Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CDs of Note...

George Colligan, Come Together (Sunnyside)
Pianist Colligan long has been in demand as a sideman for a wide range of jazz greats, from Cassandra Wilson to Buster Williams and Christian McBride. While far from a newcomer as a leader (this is his 19th CD as a leader since 1996), Come Together may make more listeners take notice of his powerful skills as a player, composer and bandleader. It’s a session in which most of the tunes have either heart-felt inspirations or interpretations. The take-no-prisoners capabilities of bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards are a perfect fit here. My favorites: Colligan’s cover of the Lennon/McCartney title track and two originals: “Have No Fear” and the wistful ballad “Open Your Heart.”

Lili Añel, Every Second in Between (Wall-I Records)
This one has been exercising in my CD player for a week - and doesn’t want to leave the musical gym. New York born and raised and now calling Philadelphia home, singer-songwriter-guitarist Lili Añel has been plying and perfecting her jazz- and folk-tinged craft for some 30 years. Her wisdom and experience are the foundation for her music, which revolve a lot around the concepts of independence, empowerment and roots - and her percussive approach to the guitar that she credits to her Black and Cuban heritage. The only tunes she didn’t write in full are the ballad “So Far Away,” co-written with her identical twin sister, Barbara Añel, and her cover of the Nina Simone-associated “That’s All I want From You.” Grammy-winning producer and engineer winner Glenn Barratt produced this gem. My favorites: all 11 tracks.

Ron Jackson, FlubbyDubby (Roni Music)
This is principally a guitar-organ-drums trio session, which guitarist Ron Jackson recorded live at Cecil’s Jazz Club in New Jersey. It’s a terrific spotlight for the leader’s versatile playing, and perhaps even more for B-3 player Kyle Koehler. There’s something mighty special when guitar and organ get into a groove, and they do here throughout. Drummer Otis Brown III completes the trio’s soulful, funky sound. Saxophonists Don Braden and Bruce Williams stop by to blow riffs on two tracks. My favorites: “One for Melvin,” which Jackson wrote for session producer Melvin Sparks, the title track “FlubbyDubby” and their thoughtful take on the ballad “Stars Fell on Alabama.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

A must read: Wynton Marsalis's Enduring Opus

The Thursday, September 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal contains a terrific piece by Larry Blumenfeld taking a close look on the positive impact that Jazz at Lincoln Center has had on the New York and national jazz scene since its founding in 1986 and principally since moving into its own three-venue performance space five years ago. The range of its impact, with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis as its highly visible, deeply engaged and perceptive artistic director, is considerable. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tanglewood Jazz Fest in-depth

My complete review of Tanglewood two weekends ago has now been published on the JazzTimes Web site, jazztimes.com, along with several photos.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CDs of Note…

James Moody, Moody 4A (IPO Recordings)
At 84 he might be entitled to coast a bit musically, but James Moody never does. This gem was recorded on the first of two days of recordings with a sublime quartet that teamed the saxophonist with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash. Day two's results will be released at a later date as Moody 4B. There is much here to enjoy. My clear favorite: his stunning duet wit Barron on “East of the Sun.” The quartet’s version of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” captures Moody at his uptempo best. This tasty project swings. Oh, does it ever.

The Michael Thomas Quintet, Live at Twins Jazz, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (JazHead Entertainment)
Hard bop lives. You’ll find disciples in geographically diverse pockets across the United States and around the world, including metropolitan Washington, D.C., which trumpeter Michael Thomas and his long-standing band call home. Thomas released these two separate CDs simultaneously, not as a two-CD package. Together, they capture his band in full force on two consecutive nights at Twins Jazz, a club in the nation’s capital. Volume 2 includes a special guest, tenor saxophonist Andrew White. There is only one duplicate tune on the two discs, dramatically different version of Thomas’s heated “Mike’s Blues.” Volume 1 also features two staples from his repertoire: his original “Blues #9” and his take on the pop tune ”Candy,” which Lee Morgan transformed into a classic bebop cover, as well as Thomas’s poignant version of Benny Golson’s classic “I Remember Clifford.” Volume Two’s highlights include a toe-to-toe tenor battle between White and Zach Graddy on “Mike’s Blues” and White’s solo on Thomas’s “The Little Individual.” Live is the way to go when you want to absorb hard bop energy. A live recording is just right for a band that burns, and swings mightily, in the solid Jazz Messengers tradition.

Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet, Twelve Pieces (NYC Records)
Marnix Busstra, a guitarist from The Netherlands, was the catalyst for this project, which teams vibes player Mike Mainieri with Busstra’s band, fleshed out by bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast. It is a stunning session in which the vibes and guitar blend and offset each other to create a wonderful sonic energy. It swings, and the melody rules on 10 Busstra compositions, one track (“All in a Row”) from Mainieri and “Kannada,” an adaptation of an Indian children’s song. Busstra also brings an electronic sitar into the mix on to add an exotic touch to “Lost in Little Spain” and “Kannada.” There is much here to savor. Favorites: “Lost in Little Spain,” “Don’t Break Step” and “Old Fashion.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Good business to take care of

(see contact update at the bottom)
The jazz community has learned how to take care of its makers - past, present - and way in the past. The greatest examples come out of the the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund, which is run out of New York by a jazz angel named Wendy Oxenhorn. She and the JMEF step in when they hear about a musician, or retired musician who can’t make a rent or mortgage payment, is threatened with eviction, needs medical help or had an instrument stolen - his or her livelihood - and no funds to replace it. The work they do is nothing short of amazing.

Two events are coming up in early October that will either help JMEF continue its critical business or fulfill an unaffiliated, long-overdue need that has the very same spirit.

On Tuesday evening, October 6, Joe Lovano and John Scofield will host and lead an all-star jazz benefit (two sets) at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, which is located at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The program will remember late colleague Dennis Irwin, a bassist who died of cancer last year. The event will also raise money for Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund. Lovano and Scofield’s “Playing Our Parts” concert also will include players Joey DeFrancesco, Jim Hall, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Konitz, Matt Penman, Cedar Walton and Matt Wilson.

Two days earlier - Sunday, October 4, Small Jazz Club will host a symposium and series of solo piano tributes to James P. Johnson, the father of Stride piano, who died in November 1955. If nothing else, you likely know him for composing “Carolina Shout.” It’s being billed as “James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party” - referring to a rather prevalent tradition many decades ago in which musicians held jam session-style apartment concerts - charging admission to literally pay the rent that week. And Johnson no doubt played at many of them.

This event one returns the favor. Johnson is buried in an unmarked grave in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens NY. The all-day rent party is designed to help raise money so the James P. Johnson Foundation can buy a monument that will bring this historic jazz great a bit more posthumous recognition. Pianists scheduled to play at Smalls that afternoon and evening include Ehud Asherie, John Bunch, Aaron Diehl, Conal Fowkes, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Mike Lipskin, Ted Rosenthal, Terry Waldo, Spike Wilner and others not yet announced.

These are great events. If you can’t get there in person, support them in spirit - or more.

Playing Our Parts: If you are unable to attend the concert but wish to make a tax-deductible contribution, make checks payable to: The Jazz Foundation of America
MAIL TO: The Jazz Foundation of America, 322 West 48th Street, 6th floor New York, NY 10036
ONLINE: Donate online at jazzfoundation.org

James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party: Send a check, payable to The James P. Johnson Foundation, and mail it c/o Smalls, 183 West 10th street, NYC 10014

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CDs of Note...

Joel Frahm and Bruce Katz, Project A, (Anzic Records)
Many efforts to cover non-jazz material as a concept don’t cut it. This instrumental tribute to Aretha Franklin is strong right from the opening bars and never lets up. Hammond B3 player Bruce Katz brings out the soulful side of tenor ace Joel Frahm like most of us have never heard him. This was their first project, but I doubt it will be their last.

They tackled nine tunes associated with the Queen of Soul, including the self-penned “Spirit in the Dark” and “Rock Steady.” There is strong support here from guitarist Chris Vitarello, bassists Marty Ballou and Jerry Jemmott, and drummers Lorne Entress and Ralph Rosen, as well as appearances on three tracks by Jay Collins on baritone saxophone and Kenny Rampton on trumpet.

Frahm and Katz passed over the best-known tunes “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” Freeway of Love” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in favor of other equally soulful gems. Favorites: “The House That Jack Built,” “Rock Steady” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which features Vitarello on slide guitar.

Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet, Underdog, and other Stories…, Summit Records
Don’t tell Ted Kooshian that jazz can’t have a sense of humor. He knows how to have good fun with his Standard Orbit Quartet. Seriously. Underdog, and other Stories… primarily consists of songs that are very familiar, just not in a jazz context. This is a second edition of the pianist’s project of recording jazz versions of cartoon, TV and movie theme music -with interesting and unusual rearrangements - featuring his spirited quartet.

