Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by Ken Fowser, the Eric Hargett trio, Kirk MacDonald, and Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu.…

Ken Fowser, Standing Tall (Posi-Tone)
If you dug the funky grooves and unbridled swing of some of the great jazz quintets of the 1960s – think the Adderley Brothers and Horace Silver’s bands – chances are you’ll very much dig the contemporary tangent offered by tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser. His 2016 release Standing Tall is a gem. His exploration of a dozen original tunes is also a showcase for the chemistry and chops of his working band with trumpeter Josh Bruneau, pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Jason Tiemann. Favorite tracks: the title track, “Head Start,” the pensive “Filling in the Blanks,” the gorgeous ballad “Hanging On” and the McCoy Tyner’ish ”More For Red.” The closing track, “Somebody Got to Do It,” is loaded with Horace Silver swagger.

Eric Hargett Trio, Steppin’ Up (Whaling City Sound)
For a debut recording, saxophonist Eric Hargett has splendid company in his trio-mates, B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Gerry Gibbs. With a bit more maturity as a player, he may even grow out of the tendency to over-play. Too often, it feels like he never took heed of Miles Davis’ wisdom that what you don’t play is even more important than what you do play. Occasionally, the notes pouring forth from his tenor or baritone sax carry the moment. How can you not want to burn trough a melody when there’s a searing B-3 solo right around the corner? Hargett rarely lets up. But he does rein it in substantially on two lovely ballads – “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and his own “Myra’s Song.” On the latter, Los Angeles-based Hargett also doubles on vibes. This is a young talent to keep an eye on.

Kirk MacDonald, Symmetry (Addo)
Toronto-based saxophonist Kirk MacDonald recorded this fine group in 2013 but the session initially was released just in Canada. Fortunately, Addo Records decided to distribute it internationally this year. MacDonald’s quintet includes trumpeter Tom Harrell, pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. For this, MacDonald’s 13th recording session as a leader, the saxophonist decided to write material that emerged from his conceptions of “symmetry” in music. The entire CD is quite powerful. The true gem is its longest exploration – a bubbling 9:36 take called “Mackrel’s Groove.”  This session is proof that quality jazz is timeless – and has an inherent freshness.

Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu, Eros (Otá)
Pianist Omar Sosa and trumpeter Paolo Fresu have developed a most simpatico musical relationship. Their latest project is a suite of music that focuses on the facets and mysteries of love. While the session’s participants also include cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and Maghreb singer Natacha Atlas, plus Italy’s Alborada String Quartet, it is Fresu and Sosa whose musical personalities dominate. At times, their collaboration draws aural comparison to the electronic jazz that fascinated Miles Davis in the mid-to-late 1980s. Favorite tracks: Fresu’s compositions””Zeus’ Desires” and Eros Mediterraneo,” Sosa’s “La Llamada” and their exquisite instrumental cover of Peter Gabriel’s “What Lies Ahead.” This is a September 16 release

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Newport Jazz Festival delivers again (updated)

Even though it's the granddaddy of America's outdoor music festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival doesn't take that pedigree lightly. It keeps delivering terrific jazz - of all stripes - in a postcard-perfect setting that has a breathtaking view of Newport harbor.
Tierney Sutton

The 2016 edition, held last weekend (July 29-31), offered several new music premieres by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society big band, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry, among others.
Charles Lloyd

Kamasi Washington
It also brought first-time Newport appearances by pianist Monty Alexander's band (heck, he's only 72), the exquisite singer Tierney Sutton, the grooving New Orleans jam band Galactic, pianists Henry Butler, Sullivan Fortner and Rossano Sportiello, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington. There were more new delights, too numerous to mention.

