Friday, December 30, 2011

Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band - LA Weekly

Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band
Royce Hall

Better than...Francis Ford Coppola playing the tuba.

Before the start of the European tour documented in the 1997 Woody Allen documentary Wild Man Blues, Allen tells his bandmates, "Theoretically this should be fun for us." Last night, before a sold out house at UCLA's Royce Hall, Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band concluded their six date tour with a night of old-timey jazz that, at the very least, certainly seemed to be somewhat amusing to them.

As pianist Conal Fowkes began a solo introduction to "It Had to Be You," Allen strode onto the stage to wild applause, clarinet cases in hand. After the remaining members joined in, they proceeded to play almost nonstop for over two hours.

Following the first tune, Allen briefly addressed the crowd, promising them a night of "church music and whorehouse music." Midway through "When You Wore a Tulip" drummer John Gill got up from his kit and sauntered up to the microphone to sing a chorus, before resuming his percussive duties.

"Girl of My Dreams" drew impassioned growls from Allen, and he briefly uncrossed his legs in order to fully project his sound. A rousing "Down By the Riverside" featured trumpeter Simon Wettenhall taking a vocal turn and bassist Greg Cohen's lone solo for the evening. This drew loud roars from the audience as he slid and slapped across the strings. The band closed with a gentle "Til We Meet Again" before returning for two more encores and a total of seven more songs.

​To start the first encore Allen took the lead on "Swinging on a Star," inspiring a sea of cell-phone pictures from the foot of the stage. With little resistance from the ushers, a crowd of about fifty remained there to get a better look at the 76-year-old film legend. Twenty-five minutes after initially leaving the stage they closed with a slow blues that featured a collective improvisation from the horns as Cohen's bowed bass held things down.

Allen's clipped clarinet croak stayed comfortably in the center of his more accomplished bandmates throughout the night. Banjoist Eddy Davis, who Allen referred to as the "heart and soul of the group" counted off most of the songs. Allen didn't shy away from the solo spotlight, but was also one of only two band members who didn't sing a song. The other two horns, which also included trombonist Jerry Zigmont, used every trick in the Dixieland bag from brash honks to wah-wah-ing derby hats.

Allen has repeatedly stressed that he is not playing this music as a preservationist but merely as an appreciator. The fact that people show up to hear him continues to surprise him, but if he chose to play an evening of free jazz he would probably draw just as large a crowd. And there would probably be just as many baffled ticket-holders after the first downbeat. Because of that, there is no greater living ambassador for the genre.

Personal Bias: I regularly wear a Woody Allen t-shirt.

The Crowd: People who solve crossword puzzles. In pen.

Random Notebook Dump: The seven graying white guys on the stage could probably have starred in a pretty good Viagra commercial.

Woody Allen @ LA Weekly

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dwight Trible Cosmic Band - LA Weekly

Dwight Trible Cosmic Band
The World Stage

It began shortly after midnight, where the Los Angeles grid unravels into Leimert Park. At the World Stage, vocalist Dwight Trible oversaw a tight band and a rapt, full congregation, delivering a nearly two-hour concert of ecstatic positivity and consummate musicianship.

The band, featuring pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe, bassist Trevor Ware, drummer Dexter Story, violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and harpist Radha Botofasina, opened with a mid-tempo tune that featured a particularly authoritative bass solo from Ware. His solid notes rose over Atwood-Ferguson's tense accompaniment.

Without pausing, the band segued into a pentatonic flutter that summoned Trible to the stage, percussion in hand. His pulled-taffy baritone bubbled up and spread across the room, taking command of the band and his audience. The band continued to build as Trible sermonized before leaving the stage and allowing the instrumentalists room to solo. When he re-emerged, he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the face of drummer Billy Higgins locked in mid-performance abandon. Trible would make the same expression throughout the set.

Midway through, de Clive-Lowe played a gentle piano intro to Trible's biblical chant. "In the beginning" wafted over both Ware and Atwood-Ferguson's slow bowing. With a quick "1-2-3-4" Trible launched the band into a hard-swinging turn that pushed Atwood-Ferguson into four-stringed shrieks. Trible pounded his tambourine, controlling each step of the band's crescendo, leaving them wide-eyed and breathless by the end.

Trible followed with an original entitled "Then I'll Be Tired of You." De Clive-Lowe's block chord intro established the straight-ahead ballad, while Atwood-Ferguson's solo summoned Stephane Grappelli's economic flights. This tune proved to be merely a breather.

Ware kicked off the next song with a propulsive vamp that inspired a brief bout of clapping from the audience. Trible erupted with vocal explosions, sometimes clutching the microphone to his chest but belting high above the frenetic band. After a series of hard-driving solos, Trible drew the song to a close with a devolving repetition of "be there brother. Be there sister." Each reiteration was longer and less decipherable.

Following an emotive ballad with just the pianist, Trible returned to testifying. After a slow start he began to accelerate the band with his clapping. Within minutes the audience joined him, sweating and swaying to every pummeling note. Atwood-Ferguson gave a wild solo while de Clive-Lowe reached deep into the hard-bop bag.

The band closed with a gentle Ahmad Jamal propulsion. Story's mallets helped usher in Trible's slow burn on the Five Stairsteps' "Ooh Child," reducing it to molasses with his long, low tones. His closing, whispered sermon left the crowd believing that perhaps things were in fact going to get easier.

Personal Bias: Ten years after his passing, Billy Higgins' store-front jazz church still thrives under the careful watch of his disciples. It is reassuring that his legacy continues just as he left it.

The Crowd: A living Benetton ad with a sense of swing.

Random Notebook Dump: Instead of a cover charge they should have passed a collection plate.

Dwight Trible @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Great LA-affiliated Jazz Records from 2011 - LA Weekly

Note: This article, understandably, pissed some people off. All five of these artists are Los Angeles educated and I think it's in the city and jazz community's interest to hold them as our own. In lieu of hate-tweets, please send me your LA jazz albums.

Despite what some may believe, Los Angeles has a rich jazz history. From Central Avenue to Hermosa Beach, early innovators like Hampton Hawes, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon honed their chops in this town before attaining global recognition. Thankfully that tradition continues today. Los Angeles is not lacking in young jazz talent. Want proof? In no particular order, here are our top five Angeleno-affiliated "jazz" albums of 2011.

​Gretchen Parlato
The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)
Oftentimes becoming a "jazz vocalist" doesn't take much more than picking up a microphone and saying "shoo be doo be." Gretchen Parlato isn't a vocalist. She's a musician. Her vocals on her newest release purr over a great, reserved rhythm section that tackles songs as varied as Wayne Shorter's "Ju-Ju" and Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years." Parlato's rich, soulful blend should tip off a lot of vocalists that there are other ways to sing a song than chest-pounding melismas.

The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
Considering that Flying Lotus is jazz royalty (Alice Coltrane is his great aunt) it is not surprising to see him making room for jazzbos in his cosmic corner of the record bin, Brainfeeder. Bassist Stephen Bruner's label debut is a fuzzy album of '70s-indebted jazz and R&B, aided by vintage oscillating keyboard sounds and enough intricate production work to fry a dispensary-addled brain. Bruner wields his bass like a child's toy, drawing fleet-fingered lines at every turn. Good luck transcribing that stuff, jazz nerds.

Austin Peralta
Endless Planets (Brainfeeder)
Austin Peralta, tow-headed son of Z-boy Stacy, has been playing around Los Angeles since middle school. At that time George W. Bush was already in his second term. For his Brainfeeder debut, the 21-year-old Peralta made a sweeping album of space-jazz, deeply rooted in the strength of his McCoy Tyner-indebted hammer hands. With help from saxophonists Ben Wendel and Zane Musa, Peralta presents a hard-driving album of original material whose celestial reach knows no bounds.

