Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy holidays

Christmas Eve is a most wonderful time to wish all of you the happiest of holiday seasons.

Christmas and its related holidays are a great time each of us to reflect on our blessings - including our friends - and the ability to persevere through unexpected challenges that we or our friends face with determination and fortitude when they occur.

Have you had your fill yet of holiday music?

I'm close to the edge, but do want to share a clear non-jazz favorite.

Because of its wonderful animation, this one ranks right up there with Louis Armstrong's version of "Zat You, Santa Claus?" and Ella Fitzgerald's take on "Santa Claus Got Stuck in my Chimney. "

Here's a link to The Drifters' classic.

Enjoy and happy holidays...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tops in Jazz - 2010

As the year winds down, I'll be preparing my Year-in-Jazz retrospective. In advance of that, here's a rundown of my favorites among 2010's new releases and historic recordings.

Always keep in mind that top 10 listings of this sort reflect what the reviewer gets a chance to hear during the year.. as well as musical taste at the moment he/she does the evaluations. They only carry significant weight when the same recordings show up on many such lists.

If you haven't done so already, these are projects I recommend you check out.

The 10 best new jazz releases of 2010, listed alphabetically:
- Dave Bass Quartet, Gone (Dave Bass Music)
- Lisa Engelken, Caravan (Little Angel)
- Tamir Hendelman, Destinations (Resonance)
- Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
- Christine Jensen, treelines (Justin Time)
- Pat Metheny, Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
- Jean-Michel Pilc, True Story (Dreyfus)
- Ellen Rowe Quartet, Wishing Well (PKO Records)
- Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband, Ceremony (Otá)
- Jacky Terrasson, Push (Concord Jazz)

The 10 best new songs of the year, listed alphabetically:
- John Britton, “Anticipation” from The Britton Brothers Band, Uncertain Living (Record Craft)
- Gerald Cleaver, “From a Life of the Same Name” from Jeremy Pelt, Men of Honor (HighNote)
- Loren Daniels, “Point A to Point A,” title track, Reggie Pittman-Loren Daniels Quartet (self-produced)
- Tamir Hendelman, “Babushka” from Destinations (Resonance)
- Pat Metheny, “Spirit of the Air,” from Orchestrion (Nonesuch)
- Chris Potter, “Sea of Mamara” from Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
- Jean-Michel Pilc, “PBH Factor,” from True Story, (Dreyfus)
- Aldo Romano, “Gamelan” from Origine, Dreyfus Jazz)
- Ellen Rowe, “For That Which Was Living, Lost” from Wishing Well (PKO Records)
- Luciano Troja, “Earl and Bill” from At Home With Zindars (self-produced)

The five best historical/reissues of 2010, listed alphabetically:
- Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Sony/Legacy)
- Stan Getz/Kenny Barron, People Time: The Complete Recordings (Sunnyside)
- Vince Guaraldi, Peanuts Portraits (Concord Music)
- Freddie Hubbard, Red Clay (CTI)
- Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart (Widow’s Taste)

The best jazz-related DVD of 2010:
- Sarah Vaughan -The Divine One, Masters of American Music Series (EuroArts)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Ben Wolfe Quintet, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
This new CD from bassist Ben Wolfe is a terrific live recording from his quintet’s appearance last May at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. The tight band includes tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Ryan Kisor, pianist Luis Perdomo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
The musicality and the energy are very strong here. Favorite tracks among the nine Wolff originals: “Block 11,” “Telescope,” the playful “Double Czech” and the Monkish “Unjust.” Kisor turns in a mighty solo on “For the Great Sonny Clark.” Strickland tones down his fiery tenor on the beautiful ballad “I’ll Know You More.” Kudos to Wolfe as a player, composer and leader. All three of those roles come together here.

Bill O’Connell, Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge)
Pianist Bill O’Connell has spent most of his 30-
year-plus career in the Latin jazz arena (Mongo Santa Maria, Dave Valentin, Gato Barbieri, the Fort Apache Band, Conrad Herwig’s “Latin Side” projects, etc.) and it has served him well. The Latin rhythms and vitality are a strong part of his music, including this fine CD. The core band, with Luques Curtis or David Finck on bass, Steve Berrios on drums and Steve Slagle on sax, is augmented by percussionist Richie Flores, vibes player Dave Samuels and trombonist Herwig on several tracks.
One of the most intriguing is the sometimes laid-back, sometimes fiery Latin lilt given to George Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody in Blue.” There’s a lot to like here, including seven O’Connell originals. Check it out. Then repeat. I’m betting you will, because it’s that strong.

