I: RIP, Steve Ferguson
Guitarist and vocalist Steve Ferguson, a co-founder of NRBQ and leader of his own Midwest Creole Ensemble, lost his battle with cancer. He played for my wedding, and I regret not having seen him play shortly before his untimely passing.
II: Season's Greetings
Happy Hanukkah, Swingin' Solstice, Merry Christmas, Good Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year.
Pianist and 2010 NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron returned to Louisville for a triumphant solo concert on Sunday, October 25, 2009. The elegance of his charcoal gray suit was an appropriate match for the elegance of his playing. After opening with "Love Walked In," Barron performed Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan," playing with beauty and searching intelligence. His left hand laid a solid foundation for his right hand explorations on the standard "Body and Soul." An energetic original, "Calypso," brought to mind the saxophone stylings of Sonny Rollins. Two more originals followed, "Lullaby" and "New York Attitude." The former song, back-announced, seemed more trance-inducing than sleep-enabling. Appropriate to its title, the latter song was bustling, confident and insistent. A gorgeous medley of some relatively lesser-known Duke Ellington compositions followed: "Lotus Blossom," "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "Melancholia" and "Star-Crossed Lovers." "How Deep Is the Ocean" built into an intense climax." Barron's take on "I'm Confessin' that I Love You" was more swing than stride. He kept the swing coming with his version of Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low." An original, "Song for Abdullah," was dedicated "to one of my favorite pianists and composers, Abdullah Ibrahim." To my ears, this was a beautiful ballad with no overtly South African themes. He closed with a fast-paced take on Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't," performed with more liquid than angular musical lines. The audience demanded an encore, and was treated to Barron's rendition of another Monk classic, "Blue Monk." Kudos to Kenny Baron for another wonderful evening of modern jazz piano, and to Mike Tracy and all the others at U of L who made his appearance possible.
JIGU! Thunder Drums of China performed an exciting concert to a nearly full house at the Brown Theatre on Thursday, November 7. The young troupe hails from the Shanxi Province, home to a centuries-old tradition of drumming. The evening opened with the martial tones of "The Qin King Assembles His Army." The next three pieces, in different styles, evoked nature and the Yellow River. "A Mouse-Fairy Wedding" was highly entertaining, as dance and percussion combined to tell the amusing tail, ahem, tale. The music and dance of "Lady Warriors of the Yang Family" was almost overshadowed by the amazing costumes worn by the women. After a brief intermission, JIGU! returned for another assortment of pieces which again ranged from nature-inspired ("Sounds of Rolling Walnuts") to martial ("Drums of Triumph") to "funny animal" ("Dogs Chasing Ducks"). The enthusiasm of these young (roughly 18 to 30) performers was uplifting. I was intrigued to note that roughly half of the percussionists were women. The audience included everyone from very young children to the elderly, and everyone left the theater smiling.
My daughters, fraternal twins, turned 11 recently, and for their big present, we went to see Miley Cyrus at Freedom Hall on Halloween. Yep, Miley Cyrus. After a brief set by her older brother's band, Metro Station, (with frequent exhortations to "Jump!" and even more frequent mentions of the band's name), there was an intermission that made the Grateful Dead's 50-minute set breaks seem lightning fast. And then, in the intimate comfort of Freedom Hall with some 20,000 of our closest friends, MILEY came out! There were elaborate lighting effects, many strangely reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Her hit "Fly on the Wall" was preceded by loud stereo buzzing effects, and included two men "caught" in single strand "spider webs," much to the delight of the audience. Whether due to contractual issues or Cyrus' desire to brand her real identity, her focus was on songs associated with her work as Miley Cyrus, and, despite her many costume changes, appear in character as Hannah Montana. I missed "I Miss You" from the Hannah canon, but otherwise could find no faults with the performance. My daughters' only regret was that they had to skip trick or treating; in fact, they even had the chutzpah to ask why we couldn't have gone to see Miley the following night, a school night, in Lexington so they could have prowled our neighboring street Hillcrest. Sometimes a parent just can't win. Actually, the music was better than most of the poor, poor pitiful me singer-songwriter AAA stuff that pollutes the FM wavelengths, and Miley's seemingly endless energy was a delight to watch. You go, grrl!
Bowling Green native Sam Bush is pretty much a Louisvillian by fan adoption. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, November 7, he brought his mandolin and his band, consisting of Stephen Mougin (guitar), Byron House (bass), Scott Vestal (banjo) and Chris Brown (drums) to a packed house at ear X-tacy. Opening with the title track from his new release, Circles Around Me, Bush and company gave a 70-minute demonstration of acoustic fusion, blending bluegrass, jazz, country and rock influences. The two closing numbers were dedicated to his friend Tim Krekel, whose passing earlier this year was a great loss to the Louisville music community. He played a moving rendition of Krekel's "All Night Radio," with its Van Morrison-like chorus, followed by a rousing medley of the Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" ("which Tim made me learn") and the traditional "Cripple Creek." Come back soon, please, Sam.