​Gerald Clayton
Bond: The Paris Sessions (Emarcy)
For those who like to sit around complaining that "it just doesn't swing," there is pianist Gerald Clayton. The son of local educator and bandleader John Clayton, Gerald displays a nuanced touch on the piano that effortlessly swings. His original compositions fit in right alongside jam session standards like "If I Were a Bell" and "All the Things You Are" but are uniquely tailored to Clayton's voice. This album even earned Clayton a Grammy nomination for "Best Instrumental Jazz Album." Those things can be melted down in exchange for a fair amount of cash.

Ambrose Akinmusire
When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is from Oakland, California. But luckily for us, he spent a few vital years here at USC and the Monk Institute. Those years of study paid off with his fiery and complex debut. Akinmusire's powerful trumpet skills exude tremendous creativity and a lithe playfulness. With help from producer Jason Moran, he has created a landmark jazz album for the 21st century: original, accessible, and most importantly, entertaining.

Five Jazz @ LA Weekly

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why the Beach Boys' Reunion is a Terrible Idea - LA Weekly

"Brian, No" - An Argument Against the Beach Boys Reunion

"A lot of people are thinking that Mike Love is crazy but they've been saying that for years. Ain't nothing new about that." -Mike Love at the Beach Boys' 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

On Friday, the remaining Beach Boys announced that they would be reuniting to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The band has promised an album of new material and a 50 date tour starting in April at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. For many nostalgic music fans this is good news. For fans of Brian Wilson -- the guiding musical force behind the Beach Boys -- however, this is terrible news.

Let's take a quick step backwards: For the band's first five years together in the early '60s, things were all sunshine and hot rods. They helped to mythologize southern California as a paradise for teenagers. Before Brian Wilson turned 24 they'd already released ten albums, and he was worn out, retiring from touring to focus on the recording studio.

Driven by existential and chemical discoveries, 1966's Pet Sounds was creatively leaps and bounds beyond what had come before. Lush orchestrations and a partnership with lyricist Tony Asher ushered in a new maturity. The girls took off their bikinis and put on wedding dresses. For Love, all of this was trouble.

"We were touring a lot and we'd come back in and do an album like Pet Sounds, for instance, and some of the words were so totally offensive to me that I wouldn't even sing 'em because I thought it was too nauseating," said Love in 1992.

His mantra was "don't fuck with the formula," and no one was more detrimental to the musical progress of Brian Wilson than he. Had it been up to him, they'd still to this day be singing about surfboards and teenage lust. Indeed, without input from Wilson, the remaining Beach Boys' most notable hit was 1988's "Kokomo," a soulless ditty about sunny retirement destinations.

But history quickly sorted out the brilliant from the bullshit. Rolling Stone called Pet Sounds the second greatest album of all time, and the finally-unearthed follow-up SMiLE is a treasure trove of pop artistry. Meanwhile, Love and Al Jardine were separately working the casino and state fair circuit, rehashing the old chestnuts.

After being sued by Love three times in the last twenty years it is hard to fathom why Brian Wilson would want to continue to work with him.

Like a person who returns time and again to an abusive relationship, Wilson has brought Love back in to his professional life and has allowed him to celebrate fifty years of piggy-backing on his brilliance.

It is unlikely that this new tour will feature many of Wilson's "acid alliteration" songs. It is sure to be a bunch of 70-year-old boys singing about girls and beaches.

"What holds us together as a team is the music...and greed," Love once said. It's hard to know what Wilson's true motivations are for doing this, but it's hard not to suspect cashing in to be one of them. It seems likely that, in the end, Love's influence was as strong as we all feared.

Beach Boys Reunion @ LA Weekly

Walter Smith III Quintet - LA Weekly

Walter Smith III Quintet
Blue Whale

Better than...a set by Thurston Howell III

Houston-born saxophonist Walter Smith III is a busy man. His first-call tenor frequently shares the stage with some of the best young musicians out there, finding a particular affinity with trumpet players, like Terence Blanchard, Sean Jones, Christian Scott, and Ambrose Akinmusire. But for the first set of his second night at Little Tokyo's Blue Whale on Saturday, Smith chose to be the only horn on stage, highlighting his talents as a composer, bandleader and modest MC.

After a lengthy delay, the quintet picked up their instruments before a standing-room only crowd. The rest of the band - pianist Josh Nelson, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Kendrick Scott - stood back as Smith opened with a wandering solo flight.

They slowly joined him, with Raghavan busily working alongside Scott's patient build. Koonse, no stranger to the LA jazz scene, took a brisk solo highlighting his clean tone. He spent the entire night functioning more as a second horn than as a member of the rhythm section, rarely playing more than two notes at a time throughout the set.

A heavier original entitled "Apollo" featured Scott's deliberately clattering drum set, driving both Koonse and Smith into frantic solos before taking his own extended, tom-tom-heavy solo. Without pause, the band launched into another upbeat original with Nelson drawing whoops of approval following his rapid-fire solo. Smith then seamlessly segued into the next song with a breathy take on Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now." Koonse and Nelson took fluttering solos over Scott's delicate brushwork before Smith drew the song to a close, swirling around one of Monk's more sensitive melodic lines.

The band closed the set with a furious sax/guitar melody that found Smith at his most pugilistic, battling for dominance over Scott's well-timed explosions. It also featured Raghavan's only solo for the set, a rumbling and fitful jaunt that highlighted his consummate technique.

It was reassuring to see a full-house in a jazz club in Los Angeles. Those are hard to come by these days. (Both crowds and clubs, actually!) On top of that, the audience was respectful. Smith, playing without a microphone, was able to flow cleanly over his amplified bandmates, further emphasizing his controlled toned and succinctly stating his case for why he is such an in-demand performer.

Personal Bias: If I'm going to sit on a small leather cube for more than twenty minutes, you'd better be good.

The Crowd: Cats, man.

Random Notebook Dump: I'm pretty sure the guy sitting next to me had at least half a pound of marijuana in his jacket.

Walter Smith III @ LA Weekly

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jason Moran - LA Weekly

Jason Moran - Hammer Museum - 12/15/11

Jazz pianist Jason Moran is a certified genius. It's true. He has a half million dollar check from the MacArthur Foundation to prove it. But Jason Moran isn't one of those brooding, can't-cook-ramen-but-can-write-a-tune kind of geniuses. He's actually a very charming man who happens to be able to play the hell out of a piano.

For just over an hour last night on the Billy Wilder stage at the Hammer Museum, Moran's solo concert at times bordered on a relaxed college lecture. But it never strayed far from the 88-keyed behemoth occupying the stage.

With his boots, knit cap and vest, Moran looked fresh off the ski slopes and ready to entertain. Curiously he opened with Gladys Knight's recording of "No One Could Love You More," allowing it to float around the crowd as he noodled on the piano along with it. As the recording faded he began a rumination of clustered resonance that, over the course of ten minutes, spiraled into dissonant runs and a soft, soulful pulse.

Moran followed by playing alongside a sample of a tap-dancing Thelonious Monk while segueing into a crawling blues instigated by a Mississippi Fred McDowell recording. His blues evoked a Keith Jarrett-like spaciousness, drawing mostly from pulsating lower tones.

The piece that garnered awed chuckles was a musical interpretation of a Turkish woman's phone call. Ebbing and flowing with her patter, Moran harmonized her chatter into a beguiling tug of war that found him incorporating every sound from a background video game, to a hearty laugh. It was an amazing display of painstaking study that revealed the inherent musicality of conversation when stripped of meaning.

Eventually Moran was joined by a flute-playing in-law, Sara Johnson. Together they performed a piece from Moran's recent ballet, as well as a Johnson original. The first featured Moran in delicate tremolos behind Johnson's long tones, while the second brought a more animated performance from both musicians. Moran's staccato bursts highlighted the duo's delicate interplay.

