Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jeff Mangum live - LA Weekly

drawing by SOC
Jeff Mangum
Orpheum Theater

Better than...standing in 105 degree weather.

After a ten-year absence from the road, songwriter-guitarist Jeff Mangum grew into a mythologized character that tens of thousands of kids pinned their hopes and theories upon. His two '90s era albums as Neutral Milk Hotel inspired a devoted following that was enough to drive Mangum into a world of his own amusement.

Relegated to rumors, Mangum grew to become an American Syd Barrett -- brilliant but delicate, another songwriter who just wasn't meant for these times. But for the last six months Mangum has returned to the stage, playing the same songs that almost crushed him in the late 1990s. Last night before a full-house, Mangum presented a smiling set of hits with the occasional request for the audience to join him and sing "fucking loud!"

The evening did not get off to a smooth start. A half an hour late, the makeshift opener -- which consisted of Elephant 6 veterans Scott Spillane (flugelhorn, voice, guitar), Andrew Rieger(guitar and voice) and Laura Carter(clarinet, trumpet, and an electric saxophone (?)) -- worked their way through a set of Elf Power and Gerbils tunes, facing a half-full house due to a drastically ill-prepared will call. The band played a subdued set laying the ground work for Mangum, with Spillane playing a rather lonesome guitar behind his unexpectedly high vocal register. A version of Randy Newman's "In Germany Before the War" was a nice touch.

After the crowd filled out the seats and the bar line thinned out, Mangum strode to the stage with a rack of acoustic guitars tuned to his specificities. The adoration was evident long before the lights dimmed and he welcomed the crowd with open arms. He launched into a solo set that included Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In the End." Then, after twenty minutes, he left the stage, confusing many in the crowd.

He quickly returned, surprisingly jovial, having sorted out his sound problems and bantered with members of the crowd. In the end, they got more than they could have ever expected from a former "recluse," with nearly every shouted request fulfilled. "Naomi" had Mangum paired with cellist Heather McIntosh, while during "King of Carrot Flowers," he had the crowd praising Jesus Christ in all their sing-along splendor with Spillane and Carter returning throughout the set to provide Salvation Army band brass behind Mangum's strong wail. He introduced the lilting "Little Birds" as "doing him in a little" before reassuring the audience that he was "okay."

After another brief departure, Mangum returned for a three song encore. His waltzing closer, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," had the couples in the crowd embracing and swaying while Spillane's trumpet fluttered over them.

After an hour and a quarter long set, the most satisfying part of the evening was that Mangum's voice still sounds as strong as ever. After such a long absence it is amazing to witness an artist embrace his past as passionately as he did. His emphatic strumming and clenched eyes appear as genuine as they sounded so many years ago.

Now it's time for him to unleash some new material.

Personal Bias: Mangum is notoriously wary of photography at his performances and kudos to security for quelling what could have been a sea of cellphones. But when security told a patron to sit down during the encore, they kind of crossed the line.

The Crowd: People unafraid of the occasional clarinet solo.

Random Notebook Dump: Kim Cooper's written history of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was rightly an indispensible textbook for the evening's crowd. I saw at least three copies last night.

Jeff Mangum @ LA Weekly

Friday, April 13, 2012

Alfredo Rodriguez - LA Weekly

Alfredo Rodriguez
Apolis Gallery

Better than... standing in line next door to get a $7 sausage.

Last night, amid the racks of clothes and enormous spread of Cuban and tubed-meat offerings at Apolis' Common Gallery, Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez provided a sampling of his Quincy Jones-produced debut album for a crowd equally interested in the sounds and the styles.

Rodriguez is poised to have a very good year in Los Angeles. Tomorrow night he'll be headlining at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica before performing alongside drummer Francisco Mela (who appears on Rodriguez's debut) and guitarist Lionel Loueke as part of the "Global Gumbo All Stars" at this year's Playboy Jazz Festival in mid-June.

