Monday, May 31, 2010

CDs of Note

Yotam, Resonance (JLP)
Tel Aviv-born, New York-based guitarist Yotam Silberstein is out with his third disc as a leader. It’s a gem, and he’s got some terrific players along for the ride, including pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Greg Hutchinson and, as special guest on two tracks, trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Hargrove is featured on versions of Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud” and Joe Henderson’s “Mamacita.” Every track is wonderful in its own way, featuring Yotam and Co.’s splendid improvisations and the leader’s warm, distinctive tone. My favorite: their take on the reggae-based Monty Alexander tune “Renewal.” But there is much, much more to savor on the other 10 tracks as well.

Dana Lauren, It’s You or No One (Dana Lauren Music)
Connecticut native Dana Lauren is a singer on the rise. At age 21, this Berklee College of Music student is out with her second CD – and it shows that she has a vocal maturity and understanding of songs far beyond her years. She’s got great intuitive chops and presents a wonderful interpretation of jazz standards on this project. Her band for the session features Joel Frahm on tenor, Manuel Valera on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, Jake Goldbas on drums, with guitarist Will Graefe on five tracks. There is one very different gem here: Lauren plus Christian McBride on a voice and bass duo version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Lauren’s dusky voice also shines on her arrangement of “Give Me the Simple Life.” Frahm, Graefe and Valera stand out among the support team. McBride is one of her musical mentors. Another is trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who produced her 2008 debut, Stairway to the Stars. Keep your eyes - and ears - on this wonderful talent.

Odean Pope, Odean’s List (In+Out)
Saxophonist Odean Pope is out with a dandy, and perhaps his most powerful recording - as a leader. This longtime member of drummer Max Roach’s bands assembled an all-star octet for this session. It consists of eight originals plus Eddie Green’s “Little Miss Lady” and the Jimmy McHugh-Frank Loesser standard “Say It (Over and Over Again.)” The band includes saxophonists James Carter and Walter Blanding, trumpeters Terell Stafford and David Weiss, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Lee Smith and pianist George Burton. My favorite: their take on Pope’s “Phrygian Love Theme,” which gets a Spanish-tinged treatment that features Carter and Stafford. To my ears, this one is highly creative, perhaps more as a showcase for Pope as bandleader rather than his playing. Carter, Blanding, Stafford and Weiss provide the most interest.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Metheny's starry homecoming

Two nights before concluding phase one of his Orchestrion tour, Pat Metheny stopped by Boston to provide a glimpse of his project to make ambitious, multi-layered music in which he is responsible for every note.

There’s Metheny and a few of his custom guitars and an Orpheum Theatre stage filled with four levels of instruments triggered either by pneumatics or electronic solenoids that are controlled by a MIDI system. Metheny keys it all with foot pedals, guitar knobs and a small electronic touchpad.

In a city where he has been revered as a guitar god since the early 1970s, the crowd was fascinated – and riveted to his playing and his explanations/demonstrations of how it works. Sort of a musical Mr. Wizard.

Metheny described the project as “my brain at 9 years old taken to the 21st century,” a reference how as a youngster he was fascinated at the mechanics involved when he crawled under his grandfather’s antique player piano to see how it worked. Today’s technology enabled him to develop the possibilities into a new reality.

Metheny opened his set with a half-hour of music from his songbook on solo guitar, including his 46-string Pikasso hybrid. Then he shifted to guitar plus one robotic drum, before the curtain rose on the entire Orchestrion.

He worked his way through the entire five-part suite that comprises his Orchestrion CD (Nonesuch). All of those works featured Metheny playing his distinctive guitar work on top of the MIDI-programmed tunes he had developed. Close your eyes, and it sounded like Metheny playing dozens of instruments at once. Beautiful, complex, deeply layered.

He had twinkling white lights added to each instrument, so we in the audience could visualize what had been triggered. It was a starry night – indoors.
To give the audience a sense of how it all works, he played three pieces that were improvised on the spot. He’d set a melody with one pedal, play a melody or counter melody on his MIDI-guitar, then assign it to one or more instruments (There were two Yamaha Disklaviers, countless percussion pieces, four guitarbots, two cabinets full of blown bottles that created B-3 like tones, marimbas and vibraphones in his arsenal.) Then he’d add more layers…. Then when he liked the backing, he soloed over it.

