Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Herbie & Wayne & Terrence at Disney Hall - DownBeat

Los Angeles is very lucky to count pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter as residents. Both are American jazz treasures, and whenever they want to descend from the hills to impart some knowledge, it is always welcome. But Hancock’s tenure as the Creative Jazz Chair at the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been marred by frequent disappointments, including bookings of fringe jazz acts (John Fogerty, Steve Winwood) and overreaching lineups that rarely equal the sum of their parts.  
On Feb. 19 Hancock continued that tradition, overloading the stage with more than 100 members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to provide pleasant accompaniment to a band that also included trumpeter Terence Blanchard, bassist James Genus and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. If only the quintet had split the purse and the let the orchestra enjoy a three-day weekend at home, real magic could have been made.
Brooklyn 12-piece Snarky Puppy opened the show. Ordinarily, they are the largest band on the bill, but at Disney Hall they were subsumed by the cavernous venue—there were 10 empty chairs on for every member of the band. A technically precise ensemble, the Snarky Puppy crew is sloppy sartorially. (Many of the teenagers who filled the seats of the high-priced house were more formally dressed than the band.)
They started off slow and quiet but three electric guitars can’t stay quiet forever. “Semente,” from their recent release Culcha Vulcha (GroundUp), turned that around with a playful introduction by bandleader and bassist Michael League. The band was a blur of keyboards propelled by the ebullient rhythmic duo of Nate Werth on percussion and Robert “Sput” Searight on drums.
Songwriter David Crosby was in the audience, their loudest cheerleader, hooting with each blast of horns. As rigidly precise as the band can feel at times, they were certainly doing their part to loosen up the audience. The heat of the evening never got any higher.
Last summer, as part of the Hollywood Bowl’s jazz series, Carlos Santana assembled Mega Nova, a jazz-rock supergroup that not only included Hancock and Shorter but also bassist Marcus Miller and drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana. They played one gig. It was a rudderless drift from one idea to another that saw the ensemble unexpectedly covering both Cyndi Lauper and the National Anthem. Their powers combined did not eclipse each other’s talent.
Hancock and Shorter’s collaboration on Feb. 19 was an even more ambitious swing at grandiosity—with a result that was equally short of transcendent.
The headliners filled the front of the stage; the orchestra filled out the chairs behind them. There were more people on stage than most jazz clubs have capacity. Hancock said a few words about the first tune, Terence Blanchard’s arrangement of a Hancock solo performance, and then off went the house lights.
That tune, called “Herbie Hancock By Himself”, featured mostly the orchestra. Blanchard is a fantastic composer for the screen. His work greatly enhances visual imagery, but onstage, things seemed a little lost. Lush ideas floated by but didn’t stick. In the spaces where a solo voice could step in, it was rare that anyone took a stab with Blanchard playing the most, Hancock tapping out a few ideas and Shorter playing the least.
Shorter, a jazz talisman whose mere presence on the stage is enough to merit a standing ovation, was clearly not being paid by the note. He sat center stage along a baffle against the piano, head down, checking the music, occasionally blowing into his soprano and tenor saxophone.
On a drawn out “Footprints” that had the orchestra tumbling about in booming splashes, Blanchard thundered through a spirited solo. Shorter then took the spotlight on soprano, sat up, began to poke around the bass riff and abruptly stopped less than two choruses into the blues. The audience leaned in with miraculous attention (as they always do for Shorter in Los Angeles) and then exhaled. If he was going to bite, this wasn’t the forkful. 
The sleepy set must have been a dream come true for Blanchard. To have one of the most respected orchestras in the world playing your arrangements is quite the accomplishment. Unfortunately, those less invested in the music seemed to drift off.
The assembled musicians also tackled Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” but no amount of glockenspiel, gongs and timpani drums could have improved on what the core quintet could have done with the tune. In lieu of in-depth solos and engaging musical interactions,the audience was treated to a lot of swelling strings, warm brass and furtive looks. When he was briefly allowed to stretch out, Genus proved that he had enough strength and vitality on four strings to match the anonymous group of highly-paid orchestra members sitting behind him. 
Hancock and Shorter are such brilliantly intimate musicians. When they bounce off of each other, it is a language of whispers and telepathy; but when they only play for crowds of thousands, it’s hard to capture that spirit. On this night, the band never really got into that pocket, instead trying to blend in with an orchestra rather than control it. 
A little over an hour after starting, the houselights came up and nobody looked sure if they could leave yet. Should they play another tune? Could they just count one off and bring a little intimacy and spontaneity to the night? They could have, but they didn’t. Hancock thanked the crowd, the band stood up and everybody left the stage. That was all, folks. 