Kevin Eubanks, Zen Food (Mack Avenue)
This is guitarist Kevin Eubanks' firs release as a leader since departing "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" after 18 years as its musical director. The CD title is a standalone, not a pickup from a track on the CD. In Eubanks' mind, it means music is food for the soul.
He's joined on this jazz buffet by drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, saxophonist Bill Pierce, keyboard player Gerry Etkins and bassist Rene Camacho. Favorite tracks include "The Dirty Monk," "Los Angeles," which is a very strong feature for Pierce, as well as a showcase for his sympatico with Philly native Eubanks, the leader's beautiful ballad "I Remember Loving You" and their take on Etkins' "G.G" (short for Gerry's Groove).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clever barometer on musician costs

So how are today’s musicians doing economically compared to past years? Not bad if you take the word of the 2010 PNC Christmas Price Index.® The Wealth Management division of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank is just out with its 27th annual analysis of the gifts contained in The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The survey shows this year’s total price tag rose$1,974 to $23,439, a gain of 9.3 percent. One of the biggest factors was the added cost of wages and benefits impacting some entertainers

The cost of hiring the 11 Pipers Piping ($2,356) and 12 Drummers Drumming ($2,552) each rose 3.1 percent after seeing no rise last year. That’s good news, but a far cry from 1999 and 2003. In those years, both the pipers and drummers had raises exceeding 20 percent. Those were the only double-digit raises for musicians since the PNC index was started in 1984.

For the birds, you say?

You may be right. The Two Turtle Doves increased 78.6 percent to $100 and the cost of Three French Hens surged 233 percent to $150 this year. And the Partridge (not factoring in the Pear Tree) was up 20 percent to $12.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A birthday twist

Dave Brubeck has given us a present for his 90th birthday on December 6. The pianist and prolific composer has released a two-disc compilation called Legacy of a Legend, it's releasing coming three days after Brubeck resumed touring. (He had a three-month layoff after doctors gave him a pacemaker.)

It’s a 21-track compilation on Columbia/Legacy that spans work from 1954 to 1970, documenting the evolution of his quartet into its classic makeup with Brubeck, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. Two of his later quartet members, bassist Jack Six and drummer Alan Dawson, are featured on tracks from a tour Brubeck made with Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax.

This hand-picked compilation also includes collaborations with singers Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae and Louis Armstrong. One of the highlights for Brubeck compleatists figures to be a previously unreleased live take of Brubeck’s tune “Three to Get Ready” that was recorded at his classic quartet’s final concert the day after Christmas 1967 in Pittsburgh.

There is more available for Brubeck fans this holiday season. Turner Classic Movies will dedicate the afternoon of December 6 to a pair of classic films featuring Brubeck. They are “All Night Long” (a jazz update of Shakespeare’s “Othello) and “Southern Crossing,” (which chronicles five-day jazz festival in Sydney, Australia). They will be followed at 5 p.m. by the premier of the Bruce Ricker-produced and directed documentary “Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way.” The executive producer of documentary is longtime Ricker collaborator Clint Eastwood.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jazz in God’s living room

Jazz has been considered “the devil’s music” at times. More in distant decades and in some places more than others, and even among random people today. So it is ironic when we get to hear it performed in church. I’m not talking about St. Peter’s (the “jazz church” in midtown Manhattan) or other ministries that offer jazz vespers on a regular basis. But places we don’t expect it for one reason or another.  

Riggs, Allen, Forbes, Sportiello

So what a pleasant surprise last night when saxophonist Harry Allen’s quartet performed in a quaint little church in Warwick RI. Allen’s appearance was the jazz segment of Warwick Central Baptist Church’s six-concert music series to mark its 175th anniversary. He was supported by his regular New York rhythm section: Rossano Sportiello on piano, Joel Forbes on bass and Chuck Riggs on drums. 

The setting was intimate and the sound was pure: acoustic jazz in a setting that felt like a living room, from the standpoint that people in the first few pews could have literally reached out and touched the musicians. 

Allen has absorbed his influences well in his development into one of today’s finest swing saxophonists. You hear a lot of Ben Webster and a tinge of Stan Getz on Brazilian bossa nova balladry, but he shapes the music into something fresh and memorable. 

 Highlights: Allen’s reading of Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” a blistering romp on Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail” and the ballad “Misty,” as well as Sportiello’s Stride piano segments on “The Lady’s In Love With You” and, later, his showcase on “Honeysuckle Rose.” 

The concert was a reminder that Riggs is one of today’s masters of the brushes, a skill polished by his years listening to and hanging out with the late Jo Jones. 

One doesn’t expect to hear Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” in a church, but Allen presented it with some irony. He also offset it by including a couple of hymns into the program. Allen introduced Thomas A. Dorsey’s 1930s composition “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” as “Precious Lord Thou Art So Hip,” telling the audience members they could sing along to No. 678 in their hymnals if they wished. “But we’re gonna swing it,” he cautioned. 

And they did.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A memorable Cape May weekend

It’s amazing that the Cape May Jazz Festival has now completed 17 full seasons of its semi-annual jazz weekends. That’s 34 festivals drawing large off-season crowds to New Jersey’s southern tip.

It was a growing pains sort of weekend for the new blood/old blood running the festival after the summertime resignations of festival co-founders Carol Stone and Woody Woodland after a protracted series of skirmishes with the board of directors. This year, I made the trek to quaint and charming Cape May on a photo assignment for Images will be posted with Lee Mergner’s review.

The festival had some very strong acts – The Yellowjackets and trumpeter Terell Stafford’s band were Friday highlights, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson’s quartet with soul jazz master Les McCann, as well as drummer Ralph Peterson’s band, on Saturday.

