Thursday, February 15, 2018

More moments to savor from The Jazz Cruise's 2018 edition

From late morning to early the next morning, the music was varied - and a constant - on the 2018 edition of The Jazz Cruise, aboard the M/S Celebrity Summit on its February 3-10 sailing out of Fort Lauderdale.

It's Mardi Gras time
Here are more musical moments, captured visually. The cruise, for the first time, made a 27-hoour stop in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. This year, the Crescent City is celebrating its 300th birthday.

Christof Luty
James Morrison and Eric Marienthal
David Alvarez III
Bobby Floyd, Wycliffe Gordon
Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift
Troy Roberts, Joey DeFrancesco

Emmet Cohen
Lewis Nash
The Clayton Brothers, Jeff and John
Ameen Saleem

The Jeff Hamilton Trio with Tamir Hendelman & Christof Luty

Graham Dechter, Ernie Adams, Gary Smulyan

Trio Da Paz

Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift, Ann Hampton Callaway

Renee Rosnes

Musical Director Shelly Berg
Benny Green

John Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski

Shelly Berg, David Finck

Konrad Paszkudzki, Nicki Parrott

Rickey Woodard, Martin Wind, Graham Dechter up close
Joe LaBarbera, Jeff Hamilton & Ernie Adams honoring Lewis Nash
The Rendezvous Lounge often was standing room only, including Benny Green's performances

The Cookers

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Veronica Swift's jazz DNA serves her well

The Charlotte County Jazz Society got to catch a rising star on Monday, February 12, and she made a mighty impression.

Fresh off a week-long series of performances aboard The Jazz Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, singer Veronica Swift quickly showed she's the real deal in a concert with tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert's very fine quartet. The band included pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Ben Kramer and Marty Morell, who was late pianist Bill Evans' longest-serving drummer. (Rupert, Drexler and Morell are on the University of Central Florida jazz faculty.)

Swift, the 23-year-old daughter of late bebop pianist Hod O'Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian, has a swinging presence. It is backed  by her abilities to explore a wide range of tunes, write and deliver vocalese (lyrics written to classic jazz solos), scat tastefully and emulate instrumental sounds that often make her one more horn player in the band.

She is making a rapid rise on the national jazz scene on the heels of her second-place performance in the 2015 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and her December 2016 graduation from the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. She's now based in New York City, gigs regularly in Manhattan and tours with trumpeter Chris Botti.

On this evening, Swift and the quartet explored a half-dozen tunes from their 2017 CD, Let's Sail Away, plus a few other gems with their high-energy, bop-infused swing.

Swift, Kramer
On "September in the Rain," Swift sang vocalese lyrics to a classic Lester Young solo and then emulated an upright voice with her voice, trading clever phrases with Kramer's bass lines. The band's take on "Pennies from Heaven" included Swift's own vocalese lyrics to a classic Stan Getz solo on the saxophonist's 1958 recording with the Oscar Peterson trio.

Other gems included the band's takes on pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Ginza Samba," and the "Home Blues" middle section of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." The latter tune's strong and bluesy feel revealed Swift's breadth and depth as a lyric interpreter. The band's two sets also included fresh material for this concert: Oscar Pettiford's "Battle Axe" and Sidney Bechet's "Promenade aux Champs-Elysées."  On the latter, Swift emulated a trombone in her solo, complete with slide motions.

Swift, Rupert

The band also dug into Rupert's ""Let's Sail Away" and "Beauty Becomes Her" (the later with lyrics written by Swift), Johnny Mandel's hard-driving "Pernod," a Brazilian medley with Portuguese lyrics deftly delivered by Swift, and a sizzling closer, "Fine and Dandy."

This band fits Swift well in her Florida tours. Rupert loves to celebrate the beauty of the melody on his horn with a tone that often sounds like the late Stan Getz. Drexler is a tasty accompanist at the keyboard, adding solid and subtle touches as needed. Kramer and Morell provided a solid rhythmic cushion all night long.

 This concert drew a crowd estimated at 375 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater. It was the 2017-18 CCJS  season's largest audience to date.
Drexler, Swift, Rupert, Kramer, Morell

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Jazz Cruise featured many musical treats - and a tricentenary visit

The 2018 edition of The Jazz Cruise was a seven-day floating music marathon. Most days, the music ping-ponged through as many as six large and more intimate venues, and stretched from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. It is not for the musically faint of heart.

This was my 10th jazz-related cruise, but my first aboard The Jazz Cruise, which has been an annual event since 2001. My previous jazz-related voyage was aboard the QE2, which included a Newport Jazz Festival stopover during its 1996 sailing.

Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Houston Person, Tom Kennedy
There were many treats this time out aboard the M/S Celebrity Summit for its roughly 2,000 passengers and about 100 performing musicians. Michael Lazaroff's St. Louis-based Entertainment Cruise Productions directs all shipboard music for these cruises, which means it was 100% jazz - with none of the ship-provided entertainment and shows associated with most cruises.