Saxophonist Doug Webb - JazzTimes

It was nearly 11 p.m. on a Monday night and Los Angeles’ oldest fulltime jazz club, the Baked Potato, was at standing-room-only capacity. Six musicians dressed in T-shirts crowded the small stage amid the garage-chic d├ęcor of promo photos featuring long-defunct bands. The sextet performed a blistering version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” and embarked on a more subdued journey via Joe Zawinul’s “In a Silent Way.” Bookended by electric guitars and propelled by drummer Danny Carey, best known for his work with the alternative-metal band Tool, saxophonist Doug Webb stood in the middle of the tornado, blasting his horn with as much strength as his heavily amplified friends. Twelve hours later Webb was due for a commercial studio session. By the end of the week, he was in Texas teaching clinics and working with a big band.

“I’ve never turned down any work. I did whatever I could and still do,” the 55-year-old musician said before the set. “I’ve always worked a lot. People have asked me, ‘How come you’re so versatile?’ Easy. Lack of success.”

Though born in Illinois, Webb moved with his parents to Southern California at the age of 3. He played his first paying gig at 13 and has never looked back. Along the way, he picked up a degree from Berklee College of Music and worked with some of the most important jazz instrumentalists of the 20th century. His playing has appeared on more than 1,000 recordings, from honking television themes to soaring cinematic scores. Through it all he has also honed a strong personal sound that harkens back to tenor giants like John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon. Yet only in the last decade has he begun to seek out the spotlight.

On the recommendation of pianist Art Resnick, Webb joined trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s band while still in his 20s. “Probably the greatest gig of my life, playing in a quintet with one of the baddest cats to ever play the trumpet,” Webb said. “He was kind of old-school. He would call tunes I didn’t know and make me play first. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to feature our tenor player.'”

That kind of feet-to-the-flame education proved to be invaluable. “I would play everything I knew at every gig and then he would proceed to blow me away with one note. Sometimes I was too terrified to really enjoy the moment.” They played together until Hubbard was sidelined by health issues in the early ’90s.
From there Webb moved on to another master, pianist Horace Silver. Webb was a part of Silver’s last touring band and a frequent first call during the bandleader’s time in Malibu. “He would tell me, ‘Doug, you should really play the changes more.’ So I started spelling out the chords, and if I wasn’t playing the chord I was playing a blues scale,” Webb recalled. “When I started, I was trying to play that hip shit and Horace didn’t dig it.”

But bassist Stanley Clarke did. Webb has been a regular member of Clarke’s ensemble for decades, blitzing through his band’s breakneck arrangements on recordings and on stages around the world. For several of Webb’s albums as a leader, including the Posi-Tone releases Renovations and Midnight, Clarke returned the favor and joined in as a sideman, filling out a hard-swinging rhythm section with pianist Larry Goldings and drummer Gerry Gibbs. The results are a rare opportunity to hear Clarke work through time-tested standards.

Clarke has a great respect for Webb’s contributions. “In jazz music there are traditions that many of us hold near and dear to our hearts,” he said. “Some of us show that respect in composition and performance. I like Doug because he’s not afraid to honor those traditions, and even though any good jazz musician will always echo the past, Doug has the unique ability to sit on top of all those influences and truly sound like himself.”

Up a winding road and into the tight confines of the Hollywood Hills, Webb has a modest house amid the movie-star estates and uncommonly woodsy air. Webb lives there with his wife and the sprawling paraphernalia of a working musician. When I visited in March, a neck strap hung on the coatrack; boxes of reeds were stacked like Jenga pieces. A back room was loaded with books, mouthpieces and a few prized press clippings. The stereo was playing the rough mixes for Webb’s next release, a quintet session of mostly originals, recorded in New York last year.

Webb released his first album as sole leader at age 47. Several close calls earlier in his career didn’t pan out, and before he knew it he had enough session work to keep the lights on. “I wanted to make sure I had something to say,” Webb remarked about his eventual debut.

