By Chris J. Walker
Rapper/socio-political activist Common, both a Grammy (Best R&B Song with Erykah Badu for “Love of My Life” in 2003) and Academy Award winner (Best Original Song “Glory” with John Legend for 2014 film Selma in 2015) for 30 years has established him as a force in hip-hop and music/culture in general. Nonetheless, when the organic MC with his own band and singers that included Elena Pinderhughes-flute/backup vocals was backed by composer/conductor/baritone saxophonist Geoff Gallegos (Double G) and his 50-piece Stardust Symphony at the Starlight Bowl—he seemingly amassed superpowers and unrelentingly rocked the house.
Esther Philips’ soulful and jazzy “That’s Alright With Me” was piped in to set the mood before Common eased into action with hard hitting and uplifting poetic rhymes such as “Imagine (not John Lennon’s version),” call to arms “The Corner” and “The People” featuring his band grooving and stretching out. In reaction to the police and their aggression towards people of color was Kanye West’s “Get Em High.” Following it was an instrument version of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” that segued into the very uplifting “Young Gifted And Black” and soul questing “Be” revealing his efforts to be a better father and person.
Continuing in that mode was “The Food.” It was about surviving and featured soul stirring backup singing and a jazzy guitar solo that revved up the audience. Coming from a totally different direction Common did his signature “Between The Sheets” groove and invited a lady from the audience to join him onstage. The crowd went crazy as a woman raced to the front to join him and be his partner for about five minutes as the suave MC coolly rapped about romance.
Returning to regular performing was despairing “Testify” that mashed with Prince’s hard-rocking and sexually decadent “Darling Niki” featuring Common’s guitarist and band wailing away. The rapper also honored hip-hop’s early innovators like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Missy Elliot and others.
Wrapping up the near-therapeutic concert was a segment featuring band solos, including the Music Director working out on turntables. Common even showed off his dance moves with Stevie Wonder up front digging everything. Putting his political cap on Common urged everyone to vote regularly, especially during the upcoming midterms and rendered his Oscar-winning song “Glory” featuring (Double G) and symphony, along with ballad “The Light” for an over-the-top standing ovation.
Prior to Common, Boston-based funk band Lettuce and soul-rocking So Cal singer Nikka Costa spotlighting her hit “Everybody Got Something” did grooving sets with temperatures in the 90s. In between those segments KCRW DJ Novena Carmel did short interludes and kept the audience engaged. For more info go to: www.thinkcommon.com, www.lettucefunk.com, www.musicglue.com/nikkacosta and www.starlightbowl.com.
Two years ago, John Fogerty was scheduled for My 50 Year Trip, a show chronicling his music career at the Hollywood Bowl. But like everyone else then he shelved those plans and did what most musicians were doing—work on songs and get closer to family and friends. The lockdown is somewhat over and the renowned singer/songwriter/guitarist made his triumphant return to live shows with several bands: his own that includes sons Shane and Tyler, their Hearty Har, and Fogerty’s Factory with the sons and daughter Kelsy.
That amounts to a lot of songs to keep track of, but 77-year-old Fogerty one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Songwriters (No. 40) and 100 Greatest Singers (No. 72) didn’t have any problems with that. Especially noteworthy is that more than half of the songs were recorded more that 50 years ago with his old band Credence Clearwater Revival that disbanded in 1972. But who’s counting, certainly not his legions of fans, including many who were around during that time.
Fogerty and Creedence’s signature swamp/Southern rock/blues flavored songs such as “Up Around the Bend,” “Green River,” “Born on the Bayou,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” got the house rocking. With so much material to cover there was no time for jamming and deviation. On the other hand, the crowd seemed more interested in hearing as many original songs as possible.
For variety, Fogerty born in Berkeley, CA injected country rocking ballad “Joy of My Life” dedicated to his wife of 31 years Julie. With his family band that included their dog Crede, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” was played with acoustic guitars and electric piano. Back with his full band Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was done with both electric piano and Fogerty’s legendary electric guitar playing soaring. For swamp rambling “Run Through the Jungle” he soloed mightily on harmonica and guitar to impress the audience. And with his sons’ band indie rocking “Radio Man ’56” was also played.
Rounding things out was the musician’s collection of guitars, including one shaped like a baseball bat being used for “Centerfield.” Also was his modified Rickenbacker 325 that he distraughtly gave away in 1972 and much later was recovered by his wife in 2016 as Christmas present (picture was shown when he got it). That guitar was used when he wrote ballad “Who’ll Stop the Rain” associated with Vietnam, but actually in response to Woodstock (with footage shown).
Other songs from the era closing out the fun and memorable concert were political anti-war protest oriented “Fortunate Son,” “Proud Mary” probably his most popular song and “Bad Moon Rising,” which drew an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Opening the show for a quick authentic blues 20-minute set by Mississippi hill country blues man Cedric Burnside, grandson of blues legend R. L. Burnside and 2022 GRAMMY Winner For Best Traditional Blues Album for I Be Trying. Hopefully, Burnside will return soon to So Cal for a full show. For more info go to: johnfogerty.com, www.cedricburnside.net/home-1 and www.hollywoodbowl.com
French singer Marina Pacowski, additionally a classically trained concert pianist, soloist, chamber musician, educator and actress, performed recently at the Philosophical Research Society. The “under the stars” concert, featuring accompaniment by stellar guitarist Larry Koonse and was part of the venue’s Spirit and Music Concert Series. Pacowski has curated and hosted it for the last two seasons. Besides organizing the PRS events, she has a wealth of concert experiences including dates and recitals throughout Europe and in New York.
