Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Celebrating the rhythmic essence and varieties of tropical jazz

Since departing the New York jazz scene more than 25 years ago, guitarist Steve Uscher has immersed himself in what he calls tropical jazz - the varied but often-sultry music originating in Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, as well as a few other Caribbean locales. After his Big Apple days working on Broadway shows, in jazz clubs and backing vocal headliners, he moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands and spent five years playing jazz, calypso and reggae on the resort hotel circuit. 

Steve Uscher
For the past 20 years or so, he's been based in Naples, FL, where he and singer-percussionist Winnie Purple perform as a duo three to five nights a week at the Ritz Carlton's Lobby Bar. A few times a year, when schedule and opportunities permit, Uscher assembles his full-blown Tropical Jazz Group. He brought its latest version to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series on February 8 in his first CCJS appearance since 2008.

Papo Valentin
Besides Uscher and Purple, the band included trumpeter Dan Miller, the inventive percussionist Edwin "Papo" Valentin,  bassist Daniel Navarro and drummer Darrell Nutt. While Uscher and Purple have a fine rapport from working together so frequently, the added instrumental firepower revealed a sextet bubbling with energy and invention. 

Uscher's wide-ranging techniques and mastery of the acoustic guitar always are something to savor. Over two long sets, the music ranged between exotic and romantic, sultry and cool, whether they were playing Latin American material or adding a Latin tinge to familiar jazz tunes and popular songbook material. It was a night peppered with exotic rhythms, including bolero, bossa nova, cha cha, mambo and tango, as well as the samba-like afoxe propelling Dori Caymmi's "Obsession."

Winnie Purple
Uscher and Purple performed two tunes each set as a duo. They included Baden Powell's "Berimbao," the exquisite Dizzy Gillespie ballad "Con Alma," a Latin take on Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and an exotic tango, "Kiss of Fire."

Other gems included a Latinized version of Blue Mitchell's "Fungi Mama," two bossas - Ivan Lins' "Velas Icadas" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema," Clare Fischer's "Morning," and a fine pairing of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" (the hallmark piece from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain project) with Chick Corea's "Spain." Other treats: a cha cha version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and the high-energy closer, "Mambo Yoyo."

Dan Miller
Purple added many percussion touches all night and was equally charming whether singing in English, Portuguese or Spanish. Miller, a Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson alumnus, added his soulful trumpet sound and some stunning extended high notes as needed. He was featured on "Cherokee" and the ballad "My One and Only Love," which the band performed as a bolero. 

Navarro, Uscher, Purple
 Navarro may have felt like he was under a microscope, sharing the stage with two of his music teachers (Uscher and Miller) - and his mother (Purple). Navarro and Uscher were locked into a deep groove all, and the bassist also blended well  with the three percussion players. The percussionists complemented each other, adding both energy and subtle accents to the Tropical Jazz Group sound.

Valentin, Nutt, Navarro, Uscher, Purple, Miller

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Jazz versatility with a bit of a brogue

Paul Duffy
Paul Duffy has had a charmed life as a musician and entrepreneur. He played jazz in his native Ireland, but had to learn to play Irish music when he came to the U.S. in the 1980s. His career also included six years of touring with The Commitments rock band. Until it closed five years ago, he owned the Irish Rover pub, a music mecca in Sarasota. He continues to play music on the southwest Florida's Irish pub circuit.

Duffy has considerable jazz chops, as a singer and multi-instrumentalist. And those chops were in fine form Thursday, February 4, at a South County Jazz Club matinee concert at the Venice Art Center.
Matt Bokulic
Primarily playing a bebop style ontenor sax, Duffy also treated the audience to his trumpet and flute work on select tunes, backed by a mighty fine rhythm section: Matt Bokulic on piano, Joe Porter on bass and David Pruyn on drums. They also backed Duffy in his previous SCJC appearance in October 2013.

Joe Porter
Thursday's highlights included the band's skillful romp through "Autumn Leaves,"  Wayne Shorter's jazz classic "Footprints," and a version of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," on which Duffy traded the melody back and forth seamlessly between sax and trumpet.