Since then he’s talked a lot. Webb has released nearly an album a year and has plenty of material in the can for future product. His partnership with the venerable Posi-Tone label has been fruitful. Last year, he contributed two albums to the label’s mostly straight-ahead discography. Back East features a boisterous quartet burning through a handful of Webb originals and a few choice standards. The second CD features a three-tenor frontline recorded in Brooklyn, pitting Webb against Walt Weiskopf and Joel Frahm. Triple Play is aided by the two-man rhythm section of organist Brian Charette and drummer Rudy Royston. But the album features carefully crafted takes from all three saxophonists, stepping well beyond the expectations of a traditional tenor battle. The three musicians are clearly on the same team, with a shared goal and a scorecard that is a tangle of timing and swagger.

Though Posi-Tone is based in Los Angeles, Webb is one of very few musicians on its roster who doesn’t live in New York. For label-owner Marc Free, a lot of it comes down to work ethic. “In all fairness, I know a lot of guys in L.A. who I would love to make records with, but they’re not going to get out there and work hard and play a lot of gigs,” Free said. “They’re comfortable with the work they have teaching and doing sessions. They’re not going to get on the road and do two or three gigs a night. … [Doug] has a ceaseless love to play, and that makes him stand out.”

But Webb does record on the West Coast too. His V.S.O.P. quartet release Sets the Standard pairs him with pianist Alan Broadbent, a more sensitive foil to his muscular horn. With bassist Putter Smith and drummer Paul Kreibich, the group works through a set of familiar tunes, presenting a more relaxed side of Webb’s musicality that doesn’t often pop up on his New York recordings.

In a windowless upstairs room of Webb’s house, a museum of weathered instrument cases protected a vast and unique collection of woodwinds. In no particular order, Webb recognized the obscure ethnomusicological artifacts and where he put them to work. A bass ocarina elicited a raspy hum that he used for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. A set of Chinese reed instruments provided a Far East twang for Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Smurfs and Minions waddled around to even more otherworldly horns, twisted into impossible fingerings and even stranger tunings. Webb picked out a dulled, unidentifiable pewter horn and summoned Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” with a squawk. “I’ve got about 17 repair people,” he joked.
“I’ve always been a bandleader and I’ve always also been a sideman,” Webb insisted. He’s in it for the long haul and is not afraid to put in the hours to get his name out there. In the next few months, he will lead his band at half a dozen Southern California rooms before gearing up for another album release. The cycle continues, but in many ways the process is just beginning. 

Jazz at the Blue Whale - KPCC's Off Ramp

The Blue Whale just celebrated 7 years in Little Tokyo and has become - despite its location on the top floor of Weller Plaza - the definitive room for hip, progressive, youthful jazz. And the audience at the club has gone from 3 awkward dudes nursing a Pepsi for two hours to a diverse, packed, engaged crowd.
And like the Village Vanguard and Birdland in New York, or Shelly's Manne-Hole and the Lighthouse here in LA, more and more artists are recording albums at the Blue Whale. Several have already been recorded at the club, and on Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday, Feb. 18, keyboardist Mark de Clive-Lowe is throwing an album release party at the club called "Live at the Blue Whale." Mark can get them dancing in the aisles but he can also play a straight-ahead Ahmad Jamal groove all day long.
Joon Lee admits he didn't pick the best time to start a businesses, especially one in an obscure corner of an obscure mall in downtown LA. "I built it Winter 2009. It was bad timing. Everything was going down. And we had many nights when there were more employees than customers ... for at least a year. I was thinking at least two years, I'm gonna lose money for sure." Why has he succeeded when other jazz clubs have failed? "First of all you have to believe in this music. And then you have to believe in this community." 
Mark says, "There are some clubs where you're fighting with patrons who don't want to hear music, or staff who wish it was the rock night. When I play The Blue Whale, creatively it feels like a safe space. Whatever I want to do - and I've seen this with other musicians, whatever they want to do - is accepted by the audience and the venue. The staff culture here is really strong, supportive, and friendly. The space is made for music; the only reason for it to exist is for people to perform their art."

