Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Newport goes nonprofit, not for nothing

Last summer, founding producer George Wein said he wanted to find a way to keep his two legacy music festivals going well into perpetuity. This week, Wein, 85, in his sixth decade as a festival producer, made good on it.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which began in 1954, and the Newport Folk Festival, which started five years later, are returning to their roots as nonprofit events. Both will be produced by Wein and his staff under the auspices of Newport Festivals Foundation, Inx. a new 501(c)(3) organization with an 11-member board of directors.

"The foundation will perpetuate the history of jazz and folk music in Newport and will allow these festivals, which have been my passion and life's work, to live on," Wein said in a news release issued Tuesday by his firm, New Festival Productions. Wein told the New York Times' Ben Ratliff that he will continue to seek new corporate sponsors for both events.

This year's Newport Folk Festival is scheduled July 29-31, followed by the Newport Jazz Festival August 5-7.

The San Diego-based health care firm CareFusion stepped in at Newport as a jazz festival sponsor for the past two years, and for 2010 in New York, but has since refocused its outside interests.

The CareFusion alliance was a significant factor two years ago, enabling Wein to step back in and take back control of the two festivals, after Festival Network ran into financial troubles in late 2008, less than two years after buying Wein's original production firm. The original Festival Productions, which had a deep legacy of producing music events around the globe.

Now Wein is back in business on a much smaller scale, content to produce his two household name festivals in Newport and select other concerts and events.

The nonprofit status will enable the foundation to seek and receive tax-deductible contributions and build an endowment to keep itself going into the future. A gala fundraiser for the foundation is scheduled August 4 at Rosecliff, one of the fabled mansions along Newport's historic Bellevue Avenue. Jazz fan and occasional drummer Bill Cosby will host it.

I'm guessing Cosby will stick around for an appearance with one of his Cos' of Good Music all-star bands over the weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Lynne Arriale, Convergence (Motema)

After more than a dozen years, deeply entrenched in the jazz piano trio format, Lynne Arriale has proven that 2009’s well-regarded CD Nuance was not a one-off. She has followed that quartet session (featuring several all-star guests) with a dynamic new CD by her own new quartet. The superb project Convergence teams Arriale with saxophonist Bill McHenry, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. There is a refreshed sense of purpose on this CD that blends well with Arriale’s consistent excellence through the years as a pianist and composer. This, her 11th recording project, features six varied Arriale originals and five reinventions of contemporary rock tunes.

My favorites: their teasing, twisting takes on the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” the Middle Eastern/flamenco energy and beauty of her own “Dance of the Rain” (featuring Ovital on oud) and McHenry’s tenor work on Arriale’s ballad “For Peace” (reminiscent of the finest Quartet West noir balladry). Longtime Arriale fans have a new facet of her work to savor, including the understated, wistful beauty of “The Simple Things.” This is a February 8 release.

Grace Kelly/Phil Woods, Man With the Hat (Pazz)

Head-to-head alto battles are unusual but not unheard of in the annals of jazz recordings. Perhaps few and far between is the right descriptive. Now comes 18-year-old saxophonist Grace Kelly with her second such recording in three years. First was GRACEfulLEE with mentor Lee Konitz. She’s back with another mentor, Phil Woods, on this session. Kelly and Woods blend well, with his slightly more acerbic tone offsetting her sound on this mix of material – two songs written or co-written by Kelly plus one from Woods and a range of jazz standards – performed with Monty Alexander on piano, Woods’ longtime drummer Bill Goodwin and Kelly’s bassist, Evan Gregor.

Strongest here are Woods’ “Love Song from Brazilian Suite,” and the title track, which Kelly wrote in tribute to Woods and his distinctive leather cap (one of which he bestowed on her in a Pittsfield MA concert where she sat in several years ago). Also, Billy Strayhorn’s wistful “Ballad for Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters” and the splendidly intimate Kelly-Gregor duo take on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”

The musical maturity of this gifted young player is quite remarkable, no matter that she’s been recording since age 12.Singing is not Kelly’s strongest suit, but her voice has improved through the years and fits her style well. She’s best on her soulful original “Gone.” The other vocal feature here is a version of Benny Carter’s classic “People Time” with terrific lyrics contributed by Deborah Pearl. This is a January 25 release.

