Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Claudia Quintet with Theo Bleckmann Review - LA Weekly

Claudia Quintet featuring Theo Bleckmann
The Blue Whale

Better than...listening to Theo Huxtable sing.

The Blue Whale was filled to the brim last night for New York's Claudia Quintet performing works from their most recent album, What is the Beautiful?, a tribute to the late poet Kenneth Patchen. With hipsters from all stages of life, the room was buzzing with anticipation for a rare appearance by this long-running band. The addition of Theo Bleckmann made things even better.

Bleckmann is an amazing vocalist, something like a German Bobby McFerrin minus the body drumming. He is capable of filling a hall with sounds both soothing and guttural. In the context of his set with the Claudia Quintet, he worked exclusively as a team player, working wonders to create a cohesive band sound, blending in with their unusual instrumentation perfectly.

The set opened with Bleckmann and bassist Chris Tordini locked in unison, as Bleckmann recited Patchen's "Show Time (Soon It Will Be)." With each pass through the poem another member of the band joined the melodic recitation, before launching into a solo of their own. Vibraphonist Matt Moran struck his instrument like he was throwing a baseball. Saxophonist Chris Speed built his staccato honk slowly but surely.

The second tune opened with Moran bowing the bars on his vibraphone, reaching unexpected hums through his unorthodox technique. Bleckmann and pianist Red Wierenga entered in a legato unison. The band slowly built upon these strange resonances until Bleckmann, with help from his voice processor, began to loop his voice into humanly unreachable pitches, both high and low. The ethereal build enraptured much of the audience before it quietly faded towards a saxophone solo. That brief moment of bliss would mark Bleckmann's high water mark for the set. I could have listened to it for hours.

Eventually Wierenga switched over to the accordion, forming a small huddle of a band. Bleckmann, Speed and Moran twirled in unison over drummer/composer John Hollenbeck's subdued brushes. Bleckmann again turned to his processor, transforming the band into an oscillating hybrid of the Fifth Element and the Modern Jazz Quartet. With Wierenga's slowly pumping accordion resembling high woodwinds, Moran's vibes trembling like strings and Hollenbeck's tuned bells hovering behind it was hard to tell where all the sound was coming from. Every musician but Bleckmann was locked in a stoic frown.

For the final tune the band ventured away from their most recent album to play "Just Like Him" - a thumping closer that had many heads bobbing. Bleckmann channeled Harry Belafonte being chased by bees with his "ohs" and "ahs" buzzing wildly, while Speed cut loose on his clarinet. The band closed awash in overtones with all but the drums implying pitches upon pitches upon pitches.

Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet is an impressive ensemble. Their years of collaboration have helped them develop a telepathic sense for what works and what doesn't. Bleckmann inserted himself seamlessly which was impressive and a little frustrating for many of the vocalists in the crowd who came for some larynx-generated pyrotechnics. But few can deny the beauty of their combined powers.

Personal Bias: I have been attending promoter Rocco Somazzi's events since I was in high school. Although he has left us for the East Bay, it is nice to see that he still has visitation rights down here. Don't forget about us, Rocco.

The Crowd: People who use "dig" in every day sentences. You dig?

Random Notebook Dump: Nobody in the band is named Claudia, but there are five members. That doesn't seem right.

Claudia Quintet @ LA Weekly

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stanley Clarke Band Review - LA Weekly

Stanley Clarke Band - Catalina - 2/23/12

Better than...vacuuming Joan Rivers' carpet.

Last night, mere blocks from Academy Award street closures and packs of scantily clad women, bassist Stanley Clarke took to the Catalina Bar & Grill to kick off the first of his three night residency, backed by one of the tightest young jazz bands out there.

Stanley Clarke is a badass bass player; that's obvious. Anyone foolish enough to get within striking distance of him or his band while mid-song could probably be severely injured. So it was unfortunate that Kennard Ramsey, one of Clarke's label signings, had to warm up the crowd with a brief set.

Although Ramsey's quartet only played two tunes, they seemed very hesitant and a little under-rehearsed for the situation; a battle with the soundman didn't seem to help. Ramsey's young bass player also made the unfortunate mistake of playing a six string bass. After what Clarke was about to do with only four strings, it might be wise to consider stripping things down.