Dizzy For President - KPCC's Off-Ramp

(audio is available at link below)
It's election season. A deep schism in the Republican Party has led to the nomination of one of the most galvanizing presidential candidates in American history. Democrats, on the other hand, have rallied behind a beltway insider with plenty of White House experience.
One candidate, however, has given disillusioned Americans hope for the future. We're not talking about Bernie, and we're not talking about Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, either. We're not even talking about this year's election.
It's 1964: Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater and probably the hippest presidential candidate ever: jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie. And it all started here in Los Angeles. 
With his trumpet bell pointed sky high and his cheeks inflated to the size of softballs, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was one of the most recognizable jazz musicians of the 20th century. Aside from his importance as one of the prime architects of bebop, Gillespie was a style icon and a consummate showman.
At the age of 47, he added an unexpected title to his resume: presidential candidate. Offering himself up as a swinging alternative to Johnson and Goldwater, Gillespie spent most of 1964 campaigning from the bandstand. He even wrote a theme song for the campaign.

Gillespie hosted a midday press conference two months before the election at Shelly’s Manne Hole, the Hollywood nightclub run by jazz drummer Shelly Manne on Cahuenga Boulevard. In front of a bank of microphones and reporters from Jet, Billboard and DownBeat, Gillespie outlined his platform under the shabby glow of the world-famous jazz room, along with naming his cabinet appointees.
Ramona Crowell, the campaign's self-described "mover and shaker," was there. Crowell is the last surviving member of Gillespie’s proposed cabinet. She's 89 today. But she was more than a cabinet member. She was his campaign manager. She was also pretty realistic about his chances.
"I think he would’ve tried real hard to be business-like," she said. "But he was anything but. You could tell from his nickname what he was like."
Crowell, along with Jean Gleason, the wife of Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph Gleason, organized the campaign with a bit of merchandising genius: sweatshirts.
"I decided we should make Dizzy Gillespie sweatshirts, because I had seen a Beethoven sweatshirt," she said. "Dizzy was agreeable to it, and we did."
Though Gillespie never made it on the ballot, his tongue-in-cheek campaign struck a chord. Sales of campaign buttons and sweatshirts were donated to the Congress for Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
A lot of Gillespie’s platform focused on civil rights concerns: he promised to deport George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, to Vietnam.
The cabinet appointments were the best part by far, though. Here's a bit of his campaign speech:
When I am elected president of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House to the Blues House. The title of ‘secretary’ will be replaced by the more appropriately dignified ‘minister.’ Miles Davis has offered to serve as minister of the Treasury, but I’ve persuaded him to head the CIA instead.
Although Bo Diddley applied first, I told him my choice is the great Duke Ellington for minister of State. He’s a natural and can con anybody. Louis Armstrong is set for minister of Agriculture. He knows all about raising those crops.
Behind every cabinet appointment was a more-or-less inside joke about the jazz legends Gillespie called peers. I don't know if we need to ask, but why Louis Armstrong for agriculture?
"The agriculture thing was because he grew dope," said Crowell, laughing. "I guess it was really good dope."
For minister of Peace? Charles Mingus.
“He was anything but a candidate for that," said Crowell. "He had a terrible temper. He was very overt in his dislike of anybody. And crabby!"
Again, candidate Gillespie:
And, after considering the qualifications and potential of a great many candidates, I have decided that the rabbi of modern jazz… the maharajah of contemporary music… one of the most creative and gifted and avant-garde young men I know – Thelonious Sphere Monk – will be booked for a four-year tour as roving ambassador plenipotentiary.
"He was not outgoing or friendly or anything like that," Crowell, whose title alternated between vice president and press secretary, said. "He wasn’t anybody’s choice for ambassador!”
In the end, Gillespie never held office, of course. His lighthearted campaign did help raise awareness of civil rights issues. Gillespie died in 1993, exactly two weeks before a saxophone-playing southerner took over the Oval Office.
Gillespie did get his chance to hang at the White House, though. In the summer of 1978, Gillespie was invited by then-president Jimmy Carter to participate in the White House Jazz Festival. The two duetted on an appropriate tune, Salt Peanuts.

