Tag Archives: jazz photography
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 Miles, Steely Dan, Freddie Hubbard and James Brown (Beasley) to the Stones, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Madonna and Miles (Jones), would fare in head to head funk driven jazz. No doubt, these 3 can play absolutely anything (and at the highest level), so the prospect of them cutting loose with a set of sticky-sharp grooves sounded pretty appealing.
The Douglas seats about 300 in stadium style seating and there’s not a bad seat in the house. It is a worthy sanctuary on the road to the Bakery’s permanent location.
As Beasley took a seat behind two layers of electric keys, a piano and a MacBook Pro, the 3 fell in behind Jones’ bubbling bass line for “Back Friday” (which also opens the album). Beasley swirled around the rhythm section landing on the groove for a round or two then departing again mixing synth sounds with electric piano. It didn’t take long for the unit to build to a nice froth, than pull back for Jones to dance with Bruner, Jr.’s snare and Beasley’s flourishes. Tasty, tasty, tasty. Apropos of the group’s lineage, the 3 covered Miles’ “Decoy”, (which from the same titled 1984 album, on which Jones appeared) building from a snare rim/Jones pulse into a throbbing platform for Beasley to explore. This was vintage ‘70s-‘80s infused stuff and I was struck how perfectly absent a guitar was to this sound. Much of the set included the vocals of Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley, with both singers digging into the pure funk of “Wanna Get Away” from “3 Brave Souls”. Holley found just the right reach with the bluesy “Nothing Left to Say” (from “3 Brave Souls’) and Trible and band worked up “Backlash Blues (from 2011’s “Dwight Trible Sings, John Beasley Swings”). Jones even busted out the vocals for his tune, “Stay” (from “3 Brave Souls”). In the back half of the set, the singers left the stage, Beasley moved to the piano and the trio took flight, leaving the funk behind. Propelled by Ronald Bruner, Jr., the trio was dizzying in intensity and simply flying under Beasley’s piano. The set closed with Bob Marley’s “Exodus”, which swelled beautifully in the hands of these Souls. Trible’s vocals were stirring as he alternated Marley’s chorus with a quiet refrain of “3 Brave Souls”.
Bruner, Jr. (who filled the spot of Leon “Ndugu” Chancler from the record) has been playing for most of his 30 years on the planet and it shows (check him out with the late Austin Peralta on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” from 2006, off the charts stuff). He’s now set to tour with Prince and will be back in LA with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke in April. After having just caught Billy Cobham and his monster kit that he played down in size, Bruner, Jr. was the counterpoint. A model of simplicity (1 rail/1 floor and a minimum of hardware) he played big, and that kit sang all night long. Wow is both worthy and insufficient.
This performance was jazz with a personal feel. Superb music played by superb musicians in a superb setting. Definitely a buzz from the crowd as the lights went up. Hats off to Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery for making this show happen.
You can catch more of John Beasley with his 17-piece MONK’estra big band at Vitello’s on February 20th and Typhoon on March 11th. John Beasley will also be directing the International Jazz Day concert hosted by Herbie Hancock and the Monk Institute in Istanbul, Turkey on April 30th, with over 30 global all-star jazz musicians participating, and hitting the road with Stanley Clarke in late Spring-early Summer.
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 Purple), as well as the great Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Joe Farrell on reeds/winds. A mix of funk and fusion, Hammer’s trademark mini-moog squelches and electric piano, Bolin’s cross-over agility, and Cobham’s furious chops placed up front, in the middle and sideways, “Spectrum” stands on its own as one of the seminal albums of its genre. Opening with a stampede of toms (“Quadrant 4”) and closing with Crusaders like funk (“Red Baron”), the album still holds up, even 40 years later.
Cobham has been recording at a Woody Allen like pace over the years, with over 40 albums under his own name and a resume that includes Miles, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Quincy Jones, McCoy Tyner and other jazz luminaries too numerous to mention (I’m partial to 1976’s “The Billy Cobham – George Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe,” with John Scofield and Alfonso Johnson). Looking back on where it started seems appropriate.
