Jane Bunnett, a masterful flutist and soprano saxophonist, has led several notable Cuban jazz bands in her career. During the past seven years, she has headed the all-female group Maqueque. The version that LeRoy Downs and Just Jazz presented at the Mr. Musichead Gallery was comprised of singer Joanna Tendai Majoko, pianist Dánae Olano, electric bassist Tailin Marrero, drummer Yissy Garcia and percussionist Mary Paz. Their music was often extraordinary, was rarely less than stirring, and was a perfect outlet for the musicians’ talents.
Ms. Majoko has a beautiful and flexible voice that often was utilized in unisons with Bunnett but was heard taking emotional solos during some of the pieces performed later in the set. Dánae Olano is a brilliant pianist, one who much more will be heard from in the future. Bassist Taillin Marrero also proved to be an excellent background singer (as are several of the other women), drummer Garcia created inventive polyrhythms, and Mary Paz, mostly playing bata in colorful fashion and occasionally congas, was a major asset to the ensembles.
As for Jane Bunnett, her concise yet powerful solos inspired the younger women and she proved to be a genial and generous host who gave her musicians many opportunities to stretch out. Their music, which was often reminiscent of Cuban folk songs but given sophisticated chord structures and improvisations, was quite memorable and joyful. It made one want to hear much more.
Pianist Rob Mullins celebrated the release of his 40th album at La Puglia in Santa Monica. The attractive restaurant proved to be an excellent choice and Mullins attracted a large crowd. He was joined by bassist Paul Morin and drummer Marc Van Aken, both of whom contributed solid support and occasional solos.
While Rob Mullins can play a wide variety of music in different styles, during this night he mostly concentrated on straight ahead jazz. Starting with “Dig” (made famous by Miles Davis in the early 1950s), he and his trio were in top form on such numbers as “Whisper Not,” “Star Eyes” (which had a long and involved virtuosic introduction), “When I Fall In Love,” a cooking version of “Tangerine,” “Night And Day,” a passionate “Nature Boy,” a powerhouse exploration of “My Favorite Things,” and “Doxy.” Unexpectedly when Mullins performed “Tea For Two,” seven couples in the audience were inspired to start dancing and that continued during the closing “Besame Mucho.” I guess the music was just swinging too much.
It was an entertaining night of fine music. Hopefully La Puglia will be featuring a lot more jazz in the future, including some return appearances by Rob Mullins who always puts on a good show.
Tierney Sutton celebrated the release of her new CD Paris Sessions 2 during an engagement at Catalina Bar & Grill. She had a lot to celebrate, including her marriage to guitarist Serge Merlaud, and was clearly in a happy mood.
Just as on Paris Sessions 2, the singer’s voice was featured in an intimate trio with Merlaud and bassist Kevin Axt. Their long two-hour set included explorations of such songs as “Pure Imagination,” “Beautiful Love,” a rollicking “L-O-V-E,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” a swinging “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” and a few Jobim tunes. This setting was ideal for Tierney Sutton who creatively used space, dug into the lyrics, reshaped the melodies, and scatted whenever it fit the song. Merlaud (switching between electric and acoustic guitar) displayed mellow tones, created quiet but inventive solos, and clearly enjoyed harmonizing with the singer. Axt, alternating between acoustic and electric bass, sometimes sounded like a guitarist on the latter and was an equal partner during the group’s constant interplay with each other.
As a bonus, just as on the recording, flutist Hubert Laws was a guest. He played haunting unisons with Sutton on “Zingaro” and jammed a blues that turned into Annie Ross’ “Twisted.”
Throughout the night, Tierney Sutton was heard at her best. It made one look forward to more Paris Sessions in the future.
A very talented singer-pianist, Sarah McKenzie is originally from Melbourne, Australia. She studied at the Berklee College Of Music, began her performing career in Europe, and is now based in Southern California. Although she has led five albums so far, her recent engagement at the Vibrato Grill was her first club gig in Southern California.
Sarah McKenzie was joined by guitarist John Storie, bassist Jon Hamar, drummer Donald Edwards, and tenor-saxophonist Jacob Scesney (who occasionally played soprano and flute). Performing standards along with an occasional original, she displayed a warm and friendly voice along with some impressive playing on the piano. Starting with “I Wish You Love,” Ms McKenzie performed such numbers as “I Fall In Love With You,” “Quiet Nights” (a song that fit her voice perfectly), “Fly Me To The Moon,” “No More Blues,” “Granada,” Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (which was a good excuse to stretch out on the blues), a vocal-guitar duet on “Once I Loved,” a heated “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” (which had Scesney cutting loose a bit like James Carter), “When In Rome,” and “Just The Way You Look Tonight.”
