Sunday, March 29, 2009

CDs of Note

Jake Hertzog, Chromatosphere (That’s Out Records)
The younger the musician, more generations - and genres - of musicians may have influenced him or her. That’s how the theory goes, and 23-year-old Jake Hertzog is helping prove it. While his guitar elders may have developed under the spell of, say, Charlie Christian, Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery or Jim Hall, Hertzog’s primaries have included Pat Metheny, Mike Stern and Jimi Hendrix. The Berklee grad works in drummer Victor Jones’s Group Culturversey and is musical director for The Naked Brothers Band, the Nickelodeon phenomenon starring pianist Michael Wolff’s sons, Nate and Alex.

This quartet project teams Hertzog with Wolff, Jones and bassist Harvie S. Highlights include Hertzog originals “California Hills” and “Lullabye for a Dreamer,” (the latter is a great new song). Wolff uncorks a very strong solo on “Nectarine.” Hertzog offers a beautiful solo version of the Rodgers-Hart standard “Falling in Love with Love.” There is much here to enjoy.

Grace Kelly, Mood Changes (Pazz)
I’ve watched in fascination as Grace Kelly has grown from a prodigious 12-year-old with strong chops and passion for jazz. Now at age 16, she tours the world, has a stunning array of mentors, including Phil Woods, Lee Konitz and Kenny Barron to name just a few, and is a freshman on full scholarship at Berklee College of Music. Heck, she's even been asked to perfrm the national anthem at tonight's Boston Celtics game. She’s developed as a player, has expanded from alto to include soprano and tenor saxes in her arsenal, and as a skilled songwriter. And she is just out with her fifth CD as a leader. (No. 4 was a well-received co-led project with Konitz called Gracefullee.)

Mood Changes is a dandy. My favorite track is her original “Tender Madness,” which has a cinematic feel. Its artful blend of happiness and melancholy is just waiting for the right soundtrack project to grab it. Four years ago, Kelly’s voice was unavoidably girlish. It has matured into a sound that serves her music well without being overbearing. “Comes Love” is a great example of her ability to use her voice in combination with her horn - in this case a swirling overdubbed blend with soprano and alto saxes. There’s also a stunning reworking of Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” with more than a few Kelly twists. Trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Doug Johnson, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Jason Perlson are featured here from her regular band. Perlson splits drum duties with Terri Lyne Carrington. Other guests include guitarist Adam Rogers and trombonist Hal Crook. This is a May 5 release.

Fly, Sky & Country (ECM)
There is an interesting dynamic at work in the saxophone-bass-drums trio. Sonny Rollins, Sam Rivers, Albert Ayler and more recently Joshua Redman have used it to great effect. So is Fly, the all-for-one, one-for-all trio of drummer Jeff Ballard, bassist Larry Grenadier and saxophonist Mark Turner. All three members of this leaderless collective contribute compositions and share the soloing opportunities in very engaging ways.
This second CD by the group, a follow-up to 2004’s Fly on the Savoy label, offers contexts that comfortably range from abstract to free-spirited swing. Turner’s playing is a treat, particularly on tenor, where he has become a master of its alto-like upper register as shown on the opener, Ballard’s tune, “Lady B” and his own “Ananda Nanda.” This is a band that knows and shows how to make music that breathes; the open spaces in the players’ musical conversation are welcome – and become a key part of their dynamic. Curiously, at least five and perhaps six of the tunes are named for women.

Beaty Brothers Band (Beaty Brothers Productions)
Regardless of how it’s rated by the critics, brothers Joe and John Beaty’s eponymous debut recording merits a serious listen - because it’s very existence is a testament to their against-all-odds perseverance. The twins, born in Beaumont, Texas, have struggled since they were youngsters, surviving a broken home, as well as parents and multiple step-parents with various addictions.
Their musical talents brought them out of that mess and to Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy boarding school program. Success at Interlochen netted them scholarships to the New School University. Arriving in New York, they had virtually nothing and were as much as homeless, stealing food or subsisting on two bowls of rice per day - or handouts. They began to make inroads as serious musicians. The work and struggles continued as trombonist Joe Beaty developed a rare heart problem that too five years to fix - only after two failed surgeries, one episode of cardiac arrest and a successful surgery in January 2009. Alto saxophonist John Beaty continued to work and support them both during this added challenge.

