Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An improved jazz deja vu

John Allmark
One of the great bonuses from returning to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival each summer is a chance to hear trumpeter John Allmark's extraordinary big band, The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra. For 16 years and counting, Allmark has kept Little Rhody's big band tradition alive - a tradition that began 49 years ago with the Duke Belaire Band. (It's just one year shy of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's golden Monday night run that began as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra,)

This was my first opportunity to hear the band in its new home, The Met, a live music emporium in Pawtucket. The prior home, Bovi's Town Tavern, closed in late 2015. It had hosted big-band jazz on Monday nights for 48 years.
Jerry Vejmola solos

Bill Vint
The new venue is larger, feels much roomier, and has top-notch sound and lighting systems. In my view, those compensate for the coziness that Bovi's afforded the band and its loyal fans.

During last night's opening set, the wide-ranging repertoire included a bit of Ellington and Strayhorn, some Freddie Hubbard material and a few other gems. My clear favorite was the band's lush take on trumpeter Tom Harrell's gorgeous composition, "Sail Away." 
Bob Bowlby

Vinny Pagano
Lucky me. I get to go back the next two Mondays to hear this blend of some of Southern New England's finest jazz players.

Enjoy these visual souvenirs from the evening. 


The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra

Friday, July 22, 2016

A welcome addition to the Southwest Florida jazz (and blues) scene

There's a new slice of jazz heaven in the region. Slice is the operative word in the case of The Barrel Room at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, where one night of jazz (Thursdays) shares the musical menu with two nights of blues (Fridays and Saturdays).

And what a Thursday night it turns out to be since the Bay Street venue added jazz to its mix in late June. The featured band usually includes trumpeter Dan Miller and tenor saxophonist Lew Del Gatto (a quarter-century "Saturday Night Live" band alumnus) plus a bassist and drummer.

Dan Miller
With Del Gatto vacationing in Scandinavia, the always engaging and highly talented trumpeter (a longtime Harry Connick Jr. and Maynard Ferguson sideman) was joined on Thursday, July 21 by tenor saxophonist Gerald Augustin, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Tony Vigilante. The quartet bopped its way through 11 jazz standards in its two sets, with each player bringing fresh nuances and a lot of creativity to the material.

In a rathskeller-styled room, with superb acoustics, Miller & Co. had an easy choice for the opener: Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." Favorite treatments included their blistering take on "What Is This Thing Called Love," an extensive workout of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and Augustin's featured solo on the tenor classic "Body and Soul."

Brandon Robertson
Gerald Augustin
Miller dusted off two pop tunes that Miles Davis transformed into instrumental standards: "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Stella By Starlight." Robertson opened the latter tune with a pensive bowed bass melodic solo. Vigilante, a longtime Philly-based drummer who moved south a couple of years ago, had the night's
climactic solo on "Caravan."

It is great to see more and more fine talent gravitating to the area. Robertson, who sometimes subs in the Count Basie Orchestra, moved to Southwest Florida in June after earning a master's of music degree in jazz studies at Florida State University. He begins work in the fall as an adjunct professor running the jazz program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Augustin, who started studying with Miller when he was 13, is a Fort Myers native who moved back to the area after several years on the L.A. music scene. 

The Barrel Room opened in late April as an annex to Twisted Vine Bistro. Owners Steve and Denise Hollister are Chicago-style blues lovers, hence the heavier dollop of blues programming. Kevin Blinkal manages the music room. 
Given the overlaps and historic association of jazz and blues, the Jazz Thursday program is a natural fit. Long may it prosper. And if last night's off-season packed house was any sign, it will.
Augustin, Vigilante, Robertson, Miller

Friday, July 8, 2016

Newport #Jazz Festival 2016: So many stages, so little time

Whether you prefer a musical smorgasbord – a bit of this, a smidgen of that, or prefer to camp out for a full set of a favorite artist – the 2016 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival has something for everyone. With more than 50 different groups scheduled to appear July 29-31, there can be a lot of ground to cover or filter through. Every jazz-related genre is covered, no matter your style preferences.

There are three outdoor stages at Fort Adams State Park and on Saturday and Sunday, there’s an intimate Storyville stage tucked inside a former yachting museum. This principally is a solo piano and small group showcase location that only holds about 100 people, so waiting lines are common.

Tierney Sutton
This year's traditional Friday night event downtown at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame, the historic Newport Casino site that hosted George Wein’s first Newport festival back in 1954, features singer Gregory Porter’s band and pianist Chick Corea’s trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Both groups are also on the Saturday menu at Fort Adams.

Edmar Castaneda
I’ll be at NJF this month for the 35th time in 36 years. I started covering the festival when Wein returned to Newport in 1981 after a 10-year absence. As a photographer on assignment, there are often mad dashes between stages. I’m used to it now, but return to savor more of an interesting set as time permits.

Here are some of the groups I most want to hear:

  • Corea’s spartan, high-energy trio. Chick turned 75 last month but has never slowed down. McBride and Blade add interesting personalities to the musical chemistry. Both have much to say as leaders or sidemen. (McBride also is succeeding Wein as the festival’s artistic director.)
  • Three Caribbean jazz-related bands: trumpeter Etienne Charles and Creole Soul (Friday), Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express (Saturday) and Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry’s quintet (Sunday).
  • Singer Tierney Sutton’s “After Blue” Joni Mitchell Project with guitarist Serge Merlaud and cellist Mark Summer (a Turtle Island String Quartet co-founder who left that band last fall to pursue a solo career). Sutton has been a favorite vocal performer for decades, yet this is her Newport debut. Her Friday performance is long overdue. She's also guesting with The Hot Sardines on Saturday.
  • Los Angeles tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington. His triple-CD The Epic ranked as one of 2015’s top albums in virtually all critics polls. He and his band perform at Fort Adams on Friday and on Sunday.
  • Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s group. (Friday). The hard-edged, versatile tenor player is always a treat to hear. This band is of particular interest, because it backed David Bowie on his epitaph recording project, Blackstar.
  • Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda’s World Ensemble. Due to his blend of musicality and enthusiasm, there may be no more exhilarating performer to witness in jazz (Saturday).
  • Saxophonist Chris Potter’s supergroup with bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland (Sunday).
  • Pianists Sullivan Fortner, Henry Butler, Rossano Sportiello and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
Other mainstream treats will include pianist Kenny Barron’s trio and the venerable Heath Brothers (Friday) with saxophonist Jimmy Heath also guesting with the Rhode Island Music Educators Association student big band on Saturday morning). There’s also the prodigious pianist Joey Alexander, clarinetist Anat Cohen’s tentet and the John Scofield/Joe Lovano Sextet.

Besides Porter and Sutton, jazz vocals fans have the music of Jose James, Norah Jones, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright to savor. 

Donny McCaslin
Chick Corea
Chris Potter
Check out the festival website to see the full roster of 2016 performers because there’s an abundance of riches.