Friday, July 19, 2019

Lighthouse Cafe: 70 Years of Swing - Los Angeles Times

Saxophonist Charles Owens’ quartet was onstage blowing a hard blues as part of the 70th anniversary celebration of Hermosa Beach’s historic Lighthouse Café jazz jam when Gloria Cadena stood up from her table.
She was clutching a manila folder full of papers and approached the stage. She whispered something into Owens’ ear and then moved the tip bucket closer to the front of the stage. Today, June 26, was her 94th birthday, but Cadena wasn’t really at the club to celebrate. She was there to work.
“I was always in the background, calling the musicians and helping my husband book,” said Cadena, the Lighthouse’s resident jazz promoter, between sets but before cake. “He died in 2008 but I’m still doing the same things.” Since Ozzie’s passing she does those tasks alone: booking, promoting and even greeting folks at the door.
She pointed across the room at a black-and-white framed picture on the wall of a young man and woman, Gloria and Ozzie Cadena. “That’s us on our wedding day, 1950.”

Lighthouse Cafe in Herosa Beach

Gloria Cadena, 94, the widow of Oscar Cadena, founder of the jazz jam at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, checks out the scene during a 70-year tribute to the famed live jazz venue.

Earlier in the day, KKJZ broadcast live from the plaza, celebrating the Lighthouse’s anniversary and Gloria Cadena’s birthday with those couldn’t find cheap beach parking. While Benoit played to the sand, inside the Lighthouse was a rotating collection of musicians taking the stage to honor the Cadenas and the decades of jazz history held in the narrow club. There were even two cakes made to celebrate the milestones.
Patrons fill the tables inside the Lighthouse Cafe on June 26 for a birthday gathering.

Patrons fill the tables inside the Lighthouse Cafe on June 26 for a birthday gathering.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
For nearly 20 years, the Cadenas were the most influential jazz promoters in the South Bay, booking the Lighthouse on occasion as well as other beachy venues like the now-defunct Sangria.
The summer before the Cadenas got married, the sand-strewn doorway of Hermosa Beach’s Lighthouse first lit up the swinging beacon that would come to define an entire genre of music from San Diego to Seattle. Never mind the fact that Los Angeles had a homegrown jazz scene stretching back before Prohibition or that during World War II, Central Avenue was a 24 -hour neighborhood boasting sessions by neighborhood kids like Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus and Buddy Collette. For much of the world, the West Coast jazz aesthetic was defined when bassist Howard Rumsey hosted his first Sunday jam session in the flailing, brick-lined, sun-dappled bar.
Seventy years later, the phrase “West Coast Jazz” still conjures seagulls and short-sleeves and the Lighthouse still swings on Sunday mornings. But for one hour last Wednesday, as the sun set beyond the volleyball nets, the bustling Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza lit up with the sounds of contemporary jazz compliments of local pianist David Benoit and his quintet. Several hundred flip-flop-clad dog walkers and huddled tourists filled the fold-out chairs, the brisk un-summer temperatures helping to sell a few souvenir sweatshirts.
In 1949, Rumsey’s jam session was a quick success, attracting musicians like Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan throughout the next couple decades. The session could sometimes last more than half a day and more than two dozen albums were recorded in the club by the likes of Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones and the Jazz Crusaders. The club became known as the “Jazz Corner of the West,” an inverted Village Vanguard with more sunburns and fewer people falling down the stairs.
By the time Ozzie Cadena arrived in California from Newark, N.J., jazz at the Lighthouse had been running for a quarter century and Rumsey had moved on to his Concerts by the Sea venture. Cadena was not alone when he moved. He brought Gloria and his children, including his restless adolescent son Dez, who would go on to blow out his larynx with the L.A. hardcore band Black Flag before he gave up vocal duties to Henry Rollins, and who’d later become a fixture, as guitarist, with horror-punk group the Misfits. He has since moved back to New Jersey but continues to play including with numerous bands including a group called FLAG composed of past members of Black Flag.
“In the beginning of 1974, dad just came home one day and said ‘in June, we are moving to California,’” recalls a raspy Dez Cadena, now 58. “My mom said, ‘Where?’ He had fallen in love with Hermosa Beach. It wasn’t even L.A. It was Hermosa Beach. And the Lighthouse.”
The elder Cadena had been an A&R man for Savoy Records from 1954 to 1959. He arranged sessions for Milt Jackson and Cannonball Adderley at the behest of tyrannical label owner Herman Lubinsky. He went on to produce soul-jazz classics for Prestige Records while also running a successful record store in the Garden State. He became enraptured with Hermosa Beach while visiting California for a Fantasy Records session in Berkeley. Old friends from New Jersey like musicians Yusef Lateef and Charles Earland would stay with the Cadenas when they would swing out west on tour.
While Ozzie spent his youth on the engineer’s side of the studio, Dez was making musical waves of his own in town. “The parallels between punk rock and jazz music are extremely close. Jazz was looked down upon in my dad’s day. With punk rock, nobody could figure us out. Even the hippies couldn’t figure us out and the city certainly couldn’t figure us out.”
Dez’s generational détente reached its peak in 1980 when Black Flag hosted a gig at the Church, a former Baptist church only blocks away from the Lighthouse that had become a squatters’ home to South Bay punk pioneers like Redd Kross and the Descendants. In a swift embrace of negative press, Black Flag got themselves kicked out of Hermosa Beach for riotous behavior. All the while, Cadena’s parents were wrestling with preserving the musical legacy of the generation before — older, more sharply dressed but no less angry.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s, after the club was bought by its current owner, South Bay restaurateur Paul Hennessy, that the Cadenas started booking at the Lighthouse. Their first act? Woody Herman. For the next 20 years, the Cadenas would go on to protect the legacy of the Lighthouse, hiring top local talent and helping to install a series of plaques in the plaza commemorating visitations from swinging dignitaries like the Jazz Messengers as well as the home team, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars which featured more than 50 musicians over the years, including Hampton Hawes, Sonny Criss and Max Roach.
To kick off the festivities on Wednesday, Ozzie and Gloria were honored by the city of Hermosa Beach. Mayor pro tem Mary Campbell unveiled a plaque entitled “The Promoters,” recognizing their importance to the history of jazz on both coasts. Nearly 100 people gathered for the short ceremony in the middle of the plaza.
Gloria stood quietly listening to guests like Owens and guitarist Jacques Lesure say a few nice things about her. She seemed more preoccupied with the gig than the family members who had gathered to help celebrate. After a round of “Happy Birthday,” Gloria briefly took the microphone. “Let’s keep the jazz going!” she announced before returning to her table at the front of the stage.
“I get the feeling if Ozzie was around he would say something like, ‘Oh, don’t bother with me. It’s for the musicians,’” says Dez. “That’s what he always said. That’s why he did the things he did. He always fought for the musicians. Hermosa is a beach party town with a lot of young people. The clubs want to make money, sell drinks. That’s why they started booking reggae and rock.”
Of course, it takes more than just a dedication to jazz to keep a nightclub filled at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday in a youthful beach town. The calendar at the Lighthouse boasts live-band karaoke and salsa night, but jazz still keeps itself in the rotation three days a week.
There are several framed images before the L-shaped hallway that leads to the back parking lot. Ozzie is in one working the club. Gloria is the photo next to him. Beside that is a large, signed movie poster for the Oscar-winning 2016 film “La La Land.” The suburban, hard-bop Technicolor fantasy made good use of the Lighthouse and subsequently breathed life into the club, attracting a few lookie-loos who are less concerned with Duke Ellington’s small ensemble work as they are with where Ryan Gosling may have checked his phone while waiting for film to roll. Either way, business is good and jazz musicians still have a reliable gig in town.
Toward the end of the plaza, there is a mural adorned with flowers and surfers. Howard Rumsey with his upright bass is front and center next to Chet Baker. To their left, above the mermaid, is Black Flag. Onstage and off, the Cadenas ’ legacy is everywhere in Hermosa Beach — from the spike-haired skate-rats riding on the pier to the embossed brass plaques proclaiming “ JAZZ.”
“I just wish my husband was here to enjoy this,” said Gloria amid the crowd of familiar faces. “I did it to keep it all going. I mean, what else would I do?”

