by Scott Yanow
RALPH PETERSON PAYS TRIBUTE TO ART BLAKEY
Drummer Ralph Peterson, himself a legend, paid tribute to the great Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers by leading the Messenger Legacy Sextet at the Moss Theater. Presented by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, the exciting night found Peterson heading a group that also featured trumpeter Brian Lynch, altoist Bobby Watson, tenor-saxophonist Bill Pierce, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Essiet Essiet. Peterson had a chance to play next to Blakey when the latter briefly led a big band in the early 1980s. Of the sidemen, only the talented young pianist was not a former member of the Jazz Messengers. Peterson announced that he included Curtis in the band because he wanted it to be a legacy group that would continue the Messengers legacy into the 21st century.
Beginning with “One By One” and continuing with songs from the Messengers’ repertoire, the band played such numbers as “3 Blind Mice,” “Caravan” and “Blues March” along with some lesser-known pieces. Lynch in particular was in spectacular form, taking fiery choruses and popping out high notes with ease. Pierce, who played solid solos throughout, was featured on a version of “My One And Only Love” that showed off his beautiful tone. Watson, who showed that he could play both inside and outside at the same time, preached the blues on “Blues March,” launching a performance that found the sextet sounding a bit like a Jazz At The Philharmonic jam session. Essiet’s occasional solos were outstanding while Curtis, who was featured on “That Old Feeling,” played with confidence and had no difficulty fitting in with the veterans.
As for Ralph Peterson, he emulated Art Blakey in spots, used his tuned drums to humorously play the melody of “My Little Suede Shoes,” and was consistently colorful and inventive.
The Messenger Legacy Sextet’s performance was one that no Art Blakey fan should have missed.
The jazz harmonica largely started with Toots Thielemans. While he was preceded by Larry Adler, a virtuoso who played a wide variety of music (including with symphony orchestras) and occasionally swing-oriented jazz, Thielemans could hold his own with the bebop greats. When one considers that the chromatic harmonica (as opposed to the more basic blues harp) requires one to breathe in for half of the notes and exhale for the other half, it takes a great deal of time in order to figure out ways to play rapid lines without running out of breath.
During his lifetime, Thielemans (who was also an excellent guitarist and whistler) had no competitors. Since his death, Gregoire Maret and Hendrik Meurkens are two of the few who have partially filled the gap. Pianist Kenny Werner, who frequently played with Thielemans (including at yearly visits to Catalina’s), chose Maret for a tribute to Toots that took place at the Moss Theater and was sponsored by the Jazz Bakery.
While Maret sometimes purposely sounded a bit like Thielemans, he showed in his interplay and tradeoffs with Werner that he has his own adventurous style. Werner, who occasionally used an electric keyboard to emulate strings or an orchestra, was simply brilliant on piano and clearly delighted to be matching wits and inventive ideas with Maret.
They performed such numbers as “Days Of Wine And Roses” (the famous Bill Evans version that is split between two keys), a slow and well-disguised “All Blues,” the jubilant “No More Blues,” a thoughtful orchestral version of “All The Way,” a particularly adventurous version of “Wave” (with polytonality worthy of Dave Brubeck),”I’ll Remember April,” “Autumn Leaves,” Thielemans’ one big hit “Bluesette” (which was greatly modernized), and “What A Wonderful World.”
No matter how advanced Kenny Werner’s playing was with his reharmonized chords, the melody of each song always fit. Maret, who performed many rapid lines that sounded quite impossible to play on the harmonica, not only held his own with Werner but constantly challenged the pianist.
The results were musical magic.
JAZZ IN PARIS FROM FREMAUX & ASSOCIATES
The 1950s may have ended nearly 60 years ago but previously unreleased jazz concert performances from the era are still being put out on a regular basis, especially from European labels. Fremaux & Associates (www.fremeaux.com) has a series of valuable CDs in their Live From Paris series.
In 1958 Harold Davison, a British concert promoter, recognizing the success of Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic, organized a European tour for an all-star group under the title Jazz From Carnegie Hall. While the venture only lasted for a few weeks, some of the concerts were recorded with music being released many years later on the Unique Jazz, Netherlands Jazz Archive and RLR labels.
Jazz From Carnegie Hall has all of the existing music from the October 1, 1958 concert, none of it previously released. While the CD lists seven major names, pianist Red Garland is barely heard from and altoist Lee Konitz only appears on “Star Eyes.” Tenor-saxophonist Zoot Sims (who is not listed) was part of the concert but unfortunately none of his performances survived.
The CD has three features for the brilliant pianist Phineas Newborn who performs with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke including “Daahoud.” Pettiford, one of jazz’s greatest bassists, is in the spotlight for his “Laverne Walk” and “Stardust.” The remaining five numbers feature trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding who co-led a popular quintet during this period. They are both heard at the top of their game, particularly on “This Can’t Be Love” and “It’s Alright With Me.”
Another CD, Stan Getz 1959, has the great tenor performing in excellent form mostly from Jan. 3, 1959 with the final three numbers being from another concert during that month. At the time, Getz was in the middle of a three-year period living in Europe, a time when he recharged his batteries, kicked a drug habit, and continued playing the standards that he enjoyed, always with his beautiful tone and his mastery of chordal improvisation. This CD is a little unusual in that Getz is featured with a quintet rather than a quartet, a group also featuring guitarist Jimmy Gourley, pianist Martial Solal, bassist Pierre Michelot, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Whether romping through “Cherokee” or caressing the melodies of “Tenderly” and “Over The Rainbow,” Getz shows why he was known as “The Sound.”
