By Chris J. Walker
Mavis Staples’ soul grabbing contralto rivaled Aretha Franklin The Queen of Soul’s singing, but never threaten her. Staples, like Franklin grew up around nonsecular music, and in 1948 became a member of the Staples Singers. It included her legendary guitarist/singer father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and siblings Cleotha and Pervis with Yvonne replacing Pervis about 25 years later. After meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 their music became more secular and social/racial justice and protest oriented, which gave them wider appeal.
Mavis started sporadically doing solo projects in the late ‘60s and was fully on her own by 2000, coinciding with her father’s death the same year. Amazingly, even without religion being fundamental in her music, the Grammy-Winning, Rock And Roll Hall of Famer and Gospel Hall of Famer has stayed connected to her gospel roots, making her the “Conscience of R&B and Rock And Rock.”
At Segerstrom Hall 83-old Staples, with Rick Holmstrom’s riveting guitar leading the band and backing singers, started her nonstop “services” with call to arms “Brother And Sisters.” Questioning and soulful “Who Told You That” slowed things down momentarily before the Funkadelic’s earthy and funky “Can You Get to That” perked the mood back up and also spotlighted the headliner’s supporting singers.
She was in pastor-mode with an irrepressible rhythmic guitar backdrop for “No Time for Crying.” Staples revved up the audience by stating she was tired of seeing people sleeping on sidewalks, and politicians and the Supreme Court telling women what to do with their bodies. “We got work to do,” Staples declared and while on a roll segued into “Things Got to Change (Around Here).” In the same fashion with snarling and grooving guitar and the bandleader scatting was gospel gem “He’s Alright” and Stephen Stills’ ground breaking protest song “For What It’s Worth.”
From an easy flowing standpoint, the preaching singer continued with chorus-driven “Are You Sure,” poetic ballad “Far Celestial Shore” that moved the audience, and Curtis Mayfield’s soul dripping and sexy “Let’s Do It Again” featuring the influential singer chanting and scatting away to the audience’s delight. The Staple Singers’ signature hit “I’ll Take You There” went to even further heights with everyone clapping and singing the chorus. Also included before a standing ovation was Staples doing a roll call for all of her OC relatives.
Nashville-based emerging singer/keyboardist Kandace Springs and her all-women group opened the show with melodiously sung “Why You Got to be Like That,” engaging bossa “How Insensitive” and in memory of her father who passed away a year ago “Thought It Would Be Easier.” For a bonus with even more tenderness was a Roberta Flack section with soothing ballads “Killing Me Softly” and “The First Time I Ever Saw You Face.”
Furthermore, Spring’s classical chops were spotlighted for Ivan Lins’ “The Island” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” mashed with Screaming J. Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You.” For more info go to: mavisstaples.com, www.kandacesprings.com and www.scfta.org.
Stevie Wonder’s 24th House of Toys Benefit at The Microsoft Theatre is always one of the highlights of the Holiday Season. Its super talented, humorous and near gravity-defying host rolled out his hits with a sprinkling of lesser-known songs during a nearly three-hour long concert. For 2022, his special benefit and toy drive concert was significantly more jazz oriented than previous years.
In that regard, leaping out of the gate was The John Paul McGee Trio. It featured multi-faceted pianist McGee. He amazingly is also a preacher, producer, author and Assistant Chair of the Piano Department at the Berklee College of Music. With bassist Joel Powell and drummer Tyson Jackson he played riveting gospel/jazz originals and Christmas songs, boosted by vocalist Amber Bullock. Especially notable was their high-flying version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that drew high praise from Wonder.
He then called for a soul-clap intro for Gregory Porter. Who with his soothing baritone did his song of salvation “Take Me to Alley” and gospel/jazz drenched “Revival,” boosted by a soulful chorus from the backup singers. Visually-impaired Wonder was so impressed that he called for Porter to return for an out of this world call and response reprise with him that included the audience enthusiastically clapping and singing along.
Trombone Shorty who the benefit host said he had met when he was only nine years old, joined him and mightily played “Sir Duke” the homage to Duke Ellington, New Orleans style. It had the audience up and dancing with an extended interlude featuring the trombonist and Wonder soaring on chromatic harmonica to blow the audience away. Wonder even repeatedly chanted with the crowd “Trombone Shorty,” along with verses from the 1960’s New Orleans R&B hit “You Talk Too Much.” All the while, the super trombonist played ferociously to garner the first standing ovation of the concert.
Wonder assembled other special guests who were not jazz oriented as well. Among them was Tina Campbell of the Mary Mary gospel/pop duo and husband Teddy from the same ilk. They soulfully and joyfully sang “Christmas is Going to be at Our House This Year.” Jody Watley brought her special brand of pop, R&B, dance and electronic soul with “Real Love” and “Christmas Time is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas TV show.
Roughly about an hour into the concert, Wonder began transitioning into full performance mode with a supporting entourage of musicians and singers led by Musical Director, Rickey Minor. The host began with sweet sounding “One Little Christmas Tree (Standing Alone),” “What Christmas Means to Me” and slightly stripped down “My Cherie Amour” boosted by the audience mostly singing the chorus. “Send One Your Love” and “I Wish” had full band accompaniment and were very uplifting.
Wonder notably celebrated the 50th anniversary of Talking Book, released in 1972 and his first creatively independent album. It completely freed him from the Motown hit making machine and enabled him to have complete control of his music. Immortal love song “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” was the first from the landmark recording, with brass and backup singers strongly accenting Wonder’s stellar singing. “Blame It on The Sun” co-written with Syreeta Wright followed and “You and I” was stripped down with just keyboards and drums.
After a long period of talking and joking, Wonder featured his young adorable daughters Zaiah and Nyah singing “The Christmas Song,” with him joining in later. Afterwards the benevolent singer jumped into spirited “Do I Do.” It evolved into an extended percussion jam that had the crowd partying and other band members also soloing. For a respite, singer/actress Kimberly Brewer joined Wonder who also played harmonica for the sugary duet “I Love You More.”
Although the amazing singer/songwriter could have easily played until dawn, he started winding down by letting the audience do the intro chorus for “My Love Don’t Stop” before revving it up. Also, he allowed the crowd to choose super ballad “Overjoyed,” which naturally enraptured them. In “hurry up” mode Wonder did snippets of ballad “Ribbon in the Sky,” love song “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” ground-breaking socio-political “Living For The City” with crowd singing along and rollicking “Higher Ground.”
Interestingly, super funk hit “Superstition” also from Talking Book was saved for the end of the concert and highlighted by Wonder and band jamming away. Afterwards, he expressed his gratitude and love to the crowd before finishing with jazzy “Another Star.” For more info go to: www.steviewonder.net/ and www.microsofttheater.com
It was somewhat of rare situation for two ensembles the ilk of Julian Lage’s Trio and The Bad Plus to be on the same lineup at Disney Hall. Coincidentally, they were also one the same stage and in the same order at this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival and will also play at NYC’s Webster Hall in December. Both groups are fusion oriented to a certain degree, with the Bad Plus having more of an edge in that regard.
They opened the double-bill and showcased selections from their newly released eponymous project. The title is a little confusing since it was the same as when the group debuted as a trio with pianist Ethan Iverson in 2001. He departed at the end of 2017, to be replaced by Orrin Evans who then left in early 2021. Afterwards, for lack of a better name, Bad Plus totally regrouped with new members, guitarist Ben Monder and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, along with original players bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King for a vastly different identity.