To say Cobham is almost machine-like in his playing is more a testament to his strength and precision than a description of his breakneck pacing and explosive fills. In fact, on more recent listening, it is Cobham’s snare that is the constant. Always bubbling and percolating under whatever he is playing. While his double kick drum set up is rock in posture, it should not be taken as a jazz equivalent of Spinal Tap. Far from it (though I was curious how his traditionally monster kit plus band would fit on the snug Mint stage).
The Spectrum 40 tour reunites Cobham with Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman, with Cobham vets Dean Brown on guitar, Gary Husband on keys and Ric Fierabracci on bass. The tour had been in the Northeast and followed that up with West Coast dates in L.A, Santa Cruz and Oakland.
Beginning with a snare roll that barreled into the theme of “Mushu Creole Blues” (from 1994’s “The Traveller”), the Spectrum unit started to swing quickly as Goodman and Brown enthusiastically tangled with each other. Husband’s topically named “If the Animals Had Guns, Too” (from his 2012 release, “Dirty & Beautiful, Volume 2”) went to darker, freer corners in a more compact tune. Husband is an exceptional drummer in his own right, which must bring added intuition to his keyboard interplay with the bandleader. Cobham was relaxed and loose with the crowd as he introduced the band, admittedly a bit “fuzzy” after their escape from New York, just before a Nor’easter shut down travel. After the intros, the band jumped into Dean Brown’s “Two Numbers” (from Brown’s 2012 release, “Unfinished Business”), which found an interesting African marimba like feel at its mid-point. An extended Cobham solo stitched rhythmic fits and starts into a locomotive, mixing sheets of tom fills with his snare and cymbals, drawing the snare down to the barest paradiddle before an inundating flurry of strikes that launched “Stratus” (from the original “Spectrum” album and a fusion “greatest hit”, deservedly so). This being the first time I saw Cobham live, I was struck by how he played such a large kit (2 kicks, 2 floors, 4 rails and enough metal to melt into a car) like one half its size. That’s finesse.
The second set began with Goodman’s “Brick Chicken” (from 1999’s, “Stranger’s Hand”, a collaboration of Goodman, harmonica player Howard Levy, drummer Steve Smith and bassist Oteil Burbridge), and a flat out boogie that wouldn’t be out of place as a jam band crowd pleaser. “Fragolino” (also from “The Traveller”) and Ric Fierabracci’s “Sphere of Influence” (from 2007’s “Hemispheres” with Phil Turcio, Brett Garsed and Joel Rosenblatt) brought some (relatively) gentler passages between feverish highs. The set closed on the heels of another Cobham solo with “Quadrant 4”(from “Spectrum”), a total stomp with rock hero sensibilities and a 405 pileup of a crescendo. “Red Baron” had to be the encore (which also appropriately closes “Spectrum”), the band returning to its feel good theme many times over and leaving the stage to a very happy and appreciative audience. This was an outstanding night of music and the material a worthy revisit 40 years later.
A special shout out to The Mint. The Spectrum 40 show was the second KKJZ sponsored event at the venue in a week (following Joe Lovano and the US 5 with Esperanza Spalding), and if these shows are any example, the versatile booking of The Mint is a welcome and vibrant addition to the Los Angeles jazz scene. The room is a not a traditional clinking glasses, hushed at your seat jazz club. It is informal, open and intimate (but be prepared to stand). With Stanley Clarke leading his band through a three date run across town, not a bad week for Los Angeles jazz either.
Check out this recent interview with Billy Cobham talking about the tour and the band. Good stuff.
For the drummers reading this, Billy Cobham also teaches online at ArtistWorks (and gives students feedback on their playing, really). Pretty cool.
Eye on the Music and Jim Brock Photography coverage of Terence Blanchard’s latest Los Angeles dates was picked up by Joshua Johnson of Burgess Management and posted to Terence’s web site. The review and images speak to a stellar set.
August 17, 2012
There are few musicians I can point to more visually evocative than Terence Blanchard (and I’m not just talking about his 20+ year filmography). Blanchard paints fully expressed textures with sound, creating jazz that is emotive, vibrant and at times, startlingly beautiful. I literally see what he’s playing. Then again, I may just have a vivid imagination.