The evening closed with a piece by the late pianist Jaki Byard. Moran's left-handed command of stride and boogie-woogie kept things grounded, while his right-handed flights launched things into the stratosphere and brought the evening to an upbeat close.

Personal Bias: Last time I went to see Jason Moran, at a midnight show, he was a no-show. I guess geniuses don't have to play midnight shows if they don't want to.

The Crowd: Collegiate, with many scarves. And Charles Lloyd.

Random Notebook Dump: We don't get a lot of living jazz geniuses visiting Los Angeles, so it was rather disappointing to see such a small turn-out for the performance. Recently LA Times jazzbo Chris Barton lamented the fact that Los Angeles does not get much love from the jazz touring circuit. When one of the biggest names in the genre shows up (for free!) and so few people fill the seats, it is understandable why artists might rather just visit the Bay Area and then head back to New York.

Jason Moran @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

They Will Get By - OC Weekly

Five Questionable 80s Comebacks from 60s Rock Artists

Rock and roll is a tough and fickle business. One minute you’re on top of the world and the next you’re on top of a float, blowing kisses to strangers in Branson, Missouri. In between, anything goes. Tonight, Eddie Money, a singer no stranger to the ups and downs of the music business presents a holiday show at the Grove of Anaheim, alongside Lou Gramm of Foreigner and Mickey Thomas of Starship. In honor of their bumpy but persistent road we present a list of five artists who proved in the 1980s that it is never too late for a second act.

Centerfield (1985) – John Fogerty

With a bandana-ed Springsteen reaping in balefuls of cash singing to the people and a lack of demand for good songs about swamps, John Fogerty had hit a quiet patch. For his first solo album with Warner Bros., he offered up his own homage to baseball glories with “Centerfield.” Thirteen years after Creedence Clearwater Revival had disbanded, Fogerty found himself back on the charts. With its twangy “La Bamba” like intro and lyrics that reference Chuck Berry, ”Centerfield” was knee deep in nostalgia and luckily for him that translated to the biggest record sales of his career.

You Got It (1989) – Roy Orbison

Twenty-four years after his last charting solo appearance Roy Orbison hit it big with “You Got It.” Unfortunately he had died the month before. The song was written by fellow Wilbury’s Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne but one might argue that the formula had been written decades before. With its thundering timpanis and fluttering strings “You Got It” was classic Orbison that could have fit on any set-list of his career – except he didn’t get any of the songwriting royalties for it.

Touch of Grey (1987)– Grateful Dead

Curiously “Touch of Grey” is the Grateful Dead’s only real radio hit. It was also their first attempt at a music video. It would appear that the best way for the Dead to “get by” was for them to become the Dire Straits. With plucky 80s synths and a bare minimum of guitar noodling this was the Dead at their commercial peak and creative low.

Take Me Home Tonight (1986)– Eddie Money feat. Ronnie Spector

By 1986 Eddie Money was looking for a comeback of his own. After striking it big with his debut a decade earlier the boy from Levittown was having little luck on the charts. “Take Me Home Tonight,” which pairs Money with Phil Spector’s muse Ronnie Spector, was just the ticket. The song features Spector singing the chorus to the Ronnette’s 1963 hit “Be My Baby” as the chorus to “Take Me Home Tonight.” It proved to be Money’s biggest hit, charting almost as well as the original, and relaunched both of singers’ careers for the rest of the 80s.

Kokomo (1988) – Beach Boys

Oh, brother. Al Jardine is wearing a Beach Boys hat. Mike Love is wearing a saxophone. And John fucking Stamos is playing the steel drum. It is important to know that when this song was written there was no such place as Kokomo. The success of the song led to Sandals naming one of their resorts after it. In a national moment of weakness the song, a breezy innocuous return to the old surfing days, was embraced making it the only Beach Boys #1 not written by Brian Wilson. Eighteen years later Mike Love tried to catch another Hawaiian shirt in a bottle by recording “Santa’s Goin’ to Kokomo.” We’ll spare you the link.

80s Comebacks @ OC Weekly

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ambrose Akinmusire Live - DownBeat

LA Experiences Miles Through Ambrose

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's quintet performed an achingly subdued tribute to Miles Davis' most publicly accessible period on Oct. 22 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa, Calif. Over the course of 75 minutes, with the aid of three projection screens, a handful of raspy audio clips and a live narrator, the band addressed Davis' transition from bop-soaked youth to swaggering king of cool - while working hard to resist the expectation of a tribute.

Akinmusire quickly established himself as more than capable but was disinterested in filling Davis' shoes, opening the show with a solo workout that highlighted his impeccable precision. He evoked tea kettle whistles and tube radio hues, and was later joined by the rest of his young band: Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone, Sam Harris on piano, Marcus Shelby on bass and Justin Brown on drums.

During an early performance of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," Akinmusire and Smith drove hard over the propulsive rhythm section. Their momentum was derailed by narrator Donald Lacy Jr.'s forced beatnik patter and a slideshow that highlighted available merchandise in the lobby. It was unfortunate that all the bells and whistles distracted from the music.

Members of the band rarely raised their sound above a whisper, leaning heavily on atmospheric ballads and contemplative solos. In a more characteristic Davis move, Akinmusire, aside from the occasional nod or smile, never communicated with the audience through anything but his trumpet.

One of Akinmusire's many talents as a leader is his willingness to relinquish the spotlight. Smith evoked Bach and Coltrane during a brief solo turn, and Brown got a moment to display his funky thunder following an audio clip of Davis linking James Brown and Kind of Blue. Harris offered a wandering solo and a run through "'Round Midnight" in a piano trio, adhering to the casual cool that dominated the evening. The band reconvened for a gentle spin on "Flamenco Sketches." Akinmusire provided his own delicate take on Davis' modal swirls, but the evening ended abruptly with Akinmusire and Harris intertwined in a meditative duet.

Akinmusire and his band are a wonderfully talented collection of musicians who were unable to unleash their full fiery potential. Their professional sheen only allowed a few windows for genuine spontaneity. It would be interesting to see them tackle the next decade of Davis' life and raise the pulse.

Akinmusire @ DownBeat

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner" - OC Weekly

The Only Song Johnny Rotten Likes - OC Weekly

Countless American streets have been memorialized in song (Route 66, Highway 61, Tenth Avenue) but few are as passionately remembered as Jonathan Richman's beloved Route 128.

Tonight, Massachusetts-born Richman will make a stop at Santa Ana's Galaxy Theatre as part of his West Coast tour. Although his performances have drifted far from those youthful rocking days, he will always be known for "Roadrunner" - his ode to the joys of driving under the watchful eyes of teenage lust and AM radio.

Richman got his start in the early 1970s fronting his band the Modern Lovers. Alongside future Talking Head Jerry Harrison and future Car David Robinson, Richman was a proto-punk singing simply-constructed songs about girlfriends and Picasso with a blasé tone and an awkward stance. Of the dozen songs on their 1976 debut, opening track "Roadrunner" immediately defined the band's sound: loose, goofy and in love with "modern girls and modern rock and roll."

Route 128 stretches through 60 miles of suburban Boston landscape, from Paul Revere's old stomping grounds in Canton to the lobster trap-strewn beaches of Gloucester. Bouncing between two simple chords Richman sings a lyrical homage to the sights along that two-lane stretch: trees, factories and the ubiquitous supermarket Stop & Shop.

Richman has said the song was largely influenced by the Velvet Underground's 15 minute-long primitive stomping squeal "Sister Ray." So it is only appropriate that former Velvet John Cale produced the recording in 1972. Once it was finally released four years later, it didn't take long to catch on. Across the pond, and without even knowing the lyrics, the Sex Pistols attempted their own take on the song. As simple as it is to play, it unsurprisingly proved a little difficult for the gob-soaked quartet.