Without piano Bad Plus is much more boundless and easily migrates between jazz, fusion and classical with rock edginess/sensibilities. That was evident with newly recorded “In The Bright Future” and “Stygian Pools” that were somberly themed and mildly caressing, despite offsetting drumming.
Alternatively, older piece “Anthem For The Earnest” was a fast-driven burner with saxophone playing the piano part, while guitar soloed ambiently to amaze the audience. “Motivations II,” “Not Even Close to Far Off” and “Sun Wall” were clearly in the jazz realm with driven saxophone recalling icon Ornette Coleman’s haunting tones, and Dewey Redman to a muscular rocking beat. Finishing the uniquely engaging set was “The Dandy” featuring Monder on clarinet coolly coalescing with the other musicians.
Lage with bassist Jorge Roeder and King on drums again was much more heartfelt, accessible and seemingly sang through his guitar for an electrifying melding of Americana, jazz, blues and rock that enthralled the audience. Roy Orbison’s country flavored “Crying” began the set and open road rocking “St. Rose” was dedicated to where he grew up, Santa Rosa, CA followed.
Shifting to jazz was “Boo’s Blues” the showcased the bandleader’s feathery fret skills and his bassist’s nimble fingering. For a total change, the trio shifted to murky Twin Peaks-like ballad “Echo,” along with Chet Atkin’s country picking “Auditorium” both from their latest album View With a Room. Drummer King did the intro and was featured for upbeat Metheny-like flavored groove “Chavez.”
Returning to Americana was jagged ballad “Tributary.” And rounding things out was lyrical “Fairbanks,” explosive raga tinged “Let Every Room Sing” that received a standing ovation and country dandy “Temple Steps” as the encore. For more info go to: www.julianlage.com, www.thebadplus.com
Iconoclast guitarist/singer/composer/arranger/producer/entrepreneur Frank Zappa tragically died at the age of 52 almost 30 years ago. However, his unconventional music and nonconformist persona strongly live on. That was evidenced with The Zappa Band featuring alumni of icon’s touring and recording bands taking siege at the near capacity Baked Potato for three nights.
The majority of the players, Robert Martin-vocals/keyboards/sax, Scott Thunes-bass/vocals and Mike Keneally-guitar/keyboards/vocals supported Zappa during the last decade of his life starting in 1981 for the double album You Are What You Is. Ray White-vocals/guitar joined the band five years earlier, while Jaime Kime-guitar played in Zappa Plays Zappa organized by Zappa’s oldest son Dweezil in 2006 and Joe Travers-drums/vocals was amember of Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa’s Band Z formed in 1993, and also is the Vaultmeister for the Zappa Family Trust.
After a bit of fanfare and joking around the group got down to business with a medley of “live wire” multi genre songs from the highlighted record starting with “Society Pages” and finishing with “Beauty Knows No Pain.” The clowning continued and almost became as intense as the music, before the band settled into zany blues/hard-rocking “Bamboozled By Love.” It was heighted by White’s gut-bucket blues singing, Kenneally whirling keyboard playing, Kime’s blistering guitar solo and the bands flailing jamming to blow the audience away.
Amidst the fun reminiscing, the players managed to inject Zappa unorthodox classics “I’m The Slime (Oozing Out From Your TV),” instrumental “Peaches in Regalia” and “Evelyn, a Modified Dog.” As a bonus unreleased and only recorded live jams, “Twinkle Tits” from Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA March 7, 1970 and super quirky “Cheepnis” from Live At The Roxy, Hollywood/1973 were featured. Unquestionably, the obscure songs thoroughly delighted all the devoted and devout Zappa fans. For more info go to: Facebook and www.thebakedpotato.com.
In 2016, then Presidential Candidate Donald Trump made negative and racist campaign claims of Mexican immigrants being “bad hombres” who were rapists, robbers and drug lords. In reaction to that, par excellent drummer Antonio Sanchez, born and raised in Mexico City, and a former member of the multi-Grammy-Winning Pat Metheny Band, recorded Bad Hombre in 2017. A year later the project was awarded a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Instrumental category.
Fast forward five years later, and Sanchez recorded the sequel, Shift (Bad Hombre Volume 2) with a diverse collection of raw singing/poetry/spoken word from guest artists that were shaped into songs. Among them were Trent Reznor, Pat Metheny, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Kimbra, Ana Tijoux, Lila Downs, Becca Stevens, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dave Matthews, and the his 97-year-old grandfather, the renowned actor Ignacio López.
At UCLA’s Center For The Art of Performance at Royce Hall the drummer spotlighted his recent album. Obviously, the recording’s guests couldn’t be at the concert, and instead joining him for the occasion were wife Thana Alexa doing vocals/effects, BIGYUKI on keyboards and Lex Sadler on bass/effects/vocals. The initial Bad Hombre record orchestrated the plight and journey of migrants through Sanchez’s drumming and keyboard playing.
The new endeavor is much broader in scope musically, spanning fusion, electronica and avant-garde experimentation. Thematically, it covered issues such as social justice, human rights, women’s rights, mental health and addiction. The amalgamation of genres and themes were fully exhibited during the concert and heavily accentuated by Alexa’s astounding vocals and dramatic spoken word.
All the while the band jammed powerfully, beginning with “The Bucket” by Stevens, featuring Sterling Cunio’s gripping lyrics. He was convicted of murder and kidnapping with two consecutive life sentences at 16. Now after 27 years, he is free, and a renown poet and writer. Additionally, Reznor/Atticus Ross’s “I Think We‘re Past That Now,” the bandleader’s “Waiting” and an unannounced instrumental were overwrought with thundering drums and bass, and BIGYUKI’s mad scientist keyboard soloing.
Strongly contrasting the hard-hitting segments were “Mi Palabra” about the words of a woman by Chilean hip-hop artist Tijoux, electronica oriented “Risa De Mujer (The Laughter of Woman)” by Downs and Paul Cohen, and Alexa’s “Doyenne.” The title is defined as a woman who is the most respected or prominent person, and featured Alexa’s powerful vocals and stunning effects. For more info go to: www.antoniosanchez.net and cap.ucla.edu.
The pairing of Jeff Beck and Johnny Depp at TheOrpheum from a casual viewpoint seemed related to the old adage, “musicians want to be actors and actors want to be musicians.” But the connection between the legendary guitar god Beck, and the flamboyant and versatile Depp isn’t a casual dalliance—they’re real friends. They first met in 2015 after the British guitarist’s recording and tour for Loud Hailer and found commonality through music.
Depp was playing guitar before becoming a famous actor and has been featured on songs by various rock bands like Oasis, Iggy Pop and Aerosmith. Notably, he played guitar for soundtracks of his films Chocolat and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, along with starting the group Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Bruce Witkin, his bandmate from the 1980’s band The Kids. Besides being a guitarist and singer, the eminent actor was co-owner of the Sunset Strip’s infamous rock enclave The Viper Room for about 10 years.
At the height of COVID-19 in 2020, Beck and Depp recorded and released a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation.” Afterwards they continued collaborating, culminating with the completion of 18 a full collection of songs in 2022 that make them feel like they’re 18 all over again and ready to tour.
The Orpheum was one of the last concert venues for Beck and Depp’s six-week tour. Supporting them with skyscraper-like foundations and their own firepower was Rhonda Smith-bass, Anika Nilles-drums and Robert Stevenson-keyboards, along with Vanessa Freebairn-Smith-cello. After a folky/country styled set by guitarist/singer Max Gomez, Beck immediately captured the audience’s attention with the high-energy/assaulting “Freeway Jam” and blues rocking “Loose Cannon.”
