Friday, February 28, 2014

GO:LA Marc Maron - LA Weekly

In the last 12 months, comedian Marc Maron turned 50, wrote a book, recorded the 475th episode of his podcast WTF and wrote, produced and starred in his own television series, simply called Maron. Between those commitments, he also recorded a stand-up special, the comedy format that brought him all those opportunities in the first place. Maron’s confessional style of stand-up seems like hell on his social life but is a lot of fun for anyone listening who doesn’t then have to argue with him on the ride home. Cats, ex-wives and current girlfriends are all on the table for discussion, and Maron digs deep. Sometimes a little too deep. Here’s hoping he brings his shovel.

Marc Maron @ LA Weekly

Natalie Fernandez's "Nuestro Tango" - DownBeat

Natalie Fernandez with Zaccai Curtis & Insight
Nuestro Tango
*** 1/2

Born in Argentina but raised in Miami, vocalist Natalie Fernandez appears to be an excellent conduit for blending the styles of tango, r&b, jazz and pop music. On "Afrotangojazz," she drafts a flowery mission statement over pulsating Latin hand percussion and a skittering bandoneon. The dense female harmonies swell and fade before a blues-fueled piano closes out the tune. Elsewhere, a spoken word guest spot from Giovanni Almonte almost derails the album but is rescued by the vibrant "El Viaje Del Negro," which dips into a sly display of vocal skill and tempo. For the most part, Fernandez's performance of the tango standard "El Dia Que Me Quieras" is respectfully traditional. The percussionists dig into a nice groove over Zaccai Curtis' bright piano montuno. Only the polished vocal overdubs at the fadeout belie the tune's timelessness.

Natalie Fernandez @ DownBeat

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Top Five Soul Jazz Organists - OC Weekly

Luke Ratray
(audio samples available on OC Weekly link below)

The Hammond B3 organ weighs over 400 pounds. At the height of their popularity, the Spice Girls combined probably weighed less than that but unlike 400 pounds of manufactured girl power, 400 pounds of funk is a very good thing. The electric organ is an oscillating, one-man band, running the gamut from smooth to shrill. Bass pedals allow the organist to provide their own funky low-end and when suited up with an electric guitarist and a drummer, the soul-jazz triumvirate is complete. The soul-jazz genre was a populist sound with compact performances and often recognizable melodies taken from the pop charts.
One of the best jazz organists and pop interpreters is Dr. Lonnie Smith - a turban-wearing, unlicensed practitioner of funk who released a series of backbeat goldmines in the late 1960s and early 1970s that defined the genre. Smith self-released a double album last year revisiting those classic sessions and, if it is possible, sounds stronger now. He will be performing this weekend at the Segerstrom Center's Samueli Hall. Here is a primer on some of the funkiest first-generation jazz organists.
Jimmy Smith
"Jimmy & Wes" from The Dynamic Duo (1966)
Jimmy Smith was unquestionably the biggest star of the organ. He released more than 100 records under his own name and was successful enough to run his own club, named after himself no less, in North Hollywood in the 1970s. He played with flash and charisma starting in the 1950s with hardbop masters like Lee Morgan and helped to define the Hammond sound in the 1960s with the help of instrumentalists that included guitarist Kenny Burrell and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

Shirley Scott
"Soul Shoutin'" from Soul Shoutin' (1963)
Historically, the jazz world has been a bit of a boy's club. Not surprisingly, the list of successful female jazz organists is short. Trudy Pitts and Rhoda Scott released a fair share of great albums but Shirley Scott was the rightly-anointed "queen of the organ." Throughout the 1960s, she released albums under her own name that also featured her husband, the afore-mentioned Turrentine. The number of husband and wife jazz teams is even fewer and none of them had the explosiveness of Scott and Turrentine. Dinner parties must have been fun at their house. 

Reuben Wilson
"Blue Mode" from Blue Mode (1969)
Wilson appeared at the tail-end of the 1960s, releasing a few albums on Blue Note Records that reached for commercial recognition. He got lost in the shuffle only to be rediscovered in the 1990s. His albums are funky and accessible with Blue Mode standing out as one of his strongest efforts.

Dr. Lonnie Smith
"Sunshine Superman" from Move Your Hand (1969)
Smith didn't start out with the turban or the implied higher education. He was just a funky showman with a soulful feel and a great writing style. He and George Benson built their reputations together in the mid 1960s before Benson followed the windchime-rattling breeze of the 1970s and Smith continued on the path of righteous soul. His interpretations of songs by the likes of Donovan, Aretha Franklin and Blood, Sweat and Tears were jukebox hits and solid testaments to jazz's potential for cross-over success with a large record buying public.