The Saturday afternoon jam sessions were packed – the sure sign of a good turnout. And it was great to see old friend Winston Byrd, a Delaware native whose trumpet artistry seemed ever-present at the festival for several years before he moved to Los Angeles. He knows how to tear it up. (That's Winston in the photo at a Carney's jam session with guitarist Geno White, saxophonist Tim Price and others.)

The only significant glitch was the challenging acoustics and some keyboard sound problems for the Jackson-McCann show at Star of the Sea Auditorium. There was no such problem on Friday because the Yellowjackets bring along their own sound wizard. A good engineer who works regularly with the audio needs of one band has an edge. He (or she) knows how to turn lemons into lemonade when confronted with – in this case – a tired old grammar school gymnasium.

For budget issues, the festival organizers decided not to shuttle fans to the Cape May Regional High School’s state-of-the-art theater/auditorium a few miles away. It had been the headline venue for several years - and became a critical venue after the beachfront Cape May Convention Hall was condemned two years ago.

This year, all of the consolidated events were within walking distance of the beachfront strip of bars, hotels and dozens of B&Bs. And so will be the new Convention Hall, which is expected to open sometime in 2012, in time for at least one of that year’s festivals. Maybe both of them.

It was nice that the 34th CMJF program book included a photo of the founders. But there was no other visibility given to Carol Woody, nor were they ever thanked publicly for 16.5 years of keeping the event alive, nor were they present. Curious. And sad in a way. Understandable perhaps given the ill will that transpired at times. But life – and festivals – go on.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cool, hip and funny (updated)

I interviewed singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli for a profile that will be in the December issue of Hot House in conjunction with a mid-month (December 14 to 18) run with his quartet at Birdland in Manhattan. As is usually the case with these encounters, John had far more to say than space allows in the magazine. See the online edition, p. 31.

Here’s one such JP gem, part of his discussion about the fun he’s been having for five years on his syndicated broadcast show Radio Deluxe. He invited fellow vocalist Kurt Elling to be a guest – and he has become a multi-time guest, including a 2009 live taping at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.

“I just really met him doing the show and we became friends right away,” Pizzarelli said. “We’re two very different singers with strong ideas about what we want to do about our music.”

He has tremendous admiration and respect for Elling’s work. “It is an intelligent act. It really is something smart and special,” Pizzarelli said. “It is enjoyable to watch because he demands your attention. It is not for the faint of heart.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In our thoughts and prayers

Arriving home from work tonight, I was saddened to learn that saxophonist James Moody - one of the few remaining survivors of the Golden Age of Jazz - has been battling pancreatic cancer since February.

He and wife Linda informed fans yesterday of the situation, as reported so poignantly in the San Diego Tribune. He has elected not to have radiation or chemotherapy.

In George Vargas's report, Moody's wife, Linda, says the NEA Jazz Master, now 85, still plays his tenor saxophone and flute several times a week for varying lengths of time,depending on his energy level ,at his San Diego home.

Thanks for all you've done, Moody. You're loved.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Lew Soloff, Steve Richman, Sketches of Spain (Sheffield Lab)
Sketches of Spain has always been my favorite among the dozens and dozens of Miles Davis recordings. Its exotic Spanish tinge and plaintive feel, so brilliantly crafted by Davis and orchestrator Gil Evans are at the heart of its impact. Fifty years after the classic project was recorded, Steve Richman took his fine Harmonie Ensemble New York into the studio with guest soloist (and longtime Gil Evans collaborator) Lew Soloff. (The genesis was a May 21, 2008 concert at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown Manhattan.)

The recorded result is fascinating – and no less riveting than the original. This is the only recording of Sketches since its Davis-Evans recording by Columbia in 1959 and 1960. You’ll discover some new depth here and some distinctive, beautiful soloing, particularly from trumpeter Soloff. My favorites: their versions of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Evans’s “Solea.” Bravo.

Benito González, Circles (Furthermore)
Pianist Benito González is out with a hard-driving beauty, with some help from some of his regular collaborators. The self-taught player, a native of Venezuela, brought, has been a member of Kenny Garrett’s band since 2006. On this, his second CD as a leader, he teamed with saxophonists Ron Blake, Azar Lawrence and Myron Walden, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff Watts. Ever y track is strong in its own way. Standouts include “Circles,” González’s Elvin Jones tribute “Elvin’s Sight” (featuring Azar Lawrence on tenor after a riveting Christian McBride scene-setter) and their take on McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” (featuring Ron Blake), which is the session’s only cover. The leader’s reflective “Let’s Talk About You and Me” is also a gem.

Pete Levin, Jump! (self-produced)
Clean and precise B-3 organ work can swing mightily in the right hands – and with the right band to inspire it. No chicken shack required. Pete Levin proves it on this fine self-produced session that teams him with the searing artistry of guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Lenny White. Percussionist Manolo Badrena joins on half of the 10 tracks. The closer, covering Fat’s Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” is dedicated to friend Joe Beck, who died two years ago.

