Friday, December 30, 2011
Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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 - 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
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
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
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?
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
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 - 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
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...
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.
Is it the tambourine, or what? Those Motown kids sure knew how to make you move. "Twee twiddle ee deet deet twiddle ee dee!"
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