Washington performed twice with his band, providing a Friday highlight on the main stage and a different set altogether on Sunday on the more-intimate tented Quad Stage. It was easy to hear why his debut recording, 2015's 3-CD The Epic ranked at the top of so many year-end critics polls. Four other stupendous sets: Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9, the Joe Lovano-Chris Potter-Lionel Loueke-Eric Harland superband, Edmar Castaneda's World Ensemble, and the soulful jazz singer Gregory Porter.
Chick Corea

Pianist Chick Corea's Trilogy, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, opened Friday's downtown Newport evening program at historic Newport Casino (the festival's birthplace in 1954), and performed again on Saturday at Fort Adams. McBride succeeds founder George Wein as the festival's artistic director beginning with 2017's programming.

Toshiko Akiyoshi
There were homecoming moments as well - none more poignant than Toshiko Akiyoshi's solo piano set on the indoor Storyville club stage - 60 years after making her Newport Jazz Festival debut while a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

The weekend weather was hot and humid for the most part, after a Friday morning-early afternoon downpour decided to skip town far earlier - and faster than predicted. Saturday's program was sold out. 

This was the first time in at least 20 years that the festival had drawn 10,000 people to Fort Adams State Park, though the Newport Folk Festival has had daily sellouts for several years. Credit the July 30 sellout largely to an appearance by singer-pianist Norah Jones.

I'm sharing a few photos to whet your visual appetites. A more extensive variety of my images is posted at jazztimes.com.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An improved jazz deja vu

John Allmark
One of the great bonuses from returning to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival each summer is a chance to hear trumpeter John Allmark's extraordinary big band, The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra. For 16 years and counting, Allmark has kept Little Rhody's big band tradition alive - a tradition that began 49 years ago with the Duke Belaire Band. (It's just one year shy of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's golden Monday night run that began as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra,)

This was my first opportunity to hear the band in its new home, The Met, a live music emporium in Pawtucket. The prior home, Bovi's Town Tavern, closed in late 2015. It had hosted big-band jazz on Monday nights for 48 years.
Jerry Vejmola solos

Bill Vint
The new venue is larger, feels much roomier, and has top-notch sound and lighting systems. In my view, those compensate for the coziness that Bovi's afforded the band and its loyal fans.

During last night's opening set, the wide-ranging repertoire included a bit of Ellington and Strayhorn, some Freddie Hubbard material and a few other gems. My clear favorite was the band's lush take on trumpeter Tom Harrell's gorgeous composition, "Sail Away." 
Bob Bowlby

Vinny Pagano
Lucky me. I get to go back the next two Mondays to hear this blend of some of Southern New England's finest jazz players.

Enjoy these visual souvenirs from the evening. 


The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

Friday, July 22, 2016

A welcome addition to the Southwest Florida jazz (and blues) scene

There's a new slice of jazz heaven in the region. Slice is the operative word in the case of The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, where one night of jazz (Thursdays) shares the musical menu with two nights of blues (Fridays and Saturdays).

And what a Thursday night it turns out to be since the Bay Street venue added jazz to its mix in late June. The featured band usually includes trumpeter Dan Miller and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto (a quarter-century "Saturday Night Live" band alumnus) plus a bassist and drummer.

Dan Miller
With Del Gatto vacationing in Scandinavia, the always engaging and highly talented trumpeter (a longtime Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson sideman) was joined on Thursday, July 21 by tenor saxophonist Gerald Augustin, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. The quartet bopped its way through 11 jazz standards in its two sets, with each player bringing fresh nuances and a lot of creativity to the material.

In a rathskeller-styled room, with superb acoustics, Miller & Co. had an easy choice for the opener: Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Favorite treatments included their blistering take on "What Is This Thing Called Love," an extensive workout of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and Augustin's featured solo on the tenor classic "Body and Soul."

Brandon Robertson
Gerald Augustin
Miller dusted off two pop tunes that Miles Davis transformed into instrumental standards: "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Stella By Starlight." Robertson opened the latter tune with a pensive bowed bass melodic solo. Vigilante, a longtime Philly-based drummer who moved south a couple of years ago, had the night's
climactic solo on "Caravan."