After an awkward pause between band set-ups Clarke approached the stage, looking fatherly with his tucked-in shirt and jeans. Despite the appearance and the fact that his band was half his age, Clarke didn't let anyone outshine him. He spent the entire evening on upright bass, frequently manhandling it like a pair of bongos or a flimsy ukulele.

The band opened with Chick Corea's "No Mystery." Aside from piano, guitar and drums, there was a four-piece horn section standing in the dark on the wheelchair ramp. The entire unit blew breathlessly through the melody before making way for Charles Altura's guitar. After 1000 furiously articulated notes he made way for pianist Ruslan Sirota, who slowly built into his own category four storm. Clarke took an irrepressibly funky solo that pitted him against drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr.

For much of the night it was Bruner who stole the show. With his traffic-cone-orange drumset and dayglow drum sticks (presumably used to land planes when not on stage) Bruner launched his first solo into a barrage of 32nd note trills. It is unclear how his poor drum heads or Clarke's left ear withstood the blur of cymbals and sticks. Although Bruner plays with a smirking bombast and little interest in subtlety (even his brushes are intense) his command of the kit is undeniable and those other traits are just a matter of time.

The second tune, Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus," was a more subdued affair with spacious yet powerful solos from Altura, Sirota and saxophonist Doug Webb, who proved that the band could also swing. Clarke's solo displayed a well-earned maturity amid the youthful pulse, working allusions to "Summertime" and "So What?" before playing every piece of his bass but the pick-up.

The third tune, which arrived 50 minutes into the set, was a semi-calypso entitled "Song for John." The band, shorn of its horn section, delivered fine structured solos from Sirota and Altura before Clarke engaged in a rhythmic conversation with Bruner. Both musicians goaded each other in a playful way as Sirota tried to slip a Simpsons reference amid their vamp.

The final tune brought back the horn section for a rapid-fire attack on standard rhythm changes called "Three Wrong Notes." Clarke made the horn section earn their pay with a twisting melody line that left the audience breathless. Each musician took a chorus including trombonist Francisco Torres, trumpeter Kye Palmer and alto saxophonist Scott Mayo, before Clarke brought back the melody in attempt to kill them one more time.

Personal Bias: I once met Stanley Clarke in a room roughly the size of a bathroom, alongside 15 other people.

The Crowd: Guys with longer hair than the ladies. And lots of t-shirts.

Random Notebook Dump: The couple next to me started making out, which must have been very awkward for the third person sitting at their table.

Stanley Clarke Band @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - LA Weekly

Eight Brothers and their Dad

From the Dorseys to the Davies', brother acts translates well to the stage, but few have a bond like the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The nine-piece, Chicago-based band boasts eight horn-playing sons of jazzman Kelan Phil Cohran. They, along with their father, will perform at the Exchange tomorrow, February 23.

"We have been a group since we were born," says lead trumpeter Jafar Baji Graves, emailing from Russia, where the group is on tour. The brothers, who are all between the ages of 28 and 35, have three mothers between them but share one father. "He is our number one fan. He always told us as long as we stick together...that we would create the music of our time."

Cohran is a vital contributor to the evolution of jazz and R&B. He played trumpet with the late great Sun Ra in the 1950s before helping to form the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago in the mid-'60s. "It keeps us grounded in our true mission," says Graves. "Music is medicine and we got the prescription. Study our father and his teachings and you will see that our music and lives are a product of his training."

Their sound is a reflection of every major brass ensemble to come before them. From the party sounds of New Orleans street bands to the drumline precision of college marching bands to the wide-open interplay of Salvation Army bands, their intricate horn harmonies blend tightly over a hard-driving drum kit. "I've heard things like 'hip hop jazz', 'jazz rave' and 'world music' but our sound is the name, hypnotic, because it mixes and crosses over genres and styles, it draws you in. And we can keep you there until we're ready to let you go."

The band got their start busking in Chicago in the mid '90s but it wasn't until a decade later that things took off, through former Blur frontman and British world music ambassador Damon Albarn, who brought Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on tour. From there they appeared with Albarn's other project, Gorillaz, providing accompaniment to guests like Mos Def and Snoop Dogg. Since that breakthrough, they have been criss-crossing the globe non-stop.

