Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Latin jazz at its finest, drawing at times from bebop and Broadway

Conguero Sammy Figueroa brought a quintet version of His Latin Jazz Explosion band to Sarasota on Monday, November 22. As befits its name, the band and its leader were on musical fire all night for this Jazz Club of Sarasota concert.

Sammy Figueroa
Figueroa spent many years as a leading Latin percussionist in New York City, working with a wide variety of major musicians, including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, David Bowie and Chaka Khan. This Bronx native who was raised in Puerto Rico has been based in Miami for the past 20 years.
Martin Bejerano
His group for this concert included pianist Martin Bejerano (a longtime member of drummer Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth Band), bassist Carlo De Rosa, tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts (a frequent collaborator with B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco), and trumpeter Cisco Dimas.

Cisco Dimas
Figueroa's program stretched nearly two hours, not counting a brief intermission, and included extended explorations of nine tunes that showcased the cohesiveness of the band's groove and the improvisational skills of each player.

Pianist-composer Michel Camilo's fiery “And Sammy Walked In” quickly set the tone for the evening. Bejerano's “Origin Story” was wide-ranging in its moods, particularly during his piano solos. The first set highlight was the band's take on the ballad “If Ever I Would Leave You, from the Lerner & Lowe Broadway musical Camelot. They dug into a Horace Silver arrangement, adding a strong Latin jazz tinge that Figueroa aptly described as “rice and beans.”

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The joy of jazz guitar

Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo considers Southwest Florida his home away from home when he's not touring the world. He was happy to be back on Sunday, November 14, after the pandemic lockdown stymied his touring for more than a year.

Figueriedo performed a matinee solo concert in Venice FL in the Jazz With Morrie performance series, in advance of his three nights of performances next weekend at the Suncoast Jazz Festival in Clearwater. 

"It's a pleasure to be back performing live after a long, long time," Figueiredo said. He did some online performances from his home in Franca, Brazil during the pandemic but noted: "I didn't feel the emotion, the connection with the audience."

That connection was back on Sunday as he shared the joy of jazz guitar, digging into the Brazilian jazz songbook, several original compositions, a bit of movie music, and jazz standards.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

This savvy arranger and his band keep things fresh

Pianist Jim Roberts is the Charlotte County Jazz Society's most frequent visitor as a bandleader. The CCJS concert in Port Charlotte FL on Monday, November 8 marked Roberts' 18th appearance dating to June 1991, when he was the organization's first concert performer. 

Jim Roberts

Roberts moved from New York City to Orlando shortly after his first CCJS gig. Through the years, he has brought trios, quartets, quintets and more. Since 2004, the sextet has been his steady band. He calls it his Saxtet because of its brass-rich front line, which features talented veterans Dan Jordan, Rex Wertz and David MacKenzie. Drummer Eddie Metz Jr. and bassist Doug Mathews were the band's rhythm aces. 

This time out, Roberts had another twist. The band expanded to a four-horn septet, with his wife, tenor saxophonist A.J. Roberts, joining the other reed players on three tunes.

Pianist, composer arranger and educator Roberts never lets his music sound stale or dated on the concert stage. Freshness and vitality abound, even on the staples you've heard at prior appearances. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Finding some normalcy in mainstream swing

After a pandemic pause dating to late February 2020, producer Morrie Trumble's Jazz With Morrie concert series opened a new season on Friday, November 5 in Venice FL with music excellence and positive vibes in this "new normal" phase.

Tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen performed with three other Southwest Florida jazz notables: guitarist Dave Trefethen, bassist-singer Vince Evans and drummer Johnny Moore. All brought much to the table for this welcome musical feast.

Wellen is a master of the swing tenor, who is equally comfortable exploring ballads, sambas and occasional pieces with a bit more fire. The octogenarian does so with an ease that comes from decades of immersing himself in the jazz repertoire. The first time I heard him 10 years ago, I thought to myself "this guy sounds like he could be Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen's (musical) uncle." Friday's concert at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church, reinforced that notion.