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Recent Concerts And Events
Notwithstanding Public Radio's jettisoning of jazz during accessible hours other than on Sundays, February was a busy month for local jazz fans. Of course, the highlight had to be the University of Louisville's 11th Annual Jazz Week, which for the first time in several years did not include a page of support in its program from the Public Radio Partnership/WFPK-FM. In addition to the U of L Jazz Week, there were other world class jazz presentations locally, including the Rachel Z Trio at the Jazz Factory. In my pre-parent days, I might well have been able to make all of the Jazz Week performances, but I was pleased to be able to attend three of them. I was even able to entice my wife to go dancing to the Mali rhythms of Habib Koite, whose ensemble Bamata locked into grooves with improvisational skills akin to those of the finest jazz groups. An overview of these events follows.
University Of Louisville Jazz Week 2004
U of L's 11th Annual Jazz Week kicked off with its best known performer, pianist Ahmad Jamal, on Monday, February 23. Accompanied by long-time bassist James Cammack and new drummer James Johnson, Jamal's hour-and-half concert began with "Gyroscope," a fast-paced composition. "Bellows" was next, starting with a stop-and-go ballad introduction, which moved into a midtempo swing duet with just Jamal and Cammack, before Johnson joined in. He took a simple solo on a funk pattern, before modulating to a Latin rhythm to accompany a bass solo. A fast waltz, "Should I," followed and in turn was followed by another fast piece, "Kaleidoscope." A short and moody composition was next and the first set concluded with two standards, Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody `n You," and Jamal's "hit single," "Poinciana." He introduced the latter song by commenting on its being imitated by others over the years. To keep would-be copycats on their toes, he threw in a quote from "Caravan" before taking a break. During the second set, Jamal was somewhat less talkative and did not introduce or back announce several of the songs played. The fifth song of the set, "In Search of" was the only one he named. With or without titles, the musicianship was at a high level throughout. Throughout the evening, Jamal conducted the other musicians with hand signals and punctuated his own playing by occasionally standing up, his tall, lean body becoming a visual exclamation point. His sense of dynamics was apparent throughout, a point echoed by local jazz pianist Jerry Carlon who happened to be seated next to me.
Wednesday night featured drummer/bandleader/composer Roland Vazquez, profiled here in February. He brought an ensemble to perform his suite "Music for Percussion Quartet & 3 Jazz Players," which featured the superb saxophonist Rick Van Matre, from Cincinnati; Bill Jackson on electric bass; Rusty Burge, Brian Short and Jeremy Craycraft on melodic percussion instruments including vibraphone, marimba and xylophone; and conguero Charlie Schweitzer. The first set began with a Vazquez original, "Dance for Louise." The second song, a totally rearranged "'Round Midnight," was the only standard of the evening. In his comments from the stage, echoing his interview with me, Vazquez commented that he has tried as a bandleader and composer to create his own music and commented that he originally wrote this arrangement as a means of demonstrating to his students the use of various Latin rhythms and how to incorporate them into their own works. Another Vazquez piece, "Beyond this Dream," written for his late Uncle Ted, was next and the set ended with a composition by David Witham, "Chevereando," which featured a superb flute solo by Van Matre. Throughout the evening, Vazquez opened himself up to the audience by discussing the inspirations for his various works and in the process embodied a style of transmitting knowledge that was very human rather than merely academic.
His second set was given over in its entirety to the suite. The first movement, "Tu Sabes?" ("You Know?" or "You Dig?"), evoked the composer's feelings upon first hearing the 1970s funk/Latin/rock band Caldera. "No Rest for the Bones of the Dead" based in part on Vazquez's study of Mexican day of the Dead observances, embodied the theme of "saying I'm sorry and letting go." The music of "No Rest" featured a bass solo reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius over a drumset and conga backdrop which sounded like dry bones rattling. "Sevilla" and "Las Mediosas" concluded the suite, which earned a standing ovation. Over the course of these sets, Vazquez provided a unique and original perspective on Afro-Cuban Jazz with the emphasis on the resonance of the multiple percussion instruments.
