Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Pianist Steve Kuhn has teamed up with saxophonist Joe Lovano for this exquisite recording, which captures the majestic scope of John Coltrane’s music – and imbues it with creative delicacy from Kuhn’s fertile imagination and playing. Both men have good reason to do this: A young Kuhn spent eight weeks in the winter of 1960 as the original pianist in Trane’s quartet; and Lovano has been a foremost Coltrane disciple throughout his own prolific career. They tackle 11 well-considered tunes written or recorded by Coltrane (including ‘Song of Praise,” “Crescent,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and “Central Park West”) with the quartet, featuring Kuhn’s regular band mates David Finck on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The pianist also adds two lovely original solo pieces “With Gratitude” and “Trance.”
Laurence Hobgood, When the Heart Dances (Naim Jazz)
This disc, with Charlie Haden and Kurt Elling, is musically delicious in many ways. Its intimacy showcases what Hobgood calls the “imagination, empathy, harmony, pitch, rhythmic dimension, clarity, complexity of texture, simplicity of center – and nobility” of Haden’s bass playing. Similarly, it showcases Hobgood’s exquisite touch, imaginative and introspective piano work, and his talents as an arranger and composer (soloing on two originals, including the gospel-meets-new age work “Sanctuary”). He and Haden dance around the basic elements of “Que Sera Sera,” barely touching its distinctive melody. And then there’s Elling’s instrumental approach to singing, which is showcased on Haden’s elegiac “First Song,” “the chestnut “Stairway to the Stars” and the Ellington/Strayhorn classic “Daydream.” This is one to savor. This is an August 11 release.
George Benson, Songs and Stories (Concord Jazz/Monster Music)
Singer-guitarist George Benson’s latest recording adventure turned into a party with a lot of special guests as he blended balladry, R&B and funk into tunes from songwriters from many genres over the past 50 years. There is much to savor here, including his Brazilian take on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” a duet with Lalah Hathaway on "A Telephone Call Away,” which Bill Withers emerged from retirement to write for this project, and Smokey Robinson’s “One Like You.” One surprise is 10-time Grammy-winner Benson’s instrumental cover of Christopher Cross’s sometimes-maligned pop hit “Sailing.” Without vocals, other than a hint of scatting, this take reveals a new sense of beauty. This is an August 25 release.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The hipness, the essence of cool, the going against the grain, a music that doesn’t appeal to our least-common-denominator culture has always been a branding hook for advertisers.
Now, Massachusetts is hoping jazz can help promote tourism in the commonwealth.
A new marketing initiative that includes a 40-page MassJazz Travel Guide, as well as online listings, details hundreds of outdoor and indoor concerts, jazz festivals, nightclubs, radio programs, hotel brunches and jazz connections for out-of-town visitors and Massachusetts residents – from Provincetown to Pittsfield. The Massachusetts geography covered seems a bit fuzzy, as the online directory also includes the annual jazz festival in Newport, RHODE ISLAND.
“Our goal is to offer jazz as a new way of showcasing the many cultural and hospitality amenities Massachusetts has to offer,” says Executive Director Betsy Wall, of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism. MassJazz founder Michael Quinlin developed the campaign with Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, Berklee College of Music, Tanglewood Jazz Festival and other jazz advocates in the state.
Organizers hope to develop music education as a tourism product too, from the offerings at Berklee and other 21 schools, as well as summer jazz courses offered at local universities and cultural venues.
The MassJazz Travel Guide is available free of charge in tourism centers around the state, in local concert venues, jazz clubs, hotels and restaurants – and is being distributed to incoming conventions, tour operators and travel agencies throughout North America and to select international outlets.
If it helps the music - and the musicians – this is a good thing. That should be the bottom line.
(For up-to-date information about jazz activities year round, visit MassJazz.com.)
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The alto saxophonist Art Pepper spent 15 years in and out of prison and/or rehab because of addiction and drug busts, yet made an indelible mark on jazz for the sometimes-frantic beauty of his playing. While his available earliest recordings remain some of his finest, this three-disc compilation of primarily other material, produced by widow Laurie Pepper, has much to offer for Pepper compleatists.
