Monday, November 26, 2012

Ahmad Jamal Quartet - OC Weekly

Ahmad Jamal Quartet
November 24
Segerstrom Concert Hall
82-year-old Ahmad Jamal is an undisputed master of the piano. His use of space and repetition hold a unique place in a genre that prizes dexterity and note count.On Saturday night, before a disappointingly spacious crowd (why were those choir seats empty in front and full in the back?), Jamal led his quartet through a brief set of standards that highlighted his mastery of the 88 keys of ebony and ivory.
In the center of Segerstrom's elegant concert hall, Jamal set up alongside upright bassistReginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Bedrena. As Jamal approached the piano he started playing, not even waiting to sit down while his band was already seated and ready to go. They launched quickly into a steady backbeat with Jamal setting the tone over his churning band.
It must be a challenge to play alongside Jamal. He constantly conducts from the piano, pointing at band members for solos while frequently allowing the unit to ring without any solos. Jamal has a confidence in open spaces that would terrify most younger musicians but in Jamal's hands patience is rewarded. The quartet held a cohesive sound that never let up on the groove, breathing new life into standards like "Blue Moon" and "Like Someone in Love." The band is spooky good at following Jamal's whims, jutting left than right like a flock of birds.
Around 8:45 the band stood up as a unit and bowed, drawing a scattered standing ovation. Was this intermission? Nope, apparently just a chance for the band to stretch together at the front of the stage. They returned to their instruments and proceeded to play a couple more tunes including Jamal's 1958 hit, "Poinciana."
Not a lot of jazz musicians play their hits (jazz musicians have hits?). The genre gives most musicians permission to play whatever the hell they want. Although Jamal is not much of a talker from the stage (when he named his band members, his voice was indecipherable), he does frequently grant the audience a taste of the past. That unmistakable lilt of "Poinciana" popped from Riley's mallets and the audience was applauding before Jamal struck a note.
I wonder if Jamal has been playing the song consistently for the last 54 years or if he made peace with it at a certain point. The band worked through an extended version of the song with Jamal ringing low end clusters and high repetitious phrases as Bedrena kept a steady pulse on a tambourine before they closed with a coy trill.
And that was it. The band stood up and bowed, the audience stood up and clapped. The house lights turned on at 9'15 and what felt like an intermission was actually the end. The audience, barely surfacing from a post-Thanksgiving haze seemed to be just getting into things when it was all over. Last month, Pat Metheny played for twice as long and I enjoyed it half as much. Oh well. In classic showbiz style, Jamal left the audience wanting more.
Critical Bias: I have heard Ahmad Jamal play twice before in the last ten years. Both times he played "Poinciana."
The Crowd: Respectfully attentive but disappointingly spacious.
Overheard:"I'm so glad he played that song."
Random Notebook Dump:The night played out more as a club gig than a concert hall gig. I guess at the age of 82 you can play for however long you like.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Austin Peralta, RIP - LA Weekly

Jazz pianist Austin Peralta died yesterday, at age 22.
The son of Venice Beach skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta, his iconoclastic lineage gave him a unique perspective, with his long blonde hair more reminiscent of the boardwalk than the practice room.
Nonetheless, Peralta was a regular presence on Southern Californian piano benches, popping up on short notice with his band in a Westside lounge, as part of Kamasi Washington's double-barreled ensemble in a well-amplified club or the occasional pick-up gig including an appearance the night he died.
He also worked with Flying Lotus, who announced Peralta's passing on his twitter account early this morning:
it kills me to type that we lost a member of our family, Austin Peralta. I don't really have the right words right now.