The BadBadNotGood Life - JazzTimes

It was nearly 8:30 on a Tuesday night in late September, and the sold-out crowd at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was restless. With confirmed (Bilal, Sa-Ra Creative Partners) and unbilled (George Clinton, Kamasi Washington, the Gaslamp Killer) acts slated for the stage, the evening was shaping up to be a long but momentous one. British deejay Gilles Peterson had selected the bill and violist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, one of the most in-demand arrangers and composers of the tight-knit L.A. beat scene, was at the helm of a 13-piece jazz orchestra. The Canadian quartet BadBadNotGood—Leland Whitty on saxophones, guitar, violin and vibraphone; keyboardist Matty Tavares, subbed out for the night; Chester Hansen on bass; Alexander Sowinski on drums—was tasked with opening the show.
Whitty, a recent fulltime addition to the band, strode out in his best spring-break wardrobe and began to blow the Norah Jones hit “Don’t Know Why” on his tenor. The group played it slow and straight without solos, a suitable cruise-ship stroll. When the song was over, the crowd clapped politely, a little confused but fairly accepting that these four young men were going to sling some cheese until the main acts were ready. Instead they delivered a beating, unleashing blazing saxophone solos and a road-tested rhythmic ferocity on the 1,600-strong audience. Between tunes, Sowinski, wearing a T-shirt promoting a mythical Cubist basketball team called the Picasso Bulls, offered frenetic banter. By the end of the set, people were hollering at the stage for more. BBNG had blown a few minds and befuddled a few others. The parade of stars could now proceed until the early morning.
The oldest member of BBNG was 11 when “Don’t Know Why” hit the airwaves in 2002. The band found its own left-field success five years ago through a viral video, a trio recording of a handful of hip-hop tunes—including Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” and Tyler, the Creator’s “AssMilk”—filmed in a classroom at Toronto’s Humber College, which all four current members attended. This is not how they generally tell you to achieve success in jazz school.

“In its early days, [Humber College] was the only place in Canada that offered jazz education—albeit a three-year diploma, which did not transfer as college credit—but tons of excellent young musicians came here because of the top-notch faculty,” noted Denny Christianson, Humber’s director of music. But no one in BadBadNotGood has made it to graduation yet. Instead, as the band’s lore presents it, the project recorded by Tavares, Hansen and Sowinski was deemed by their instructors to have “no musical value.” Thus, they posted it online for those outside of academia to critique.

