Friday, June 26, 2009

CDs of Note...

Here’s a dose of CDs of interest, as I head out for a week of travels to Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga NY and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Yes, the sun is out today and my summer festival season is getting under way. Hope to see you here and/or there.

Burgstaller Martignon 4, Mozart's Blue Dreams and Other Crossover Fantasies (Summit Records)
Joe Burgstaller, a member of the Canadian Brass since 2001, teamed up with pianist Hector Martignon on this stunning crossover project that does far more than put a jazz spin on the classics. In some cases, the spin goes in the other direction.

It opens with the title tune, is a five-part jazzy take on Mozart's "Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major" that is filled with energy, Burgstaller’s sparkling, pinpoint trumpet work and great support from bassist Hans Glawischnig. Notes stretch here and bend there in ways the composer surely would consider hip if he revisited the planet to jam with them.

They also marry Frederic Chopin’s "Prelude No. 4 in E Minor" with Jobim's "Insensatez," (How Insensitive). a tune that the Brazilian bossa king based on Chopin's composition. They also revisit Duke Ellington’s “Echoes of Harlem” in an arrangement that enables Burgstaller to take on a Cootie Williams vibe – complete with growls and groans from his plunger mute.

The simple and succinct melodies of Chick Corea's "Three Children's Songs" give percussionist percussionist Joe Ferrari a chance to shift to vibes. The project pays tribute in a way to mid-1970s crossover king Claude Bolling with a fresh take on his five-part "Toot Suite." It winds down with versions of two tunes by Argentinean new tango master Astor Piazzolla: “Ave Maria” and “Oblivion.”

One For All, Return Of The Lineup (Sharp Nine)
As composers, arrangers and particularly players, the members of One For All have combined their talents into a longstanding sextet that have matured as one helluva supergroup. The group, which tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander considers his musical laboratory, includes trumpeter Jim Rotondi, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

They’ve been playing together since at least 1998, producing about a dozen domestic and import-label recordings. This is a dandy. While there is much to savor here, my clear favorites are their take on the gorgeous Cedar Walton ballad “Dear Ruth,” arranged for this group by Rotondi, and Hazeltine’s original “Treatise for Reedus,” which he wrote in remembrance of drummer Tony Reedus, who died four days before the session and had been a friend to every member of the collective. If you love hard-swinging ensemble jazz, it doesn’t get much better than this.

LeBoeuf Brothers, House Without a Door (LeBoeuf Brothers Music)
Identical twins Pascal (piano and keyboards) and Remy (alto sax) LeBoeuf (the name is pronounced "le buff") have produced a gem with their latest recording project. It is fresh and forward-thinking, blending strong jazz roots with inescapable rock influences (particularly Radiohead) into an emotional and energetic sound that grabs the ears and won’t let go.

These young natives of Santa Cruz, Calif., still in their early 20s, are now making their mark in the Big Apple jazz scene. My favorites on this sometimes fiery quintet session include “Code Word,” the introspective and sometimes delicate “Wetaskiwin,” the title track and the uptempo “Chocolate Frenzy.”

The LeBoeufs are composers and players of great merit, as evidenced by the consistent quality of all 12 tracks. The quintet on most tracks includes tenor player Marcus Strickland or trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Clarence Penn. Tenor player Janelle Richman, drummer Greg Ritchie and bassist Billy Norris work into the shifting ensemble elsewhere. The appearance of two classical-influenced tracks, “Coffee Suite I: No Drink, No Think” and “Coffee Suite III: Exhaustion” begs the questions “Where’s ‘Coffee Suite II’ hiding and what’s it all about? Caffeine Jitters, perhaps?”

Mimi Jones, A New Day (Hot Tone Music)
A New Day encompasses a new name/alter ego and a debut CD all rolled into one for bassist Miriam Sullivan. This new project is built around the concepts of personal change and evolution – and Jones/Sullivan brought aboard some terrific talent to make it work quite well. Miki Hayama is superb throughout on piano, organ and keyboard. Marvin Sewell displays the same level of deep, empathetic support on acoustic and electric guitar that so nicely colored several of Cassandra Wilson’s Delta blues-tinged projects. He is particularly strong on “Watch Your Step,” “Silva” and “Sista.”