From a fusion standpoint that piggybacked on the show opener, Beck soared with John McLaughlin and The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” featuring Smith’s funky/rocking solo, and Jan Hammer, also a former Mahavishnu Orchestra band member’s synth-laden “Star Cycle.” Concluding that aspect of the concert, the superstar guitarist unleashed a tweaked-out version of the Beatles’ immortal theme “A Day in the Life.”
The softer and emotional side of the Rocking Roll Hall of Fame guitarist was spotlighted through “Midnight Walker,” Brian Wilson’s “Caroline, No” and Syreeta’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” with Freebairn-Smith prominently featured.
Depp joined Beck about two thirds into the show, first only playing guitar for Link Wray’s vintage rock classic “Rumble.” From there the popular actor sang with a growl “This Is a Song for Miss Hedy Lamarr,” Lennon’s “Isolation,” Dennis Wilson’s “Time” and “Venus in Furs” by The Velvet Underground to draw a standing ovation.
For the encore, the guitarist without Depp played classical composer Benjamin Britten’s “Corpus Christi Carol” that was popularized by Jeff Buckley. Beck and the actor/guitarist/singer did an instrumental version of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” and with Depp singing, the raucous “The Death and Resurrection Show” by English punk/industrial rock band Killing Joke. Overall, the concert satisfied fans of Beck and also Depp, with future engagements and tours being an open possibility… For more info go to: www.jeffbeck.com and laorpheum.com.
Thanksgiving is a special occasion when family and friends get together and usually have an elaborate meal to celebrate America’s fabled origins. Alternatively, Denver-based and Chicago-raised live wire guitarist/vocalist Marcus Rezak, who’s worked with many high caliber musicians, including members of Umphrey’s McGee and Frank Zappa’s bands and saxophonist Bill Evans, presented Friendsgiving. It was a three-set all-star extravaganza at The Troubadour the day after T-Day. Enlisted for the ambitious jam-like gig were musicians spanning fusion, indie rock, classic rock and prog rock.
Among them were Felix Pastorius-bass (Hipster Assassins), Dave Watts-drums (The Motet), Wally Ingram-drums (Bob Weir/Phil Lesh), Adam MacDougall-keyboards (Circles Around the Sun), Ben “Smiley” Silverstein-keyboards (The Main Squeeze). Additionally, there were special appearances by Robby Krieger-guitar/vocals (The Doors), Ike Willis-vocals/guitar (Frank Zappa), Arthur Barrow-bass (Frank Zappa), Scott Page-sax/guitar (Pink Floyd), Ian Roller-reeds
(GENR8R), Andrea Whitt-vocals/violin (Shania Twain) and Shira Elias-vocals (formerly of Turkuaz).
Concertmaster Rezak led monster jams of his Shred is Dead project, along with Grateful Dead songs. There was a steady rotation of players joining in and soloing during the first set. Tunes included were the Dead’s “West LA Fadeaway” and lengthy “Terrapin Station.”
The second set was more varied and featured Zappa alumni Willis and Barrow stretching out with the alternating players for unconventional tunes “Pygmy,” “Chungas Revenge,” “Cosmic Debris” and “Outside Now” that Zappa deemed as Willis’ song. With Krieger’s arrival things naturally shifted to Door’s music, featuring bluesy “Backdoor Man” and “Love Me Two Times,” along with “People Are Strange,” “Roadhouse Blues” and as would be expected the mega hit “Light My Fire” (the first song Krieger wrote for the band) all featuring Andrew Jon Cole singing.
For the hardcore attendees who made it to the final set, Rezak opened things up to prog rock tunes with a fusion orientation. Saxophonists Page and Roller soloed strongly for Weather Report’s “River People” and Jaco Pastorius’ “The Chicken,” which featured his son Felix on bass injecting an unbelievable solo. Pink Floyd music was also highlighted through “Breathe” and “The Great Gig in The Sky.” They were boosted by Elias’ wickedly enticing vocals, and were also inundated with a barrage of solos to conclude the “over the top” show. For the encore Prince’s anthem “Purple Rain” was served up with the enduring audience singing along. For more info go to: marcusrezak.com and troubadour.com.
92-year-old Dolores Huerta’s dedication, organizing and crusading advocacy for migrant Hispanic farm workers’ rights, civil rights and women’s rights began in the mid ‘50s and amazingly still continues. Her involvement and accomplishments are legendary and historic, while also being deeply personal and tireless. It’s very easy to call her an icon or symbol for equality and respectability, but that doesn’t acknowledge her as a whole person.
Concierto Para Dolores: A Musical Tribute to Dolores Huerta, at The Soraya highlighted the luminary’s interest and devotion to the arts, especially music, with some special not widely known details injected. Among them are a young Huerta played violin, tap danced and sang in two different church choirs. She was intrigued by jazz and got into it through a cousin’s Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie albums. That resulted in her going from her homebase Stockton to Sacramento and even the San Francisco Bay Area to see, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and many other jazz greats. Furthermore, Huerta also loves folk, R&B, mariachi, dance and theater.
Consequently, Show Director Dan Guerrero and Musical Director/keyboardist Cheche Alara, with Huerta’s approval, had a lot of ground to cover in only two hours.
Mixed into the variety of musical artists performing, with the lady of honor, her family members, and her former crusading partner Cesar Chavez’s family attending, were clips of Huerta and artists Buffy Saint Marie, Lila Downs and John Legend giving testimonials. They spanned her career and were courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives and radio station KPFK. Actor/comedian/writer Cristela Alonzo amusingly served as the emcee with a funny segment. Pachuco Zoot-suited dancers from the ‘40s were showcased with “Chicas Patas Boogie” as backdrop. It was supplied by the house band consisting of Kevin Ricard-percussion, Carlitos Puerto-bass, Adam Zimmon and Alex Garcia-guitar, Tony Austin-drums and Luis Conte-percussion, to get the special concert started.
With the talented house band, Gaby Moreno and David Aguilar did a steamy version of the classic “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás.” La Marisoul belted out a cool and soulful rendition of Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” featuring a ripping guitar solo and a pulsating cumbia “Quiero Verte Feliz” to move the audience.
John Doe from X changed things up with his solo acoustic guitar playing and singing of Woody Guthrie’s folky “Deportee (Plane Crash At Los Gatos)” and “Dusty Old Dust” (So Long)” with the crowd singing along. 13-piece Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar entertained with traditional mariachi music and sweeping romantic singing for “La Cancion Mexicana” and Ritchie Valens vintage rocking “La Bamba.”
Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. got the audience swaying with Marvin Gaye’s R&B classic “What’s Going on?” While McCoo also mightily sang with Davis Jr. and a backing choir the
Beatles’ “Black Bird” to receive similar reactions. Aguilar returned to do a percolating cumbia “Al
Amor Tambien Se Va Por La Justicia”focused on social justice. Moreno who’s originally from Guatemala, came back with her weapon, her guitar to move the crowd with cumbia styled “’Til Waking Light” and lightly textured folky “Fronteras” both detailing migration to the U.S.” La Marisoul also got into rocking cumbia via the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The ceremonial aspects of the concert began with Huerta’s youngest daughter of 11 children Camila Chávez, the Executive Director of The Dolores Huerta Foundation and sister Jauna, a board member reminiscing about their mother and promoting the foundation. They called her an “ican” instead of an icon. Their mother then came on stage and received a very enthusiastic standing ovation with loud chants.