The video, titled “The Odd Future Sessions Part 1,” consists of shaky, high-contrast black-and-white footage, and the performance is brash, driven by Tavares’ hammering right hand. The pianist wears shorts and a T-shirt; Hansen has his hoodie up; Sowinski plays in a pig mask. BBNG from its inception has embraced its role as jazz brats—a subspecies of the critic Nate Chinen’s whooping jazzbros—displaying minimal interest in the restraints of tradition and seeking something a little more blunt and often goofily sophomoric.

“I am sure I speak for the Humber music community when I say that we are happy for their success,” Christianson said. “As to the ‘no musical value,’ I would suggest that this was the assessment of one person, and should be taken into the context that [throughout] the history of all natures of art there have been countless examples of disagreement of opinions. As we know, the group has already proven to themselves that their music has a solid fan base. I am happy for them and wish them every measure of success.”

“Meet great people, have fun, do creative shit.” Sowinski outlined his philosophy while seated on a couch in the warehouse headquarters of Innovative Leisure, the Los Angeles-based record label that BBNG calls home. It was the day before the Ace Hotel show and the band was between rehearsal and tacos.

Hansen expanded upon that ethos by pointing out what has always worked for the band. “The first time we ever recorded ourselves, and the third time we ever jammed, was our first YouTube video, and [Tyler, the Creator] ended up checking it out and posting about it. Everything we did after that was just, ‘Oh, I guess some people are into this and it’s really fun. Let’s keep jamming.’ Everything we do is something we enjoy a good time. 

Shortly after the video was posted, Tyler arrived in Toronto on tour, and stopped by Sowinski’s parents’ house to collaborate with the band on an impromptu jam. In it, BBNG lays down a steady groove as Tyler’s raps become increasingly menacing and transgressive, eliciting a “Did he just say that?” response from the average listener. “I thought it was hilarious,” Sowinski recalled. “You just kind of enjoy what’s going on. I was pretty excited to just be playing with a rapper in my basement.”

Tyler, the Creator is the leader and cofounder of Odd Future, the Los Angeles-based alternative hip-hop collective whose explosive popularity helped expose BBNG to a world of young fans averse to categories of genre, race or fashion. In 2012, BBNG served as a house band for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which included backing R&B singer-songwriter Frank Ocean, an Odd Future member, in the midst of his breakout. Later that year the group contributed to the soundtrack for the flamboyant martial-arts film The Man With the Iron Fists, directed by Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA. Within months of the “Odd Future” upload, these middle-class college undergrads from Canada were one of the most in-demand live bands in hip-hop.

The Montreal International Jazz Festival featured more than 800 acts in the summer of 2015, but acclaimed Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghostface Killah’s show at the Métropolis theater, with BBNG backing, drew perhaps the most youthful crowd of the fest. Funnily enough, the show, in support of the three-years-in-the-making collaboration Sour Soul, almost didn’t happen. Ghostface was held up at the airport, having flown in from Europe that afternoon. BBNG was fully assembled and ready to take on the house. In cinematic fashion, Ghostface showed up late but ready, wrapped in an oversized Phillies jacket, and a full set was delivered to the raucous crowd. Though BBNG had very little room for improvisation within the structure of the tunes, the players did showcase their ability to convincingly recreate riffs by the likes of Barry White and Isaac Hayes. Any limitations they faced were overcome with sheer energy.

But from the beginning BBNG has cut a wider swath stylistically than its hip-hop associations might imply. The band occupies a space shared between improvisation, electronic dance music, mosh pits and cocktail hour; among the covers on its first two studio releases is material by Flying Lotus, Joy Division, Feist and My Bloody Valentine. The band’s 2014 release, III, was its final album as a trio and first with all original compositions. More piano-focused, the album evokes ’70s groove-jazz recordings that embraced electric bass, a stronger backbeat and the crispness of pop production. “Kaleidoscope” is a grungy womp with Sowinski cutting loose on the toms, while “Hedron” is a slow-burner highlighting Hansen’s patient basslines. “Confessions” is Whitty’s spotlight, the band minimally supporting the then-guest saxophonist’s motif before he is free to fly around Hansen; it’s a standout track and a glimpse of the future. “Everyone is doing more things individually, which helps gives us fresh perspectives,” Sowinski said. “Pursue different lanes and try to connect. Now with this love of songwriting, we’re pushing it further. We’re starting to explore tons of different avenues.”

On the latest release, IV, BBNG is officially a quartet. The addition of Whitty on horns and strings broadens the range of influences considerably, and gives the band a dominant solo voice that it uses extensively. Tunes like “Speaking Gently” and “IV” feature screaming tenor solos, reminiscent of CTI-era burners from Joe Henderson and Joe Farrell. The latter tune closes with Whitty working through baroque lines in even, repetitive clips. It is hypnotic and powerful, a lulling acrobatic riff. But it didn’t come easy.

BBNG was deep into crafting IV before deciding to scrap everything. With help from producer Frank Dukes, the band built a studio in Toronto, starting from scratch on their home turf and recording their featured artists in-house as they passed through town. “I think there were lots of reasons we weren’t happy,” Whitty said. “We rented a studio for a few days but everything we used for the album was recorded in our studio. We knew that we needed to take some more steps, to dive in and find the concept of the record.”

