By Chris J. Walker
Less than a week after his enthusiastic Jerry Lee Lewis and punk rock-like performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival that included jumping on the piano and gyrating around the stage while singing, Jamie Cullum made his Disney Hall debut. Notably, the venue’s management requested that the exuberant singer/pianist not jump on the piano. With his sextet, consisting of Loz Garratt-bass, Brad Webb-drums, Rory Simmons-trumpet, Clarke Ellison and Aisha Stuart-backup vocals, Tom Richards-sax/keyboards/percussion, and Tom Marrow-guitar, the British jazz superstar, now celebrating his 20th year milestone was somewhat behaved and just constantly moved around onstage.
Musically, he led off with the pop/rocking, self-deprecating Taller, title track of his 2019 recording with the Meter’s “Cissy Strut” as the backdrop, and Professor Long Hair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” for “Get Your Way” and “Big Chief” to totally ignite the audience. Shifting to jazz and blues the youthful Brit sang melancholy “These Are The Days” and mentioned his first show in LA at Room Five. Afterwards he and band shined with a mash of Charlie Parker’s “Grovin’ High” and Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” featuring his velvet crooning, along with sax and trumpet soloing.
Also similar was Roy Ayers’ contemporary jazz classic “Everyone Loves The Sunshine” done as a mainstream piece. While Twentysomething, the title of his breakthrough album, coolly espoused the viewpoint of an alienated young man to boogie-woogie piano, stride and bebop playing to further excite the audience who clapped along and cheered. To further legitimize his jazz cred, Cullum tenderly played and sang ballads “You Can’t Hide Away From Love” and “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” solely.
Getting back to pop songs was self-questioning original “The Age of Anxiety,” near a cappella and un-mic “Mankind” with percussion and full band vintage rocking, doo-wop styled “When I Get Famous” with the bandleader singing in the audience. The show got wilder at that point as Cullum and his band energetically spanned calypso, Latin jazz, Afro-beat, R&B, funk, swing and classic rock (Led Zeppelin) to thrill the audience and garner several standing ovations. For more info go to: www.jamiecullum.com and www.laphil.com.
In a previous life, Judith Owen was known as she described, “a deep and meaningful singer/songwriter.” However, at the Grammy Museum when interviewed by music journalist Steve Hochman, she cavalierly stated. “I threw that to the wind and just became shameless, and it feels so good.” That was in reference to her latest project Come On & Get it, released near the end of 2022.
The album is a celebration of all the incredible, sometimes unheralded women singers and musicians from the ‘30s to the ‘50s that Owen as a child discovered in her father, opera singer Handel Owen’s 45 record collection in London. Combined with her amateur dancer, mathematician and linguist mother, Millicent Copp’s love for big band music, impressionable Owen became infatuated with songs by the then revolutionary and unapologetic women. They openly expressed their feelings about men, love, and female sexuality with humor, wit and elegance.
Unquestionably, highly individualistic artists such as Nellie Lutcher, Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Mary Lou Williams, Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie and Julia Lee overwhelmingly shaped Owen as both a person and artist. The New Orleans-based singer/pianist/songwriter, who’s married to writer/voice over artist/actor/producer Harry Shearer, best known for his voice work on The Simpsons animated TV show, also spoke about her English/Welsh background. It was the other aspect of her boldness, and Hochman who’s known her for many years calls her “Lady J.”
After talking about all the influential singers’ music, Owen showcased songs on the album with her band The Gentlemen Callers. It consisted of Jamison Ross-drums, David Torkanowsky-Musical Director/piano, David Blinkhorn-guitar, Lex Warshawsky-bass, Ricardo Pascal-tenor sax and Kevin Lewis-coronet.