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (VJO) closed out Jazz Week 2004 in fine style during its Sunday matinee. Anchored by the trio of Jim McNeely on piano, Dennis Irwin on bass and John Riley on drums, this 16-piece aggregation provided an interesting "alternate take" to the recent performance by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) with Wynton Marsalis. At least in the repertoire chosen for its Louisville appearance, the LCJO swung hard in a classic manner, with a second set devoted to Count Basie and a first set featuring European connections. The VJO chose a different approach, spotlighting more modern arrangements, many inherited from its predecessor, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. The opening number, "Being With You," was an arrangement based on a small group led by Jones and Lewis. Scott Wendholt, a regular visitor to Louisville as a member of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Camp faculty, took the first solo of the afternoon, demonstrating both stamina and subtlety. His solo was followed by an energetic one from saxophonist Ralph LaLama.
Wayne Shorter's "ESP" was next and was a fine example of how a composition originally intended for a small group (the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-1960s) could be reinterpreted by a large ensemble without losing the vitality of the original conception. Wendholt again took the first solo, on flugelhorn (perhaps as a way of distancing himself from the shadow of Miles), accompanied at first only by Irwin's bass and later broadened with the inclusion first of Riley on drums and then McNeely on piano. A piano trio interlude followed, which led into a rousing Dick Oatts alto solo, again perhaps a way of creating a different perspective by using a different instrument from the same family to reduce the direct comparison with Shorter's original tenor solo. A McNeely composition, "Absolution," was taken at a slower pace, with Riley in an Elvin Jones mode and Perry taking two solos. A Thad Jones piece entitled "Three and One," referring to the Jones Brothers (Thad, Elvin and Hank) plus nonrelative Eddie Jones, featured an animated trumpet section providing percussive and comic coloring with a "clap chorus." Another McNeely piece, "Don't Even Ask," was next. It is scheduled to be released on a forthcoming VJO recording, so fans in attendance received a sneak preview which featured a Billy Drewes alto solo, followed by further soling by first Irwin and then McNeely. The band came home to the blues in its final number, a Slide Hampton original entitled "A Frame for the Blues." As might be expected from a trombonist's composition, this featured the trombone section as the primary soloists. The afternoon was over all too quickly, as the band had to catch a flight home, but not before acknowledging a well-deserved ovation.
As I write this, WFPK's Sunday-only jazz daytime programming is featuring the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a segment "For Dancers Only." Public Radio Partnership CEO Gerry Weston mentioned during his show the previous hour that dancing had all but left jazz during the last 50 years. Well, not among the fans of John Scofield's Uberjam Band, or the Dirty Dozen, or Soulive. However, as the late jazz guru Phil Bailey used to say, "Ah, but we digress." Indeed. Habib Koite does not play jazz but is a master of the styles of music from his native Mali, in the northeast region of Africa. He plays guitar; his band includes Keletigui Diabate on balafon (a cousin of the xylophone and marimba) and violin, who has played with the late Lionel Hampton. Koite's ensemble, Bamata, also includes a trap drummer and two other percussionists and an electric bassist. Their music seems to combine the gentle authority of the kora-playing griots such as Foday Musa Suso with the higher energy juju and highlife of artists such as King Sunny Ade. For the first hour of Koite's concert, the full house at the Bomhard swayed and applauded, but did not dance. I finally convinced my wife that we should get out on the dance floor, even if we were the only ones and it turned out to be just in the nick of time, as this was the last song. That is, until the encore, at which point the dance area slowly filled. Koite and his musicians seemed to react positively to the presence of an interactive audience. Following the show, with the help of a friend, we scraped together the $25 cash to buy Foly! Live Around the World, the 2-CD set of Koite in concert, released in January on the World Village label. This is a well-recorded set of performances which helps to capture the excitement of Koite. I can also recommend King Sunny Ade's Live Live Ju Ju (Rykodisc, 1988) and Synchro Series (Indegedisc, distributed by Hyena, 2003) for a taste of the juju/highlife brand of Nigerian music. The live CD took me back to the early 1980s when I first experienced Ade on a riverboat at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest. The studio CD compiles two short albums, originally released only in Africa in 1982 and 1983, and is intriguing for its use of reggae-style dub effects on the second half of the CD. The first half is more like his concert performances, featuring lengthy multirhythmic workouts with lots of electric and steel guitars. Foday Musa Suso's 1985 collaboration with Herbie Hancock, Village Life (Columbia), is an excellent bridge between the worlds of jazz and griot music.