At the jazz festival's yearly meet-and-greet last February, a startled Rodriguez was pulled up onstage to banter with the MC, Bill Cosby. "Oh, man, Cosby. That was something," says Rodriguez with a smile. He survived the comedic juggernaut ready for anything.

The crowd that gathered last night was probably the best-dressed crowd you will ever see at a jazz gig in Los Angeles. From the denim aprons sported by the bartenders to the scarves-as-accessories crew that dug into the Argentinean wines offered, everyone in the room had made more than one pass at the mirror before leaving the house. This was the kind of audience that consumes infinitely more cloves (whether it is via cocktails or coffee) than the Old Navy crowd.

Around 9 p.m., Rodriguez engaged in a brief question and answer session with host Shea Parton. The two covered everything from Quincy Jones to the tenacity of Mexican border control before making way for the spider-fingered Rodriguez to justify the renting of a gorgeous Steinway piano.

The Cuban phenom did not disappoint. After wrestling with the chatty audience in the lower register of the keyboard Rodriguez vaulted past his rubato start in pursuit of more active rumblings. Rodriguez made the audience earn his presence by building into a more rapid-fire flight. As it died down into a more impressionistic direction the audience hung on, gasping at his lithe jackhammering that brought pulsating sounds out of the piano.

Rodriguez gradually built into Chopinesque touches that echoed with his foot tapping on the cold cement floor. These brilliant flights, aided by Rodriguez's confident left hand bellow, closed with a bluesy touch. The tour-de-force performance lasted over 20 minutes.

Rodriguez closed with album track "Crossing the Border," delving into the frenetic encore with nearly every finger moving in a different direction. His clumpy montunos belied his origins before resolving to a more hastened lower register pulse. He commanded those 88 keys with unrelenting confidence and the audience responded enthusiastically when he closed a half hour after starting.

Rodriguez's Sound of Space is a terrific debut and Los Angeles is lucky to have an artist like him choose it as his home. "I moved to Los Angeles because of Quincy," says Rodriguez. "I don't like driving. So it's tough." Before we lose him to that snow-and-humidity drenched northeastern city it would be good to continue showing him as much love as he received last night.

Personal Bias: It was fun to watch Rodriguez squirm alongside a rather hostile Bill Cosby.

The Crowd: Corduroy and denim with non-sensible boots for the ladies.

Random Notebook Dump: Since when has parking become so difficult in the outer reaches of downtown. Do I have to pay someone with a shopping cart to not break into my car?

Alfredo Rodriguez @ LA Weekly

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Chano Dominguez - NYC Jazz Record

Chano Dominguez - Flamenco Sketches

All jazz fans have their own idea of sacred recordings.
Regardless of age or era, most would agree that Miles
Davis’ Kind of Blue is an untouchable. Recorded in
1959, every musician and tune on that album has been
debated and dissected a thousand times over.
Nonetheless Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez has
not only tackled that modal bible but has brought a
new and, most importantly, entertaining angle to the
material with his most recent album, recorded live at
Jazz Standard.

The album opens with “Flamenco Sketches”. After
a two-minute solo piano intro (aside from the clattering
of silverware) bassist Mario Rossy and percussionist
Israel Suarez enter with a gentle roll. Dominguez
winds through a string of uninterrupted lines before
vocalist Blas Cordoba enters with strained melismas.
Dominguez takes a two-fisted solo that manages to
incorporate Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas”, eventually
building into a funky vamp aided by handclaps from
Cordoba and Tomas Moreno. Straightforward blues
“Freddie Freeloader” gets a 6/8 feel; on the melody,
Dominguez’ winding left hand lines are indebted to
piano great Ray Bryant before he launches into a
shimmering solo loaded with octaves and a driving
cowbell calling from somewhere deep in the mix.
Naturally “So What” is a bit of a bass feature with the
percussive handclappers carrying the bulk of the
rhythmic work. Rossy thumps hard over Dominguez’
choppy accompaniment. The constant blur of
handclaps drives the tune, summoning a fleet-fingered
solo from Dominguez. “All Blues” finds its groove
early with Dominguez taking a swinging solo. As on
other tracks the sound of dancing is clearly audible
with the clacking of shoes taking a couple of choruses
towards the end. The album is rounded off with two
Davis compositions that do not appear on Kind of Blue.
“Nardis” finds Dominguez dipping into a more
forceful Bill Evans bag before muffling the piano
strings to get a beautiful guitar-like quality while
“Serpent’s Tooth” shows off Dominguez’ chops with a
fast-paced romp.

