Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grand Park Membrane Pool - LA Weekly

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Fountains can be found almost everywhere in downtown Los Angeles. The Department of Water and Power fortress has a sizable moat with eight sparkling, backlit blasts. The pool in front of the Central Library has a lizard skeleton coming up for air. Even the Bunker Hill steps have a trickle of water mocking those attempting to wheeze their way up its six flights.

But one of the best spritzing displays in downtown, the Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, had up until this past weekend been largely unknown. Now it is a centerpoint of the newly revamped Grand Park, drawing a healthy dose of children, tourists and thirsty dogs to its thin layer of water. But few have considered what it will take to keep that water crystal clear from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

The enormous Arthur J. Will Fountain was a highlight of the Civic Center Mall from its inception. The oversized bowl, located just below Grand Avenue, was mostly seen by fans of (500) Days of Summer and the lawyers and homeless wandering the promenade. When the Related Cos., a real estate superpower that is also involved in New York's Hudson Yards and Las Vegas' Cosmopolitan, ponied up more than $50 million several years ago, the redesign of the park was set in motion.

The new design has routed the overflow of the original, more traditional fountain into what the park has deemed its "membrane pool," with a half inch of water thinly spreading across 6,200 square feet into to a narrow drain lining the space.

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According to the website of L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, there is a lot of machinery at work below the fountain, "hustling around the clock" to maintain cleanliness. Los Angeles has higher standards for fountain water that folks may be unintentionally imbibing and the county has already set in its books a ban on fountains like this starting in September. Those private donations may have paid for the sharp new look, but the cleanliness falls on the shoulders of the Department of Health, which has to manually check the bacteria levels three times a day.
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Over a two-hour span last Saturday, amid the pink patio furniture, native gardens and heavy security presence, a half dozen dogs and roughly 100 kids rolled around in the water. The head-high jets sprayed the kids in the face while all of the dogs took an opportunity to enjoy a sip of the water. Even billionaire cultural lightning rod and spearhead of the Grand Park project Eli Broad took a dip during opening ceremonies.

As the seasons and years pass, it will be interesting to see how much the city will invest in the fountain's upkeep. Such a large attraction, not visible from the street, will need a lot of help in getting attention from both visitors and maintenance staff. And visitors probably will need a few more things to do while they dry off. The dog park will open in the fall. Maybe the kids can go roll around in there after the pool and see what the dogs think of that.

Grand Park @ LA Weekly

Anthony Wilson Residency - DownBeat

This review appeared in the Critics Poll issue of DownBeat. I was one of those critics polled.

Every Wednesday last April, guitarist Anthony Wilson presented four completely different sides to his musical persona at Los Angeles’ Blue Whale. Each week Wilson brought on a distinct band and instrumentation that was an impressive display of skill and versatility. On top of that he curated the wines.

Wilson opened the residency with a bit of tradition offering straight-ahead swing with bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and confident young pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton but flipped everything around the following week.

For Wilson’s second night, rock drumming legend Jim Keltner made a rare club appearance alongside organist Larry Goldings as the trio paid homage to the groove. Wilson, dressed casually in a sweatshirt, and Keltner, in sunglasses and denim, seemed like they could have been brothers despite their nearly thirty year age gap.

The band opened with a bouncy original that had the guitar and Goldings’ swirling organ in close harmony. Throughout the evening Keltner held it down but stayed out of the way, finding subtle grooves on his battered kit. A simmering cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue)” had Keltner propelling the band with a set of brushes as Wilson dove into the tune with an impassioned solo. The band closed out the set with a bluesy simmer that had Keltner gripping a pair of maracas alongside his drumsticks.

After the performance, many of the drum fanatics in the audience (which was more than half the crowd) gathered around Keltner’s bright drum kit. “It’s ‘sour apple green’,” he said. “Which is fine as long as it isn’t ‘chartreuse’.”

For the third week, Wilson presented his recently recorded guitar suite with a quartet featuring confident slingers Larry Koonse, John Storie and Jeffrey Stein but he flooded the stage for his closing night with a youthful nonet.

Wilson managed to squeeze a full rhythm section and five horns into the Blue Whale’s intimate space but there was little room elsewhere because the sold-out crowd had filled every other corner in front of and behind the band.

Wilson opened his set by discussing the week’s wines at length before launching into a pensive solo that was so quiet the music from the mall outside was competing. He raised the volume for the second song, covering Joe Zawinul’s “Walk Tall.” The funky riff-fest featured one of several great solos from trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos before Wilson closed the tune with a frenetic roar.

