by Scott Yanow
For the past six months, the Mr. Musichead Gallery on Sunset has hosted a Wednesday night jazz series organized by Leroy Downs. The art gallery, which has priceless photographs of musical luminaries, is an ideal venue for adventurous jazz.
Bennie Maupin, an active jazz musician for over 50 years, is perhaps best known as the bass clarinetist on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and for his work with Herbie Hancock (both in Hancock’s sextet and the Headhunters) and Lee Morgan. During this night he was featured on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet while joined by trumpeter Christopher Williams, pianist/keyboardist David Arnay, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Kenny Sara and percussionist Eric McCain. The music often sounded very much like the mid-1970s with Oles tirelessly playing rhythmic patterns, Arnay switching between piano and the Fender Rhodes, Sara and McCain working closely together to set grooves, Williams taking fiery trumpet solos, and Maupin coming up with creative ideas over the rhythms. While I wish he had played more bass clarinet (he used the instrument to set moods on a few numbers), Maupin’s tenor and soprano playing were full of passion even when he was outlining the melody. The dialogue between the two horns was always exciting and many moods were explored.
In addition to the originals, Maupin was featured on tenor during a tasteful version of “Sophisticated Lady” and the group jammed on Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and the closing “Chameleon.” Fans of adventurous jazz are well advised to check out the Mr. Musichead Gallery (www.mrmusichead.com, 323-876-0042) and support this important Wednesday night series.
Pat Metheny, one of the most significant jazz guitarists of the past 40 years, is apparently ageless. Although he was born 64 years ago, at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the guitarist played for over 2 ½ hours and never looked tired nor ran out of ideas or enthusiasm. Metheny began the night with a ballad on his unique Picasso guitar which has three necks and many strings that when strummed sounds like a harp. He then segued to another piece while his musicians (pianist Gwilym Simcock, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Antonio Sanchez) joined him.
Metheny was well featured on every number during the marathon set, never leaving the stage and at times showing the influence of George Benson and Wes Montgomery while always sounding like himself. Simcock and the colorful Sanchez were mostly in supportive roles although the drummer had a few explosive solos along the way. Bassist Oh often competed with Metheny for honors. Her large tone, thoughtful yet quietly passionate improvisations (a little reminiscent of Charlie Haden), and inventive accompaniment of the guitarist held one’s interest throughout.
Metheny performed a variety of old and new songs including such favorites as “Bright Size Life,” “Unity Village,” “Third World,” “Always And Forever,” “Tell Her You Saw Me,” “Change Of Heart,” “Question And Answer,” and “Song For Bilbao.” While there were times when I wish Metheny would just let Oh swing on the beat and that they would play a bop standard, the playing was at such a consistently high level that it did not matter much. Ranging from folkish songs that conjured up the Midwest to ballads, funkier moments, and blazing romps, this was an outstanding performance by the quartet and most of all the brilliant guitarist. Even after 150 minutes of music, the audience gave such big ovations that they band had to play two encores. Pat Metheny looked like he could have performed for at least another two hours.
The latest semi-annual jazz festival put on by Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute differed from all of the previous ones in that the focus was on singers. A variety of vocalists from today performed music and arrangements that primarily dated from the 1950s. Featured along the way during the four-day celebration were such singers as Bonnie Bowden, John Proulx, Pinky Winters, Michael Dees, Kurt Reichenbach, Ginger Berglund, Tierney Sutton, Pat Tuzzolino, Mark Winkler, Calabria Foti, and the Four Freshmen.
I attended a few sets on Saturday, catching five other singers. Stephanie Nakasian, who was a hit at one of the early L.A. Jazz Institute Stan Kenton festivals paying tribute to June Christy, returned and showed that she is still very much in prime form. Ms. Nakasian has a warm voice, is a superior scat-singer, embraces ballads, and always swings. One of her more unique skills is her ability to sound like many earlier jazz singers. During her performance called “June’s Got Rhythm,” she came very close to sounding like June Christy at times both in her tone and her choice of notes. She was joined by a fine octet that found tenor-saxophonist Doug Webb emulating the cool sound of Christy’s husband Bob Cooper. Among the highlights were versions of “I’m Glad There Is You,” “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “My One And Only Love,” “When Lights Are Low” and “Easy Living.” Stephanie Nakasian deserves to be much better known.
One set, called Jazz For Cool Ones, was split between Diana Hubka and Denise Donatelli. Ms. Hubka sang songs from an early Carmen McRae album while mostly accompanied by a rhythm section. Best were “I’m An Errand Girl For Rhythm” (which had spots for vibraphonist Lolly Allen and Doug Webb), “The Music That Makes Me Dance” and “What’s New.” Denise Donatelli had the benefit of singing with a saxophone section playing Russ Garcia’s creative arrangements including “When Lights Are Low,” “The Meaning Of The Blues” and “Don’t Explain.” Later on, James Torme paid tribute to his father Mel Torme’s album I Dig The Duke, I Dig The Count which featured Ellington and Basie-associated songs arranged by Johnny Mandel for an 18-piece band. Torme did his best and was cheerful on such numbers as “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Just A Sittin’ And A Rockin’,” “Oh What A Night For Love,” and “Sent For You Yesterday.”