He and the band also offered an update of Van Morrison's "Moondance," with Duffy featured on flute, vocals and a bit of scatting, and a blues take  on "Teach Me Tonight." With a romantic holiday just around the corner, they finished the show with "My Funny Valentine" - but played it as a high-energy samba.

David Pruyn
Duffy got his start as a musician in a family circus band in Ireland where, among other things, while he walked a tightrope while playing the sax. Jazz still provides him an interesting tightrope, with the rhythm section acting as the net. He never fell off the rope, but they were in synch with him all afternoon.
Bokulic, Porter, Duffy, Pruyn

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Getting back in the Monday night jazz groove

Rhode Island has had a superb big band jazz tradition that began within a year of the Monday night "rehearsal band" that Thad Jones and Mel Lewis.started at New York's Village Vanguard.

Drummer Duke Belaire inaugurated the RI tradition in 1967 at the Cobblestone Tavern in East Providence before settling in 1969 at nearby Bovi's Town Tavern. In quite a feat of musical longevity, Bovi's was the home of Monday night jazz for 48 years. 

John Allmark
Belaire had the gig until 1999 (with a band rotation that at various times featured trombonist Hal Crook and saxophonists Greg Abate, Dick Johnson and Art Pelosi), when he eased into retirement. 

Trumpeter John Allmark's Jazz Orchestra took over the Monday night slot - and kept the candle burning for 16 years. Then came late November, when Bovi's closed with no clear indication if or when it might reopen. After nearly a half century of dynamic performances, that was quite a blow for area jazz fans.
The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

The good news is that Allmark's superb orchestra will resume the tradition on Monday, January 25, at The Met, a music club in nearby Pawtucket better known for pop, rock and blues acts. But now, Monday nights at The Met will belong to jazz.

Allmark's big band has featured top-flight players from across southern New
England and occasional special guests, who have included Los Angeles-based trumpeter Winston Byrd and pop/R&B singer Jeffrey Osborne. Jeffrey's oldest brother, Clay Osborne, sang regularly with the big band until his death10 years ago. Others who guested with Allmark's big band since its founding include saxophonists Nick Brignola and Lanny Morgan, and trumpeter Bobby Shew.

Here's a taste of what the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra sounds like, on a 2009 version of Don Menza's tune "Groovin' Hard," a Buddy Rich band staple.

You'll find a score of similar JAJO video tracks on YouTube, including wonderful takes on Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" and Dizzy Gillespie's infreqently heard "Tanga." 

This band, often featuring brass-rich material by Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Oliver Nelson and Horace Silver, among others, can hold its own against any competition on any given night. Here's a link to a profile/review I wrote for JazzTimes a few years ago.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Channeling two jazz tenor titans

Del Gatto, Rupert
Tenor saxophonists Lew Del Gatto and Jeff Rupert channeled the spirit and hard-driving swing of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims in their Friday matinee concert at the Venice (FL) Art Center.

The South County Jazz Club event teamed the two tenors with pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Tony Vigilante. 

All of the music they performed came from the repertoire of Cohn and Sims, whose musical partnership was something to behold on the New York jazz scene in the 1950s and '60s. Half of the afternoon's material was featured on To Al and Zoot, With Love, a 2008 recording that was the genesis of a tribute project by Del Gatto and fellow tenor player Bob Keller.

Richard Drexler

Del Gatto, who spent a quarter century as a member of NBC's Saturday Night Live Band, now lives in Naples FL. With Keller still based up north, he drafted Rupert for this event. Rupert is Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Drexler, a multi-instrumentalist best known for his bass playing, also teaches in UCF's jazz program.

Drexler, Del Gatto, Rupert, Mopsick, Vigilante
The music was swinging from the opening notes of their extended version of "Lover Come Back to Me" to the closer, late pianist John Bunch's frisky "John's Bunch." Other treats included the band's take on "Recado Bossa Nova," Gary McFarland's "Blue Hodge" and Lester Young's classic composition "Tickle Toe." The set also included Cohn's originals "P-Town" and "Mama Flosie," and Billy Byers' "Doodle Oodle. "

Del Gatto and Rupert were in synch with each other - and their rhythm mates - all afternoon. The two tenors' unison playing was very strong, with slight variations enhancing their blend. All of the players' solos were inspired and quite inventive.
Drexler, Del Gatto, Rupert

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Looking Ahead: Southwest Florida jazz preview

The 2015-16 jazz concert season continues through May. Here is a rundown of noteworthy jazz events, principally in the Sarasota to Naples territory, from now through March. I’ll post updated lists as the season progresses. 