Helio Alves, Música (JLP)

Pianist Helio Alves’ fourth recording as a leader (and his JLP debut) is a dandy, with a small group slant primarily on Brazilian jazz plus a few jazz standards (“Black Nile” by Wayne Shorter, “Chan’s Song” by Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder) given a Brazilian tinge. Since arriving in the U.S. in 1986, Alves has been a first-call pianist for a wide variety of leaders, including trumpeter Claudio Roditi, a mentor of sorts who is a guest on this session. The trio’s other members are bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Roditi and guitarist Romero Lubambo join the fun for two tracks apiece..

The delicacy of Alves’ player shines brightly on Moacir Santos’ “Kathy,” Hermeto Pascoal’s “Musica das Nuvens e do Chão” and Roditi’s “Adeus Alf.” His fire is revealed “Black Nile” and Dom Salvador’s “Gafieira.” Originals include the reflective “Sombra” and “Tribute to Charlie 2,” an homage to late mentor Charlie Banacos. Alves has not received the degree of notoriety he deserves for his musical passion and skill. If he’s ever on a gig in your area, be sure to check him out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Not only cats love jazz

Cats make jazz and love jazz. In the case of loving jazz, so do mice. Well, at least one mouse in particular.

Next month, a Walt Disney Records imprint, Disney Pearl Series, will release Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. It’s a 13-track collection of popular songs from the soundtracks of Disney films.

OK, maybe the analogy to Mickey Mouse was a stretch. But there is nothing mickey mouse about the participants, who include a wide range of today’s jazz stars. By jazz, I’m referring to mainstream jazz. There are no instrumental posters in this mix.

The emergence of this project should not be a surprise, given Walt Disney’s fondness for jazz, and the fondness that jazz musicians over the years have had for songs from his films. Need we mention more than Miles Davis’s classic take on “Some Day My Prince Will Come" from 1937's animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or pianist Dave Brubeck, who recorded an album’s worth of album of Disney music on Dave Digs Disney in 1957. Louis Armstrong and Gil Goldstein also recorded Disney projects.

Jason Olaine produced this new collection, asking participating musicians to pick through some 600 songs and record one of those Disney tunes – from classic films to newer animated hits like Toy Story and The Lion King.

Brubeck was one of the first artists to sign on, recording two tracks, "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "Alice in Wonderland," the latter done with trio plus singer Roberta Gambarini.

The CD title track, derives from "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," from The Aristocats. It’s also the opening track, performed by trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s quintet. Other performers on this project include singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding, saxophonist, Joshua Redman, trumpeter Mark Rapp, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Gilad Hekselman, the piano trio The Bad Plus, violinist Regina Carter, and singers Dianne Reeves and Nikki Yanofsky.

Talk about multi jazz generations. Brubeck turned 90 last month, and Canadian Yanofsky is still a teenager.

Here’s a rundown of the range of tracks. Redman selected "You've Got a Friend in Me," written by Randy Newman for Toy Story. Yanofsky opted for "It's a Small World." Rosenwinkel recorded "Free the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" and Spalding recorded “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” both from Mary Poppins. Rodriguez re-arranged and recorded "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, with his mentor, Quincy Jones, producing. The Bad Plus selected “Gaston” and Hekselman choses “Belle,” both from Beauty and the Beast. Reeves sang “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp, while Rapp opted to perform “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Carter selected “Find Yourself” from Disney Pixar’s Cars.

In the CD’s liner notes, jazz journalist Ashley Kahn credited the top-drawer prowess of the performers pulled together for this project. "It's exceedingly rare that one finds this range of talent on one jazz album,” Kahn wrote. “If one desired an accurate measure of today's scene in all its flavors and formats, here it is on one disc."

With 600 songs in Olaine’s available library (actually 587 now), it’s not a stretch to think more volumes are coming in the months and years ahead. The Vol. 1 in the CD title is not just a matter of making a wish on a star. Not by any means.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Year in Jazz

My annual review of the year in jazz for 2010 has been published at allaboutjazz.com.

Each holiday season, I find the work on this project is a refreshing way to sift through and reflect on some of the significant ups, downs and other noteworthy occurrences that take place across the globe under the aegis of jazz.

The major minus - or true blue note - always turns out to be the rather large number of musicians and associates who pass on to their next spiritual plane.

It is impossible to note everything that happens - or every award received - during the course of the year. But there is still a lot to chew on.

And 2011 is under way. Here we go on another ride.