Saturday, November 30, 2013

GO:LA - Little Tokyo Walking Tour - LA Weekly

Better late than never...

A brief walk through the five-block Nishiki Market in KyotoJapan, is a life-changing experience. Amid the knives and noodle shops is a seemingly endless array of vibrant vegetables, ones that have blessed very few American palettes. You could eat a different mushroom every day for a decade without repetition -- and the number of pickled mysteries on display could take a lifetime to decipher. If you lack the time or money for a trip overseas, the Japanese American National Museum is here to help with a Japanese-veggie-focused tour right here in our own backyard. Edible Adventures in Little Tokyo, a "vegetarian walking tour," will focus on the tumultuous history of Japanese produce farmers and the role their products played in Little Tokyo's homes and restaurants. After the four-hour tour, you'll surely be wondering why you don't put konnyaku jelly on everything. 

Vegan Shoes Not Required @ LA Weekly

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dr. Lonnie Smith CD Review - DownBeat

Dr. Lonnie Smith Octet
In the Beginning, Volumes 1 & 2
Pilgrimage Recording 002
**** 1/2

Play the hits! That’s how the cliché goes, right? Everyone’s favorite turbanded master of the Hammond B3 has played a lot of hits since he named his 1968 Blue Note debut “Think!” after the Aretha Franklin song from the same year. Smith made a name for himself in soul-jazz’s heyday covering omnipresent radio hits, putting his personal stamp on tunes by Blood, Sweat & Tears and Donovan, finally taking the concept to the extreme with an entire album of Beck songs in 2003. The closest Smith gets to any pop covers on this album is a sly reference to the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” in the midst of a solo. Instead, this twelve track, two-disc set is a reassessment of Smith’s self-penned hits, drawn from his first few albums and performed with a smoking octet that help to build a very satisfying retrospective.

There is a train of thought in the jazz world about artistic integrity and constantly moving forward that completely abhors the idea of revisiting anything older than an hour ago and frequently ignores the idea of a paying audience looking for a good time. The biggest success of this album is that Smith is still moving forward while keeping the live audience hooting and hollering. This audience’s energy seems to push the band frequently into quicker tempos and greasier funk than the original recordings even if some of them, like “Move Your Hand,” were released as live recordings in the first place.

What Smith proves with this reflection is that he has still got the spark. These performances are imbued with an excitement and recklessness. The nearly fifteen minute long “Mama Wailer/Hola Muñeca” medley burns white hot with Smith midway through jamming onto a thick, piercing cluster for eight measures as conguero Little Johnny Rivero propels the insanity further out. “Aw Shucks” hits the other end of the spectrum, simmering with greasy soul. Guitarist Ed Cherry slices and dices on one side of the mix while drummer Jonathan Blake keeps the boil perfectly under control. Through it all the four member horn section offers up a dense but welcome presence. This is an infectiously joyous recording that proves Smith is still one of the most vibrant organists on the scene.

Alex Sipiagin CD Review - DownBeat

Alex Sipiagin
Live At Smalls


Alex Sipiagin
From Reality and Back
*** 1/2

On these two CDs from trumpeter Alex Sipiagin—one recorded live, the other in the studio—it is not always apparent who is leading the band. Sipiagin composed everything (except for “Son, Uvedeny Posle,” an original contribution from guitarist Pat Metheny), but tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, who also appears on both discs, brings everything he’s got to the table. Fortunately, when Blake takes his strident funk to the limit, Sipiagin follows up with an equally virile statement. The trumpeter and saxophonist are in constant motion, pursuing separate conversations that coalesce just before becoming too overwhelming. 
Live At Smalls takes pride in dancing dangerously close to excess. The five-track set bristles with an unhinged beauty, propelled by the audience in the tiny Greenwich Village cave. Drummer Nate Smith barrels along, offering an invigorating whirl of sticks on “Pass” that pushes the nearly 20-minute work to a rousing conclusion. Pianist David Kikoski gets a chance to flutter and spin following the horn solos on “Videlles” with a breathless jaunt across the keyboard. Bassist Boris Kozlov gets a little buried in all of the excitement.

