Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

Jazzin'
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

PRELUDE:

I. R.I.P. Charles Fambrough

We lost bassist Charles Fambrough much too early. Only 60 years old, he passed away on January 1, of a heart attack, after several years of poor health. Perhaps best known for his work with Grover Washington, Jr., Airto Moreira, McCoy Tyner and Art Blakey, he also released seven albums as a leader.

II. R.I.P. Dr. Billy Taylor

Jazz Pianist, Composer, Broadcaster, Educator and Advocate, Dr. Billy Taylor (description taken from his website, www.billytaylorjazz.com), passed away December 28, 2010, at the age of 89. I commend his site to you not only for general information, but for an almost two-hour video of his Memorial Service, which featured not only eulogies, but musical performances.

DRAMA REVIEW: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM AT ACTORS THEATRE

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” by award-winning playwright August Wilson, opened recently at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and will run through February 13. It is based on the life of “The Mother of the Blues,” as Ma Rainey was known. Although set in a recording studio in Chicago in 1927, the play is part of Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” also known as his “Century Cycle.” It won the 1985 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play. The press release states that this is “searing drama,” and this is not hyperbole. Indeed, having seen last year’s ATL production of “Ella,” in which the drama leads up to a concert by the actress playing Ella Fitzgerald, I must admit that it took me the better part of the first act to reconcile my expectations of a similar theater experience with the reality that this is a completely different work.

This is not a musical. The actors mime their instruments, and there are only a few songs performed. The focus is on the interaction of the musicians with one another, with their boss, Ma Rainey, and their interaction with her white record producer and her manager. Mark Twain revisionists beware: African-American author Wilson uses the word “nigger” almost constantly; somewhat surprisingly to modern ears, it is the African-Americans who refer to one another with that term.

The story line develops not only as tension between the races, but perhaps even more significantly, as tension between the generations. Young trumpeter Levee wants to bring in new ideas, such as improvisation, while Ma Rainey just wants her band to play in the older style of the blues which she helped to create and popularize. Keep in mind that Louis Armstrong was recording his soon-to-become-immortal Hot Fives and Sevens from 1925-1929.

The first act opens in a jovial mode, with the musicians arriving for the session, jiving and bantering. Ma makes her appearance, in grand style, somewhat later, and immediately asserts herself with demands on her manager and the producer. Her girlfriend, Dussie Mae, has eyes for Levee as well as for Ma. For much of the first act, the humor is rapid fire, but there are segments when the mood changes from sidesplitting to heart wrenching.

The concluding act begins with the triumphant recording of the title song. It concludes with the tragic consequences of the fiery Levee’s temper, as he misdirects his righteous anger from being disrespected by the white record producer. Throughout both acts, the actors work together as a well-oiled ensemble. They seem to truly inhabit their roles. Director Ron OJ Parson has directed many of Wilson’s other plays, and his experience and love for the material come through strongly here. Full credits are available at www.actorstheatre.org where ticket information is also available.

NEW JAZZ PROGRAM AT EAR X-TACY

From an e-mail from John Chamberlain, with the University of Louisville, here is information on a new and exciting program, “Jazz in The Loop” with the U of L Jazz Ensemble. “The Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program at the U of L School of Music is partnering with ear X-tacy to offer an inside look at the various styles of jazz. Ansyn Banks, assistant professor of jazz studies, will lead the school's International Jazz Quintet with a session of music demonstrations and talk about jazz - the unique American music form - and all its sounds. All who want to discover or just dig deeper into Jazz are invited to the store to learn more. CDS of the various genre will be available for purchase. Sunday, February 13, 2:00 PM: Swing, Bebop, Cool Jazz & Hard Bop; Sunday, February 20, 2:00 PM: Modal, Jazz in the 60's, ECM & Jazz Today. For more information, contact Banks at 852-1858 or call the store at 452-1799. 2226 Bardstown Rd. Louisville, KY 40205."

U OF L JAZZ WEEK 2011

The University of Louisville’s 2011 Jazz Fest takes place on campus from February 23 – 26. As of deadline time, the artists announced are as follows. On February 24, the musicians featured are: Jazz Ensemble II, Jerry Tolson – Director; Pharez Whitted, trumpet, David Kana, tenor sax, Todd Hildreth, piano and Phil Brown, bass. Friday, February 25 sees the return of saxophonist Antonio Hart, who has been killin’ in his appearances here over the past few years. Joining Hart will be with Jazz Ensemble I, John LaBarbera – Director, and the Faculty Jazz Combo. On Saturday, February 26, the featured act is the Jeff Hamilton Trio, with the leader on drums, along with Tamir Hendelman, piano and Christoph Luty, bass; also performing will be Jazz Ensemble I. If all goes as planned, look for a more in-depth preview in LEO soon. Further information is available online at

http://louisville.edu/music/degrees/undergraduate/jazz/jazz-fest-2010-2011, and by calling the University at 502-852-6907.

Frank Vignola's "100 Years of Django Reinhardt"

Guitarist Frank Vignola, who appeared several times at the Jazz Factory, returns for a concert on Saturday, February 5, at the Ogle Cultural and Community Center on the campus of IUS. More information is available at www.frankvignola.com/tour and www.ius.edu/oglecenter/serieslist..cfm?series=Global Village#Show213 This is in celebration of the famed Gypsy jazz guitarist's birth in January of 1910.

SELECTED CLUB AND OTHER 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. The Don Krekel Orchestra performs the second Monday of each month, which falls on February 14. The West Market Street Stompers will delight lovers of traditional jazz every 4th Monday, February 28 this time. A new addition to the jazz lineup is Edmonds Jazz Quartet, on the 1st Monday, February 7. Please contact the club for any post-deadline information.

