Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bad to the bone - and more

Trombonist Greg Nielsen brought his quartet- and a lot of versatility - to the Venice Art Center on Friday, January 27 for an SRO performance. Nielsen’s quartet included pianist Dick Reynolds, bassist John Lamb and drummer/singer Dave Pruyn. Nielsen, a longtime bandleader, educator and sideman, is an engaging performer who loves digging into jazz standards. One highlight was his take on Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” which the quartet performed as a bossa nova.

While trombone is his primary instrument, Nielsen also played at various points flugelhorn, trumpet, a two-belled double euphonium and a slide trumpet. The unusual euphonium hybrid was quite a marvel to hear. During Nielsen’s solos on “Lullabye of Birdland,” he shifted back and forth between middle and low registers. (“The nice thing,” he quipped, “is that I can make two mistakes at once now.”)

Reynolds was house pianist at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago during the 1960s. He now splits his year between Michigan and the Sarasota area. Lamb, blessed with a deep and robust tone, worked with Red Garland in the mid-1950s and was the Ellington band’s bassist for three years in the 1960s and an occasional fill in later.

Pruyn is very active on the Florida scene, leading his own band, working in others as a trumpeter, drummer and/or vocalist. (His tone, sense of time and musical choices are very reminiscent of Mel Tormé – and he has a Tormé tribute show in his repertoire.) His vocal features were “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and “”Don’t Blame Me.”

Reynolds provided the afternoon’s most poignant moment, a beautiful ballad, elegaically dark at times, called “Song for Stan.” He said he wrote it as a tribute upon tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s passing in 1991.

The South County Jazz Club sponsored the matinee event, and standing room only was no exaggeration. About 135 people jammed into the center’s main gallery. Club President Morrie Trumble said it was the largest turnout to date in the club’s concert series, which began in 2010.

Friday, January 27, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Harry Allen, Rhythm of the River (Challenge)
Perhaps more than any other musician, pianist Dave McKenna had a knack of weaving thematic medleys in his music. Songs with a woman’s name in the title, or subjects like shadows and dreams. Harry Allen has done something similar with his latest recording project. The tenor saxophonist took an idea from his executive producer and stretched it into a wonderful CD.
Rhythm on the River
contains a baker’s dozen tunes that have a strong river connection. They come from the popular music canon dating from the 1850s to the 1950s, with most coming out of the chestnut-rich 1920s and ‘30s. His quartet, featuring Rossano Sportiello on piano, Joel Forbes on bass and Chuck Riggs on drums, is joined on four tracks by cornetist Warren Vaché.

Allen is a ballad master. The material is well served by his rich tone and respect for the melody. The project also benefits from the cohesiveness of his band. Playing with the same musicians does make a difference – and this recording proves it. This cruise up and down the musical river doesn’t disappoint. They explore “Riverboat Shuffle,” “Cry Me a River,” “Lazy River,” “Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On,” Down by the River,” “Walking by the River,” “River, Stay ‘Way from My Door,” “Blue River,” “Weary River,” “Old Folks at Home,” (the original title of the 1851 ballad better known as “Swanee River”),”Ready for the River,” “Sleepy River” and the title track, which was the title tune for a 1940 Bing Crosby movie.” “River, Stay ‘Way from My Door” is a robust, swinging gem that features the full ensemble with Allen and Vaché going head to head.

Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen, Upper West Side (Posi-Tone)

Piano and tenor sax duo recordings are the exception rather than the rule, but this teaming of Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie and tenor player Harry Allen rules on a number of levels. They principally mine the world of romance ballads on this fine session, but the opener and closer are the true treats because of the multiple facets they reveal in each player’s chops and ideas. Those tracks are Dolores Silvers’ “Learnin’ The Blues” (a Frank Sinatra hit single) and the chestnut “My Blue Heaven.” Allen is best known for his way with a ballad, but he really knows how to tear it up on a frisky blues, or tune a popular song into one as happens on the former. They both stretch the closer, with Asherie working several distinct uptempo styles into his solos and comping. Duos are not everyone’s cup of tea, but these guys make their two instruments sound like a full combo with their creativity. This is Asherie’s fifth CD as a leader.

Frank Macchia, Frank Macchia's Swamp Thang (Cacophony)

L.A.-based saxophonist Frank Macchia has a dandy here. Swamp Thang is his newest band, and its focus is revved up at the intersection of funk, the blues and some irresistible New Orleans Second Line shuffle beat. The cacophony that opens the set on “Discombobulated” makes it clear this will be a wild ride – and the leader’s versatility serves him well throughout the session. The rhythm section aces are keyboard player John Rosenberg, bassist Tom Lockett and drummer Frank Briggs. Eric Jensen and Ken Rosser share electric guitar duties. Jensen is particularly fine on the funky blues title track. The sextet is joined by two guests: trombonist Alex Iles and trumpeter Wayne Bergeron. Chances are you’ll dig the variety of music here, the funky and unbridled fun sides of its makers - and the wild cover art. Yes, jazz can be fun - and should be crazy fun once in a while.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A stamp of approval

Miles Davis will receive his very own commemorative postage stamp from the U.S. Postal Service in June as part of an overseas partnership. The trumpeter will be immortalized in a collection of music-themed stamps that will also honor the singer Edith Piaf. They will be released in tandem with the French postal service, La Poste, which is issuing a similar French commemorative

The Davis stamp design is based on the cover of Davis's Jack Johnson album, which features a classic B&W photograph by the late David Gahr.