Wilson is a confident arranger of the nine voices at his disposal. Obviously his father Gerald Wilson taught him well. Over the course of an hour and a half set Wilson had the horns playing everything from a gentle flutter behind pianist Josh Nelson’s delicate phrasing to a tight funky vamp over one of Mark Ferber’s crowd-pleasing drum solos. They closed the residency the same way it started: swinging. Propelled by Ferber’s splashing cymbals, baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder bellowed on Duke Pearon’s appropriately titled “Make It Good” to ecstatic applause from the audience.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Don't Take Requests - LA Weekly

Five Song Requests Jazz Bands Wish You Would Stop Making - LA Weekly
Audio clips available through link
Most cocktail jazz gigs are not particularly rewarding on an artistic level, but they aren't supposed to be. They pay well but they usually go on for too long and most people there aren't listening to you. Of course, there are benefits. I once played a solo gig on a white piano surrounded by roses while Rosario Dawson, in a gravity-defying dress, conversed with a handful of other beautiful people at the other end of the strings.

But the hard part comes when someone makes a request. And there are always requests. Of the tens of thousands of available standards, the following five songs come up more than any other and there isn't a jazz band in the world that wouldn't mind if they never had to play them again.

To help provide alternative suggestions to these five overplayed standards is Hawthorne, California raised author Ted Gioia who aside from working his share of cocktail piano gigs, released his eighth book, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, earlier this month.

Understandably, people who request songs probably aren't looking for an alternative suggestion but if this list prevents one person from requesting these songs then our job is done. If you absolutely have to hear "Take Five," tip generously.

"Sweet Georgia Brown"
Ben Bernie Orchestra (1925)
Can anyone hear this song without whistling or trying to spin their drink on the tip of their finger? This jazz standard goes back to the mid 1920s and has been sung by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Minnie Mouse, but the only people it's appropriate to play for would be members of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Gioia suggests: "The changes are similar to a blues change. You might be able to sneak in a fast blues or some other fast swing number like 'Perdido' or 'I Got Rhythm.' The only other basketball song I can think of is that Cheech and Chong song 'Basketball Jones' but that probably isn't going to sound too good."

"Take Five"
Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959)
Paul Desmond's tune is famous for its time signature. The odd-metered 5/4 tempo mostly served as a vehicle for drummer Joe Morello to highlight his chops. Asking a solo piano player to play this one is especially confusing.

Gioia suggests: "Up until recently there wasn't another option. The Mission Impossible theme? Brad Mehldau has been doing a cover of Nick Drake's 'River Man' and that is the same time signature. The only other option would be another Brubeck song like 'In Your Own Sweet Way' or 'The Duke.' If you wanted to be really daring you could do 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' but that probably wouldn't go over too well."

"What a Wonderful World"
Louis Armstrong (1968)
This is probably the sappiest of the regular requests. Louis Armstrong's misty-eyed recording dates to the late 1960s but the last thing the band is going to think following your request is that the world is wonderful.

Gioia suggests: "The secret is to switch them to some other Louis. One option is 'Hello Dolly' which I think is probably more painful to play. I would go with a New Orleans hit like 'When It's Sleepy Time Down South' or 'Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?' Both are beautiful songs with catchy melodies."

"The Girl From Ipanema"
Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto (1968)
Antonio Carlos Jobim's light-hearted tune conjures sand-swept beaches and consequence-free tans for the people requesting the song. The piano player is mostly reminded of his most recent elevator ride.

Gioia suggests: "Even Stan Getz didn't play this in concert. He would usually play 'Desafinado.' If you want to get really daring I would try another Brazilian composer. Milton Nascimiento. Ivan Lins. They never got to that level of Jobim but they were extraordinary songwriters. Djavan's 'Oceano' is one of my favorite Brazilian songs. I tend to think Brazil has the best popular music in the world. I'd love to expose people to that music."

"Linus & Lucy"
Vince Guaraldi Trio (1964)
It is my belief that every person who requests "Linus & Lucy" can probably play it themselves. For most people, Vince Guaraldi's simplistic theme song reminds people of their youth and failed persistence with learning the piano. The piano player is thinking about his regrettable insistence on continuing to play the piano.

Gioia suggests: "What I generally do is switch to another Guaraldi song, 'Christmas Time is Here.' If you play that instead, it's more fun and people will dig it. You should probably only play it around Christmas but you could probably get away with it year round. Guaraldi was one of the best slow-to-medium tempo jazz/blues players. He was a great comping pianist. 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind' could be good too. It's catchy with a good beat and it might be vaguely familiar to people."

Jazz Requests @ LA Weekly

Pete Escovedo - OC Weekly

Pete Escovedo - A Father of the Revolution

What do Sheila E., Prince and Wendy & Lisa all have in common? Aside from working together as Prince & the Revolution and playing "When Doves Cry" more times than anyone but cover band Purple Reign, all of their fathers are jazz musicians. The only active jazz dad of that group, Pete Escovedo, is bringing his latin jazz orchestra to Spaghettini in Seal Beach this Thursday and Friday to celebrate his birthday and bring a dose of Bay Area soul.