Miles Mosley & the West Coast Get Down at the El Rey - Downbeat

For the last dozen years, the West Coast Get Down has been a collective of supremely versatile Los Angeles musicians, each member a capable but vastly different leader from one another. The band’s explosive arrival beyond the L.A. basin was the release of member and saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. The album was praised upon its release in March 2015 and a non-stop world tour has kept Washington’s name in the headlines while the rest of the band planned their debuts from the same blur of hotels, stages and airports. Now, finally, another member is ready to have his name on the marquee: bassist Miles Mosley.
Mosley is a charming frontman. He broke through as a teenager and has since been steadily working with acts as varied as Korn and Billy Preston. His new album, Uprising (World Galaxy/Alpha Pup), is a diverse collection of original tunes that sway from shouting gospel to slapping funk, psychedelic baroque to thumping dance grooves.
On Jan. 28 at the El Rey Theatre in L.A., Mosley and his booming bass performed selections from the new album, and throughout the night shared stories and appreciations that were humble and welcoming. In between, things were much more aggressive.
When the curtain pulled back, 18 musicians filled the stage around Mosley, who was dressed in all black (matching the color of his upright bass). He wore a golden armament on his right bicep. (Though collective member Thundercat was not present, his chain mail armor would pair well with Mosley’s decorative shield.) A four-woman choir, six-piece string section, two keyboardists, a horn section and drummer Tony Austin also filled the stage. 
The band immediately hit loud and fast, summoning incredible force on a par with Sly & the Family Stone. The manic, freight-train vibe seemed to inform much of the evening’s set, with the choir hollering and the horns blasting throughout. Mosley didn’t move much, but he made up for it with some bass demonstrations that few others can match.
Mosley is a rare combination of singer and upright bassist. He handles both with aplomb but it his instrumental prowess that gets him so many gigs. He handles the large instrument like a toy, swaying and stabbing with his bow. When he really digs in, he can summon the sound of a thousand jets, shredding the hell out of his upper register as pedals multiply the intensity and decibels. 
During the hour and a half long set, each member of the horn section was also given an opportunity for an extended solo. But this was not a blowing session. Mosley’s compositions moved like suites, quietude buoyed by pianist Cameron Graves while the bombast would swing in on Austin’s sticks.
Washington was the first featured, snarling over the rest of the band with a tightly-wound shot. Trombonist Ryan Porter nabbed the spotlight later on, blowing with exuberance. Trumpeter Dontae Winslow, his horn bell painted red, reached into the stratosphere for his solo, splattering high brass all over the band’s grooving gospel. Under the guidance of musical director Geoff “Double G” Gallegos, the strings were sharp, pumping up the pomp and circumstance.
“Fire” boiled over quickly with every member of the orchestra pushing his or her abilities to the limit. The crowd followed the lead, moving endlessly through the set in all manner of exuberance. “Sky High” featured Graves nimble piano. A baby grand piano was a rare sight on the El Rey stage, a venue usually reserved for rock acts. Graves took his time, flicking daggers with precision. His piano also grounded “Abraham,” the lead single from the album. The title is a reference to Mosley’s first name by birth, and the song is a roaring, triumphant anthem.
The West Coast Get Down is a many-tentacled beast still tethered to a central nervous system. In the next few months, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., bassist Thundercat, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and pianist Cameron Graves will all release albums, attempting to further define themselves amid the soaring juggernaut that is “Kamasi Washington fever.” 
As each member grabs the megaphone, a whole new world of box office draws and marquee combinations will be tried. This year might be a challenge for the collective, because there are so many options, so many paths to explore. It’s a nice problem to have, but one that will no doubt test their limits. 