Brother Jack McDuff
"Tough Duff" from Tough Duff (1960)
McDuff was a self-taught, blues fiend. He was an elder-statesman of the organ scene and his albums ooze with blistering confidence and a gutbucket, down-home vibe that set him apart from the fleet-fingered, hardbop trained organists. He was always reliable for the greasy, slow and low. 
Soul-Jazz Organists @ OC Weekly

Jeremy Pelt's "Face Forward, Jeremy" - DownBeat

Jeremy Pelt
Face Forward, Jeremy

*** 1/2

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt's face fills nearly 95 percent of this album cover. He gaes out with an indefinable expression, not particularly mad or happy but certainly befitting the moodiness of his newest release. He is, as the title implies, facing forward. (Sadly, the back cover of the CD is not a photograph of the back of his head.)

Last year's HighNote date Water and Earth presented Pelt with a lot of electricity and a simmering groove, but also a caveat: This music wasn't meant to be a change in direction as much as it was Pelt strengthening his commitment to his art at present. Pelt's commitment to that swirl of funk and tight band dynamics continues to be fleshed out here. He employs a few studio tricks (effects pedals, fadeouts) but seems focused primarily on the spontaneous, live aspects of form and groove.

Pelt has surrounded himself with terrific instrumentalists and wisely showcases them throughout. Keyboardist David Bryant gets multiple opportunities to shine, including "Stars Are Free" and "Princess Charlie," where he tumbles in torrents alongside drummer Dana Hawkins' tornado. Pelt penned seven of the tunes on this album, but he shines brightes on saxophonist Roxy Coss' contribution, "The Calm Before The Storm." Coss offers an impassioned jaunt on the song's churning changes before Pelt steps in with an engaging blast of his own.

Vocalist Fabiana Masili introduces "Rastros" amid a harp and cello for a brief stylistic change. On "The Secret Code," Hawkins creates an eerie, electrical fog that menacingly envelops Bryant's dour organ and Pelt's echoing leaps. Vocalist Milton Suggs closses out the CD with "Verse," but the vocal appearances here feel out of place next to the instrumentals.

Jeremy Pelt @ DownBeat

Vincent Herring's "The Uptown Shuffle" - DownBeat

Vincent Herring
The Uptown Shuffle
Smoke Sessions

On the second release from the new Smoke Sessions label (the first was a trio set by pianist Harold Mabern that also features drummer Joe Farnsworth), alto saxophonist Vincent Herring drives his quartet through a straightahead set that packs a wallop with a double-fisted bout of unrelenting swing. Opener "Elation" sets the tone immediately. Herring leads the charge with a brash blast that never fades. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut is quick on his heels, offering a rapid-fire right-hand technique that captures him at his most jubilant and forceful. Chestnut maintains that excitement throughout. His tune "Uptown Shuffle" grants the album its name and he strafes a series of octaves over the hard-bopping jam but not before Herring bends and burns a jagged wail on the smashing proceedings. Elsewhere, the band tackles a handful of well-worn standards including a swaggering "Love Walked In" and a meditative "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" that features Chestnut's balance of dexterity and playfulness. The set concludes with Duke Pearson's "Big Bertha," an undersung gem that should be in every hard-bop handbook. It serves as the band's theme and is sadly cut short by a set break. The band energizes all of their fare with an upbeat blast, capturing the best of a night out on the town.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

GO:LA - Matt Zoller Seitz's Wes Anderson - LA Weekly

Twenty years ago, filmmaker Wes Anderson premiered his short film Bottle Rocket at the Sundance Film Festival. The seven feature films he has directed since then have spawned their own idiosyncratic genre of precious perfectionism — frequently imitated but never surpassed. So it is high time to lionize Anderson in book form. Matt Zoller Seitz's new tome, The Wes Anderson Collection, is based on a 2009 series of video essays by New York magazine's TV critic. In Collection, he dissects the overwhelming influence that films such as Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom have had on contemporary cinema. In addition to Seitz signing and discussing his book, there will be a Wes Anderson costume contest for those looking to dust off their red track suits or the Steve Zissou uniforms they haven't worn since last Halloween. 

Matt Zoller Seitz @ LA Weekly

Monday, February 10, 2014

Javon Jackson CD review - NYC Jazz Record

At the close of this live set from New York’s Smoke
jazz club, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson announces
that this is his first live album as a leader. Hard to
believe he’s made it through a 25+-year career without
doing one but all that practice has helped to make him
a charming frontman. Throughout the set he runs a
streak of intricate lines and swinging turns-of-phrase,
no doubt inspired by his audience and driven by a
solid band.