Like many, I was first introduced to Blanchard’s work through his Spike Lee scores and his reputation as yet another anointed young lion of the horn. As my relationship with New Orleans music grew to near obsession, so did my affection for Blanchard and I never miss an opportunity to catch him when I can. His connection with his hometown courses through his work. Not just his score to “When the Levees Broke”, or his Grammy winning “A Tale of God’s Will (Requiem for Katrina)”, but in absorbing the richness, emotion and soul of the place often referred to as the birthplace of jazz. Blanchard is not a formal traditionalist that dwells in the past. He makes new music out of old roots. While New Orleans is in his bones and always will be, it is not expressed in the obvious. It also doesn’t hurt that he is one the coolest and nicest cats I’ve met as a photographer. Case in point – before the start of the evening’s second set, Blanchard was hanging with friends and fans in the middle of the room, chatting, getting his picture taken and signing CDs. No airs and friendly as all get out.
Blanchard’s live performances are best appreciated with attention and openness. All the traditional dynamics of great ensembles are present. Generous compositional give and take between players, the influence or arrangements of just the right standards, interplay that meshes and solos that take flight and always find their way back. And of course, stellar musicianship from gifted and younger players.
Accompanied by Brice Winston on sax, Fabian Almazan on piano, 20-year old Joshua Crumbly on bass and drummer Justin Brown, the quintet opened with Winston’s “Time to Spare” (from 2010’s, “Introducing Brice Winston”). Winston is a formidable tenor player already performing to a full Jazz Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (and at next month’s Monterey Jazz Festival) and has a great chemistry with Blanchard that goes back some 10 years. He briefly set the theme, straight ahead with quick corners, before Brown jumped in and the quintet ran with it. True to form, Blanchard moved off stage as the five became three, Winston reached down for the little more that seems to come so naturally in a later set.
The recorded spoken word intro to “Choices” (from Blanchard’s 2009 album of the same name) was a prelude to a composition that took him into reverb and octave dividing effects and explorations (almost reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s more orchestral synth voicings). More importantly, the music and words served as tableaus for the other. Blanchard’s horn seemed to prod the listener into soul searching the power of choices, of “what kind of human being are you going to be”. The dialogue that grew between Blanchard and Winston was truly gorgeous with Blanchard’s tone full and deep and introspective and Winston’s phrasing fiery and questioning.
Blanchard prefaced his band introduction by underscoring that “young musicians are the future of this music” and like so many great band leaders before him, Blanchard has provided a platform for truly amazing next generational talent. Look no further than bassist Joshua Crumbly, who Blanchard chided was not even through college yet.
The Kendrick Scott composition “Touched by an Angel” (also from “Choices”) followed (Scott is Blanchard’s regular drummer, but Justin Brown, who usually plays with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, has the seat for now). Fabian Almazan’s solo moments on the piece stood out as well as his playing when Blanchard and Winston ceded to a p/b/d trio. Almazan’s left and right hands climbing and falling together, trilling in sync and almost introducing classical elements along the way. “Pet Step Sitters Theme Song”, written for Almazan’s mother when the economy went south, swung and grooved, a fine launchpad for all the players. The set wrapped with Blanchard’s “Bounce” (from the 2003 album of the same name), the most NOLA inflected tune of the set and an appropriate coda to the evening.
“Sounds that get to the truth of who we are”. Words from the “Choices” prelude that also describe what Terence Blanchard does better than so many. This is jazz that moves in the inner sense of the word. Jazz that makes you feel, as much as it makes you think. Much, much respect for this quintet. And if I just close my eyes, I can almost see the notes.
July 12, 2012
Jazz is constant discovery. Notes become threads, stories become journeys. Artists find a larger audience. Old things are expressed in new and surprising ways. All were elemental to the first of two nights with the Moncef Genoud Trio at Vitello’s. Blind since birth, born in Tunisia, but calling Switzerland home his entire life, he has performed widely throughout Europe, and internationally, his whole career. He is no stranger to the continent’s most important jazz stages, including appearances at Montreux and North Sea. Mr. Genoud’s US performances are special events.