The Oscar Peterson Trio 1957-1962 is a three CD set that the pianist’s fans will want despite his huge discography. Peterson, guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown are featured on four numbers from 1957-58 and Peterson, Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen perform 29 songs from four concerts dating from 1960-62. Even though all of these standards were recorded on studio albums by Peterson, the live versions are quite enjoyable and creative within the style that the pianist had created. The music is well recorded (as is true of all of the Fremaux discs), Peterson is typically brilliant, and he shows once again that no one could outswing him.
While many of the musicians in Great Britain’s Trad jazz movement of the 1950s and ‘60s explored 1920s jazz, the ensemble-oriented New Orleans music of Bunk Johnson and George Lewis, swing, or novelties, trumpeter Alex Welsh mostly stuck to the frequently hard-charging Chicago Dixieland that he loved best. One could think of him as the British Eddie Condon, except that he was a colorful soloist himself. His band had very stable personnel from 1955 until the1980s with trombonist Roy Williams as a reliable sideman, and the rhythm section of guitarist Jim Douglas, pianist Fred Hunt, bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Lennie Hastings staying with the group for years. The biggest change was when clarinetist Archie Semple departed in 1963 and was succeeded by Al Gay and then John Barnes (a very good baritone-saxophonist).
In the mid-1960s, Alex Welsh’s group was frequently utilized by visiting American stars who were touring Europe, including trumpeters/cornetists Wild Bill Davison, Henry “Red” Allen, Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, trombonist Dickie Wells, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, tenor-saxophonists Ben Webster and Eddie Miller, and pianists Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson. The top British trad jazz record company, Lake, has scores of rewarding CDs of vintage performances by hot British players. One album apiece on the Lake label matches the Alex Welsh band with clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and tenor-saxophonist Bud Freeman.
Peanuts Hucko Vol. 1 dates from May 14 and 28, 1967. Hucko, a fluent swing player who often sounded close to Benny Goodman and was particularly superb at rapid tempos, is heard in peak form on a variety of standards. Hucko performs “After You’ve Gone” (which is particularly exciting), “Out Of Nowhere,” “A Bientot” and “Rose Room” with Welsh’s four-piece rhythm section. Five songs (“Beale St. Blues,” “Ida,” “Jive At Five,” “I Wished On The Moon” and a rousing “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”) have Hucko fitting in very well with the spirited band.
Bud Freeman/Alex Welsh matches the great tenor-saxophonist with the same version of Alex Welsh’s band but was performed a year earlier, at a concert from June 19, 1966. Freeman plays his usual repertoire (including an uptempo “I Got Rhythm,” a surprising ballad version of “Dinah,” “Sunday,” an intimate “Sweet Sue” and “Just One Of Those Things”) with enthusiasm and his own batch of personal ideas, inspiring the other players, especially baritonist Barnes. No one ever really played like Freeman, and he clearly enjoyed the Alex Welsh band. A rip-roaring nearly 13-minute version of “Royal Garden Blues” closes the memorable set.
Both Lake CDs and many more are available from www.fellside.com.
On Friday April 5, Disney Hall will be hosting sets by both the San Francisco Jazz Collective (performing originals and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim) and the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour. The latter is an all-star sextet that includes Cecile McLorin-Salvant, Bria Skolberg, Melissa Aldana and Christian Sands.
The California Jazz Foundation’s Annual Gala (818-261-0057) will be held on Sat. Apr. 6 at the L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown with awards given to Terry Gibbs, Patricia Rushen and the late Ndugu Chancler, and money raised for the very good cause of helping jazz musicians in need; Rushen and John Beasley’s Monk’estra will be among those performing.
The Jazz Bakery at the Moss Theater will be featuring drummer Peter Erskine presenting pianist Daniel Szabo’s Visionary (a major work with a 13-piece orchestra) on Sat. Apr. 13, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standards Trio (Sat. April 20), and Tierney Sutton with the Terry Trotter Trio (Sunday Apr. 28). Nutty will be at Vibrato (April 4) as will the Laura Dickinson 17 (April 6), Gary Meek (April 7), Dave Tull & Bill Cantos (April 10), George Kahn (April 12), and Jonathan Karrant (April 14). The Soraya Theater in Northridge presents the Christian McBride Big Band (Sat. Apr. 26) and the Vijay Iyer Sextet (Fri. and Sat. May 10-11).
The admirable Just Jazz Wednesday night concert series at the Mr. Musichead Gallery features Theo Croker (Apr. 3), the David Weiss Sextet (Apr. 10), Andy Milne and Unison (Apr. 17) and a celebration of James Newton (Apr. 24).
The 41st annual Playboy Jazz Festival (Sat.-Sun. June 8-9) at the Hollywood Bowl has a typically eclectic lineup. Saturday features Terence Blanchard and his E-Collective, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Benny Golson, a tribute to Ndugu Chancler with Patrice Rushen and Ernie Watts, Jazz In Pink, Terrace Martin, Sheila E., Angelique Kidjo and Kool & The Gang. Sunday has The Cookers (which includes Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson and George Cables), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Harold Lopez-Nussa Quartet, the Maceo Parker Big Band, Boz Scaggs, Donny McCaslin, The Family Stone, Sona Jobarteh and Mayquel Gonzalez.
Lots to see!
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