Sullivan sings her own heartfelt lyrics on eight of the CD’s 12 tracks, and finishes it with a version of the traditional “We Shall Overcome” that changes “overcome some day” to “overcome today.” Sullivan’s lyrics are somewhat simple and very brief, but certainly not simplistic. She gets right to the point. Her instrumental “Suite Mary” is a very nice nod to Mary Lou Williams. This is a September 15, 2009 release.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Singing about a vanishing icon

If you want to find Kodachrome after this fall, you’ll have to go see Paul Simon in concert or dig out an album. Kodak announced today that another American icon - born 74 years ago - is about to leave the planet.

That’s right, it is retiring the oldest (born in 1935) film in its portfolio because of slumping demand with photographers' combined shift to digital and/or newer fine-grain films. Unexpected? Hardly. Sad just the same. I knew one iconic music photographer who used it exclusively for his color work. David Gahr must be spinning in his grave - or perhaps smiling that Kodachrome outlasted him - barely. Perhaps he saw it coming.

Photojournalist Steve McCurry used Kodachrome when he shot his iconic and haunting National Geographic 1985 cover image of a young Afghan girl. Kodak said today it will donate “the last rolls” of the film to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester NY, and that McCurry will shoot one of those last rolls for images to be donated to Eastman House.

In a few years, the younger generation will be scratching its collective head wondering what Simon was singing about. So sing now, Paul, while America briefly waxes nostalgic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Montreal’s amazing block party

One of these years, I am truly tempted to go to the Montreal International Jazz Festival strictly for its free, outdoor concerts. The great variety of talent for the paid, indoor concerts in 10 or more venues each night makes it difficult.

But the outdoor stages transform downtown Montreal’s Place des Arts (soon to be surrounded by an expanded Place des Festivals) into an immense block party that opens in leisurely fashion at midday for early risers. By evening, the area is hopping with free music on nearly a dozen stages. There’s one for the blues, one for world music, one primarily showcasing bop-oriented smaller groups from Canada, and several that mix the talent.

All told, there are more than 350 free outdoor concerts over the festival’s 12-day run. Sometimes they afford the opportunity to hear Canadian, European and Cuban groups of great quality who rarely play in the United States.

Montreal’s Place des Arts at night, 2008... >

The most amazing part of the outdoor phenomenon is the mega-concerts and super-concerts on the primary stages that usually draw 100,000 or more fans. Some years, the crowd fills several huge blocks and has exceeded 200,000.

For this 30th year’s festival extravaganza, there will be five free “mega-concerts” in the Place des Festivals, as well as three free outdoor "super-concerts."

~ This year’s outdoor opener on Tuesday, June 30 will feature Stevie Wonder on the General Motors stage.
~ On Sunday, July 5 local singer-pianist Patrick Watson will be the Bell Special Event feature with string quartet, horns and several special guests, including Lhasa de Sela and Guy Nadon.
~On Tuesday, July 7 XM Radio Satellite presents the greatest names in Rocksteady - Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Hopeton Lewis, Leroy Sibbles and The Tamlins, as well as Bob Marley's onetime backup singers Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt in an event inspired by the documentary Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae.
~ On Sunday, July 12, the Rio Tinto Alcan Closing Event features two concert spectacles: Fiesta Cubana, with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Los Van Van, and Ben Harper & Relentless7.

Also on tap are three extra outdoor super-concerts on the General Motors stage:
~ On July 3, the Florence K presents La Noche de Lola with jazz, bossa, blues and Cuban salsa.
~ On July 9, the rhythm shifts with the rumba flamenca of Jesse Cook and the Rumba Foundation as surprise guests.
~ On July 11, teenage vocal phenom Nikki Yanofsky, a Montreal festival darling for the past two years, will be featured.

Montreal does indeed know how to throw a block party. One of the most amazing occurred five years ago when the festival expanded the scope and shape of its largest outdoor stage for a grand event called “Soleil de Minuit,” celebrating the 20th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque de Soleil and the 25th anniversary of the jazz festival.

Over the past decade, there has been at least one or two block-filling spectacular extravaganzas every year.

This year, there will be a handful. Bring lots of energy along with your enthusiasm.

Monday, June 15, 2009

CDs of Note...