Mr. Genoud has released 11 studio albums since the late ‘80s , with several distributed through smaller European or Japanese outlets. His last two releases, 2006’s “Aqua” (on Savoy Jazz), and 2010’s “Metissage” (Rollin’ Dice Productions) are a doorway to a remarkable career and talent. The three covers from “Aqua” (Gershwin’s “Summertime”, Coltrane’s “Moments Notice” and Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”) interpret these compositions with respect and originality (especially “Moment’s Notice” which takes flight under Genoud’s right hand, swinging gently without jumping too high or hard). “Aqua” also features some of the late Michael’s Brecker’s last released recordings. His tenor turns a beautiful companion to Genoud’s compositions (check the climbing and downhill on “Mix of Keys”, classic Brecker). “Metissage” again finds Genoud mixing a few choice covers (including Miles’ “Blue in Green”, Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise”, and “Diabaram” a Youssou N’Dour and Ryuicihi Sakamoto collaboration) with original compositions. “Chermignon” stands out with a theme at once intimately familiar and totally original. Mr. Genoud cites Evans, Petersen, Tatum, Jarrett, Corea, Hancock and Mehldau as key influences, echoes of which are evident throughout both “Aqua” and “Metissage”. Mr. Genoud is currently working on his next release, one with a very different musical voice, so stay tuned.
The piano based trio is jazz truth for this photographer/writer. Whether in tender ballad retellings, propulsive bop, new interpretations of old standards or the one foot in the traditional the other in the future approach that marks musicians such as Brad Mehldau, the p/b/d trio reveals all. The players must merge as one, retain their voices and take no shelter. That Keith Jarrett’s standards trio (with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette) is nearing its fourth decade bears witness to such enduring musical excellence. The Moncef Genoud Trio is in keeping with that tradition.
Genoud took the stage at Vitello’s Thursday for his first Los Angeles appearance in six years, accompanied by English drummer Andy Barron (who has played with Kenny Wheeler and John Scofield) and bassist Bänz Oester (who has worked with Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano). Genoud opened with three pieces from “Aqua”. The gently cascading “Out of the Blue” demonstrated a nice ease between players with Oester’s woodsy feel featured early on against Barron’s brushes. “Aqua” found comfortable openings for Genoud to flex the melody with distinctive soloing. “Sliding Shadows”, also from “Aqua” began with Genoud’s string plucked rumblings and Barron’s hand struck snare and quickly picked up steam that took the trio into Jarrett/Mehldau territory on their non-standard days. Throughout the performance, Andy Barron’s taste for cymbal rims and stick ends (and general percussive nuance), seemed in contrast to/keeping with the guy who has a penchant for “bashing various circular objects” according to his MySpace page.
Barron and Oester stepped aside for the Genoud solo piece “Metissage”. The simple theme, and its minor/major, dark/light, low/upper register counterplay, was caringly rendered. Turning feisty, Genoud went at the strings and frame of his grand while vocalizing “Arabic Spring” as an alternative intro to “It’s You” from his fifth album of the same name, and I was struck by the blind musician’s literal feel for the instrument inside and out. The piece took a nice 6/8 turn with echoes of “All Blues”. Genoud’s reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine” brought a hush to the room and was the evening’s highlight. Beginning as a ballad that flirted with a melody emotionally memorized by all, Genoud’s telling ended in bluesy brush driven flourishes. “La Javanaise” followed before the trio brought the echoes of “All Blues” full circle with their own spunky take on the Miles’ classic. The set closed with a cover of Chico Buarque’s “Tu Verras” (originally titled “O Que Sera”) and a satisfying, but relatively brief unnamed encore that capped the 80-minute performance.