On From Reality And Back, the most unreal thing is the lineup. Sipiagin has a dream team of support with drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Dave Holland joined by the pianist and producer Gonzalo Rubalcaba. It’s more subdued but still actively churning, offering more variety but never reaching the ecstatic highs of the live bout.    

GO:LA Tofurky Trot - LA Weekly

For some college freshmen returning home for the first time, thrusting their newfound vegetarianism onto the family just isn't enough. They also want to get up early and run more than three miles in a costume around a stadium in Pasadena. The Rose Bowl Tofurky Trot fulfills all of these needs while also promoting a vegetarian lifestyle and benefiting the National Museum of Animals & Society. Yes, if tofu really was that delicious, restaurateurs would be working their hardest to make pork taste just like it. But there are still plenty of good reasons to bask in the glow of a stuffed roast that doesn't involve bloodshed --- and to mingle with a sweaty crowd of folks who agree that cheese is overrated and seitan is always a good sign. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Laurence Donohue-Greene Interview - Funnls.

New York City Jazz Record managing editor Laurence Donohue-Greene (how’s that for a business title?) has been documenting the nightly jazz occurrences in New York in print since 2002.
Along with editorial director Andrey Henkin, he helps compile a monthly missive from the Big Apple that frequently features over fifty lengthy jazz CD reviews from dozens of contributors as well as live reviews, record label profiles and artist interviews.
It is an indispensable document for the world jazz community, not just New York. We spoke with Donohue-Greene by phone about what it takes to hit those monthly deadlines and how he has managed to stay happily profitable publishing a niche music newspaper.

How did you become the managing editor and part-owner of a jazz newspaper?
Editorial director Andrey Henkin and I were both jazz writers. Andrey and I started writing for a jazz blog for a few years, reviewing concerts and CDs. I came onto the kind of a backwards idea of going from website writing to newspaper writing. Why don’t we start a jazz paper in New York? If it’s going to fly in any city it’ll work in New York.
In January of 2002 we decided if we are going to do it, let’s do it by the summer. I was working at Blue Note Records and I knew they’d support us with some advertising. And I had worked at Newport Jazz Festival so chances were I could get advertising from them. We started in May of 2002. Both of us had little to no experience doing something like this.
I’ll never forget when we went to the printer to pick up our first issue. We looked at each other like “we did it!” and then we realized we have to do it next month as well. It was a huge accomplishment to put out the first issue. Now we’re about to put out #138.
Who is your audience?
Our hope is that anyone slightly interested in jazz is our audience. We try to keep it left, right and center. The best balance we can. We don’t expect anyone to read from the front cover to the back cover. Anyone with the slightest interest in jazz will pick up a paper. Every few pages will stick. Our goal is regardless of what your interest is, from avant garde to mainstream, there will always be something.
It’s a hell of a balancing act. In New York, it’s much easier than any other city. We co-ordinate our feature coverage on who is playing that month. We rely on musicians as much as anyone. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth with clubs. Sometimes they don’t want to get that information out too soon. The hardest part is having too many possibilities and features. Andrey and I had a rule that if we had run something on a musician at any point going back to our first issue we wouldn’t repeat because there are so many great musicians.
People like picking it up at the clubs. It’s always a treat to see someone reading the paper on the subway. It’s like the Village Voice for me. I could read it online but I don’t. As the human race we do a lot of sitting and waiting in our lives. I lived in Philadelphia for a time and I would check out the Village Voice to see what I was missing back in New York. It’s a reminder that New York still is the center of the jazz world.
You can point to anywhere on the map and there is a scene but New York not only has great musicians that live in the city but chances are if you are a jazz musician, at some point you’ll be coming through the city to play. I go out two to three times a week and I‘ll see a few shows each night. There’s a jazz festival every night in New York.
The paper has managed to pay every contributor. How did you manage to do that with a free specialty paper?
We started a profit-sharing plan. We created a point system basically establishing a dollar value per point with a bi-annual payment. If we have a slow ad month, we cover it ourselves. A cd review is worth one point, a feature two or three, same with photographs.
We add up the points in a six month period and take the money out of the bank. We started that a few years into the project. We even went back and paid back issues to the very first issue. We’ve been fortunate that the dollar value per point has grown with each six month period. It takes a lot of patience from contributors but it’s realistic. Otherwise we might be digging a hole we can’t get out of.
Andrey is very good with figures. It was his idea of how this system would work. Every six months he sends me the breakdown. This is the x amount of dollars we can take out of the bank at this time. It’s a genius idea. It works out really well. When we stared the publication, I ran into someone who basically did the same as us for decades. I asked him, ”If you had any advice, what would it be?” He said “the only piece of advice I can give you is never pay your writers.” I thought that was not fair. We’re able to have a clear conscience. Without the contributors, there is no newspaper.