Standout tunes by Owen who was in blazing top form were sassy “Blossom’s Blues” by Dearie with the audience clapping along and included a stellar piano solo, sax scorching “The Spinach Song” by Julia Lee, and Peggy Lee’s bluesy ballad “He’s a Tramp.” The immortal “Fever” was all jazzed up, and Lutcher’s ground-breaking “He’s a Real Gone Guy” and sensual “Fine Brown Frame” brought down the house. For more info go to: judithowen.net and grammymuseum.org.
New Orleans overflows with incredible and legendary musicians, and in the 21st century Trombone Shorty A.K.A. Troy Andrews has emerged as one the city’s best known and most popular artists, nationally and internationally. Equally impressive on both trombone and trumpet, along with vocals, Andrews grew up in New Orleans’ famed Treme District. Through his community involved mother Lois and father James II, trumpeter brother James III, chart-topping singer/songwriter grandfather Jessie Hill and other family members, Troy at a very early age became steeped in the city’s renowned jazz traditions.
Even Rock And Roll pioneer and Hall of Famer, Bo Diddley had heard of talented youngster and invited him on stage for Jazz Fest when he was only four-years-old. From there Andrews participated in second line parades, joined the Stooges Brass Band and was mentored by the Neville Brothers percussionist Cyril. Shortly after graduating from high school the trombonist/trumpeter became a star member of Lenny Kravitz’s touring brass section, which led to associations with other rock bands, such as U2, Aerosmith, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Jeff Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Dave Matthews Band.
Concurrently, Andrews collaborated with fellow New Orleans musicians, Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Rebirth Brass Band, the Soul Rebels and made numerous TV and film appearances, including the HBO series Treme. In 2010 he released his first major label album, funk/rocking Backatown with his band Orleans Avenue and has continued with subsequent projects.
Additionally, Andrews constantly gives back to the New Orleans community through his foundation, The After School Academy with Tulane University, MusiCares and The White House. That includes mentoring the New Breed Brass Band, led by his percussionist/trumpeter nephew Jenard Andrews, son of his brother James. At the Grammy Museum, hosted by music journalist Steve Hochman, the family members both humorously and seriously discussed the genesis of the group.
Uncle Troy insisted that the younger musicians set themselves apart from other brass bands by creating their own sound and being tight. While also thinking long term by making a record for promotion and gigs, instead of settling for “quick and easy money.” For more firepower, their debut project Joyful + Vital Made In New Orleans included guest appearances by local legends Kango Slim, Wild Wayne, and the late great 5th Ward Weebie, along with saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
Prior to the band’s performance, came questions from the audience. They asked about Andrews educational activities, his Jazz Fest performances (all his life, except for the first year with Kravitz), second line for Leah Chase’s funeral and possible relatives greeting him.
The entire band was made up of Troy Andrews-trombone, Jenard Andrews-bandleader/snare-drummer, Revon Andrews-trombone, Mike Brooks-sousaphone, Yirma Yisrael and Orlando Gilbert-saxophones, Emanuel Mitchell and Chris Cotton-trumpets, Sammy Cirrus-bass drum and George Brown-trombone.
They blew the crowd away with explosive numbers featuring dense and elaborate brass forays with pounding rhythms for “Come On Out,” “Do You Want to Party With Me,” and “Move Something.” A fiery Latin-fused number closed the show, featuring Sheila E who Trombone Shorty recently did a music video with, energetically wailing away on snare to impress all in attendance. For more info go to: shorefire.com/releases/entry/new-breed-brass-band-made-in-new-orleans and grammymuseum.org
Rickie Lee Jones is a singer/songwriter who is hard to pinpoint. Throughout Jones’ career she has dabbled with touches of jazz, pop, folk, blues, R&B and rock, while maintaining an extremely idiosyncratic and freewheeling persona. The results have amounted to two Grammy’s and several top-selling albums, while never compromising her artistry.
Pieces of Treasure, the bohemian singer/songwriter’s current project is Grammy-nominated and uniquely her first jazz standard styled album. It was showcased at The Roxy, along with a few crowd-pleasing chestnuts such as “We Belong Together” from her eponymous first album. It started the show, featuring Jones singing and playing piano solely. While, “Living It Up” and Pirates also from the early ‘80s were supported by Ben Rosenblum on accordion (also played piano) and backing vocals.