Rachel Z Trio
The Jazz Factory brought back Rachel Z and her Trio for shows on February 27 and 28. Featuring her longtime drummer, Bobbie Rae and new bassist Chris Luard, she provided the crowds on both nights with a repertoire of well-played "new standards," including compositions by Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, the Beatles and others. My only regret is that she performed no original material during the set I attended. She has an easygoing way with her audience, straddling the line between accessibility and artistry, without losing contact with the inner urge which produces art rather than lightweight pop. Her performance of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" was a perfect example of her dexterity, reminding me at times of McCoy Tyner. Luard's solo quoted the gospel standard "Amazing Grace," in what I took as a humorous comment on the lyrics of the Cobain composition. Throughout, Rae provided a lesson in the use of brushes for something other than whispery shuffling. His camaraderie with Ms. Z was evident throughout the performance.
A Tale Of Two Trumpeters: Wynton Marsalis
And Dave Douglas, Part Two
Last month I reviewed concerts by Dave Douglas and Wynton Marsalis, two of today's leading trumpeters, composers and bandleaders, while bringing you comments from my interviews with each artist. At that time, I had listened to Dave Douglas' new album, Strange Liberation, (Bluebird/BMG), but had not yet heard the new release from Marsalis, The Magic Hour (Blue Note). Both are now available in stores and have been the subject of a joint review in the April 2004 issue of Jazz Times. Actually, Douglas' album was reviewed, while Marsalis' album was trashed for the primary reason that it was not the Douglas album. As I noted last month, each artist represents a different facet of jazz. Marsalis, particularly in his role as director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO), is a powerful spokesman throughout the world on behalf of the heritage of jazz. To an extent, he seems almost caught in a trap of his youthful pronouncements of what does or does not constitute jazz. Douglas, although loathed by Marsalis booster Stanley Crouch for reasons that seem racist, has been embraced by most other writers and many fans for his adventurous approach to jazz and his willingness to experiment in terms of not only his composition, but also the instrumentation of his many different working bands.
IMHO (as da kidz say, for "in my humble opinion"), much of this has the character of tabloid "journalism" or, even worse, the jazz version of "political correctness." Either Marsalis is old before his time and out of touch with new developments in the evolution of jazz, or he is the savior of the purity of all that is important about jazz. Douglas, on the other hand, is either a no-talent hoax who wouldn't get any attention if he weren't white (Stanley Crouch, Jazz Times April, 2003; similar comments in prior issues), or the leading light of the inevitable progress jazz must make to address the changing times. Well, I may only be a writer for a local music magazine which sandwiches jazz between bluegrass and heavy metal, but I say this dichotomy is absurd and constitutes commercial pandering. John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman did not have to compete against Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. While Coltrane and Coleman had their detractors at first, their oeuvre has become just as integrated into mainstream jazz as the earlier works by Hawkins and Webster. We have the choice to listen to Coltrane or Webster without having to argue which artist was better or more important. Similarly, we should appreciate the expansiveness of jazz which today can embrace its history while still moving forward. As noted by Ron Carter in the April 2004 issue of Downbeat regarding Marsalis, "Why don't people just let Wynton breathe?"
