Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hitting the jazz highway

Building your jazz skills isn’t just about playing your instrument, singing your songs, developing your style and strengthening your improvisational skills. It’s also about dealing with challenges on the road, disruptive sleep patterns, and getting along with your band mates as you jump on the van and head to the next gig.

Four students from the Boston-based Berklee College of Music will absorb a lot of that experience starting Thursday when they join trumpeter Ingrid Jensen on a five-date concert tour winding through parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic. They’ll perform five gigs in five nights.

The students in Jensen’s quintet for this mini-tour include drummer Peter Barnick from Homewood IL, saxophonist Daniel Ko from Ottawa, Canada; bassist Max Salinger-Ridley from Boston; and pianist Zahili Gonzalez Zamora from Manzanillo, Cuba.

Salinger-Ridley, Ko, Jensen, Zamora, Barnick *

They will perform at the Regattabar in Cambridge MA (Thursday, May 14), the Mary Lou Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (Friday, May 15), Philadelphia’s Clef Club (Saturday, May 16), the Side Door in Old Lyme CT, (Sunday, May 17), and Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City (Monday, May 18).

Jensen (Berklee Class of 1989) is giving the students more than they would ever absorb in master classes, although she is skilled at that as well.

The trumpeter has taught jazz at the University of Michigan and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and has performed and lectured at universities, colleges, and conservatories throughout the US and Europe. She is a guest director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and has participated in a variety of summer institutes and workshops, including the Centrum Jazz Workshop, The Dave Brubeck Institute and the Banff Centre Workshop in Jazz & Creative Music.

This is the third, and most expansive year, of Berklee's Masters on the Road series. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut (Berklee Class of 1985) took a student sextet to Dizzy’s and the DC Jazz Festival. Last year, saxophonist Donald Harrison (Berklee Class of 1981) performed with students at clubs in Connecticut and New York.

(*Berklee-provided photo by David Green)

Monday, May 4, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Guitars and saxes aplenty. Taking a closer look at CDs by Russell Malone, Hailey Niswanger, Bjørn Solli, Dave Stryker and Doug Webb….

Russell Malone, Love Looks Good on You (HighNote)
Russell Malone, who cut his jazz teeth collaborating with Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall, is one of the finest and most versatile guitarists of his generation. And here’s proof. This quartet session contains a terrific blend of material on which Malone puts his own artful stamp. He’s joined by pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III. Favorites: their takes on Malone’s title-track ballad, Isaac Hayes’ “Ellie’s Love Theme” (from the movie Shaft), George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Sweet Sioux.”

Hailey Niswanger, PDX Soul (Calmit)

Fine young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger’s second recording as a leader honors the soulful side of her musical roots growing up in Portland, Oregon. Niswanger (pronounced “NICE-wonger”) brought together 16 Portland-based musicians for this recording. The band included trumpeter Thara Memory, Niswanger’s mentor and producer of this CD, and keyboard player Janice Scroggins, who passed away in May 2014. 

Niswanger included five fine originals and three covers of soul classics. Standout tracks include her own “Say What It Is” and the hard-driving “You Should Know”; plus Dyke and The Blazers’ “Let a Woman be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” The latter features vocals by LaRhonda Steele. PDX Soul is drenched with soul and top-flight musicality.

Bjørn Solli, Aglow: The Lyngør Project Volume 1 (Lyngør)

This is an impressionistic jazz masterpiece that you ought not to miss. Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Solli ‘s music focuses on the beauty, history and beautiful people of Lyngør, an archgipelago south of Norway. He has fallen in love with the locale since first visiting in 2007 and has performed annual concerts there with visiting musicians for several summers. Commissioned by the Lyngør Jazz Club, the project’s material was inspired by and written on Lyngør, and recorded in New York with some of his favorite jazz players. He composed the material with the sound of each player in mind.

The band includes Solli, saxophonist Seamus Blake (on soprano and tenor), trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Bill Stewart. Favorites: “Calenture,” “August at Last,” and “A Dog Named Fanny.” “Windjammer” is a wonderful extended showcase for Solli’s shimmering style. On Volume 2, Solli plans to reverse his approach, by arranging a variety of jazz standards and recording them on Lyngør.

