Friday, March 15, 2013

Joe Lovano's Us Five - DownBeat

On Jan. 22, saxophonist Joe Lovano brought Us Five to the Mint in Los Angeles. The quintet—including pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela—played for nearly two hours and matched the giddy enthusiasm of the standing-room-only audience of 200.

Lovano was a towering presence throughout the night. The spotlight reflected off his large silver medallion as he wordlessly gazed above the crowd. He opened with a brief solo intro before the band jumped in on “Us Five,” a track from the group’s 2009 Folk Artalbum. From there, each band member took turns introducing themselves with a fast-paced solo.

The majority of the set focused on Lovano’s compositions and Us Five’s newest release,Cross Culture. Lovano’s horn, dense and boisterous, flirted with the outer realm but always maintained a pulsating accessibility. On “PM,” Brown and Mela gave an impressive display of guttural drive, seamlessly finishing each other’s phrases. Lovano had the best spot in the house for their interplay, nodding along while nestled between both kits. Weidman started a slow solo that built into a fiery abyss before giving way to Spalding.

A remarkable part of the show was the devout attention paid to the bassist. Every time Spalding took a solo, a pin-drop silence washed over the otherwise chatty crowd.

Lovano made brief dalliances with Charlie Parker’s “Ko-Ko” before drifting away from the rapid-fire melody. He returned fully committed to Parker for “Yardbird Suite.” After a rubato intro from Lovano, Brown and Mela punctuated each other’s deft swing. It was as straightahead as things got for the set, and it didn’t last long. Lovano blew a bellowing honk before Weidman dug deep into a searching solo, while “Star Crossed Lovers,” the lone standard on Cross Culture, was a breathy ballad that lowered the pulse of the room a little. Lovano stretched out, giving a thoughtful solo that rang with an honest awareness.

Lovano returned alone for an encore. He walked into the darkness of the room without amplification and blew a heartfelt swirl for the encircling audience. He was briefly transformed into a wandering busker, capturing the intimacy of the tiny venue. It was a raw display of artistry and the perfect end to a memorable set.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Howlin' Wolf & Muddy Waters - OC Weekly

Wolf and Waters enjoy a refreshing beverage.

The American blues sound overtook England in the 1960s like no other. Limey guitar slingers like John Mayall, Peter Green and Jimmy Page worked up their tolerance to whiskey, mastered the blues scale and made more money than every American blues musician that came before them. In the early 1970s, two of those American bluesmen-- Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters--came to London separately to record a couple of albums with a studio full of high-profile British appreciators. The results were worth considerably less than their parts. 
It's a story you're not likely to hear when it comes to the myths of both of these guitar gods, who are both being celebrated at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall tomorrow during Blues at the Crossroads 2. Anchored by Grammy-nominated blues band the Fabulous Thunderbirds--the backing band for the night--revered blues artists will take turns riffing on the best of Howling' Wolf and Muddy Waters. With every bent note and lighting fast riff, masters like James Cotton, Jody Williams, Bob Margolin and Tinsley Ellis will show their appreciation to these blues giants. Though there's no shortage of American players indebted to the sound these men left behind, they did have quite a hand in lighting a fire under the asses of some legendary UK musicians while they were alive.
Howlin' Wolf, born Chester Burnett, and Muddy Waters, born McKinley Morganfield, were both raised in Mississippi in the early 1910s but found success with their guttural blues in Chicago with the famed Chess Records. Between the two of them, the standard repertoire for nearly every blues band was written and recorded. Wolf wrote "Killing Floor" and "How Many More Years" while Waters, with the pen of Willie Dixon, had success in the late 1950s with "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "Mannish Boy" and "Hoochie Coochie Man."
Waters is credited with helping usher in the blues craze in England with a visit to London in 1958, inspiring thousands of bar bands, resulting in groups like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Long-haired bluesmen were the opposition to baroque pop bands like the Beatles and the Hollies, but they shared plenty of airplay in America and the UK. By the 1970s, second and third generation bluesmen were bigger draws than the originators of the sound. Thankfully, they knew their obligation to the masters.
Howlin' Wolf was the first to cross the pond and he was paired with the cream of the crop: Guitarist Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones' pianist Ian Stewart, bassist Bill Wyman, drummer Charlie Watts and a Beatle, Ringo Starr. They recorded a set of blues standards from the Chess catalog that found the Wolf not so much howlin' as groanin'. The band is eager but not nearly wizened enough for the task, resulting in a overall sound that is lacking in confidence and direction. Stewart's constant trilling piano notes can drive a man insane but American teenaged harmonica player Jeffrey Carp lends a weight far beyond his years.
Waters followed a year later. He was paired with keyboardists Steve Winwood and Georgie Fame plus drummer Mitch Mitchell. Chess stuck with the same formula and got the same results. Waters was healthier and a little more playful but most of the retreads don't add anything new to the originals. Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher shines on "Walkin' Blues" mostly because it is a stripped-down duet with Waters.
There are better places to start with all of the artists involved. Howlin' Wolf's self-titled 1962 release is a masterwork that provided three of the songs for his London sessions. Waters' 1960 set at the Newport Jazz Festival is one of the best live albums ever recorded in any genre. Even Waters' psychedelic blues experiment Electric Mud, recorded in Chicago in 1967, managed to take Waters to a new place including an amusing cover of the Rolling Stones "Let's Spend the Night Together."
Regardless of the quality of the UK experiments, both records sold well, placing in the Billboard charts and introducing many rockheads, both British and American, to the roots of the blues sound. Hopefully once listeners were introduced, they sought out the real deal.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Definitive Guide to Music of Big Lebowski - LA Weekly