  • Monday, February 8 – Guitarist Steve Uscher and his Tropical Jazz Band. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Concert Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County. 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 10 – Clarinetist Ken Peplowski plays the music of Benny Goodman with The Naples Jazz Orchestra, Titans Auditorium, 2925 Titan Way, Naples, 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 14 – Trumpeter and singer Bria Skonberg in concert. South County Jazz Club series, Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 17 – Singer Carmen Lundy joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
    Bria Skonberg
  • Saturday, February 20 – 11th annual Punta Gorda Wine & Jazz Festival features guitarist Nick Colionne, singer Bobby Caldwell and alto saxophonist Mindi Abair (back for her eighth consecutive year). Laishley Park, Punta Gorda, 1-6 p.m. The festival’s mainstream jazz brunch on Sunday, February 21 at the Isles Yacht Club, sponsored by Presley Beane Financial Services, features trombonist Herb Bruce, singer-drummer Patricia Dean, trumpeter John DePaola, pianist Jeff Phillips, saxophonist David MacKenzie and bassist-guitarist Dave Trefethen
  • March 6-12 – Jazz Club of Sarasota‘s 36th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival.This year's major concerts feature the Naples Jazz Orchestra with trumpeter Byron Stripling, guitarist Diego Figueiredo and clarinetist Ken Peplowski, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and a Dick Hyman-led all-star band that includes guitarists Howard Alden and Russell Malone. Evening concerts are at the Riverview High School Performing Arts Center in Sarasota. 
  • Wednesday, March 9 – Flutist Hubert Laws joins the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra for the sextet’s  monthly All That Jazz concert. Daniels Pavilion, 6 and 8:30 p.m. Trumpeter Chris Botti guests with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra across the courtyard at Hayes Hall, 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 13 – Singer Tony Bennett in concert. Hayes Hall, Artis Naples, 8 p.m.
  •  Monday, March 14 – The Harry Allen quintet with singer Rebecca Kilgore. Charlotte County Jazz Society‘s Concert Series. Cultural Center of Charlotte County, Port Charlotte. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 19 – Pianist Cyrus Chestnut makes his first South County Jazz Club appearance. Glenridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota, 7.p.m.

Several local restaurants (including J.D.’s in Port Charlotte, The Orange House in Punta Gorda, and The Roadhouse in Ft. Myers, offer jazz steadily. A variety of 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, January 12, 2016

International jazz in more ways than one

The excellent and versatile Orlando-based drummer Eddie Metz Jr. brought his International Jazz Trio to Port Charlotte on Monday, January 11 for a concert with more foreign tinges than just the trio's membership.

The band consists of Metz, Australian-born bassist and singer Nicki Parrott, and Italian-born pianist Rossano Sportiello. Metz tends to get top billing on Florida tours because he lives here, but it really is a trio of equals. All three players contribute mightily to the group's dynamic sound and tune selection.

This was the band's third visit in five seasons to the Charlotte County Jazz Society's concert series. These musicians always seem to unearth more little-heard gems and swing the heck out of them with their playful camaraderie and astonishing technique.

In addition to some standard fare from the jazz canon and the Great American Songbook, the evening also touched on some decidedly foreign material in terms of composers or inspirations. That added Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Poland to the intriguing concert mix.

Rossano Sportiello
They opened with London-born pianist George Shearing's composition "She" before showcasing Sportiello on two Ellington-related tunes: "The Sunset and the Mockingbird" (from Duke's "The Queen's Suite") and Mercer Ellington's little-heard "John Hardy's Wife."

Other Sportiello gems included his take on Erroll Garner's "Misty" and a classical fantasie in which Italian-born composer Domenico Scarlatti's "Sonata in A major" segued seamlessly into Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland." The classically trained pianist also shared Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and his customary Chopin medley, the latter as the concert closer.
Nicki Parrott

Parrott's charming vocals and creative bass playing are always a crowd pleaser. Her vocal features included the Dinah Washington hit "What a Difference a Day Made," "It's a Good Day," English composer Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" (sung in tribute to the late Natalie Cole), "La Vie en Rose" and her concert staple, the Peggy Lee hit "Fever." Her vocals also shined on the band's version of the Ray Charles R&B hit "Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So" (with Peggy Lee's "love him so" lyric variation).