Levin and Beck recorded the track as a duet but it was never released on any prior album. Levin added Danny Gottlieb on drums to make this an aural reunion, which was fitting since the trio had played may gigs together in the past. Other favorites: “The Big Dog is Always Right,” “Nostalgia in Times Square,” “Little Sunflower” and the lively title track. This is a welcome addition to the B-3 discography. It bubbles to the top among contemporary projects.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is music helping shred a senseless Cold War remnant?

After all these years, is there anything more senseless than the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba? I think not, but some are bound to disagree. But the arts are thawing the iceberg a bit – and jazz is at the forefront of that relaxation.

Larry Blumenfeld had a riveting two-part coverage in the Wall Street Journal in early October of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s six-day residency in Havana that involved both concerts and clinics for young Cuban musicians. The visit, led by Wynton Marsalis, took place under the auspices of the Cuban Institute of Music.

Right now, pianist Chucho Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers are in the midst of a 12-city U.S. tour that included two nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Room in Manhattan and hop-scotched around the Northeast and West Coast. Remaining stops on that U.S. tour include tonight in Hopkins MN followed by Boston, Hanover NH and Washington DC. Valdés will also perform solo at New York’s Village Vanguard on November 1 before the band takes its tour to Europe.

This is Valdés’s first U.S. tour since 2003. May the thaw continue. In a jazz sense, there is even more short-term hope at least for artists.

In December, pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill plans to travel to Cuba with the orchestra of his late father, Cuban composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill, for another cultural and educational exchange. The Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra (pictured at right) will headline the 26th edition of the Havana International Plaza Jazz Festival, sponsored by the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center of Popular Music, which runs December 16-19.

“Since my first visit to the Plaza Jazz Festival in Havana in 2002, it has been my desire to return Chico O’Farrill’s music, played by his musicians, to the island,” Arturo O’Farrill said in a news release received this week. “When my father finally agreed to a possible return, it was already too late and he died brokenhearted that he was never able to return to his beloved island [after departing in 1960]. With this trip, Chico’s orchestra will be completing an artistic, familial and spiritual journey.”

On the December trip, O’Farrill’s activities will include a collaboration with Chucho Valdés and his own sons, Zachary and Adam O’Farrill, as well as young Cuban musician. They will premiere a work that O’Farrill is writing. He is calling it “Fathers and Sons: From Havana to New York and Back.”

May these cultural exchanges be just the start of something thriving, regular – and permanent. It will be good for the music – and the economy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CDs of Note - Short Takes…

Luciano Troja, At Home With Zindars (self-produced)
This labor of love spotlights the composer, good friend and perhaps musical twin of Bill Evans. It is long overdue, because the late Earl Zindars had far more impact on Evans than he has generally been credited with. Their relationship dated to their Army days in the early1950s. Italian pianist Luciano Troja corrects that oversight with his lavishly produced solo piano CD of 15 Zindars jazz compositions (he was a classical composer and educator as well), plus Troja’s own tribute called “Earl and Bill.” There’s also an enlightening 40-page booklet. Evans recorded seven Zindars tunes in his repertoire, most notably “How My Heart Sings,” and played those and a few others in his live performances for nearly a quarter-century.

All of the tracks on this session will carry a lot of interest for even the casual Evans listener because of the harmonic and rhythmic cross-pollination between these two good friends. Interestingly, Zindars’ “Four Times ‘Round” - written in 1985, five years after Evans’s death - has a decided Evans feel to it. Troja’s “Earl and Bill” is a loving meditation celebrating the impact that both men had on the pianist after he first heard Evans and later came to appreciate the Zindars connection. Some of these tunes might have swung a bit more with a rhythm section, but all things considered, that’s a minor quibble. At Home With Zindars is a CD to savor for many reasons.

Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM, Our Secret World (Word of Mouth)
This wonderful addition to the big-band canon pairs guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel with Portugal’s Orquestra Jazz de Matsinhos. Rosenwinkel is one of mainstream jazz’s more adventurous, edgy explorers on his chosen instrument. On this session, the Philly native revisits seven of his compositions with arrangements by OJM’s Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes, as well as saxophonist Ohad Talmor. What a lush and interesting carpet they provide for Rosenwinkel’s new ride. Favorites: the title track, “Zhivago,” the Metheny-esque “Dream of the Old” and the multi-faceted “Path of the Heart.” This is gorgeous.

Reggie Pittman-Loren Daniels Quartet, Point A to Point A (self-produced)
What a swinging, tight and vibrant band, rooted deeply in the bop tradition. Trumpeter Reggie Pittman and pianist Loren Daniels have teamed up with bassist Bill Moring and drummer Tim Horner for this session. It features original material plus a funky rearrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” which itself was a bebop variation on “How High the Moon.”
My favorites (difficult choices given the strength of all the material) are the title track and “Prose and Consequence.” Both were written by Daniels. Pittman’s Woody Shaw tribute, “Shaw is Woody,” is also a sprightly and swinging dandy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Into the spotlight and moving ahead

In less than a week, we saw significant attention spotlighting two jazz artists. There’s one to watch for on the vocal scene. The other we saw recognized for his decade of moving the music forward while embracing contemporary influences.

Ladies first as they say, no matter that the honors are chronologically skewed.

