Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hesitation Blues #7 - LA Record

Hesitation Blues - LA Record

This is not the first time I’ve started this column off with the news that the Jazz Bakery will finally have a permanent home. In between that last declaration and this one things got a little bleak, then got really bleak and then got batshit crazy. It was announced in February that the Jazz Bakery will be getting a permanent home designed by none other than Frank Gehry. Yeah that guy who builds all those shiny buildings that melt houseplants with their white-hot reflections. This is pretty fantastic news for jazz nerds because it means the Bakery is going to become an architectural destination, not just some place on the Westside that old people go to. In the meantime the Bakery is continuing their roving jazz series. Pianist Chano Dominguez, who released a pretty great flamenco Miles Davis record, will be playing at the Colburn school downtown on March 31st.

On April 12th the ageless Tony Bennett is hitting the stage down in Orange County’s Segerstrom Hall. No one talks shit on Tony Bennett and for good reason. Sure he can croon and win over all the little old ladies but he also put out some killer records with Bill Evans in the 70s that proved to the doubters that this guy is a master. He’s 85 years old and can still belt it out to the cheap seats.

UCLA which has had an undeniably great selection of jazz offerings recently (Christian McBride and Ravi Coltrane played a double bill that showed how wide a net jazz can really cast. Hence the walk-outs.) will be offering another double bill featuring Betty LaVette and Jon Cleary on April 21st. Soul-shouter LaVette signed her first record contract at the age of 16 and now that she is in her 60s her voice has got that nice barrel-aged hum that can make your spine tingle. Jon Cleary on the hand is a limey with a strong taste for New Orleans piano (Dr. John without the feathers, James Booker without the eye-patch). Like Jools Holland he comes from a long British tradition of stealing our music and then selling it right back to us. And he’s really good at it.

In April, at Little Tokyo’s Blue Whale, guitarist Anthony Wilson is set to curate a month of Wednesdays. His impeccable chops and undeniable pedigree (his old man is jazz legend Gerald Wilson) always makes for a good show. There is little doubt that whoever he selects for his hump day marathon will be worth the time.

Pianist Brad Mehldau returns to LA on May 21st. The closest thing the jazz world has to a rock star, Mehldau occasionally plays Radiohead and even has a tattoo (maybe more than one?!?). Last year saw the release of a box-set of his definitive “Art of the Trio” series. Despite the pretentious title those records were pretty damn fantastic and helped to re-define the jazz trio for many a piano student. Hard to believe that was 15 years ago.

Hesitation Blues @ LA Record 106

Loom of Ruin - LA Record

From LA Record...

Sam McPheeter’s debut novel, The Loom of Ruin, is the angry middle child of Don Delilo’s White Noise and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The novel is set in modern day Los Angeles, a city of “cloudless skies and endless congestion,” and revolves around Trang Yang, a raging Hmong immigrant who owns nine Chevron stations in and around downtown. Of the dozen or so primary characters, from a washed-up child star to President Obama to a Hungarian private investigator, all of them have their lives ruined by the machete-wielding tornado that is Yang.

McPheeter’s likable characters are few and far between and much of the mystery that starts the book still lingers by the end. His distaste for certain parts and people of Los Angeles is evident on every page. Not that he is wrong to feel that way but every character in the book just seems like another person to decapitate or embarrass. Between countless acts of physical violence delivered by Trang, the city is repeatedly subjected to explosions and car crashes that serve as strange little apocalyptic fantasies for McPheeter’s adopted home town.

McPheeters’ prose is concise and 109 chapters spread over 250-something pages makes the plot fly by and his hand-drawn cover is especially engaging, in a smoldering rubble kind of way. But considering their prominence in the plot, I’d be curious to read the Chevron Corporation’s opinion of this book.

Loom of Ruin @ LA Record

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Robert Glasper's "Black Radio" - LA Weekly

Robert Glasper's New Album is Not Jazz. Who Cares? - LA Weekly

Thirty-three-year-old Robert Glasper has been putting out fairly straight-forward jazz records since the mid-'00s. Last month, however, Houston-bred, New York-based pianist released a R&B and hip-hop indebted album, Black Radio, under the moniker the Robert Glasper Experiment. This has some jazz fans feeling left out.

"I like Robert Glasper's new CD," tweeted critic Ted Gioia. "But it has about as much jazz content as the Utah Jazz."