Mr. Genoud and C. Chill of Rollin’ Dice Productions have forged a unique musical bond. Chill, a songwriter/producer by trade, first met Mr. Genoud about 10 years ago. Musically self-taught, weaned on funk, but a jazz lover as a teen, Chill took Genoud under his wing to distribute “Aqua” to a wider (e.g., US) audience and a special musical collaboration was born. In speaking with Chill after the performance, his passion for working with Mr. Genoud is evident. It is to the benefit of jazz audiences everywhere that Mssrs. Genoud and Chill found each other. They have much more to discover together. A journey worth taking.
May 30, 2012
A guitar’s frequent absence from a jazz arrangement is both a uniqueness of the idiom and distinguishes it from the string driven sound of rock and blues. As an early ‘70s kid I was wide eyed about rock and all about guitars. When I discovered jazz and found horns and keys where strings should be, it both opened me up and whet my appetite. While I knew Joe Pass was the greatest living player of the day and no one could touch Wes Montgomery, I was not drawn to those stylings as I am now. My attention span was short. I was the rock enthused, looking for the rock infused. Jazz crossover in both directions spoke to me. Sure, fusion filled the gap. Early Return to Forever, the Mahavishnu Orchesta. Buried alive under all those notes never felt so good. Yet, it was not enough. I wanted touch, space, soul, too.
The mid-‘70s through the early ‘80s were fertile ground for a fresh approach. Pat Metheny teased new elements into a guitar led quartet with a traditional tone played in untraditional ways and settings. It didn’t attack. It slipped. It flowed. John Abercrombie, was literally, timeless. His 1974 debut album of the same name with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette, was a different kind of “fusion” altogether, using a muted tone and exploratory playing to expand boundaries not by pushing, but by painting. Ralph Towner’s 12-string Guild or nylon 6-string were as comfortable alongside Gary Burton, Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, as they were creating evocative landscapes with his solo or ensemble work. All left lifelong imprints on my musical psyche.
As with these predecessors, Bill Frisell came on the scene with the ECM label. I collected ECM recordings in all their MOMA-esque presentation like baseball cards. A lot of it was simply too outside for me, but the rest opened my ears in new ways. I first came across Frisell in his early ECM days, through his work with Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek and others, but really didn’t take much note. When Frisell moved to the more world, folk and acoustic oriented Nonesuch in the late ‘80s, it was both the beginning of a long relationship with the label, and a foretelling of something special. It was not until the mid-late ‘90s that I caught up with his work in earnest, and a string of recordings that will make my desert island shelf. “Nashville”, “Gone, Just Like a Train” and “Good Dog (Happy Man)” (the latter, I would have bought on the title alone). These were jazz inflected takes on traditional Americana. His version of “Shenandoah” is simply stunning. A few years later, Frisell would turn out “Blues Dream”, a lopey, brooding piece of Main Street splashed with horns and pedal steel. Oh, then he recorded the title tune on a companion project the same year with jazz giants Elvin Jones and Dave Holland, a super trio if there ever was one. Main Street meet Coltrane’s drummer. Now that’s jazz.
Frisell stayed with Nonesuch until 2009, but before he left he managed to drop in a project, “Floratone” with drummer Matt Chamberlain, on the Blue Note label. Loaded with effects and rhythmic grooves, and trademark Frisell shimmer, Floratone birthed a sequel, “Floratone II” released in March of this year on Savoy Jazz. Chamberlain, an esteemed session player with over 200 recordings to his credit, has an envious rock and pop resume including stints with Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, the SNL band and his start with Edie Brickell as a New Bohemian. His playing alongside session legend Jim Keltner, on Brad Mehldau’s, 2001 release “Largo”, is one reason that project was one of the most compelling jazz efforts of the new century. Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” in a piano setting was boundary changing indeed.
Matt Chamberlain staked a May residency at the Mint, so it was fitting that he would wrap it with Bill Frisell. I have seen Frisell a number of times over the years in comfortable settings such as McCabe’s and the old Largo, and was genuinely excited to hear these two go at it The Mint, an equally intimate venue I know well. It was clear from the outset on Wednesday that this would be an unscripted evening of improv proportions. Chamberlain’s vintage wood wrapped kit sat stage left, a shallow wood hooped snare (or two), electronics behind. The unassuming Frisell took his seat, and Largo brain trust and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Jon Brion emerged from the shadows stage right, providing an unexpected stringed addition.