On October 4 in Washington DC’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Cécile McLorin Salvant of Miami won the Thelonious Monk Competition for Jazz Vocals over two other finalists and dozen semi-finalists. She won $20,000 in scholarship money and a record deal with the Concord Music Group.

Salvant, a French-Haitian-American from Miami FL but currently based in France, sang two ballads - "If This Isn't Love" and "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone."
The other finalists were Charenée Wade of Brooklyn NY and Cyrille Aimée of Fontainebleau, France, who finished in second and third place, respectively. Each of the finalists was backed by a trio of Reggie Thomas on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass and Carl Allen on drums.

(At right: The three finalists of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition (L-R): Charenee Wade, Cyrille Aimee and Cecile McLorin Salvant.) (Monk Institute photo)

On September 28, New York-based pianist-composer Jason Moran was honored with a $500,000 no-strings-attached” genius grant, as they have become known, in the form of a
MacArthur Fellowship.

Moran, 35, is a pianist, composer, and bandleader was credited with mining a variety of musical styles to create adventurous, genre-crossing jazz performances.

“Moran’s signature corpus marries established classical, blues and jazz techniques with the musical influences of his generation, including funk, hip-hop and rock,” the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation said. “Through reinterpretation of jazz standards and new compositions of his own, Moran is expanding the boundaries of jazz expression and playing a dynamic role in its evolution in the twenty-first century.”

Check out the Foundation's video for Moran's viewpoint.

Those of us who got to the CareFusion Newport RI Jazz Festival in early August – and made it to the Quad Stage, got a treat in the form of a trio performance by Jason Moran (right) and The Bandwagon, a longtime trio featuring the pianist with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Congratulations to all - and then some.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Amina Figarova, Sketches (BMCD / Munich Records)
Netherlands-based, Azerbaijan-born pianist and composer Amina Figerova had the early crowd in the palms of her hands last month at the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival for good reason. She’s a skilled player and musical conceptualist. This CD, her 12th since her 1994 debut, Attraction, is a gem. She uses her stable, globetrotting sextet, co-led with her husband, flute player Bart Platteau,
to showcase her musical vision.

Many of her multi-faceted pieces carry a compositional and lush arranging depth reminiscent of Maria Schneider. They are just delivered in a more intimate context than the sweep of a full jazz orchestra. (It would be interesting to hear the best of Figarova’s pieces expanded to that context one day. Determining which ones are best would be tough – because they all are very different and very fine.) My personal favorites among the 13 travels-inspired pieces on this outing: the uptempo “Sketches” (showcasing the front line of Platteau, trumpeter Ernie Hammes and tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas), the more pensive “Caribou Crossing,” the groove-centric “WHOTSOT” and “Back in New Orleans,” and ponderous/wistful “Your room.” By the way, WHOTSOT is an acronym for “what happens on tour stays on tour.

The Cookers, Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions)
This is a must for the many lovers of pure hard bop. This all-star collective includes saxophonists Craig Handy (alto plus flute) and Billy Harper (tenor), trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. What are the prime ingredients? Intensity, passion and great beauty. Cables, Harper and McBee provided most of the material, which also includes late trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core.” (The band is named after named after Hubbard’s live album Night of the Cookers.) My favorites: this team’s version of the Harper classic “Priestess” and McBee’s “U-Phoria.” But it’s all good. Make that very, very fine. I hope they add many more volumes in the next few years.

Birdie Leigh, In A Silky Mood (self-produced)
Silky. Sultry. Husky. Versatile. These are some of the elements that shine through Los Angeles-based Birdie Leigh’s jazz recording debut. She’s very new to my ears, but a most welcome addition given the performances on In a Silky Mood. The session mostly tackle vintage vocal swing and Western swing, with a few Latin and blues tracks to change things up. Leigh sounds like a mystery, but insists she’s not. She performs occasional club dates in and around L.A., as well as a few private parties with her band, Birdie Leigh and her Blue Boys. Mystery? Perhaps. Intrigue, most definitely. Maybe she’ll share story or two when you run into her.

From Patsy Cline to Bobby Gentry (the latter is an interesting remake of “Ode to Billie Jo”), she’s got a terrific way of turning non-jazz standards into jazzy vehicles. My favorites: “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” her playful take on Benny Carter’s “Cow Cow Boogie” (with lyrics by Gene DePaul and Don Ray), “Walkin’ After Midnight,” the blues-drenched “Someday Baby” and the more mainstream “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Her ace band, anchored by producers Kevin Chown (bass) and Avi Sills (drums), also includes Bill Steinway (piano and keys), Jeff Marshall (guitar), Paulie Cerra (saxophones) and Quetzal Guerrero (violin). Check it out.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 is a very Sonny year

The Chinese Lunar Calendar considers 2010 as the Year of the Tiger, but in the jazz calendar this is the Year of the Colossus.

Why? All of the deserved attention focused on tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who turned 80 on September 7 - still a vibrant musical force and restless explorer. (At right, Sonny Rollins at Newport, August 2008. Ken Franckling photo).

Here’s the rundown of significant moments that have taken place.