How do you pay for all of this?
Advertising and subscribers. We don’t make a hell of a lot of money from subscribers. There are a lot of subscribers even in New York where the paper is free. Some of them live a few blocks from drop-off locations but they want it as soon as possible in their mailboxes. We have a lot of international subscribers in Japan and throughout Europe. Advertising is our main source of income. We had a really good year last year.
This year we are matching that to my surprise. You don’t know what each month has in store and what interest there might be. We’ve created a niche for ourselves where if someone has something happening in New York, they’ll use us. We’re visible at all the clubs and the concert halls. We often hand out our papers. I feel positive looking into the future that If we can maintain the momentum, I foresee doing this for a much longer time.
This is your full-time gig. How many hours do you spend per day on the paper?
Too many. It’s non-stop. It’s basically eight in the morning until whenever. I easily spend 12 hours a day but it’s a labor of love. I’m making a living off of it. It’s not something you ever think about how many hours you’re putting into it. It gets to a certain threshold. If you start counting the hours, you might start second guessing yourself. It’s hard to put a number on it. If I’m not sitting in front of the computer, I’m sitting in a club listening to music or sitting on the subway going from one venue to another. It’s not a 9 to 5.

Where do you place New York City Jazz Record in the music industry?
I think the role of the paper is to offer coverage to musicians and record labels that aren’t getting that kind of coverage elsewhere. We take our cover stories very seriously. These are people that are well established and will stand the test of time. We try to keep that in mind. We’ll run reviews of significant artists that are being covered elsewhere but those are not our focus.
It’s ridiculous to try and cover these musicians that are all over the place. That said, if Chick Corea is having a great year, we’ll put him on our cover. Our hope is to turn readers onto musicians they haven’t heard of. Especially in New York. The whole reason of our features is to encourage readers to go out and support musicians in a live setting. That’s the way to experience this music. Check it out in the flesh. That’s the true litmus test.
What has been your most rewarding experience connected to the paper?
When Andrey and I started this paper, we were both working at least one full time job. As much time as we could put in, we would. It eventually became our exclusive full-time gig. This is the cliff we’re going to jump over and hope we land on our feet. That’s been the most rewarding thing. The great fringe benefit is hearing all this music every week.
There is definitely a level of respect that we have and continue to have. Most people who know who we are get a sense of that. Even if they just pick up a copy. It’s a different thing when you hold it in your hands. It’s nice to see that people appreciate the blood, sweat and tears we put into it. It is a labor of love. We feel fortunate to be able to do what we do. The mission for most people is hoping that what they do for a living is something they enjoy. And this is exactly that.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GO:LA Artie Lange - LA Weekly

Artie Lange Book Signing
Barnes & Nobles - The Grove

Heroin. Cocaine. Booze. Pizza. The human wrecking ball known as Artie Lange was pretty unapologetic about his vices in his best-selling 2008 memoir Too Fat to Fish. The New York-based comedian's terrifying stories of drug addiction and self-destruction during his days on MadTV, with The Howard Stern Show and in feature films were funny largely because the man survived to tell them. His newest book, Crash and Burn, which he'll be signing and discussing, picks up not long after the last one ended -- with a suicide attempt, a mental institution and rehab. Thankfully, Lange's ability to pinpoint the humor in these horrible situations helps to turn his misery into hearty laughter, both for himself and his audience. He's now sober, back behind a radio microphone and taking life one fat joke at a time. 