The new releases by both artists each provide crisp "snapshots" of their current approaches to their own original music. Douglas, in the liner notes and other interviews, has quoted Dr. Marin Luther King's 1967 statement that "They [the Vietnamese] must see America as a strange liberator." His own musical "strange liberation" showcases his quintet of Chris Potter on saxophones; Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes electric piano; James Genus on bass; and Clarence Penn on drums, along with guest Bill Frisell on guitar. Douglas' use of the electric piano against the woody sound of the acoustic bass sets up textures which are little used these days. While Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock have been the pioneers of the electric piano, most of their work with that instrument has been in conjunction with electric bass guitar rather than the bass fiddle. Throughout Strange Liberation, the presence of guest guitarist Frisell is felt, not only on the songs on which he plays, but on the few which do not include his guitar. Douglas, seeking alternatives to the mainstream embraced by Marsalis, is being true to his muse and creating new music which may well be part of the LCJO some twenty years from now.
Just as the sense of family permeated much of my conversation with Marsalis, that same family orientation is at the heart of The Magic Hour. The title piece is a long (14-minute) work intended to evoke the time of night when parents prepare their children for bed, with the cacophony of restless energy giving way to the melodious strains of (as we say around my house) "night-night music" and the peaceful beauty of sleeping children. The two songs which feature guests are the opening track, "Feeling of Jazz" with Dianne Reeves and "Baby, I Love You" (not the Aretha Franklin song), featuring co-composer Bobby McFerrin. Overall, this is an enjoyable outing well within the jazz mainstream. It is, unlike Blood on the Field and All Rise, an accessible performance which does not compromise the artistic integrity of Marsalis.
On The Horizon
The Louisville Jazz Society has announced a Spring Concert Series, to take place at the Jazz Factory. Due to family commitments, I was unable to attend the March 17 performance by the Dave Klingman/Steve Crews Quartet featuring vocalist Gail Wynters. However, the remaining shows should be excellent, with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen's Project O on April 7 (www.ingridjensen.com); and the return of pianist Ryan Cohan with his Quartet on May 12, (www.ryancohan.com). For additional information, including ticket prices, go to www.louisvillejazz.org, or call LJS President Patty Bailey at 502-741-7272
The schedule for the Jazz Factory (815 W. Main Street in the Glassworks) was not available online past mid-April by press time (except for the Louisville Jazz Society Series, above), so be sure to check www.jazzfactory.us or phone 992-3242, for updated listings. Featured performers for the first half of the month include up and coming New York guitarist Ben Monder with bassist Chris Fitzgerald and drummer Jason Tiemann on April 2 and 3; the Jerry Tolson Quartet on April 8; vocalist Madeline Eastman celebrating the Jazz Factory's first anniversary (way to go, Dianne and Ken!) on April 9 and 10, accompanied by West-Coast pianist Randy Porter, drummer Steve Davis (Lynne Arriale trio regular) and bassist Chris Fitzgerald. The Jazz Society's presentation of Ingrid Jensen's Project O on April 7 should be exciting. In addition to Ms. Jensen, Project O features an all-star lineup including Gary Versace on Organ, Joel Frahm on Tenor Sax and John Wikan on drums. Old timers such as myself may remember Brian Auger and the Trinity, a progressive late-1960s jazz-rock group from Great Britain, or Auger's later Oblivion Express. Auger will bring his Hammond B-3 and an updated version of the Oblivion Express to the Jazz Factory, including his daughter, on April 16-17. Derby Week will include a taste of N'awlins on April 29-30 with The Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet, with saxophonists Mark Gross and Mark Shim, brother Jason Marsalis on drums (the 29th only) and others. And mark your calendars: June 11-12, Mose Allison.
Although not listed on its website as I write, the Jazz Factory is supposed to bring the Lynne Arriale Trio back on April 23 and 24. Their most recent release, Arise, on Motema Music, is something of a chronicle of Arriale's reaction to the tragic events of 9/11. It includes both original material and interpretations of songs ranging from the Guess Who's "American Woman" to the opening track, a fast-paced rendition of Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo." This album combines delicacy with understated power and intense communication among the trio members. As the fates would have it, I missed her appearance at the Percussive Arts Society's International Convention back in November and will be in transit to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival when this wonderful trio returns. I assure you, if I were in town, I would be there.