Starting in the 1980s, Richman drifted off into more acoustic forays (including a couple of appearances in Farrelly Brothers movies in the late 1990s) but "Roadrunner" has lived on in countless garages and the occasional Letterman appearance.

Johnny Rotten once told Spin magazine that he "hates all music." "Not one song?" asked the interviewer. "Oh yeah," he responded. "'Roadrunner' by the Modern Lovers." How's that for an endorsement?

Jonathan Richman @ OC Weekly

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Hesitation Blues #6 - LA Record

Author's Note: This column ran last month in Issue 105 of LA Record

Hesitation Blues

The sad thing about writing this column is that I have to sit back four times a year and remind myself that the jazz scene in Los Angeles is severely lacking in high-profile jazz bookings. Some venues try harder than others but few can actually offer a season's worth of jazz programming and even fewer offer anything more than a rotating selection of artists that float by as frequently as leap years. As the LA Times' Chris Barton eloquently goaded the LA Philharmonic last summer, regarding their staid jazz bookings, "There' s terrific potential here to showcase the music as every bit the same vibrant, still-evolving organism as any other genre, to say nothing for the potential of drawing new fans." Obviously, vibrant music is being created and performed in Los Angeles every day. The hard part is finding it.

The ever-tasteful Kenny Burrell will be celebrating his 80th birthday at UCLA's Royce Hall on November 12. Helping to celebrate will be Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lalo Schifrin and B.B. King. It's hard to resist two of the most economic guitar legends of the last 60 years sharing a stage.

Disney Hall, usually a venue for high-quality jazz legends, will be offering up the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on November 22. For those who dig the old-timey shit, these guys do it well and are celebrating their 50th year of actively preserving the roots of New Orleans jazz.

Amid the one-off cabaret acts at Catalina's in Hollywood, the most promising band of heavy-hitters booked looks to be pianist Kenny Werner's all star band from December 9 through 11. With saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Antonio Sanchez, the band is poised to blow the roof off that club in a way that few other bands could and certainly no moonlighting television actor with delusions of artistry ever will.

So where does one go for the remaining days of the year? One venue consistently booking the most adventurous bands in our fair city is the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo. The location, obviously chosen for its rent rather than its accessibiltiy, features some of the most progressive bands willing to schelp their instruments up the stairs, whether they are members of the Los Angeles Jazz Collective or chain-smoking intellectuals from the farthest corners of Brooklyn. You can never go wrong dropping into their darkly lit, metallic treehouse for an inexpensive night of boundary-pushing music that would make any jazzbo proud.

Hesitation Blues @ LA Record

Houston Person - NYC Jazz Record

Houston Person - So Nice

Since the mid ‘90s honey-toned tenor saxophonist
Houston Person has been doling out swinging discs for
the High Note label with stunning regularity. On this,
his 16th record since the beginning of that relationship,
he is in fine form with an acoustic ensemble guided by
a rock-solid rhythm section (pianist John Di Martino,
bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Lewis Nash).

The album opens with Shirley Scott’s “Blues
Everywhere” serving as a meet-and-greet for the
album’s featured soloists. Aside from the bass and
drums everyone gets a couple choruses of blues to
introduce themselves before segueing into the
Ellington ballad “All Too Soon”, which features gentle
prodding from guitarist Howard Alden behind Warren
Vaché’s languid cornet. Much like his take on the other
ballads (“Kiss and Run”, “Easy Living”) Person
delivers a solo full of whispered patience and simple
elegance. The title track opens with a brief statement
from Di Martino before trombonist Mark Patterson
steps in to drop an articulate and rousing solo over
Elmo Hope’s changes. Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You”
goes in a completely different direction from the
Carpenters hit. The track opens with just Person and
Drummond before the rest of the rhythm section jumps
in with Nash’s cymbal driving everyone towards a
swinging take on what is usually a rather sappy radio
staple. The album closes with Di Martino and Person
quietly tying together a Sondheim medley: Di Martino
tackles “Small World” alone and with great restraint
before Person steps in with a breathy “Anyone Can
Whistle” that floats to a gentle close.

With 12 songs in just under an hour Person
provides exactly what the title offers - a solid outing
from a musician with no score to settle, just a desire to
play a subdued set with a handful of indispensable
friends, as nicely as promised.

Houston Person @ NYC Jazz Record

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Why So Blue Note? - LA Weekly

Author's Note: The title and photo of this blog entry appear differently on the LA Weekly site.

Few genres are as protective of their past as jazz. Some might say it's all they've got.

The discipline is largely defined by the classic record labels that brought the sounds to the masses. Jazz nerds will argue the superiority of one golden recording era versus another just as stubbornly as basketball fans argue Kobe vs. LeBron.

So when, in early 2002, inoffensive songstress Norah Jones won the multi-platinum sweepstakes with her debut album Come Away With Me, it was a little surprising to see Blue Note Records -- easily one of the greatest jazz labels ever -- stamped on the back of those millions of CDs. Although Jones is hardly the only one to blame for diverting Blue Note's legacy, nearly a decade later it appears that the road has been permanently forked.

Tomorrow, December 2, adopted-Angeleno and current Blue Note artist Priscilla Ahn will provide her brand of low-key pop/folk for an evening at the El Rey. Her demure songs, aided on record by other sun-dappled six-stringers like Eleni Mandell and Charlie Wadhams, float by on whispered optimism and barefoot promises. She is a gentle and talented songwriter with a pure voice that would never have lasted a minute on Blue Note, had it not been for Norah Jones.

Started in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, the imprint hit its stride following World War II by recording some of the most significant jazz musicians of the era in a no-frills environment. Entire albums were often recorded in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey over the course of an afternoon with a carton of cigarettes. Theirs was a "good enough" approach, that succeeded largely because of the artists involved, including Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey.

In the mid-'90s the label released the work of mainstream hip-hop troupe Us3, who used the imprint's back catalog as source material. They were also Blue Note's first million selling act. Before long saw the emergence of Jones, who had dabbled in the New York jazz scene. She included standards like "The Nearness of You" on her debut, but the work was still a bit of a fluke for Blue Note. When that fluke went on to sell more records than their entire catalog -- combined -- she became the centerpoint of a unfortunate re-branding. This has led management to redirect much of the focus of a great jazz history towards radio hits and soccer moms.

These days Blue Note is equally divided between young jazz musicians like trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Robert Glasper and dusty coffeehouse strummers like Amos Lee. (Not to mention a moonlighting Jeff Bridges.) Former CEO Bruce Lundvall was recently replaced by Don Was, who has made more of a name for himself producing records for the B-52s and Garth Brooks than for preserving the legacy of jazz.

Thus, performers like Jones and Ahn have been tasked with revitalizing a record label that they have very little historical connection to. Their recordings make it fairly clear that they are not looking to follow in the footsteps of Thelonious Monk.

This is not their fault, of course, but it's a distressing sign of the times, and goes against the principles that have long buoyed jazz. Pianist/songwriter Mose Allison once said in an interview that he refused to record an album with the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section in the mid 60s. "If it was a hit I would have to keep doing them. If it failed I'd probably lose my recording contract. So I passed."

Now that Blue Note has had a hit they have been forced to decide between making jazz or making money. Is there any question about which goal is winning?

Blue Note Records @ LA Weekly

Five Funky Covers of "Feelin' Alright" - OC Weekly

Five Funky Covers...

Guitar slinger Dave Mason first found fame as a member of British rock group Traffic. In the half-decade that followed, he popped up on Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, but his most lasting legacy has been his song "Feelin' Alright." Although initially recorded by Traffic in 1968, the song began paying his bills when Joe Cocker covered it the following year. In honor of Mason's appearance at the Coach House tonight, we present five undeniably funky covers of "Feelin' Alright" that don't involve Joe Cocker.

Chairmen of the Board

Not to be confused with Frank Sinatra, this band had their biggest hit, "Give Me Just a Little More Time," with Motown's expatriated production staff Holland/Dozier/Holland. This version is a slow grind aided by harmonica and a nice squealing guitar at the end.