This CD was recorded in December 2007, when the brothers couldn’t be sure if this was to be just their first recording - or also their last. The project includes three longtime friends and bandmates - pianist Yayoi Ikawa, bassist Jim Robertson and drummer Ari Hoenig, a longtime associate of pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, who helped support the brothers through their recent struggles. This is a tight band. All seven Beaty Brothers originals are riveting and this project has a strong sense of vitality. At times, their very different horns blend as if they’re one. Ikawa’s electric and acoustic piano work is a strong complement.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

George Wein-Festival Network saga continues

As impresario George Wein and his team continue preparing for two festivals under his own name in Newport this summer because of the anticipated demise of Festival Network LLC, the venture that bought out his Festival Productions Inc. operation two years ago and ran things into the ground quite quickly in 2008.

With FN out of the picture, at least as far as the State of Rhode Island is concerned, Wein is preparing for his own events, being called "George Wein's Folk Festival 50" and "George Wein's Jazz Festival 55," since FN bought the rights to the names of his venerable Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival.

While Festival Network hasn’t officially folded it’s tent, the calendar is working against any serious effort for it to produce festivals this year - anywhere.

Wein has made it clear that his focus is Newport, in order to preserve the birthplace of his festival legacy in July 1954. He has said he won’t put on a similar jazz festival in New York this June, telling the New York Times' Ben Sisario this week: “I’m not necessary in New York. New York’s a jazz festival all year long.” Nor has JVC indicated it will sponsor festivals anywhere. Apparently the Japanese economy is as just as bad as ours.

However, Wein is producing two Diana Krall concerts at Carnegie Hall on June 23 and 24 - and according to a news release from his office this week, he will produce a series of additional concerts in New York in June. Publicist Carolyn McClair said New York and Newport artists will be announced in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Festival Network CEO Chris Shields, likely the company’s only remaining “employee,” continues to issue statements thanking Wein for laying the ground for his outfit’s return to Newport. That’s not likely.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Adventure revisited

The Boston jazz scene has a tradition of adventurous bands - George Russell’s Living Time Orchestra, the Fringe and the Either/Orchestra to name but a few. Another, Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet, was created in 1980 and active into the 1990s, making one LP and five CDs, countless appearances around New England and New York, and forays into the Midwest, as well as touring Europe's club, concert and festival circuit 11 times. In the process YNSQ built a solid book of nearly 200 original compositions and arrangements.

Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet - featuring Allan Chase and Cercie Miller on alto and soprano saxes, Joel Springer on tenor sax and Tom Hall on baritone sax - is making a reunion appearance on Sunday, April 5 at The Lily Pad in Cambridge, Mass. “I'm really excited about this rare reunion of Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet,” Miller said, calling the band “one of my favorite groups I've ever played with.” In addition to dusting off its old charts, the YNSQ also plans to play some new pieces that evening.

It ought to be quite an interesting, and improvisational, evening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

CDs of Note

Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion, Live at the Zinc Bar (RichMan Productions)
Bassist Richie Goods' latest recording project is a contemporary jazz gem – in the finest, non-smooth sense. This is a fusion project that pulls from the best aspects of the genre. Goods’ band includes Helen Sung on keyboards, guitarist Jeff Lockhart and ex-Headhunters drummer Mike Clark. It is quite a treat to hear Sung stretching out on the sonic possibilities of an electronic keyboard rather than the acoustic piano we have heard her on since her emergence from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance’s first class in 1997, and her work with the T.S. Monk Band and Mingus Dynasty Band among many others. My favorites here include their exploration of Wayne Shorter’s “Elegant People” and the centerpiece, Goods’ own “Desert Song,” which is featured (after a 90-second introduction track) as a spectacular 6:29 main track that indeed creates a Middle-Eastern aura, and, for those who thirst for more, the CD winds down with a 13:25 minute extended version. Goods also includes two Herbie Hancock tunes that from the Headhunters era –“Sly” tribute to the leader of Sly & The Family Stone and “Palm Grease.”

Avery Sharpe Trio, Autumn Moonlight (JKNM Records)
This session, is filled with great group interplay and dynamics. Sharpe, the ex- longtime McCoy Tyner bassist is joined by pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs and drummer Winard Harper. There is a wonderful extended exploration of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” a tune that ought to be heard more often in a jazz context because this trio shows that the melody lends itself to wonderful improvisational possibilities. This version swings very hard. Gumbs’ original “Palace of the Seven Jewels” sparkles like a melodic gem. This CD offers an hour of clean, tasty swing – mighty swing at that. This is an April 14 release.