Pete Escovedo was born in northern California in 1935. Escovedo got his start playing Latin jazz with his younger brothers as the Escovedo Brothers Latin Jazz Sextet. The family band took a break to work with Santana in the late 60s and Escovedo was rarely at a loss for work afterwards. That's his simmering palms on congas behind Marvin Gaye on "Heard It Through the Grapevine."
He first recorded with his daughter Sheila E. while she was still a teenager and they still appear together on occasion, most recently showing off their age-defying genes before 18,000 people at last month's Playboy Jazz Festival.

As for the rest of the Revolution, they all seem to have more than a little jazz in their genes.
Although Prince's fictional father in the film Purple Rain is portrayed as an abusive and self-destructive musician that wasn't the reality of the situation but he was definitely a piano player. John Nelson adopted the stage name Prince Rogers while gigging around Minneapolis in the 1950s at the suggestion of his wife. His parents separated in the mid-60s but Prince, the heir to the Nelson entertainment throne, used some of his ideas on the Purple Rain soundtrack, including several of the more awkwardly-acted father scenes and the screeching "Computer Blue" which opens with Prince breathlessly addressing bandmates Wendy and Lisa.

Wendy Melvoin is the daughter of late jazz pianist Mike Melvoin. The senior Melvoin had a good career as a jazzman, working the West Coast with luminaries like Gerald Wilson and Peggy Lee and even appeared on the Tom Waits classic Nighthawks at the Diner in the mid 70s. Melvoin was also the chairman of NARAS, the Grammy governing committee, in the mid 80s when Prince was filling his mantle with trophies. When Melvoin settled in Los Angeles in the early 60s, he also got work as a first call sideman contributing to projects like Frank Sinatra's That's Life and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which may have hired more LA-based session musicians than any other recording including percussionist Gary L. Coleman.

Gary L. Coleman is a retired studio percussionist who also happens to be the father of Lisa Coleman, the other half of Prince's Revolution-associated duo. The senior Coleman's credits are a mile long and include recordings with hard swinging legends like Cannonball Adderley and Grant Green.

Although it was merely coincidence for Prince, those three band members helped define his sound for over a decade. Perhaps this Thursday and Friday, Escovedo will reveal their secret bond or, better yet, play a little "Darling Nikki."

Pete Escovedo @ OC Weekly

Monday, July 23, 2012

USC Jazz Quintet - LA Weekly

Better than... drinking beer alone in a Pasadena park.

Last night in Pasadena, USC offered up their best and brightest jazz crew to revel in a little school pride and highlight the impressive capabilities of staff and alumni for a cool evening under the stars before an attentive crowd of jazz fans and proud Trojans.

With faculty members Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass, and Peter Erskine on drums, fronted by alumni Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Greg Johnson on saxophone, it would have been hard to find a better band in any US college to occupy the teacher's lounge.

At exactly 7 p.m., the quintet hit the stage and opened with Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Dream." Johnson filled Charlie Rouse's shoes admirably with a honking confidence over the churning rhythm section. Oles, although a little buried in the sound system, took a tasteful solo that was punctuated by the first of two helicopters to circle the park.

The band later provided a couple of Dizzy Gillespie tunes. "Woody 'N You" was a bop workout that had Pasqua dropping chords behind the horn men like weighted darts, each cluster pushing them further into their hiccupping phrases. Eventually he took a Tristano-esque solo, launching a barrage of low end notes over Erskine's brushes. The band finished the tune with a clatter, audibly amused. They were clearly working through a book of audition-ready standards, their modifications worthwhile but hardly road tested.

Gillespie's "Con Alma" reworked the horn harmonies into a tighter knot before Johnson made a strong plea over the mid-tempo swing. Erskine provided a breezy solo as Pasqua and Oles stoically paced the changes behind him.

The group then offered up a pair of Monk tunes. Pasqua and Akimusire shined as a duo through the melody while Oles' solo featured the other thumping helicopter. Nonetheless the band upheld a tasteful swing that led to the more upbeat "Bye-Ya" featuring Erskine in a popping intro. Akinmusire and Johnson staggered the melody before exchanging bright eight bar solos. Oles took an uninterrupted solo this time as Erskine tapped a gently metallic samba.
On what appeared to be a reworking of "If I Were a Bell," Johnson stretched across his horn's range backed only by Erskine. The evening had set in when a spotlight was placed on Erskine for a solo of his own, pummeling his kit to a few enthusiastic "woos" from the crowd.

