by Scott Yanow
Billy Childs is often heard leading large ensembles, or featured as much as an arranger-composer as he is as a pianist. Recently at the Moss Theater in a concert sponsored by Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery, the focus was on his piano playing, reminding listeners how original and distinctive a voice he has long had on his instrument.
Before a large crowd on Mother’s Day for a concert held at the unusual time of 4 p.m., Childs led an impressive trio that also included bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Art Hoenig. The pianist performed a variety of harmonically sophisticated originals including “Just Another Day,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “A Fleeting Instinct” and “Backwards Bop” plus Bill Evans’ “Show Type Tune,” and a quietly somber version of “It Never Entered My Mind” (which was dedicated to Mulgrew Miller). Childs was in top form, exploring a variety of moods and tempos, and consistently playing inventive ideas.
While Alex Boneham offered close interplay, steady support and occasional solos, Art Hoenig’s colorful sounds, quick reactions to everything that the pianist played, and enthusiastic creativity sometimes stole the show. Still, it was Billy Childs’ improvisations, his tricky but logical arrangements and his musical personality that deserved the main credit for the music’s success. He should perform in this setting more often.
Drummer Willie Jones III. gained his initial fame in Los Angeles years ago as the drummer with Black Note, also working with Milt Jackson and Arturo Sandoval. After moving to New York in 1997, he toured regularly with the Roy Hargrove quintet for eight years, became nationally known, and has been in great demand ever since. In 2000 he started his own label, WJ3 Records, not only documenting his own music but other artists who he admires.
The drummer recently returned to Los Angeles, leading a quintet at the Moss Theater for one of the Jazz Bakery’s concerts. His group featured trumpeter Mike Olmos, tenor-saxophonist Ralph Moore, pianist Eric Reed and bassist Mike Guerrola.
The night began with a well-constructed drum solo (one that Max Roach would have appreciated) which led into a swinging bebop blues. While each of the players took excellent solos, Eric Reed’s lengthy and fascinating exploration of the blues was the highpoint. The rest of the set mostly consisted of originals from Jones’ My Point Is… CD (including “Early Morning”) along with a few standards. At one point, Reed played an unaccompanied version of “Like Someone In Love” before the music became a Jones original. Olmos, who was showcased on “Skylark,” displayed a tone and style that sometimes recalled Clifford Brown, Moore’s playing was consistently colorful, and Reed created one masterful solo after another. With Guerrola offering solid support and Jones taking many concise solos in addition to keeping the music swinging but unpredictable, this was a memorable night of modern straight ahead jazz.
THE LATEST MOSAIC BOX SET
The Mosaic label, famous for its definitive limited-edition box sets of classic jazz greats at the peak of their powers, had been quiet during the past year. Fortunately its silence has recently been broken with the release of the seven-CD Classic Brunswick & Columbia Teddy Wilson Sessions 1934-1942.
Wilson, the definitive and highly influential swing pianist, became famous in the 1930s for his work with the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet and for leading many sessions that featured Billie Holiday. Lady Day is absent from this reissue (her recordings are readily available elsewhere) which contains many other memorable gems. The Mosaic set can easily be divided into four different areas of Wilson’s recording career: his solo piano performances, the instrumental numbers that were cut at the Billie Holiday sessions, all-star sessions that often featured other singers, and his regularly working groups (the short-lived Teddy Wilson Orchestra of 1939-40 and his sextet of 1941-42).
Because Mosaic’s agreement with Sony was to put out a seven-CD set, missing are two versions of “I’ve Found A New Baby” (included on the label’s Count Basie/Lester Young box), a pair of sessions with tenor-saxophonist Chu Berry (out on Berry’s Mosaic set), dates in which Wilson’s groups were joined by singers Eddy Howard (which included a famous Charlie Christian solo on “Stardust”), Chick Bullock (his last and best recordings) and country singer Redd Evans (better than expected) plus Wilson’s piano solos for the Commodore label. This really should have been an 8-CD set! But with 169 recordings (many from the collector’s Meritt label) and 23 previously unreleased performances, listeners will not be complaining about the shortage of music.
