Thursday, October 19, 2017

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by The Black Butterflies, Miles Donahue, Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, and Matt Wilson….

The Black Butterflies, Luisa (self-produced) 
This third recording by The Black Butterflies, an eclectic, Latin-tinged group led by alto saxophonist Mercedes Figueras, is a gem - and a bit historic to boot. Figueras, a native of Argentina, was heavily influenced by the musicality of fellow countryman Gato Barbieri. Her sound shares a lot of the same brawn and take-no-prisoners firepower that were a hallmark of Barbieri’s distinctive tenor work over his long career.

Barbieri was a special guest on three tracks here: Figueras’ homage “Gato’s Hat” and “Brother Nacho, Sister Lola,” as well as Ramon Sixto Rios’ “Merceditas.” It turned out to be Barbieri’s last recording project prior to his April 2016 passing. Their intertwined tenor/alto saxophone duels are a thing of wonder, particularly on the session highlight, “Brother Nacho, Sister Lola.” The percussion-rich band here gives Figueras and Barbieri quite an exotic cushion with both samba and tango influences. Here’s another bit of history. The octet includes vibes player Karl Berger. He and Gato were part of the Don Cherry Quartet in 1965-66.

Miles Donahue, The Bug (Whaling City Sound) 
New England jazzman Miles Donahue is a musical force of nature. He composes, he teaches, and he is equally adept at playing trumpet and saxophone. His recordings are few and far between, so it is good to relish them when they do arrive. Such is the case with The Bug, which teams Donahue with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi (a long-time collaborator), guitarist Mike Stern, pianist Tim Ray, bassist Tamir Schmerling, and drummers Ralph Peterson and Larry Finn, who split the timekeeping role. All nine tracks are Donohue originals.

Favorites: “The Bug,” “All Grown Up,” “Hawthorne Hideaway,” “Leaving Home” and “Clifford.” The title track showcases Donohue’s trumpet work and Stern’s distinctive, searing guitar. Donohue sits out to relish the interpretations featuring Bergonzi on “All Grown Up” and Ray on the solo piano track “Leaving Home.” Donahue (on alto sax), Ray and Stern dig deep into “Hawthorne Hideaway” and the boogaloo-driven “Swamp House.” Donahue was inspired by Bill Evans when he wrote the opening track, “Bill,” and the closer, “”In Three.” Donahue and Bergonzi are featured, on flugelhorn on tenor respectively, on the Clifford Brown tribute, as Donahue tips his cap to another of his mighty influences. This is a gem.

Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge, Whispers on the Wind (MAMA)
This is the sixth recording by Chuck Owen’s Central Florida-based band, The Jazz Surge. The project, in essence, is a seven-part tone poem inspired by various aspects of the wide-open spaces of America’s heartland, where Owen grew up. The composer is a native of Omaha NE. The 19-member band is augmented for this recording by trumpeter Randy Brecker, harmonica player GrĂ©goire Maret and violinist Sara Caswell.

Whispers on the Wind is inspired by cowboys, gunslingers, breathtaking vistas and the writings of Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. Aural imageries abound through each piece. The finest gems are “Into the Blue,” which features intense overlapping solos by Brecker and guitarist LaRue Nickelson, and Maret’s extensive spotlight on “Sentinel Rock,” a tribute to the Bryce Canyon landmark that toppled last year. The latter track also features alto saxophonist Valerie Gillespie. To add more of the folk/roots flavor to the project, Owen played accordion and hammered dulcimer on various tracks.

Matt Wilson, Honey and Salt (Palmetto)
Drummer Matt Wilson’s newest project was without peer this year in concept and execution. Wilson wrote 18 tunes, each inspired by the works of Carl Sandburg, the “poet of the people” who died 50 years ago. Sandburg long has been an influence on Wilson, and both were born one town away from each other in rural Illinois. Nine of the pieces include guest readers who add Sandburg’s words. They include jazz musicians Christian McBride, Wilson, John Scofield, Jeff Lederer, Bill Frisell, Rufus Reid, Joe Lovano and Carla Bley. Sandburg’s own narration is featured on his poem “Fog.” Favorites include Scofield’s take on the whimsical “We Must Be Polite” and Lederer’s reading of “Prairie Barn.” That poem was a most-fitting inclusion. Sandburg wrote the poem about a barn that was owned by a relative of Wilson. The versatile drummer’s fine band included singer-guitarist Dawn Thomson, cornetist Ron Miles, reed player Lederer and bassist Martin Wind.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

UNESCO sets the stage for International Jazz Day in 2018, 2019

Sometimes you know, sometimes you don't - until the last minute. That's been the case with International Jazz Day celebrations. But apparently it's no longer going to be kept close to the vest.

Since the global program was created in 2011, major events were held in Paris, New Orleans and UN headquarters in New York City in 2012. Global Host Cities for the all-star concert and major celebrations included Istanbul in 2013, Osaka in 2014 and Paris in 2015, with at least a few months' advance notice.

As the 2015 Paris all-star concert concluded,  jazz pianist UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock announced from the stage that 2016's concert would be held at the White House, with Washington DC serving as the Global Host City.

In contrast, this year's locale wasn't revealed until three weeks before the April 30 concert took place - in Havana, Cuba.

UNESCO is giving lots of lead time for at least the next two years - and apparently will do so well into the future. It announced this week that St. Petersburg, Russia, will be the Global Host City in 2018. Sydney, Australia, is on tap for 2019. Both were selected by an advisory committee at the culmination of a new nominating process.