Set closer "Fujimama" hit a near calypso vibe as each band member gave their closing statements. After the band said "goodnight," the crowd began packing up -- only to be offered an encore that pushed the concert to over an hour and a half.

A subtle take on "Equinox" provided departure music for half the crowd while the other half stayed, applauding each solo as they had throughout the night.

The band finished as strongly as they started, coalescing into a perfect ambassadorship for the program. The polished professionalism of the younger horn players meshed easily with the one of the most dependable rhythm sections in Los Angeles. The caliber of musicianship coming in and going out of that school was abundantly clear.

It's too bad UCLA isn't answering the challenge in Pasadena this season.

Personal Bias: I got my jazz nerd diploma from the blue & gold.

The Crowd: Diverse and attentive. Lots of USC football jerseys. Lots of dogs. Lots of very elaborate lawn chairs.

Random Notebook Dump: Audience quote: "It sounds like the Snoopy song." Can we get a new point of reference for jazz in the 21st century? Please?

USC Jazz Quintet @ LA Weekly

Friday, July 20, 2012

Josh Nelson - LA Weekly

Josh Nelson Is On Another Planet - LA Weekly

This summer, the Mars rover Curiosity will finally reach its destination after a nine month journey. Tomorrow, while the space module prepares to roam the Red Planet looking for dust, signs of life and a perhaps a good place to put our stuff once the Earth is destroyed, pianist Josh Nelson will be at the Blue Whale in downtown, leading his quintet in tribute to this costly mission.

For the last decade and a half, Josh Nelson has been an indispensable part of the Los Angeles jazz scene. He put out his first record in the late '90s as a teenage undergraduate at Cal State Long Beach and has criss-crossed the Earth with regularity since. His deft ear and nimble sense of swing has landed him a long-running gig with Natalie Cole; he also rivals Vardan Ovsepian for most notes played on the Blue Whale piano. He is a first-call sideman for musicians like Anthony Wilson and Jennifer Leitham but also has plenty to say on his own, and he's presenting those ideas in ways that few jazz musicians have dug into.

Last year, Nelson released an album of original material entitled Discoveries. The disc is a lushly composed, small ensemble homage to the technological mysteries proposed by writers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that highlights Nelson's abilities with a pen and a piano. Following the album's warm reception, he began incorporating elements of video art into his performances, transforming the Blue Whale into a Tesla-esque laboratory for two sold out nights late last year.

"I had done something off the cuff and not really planned," says Nelson. "Since then I've only done it at Vitellos in Studio City. Technically, this is going to be my fourth official show, but it's going to be a little different."

When he performs tomorrow he'll aim for the future with a suite dedicated to our planetary neighbor. "The first set will be completely new music, specifically written about the Mars landing. The idea is that it will play as one long extended piece, but with a spontaneity and freeness about the whole thing."

He'll be bringing the projections back but with an intent to interact with them a little more. "We're trying out some more ambitious visual elements this time. I want to kind of create a vibe in there, a modern museum look. Last time, we played to the video, but this time I thought, 'Let's have a dialogue between the video and the musicians.' "

Video artist Travis Flournoy will be displaying his art alongside Nelson. Flournoy was given a handful of mid-century film references like Forbidden Planet and the definitive radioactive ant film, Them! and told to interact with the music like a sixth member of the band. "Have you seen H.G. Wells' Things to Come?" says an excited Nelson. "It came out in 1936 but has these incredible models. You have to check it out!"

Jazz musicians put so little effort into the visual component of their shows; if you can get one to smile you should feel lucky. It is refreshing to see Nelson embrace this machinery and put it to engaging use. His musical abilities easily stand alone, but his desire to take his shows to the next level sets him even further apart.

Josh Nelson @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jennifer Leitham - LA Weekly

Almost thirty years ago, jazz bassist John Leitham moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. Two decades later, he underwent gender reassignment surgery to become Jennifer Leitham. Tonight, as part of the Outfest Film Festival, Leitham presents a documentary about her decision entitled I Stand Corrected.
As John, Leitham started playing music in Pennsylvania as a teenager. He played the bass left-handed, already setting himself apart from most all other bassists not named McCartney. His nimble touch and hard-swinging lines eventually landed him work with West Coast luminaries like Gerry Mulligan and Joe Pass as well as long-term gigs with Doc Severinsen and the late Mel Torme.

In his late 40s, following a divorce from his wife, John Leitham pursued the physical change he had always desired. He then learned that many of those who had regularly hired John were uncomfortable sharing the stage with Jennifer.