Jackson 5

Is it the tambourine, or what? Those Motown kids sure knew how to make you move. "Twee twiddle ee deet deet twiddle ee dee!"

Fifth Dimension

What is it with quintets and this song? This version is pretty well-indebted to the Cocker cover, with its conga drums and the vibraslap, but the horn section more than makes up for it.

West Coast Revival

This song is all about the bass part. Piano glissandos are cool and all, but if they had released only that bass track, it still would have made the list.

Orquestra Hnos Flores - "Estoy en Onda"

Saved the best for last. I don't know who these guys are or what they are singing about, but this is clearly "Feelin' Alright." Supposedly recorded in 1970, this party jam can do no wrong.

"Feelin' Alright" @ OC Weekly

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Guitar Center - OC Weekly

Author's Note: I do not refuse work.

Another Guitar Center is Opening

Orange County has a lot of garages but only a select few of them are used for actually storing cars. Most of them function as what Marc Maron once referred to as the "museum of forgotten hobbies." But for every dusty treadmill or beer brewing kit that lies neglected there are hundreds of determined bands strumming and drumming towards their dreams of stardom. And those bands need equipment. And probably some sound proofing.

Just in time for gift-giving season, Guitar Center will open their newest location at the Block in Orange this weekend. But this isn't just your average music store. This place is looking like the supergranddaddyCostcomegawarehouse of sound.

Aside from offering the usual necessities (instruments, amps, strobe lights, ear plugs) the facility will include a learning center that will offer not only instrument lessons but also recording studio lessons and a space dedicated solely to repairing instruments. (There's no excuse for that 5-string guitar of yours now!)

For their opening weekend blowout, Guitar Center will be offering up a truckload of giveaways, a very slim chance of recording with Travis Barker, discounted lessons (up to 89% off means you don't have to practice as hard) as well as clinics by Guitar Hero's Marcus Henderson (Friday) a music production class with the makers of Pro Tools (Saturday) and a performance by Devo and Puscifer stickman Jeff Friedl (Sunday).

So take advantage of the great musical blowout and do your part to help another generation of hopefuls learn the opening riff to "Smoke on the Water."

Guitar Center @ OC Weekly

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Raunchy Food Blues - OC Weekly

Five Platters of Raunchy Food Blues

As we discovered in an earlier post, many songs about food are mostly about trying to get laid but it would appear for a lot of early blues musicians every song about food was about sex.

Now perhaps it's just my prurient imagination and I'm misinterpreting these great blues classics but when a man sings "I tasted last night, the night before. If I keep this appetite I'm going to taste a little more," he is probably not referring to sitting at the dinner table.

Here are five raunchy blues classics that might inspire you to put on a bib of your own.

Tampa Red, "What is that Tastes Like Gravy"

"Now the gal that let me taste it, they put her in jail but she didn't need nothing to go her bail. She had stuff tastes like gravy and I bet you don't know." Tampa Red, who confusingly made a name for himself in Chicago, not only sang this little ditty but also gave us "Tight Like That" and "Let Me Play With Your Poodle." It is not likely he's singing about putting things on mashed potatoes.

Blind Boy Fuller & Sonny Terry, "I Want Some of Your Pie"

"You got to give me some of it 'fore you give it all away." As a blind, blues-slinging jailbird Fuller had limited options for a career. In just five years in the mid 30s he recorded over 120 songs including this sly ode to a rather popular lady with an assist from fellow blind blues legend Sonny Terry.

Bessie Smith, "Nobody Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine"

"It's worth lots of dough, the boys tell me so. It's fresh every day, you'll hear 'em all say." The double entendres weren't limited to dirty old men. There was also room for dirty old women. Blues shouter Bessie Smith was one of the most influential early female vocalists and this slow jam proves she could wink and nod as well as any of her male counterparts.

Memphis Minnie, "My Butcher Man"

"Butcher man, in the morning, won't you please stop by my house. I've got enough butcherin' for you to do if you promise me you just only hush your mouth." Memphis Minnie could not only sing but she could wield a mean guitar. Here she makes a convincing argument for shopping local.

Bo Carter, "Banana in your Fruit Basket"

"Now I got the dasher, my baby got the churn. We gonna churn, churn, churn until the butter come." This one is just dirty, dirty, dirty. Carter, born Armenter Chatmon, also gave the world "Your Biscuits are Big Enough for Me" and the less than subtle "Please Warm My Weiner." In retrospect "Banana..." is probably one of his more tasteful tributes.

Five Platters of Raunchy Food Blues @ OC Weekly

Leftover Blues - OC Weekly

Five Songs to Help Defeat the Leftover Blues - OC Weekly

Although Black Friday is known for shopping, it is also known as the beginning of the leftover parade. If you want to make room for non-gravy doused foods in your fridge, you'll need all the help you can get.

Here are five golden oldies that can help lessen the blow of a week's worth of leftovers.

Nick Lowe & Rockpile, "Let's Eat"

"Let's eat! Let's eat! Let's eat!" Impresario and man-about-town Nick Lowe recorded this little ditty with help from professional super-grouper Dave Edmunds in the late 70s. Although they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in England, they do eat food.

The Beach Boys, "Getting' Hungry"

Despite the fact that the Boys are singing about getting hungry for "my kind of woman," it is no secret that in 1967, Brian Wilson was hungry for pretty much anything he could get his hands on.

The Kinks, "Maximum Consumption"

"Don't you know you gotta eat food? Don't you know you gotta refuel?" Although the four members of the Kinks probably weighed less than 500lbs between them, they certainly had a grasp on the importance of eating.

Paul Revere & the Raiders, "Hungry"

"I can almost taste it, baby." Okay, so most songs about hunger are probably just as much about lust. Nonetheless, lead singer Paul Revere Dick (no kidding!) once owned several restaurants in his native Idaho. How's that for credibility?

Paul & Linda McCartney, "Eat At Home"

Although John Lennon's "Cold Turkey" may have been an instinctual choice, that song has nothing to do with refrigerated birds and everything to do with hypodermic needles. But Macca, with the help of his lady Linda, highlights the finer points of both staying at home and eating -- two much more satisfying activities than buying a flat-screen television at 4am.
Defeat the Leftover Blues @ OC Weekly

Friday, November 18, 2011

Great Guitarists with Less Digits - OC Weekly

A Brief History of Great Guitarists with Less Digits - OC Weekly

This Friday and Saturday evening at Segerstrom Hall, guitarist Dorado Schmitt will present an evening dedicated to Django Reinhardt.

In the 1940s Reinhardt created and perfected the "gypsy jazz" genre leaving most anyone else playing that style of music to sit in his immense shadow, performing what amounts to a jazz cover band. Reinhardt's unmistakable drummer-less quintet featured the rhythm guitar work of his brother Joseph and the swinging strings of Stephane Grappelli's violin. Their unique sound laid the foundation for Reinhardt's inimitable acoustic guitar work.

What makes Reinhardt all the more incredible was the fact that he only had three functioning fingers on his left hand. While in his late teens Reinhardt was badly burned during a fire in his home. Although he did not lose his fingers, they were essentially useless. Reinhardt managed to pluck his fluid runs without the use of his middle and ring finger. Few men equipped with all ten of their fingers can create the sounds he made but he was not alone in his handicap.

Jerry Garcia
​Jerry Garcia, epic Grateful Dead noodler and failed heroin hobbyist, was missing the middle finger of his right hand. At the age of four, much like a disinterested Margot Tennebaum, Garcia lost two-thirds of his finger to an axe while holding a piece of wood steady for his older brother. His tender nubbin rarely prevented him from carrying on for hours at a time but perhaps that was his only way of giving the finger to those who objected to his lifestyle.