The April schedule for the Seelbach Jazz Bar, 500 South Fourth St., Louisville (585-3200) presented by Dick Sisto, was not available at press time, but Sisto swings hard with his own group and frequently features guest performers. Other local venues continue to support jazz, including the Comedy Caravan at the Mid-City Mall on Bardstown Road, home of the regular third Monday performances of the Roger Dane Jazz Orchestra and the Central Park Cafe, 316 West Ormsby Street with the Tyrone Cotton Trio on Fridays, with Reid Jahn on saxophone and clarinet and Danny Kiely on bass. Artemisia, 620 East Market Street has a regular lineup of small jazz groups: April 2, Jeff Sherman Trio; April 3, Bill Barnes Trio; April 8, Mike Tracy Trio; April 23, Jeff Sherman Trio; April 29, Mike Tracy Trio; April 30, Bill Barnes Trio. Clifton's Pizza, 2230 Frankfort Avenue, 893-3730, features "Dixieland" from Meron Serron and his "Red Hot Onion Band" on the first Sunday of each month, except for May and Walker and Kays on Wednesdays: April 14 and 28. Also, the Bristol/Bardstown Road showcases the Bennett Higgins Trio on April 4 and 18, May 9 and 16 during Sunday Brunch. Rudyard Kipling's "Open Air Transmissions" weekly jam sessions continue on Wednesday evenings in Old Louisville; the City Cafe at the Mid-City Mall has started featuring jazz on weekends. The Good Times Pub, 12612 Shelbyville Road will have jazz on Sunday afternoons with pianist Jerry Carlon, guitarist Jeff Sherman and bassist Ben Ingram.
A complete compendium is beyond the scope of this column. As a service to jazz fans, the Louisville Jazz Society (LJS) maintains an e-mail mailing list which sends out announcements of local jazz events and it is not limited to LJS members. If you wish to be added, send your e-mail address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Live Jazz In The Area
The Blue Wisp (318 East 8th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 513-241-WISP; www.bluewispjazzclub.com), usually has guest artists to augment its nightly offerings, but its April schedule was unavailable at press time, as was that of The Jazz Kitchen (5377 N College Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46220; phone: 317-253-4900; www.thejazzkitchen.com).
Given the loss of jazz on the radio at accessible hours,, it is difficult for the local jazz audience to gain exposure to new recordings. While it has been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, I nonetheless would like to bring to your attention some recent CDs which you formerly might have heard on WFPK. Fans of electric jazz should enjoy the first studio release by Garaj Mahal, entitled Mondo Garaj. The band was here last October, but due to a delay in starting time, I was unable to hear them on a work night (Jazzin', October 2003). Fareed Haque is the guitarist, joined by Kai Eckhardt on bass, Alan Hertz on drums and Eric Levy on keyboards. Mondo Garaj was actually recorded back in October 2000 and January 2001, but not released until late in 2003 (shades of the Derek Trucks Band's Soul Serenade). In fact, speaking of Soul Serenade, Mondo Garaj also utilizes some of the Indian motifs found on the DTB album, although Haque uses an instrument called a "sitar guitar," while Trucks emulates the sound of the sitar through his technique on the electric guitar. String Cheese Incident's Michael Kang contributes violin on the Mahavishnu-esque "New Meeting." Other songs, such as the opening title track "Mondo Garaj" and "B-Dope" cut straight to the funk.
In the mainstream, pianist George Cables is a musician's musician. He is known for his sideman work with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon and others, as well as a series of recordings as a leader. On Looking for the Light, (Muse FX, 2003), he leads a group featuring Gary Bartz on saxophones. As Cables says in the liner notes, this recording was brought about following his recovery from various medical difficulties. Bartz has mellowed since his early recordings with the electric Miles Davis ensembles of the early 1970s and his own Afrocentric outings of the same period featuring him with his Ntu Troupe. Here he joins Cables in a quartet also featuring Peter Washington on bass and Victor Lewis on drums. There are several waltz-time pieces here, including the opening title track. Overall, this is not so much an album to blow you away as it is a recording full of superb musicianship with quiet authority.