"My art is a lot better but my career has suffered for it," says Leitham. "I can't rely on waiting for the phone to ring anymore. I have to try pretty hard. Unfortunately in the jazz world, [gender] is way too relevant. It comes from jazz coming out of the big band, swing era. There is still a lot of that behavior amongst musicians, locker room type stuff."

Understandably, Leitham was cautious when approached by documentarian Andrea Meyerson. "Initially, any interaction you have with the media can be problematic if they are not properly informed on the transgender subject," says Leitham. "I've been burned in the past, but I felt that she was very much an ally."

The two began filming in 2006 and wrapped up late last year. The response to the film was positive, and it won the Audience Favorite Award at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs and Best Documentary Feature at the Seattle Transgendered Film Festival in the last couple of months.
Of course, none of this would be much discussed if Leitham wasn't such a terrific bassist. Her current trio, which features pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Randy Drake, can swing like nobody's business, and she brings more melody to the bass than one would expect.

"When I played in my previous persona," says Leitham, "I was always restricted. I really wanted to dance while I played, but I felt people might find it strange if I did." Since her transition, Leitham has not held back on that urge to move. She even changed her technique, eschewing the stool that planted her to the ground for enough elbow room to cut a rug should the moment move her.

As the film title implies, Leitham is getting back on her feet in many ways -- emotionally, physically and musically. "I managed to book a couple of nice gigs based on people seeing the film," she says. "There are a lot of possibilities. I pick people for my band based on how they play. I don't look for gender or age, but I do like my musicians to be taller than me. That way I can wear heels."

Jennifer Leitham @ LA Weekly

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flo & Eddie - OC Weekly

Top Five Post-Turtles Flo & Eddie Hits - OC Weekly
YouTube clips available on link at the end
Vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman formed the Turtles in 1965. After a successful cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," the group went on to have several hits including "Happy Together," "Elenore" and "You Showed Me." Amid contractual disputes the group disbanded in 1970, leaving the Turtles' name tied up in legal troubles. In response they christened themselves Phlorescent Leech and Eddie eventually shortening it to Flo & Eddie.

This Saturday, they will be appearing at the Orange County Fairgrounds alongside '60s throwbacks like Mickey Dolenz and the Grassroots. But the chart-topping success of Flo & Eddie didn't end with the dawn of the 1970s. In fact their biggest selling singles lay just ahead.
The duo went on to offer their services to countless disparate bands looking for that unmistakable Turtles sound - Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Alice Cooper, Stephen Stills, Duran Duran, etc. Here are five songs that just wouldn't be the same without Kaylan and Volman's contributions.

T. Rex
"Bang a Gong (Get It On)" from Electric Warrior (1970)
Less than a year after disbanding the Turtles, Flo & Eddie lent their croons to T. Rex's Electric Warrior album. Marc Bolan's rock and roll strut is aided immensely by the pair's alternating, demure and shrill background vocals. The honking saxophones are a nice bonus.

Psychedelic Furs
"Love My Way" from Forever Now (1982)
In 1982, Richard and Tim Butler's post-punk rock band Psychedelic Furs had a hit on their hands with this haunting, xylophone-plunking jam. Flo and Eddie provided the floating charms for millions of neon-clad girls to sway to.

"Poison Heart" from Mondo Bizarro (1992)
Few New York bands were as enamored with the California sunshine as the Ramones. By 1992, the band was hardly at their peak. This song was written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone despite the fact that he wasn't even the band by the time they recorded it. The verse may be classic Ramones but Flo & Eddie's tight harmonies boosted the chorus into pure California gold.

"T-Birds" from Autoamerican (1980)
On the more glamorous end of the CBGB spectrum, Blondie recorded their Autoamerican record in Los Angeles. Although the album is remembered for Debbie Harry's attempt at rapping on "Rapture," Flo & Eddie provided their Turtles-esque harmonies for the rumbling "T-Birds." Harry's bratty pout never sounded better.

Bruce Springsteen
"Hungry Heart" from The River (1980)
According to legend, this song was originally written for the Ramones. Instead Bruce Springsteen kept it for himself, crafting a fool-proof chart hit with Clarence Clemon's bass-line like saxophone part, an oscillating organ and the unmistakable Flo & Eddie backing the Boss in every direction he went. It was a deliberate bid for chart success that was Springsteen's biggest hit until "Dancing in the Dark" claimed a higher chart position a few years later.

Flo & Eddie @ OC Weekly

Forecastle Fesitval Preview - Pure Volume

The Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky started ten years ago as nothing more than a PA system and some lawn chairs. Since then, the festival has expanded into a powerhouse summer tradition that has grown so large it offers its own off-shoot festival in January.

With an expected attendance of over 30,000 people, the line-up offers a wide enough variety of bands (My Morning Jacket, Flying Lotus, Preservation Hall Jazz Band) to keep everyone happy. Here are five bands playing this weekend that will definitely make the summer swelter worthwhile.