"Too much family can be a bad thing sometimes," Graves continues. "Family knows better than anyone how to get under your skin. Besides that, it's great to have people you trust 100% to travel with. In the beginning it was hard. There was a lot of arguing. But now that we have been all over the world with each other living in planes, trains and automobiles for the last six years, we have settled down and learned how to move better as a unit. It's peaches and cream now."

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Playboy Jazzfest Conference - DownBeat

Playboy Jazzfest Conference at the Playboy Mansion - 2/16/12

Organizers for the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival have announced this year’s lineup, which includes the Ramsey Lewis Electric Band, the Cookers, the Christian McBride Big Band, the Soul Rebels and Terri Lyne Carrington.

The announcement was made yesterday on the plush grounds of the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. With Hugh Hefner under the weather, the eclectic collection of musicians for the 34th annual fest was announced by event producer Darlene Chan and master of ceremonies Bill Cosby (who made jokes about Cuban health care, the effects of second-hand smoke and the origins of the name “Zigaboo”).

The June 16–17 festival will take place at the Hollywood Bowl.

Performing on Saturday, June 16, will be Christian McBride, who won a Grammy in the category best large jazz ensemble album for his Mack Avenue CD The Good Feeling. McBride will bring his big band to 18,000-seat venue, while Sheila E., a regular performer at the festival, will be leading her own band for the first time there.

Drummer Ndugu Chancler, a frequent punchline during the conference, will be appearing with Cosby’s own Cos of Good Music, a band Cosby declared is about “solos” and which will feature saxophonist Tia Fuller and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

Soul belter Sharon Jones will return with her Dap-Kings in tow. The exciting New Orleans brass band the Soul Rebels will perform alongside special guests from the Crescent City: Leo Nocentelli, Zigaboo Modeliste and Ivan Neville.

A group calling themselves the Global Gumbo All-Stars will feature a virtual United Nations of musicians with Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona and young Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez bringing the heat. Saxophonist Boney James and Los Angeles-based genre-hoppers Ozomatli round out the first day’s lineup.

On Sunday, June 17, the lineup will feature Lewis leading a plugged-in band, and the unplugged Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who will supply a dose of traditional New Orleans jazz. Folk-blues maestro Keb’ Mo’ is likely to play songs from his 2011 CD The Reflection.

Sunday’s lineup also has a couple of notable supergroups, including Spectrum Road, which features the curious combination of former Cream bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Cindy Blackman, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and keyboardist John Medeski from Medeski, Martin & Wood.

The Cookers—a septet whose members include pianist George Cables, saxophonist Craig Handy, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart—will cook up some straightahead jazz.

Another recent Grammy winner, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, will present music from her Concord album The Mosaic Project. Her collaborators will include vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Carmen Lundy backed by pianist Helen Sung and bassist Mimi Jones, among others.

Chico Trujillo will bring a taste of Chile, and Afro-pop songwriter KG Omulo has committed himself to a little dancing.

Playboy Jazzfest Lineup @ DownBeat

Friday, February 17, 2012

Trio M - Jazz Bakery - DownBeat

Trio M - 2/4/11 - Musicians Institute

Trio M, a leaderless trio composed of pianist Myra Melford, upright bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson took to the stage amid the locker-lined halls of Hollywood, Calif.’s Musicians Institute on Feb. 4. The group converged to be part of the waning days of the once homeless Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast.

The astounding news from earlier in the week was that the Jazz Bakery would not be movable for much longer. After numerous financial and political hurdles, it was announced that the club would be getting a permanent home in Culver City, Calif., designed by architect Frank Gehry (Walt Disney Concert Hall, Guggenheim Bilbao, Experience Music Project). Gehry, who lives and works close to the planned location, even offered his services pro-bono, transforming the future of the planned Jazz Bakery project from bleak to an architectural tourist attraction in less than a week.

When the trio first started, things were looking decidedly out. Wilson splattered across the kit, his wrists draped with rattling shells. Dresser leapt across the neck of his bass while Melford jabbed at the piano. After nearly 10 minutes, the bespectacled trio eventually converged into a cohesive sound before drawing to a close. Only then did the band reveal that the number had been “Al,” Wilson’s homage to saxophonist Albert Ayler.