Grammy Camp at Capitol Records with Al Schmitt & Bob Dylan - Downbeat

It’s hard not to feel a tinge of jealousy when observing the student musicians in the annual Grammy Camp Jazz Session. Following a rigorous audition process, high school musicians from around the country travel to Los Angeles, where they watch live performances, attend lectures and perform for industry insiders during the action-filled week leading up to the Grammy Awards ceremony.
This year’s participants included 32 teenage musicians (two rhythm sections, eight vocalists and 18 instrumentalists). Their experience culminated with multiple sessions at the famed Capitol Records Studio A, which has hosted everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys. The resulting sessions will eventually be whittled down to a dozen tracks and released as an iTunes album later this year.
David Sears, who serves as executive education director, has been involved in the program for 21 years. During that time, many future stars have participated in the program, including pianist Christian Sands (a member of bassist Christian McBride’s band), Jon Batiste (bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) and Marcus Gilmore (who topped the category Rising Star–Drums in the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll).
Over the years, Sears has helped recruit numerous experts to teach the students about music business as well as helping them craft an artistically fulfilling and marketable recording. This real-life experience is invaluable for many students, including ones who pursue collegiate music programs.
Al Schmitt is one of the veteran sages brought in by Sears to give the students some guidance. A producer, recording engineer and mixer, Schmitt has taken home Grammy gold for his work with a diverse array of artists, including Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Steely Dan and Ray Charles.
At 85 years young, Schmitt remains tireless, as evidenced by the way he enthusiastically bound up the steps and interacted with the young musicians during a Feb. 12 session.
“I can tell you that jazz is not dead,” Schmitt said with a smile during a brief interview. “Every year, these kids just blow me away. 15, 16 years old. Close your eyes and you’ll swear you are listening to a band from the Basie era.”
Schmitt has provided his time-tested ears for the mixing portion of the session for several years. He feels fortunate to have had great mentors, such as Tom Dowd, and he feels a responsibility to share his knowledge. “What the Grammys are doing is a big thing,” he said. “We have to continue funding these things. They’ve stopped putting money into school. When I was a kid we had music appreciation, but kids don’t get that anymore. All parents have a responsibility that if a child is interested they should be given the opportunity to learn an instrument.”
Capitol Records mainstay Charlie Paakkari (also a Grammy winner) served as engineer for the session, manning an enormous mixing console. Meanwhile, Justin DiCioccio—associate dean and chair of the Manhattan School of Music’s Jazz Arts Program—bounced around the studio as band director, sassing the students and drawing strong performances with his graceful conducting.
As if playing music in a world-famous recording studio weren’t surreal enough an experience for these kids, Bob Dylan stopped by—unexpectedly. Midway through a churning take of Herbie Hancock’s “The Eye Of The Hurricane,” Dylan walked into the control booth, dressed in white cowboy boots and sunglasses. He was working on a new album across the hall with Schmitt. The two had collaborated on Dylan’s 2015 album Shadows In The Night (which was recorded at Capitol Studios) and are now working on a similar project.
Dylan stood attentively watching the youngsters perform as Schmitt egged him on, suggesting they record the next album with the students. Dylan talked briefly with Sears and when the band finished, he gave an approving nod before getting back to work across the hall.
Several students encountered Dylan as they went into the booth to hear the playback. Some were dumbfounded by the sight of the rock legend, while others didn’t know who he was. Some kids got more excited when DJ/producer Martin Solveig dropped in on the session and joined the group for an impromptu brassy jam on the hook from his tune “The Night Out.”
In addition to having an unforgettable musical experience, Schmitt feels that some of the kids learned an important life lesson: “The thing I want them to come away with is that they should follow their heart. It’s a great voyage and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Monday, February 27, 2017