Beach House

Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand of Beach House. (Photo: Elizabeth Flyntz)
Beach House’s moody pop is perfect for slow-motion tracking shots. The Baltimore-based duo released their fourth album Bloom just a few months ago and have kept up the frowny-face streak with a lush offering  anchored by Alex Scally’s spiraling guitars and vocalist Victoria Legrand’s sullen, operatic restraint. If you are just looking for a nice corner to sway by yourself, this duo has just the soundtrack for you.

Justin Townes Earle

Sixty-six percent of Earle’s name is loaded with a folkie responsibility few people would be willing to take on. The son of Steve Earle and named after the late Townes Van Zandt, Justin has forged his own identity without losing his lineage. He is a charismatic performer who can carry a crowd with just his voice and a guitar. Although only 30, Earle has lived and imbibed enough for a lifetime. He has an undeniable troubled charm that women want to cure and men wish they could exude.

Stax! Soul Revue

Stax Records was one of the most important record labels of the 1960s. Their unbeatable streak of classic southern soul singles easily rivaled Motown for the real sound of young America. To just name a few, their roster included Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs. These days there are few survivors remaining. House bassist Duck Dunn passed away a couple of months ago and soul men like Isaac Hayes and Wilson Pickett have passed in the last few years but the legacy is still carried by the survivors. Guitarist Steve Cropper, who played on 95 percent of the label’s biggest hits will be leading a band that features vocalist Eddie Floyd. As long as they play “Big Bird,” you can’t go wrong.

Dr. Dog
Pennsylvania-based Dr. Dog are a ragged crew of touring veterans. Their newest release Be the Void, although a little cleaner than their previous releases, doesn’t hold off on the back porch rock. The band’s alternating lead vocalists, Toby Leaman with his throaty bark and Scott McMicken’s sensitive persistence, combine to make for a multifarious musical identity but always keeps its feet planted in the catchiest road-tested hooks.


Charles Bradley

The 60-something Bradley, affectionately referred to as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” only has one album to his name. The tireless showman scraped together a living through kitchens and various cover bands until being discovered by the soul revivalists at Daptone Records, which is home to Sharon Jones. Bradley is now making up for that lost time with a documentary and steady itinerary outside of Brooklyn. His weathered howl deserves all the recognition it can get.

Forecastle Festival @ Pure Volume

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ray Charles Tribute - LA Weekly

Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz
Hollywood Bowl

Better than... hanging out at the Ray Charles Post Office on Washington Boulevard.

Last night, a parade of marquee-ready names hit the stage of the Hollywood Bowl in tribute to the "Genius of Soul," Ray Charles. Featuring Babyface, Martina McBride and Dave Koz, the show sought to appeal to a wide swath of ticket buyers and succeeded admirably. But what do they have to do with the essence of Brother Ray?

There has been a lot of debate around town about how to make the jazz bookings hip at the Hollywood Bowl. But how does one go about selling 18,000 tickets to a jazz show? Many America jazz clubs would be happy to have 18,000 people pass through their door in a year. Or five.

Chris Barton at the LA Times opined last year: "If jazz is to remain a presence on the city's premier
stage, it needs to be seen from all angles at its still expanding, still evolving best."

This was not one of those expanding shows. In fact, the calendar doesn't look to have any of those this season. Still, I'm willing to wait and see.

Brother Ray is one of the great music autobiographies. Charles' unapologetic nature about his career, his lovers and particularly his heroin addiction was refreshing, considering many in my generation just knew him as the old blind guy who sang "America the Beautiful" or "Georgia" whenever someone had the right budget for a Fourth of July spectacular.

This show, hosted by Tavis Smiley, focused on three early stages of Charles' career: his Atlantic Records soul/jazz sides, his approach to the country radio hits of his childhood and the rollicking big band sound that many people associate with him today. It also happened to be a period of unbridled creativity that was the peak of his extensive drug abuse.

With a small supporting ensemble that included a striding George Duke on keyboards, the great Houston Person on saxophone and Terence Blanchard playing a blood vessel-popping trumpet, Bebe Winans offered up his sleepy gospel on "I Got A Woman" and "Drown In My Own Tears" before making way for a sparkly Dee Dee Bridgewater who breathed a soulful life into the proceedings with an passionate "Hallelujah" and "I Believe to My Soul."

"How bout the dress?" said a stunned Blanchard as Bridgewater left the stage. He was killing time as the honorary Count Basie orchestra took to the stage.

They offered a clean and swinging take on "I Can't Stop Loving You" before backing the night's version of the Raelettes that included the audience-adored Patti Austin and Siedah Garrett. Austin's sobering rendition of "Come Rain or Come Shine" was a highlight of the evening despite the syrupy strings.