Glasper's last release, 2009's Double-Booked, was split evenly between his acoustic jazz trio and the electrified, beat-heavy Experiment. So it shouldn't come as too much of a shock that Glasper has dedicated both metaphorical sides of his newest album to his experimental project. What seems to surprise (disappoint?) people is his bid for commercial success.

Black Radio is a jazz album -- in instrumentation, anyway -- with piano, bass and drums at its core. But it also prominently features Casey Benjamin's vocoder and a boatload of radio-friendly guest vocalists like Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco and Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def. We're guessing that's what makes it not jazz-friendly, right?

Half of the tracks are originals while the other half consists of an eclectic mix of covers (Sade, Bowie, Nirvana) and a lone standard ("Afro Blue"). But probably the biggest missing jazz element is any much in the way of instrumental solos. Instead the album is a slow-burning collection of modern R&B by a jazz musician, released by Blue Note, a jazz label. It prompted The New York Times to ask: "is it jazz?"

And frankly, the answer is no, not really. But the more important question is: Who cares?

Certainly not Glasper. "I've gotten bored with jazz to the point where I wouldn't mind something bad happening," he said in a recent DownBeat cover story. And that boredom doesn't just come from the music. It comes from the response to the music. Thus Glasper has taken his bid for stardom to people his own age and is touring in primarily non-jazz venues. If the addition of a second date to his stop in Los Angeles -- which begins tonight at the Exchange -- is any indication, he's connecting with that audience.

Jazz and commercial success are generally regarded as mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, expectations are high for bassist Esperanza Spalding's first post-Grammy album, Radio Music Society, which comes out this week as well. So does this mean jazz has become viable? Radio-friendly? Do two artists amount to a trend? Does this mean there won't be places to sit at jazz shows anymore?

Sometime after World War II, certain sub-genres of jazz stopped giving a shit about the people on the dance floor, and sixty-something years later they still haven't been able to get them back. The lack of hip-hop's influence in modern jazz seems strangely deliberate. But considering that Glasper is Mos Def's musical director and most photos of him features a J. Dilla t-shirt, no one should be caught off guard by this "new" direction. Black Radio is an accurate summation of the current popular musical landscape, and for some reason that is surprising.

The music world is filled with evolution mostly because it's the only way the artists can stay sane. Playing straight-ahead jazz, no matter how good you are, will not get you a spot on Letterman. But what will be far more interesting than Glasper's current bid for wider recognition is what he will do once he has attained it.

Robert Glasper @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Willie Nelson & Family - LA Weekly

Photo by: Christina Limson O'Connell

Willie Nelson & Family
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Better than ...trying to find a place to stay in Austin this weekend.

Last night, before a sold-out crowd at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, country legend Willie Nelson dipped into a fifty-year catalog of hits, backed by his son Lukas, his sister Bobbie and a stripped down band of thumpers. Despite being in his late 70s, Nelson played and sang tirelessly for over an hour and a half.

The evening opened with a brief set by his son Lukas with a six-piece band. The moment he began to sing there was immediate recognition from the crowd; he was clearly his father's son. The band stuck to a handful of rocking tunes with Lukas taking scorching electric guitar solos that also hinted at his lineage. The band closed with a strutting cover of Neil Young's "Homegrown" and were off the stage in less than a half an hour.

With nearly five minutes between the house lights being turned off and Willie Nelson's arrival on stage the crowd worked itself into a frenzy, shouting "Willie!" and clapping in unison to draw the legend from behind the double doors. When he finally appeared the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Nelson's six-piece band opened with "Whiskey River," finding their pace behind Nelson's clipped phrasing. Keeping with the booze theme, Nelson then launched into a driving "Beer for My Horses," which elicited a sing-along from some of the audience. A couple of large men in the corner fist-pumped throughout the set. It was nice of management not to harsh their mellow.

Photo by: Christina Limson O'Connell

​Maybe because he has so many great musical talents, Nelson's guitar playing is often overlooked. With his battered acoustic guitar named Trigger strapped to his body, Nelson took a fair amount of solos, downright shredding on "Night Life" while taking a beautiful lilting solo on an instrumental Django Reinhardt tune, "Nuages." His punctual nylon notes were at the very front of the sound mix.

For "Me and Paul," Nelson brought out one of two drummers, Paul English, to play along to his upbeat travelogue of hazy mishaps. Both drummers (brother Billy English was the other) spent the evening playing a drum kit that consisted of one snare drum and a bag of sticks and brushes. Both drummers did a fine job of driving the band, drawing the essence of percussion from the top of one small drum.