Grant Geissman, Cool Man Cool (Futurism Records)
With the fun-filled spirit, wide stylistic range of original material and plethora of guest artists who have touched guitarist Grant Geissman’s musical life, this feels like a house party. Cool Man Cool is a party to which he invited old friends, colleagues, bosses and even the teacher (guitarist Jerry Hahn) who had the most indelible impact on his versatile style.

The guest list includes a lot of household names from the music world, his first high-profile boss, Chuck Mangione; pianist Chick Corea, who worked in Mangione’s jazz quintet in the mid-1960s; saxophonist Tom Scott; pianists Patrice Rushen and Russell Ferrante; saxophonist Tom Scott; and percussionist Alex Acuna among many.

It is great to hear Corea and Mangione collaborating on what Geissman calls the sound that likely would have resulted on a recording they planned but never got around to (though they have sat in with each other at jazz festivals on occasion).

Chuck Mangione and Chick Corea
Newport, August 1988 ... >

My favorite tracks include the funky shuffle-beat sound of “Nawlins,” featuring Geissman with Mangione, Rushen, B-3 player Emilio Palame and drummer Ray Brinker among others; the leader’s “One for Jerry” interplay with Hahn (who provided two years of weekly lessons that required a 180-mile round-trip drive for Geissman as a high school senior and college freshman); and the bop changes of “Dig Some Sides?” Brinker, bassist Trey Henry and saxophonist Brian Scanlon are making return appearances from Geissman’s Say That! session in 2006.

The N. Glenn Davis Quintet with special guest Phil Woods, Come Right In (Jazzed Media)
Bop lovers rejoice. This one’s for you. Cleveland-based drummer Glenn Davis, who spent 11 years on the Boston scene and several more in the Big Apple, is out with a wonderful session that features alto sax master Phil Woods as a special guest on three tracks - two Davis originals and the Tadd Dameron standard “If You Could See Me Now.”

As a leader, Davis gives his players plenty of room to stretch, and is a no-frills, swinging drummer who seems disinterested in being the center of attention. His solos are succinct and on point. This group includes Dave Sterner on alto and soprano sax, Jack Schantz on trumpet/flugelhorn, Mark Soskin on piano and Dean Johnson on bass. Stylistically, in both the range of the writing, and the masterful playing, there is much here to love, including Davis’s own “Just a Tadd” tribute to Cleveland native son Dameron, which features Woods and Sterner.

Rick Germanson Trio, Off the Cuff (Owl Studios)
This stunning mainstream session combines the talents of three players with longstanding histories and jazz pedigrees. Leader/pianist Rick Germanson’s primary gigs have included eight years with the Cannonball Legacy Band and a four-year stint with guitarist Pat Martino. He’s worked for about 15 years with bassist Gerald Cannon, a fellow Milwaukee native. Drummer Louis Hayes, a member of the original Cannonball Adderley quintet, leads the Cannonball Legacy Band.

The empathy among the players is quite evident – and provide a wonderful showcase for Germanson’s composition and swinging, crystalline playing. The band’s Freddie Hubbard tribute transforms the late trumpeter’s “Up Jumped Spring” into a meditative ballad. Germanson’s solo improvisation, “The Way of Water,” sounds a bit like the many nuances one would hear in an extended hike along a stream – from ripples and eddies to breathtaking waterfalls just around the bend. “Brick” is an uptempo burner with multiple high-spirited inspirations. I love the Tyner-like energy of “Daytona,” a clear contrast to Germanson’s pensive “Jill’s Song,” a tribute to the late sister who got him started on the piano.

The Stanley Clarke Trio, Jazz in the Garden (Heads Up International)
People who think of bassist Stanley Clarke, the young Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara and drummer Lenny White for their pop and fusion sides or technical bombast are in for a surprise. This intimate straight-ahead jazz CD project delights with its powerful empathy and subtleties. It is loaded with bop and popular standards, as well as originals.