LA Weekly celebrated the 15th Anniversary of the Big Lebowski with a soundtrack breakdown...

Song: "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" (1962)
Performer: Nina Simone
Where the song is heard: "Tell me about yourself, Jeffrey," says Maude Lebowski in a post-coital haze. As all four minutes of "I Got It Bad" play out, the two lie naked between the sheets, while the Dude puffs on a roach, tells his life story, uses the bathroom, makes a White Russian, calls Walter and learns Maude's reason for seducing him: She wants a baby.
Simone's sultry tune was written by Duke Ellington and included in his Jump for Joy musical revue, which premiered at the Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles in 1941. The project featured an all-black cast, and was an early statement by the jazz legend addressing civil rights. Vocalist Ivie Anderson performed "I Got It Bad" 101 times during the show's run, and the sensitive ballad became an instant classic, with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Prima to Thelonious Monk tackling it.
Twenty-one years after Anderson, Nina Simone recorded the track as part of Nina Simone Sings Ellington, a 1962 tribute album. Her label, Colpix, pulled out all the stops for the ambitious project, employing a full orchestra and the Malcolm Dodd Singers, who provided a soothing, gospel hush to the record. Simone's interpretation is a slow burn, with the glacial tempo pushed gently by the drummer's brushes while the orchestra quietly punctuates her husky vibrato. It's a masterful display of minimalism and control, which closes with a 10-second scat flourish, enough to secure Simone's place as the "High Priestess of Soul."
How does all of this tie in with the Dude and Maude? It doesn't, although their conversation shows that he, too, has undertaken a bit of activism in his day. ("I was one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement. The original Port Huron Statement. Not the compromised second draft.") Oh, and like Maude, by the time Simone shot the cover photo for Ellington, she, too, was pregnant. 

Big Lebowski @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Talking #BAM with Nicholas Payton - LA Weekly