Dave Stryker, Messin’ With Mister T (Strikezone)

Guitarist Dave Stryker has put together a gem of a recording in this tribute to his late boss, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. All of the material comes from set lists Turrentine used during the decade+ that Stryker worked with him. Stryker assembled his organ trio (with Jared Gold on B-3, McClenty Hunter on drums), with percussionist Mayra Casales guesting on six tracks, to support one track apiece from ten top-notch jazz tenor saxophonists. 

They include Houston Person, Mike Lee (a veteran of other Stryker ensembles), Don Braden, Jimmy Heath, Chris Potter, Bob Mintzer, Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson, longtime Stryker collaborator Steve Slagle and Tivon Pennicott.  Gems include Potter’s take on “Impressions,” Jackson’s version of Turrentine’s beloved original “Sugar” and Alexander’s fresh take on Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song.” Also dig Heath’s balladry on Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” This project is strong from start to finish. Bravo.

Doug Webb, Triple Play (Posi-Tone)

If you’re a hard-core tenor sax fan, this one’s for you. L.A.-based Doug Webb teamed with Joel Frahm and Walt Weiskopf for this triple-tenor recording, on which they’re nimbly supported by rising stars Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston on drums. They tackle a variety of jazz standards and originals (two apiece from Webb and Weiskopf, one from Frahm).The many gems include their takes on “Avalon,” ”I Concentrate on You” and Lou Donaldson’s burner, “Alligator Boogaloo,” as well as Weiskopf’s “Three’s a Crowd” and Lanny Morgan’s “Pail Blues.” There’s plenty of solo space to share, but they also excel at shout choruses and a saxophone choir feel as needed.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Miles and Miles of Newport

Last August, the storied Newport Jazz Festival, granddaddy of the outdoor music festival format, celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding. This summer, producer George Wein will use the festival weekend to pay homage to the 60th anniversary of trumpeter Miles Davis’s breakthrough performance at Newport. 

Miles Davis
That July 17, 1955 all-star jam-session teamed Davis with saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay. Together, they explored “Hackensack,” “'Round Midnight” and “Now's The Time.” Columbia Records’ A&R man George Avakian signed the trumpeter to a recording contract shortly after that appearance.

 The lineup for the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, scheduled this July 31, August 1 and 2, includes bands led by trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire, Chris Botti, Peter Evans, Jon Faddis, Tom Harrell, Arturo Sandoval and Bria Skonberg. As part of the weekend tribute, each of those players will perform a Miles Davis tune during their respective sets. The festival is also scheduling several panel discussions that will focus on Davis, his music and his Newport connection. 

On July 17, Columbia/Legacy Recordings will release MILES DAVIS AT NEWPORT 1955-1975: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 4. The boxed set consists of live performances by Miles-led bands in 1955, 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973, and 1975, in Newport and at festivals carrying the Newport Jazz Festival brand in, New York City, Berlin, and Switzerland. Most of the material contained in this four-CD set is previously unreleased. 

A joint news release from the festival and Columbia/Legacy touts Davis’ “20-year association as an artist at impresario George Wein's renowned Newport Jazz Festival.” It actually was a 35-year association. But the set does not include any material from Davis late-career performances at Newport in 1984, 1986 or 1990, or at other Newport-related festivals during that later time frame. Seems odd, doesn’t it ?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Evans does Evans

William Evans
Pianist William Evans, who splits his year between Florida's Gulf Coast and teaching music in Switzerland, was at JD's Bistro in Port Charlotte on Thursday April 23, subbing in the piano chair in singer-drummer Patricia Dean's regular Thursday gig.

He's a piano modernist whose work is rooted in the masters and has developed his own exploratory style. It was particularly interesting to hear William Evans put his own stamp, without taking too many liberties, on late pianist Bill Evans' beautiful ballad "Some Time Ago." The band then touched other key jazz bases - performing Charlie Parker's "Au Privave" and Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." 

Between sets, Detroit native Evans told me he flies back to Europe on Tuesday, April 28. He'll be back in the states in July for the summer season. Whenever he's here, he's a treat to hear.

William Evans, Dave Trefethen, Patricia Dean

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dixieland jazz in top form - and with a few twists

How do you keep Dixieland jazz from being mere repertory music? Trombonist Herb Bruce's approach is the way to go. As presented by his Herbicide Jazz Band, the music is solid, with clever, intricate arrangements. And the band takes the stage with good humor. Lots of it. 

