by Scott Yanow
No, Chick Corea and Kurt Elling did not perform together (which would be a very good idea sometime), but they shared the stage at Disney Hall during one of the finest Southern California jazz concerts of the year.
First Kurt Elling, arguably the finest male jazz singer of the past decade, took the stage. His current band consists of Stu Mindeman on piano and organ, guitarist John McLean, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Christian Euman with trumpeter Marquis Hill guesting on a few numbers. Elling celebrated the release of his new Okeh CD The Questions by performing some of the numbers from that disc including Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” (performed as a folk song similar in treatment to what one might hear from Bill Frisell), “I Have Dreamed” from The King And I, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Lonely Town.” Elling talked philosophically between songs and asked unanswerable questions, getting the audience to chuckle when he asked “How did we get here? How long do we have to stay here?” But actually the highpoint of his set was the closer which is not on the CD, a burning version of Abbey Lincoln’s “As Long As You’re Living” that had his masterful scatting trading choruses with Hill’s trumpet.
For the main act, Chick Corea performed a set of his compositions with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Although some were disappointed that Wynton Marsalis was absent, the all-star big band was in top form, clearly inspired by the presence of the great pianist-composer. In fact, it was fun to watch their smiles at Corea’s solos, particularly Sherman Irby’s. Starting with “Armando’s Rhumba” (which was arranged by bassist Carlos Henriquez ), and continuing through Ted Nash’s chart on “Windows,” “Litha,” ”Wigwam,” “Crystal Silence” and a very adventurous version of “Matrix,” this was a particularly memorable set. Henriquez was a revelation throughout, pushing Corea and contributing a great deal of drive to the music. Other key soloists (usually on one song apiece) included trumpeters Michael Rodriguez and Marcus Printup, Ted Nash on flute, tenor-saxophonist Victor Goines, baritonist Paul Nedzela, trombonist Andre Hayward, and altoist Irby. But Corea was the main star, stretching himself on every song in his improvisations and, at 75, sounding both very creative and ageless.
Chick Corea has recorded with relatively few big bands throughout his busy career. Hopefully there will be a CD with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra in the future.
Andrew Choate and Peter Kolovos have for the past five years booked avant-garde jazz and experimental artists in Los Angeles. Recently they hosted the two-day Unwrinkled Ear Festival Of Improvised Music which was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. I found out about their festival just two days before and missed the first afternoon which had unaccompanied solo sets by saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, and a duet encounter by pianist Sten Sandell and percussionist Kjell Nordeson.
Fortunately all of the musicians were back for the three sets that took place on Sunday afternoon. Roscoe Mitchell (on alto), Evan Parker (sticking to soprano) and cornetist Bobby Bradford started off the day by playing a continuous free improvisation for 32 minutes. The musical conversation by the three horns, which featured giants from Chicago, England and Los Angeles, held one’s interest throughout. The trio of veterans from the 1960s avant-garde jazz scene listened closely to each other, reacted quickly, and was engaged throughout in close interactions. Bradford, who sometimes used a mute, displayed his mellow tone which always makes his playing sound a bit accessible even when he is at his most dissonant. Parker, who could have been miked louder, played unpredictably and with plenty of passion. He had not performed in Los Angeles in quite a few years. But the main star was Mitchell who at 77 never seemed to run out of energy or creative ideas.
The second set had Swedish pianist Sten Sandell at first playing the church organ with a great deal of drama before switching to a piano which was “prepared” with a towel that distorted some of its tones. His improvising, which lasted 28 minutes, was always coherent even when it was at its freest.
The final set had three horns and Sandell returning with the addition of the Swedish percussionist Kjell Nordeson. Similar to the first set in that the 30 minutes of music was all ensemble, the difference this time was that Mitchell played soprano rather than alto and Nordeson’s rumbling drums (mostly using mallets) and vibes added to the performance’s volume and color.
All in all it was a fascinating afternoon of music played before a large and enthusiastic audience. Andrew Choate and Peter Kolovos are to be congratulated for this successful festival. Information about their upcoming events (which deserve to be supported) can be found at www.andrewchoate.us/the-unwrinkled-ear .