This was a percussion driven affair that served up a very different context than any other Frisell show I’ve attended. As the first piece progressed, Frisell seem to be island, then Eastern influenced, then quickly deconstructing in tones that moved from fuzz to church bells. The players found a place to land before starting another exploration with Frisell and Brion playing the outer edges to the oak like heft of Chamberlain’s groove. Morphing from the fringes to a bluesy feel, then devolving again. Frisell found a “Lay Down Sally” informed country road riff that took the next piece to a fulfilling destination. Well worn, comforting. Chamberlain soon introduced loops and other electronic effects, coupling them with machine gun thrills and blocks of spaces. Reminiscent of Bill Bruford and other jazz-rock fusionists of the highest order. Frisell and Brion were something to behold. Brion squelching with feedback and odd tones from his hollow-body, Frisell shining chimey light and warmth, than turning that on a dime. Deeper in, Chamberlain brought the percussive equivalent to rummaging through an old drawer. If they weren’t old bells, keys or ashtrays, they were awfully close. As the first set eventually found a way home, there were glimpses of Police-reggae flourishes, a slow string driven gallop that grew wings in a hurry, and some stinging soloing delivered from Brion’s Gretsch. Chamberlain often dampening his strikes on a second snare with a bandana.
The second set started with Frisell harmonics circling above Chamberlain’s tom heavy attack, that grew to howling beauty. Soon, all three were stirring what I can only describe as a 1971 “Dark Star” informed jam previously thought extinct. Brion wading deep into Garcia space land. Until the whole thing shifted to a country skiffle. Later in the second set, Brion moved to his SG, banging, tapping on top of high fretwork, coaxing sounds like coiled springs. Frisell’s tranquil side shone with a softer ballad textured piece and his interplay with Brion, each interlocked in ascent with the other above just right-for-the-moment hi-hat sprinkles from Chamberlain. The quiet passed with a vengeance, lost in Brion’s SG swagger and Chamberlain’s cowbell.
This is music that takes shape, breaks apart, takes another shape, breaks apart. Constantly. The trio never stayed anywhere too long. Without fail, Chamberlain, Frisell and Brion opted for the unfamiliar, rather than nestle in for more than a pit stop. Bearing witness to such creation is a joy, unnerving, and completely rewarding at the same time. But only in the right hands. With musicians this inventive, curious and adventurous, it is snowflake singular. It is here and then it’s gone. Ephemeral, deep, well travelled, but never staying long. Like a blues dream.
From the Revivalists passionate opening Gentilly set to the final moments of Springsteen’s plaintive reading of Saints, the first weekend of Jazzfest 2012 was an abundance of special moments. Yes, the draws were the Acura headliners. Petty and Bruce delivered deep satisfying sets (from what I was able to catch), and Springsteen’s presence was a rallying cry of celebration and reflection. A reminder of how New Orleans has healed since his epic 2006 post-Katrina Seeger Sessions appearance, and how far there is still to go. Even the Beach Boys brought their game, judging by the smiles and sing alongs from a nice size Acura crowd. But, hey, did you check out Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Congo Square? The four generations of players from 9 to 90+ that filled the Fais Do Do on Saturday for the Savoy Music Center Cajun Jam? How about Bon Iver’s stirring (and unexpected) connection with the Jazzfest crowd? Gary Clark, Jr. absolutely tearing down the Blues Tent opposite the Boss with Texas blues that left teeth marks? Not to mention the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen showing Tom Petty how it’s done in New Orleans. Sure until self-cloning is an app, we all pang for what we missed. Weekend 1 proved, yet again, no matter where you are at the Fest, it’s exactly where you should be.