While many of the songs were familiar, there were just enough twists and turns in the arrangements to consistently surprise listeners. Ms. McKenzie’s voice is attractive and her piano solos were inventive. Scesney’s enthusiastic playing (which contained some colorful entrances), Storey’s solid statements, and the strong support provided by Hamar and Edwards resulted in a memorable night of high quality jazz.
A TERRY GIBBS CELEBRATION
97-year old Terry Gibbs retired a couple of years ago but he is still very much on the scene, eager to reminisce about his 85-year career as one of jazz’s greatest vibraphonists. Ken Poston, who produces two major jazz convention/festivals a year with
the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, wisely chose to pay tribute to Gibbs in his four-day Swing Is Here event. Held at the Four Points Sheraton at LAX, the celebration included vintage films, the revival of arrangements for the Terry Gibbs Dream Band, a tribute to Gibbs’ quintet with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, a set of his originals (played by his son drummer Gerry Gibbs and his Thrasher Dream Trio), and music that he had recorded with Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers.
I was able to catch two sets. The great clarinetist Ken Peplowski led a group with vibraphonist Chuck Redd, guitarist Doug Macdonald, pianist Rick Eames, bassist Katie Thiroux, and drummer Paul Kreibich that featured songs that had been performed by Gibbs in the early 1950s when he was a member of what was called the New Benny Goodman Sextet. While there were hints of Goodman’s versions, the music was pretty much freewheeling swing. It was fun to hear Peplowski leading the group through such numbers as “Avalon,” “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea,” “These Foolish Things,” an uptempo “I Want To Be Happy,” “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” Redd’s feature on “Memories Of You,” and “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise.” The playing was on the level that one would expect from such masterful musicians.
The other set had trombonist Scott Whitfield heading a quintet that played tunes from the repertoire of the Terry Gibbs Sextet of the 1950s. Whitfield’s group featured vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake (whose gentle style was at times close to that of Red Norvo), pianist Jeff Colella, bassist Jennifer Leitham, and drummer Kendall Kay. The music was essentially West Coast jazz and included such songs as “Bernie’s Tune,” “Perdido,” and “Don’t Blame Me” (which featured Shoemake). Marina Pacowski, who is best known as a classical pianist, guested with the group and proved to be a very skilled jazz singer. The versatile performer displayed an excellent choice of notes while scatting on “I’m Old Fashioned” and was also featured on “Out Of Nowhere” and the closing “Now’s The Time.,” showing that she has the potential to have a career as a jazz vocalist.
Ken Poston plans to pay tribute to the other great West Coast jazz survivor, arranger Bill Holman, in his next jazz festival in October. More information can be found at www.lajazzinstitute.org.
The daughter of jazz singer Laura Joy, Josephine Beavers grew up around music and early on hoped to become a vocalist herself before life intervened and she raised a family. Years later, she returned to her original dream and in recent times has been performing the classic standards that she loves, making her long overdue recording debut on Prime Time.
Recently Ms. Beavers, joined by a septet with pianist Ed Vodicka as her musical director, performed at Catalina Bar & Grill. With such notables as vibraphonist Nick Mancini (who often took solo honors), guitarist John Chiodini, bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer Harold Jones, the singer was in excellent voice and happy spirits during her night. She has an attractive tone, holds long notes quite well, and swings while caressing the lyrics of the songs that she interprets.
Among the highlights were such numbers as “I’ve Got A Lot Of Living To Do,” “Where Or When,” “Change Partners,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “I’ll Be Around,” and
“The Folks Who Live On The Hill.” The night’s music made one happy that Josephine Beavers has returned to her first love and found success in her later years.
I have a new book that is available from amazon.com. Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist. It is subtitled My Jazz Memoirs and is my 12th book and first in a few years. I discuss in an often-humorous fashion my early days and discovery of jazz, my period as the jazz editor of Record Review, the story behind my involvement with the All Music Guide, and I reminisce about some of my adventures as an amateur musician. Included are vintage interviews with Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, and Maynard Ferguson, encounters with Clint Eastwood, summaries of the Monterey and Playboy Jazz Festivals (including a full-length review of the 1985 Playboy Festival), memories of other events (such as the IAJE Conventions), and brief snapshots of many memorable club and concert performances. There is also background information about my other books, evaluations of the jazz critics who inspired me early on, and my thoughts on jazz criticism which includes advice to up-and-coming jazz journalists. Rounding out the book is a chapter on how the jazz writing business has changed over the past 50 years, and appendixes that include the jazz greats of the past, 86 jazz giants of today, 21 young performers to look for in the future, jazz books and DVDs that everyone should own, and a dozen enjoyable Hollywood jazz films.
Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist, a paperback book, sells for $26 through Amazon. Signed copies (which will take 2-3 weeks) are also available for $30 (which includes free postage) by sending the money via Pay Pal to email@example.com and by sending your mailing address to that E-mail.