The album boasts a considerably more homed-in attack with a focus on songcraft, bouncing between instrumental jams and stellar guest appearances from the likes of Future Islands’ Sam Herring, rapper Mick Jenkins, vocalist Charlotte Day Wilson and saxophonist Colin Stetson. Aside from the twinkling landscapes of Nintendo’s resident composer Koji Kondo and Vangelis, the band cited the work of numerous Brazilian artists of the 1970s for inspiring this latest direction, in particular composers Arthur Verocai and Erasmo Carlos. “Brazilian jazz can be very complex but so smooth and fearless,” Sowinski said. “Those signature feelings and ideas harmonically are so unique and beautiful. That was a big inspiration. We found such a love of songwriting, even though we don’t sing.”

For their parts, Herring and Wilson dig deep into a Philly-soul spirit on “Time Moves Slow” and “In Your Eyes,” respectively. Herring’s guest spot in particular is a welcome display of restraint that lets the ballad simmer into seduction. Wilson’s performance hangs her vibrato over fluttering flutes and a choir of female voices indebted to the Fifth Dimension. Whitty’s guitar work adds some laidback flair on both. On “Chompy’s Paradise,” his multiple woodwinds hover over the rhythm section’s clip-clop crawl, summoning up the grandiose production of the Philadelphia sound, and the band transforms into CopacaBadBad on the sand-swept “Cashmere.” It’s a syrupy dessert to close out the album, sweet beyond expectations.

The most forceful guest is Colin Stetson, who conjures a hive of aggravated bees on his bass saxophone. “We had a two-day session with Colin, and a lot of that time was spent basically freeform jamming all in the same room. ‘Confessions Pt. II’ came from one of those jams,” Hansen said, referring to a pummeling disco workout.

“They have a stellar work ethic and they’re really no nonsense about it all,” Stetson wrote in an email. “Obviously, whenever younger musicians attain heights of recognition, the go-to headline is always how ‘gifted’ they all must be, but honestly, ‘gifts’ or no, the folks who are successful tend to be the ones who are working harder than everyone else, and this is especially true for these guys. In and out of the studio, they’re in it with a love and appreciation for the music, and the ambition to see it through.”

Less than a week after the Los Angeles gig, BBNG opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the 17,000-seat Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain. Later that month, Snoop Dogg sampled “Lavender,” a collaboration with producer Kaytranada from IV. Not bad, not bad.