Aguilar with light accordion accompaniment was one of the special moments and in Spanish sang “Al Amor Tambien Se Va Por La Justicia.” Doe followed with Leonard Cohen’s immortal “Hallelujah” that included the mariachi band supporting with La Marisoul, Aguilar and Moreno singing along to draw another standing ovation.
Huerta whole heartedly thanked the musicians and everyone attending. She sternly reminded the attendees. “We have a long way to go to create an equal and just society—so the haters won’t win.” She invited Guerrero, The Soraya’s Executive Director, Thor Steingraber calling him (the god of art and music) and Alonzo to the stage to receive a big round of applause. Huerta then displayed her community organizing skills by having the audience shout, “Who’s got the power, we do—what kind of power, people power!” For more info go to: doloreshuerta.org and thesoraya.org.
The Nutcracker with Dudamel: Tchaikovsky & Ellington at Disney Hall was perfect for the Holiday season and a delight for both children and adults. It essentially offered two various of Tchaikovsky’s much treasured classic. As would be expected, the classical original version composed in 1892 was beautifully executed under master conductor Dudamel’s direction. It seamlessly flowed through an overture and nine movements, with the inclusion of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, under Artistic Director Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, to grandly display why the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a world-class symphony.
Ellington’s 1960 interpretation, adapted by Jeff Tyzik merges jazz and classical. For purists it satisfies neither in the jazz or classical camps.
However, the spirit of the it, especially the celebration of “The Duke’s” music, which is not included in enough symphonic programs—is significant and meaningful.
Opening the program was the majestic and lightly swinging “The Nutcracker Suite” and flitty woodwind laden “Toot Toot Tootie Toot (Dance of The Reed Piper).” Alternatively, “The Nutcracker Op. 71, Act II 12c Divertissement: Tea, 12d Divertissement: Trepak,” “The Nutcraker, Op. 71, Act II 14 Pas de deux and 15 Finale” were pure Tchaikovsky.
Ellington’s sophisticated stylings returned for “The Nutcracker Suite” through “Dance of The Floreadores (Waltz of The Flowers),” “Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy)” and “Peanut Brittle Brigade (March).” Without quest a larger portion of Maestro Ellington music would have been preferred and hopefully will occur during future renditions at Disney Hall. For more info go to: www.dukeellington.com and www.laphil.com/
2022 was an incredible year for Brazilian singer/pianist/composer/arranger Eliane Elias. She won a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album and also was nominated for a Latin GRAMMY for Mirror Mirror, her collaboration with fellow piano giants, recently departed Chick Corea and Cuban Chucho Valdés. With barely any time to enjoy her win, Elias recorded and released Quietude, which returns to her bossa roots.
At Catalina with Marty Ashby-guitar, Rafael Barata-drums/percussion and Marc Johnson-bass/husband, she began with instrumental “To Each His Dulcinea” from the 2018 recording Music From Man of La Mancha. Afterwards she coolly sang and spryly played the lively theme “Aquarela do Brasil” and easy flowing ballad “Você (You).” Both songs were from her 2015 recording Made in Brazil that garnered her first GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Digging much further back in her catalogue was beautifully sung and remarkably played “A Felicidade” that also featured all of Elias’ group soloing. She first recorded the popular tune, derived from the celebrated film Black Orpheus in 1998 and recently rearranged it.
Shifting to songs from the new CD with only acoustic guitar supporting initially, before full band joined in was romantic bossa ballad “Você e Eu (You and I).” “Eu Sambo Mesmo (I Really Samba)” maintained the same tempo, but thematically focused on the love of dancing to amuse the audience. The “Bahia Medley: Saudade da Bahia (Missing Bahia) / Você Já Foi á Bahia (Have You Ever Been to Bahia?)” was by legendary Brazilian composer Dorival Caymmi, father of former Southern California resident singer/composer/guitarist Dori Caymmi.
Concluding the engaging and enjoyable show was older high energy number “The Time is Now” that vividly showcased Elias burning jazz chops with the quartet all soloing as well for a standing ovation. For the encore, she played and sang solely “
Master conguero and two-time Grammy Winner Poncho Sanchez performed at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello with The Delgado Brothers and the Sotoband on the roster. Sanchez was in good spirits and joked with the audience before getting into the jumping mambo number “Yumbambe” with his ensemble to fire up the audience. From his most recent album Trane’s Delight was cha-cha “Medley No. 2: Baile Mi Gente/El Sabroso/El Shing-A-Ling” that fizzed with a stirring vocal chorus, searing brass and hot percussion solos to get the crowd dancing.
Digging back into Sanchez’ catalogue was “Co Co My My” featuring the bandleader energetically chanting with his players and showcasing trombonist Francisco Torres and timbales. Rounding things out was Mongo Santamaria’s smoldering “Bésame Mama” featuring the master conguero working out, a steamy ballad for lovers and a plug for his upcoming autobiography The Poncho Sanchez Book. For more info go to:
The KJAZZ Blues Bash returned and was held at the Miracle Theater in Inglewood. Headlining the show was Grammy-winning blues legend, Blues Hall of Famer, 12x Blues Music Award winner and B.B. Kin g Entertainer of the Year, Bobby Rush, and Grammy-nominated Teresa James and The Rhythm Tramps. Hosted by KJAZZ’s Gary “Wagman” Wagner, the concert provided an entertaining cross-section of blues and an opportunity for blues fans to congregate and party.
Keyboardist/singer James leaned to contemporary blues, with her rocking horn-driven septet showcasing songs from her latest records Here In Babylon and ROSE-COLORED GLASSES Vol. 1. A nuanced version of Chris Kenner and Allen Toussaint’s classic “I Like it Like That” got things going to put the audience in a party mood with the smokey sounding singer and band jamming away.
Testimonial “I Found The Blues” elevated the mood several more notches with R&B styled brass playing and soulful singing. While “Find Me a Bar” written by James’ bassist/husband Terry Wilson expressed sentiments of political news oversaturation. For a change of pace, the bandleader showcased her powerful blues drenched pipes for ballad “It Don’t Make Me Happier.”
Headliner Rush, was like the bluesman from another planet comparatively. He combined chitterling circuit-like funk, strip club raunchiness with two buxom dancer/backup singers and country charm that thoroughly entertained the audience. “Ain’t She Fine” combined all those traits with the band working out and Rush soloing on harmonica. The audience notably hooted and howled as the dancer/backup singers sensually moved around.
From there the headliner went into a R&B-like revue with mid-tempo “That’s Evil,” funky “You, You, You (Know What To Do)” and down-home blues styled “What’s Good For The Goose” that had the crowd going, especially when he vamped about loving a fat woman with the guitarist and the keyboardist soloing. I Ain’t Studdin’ You also the title of his 2021 autobiography/memoir was a hot mix of blues and funky R&B that had everyone in attendance reveling, with a few of the women in the audience coming up to dance for the 88-year-old Rush.
After revealing his age, the living blues legend mentioned that he wasn’t that funky when he started in the early ‘50’s and segued into “Hoochie Coochie Man.” During the song he recalled his rural Louisiana beginnings with no toilet in the house and how foul it smelled. Now he’s living well with nine bathrooms in his house that smells really good.
Other classics performed were “She’s Only 19” and solo harmonica “Have You Ever Been Mistreated?” As an extra bonus Rush did a bit of rapping, claiming that it wasn’t for him there wouldn’t be any 50 Cents or Snoop Dog. They stole rapping from him and James Brown. He also cited that British rockers and BB King stole from him too, while doing “Wait a Minute” and sex oriented “G-String And a Toothbrush.”