The night concluded with a two-part look at the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks. After an instrumental medley for a big band directed by Michael Berkowitz, Stephanie Nakasian and her talented daughter Veronica Swift (who the day before had performed a highly-rated Anita O’Day set) sang an exuberant “Strike Up The Band” together. Ms. Nakasian sounded close to Ella during her solo numbers which included “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” Mother and daughter traded off during an exciting version of “Lady Be Good” before Veronica Swift dug into “Get Happy,” “Embraceable You” and “Flying Home,” scatting on the latter a bit like Ella. Her mother scatted five inventive choruses of her own on “Blue Skies,” Veronica sang “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and they both concluded their portion of the program with “From This Moment On.”
Barbara Morrison ended the night with her own versions of Ella songs including “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” a Duke Ellington medley, a touching version of “My One And Only Love” and a medley of “Mack The Knife” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” While it is a pity that the three singers did not perform together, the 90-minute Ella Fitzgerald tribute was quite memorable.
For the past couple of decades, Roseanna Vitro has been one of jazz’s most satisfying and creative jazz singers, one who is consistently full of surprises. Recently she explored her roots in Southern blues and gospel on her Tell Me The Truth CD which also included a couple of political songs.
At the Blue Whale, Vitro performed many of the songs from the album with the assistance of pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Mike Gurrola, drummer Kevin Kanner, tenor-saxophonist Christopher Lewis and trumpeter Mike Cottone (who played some spectacular high notes). The performances were mostly pretty spontaneous with the singer directing traffic. Highlights included Allan Toussaint’s “On The Way Down,” the bluesy “Walking After Midnight,” “Yesterdays,” and “Dindi”. Singers Paulette McWilliams (who almost stole the show with her exuberance) and Denise Donatelli joined Roseanna quite effectively on “A Healing Song,” “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Throughout the night, Roseanna Vitro, while sounding quite comfortable on the soulful material, turned everything into creative jazz through her improvising, bent notes, and infectious spirit.
Arranger-composer and bassist Igor Kogan, who has lived in Russia, Israel and New York, has been part of the L.A. music scene since 2014, writing for the studios and leading his 17-piece jazz orchestra. The big band, filled with talented young players, recently performed at Vitello’s.
Kogan’s arrangements are forward looking and individual while also being accessible and mixing together aspects of jazz and classical music. The night began with the uptempo minor-toned blues “Catchy Up Your Flight” which included drum breaks by Satoshi Kirisawa, some shouting ensembles, and personable solos from trombonist Phillip Menchaca and pianist Marco Apicella. Emergency Call” had the band swinging but in 11/4 time and was followed by the atmospheric ballad “Delayed Departure” (which featured Juliane Gralle on tuba) and the involved piece “In-Between” which set a haunting mood. On “Air Pocket” as on the other originals, Kogan’s modern and inventive arrangements perfectly set up the solos; altoist Jeremy Lappitt, trombonist Evan Mackey and baritonist Caesar Martinez all made strong statements.
Of the other performances, “Ballad For Trombone,” a showcase for Ido Meshulam, featured one of Kogan’s most memorable melodies and was followed by the dramatic “December In The Morning,” Chucho Valdes’ “Claudia” (the only number not composed by Kogan), and the rousing “Revival.” The well-rehearsed band was consistently impressive during the set, paying close attention to dynamics and mood variations. It made for a fun evening.
BETTY BRYANT TURNS 89
Pianist-singer Betty Bryant celebrated both her 89th birthday and the release of her new CD 88 (recorded a year ago) during a Sunday brunch at Catalina Bar & Grill. Joined by bassist Richard Simon, drummer Kenny Elliott, trumpeter Tony Guerrero and Robert Kyle on tenor, soprano and flute, she was heard very much at the peak of her powers during a delightful set.
Starting with a medium-tempo blues, Ms. Bryant performed such numbers as “Exactly Like You” (on which she had the audience singing the title throughout the song), “St. Louis Blues,” “Corcovado,” “He May Be Your Man,” “’S Wonderful,” an instrumental version of “”Some Other Time,” ”Just Me, Just You” and her humorous “I Can’t Walk Like Tina Turner In My High-Heeled Shoes.” Kyle’s warm tenor was an asset on many numbers as was Guerrero’s often-muted trumpet. Simon drove the ensembles and took witty solos while Elliott made every one of his colorful sounds count. Mark Miller made a fine guest appearance singing an uptempo “This Can’t Be Love” and “Don’t Blame Me.” The 100-minute set (which should have been filmed) ended with “It’s Hard To Say Goodbye.” One came away from Catalina’s realizing why Robert Kyle named Betty Bryant “Cool Miss B.”
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