The players take the music seriously, but don't take each other too seriously. That personable approach helps draw in the audience for what's a fun ride. Such was the case, Monday, April 13, when Herbicide closed out the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2014-15 concert season with a Dixieland Night concert at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte FL. In short, you could call it syncopated swing with a sense of humor.
Valerie Gillespie
Don Johnson

There is nobody better on trombone than Bruce, and his band-mates also came with high musical pedigrees: pianist (and humor sidekick) Jeff Phillips, trumpeter Don Johnson, Valerie Gillespie on clarinet, Charlie Silva on bass, Paul Parker on drums and Bruce's wife, Patricia Dean on vocals. (She's also a very fine drummer who got one showcase solo ("Perdido") during the second set).

Bruce has strong credentials as a performer, educator, and custom trombone-maker. He lived and worked for years in Nashville, working with Boots Randolph, the Nashville Brass and even Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band. Then he led the Main Street Rhythm Rascals at Walt Disney World and Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Jazz Band in Orlando. He's worked in many traditional and straight-ahead jazz units over the years, as well as a variety of touring show bands backing top entertainers.

Patricia Dean
In Port Charlotte, the leader drew material from the Basin Street Six and Turk Murphy repertoires, as well as some early Duke Ellington ("The Chant" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me").The latter was originally was titled "Concerto for Cootie." Dean's vocal version was exquisite.

Versatile reed player Gillespie's clarinet work was showcased on the New Orleans staple "Tin Roof Blues" and trumpeter Johnson was featured on the ballad "Melancholy Rhapsody." Phillips, who is a piano marvel, turned in a tour-de-force exploration of "Take the A Train." The band's other gems included "Granada," "Snake Rag," "Royal Garden Blues," "Apex Blues" and a most-fitting closer, Basin Street Six's "Farewell Blues."
Herb Bruce

Except for the trio version of "A Train" and Dean's instrumental feature on "Perdido," every tune absorbed a cleverly textured Dixieland feel. Credit for many of those arrangements goes to Terry Waddell.

Then there was the humor. The audience knew it would be an interesting evening as soon as the band walked on stage and Bruce asked "How many of you know us or some of us?" And amid the raise of hands, Phillips interjected "And they still came."

Then there was Bruce's front-and-center stage prop, a dead potted flowering plant. An ode, if you will, to the band's zany name, Herbicide.
Phillips, Gillespie, Silva, Johnson, Parker, Bruce

Thursday, April 9, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs by Greg Abate, Duchess, Bill O'Connell, and Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project....

Greg Abate Quartet, Motif (Whaling City Sound)
Saxophonist Greg Abate, a New England-based hard bopper who frequently brings his high-energy jazz to fans across the U.S. and the U.K., has a fine new CD in Motif. The all-originals session teams him with three Boston-based jazz veterans – bassist John Lockwood, pianist Tim Ray and drummer Mark Walker – with whom he has long associations. Abate is best known for his work on alto and baritone sax, but also plays flute and soprano sax here. He tried something different on the tune “Mrs. T” that works very effectively. Sounding like a one-man sax chorus, Abate opens the tune playing its spirited medley on both alto and baritone (the latter was overdubbed later), then solos later in the tune on alto and, after a Tim Ray segment, on bari. Other favorites: the bossa-tinged alto showcase “Bittersweet” and “Morning of the Leaves,” a beautiful jazz waltz that Abate performs on flute. 

Duchess, Duchess (Anzic)  
If you dug the music of the finest vintage female vocal groups (Boswell Sisters, Andrews Sisters), you’ll love the new contemporary group Duchess. New York singers Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou have blended their voices and talents on their eponymous debut. Classic material, including “Heebie Jeebies,” “P.S. I Love You” “Que Sera Sera” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” is freshened with new arrangements. The three singers each enjoy solo spotlights on “My Brooklyn Love Song” (Gardner), “A Doodlin’ Song” (Cervini) and “Humming to Myself” (Stylianou). Their ace band includes pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Paul Sikivie, drummer Matt Wilson, saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis. This is very well done.