It is great to see more and more fine talent gravitating to the area. Robertson, who sometimes subs in the Count Basie Orchestra, moved to Southwest Florida in June after earning a master's of music degree in jazz studies at Florida State University. He begins work in the fall as an adjunct professor running the jazz program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Augustin, who started studying with Miller when he was 13, is a Fort Myers native who moved back to the area after several years on the L.A. music scene. 

The Barrel Room opened in late April as an annex to Twisted Vine Bistro. Owners Steve and Denise Hollister are Chicago-style blues lovers, hence the heavier dollop of blues programming. Kevin Blinkal manages the music room. 
Given the overlaps and historic association of jazz and blues, the Jazz Thursday program is a natural fit. Long may it prosper. And if last night's off-season packed house was any sign, it will.
Augustin, Vigilante, Robertson, Miller

Friday, July 8, 2016

Newport #Jazz Festival 2016: So many stages, so little time

Whether you prefer a musical smorgasbord – a bit of this, a smidgen of that, or prefer to camp out for a full set of a favorite artist – the 2016 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival has something for everyone. With more than 50 different groups scheduled to appear July 29-31, there can be a lot of ground to cover or filter through. Every jazz-related genre is covered, no matter your style preferences.

There are three outdoor stages at Fort Adams State Park and on Saturday and Sunday, there’s an intimate Storyville stage tucked inside a former yachting museum. This principally is a solo piano and small group showcase location that only holds about 100 people, so waiting lines are common.

Tierney Sutton
This year's traditional Friday night event downtown at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame, the historic Newport Casino site that hosted George Wein’s first Newport festival back in 1954, features singer Gregory Porter’s band and pianist Chick Corea’s trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Both groups are also on the Saturday menu at Fort Adams.

Edmar Castaneda
I’ll be at NJF this month for the 35th time in 36 years. I started covering the festival when Wein returned to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year absence. As a photographer on assignment, there are often mad dashes between stages. I’m used to it now, but return to savor more of an interesting set as time permits.

Here are some of the groups I most want to hear:

  • Corea’s spartan, high-energy trio. Chick turned 75 last month but has never slowed down. McBride and Blade add interesting personalities to the musical chemistry. Both have much to say as leaders or sidemen. (McBride also is succeeding Wein as the festival’s artistic director.)
  • Three Caribbean jazz-related bands: trumpeter Etienne Charles and Creole Soul (Friday), Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express (Saturday) and Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry’s quintet (Sunday).
  • Singer Tierney Sutton’s “After Blue” Joni Mitchell Project with guitarist Serge Merlaud and cellist Mark Summer (a Turtle Island String Quartet co-founder who left that band last fall to pursue a solo career). Sutton has been a favorite vocal performer for decades, yet this is her Newport debut. Her Friday performance is long overdue. She's also guesting with The Hot Sardines on Saturday.
  • Los Angeles tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington. His triple-CD The Epic ranked as one of 2015’s top albums in virtually all critics polls. He and his band perform at Fort Adams on Friday and on Sunday.
  • Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s group. (Friday). The hard-edged, versatile tenor player is always a treat to hear. This band is of particular interest, because it backed David Bowie on his epitaph recording project, Blackstar.
  • Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda’s World Ensemble. Due to his blend of musicality and enthusiasm, there may be no more exhilarating performer to witness in jazz (Saturday).
  • Saxophonist Chris Potter’s supergroup with bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland (Sunday).
  • Pianists Sullivan Fortner, Henry Butler, Rossano Sportiello and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Other mainstream treats will include pianist Kenny Barron’s trio and the venerable Heath Brothers (Friday) with saxophonist Jimmy Heath also guesting with the Rhode Island Music Educators Association student big band on Saturday morning). There’s also the prodigious pianist Joey Alexander, clarinetist Anat Cohen’s tentet and the John Scofield/Joe Lovano Sextet.

Besides Porter and Sutton, jazz vocals fans have the music of Jose James, Norah Jones, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright to savor. 

Donny McCaslin
Chick Corea
Chris Potter
Check out the festival website to see the full roster of 2016 performers because there’s an abundance of riches.