On Tuesday night, Peralta lent spiraling keyboards to vocalist Natasha Agrama's passionate performance at the Blue Whale, pulling off articulate runs and sensitive accompaniment behind a set list that ranged from Bjork to Mingus. He was often featured as the lone instrumental voice alongside Agrama, highlighting his deft touch with nary a note out of place as he worked his incomparable magic. He appeared joyous and playful that night, both on the bandstand and between sets.
Now, for most of us, that magic will be confined to the handful of albums he left behind. Last year, Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label released Peralta's Endless Planets, a record we gladly placed on our top five jazz records of the year. It was a psychedelic trip through pulsating soul that, alongside Thundercat's the Golden Age of Apocalypse (on which Peralta also played) heralded something truly fantastic and new. Peralta had moved far beyond teenage phenom and into a sound that resonated with promise and originality, giving hope to the future of the Los Angeles jazz scene.
Now only great "what ifs" remain as he will always be preserved in boyish youth and limitless potential. A truly devastating loss.
That he died at only 22 is hard to believe; I first saw him leading a trio nearly ten years ago. Blessed with a devastating left hand, Peralta was driving the now-defunct Lunaria in Century City into a frenzy despite being a very young kid. I couldn't have been much older than 22 at the time and it drove me crazy because while I was trying to figure out what to do with a piano, he seemed to have a lot of it already figured out.
Rest in peace, Austin.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kareem's Top Jazz List - LA Weekly

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, legendary UCLA and Lakers center, six-time NBA MVP and Bruce Lee foe, has had a passion for jazz his entire life. Raised in New York, Abdul-Jabbar had the opportunity to soak up the center of the jazz world at one of its most vital periods. He regularly crammed himself into the tiny tables at the Village Vanguard as a teenager and now more than twenty years retired manages to take in a show at the equally tight quarters at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

As part of a recent interview with the LA Weekly, Abdul-Jabbar offered up his list of essential jazz albums. It is a solid list of classics that belong in anyone’s record collection so here, in no particular order, are those records.

Herbie Hancock
Empyrean Isles (1964)

Sam Rivers
Fuchsia Swing Song (1965)

Miles Davis  
Miles Ahead (1957)

Chick Corea
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue (1959)

Miles Davis
Cookin’ (1956)

Miles Davis
Birth of the Cool (1957)

Sonny Rollins
A Night at the Village Vanguard (1957)

John Coltrane
Live! At the Village Vanguard (1962)

John Coltrane
Coltrane Plays Blues (1962)

John Coltrane
Blue Train (1957)

Thelonious Monk
Monk’s Music (1957)

Thelonious Monk
Monk’s Dream (1963)

Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall
Town Hall Concert (1959)

Larry Young
Unity (1966)

Freddie Hubbard
Ready for Freddie (1961)

Wynton Marsalis
Black Codes From the Underground (1985)

Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Thad Jones Legacy (1999)

Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins
Brilliant Corners (1957)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kareem on Jazz - LA Weekly

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer. As both a Bruin and a Laker, he is a pillar of Los Angeles basketball. On Friday, Nov. 16, he will have his jersey number retired, and a statue of him will be unveiled outside Staples Center. That's fine and all, but we wanted to talk to him about jazz.

Your father was a musician. Were you always surrounded by jazz?

Absolutely. My mom and dad both sang in the Hall Johnson choral groups. They did the background work on the late-'40s film Cabin in the Sky. My dad started at Juilliard right after the war, class of 1952. He played trombone, tuba and baritone horn. In my household there was always music on the turntable. I started out on Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine, my parents' favorites.

[Bassist] Ron Carter used to play basketball with us on Riverside Drive in Harlem. He'd come and play when I was in the ninth grade. At first I didn't know he was Ron Carter. He was just one of the guys who would come play with us. He wasn't that great [laughs]. When his son RJ was born, he missed taking his wife to the hospital. His wife couldn't find him because he was with us, playing basketball.
My dad took me the very first times I heard music live, but by the time I got to high school I was on my own. The Village Vanguard was just awesome. Mr. Gordon, who ran the place, would let me in for free because I was really good friends with the guys in Thelonious Monk's band. I saved a lot of money that way.

What was the jazz scene like when you arrived at UCLA in 1965?