Tony Iommi
​Black Sabbath riff master Tony Iommi is also missing a few fingerprints. In the most Dickensian way possible he lost the middle and ring fingertips on his right hand to a sheet metal factory at the age of 17. Curiously Iommi plays the guitar left-handed forcing him to wear small caps on his fingertips. Since this happened long before his reign with Black Sabbath it is unlikely to prevent him from sparing us the impending reunion cash-in.

Hound Dog Taylor
​Bonus! To balance out this rather morbid post it is important to recognize blues strummer Hound Dog Taylor. Unlike the aforementioned slingers, Taylor was born with an extra finger on his left hand! Unfortunately this did not result in any super-human strengths or even new chord formations but it did make his paws more memorable than his songs.
Django Reinhardt @ OC Weekly

Lisa Mezzacappa Review - LA Weekly

Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch
Blue Whale

Better than...trying to play those tunes myself.

Last night, long after many of Little Tokyo's residents had gone to sleep, bassist LIsa Mezzacappa presented her band Bait & Switch to a small but appreciative audience at the Blue Whale. The quartet consisted of the same folks she recorded her award-winning debut with last year: saxophonist Aaron Bennett, guitarist John Finkbeiner and drummer Vijay Anderson.

The band opened with a loping composition that eventually gave way to Bennett's fiery tenor, embodying the switch aspect of the band's name. His breathless jaunts could stop on a dime, often giving way to a more subtle groove before the band devolved into a tempo-less crawl.

The tune that followed, inspired by drumming legend Tony Williams, was also a saxophone feature. With Anderson's cymbal riding alongside Finkbeiner's sputtering guitar, Bennett launched into another jaunt that eventually found him blowing alone, interjecting subtle hard-bop riffs into an otherwise cacophonous assault.

With Mezzacappa and Anderson refraining from any direct solos, all of that work was handled by Finkbeiner and Bennett. Finkbeiner remained the stoic guitarist, summoning fractured phrases from his small axe while Bennett parried with an invisible opponent, fencing his way through Mezzacappa's complicated compositions. There were times when I considered the location of the nearest hospital, should his brain explode in the middle of one of his more breathless passages.

An homage to a South American ant invasion opened and closed with Mezzacappa's otherworldly bowed bass sounds. Her long tones were driven by Finkbeiner's chunky march, before leading to a spidery solo by the axe-man himself.

The only composition not written by Mezzcappa was a performance of an Art Ensemble of Chicago piece that felt old-timey in relation to the rest of the set. The band adopted a laidback strut that included touches of swing and a quieter pulse that was briefly interrupted by another Bennett assault.

The band closed out with a tune that had the subtlest of backbeats and a beautiful bowed bass line supported by the saxophone. A jagged guitar solo led to demure pizzicato riffs from everyone while Anderson's drums clattered like the sound of a thousand fidgety drummers.

By the time the band had finished, the number of paying attendees had quadrupled and everyone in the room had quiet reverence for Mezzacappa's ability to wield the bass and a pen. Her unimposing stage presence only worked to hide her natural command of the four-stringed beast that she would inevitably have to carry down three flights of stairs at the end of the night.

Personal Bias: I like dinner party music.

The Crowd: Wine sippers.

Random Notebook Dump: Perhaps there would have been a bigger crowd had they not been arrested for occupying buildings down the street.

Lisa Mezzacappa Review @ LA Weekly

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lisa Mezzacappa Preview - LA Weekly

Lisa Mezzacappa Does Not Make Dinner Music

Upright bassist Lisa Mezzacappa has been building a steady reputation in northern California for the last decade. Her nimble basslines and arresting compositions have brought her beyond the Bay Area, where she lives, including a rare tour through Los Angeles. Her band the Bait & Switch performs at Little Tokyo's Blue Whale tonight.

Although she doesn't perform here much, she serves as curator for the Hammer Museum JazzPop series. "That's a good excuse to stay connected to the scene," says Mezzacappa, calling from her home in San Francisco. "Keeping that exchange between the Bay Area and L.A. is important. There is so much wonderful stuff out there beyond New York. It's like, 'Oh my god we have a jazz festival without it being all New Yorkers!'"

That said, Mezzacappa does have some experience in the Big Apple. She grew up in Staten island, before moving out to California for grad school at UC Berkeley. "I was intending to stay only for a little while. Then I got completely pulled into the Bay Area scene."

Part of more than a dozen ensembles, Mezzacappa is finally making waves with her own compositions. Aided by frenetic saxophonist Aaron Bennett and a rhythm section that includes guitarist John Finkbeiner and drummer Vijay Anderson, she released her debut album last year, What is Known, and won the Best Debut award in the Village Voice jazz poll.

"I think it's just nice to be part of a conversation," she says. "But as a New Yorker it was pretty fun to be on that list. I used to wait for that list every year."

The album is definitely not dinner party music. From the first downbeat, the band attacks with a stuttering honk that explodes into elastic guitar lines and relentless drive. The music commands attention, drawing its influences from some of the avant garde slingers of the 1970s, including Terry Riley, Sun Ra and Henry Threadgill.

"I met Henry at UC Berkeley," Mezzacappa says. "I was mostly focused on academia, but after working with him I knew what I wanted to do." But despite all the intellectual heaviness, the band can be funny, too. A propulsive take on Captain Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" could rattle a listener's dental work out if they aren't careful.

Out of the top fifty records on last year's Village Voice poll, only seven of them were led or co-led by women, but Mezzacappa doesn't see this as much of an obstacle. "I feel like it is becoming less and less of an issue," she says. "Now it seems like there is so much more going on and I've gotten more support because of it - playing this crazy instrument in particular. I feel more supported than thwarted."

With that powerhouse band, her compositional chops and an album to back it up, she shouldn't feel any other way.

Lisa Mezzacappa @ LA Weekly

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kenny Burrell 80th Birthday - LA Weekly

Kenny Burrell: 80 Years Young with BB King, Stevie Wonder and more

On Saturday night guitarist and UCLA jazz studies director Kenny Burrell celebrated his 80th birthday alongside his colleagues, his students and some legends at Royce Hall. The concert, which lasted over five hours, saw Burrell working as an emcee, composer, bandleader, soundman, stagehand and, occasionally, guitarist.

The evening opened with a brief set by Burrell's "Jazz Heritage All Stars," a group that included UCLA staffers, including bassist Roberto Miranda, and trombonist George Bohannon, pianist Llew Matthews. The band worked their way through a couple of tight workouts before relinquishing the stage to a frail Lalo Schifrin, who scuttled through a handful of disorienting licks on the piano before being joined by Burrell for a run through their former employer Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Flashes of Schifrin's Argentinean stride and drummer Clayton Cameron's youthful brushwork redeemed what had been a rather shaky set.

After a few muffled compliments, Schifrin made way for UCLA's vocal ensemble - a 19 piece choir and a very timid rhythm section comprised of a few gangly student instrumentalists. Burrell, ever the master, commanded the group as they sang his lyrics of "helping the little children," providing a brief glimpse of the program's works in progress.

As the choir exited, Burrell enlightened the crowd for ten minutes as the overworked stagehands set up for what would be the highlight of the night. Looking like the Roots crew celebrating Mos Def's 80th birthday, B.B. King and his eight piece band of tuxedoed, eye-patched professionals hit the stage looking to entertain.

Although seated -- and six years older than Burrell -- King who made the evening actually feel like a party. The thrill was there with a boisterous set of crowd pleasers that had the audience giving a standing ovation before King played his first note. Following their solid set, Burrell joined the band for a couple of blues jams, providing a rare opportunity to see two of the most economical guitarists of their genres trade licks.

As if that wasn't enough, Stevie Wonder strode out, unannounced, harmonica in hand, to wish Burrell a happy birthday and enjoy his time on stage as one of the young guns. Naturally Dee Dee Bridgewater had to be a part of the celebration and joined them to improvise some blues lyrics behind the masters' guitars and Wonder's bending chromatics. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that had the crowd on their feet repeatedly. Unfortunately, then came the intermission.