Every featured band performed at least four times during the week, and individual band members also were showcased in a dozen different all-star groupings. The featured all-star big band, most often directed by bassist-arranger John Clayton, consisted of musicians who each are bandleaders in their own right. Stylistically, mainstream swing and bebop were the norm, with the music stretching to include the Brazilian fare of Trio Da Paz and the edgiy hard bop of The Cookers.
Herlin Riley quintet featuring Nicholas Payton

This cruise made its first visit to New Orleans, with a 27-hour stopover in the Crescent City. The birthplace of jazz is celebrating its 300th birthday this year. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and drummer Herlin Riley's quintet, featuring trumpeter Nicholas Payton, came aboard to perform for passengers.

Here are a few of the many highlights:
  • The Clayton Brothers Quintet's  tribute to Horace Silver featured five of the pianist-composer's classic tunes. Besides alto saxophonist Jeff and bassist John Clayton, the band for this set included trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Benny Green and drummer David Alvarez III. "This isn't hip hop, this is hip swing," Jeff Clayton told the crowd.
    The Gospel Hour
  • Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon's late-morning Gospel Hour, as the cruise headed for New Orleans on Monday, was soulful and rocking, with pianist Bobby Floyd, trumpeter Byron Stripling, bassist Tom Kennedy, drummer Ernie Adams and singer Niki Harls.
  • Benny Green's trio with bassist David Wong and young drummer Alvarez was beautifully intense, with the pianist attacking the piano with vigor at times, then contrasting with crystalline balladry, as on his delicate and subtle exploration of Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments."
    Veronica Swift
  • Singer Veronica Swift, an unpublicized addition to the lineup, appeared frequently on the cruise - with pianist Emmet Cohen's trio, Benny Green and one of the big band sets. The 23-year-old rising vocal star, showed off her serious chops in every performance, the last of which had to be moved to a larger room.
  • The big band performed a powerful sail-away tribute to New Orleans after the ship left port on Tuesday night. The three-part event was anchored by Wycliffe Gordon, John Clayton and Stripling. Australian horn player James Morrison wowed the crowd with his solos - at one point rapidly trading four-bar phrases with himself - shifting back and forth between trumpet and trombone.
    James Morrison
  • Morrison and saxophonist Eric Marienthal performed in an all-star quintet with Renee Rosnes, Tom Kennedy and Lewis Nash, going head-to-head on a samba version of "Body and Soul."
    Brett Williams, Brandon Goldberg
  • A week before his12th birthday, Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg was invited to sit in for a song or two with bassist Marcus Miller's band, Trio Da Paz, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and pianist Monty Alexander, among others. In that first appearance with Miller, Goldberg played solo and four-handed piano with the band's regular keyboard player, Brett Williams. The crowds dug each such appearance by the talented young player.
  • Maucha Adnet
  • Brazilian singer Maucha Adnet, the wife of Trio Da Paz drummer Duduka da Fonseca, was a surprise guest perfemer in a Women in Jazz all-star combination that featured pianist Renee Rosnes, reed player Anat Cohen, bassist Nicki Parrott and singer Niki Haris, with drum backing from Ernie Adams. 
  • Trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Lewis Nash were inducted into The Jazz Cruise Hall of Fame during a tribute concert. In honor of Nash, drummers Joe LaBarbera, Jeff Hamilton and Ernie Adams performed a drums-only version of "A Night in Tunisia."
LaBarbera, Hamilton, Adams
The musicians aboard The Jazz Cruise love the fact that they get to perform in one venue for a full week, with no racing to airports between disparate concerts. "One of the great things about this boat is that we all get to hang together and play," trumpeter Randy Brecker said during a performance by his Brecker Brothers Reunion Band.

Kurt Elling
The current state of the world sneaked into some of the musician's performances. In a very late appearance at the ships main dining room venue, renamed Birdland for the sailing, jazz singer Kurt Elling noted that "none of the people making the problems in the world stay up this late." 

Monty Alexander trio
And in his trio's final calypso-and-reggae-tinged appearance of the week, Monty Alexander played fellow Jamaican Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." "This is dedicated to the women in the world who are struggling - struggling even to get enough to eat," Alexander told the crowd. "These are not people from s-h-i-t-hole places."

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Singers Roberta Gambarini, Nnenna Freelon, Ann Hampton Callaway
and Kurt Elling with the John Clayton-led big band.

More photographs from The Jazz Cruise 2018 are posted here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Eric Alexander, George Cotsirilos, Roberto Magris, David K. Mathews, Hristo Vitchev, and the trio Hart, Scone & Albin…..

Eric Alexander, Song of No Regrets (HighNote)
Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander is a prolific recording artist, and this latest project – is excellent and a bit different from his many projects that preceded it. Rather than draw from the bebop canon, it simmers with a lot of Latin and Brazilian melodies, rhythms and color as a palette for his wide-ranging sound. His quintet for this session features three longtime band mates - pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth - plus percussionist Alex Dias. Powerhouse trumpeter Jon Faddis joins them on two tracks, adding stunning fire to Hazeltine’s “But Here’s the Thing.” 