Ultimately the Davis material is a loose reference
point for the incorporation of flamenco into a swinging
setting. These two disparate genres blend well in
Dominguez’ hands and based on the audience reaction
there was a lot to love in the room beyond just the
band’s musical homage.

Chano Dominguez @ NYC Jazz Record

Trio M - NYC Jazz Record

Trio M - The Guest House

Trio M is the best kind of leaderless trio. Each member
composes, each member solos and when they play live
even the stage patter is shared. For their second album
pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and
drummer Matt Wilson have combined for a cohesive
collaboration that shows their ease of interaction.

The album opens with the cinematic title track.
Wilson’s drums shuffle behind Melford’s montuno
before making way for a plunking solo by Dresser. His
bass pops and slides with funky confidence before
Melford provides a spiraling solo of her own. Wilson’s
playful homage to Don Knotts leaves a lot of space for
his drums to fill in around Melford’s high-low phrases.
Her two-handed solo becomes an intense conversation
with stuttering snare. Wilson’s chamber ballad “Hope
(for the Cause)” puts Dresser and Melford on the same
path, interacting sweetly and slowly over subdued
brushes. Melford’s “The Promised Land” turns up the
heat with a strong backbeat. Melford employs her
whole forearm to play a frenetic solo that assaults the
piano from top to bottom.

The 12-minute Dresser composition “Tele Mojo”
incorporates a treated piano that knocks like a
woodpecker on a vibraphone. Melford’s extended solo
builds into an almost bluesy cadence, her subtle lefthand
comping drawing the most from her higherregister
soloing. Dresser offers a quiet solo before
Melford makes a hectic return, playing cat and mouse
across the keyboard. “Even Birds Have Homes (to
Return to)” is Melford’s homage to Iraqi poet
Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri. Wilson’s tuned bells
ring over Dresser’s cascading bowed strings while
Melford provides an introspective solo. The album
closes with Dresser’s “Ekoneni”, the trio at their most
upbeat, bouncing through a near calypso that draws
percussive sounds from everybody’s instruments.

With the three bandmembers immensely busy and
scattered across the US, it is a rare treat for them to
meet, hence the five-year gap between albums. Here’s
hoping the next one comes in less time than that.

Trio M @ NYC Jazz Record

Anthony Wilson Quartet - Blue Whale - 4/4/12

photo by Joe Moore

Anthony Wilson Quartet
Blue Whale

Better than... the guy from 24 Hour Party People playing guitar all night.

Last night, before a full house, guitarist-composer-arranger Anthony Wilson began his four-week residency at the Blue Whale. He was aided by local legends, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton, with Oklahmoa-by-way-of-New-York pianist-vocalist Champian Fulton rounding out the group with her effortless charm and impeccable chops. Despite this being Fulton's first time in the Southland, she whole-heartedly embraced the spotlight, drawing adoration from the rapt crowd.

The quartet opened with a Wilson original, an homage to his new home-away-from-home, "Blues Whale." The original theme launched into a straight-ahead drive with each member taking a tasteful spin of their own. Fulton's shimmering block chords drew enthusiastic applause from the audience while Clayton's driving solo drew them even closer.

A blistering "Lover (Come Back to Me)" was prefaced by Fulton hedging the crowd's expectations, claiming that the band had not rehearsed the number. Nonetheless Wilson ripped through the familiar changes while Fulton delivered every rapid-fire note with a smile.

"He's Funny That Way" found the quartet slowing the pace with Wilson providing graceful fills around Fulton's delicate phrasing, both on piano and vocals. Their sympathetic interaction offered one of many highlights during the set.