Martina McBride, following a rather challenging collection of background vocalists, handled the country & western portion straight down the middle with literal readings of "You Don't Know Me" and "Take These Chains." Following the Raelettes was no easy task and she handled it well, despite the string section being drowned out by the Basie horn section. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval even made a roughly sixteen bar ear-popping cameo during "Hey Good Lookin'" before disappearing backstage.

Following the intermission Babyface, a man who can still reasonably call himself that at the age of 54, was backed by a big band conglomeration of the earlier ensembles. His soul by way of neo-soul approach was precise but his wasn't really the ideal voice to encompass Charles' weathered croak. He made a joke about his white neighbors in Indianapolis and their acceptance of Charles.

The airing of a classic Saturday Night Live sketch followed, driving home the point: In the bit Charles is introduced to the Young Caucasian Singers (Belushi, Akroyd, Murray, Curtin, Newman, Radner) who go on to butcher his "What I'd Say" in the most soul-less way possible.

To their credit, all of the soloists brought their repressed energies to a version of "What I'd Say" and then, despite earlier claims from Smiley that no one could beat Charles' version, performed "America, the Beautiful," drawing it out with their melismatic reverie, aided by every house light illuminating the dispersing crowd.

Personal Bias: There may be nothing better in the world than Ray Charles' performance of "Ring of Fire" on the Johnny Cash show.

The Crowd: Babyface fans, surprised Patti Austin fans and a few people who brought flowers as part of their picnic.

Random Notebook Dump: Considering the intimacy of the seating, people should probably consult their neighbors before purchasing garlic fries.

Ray Charles Tribute @ LA Weekly

Monday, July 09, 2012

Body Art Expo - LA Weekly

Welcome to my life, tattoo
I'm a man now, thanks to you
I expect I'll regret you
But the skin graft man won't get you
You'll be there when I die

by The Who

People with tattoos are sentimental. Most of them, anyway. No one gets a tattoo just for fun. Or at least don't get every tattoo for fun. Few people look at a tattoo on their body and completely forget how and why it came to be there. They usually represent something that is or was once important to them. "I love my kids!" or "I have a very strong fondness for the Dodgers!"

At the Body Art Expo in Pomona this weekend, there was a wide cross-section of people, from teen girls accompanied by their moms to rugged old dudes with fading battleships, all of them contemplating their next permanent declaration.

The Body Art Expo, billed as the world's largest tattoo convention, was held in Pavilion Nine on the fairgrounds in Pomona. Amid the sprawling fairground's complex, cars were funneled into a small corner by the model railroad yard. Bands were set-up outside by the beer depot and the KROQ van. Inside were eight rows of tattoo artists, suppliers and other related businesses. From a distance they could be selling anything -- ShamWows, Oxiclean, velcro golf shoes. They even had the Hot Dog on a Stick window open.

Each booth was next to another with little space for more than two artists to have the necessary elbow room to work. Portfolios sat out opened to renderings of Salvador Dali or Marilyn Monroe or a fire-breathing eagle. It was a simple proposition. You pick out who you'd like to do the work, you decide what the work will be and then you provide the canvas. They provide the ink and a steady hand.
Is there any other artist that hocks their wares like this?

Stevee, a young assistant with a Highland Park-based tattoo parlor, estimated she had been to about ten tattoo expos, traveling as far as Houston to offer their west coast vibe. She explained that most of the artists got customers based on their portfolio and that she knew a fair amount of vendors from other expos. Most of the artists were locally based but there were a few banners representing Arizona and the Bay Area.

For those not satisfied with their previous decisions, there were two booths dedicated to tattoo removal. Lenore Heard sat in a corner booth offering up the services of Erase A Tat. Her bubbly persona was the most welcoming of any of the other booths -- as the scolding mom of the convention, she had no choice. Not only an employee but also a client, Heard showed us her nearly finished removal on her ankle. She probably doesn't get invited to many of the after-parties on the convention circuit.

There was also a small stage set aside in a corner for performances and a daily tattoo contest. Jabberjaw, a robust and grinning MC, gleefully flung offers for free piercings and profane t-shirts destined for detention hall into the crowd. He was quick with a joke, using probably the most inappropriate stage patter ever to open for a group of folk dancers. But when a pre-show announcement reads, "Crazy to the mainstage. Tattoo Louie is looking for you," it is fairly clear that other than the set-up, this is probably not the usual convention crowd.