Disc One contains early West Coast material, dating to 1950 when he was a featured soloist with the Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra. The highlight is the ballad “Patricia,” which Pepper wrote for his daughter.
All but one track (“Chelsea Bridge” from the Buddy Rich album Mercy, Mercy) on Disc Two are from 1964 - rehearsal tracks recorded a few weeks after his release from his first stint in San Quentin Prison. Stylistically, they are a bit ragged and free.
Disc Three held the most interest for me, because it captures Pepper in the last five years of his life. Four of the seven tracks are previously unreleased and the others had very limited release.
It opens with a smoking version of “Caravan recorded live in Japan by his comeback band. Most others were recorded during performances in Paris, at the Bach Dynamite & Dancing Society in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and at Fat Tuesday’s in New York, and two were recorded with Jack Sheldon for Japanese release. Besides “Caravan,” the standouts are “Lost Life,” which Pepper wrote in prison, and “Landscape” and “Mambo Koyama.” The latter two were from the April 1982 Fat Tuesday’s gig with pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist George Mraz and drummer Ben Riley just two months before Pepper’s. death at 56.
Friday, July 24, 2009
The fact that the organization puts on a separate jazz festival in Aspen in June eases the pain. Its multi-faceted jazz education programs and the JAS June festival undoubtedly benefit from the monies raised from the anything-goes festival held over the long holiday weekend.
Here’s a more dubious local example. A nearby city here in Rhode Island sponsored (until the economy soured this year) an annual evening concert called “Jazz on the Blackstone,” held in a park along the Blackstone River, birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution. The only featured band for many years now has been a quartet called King’s Row. It’s a local golden oldies band. I’m sure it’s a great event for nostalgic rock and pop fans.
But it’s a musical crime in advertising/branding.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
The great lyricist Johnny Mercer would have loved this tribute from charming singer-pianist Daryl Sherman to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. New York-based Sherman and friends explore some of the chestnuts (“I Thought About You,” “Dream,” “At the Jazz Band Ball,” Twilight World,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “”Midnight Sun”) but they also reveal quite a few lesser-known but just as excellent “sleepers,” such as I’m Shadowing You” and “The Bathtub Ran Over Again,” which was Mercer’s first recording under his own name and hear features a vocal duet with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Treats: Jerry Dodgion’s alto sax accompaniment on “Little Ingenue,” Chuck Redd’s vibes support on “Midnight Sun” and Marian McPartland on piano on her classic “Twilight World” (She wrote the tune, Mercer added the lyrics).
Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen, We Couldn’t Agree More (Origin)
The duo is perhaps the most challenging format in jazz, particularly when it is just piano and sax. There’s no rhythm section for support - just a lot of seat-of-the-pants playing, intense listening and anticipating. Pianist Bill Anschell and soprano sax player Brent Jensen have the chops and intuition to pull it off. They explore new facets, usually skirting or barely implying the melody, as they reinvigorate 10 different standards (Miles Davis’s “Solar” has an alternate take). This is the jazz version of two people sharing a tightrope - beautifully in sync.
Mike Stern, Big Neighborhood (Heads Up International)
Odds are you never put subtlety in the same sentence with Mike Stern when describing his energetic brand of jazz fusion. This appropriately named project gathers a range of guest artists from all around the musical block to tackle 11 Stern originals. Personal highlights: Stern trading walls of sound with rock guitarist Steve Vai on the opening title track and the exotic-sounding “Moroccan Roll;” the simpatico in “Reach” with Richard Bona on bass and vocals, Dave Weckl on drums, Bob Franceschini on tenor sax and Jim Beard on keyboards; and the intense fire that Medeski, Martin and Wood lay under Stern on “Check One,” a track that also features Bob Malach on tenor sax. Believe it or not, there is some subtlety - when Stern teams up with and comps behind the bass and wordless vocals of Esparanza Spalding (with Beard and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington) on “Song for Pepper.” Other guests include Texas rock guitarist Eric Johnson, trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummers Cindy Blackman and Lionel Cordew, and bassists Chris Minh Doky and Lincoln Goines. This is an August 11 release.