LA Rap Legend Graves - LA Weekly

Los Angeles cemeteries tend to be sprawling; their populations can rival small towns and are difficult to navigate.
It's especially hard to find famous rappers' graves -- just ask our reporter who tried to find Eazy-E. Also, there aren't a lot of them here. Both Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were cremated, though Stone Mountain, Georgia boasts a Tupac statue. Meanwhile, information on where local innovators like Rodger Clayton, Danny "Fut" James and Kevin "Flipside" White remain frustratingly scarce.
Still, we did find some, and here are the graves of four important hip-hop figures:
Nate Dogg (above)
Forest Lawn - Long Beach
After dropping out of high school and joining the Marines, Nathaniel "Nate Dogg" Hale went on to be perhaps the greatest hooksman in hip-hop history. The G-funk era simply doesn't happen without him, and he worked with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Tupac and of course Snoop Dogg. A series of strokes led to his death in 2011 at age 41.
The staff of the cemetery refused to share the location of Nate Dogg's grave. However, there is a YouTube video that will easily lead you to the stone, which is near an elaborate mosaic and the chapel. A previous visitor had left a half-full bottle of Olde English, pictured above.

J. Dilla 
Forest Lawn - Glendale
James Yancey, better known as J. Dilla, was perhaps the most significant underground producer in hip-hop history. His stature has only risen following his 2006 death at age 32 from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disease.
He lived in L.A. for the last years of his life, and rests on a steep hill at the far end of the Forest Lawn Glendale cemetery, where there's a view of the top floors of downtown's tallest skyscrapers and the fireworks from Dodger Stadium.

Rose Hills - Whittier
Eazy-E would have been 50 last September. Born Eric Wright, he died at age 31. Famous for his high-pitched voice and nihilistic tenor, he helped found N.W.A. and became famous for his bravado, his humor, and his beefs with folks like Dr. Dre.
Aside from an eighth note, there is no indication of Wright's career on his gravestone. As with Nate Dogg's final resting place, the staff of Rose Hills would prefer you pay your respects elsewhere.
Iceberg Slim
Forest Lawn - Glendale
Iceberg Slim was not a rapper, but it's fair to say that without his writings there might be no gangsta rap. The Chicago-born, former pimp moved to California in the 1960s, publishing Pimp: The Story of My Life in 1967. His salacious paperback novels sold into the millions, detailing the now-cliched (but then novel) life and times of an urban hustler. Rapper Ice-T was heavily influenced by Slim, naming his third album The Iceberg and recently producing a documentary about him.
Slim is memorialized atop a hill with little fanfare. His modest plaque blends in with the rest of his neighbors, with no indication of his celebrity, other than his nickname in a small font: "Iceberg Slim."

Rapper Graves @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Laurence Hobgood at the Blue Whale - DownBeat

Pianist Laurence Hobgood returned to the downtown Los Angeles venue Blue Whale on Nov. 9 with a new West Coast band and a trail of gossip flowing behind him.

In the December issue of DownBeat, an article on Kurt Elling points out that the singer would go on tour soon with a band that does not include Hobgood, his longtime pianist and arranger. Elling, who was voted the top male vocalist in the 2013 DownBeat Readers Poll, has worked with Hobgood for nearly 20 years. On his website, Hobgood posted a link to Howard Reich’s “My Kind of Jazz” column in the Nov. 6 edition of the Chicago Tribune, which confirmed that Elling and Hobgood would be taking an indefinite break.

This news has reverberated like a divorce announcement, with many jazz fans mourning a future without the inimitable collaborations that helped Elling and Hobgood win numerous accolades, including Grammy awards for the 2009 album Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane & Hartman (Concord).

While Hobgood might have some slight trepidation about his next career moves, the Blue Whale gig was far from the first time his name had topped a marquee. The pianist has released recordings under his own name for the last few years, including a collaboration with poet Robert Pinsky titled PoemJazzand a live quartet recording with tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts.