His quartet opens with one of the great tunes from
the book of his former employer Art Blakey, Wayne
Shorter’s “One By One”. That tune made its premiere
50 years earlier on Blakey’s live album Ugetsu, recorded
at Birdland. Drummer McClenty Hunter is initially a
little modest wielding a Blakey-esque wrecking ball
but his driving swing gradually builds to a muscular
pace as Jackson soars ahead. The stomping enthusiasm
happily peaks with Orrin Evans’ pounding piano solo.

Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry About A
Thing” carries the momentum further. The tune has
been a modern standard in Jackson’s repertoire at least
since he recorded it for his 1999 Blue Note release
Pleasant Valley and he is faithful in his reading of the
melody. A forceful intensity is heaped on top of the
arrangement. Hunter wallops the tune until he’s
granted some space to solo over Jackson and Evans’
repeated closing riff to great effect.

The band addresses two amorous pleas with
“Where is the Love?” and “When I Fall In Love”, Evans
delivering a bluesy stab on the former while offering a
more contemplative stroll through the latter. Jackson
follows with a gentle melodic solo that moves with the
expected confidence of a veteran.

The Smoke Sessions label aims to roll out these
dynamic live sets by road-tested veterans steadily. It’s
an ambitious trend for business owners who don’t
think the stress of running a jazz club is enough. So far,
so good.

Javon Jackson @ NYC Jazz Record

Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Trio review - NYC Jazz Record

The stories drummer Gerry Gibbs tells in the liner
notes for this new record paint the portrait of quite the
teenage jazz nerd. He clearly embraced the family
business (his father is vibraphonist Terry Gibbs),
playing air bass to Ron Carter’s ‘70s CTI albums and
pasting photos of pianist Kenny Barron on his wall.
Regardless of how that was viewed by his peers, it is
likely that none of them are shooting free throws with
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or strolling arm-in-arm with
Cybill Shepherd today. Gibbs, on the other hand, is
living his boyhood fantasies.

This trio recording is sort of a carbon copy of the
terrific “Tootie” Heath album released earlier this year,
Tootie’s Tempo. This time the bandleader is the young
gun and the swinging veterans are joining in. The
frequently entertaining results on both albums is a
strong argument for more intergenerational mingling.

After a pair of standards, Gibbs shows off his
writing with a solid homage to pianist McCoy Tyner
entitled “When I Dream”. Most of its power derives
from Gibbs’ clacking kit, especially when he injects a
fluttering dance groove behind his stoic bandmates.
Barron and Carter are game throughout, sharing a
driving bass figure before Carter takes a supple solo.
Barron tackles his contemporary Herbie Hancock with
blistering verve, “Eye of the Hurricane” burning with
that eye focused primarily on Barron’s lightning quick
right-hand lines while a straightahead take on Stevie
Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” makes for
an excellent soloing platform for the pianist. Gibbs
completes his fantasy by playing Barron’s composition
“Sunshower”, a tune that Barron and Carter
collaborated on when Gibbs was only 13 years old. The
bouncing Latin tune, complete with a feral cuĂ­ca,
provides another showcase for the pianist’s solo voice.

Gibbs’ excitement is palpable throughout and
deservedly so. He has enlisted two musicians with
whom any jazz drummer would love to engage. While
the standards are a pleasant enough listen, the real
magic comes through with the original tunes. Here’s
hoping for the next round, Gibbs writes the whole set.

Gerry Gibbs @ NYC Jazz Record

GO:LA - Doc Pomus documentary - LA Weekly

Doc Pomus & Doctor John
White, Jewish and stricken with polio, teenager Jerome Felder was the most unlikely of blues singer in 1940s Brooklyn. Adopting the name "Doc Pomus," he recorded a few sides on his own before dedicating himself to songwriting the following decade. Of the more than 1,000 songs he wrote, gems like "Save the Last Dance," "This Magic Moment" and "A Teenager in Love" became part of the foundation of pop radio. More than 20 years after Pomus' death from lung cancer at age 65, filmmakers Peter Miller and Will Hechter have released AKA Doc Pomus, a documentary celebrating the unconventional life of the great songwriter, featuring appearances by Dr. John, B.B. King and Ken Hirsch. Following the screening, Hirsch and Hecht-er will be joined for a panel discussion by one of Pomus' Brill Building contemporaries and a documentary-worthy subject himself, Jeff Barry.

Doc Pomus @ LA Weekly