After performing for about an hour the bawdy bluesman started to show his age. He slowed down and played harp for ballad “Got Me Accused” and then featured his backup singers doing “Take My Heart.” Naturally, the audience would’ve loved to have more, but understood they had been in the presence of a blues immortal. For more info go to: www.bobbyrushbluesman.com, teresajames.com and kkjz.org.
Somewhat similar to their East LA homeboys Los Lobos, but with more of an emphasis on blues and R&B, The Delgado Brothers celebrated their 35-year milestone at The Quiet Cannon in Montebello with a set of originals. The journeymen blues rocking quartet consisting of Joey on guitar/vocals, bassist Bob and vocalist/drummer Steve, with keyboard player David B. Kelly shot out of the gate with midtempo “Live For Today.”
“Let’s Get Back” was a hot blues shuffle wrought with ripping guitar from Joey and soul-stirring singing from Steve, the youngest of the brothers who effortlessly laid down a driving cadence all the while. He and Kelly also strongly worked out on the soulful groove “Two Trains” with guitar injecting additional firepower. For a short respite, bluesy ballad “Talk to Me” was included and dedicated to their cousin Laura, and ramped up with a scorching guitar solo to delight the audience.
Early Santana-like “You Must Explore Your Mine” featured Joey singing and other brother Eddie making a guest appearance on guitar. It added more variety to the show and also overflowed with organ and guitar. The rest of the Brothers’ set was dedicated to recently departed friend and former Poncho Sanchez bandmember drummer/percussionist Ramon Banda.
Included in the section was Latin rocking “If Only I Could Sing,” lightly rocking ballad “Be The One” dedicated to Joey’s wife and good time rocking “No Regrets.” Opening the concert was the Sotoband who did Latin soul music covering R&B and pop. For more info go to: www.delgadobrothers.com and www.sotoband.com.
Blues since its origins over 160 years ago has always had female guitarist/singers with Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe laying down solid foundations from the 1920s to the late 1960s. In modern times Bonnie Raitt, Sue Foley, Susan Tedeschi and Debbie Davies made more inroads for women and greatly benefited by having more accepting audiences, yet were still considered anomalies.
Millennial women who play guitar and sing blues, and related music for the last 10 to 15 years didn’t ask or wait for acceptance—they kicked down the door. They’re aggressive, unapologetic and love to jam. Serbian-native Ana Popović born in 1976 is between generations and has a similar attitude.
One woman on the “grab listeners by the throat” blues vanguard with Britain’s Dani Wilde, Tennessee-based Larkin Poe (sisters Rebecca and Megan) and Austin’s Jackie Venson, is Kansas City-based Samantha Fish.
She recently appeared at the Whiskey a Go Go with outlaw country/punk guitarist/singer/actor/record producer Jesse Dayton from Austin. Besides being a solo performer, he’s worked with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams. Fish and Dayton’s partnership evolved out a song-writing session in New Orleans that explored the possibilities of merging amped up blues with alt-rock.
They liked the synergy and EP The Stardust Sessions resulted. A full album, Death Wish Blues, produced by Jon Spencer known for his raucous band The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, is forthcoming and will contain all original songs. In action, Fish and Dayton led off for their second show together with high-voltage “Brand New Cadillac,” popularized by the Clash from the EP. While the jolting title track of the upcoming recording exploded with hot singing and jamming guitar.
Afterwards with Ron Johnson-bass, Mickey Finn-keyboards and Eric Johnston-drums strongly supporting, they alternated leading songs. The first was Dayton doing John Lee Hooker’s boogie blues classic “Feelin’ Good” with Fish helping out that’s also on the EP.
Changing up from the hard-hitting songs was Barbara Lewis’ doo wop/R&B hit “Hello Stranger” featured Fish singing alluringly with the band low.
Along the same lines, soul hopping “Somebody’s Always Trying (To Take My Baby Away” was accentuated with her ripping and also atmospheric guitar playing while lying on the stage floor to totally blow the audience away. Dayton got into his outlaw country/punk anthem “Jailhouse Religion” boosted by hot slide guitar from Fish. She came back with smoking “Settle For Less” to further rock the audience.
In acknowledgement of the Whiskey’s celebrated history on the Sunset Strip, the pair paid homage to a couple of bands integral to its scene. One was Love with ‘60s psychedelia rocking “Seven and Seven Is” and the other was X who Dayton did a tour with for punk-folk “Burning House of Love.”
For even more variety Fish broke out her square-shaped guitar for livewire “Rippin’ and Runnin’.” Dayton sang like Johnny Cash for blues/country styled original “May Have to Do It” from the new CD with the audience doing the chorus and “Hurting Behind The Pine Curtain” that’s about the infamous Austin neighborhood where he lived with Fish wailing away on guitar. Additionally, the duo did an acoustic “stripped down” segment that included a sweetly sung version of Townes van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” from the EP.
Back on electric guitars the musical couple wrapped things up with hard wailing “Bulletproof,” Slim Harpo’s fire igniting “Shake Your Hips” and guitar wailing encore “Some Other Man (Always Hanging Around).” For more info go to: www.samanthafish.com, www.jessedayton.com and whiskyagogo.com.
Veteran blues singer/guitarist Larry McCray returned from a seven-year recording hiatus with Blues Without You, the 2022 #1 Blues Album. It was produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, and released on Bonamassa’s label Keeping the Blues Alive. On the heels of the album McCray recently toured with the 6th Annual Allman Family Revival, led by singer/guitarist/keyboardist Devon Allman, son of Greg Allman. Back in the day McCray performed with the Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman, The Dickie Betts Band, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule.
Unquestionably, McCray knows all Allman Brothers and their offshoots’ music, and was happy to be part of the tour. Although he was only featured for his moving ballad “Soulshine” from the new CD, he made the most of it. The bluesman sang and played intensely on his Flying-V guitar with the touring band and backing vocalists to totally astonish and fired up the audience.
The annual multi-city show also included Duane Betts—son of Dickey Betts, professional surfer and renaissance man Donavon Frankenreiter, Nashville’s Opry darling Maggie Rose, Alex Orbison the son of Roy Orbison, Allman Betts bandmembers John Ginty and Johnny Stachela, The River Kittens, Jimmy Hall (Jeff Beck Band, Wet Willie) and others.
Standout songs from the entourage were, “Blue Sky” with Allman, and Betts powerfully wailing away on guitar much like his father and semi-acoustic “Come and Go Blues” featuring vocals by St. Lous-based River Kittens duo (Allie Vogler and Mattie). Allman’s uncle/singer Hall with his son Ryan on slide guitar further heated things up on “Statesboro Blues.”
As a bonus, guest Australian bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, best known for once being a member of Jeff Beck’s band laid down a ground rumbling foundation for lengthy jazzy/blues classic “Dreams” featuring Allman gallantly singing and soloing. She additionally played on charged “Whipping Post” featuring Rose boldly singing and guitars wailing away.
New Orleans’ Dumpstaphunk led by second generation Nevilles, Ivan-keyboards and Ian-guitar (the sons of Aaron Neville and Art “Poppa Funk” Neville) opened the program. They rocked the house with their trademark rocking funk and R&B socio-political jams that included “Where Do We Go From Here,” “Justice” and “Make It After All.” For more go to: larrymccraylive.com, www.allmanfamilyrevival.com, dumpstaphunk.com and www.thewiltern.net.
Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery reunited with their piano, which hasn’t been seen late 2019 and are definitely back in action. For the third concert after their COVID-19 hiatus they presented guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Quartet at The Nate Holden Center. The bandleader’s sound touches on the styles of Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and to a lesser degree Pat Martino and John Abercrombie, while also maintaining his own distinctive originality. Supporting him for the outing was Taylor Eigsti-keyboards, Eric Revis-bass, and Gregory Hutchinson-drums.