Watts was not on the bandstand for this particular gig. Instead, Hobgood surrounded himself with a younger group of Los Angeles-based musicians, including trumpeter Jonathan Dane and tenor saxophonist Greg Johnson (who provided authoritative blasts), along with bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle. The latter two are regulars on the Blue Whale stage, and they provided the supple rhythmic spark for an impressive set of Hobgood originals.

The pianist opened with “The Gilded Cage,” tackling the intro alone, pensively ascending and descending through echoing tremolos before Robaire and Schnelle burst in with explosive energy. The horns followed shortly thereafter. Hobgood asserted his leadership by taking the first solo, a sprightly hard-bop sprint, punctuated by fistfuls of lower-register keys. Johnson drove a breathless honk in response while Dane took a more economical approach. Schnelle, relishing the pace, pummeled a true Saturday night, prime-time drum solo, the kind of bashing that can get the neighbors lodging a formal complaint and the audience hollering for more.

“Rip Van Winkle” coasted on a bossa nova groove, the horns sighing their way through the gentle melody. Hobgood again took the first solo, dropping blues-laden lines over the horns’ reassurance. Robaire maintained a Horace Silver-indebted root-fifth bass riff for the horns to solo over in languid satisfaction.

“O-Wakare,” a tune written in response to Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, had an appropriately somber tone. While the first tunes of the set were carefully managed displays of tight arranging and succinct solo opportunities, this composition opened things up, embracing the undulating ballad’s spacious design. Hobgood engaged in a solo exploration, letting his notes float before Johnson brought the melody, hovering in close proximity to the piano’s conservative accompaniment. Robaire grabbed the spotlight with a silken solo that hushed the room, embracing his carefully crafted melodic phrases over Schnelle’s patient brushwork.

The ensemble closed with the funky, odd-metered “Septitude.” Robaire brought some heat interacting with Schnelle on their showy intro. The horns jumped in quickly, taking turns juicing the vibrant mood with passionate jaunts. A series of hits and fluttering horn lines at the end of the tune put the band to the test and everyone delivered with a smile.

Earlier in the evening, Hobgood had indicated that not only was this the first time the ensemble had played publicly, but they had only had one rehearsal. In lesser hands, that kind of statement can be a convenient excuse for sloppy musicianship, but during this gig, it was nearly impossible to tell that the band had only learned the charts 24 hours earlier.

Hobgood obviously embraced his leadership role, playfully interacting with the audience and providing insight between each composition. Whatever he ends up doing next with his pen and piano, it will no doubt be swinging. And he’ll have plenty of fans anxiously awaiting to hear his future projects, which include another collaboration with Pinsky.

GO:LA Roy Choi - LA Weekly

Roy Choi @ Los Angeles Public Library

Celebrity chefs are easy to come by. Every city has a roster of weathered hands that could be nominated for cooking challenges and culinary tours -- but few possess the revolutionary ideas and willingness to act on them of Roy Choi. Choi made his mark elevating the classic roach coach with revolutionary Korean BBQ tacos from the window of his Kogi truck. Now he has a fleet of trucks from Irvine to Northridge and a handful of sit-down restaurants in places both likely (Venice) and un- (Chinatown). His newly published book, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food, is part cookbook, part memoir and all love letter to this sprawl we call home. The overworked local hero sits down for a couple hours this evening with KCRW's Evan Kleiman. He could use the rest. 

Roy Choi @ LA Weekly

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Chris Connor & Dexter Gordon - Bethlehem Records Rises Again

Bethlehem Records Relaunch

Chris Connor graces the cover of her 1954 release Sings Lullabys For Lovers with her face firmly planted in her right hand, her blonde helmet resting above in a brilliant half circle. Does Connor have a lover or is she singing to lovers against her will? Regardless of the contract she entered into with Bethlehem founder Gus Wildi before stepping to the microphone, she is letting her voice sell it all. There are no smiles or breathy coos to draw the buyer. Good. It isn’t needed.