David Berkman Quartet, Live at Smoke (Challenge Records)
There is nothing like the extra adrenalin a band receives from playing before a live audience. This is one of those occasions when that energy comes through in the live recording process. Pianist Berkman, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Ted Poor are at the top of their game in the cozy confines of the upper Manhattan club Smoke, where Berkman is far from a stranger. Highlights:- the slight melodic variations that he uses to power “Weird Knack” from start to finish, the strong interplay between Berkman and Greene on “Along Came Betty,” and the beauty mined from “Hidden Fondness,” an unsubtle variation on the standard “Secret Love.”
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Now you can add 30 and 91 with the Detroit International Jazz Festival to the mix this Labor Day Weekend.
Detroit, which bills itself as the largest free jazz festival in the U.S., is commemorating its 30th anniversary edition with a six-part suite that it commissioned from West Coast composer-bandleader Gerald Wilson. He and his big band will premiere the work on September 4, which just happens to be Wilson’s 91st birthday.
A recorded version, Detroit, will be released September 29 by Mack Avenue Records.
Wilson recorded the work with both his Los Angeles and New York orchestras.
The combined personnel include trumpeters Jon Faddis, Bobby Rodriguez and Jimmy Owens; trombonists Dennis Wilson, Luis Bonilla and Doug Purviance; saxophonists Steve Wilson, Kamasi Washington, Antonio Hart, Jackie Kelso and Ronnie Cuber; pianists Brian O'Rourke and Renee Rosnes; bassists Trey Henry, Peter Washington and Todd Coolman; and drummers Mel Lee and Lewis Nash. The guest soloists are flute player Hubert Laws, trumpeter Sean Jones and the bandleader's son, guitarist Anthony Wilson.
Gerald Wilson calls his work a musical sonnet to the city where he spent five key years in the late 1930s. He said Detroit's progressive social policies made a huge impression on him. "The city itself showed me so much," Wilson says. "All of the schools were integrated; so was the musician's union. I had only known segregation before."
Monday, July 20, 2009
We had to bail out early on this year’s 30th annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, but the music followed us on the long trip home. Quite unexpectedly.
1) A precautionary stop at a hospital emergency room for my rather balky leg at the time. Who should walk in to take a look at it? A hospital resident who is a jazz guitarist and writes about jazz as time permits. He said he studied with Art Davis at the University of Wisconsin at one point. His faves – Bill Frisell, John Scofield and John McLaughlin. Even more crazy, it turns out he did a medical rotation with an old college friend of mine who has a local practice in the same city.
2) A few hours later, we pull into a fast-food joint for something quick. And we’re sitting at a table, a few feet away from a ceiling ventilator fan, whose motor is making a rather remarkable series of three distinct Afro-Cuban-like rhythms. Each a bit different. First one, then the next (a bit longer and more complex), then the third. Then it would repeat the same three patterns. We sat fascinated, and I was wishing I’d had a hand drum with me, not just a laminated tabletop. The night manager walked by as we listened. She looked up at the fan, clearly annoyed that the motor was making any noise at all, oblivious to the rhythms. Such is life.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Indianapolis-based clarinetist Frank Glover released Politico locally in 2005 and it is for our benefit that Owl Studios is providing national distribution of this splendid work. It showcases both Glover’s intriguing, modern approach to the clarinet, as well as his skillful writing for small bands, and on several tracks, string orchestra or jazz orchestra. Pianist Steve Allee, bassist Jack Helsley and drummer Bryson Kern join Glover as the core of the project. I’m particularly fond of “The Last Blue Tang” and Glover’s three-part “Concierto Para Quarteto” though there is much more here to enjoy.
John Patitucci, Remembrance (Concord Jazz)
Bassist Patitucci (who has spent much of the past nine years touring in Wayne Shorter’s latest quartet), saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade make this project sing instrumentally. Their combined empathy, intimacy and individual prowess sparkles - particularly on “Meditations,” “Mali,” ”Safari” and “Joe Hen.” The title track is an overdubbed solo electric bass coda that reverentially pays tribute to Michael Brecker as it winds down a project celebrating the impact of jazz greats who have impacted his music (including Monk, Trane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard). There are also guest performances by the leader's wife Sachi Patitucci on cello and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. This is an August 4 release.