I got a chance to hear some good music at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Shelly's Manne-Hole in Hollywood. There was a club called Marty's on the Hill in Baldwin Hills at La Brea and Stocker. That was a great spot. I saw Miles' band play at the Orange County Fairgrounds in the spring of '66. UCLA had good jazz performances on campus too. I got to see Mingus, Ellington, John Handy, all those guys.

You had your own jazz festival in the 1970s. How was that experience as a jazz promoter?

Leonard Feather gave me a great write-up in the L.A. Times. I can still remember the review. He said, "Jazz scores with an assist from Jabbar." I did it at the Ahmanson. I was lucky. ... I didn't think it had to make sense financially. Fortunately for me, it was not a financial bust. At the end of it all, I think I made $2,000. People told me, "At least you finished in the black," but as you can tell, I didn't do it again.

My dad played. The people in my office arranged that. My parents came out for the festival, but I was never of the opinion that my dad was someone who people might want to hear play. It was not my idea. I should have known when I saw [his] trombone case, but I didn't put it together. He didn't embarrass me. That's all I was worried about.

What are you listening to these days?

I'm really enjoying the ascendance of Robert Glasper. It's just wonderful to see someone from the young generation, who appreciates all the music that I have enjoyed. He's aware of it and made his own take on it. He's still loyal to the tradition without distorting it. I think that that's pretty great.

Kareem @ LA Weekly

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dayna Stephens review - NYC Jazz Record

Young tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens has been
dogged by health issues lately. While waiting for a
kidney donation, he continues a rigorous schedule of
dialysis but his newest album is filled with strength
and vitality. Recorded over a single day last October,
Stephens managed to compile ten confident
performances with a stellar band.

Stephens sticks mostly to the seize-the-day
direction but he starts the album off with a confident
swing through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. His
languid take on the melody floats over the driving
rhythm section of pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Kiyoshi
Kitagawa and drummer Donald Edwards.
After that masterful display, a majority of the
focus is on Stephens’ pen. The swinging “Kwooked
Stweet” places the leader in tight harmony with
trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, Stephens putting his
guttural honk to use, digging in over Edwards’
persistent cymbal. “Radio-active Earworm” is
supplemented by the addition of Raffi Garabedian.
The two tenor saxophones blend in close harmony on
held-out tones while Parks takes an equally spacious
solo. Guitarist Julian Lage is added to the troupe for
Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus”, taken as a gentle
waltz with Rodriguez returning on flugelhorn. The band 
digs into the Parks-enabled ‘70s vibe, neither rushing nor dragging
the tune, as Lage takes a brief but spidery solo.
Parks makes a couple of compositional
contributions that bring out the beast in Stephens.
“Hard-boiled Wonderland” gets a rich tenor solo over
the pulsating rhythm section while album closer
“Cartoon Element” is equally bright. Stephens and
Parks dip and dive in formation on the melody before
the tune turns into a tug of war between Stephens’
splattering phrases and the rumbling rhythm section.
The resulting hour plus is an inspiring collection
of performances that rise above Stephens’ health
hurdles and present a powerful band rolling through a
well-rehearsed set. Here’s to many more tomorrows.

Sara Gazarek - NYC Jazz Record

Sara Gazarek does not sound like Blossom Dearie.
Thankfully, she isn’t trying to. Instead, the young, Los
Angeles-based vocalist is reaching a sound of her own,
a little less coy but no less swinging in her tip of the
cap to the late Dearie. Under the production guidance
of organist Larry Goldings, Gazarek sticks with her
working group (pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Hamilton
Price, drummer Zach Harmon) to craft a dozen tunes
that roll with a popping, straight ahead swing.