Brainfeeder at the Hollywood Bowl - Downbeat

As the summer season drew to a close at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Philharmonic—which hosts a series of concerts at the venue from July through September—took a big leap toward attracting future subscribers by presenting a night of music affiliated with Brainfeeder, the record label and collective founded and run by jazz-leaning producer, rapper and filmmaker Flying Lotus.
The Sept. 17 label showcase marked a change of pace for the Hollywood Bowl, whose programming typically skews toward Baby Boomer demographics. The decision to present a night of young, genre-blurring performers was a refreshing gamble. Most of the artists were under the age of 35, and likely more accustomed to the small Airliner club in East Los Angeles than to the Bowl’s grand stage.
In only a few short years, L.A.-based Brainfeeder has managed to creatively merge the worlds of electronic dance music and modern jazz. Flying Lotus, born Steven Ellison, is the grandnephew of Alice Coltrane. His label boasts releases from jazz musicians like saxophonist Kamasi Washington and Kneedelus (a fruitful mash-up of the jazz-funk outfit Kneebody and producer Daedelus).
But as they proved over the course of four hours on Sept. 17, Brainfeeder casts a wide net with ample space for goofiness and divine creativity.
The last rays of the sun crossed paths with the full moon as alternative hip-hop DJ The Gaslamp Killer opened the show with some Jimi Hendrix. The screens illuminated with a shot of his turntables as a second photo embedded the palm-tree-haired electronicist in the center, looking like an early Jim Henson production.
Gaslamp weaved through Nirvana and The Kingsmen during what amounted to a 15-minute performance, a few hours short of his typical night’s work.
The rap duo Shabazz Palaces followed. Their minimalist approach of MC and live percussion seemed dwarfed by the overwhelming venue, but they provided sufficient swagger for the diverse crowd shuffling their way in.
Thundercat, the fleet-fingered bassist and Kendrick Lamar collaborator, seemed the most excited to be onstage. Along with keyboardist Dennis Hamm and drummer Justin Brown, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner went to work on his double-necked electric bass. The trio was unrelenting in its display of instrumental dexterity (despite some technical issues). Thundercat elicited woos for his rapid-fire solos while Brown never let up, providing a barrage of fills and energetic drive.
Halfway through the set, Thundercat removed his jacket to reveal a pair of red boxing shorts, giving him the honor of Most Casually Dressed Artist to command the spotlight of the Bowl. He pointed to the sky and shouted an acknowledgement of jazz pianist Austin Peralta, his former bandmate and best friend, who likely would have played a large role in the evening’s festivities had he not succumbed to pneumonia four years ago at the age of 22.
“Lotus And The Jondy,” Thundercat’s tribute to his late friend, was full of spirit, pushing a rather sinister groove that entranced the crowd. When he finished, Thundercat plainly announced former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald as his guest. The stunned crowd gave muted applause, hesitant to believe the notorious prankster. McDonald waved and then in a move that not one of the 15,000 fans in attendance could have predicted, the group played through “What A Fool Believes.” It was an honest, straightforward performance of the 1979 yacht-rock hit.
McDonald turned out to be the lone surprise guest for the night—which was somewhat odd, considering the number of high-profile musicians with whom Flying Lotus and Thundercat have collaborated. The quartet closed with Thundercat’s “Them Changes,” the dance-floor single from last year’s EP Where The Giants Roam, leaving many in the audience both bemused and impressed.
Funk pioneer George Clinton is 75 years old and moves like it onstage. He paced the front of the performance space gingerly, and at one point spun around in an office chair. He was joined by a dozen other musicians, vocalists and a guy who did some yoga poses in a big furry white hat.
Together, they rocked through some new tunes (Clinton will be releasing an album on Brainfeeder next year) before launching into a raucous house-party medley featuring classics like “Flashlight,” “Give Up The Funk” and “Atomic Dog.” Clinton’s voice was a raspy husk, but he seemed to be having fun egging on his much younger bandmates.
Flying Lotus, the brains behind Brainfeeder, closed out the show. The DJ has always embraced darkness in his productions, using anguished screams and swampy synths to fuel his unique style of electronic music. On his most recent album—2014’s You’re Dead!—pianist Herbie Hancock and Thundercat help push the aesthetic toward interstellar swing. Though both collaborators were in attendance at the show, Flying Lotus attempted to carry an entire hour by himself.
But one man and a deck full of electronics wasn’t going to be enough to light up the Hollywood Bowl, so he and a team of video artists including longtime collaborator Strangeloop lit up several hundred feet of the stage’s facade with vibrating fractals and seizure-inducing geometry, encasing Flying Lotus in a wall of projection screens.
Images revolved around the headliner as he pumped his fist and mysteriously operated his machinery, appearing to simultaneously float in space and burst into flames.
This was theater, a visually stunning performance with one man standing center stage. But it wasn’t a sacred stage to Lotus. He complained multiple times about his monitor and stepped out from behind the curtains to perform as his rapping alter ego Captain Murphy, asking the audience to “bear with me” as he was going to try some new material. The Hollywood Bowl is not the stage for new material.
Captain Murphy fulfilled his rap-star fantasies and engaged his ego for far too long, serving as his own DJ while walking around the front-row seats and reaching for a few outstretched hands.
Flying Lotus’ set lost momentum toward the end, sponging up an extra 20 minutes that could have been used to highlight another great artist on the Brainfeeder roster. The label’s catalog is pushing a revolution of sound with each new artist. If only Flying Lotus had invited some of them instead of Captain Murphy.