“Cycle 5” derived from the Circle of Fifths was lightly fused with Hutchinson supplying a driving beat that propelled the bandleader’s and keyboardist’s near-hypnotic layers of riffs and textures. While “Lost Song” written in 2000 and recently recovered was thematic. It showcased the guitarist’s jagged and at times bossa tinged lines with Eigsti’s post-bop/classical soloing.
From a vastly different perspective was “Wurlivibes,” Rosenwinkel’s funk/fused homage to organ and vibes with him strongly interplaying with his bandmembers who also contributed praiseworthy solos. “Another Time” was also thematic and moody, but with a slower tempo and less dense accompaniment. “Music” from the guitarist’s album Rosenwinkel Plays Piano was also spacious featuring Eigsti and light guitar.
The previous composition was upbeat and post-bop oriented to showcase both the quartet’s cohesion and individuality, along with the guitarist’s impressive flair and tonality. Finishing up the invigorating set was fused number “The Past is Intact” that soared with blazing playing and interactions from all the players to garner a standing an enthusiastic standing ovation. For more info go to: kurtrosenwinkel.com and www.jazzbakery.org
Three-time Grammy Winner and NEA Jazz Master Branford Marsalis, also the oldest of the famed Marsalis siblings didn’t rest on laurels or platitudes when he recently performed at UCLA’s Center For The Art of Performance atRoyce Hall. Instead, the reedist casually mentioned that the ensemble hadn’t been there since before the Pandemic and that it was great to watch football at 10AM, with his team the New Orleans Saints losing again. After introducing band members Eric Revis-bass, Justin Faulkner-drums and Joey Calderazzo-piano, along with their respective NFL team affiliations, the music got underway.
Calderazzo’s “My Sword” was swashbuckling with the band playing and soloing intensely. While the pianist’s ballad “The Conversation Among The Ruins” was lyrical and slowed things down considerably. Shifting up-tempo was the 100-year-old vintage song “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” that was highlighted by piano, bass and drums. Somewhat similar, but with more modern rhythms and textures, especially through piano and soprano sax was Andrew Hill’s “The Snake Hip Waltz.”
New Orleans styled “On The Sunny Side of The Street” delighted the audience and showcases the bandleader on soprano and Calderazzo’s piano playing with a driving beat from drums and bass. The show could have ended there and the audience would have been happy. But instead after some joking around, the bassist’s contrasting and at times flailing post-bop “Nilaste” was played to end the concert.
As expected, an encore was requested and obliqued with Marsalis going to his roots with New Orleans styled “My Bucket’s Got a Whole in It.” The rollicking tune, always a crowd favorite was penned in 1933 by entrepreneur/publisher/singer/pianist Clarence Williams, grandfather of the actor Clarence Williams III (Mod Squad, Purple Rain).
Bay Area based singer/songwriter/composer Roberta Donnay, who’s worked with numerous jazz and rock artists, including being a touring member of the Dan Hicks And The Hot Licks Band, had a CD release party forBlossom-ingand also showcased songs from her previous records at Catalina. The new album celebrates the music of the uniquely original sounding icon Blossom Dearie. Mike Greensill-piano/arrangements and MB Gordy-drums supported Donnay on the record and also in concert, along with Karl Vincent-bass and Dave Marcus-guitar.
They opened playing a swinging samba-tinged version of “Green Dolphin Street” and afterwards Donnay joined them to sing similarly to Dearie, her original “Roberta’s Blues.” The song somewhat of a parody set the mood for the bandleader to inject jokes, quips and anecdotes about Dearie while performing her songs and those she’s associated.
Among them was “Peel Me a Grape,” written by her longtime fellow songwriting/piano playing friend Dave Frishberg, along with “Drinking Again” and “Devil May Care” by her other great buddy pianist/songwriter/singer Bob Dorough that featured the quartet trading off and jamming away.
Dearie’s poetic “A Paris” with only piano accompaniment and “T’Embrasse” with full band were sung in English and French to thoroughly delight the audience. While, other originals, bossa styled ballad “Inside A Silent Tear” with guitar introing and lightly swinging “The Party’s Over” were girlishly sung much like the one of kind artist did.
For good measure several non-Dearie songs that she regularly did covers of were included in the set, such as lively “Just One Of Those Thigs,” easy flowing “Someone To Watch Over Me” and cool swinging “If I Were a Bell.” They all were superbly done by Donnay and crew to present an interesting and intriguing presentation of Dearie’s talent and long-lasting impact on jazz and music in general. For more info go to: www.robertadonnay.com and www.catalinajazzclub.com/
The 14th Angel City Jazz Festival overflowed with superlative jazz and beyond concerts showcasing Los Angeles’ innovative artists, along with some from other parts of the country. Opening the festival was its centerpiece performance featuring singer/songwriter Luciana Souza and arranger/composer Vince Mendoza spotlighting their 2020 Brazilian big band collaboration Storytellers at The Ford Theatre.
The principal performers fronted a juggernaut ensemble that included Alex Acuña-percussion, Peter Erskine-drums, Darek Oles-bass, Larry Koonse-guitar and Luca Mendoza-piano, along with reedist Bob Sheppard, Greg Huckins, Tim Ries, Daniel Rotem and Adam Schroeder. The trumpet section consisted of Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Chris Gray and Aaron Janik, while trombonists Andy Martin, Ivan Malespin, Alex Iles and Juliane Gralle rounded things out.
Stellar compositions by Brazil’s greatest composers/songwriters such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque, Guinga, Djavan, Ivan Lins, and Gilberto Gil were interpreted by the musicians, singer and arranger/bandleader. Buarque’s contemporary wordless “Varanda” was adorned by Souza’s ethereal vocals and the orchestra’s refined brass choruses, and also through his “Beatriz” with lyrics by Lobo. Alternately, Acuña’s percussion intro set the mood for the jubilant “Mar De Copacabana” by Gil that abounded with impressive solos.
For an injection of humor Mendoza caught the attendees off guard by announcing himself as LeRoy Downs the concert emcee before further explaining the basis of the selected music. Afterwards, Guinga’s “Meu Pai (My Father) was garnished by palatable singing and guitar playing. From a very different perspective was Jobim’s suite-like selection “Matita Pere” that highlighted the bandleader’s velvet orchestration and Souza’s lush singing.
Trombones and saxophones roared during the singer’s “Baião A Tempo” as she scatted over them. For even more variety Djavan’s lengthy groove-like “Se Acontecer” flowed with chant-like singing and a cavalcade of fine solos for a thunderous standing ovation. For the encore Souza’s “Choro # 3” featured a percolating melding of bossa and classical that propelled her scatting.
Successive ACJF shows were at a variety of locations, including REDCAT for Marquis Hill and John Escreet’s Seismic Shift CD Release Party. Trumpeter Hill, 2014 Winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competition took the opportunity to showcase some of his new untitled compositions. With sidemen, Jahari Stampley-keyboards, Joshua Griffin-bass and Jeremiah Collier-drums, the bandleader began with a juxtaposition of explosive playing and flowing interludes, with his pre-recorded spoken word segment setting the mood.
Afterwards, Stampley kept the energy going with a blazing solo intro that shifted to a mildly driving thematic piece. Attention then shifted to Griffin and Collier who started the cadence for a similar sounding number. While the remainder of the set was comprised of engaging post-bop selections featuring the bandleader’s intriguing electronic affected playing in addition to conventional motifs as his cohorts supported and injected their own individual touches.