The days between were not too shabby. Instruments A’ Comin’ on Monday night at Tip’s and New Orleans Musicians for Obama at Generations Hall on Tuesday had my head spinning (in a good way). IAC was loaded this year, as always. The sight/sounds of the best young brass in town marching along a closed Napoleon Ave. is breathtaking, and Shorty, Galactic, HISB and a cast of thousands made for a very satisfying 4:30 AM bedtime. Tuesday night’s “ObamaFest” had some unfortunate ticketing glitches, but once inside Generations Hall, there was a little bit of everything with two stages, multiple bars and a great relaxed vibe. The mostly Meters mini-set with Dr. John was locked in and tight, the highlight of the night by far.
The second weekend of the Fest boasted one of the richest lineups in year. While the Foos and the Eagles were not in the cards for me (my closest encounter was fighting the 65,000 Eagles fans for the exit), the Gentilly Stage and the Blues Tent pulled me like magnets. Thursday can never be a bad day. The crowds are lighter and headliners undemanding. It’s easy to roam, chill and eat. Like a bonus day. Flow Tribe completely entertained, Glen Hansaard sang/played his heart out with a 6-string that makes Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” look new. Honey Island Swamp Band’s “Bayou Americana” keeps getting better. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners were totally in the groove. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread was magical and Florence Welch had me completely under her spell. Only at Jazzfest could Florence + the Machine be counterpointed with the earthy grit of James Cotton’s blowing in the Blues Tent. If that’s a down day at the Fest, give me more.
Friday was a highlight. Grace Potter’s scorching stage presence was topped by the Nocturnals go for broke delivery. Hornsby’s long overdue Fest debut was juicy and this Bruce was loving every minute of it, especially when joined by dem ‘bones. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s metal rooted world nylon string mash up was mesmerizing. Zac Brown showed why he is a festival circuit favorite, and so much more than a solid country rock comer.
Saturday brought a rollicking (and rocking tight) Allen Toussaint set. Anders Osborne, fresh from the release of “Black Eye Galaxy” dug deep and raw, then vulnerable. Dropping the guitar and backed by strings, “Higher Ground” was simply beautiful. John Boutte brought the house down with a triumphant Jazz Tent performance and running between My Morning Jacket, Herbie Hancock and the Warren Haynes Band (with Dr. John) sums up why there is nothing like Jazzfest. The Haynes Band especially shined in the slot originally scheduled for Levon Helm. Levon’s spirit was all over the Fest, whether it was Hornsby covering “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” or Mavis Staples bringing the crowd to tears in the Gospel Tent with “The Weight”.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you tell yourself the tank is more than half full, not running down fast. You believe the flight home is just a scheduling mistake, rather than a cruel joke. Then Galactic overpowers the Acura crowd. Glen David Andrews brings out that red horn and everyone rises a few inches off the ground. You go to church with the entire Boutte clan. David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco seize the Jazz Tent crowd before the final coming together to honor 50 years of Preservation Hall, with guests that celebrate all that is New Orleans music. Go shake it with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings before the reality sets in that there are only 355 more sleeps to Jazzfest 2013. Now that’s a life. Thank you Quint and every human who make Jazzfest possible.
May 15, 2012
It’s been said that Los Angeles is a tough jazz town. New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago all have thriving jazz scenes in vibrant urban settings. Los Angeles, with its diasporadic lifestyle and geography, requires the jazz enthusiast to turn seeker. Rarely are things stumbled upon. The displacement of the Jazz Bakery last year was another (temporary) blow, so with a few newcomers and a handful of others who keep the faithful coming, Catalina’s Bar and Grill has always loomed large. For good reason.
When jazz royalty pays a visit, the devoted must rise. Such is the case with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette spending the better part of a week here, and two shows nightly at 6725 Sunset Boulevard. This is a constellation of VSOP proportions. I’ve posted on the life altering effect RTF had on my young and evolving mind, when the reunion tour hit the Greek last September. The chance to see Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke in a straight ahead trio with the soon to be 70 Jack DeJohnette was/is not to be missed.