Between tossing bandanas into the crowd, Nelson went on a tear, playing "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," "On the Road Again," "Always On My Mind" and "Good-Hearted Woman" one after the other. His piano-playing sister Bobbie nailed the last tune with the kind of solo that usually ends when a whiskey bottle is broken over someone's head.

Towards the end of the evening Nelson introduced a future classic: "I wrote a new gospel song. It's called 'Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.'" The hoots and hollers rolled along as Nelson advised lighting him up and pointing him to the sky.

He closed with "I Saw the Light" in a bouncing shuffle and then waved to every corner of the room before walking offstage as his band played on. Nelson said very little to the audience during the set and even less to his band but there was no doubt that everyone in that room was with him every step of the way.

Personal Bias: I like Elvis' version of "Always on My Mind" better.

The Crowd: Many with aching joints, many more with loose joints. Some with both.

Random Notebook Dump: I'm pretty sure no headliner at Walt Disney Concert Hall has been arrested more than Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

John Pisano Guitar Night with Mundell Lowe - LA Weekly

John Pisano's Guitar Night w/ Mundell Lowe
Lucy's 51

Better than ...Nancy Reagan's 90th birthday.

John Pisano has been a fixture in Los Angeles for a long time. His tasteful tones have backed musicians like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Chico Hamilton, but for over fifteen years now he has been the social glue for local jazz guitarists with his weekly guitar night. Last night before a standing-room only crowd at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake, Pisano had a housewarming for his residency's fourth home with the help of another guitar legend, Mundell Lowe.

Although Pisano's name was written high on the chalkboard, the night belonged to the 89- year-old Lowe. Lowe has shared the stage with legends like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, but last night he played with the clarity and stamina of a man at least twenty years younger. Pisano, actually twenty years younger, led the quartet, which also featured bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Kendall Kay.

Pisano and Lowe both come from the same school of elegant, swinging guitar. Their deliberate fingers crawl over their fretboard like caterpillars on a mission, making the most out of their economical phrasing. The band stuck mostly to tried and true standards. A gentle but upbeat "Darn that Dream" had the guitarists needling each other with alternating solos; a smooth "If I Had You" featured an equally tasteful solo from Berghofer.

Throughout their shared time on stage, the two guitarists played a few simultaneous solos, displaying taste and timing in highlighting the other's phrase while staying out of the way.

Like an informal Irish pub session, the band squeezed into a corner of the busy room with the audience encircling them. Drunkens "woos" were heard throughout the bar as one man failed to quiet the room with his abrasive shushing, but the audience seemed to have little negative effect on the band. Despite their boisterousness, the crowd was attentive, applauding after each solo.

And it seemed like half of that crowd were guitarists. Pisano invited most of them up to play a tune with Lowe. Guitarist Ron Eschete twirled his seven-strings through "There's A Small Hotel," while acoustic guitarist Laurence Juber offered an animated and slightly Django-indebted solo on "All the Things You Are." Guitarists Frank Potenza, Anthony Wilson and Pat Kelley all took turns with Lowe in the second half.

The set closed with a cake for Lowe, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday next month. After a flawless, hour-long set, the old man blew out his candles and socialized with the crowd, answering to some who called him "Uncle Munny."

"Don't tell anyone about this," Pisano jokingly warned me at the break. "We won't know where to put them if they show up!" If that's the problem for his Tuesday night residency, I'm sure he'll figure out a solution.

Personal Bias: I used to visit this club almost ten years ago when it was the Money Tree. Actor Roscoe Lee Browne used to park his car across the street, facing home, and would grab his seat at the end of the bar and proceed to regale anyone and everyone about the good old days. He would have enjoyed last night.

The Crowd: Less Blue Whale, more blue hair.

Random Notebook Dump: I'm not sure what used to happen on Tuesday nights at Lucy's 51 but many of the bleary-eyed youths who walked into the room seemed rather surprised by what they found. The older community of guitar aficionados had little use for the much advertised "Jager on Tap" but that isn't to say that the waitresses weren't working and money wasn't being spent.

Guitar Night @ LA Weekly

Friday, March 02, 2012

Bennie Maupin twofer - NYC Jazz Record

Bennie Maupin - Slower Traffic to the Right/Moonscapes

Undersung woodwind master Bennie Maupin has
released surprisingly few records under his own name.
After a stint in New York playing saxophone with
everyone from Roy Haynes to Horace Silver in the ‘60s,
Maupin found himself a part of the Miles Davis Bitches
Brew sessions, honking on bass clarinet. That low,
reedy sound helped set Maupin apart amid the cast of
allstars. From that success Maupin eventually landed
himself on another defining album: Herbie Hancock’s
Head Hunters. It was that album that secured Maupin’s
place as a funk legend.

