Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wine and jazz - in Bordeaux

Ah, the places you find jazz when you least expect it. That's all the more reason to cherish the moment. We're just back from a 10-day Bordeaux river cruise with stops at significant historic sites and world-class wine-making chateaus along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers and the Geronde Estuary. TV travel journalist Burt Wolf hosted the trip.

One of the region's many chateaus
The unexpected bonus came on Thursday October 20, while the Scenic Diamond was docked in Bourg, a village-sized city near the coast in southwestern France, population roughly 2,200. The ship's after-dinner entertainment was the Bordeaux-based Jazz River Trio, which plays New Orleans-style traditional jazz with a most unusual instrumental combination.
Jazz River Trio

Stephane Borde plays banjo, Bertrand Tessier plays tenor sax and Fred Dupin plays the sousaphone - with a small cymbal mounted near the keys. Dupin used his left hand to add interesting accents in addition to his rhythmic work and solo moments on the horn, a portable cousin of the tuba that was developed for marching bands.

The band's hour-long set tended toward classic jazz. The repertoire included "Dinah," "All of Me" and "My Blue Heaven," among others. Borde curiously introduced Ray Noble's 1938 classic "Cherokee" as a "very modern song." 

Allan Grissette
Quite appropriately, the trio performed two compositions by New Orleans-born clarinetist Sidney Bechet, who spent the last nine years of his life living in France (1960-1969). He had a big following in France and had grown tired of the U.S. jazz scene. The band performed Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere" (the memorable theme from Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris") and "Petit Fleur."

Fellow passenger Allan Grissette joined the band for the last half of the set. He has been playing drums with the San Francisco-based Devil Mountain Jazz Band since the 1980s. Grissette had his sticks with him but there was no drum kit on the ship. So he borrowed a small plastic bucket from the bar and used that quite effectively as a makeshift snare.
Dupin, Zubanovic, Borde, Grissette, Bubics, Tessier
The evening ended with two more players: Hotel Director Milenko Zubanovic on guitar and vocals, and ship's versatile staff musician Tamas Bubics on alto sax as the band closed its set with "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "What a Wonderful World."

A wonderful world, and small world, indeed.
Even the grape vines are getting autumn leaves

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Charlotte County Jazz Society season opener

The Charlotte County Jazz Society opened its 2016-17 season with a double concert that presented a blend of Dixieland/mainstream jazz followed by a strong taste of Brazilian jazz. The October 10 event was held at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County.

Jim Snyder
Swing with humor

Herb Bruce
Trombonist Herb Bruce's Herbicide Jazz Band performed the opening set. While billed as a Dixieland outfit, the band dug into classic swing jazz as well, and also offered humorous banter among the musicians, particularly Bruce and clarinetist Jim Snyder. 

The band also featured trumpeter Don Johnson, pianist Judy Glover, bassist Charlie Silva and drummer Eddie Metz Jr., all of them versatile players. Herb's wife, Patricia Dean, joined the merriment for several vocal numbers.
Patricia Dean

Judi Glover

Johnson, Metz, Bruce
A taste of Brazil
David Manson

The second half featured the Port Charlotte debut of St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz, a band whose Brazilian name translates to The Sound of Jazz. The band included trombonist David Manson, Jack Keeling on tenor sax and flute, David Cubillos on piano, Alejandro Arenas on bass and Mark Feinman on drums. The leader's wife, Rio de Janeiro native Andrea Moraes Manson, was featured on vocals and a bit of percussion.
Andrea Moraes Manson

Jack Keeling

Mark Feinman
The band provided a vivid reminder that there is a great difference between Brazilian Jazz and Latin Jazz - and that Brazilian Jazz many more more musical riches besides the best-known and beloved bossa nova style.

The bossa nova was first popularized here in the U.S. in the early 1960s when guitarist Charlie Byrd and saxophonist Stan Getz began recording material by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and other fine composers.
Cubillos, A Moraes-Manson, D Manson, Arenas, Keeling, Feinman

Monday, October 10, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Carol Bach-y-Rita, Winston Byrd, Synia Carroll, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Gabriel Espinoza and the late Erroll Garner….