In August of 1954, Connor was 26. She sells the material with a charming weariness reflecting twice her age. “Lush Life” opens the album with her galloping and braking in tandem with guitarist Joe Cinderella. She exhibits a lyrical confidence that precious few vocalists have and she carries it throughout the eight tracks on this 10” record. She is joined by the Vinnie Burke Quartet which includes five people. Go figure. The small band works through cherished standards but few of them would help any amorous record buyers who have a penchant for lyrics.

Side A opens with the misery of “Lush Life” (Life is lonely again, And only last year everything seemed so sure). Side B is no less charming with Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” (You take the high road and I’ll take the low, it’s time that we parted, it’s much better so). Are these songs intended to put lovers to sleep or to put love to sleep? Regardless, it’s beautiful and haunting. Connor honors the lyrics faithfully and the small band, which at times includes clarinet and accordion, is the perfect accompaniment to carry the faithfully romantic above the sadness in Connor’s delivery.

What does the rerelease of this album mean? Bethlehem Records has been resurrected. Started 60 years ago, the label captured essential young talents in a crowded New York field that included Riverside, Blue Note and Prestige. Not only has it been resurrected but it’s been put in a tuxedo and taken to the choicest parties. Crisp vinyl transfers and the original packaging are accompanying the slow roll of releases from the label's broad discography. Essential albums by Booker Little, Howard McGhee, Art Blakey and Nina Simone are also available. Chris Connor was honored as one of the first artists to get the deluxe treatment. Dexter Gordon was part of that honor too.  

Daddy Plays the Horn was recorded a year after Connor’s appearance on the label. Long Tall Dexter strides across the recording session with studied confidence, standing out among his tenor saxophone-wielding peers which included Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. He is joined on this album by a couple Los Angeles cohorts (bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Lawrence Marable) as well as pianist Kenny Drew. Less than six months after the death of Charlie Parker, they are dealing in a language that is influenced but not beholden to a bebop language. All four members prize melody with each plunk of their instrument shining on the newly remastered LPs even when they are speaking Parker’s own language on “Confirmation.”

Bethlehem Records has lovingly dug deep into their catalog with a great attention to detail and a respect for the original packaging that first graced turntables nearly 60 years ago. This is a real treat for vinyl geeks.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Cyrus Chestnut review - NYC Jazz Record

Cyrus Chestnut
Soul Brother Cool

20 years ago pianist Cyrus Chestnut started his streak
of swinging albums for Atlantic Records and has
steadily continued on that path, offering a deft touch
and an ever-present melodic bent. Soul Brother Cool is
an in-the-pocket traipse through ten originals aided by
bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer/producer Willie
Jones III and trumpeter Freddie Hendrix.

There is a mellow sleepiness that pervades much
of the album, opening with a light bounce on “Spicy
Honey” and the title track, both kickstarted by Jones’
kit. This album focuses more on the “cool” than the
“soul brother”, more often veering into the realm of
early ‘60s recordings like Herbie Hancock’s Maiden
Voyage and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil instead of
the gospel fervor Chestnut has displayed in the past.

Hendrix proves to be a revelation in the small
setting. He digs into telepathic interaction with
Chestnut’s high-register right hand on several melodies
and shines in the solo spotlight. “Piscean Thought”
features sputtering blasts over Chestnut’s vigorous
rumbling while “Intimacy” lets the trumpeter speak in
long phrases amid the band’s spacious support.

The always thoughtful leader has put together an
enjoyable enough set here, with conservative tune
lengths and tempos that hover somewhere in the
middle. “The Raven” is a propulsive exception,
barreling in with a Messengers-esque urgency. Hendrix
runs with it, reaching into the upper register for a
welcome shot of adrenaline. Chestnut keeps it going,
succinctly plucking his disjointed phrases from a
similar range, building into an excitement reminiscent
of the fire that marked his early trio records.

Chestnut’s songwriting follows a logistical rubric
that entertains without challenging listeners too much.
There are plenty of pleasantly engaging moments and
the band is in fine form but overall the proceedings
feel a little too subdued.

Cyrus Chestnut @ NYC Jazz Record