It was all Metheny - a blend of melodicism and intensity - and it was all good. He even took his older tune “Unity Village” and played multiple guitar layers – something he had to do by overdubbing when it was first recorded.

Metheny stretched this show to more than two hours. “There are more than a million reasons why it’s always special to be here,” he said of his Boston stop. “Primarily it is you people.”

Metheny is not going solo with this project all the time. In fact, he’s taking Pat Metheny Group back on the road in June. This was just a new chapter in his musical imagineering.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Seeking fresh talent – and honoring Dr. Fast Hands

This is the 16th consecutive year that faculty members from Boston’s Berklee College of Music will jet to San Juan for one of its (now global) outreach programs. Berklee in Puerto Rico will provide classes and award $300,000 in scholarships for young musicians to attend Berklee. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon, a participant in Berklee in Puerto Rico’s first year, is one of more than 100 such scholarship recipients from Puerto Rico.

This year, more than 200 young musicians will take part in the program June 1 to 6 at Escuela de Bellas Artes de Carolina. And on the final day of the jazz education program, a group of top students will perform as the opener at the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest’s final evening at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in San Juan. (This year’s festival runs June 3 to 6.)

Berklee will also honor Puerto Rico’s strong musical roots that evening by awarding an honorary doctor of music to percussionist, composer and bandleader Giovanni Hidalgo (pictured).

The Puerto Rico native is considered one of the best conga players of his generation - and possibly the fastest. Hidalgo, a member of late trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s adventurous United Nation Orchestra, taught in Berklee’s percussion department from 1992 to 1996.

Hidalgo will receive his honorary degree in a terrific festival spotlight: between sets of the festival’s finale. It is a big band extravaganza featuring 10 special guests: Eddie Gomez, Dave Valentín, Paquito D’Rivera, Michel Camilo, Alex Acuña, Eddie Palmieri, Chick Corea, Andy González, Gato Barbieri - and conguero Hidalgo.

That evening figures to be a dandy - and a great way to put a wrap on the festival's 20th annual edition.

Friday, May 14, 2010

CDs of Note…

Aldo Romano, Origine (Dreyfus Jazz)
If triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, the best descriptive for Italy-born, French-reared Aldo Romano’s newest project might be triskaidekamoré. The drummer’s fourth Dreyfus project, Origine, recorded with a 13-piece European band, is a dandy. My favorites: his 10/4 rhythm exploration on “Gamelan,” as well as the gorgeous ballads “Touch of a Woman” and “Starless Night.” Brothers Stephane (trumpet) and Lionel (saxes, flute and arrangements) Belmondo shine here. Pianist Eric Legnini is spotlighted on “Touch of a Woman.” The leader changes gears a bit on the closer, switching to guitar and vocals for “Jazz Messengers” a tribute of sorts with lyrics (in French) by Yves Simon.

Ellen Rowe Quartet, Wishing Well (PKO Records)
Pianist Ellen Rowe explores nine originals (plus the standard “Alone Together”) with her quartet and two special guests: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and tenor player Andy Haefner. Rowe’s originals are vivid sound paintings that happen to swing mightily. Jensen is a wonderful addition on two tracks: the Rachel Carson-inspired “That Which Was Living, Lost” and the Kenny Wheeler-influenced “Longing.” Other favorites: “Night Sounds” and the title track, “Wishing Well.” The pensive “For Donald,” written in memory of late saxophonist Donald Walden, features two of his students, Haefner and Andrew Bishop. The quartet members featured throughout are Rowe, Bishop, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Pete Siers. This is a gem in every respect, revealing much to savor on every track - and a well-above-average sound quality. Rowe is a University of Michigan School of Music faculty member. Go Blue.

Ken Peplowski, Noir Blue (Capri)
This latest from clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski finds the Swingman in great company - and stretching the stylistic range beyond what his fans may be used to. His quartet mates include pianist Shelly Berg, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe La Barbera. My favorites: their take on Berg’s “Home With You,” Duke Ellington’s little-heard “Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies,” Strayhorn’s title track and Peplowski’s own “Little Dogs” - an off-kilter blues. This is a tasty session.