Body Art Expo @ LA Weekly

Tribute to Dinah Washington - LA Weekly

A Tribute to Dinah Washington, with Barbara Morrison
Catalina Bar & Grill

Last night at Hollywood's shiniest jazz club, Catalina Bar & Grill, Barbara Morrison led a 17-piece big band in a tribute to the late singing legend Dinah Washington. It's curious that Morrison would bring her show to Catalina's considering she has her very own venue in Leimert Park, less than fifteen minutes away and with better parking options. Nonetheless, with help from conductor John Stephens, the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center All Star Big Band (BMPACASBB?) played a hard swinging set for just over an hour with the ebullient Ms. Morrison joyously driving the train.

The big band opened without Morrison, finding their groove with a ten minute set of standards like "Take the A Train." The rhythm section, particularly the drummer, ran like a wild horse early in the show, causing conductor John Stephens to loudly clap the tempo he desired more than once. A few audience members mistook the cue as an indication that they should clap too.

Morrison lost part of her leg to complications from diabetes last summer so it is always rather inspiring to see her. She is adapting well to her new lifestyle and got herself on the stage with very little effort and sat down next to the piano player.

For a Dinah Washington tribute, Morrison opened with an Aretha Franklin number, "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream." The band replaced Aretha's original bossa feel with a hard swing that set the tone for the evening.

Turns out Morrison was supposed to be performing as Dinah Washington, so all her between-song patter was in first person but about the life of Washington. It was a slightly confusing premise that made it unclear what era Washington she was going for.

Outside of the acting parts, Morrison was in top form. Her coy teases and natural likability cannot be buried under a character, and her singing voice is as crisp and personal as ever. The band gelled with Morrison on a raucous "Confessin' the Blues" in tribute to Kansas City's Jay McShann while "Relax Max" found Morrison in a playful mood with just the rhythm section and a flautist. A compassionate sing/speak version of "Blow Top Blues" was a demure highlight that featured Morrison a capella, aided only by her conductor's reading glasses.

In honor of Ray Charles, Morrison sang "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" with help from vocalist Billy Valentine. It was a shame that Valentine was only on stage for the one song. He had just the right amount of soulful sandpaper to rival Morrison onstage.

She closed with a couple of standards, "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "What a Difference a Day Makes," that got a few audience members up and dancing in the dark corners of the sprawling club.
When their band found their groove and Morrison put aside personas to just sing like the diva she is, there was swinging perfection. It's great to see Morrison continuing to command a stage. If only we can get that sizable crowd to come down to Leimert Park.

Personal Bias:Sometimes I get my mid-century jazz singers confused.

The Crowd:People who vividly remember going to Dinah Washington concerts.

Random Notebook Dump:It's hard to believe that having a 17 piece band was ever a profitable enterprise.

Barbara Morrison @ LA Weekly

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ulysses Owens Jr - NYC Jazz Record

Ulysses Owens Jr - Unanimous

Ulysses Owens Jr., possessor of the mighty
mythological name and mightier sense of swing, makes
his bandleading debut with this album. To help him, he
expertly employs a handful of his own employers as
well as some of the sidemen who shared those dates.
Owens is quoted in the liner notes discussing the
importance of the Young Lions era: “There was a lot of
great jazz during the ‘90s…even if people were trying
different stuff, everyone’s focus was still on swinging.”
And here Owens does just that with help from
trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who contributes to slightly
more than half the album, and bassist Christian

It is the latter’s presence that is felt most heavily
on this album. McBride has employed Owens for the
last two years in his swinging trio alongside pianist
Christian Sands, who appears here as well. It’s been 18
years since McBride’s debut as a leader and that album,
Gettin’ To It, has a lingering influence over Unanimous
in its urgent sense of instrumentation and dedication
to unapologetic swing.

The impeccable horn section (Payton, trombonist
Michael Dease and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw) blast
through the first two tunes. “Good and Terrible”, a
Dease original, is a ten-minute workout that introduces
the bandmember through their well-constructed solos.
“Con Alma”, the ever-present Dizzy Gillespie standard,
is grounded by Owens’ splashing cymbals and lifted
by Payton’s soaring solo. Owens’ lone original,
“Beardom X”, is a meditative tune that gets a fiery
contribution from Shaw.

The album closes out with three trio selections.
The years of working together are evident in the classic
piano trio sound. McBride channels his best Ray Brown
as Sands plops down a brief but brilliant solo on “You
Make Me Feel So Young”. “Cherokee” gets a murderous
tempo and Owens’ cymbals are a blur until the
waltzing bridge cuts things in half. He and McBride
trade blistering solos as both men compete to see who
can ignite their instrument first.

These men are committed swingers and their
sound is refreshing in a throwback way. Anyone
concerned about the disappearance of straight swing
need look no further than the final third of this album.
The tradition is safe and still going places.

Ulysses Owens Jr @ NYC Jazz Record