The evening's highlight, in terms of crowd response from the crowd of 350+, was a Sportiello solo piano segment that opened with a delicate exploration of "I Wish You Love." It sequed into several tunes from the Austria-based "The Sound of Music" soundtrack. After "Edelweiss," Metz and Parrott joined in for most of the exuberant final section, "Climb Every Mountain."
Eddie Metz Jr.

Metz's drum wizardry was showcased on "Shoe Shine Boy," a Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin tune from the Count Basie songbook. In 1982, Metz spent six months as the drummer in the Basie band while he was still in college at William Paterson College. There's nothing like starting your career with the best. Decades later, Metz is still working with the best - and is one of Florida's most in-demand jazz drummers.

Rossano Sportiello, Nicki Parrott, Eddie Metz Jr.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Swiss connection

Drummer-singer Patricia Dean brought her trio to the South County Jazz Club's matinee concert series at the Venice FL Art Center Thursday, and quite willingly handed the center of attention to her pianist.
William Evans

William Evans is based in St. Petersburg for a few months a year but spends the bulk of his time teaching jazz piano and performing in Switzerland, where he's a longtime faculty member at the Swiss Jazz School in Basel. When he's back in Southwest Florida, it's a matter of catch him when you can.
Patricia Dean

Dean, Evans and bassist Joe Porter combined their talents to make Evans' first jazz club appearance a memorable one. Evans' impressionistic approach to the variety of tunes the trio played revealed interesting new facets without ever losing the essence of the source material.

Joe Porter
Highlights included their take on the dreamy bossa nova "Dindi" and Chick Corea's waltz "Windows," Porter's bass feature on "I Fall in Love Too Easily," and the Evans sprightly original "1-3-5 Junction." His solo piano version of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" opened with a teasing introduction that likely had listeners thinking it was going to be something else from the jazz canon. Dean's vocals shined on "East of the Sun," "How Long Has This Been Going On?" and "This Can't Be Love."

Dean and Evans began working together back in the 1980s at the defunct Summerhouse Restaurant on Siesta Key shortly after Evans moved to Florida from Detroit. While he doesn't play in Florida as much as he used to, Dean said she relishes every opportunity to work with him.

"He's such a brilliant player," she said. "Every time he comes to town, I go to school." 
Evans, Porter, Dean

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015: Looking back at the Year in Jazz

Allaboutjazz.com has published my comprehensive look back at 2015's goings on in the jazz world. In short, it was a curious blend of ups and downs, with glimmers of optimism offset by its losses. 

Venues opened to great fanfare, but others closed for a variety of reasons. UNESCO’s International Jazz Day became firmly entrenched as the exclamation point on Jazz Appreciation Month activities in April. Daily arts journalism took a hit with music writers leaving significant newspapers. A prominent trumpeter found himself under FBI investigation for program funding in New Orleans. The jazz world said goodbye to lot of players and industry figures throughout the year, including five of its NEA Jazz Masters.

You can dig a bit deeper into this compilation from the link above.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jazzy happy holidays

Best wishes for a very Merry Christmas 2015 and joyous New Year from the Jazz Notes staff.

A toast to you all as we share some vintage musical cheer from among our holiday favorites. Raise your glass.

The holiday would not be complete without the delightful animated video of The Platters’ doo-wopping their way through “White Christmas” with feeling.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Darren Barrett, June Bisantz, Kirsten Edkins, Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton, and JAMBa…

Darren Barrett, Trumpet Vibes (dB Studios)
Toronto-born, Boston-based trumpeter Darren Barrett has a genre-jumping gem on his hands with Trumpet Vibes, his seventh CD. In short, you can call it hard bop meets reggae, with a pair of pop covers thrown in for good measure. Barrett blends the rhythms of his parents’ homeland, Jamaica, with hard-bop energy. One standout is his pensive original, “Chiapas,” which melds Barrett’s trumpet with Simon Mouillier on balaphone, as brothers Alexander and Anthony Toth anchor its ska rhythm on bass and drums respectively. 