From there, the band settled into the pocket with “The Guest House,” which featured a quasi-second line drum part from Wilson. Dresser’s upright bass funneled through an effects pedal. Wah-ing rapidly with his foot, Dresser drew strange sounds from his acoustic instrument, working the neck with both hands to create a sound not unlike a landing plane. Throughout the set, Dresser pumped his pedal like a sewing machine, mimicking the sounds of virtually every string instrument imaginable.

A Dresser original, “Ekoneni,” opened with bass alone, this time sounding like a West African kora. Eventually Melford contributed one of many precise piano solos over Wilson’s thundering drums. Wilson’s turn in the spotlight involved a muffled gong that was at first played face-down with his hands before being picked up and struck repeatedly, converting the punchline percussion instrument into a vital member of his kit.

Melford’s “The Kitchen” featured the pianist’s unhinged ferocity. She hammered the piano from elbow to fingertips while Wilson gave his kit a good drubbing as well, applying woodpecker trills to the sides of his snare.

The band dropped the pulse with Melford’s “Even Birds Have Hopes To Return To.” Wilson got into the harmonic game, gently striking five tuned bells suspended from his forearm while Dresser contributed a gentle bowed bass solo that held the audience suitably rapt.

“Tele Mojo,” a Dresser-penned workout, had everyone drawing new sounds from their instrument. Melford rigged the strings of the piano to emulate a gamelan-like xylophone while Wilson strummed the snares on the bottom of his snare drum like a guitar. The peaceful beginning was slowly replaced by another full-bodied piano solo as Wilson dropped his percussion instruments to the floor with a clang.

The band closed with Melford’s “The Promised Land.” After a brief and funky intro from Dresser, Wilson jumped in with a pounding backbeat. Melford added the stop-start melody and the band made the most of their shifting dynamics. After the piano was sufficiently pummeled, the band stopped on a dime leaving Wilson’s elated laugh to close the solid set.

Trio M @ DownBeat

Chucho & Poncho - WDCH - LA Weekly

Chucho Valdes & Poncho Sanchez - Walt Disney Concert Hall - 2/16/11

Better than...listening to Mark Sanchez play the congas.

Last night before a sedate but nearly sold out crowd at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Poncho Sanchez and Chucho Valdes led their own bands through hour long sets of percussion-driven latin jazz. The conguero from Norwalk and the pianist from Cuba kept the energy high but never seemed quite comfortable in the lavish hall.

Sanchez and his band strode on to the stage, dressed in black and ready for a good time. "Are you ready to party?" Sanchez shouted, marking his first appearance at the concert hall. The band opened with a mid-tempo take on the Jerome Kern standard "Yesterdays." After a brief piano and saxophone solo Sanchez hammered his congas, drawing applause mid-solo. Following that tune the band launched into a medley of Willie Bobo tunes that had Sanchez crooning before rolling through "Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries."

The eight piece band was joined by trumpeter Terence Blanchard as they made their way through a few tunes from their recent collaboration Chano Y Dizzy. Blanchard's fiery trumpet soared over Sanchez's spirited conga on a medley of Dizzy Gillespie tunes before they settled down for a slow-burn through "Con Alma" featuring a fine piano solo from pianist Andrew Langham.

The band closed with a little salsa on "Arinanara," forcing many of the stone-faced patrons to move in their seats just a little. To their credit the audience sprung to life with a standing ovation when the band eventually finished, as if they had been restlessly suppressing their urges throughout the set.

Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes took over the second half. His seven piece band featured three percussionists who churned and burned throughout the set. The band opened with bassist Lazaro Rivero Alarcon vamping on his electric axe before Valdes jumped in with a two-fisted solo over the two-chord vamp. The tune closed with percussionist Dreiser Durruthy Bambole playing and chanting, displaying his multi-tasking skills as the horn players receded into the darkened corner of the stage.

"Ponle la Clave" was a faster tune that featured tenor saxophonist Carlos Manuel Miyares Hernandez flying over Bambole's persisitent clave. After another commanding solo from Valdes the band gave way to the drummers who pounded out engrossing poly-rhythms before returning with a swinging interlude.

The third tune of the set became a family affair. Vocalist Mayra Caridad Valdes, Chucho's sister, joined her brother for a waltzing duet carried by her bellowing voice.