With Rosenblum on piano, Vilray Bolles on guitar/vocals and John Leftwich on bass, Jones launched into the jazz portion of the set. It started with “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” that included some lyrical embellishment to further delight the audience. “All The Way” was done without alteration and featured Jones’ singing her strongest and incorporated signature unpolished styling.
“Just in Time” followed suit and included the popular singer casually talking about finding love later in life, with Rosenblum soloing mellowly. Not on the record was equally compelling and Grammy Nominated “The Second Time Around” popularized by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby during the early ‘60s, and “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” first sung by Dinah Shore in 1952.
With the jazz tunes out of the way, Jones served up well known rock tunes such Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” and David Bowie’s anthem “Rebel Rebel” enhanced by her friends, vocalist Syd Straw and guitarist Geoff Pearlman helping out. The headliner also returned to her own music via “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” spotlighting Rosenblum harmonica-like accordion playing, breakout hit “Chuck E’s in Love” featuring Jones playing guitar, and her songwriting father’s poetic ballad “The Moon Is Made of Gold.” For more info go to: rickieleejones.com and www.theroxy.com.
WAR who has amassed 20 multi-platinum, platinum and gold albums and singles originated in the Long Beach/Compton area of So Cal during the tumultuous late ‘60s. Through Rock And Roll Hall of Famer (via former band The Animals) Eric Burdon’s early involvement (first two records) they rose to become one of the eminent funk/rock/R&B bands of the early ‘70s. Their main rival, though not intentional, was also racially integrated (a novelty then) Sly & The Family Stone, who leaned slightly more to psychedelia and social/political protest.
However, WAR’s fifth album and third without Burdon, 1972 The World is a Ghetto, was their vehicle for similarly minded commentary and hard rocking funk/Latin jamming. Remarkably, it became Billboard Magazine’s top-selling LP in 1973 and its 50th Anniversary was celebrated at the Grammy Museum. Marking the significance of event, mega producer/composer James Samuel “Jimmy Jam” Harris III did the introduction. He cited that it was also 30th anniversary of his partnership with Terry Lewis, and that WAR was the first concert he went to on his own, and amusingly got a “contact high.”
Getting into the heart of the program, Adam Weissler, Music Correspondent for the Extra TV, interviewed singer/keyboardist Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan, band co-founder and only remaining original member, and producer/songwriter, Jerry Goldstein who also owns the rights to WAR’s name (previous band members started The Lowriders). Jordan talked about hearing and being fascinated with all types of music while growing up that influenced him as a musician.
He first met Goldstein while he was in a band called Nightshift that backed the LA Ram’s star defensive end Deacon Jones who was singing at a club in North Hollywood. Goldstein a bigtime poster manufacturer/marketer then, went to see the band and was impressed, but didn’t know what to do with them.
At the same, Burdon, who he knew well had split with the Animals and was aimless. Goldstein suggested Burdon checkout Nightshift, and with Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar they went to the club. The British rock star and Oskar jammed with them and they immediately jelled.
With a band whittled down by Burdon, who took charge, they started doing gigs, including Newport ’69, in Devonshire Downs by Northridge, CA. Featured there were top rock acts such as Hendrix, Joplin, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater and many others that predated Woodstock by two months. By early 1970 the group’s first album Eric Burdon Declares WAR, featuring their breakout song “Spill The Wine” was released to set the band on its course.
Goldstein, with a keen sense for marketing, recorded every one of the group’s jam sessions and edited them into pop and R&B songs. He called The World is a Ghetto, “ a magical 29 days from first note to mastering.” Normally it would take six months to a year to do a record, but due to the pressures of touring they had to get the record finished. Jordan recalled that although the songs were incredible, they were not thought out, came from the heart and the band was an organic street band. They also didn’t want to be political and strived to be universal.