Carol Bach-y-Rita, Minha Casa/My House (Arugula)
California-based singer Carol Bach-y-Rita’s latest gem is Mina Casa/My House, on which she seamlessly blends her love of Brazilian music, bebop and straight-ahead jazz. She and her band have found artful ways to add unusual swinging feel to a variety of tunes on this, her second CD as a leader. They include a Brazilian twist to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” and adding samba/reggae feels to Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus’ classic “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” Most interesting are her take on pianist Bill Cantos’ clever and witty “Morning Coffee” and her own “Gardening With No Pants.” The latter tune, a duet with Brazilian percussionist Dudu Fuentes, reveals much about the challenges, highs and lows of romance-fueled relationships through her rich use of double entendre and metaphors. Cantos, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist John Leftwich and drummer Mike Shapiro add much to the project as performers and arrangers.

Winston Byrd, Once Upon a Time Called Right Now (Ropeadope)

Trumpeter Winston Byrd, long a fixture on the Philly, New Jersey, Delaware jazz scenes, moved west to L.A. a few years back. The change in geography did nothing to diminish his power and versatility as a first-call trumpeter. His jazz credentials have included work with drummer T.S. Monk’s band and Gerald Wilson’s Jazz Orchestra. He’s now a regular in actor-singer Craig Robinson’s The Nasty Delicious funk band. This very personal project calls on a team of 30 musicians who support Byrd’s horn work in various combinations through the many contexts in which Byrd is so at ease. Favorites: his rambunctious take on Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’,” his cover of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a La Turk” and a gem of a duet with pianist Steve Rawlins on cellist Eugene Friesen’s lovely “Anne Rising.” There’s also a very nice homage to a longtime mentor on Clark Terry’s classic “Mumbles” with Byrd and trumpeter George Rabbai trade scat vocals. Byrd’s muted trumpet work on Eric Otis’s “Grandma Jo’s House” has the ethereal beauty of a late 1980s Miles Davis sound.

Synia Carroll, Here’s To You (self-produced)
Sarasota-based Synia Carroll is out with a gem of a debut recording. Here’s To You… teams the singer with her steady rhythm section. The trio members – pianist Billy Marcus, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Stephen Bucholtz – are terrific accompanists and soloists in their own right and bring much to the music. Dig their groove and Marcus’s romping solo on “My Favorite Things.” Max Kelly adds Latin percussion on three tracks. Carroll has a wonderful lilt and an innate sense of time that enables her to wrap herself inside a song and make it her own. Much to her credit here, she stayed away from the most tiresome standards, opting for ones deserving more attention. Gems here include her takes on the Nina Simone hit “Be My Husband,” Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue” and the smoldering “Black Coffee.” Other favorites: “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” Edu Lobo’s “Tristeza” (“Goodbye Sadness” and the Shirley Horn-Joe Williams staple “Here’s to Life.” She’s used them to paint her own portrait of love and romance.

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Havana Blue (316)

Trumpeter Orbert Davis and choreographer Frank Chavez made a nine-day visit to Cuba’s capital city four years ago that Davis recalls as a chance to explore “one of the most musical places on the planet.” Six months later, the Davis-led Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble and Chavez’s River North Dance Chicago staged a collaborative performance of music and dance. This CD includes Davis’s seven-part “Havana Blue Suite” recorded live at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater plus four studio tracks.

This ambitious project captures the multi-faceted Afro-Cuban rhythms, passion and energy that Davis explored on the island. Davis wrote all of the title suite except for a brief cover of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s classic “Al Fin Te Vi.” The studio tracks include the ensemble’s takes on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” and Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade.” Three Davis tunes – the gentle ballad “Solteras,” the delightful musical sway of “Orlando’s Walk,” a studio track loaded with hot solos, and the blistering “Havana @12” are standouts here. So is the band’s contemporary version of Dizzy’s Afro-Cuban hit. Davis is an exceptional trumpeter, and this project reinforces his standing as a top-tier conceptualist.

Gabriel Espinoza, Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero (Zoho)
Here’s a multi-faceted gem. Bassist-composer-arranger Gabriel Espinosa added vocal artistry to his credits on this celebration of the music of Burt Bacharach and Mexican composer Armando Manzanero. Espinosa grew up listening to Manzanero’s music in the Yucutan and found those songs have become a part of him. He arranged all of the material here, sings the five Manzanero tunes and brought in singer Tierney Sutton to perform the five alternating Bacharach tunes.

Gems include Manzanero’s very popular “Esta Tarde Vi Llover,” (“Yesterday I Heard the Rain”), which Tony Bennett recorded in 1968 and a hit for Vikki Carr a year later, and “Somos Novios” (“It’s Impossible”). The latter is a showcase for trumpeter Jim Seeley, while Hendrik Meurkens’ exquisite harmonica playing is the mood-setter for “Como Yo Te Ame” and “Alfie.” Sutton explores five Bacharach hits with her own musical care and sensibility, not emulating the original hit interpretations by Karen Carpenter, B.J. Thomas and Dionne Warwick. Her take on “What the World Needs Now” is exquisite. Other collaborators here include pianist Misha Tsiganov and drummer Maricio Zottarelli. What a fine bi-lingual way to honor two of North America’s finest composers.


