Friday, May 24, 2013

The Raymond's Bar 1886 - LA Times

A frosted door, etched "Est 1886," greets visitors who wind past a small, canopied patio behind Pasadena's Raymond restaurant. That door was not there 127 years ago. Nor was the patio. Nor the restaurant.
Instead, the year refers to the first incarnation of the famed Raymond Hotel, straddling the hilltop border of Pasadena and South Pasadena and luring wealthy visitors with warm hospitality and warmer winters. Those carefree days of orange-scented glamour are gone, but a little of it remains at Bar 1886, where a small cocktail oasis offers labor-intensive libations and a crowd more resembling the low-lighted haunts of downtown than the sleepy, suburban sidewalks of Pasadena.
Unlike many other cocktail bars in Los Angeles, there is a welcoming casualness to Bar 1886. There is no unsmiling doorman checking IDs, the diverse music selection shuffles through a well-stocked MP3 player and the restrooms have a homey air of comfort just short of a toothbrush next to the sink. "Cocktail aficionados go to a place because they love it," says consultant Marcos Tello, who helped with many elements, including the drink offerings and the decor at Bar 1886. "It's like hosting in a living room, and what better place to do it than a house?"
After the Raymond Hotel burned to the ground in 1895, owner Walter Raymond doubled down on the opulence and attracted the titans of industry with a rebuilt millionaire's playland. When the Great Depression struck, Raymond and his family went from a palace on the hill to the servant's quarters at the base. Forty years later, that house became the Raymond restaurant, and in November 2010 Bar 1886 was born.
Tello and partner Aidan Demarest formed their cocktail consultancy firm Liquid Assets in 2010 after building their reputation at such downtown-defining Los Angeles watering holes as Seven Grand and the Edison. "We always figured that we would do a program in the San Gabriel Valley," Tello says. "Only because so many patrons travel to have a drink downtown." Bar 1886 was not just their first venture in the area — it was their first consulting project anywhere.
With Congregation Ale House and a Stone Brewing Co. store recently joining a long list of Pasadena beer haunts, the City of Roses has solidified itself as a beer mecca, seemingly offering two taps for every patron the fire marshal would allow. Bar 1886, with its pressed-tin ceiling, narrow bar and sprawling cocktail list, is an anomaly in the area, challenging the city's sudsy reputation by instilling a respect for craftsmanship via the cocktail shaker and its limitless potential.
The bar has been able to draw a crowd of regulars largely because its cocktail list is expansive and ever-changing. In April, the Raymond closed for a three-week renovation of its kitchen, dimming the lights at Bar 1886 at the same time. When it reopened, it introduced its spring menu featuring 14 new cocktails and an array of small bar snacks.
Bartender Brady Weise, who has been behind the bar since it opened, has a strong presence on that list, most notably with its line of bottled cocktails. Weise's "Coke & a Smile" is a nod to South Pasadena's Fair Oaks Pharmacy — a soda fountain with a history of employing bartenders during Prohibition. The cocktail, served in a small Coke bottle, is a blend of rye, Fernet Menta, Galliano Ristretto, Coca-Cola and a whole, frothy egg. It has strong echoes of a phosphate soda, conjuring images of a humid Manhattan street corner with a dense and almost chocolaty richness. Along with three other house bottled cocktails this season, Weise and company are making a bid for not just taste but a memorable presentation befitting the impending summer heat.
"We see a whole crowd that is not used to these kinds of cocktails," Tello says. "We wanted the place to look like it dictated the cocktails. For people used to Pasadena, this is a part of it. Locals are very comfortable here."
Wedged between the Gold Line tracks and the end of the Pasadena Parkway, Bar 1886 is not the easiest drinking destination to find. Nonetheless, on a Thursday evening, it's a curious mix of nattily dressed professionals and homebound hockey fans in jerseys and flip-flops crowding the bar. They all share patience and an appreciation for a well-made cocktail, commandeering the restaurant's seating area when the 24 seats in the bar area are all snugly occupied.
Clearly, the gamble has paid off and people are flocking to the cozy space, implying there's an audience for high-end cocktails in the San Gabriel Valley too. If Walter Raymond could have seen what has become of his old home, maybe he would try to rebuild the hotel one more time.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Jason Moran (sidebar) - DownBeat

On top of interviewing Charles Lloyd, I got to conduct a phone interview with pianist Jason Moran.

Pianist Jason Moran has been with Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet since 2007. He broke onto the scene ten years earlier, while in still in college, applying the lessons he had learned from pianists like Andrew Hill and Jaki Byard to saxophonist Greg Osby’s band. Since then he has built a considerable reputation as a bandleader with his trio Bandwagon, has regularly topped DownBeat polls since 2003 and was awarded a half million dollar MacArthur Fellowship three years ago.

Despite all the accolades, Moran is not always searching for the spotlight. “I felt this thing happening where I wasn’t getting to play with other musicians that I wanted to play with,” says Moran. “I just wasn’t called because I was a bandleader but I love a supporting role.”After getting back into playing as a sideman with musicians like Don Byron, Moran joined forces with Lloyd through his high school classmate, drummer Eric Harland.

Getting back into the sideman role came easily to Moran and he wasn’t daunted by the history of Lloyd’s piano bench. “When I got the gig, I only listened to a little bit of his earlier material because I thought the way Keith Jarrett was playing on there was so free and open. I was like ‘that means I can do anything.’ Plus, Charles is free and open.”