Goldstein also detailed the 50th commemorative five-vinyl Record Store Day Collector’s Edition includes extended songs, original jams and behind the scenes making of the songs and bonus tracks. Questions from the audience included, radio stations Jordan listened to, the name of the band (Burdon’s choice) and playing with Hendrix. He was a friend of Goldstein, Burdon and the band, and they were the last group he played with, doing an hour-long version of “Mother Earth” the night before his death.
Afterwards, the full band was raw and live-wire, and played for nearly an hour. They entertained the crowd with their most popular funky jams such as “Me And Baby Brother,” “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” an extended version of “Cisco Kid” with the audience singing along, “Spill The Wine” and the renowned album’s title track. For more info go to: war.com and grammymuseum.org
Without a doubt, 2023 was a banner year for Samara Joy (McLendon), who won two Grammy’s and has performed all over the world. What could she do next that would be close to her heart and still appeal to her fans—release new EP A Joyful Holiday and do holiday shows that included jazz.
At The Soraya, the extra bonus was Joy’s multi-generational musical family who are on the Xmas project with her. They were her father Antonio McLendon-vocals/bass who toured with the renowned gospel star Andraé Crouch, uncle Laurone McLendon-vocals (great cook too), and cousins Tiera Lowell Rowe-vocals and Thomas Niblack-vocals. Backing them all was Shedrick Mitchell-keyboards, Eric Wheeler-bass and Charles Hayes-drums. https://www.youtube.com/embed/oJTgeiFFS_k?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Without her family members, Joy started with cool swinging “Warm In December” and nearly sounded too lush, resembling Sarah Vaughan, to be a seasonal tune. Being a native New Yorker (The Bronx), Joy exclaimed that it was 72 degrees in So Cal that day to amuse the audience. Stevie Wonder’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Me” with just her and piano was clearly a Christmas song, along with a full band performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which both drew enthusiastic applause.
Departing from the new recording was “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” that spotlighted Rowe’s incredible singing. While, “Forever Jesus Christ is Lord” was wrought with beautiful harmonies from everyone together. Concluding the first half of the program was Donny Hathaway’s jubilant R&B styled classic “This Christmas.”
With the involvement of her family, the focus shifted to gospel and spiritual music, beginning with the rich, multi-layered and magnificently sung “O Holy Night.” It was the only song featuring all of them on the EP and received a rousing standing ovation. Whereas, “The Christmas Song” showcased just father and daughter wonderfully singing to warm hearts.
For the second half, Joy began by giving the audience the timeline of her mercurial career. It began with recording her first eponymous album in 2020 while she was still a senior in college, touring in Europe and over places for the first time in 2021 and recording the second project Linger Awhile in 2022. Verve Records liked it and signed her, which led to doing nonstop promotion for the project and getting two Grammy Nominations. That culminated with her winning them, including the historic milestone of being the second jazz singer to be awarded Best New Artist.https://www.youtube.com/embed/HxgSzKd-teI?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
After the bio interlude, she purred Ella-style with “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” and then exploded with furious scatting and band interactions for “I Don’t Know Where My Man is” that drew impassioned audience response. Later, for the first encore Joy exhibited her full vocal range for “Guess Who I Saw Today” that started as conversational low range and ended with an overpowering crescendo.
In between the first two jazz songs and the beginning encore were the Grammy-winner and family powerfully and soulfully singing “Mary Did You Know” that included her father playing bass, “Wonderful Merciful Savior,” “Joy to The World” with audience participating and “The Benediction” as the second encore with the crowd stilling wanting more. For more info go to: www.samarajoy.com and thesoraya.org.