Other favorites: the band’s take on Stevie Wonder’s ballad “Three Little Words” (with the leader doubling on tenor and tasty organ fills), Alexander’s lush ballad “Corazón Perdido,” the funky “Grinder” and “Boom Zoom,” the Sergio Mendes-composed title track, and the Brazil 66 hit “Mas Que Nada.” There’s also a spirited Latin-tinged take on the Jimmy Webb-penned Fifth Dimension hit “Up, Up and Away.” This is a gem.

George Cotsirilos Quartet, Mostly in Blue (OA2) 
San Francisco Bay Area guitarist and composer George Cotsirilos first got hooked on blues guitar during his teenage years in Chicago. He shifted into a jazz bag during his college years. Now that he’s retired from practicing and teaching law, he has immersed himself in music full time. 

This project, his sixth CD, brings him full circle – with a deep focus on the blues – or blue moods. Gems here include “Blue Dusk” and his Wes Montgomery-inspired “Wes Side Blues.” Cotsirilos gets superb support from pianist Keith Saunders and longtime trio mates Robb Fischer (bass) and Ron Marabuto (drums).

Hart, Scone & Albin, Leading the British Invasion (Zoho) 
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Led Zeppelin led rock and pop music’s British Invasion a half-century ago. This project pays attention instead to this new century’s British Invasion – music brought to American airwaves by a wide range of female singers. Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lorde and Joss Stone. Lorde sneaked into the mix it seems because the New Zealander’s debut hit touches on the status and privilege of British royalty.

This South Florida-based trio includes guitarist John Hart, organ player Adam Scone and drummer Rudy Albin Petschauer. Their material includes Winehouse’s “Rehab” and “Back to Black,” as well as a cover of “Body and Soul,” which she performed on a Tony Bennett duet project in 2011, the year she died; Adele’s “Turning Tables” and “Rolling in the Deep”; Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin to Me Now”; and Lorde’s Grammy-winning debut hit “Royals.” The session also covers older British material by female singers: Sade’s 1984 hit “Smooth Operator” and two Dusty Springfield 1960s hits: “The Look of Love” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” The session also includes one original from this excellent trio: Hart’s “Blues for the U.K.” All of these tunes take on a vibrant energy in this instrumental context. This organ trio project is very well done – from concept to delivery. The three players dig into this music with tremendous cohesiveness, passion and power.

Roberto Magris Sextet, Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (JMood)
Italian pianist Roberto Magris has a gem here. Invited to perform in Miami for the first time, he recorded this live session in a public radio station performance gallery with trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer John Yarling (all faculty members at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music), and two U of M students, tenor saxophonist Jonathan Gomez and percussionist Murph Aucamp on congas. 

The players are in top form and the music is as hot as a sultry Miami night. Gems include two Magris originals, the searing opener “African Mood” and the Afropop-tinged “Song for an African Child,” and the pianist’s reflective solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing."

David K. Mathews, The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 (Effendi)
Granted it’s still early, but this project ranks as one of 2018’s most interesting vocal projects – and the leader doesn’t sing a note. Pianist David K. Mathews (a Tower of Power and Etta James alumnus and Santana’s keyboard player since 2010), pulled together a band and invited 10 San Francisco Bay Area vocalists to sing a song or two.

They tackled jazz standards on this first volume – and did them very well in their own styles. Rock-n-roller Steve Miller digs into “Blue Skies,” blues-infused Maria Muldauer added aching versions of “Oh Papa” and “Lover Man,” and Santana band singer Tony Lindsay contributed “When Sunny Gets Blue,” for example. The CD’s very best performance is Oakland-based Kenny Washington’s bittersweet and pensive take on “Lush Life.” Nicholas Bearde is strong on “I Want to Talk About You” and Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile.” 

Other singers on the project include Amikeayla Gaston (“Alfie”), Glenn Walters (“Ruby” and “Skylark”), Frank Jackson (“The More I See You”), Reni Simon (“We’ll Be Together Again”) and John Laslo (“In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”). Mathews, the consummate accompanist, is joined here by guitarists Jim Nichols and Carl Lockett, tenor saxophonist Wayne de Silva, bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Akira Tana.

Hristo Vitchev, Of Light and Shadows (First Orbit Sounds)
Bulgarian-born guitar modernist Hristo Vitchev is a painter with sound, no doubt about it. His artful original music captures moods in an impressionistic way. This 10th recording as a leader teams him with pianist Jasnam Daya Singh (known earlier as Weber Iago), bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Mike Shannon. Favorite tracks: “The Shortest Wavelength,” “Prismic Dance,” “Pentachromatic Butterflies” and the stunning, twisting-and-teasing closer, “Partial Darkness.”