I assume that my colleague Keith Clements will address the passing of Mary Ann Fisher, a homegrown blues and jazz singer perhaps best known for her work with Ray Charles, but who was a strong presence in her own right as well. Soulful organist Hank Marr also recently passed away. His old King records and his more recent Double-Time CDs were always fun to hear and his performances over the years here for both Louisville Jazz Society events and the Jamey Aebersold Summer jazz Camp concerts will remain fond memories for many of us.
On a lighter note, local musician Chad Dunbar, a/k/a Scratchmaster X, has released a single entitled "Fireflies in the Moonlight," available locally at Better Days and Better Days West and possibly elsewhere by the time you read this. The song reminds me of some of the music from Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart and makes me wonder if an album is in the works. He notes that it is being played on WLBJ-AM 1570, which I am unfortunately unable to hear in my office. If you can pick up this station, it sounds like an intriguing mix of old school blues, soul and jazz U of L's John La Barbera has just released an album, On the Wild Side, on Jazz Compass Records. At press time, the album was not available for review. Former Louisville Jazz Society President Todd Lowe recently attended an album release party for this venture in West Hollywood, California and his story on this will appear in the forthcoming issue of the LJS Newsletter.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Once again, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest is upon us, albeit during Louisville's Derby Week (April 23-May 2). This year the Festival has its usual eclectic mix of wonderful musicians, with a heavy nod to the homeboys, as is fitting. Among the top jazz or jazz oriented acts during the first weekend are Olu Dara, Galactic, Donald Harrison, Poncho Sanchez, Henry Butler, the Olympia Brass band (and they are all on just Friday, April 23), Branford Marsalis, Astral Project, the Dirty Dozen and patriarch Ellis Marsalis. The following long weekend (Thursday-Sunday) includes the likes of Christian McBride, Oliver Lake with Me'Shell N'deggeocello, Nicholas Payton with Sonic Trance, Dave Brubeck, Terence Blanchard and Hugh Masekela. That's not to mention the topnotch intelligent rock acts such as Santana, Steely Dan and others. There are many shows around town throughout the entire period, with many being presented by Superfly Productions, including Medeski Martin & Wood, Garage a Trois, the Charlie Hunter Trio and ... and ..., well you get the picture. If you don't, there's always some horse races here. Some of the evening shows are already, in mid-March, sold out, so if you haven't made plans yet, don't put it off any longer or you'll be all dressed up with no place to go.
In conjunction with Jazzfest, Basin Street Records has released three new albums: Henry Butler: Homeland; Theresa Andersson: Shine; and Jon Cleary: Pin Your Spin. Butler's earliest recordings on the Impulse label were primarily jazz trios with guests. Homeland is more of a return to New Orleans R&B, with some serious boogie woogie, some ballads reminiscent of early Allen Toussaint productions and a closing tribute to Professor Longhair. Andersson's album is more of a singer-songwriter affair, featuring her violin and a tight band. Cleary is another pianist with debts to the New Orleans traditions and his latest sounds something like a hybrid of that city's funk and the balladry of Boz Scaggs. On CBS/Sony, Nicholas Payton's Sonic Trance ought to be snapped up by fans of Herbie Hancock's post-Blue Note, pre-Headhunters electronic jazz with his Mwandishi group.
Please support jazz in the clubs and concert halls and continue to express your dissatisfaction with the misguided programming changes which have turned WFPK into a narrowly-formatted, singles-oriented version of "AAA" programming. Public radio holds a special place in the broadcast community and a chase for numbers which is appropriate for commercial stations is, at best, unseemly when it comes to serving the underserved constituencies which have formed the foundation of public radio for decades. Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at email@example.com.