Melissa Aldama: Indisputable Command - DownBeat

In the fall of 2013, T.S. Monk was hollering into a hot microphone on the Kennedy Center Stage: “ They gave you their hearts. They gave you their souls. They gave you everything!”
More than a dozen young saxophonists filed out to the exuberant proclamation. That year, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, two months shy of 25, eventually would be declared the winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition—the heartiest and most soulful of the saxophonists battling it out that long September afternoon in Washington, D.C.
Almost six years later, Aldana tends to downplay her victory. “It can really get in your head,” she said of her experience, sitting in the rec room of a bustling, century-old hotel in downtown Los Angeles a couple hours prior to her gig at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as a member of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour all-star sextet. “It’s like checking social media too much. What I prepared for that day when I stepped on the stage was to have fun. That was all I was trying to work on. My performance was a mess, but I did have fun.”
The house band (drummer Carl Allen, bassist Rodney Whitaker and pianist Reggie Thomas) was on its 39th tune of the day when Aldana threw the trio a curveball with a seemingly straightforward original. Her first two tunes, the Jerome Kern standard “Long Ago (And Far Away)” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” were delivered with confidence and maturity. She opened the Monk tune with a solo flight of rapid-fire turns and fluttering filigrees, leaving her stamp on the day’s proceedings, a burst of applause encouraging her playful decisions. Her final tune, “M&M,” was a jagged melody propelled by Thomas’ thundering left hand.
“I was the last one to play,” Aldana recalled. “Everybody was tired. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and the trio got lost on the last tune. It brought me back to Earth—just worry about finishing together.” She could hear the tune was falling apart and commanded the veteran rhythm section with unflinching confidence, wielding her horn like a giant brass baton and finishing strong. The lack of perfection in the sound was counteracted with a sense of determination worthy of the prize.
“The judges [included] Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis—people who have seen everything,” she says. “So, I’m not going to go over and bullshit for them.”
Raised in Santiago, Chile, Aldana studied straightahead jazz with a dedicated fervor. Her father, Marcos, stoked that passion, having taken a swing at the Monk saxophone competition himself back in 1991, when she was an infant. (Joshua Redman won that year.) Studying masters like Sonny Rollins and Don Byas, she took off for Berklee College of Music as a teenager and never looked back. In Boston, she met saxophonist Greg Osby, who offered her a recording contract on his Inner Circle record label.
A recording contract with Concord Records was one of the primary perks from the Monk competition win. Aldana wasted no time in getting her band into the studio, releasing an album the next year with her group Crash Trio. The disc, which opens with “M&M,” highlights Aldana’s striding horn amid the authoritative rhythms of drummer Francisco Mela and the sturdy swing of bassist Pablo Menares. Each member contributed a few tunes to the program, which features a subtle take on Harry Warren’s 1931 song “You’re My Everything.” A high-profile release that was smart and spare, the album showcased Aldana’s indisputable command of her instrument—and she’s become an even better musician in the ensuing years.
Aldana is an old soul behind the microphone. “You can really tell how strong a musician is when it comes to ballads,” she said. “You can hear the depth of musicianship. I’m very attached to ballads. Maybe when I’m older I’ll do a full trio album of ballads.”
In the trio format conquered by Rollins’ late-1950s strolling excursions without benefit of chordal support, a lot hinges on the dialogue between the tenor saxophone and upright bass. “Playing trio taught me a lot about what I’m looking for as a musician,” she said. “It’s more than just having someone who plays well.”
Menares has been a reliable anchor throughout Aldana’s professional career. They met as children in Chile, but didn’t really collaborate until they were both working in the States. His unwavering support and piquant solo lines provide the perfect complement to Aldana’s simmering tone. “I’m used to the space and the freedom and the openness of the music,” he said. “I like to have someone who is looking at the bigger picture.”
Following a win in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll (Rising Star–Tenor Saxophone) and the release of a second trio record, 2016’s Back Home (Wommusic), Aldana shifted her artistic direction. Her focus on the bigger picture entailed a larger band and a deep dive into the work of artist Frida Kahlo (1907–’54).
“When I was young, I used to transcribe Frida Kahlo’s paintings,” Aldana said. “The thing that always attracted me to her art was that it was personal. It was related to her experience, her art, her beauty, her relationships, her condition.”
A commission from The Jazz Gallery in New York further sparked Aldana’s inspiration. With a performance expected in June 2018, she dug into Kahlo’s work during the yearlong residency, composing a suite, Visions: For Frida Kahlo. By the time Aldana premiered the work, she had expanded her rhythm section and added two more horn players: her husband, Jure Pukl, on alto saxophone and trumpeter Philip Dizack.
“At some point, I started feeling that I wanted something different,” Aldana recalled. “I heard more piano, and vibraphone is an instrument I have always loved. I wanted to develop my writing more and start incorporating richer harmonies.”
Not long after the premiere of the suite, Aldana spent two days in a New York studio, recording nearly a dozen tracks for her new album, Visions (Motéma). Joining Aldana and Menares for the sessions were pianist Sam Harris, vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Tommy Crane.
Aldana feels that Harris—whom she first encountered in New York within days of graduating from Berklee—has helped her artistry evolve.
“I wanted someone to inspire me and push me to different places,” Aldana said. “I haven’t heard somebody else who sounds like Sam. Every time I play, it is an opportunity to grow. If we play something super killing one day, I want him to go the complete opposite direction the next night. He lets me do my thing and is willing to change it up.”
Ross is only 23, but already has made a splash as a pliant firebrand on vibraphone. Before lighting up the marquee with his Blue Note debut, KingMaker, earlier this year, he played vibes alongside Harris for several tracks on Visions. “I’m looking for musicians who will kick my ass and make me grow,” Aldana said with a laugh. “Sometimes Joel makes me feel so old.”
Aldana makes room for everybody on “La Madrina,” part of her suite and the third track on Visions. Harris pushes a steady right hand, his left in tandem with Menares. The bandleader shares a unison melody with Ross at times, his grace notes brightening the musical picture. The tune’s formidable momentum wouldn’t be possible without Crane, who builds patiently alongside Aldana’s intensifying solo.
On “Elsewhere,” the quintet gets a little more jagged. Crane bashes hard on a Latin-flavored beat, making way for Harris to stretch out. Again, Aldana and Ross fly in natural tandem, driving toward the same destination, but in different lanes, always meeting at the light.
There is a lone standard on the album: “Never Let Me Go.” Aldana starts alone, breathy and measured. It’s a delicate, candlelit pace. Aldana floats over the slow-moving ship, the titular phrase returning with regularity. “My constant struggle is, ‘How can I get better and be myself?’ Consistency. Focus. That’s what I’m always trying for. Ballads teach that.”
Visions marks the end of one period and the beginning of another for Aldana, now 30. “All this music is music that we’ve been playing this last year,” she said. “I wanted to develop and grow and then just move forward.”
When she met with DownBeat, Aldana and the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour band were at their 16th venue in 21 nights. The sextet, under the direction of pianist Christian Sands, spans continents—bassist Yasushi Nakamura is a native of Tokyo, and trumpeter Bria Skonberg is from British Columbia—and includes a couple of other Monk competition winners: drummer Jamison Ross (2012) and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant (2010).
“The tour has forced me to focus on practicing,” Aldana explained. “I can squeeze in two or three hours every day. Even though everything is focused towards that hour-and-a-half that we are playing, if I have short-term goals, I can really improve and try different things.”
Aldana steadily has been touring the past few years, and is set to traverse Europe with her Visions band this summer. “I’ve been in different all-star bands,” she said. “It’s just amazing to see how everybody comes from so many different places. The audience is different, too. It’s not necessarily my audience. You can have a different point of view, but how you work it out is where the music starts growing.”
Prior to accepting the invitation to become a part of Monterey band, Aldana joined what would eventually be dubbed Artemis, a collective that includes Salvant, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, clarinetist Anat Cohen, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. The bandmates bonded during several festival appearances, vowing to record together when schedules permit.
“She’s not only really dedicated to the music, but creates this inspiring environment,” said Salvant, who joined Aldana midway through her interview. “She’s always encouraging us: ‘Let’s try to make something worthwhile. Let’s put ourselves in risky situations and listen to each other.’”
That night on the Disney Concert Hall stage, the band huddled in a tight circle. Following a set by the SFJAZZ Collective—which stretched from one side of the stage to the other—the Monterey band appeared quite intimate. They just as easily could have set up in the freight elevator. But each band member was given ample space to shine, having first played together on the Monterey Fairgrounds rodeo-ready stage the previous summer.
At the festival, Aldana was part of a roundtable discussion on gender equity in jazz. “There has been a greater acknowledgement of women’s contributions to jazz recently,” Aldana told roundtable participants and attendees. “Promoters are trying to incorporate it. I don’t want people to call me because I am a female. As an artist, it is your essence that you are presenting, the mind. If anything, I’d love to inspire younger girls to just be strong about what you have to say.”
In addition to being Aldana’s bandmate, Salvant has collaborated with the saxophonist in a different medium. Aldana commissioned her to create visual artwork for The Jazz Gallery residency, and one of Salvant’s drawings serves as the cover art for Visions. Aptly, the work nods to Kahlo’s famous 1939 painting The Two Fridas. Salvant’s riff on the masterpiece seems to incorporate a cosmic flow of energy amid a yellow sunburst, resulting in a bold gem full of unexplained mystery.
“Melissa pushes us,” Salvant said. “She doesn’t let us get lazy with our shit. I think it ends up bringing out the best in everybody that’s around her. She makes us realize how terrible it is to be complacent.” 