Other gems are reggae twists to Lulu’s 1967 movie soundtrack hit “To Sir, With Love” and Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” and Barrett’s beautiful “Song for a Princess,” which co-features Mouillier on vibes. Another fine vibes player, Warren Wolf, is a special guest, joining the fun on the opener and closer, Barrett’s take on trumpet hero Donald Byrd’s “Fly Little Bird” and an original, “The Club Up The Street.” Dig into the rippling energy and the artistry with this projects wonderful pairing of trumpet and mallets.

June Bisantz, It’s Always You (self-produced)
Chet Baker’s lyrical trumpet and soft vocal style epitomized the cool jazz sound emanating from the West Coast in the 1950s. Singer June Bisantz channels that feeling on It’s Always You, the second CD inspired by Baker’s sound. Her smoky voice and artful sense of time are showcased as she covers a dozen tunes associated with Baker. Bisantz gets stellar support from pianist Alex Nakhimovsky and guitarist Norman Johnson. She teams with both on “Everything Depends on You” and “Born to Be Blue,” and with just Johnson on “”Forgetful,” “You’re Mine, You,” and “The Night We Called It a Day.” Gabor Viragh adds Baker-like trumpet accompaniment on four tracks, most notably “My Ideal” and the wistful “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Bisantz closes things out with a brief a capella take on “”Spring is Here.” Quite fittingly for her project, she dedicated the title track to Baker.

Kirsten Edkins, Art & Soul (self-produced)
Los Angeles-based Kirsten Edkins’ debut CD quickly shows that she is a saxophonist to take very seriously. She’s got chops galore, a lush sound and a swinging way with a melody, anchored by her crafty and confident improvisations. Her musical mentor, tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, produced the project and is featured on three tracks, two on bass clarinet. Larry Goldings is aboard on piano and Hammond B-3, the latter adding to the funk of Edkins’ original, “Big B,” while bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Mark Ferber round out the rhythm section. Guitarist Larry Koonse, trumpeter Mike Cottone and trombonist Ryan Dragon guest on several tracks. While the project covers Mal Waldron’s jazz classic “Soul Eyes” and Eddie Harris’s “Mean Greens,” everything else here originated in Edkins’ creative musical mind.

Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio, Live in Bern (Capri) 
Credit Capri Records President Tom Burns for putting together two jazz greats who are at the top of their game and happen to share the same last name. Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton is one of the great swing jazz balladeers, but also quite capable of cutting loose on more spirited uptempo material. Drummer Jeff Hamilton is an ace at the drum kit, whether leading his own trio, working as a sideman or co-leading the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. This project, recorded in May 2014 in Switzerland, teamed the tenor player with Hamilton’s trio with pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. While  tere are no duds, the highlights include their takes on Benny Carter’s classic jazz ballad “Key Largo,” the little-heard Strayhorn composition “Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters,” and a spirited romp through “Centerpiece.” A lot of musical ground is covered – and it is impeccably good. Hamilton fans rejoice.

JAMBa, Off White (JAMBaTunes)
While there is a jam band feel throughout this project, the band name JAMBa does not reference the genre. It merely borrows initials from co-leaders drummer John Anter and bassist Marty Ballou. They pulled together an impressive lineup of studio players for Off White, a stretched-out, instrumental jazz tribute to The Beatles. It combines elements from The Fab Four’s White and If You Need Me sessions, sometimes mashing texture and instrumentation from one tune with the rhythms of another. For example, the tune “Hey Bulldog” includes licks from “Cold Turkey.” 

Besides the two leaders, the core band includes Joe “Sonny” Barbato on piano, Hammond B-3 and accordion, edgy guitarist Bruce Bartlett and saxophonist Klem Klimek. Bassist Dave Zinno and drum master Bernard Purdie joined the fun for two and three tracks respectively. Gems here include their takes on “Yer Blues” and “Flying” (both powered by Purdie), “Rocky Raccoon” (featuring Zinno), the calliope-esque “Junk,” a version of “Blackbird featuring just Anter, Ballou and Zinno, and a searing cover of George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness.” Quite a few jazz players have covered Beatles material in recent years, but not like this.