Melissa Morgan, “Until I Met You,” (Telarc Jazz)
Once in a great while, and thankfully so, a project arrives from a fresh voice that is fully formed. From the first bars, you know it is something special – and far above the dozens of vocal discs you’ve sifted through recently that are ordinary at best. Such is the case here with Melissa Morgan, a young vocalist who was born in New York City, raised in northern New Jersey and now lives in Los Angeles. She was a 2004 Monk Competition semi-finalist. Telarc was wise to sign this singer, whose many strong influences meet at the intersection of Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson. Her project is filled with very individual takes on vintage material, including Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Cool Cool Daddy” and “Save Your Love for Me,” among others. These tunes have been around for a long time, but none of them are tired. The session was co-produced by Chris Dunn and trumpeter Christian Scott, who is also aboard as a player. Gerald Clayton is a standout on piano on this session where the instrumentation ranges from quartet to a full-blown, horn-rich octet. This is an April 28 release.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Newport update

After 25 years of sponsoring the Newport Jazz Festival in an affiliation dating to 1984, JVC has bowed out. So impresario George Wein, the man who brought the corporate title sponsorship concept to musical events - guaranteeing mention of the company's name in publicity and promotion, is looking for a new backer for the event that began the global jazz festival tradition as we know it.

Wein has put out the word that he is looking for new corporate backers in Newport. This comes just a few weeks after he regained production rights for jazz and folk festivals in Newport, following the financial slide of Festival Network LLC, the company that bought his former Festival Productions Inc. operation two years ago.

This year’s Newport event is scheduled August 7 to 9, a week after Wein will present a 50th anniversary edition of the folk festival in Newport.

“The sponsorship fee is attractive and we look forward to forging new relationships as we continue to bring great music to Newport and beyond," Wein said in a news release.

So now there is an opportunity for new backers to join a long line of corporate supporters that have been there for Wein and his team for decades in a variety of cities and musical formats. The line began with the beer company Schlitz and the Kool cigarette brand and has since included Mellon Bank, Benson & Hedges, JVC, Essence and Playboy magazines, Ben & Jerry’s, Freihofer’s (now owned by the George Weston Bakeries), Dunkin’ Donuts and Verizon, among others.

Whoever signs on will follow an amazing sponsorship run by JVC, which supported Wein-produced events all over the world. Newport, New York, Miami, Chicago, Concord, Calif., Los Angeles, London, Paris, Rotterdam… the list of cities where JVC events were held over the past quarter-century goes on and on.

“The association with JVC is perhaps the longest-running event sponsorship in history,” Wein said. “The company placed us at a level that no one can ever imagine and affected jazz and the jazz festival in a way that increased awareness of the art form and touched people around the world.”

Wein produced America's first jazz festival at Newport in 1954 - and it has been a significant venue for a Who's Who in jazz ever since (except for a 10-year hiatus that ended in 1981).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Porky would be pleased

The late trombonist Porky Cohen, whose career ranged from section work in the big bands of Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Tony Pastor, Artie Shaw and others starting in the 1940s to his higher-profile work in Roomful of Blues from 1979 to 1988, once told me a wonderful story about one particular bus ride with Roomful.

They were on a tour of one-nighters through the southwest… and the bus brought them through the little town of Vernon, Texas. As they passed the “entering Vernon, Texas” road sign, Porky got excited. He’s reached the birthplace of Jack Teagarden, and the hometown of the Teagarden clan. He was in trombone heaven.

The little bus pulled over at a convenience store. Porky went in and exclaimed to the young clerk. “I can’t believe I’m finally in Vernon, Texas, the hometown of Jack Teagarden.” To which the young clerk responded: “Who’s Jack Teagarden?”

Porky would be pleased that Teagarden may finally be getting a hometown salute. The Fort Worth Business Press reported this month that the town is considering creating a museum dedicated to its musical native son.

It seems late Teagarden memorabilia and recordings collector Joe Showler wanted to move to Vernon from Canada and turn his collection into a museum. After his death the town has started a $175,000 fund-raising campaign to finance moving the archive from Toronto to Vernon and establish a museum in honor of the jazz great.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

CDs of Note

Fareed Haque + The Flat Earth Ensemble, Flat Planet (Owl Studios)
Chicago-based guitarist Fareed Haque has found an intriguing – and most interesting – way to blend jazz and the rather complex Hindustani folk music rhythms of northwestern India and Pakistan, and perform the resulting new music in a band that blends jazz and south Asian instrumentation (adding sitar and tablas primarily). The resulting funky blend of music on Flat Planet has a wonderful cinematic quality and uptempo groove.