- On June 27, Rollins received the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s Miles Davis Award for his lifetime contributions to and achievements in jazz.

- On August 15, Rollins received the Edward MacDowell Medal from The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The prestigious award is given annually to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field. The Colony quite fittingly selected jazz writer, critic and Colony Fellow Gary Giddins to keynote the event.

- On September 10, three days after Rollins turned octogenarian, a sold-out 80th birthday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater was filled with much Rollins wonder and a few surprise guests. The biggest surprise - perhaps the only true surprise - was the appearance of Ornette Coleman, with whom Rollins likely never performed in public in their long parallel careers. In his New York Times review the following Monday, Nate Chinen captured the essence of the summit.

- Four nights later Rollins joined photographer John Abbott and writer/critic Bob Blumenthal at the Barnes & Noble store in Tribeca to talk with fans, including more than a few fellow musicians, and sign copies of Abbott and Blumenthal's Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins. The book was published September 1 by Abrams. See for images from the event, and see Jazz Times' October issue for book excerpts.

It's not over.

On October 9 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rollins will be among more than 200 scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders, inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary society is celebrating the 230th anniversary of its founding. In the , other new members from humanities and arts include film director Francis Ford Coppola, actor Denzel Washington, dancer Suzanne Farrell and singer Thomas Hampson.

“It is a tremendous privilege and honor to be made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences," says Rollins. "Not only for me, but for what I represent - the great American music called jazz."

Rollins was nominated by Academy member Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, a Minneapolis-based neuroscientist, amateur saxophonist and longtime Rollins fan. "It's a terrific tribute to a legend," says Georgopoulos, "and a jewel in the Academy's crown."

Since its founding in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected leading "thinkers and doers" from each generation. Prominent inductees in prior centuries included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The Academy’s current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

In about two weeks, we can officially add a Saxophone Colossus to the list.

Rollins is being honored for a lifetime of achievement as a musician. But don’t for a nanosecond think he’s finished. He has many more creative notes to play.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Short Takes - CDs of Note

Bands led by trumpeters are in the spotlight…

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Columbia/Legacy)

Two weeks after releasing its three-disc Legacy Edition of Miles Davis’s genre-smashing Bitches Brew project that pulled jazz together with the commercial rock world, Columbia/Legacy is out with a Collector’s Edition. The boxed set includes CDs containing the original recording plus six bonus tracks, a previously unissued performance by Davis’s evolving septet at Tanglewood in August 1970 and a DVD of a previously unissued quintet performance in Copenhagen, plus much more. The other items are an audiophile vinyl replication of the original album, a 48-page color book with an extended Greg Tate essay, and reproduced memorabilia.

Why so much attention now to Bitches Brew? Remember its times and Davis’s ability to take his jazz into distinctly new styles throughout his career. This time, he went head-to-head with arena rock bands at major venues – and found a rock audience welcoming his new group sound. It spawned a new wave of jazz-cum-progressive rock that soon became known as fusion. It paved the way for Weather Report, the Brecker Brothers, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and many other adventurers. Jazz purists at the time were questioning where Davis was headed. Whether or not they embraced it, now we have a clear sense of its progeny and impact.

Alex Sipiagin, Generations – Dedicated to Woody Shaw (Criss Cross)

If you like modern jazz trumpet played with melodic clarity and fire, Russia-born, New York-based Alex Sipiagin is worth a listen. Several listens in fact. He was an instrumental part of the late Michael Brecker’s sextet and now brings his talents to bassist Dave Holland’s big and small bands, and the Mingus Big Band. This session is a tribute to Woody Shaw, who was a key influence on Sipiagin’s development. The leader puts his own stamp on five tunes written by or associated with Shaw and adds four spirited originals. His partners here, all Michael Brecker alumni, are guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Boris Koslov and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Favorite tracks: there takes on Shaw’s “Cassanadranite” (with terrific soloing by Rogers) and “Katrina Ballerina,” and Sipiagin’s “Greenwood I.”

Jim Rotondi, 1000 Rainbows (Posi-Tone)
Trumpeter Jim Rotondi is a stalwart member of the New York-based jazz collective One For All. He’s also a great leader and writer in his own right, as evidenced on this third release as a leader on Posi-Tone. Vibes player Joe Locke is a strong front-line foil for Rotondi in this swinging setting and contributes the burner “Crescent Street.” Pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Bill Stewart add strong support. Favorites: Rotondi’s “Bizzaro World,” the band’s teasing take on the Lennon/McCartney classic “We Can Work It Out,” and the Buddy Montgomery title track, “1000 Rainbows.” The latter is a ballad that has long deserved more recognition. This tip of the hat is most welcome - and beautifully done.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Giving credit where it is due - and then some...

When you've made an indelible imprint on an art form - people take notice. Particularly when that effort has helped fuel their own successes.

Such is the case with George Wein, the producer of the first jazz festival as we know it today back in 1954 in Newport RI.

In June 2009, as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival's 30th anniversary, founders Alain Simard and Andre Menard honored Wein (right) as the “father of all jazz festivals” at a news conference before his Newport All-Stars performance at Montreal's Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. They gave him a symbolic Tony Bennett silkscreen of Louis Armstrong that the singer and painter created especially for the festival.