"Tea for Two" found Fulton working intimately with Clayton as she highlighted her more seductive side. The two strode through the melody before Clayton offered up a coy solo of his own, holding the audience captive as he drew out a sly "shave and a haircut."

The Clifford Brown classic "Daahoud" used a rip-roaring approach that was as indebted to Phineas Newborn as its trumpet-playing composer. Wilson provided a seat-of-the-pants solo that led to a thundering turn from Hamilton as Clayton thumped behind him.

Perennial favorite "Stardust" slowed the tempo with Fulton taking a vocal turn channeling at times a toothy Ella while also honoring Billie Holiday's willowy approach. Wilson, aside from a delicate solo, offered sporadic touches of tastefulness behind Fulton as she followed her vocals with a sweetly block-y solo.

The set closed with a deconstruction of the Jerome Kern classic "All The Things You Are." Hamilton's clacking Latin vibe set the tone as Wilson wailed over the pulsating vamp. His extended solo worked through the quick-fire changes while Fulton offered a fleet-fingered solo of her own. Clayton wrapped things up with a furiously bowed solo that sounded as though he might be sawing a tree in half.

It is a pleasure to see an artist at the top of his game dig deep into the pocket for an evening of unrepentant swing. Wilson has set himself up to display the full-breadth of his abilities this month and establishing his mastery of the so-called "splang-a-lang" has allowed him ample room to dig in to other, less accessible outposts.

It was Hamilton and Clayton's first appearance at the Blue Whale but hopefully far from their last. The combined powers of one of the swingingest pairs of musicians in Los Angeles, backing two entertainers like Wilson and Fulton, was something that everyone should be so lucky to witness. The next three weeks will no doubt offer some impeccable performances.

Personal Bias: I took two quarters of Anthony's father's jazz history class. It was the most memorable course I ever took.

The Crowd: From first-timer club-goers to the "I remember when..." crowd and a lot of flannel.

Random Notebook Dump: Wilson provided hand-selected wines to pair with his evening's performance. He seemed offended that the Gamay wasn't as popular as the Cabernet Franc blend.

Anthony Wilson @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Anthony Wilson : Guitar Pinup - LA Weekly

Anthony Wilson Residency at the Blue Whale

Guitarist and L.A. native Anthony Wilson has been a part of the jazz scene since his birth. His 93-year-old father, bandleader/raconteur/legend Gerald Wilson, started swinging before World War II and hasn't stopped, but the younger Wilson grew up in a musical landscape as indebted to Peter Frampton as Lionel Hampton. So it should come as no surprise that every Wednesday in April, Wilson will be leading four disparate bands at the Blue Whale, ranging in influence from Tin Pan Alley to the Traveling Wilburys.

"Something in the discourse of our music creates all these different camps," says Wilson, digging into lunch at downtown's Daily Dose. "I don't really like that. One thing that bothers me in jazz, or whatever we want to call it, is that some people think certain styles are nostalgia. But nothing is more forward- or backward-looking than the other. It's all happening now."

Over the course of his four shows Wilson aims to not only display his breadth of influence but also kick to the side the expectations of a modern jazz artist. Thus he has enlisted a different group for each night, including straight-ahead masters John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, rock icon Jim Keltner, a horn-laden nonet and a guitar quartet.

In 2011, aside from contributing to his father's Grammy-nominated big-band release, Legacy, Wilson self-released two albums of his own -- Campo Belo, an album of originals recorded in São Paulo, and Seasons, a suite he wrote for a guitar exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"[Luthier] John Monteleone was one of the featured craftsmen in the exhibit. I was driving him around one day and he asked me if I wanted to write something for these guitars he was making. He made four guitars in his shop in Long Island and I would go out there, play and get the feel for them. I kept putting it off until finally I just had to write it."

The result was Seasons, which premiered last April. "It was surreal," Wilson says of the experience. The suite, played entirely on Monteleone's intricately crafted acoustic guitars, dips into jazz, flamenco and baroque harmonies. It's a delicate weave of 24 strings, which highlights Wilson's compositional and arranging skills.