Spencer Day, Vagabond (Concord Jazz)
Singer-pianist Spencer Day’s genre-busting talents may serve him well, particularly his artful compositions and clever lyrics, which are at the core of his recordings and performances. This young West Coaster emerged last year on the jazz scene, and plays spirited piano when he lets his band stretch out a bit. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear much of that on this project. We do get to savor the writing and composition skills and his appealing vocals. My favorites here among the 14 tracks are “Vagabond,” “Little Soldier” and “Til You Come to Me.” This young balladeer appears quite comfortable straddling the nearly invisible line between cabaret and musical theater. Might we have a viable young successor to Billy Joel? This is a September 8 release.
Roberta Gambarini, So in Love (Groovin’ High/Emarcy)
It’s been three long years since singer Roberta Gambarini wowed the jazz world with her Grammy-nominated debut recording Easy to Love. That time span between recordings as a leader makes this new project most welcome, as I always felt she was performing too much “same material” over the past seven years, no matter how artful and beautiful. So in Love adds a lot of fresh covers of jazz and American Songbook material. Personal favorites: “Get Out of Town,” “Estate” in her native Italian, Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” (which she slows to savor the meaning in every syllable), a beautiful Lennon/McCartney medley (“Golden Slumbers” segueing into “Here, There and Everywhere”) and Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On.” She also adds her own lyrics to Johnny Griffin’s bluesy “You Ain’t Nothing But a JAMF.” The many project collaborators include trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist James Moody and pianist Tamir Hendelman, This is another winner from pianist Hank Jones’s frequent collaborator/favorite contemporary vocalist. This is an August 25 release.
(Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Easy to Love.)
Monday, July 13, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
TD Financial Group (Toronto-Dominion Bank and its subsidiaries) is stepping up to succeed longtime primary sponsor General Motors. GM Canada is bowing out this year, not surprising given the financial pain felt throughout the auto industry. The TD Canada Trust presenting sponsorship begins with next year's 31st annual Montreal event.
Interestingly, TD has a branch office in the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan, the festival organization's own new building (the former Blumenthal Building) at the corner of Bleury and St. Catherine Street West, overlooking the festival site.
And how about the timing of these developments. George Wein and his Newport All-Stars will perform at Montreal tomorrow night in what is billed as a tribute to the father of all jazz festivals. Wein will be joined by Lew Tabackin, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash for the Theatre Jean-Duceppe music event.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Wein and CEO David Schlotterbeck of CareFusion announced today that the health-care corporation will be the title sponsor for George Wein's Jazz Festival 55 in Newport next month and will also sponsor a festival that Wein will produce in New York City next June.
As Wein explains it: "The magic is still with us. Over the decades, sponsors have always found us....We were going forward in producing the jazz festival in Newport without a sponsor; but when we got the call from CareFusion, this guaranteed that our work of 55 years in Newport would continue. New Yorkers and jazz fans around the world will be pleased to know that CareFusion will make it possible for jazz to once again take over the city in June. We are looking forward to creating an exciting and innovative 2010 CareFusion New York Jazz Festival to add to the important New York cultural scene."
Wein and his team have done a masterful job in resurrecting their operation after the rather apparent financial demise of Festival Network LLC, the upstart firm that bought his original Festival Productions Inc. in January 2009, Over the past year , Festival Network ran itself into the ground with overambition and overspending at the worst possible time.
The new Wein sponsor, picking up at least part of where JVC left off this year, is involved in a worldwide program to associate itself with jazz festivals in Newport, Chicago, Monterey, Manly (Australia), Paris and New York As part of its new Festival Series, CareFusion will broadcast live to hospitals the performances of select festival artists.
San Diego-based CareFusion is a global provider of product and services to improve the productivity and safety of health care. The wholly owned subsidiary of Cardinal Health is expected to become a public company from the planned spinoff of Cardinal Health's clinical and medical products businesses.