Stride pianist Judy Carmichael performed a solo concert at the Galt House on Saturday night, November 7, sponsored by Gist Piano Center. I smiled to myself as she opened with "Lulu's Back in Town," a song deconstructed by Thelonious Monk years after its earliest recordings. She played it straight, no chaser, though, to a captivated audience. She interspersed her songs with vivacious monologues, primarily about her experiences as a performer in places ranging from Australia to China to England. She drew from the Fats Waller songbook with her takes on "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," her revised lyrics to his "Come and Get It," (the title track to her latest CD), and a particularly moving version of his "I Ain't Got Nobody," which concluded the first set. A short second set included highlights such as "Up a Lazy River" and "Lady Be Good." She returned to Fats Waller for her encore, "Honeysuckle Rose," which was all but drowned out by a soundcheck in the cavernous room next door. Her professionalism was unmatched, however, as she ignored the intrusion and finished the piece to a well-deserved standing ovation. While her style of piano playing is traditional, she nonetheless brings her own personality to her performance, showing that stride is still a living chapter in jazz.
The Comedy Caravan, 1250 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40204, 502-459-0022 www.comedycaravan.com, has long been a venue for quality musical acts. The Don Krekel Orchestra performs the second Monday of each month, which falls on December 14. Bobby Falk presents a holiday show with Jerry Tolson and an open jam on Monday December 21. No other jazz bookings were planned as of deadline time, so please contact the club for any post-deadline shows.
The Seelbach Jazz Bar, (500 S. Fourth Street, 502-585-3200), features vibraphonist and occasional pianist Dick Sisto, who always provides excellent mainstream jazz, sometimes with guest artists joining him.
The Nachbar (969 Charles Street, 502-637-4377, www.myspace.com/thenachbar), features Vamp (saxophonist Jacob Duncan, drummer Jason Tiemann and a revolving crew of bassists) every Wednesday, and was featuring Squeeze-bot on Sundays; check the club for updates or changes.
Jockamo's Pizza Pub (corner of Goss Avenue and Krieger Street, 502-
637-5406) now has jazz every Thursday night with guitarist Craig Wagner, drummer Jason Tiemann, and others.
The West Market Street Stompers continue their weekly gig 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.
Jazzyblu is located in the basement of the Glassworks, 815 West Market St., the homepage is www.jazzyblu.com. After spending several minutes on the revised website on November 21, I was unable to find a calendar for December features. The club's phone is 502-992-3243.
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. You may want to consider a road trip for the following special engagements: pianist/vocalist Freddie Cole on December 4; and the Hot Club of Detroit, December 5.
The December schedule for The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241-WISP), includes: guitarist Dan Faehnle on December 5; flutist Jamie Baum with the Phil Degreg Trio, December 11-12; pianist Monika Herzig, December 15; Garaj Mahal, December 17; singer Jackie Allen, December 19; and singer Annie Sellick, New Year's Eve.
Wednesdays remain the province of the Blue Wisp Big Band. For details and the full schedule, the website is: www.thebluewisp.com.
Please sign up for updated local jazz listings: The Louisville Jazz Society has revamped its website (www.louisvillejazz.org), and 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." 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).
Keith Jarrett: Testament: Paris/London (ECM2130-32)
Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden (ECM2100-01)
Pianist Keith Jarrett and saxophonist/flutist Jan Garbarek in many ways embody the ECM aesthetic, and have recorded extensively for the label since its inception. In fact, Garbarek for many years was a member of Jarrett's so-called "European Quartet." Jarrett's Testament is a 3-disc set of solo performances recorded late in 2008, in Paris on November 26 and London on December 1. There are no song titles, all tracks are simply entitled "Part I, Part II," etc. His highly personal liner notes reveal that he was burdened with great emotional issues at this time. The Paris performance opens with a lengthy, dark rumination. It seems that over the course of this 70-minute performance, Jarrett began to find his way to a brighter personal space. The London concert is presented on two discs, and seems similarly to find Jarrett moving from pathos to peace. This box set is a worthy addition to his canon, and shows an artist who, at 63, faced down his personal demons and created intimate and demanding music as a means of exorcism.
Jan Garbarek's Dresden is the artist's first live recording. He is accompanied by pianist and keyboard player Rainer Brüninghaus, electric bassist Yuri Daniel and drummer Manu Katche. They explore a wide range of styles and feelings over the course of this two hour 2-CD set. Garbarek's tone has frequently been described as "icy," although that is an oversimplification. On the opening "Paper Nut," Katche's fast drumwork kicks off a fast-paced workout which, to me, evokes Weather Report. "The Tall Tear Trees" is next, and is quietly atmospheric. "Heitor" is invocational, while "Twelve Moons" begins with soft piano and closes with Garbarek soloing a cappella. While space does not allow a full description of each track, it is worth noting that many of the songs flow seamlessly into one another, creating jazz suites. Each musician is given a great deal of improvisational space, and each uses it wisely. In short, Garbarek's first live album is creative, exploratory, and highly enjoyable. Encore!
Cyrus Chestnut: Spirit (Jazz Legacy Productions JLP 0901002, www.jazzlegacyproductions.com) Cyrus Chestnut's new release is a solo piano recital of Gospel and other uplifting works, including Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday." This is a gorgeous album of meditative and reflective music, elegantly packaged and produced.
With two ten-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.
MIKE TRACY: www.michaeltracy.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, saxophonist and teacher Mike Tracy
UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE JAZZ PROGRAM: www.jazz.louisville.edu
BOBBY FALK: www.myspace.com/bobbyfalk, 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: email@example.com, guitarist Jeff Sherman;
RON JONES: www.ronjonesquartet.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, saxophonist Ron Jones;
STEVE CREWS: www.jazzcrews.com, email@example.com, pianist Steve Crews.
I am always interested in your comments. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.