21st century purveyors of doo-wop, Streetcorner Renaissance took clubgoers at Catalina back to a time when songs were primarily about good times, being in love and being happy, sometimes all even in the same song. The a cappella vocal quintet who will be receiving a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on January 20th 2024, got down to business doing James Brown’s “Gonna to Have a Funky Good Time” and The Flintstone’s TV show theme, doo-wop style.https://www.youtube.com/embed/n-miJQUD9l4?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Getting into the pure songs of the genre were harmonious, multi-part “Life Could Be a Dream,” super-smooth “This Magic Moment” and finger-popping “Rockin’ Robin” that brought smiles to all in the audience. Sweet sounding ballads “Do You Remember” and “Oh What a Night” recalled that “first kiss” you got as a teenager. While Jackie Wilson, dubbed Mr. Excitement’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting me Higher And Higher” was about exalted love and had some of the crowd singing along.
Contrarily, Carol King and Gerry Goffin’s classic “Up on The Roof” conveyed feelings about getting away from the world and its troubles, with SCR thoroughly brightening things up with their treatment. They though, had to cover unrequited love with “I Still Love You So,” soul-drenched “I Want Someone to Love Me” and the immortal “Earth Angel.”
Also departing from happy times was blues classic “Stormy Monday,” while “Down Home Blues” and “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On,” done doo-wop style balanced things out. The doo-wop troubadours further stretched out with excellent treatments of the immortal “Route 66,” and included seasonal themed “White Christmas,” Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and gospel gem “When Was Jesus Born.”
Wrapping up the entertaining show and bringing things back to doo-wop was Curtis Mayfield’s uplifting “It’s Alright” with the audience up and singing along. For more info go to: https://streetcornerrenaissance.com and catalinajazzclub.com
Was it science or was it music? Actually, a little bit of both, as Dan Tepfer, born in Paris to American parents and educated at the University of Edinburgh with Bachelor’s Degree in Astrophysics and the New England Conservatory with a Master’s in Jazz Piano Performance, recently debuted for Los Angeles his 2019 classical contemporary project, Natural Machines at CAP UCLA’s Nimoy Theatre.
Somewhat related to multi-instrumentalist/tech wiz Jacob Collier, but without joyful singing, dancing and pop music, Tepfer incorporated a Yamaha Disklavier piano with the decades old SuperCollider program, that displayed synched computer-generated animation, and his keyboard mastery and prompts through an overhead camera. Unlike Collier, the Brooklyn-based innovator and former Lee Konitz collaborator’s show was nerdier and sometimes more like a demonstration (he did one days earlier for students).
Didactically, he detailed the math, history, music rules and scientific theory behind his work and the technology that allows him to surpass human limitations. He called it “the intersection of the algorithmic and the spiritual” and cited Bach and Coltrane as examples. In that regard, Tepfer with the system played a piece normally, then with an inversion, then further multiplying it to four and six hands versions, and even in reverse.
Vocally, he applied the circle of fifths for a harmony example, and the computer going above a fifth, then him going down a fourth and a second, and even added another voice. Additionally, he gave a musical and graphic example of a harmonic planetary system as it exists, which each planet’s individual revolutions in synch with the others.
Musically, besides the Natural Machines selections Tepfer showcased his Goldberg Variations/Variations that included pieces played upside down. Fractals of nature were turned into music and expanded as he played melodica over everything. Also, he exhibited the relationship of different frequencies through intervals and harmony from his improvisational work Triad Sculptures and played the high-energy, mathematically perfect “Constant Motion” from the featured 2019 album. Unquestionably, the future is here and now. For more info go to: dantepfer.com and cap.ucla.edu
Over the years, the Jazz Bakery, directed by one of Los Angeles’ leading jazz presenters, Ruth Price, has provided a wealth of engaging and entertaining concerts. One of the most unique was the dual celebration of Bossa Nova’s 65th Anniversary and on-air personality
Sergio Mielniczenko’s Brazilian Hour Radio’s 45th Anniversary at the Moss Theatre that was also supported by the Brazilian Consulate. Mielniczenko, as would be expected was the host/narrator for the program and was off-stage and out of sight during the event, except to initially introduce the participating musicians he enlisted.