There are several tunes that he calls Hindu boogaloos. I particularly like “Big Bangra,” “Blu Hindoo” and “Bengali Bud.” The latter track features Haque with Bengali sitar player Indrajit Banerjee and tabla player Subrata Bhattacharaya. Haque describes the opening track (“Big Bhangra”) as quite intriguing, which it is: “Funk drums and funky tablas go together so nice. Imagine a long, long caravan approaching the Rawalpindi spice bazaar complete with camels, donkeys and cassettes of Al Green for sale. Oi!”

The timing is perfect for this CD, as the phenomenal popularity of the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” (including best original song and best original score and best soundtrack) draws more attention to south Asian culture – and may even help this project reach more ears.

Dee Alexander, Wild Is the Wind, (Blujazz)
Chicago-based Dee Alexander displays the vocal talent that is deserving of far greater recognition beyond the Windy City. In developing her art, Alexander has drawn lbits from other masters who have had a tremendous impact in shaping her musical sensibilities, among them five women for whom last names are unnecessary: Sarah, Dinah, Carmen, Nina, Dee Dee. Her version of the title track shows the direct and poignant influence of Nina Simone, who made the song her own.

A clavĂ© feel enhances “Surrender Love,” an infectious tune by the late trumpeter Malachi Thompson that showcases Alexander’s immense range. The original tune “Rossignol” (a French reference to a nightingale) has a segment that enables her to scat the sound of a violin, creating subtle counterpoint on the track for violinist James Sanders. There is much, much more to savor on this CD, including the skill and empathy of pianist Miguel de la Cerna.

The Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb, Stickadiboom (Zoho)
In a nutshell, this is a Jazz Messengers sound for the new millennium. Bassist Haines has assembled a horn-rich project that is anchored on six of its eight tracks by the great Jimmy Cobb. Haines penned seven of the tracks, and the session closes with Cobb’s crackling “Composition 101.”

The boogaloo title track “Stickadiboom,” which introduces Cobb into the mix here, refers to a sound made on the drums. “Sutak 9-1-1” is another high-energy gem. “Freightrain” has a rolling, perpetual motion feeling, though actually named for the quintet’s regular drummer, Thomas Taylor Jr. The project is a great showcase for Haines’ fine composing skills - and for the two horn players - Dave Lown on sax and Rob Smith on trumpet and sax.

Joel Larue Smith Trio, September’s Child (self-produced)
It is most appropriate that pianist Smith calls one of his original tunes here “Common Ground” – for this is a CD project that celebrates the wonderful intersection of jazz and Latin music, with a few hints of classical thrown in for good measure. Smith, who has largely flown under the radar, presents us with a gem.

Virtually all of the material (principally originals) is from the Latin genre or has been re-arranged to take advantage of Latin energy and rhythms, and of course, the clave. He even reworked Wayne Shorter’s ballad “Fall,” first heard on Miles Davis’s Nefertiti recording, to give it an intriguing Latin flavor. The former Mario Bauza sideman also includes the Bauza classic “Mambo Inn” and Armando Peraza’s “Barandanga,” as well as Pedro Flores’ “Obsesion.”

“Miramar,” “Narrow Escape” and the title track are standouts among the originals. Treats abound, thanks to the wonderful teamwork of Smith, bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Renato Malavasi.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Montreal Jazz Festival enhancements

There will be more to celebrate - and enjoy - when the 30th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is held July 1 to 12.

The festival, the world's finest - and largest - jazz event, draws more than 2 millon attendees and 3,000 musicians from 30 countries for its 550 concerts (370 of them free outdoor events).

By the time the festival opens, the production organization Equipe Spectra will have opened its own new building that adds a new venue in the festival's downtown site, in and around the Place des Arts. Festival Co-Founder and Artistic Director Andre Menard said that new building, Maison du Festival de Jazz, will house a 350-seat cabaret-style performance hall, restaurant, hall of fame, archives and exhibition space. It will also house the festival's media space.

Co-Founder/Artistic Director Andre Menard, 2008 ... >

Every five years, the festival has added a prestigious new annual award to honor musicians from various genres. This year it is adding the Bruce Lundvall Award to honor the achievement of a non-musician from either the music business or the media. Menard said in Boston this week that the first recipient of that new award will be Bruce Lundvall himself, for his 25 years as president of Blue Note Records and his many other contributions to the industry.