This Thursday, September 16, the Monterey Jazz Festival will honor Wein at its 2010 Jazz Legends Gala at Mission Ranch in Carmel CA. The $225-per-ticket event will be hosted by another pianist, who is far better known as an actor-producer, Clint Eastwood, and his wife Dina. 2010 Festival Artist-in-Residence Dianne Reeves will perform at the gala, which is a benefit for the Monterey Jazz Festival's education programs.

“With George appearing at this year’s MJF, it is a perfect opportunity to honor him with our Jazz Legends Award,” said Tim Jackson, General Manager of the Monterey Jazz Festival. “He is truly ‘The godfather’ of jazz festivals.”

The Jazz Legends Award was first presented to pianist Dave Brubeck in 2007, and to the composer, trumpeter and bandleader, Gerald Wilson, in 2008. MJF’s Education Programs have a strong impact on students and schools from coast to coast.

Wein will at the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival on Saturday and Sunday, September 18 and 19 for a performance and a live interview.

The honors are most fitting at both venues not only for starting a jazz venue that is an art form unto itself.

Wein, who turns 85 on October 3, came back from semi-retirement last year to rescue the Newport Jazz Festival. Young entrepreneurs who bought the festival from him a few years earlier ran it into the ground financially under the Festival Network aegis. Wen and his own crew are still hard at it under the banner, New Festival Productions.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A fine time at Tanglewood today posted my review and imagery from last weekend's Tanglewood Jazz Festival in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It is a great late-summer hang and a wonderful spot to hear great music. This year - it blended jazz and classical to great effect.

The blustery remnants of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Earl which rumbled up the East Coast last week didn't keep the audience away. But it did provide for a quite chilly Sunday finale, with temperatures in the low 50s. The lawn chair and blanket crowd out on the lawn braved it for good reason. The music.

It was also a chance to hear Connecticut pianist Noah Baerman for the first time. Baerman (at right) was a clear highlight at the tented Jazz Cafe just up the hillside from Seiji Ozawa Hall. He is a composer, player and bandleader to keep an eye on. I'll follow up in a later blog with more on Noah.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

CDs of Note…

Tamir Hendelman, Destinations (Resonance)
If you love jazz piano trios, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example of their results among the recordings released so far this year. Israeli-born pianist Tamir Hendelman (a longtime resident of southern California), Italian bassist Marco Panascia and New York drummer Lewis Nash have produced a gem in Destinations. The players’ comfort level, adventurous approach to the classic, contemporary and original material - and depth of playing - combine to make this a winner. Gems: all 12 tracks.

Omar Hakim and Rachel Z, The Trio of Oz, Ozmosis Records
How do you draw younger, eclectic pop- and rock-based listeners to jazz? Drummer Omar Hakim, pianist Rachel (Nicolazzo) Z and bassist Maeve Royce have one solution. In this new project, they have taken 10 musical standards from the rock world - and used them as launching pads for their own deconstruction, reconstruction and improvisation.

The music is wide ranging, retaining enough melodic meat to satisfy both casual and adventurous listeners while fueling their own imaginations as players and arrangers. The “covers,” if you can call them that, include “Angry Chair” by Alice in Chains, Coldplay’s “Lost,” Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room,” Morrissey’s “There is a Light” and Sting’s “King of Pain” hit for The Police. In these talented hands, the results are electric - and fascinating. (This is a September 8 release.)

Brandi Disterheft, Second Side (Justin Time)
Brandi Disterheft is a marvelous bass player and a charming singer, and she puts both skills to great use on her second recording project as a leader, following up 2007’s aptly titled, Juno-winning, Debut. Disterheft’s talents shine on the beautiful “Combien de Chances” (How Many Chances), “Sketches of Belief,” “Second Dawn” (which features her on kalimba), and the hard-driving “My Only Friends are Pigeons.” Her Joni Mitchell-like approach to lyrics is beautiful on “Twilight Curtain.” Two fellow Canadian singers, Holly Cole and Ranee Lee, join the project - with Cole providing lyrics and singing the country-tinged “He’s Walkin’” and Lee adding her imprint to the lone standard, “This Time the Dream is on Me.” There’s nothing at all wrong with their performances, but to my ears, their inclusion detracts a bit from the leader’s stunning effort.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s Tanglewood time – in jazz time

Every summer during my festival wanderings, I get one or more similar pitches. “You really need to go to X.” or “You need to come here… It’s a huge jazz event – and it’s free!” Only problem, it’s many hundreds of miles away, it is indeed a HUGE event, and at this point of my summer festival season, I’m ready to wind down with something a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical.

The festivals in question also happen to take place on Labor Day Weekend, when I’m already committed to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. And it'sTanglewood, in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, that’s a bit laid back and bucolic – but no less musical. That’s a large measure of its charm.

For several decades, jazz has been the traditional closer of the season at Tanglewood, located in Lenox, Mass. Its beautiful woody, pastoral setting - and sweeping lawn - are the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a range of pop concerts. But over the Labor Day weekend, it’s all about jazz – veterans, rising talents and artists whose work blends the jazz and classical genres.