A zany take on the “Sanford and Son” theme song (written by Quincy Jones) is here, complete with slide whistle added to saxophonist Jeff Lederer’s arsenal. Quite fittingly, cartoon music king Raymond Scott is represented, as are the themes from “Underdog,” “Popeye,” “Baretta,” “The Odd Couple,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and a soulful, gospel take on “Wild Wild West.” The theme from the “Little Lulu” cartoon show is even embellished with drummer Warren Odze’s use of an inverted plastic bucket like those employed by so many street drummers. A fresh take on Duke Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle” is a great choice just for its name. Ellington described the exuberant tune, also recorded as "Angelica" in his small group session with John Coltrane, as a "ragtime cha-cha." Enjoy the creative levity here, and the wonderful playing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tanglewood Jazz Festival - many great musical moments

I’ve submitted my take on this year’s Tanglewood Jazz Festival to JazzTimes. I’ll advise here when it is published. In the meantime, suffice it to say that overall it was another interesting and exceptional festival with only a couple of disappointments. Fortunately, the great musical moments more than compensated for them.

Paquito d’Rivera opened the weekend on the highest note, and the bar he set may have been matched here and there, but was not exceeded. He truly understood – and responded to the festival’s move to blend jazz and classical influences in more of its programming.

John Pizzarelli and his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, taped their program “Radio Deluxe” at Tanglewood, much like Marian McPartland taped “Piano Jazz” here in the Berkshires for the past seven years.

Daughter Madeleine catches up on "Harry Potter" during the Pizzarellis' taping of "Radio Deluxe"...

The Saturday night “Dreaming The Duke” concert had some nightmarish qualities, that were more related to arrangements and music choices. The singers and most musicians were not the flaw here. It felt like an early stage of a work in progress.

Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller...
Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller provided an afternoon of dual piano interplay that was exquisite in all respects.

Jon Faddis’s “Majesty of the Trumpet” set with Sean Jones and Wallace Roney, and Dave Holland’s octet were strong closers.

Young singer Kat Edmonson was a highlight at the Jazz Café, a tented pre-concert venue just up the hill from Ozawa Hall. This singer from Austin, Texas takes jazz chestnuts and even more recent pop songs and embraces them in a way that they sound like originals. Keep an eye on her – and both ears, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Newport festival names back where they belong

It sounds like the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival names are back in use by producer George Wein, starting with the 2010 editions.

When Festival Network LLC bought Wein's longstanding company, Festival Productions Inc., less than three years ago, it acquired the rights to use the two names, as well. After Festival Network closed its doors this year due to financial problems, Wein produced his own Newport events under different festival names - George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 and George Wein's Folk Festival 50.

Going forward, we can expect to see Wein using Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival once again.

Here's the explanation from Wein's new firm, New Festival Productions:

"George Wein and his original service company, Festival Productions Inc., are - and have always been - the exclusive owners and licensors of the federal trademarks, Newport Folk Festival® and Newport Jazz Festival®.Although Festival Network acquired certain of Wein's company's assets in 2006, Wein retained his exclusive ownership of the registered marks, and instead gave the new promoters a conditional license. That license automatically expired when the new venture closed down earlier this year. "

Somehow the lyrics "Come lift us up where we belong" fit this legal tune. And "we" - in this case ''they" - have arrived back home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A jazz piano plus

When some things in jazz have been in retrenchment mode this year - festivals, magazines - here's a positive note for the future.

Randy Weston will be featured in a solo piano concert October 12 at the Somerville Theater in Somerville MA, kicking off a series of annual concerts celebrating the legacy of Thelonious Monk (who would have been 92 on October 10).

Pennsylvania-based World Piano Summit (worldpianosummit.com) is sponsoring the metropolitan Boston jazz series, which it says will continue until the centennial of Monk’s birth on October 10, 2017.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jazz travelers

To what lengths will fans go to hear great jazz?

Depending on where you live, sometimes it's right around the corner or across town. Sometimes you drive for hours as part of a vacation trip, or fly many miles.

This holiday weekend brings out all of those facets, as jazz festival goers are out in force in Chicago, Detroit and several other cities, and right here in western Massachusetts' Berkshires at Tanglewood. Wherever you are, be sure to enjoy it live, on CD or on a simulcast.

It soothes, it inspires, it brings out the best in us.