Slower Traffic To The Right, Maupin’s second album
as a leader, is clearly a post-Headhunters release but
with friendlier running times and a definite bid for a
crossover appeal. The album is filled with driving funk
and the kind of glittery keyboards one might expect
from 1977. The guitars wah and the bass plunks and
over all of it Maupin maintains his leadership presence,
knocking out confident solos left and right. Pianist
Patrice Rushen, only in her early 20s here and less than
a year from dominating the R&B charts, gives a
powerful solo over the ambient opener “It Remains to
be Seen”. “Water Torture”, which first appeared on
Herbie Hancock’s Crossings album, gets a frenetic
rerecording, featuring James Levi’s furious hi-hat
while guitarist Blackbird McKnight tears it up on the
strutting “You Know the Deal”.

Moonscapes, Maupin’s 1978 follow-up, is not
surprisingly, a more subdued affair. “Farewell to
Rahsaan”, Maupin’s tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk,
features a multi-tracked Maupin soaring over tingling
keyboards and harp. “Anua” turns up the funk with
Abe Laboriel’s repeated bass figure providing
grounding for Maupin’s wailing soprano and Bobby
Lyle’s scattered piano. “Just Give It Some Time” is a
radio-friendly, midtempo groove that makes plenty of
room for Maupin’s soprano while “Sansho Shima”
kicks it up a bit. Harvey Mason pummels his drumkit
behind the band’s collective repetition until Maupin
sets off on a blistering solo that finds the band at their
most passionate.

Both of these albums have their charms and it is
unfortunate that it took so long for them to find a
rerelease. Maupin is in top form, awash in ‘70s jazz/
funk production yet authentic and heartfelt. This
twofer only emphasizes the regret that Maupin didn’t
record more at the time.

Bennie Maupin @ NYC Jazz Record

SmokeOut for Safe Access Rally - LA Weekly

SmokeOut for Safe Access Rally
Los Angeles City Hall

Around 4:20 yesterday afternoon about 150 people marched in protest to recent federal threats to medicinal marijuana. The event was organized by Americans for Safe Access, the Music & Medicine Project and B-Real of Cypress Hill, whose SmokeOut Festival is happening this weekend in San Bernardino. The group first assembled on the west steps of L.A. City Hall.

​Much of the crowd was under the age of 25 and seemed largely interested in seeing B-Real. Those old enough to rent cars were decked out in t-shirts with slogans ("Pills Kill," "Legalize It"), bloodshot smiley faces or, in the case of at least three people, shirts supporting Ron Paul. Many carried homemade signs with messages like "420 Nurse" and "Marijuana is Medecine [sic]."

Pot smoke could be smelled from as far away as the former home of the Occupy Wall Street movement around the corner. But for this afternoon none of the uniformed officers seemed particularly concerned; in fact, the police were downright polite.

​Before the march, Americans for Safe Access' director Don Duncan gave a speech. He was one of three people wearing a suit, and battled with the bus traffic to be heard. MC Supernatural accompanied on djembe by a man named Turtle, delivered a freestyle verse that was pretty entertaining. In between the speeches the crowd shouted things like "Blaze it up" and "Roll that spliff!"

The organizers handed out double-sided posters for participants who hadn't brought their own. One side promoted the Smokeout Festival, while the flip side declared that "Marijuana is Medicine."

A little before 4:20 the crowd departed for the Federal Building, three blocks downhill from city hall. With assistance from a patrol car and communicative organizers, the crowd crossed calmly with the traffic signals and refrained from interrupting everyday life.

Ten minutes later the group arrived at a rather deserted federal building. In between chants of "DEA, go away!" a few more people spoke.

Tommy Chong, dressed in a Up in Smoke t-shirt, made a reluctant speech before singing a song about marijuana, while B-Real expressed his satisfaction at being on the outside of the federal building rather than in it.

​Less than an hour after starting, following a few more chants and an impromptu drum circle, the crowd dispersed carrying their signs into a darkening downtown.

"I feel it went really well," B-Real told me on his way out. "A lot of people came to show support for what we're trying to do here and for their rights as medical marijuana users. I'm happy about the turnout."

SmokeOut Rally @ LA Weekly