The USPS announced today that the Davis and Piaf stamps are being issued in the U.S. as Forever stamps in self-adhesive sheets of 20 (10 of each design). Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate. At the time of issuance, the Edith Piaf and Miles Davis stamps are being sold at a price of 45 cents each, or $9 per sheet.

The stamp story was unearthed by Linns Stamp News, a specialty mag, and for general publications this week by The Telegraph, a newspaper in Davis's hometowm of Alton IL. View the original article...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Catching up with Scott

I talked with Italy-based Scott Hamilton this month for a feature in Hot House magazine’s February issue. (He’s a guest artist with fellow tenor saxophonist Harry Allen at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York on February 6.) 
Two tidbits that didn’t fit in the profile:
  • Scott said he finds the audience for his brand of mainstream swing has changed over the past 35 years. “The audience I’m dealing with now is one that hasn’t heard much jazz. You have to start from scratch and draw them in."
  • The phone call from London revealed that music runs in the family. His oldest son, Sho, who was born in New York but who now lives in Tokyo, is now 21 and is lead singer for Okamoto’s, a psychedelic garage rock band from the city’s Shinjuku district. You can check them out on YouTube.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unlikely to be a super Sunday

Football's Super Bowl will be here in 13 days, which means we're less than three weeks away from the Grammys. Don't groan all at once, boys and girls.

The 54th annual GRAMMY Awards are set for Sunday, Feb. 12 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. It's rare that jazz gets the spotlight it deserves at this musical circus event so I never dig too deep with predictions.

My only wonder at this point, is which jazz artist's/group's performance Grammy guru Neil Portnow will talk over this year. Or maybe he learned from last year's insult to Best New Artist winner Esparanza Spalding. One can only hope someone will restrain him.

God forbid he should prattle on about "the academy" while Rihanna or Sir Paul McCartney are performing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ed Metz Trio

My review of the the Ed Metz – Nicki Parrott – Rossano Sportiello trio concert at the Charlotte Cultural Center has just been posted online at This is quite a band, with two recordings under its belt, a great stage presence and an engaging sound that appeals to audiences.

A video wow

Some drummers and percussionists are known to play everything but the kitchen sink.

Tupac Mantilla goes beyond that metaphorical barrier on this delightful video.

New York-based Mantilla directs the Children’s Program for the Panama Jazz Festival and is founder and artistic director of Colombia’s top experimental Percussion Group TEKEYÉ® and the Global Percussion Network PERCUACTION®.

Enough said. Here's a link:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Buddy and Flip fest

With no full-fledged local jazz nightclub now in existence, where better to showcase the art of jazz than in an art gallery? That’s the case for the South County Jazz Club’s high-profile concert series at the Venice FL Art Center.

The center’s main gallery holds a maximum of 100 people, and there were few empty seats for today’s treat. Tampa-based drummer Ken Loomer brought his longstanding trio with pianist Tony Castellano Jr. and tenor saxophonist Franco Marino. It was a flashy and fun afternoon, with the leader showing off chops and enthusiasm reminiscent of his hero, Buddy Rich, and Marino’s frisky tenor coming more from a Flip Phillips style.

The range of material was expansive, from American Songbook standards and a few big band staples to Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven,” Sonny Rollins’ calypso “St. Thomas” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Castellano doubled on vocals on several tunes, including two originals and “Nancy With the Laughing Face” and “Just in Time.”

Loomer plays the full drum kit with abandon and subtlety during his lengthy spotlight solos, such as on the closer “Caravan,” where he sometimes played one stick off the other with the most delicate touch. Then after a journey up and down one cymbal, got a delightful tone off the tiny tip- top of the cymbal stand.

These guys have fun together and love to bring the audience along in the same spirit. As the concert began, a cellphone rang in the audience. Not missing a beat, Marino quipped “We work alone.”

The club, which provides jazz events serving in Venice, Englewood and North Port, holds monthly concerts at the art center September through December and in April. They run bi-weekly January through March. Trombonist Greg Nielsen’s quartet is on deck for January 27.

Note concerning the bottom photo: even his bandmates get into Loomer's solos, as noted by Castellano's cellphone camera work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NEA Jazz Masters to continue

As five more musicians formally receive their NEA Jazz Masters awards in New York tonight in the 30th such annual presentation, comes word that this will NOT be the final class of inductees.

It turns out the death of the program, as announced last spring, was premature. In short, Congress wouldn't let it go away. Howard Mandel has some of the detail here in his fine blog.

Congrats to this year's inductees, Jack DeJohnette, Von Freeman, Charlie Haden, Sheila Jordan and JimmyOwens, who is receiving the 2012 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy. The event is at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Looking back 12 months

The website has just published my extensive Year in Jazz retrospective. There was a lot going on and I've tried to touch on most of the significant happenings from 2011.

The one thing that is discomforting: there never seems to be any significant shrinkage in the number of musicians who exit the planet during the year, perhaps in search of or hopes of joining the fabled all star celestial big band.

Happy new year as we begin keeping a watch on 2012 happenings.