My favorite tracks for the aforementioned subtleties are Clarke’s “Paradigm Shift (Election Day 2008),” the trio’s take on the traditional Japanese folk song “Sakura Sakura,” Hiromi’s “Sicilian Blue,” an intimate version of “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” The burners here include their takes on Joe Henderson’s “Isotope,” Miles Davis’s “Solar,” Hiromi’s own “Brain Training” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 hit “Under the Bridge.” This is a beauty, filled with freshness, vitality and simpatico.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More thoughts on the current state of jazz media

All companies and nonprofits great and small are reassessing their viability and putting creativity to the test as they weather the effects of the current recession.Some make it, some don't and some seize the opportunity to reinvent themselves.

The jazz world clearly is not immune, though not all of the forces are purely economic. But the economy always seems to inject its ugly side at the worst possible time: just look at the Festival Network LLC's apparent demise and its impact on festivals that have gone away, vendors who haven't been paid from work last year, and the spin-off effect on JazzTimes, which likely budgeted a significant chunk of its 2009 income from the continued publication of JVC Jazz Festival program supplements in three issues. No festivals, no lucrative advertising supplements. And now JazzTimes has suspended publication while awaiting a possible sale and refocus.

But it is not alone in its woes.

The Toronto-based, 51-year-old Canadian jazz magazine Coda suspended its bimonthly publication in January to "adjust its operations." This month it produced its "Quintessential Canadian Jazz Festival Guide" and on the magazine's Web site, Publisher Mark Barnes said June 1 that publication of the next issue of Coda will resume shortly and all financial obligations will be honored "in due course."

Any day now, JAZZIZ magazine expects to issue its "summer" edition in a move from 10 print issues a year to quarterly publication. It plans to supplement those four print issues with a new subscribers-only Web site that will have daily news, reviews and digital online-only "filler" mini-JAZZIZ issues to be posted every month.

Yes, the soured economy is at work in all of these circumstances, but so is the opportunity to reinvent how one does business. As print publication becomes more challenging, there is greater emphasis on electronic options.

Web sites and blogs, for that matter, are growing in importance for communicators and consumers, as are the social networking sites. There aren't many musicians who don't have a presence on My Space Music or FaceBook in addition to maintaining their own individual Web sites.

The communications sphere has change rapidly - and continues to do so. Pain and innovation are certain elements as we move forward. Buckle your seat belts, as it certainly will be quite a ride to a destination yet uncertain.

In the interest of full disclosure: I have done freelance work at various times, and in some cases still do, for JAZZIZ, JazzTimes and in the more distant past, Downbeat. I wish each of them well as they take on the market-force challenges they face with creativity, enthusiasm and, hopefully, success.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

First music gets spotlighted Monday

With the assistance of several nonprofits, First Lady Michelle Obama will use jazz on Monday June 15 to open the White House Music Series. The performance and education series will feature artists of all ages who will perform, educate and interact with young people.

The series will begin with the Jazz Studio on Monday followed by country and classical music events this summer and fall.

On Monday, some 150 middle school and high school students will participate in classes led by Wynton, Branford and Ellis Marsalis, followed by a concert featuring Paquito D’Rivera and child protégé Tony Madruga with his ensemble.

Participating organizations include Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, Levine School of Music, New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, SITAR Arts Center, Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the WPAS Capitol Jazz Project.

The afternoon events will take place in the East Room, State Dining Room and Diplomatic Reception Room of The White House.

It is great to see jazz first in line for this showcase and educational opportunity. We'd likely all heard that President Obama has several jazz players on his iPod.

The presidential jazz connection is stretching in a tangible way. It wouldn't surprise me if he shows up to enjoy at least some portion of the performances without upstaging the hostess.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

JazzTimes confirms troubles

I just spotted this fresh posting today on JazzTimes' Web site,

An Important Message From JazzTimes Management To our readers and members of the jazz community: JazzTimes has temporarily suspended publication of the magazine and has furloughed the bulk of its staff while it finalizes a sale of its assets. The brand and operation will undergo reorganization and restructuring in order to remain competitive in the current media climate. Print publishing is expected to resume as soon as a sale is closed. New information and statements will be posted at as they become available. Thank you for your patience during this challenging period. JazzTimes Management

All I can say to follow up on my weekend posting is that the newspaper and magazine industries have been socked hard this year, particularly through ad revenue declines. Let's hope JazzTimes does inded live on as a print publication, and in the interim, electronically through its newly launched "community" - as well as staff postings as much as possible on the Web site. It may have to re-invent itself. Stay tuned. - KF

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Economic domino effect on jazz is troubling

These are indeed troubling times for the general economy – and the spillover to the jazz world was inevitable. Just as some companies and some parts of the economy seem to be doing OK, or at least surviving, others are folding or in danger of disappearing.