It wasn't until an untitled blues number that Valdes' piano chops really got to shine. Accompanied by just the bassist and drummer Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, Valdes took the spotlight, displaying fleet-fingered flashes in the higher register while balancing a more subtle and swinging left-hand line. The showboating went over well with the crowd, and they applauded enthusiastically with each impressive display.

The band closed with a boisterous encore that featured Bambole and more impressively Bambole's suit. The percussionist danced back and forth across the stage dressed in white from head to toe as the band played behind him. Even the lighting showed a little liveliness, pitching back and forth, briefly turning the hall into L.A.'s most extravagant night club.

After another standing ovation, the band walked off the stage, shuffle-dancing to music only they could hear.

Personal Bias: I'm not the dancing type but I would have enjoyed it if someone in the audience cut a rug.
The crowd: Mustachioed men and well-coiffed women.
Random Notebook Dump: The couple in front of me, jazz series subscribers, had driven all the way from San Luis Obispo.

Chucho & Poncho @ LA Weekly

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Marlon Brando's Conga Drum - LA Weekly

"It was 1976. I had been with [legendary vibraphonist] Cal Tjader for about a year and Cal told me Marlon Brando and Merv Griffin were coming to our matinee set,'" recalls Sanchez, calling from his Whittier home. "Marlon used to sit in with Cal out in East L.A. at a place called the M Club back in the early '60s. He'd come in, have some drinks and play the bongos. So I told Cal 'introduce me, introduce me.'"

​Sanchez's brief conversation with Brando revealed more than a passing familiarity latin percussionists. "He knew everybody! Mongo Santamaria! Tito Puente!"

A few years later Sanchez received a phone call. "Brando got my number from the union and he wanted to tell me about this conga drum he had invented. It was a drum with a handle on the side that could tighten the head and make the pitch go up. It was something different. We talked for about an hour. I told him he was one of the world's greatest actors but he insisted he wanted to be an inventor."

That first phone call led to several more, but Sanchez never got to test the drum out. That is, until last year. "I got a call from my friend DJ Felix Contreras that they had found the drum in a storage space and he wanted me to try it. There were all these pictures of Marlon in there, old contracts, a bird cage. This was Marlon Brando's shit! It was like being in his garage."

Alas, the likelihood of seeing the Brando conga in Guitar Center is fairly slim. "It sounded pretty good. I was playing it and turning it with the other hand. I forget how he did it but there was a lot of mechanical work in there so it also made the drum heavier. It was a cool idea for a conga drum but I was scared when I was tightening that thing. I didn't want to go too tight or something might give."

Was it a marketable product? "It'd be too expensive to make and people would be sending it back all the time. You'd be fixing more products than selling them. But it was a cool idea."

Although Brando never got his own line of conga drums, Sanchez did. The self-taught drummer plays a colorful set of Remo conga drums of his own design with his name emblazoned on the side.

"Nowadays, the younger guys have learned the new technique," says Sanchez. "They're really fast. It's like wow, I can't even think as fast as they play. But speed is not everything. It's not what you play that makes it happen. It's what you don't play. I'm from the old school. I'm one of the heavy hitters. I lift my arms and my hands and I smack the thing!"

Marlon & Poncho @ LA Weekly

Friday, February 10, 2012

Christian McBride - A Veteran Nearly 40

Christian McBride - A Veteran At 40 - LA Weekly

Since the late '80s Philly-bred bassist Christian McBride has been a low end powerhouse for artists including Milt Jackson, Diana Krall and Questlove. He spent the most time in our fair city between 2006 and 2010 when he was the "Creative Chair for Jazz" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and this Saturday he'll bring his straight ahead trio -- including pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens -- to share a bill with Ravi Coltrane's quartet at UCLA's Royce Hall.

It's fair to say that, like Randy Newman, he loves L.A. "L.A. has always got a bad rap," he says, calling from his New Jersey home. "It's so spread out. It's hard to get a sense of the jazz community. I always felt Los Angeles has one of the tightest jazz communities in the sense that people who really love the music are going to go out and find it. Wherever it may be they are going to go find it."

Socially, however, McBride has more than enough on his plate. "When I come to L.A., I go into managing mode. I have so many friends in L.A. that it becomes a matter of trying to not make people mad if I don't call them. I'm only gonna be there for one day!"