During Pacowski’s Los Angeles tenure she has worked with high caliber musicians, such as saxophonist Rickey Woodard, trumpeter/educator Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, pianists Josh Nelson and Bevan Manson, drummer Steve Haas, guitarist Will Brahm, and living jazz legends, drummer Roy McCurdy and bassist Tony Dumas. Some the clubs the singer has showcased her “jazz chops” are Catalina, Jazz Bakery and the Lighthouse.
Most importantly, the French singer who comes from a talented musical family involved in jazz and classical (father plays reeds, brother is a guitarist and mother loves American musicals) is an astonishing improviser and scat singer. She took the audience on an extensive journey through American Songbook standards, bossa, bebop and mainstream, with Koonse, whom she only met briefly before the concert.
They began with lightly textured/mid-tempo “Taking a Chance on Love” and quickly transitioned to ballad “Stars Fell on Alabama.” They were both adorned by Pacowski’s chirruping falsetto and Koonse’s adroit strumming. Similarly structured ballad “East of The Sun” vividly spotlighted Pacowski’s enchanting singing and easy flowing scatting.
In the realm of bossa was peppy “No More Blues” and slow tempo “Moon And Sand.” They provided a pleasant change of pace for the artists and audience, along with Koonse’s spry and swinging solo rendition of “You Must Believe in Spring.” While, Freddy Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” done as a waltz, was bridge between bossa and mainstream featuring savory guitar playing and evocative singing/scatting.
Bebop was not overlooked and came through the enduring “Yardbird Suite.” Featuring energetic scatting from Pacowski and Koonse’s riveting playing, it proved to be the most dynamic song of the concert. Wrapping up the enjoyable concert were midtempo standards “It Could happen to You” and “I Remember You,” which drew strong applause. Midway through the concert poet Mandy Kahn recited her poem “All You Have to do” for reassurance in these times of great change. For more info go to: [http://Marinapacowski.com,%20mandykahn.com%20]Marinapacowski.com, mandykahn.com and www.prs.org.
Concerts In The Dome at the Mount Wilson Observatory are back and the most recent installment was Jazz & More carte blanche, consisting of Cory Pesaturo-accordion, Leah Zeger-violin/vocals and Jorge Villanueva-percussion. At the mile high location, used mostly for broadcast transmissions and space astronomy, the trio embarked on a fast-paced soiree adorned with a lively assortment of jazz and classical standards, along with world music selections.
“A Night in Tunisia” was the opening piece showcasing each of the band members abilities and their interactions with each other to draw a strong crowd response. Zeger who comes from a family of classical string musicians joyfully sang and soloed for “It Might as Well Be Spring.” The trio supported her with Pesaturo injecting electric piano and organ sounds from his digital accordion. He later solely played “Caravan” Manhattan Transfer-style and utilized vocal chorus sounds from his instrument to further astonish the crowd.
The violinist additionally showcased her opera vocal craft with a Puccini selection. Zeger showed even more range with Michael Jackson/Stevie Wonder’s pop tune “I Can’t Help It” that also featured her vocals and violin playing, along with Villanueva soloing on cajon. She and the accordionist returned to jazz, doing ballad “Darn That Dream” that was tastefully garnered with enchanting singing and playing.
Equally exquisite was “Spain” introed by classical violin and gracefully sung, with jaunting accordion/keyboard, violin and cajon solos. The trio concluded their show with Brazilian bossa classic “Mas Que Nada” and received an enthusiastic standing ovation. For more info go to: www.mtwilson.edu/concerts/ and www.quattrosound.com.
Ben Williams, a standout bassist, composer and now also a singer did a special Jazz Bakery concert at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Williams the 2009 Winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, has an open and grounded approach that has led to a variety of musical opportunities. Among them are being a member of Stefon Harris’ Blackout group and Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, along with performing/recording with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Carmen Lundy, Mulgrew Miller, Terence Blanchard and Robert Glasper.
For his own music, including recent album I am a Man (theme of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike) the bassist is strongly influenced by his generation of players, such as Glasper, a major proponent of infusing hip-hop, modern soul and jazz. Also, of the same niche were drummer Jonathon Pinson, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and guest alto saxophonist Terrace Martin. Williams’ co-conspirator vocalist Syndee Winters’ path is aligned in a different way, as a hip-hop singer/songwriter and Broadway actress in The Lion King and Hamilton, along with releasing jazz vocal album Lessons From a Lady an homage to Lena Horne.