This year’s festival opens Saturday afternoon in Ozawa Hall with the second annual taping of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s lively “Radio Deluxe” syndicated radio show with special guest Jane Monheit, who straddles the jazz-cabaret line. Saturday night brings Tanglewood veteran and Grammy winner Kurt Elling to the stage with his band. His longtime pianist and musical director (a relationship dating to 1995) Laurence Hobgood, opens the evening with his trio.

Sunday’s matinee features clarinetist-saxophonist Eddie Daniels and pianist Bob James with bassist James Genus and drummer Peter Erskine in a new program they call “Broadway Boogie.” Its repertoire ranges from standards to Bach. Lee Mergner had a great interview on today with Daniels about the project. Check it out. The Count Basie Orchestra, now led by Bill Hughes, closes the afternoon.

Sunday night’s final concert opens with Julian Lage’s Group, with the Boston-based guitarist fresh from tearing it up at Newport with his group as well as Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing band. The evening will end with pianist-composer Donal Fox’s latest jazz-classical blend called "Piazzolla to Bach," with classical cellist Maya Beiser as special guest. Fox’s band also includes drummer Dafnis Prieto, vibraphonist Warren Wolf and bassist John Lockwood. Bostonian Fox was a huge hit at Tanglewood two years ago with his "Scarlatti Jazz Project."

Each Ozawa Hall concert will be preceded by a Jazz Café showcase for rising new talent. The tradition began a few years ago – but this year’s has a twist. The four featured bands won a video contest enabling them to play at Tanglewood. The leaders are saxophonist Brandon Wright (Saturday at 12:30 p.m.), pianist Noah Baerman (Sunday at 6:30 p.m.), and singers Kelley Johnson (Saturday at 6:30 p.m.) and Audrey Silver (Sunday at 12:30 p.m.).

Festival regulars will notice something missing this year. There is no Friday night Latin jazz concert, which in the past usually took on a dance party vibe for many attendees well before night’s end . Tanglewood Jazz Festival Manager Dawn Singh called it a victim of the economy, but said she hopes to bring it back.

“We’d like to reinstate the Friday night concerts but it will depend how the economy progresses over the next year,” Singh said. “While it is a bit difficult to get the number of people we would like to see at Tanglewood on a Friday night, the Latin jazz concerts were still very popular and they gave us an opportunity to further diversify our lineup, which we are always striving to do.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

CDs of Note...

Dave Bass Quartet, Gone (Dave Bass Music)
One listen to this dynamic disc and you’ll be asking yourself: “Where has Dave Bass been all these years?” More than 20 years ago, the pianist was busy on the San Francisco jazz and Latin scene. But his musical feature was in doubt after fractured a wrist in the mid-1980s. So he went to college, then law school. Now, he’s a California deputy attorney general specializing in civil rights enforcement. These days, he is practicing law by day, immersing himself in jazz nights and weekends, and we listeners are the better for it.

Ten of 11 tracks are originals, with two including lyrics performed by Mary Stallings (“Surrender” and the catchy and clever “I Bet You Wonder”). The one non-original is Astor Piazzola’s “Libertango.” Bass is a terrific writer and player, and he has masterful support here from Ernie Watts on tenor, drummer-percussionist Babatunde Lea, bassist Gary Brown and conguero Harold Muniz. Bass’s tune “Gone” is a stunning tango showcase for Watts and Bass. Given his history, Gone makes great sense as a CD title. “Back” could have been a worthy substitute.

Kelley Suttenfield, Where is Love? (Rhombus)
This debut CD by Virginia native Kelley Suttenfield, now based in the Big Apple, is a fine illumination for her charming voice – and of her eclectic musical tastes and influences. Straight-ahead jazz, The Beatles, classic country and country-pop tunes, a touch of Brazilia, with some Great American Songbook and movie soundtrack items thrown in for good measure. All get a strong jazz treatment from Suttenfield and quartet. Favorites: Her takes on Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” “Twilight Time,” an uptempo revision of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” a breezy take on Betty Carter’s classic “Open the Door” and Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues.” Another treat: the dazzling electric guitar work of Jesse Lewis on five tracks, most notably “Sugar” and the very hip “West Coast Blues.”

Frank Glover, Abacus (Owl Studios)
Indianapolis clarinetist-composer Frank Glover shifts primarily to soprano sax for Abacus, a formidable project that can best be described as a chamber jazz hybrid featuring his quartet and a 24-member orchestra featuring strings, brass, woodwinds and mallets. The recording’s nine tracks are segmented into three movements. The last segment is the most uptempo movement. Standout tracks include “Modern Times” and the flamenco-tinged “Salamanca” (the riveting latter piece features Glover on both soprano sax and clarinet). From start to finish, Abacus shimmers with great beauty – and a jazzman’s bite. Classically trained and influenced Glover has said that he feels there is a giant gap between improvisation and contemporary classical composition. He’s building his own bridge with the help of his working quartet mates: pianist Zach Lapidus, bassist Jack Helsley and drummer Dave Scalia.