Not only did Wilson get to premiere his work at one of the most prestigious museums in the country, he also was immortalized with a poster of his likeness looming over the exhibit alongside guitar heavyweights like Les Paul and Jimmy Page. "They sent me the poster after the exhibit was over," he recalls. "It's sitting in my apartment."

Not only can he claim to be one of L.A. jazz's best ambassadors, but he also has every right to be called a "guitar pinup." Maybe he'll hang it at the Blue Whale.

Anthony Wilson's month-long Wednesday night residency at the Blue Whale begins tomorrow.

Anthony Wilson @ LA Weekly

Monday, April 02, 2012

National Anthem Auditions - Dodger Stadium - 3-31-12

Dodger Stadium's National Anthem Auditions - LA Weekly

Better than...having to listen to me sing the national anthem.

The "Star Spangled Banner" is a notoriously difficult song to sing. Its one and a half octave range of chest-pounding passion has stumped many singers. Nonetheless last Saturday, for the first time ever, the Dodgers held open auditions for a chance to sing the national anthem at a Dodgers exhibition game. Over 500 people showed up.

Baseball has been America's pastime longer than the Star Spangled Banner has been our national anthem. Francis Scott Key's poetic ode to patriotism and explosions was not adopted as America's national anthem until 1931. In 1962 the Dodgers settled into Chavez Ravine and are now entering their 50th season at Dodgers Stadium with a little bit of optimism (thank you, Magic Johnson).

The auditions were held on the field, with a fully illuminated JumboTron and the smell of Dodger dogs wafting through the stadium for maximum effect. A table of judges consisting of several front office Dodgers staff and 1965 Dodgers World Series hero Sweet Lou Johnson sat patiently through each performance.

Anyone who has seen more than ten minutes of any singing competition knows that open auditions can be a very unpredictable event. Thankfully, perhaps due to the location or the sacred material, most of the nuts attended the cross-town auditions for The Voice and almost every person who approached the microphone was at least capable of belting out the challenging standard.

At 9:30 a.m. the auditions got underway with over 175 people having already checked in. Many were dressed in scarves and coats as they fought the persistent drizzle. Local radio personality Manny Streetz served as emcee informing the contestants they were to start from "rockets' red glare" and finish the second half of the anthem.

By 11:30 a.m., only 82 people had approached the microphone.

From operatic sopranos to melismatic R&B divas, bellowing baritones to honeyed barbershop quartets, the range of participants was extremely varied with both men and women turning up in equal measures. Although this gathering was a competition, a supportive crowd supplied plenty of applause for those who were clearly nervous or out of tune. The crowd was a little wary of the more polished performers.

Each participant wore noise-cancelling headphones in order to combat the delay from the public address system. As each word was finished it would come roaring back from centerfield, requiring an impeccable inner metronome to stop from looping into endless feedback. That is, if participants could remember the actual words to the anthem. Variations on almost every word echoed across the stadium throughout the day.

Wild-haired rocker Ray Porschien got the first callback from Sweet Lou, who requested a second performance from the Jim Morrison impersonator. He charmed the crowd with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but it was an eight-year-old who won over the crowd.

Dressed in a tux with a red bow tie, Anthony Mercado from Redlands produced an American flag handkerchief from his pocket mid-performance. His mother, who had performed before him, stood on the warning track beaming.

Despite another 400+ performers following Mercado's heart-warming performance he had sealed the deal, winning the opportunity to perform this Tuesday for an exhibition game between the Angels and the Dodgers.

Personal Bias: If I were running the auditions I would have made each participant only sing "And the home of the brave!" and we'd have been done in 30 minutes.

The Crowd: From middle-aged women in push-up bras to third graders in Hello Kitty shirts, the only unifier was courage.

Random Notebook Dump: Call me crazy but I expected to see more American flag shirts or at least Dodger blue.

National Anthem @ LA Weekly