Festival headliners this year include Jeff Beck, blues guitarists Buddy Guy and Susan Tedeschi, pianist Chucho Valdes, singers Melody Gardot, Patricia Barber and Madeleine Peyroux - and many more to be announced later this month.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Newport lives

George Wein wasn't about to let Festival Network LLC's financial woes put an end to the two festivals in Newport, Rhode Island that launched his 55-year run of producing festivals across the United States and around the globe. (See December 31 blog entry for background.)

While it is unclear what will happen to the rest of the festival events that Wein produced before he sold his Festival Productions Inc. operations to a group of investors and young entrepreneurs two years ago, including the JVC Jazz Festivals in New York and elsewhere, Wein had some welcome news today.

He announced that he applied for – and received – a license from the State of Rhode Island to produce a folk festival this July 31 to August 2 and a jazz festival the following weekend, August 7 to 9. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Newport Folk Festival, and it is 55 years since the jazz festival concept blossomed in Newport in 1954.

The license to put on these two 2009 events going to the Wein production team is not surprising, considering that Festival Network, as of late January, hadn't paid the state the thousands of dollars in usage fees it was due from the 2008 festivals at Fort Adams State Park last August. Other vendors from those weekends were also owed money. Festival Network did pay the $200,000+ owed to the state - due since August - sometime in February. The state subsequently voided its three-year contract with FN because of the late payment. That gave Wein the opportunity to step back into the picture.

"When I was informed that the festivals, which have been the most important part of my life since 1954 and 1959, might be lost forever, I realized that it was necessary for me to come back and apply for the rights to produce jazz and folk festivals in 2009 and beyond," Wein said in a news release. “The traditions we have established (in Newport) mean everything to me."

If you read between the lines, and not very deeply, it sounds like Festival Network has a slim-to-none chance of righting its ship – and slim stayed in port.

Wein and his veteran team are among the best at producing festivals. After all, they pretty much created the mold. It’s a pity that the Festival Network LLC team never took the opportunity to learn from the masters. Rather, they ran the operation into the ground – and doubtless created angst and heartache for this true gentleman of jazz. Fortunately, he persevered.

Stay tuned. We still haven’t heard what may become of the other festivals that became part of the Festival Network LLC operation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

DVDs of Note

'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (Outsider Pictures/Naxos of America)
Filmmaker Raymond De Felitta’s documentary is built around the plunge into obscurity that became singer Jackie Paris’s fate after a promising career start that was in full blossom in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (It garnered him Downbeat’s best new male vocalist honors in 1953.) The hook here is De Felitta’s rediscovery of Paris just as the singer was making a comeback appearance at the Jazz Standard in New York City in March 2004. From his interviews with and performance footage of Paris, and interviews with relatives and a long series of jazz luminaries turn this into a story of career ups and downs, artistic frustrations and tragedies and perseverance. This gem could be a parable for other superb artists who for one reason or another never quite grasp or hang onto the brass ring despite their immense talent. This is a March 31 release.

Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus (Acorn Media)
This is a DVD update of the original 1986 documentary about Rollins that is enhanced with new reflections on the project by filmmaker Robert Mugge. Many highlights come from an outdoor concert at Opus 40, a rock quarry converted into a performance space in Saugerties, N.Y., where Rollins’ performance on “G Man” is a tour de force for his solo skills. At one point in the concert, he jumps off the stage with the intent of playing in the crowd. He broke his heel upon landing, unbeknownst to his band or the audience, but lay on his back and continued to play. The DVD also features interviews with and about Rollins, and a world premiere concert with a Japanese symphony in Tokyo. This is essential for any jazz DVD collection, unless you already have the VHS version.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Make room for Mingus

For more than a decade now, Jazz at Lincoln Center has provided a major showcase for the best of high school jazz bands across the United States with its Essentially Ellington competition. It now has company and needs to share the spotlight.

The first Charles Mingus High School Jazz Band Competition took place in late February at the Manhattan School of Music. Five high school combos and five big bands from across the Northeast competed in the finals, pared down from 60 applicants.

There were two winning ensembles in the Combo Category: King Phillip Regional High School Combo 1 from Wrentham, Mass. for a non-specialized high school; Manhattan School of Music’s own won for a combo from a performing arts high school.the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra from Rochester, N.Y. took high school big band honors.

Just as the Essentially Ellington competition features the bands performing Duke Ellington material, the new kid on the block, as competitions go, features work from Mingus’s enormous and varied book (including “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” ironically). Next year's competition will be expanded to include high schools nationwide.

Sue Mingus, Director of Let My Children Hear Music, and Justin DiCioccio, Assistant Dean and Chairman of the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Arts program, produce the event.