John Escreet’s trio with the leader on piano, Eric Revis-bass and
Damion Reid-drums at were very vigorous in execution. They pounded out forays displaying intense interactions, adjoined with deep and probing playing, with abstract and frenetic piano leading the way. The trio also swung equally hard with some melodic moments and definitely excited the audience, especially when playing Stanley Cowell’s compositions.
Also of special note was the concert at the Colburn School of Music Thayer Hall. It featured the Nicole McCabe Septet and the Fire & Water Quintet led by Myra Melford. McCabe premiered The Women Who Shaped Me, an original suite commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Jeff Clayton Memorial New Note Award. The saxophonist was supported by trombonist Jon Hatamiya, trumpeter Ethan Chilton, tenor saxophonist Devin Daniels, drummer Tina Raymond, pianist Christina Galisatus and bassist Logan Kane.
They began with “Architect” dedicated to educators such as Terri Lyne Carrington and Patrice Rushen who have been very influential to the saxophonist/bandleader. It began with her playing solely and widened for the all the players to flourish on the vibrant mini-brass piece. Adjoining numbers “Darski” named after city in Hungary where her grandmother grew up featured trumpet, trombone and drum solos.
“Sprout” dedicated to McCabe’s younger sister was a somber and thematic piece. Bass was prominent with brass for “Force of Good” as an acknowledgement to her best friend’s musical achievements in Portland. Closing out the commission was “Continuation” dedicated to McCabe’s mother who was in the audience. It was a stirring anthem-like piece adorned with strong brass choruses and searing solo playing from the bandleader that received a resounding standing ovation.
Pianist/composer Melford’s Fire and Water Quintet drew inspiration from the work of the late visual art icon Cy Twombly, and the band’s name pays homage to his abstract painting series For the Love of Fire and Water. It combines Twombly’s trademark vibrant scribbles and scrawled calligraphic texts.
Translating the artwork into music for somewhat of an album release party with the bandleader were Mary Halvorson-guitar, Tomeka Reid-cello, Lesley Mok-drums and Ingrid Laubrock-saxophone. Their interactions and contributions were intense, theoretical, sprawling and at times raucous, which in totality kept the audience enthralled and fully engaged.
Equally engrossing was avant-garde reed master David Murray at the World Stage with drummer Malachi Whitson and bassist Roberto Miranda. The former member of LA icon Horace Tapscott’s famed Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and World Saxophone Quartet is a wild “at your own risk” musician. However, those who persevere through his concerts are rewarded with a new outlook on jazz.
From a more accessible standpoint was Jonathan Pinson’s Boom Clap at LACMA with Mario Castro–sax, Javier Santiago–piano, Andrew Renfroe–guitar, Joshua Crumbly–bass and Melo Gia–vocals as participants of the thriving West Coast Get Down scene.
At 2220 Arts + Archives it was saxophone madness and variations of Murray’s groundbreaking explorations with 44-year innovators ROVA consisting of Bruce Ackley–soprano saxophone, Steve Adams–alto saxophone, Larry Ochs–tenor saxophone and Jon Raskin–baritone saxophone. While Battle Trance, who debuted in 2016 was made of Travis Laplante–tenor saxophone, Mathew Nelson–tenor saxophone, Jeremy Viner–tenor saxophone and Patrick Breiner–tenor saxophone.
Alternately, emerging future saxophonists jazz stars led groups with an attention-getting assemblage of sidemen at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. Daniel Rotem’s Wise One was highlighted by heavyweights BIlly Childs–piano, Joe La Barbera–drums and Darek Oles–bass. While Ben Wendel’s High Heart was boosted by impactful players, Michael Mayo–vocals, Fabian Almazan–piano, Nate Wood–drums and Harish Raghavan–bass.
ACJF concluded its 2022 lineup at 2220 Arts + Archives with exciting new on the scene saxophonists. Devin Daniels an offshoot of the West Coast Get Down worked with Julien Knowles–trumpet, Jamael Dean–piano, Ben Ring–drums and Logan Kane–bass. While Amba, a Murray protegee raised in Tennessee and based in Brooklyn, was supported by Wendy Eisenberg-guitar, Dylan Fujioka–drums and Mark Dresser–bass. For more info go to: angelcityjazz.com
Many of the jazz scene’s players are highly educated and also faculty members of colleges and universities around the world. In that regard, Vijay Iyer possesses undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from Yale, a Doctorate in Physics from UC Berkeley, and is a professor in both the Music, and African and African American Departments at Harvard. Additionally, the much-lauded pianist/educator who has received numerous awards and honors, topped jazz polls and been Grammy Nominated is a software developer.
Unquestionably, Iyer is an intellectual musician, who is knowledgeable and very focused. At Segerstrom Hall’s Samueli Club the pianist with bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Jeremy Dutton presented music that was far from being light hearted or easy flowing, yet was not abstract or inaccessible. Although, not composed by the bandleader who wished he had, was Gerri Allen’s highly rhythmic and percolating “Drummer’s Song.” It had a strong melodic line and was full of superb band interaction and impressive soloing.
Taking up most of the remaining time during the set was the 27-minute rendering of the title track from Iyer’s latest major release Uneasy. Originally, it was recorded with the bandleader’s studio trio that includes drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh. It developed slowly with bass in the forefront, before shifting up tempo for extensive and explosive drumming and piano playing that was both captivating and intense. For more info go to: vijay-iyer.com and www.scfta.org.
Pianist/composer/arranger Tigran Hamasyan was born in Armenia in 1987 and has made a strong impact on jazz and the music world for the last 20 years. In 2003 at the age of 14, he got the everyone’s attention by winning the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Piano Competition. He released his debut album, World Passion, in 2005. A year later he won the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition, along with coming in second at the Martial Solal International Jazz Competition in Paris.
Afterwards his parents brought him and his painter/sculptor sister to Los Angeles for more opportunities. Following several months in high school, he was going to USC and doing gigs with saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood, while also playing in the funk band Pinot. Subsequently, record contracts and concerts as a leader ensued that kept him busy and made him world renown. Hamasyan a.k.a. Tigran returned to Armenia about 10 years ago and has released a dozen projects in a variety of settings overall. They span jazz, classical, sacred music and fusion with most incorporating his native folklore.
At The Center For The Art of Performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall Hamasyan focused on selections from his latest recording StandArt. It’s a nod to the American Songbook in a non-standard and extremely advanced post-bop way. Supporting him was Matt Brewer on bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums. They got underway with a 16-minute rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Big Foot” that overflowed with intense piano flurries, hard-thumping bass and pounding drums that barely resembled the original melody line. Somewhat similar and more combative was the amped up version of “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”
From a more relaxed and slightly funky standpoint was “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” embodying a solid rhythmic base for the bandleader to inventively weave a driving melody to draw strong applause. As bonus, vocalist Gretchen Parlato joined the bandleader for a wordless and ethereal, yet melodic duet interpretation of “All The Things You Are” to caress the audience. With lyrics, full trio and abstract piano forays she continued with “I Should Care” that was far removed from the original melody to impress the attendees. A robust and very modern approach to Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah” concluded the concert to garner an enthusiastic standing ovation. For the encore Hamasyan and trio returned with equal fervor for an extended performance of “When a Woman Loves a Man.” It was super high energy with all the musicians powerfully interacting and intensely soloing to thoroughly engross the crowd. For more info go to: www.tigranhamasyan.com and cap.ucla.edu.