Oleg Frish, who first appeared at Catalina’s last year, made a successful return visit recently. A regular host on radio and television in the New York area, the Russian-born singer (who moved to the U.S. 20 years ago) has always loved the Great American Songbook, particularly music of the 1940-70 period. While he has worked as everything from a “singing psychic” to a music journalist, a lecturer on the history of show business to the executive producer of the weekly Russian language television news and entertainment program “Time Out,” his true love is singing. He has recorded four albums with the most recent one, Oleg Frish and His American Idols, including duets with a variety of famous veteran performers.
Frish, who can sing in 24 different languages, performed his “Swing Around The World” show at Catalina’s. He was joined by a septet that included trumpeter Bill Churchill, trombonist Bob McChesney, Glenn Berger (on tenor, flute and clarinet) and pianist Rich Eames. The personable and charming singer began with a swinging version of “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” and during the 100-minute set one heard such songs as “What A Difference A Day Made” (in both Spanish and English), “Rhode Island Is Famous For You,” “Day By Day,” “This Is A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” “Slow Boat To China,” “The Things We Did Last Summer,” “Bring Me Sunshine,”
“You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “Hello Dolly” and “I Wish You Love.” Oleg Frish also sang tunes in other languages, all of which swung. He told interesting and colorful stories between the songs, featured the band on an instrumental version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” made sure that the audience had a good time, and displayed the joy of swing. Everyone went home with a smile on their face.
JAZZ GOES MOD
The R&B label (www.rhythmandbluesrecords.co.uk ) has been releasing two-CD sets in their rather unusual reissue series. Jazz Goes Mod. So far they have come out with twofers titled Soho Scene ’61, ’62 and ’63 (’64 is thus far only out on Lp). Jazz Goes Mod is definitely a type of time machine. Imagine being in one’s early twenties, living in Great Britain in 1961, and being a fan of modern jazz. You are not into trad (which was very popular in England at the time) or free jazz but instead enjoy hearing danceable and melodic jazz that grooves and is often a bit funky. What might you be listening to?
Each of these two-CD sets consists of a disc of some of the top performances recorded by British jazz musicians in that particular year plus a CD of influential American recordings. The set of American performances does not contain the expected names (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) and instead mostly concentrates on catchy soul jazz performances from lesser-known (and sometimes very obscure artists), many of which might have been heard on 45s or on jukeboxes.
Even if one does not necessarily buy the premise that this is the music that you would be listening to, the series is an excellent way to suddenly acquire a great deal of fun music that you might not have heard before.
Soho Scene ’61 has 37 performances by the likes of Tubby Hayes, Cleo Laine, altoist Joe Harriott (the most adventurous of the British players), Ronnie Scott, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Grant Green, Ray Bryant and the long-forgotten Fred Ford. Here, as on the other sets, the British players hold their own with the Americans.
Soho Scene ’62, which has 41 performances, features Tony Coe (one of the great British saxophonists), Ronnie Ross, Shake Keane, Quartette Tres Bien, Larry Frazier (does anyone remember his 1962 Impulse album?), Don Wilkerson, Phil Guilbeau (“Creole Walk”), Les McCann (“The Shampoo”), Prince Lasha (who takes it a bit outside while still featuring an infectious rhythm) and many others.
Soho Scene ’63 expands to 49 selections, nearly all released as ‘45s. British modern jazz was at a cross roads at the time with very stiff competition from r&b, bossa nova and most of all American jazz artists. Few modern British players were being recorded unless they were aiming for hits and compromising their music a bit. Despite that, the British half of Soho Scene ’63 has plenty of enjoyable if poppish performances by the likes of Ronnie Ross, Tubby Hayes, Dudley Moore and Humphrey Lyttelton. The American half of the twofer ranges from Joe Pass and the Jazz Crusaders to three musicians who I have never heard of: Tyrone Parsons, Timmy Sims and Terell Prude.
With the emergence of the Beatles and the dominance of rock around the corner, both British and American jazz would be going through some major changes very soon. The Soho Scene (each set has a colorful booklet with interesting notes about the time period and lots of photos of album and 45 covers) lets one hear some of the rewarding and accessible jazz of 1961-63, when it was still possible for occasional jazz performances to make the pop charts.