Spring Quartet, Royce Hall

February 22, 2014 The stunning collaboration of drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Leo Genovese refers to itself as “The Spring Quartet”, and the musical possibilities suggested by this combo were very present at Royce Hall this Saturday.  DeJohnette is the quartet’s “elder” and shows no signs of slowing down after his recent 70th birthday tour. His percussive mastery and approach are simply unmatched. Spalding is a melodic and elastic player who has crossed over to wide critical and popular acclaim through her Radio and Chamber Music Society projects, and Genovese her accompanist for these journeys. Joe Lovano’s hearty post-bop expressions can be found on dozens of his own Blue Note recordings over the past 30 years as a leader, and in support of like minded musicians unafraid of the fringes such as John Abercrombie and Paul Motian to name a few.       Playing to a capacity crowd in the stately confines of Royce, the Quartet’s 100+ minute, nine tune set covered material from all, drawing from the compositional voice and diversity of each player. The opener, Lovano’s “Spring Day”, came out jabbing with Lovano’s tenor leading the way and meshing intuitively with […]

Waddy Wachtel Band, The Joint

November 16, 2013   Some of rock’s most indelible moments are the work of sidemen and session players, most of whom stay in the shadows, some of whom go on to achieve fame of their own. Over the past 14 years at The Joint, you could wander in from a unremarkable stretch of Pico Boulevard on the occasional Monday night and catch some of these unsung heroes, joined by rock royalty – Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Eric Burdon or Joe Walsh, to name a few. What draws them is the opportunity to sit in with a house band made up of some of the best session musicians and touring sidemen around. And for $10/head, you know they ain’t in it for the money. The band, headed up by revered axeman and producer Waddy Wachtel, includes longtime Rolling Stones backup vocalist Bernard Fowler, ex-Tom Petty drummer Phil Jones, Fleetwood Mac, David Lee Roth and Coverdale-Page keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Brett Tuggle, and Neil Young and Joe Walsh alum Rick “the bass player” Rosas. Now, I’ve caught my share of these gigs over the years (without the special guests) and never failed to have a blast. Wachtel’s credits are a […]

Anders Osborne + Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, El Rey Theatre

October 24, 2013 Anders Osborne went deep and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe embraced their inner Ray Charles for a wholly satisfying double bill at the El Rey Theatre last Thursday. The two combined for 3 ½ hours of wall-to-wall intensity, stunning jams and a full on soul dance party.       Osborne’s LA appearances are a rarity, made more of an event in the larger El Rey space and two act offering. Osborne is touring on his latest release, “Peace”, and several tracks were featured including the Cortez-ian title track that opens the album. (I couldn’t help but think that Neil isn’t the only one waging heavy “Peace” throughout the set. The Young influences are more than just the material, but down to the stage posture – lead foot stomping, head and shoulders hunched, scraping every note to the bone). “Windows” flew, “Five Bullets” attacked and “Sarah Anne” took the band into the light. True to form, Osborne opened with the thunderous squonk of “Black Tar” (from 2012’s “Black Eyed Galaxy”), but also went way, way back for “Burning on the Inside” (from 1995’s “Which Way to Here”) that has been a staple in his sets for some time. […]

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby with Kentucky Thunder, Royce Hall

October 18, 2013 Bluegrass is a lot of things. The high lonesome. Bill Monroe. Furious pickin’. Lots of strings. Acoustic instrumentation.  What it traditionally isn’t is plugged in, horns, a drum kit, and rarely, a piano front and center with all those frets. The Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder with Bruce Hornsby performance at Royce Hall took the latter to heart and showed that keys and strings can indeed be natural companions. Touring on the just released live “Cluck Ol’ Hen” recorded during a previous tour when the two first got together, the show oftentimes felt like a primer in Monroe and all things old school. Heck, just listening to Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby reflect on their collective musical lives was its own show. Skaggs is a master not just of the instrument(s), but as a guardian of the music itself. Pretty much what you’d expect from a guy who first shared the stage with Bill Monroe as a tyke.         My bluegrass knowledge is not deep, but my appreciation is and runs through the likes of Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Norman Blake and many others. I am, however, an unabashed Hornsby fan and the pairing […]

John Scofield Uberjam + Dave Holland Prism Quartet, Royce Hall

October 5, 2013 The 6th annual Angel City Jazz Festival is as unique as the city that bears its name. Multi-venue, multi-media and highly eclectic, predictable only for its unpredictablilty. Not necessarily qualities you would attach to this tentpole town. This year mixed film with music, integrating episodes of the “Jazz in the Present Tense” project with live performances under the theme of “Metamorphosis: Artists on the Cutting Edge of Change”. John Scofield’s Uberjam Band and Dave Holland’s Prism Quartet are a mighty pairing that land in the event’s sweet spot. While some could suggest the Royce Hall double bill was more in than out, given Angel City’s edgy proclamation, they fall right in between in my book. Both are established and prolific players/composers bonded by different stints with Miles Davis. Holland’s years included In a Silent Way and the transformatively noisy Bitches Brew, while Scofield came later during the early to mid-‘80s. Davis’ electrified shift in many ways was the jazz equivalent to Dylan’s groundbreaking Newport Folk appearance in 1965 – the landscape was never the same. In Davis’ case, jazz fusion was spawned and the illustrious alum have shaped contemporary jazz ever since, with both Holland and Scofield […]