Wayne Shorter's Emanon - Los Angeles Times

“Just before he died,” recalls Wayne Shorter, “Miles Davis called me and he said, ‘Wayne, write something for me with a chamber orchestra, strings and everything. But put a window in so I can get out of there.’ ”
In the 20th century, the saxophonist was one of the fiercest voices in modern jazz. He shoveled coal into the raging firebox that was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, demolished the infinite with the Miles Davis Quintet and wailed into the electrified ether of Weather Report.
But it is in the 21st century where Shorter seems to have found true artistic freedom.
Where Davis requested a window, Shorter has opted to completely remove the walls and even apply a little moon gravity. After turning 85 last month, Shorter on Friday will release his newest project, “Emanon,” a triple album whose first disc revolves around a graphic novel he co-wrote. The result is one of the most ambitious jazz projects of the last 25 years, brimming with ingenuity and intergalactic lasers.
Shorter’s longest-running band is his current quartet. After nearly 20 years together, pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade all generate a pinpoint telepathic awareness. The quartet appears on all three discs; on the first, they are joined by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a conductor-less 34-piece ensemble that functions more as a fifth member of the band than a backdrop for a jazz quartet.
The four tunes comprising the first disc align with the graphic novel, a fluttering series of interactions with nods back to Shorter’s early works; it peaks with “Lotus,” a 15-minute triumph of swelling strings and Shorter’s probing soprano saxophone.

“Everything in the universe is connected,” the musician says with his trademark mysteriousness not long after his birthday. “Imagination and making moves into the unknown. We just go together. Nobody changes their stance or emotions. No, stay as you are. We come in there as a quartet, and everyone more than coexists.”

“Emanon” is the second album of Shorter’s reunion with Blue Note Records. The 79-year-old label, now part of the Capitol Music Group, first released a Shorter album in 1964, “Night Dreamer,” the first of nearly a dozen confident, small band records Shorter would release before the end of that decade.
Don Was, Blue Note’s president, was raised on those albums and persuaded Shorter to rejoin the label several years ago. Was has invigorated Blue Note, drawing it simultaneously back into tradition while also putting his artists squarely in the present, arbiters relevant beyond the niche corner jazz is often relegated to.
It was Was’ idea to integrate a graphic novel.
“There is nothing quite like this. That was the allure for Wayne,” Was says from his office in the Captiol Records building . “As a record company learning how to make a book, which seems kind of simple if you are just starting out doing it, it was a real discovery process. It’s not the normal delivery process for music.”
Co-written with screenwriter Monica Sly and illustrated by Randy DuBurke, “Emanon” the book is a unique experience, but not entirely unexpected for Shorter. The artist has been a fan of comics since he was a child.
“When i was kid, I liked the drawings of ‘Prince Valiant.’ Every one was like a picture frame,” he says.

