarinet. Contact the club for any post-deadline dates.

Listings for the Speakeasy , in New Albany, were unavailable by deadline time, and the website had been down for several days. Past artists have included Jamey Aebersold, David Hazeltine, Chuck Marohnic, Craig Wagner, Tim Whalen, Dick Sisto, and more. 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 West Market Street Stompers continue their weekly gig through the summer at Bearno's By The Bridge , 131 W. Main St., on Fridays, from 5:30 7:00 PM. An added enticement, per their Newsletter, is a dance floor.

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. November shows you may find worthy of a road trip include: November 7: Steve Allee Big Band; November 8: Fareed Haque; November 14: Organissimo; November 15: Sarah Scharbourgh; November 28 & 29: Rufus Reid featuring Steve Allee, with plans for a live recording.

The schedule for The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241 WISP), includes: Friday, October 31 - Saturday, November 1: Singer Annie Sellick + Costume Party (10/31); Tuesday, November 4: Phil Markowitz/Adam Nussbaum/Jay Anderson ; Tuesday, November 11: Dave Liebman Vic Juris Master Class (4:00 PM) and concert (8:00 PM) ; Friday, November 14: Tim Warfield Quintet; Saturday, November 15:

Michaela Schwab (vocalist from Germany); Thursday, November 20: Dan Dorff Quintet CD Release Party();

Wednesdays remain the province of the Blue Wisp Big Band. The website is: www.thebluewisp.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, 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).

EIGHTH NOTES

This is an occasional feature to survey new releases with more than just "So and so has a new release," but with less detail than a track-by-track detailed analysis. Without further ado, here is the latest installment.

Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers : Epic Journey (Volumes 1 & 2) (Innova 708) is a two disc set, featuring the leader on tenor saxophone. Niewood, the son of Gerry Niewood, takes a different musical path from his father, as his approach leans more to the avant-garde. Volume I (disc 1) is entitled "Based on a True Story," features all original compositions which might be characterized as adventurous without being freeform. The penultimate song, "Mellow Drama," is a Latin flavored ballad, a change of pace. Volume II (disc 1) is entitled "Epic Journey," and all but two of the nine songs are noted as "free group improvisations." What could degenerate into chaos actually holds together so well that most of the pieces feel like compositions rather than spur of the moment musical adventures. Indeed, "Loved Ones" and "Calm Before the Storm" demonstrate that free improvising can be gentle. Niewood's clarity of musical vision in his experimentation could not have been realized without the contributions of his fellow musicians, who have performed with him in various groups for the past several years. They include bassist Matt Brewer and pianist Kristjan Randalu. Further information about the artist and his work may be found at www.niewood.com, and if you can't find this album locally, it should be available at www.amazon.com.

Nina Simone : To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story (RCA/Legacy 88697-11009) Nina Simone was not so much a pianist and singer as a force of nature. Since her passing in 2003, there have been many reissues and collections of her work. This one is a 3-CD, 1-DVD set which includes selections from her earliest recordings in 1957 to her final major label session in 1993, including songs from virtually all of the many labels for which she recorded. From her unique 1957 arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" through the final selection, "A Single Woman," these songs show the diversity of her music and the passion which she brought to it. Of special interest is the DVD, originally a 1970 television special. The interview segments offer insight into her worldview, while the concert segments are nothing less than riveting. "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," included in its original studio version on the first CD, is transformed in concert on the DVD to an absolute showstopper, and serves as a musical shorthand for all that made Nina Simone such a special figure.

CODA

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