Alper Yilmaz, Over the Clouds (Kayique Records)
Turkish-born electric bassist Alper Yilmaz, now based in New York, has produced his second CD as a leader and the followup to 2007’s Clashes is quite intriguing. He’s got a great feel for sound – and composes a range of creative works. Alto saxophonist David Binney is aboard for this project and I particularly like the way “Misir with Grandma” showcase his melodic side. Yilmaz’s extended piece “Straight Up” opens rather pensively but gradually builds in momentum to close with great ferocity. “Cagdas’ Tune” (based on a theme by Cagdas Arpac) and “Over the Clouds” are fine ballad treatments. Guitarist Nir Felder, drummers Bodek Janke and Volkan Oktem, with a couple of guest artists joining on the sonically-enhanced title track. This is a May 18 release.

Sarah Partridge, Perspective (Peartree Productions)
The duo can be challenging, particularly with two instrumentalists. But this CD shows how wonderful the format can work for a singer and a pianist who understands the interplay required - as a musical partner, not merely an accompanist. Singer (and actress in the `1980s and ‘90s) Sarah Partridge teamed with pianist Daniel May to explore a dozen tunes they both enjoy from some of the Great American Songbook writers. Partridge also added two heart-felt originals - “Perspective” and “I Just Won’t Let You Go.” Perspective is tasty and dreamy from an artist who knows how to communicate - and not over-sing. May’s support is just that: strong backing filled with subtleties, some great solos - and never intrusive. My favorites: “I’ll String Along With You,” “’Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost,” and “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.” This is a May 18 release.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Double dose of a fresh talent

More often than not, one of the great aspects of the jazz festival format is a listener’s opportunity to hear fresh talent - players who for one reason or another have not yet reached their musical radar. It's a chance to hear how these voices - perhaps fresh talent, perhaps from another region, are carrying forward the music.

One of t
his year’s most interesting newcomers at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., during the last weekend in June figures to be trumpeter Mario Abney. Attendees on Saturday, June 26 have a chance for a double dose of Abney’s sextet (actually billed as a quintet plus one).

The band will be featured early in the day on the SPAC Main stage, and later in the afternoon closes the more intimate Gazebo stage up the hill.

Not a bad gig for a 32-year-old player who doesn’t have his own Web site yet, a CD in distribution, or even a computer. He does have talent, a tight band - and a quality horn that was partly subsidized by Wynton Marsalis. There is a CD in the works called Spiritual Perception.)

Freihofer’s Jazz Festival Artistic Director/Co-Producer Dan Melnick, who developed his production chops as part of George Wein’s Festival Productions team, now runs his own firm called Absolutely Live Entertainment, LLC.

Melnick first heard Abney last year while working as backstage manager at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s Jazz Tent. (Abney photo by Reed Hoffmann)

“Mario opened the tent there last year and completely tore it up. He is exciting, intense, beautiful and leads a great, great band. As soon as he got off the stage (I had no idea who he was or what he was about when he arrived), I literally bear-hugged him and told him he was coming to Saratoga this year,” Melnick said. “He's from Chicago, lived in Ohio for a few years, and has been in New Orleans for a few years. He plays hard-bop/funk/modern jazz all wrapped up into one high-fueled package.”

Abney leads three different bands [The Avante Garde, The Abney Effect and The Mario Abney Quintet], and gigs with other bands. The Abney Effect has been performing at all-night sessions in New Orleans at the headquarters of the Mardi Gras Indians Brothers & Sisters Association owned by Ivory Holmes.

His band at Saratoga will include Kaliq Woods on clarinet, Josh Atkin on alto saxophone, Jessy Morrow on bass, Jason Butler on piano and keyboard,s and Julian Addison on drums. You can get a little taste of his music here

The lineup at this year’s 33rd annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival also includes Gladys Knight, Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio, Taj Mahal, Al Di Meola, Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal. More than half of this year’s bands are performing at the festival for the first time.

Here is the full lineup: (performing generally in reverse order of listing)

Saturday, June 26, 2010 (noon to 10:30 p.m.)