I took no pleasure in reporting (see my December 31, 2008 post) the earliest word about the apparent demise of Festival Network LLC. And now fellow blogger and jazz journalism colleague Howard Mandel has reported troubling news about the ill state of health of JazzTimes.

There is a spinoff economic effect at work here – since JT seems to have been quite dependent on the revenue it received by producing and publishing JVC festival supplements in three of its issues each summer. With JVC’s festival sponsorships down the tubes, it had to hurt deeply. Read Howard’s perceptive take on it in several posts he filed this week at his blog, Jazz Beyond Jazz. This is extremely painful. I have had a relationship with JT since the early 1980s (back when founder Ira Sabin produced it tabloid newsprint style) as a writer and photographer, and still do the occasional review for its Web site. I hope someone indeed steps in to ensure its survival because of its prominent stature in the jazz community.

These turns are troubling, as were some of the perspectives in West Coast saxophonist Mel Martin’s latest Jazz and Saxophone Newsletter. Mel reported that he “played the last night at Jazz at Pearl's (in San Francisco) while they were hauling out the coffee machine and the paintings on the walls. The Jazz and Blues Store in Carmel has folded, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles is closed at the end of May and may relocate in Santa Monica.”

Struggles go on everywhere, yet there have been some glimmers of hope. George Wein, who sold his Festival Productions Inc. organization to Festival Network two and one-half years ago only to see the new owners run its operations into the ground by overspending and expanding at the worst possible time, found a way to continue jazz and folk festivals under his own name in Newport this summer despite uncertain sponsorship.

A few other former Wein-affiliated festivals continue to operate. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, produced by Wein associate Quint Davis, never was a part of the Festival Network deal. Two other festivals that were part of the FN operation in 2007 and ’08 – Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga NY and the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, saw those contracts expire. Two other longtime Wein affiliates – Dan Melnick and Darlene Chan – now produce them (Melnick has Saratoga, Chan has Playboy).

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is preparing to celebrate its 30th annual event – expanding and vibrant despite this being the last year of title sponsorship by General Motors.

On the positive side of the California jazz club scene, Andrew Gilbert reported in the San Jose Mercury News that Yoshi’s jazz club recently ended an experiment with other forms of booking and returned with a solid lineup of stellar jazz bookings, particularly at the new San Francisco venue, in addition to its Oakland location.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Montreal jazz expands

When most of us outside of Canada think jazz and Montreal, we think early summer. Equipe Spectra, the organization that produces the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, wants to make that linkage year-round. It makes sense, as the city has a jazz hunger that extends beyond the summer season, no doubt whetted by the two-week extravaganza that ranks as the largest and generally the finest jazz festival on the planet. This year's 30th edition runs June 30 to July 12.

With expansion of the Place des Arts, the general home of the festival, into a full-blown Quartier des Spectacles, Equipe Spectra has transformed a neighboring former warehouse building into a multi-story, multi-purpose facility called Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan (“House of the Festival” for short).

The centerpiece is L’Astral, a state-of-the-art, 350-seat, cabaret-style showroom. The venue will open June 29 with a pre-festival concert by Montreal pianist Oliver Jones (back from retirement once again) and singer Ranee Lee, and a public concert by the same pair on the 30th.

L’Astral... >

Tickets go on sale June 6 for L’Astral’s inaugural Jazz All Round series. The September through November schedule includes the Yaron Herman Trio (opening on Sept. 17), Harry Manx, the McCoy Tyner Trio, the Allan Holdsworth Trio, The Sociopaths featuring Charles Papasoff, Coral Egan and Matt Herskowitz; Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standards Trio, the Afro-Cuban All Stars, the Steve Amirault Trio, Sara Tavares, Cowboy Junkies and Carol Welsman.

McCoy Tyner, Montreal, July 2008... ^

The new building on St. Catherine Street will also include a restaurant, hall of fame, archives and exhibition space, and the festival's media space.For more information, visit the festival's Web site,