Drumming greats must share some cosmic mixologist. The elixir that keeps Roy Haynes swinging in his mid-80s and Jack DeJohnette celebrating 70 in rather good company is powerful stuff. I’ve been a huge DeJohnette admirer going back to the early CTI and ECM days, well before his decades holding down Keith Jarrett’s standards trio (his cheetah like drive on Coltrane’s “Moments Notice”, from Hubert Laws 1971 Rite of Spring CTI release, still clicks). DeJohnette’s touch and cymbal work are signature expressions of a composer and rhythmicist who wrings all the nuance and subtlety from a trap set then I ever thought possible. It’s not just what he plays, it’s what he doesn’t play and how he plays it. If you ask me to explain it better than that, I can’t. I just understand it. This 6-night stand is billed as a 70 celebration (though DeJohnette’s birthday is not until August), and it is clearly his party.
Those of us arriving early to the opening Tuesday performance, were greeted with Chick working a few styles before the tuner put one final tweak to the Yamaha. It was as close to a living room setting as one could get – happy hour, oh yeah, Chick Corea at the piano with your drinks. Comedian (and New Orleans native) Garrett Morris teed up the music with humor and respect before the trio’s 90+ minute set. The opening Steve Swallow composition had DeJohnette literally rubbing elbow to floor tom skin, not for effect, but to coax the quietest percussive sound to match that moment. “Summer Night”, a Seven Steps to Heaven outtake that Chick told the audience he learned from Miles, was being played by the trio for the first time. It was beautifully rendered, with exceptional touch by all players, especially DeJohnette’s shimmering cymbal flourishes. Corea and DeJohnette seemed to ride shotgun back and forth, simultaneously driving and feeding the conversation. Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” followed, with a Corea intro that danced and jumped, then settled into a duet with Stanley Clarke as the theme was uncovered.
Wayne Shorter‘s “E.S.P.” (originally from the great Davis ‘60s quintet recording of the same name) was a highlight of the evening with interlocking improvisational turns true to the spirit of the piece, especially freed up in this trio format. At one point, four limbs were not enough for DeJohnette, as he strategically tossed multiple stick ends at his snare. The trio moved to a pair of DeJohnette compositions “Priestesses of the Mist”/“Earthwalk” from his 1991 Special Edition release. Painting in darker, almost Medieval, cabalistic colors, DeJohnette’s mallet work on his cymbals, higher tone toms and snare tangled with Corea’s discordant lower keys – Chick reaching with his right hand to mute the strongly hammered bass strikes of his left. This journey was haunting indeed.
The set closed out with a new composition that kicked and swung completely the other direction, with acknowledged nods to Esperanza Spaulding, Levon Helm and Mardi Gras Indians along the way. And Stanley Clarke finally let loose with an explosive rumble of rhythmic thumbing and thwacking. DeJohnette led the trio through a latin tinged encore and a classic descending theme that struck me as a reverse “La Fiesta”. It was the evening’s only real infusion of Corea’s Spanish romance and brought the set to satisfying close.
Jack DeJohnette could turn matchsticks into an orchestra. He is a craftsman, carving, pushing, painting, adding layers, dissolving layers. Playing rims, mallets, skin on skin. The trio played as a true collaboration. No star turns, just discovery and nuance as only masters can pull off. Los Angeles may be a tough jazz town, but this Tuesday night, the first date of a 12-date West Coast tour, the city was a giant.
Jim Brock Photography collaborates with New Orleans artist Steven Sweet for Jazzfest Shabbat project
April 18, 2012
Touro Synagogue’s annual Jazzfest Shabbat service is a tradition that has featured the likes of Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Jeremy Davenport over its 21 years. This year, John Boutte will grace the bima for this uniquely New Orleans gathering. Anyone who has heard John sing knows the beauty and soul his voice will bring to the service.
The event is commemorated by an illustrative interpretation of Jim Brock Photography’s image of Mr. Boutte by New Orleans artist Steven Sweet. The piece was commissioned by Touro Synagogue and features the singer dramatically set against a backdrop of the synagogue. The original source image was previously featured in the April 2011 USA Today print article, “New Orleans is back, and so is the talent”.
Jazzfest Shabbat is a very special event, bringing together Judaism, and the warmth and community of a Shabbat service, with the best in New Orleans music. See Touro Synagogue JazzFest Shabbat 2012 for more information on the service and performance.