The album opens with a song associated with
Dearie’s 1957 debut, “Everything I’ve Got”. The upbeat
tale of physical violence is driven by Harmon’s crisp
drumming while Nelson takes a brief, two-handed
solo. Guitarist John Pizzarelli follows, lending a little
celebrity to the ensemble, dueting on the titular
Gazarek co-write. The two tangle in tight harmonies as
Gazarek works her higher range. She gets a little too
sentimental on a cover of Ben Folds’ pop love song
“The Luckiest” (Gazarek notes that both she and her
husband have a snippet of the lyrics tattooed with hers
clearly visible on her outstretched arm on the cover).
The album retorts with a little oomph, letting Harmon
drive on the bell of his cymbal during “Down With
Love” while Nelson gives an off-kilter solo that bounds
across the keyboard. A pair of well-worn standards
hover next to each other. “Tea for Two” gets a sultry,
slow rendition with Price getting room to amble gently
for a chorus while “I’m Old Fashioned” feels equally
hushed but the band quietly churns, peaking during
Nelson’s flickering solo.

The album closes with another nod to Dearie,
“Unpack Your Adjectives”, from the old Schoolhouse
Rock series. Goldings lends some blues organ touches
as Nelson is muscular on the piano, Gazarek adding
some sass to her delivery, which will hopefully make
more than a cameo in her next album.

Gazarek has a beautiful, pure voice that is
perpetually indebted to the lyrics. Rather than flighty
histrionics or bubbly mumbling, Gazarek sells the tune
with a straightforward, refreshing approach. Hopefully
it will be less than five years before her next outing.

Sara Gazarek @ NYC Jazz Record

Franchesca Robi Carries Platters' Torch - OC Weekly

Paul Robi was the booming baritone of the 50s vocal group the Platters. He stayed with the group through their chart topping heyday, performing on timeless classics like "Only You," "The Great Pretender" and "Twilight Time." He passed away in the late 1980s, performing for as long as his body would allow. This summer his daughter, Franchesca, released a collection of Platters covers in tribute to her father's legacy, proving a inherited sense of phrasing and romance. She spoke with us by phone in anticipation of her Society of Singers benefit this Monday.

OC Weekly (Sean J. O'Connell): How old were you when you realized what your father did for a 

Franchesca Robi: I think I realized how famous the group was when I got to my teenage years. I went on tour with them a lot. That was kind of interesting. We'd be out of school a little bit too much. It was fun to travel with my dad. They were so well known around the world. That was really cool to go to a different country and see people who didn't speak English but knew the lyrics to Platters songs.
The weird thing is we got the same response everywhere we went - Indonesia, Australia, Taiwan, Finland. People loved the music. People loved it no matter what. My mom and my dad loved performing in Japan the most. They absolutely loved the Platters in Japan. I toured there for many years too. After my dad passed I continued on with the music. We had a great time there. People love the idea of the daughter carrying on the father's music.

What do you think the Platters' legacy is?

I think it's timeless music. The songs were love songs with beautiful melodies and harmonies. Their music was so beautiful. They don't make songs like that anymore. The whole combination is what made that group and they were such smooth, elegant performers. They were sort of in the same vein as Nat King Cole, that type of swagger. It was amazing to see them perform.
They were more into love songs and ballads. Even though they were in that doo wop scene, everyone would get together and slow dance to them. People would come up to my dad and say "we fell in love to this song" or they conceived their first child listening to one of their songs.

Your album seems like quite a production with strings and a jazz quintet. What did it take to make it happen?

It was a project that my mom and I had talked about for many years. It all came together last year. We met the right people who wanted to get involved. Next thing you know we were in the studio. We recorded the whole thing at Capitol Records in Hollywood. The Platters' first hit was recorded there as well. It was an amazing experience doing the record there. The engineer we used at Capitol, Dan Wallin, is one of the oldest engineers still working. He's very in-demand and he had just done the soundtrack for Mission Impossible. He helped me get all the musicians together for the quintet [including bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Peter Erskine]. He was in the first session with the orchestra. He loved my voice. He said "you gotta get back in here and I have the perfect guys for you."

You're fundraiser is for the Society of Singers. What is their mission?

The organization was founded by Henry Mancini's wife, Ginny. She put it together for singers who have medical problems. There isn't usually health insurance for available for singers. The organization is there to help people who are unable to take care of their medical costs. It's a great cause and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Robi @ OC Weekly