They were Silvia Nicolatto-vocals, Roberto Montero-guitar, Wesley Amorim-guitar, Mika Mutti-piano, Jon Pintoff-bass, Matt Demerritt-reeds and Clarice Cast-drums. With Mielniczenko giving both artistical and historical commentary while the musicians performed, the audience learned about the history of modern Brazilian music, beginning with samba. It’s considered the essence of the country’s social fabric and was developed at the beginning of 20th century in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.
“Pelo Telefone” the first samba recorded was festively performed by the collective. Originating about 50 years earlier was the mostly instrumental and up-tempo genre called choro, a blend of polka, waltz and habanera with African rhythms. In that vein, Nicolatto beautifully sang classic “Carinhoso” and “Dôce de Coco” featuring lyrics added years later.
Shifting to mid-20th century and afterwards was the music of popular Brazilian composers such as Ary Barroso and Chico Buarque was highlighted. Naturally, bossa nova was included with Mielniczenko briefly listing its timeline.
1958: The first recording of the genre João Gilberto’s Chega de Saudade and soccer great Pele at age 17 helped Brazil win its first World Cup
The film Black Orpheus by French Director Marcel Camus was released, showcasing landmark compositions by Antônio Carlos Jobim/ Vinicius de Moraes and Luiz Bonfá. It won the 1959 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960, and Best Foreign Film at the 1960 Golden Globe Awards.
1960:Brasília becomes Brazil new capital, replacing Rio de Janeiro
1962: Bossa nova concert at Carnegie Hall
1965: Getz/Gilberto album wins Grammy’s for Album of The Year, Best Instrumental Album and Best Engineered Recording
1966: Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’s A&M Records released Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 that went into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011.
That led to the band playing enchanting and brief renditions of bossa classics “Little Boat,” “No More Blues” and “Só Danço Samba,” along with Baden Powell’s acoustic guitar-driven “Sad Samba (Samba Triste)” and Jobim’s “One Note Samba.” Not to be forgotten was his immortal “How Insensitive” and extremely popular “Wave” that was actually written in LA in 1967. Wrapping an entertaining and highly informative evening were bossa’s best known songs, Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema” and Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada.” For info go to: ww.brazilianhour.org and www.jazzbakery.org.
Kaoru Ishibashi, born in Seattle, raised in Norfolk, VA and currently resides in Athens, GA, is a violinist/singer songwriter/arranger/multi-instrumentalist. His performance name is Kishi Bashi. With, A Song Film by Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari, he added filmmaker to his numerous talents and achievements. He screened the documentary at the Aratani Theatre to a sold-out audience and included performing all the songs from it with Q&A mixed in.
Omoiyari, which translates to “the idea that thinking about others promotes compassion” is a journey Ishibashi, a Japanese American takes to find his roots. In the process, he learns about the dreadful chapter of American history when his past generations were unfairly incarcerated during WWII. The highly creative musician/filmmaker who previously was a member of indie rock bands Jupiter One and Of Montreal definitely isn’t the first to tackle the subject. But his approach is more youthful, integrated his music and was emotionally connected to the era.
During his crew’s first trip to LA they met and stay at Karen Ishizuka’s mother’s vacant house. Ishizuka, PhD, Chief Curator at the nearby Japanese National Museum and second-generation Japanese-American, who had 22 family members incarcerated in different camps cited. “Kaoru’s (Ishibashi) parents came to the U.S. after the war, but this is also his story and what he has done is given it to you all.
To make it your story, an American story. It has its legacies and also has its lessons. We (Japanese-Americans) didn’t have allies at the time to standup for us and the lesson is to be allies in whatever way needed. To be there and speak up.”