Erroll Garner, ReadyTake One (Octave/Legacy)
The late Erroll Garner was one of the truly compleat pianists in jazz – blending formidable technique, great swing and wonderful melodic invention into a sound all his own. This new release includes previously unreleased material from seven recording sessions in Chicago in 1967, and New York in 1969 and 1971 by Garner’s regular touring quartet. The 14 tracks include six previously unreleased Garner compositions. Those originals include “High Wire,” “Wild Music,” “Back to You,” “Chase Me,” “Latin Digs” and a blues called “Down Wylie Avenue.” He played a lot of these in clubs in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, but never recorded them until these newly discovered sessions. Interpretations of eight wide-ranging jazz and pop standards include stunning explorations of “Stella By Starlight” and Garner’s own tune “Misty.” This version of “Misty,” which closes the project, was recorded in Paris in 1969. It refreshes an anthemic tune that Garner performed at virtually every concert.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Profiling singer Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit, Tanglewood 2010
The October issue of HotHouse is now out. It includes my profile of singer Jane Monheit, which you can find on p. 21 of the publication. 

Check it out to learn more about this passionate ambassador of the Great American Songbook. Her take on that responsibility is very interesting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Boxing Miles

Miles Davis, 1986*
Jazz legend Miles Davis passed away 25 years ago today at age 65. On September 28, 1991, less than eight weeks after historic concerts in Montreux, Switzerland and Paris in which he revisited classic material, he died in a southern California hospital of pneumonia and heart failure. In addition to being a trumpeter, bandleader and style shaper, he had a strong interest in boxing - and worked out in the ring to keep fit.It hardly seems possible he’s been gone a quarter century. 

One reason is the continued high profile of his music. Within five years of his passing, the labels with which Davis was affiliated began reissue projects of just about everything available from his multi-faceted career. The prolific variety of at least 25 boxed sets and reissues may seem overwhelming to casual fans, but the relentless boxing of Miles is a delight to the jazz world’s compleatists, or at least the Davis contingent. And for that, Miles might smile, or not.

A lengthy rundown of those projects follows.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CD projects by A.G.N.Z., Aziza, Joe Mulholland and Ted Nash....

A.G.N.Z., ChanceMeeting, (Whaling City Sound)
This band of savvy jazz veterans came together for the first time on a club stage in Providence RI in July 2014 and discovered a great musical chemistry. So the four – guitarist Jay Azzolina, tenor saxophonist Dino Govoni, drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Dave Zinno – decided to schedule a studio date a few months later. This excellent modern take on jazz is the result. All four players brought in original compositions with a variety of moods – and these chance band mates find spirited common ground throughout. 

The band has a wonderful energetic groove, drawn from the same kind of experimental chemistry of the finest fusion groups. There is a strong emotional imprint of the late saxophonist Michael Brecker here. Govoni, a Boston-based reed player heavily influenced by the Brecker sound, first heard him live about 25 years ago at a gig on which Nussbaum was the drummer. Azzolina, for many years a neighbor of Brecker’s, used to jam with him informally in his basement on many an afternoon. Favorite tracks: Govoni’s poignant “Lament for Michael Brecker,” Azzolina’s high-flying “1 of 3” and Nussbaum’s teasing “My Maia.” Also dig the band’s playful back-and-forth on Govoni’s frisky “N.T.I.”

Aziza, Aziza (Dare2) 
The players in this modern jazz supergroup named their band after a mythical African god of inspiration. The quartet includes saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Eric Harland, who have worked with each other previously in a variety of contexts. Potter, for example, has been a regular member of Holland’s bands for two decades. Their eponymous recording debut in this grouping is a gem of varying moods. They show great creativity in exploring the two tunes apiece that each player brought in for development in the band’s distinctive sound. 

There is much to savor: the frisky energy of Loueke’s “Sleepless Night,” the multi-dimensional subtleties of Harland’s “Aquila,” and the conversational combination of Holland’s bass work and Potter’s soprano sax solo on Holland’s “Finding the Light,” and the Caribbean feel propelling Potter’s “Summer 15.” As his soloing shows throughout the project, and particularly on his own “Blue Sufi” and Holland’s “Walkin’ The Walk,” Potter seems to be emerging as a clear successor to Sonny Rollins as the most creative, forceful and versatile saxophonist in mainstream jazz. He’s  reached today’s upper echelon at the very least.