That limitless feeling has paid off with their partnership entering its seventh year and a newly recorded duo album. “In a duo, you’re naked,” says Moran. “My role is to deal with the space that the sound has. In one degree, I might say ‘I should keep a tempo together for a sustained amount of time’ but keeping tempo does not necessarily define a band’s sound. Making music that moves physically and emotionally, that’s what the goal is. The beautiful thing about it is that we don’t really have to explain much to each other. My main job in the duo setting is to create an orbit for the music and if I want to, to create the black hole as well.”

Moran credits Santa Barbara with contributing immensely to that sense of telepathy. “Charles, when he is in his home environment, is in a much more calm space. I live in New York and it’s a rat race there. Literally. It makes me really appreciate going to California. It’s a nice space for me to actually breathe, to inhale and exhale.  It really seemed quite right for the music we were going to play so we could lean back into some of these songs. When we turn up the heat, the heat is a different kind of fire there.”

Often that kind of fire is a different approach to what Moran would do with his own ensemble. Playing with Lloyd has forced Moran to get back to the roots of jazz accompaniment, frequently digging into straight-ahead ballads on this most recent release. “You have to really lay down the carpet with Charles,” says Moran. “And it has to be a plush carpet for him to walk on.”

Charles Lloyd - Downbeat

How this slipped my blog, I don't know.

I wrote the cover article for DownBeat magazine for the May 2013 issue. I had the opportunity to talk with saxophonist Charles Lloyd for over three hours in Montecito, California and I will never forget it.

You can still pick up copies at poorly refreshed newstands everywhere.

It's over 3500 words so I'll just link to the digital edition...

Charles Lloyd @ DownBeat

Friday, May 03, 2013

Noah Preminger - Haymaker

Noah Preminger - Haymaker

Noah Preminger’s official biography is probably the
only one to express a desire to “not get hit in the face”
and mean it literally. His fascination with the pugilist
lifestyle and other physically demanding pursuits
seem to be a large part of his mythology. Thus naming
his most recent album after an all-or-nothing swing of
the fist seems appropriate. The 20-something tenor
saxophonist may not have written any anthems to
replace LL Cool J’s monopoly over heroic ring entrances
and not every tune here renders the listener unconscious
but that’s a good thing.

Preminger’s last album had him in the presence of
a straight-ahead piano/bass/drums trio, which helped
place his classic tone in a classic setting. Here he is
joined by bassist Matt Pavolka, drummer Colin
Stranahan and guitarist Ben Monder, the latter’s
reverb creating a modern surface, opening things
up harmonically for the two lead instruments.

The title track, one of seven Preminger
compositions on the album, is a curious juxtaposition
of ground-level intensity from Stranahan and a subtler
melody from Preminger. His horn is patient and
deliberate over the percussive hurricane, gradually
stretching out. Although the album is largely selfpenned, the lone standard is an unexpected twist, with
Preminger taking the melody of a curly-haired orphan
for a meditative take on “Tomorrow”. It’s a short
performance dwelling entirely on the hopeful melody.
Preminger spends a minute alone, providing a breathy
exploration before the band gently joins him to recite
the popular tune. On “15,000”, Stranahan is a
wonderful bouncing presence with a litany of sounds
and feelings coming from his kit while “Stir My Soul”
gives Pavolka a little chance to stretch out over
Monder’s surf-inflected vibrations.

The resulting album is not nearly as physically
exhausting as one might expect given all the boxing
talk but it is a carefully controlled display of confidence,
allowing timing and patience to dictate when and
where the punches should land.

Noah Preminger @ NYC Jazz Record

Cecilia Coleman - NYC Jazz Record

Cecilia Coleman - Who Am I?

It is unclear whom the title of pianist/arranger/
composer Cecilia Coleman’s big band release is
addressing. Is she asking herself? The listener? Do we
ask ourselves? Coleman made a name for herself as a
performer and teacher in Southern California before
making her way east; the high school yearbook-like
collage on the cover proudly boasts the city of Long
Beach but this album was recorded in Brooklyn.

The field of big band arranging is no stranger to
women. From Mary Lou Williams to Melba Liston to
Maria Schneider, there has been a great tradition of
musical minds combining the disparate instrumentation
of a big band into a formidable and swinging unit.
Although it is almost entirely irrelevant to the sound
on the album, it is interesting to note that Coleman is
the only woman involved in her own big band. Maybe
that’s because of scheduling, the makeup of her social
circle or just a coincidence. That discussion opens up a
whole can of worms that someone else can tackle for
their thesis. We’re just here to listen.

Coleman has produced nine arrangements (eight
of them original tunes) for this release, showcasing an
ability to pilot a large ensemble from her piano bench.
Opener “Ode to A Tip Jar” is a straight ahead swinger
that puts piano up front for a little bit before the full
band kicks in with shades of Monk’s “In Walked Bud”
and soprano saxophonist Peter Brainin gets a chance to
stretch out. The lone standard, “East of the Sun”, gets a
very straightforward reading with vocalist David Coss
offering up an inoffensive croon.

Baritone saxophonist Keith Bishop’s low honk is a
pleasant presence throughout the album, especially
when anchoring the funkier “Hope” and album-closing
title track. Coleman has a smooth swinging touch
writing for a large ensemble but unfortunately doesn’t
take much of a solo spotlight on the album. Hopefully
for her next release she can pen some features for
herself and fully show off her wide range of abilities.

Cecilia Coleman @ NYC Jazz Record