Vocalist Melo Gia and drummer Jonathan Pinson’s Boom Clap recently appeared at Just Jazz, with Andrew Renfrow-guitar, David Otis-saxophone, Joshua Crumbly-bass and Latin Grammy Winner Composer, Pedro Capo-percussion. The drummer is a graduate of the Thelonious Institute of Jazz and Berkee School of Music. He has performed and/or recorded with Hancock, Ambrose Akinmusire, John Clayton, Dave Liebman, Ed Simon, Eric Reed, Kamasi Washington, Marquis Hill and Gilad Hekselman.
Gía (Patricia Lewis Román) is a gifted singer and songwriter, born in Puerto Rico and also a Berklee graduate. She has also toured with Latin reggae band Cultura Profetica and performed with Grammy Nominated singer Danny Rivera, and Capo. Notably, she is also a licensed tattoo artist. When speaking to Just Jazz host LeRoy Downs prior to the set she intimated that her Pinson are a couple. They have been involved which each other’s projects since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
She began the program sweetly singing “Calma (Calm in English) with Renfrow. “Bittersweet” followed and conveyed the challenges and beauty of her and Pinson’s relationship. In terms of splendor, she was heavenly when singing immortal “Bésame Mucho,” and “Your First Memory” dedicated to her mother in attendance, with Pinson drumming.
The drummer and band started their section of the show with “That Girl,” an atmospheric post-bop jam featuring sax and drums, with guitar and bass stretching out for a fused/funk section. “90’s” with Gía was about Pinson’s youthful period and somewhat funk/R&B oriented featuring soulful scatting and percussion accenting.
For a bonus Gía introduced a fellow Puerto Rican percussionist with her singing/chanting and dancing for spirited bomba songs that delighted the audience, while depicting the plight of their people. The vibe continued with more of jazz emphasis with full band and the number “Café” end the show with audience chanting along. For more info go to: jonathanpinson.bandcamp.com and justjazz.tv.
With so many events and pastimes being phased out over the last couple of years, it was miraculous that KKJZ 88.1’s 2022 Jingle Jazz celebration at the El Rey Theatre happened. Notably different from previous years, was only one artist saxophonist, Tom Scott on the lineup. On the other hand, the three-time Grammy-Winner, also a weekly program host at the station Tuesday nights 9-10pm, has worked with almost everyone and possesses a wealth of experiences and knowledge to draw from.
His show emceed by weekday KKJZ on-air personality Rhonda Hamilton included trumpeter Aaron Janik, pianist Tom Rainer, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Charles Ruggiero. The first half contained palatable and lesser-known tunes selected by Scott. Among them: were the theme for The Night of 1000 Eyes, featuring resilient playing and a robust drum solo/tradeoffs, and Gerald Wilson’s “Business Meetin’” originally written for trumpeter Carmell Jones that sizzled with compelling trumpet and sax intermingling.
As a bonus, the saxophonist/host unveiled his rousing funk-based number “I Want to Get Closer.” He never recorded it and thought it was perfect for Grover Washington, which when the quintet played it was pretty obvious as the audience nodded rhythmically in agreement. For some Xmas flair “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was included with soulful playing from the bandleader and crew.
The second half of 2022 Jingle focused on the landmark 1959 recording Art Pepper + Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics that was arranged and directed by Marty Paich. For the special presentation the ensemble was more than doubled with the addition of Brad Warnaar-French horn, Rickey Woodard-tenor sax, George Shelby-alto sax, Scott Mayo-baritone sax, Craig Gosnell-bass trombone, Alan Kaplan-tenor trombone and Wayne Bergeron-lead trumpet.
“Anthropology” by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker grandly got things started for the finale program, with impressive execution. It was followed by a stirring rendition of Miles Davis’ “Walking,” accentuated by baritone sax and trumpet. Gerry Mulligan’s long established jazzed up hit “Bernie’s Tune” and original “Walkin’ Shoes” were obvious standouts, along with Parker and Gillespie’s hard swinging almost combative bebop classic “Shaw ‘Nuff.” For more info go to: www.tomscottmusic.com and kkjz.org
Vocalist Carmen Lundy, also a composer/arranger, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist, actor and educator, uniquely has only recorded and performed her own music for about 20 years. During that span she has led great ensembles (actually started 20 years earlier) and been recognized with numerous Grammy nominations. She’s back in the hunt with the 2022 release of her 16th album Fade To Black.
Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery in partnership with the Nate Holden Theatre, presented Lundy showcasing the new project. An impressive quartet, comprised of new band member Christian Sands-keyboards, along with Ben Williams-bass, Terreon Gully-drums and Andrew Renfroe-guitar supported her. Interestingly, the polymath began with bustling “American Rainbow” a single she recorded with Terri Lyne Carrington in 2021, and appreciative ballad “Grateful Part 1” and energetic “Grateful Part 2” featuring Renfroe from her earlier Soul to Soul album.
Afterwards, Lundy remarkably performed all the songs from the new project that was influence by the pandemic, beginning with rejoicefully sung/scatted, and moderately pulsing “Shine a Light.” Her normally husky tonality was lighter and higher pitched for breezy “So Amazing” with guitar and piano contributing spry solos. Williams’ ambient bass, Sands’ organ comping introed Lundy’s assertively sung and crowd appealing “Daughter of The Universe.”
Breaking away from conventional jazz textures were atmospheric “Ain’t I Human” focusing on human and reproductive rights, along with lightly explosive social justice oriented “Say Her Name.” It included the band members reciting names of victims killed by police to draw strong crowd reactions.
Varying things even more was “Lonesome Blue Butterfly” that conveyed the loneliness many experienced during the Pandemic with the band propelled by Gully blazing away. While “Transition (To A Promised Land), “Reverence” and “Rest in Peace” emotionally and soulfully described Lundy’s loss of two sibling during the Pandemic. Lundy also played keyboards and sang on “Spell of Romance” with Renfroe adding vocal harmony. For more info go to: carmenlundy.com, www.jazzbakery.org and www.ebonyrep.org.
Prior to performing at Mr. Musichead for a Just Jazz show, saxophonist Mark Turner shyly revealed to Emcee LeRoy Down some of the things he thinks about when composing music and also when putting everything together with great musicians. Currently, he’s writing music based on themes from literature, movie and other art forms. Previously, his writing was focused on musical themes and the process. Other components for Turner are hiring great musicians, not telling them what to do and letting them do their thing.
With that in mind the former Palos Verdes Estates resident influenced by Wayne Marsh and John Coltrane got down to business with cohorts Damion Reid-drums and Eric Revis-bass. They stretched out for free-flowing “Nigeria” that incorporated solos from all them. While “Blues #1” was more upbeat, with him being less prominent initually and featured his sidemen, Reid bombing away to impress the audience.
“1946” was a lengthy bluesy, bebop styled homage to trumpeter Tom Harold (his birth year) and highlighted the trio’s adept sense of rhythm. In the same realm was Monk’s classic theme ballad “Crepuscule with Nellie” that showcased Turner’s rich tone. Afterwards, they switched things up with “Super Sister” a driving selection named after the saxophonist’s wife and based around Reid’s fiery drumming and soloing, with Turner and Revis coolly contrasting. Closing out a highly stimulating set was high energy burner “New Fast.”
Sadly, this was the last Just Jazz concert at this location after doing 150 over a four-year period. It was commemorated with master photographer/archivist Bob Barry taking a group shot of the artists and audience. Downs and partner Fred Smith with continue in 2023 with more shows at different locations. For more info go to: Facebook and justjazz.tv/
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