Joe Mulholland Trio, Runaway Train (Zoho)
Boston-based pianist and music educator Joe Mulholland doesn’t record often, but he does it well. His latest, a trio session featuring longtime band mates Bob Neiske (bass) and Bob Tamagni (drums), is a case in point. This both a swinging and cerebral jazz date, highlighted by Mulholland’s six original compositions and three covers of classics by Miles Davis, Jimmy Giuffre, and the songwriting  tandem of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. 

On the title track, Mulholland uses the chord changes from John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to transform the standard 12-bar progression as the band rolls through this hard-driving blues. That contrasts with his cover of the Davis tune a teasing, languid exploration of “Nardis.” The Brazilian-tinged “The Same Sky” is a thing of beauty. “Summer Nights” showcases the beautiful playing of all three musicians. Mulholland’s “Phrenology” is a whimsical bebop romp.

Ted Nash Big Band, Presidential Suite (Eight Variations on Freedom) (Motéma) 
Two months before what may be the most pivotal U.S. presidential election in our lifetimes, saxophonist Ted Nash offers us a profound musical reminder about the values of freedom and democracy around the globe. His Presidential Suite, commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center, features eight compositions, plus a mood-setting overture) that he wrote to complement an equal number of the most profound presidential/national leadership speeches given ‘round the world. On disc one, the music follows the words that inspired it. Those speech excerpts are narrated by contemporary arts or political figures. They include former Sen. Joe Lieberman, author Deepak Chopra, former Ambassador Andrew Young, and actors Glenn Close and Sam Waterston. Disc two features just the music.

The material at the heart of the project includes JFK’s “Ask Not” speech, Nehru’s 1947 “Tryst with Destiny” speech, Franklin Roosevelt’s “The Four Freedoms” speech, Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” LBJ’s 1965 address to Congress on the equal voting rights, and Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin in 1987. Two other gems include Myanmar political leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Freedom From Fear” essay, recast hear as “Water in Cupped Hands” – and read by Close; and the big band’s joyous musical take on Nelson Mandela’s first inaugural address as the first black president of South Africa. “The Time for the Healing of the Wounds” is a stunning work following Young’s narration of this 1994 speech.

Many of the band members, including Nash, are members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Soloists featured on the nine musical tracks include pianist Dan Nimmer, trumpeters Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Printup and Kenny Rampton, saxophonists Nash, Sherman Irby and Joe Temperley, and trombonist/vocalist Chris Crenshaw. 

 It’s a critical time to revisit the profound wisdom found in all of these celebrated words, which Nash describes as “timeless variations on freedom. It’s our privilege and responsibility as artists and as citizens to remind our leaders of what is important.”

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview (updated)

The 2016-17 jazz concert season soon will heat up - and continue through May, bolstered by the gradual arrival of the snowbirds. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through November.

  • Friday, September 9 – Heat Latin Jazz Band, the Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center, Fort Myers. 8 p.m.
    Herb Bruce
  • Monday, October 10 – Trombonist Herb Bruce’s Herbicide Jazz Band and the St. Petersburg-based O Som Do Jazz open the Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s 2016-2017 Artists Series with a double concert featuring mainstream/Dixieland and Latin jazz. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 15 – Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis's Quartet in concert. Center for the Performing Arts, Bonita Springs, 8 p.m.
  •  Wednesday, November 2 – Trumpeter Wallace Roney joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  season-opening All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 3 – Watch the 2015 Oscar-winning Best Picture “Birdman” with Grammy-winning drummer Antonio Sanchez performing his score live, Straz Center, Tampa, 8 p.m.
    Valerie Gillespie
  • Saturday, November 12 – Saxophonist-singer Valerie Gillespie & trumpeter John DePaola perform the Music of Jazz Legends - Nat & Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, November 14 – Pianist Jim Roberts’ Saxtet. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Artists Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, November 16 – Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon guests with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for an All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, November  17 – An Evening of Gypsy Jazz with Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, November 27 – The Dave Koz “smooth jazz” Christmas tour, with Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and singer Valerie Simpson. Hayes Hall, 7 p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, Fandango in Sarasota, The Roadhouse and The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in Ft. Myers and, starting this month, The Side Door Jazz Club at Slate’s in Cape Coral, offer jazz steadily). A variety of  Friday matinee concerts sponsored all season by the Jazz Club of Sarasota and the South County Jazz Club also keep things swinging for jazz lovers.

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