For a man as busy as McBride it's no wonder he's got to screen his phone calls. Last year he released his first big band album The Good Feeling. His dynamic charts and unstoppable band (Nicholas Payton, Ron Blake, Xavier Davis) earned him a Grammy nomination. If that wasn't enough he released a second album last year entitled Conversations with Christian that found him paired with legends, including the late Dr. Billy Taylor, and Chick Corea, not to mention friends including Dee Dee Bridgewater and Gina Gershon, of all people.

Diversity has been a hallmark of McBride's career. He has worked for jazz heroes like Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Watson but is just as comfortable with an electric bass, having held it down behind R&B masters like Isaac Hayes and James Brown. "I feel lucky that everyone I've had on my bucket list I've gotten to play with," says McBride.

Although not yet 40, McBride has been playing the bass professionally since Ronald Reagan was in office. "I never thought of it like trying to make a living," he says looking back on his career. "For me, playing bass was just something I really wanted to do. As long as I had that focus I never thought I'd make a living. I always knew it would come to me."

"But am I veteran?" he asks, somewhat surprised. "I've always admired Roy Haynes and Sonny Rollins. Roy Haynes still plays with the same vigor of his 20's and 30's. As we progress in life you still have to play hard. I can only hope that I get to my 80's. If I do, I still want to sweat. I still want to come off the bandstand puffing."

Christian McBride @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ben Wendel - NYC Jazz Record

Ben Wendel - Frame

Eclectic saxophonist Ben Wendel has lent his distinct
tenor to countless records from coast to coast but has
solidified his reputation with his band Kneebody. For
his second solo release Wendel has amassed a first-rate
band (which includes two members of Kneebody) that
tackles his eight original compositions (and one
standard) with a refreshing, youthful ferocity.

The album opens with the crashing “Chorale”, full
of driving, clustered harmonies. The first solo of the
album is offered up to pianist Gerald Clayton’s assured
swing. It is only after guitarist Nir Felder’s flickering
solo that Wendel steps forward to deliver an angular
solo of his own. Wendel’s winding duet on Dizzy
Gillespie’s “Con Alma” pits him against Clayton.
Through a deft reharmonization and a beautiful closing
unison line (that ends on an oblique “Giant Steps”
reference) the duo take Gillespie’s minimalist melody
into the 21st century. “Backbou” finds Wendel honking
on bassoon. Pianist Tigran Hamasyan pounds out a
solo alongside drummer Nate Wood’s pummeling pots
and pans but Wendel soon takes the reins, placing a
subdued solo over the slightly less subdued rhythm
section. The shifting “Blocks” gets a plunking solo
from bassist Ben Street. Wendel takes a long-toned solo
over another track in which Hamasyan provides
heavy-handed accompaniment. The title track is a fast
moving tune that finds the propulsive rhythm section
leaving ample space for Wendel’s furious weaving
lines. His breathless attack covers the entire range of
his horn, leaving little doubt as to why he might name
the album after this particular performance. The album
closes gently with “Julia”. Over the quiet rumbling of
the album’s third pianist (Adam Benjamin) Wendel
weaves a delicate solo while closing with an orchestral
hum from his bassoon over his overdubbed tenor.

Wendel has created an engaging album, brimming
with unique instrumentation and ample space for all
the musicians involved. His compositional talents
assure his presence even when he is relinquishing the
sound to his bandmates.

Ben Wendel @ NYC Jazz Record

Bernstein, Goldings, Stewart - NYC Jazz Record

Bernstein, Goldings, Stewart - Live at Smalls

For guitarist Peter Bernstein’s second release on
smallsLIVE, he ropes in his old bandmates, organist
Larry Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart, for a classic
organ trio set. Recorded in January 2011 in the tight
basement club (how did they get that B3 down there?)
the band is in fine form, swinging through a grab bag
of standards and a couple of originals.

The album opens with the laidback Duke Pearson
standard “Chant”. Bernstein spirals out of the gate,
drawing quivering vibratos from his guitar while
Goldings finds a deliberate pace and stretches out
nicely. The Cole Porter ballad “Everytime We Say
Goodbye” opens with humming B3 serving up a quiet
mass while Bernstein, with limited frills, takes on the
melody. With no particular urgency the guitarist works
his way in and out of the extended song form, placing
tasteful phrases over Stewart’s subtle brushes.
Goldings is equally controlled, building slightly louder
before stepping back for Bernstein’s melodic return.