Following the 55 (!) minute intermission, Burrell returned to fulfill a few of his dreams. With a full jazz orchestra and the UCLA Philharmonia crowding the stage, there were nearly 200 people at Burrell's disposal, many of them stone-faced classical students up way past their bedtime.

The final two hours consisted of newly commissioned pieces both relevant and completely irrelevant to Burrell's birthday. Bridgewater traded some soulful riffs with Burrell on "Soulero" while the man of the honor had nothing to do with Neal Stulberg's "Pax Humana." It was a strange and exhausting set made worse by the fact that the house lights remained on for the second half, making it glaringly obvious how many people had left after the fourth hour and how those who remained were unable to respectfully sleep in peace.

Prior to the show there had been rumblings in the audience about the duration of Burrell's 75th birthday celebration. For his 80th, between the over-programming (the concert should have been spread out over a weekend) and the absurd amount of set-up time required for each new performer, the show went two hours later than scheduled and left many audience members in a daze.

But Burrell still sounds as good as ever. His elegant tone and his ability to not waste a note sounds as great as when he debuted sixty years ago. His boundless enthusiasm and willingness to run everywhere for everyone made me wish I could be at least half as active when I enter my 80th year.

Personal Bias: I stayed awake through all of Kenny Burrell's Ellingtonia classes.

The Crowd: Split evenly between those planning their own 80th birthday party and their 18th.

Random Notebook Dump: Only an 80-year-old man would start a jazz show at 7 at night.

Kenny Burrell @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Van Dyke Parks/Inara George - LA Weekly

Van Dyke Parks/Inara George - Getty - 11/5/11 - LA Weekly

Better than...listening to Shelley Duvall sing for an hour and a half.

High above the 405, in a theater as steep as the mountain it's built upon, composer/lyricist/raconteur Van Dyke Parks offered a personal career retrospective. Before a full house of graying beards and fedoras -- and as part of Pacific Standard Time -- Parks was joined by pixie vocalist Inara George for much of the concert, including a complete performance of their 2008 collaboration "An Invitation."

Parks and George were supported by a fourteen piece chamber orchestra that was stocked exclusively with swaying strings and mellow woodwinds. Without the benefit of drums, much of the rhythmic work was carried by Parks' heavy-fisted piano and the lone soloist of the evening, guitarist Grant Geissman. The orchestra was placed on one half of the stage, with Parks loosely conducting from his score-draped piano. George occupied the other half, occasionally supported by three limber dancers in tattered, sleeveless formal wear.

The first half of the performance was as much about George as it was Parks. She stood out among the entirely black-clad orchestra in a white dress with a long train. It had the look of folded wings during her nearly motionless performance. Her impossibly pure soprano was nimbly supported by Parks' unmistakable arrangements of see-sawing violins and syncopated basslines. The delicate tango of "Idaho" was matched by the subdued lust of "Dirty White," which featured a breathtaking (and slightly nerve-wracking) dance that had choreographer Lexi Pearl dangling nearly 40 feet above the stage.

The second half focused on the rest of Parks' career, visiting songs like "The All Golden" from his late-'60s masterwork Song Cycle, and "Orange Crate Art," his mid-'90s collaboration with Brian Wilson. George returned for a few barefoot duets including a close-harmonied "Opportunity for Two." Through it all Parks was as entertaining between songs as he was in the midst of them, touching upon everything from Qantas to Darwinism and referring to the concert itself as "a testament to durable goods."

The encore featured a bouncing performance of the Nilsson-penned, Popeye classic "He Needs Me." George gave a smiling and earnest reading that put Shelley Duval to shame.

Impressively, the orchestra only had one rehearsal and had never played any of the evening's repertoire before an audience. Clearly the group had been loaded with ringers, though, because they ebbed and flowed effortlessly, responding to every one of Parks' hasty gestures with amazing precision. At 68, Parks still has the energy of a schoolboy, even kneeling and bowing towards the end of his concert in one of countless humble acknowledgements of the audience. It was an excellent performance by an unsung master of popular song whose way with words is as sharp as ever.

Personal Bias: "Columnated ruins domino" is one of the greatest song lyrics ever.

The Crowd: Out of 600 seats, seemingly the great majority were on the guest list.

Random Notebook Dump: Eric Idle held the men's room door open for me.

Van Dyke/Inara @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Beach Boys' Tour of Hawthorne - LA Weekly

The Beach Boys' Hawthorne

​Today Capitol Records releases one of the greatest lost albums of all time -- the Beach Boys' Smile. Brian Wilson intended this "teenage symphony to God" as a follow-up to Pet Sounds and countless tapes were recorded. But owing to a hazy blitz of paranoia and group in-fighting, the work has never seen official release until now. (Although Wilson re-recorded a solo version of Smile five years ago, this new box set features the rest of the group, and the original recordings.)

But allow us to go back in time. Before they broke big, the Beach Boys were just a clean-cut bunch of boys from the tiny suburb of Hawthorne, California, a tract home community that connects the South Bay, South Central and the Westside. Brian Wilson and his brothers, Carl and Dennis, lived there until their teens, shaping many of the suburban fantasies that would make them a household name. On the occasion of the unearthing of their lost classic, here's our tour of spots in the town that loom large in Beach Boys lore.

​Hawthorne High School
4859 West El Segundo Boulevard

Long before they recorded songs by Charles Manson, the Beach Boys stressed the importance of being "true to your school." Hawthorne High educated all three Wilson brothers as well as Al Jardine. The band lived up to their commitment by returning to perform for the school prom in 1969.

​Fosters Freeze
11969 Hawthorne Boulevard

This small hamburger stand on Hawthorne Boulevard was a regular hang-out for the Wilson family. It was amid the ketchup-stained picnic tables that the boys saw the T-bird they would lust over in "Fun, Fun, Fun." It is unclear though where they first heard the Chuck Berry riff they would marry it to.

Pizza Show
13344 Hawthorne Boulevard

It is unlikely that Pizza Show has changed a single fixture since opening 55 years ago. With murals of Italian villas, cozy booths and a walk-up window, the restaurant has been one of the few constants in an evolving town. Brian often ate here.

​Beach Boys Historical Landmark
3701 West 119th Street

Out of the nearly 1050 historical landmarks scattered across California, only one of them was erected in the name of rock n' roll. California historical landmark #1041 roughly marks the spot where the Wilson brothers grew up. (Their house was demolished to make way for the 105 freeway.) The spot is six miles from the ocean, and it commemorates hardship as much as success because the three brothers spent most of their time their cowering from their tyrant father. Still, it is where, on Labor Day weekend 1961, the boys recorded their first song, "Surfin'," along with cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine.

​The sculpture on the landmark is an homage to the band's Surfer Girl album. It depicts both original member David Marks and Al Jardine, even though Jardine is not in the original photo. Although the Beach Boys famously declared "everybody's going surfing" only Dennis had any interest in even putting a toe into the Pacific.

​The landmark was erected in 2005 with help from public donations and the extended Beach Boys family. Brian Wilson not only attended the unveiling but also performed. Mike Love was noticeably absent.

Beach Boys @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Blanchard & Sanchez - NYC Jazz Record

Terence Blanchard & Poncho Sanchez - Chano y Dizzy!

Chano Pozo passed away at the age of 33 over 60 years
ago but his legacy as a conguero is still strong today.
Despite his brief tenure with Dizzy Gillespie, Pozo’s
influence on the bebop trumpeter was immeasurable,
resulting in a fascination with Cuban rhythms that
would last a lifetime and influence countless other
musicians. For his new album, percussionist Poncho
Sanchez has brought in trumpeter Terence Blanchard
not necessarily to fill Dizzy’s shoes but certainly wear
them for an hour and pay homage to their brief but
pioneering partnership. Thankfully Blanchard does
not often reach for the Gillespie pyrotechnics but
instead focuses on honoring the tunes and legacy in his
own more economical style.