A New Home for the World Stage - Downbeat

It was just after 9 p.m. on Sept. 2 and Los Angeles’ Degnan Boulevard was a ghost town. The former home of the World Stage, drummer Billy Higgins and poet Kamauu Daouud’s original Leimert Park artistic assembly point, was in darkness along with nearly every other business on the street. From a gated fire exit a block away, light and sound blared equally.
The new home of the World Stage (wider, louder, roomier) has been in full swing lately. After 26 years at its original home, the World Stage made the move amid a tumultuous shift earlier this year: A new train station is being dug out of the neighborhood and a land-grab has made the once bustling South Los Angeles arts community tilt toward losing its identity.
As faceless collectives buy up many of the buildings of the Crenshaw District’s once artist-rich strip, the World Stage opted to leave the nest for a space that can hold twice as many people and twice as much sound along with the security of a reasonable rent.
During a Sept. 2 show, cornetist Bobby Bradford brought his Mo’tet to engage the crowd with some quick-witted performances. Tenor saxophonist Chuck Manning and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich rounded out the horns. Manning, an in-the-pocket Coltrane-esque blower, searched through Bradford’s harmonies for just the right level of honk while Vlatkovich summoned hums and whale calls over the thumping rhythm section of pianist Don Preston, bassist Henry Franklin and drummer Christopher Garcia.
Two Bradford originals served as a contrast in light and darkness for the ensemble. “A Little Pain” provided a nice bounce, while “She” was a dirge with ample room for Vlatkovich. Bradford, 82, is far removed from his early L.A. days with Ornette Coleman, but he remains a lighthearted frontman, chatting with the crowd and conducting his ensemble through his convoluted charts. In between, he blew meditative lines and knotted phrases for the modest crowd.
The following night was more crowded with a diverse collection of folks there to catch saxophonist Azar Lawrence. Along with pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Andrew Livingston and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, the quartet tore the roof of the room, adding an element of storefront church amid the folding chairs.
Lawrence performed almost an entire set of Coltrane originals starting with “India” on soprano saxophone. The 20-plus minute performance elicited hoots and hollers from the audience as Lawrence compressed his energy into a fiery squall.
“Lonnie’s Lament” saw Lawrence switch to tenor saxophone and ratchet the intensity even more. As Smith pounded away at his kit with a perpetual smile across his face, a man came running up to the opened fire door screaming, “Coltrane! Coltrane! Coltrane!,” relishing the tornado the four musicians were heaping on the receptive audience.
Saunders got a chance to shine with a lengthy intro to “Naima” as Smith displayed his brush chops, forceful and swinging. While Lawrence was in top form, cutting the room in half with his horn, Smith was the real revelation, digging in deep with a precise flick of the wrist.
“My vision when we moved to this new space—because we have more room now—I want us to be one of the major jazz rooms in Los Angeles,” said artistic director and vocalist Dwight Trible. “I know every musician at some point or another has been touched by the World Stage, so I don’t think it’s too much to ask everybody to do a gig once or twice a year.”
And in the next few months, Trible’s wish comes true. The forthcoming lineup features such masters as reedist Bennie Maupin, trombonist Phil Ranelin, percussionist Munyungo Jackson and Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones—all of whom are scheduled to appear at the venue before Halloween.
“This is something that is not owned by anybody,” Trible said in regard to the bare-bones organization. “This place is run on volunteer labor and that includes me. Everybody has talents in some way. You don’t have to be there every day or be there every month. Remember and understand that this place doesn’t exist by some rich person making sure that we stay in existence. It’s a contribution from everybody and we all have to remember that.”
Trible is optimistic about the future of the World Stage. The long-running all-ages, Thursday night jam session, currently hosted by local jazz DJ James Janisse, still fills the house.
In the late ’90s, the jam was a haven for upcoming L.A. students like Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. Higgins (1936–2001) served as mentor to them all and provided an invaluable space for so many musicians to pound out standards into the wee hours for an audience that was merciless in their opinions.
Now, as those musicians have become embraced in L.A. and around the world, they are continuing to engage with the World Stage. Martin, a tireless promoter of his hometown jazz scene, recently brought in keyboardist Robert Glasper to make some noise. That show attracted young, curious listeners who were familiar with the connections both artists have to the current state of black music. Fifteen years after Higgins’ passing, his legacy continues on, introducing a new generation to the ever-evolving state of jazz.
“We want the younger [artists], the upcoming giants,” Trible said. “I want to leave room for them as well. We want to make sure that when somebody comes from out of town, they [feel that they’ve] got to come to the World Stage.”
With a new sound system, larger capacity, sizable parking lot and a robust calendar, the World Stage seems more than ready for that next swinging phase.