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.

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. January shows were not available by deadline time. However, singer Kurt Elling is coming on Saturday, February 12, with his longtime pianist Laurence Hobgood plus guitarist John McLean.

The Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati, 318 East Eighth St. (513-241-WISP), is featuring local and regional talent during February, with the exception of an amazing, yet unconfirmed as of deadline time appearance on Friday, February 18 by guitarist Rez Abbasi with Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, Dan Weiss on drums and Vijay Iyer on piano! Wednesdays remain the province of The Blue Wisp Big Band. For details and the full schedule, the website is: www.thebluewisp.com.

The Redmoor, Mt. Lookout Square, 3187 Linwood Avenue, in Cincinnati, 513-871-6789, www.jazzincincy.com. As of deadline time, the club brings in Norman Connors and the Starship Orchestra for a “Valentine Love” show on February 12, plus local and regional talent throughout the month.

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).

EIGHTH NOTES: NEW JAZZ PLUS IMPROVISATION FROM THE ROCK WORLD

The Doors: When You’re Strange (Eagle Rock DVD) and The Rolling Stones: Stones In Exile (Eagle Rock DVD)

Due to space limitations in the print edition, my review of these two documentaries was posted online only, at: www.louisvillemusicnews.net/webmanager/index.php?WEB_CAT_ID=50&storyid=6874&headline=When_You're_Strange/Stones_In_Exile&issueid=262

A Tale of Two Saxophonists: Charles Lloyd: Mirror (ECM) and Roscoe Mitchell: Far Side (ECM)

Charles Lloyd and Roscoe Mitchell both came to prominence in the 1960s, and both have been trailblazers, albeit in different styles. While both might loosely be tagged as post-Coltrane, Lloyd’s music is more approachable, while Mitchell’s tends to be more cerebral. New releases on ECM show the label’s commitment to challenging music and top production values.

On Mirror, Lloyd is joined by his bassist and drummer of choice from the past few years, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland, together with one of the finest of the younger generation of pianists, Jason Moran. The program is varied. The opening standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily” showcases Lloyd’s instantly recognizable voice on the saxophone. He revisits pieces he has done before, such as “Go Down Moses,” The Water Is Wide” (the title song from his 2000 album) and “Lift Every Voice” (the title to his 2002 release). Between the personnel changes, rhythmic variations, and melodic soloing, these come off as virtually new pieces, not retreads. Lloyd’s spiritual depth is enhanced by the careful attention paid by all the band members to one another. Some fans and critics say this is Lloyd’s best quartet ever; I would say that without picking favorites, it certainly stands on equal footing with his 1960s quartet (featuring the then virtually unknown Keith Jarrett) and his return from “retirement” in the early 1980s in the quartet with the late Michel Petrucciani

.Far Side was recorded live at the Burghausen Jazz Festival 2007, with Mitchell accompanied by an unusual grouping of topflight musicians: Corey Wilkes on trumpet and flugelhorn, both Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer on pianos, Harrison Bankhead on cello and bass, Jaribu Shahid on bass, and Tanni Tabal and Vincent Davis on drums. Much of the music by this AACM artist straddles the line between modern classical music and avant-garde jazz. It is sometimes difficult to determine how much of the music is composed, and how much is improvised, although the organization of most of the work seems to incline toward the former. The first track, “Far Side/Cards/Far Side” is like a 31-minute suite - the opening segment is slow and magisterial, with faraway trumpet; drums do not enter until about the 10-minute mark. In a way, this piece presages the others in the album, with dense passages and dark sequences. In short, this is work that demands the listener’s attention, and rewards those who seek more than a swing ensemble doing new versions of standards.

California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium (CTI/Sony Masterworks Jazz)

CTI, which stands for Creed Taylor Incorporated, was a jazz label which peaked in the 1970s. The label has been revived and a series of archival releases is now being produced. While some of the original albums were overproduced, there is nothing but a tight ensemble stretching out on the reissue of California Concert. This features an all-star aggregation caught live in 1971 at the Hollywood Palladium: George Benson on guitar, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Hubert Laws on flute, Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Hank Crawford on alto sax, Johnny Hammond on organ and electric piano, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Cobham on drums and Airto Moreira on percussion. Originally released as a 2-LP set in 1972, it is now available as a 2-CD set with two lengthy, previously unreleased pieces, John Coltrane’s “Impressions” (24 minutes, including band introduction by an enthusiastic but unidentified announcer) and Hubbard’s “Straight Life” (almost 20 minutes) opening and closing the proceedings. “Impressions” is played with more syncopation than the many versions by its composer. A funky Latin reworking of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” is followed by Hubbard’s strong work on his now classic composition “Red Clay.” Those accustomed to Cobham’s hard driving flash on the contemporary Mahavishnu Orchestra recordings will find that he can swing hard and in the groove, as demonstrated on the 21-minute “Blues West.” Laws shines on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” while Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” is a funky organ-based take on the pop tune. Turrentine’s “Sugar” is greeted with a roar of approval from the crowd, while Carter is given room to shine on “Leaving West.” The concluding “Straight Life” is an uptempo romp with a stinging Benson solo, bootin’ sax work and more of Hammond’s soulful organ. More titles from the catalog are scheduled for release soon, but this superb and exciting concert recording was a wise choice for an opening salvo.

LOCAL JAZZ CONTACTS

With two twelve-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 mzkjr@yahoo.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, michael.tracy@insightbb.com, 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: 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.