The bandleader’s original “Just a Thought” raises the
pulse with a harder swinging approach that features
the guitarist letting loose over Goldings’ syncopated
punch. The Miles classic “Milestones” opens with
interstellar meandering by Goldings that summons
both the ghost of Sputnik and an 8-bit video game
before launching into a hard-driving, 12-minute chase.
Bernstein and Goldings both take frenetic solos
peppered with pinpoint phrasing before making way
for Stewart, who begins his solo by winding down the
band to a crawl before slowly splashing his way across
the kit, artfully drawing the band back with a
percussive approach to the theme. The band rides out
on snippets of the melody, briefly changing key as
Bernstein sputters to a close over driving cymbals. The
album ends with the obscure Percy Mayfield blues
“The Danger Zone”. Bernstein bends his way through
the crawling melody before stretching out in his solo.
Goldings jumps with an equally slow pace, extracting
intensity from his drawbars.

For fans of classic organ trios (Jimmy Smith/
Kenny Burrell, Mel Rhyne/Wes Montgomery) this
album is a perfect throwback. The repertoire and style
is firmly rooted in classic ‘60s soul and the band is in
top form, playing to a full but unobtrusive crowd, just
what one might hope for from three masters of the
genre spending a weekend in a New York basement.

Bernstein, Goldings, Stewart @ NYC Jazz Record

Merry Clayton Live - LA Weekly

Merry Clayton
The Mint

Better than...getting stomped at Altamont.

Merry Clayton is a soul legend. With over 40 years since her appearance on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" Clayton has solidified herself as a top-notch belter, tackling anything and everything in between. Last night before a sizable crowd at the Mint, Clayton and her eight-piece band turned on the charm and recruited a few more members to her fanclub.

After her five instrumentalists and three back-up vocalists churned out driving blues, Clayton sauntered out to rapturous applause. Throughout the night countless "we love you!" shouts emanated from the crowd.

After promising the audience "some sweetness," Clayton brought the band to a simmer with her take on Carole King's "After All This Time." The chatty but adoring crowd responded enthusiastically to Clayton's question: "Got your liquor on?"

Clayton continued the parade of hits with her Dirty Dancing contribution "Yes," full of '80s soul-ballad resplendence. Leon Russell's "A Song For You" created a hush as saxophonist Joe Vasquez played, before Clayton instigated a sing-along, imploring the audience "Y'all can do better." And they did. By the end of the song most of the audience had caught on to Clayton's call and response.

Clayton introduced the next song, "The Times They Are A-Changing", by highlighting her connections to Bob Dylan. "I consider him to be a friend," she said after explaining her appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Clayton took a slow-burning tour through Dylan's anthem accompanied only by the guitar. When she finished, the rapt audience shouted for a little "Mighty Quinn" and she indulged them with an a cappella chorus.

Barely forty minutes into the show, Clayton announced she was wrapping up. "Mother needs to go home and get some rest," she said. "This is not 1970 and I'm not 19." Several members of the audience shouted for her to close with Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands" and she playfully sang a chorus of that too. "None of that is in the show" she promised before launching into her signature song: "Gimme Shelter."

Clayton is the original singer on the Rolling Stone's menacing classic. Her harrowing cries are surrounded by rock and roll lore and she happily embraces her role. "'We need you to come down and sing with these English guys,'" she recounted as the band vamped over the intro. "Me and these two children ... He [Mick Jagger] is not black. Where did he get these lips from?"

Although she didn't belt out "rape and murder" with the same ferocity of forty years ago Clayton gave it her all and then slowly introduced each band member. When all was said and done their rendition lasted nearly 20 minutes before Clayton walked off the stage leaving the audience satisfied but wanting more.

Personal Bias: Clayton's contribution to "Gimme Shelter" is probably the best vocal performance ever released on a Rolling Stones record.

The Crowd: Diverse and looking to party. Plus Lou Adler.

Random Notebook Dump: The unidentified back-up vocalist who looked like a psychedelic Cornel West needs his own show.

Merry Clayton @ LA Weekly