Main Stage
Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio
Sax for Stax - Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum
Ahmad Jamal
Taj Mahal
Al Di Meola - World Sinfonia
Evan Christopher
Mario Abney Quintet
Gazebo Stage
Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Alyssa Graham
JD Allen Trio
Steve Kroon Sextet
Mario Abney Quintet

Sunday, June 27, 2010 (noon to 8:30 p.m.)
Main Stage
Gladys Knight
Juan De Marcos and The Afro Cuban All Stars
Ramsey Lewis Trio

Ann Hampton Callaway
Stefon Harris and Blackout
Trio of Oz featuring Rachel Z and Omar Hakim
Gazebo Stage
Linda Oh Trio
Kendrick Scott Oracle
Ralph Lalama Quartet
Hailey Niswanger
Trio of Oz featuring Rachel Z and Omar Hakim

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Montreal ready to rock again with creative programming

How do you top your 30th anniversary blowout?
At the Montreal International Jazz Festival, you don’t try to go one better intentionally, you just continue to offer the wide-ranging and imaginative programming that got you to your fourth decade.

That seems to be the philosophy, and you can’t argue with success. It’s a success that can be viewed as a multi-block block party, indoors and out, that draws 2.5 million visitors to 650 concerts (370 free outdoor shows on 12 stages, 180 indoor ticketed concerts at 10 concert halls) featuring an estimated 3,000 musicians from 30 countries.

“Last year was an extraordinary year, but I think this year’s programming matches up,” says Andre Menard, the festival’s artistic director and co-founder.

This year’s 31st annual event runs June 25 to July 6 (roughly a week earlier than in 2009).

Last year’s kickoff was a free outdoor concert by Stevie Wonder that drew a crowd that seemed beyond count - with people ignoring day-long rains and streaming into the festival’s Quartier des Spectacles neighborhood just to get within sight - or at least hearing distance, of nearly a dozen large video screens set up to accommodate those who couldn’t get near the prime outdoor stage.

This year’s primary indoor draws including some terrific headline combinations.

  • June 25: an opening night pairing of Lionel Ritchie and Cassandra Wilson.

  • June 28: Smokey Robinson

  • July 1: George Benson’s Nat King Cole tribute show.

  • July 2: The combination of Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and saxophonist John Zorn.
  • July 5: The Steve Miller Band and The Doobie Brothers.

Other major concerts will feature Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett’s Standards trio, the Moody Blues, Roy Hargrove’s Big Band, Terence Blanchard, Boz Scaggs, Cesaria Evora, Ahmad Jamal, Joan Armatrading, Richard Bona, John Scofield’s News Orleans-rooted Piety Street Band, Cyndi Lauper and pianist Allen Toussaint’s Bright Mississippi all-star project. The list goes on and on... and on some more.

Taj Mahal and The Fabulous Thunderbirds will team up for a blues evening at the Metropolis on June 28. On the night of July 1, Zorn will host a “Masada marathon” at the Theatre Maisonneuve that features two separate performances - each of which includes Zorn with five different bands (10 bands in all.)

This year’s edition of the acclaimed “Invitation” series spotlights four different artists with multiple nights and guests of their choosing. The four bandleaders are Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, French drummer MAnu Katché, pianist Robert Glasper, and Allen Toussaint (solo one night, and with Bright Mississippi the next).

The Theatre du Nouveau Monde (New World Theater) will feature eight nights of performances by jazz artists from Spain, with two nights apiece by Dorantes, Chano Dominguez, Diego and Juan Carmona.

The festival’s own year-round on-site jazz club, Astral, (located in the festival's House of Jazz, which opened last year >>>) will host jams from midnight to 4 a.m. nightly, in addition to being the site of ticketed performances earlier in the night. The outdoor free events program will be made public on June 3.

Also running in Montreal (through August 29) at the Montreal of Fine Arts is the first North American multimedia retrospective on the career of Miles Davis. The “We Want Miles” exhibition-performance, which was designed and organized by the Cité de la Musique in Paris, will also evoke some of Davis’s four memorable Montreal concerts. And this year’s concert schedule also includes Montreal trumpeter Ron DiLauro’s big band revisit of Davis’s “Porgy and Bess” project on June 30 at the Theatre Jean-Duceppe.

One thing is clear. The programming at Montreal never gets stale. That explains why the festival, as Menard puts it, “is now a beacon in Montreal - something people look forward to.”

Jamie Cullum at Montreal, 2009... >

According to tourism research, some 250,000 to 350,000 of the 2.5 million attendees are tourists from elsewhere in Canada, the U.S. or abroad, but he vast majority of people who flock to the festival are from greater Montreal.