Lundy introed the band before they got down to business with Williams bowing and singing the title composition, which included a willowy and funk under-toned backdrop, featuring guitar wailing away. “If You Hear Me” had an ethereal keyboard intro that led to a breezy groove similar to Marvin Gaye’s heralded work in the early ‘70s featuring the bandleader and Winters singing, with solos from keyboards and bass. Afterwards, the ensemble segued briefly into a jazz fused version of Gaye’s iconic anthem “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” featuring Renfroe and band jamming away to draw strong crowd reactions.
Martin who shares the same birthday with Williams (Dec 28) joined the band for “Promised Land,” taken from Martin Luther King’s last speech before being assassinated in Memphis while supporting the striking sanitation workers. Interestingly, it had a looped techno keyboard backdrop for the bassist’s soulful singing and the saxophonist’s raw and inventive solo that led to vocal choruses and shoutouts to the audience. “High Road” returned to a melding of jazz and cosmic funk boosted by William’s singing/spoken word and Martin’s saxophone textures.
As would be expected, the bandleader played solely for a selection and exhibited amazing bass prowess to impress the audience. With full band, unexpected guest tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington came onstage to intermesh blaze away before MC Jade came out to lay down some hard-hitting rhymes. Afterwards Pinson turned in a thunderous solo intro for an energetic bebop-oriented number featuring Washington mostly initially, before the other players such as Martin, Renfroe and Coleman also soloed intensely to conclude the unique outing that totally captivated the audience.
Kudos to Jazz Bakery President/Artistic Director Ruth Price, she’s back and announced some of her upcoming shows:
The Cookers 9-23 at the Nat Holden Theatre
Kurt Rosenwinkle 10-08 (location tbd)
Carmen Lundy (location and date tbd)
One of Peggy Lee’s most popular songs “Is That All There is?”was definitely not the case for the Hollywood Bowl’s Tribute to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. The concert, coinciding with Lee born May 26, 1920 centennial birthday celebration was originally scheduled for summer 2020. Sinatra and Lee’s careers were parallel for many years, they often worked together and were friends. Getting back on track in 2022 the concert was lavished with an unbelievable array of artists.
Foremost, the event was truly jazz oriented, anchored by the legendary Count Basie Orchestra conducted by trumpeter Scotty Barnhart, with bassist Christian McBride serving as the Music Director and also conducting with John Beasley on piano. After a video of Lee and Sinatra singing “Our Love is Here to Stay” was shown CBO began the Sinatra portion of the concert with hard swinging “Jealous Lover” and later soared with “South of The Border,” wrought with the orchestra’s signature sound.
Carmen Bradford joined the band and was introduced as the last vocalist Basie hired prior to his death in 1984. She donned a dazzling sparkling red dress and raised even more eyebrows when she intimated that she was the only singer there who had dinner with Sinatra in his dressing room. Afterwards she sang a serene PG-13 version of “The Shadow of Your Smile.”
Dianne Reeves, who McBride dubbed as “The Preeminent Jazz Vocalist in The World” sumptuously sang “Stella by Starlight,” and “Sept. in The Rain” as an exquisite duet with McBride. She coolly garnished the tune with improvised lyrics and later in the segment shined on “One for My Baby” to excite the audience.
The only singer who truly extolled Sinatra’s vibe was Seth MacFarlane; he suavely rendered “I Thought About You” and “In The Wee Small Hours” with extraordinary band accompaniment.
For contrast, Gretchen Parlato, served up “Desafinado” and “Quiet Nights” in reference to the 1967 album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim.
Alternately, Brian Stokes Mitchell represented the exciting aspects of Sinatra through high flying “Luck Be a Lady,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and easy flowing “Nice Work if You Can Get It” as a duet with Reeves.
The half of the concert representing Lee featured only women singing. Included were acknowledgements to her and Sinatra’s families, along with a video detailing her background and artistry. CBO performed lightly percolating “I Don’t Know Enough About You” and afterwards Bradford returned singing upbeat “It’s a Good Day.”
The singer who really got everyone’s attention and nearly stole the show was Betty LaVette. She sultrily strolled on stage and took command with highly evocative interpretations of “Black Coffee” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” With light band accompaniment was “He’s a Tramp” and “The Man I Love” with full band and strings got the audience buzzing.
Doing her own buzzing was Blondie’s Debbie Harry who sung Lee classics “Why Don’t You Do Right” with the band roaring and softer serenading “I Get Ideas” featuring her sweet quirky singing. Her voice was perfect for the gentle string laden ballad “Let’s Love,” written specifically for Lee by none other than Paul McCartney.
The star of the concert was seven-time Grammy, Academy Award Winner and two-time Guinness World Record Holder pop sensation Billie Eilish. She was strongly influenced and impacted by Lee mostly and also Sinatra’s songs, and consequently attracted the younger concert attendees. Eilish nonchalantly came on stage and was relaxed until McBride played the infamous bass line for “Fever.”
Then she was a total pro and purred as the Bowl lit up with cell phones recording her with only bass and drums. The show could have easily ended there and the audience probably would have been satisfied. Nonetheless, the mega star followed the show rundown and invited Harry for a mother/daughter-like performance of the very stoic, string laced and circus band sounding “Is That All There is?” Without a doubt people will be talking about this concert for a long time. For more info go to: www.hollywoodbowl.com
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