The album opens with a medley of Gillespieassociated,
Pozo-penned tunes: “Tin Tin Deo”,
“Manteca” and “Guachi Guaro”. Sanchez’ vocals and
Blanchard’s trumpet dance around each other before
the full band jumps in with forceful montunos and a
wall of percussion. “Con Alma” and the Blanchardpenned
“Wandering Wonder” find the trumpeter
hopping around the changes before giving way to
Sanchez’ grizzled palms while “Siboney” displays
Blanchard’s drippy take on the cha-cha until the band
joins in with an upbeat chanting of the title. Bop
standard “Groovin’ High” gets a medium tempo and
infectious rhythmic battle that closes by summoning
the ghost of another trumpeter, Miles Davis, with a
short riff on “Four”. The album closes with Pozo’s
“Arinanara” - an upbeat tune that can’t help but fill the
dancefloor. Sanchez and bassist Tony Banda’s vocals
propel the intro into an all-out percussive assault over
which Blanchard blares with ease.

Sanchez is a prolific bandleader who never slows
down. His infectious rhythms are on full display with
this recording, a charming homage to a vital jazz

Blanchard & Sanchez @ NYC Jazz Record

Junior Mance - NYC Jazz Record

Junior Mance Quintet - Letter From Home

Pianist Junior Mance can trace his career back to the
late ‘40s playing alongside Gene Ammons. His soulful
hands have accompanied everyone from Lester Young
to Buddy Guy. Mance has been swinging weekly at
Greenwich Village’s Café Loup for the last few years.
The crowd can vary wildly from pin-drop attention to
cackling oblivion but Mance’s swinging blues always
purrs alongside tasteful bassist Hide Tanaka. Once a
month Mance gets to bring in a full band and Letter
From Home documents a quintet before an appreciative

The band jumps out of the gate with an uptempo
6/8 strut called “Holy Mama” - the first of three tunes
to stretch over ten minutes, capturing the free-blowing
nature of the gig. Everyone chimes in with a few
choruses, Mance contributing an elegant, two-fisted
bout that shows why he is the boss. A dirge-y “Home
on the Range” finds Mance strolling solo before the
band kicks in with a throaty turn through that campfire
classic. The stop-start “Jubilation” and title song find
the horns in tight unison with tenor saxophonist Ryan
Anselmi wailing recklessly over the hard-driving
band. The dual saxophone lineup tackles Mance’s
compositions with just the right amount of soul-jazz
vigor, Andrew Hadro’s baritone proving a great
guttural counterpoint to Tanaka’s confident bass lines.
The album closes with an Ellington medley that
consists only of “Sunset and the Mockingbird” and “A
Flower is a Lovesome Thing”. The quintet slowly
rumbles through the two tunes, barely tying them
together with a lulled decrescendo.

Mance is a legend who is perhaps neglected
because he is so easily accessible. His refined touch is a
direct link to a history of long-passed pioneers. He
carries that flame well and this recording is a fine
example of his years of swinging experience.

Junior Mance @ NYC Jazz Record

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

25th Anniversary Catalina Jazz - LA Weekly

Alex Acuna, Barbara Morrison, Marcus Miller @ Catalina - October 17, 2011

Better than...watching half of Ken Burns' Jazz in one sitting.

Even in the heyday of jazz clubs (a day long since past) a venue was lucky if it stayed afloat for a few years. Last night, Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill celebrated two and a half decades as one of Los Angeles' most significant jazz clubs. It's still vibrant and swinging, but most of the attendees and performers were old enough to have been sitting at the bar back in 1986. The room was sold-out for a nearly four hour marathon of music and memories, presented by a crackerjack roster of over two dozen first-call jazzbos.

Jazz clubs, unlike most other genres, are often defined by their owners. Trying to make a living out of presenting jazz is a hands-on career that requires a physical presence few people are willing to commit to. Catalina Popescu, the club's namesake, was as much an honoree last night with every performer on stage extending their gratitude for a quarter century of service to Los Angeles' diminishing jazz community. Originally nestled on a seedy strip of Cahuenga, Catalina moved eight years ago to a cavernous business complex on Sunset Boulevard that even the biggest name has a hard time filling. With over 300 seats it is a rare treat to see the room even a quarter full, let alone standing room only on a Monday night.

The show was MC'd by KKJZ's Bubba Jackson who, along with musical director John Beasley, managed to keep the show moving fairly briskly considering the number of egos waiting for the spotlight.

A rotating rhythm section saw pianists George Kahn and David Benoit tackle a few swinging standards before flutist Hubert Laws engaged in a couple of smokey collaborations with vocalist Tierney Sutton. Fusion mainstays the Yellowjackets followed, making the audience understandably wary of six-stringed basses.

Between raffles and remembrances, the crowd began to squirm and chatter before finally being silenced by the latin contigent - saxophonist Justo Almario, pianist Otmario Ruiz, trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez and percussionist Alex Acuna. They helped to rejuvenate the crowd with a rousing version of the bop standard "A Night in Tunisia" with Rodriguez doing his best to summon the ghost of Dizzy Gillespie.

Shortly afterward, electric bassist Marcus Miller took the stage to presumably test the limits of the club's sound system. His glass rattling pyrotechnics were aided by drummer Ndugu Chanceler, keyboardist Patrice Rushen and guitar shredder Lee Ritenour, who brought the energy to an undeniable peak. The evening closed with a short set by vocalist Barbara Morrison who, despite her recent health setbacks, showed that her inimitable vocal chords and stage presence were still very much intact. After a couple of tunes, her contemplative take on "That's All" wasn't enough for the crowd, as they demanded an encore. She obliged by belting out "Sw Home Chicago" with help from another vocal legend - Bill Henderson.

Each performer, a headliner in their own right, came together in a display of camaraderie and respect that testifies to the significance of a venue like Catalina to the Los Angeles jazz community. Here's hoping for another twenty-five years.

Personal Bias: I like the old club better.

Random Notebook Dump: If a performer in a wheelchair demands that you "stand up and dance!" then you stand up and dance.

Catalina's 25th @ LA Weekly

Monday, October 03, 2011

Jazzbos & Presidents - LA Weekly

Duke Ellington and Richard Nixon spend some QT

Sonny Rollins is one of the greatest living jazz musicians. Since his first recording session with trombonist J.J. Johnson in 1949, he has relentlessly dedicated himself to discovering the limits of the honking beast. This Thursday he's at UCLA as part of a powerhouse quintet that will likely send shivers down your spine.

That's all well and good, but has he had his picture taken with any presidents? Absolutely! Earlier this year, President Obama awkwardly bestowed the National Medal of Arts upon him. Despite jazz's origins in back alleys and brothels, the genre has worked its way into white houses and other official venues. Thus, we now present you a new feature, albeit one you will never see here again: Pictures Of Jazz Players With Presidents!

Jimmy Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, drummer Max Roach
No matter how many times Dizzy makes a "Salt Peanuts" joke, you have to laugh.

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Cab Calloway, Ladybird Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, vocalist Pearl Bailey
Lyndon Johnson is relieved to learn that the Hi De Ho Man and Ho Chi Minh are two very different people.

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Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and George W. Bush
Bush goes in for the forehead kiss.

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Ronald Reagan and Ray Charles
Reagan introduces his newest Secretary of Transportation.

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Sonny Rollins and Barack Obama
Obama ponders how gray his hair will be in a year.

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Bill Clinton and bassist Ron Carter
After countless impassioned requests, bassist Ron Carter finally lets Clinton do his Stan Getz impression.

Jazz and Presidents @ LA Weekly