A carefully constructed art book, the graphic novel stands on its own as a bookshelf centerpiece, alive with fisticuffs and celestial explosions — a futuristic adventure across multiple universes from a man who has long spoken lovingly of the medium. When provided a soundtrack, it enters another level of existence.
“I don’t think many people will separate the works,” Shorter says. “The graphic novel fits the forward, undaunted stuff that is going on in the music.”
Every performance by Shorter is a master class, and discs 2 and 3 show the very essence of that knowledge. From the opening, a nearly 30-minute slow-burn take on “The Three Marias,” the same tune that closed Disc 1, the quartet is untethered. Blade’s brushes rustle in shadows more than they keep strict time on his drum kit. Patitucci flows with the current, while Pérez brings the muscle, probing with assertive punctuation at the piano. With tenor sax in hand, Shorter unfurls full-throated on the meditative tune.
On “She Moves Through the Fair,” the quartet roars, Shorter fluttering purposefully amid Blade’s thundering exclamation points. As part of a set recorded live in London, Shorter lays bare the process, his unending search for sound showing a few of the possibilities.
“I go inside and start to move around,” he said. “Just imagine if you could do that and move people to want to take chances just like you, chances in their daily lives, no matter their endeavor.”
Shorter views the big picture and shows no signs of slowing. He is working on an opera with bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. In December, he will receive a Kennedy Center Honor. Considering John Coltrane’s highest-charting album was released this summer, more than 50 years after his death, Shorter knows the music will continue on as long as there are ears to listen.
“There’s nothing stopping it. Nothing is finished in life. I think of Beethoven’s nine symphonies as one. It’s a testament to the eternal condition that exists, whether you believe it or not. I don’t think about it with my own music. ‘Yeah. You guys got it? Then it’s in your hands.’”
“Emanon” is a decadent undertaking, impossible to parse in a single sitting. It consumes the living room, commandeering the sound system and coffee table. It asks a lot of the listener. but through a medium that many people have spoken in since childhood.
It is an exclusive delve into an artist who has shared his innermost vibrations with the world for more than 60 years. “The multiverse exists,” proclaims “Emanon.” Shorter is living proof.

Donny McCaslin: In A Different Place - JazzTimes

Donny McCaslin at Monterey Jazz Festival, 2018: Photo by Craig Lovell
Around 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, September 22, 2018, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band—vocalist/guitarist Jeff Taylor, keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Zach Danziger—walked onstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival. They opened their headlining set with an original song, “What About the Body,” sung by Taylor. McCaslin started the tune on his effects-laden horn, stuttering a chunky riff before the rest of the band joined with a heavy rock beat. And then the saxophonist, who has been a regular on the Monterey stage for the past three-and-a-half decades, did something he has never done before in all those appearances: He sang.
For the song’s chorus, McCaslin stepped up to the second microphone, his right hand covering his ear to aid in the precision of his harmonies. “Left wing, right wing, what about the body?” he hollered with a big smile on his face.
“It’s something I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing, really, but the music called for it and I’m just going all in,” he said after the set. “A lot of the songs are not in the most comfortable range for me, especially as I’m singing harmony parts. It’s in my falsetto.”
McCaslin had sung onstage for the first time only a few months earlier. “I knew it was coming as these songs were taking shape. It wasn’t clear if it would be me or other people in the band, but as the music developed and it got clearer not only on the recording but as I started thinking about the live show, I knew it had to happen. And I was the person who had to be involved in executing it.”
“Going all in” is the perfect way to describe McCaslin’s current musical approach. More than two years past the release of his watershed collaboration with David Bowie on the latter’s final album, Blackstar, the saxophonist is hell-bent on exploring the manifold possibilities within his own sound. On his latest release, Blow, he drapes his horn in rough digital textures and a heady, uncompromising mix of electronica, jazz, and fist-pumping rock.
“I’m in a different place,” McCaslin cheerfully announced at one point during the middle of his Monterey set. “Hang with me.”
The next morning, McCaslin, a head taller than everyone around him, was sitting in the shade off of a sand trap abutting the festival hotel and reflecting on the importance of Monterey in his life. He was raised a short, peaceful drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from the Monterey Fairgrounds, in Santa Cruz, Calif. “At 14, my high school won a statewide competition,” he recalled. The prize was a chance to play at the festival. “It was a big deal to me as a kid. Monterey is so immense. Being able to listen to Elvin Jones play, and Dizzy Gillespie. It was magical.”
McCaslin spent every year of high school at the festival, attending lectures and a weeklong intensive immersion camp that featured musicians like Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, Martial Solal, and James Moody. In the late 1980s, he emerged as a mature voice on the horn, confident and knowledgeable about the rich history of jazz saxophone. Some of that poise may have been inherited from his father, Don Sr., who was a fixture of Santa Cruz nightlife throughout his son’s childhood. (Now in his nineties, Don Sr. is still playing around town.) But a lot of it came from his Monterey experiences. Over the following decades, McCaslin would share the festival stage with Maria Schneider, Danilo Pérez, and Kyle Eastwood, among many others.
Then along came Bowie. On a tip from Schneider, the rock superstar went to hear McCaslin’s quartet in New York’s 55 Bar—an intimate space that the saxophonist regularly used to explore the unknown—and subsequently invited them to help bring a new batch of songs to life. In early 2015, they went into the studio; when they weren’t recording, McCaslin continued to work on keeping his career afloat, balancing family, teaching gigs, and the road. “It felt like this parallel reality,” he says of the secret sessions. “It was a musical environment that could not be more conducive to being creative. I’d come out of the studio saying, ‘Man, that felt so great.’ Day after day we were so enthralled about things, but then not being able to talk about it, it was surreal.”
Bowie, grappling with his own mortality, kept his cancer diagnosis secret. The album was released on the second Friday of 2016, and by Sunday night he was gone. Appropriately, McCaslin’s playing on the album is awash in mystery, intrigue, and sadness.
Blackstar was a pivotal moment for me,” he says with some understatement. “It made a lot of things seem possible that hadn’t seemed possible prior to that.” McCaslin had been anointed by Bowie, then left on planet Earth to answer the countless riddles brought up by his parting statement. The band accepted Grammy Awards on Bowie’s behalf. The album was named one of the top five albums of the year by the Village VoiceRolling Stone, and the New York Times. In the midst of a deep exploration of EDM, McCaslin followed up Blackstar with Beyond Now, which featured the same core group, capitalizing on a bright global spotlight now following his every move.
“The inspiring part for me was David’s absolute openness as an artist and fearlessness in taking down barriers,” McCaslin says. “His laser focus on realizing his vision, being around that and having it be such an affirming process personally, was so deeply affirming. It gave me the feeling that yeah, I could do this. Why not do it?”