The CareFusion Jazz Festival Series also includes:
CareFusion Chicago Jazz Festival, September 4 - 6, 2009
CareFusion Presents Dizzy's Den at the Monterey Jazz Festival, September 18 - 20, 2009
CareFusion Manly Jazz Festival (Australia), October 3 - 5, 2009
CareFusion Paris Jazz Festival, October 16 - 24, 2009
CareFusion New York Jazz Festival, June 2010 (exact dates TBD)
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Montreal pianist Oliver Jones opened the festival’s newest venue, MIJF’s year-round cabaret-style jazz club L’Astral, located in the festival’s new multiple-purpose Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan (House of the Festival). The six-floor building also contains a bistro, a gallery space that becomes the bustling media center during festivals, archives and staging offices. L’Astral is an ultra modern, high-tech venue that retains more than as hint of the spirit of the festival’s old Spectrum venue, now just a hole in the ground across the street awaiting downtown redevelopment.
Jones paid tribute to mentor Oscar Peterson before shifting into an extended Gershwin medley that opened with a bit of “Rhapsody in Blue” and coursed through six other tunes, many from “Porgy and Bess,” before a rollicking finish with “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Ranee Lee joined him to sing Miles Davis’s “Four,” “Beautiful Love” and a bilingual version of “Stormy Weather,” as well as “Lady Be Good.”
Hundreds of thousands crowded into, or in some cases, within earshot of the festival site, and waited patiently, sometimes under a sea of umbrellas, for the festival’s first outdoor spectacle of the year, a free Stevie Wonder concert billed as ”A Wonder’s Summer Night 2009.” The huge main stage area couldn’t accommodate anything close to the throng, so many more stood transfixed wherever they could see one of the 10 video screens set up on other stages in and around the Place des Arts. The crowd was later estimated at more than 200,000.
While he hit the stage a half-hour behind the scheduled start, Wonder was generous with his time, playing for more than two hours. He paid tribute top the late Michael Jackson - interspersing some MJ tunes with his own classics. “The Way You Make Me Feel” opened with a Michael Jackson recording, with Wonder joining on the first refrain before taking over the tune. After his own “Higher Ground,” Wonder also channeled a lot of jazz material, exploring Miles Davis’s “All Blues” on harmonica, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” on piano and an extended version of Chick Corea’s “Spain” featuring all of his horn players before delving into many of his own Grammy-winning hits.
I like this festival because it presents a chance to see and hear so many artists who rarely get to convenient venues in the U.S. Other favorite shows in my brief Montreal stay included saxophonist Donny McCaslin with Canadian pianist Julie Lamontagne, Montreal pianist Vic Vogel’s robust big band performing an homage to the jazz masters on the General Motors main stage, singer Hilary Kole who opened for the energetic Brit Jamie Cullum, and Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, who made his Montreal debut with a Japanese sextet that blended the best elements of bop, fusion, Afrojazz rhythms and the folk traditions of his homeland.Singer Melody Gardot played for nearly full houses two nights at the double-balconied Theatre Maisonneuve, weaving a vocal spell
13 - The number of days of the festival this year not counting several preview concert events.
30 - When this 30th annual festival began in 1980, a ticket to see opening headliner Ray Charles cost $9.50. This year’s top ticket is $129.50 for guitarist Jeff Beck. In contrast, 2009 opening outdoor headliner Stevie Wonder’s show was free.
30 / 3,000 - The festival features 3,000 musicians from 30 countries.
681 -There are 224 ticketed indoor concerts this year and 457 free outdoor concerts, a noticeable increase from past years when there was about a 150/350 split.
60,000 - The festival recovers 30 tons of recyclable material annually. Additionally festival co-presenting sponsor Rio Tinto Alcan bought the carbon offsets to make the event carbon neutral.
36 million - The number of festival attendees from 1980 to 2008, with nearly 25 percent estimated being tourists from outside Quebec, the U.S. and around the world. Yes, this is a destination festival for some, but for many more, it is a huge hometown event.