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, The Tin Men and Paul Sanchez & The Rolling Road Show, The Mint

September 14, 2013 Saturday’s NOLA triple threat at The Mint was as close to Frenchmen Street as you can get on Pico Boulevard (in fact, last time Sanchez and company played the room in 2010, their gig was billed as the “Return of Frenchmen Street West”). But this evening was as much Napoleon or Carrolton Avenue as Frenchmen Street, with Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen’s satisfyingly feisty 90 minute performance (and long overdue LA appearance) starting the night before the Tin Men and the Road Show took over for a later show. Cleary’s set wasted no time, diving right into “Fools Game” (from his 1999 release, “Moonburn”) and “Just Kissed My Baby”  (from the Cleary & AMG, self-titled 2002 release). The former a propulsive soul blues romp with enough barroom piano rollick and get in your bones undertow to make every beer go down like an Abita. The latter a showcase for the best of the band, with its sticky Cornell Williams bass break and Cleary’s clavvy keys. Naturally, Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” was in the mix (featured on Cleary’s 2008, “Mo Hippa Live” release) and Cleary and the AMG had ample opportunity to display […]
May 27
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Reflections and Musings of a Jazz Fest Photographer

The 44th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a few weeks past and my rear view reflections only seem to sweeten the experience. This Jazz Fest, my 10th overall, is best summarized by an exchange between two Festers NOLA bound from NYC by train, one a dear friend, composer and 3-timer, the other a vet from a krewe known for their affection for Fezs (yeah, you heard that right). “Hope to see you next year”…. “You will, and every year after that until I die.” What Rolling Stone calls the “greatest music event on the planet” inspires such pure devotion. 60+ acts a day, 12 stages and tents, 7 days (no repeats, Coachella, you listening ACL?). Most of my time these days is in the pit or hustling from one stage to the next, trying to burn more calories than I eat while keeping up with artists and bands older and younger than I am (not in my 40s anymore). Fest photographers do not get to enjoy whole sets. Far from it. With 3 and outs for most big names, as well as other random acts, and much ground to cover, the feast becomes a mountain of nibbles […]

Robert Randolph presents The Slide Brothers, with the Otis Taylor Band, Royce Hall

February 23, 2013   We’re all told to respect our elders, to learn from the generation before and to pass along tradition. Wise words musically speaking, and fundamental to any jazz or blues playbook where family legacies span generations and old sounds are regularly rediscovered and reimagined. Now, I hail from about as far from a Pentecostal upbringing as one would expect for a ‘60s kid raised in the relative comfort of a West Los Angeles lifestyle. But when I heard Robert Randolph for the first time, I was floored. I had no clue about the roots of Sacred Steel in the church tradition, but the Hendrix like intensity he brought to the pedal steel was pretty religious in my book and I’ve been a fan ever since. Randolph’s latest project, the Slide Brothers, pays homage to those roots. Randolph has brought together the “greatest living musicians who embody the Sacred Steel tradition” (as described on the Slide Brothers’ web site), a tradition that dates to Depression era times where steel/slide guitar and vocal melodies were all but interchangeable in church music. Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent are the Slide Brothers – a direct legacy to […]

3 Brave Souls, Kirk Douglas Theatre

February 8, 2013 Friday’s “3 Brave Souls” CD release event at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City is just one of many ongoing performances held by the Jazz Bakery as they await construction of their Frank Gehry designed new home next door.  John Beasley has been a familiar presence in the new year, with a residency at the Blue Whale encompassing big band, latin and more intimate motifs. The “3 Brave Souls” performance is a fitting cap to a busy January with this special collaboration of Beasley with Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones and Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums (as well as vocalists Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley). I had not been that familiar with Beasley’s career until this project, but the opportunity to catch two former Miles band mates in Beasley and Jones, with drummer Bruner, Jr. (who has been playing since he was 3, seriously), was too good to pass up. The “3 Brave Souls” project has been described as “ass-wiggling funk/jazz” and made the cut of top 2012 jazz CDs by Jazz Inside magazine. Me, I was just curious to see how resumes that spread from Suicidal Tendencies, Flying Lotus and Kenny Garrett (Bruner, Jr.), to […]

Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40 Band, The Mint

January 26, 2013 Mahavishnu Orchestra is in the pantheon of jazz fusion pioneers. Black hole density, volcanic intensity and ridiculous virtuosity. I had never heard anything quite like John McLaughlin’s searing fretwork, Jan Hammer’s prog-funk sounds and Jerry Goodman’s violin thrown to the front of what truly seemed to be an inner mounting flame. Not for the faint of heart. Beneath it all was drummer Billy Cobham, who played at Mach tempos and time signatures with the necessary muscle to stir the mix. While Mahavishnu (especially in its original lineup for three brilliant albums) occasionally slowed down, more often than not, there was an avalanche of notes and spaces were usually avoided. The influence of McLaughlin’s Eastern spiritualism was very much present and the music omni-powerful. After Mahavishnu, McLaughlin turned away from the fire and the volume way down with his acoustic Indian trio Shakti, Jan Hammer went on to Miami Vice fame and blazed rock fusion territory with Jeff Beck, and Billy Cobham recorded his first solo album, 1973’s “Spectrum”. Cobham brought along Hammer, session master Leland Sklar on bass and guitarist Tommy Bolin (all of 21, before he went on to play with the James Gang and Deep […]