International Jazz Day was created to recognize the power if jazz to promote peace, intercultural dialogue and international cooperation. It has grown to include broadcast, concert, community and educational events in more than 190 countries. The International Space Station has also gotten involved.

The high-profile program is co-produced by UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Swinging jazz in two different contexts

The Charlotte County Jazz Society opened its 2017-18 concert season on Monday, October 9 with a robust evening featuring two Sarasota-based bands that covered a lot of musical territory in different contexts.

Trombonist Dick Hamilton's sextet and pianist Mike Markaverich's trio performed an hour apiece - and 10 songs apiece as it turned out - at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's newly renamed William H. Wakeman III Theater. The early season event drew a crowd estimated at more than 225 attendees.

Dick Hamilton
Hamilton's main instrument is trombone but one could argue that his main instruments are pen and paper. His peerless skill as an arranger dominated the opening set, as the band dug deep into his complex charts.

Hamilton spent about 45 years as a studio musician and arranger in Los Angeles before returning to Florida four years ago. He now writes and arranges principally for his swinging sextet, which includes Jim Martin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tony Swain on alto and tenor sax, pianist Matt Bokulic, bassist John DeWitt and drummer Johnny Moore.

His arrangements feature crisp unison horn lines as well as unexpected moments where the other horns add complementing or contrasting textures behind the soloist. The material included Hamilton's arrangements of jazz and Great American Songbook standards plus two originals. Those latter tunes were things he wrote to the chord changes of classic tunes. "Dive/Jump" was based on Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)" and "Getting Sentimental All Over You" was based on Ned Washington's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

On an ultra-slow version of "Blue Monk," all three horns riffed beautifully behind Bokulic's piano solo on this Thelonious Monk classic. Moore's mallet-work set the exotic tone for Hamilton's arrangement of "Delilah's Theme" from the 1949 movie "Samson and Delilah." Other material included Miles Davis's "Walkin," "Someday My Prince Will Come," ""Prelude to a Kiss," "Love for Sale," "Just Squeeze Me" and the newst chart he'd written for the band, "Falling in Love With Love."

Bokulic, Hamilton, Martin, DeWitt, Swain, Moore

Markaverich, Mopsick, Moore
New Hampshire native Markaverich, blind since birth, moved to Florida 29 years ago after playing jazz piano on Cape Cod for a decade. He quickly became a mainstay on the Sarasota jazz scene.

In the evening's closing set, his music covered a wide stylistic range -  jazz classics, few standards from the Great American Songbook, and a few things you don't often hear in a mainstream jazz context. 

Right from the opening tune, "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm," it was clear that the set would be all about musical conversation between Markaverich, bassist Don Mopsick and drummer Johnny Moore. Throughout the evening, Markaverich reacted with glee to the other players' solos.
Mike Markaverich

The trio performed two Oscar Pettiford tunes, "Tricotism" and "Laverne Walk," as well as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's chestnut "Up Jumped Spring" and Horace SIlver's "Nica's Dream." 

Makaverich featured pleasant lyric and scat vocals on the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross classic "Centerpiece," "What is This Thing Called Love?" and "The Bare Necessities" from the Disney film "The Jungle Book." He played Rodger's and Hart's "Lover" in 5/4 time rather than the standard 4/4 rhythm, and added some ragtime twists along the way. 

Johnny Moore
The trio closed the evening with an instrumental take on Michael Franks' "Popsicle Toes." This mid-1970s jazz-pop hit isn't heard often without its clever, saucy lyrics, This version relished its beautiful jazz underpinning, from which the pianist revealed glimmering new facets.

The evening's big bonus: a double helping of Johnny Moore's drumming. You'll never hear flash or bombast from this man. His playing is all about finesse, subtlety and unexpected accents. Every note has a purpose.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The home of the red piano

Henry Ford once told his car-makers back in the early 20th century that they could paint his Fords any color - as long as it was black. Just like Ford's vintage Model T's back in the day, pianos are black more often than not.

Once in a while, you may find a white one, or some in their natural wood brown tones. But you really have to search to find an acoustic grand that's red.

The red piano is the visual and aural centerpiece at 88 Keys Florida, where it is a stark contrast to the primarily gray-and-black motif of this modern-looking piano bar and restaurant at the Wyvern Hotel in Punta Gorda FL. 88 Keys features jazz three nights a week. I finally got a chance to visit on Friday and found it quite different than many of the other restaurant gigs in southwest Florida.

The sleek and modern designer look is quite unusual. The room holds less than 30 people, which is not ideal, but the featured bands tend to draw regulars who are big fans. Singer-pianist Danny Sinoff's trio with drummer Patricia Dean and bassist Scott Smith performs on Thursdays and Fridays from 7-10 p.m. Pianist Stu Shelton performs solo on Saturdays.
Dean, Smith, Sinoff

Sinoff is always a treat. He digs mightily into the Great American Songbook, particularly Sinatra covers. While he is a fine singer, and has a strong following in that regard, I find his piano solos even more enjoyable as he takes familiar material to unexpected places. 

If you haven't heard him - or heard him lately, check him out at 88 Keys Florida, La Fiorentina Cafe Italiano in Punta Gorda on Tuesdays or the Roadhouse Cafe in Fort Myers, where he performs Wednesdays and Saturdays.