Bill O’Connell and the Latin Jazz All-Stars, Imagine (Savant)
Pianist Bill O’Connell, a distinguished veteran of the Latin jazz scene, has another gem in Imagine, a CD recorded with his Latin Jazz All-Stars. The group includes saxophonist Steve Slagle, trombonist Conrad Herwig, bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Richie Barshay and percussionist Richie Flores. Treats: O’Connell’s delicate rearrangement of John Lennon’s classic ballad “Imagine,” and the band’s unusual robust cha cha take on the standard “Willow Weep For Me.” “Optimism,” the burner “Whitecaps” and the poignant “Missing Mr. Berrios” (written for drummer Steve Berrios, who died in 2013) highlight O’Connell’s seven fine originals.

Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project, Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare)

Thanks to Ryan Truesdell, Gil Evans’ peerless work as a jazz composer and arranger remains in the public eye, with this second volume of recordings by Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project big band. Lines of Color was recorded live at New York’s Jazz Standard during the band’s week-long 2014 residency. Truesdell is quite the archivist, drawing his material to include six newly discovered but never before recorded pieces, two more with previously unheard sections, and three fresh arrangements of charts from classic Evans recordings.

Six charts were written during Evans’ association with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, some of them never heard or recorded previously. There’s even an Evans original, “Gypsy Jump,” dating to 1942. Truesdell also included Evans’ three-part “Easing Living Medley,” which was arranged for Thornhill but never recorded because its length exceeded the recording capacity of the day. The band’s outstanding soloists include saxophonists Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson and Scott Robinson, trombonists Ryan Keberle and Marshall GiIlkes, pianist Frank Kimbrough and singer Wendy Gilles. The performances are stunning no doubt fueled in part by the energy one gets from an audience.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A splendid jazz reunion

Jon Faddis
Trumpeter Jon Faddis' guest appearance with the Naples (FL) Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra on Wednesday, April 1 had all the ingredients that go into a fine jazz show - extraordinary talent and musicality, doses of humor, and a keen rapport with the audience. 

It was also a chance to share the bandstand with a musician with whom he'd crossed paths many times in the Big Apple through the years - tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto. Del Gatto, a 25-year veteran of TV's "Saturday Night Live" band, leads the NPJO with pianist Jerry Stawski. The sextet's other members are trumpeter Dan Miller, violinist Glenn Basham, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.
Jon Faddis, Lew Del Gatto, Dan Miller

Faddis mixed sheer power, poignancy and whimsy into his playing, tinges absorbed in some fashion from his mentor, the late Dizzy Gillespie, and then taken in new personal directions. He uncorked some  astonishing high-note solos from time to time during Wednesday's two shows.

Faddis and Miller traded a series of blistering four-bar phrases beautifully on Tadd Dameron's "Hot House." Del Gatto's spotlight solo on Lee Morgan's "Ceora" was a thing of beauty. 

Jerry Stawski, Jon Faddis
The evening's poignancy included the band's rendition of Gillespie's ballad "Con Alma" and Faddis' two duets with pianist Stawski. The first was a thorough exploration of "Round Midnight." The second was a Louis Armstrong tribute on "What a Wonderful World" that featured Faddis on vocals rather than horn.

Next up in the NPJO series: trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is the featured guest on April 22.
Stawski, Faddis, Del Gatto, Miller, Harvey, Basham, Mauldin

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No matter what you call it, it covers jazz

Sunday afternoon's concert by the Naples Jazz Orchestra outside the Boca Grande FL Community Center was musically excellent - and a bit different for its visuals.

Bassist Paul Shewchuk was playing what you could call either a "bass umbrella" or an "umbrella bass." The crafty musician attached a small black umbrella to the top of his upright bass, presumably to shield himself and his bulky instrument from the warmth and direct rays of the sun. 

Perhaps he did it to protect the bass fiddle, as some call it, from the possibility of a sudden shower, which pop up at any time in Florida. It would work for both possibilities. Either way, it was a sight to behold.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A sound all his own

Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo is a musical talent to take note of. Many notes, in fact.

Figueiredo  (pronounced fig-a-reed-o) drew a packed house at the Fogartyville Cafe in Sarasota FL on Wednesday, March 18 where he put on a mesmerizing display of solo guitar artistry, blending a variety of Brazilian styles, including bossa nova of course, with a handful of classic American jazz standards. 

Figueiredo, who first picked up the guitar at age four in his native Franca, Brazil, is now in his mid-30s and has released 22 CDs. He has won several major guitar competitions, including one held at Switzerland's prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival.

 You can find an interesting range of his material on YouTube. Check him out.