Monterey served as a rare two-day respite from the road for McCaslin’s band, in the middle of a West Coast tour that would end in Seattle before a lengthy jaunt through Europe. The week prior, they’d played at the Regent Theater, a 500-seat rock club hugging the borderline of Los Angeles’ skid row. Hometown heroes Kneebody opened the show, as they did for most of the tour. It was an apt billing: two fiercely independent, electronics-heavy future-funk ensembles. The club, a former movie theater with a big stage and balcony that typically hosts hip-hop and rock shows into the wee hours, is a long way from L.A.’s refined jazz rooms. Both bands made full use of the bulging sound system.
“For the vibe of what we are playing, the rock rooms feel good,” McCaslin says. “People are standing. Lighting really comes into play. There isn’t dinner and drinks. I feel like the direction the music is going lends itself to these alternative venues.”
Tim Lefebvre was an integral part of Blackstar and has worked with McCaslin for a decade. He and McCaslin have logged thousands of hours together onstage and in the studio, and the two co-wrote several of the songs on Blow. “I just feel like this is no time for imitation or settling into the pack,” he says. “Working with Bowie confirmed that for me. It’s a time to be brave and embrace weirdness and creativity.”
Lefebvre is a powerful electric bassist with deep roots. Lanky and scraggly, he lays a heavy foundation for McCaslin’s plugged-in sound. “Donny has only changed in his career viability,” he says. “He’s the same musician and dude he’s always been. He’s moved away from jazz production into more pop production. That entails getting deeper into sounds and sonic concepts.”
McCaslin cites an unusual, perhaps unique, set of influences for a saxophone-led “jazz” album. Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsystem, the Beastie Boys, and Rage Against the Machine all provided pieces to the Blow puzzle. “This new album is based on songs,” he says. “That’s not something I would’ve imagined 10 years ago. That’s been a journey that was unexpected. Part of that was being on the road a lot in the last couple years, feeling like, ‘What’s going to come next?’ And having the time to work it out on the bandstand, find the direction and then find things that feed that direction.”
Several tracks on Blow fully embrace the ethos of anthem rock: thumping, vein-popping music with a message. On a collaboration with Canadian hard-rocker Ryan Dahle and producer Steve Wall called “Great Destroyer,” McCaslin fills the gaps, splaying out his horn over a primitive, metronomic guitar line. When he jumps in with joyous “ga ga ga ga” vocals on the hook, he enters a world of unifying, righteous rock á la Arcade Fire. Multilayered saxophones become a sprightly, almost ska-like horn section. It’s catchy, vibrant, and unexpected. “The Opener” follows, a moody walkabout that hinges on a monologue by alternative folk-rocker Mark Kozelek, a.k.a. Sun Kil Moon. McCaslin credits Blackstar with giving him the confidence to call up such people to work together.
The nearly 10-minute “Break the Bond” features the Blackstar band swirling in a fidgety instrumental angst. Lindner is ethereal while the rest of the rhythm section propels the song. The keyboardist gets his revenge later, as his playing devolves into a staticky swath that threatens to overtake everything. “Exactlyfourminutesofimprovisedmusic” is two seconds longer than billed, a neurotic freakout that separates McCaslin from the influences he cited earlier. Grizzly Bear won’t be including a fast-paced wail of free jazz and pummeling drums anytime soon.
“During the record-making process,” McCaslin acknowledges, “there is anxiety and fear. ‘What are people going to think about this? This is far from where I came from.’ Ultimately I give myself over to where I think the art is leading me. I’m going in full force because that feels like the real thing.”
On Sunday, September 23, the closing night of the Monterey Jazz Festival, McCaslin was back in a more straight-ahead bag, playing the title role in a tribute to Michael Brecker, which also featured the late saxophonist’s trumpet-playing brother Randy, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Antonio Sánchez. McCaslin had none of his extra widgets, only his horn. It was all he needed. From the opening notes of Brecker’s “Uptown Ed,” it was clear that he would be presenting the opposite side of the coin he had flashed the night before. He shook, shuddered, parried with Randy, and showed that for all his interest in experimentation, he’s still firmly in command of the fundamentals.
“Sometimes,” McCaslin says, “I ask, ‘Should I make this set more jazzy?’ But then it’s not going to have the same authenticity and impact. When the fear and anxiety would come up, I’d say, ‘No, man. I have to be fearless.’ It’s what I’ve always striven for my whole career. I don’t feel creative alone on a mountain for three months. I feel most creative on the bandstand.”