Michael Wilson
In person, the bearded and bald-headed Nicholas Payton does not look like one of the most polarizing figures in modern jazz. The 39-year-old trumpeter is a calm and quiet presence. Whether he intended to or not, however, after posting a blog entry in late 2011 entitled "On Why Jazz Isn't Cool Anymore," a blizzard of controversy descended upon him, inciting late night, off-the-record conversations that prompted twice as many questions as answers.
The rub? Payton's determination to do away with the term "jazz" in favor of the phrase "Black American Music" or as his tweets have fashionably reduced it, "#BAM."
Payton is the New Orleans-born son of bassist Walter Payton, and appeared on the scene in the early 1990s as a brash young lion, releasing a string of records on Verve and winning a Grammy at the age of 23. Right now he's in town teaching private lessons at the Monk Institute at UCLA, and hosts a master class (a lecture and discussion) this Thursday at Schoenberg Hall.
"I wasn't trying to start anything," Payton says of the incendiary post. "It wasn't even fully conceived. I was tweeting off the dome and after a certain amount of time I took all the tweets and put them in order."
Here are some examples from the piece:
Playing Jazz is like using the rear-view mirror to drive your car on the freeway.
People are too afraid to let go of a name that is killing the spirit of the music.
Payton followed by responding to detractors with open letters, addressing fellow musicians like saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Christian McBride and saxophonist Branford Marsalis. Through them he outlined his disappointment, and strengthened his argument.
"People always try to use European ideology to tear down Black music, to try and make the claim that Black people appropriated European harmony," says Payton. "Europeans didn't create harmony. It exists first of all in nature. We are all harmonic beings. Blacks haven't appropriated European harmony as much as those rules that govern Western thought have been used as a way of legitimatizing or discrediting the Black American aesthetic."
His only other post for November 2011 is entitled "On Meditation and Taking a Shit," while his tweets are frequently dedicated to sex or tagged with the hashtag #MFCOMN which stands for "Motherfuckers chillin' on my nutz." Perhaps that's why he's drawn so much controversy: It's not so much the message as the messenger.
He is not lacking in confidence. however, and is happy to take on those that don't agree. "What are you gonna really say?" says Payton of his critics. "You can disagree with me but it doesn't make it any less true."
He's a bit weary of speaking on the subject, but also aware of his need to continue the discussion. "I'm going to have to stand by what I said."
Of course, Payton is not just sitting at home tweeting. He is an active performer and recently released #BAM - Live at Bohemian Caverns on his BMF imprint. The album is a raucous set that features Payton not only on trumpet but grinding out a vicious electric keyboard sound -- simultaneously. The man can clearly play, and he felt it was important to remind people of that.
"I've been blacklisted to some degree. I have some promoters who won't fool with me now, but do I really want to play those venues anyway? I'm working. I don't say nearly the things cats like Miles Davis and Mingus said. Sometimes you have to deliver a message a certain way and people will hear it. That blog post for some reason -- the wording, the flow, the pace, the timing -- was meant to happen that way and for it to have the impact that it had in that moment. If I had tried to create the response, I couldn't do it."

Friday, March 01, 2013

Nicholas Payton - BMF - NYC Jazz Record

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton has made waves lately
more on the heels of his social media prowess than
with his trumpet. His BAM (Black American Music)
movement has prompted more late-night, off-the-record
conversations than one could have ever
imagined. As the leader of a bold idea, naturally, his
recorded output has been held to higher scrutiny. His
last release, Bitches, was a foray into cathartic R&B but
for this album, his first for his BMF record label, he
returns to an instrumental sound with a stripped-down
band of bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Lenny
White. Curiously, what rises to the surface on this
record is Payton’s way with a keyboard. Throughout
the live date, the smooth but talkative leader spends as
much time seated at the Rhodes as blasting his horn.

The album kicks off with Payton in duet with
himself, his plaintive trumpet cry matched by sparse
chords. He alternates between pinched trumpet and a
plucky Rhodes solo before briefly riding Wayne
Shorter’s quartal “Witch Hunt” riff on his trumpet
with punchy electricity. On “Catlett Outta the Bag”, a
White original, Payton gets downright funky on the
Rhodes, digging into a distorted stride as White beats
the hell out of his kit. It’s an impressive display that
seems to take the audience a bit by surprise. The
applause is spacious and hesitant. They get a confident
solo from Archer to sort things out. If that surprised
them, then who knows what “The African Tinge” did.
The 14-minute jam is a non-stop barrage of screaming
Rhodes, somersaulting backbeats and rocketing
trumpet pyrotechnics. “Frankie and Johnny” closes the
set with a smooth swing. Archer takes a rumbling solo
over White’s effortless brushes as the band takes their
time with the mellow blues.

The set runs a high-energy 80 minutes over just 7
tracks with clinking silverware and Payton’s quiet
storm patter tying it all together, an engaging live date
that reminds us why Payton’s opinions are given the
weight they are in the first place.

Nicholas Payton @ NYC Jazz Record