The piano solos include a session from 1934 not released until the Lp era that finds Wilson displaying the influence of Earl Hines; Art Tatum would also touch Wilson’s otherwise-distinctive style in future years. The piano solos are enjoyable and frequently exciting overall but the 1941 session, which has eight straight versions of “China Boy” followed by ten of “I Surrender Dear,” should probably not all be heard in one setting. The all-star band sides feature such notables as trumpeters Harry James, Roy Eldridge, Chris Griffin, Frankie Newton, Jonah Jones, and Bobby Hackett (cornet), clarinetists Benny Goodman, Buster Bailey and Pee Wee Russell, altoists Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, tenor-saxophonists Ben Webster and Vido Musso, and Red Norvo (xylophone and vibes). The singers are Helen Ward (at her best), Ella Fitzgerald (on two songs), Midge Williams, Boots Castle, Frances Hunt and Nan Wynn. In many cases, the performances are quite stirring.
The Teddy Wilson Big band, which includes Ben Webster as a key soloist and has several vocals by Thelma Carpenter, lacked a personality of its own beyond the leader’s piano and was short-lived. His sextet (with Bill Coleman or Emmett Berry on trumpet, trombonist Bennie Morton, and Jimmy Hamilton or Edmond Hall on clarinet) is a lot fresher and sometimes quite hot.
This enjoyable limited-edition set is highly recommended and available from www.mosaicrecords.com.
The 40th annual Playboy Jazz Festival will be held June 9 & 10 at the Hollywood Bowl. The pair of concerts (8 hours on Saturday and 7 1/2 on Sunday), which are hosted by the genial and witty George Lopez, as always covers a wide variety of music, some of it outside of jazz. Saturday’s jazz sets will be performed by Lee Ritenour & Dave Grusin, Snarky Puppy, the Miles Davis Electric Band, The Edmar Castaneda Quartet with harmonica great Gregoire Maret, the Matthew Whitaker Trio, and the LA County High School for the Arts Jazz. High-quality blues will be offered by Roy Gaines but one has to wonder why soul singer Anthony Hamilton and the World Music groups of Dayme Arocena and Monsieur Perine are on the bill.
Sunday is certainly the stronger concert from the jazz standpoint. A tribute to the late Freddie Hubbard’s 80th birthday features trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Randy Brecker, Jeremy Pelt and David Weiss along with pianist Benny Green. Also featured are the Ramsey Lewis Quintet, Charles Lloyd & The Marvels (a group that includes Bill Frisell), the Count Basie Orchestra, Kneebody, and The LAUSD/Beyond the Bell All-City Jazz Big Band. More questionable but probably enjoyable on their own levels are Tower Of Power, r&b singer Jazmine Sullivan, Richard Bona (leading Mandekan Cubano), and the unclassifiable Parlor Social.
With 60% of the groups being jazz (65% if one counts Roy Gaines), this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival will be at its usual pace. It is not Monterey (which is essential for all jazz lovers) but it will be a great party as usual. Believe me, I know. I have been to every one!
As has been the case during the past few summers, most of the artists performing at the Hollywood Bowl’s Wednesday night jazz series have little if anything to do with jazz. Certainly Seal, Common, Melissa Etheridge, and Jose James would not consider their current music to be jazz, and it would be a stretch to place the music from the Pink Panther in that category. The best bets at the Hollywood Bowl for jazz fans are Gregory Porter (his Nat King Cole tribute) and tap dancer Savion Grover on Aug. 15, Harry Connick Jr. (for the three nights of Sept. 7-9), and a double bill of the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra on Thursday. Sept. 20).
Spanish jazz/flamenco pianist Chano Dominguez’s will be performing Flamenco Sketches at the Ford Theater on June 1, a tribute to Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain that is interpreted from a new angle. On June 8 at 8 pm., the Jazz Bakery presents guitarist Ron Eschete’s trio with organist Joe Bagg and drummer Kandall Kay at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Catalina Bar & Grill features two nights of the great Monty Alexander Trio (June 22-23). Vitello’s in Studio City hosts Nutty (June 9) and singer Kristina Koller (June 20) while the Vibrato Grill has Cat Conner and Gene Cipriano (June 13). The Karina Corradini Quintet with Rickey Woodard will be at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on June 2 at 8 p.m. The L.A. County Museum Of Art (LACMA), in their series of free Friday night concerts, features the Nick Mancini Collective (June 1), Phil Ranelin (June 8), the Bobby Bradford Mo’tet (June 15), the Jeff Littleton Quintet (June 22), and Melissa Morgan (June 29). The Descanso Gardens has a series of worthy Thursday night jazz concerts including Carol Welsman (June 7), Louis Cruz Beltran (June 14), Carey Frank (June 21) and Kevin Kanner with Danny Janklow (June 28). And be sure to check out the Blue Whale (www.bluewhalemusic.com) for some of the most adventurous jazz featured on a nightly basis in Los Angeles.
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