In musician mode, Kishi Bashi dreamily sang with bassist/banjo player Mike Savino, Emily Hope Price-cello/vocals and a string trio. They started with folk/classical ballad “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear” that ramped up for the audience to clap along. In the same vein “F Delano” referred to the 32nd President’s Executive Order 9066 and featured Savino. Ethereal “Marigolds” was bolstered by the strings and light percussion from Price.
Some of the Q&A questions were, why did he choose violin (close to human voice and plays other instruments), how has he changed after making the film (happier, very woke, more mature and connected), advice to other multi-national people who feel marginalized (believe in yourself and be beautiful) and what’s next for him (very interested in exploring convict leasing history). For more info go to: www.kishibashi.com, www.janm.org and jaccc.org
Marianella Rojas, who simply goes by Nella, appeared at CAP UCLA’s Nimoy Theatre. The singer/actress, originally from Venezuela, by way of Canada, graduated from the Berklee College of Music. Shortly thereafter, she won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist in 2019. Additionally, she has worked with fellow Venezuelan, LA Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Gustavo Dudamel and performed one of his songs in the documentary Free Color. Furthermore, Nella has collaborated with other Latin artists, including Jennifer Lopez, Carlos Vives, Javier Limón, Luis Enrique, Alejandro Sanz, Susana Baca, Los Amigos Invisibles, Monsieur Periné and Caramelos de Cianuro.
With a stripped-down group of one person on guitar/vocals and another playing sax/keyboards/percussion/vocals, Nella in Spanish euphoniously sang “Ahí” and “Mi Ciudad Perdida” that flourished with breezy sax solos. After reaching out to the audience and getting shoutouts from all the South American countries they were from, the cheery singer segued into romantic ballad “Otro Beso,” which further impassioned the attendees. Staying on that wavelength, the Venezuelan continued with “Mi Guitarra” that she recorded with Limón, and “Burbujas de Amor” with the audience helping and her guitarist inserting a tasty solo.
“Volaré” and “Solita” shifted things slightly up-tempo with Nella beautifully singing and getting everyone to clap along. Coming from a country plagued with severe economic and political crisis, the singer urged everyone to leave their fears and disappointments outside the venue, before performing optimistic “Pa Afuera.”
While, “De Vez en Cuando” returned to sultry and romantic textures that included a concurring sax solo, light percussion and vocal harmonies from the backing players. Feeling very festive, the Latin Grammy-winning singer launched into “Voy” and raised the excitement with spirited singing bolstered by a flute solo. For the encore she wonderfully sang “La Negra Atilia” a cappella and with band self-defining “Me Llaman Nella.” For more info go to: nellarojas.com and cap.ucla.edu.
Dudamel & LA Phil at Disney Hall featured versatile Mexican singer/songwriter Silvana Estrada for its Canto en Resistencia series. Estrada’s musical acuity spans jazz, funk, indie Latin rock and folk, and classical. Interestingly, her singing was only featured for three songs at the tail end of the program. Her “Si me Matan” was gloriously sang with mild orchestration, conveying the fear of women going on the streets alone. Estrada gave a lengthy explanation afterwards and continued with “Se me Ocurre” that expressed the healing qualities of love.
In sharp contrast, she stirringly sang Dudamel’s boldly orchestrated version of “Sólo le pido a Dios.” It was a protest song composed by Argentinian singer-songwriter León Giecoin in 1978. Without a doubt, a perfect ending for the Canto en Resistencia program, which received an equally powerful standing ovation. Other segments of the concert included works, Roberto Sierra’s Alegría, Tania León’s Stride, Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2 and Gabriela Ortiz’s Seis piezas a Violeta. For more info go to: www.silvanaestrada.com and www.laphil.com.
American Railroad performed by the Silkroad Ensemble at The Soraya was an ambitious, diverse and comprehensive suite. It musically depicts and celebrates the unsung heroes who constructed the 19th century landmark American Transcontinental Railroad and other important railways from 1863 to the beginning of the 20th century.
The workers were primarily Asian and Irish immigrants, along with American and indigenous people of color who laid down thousands of miles of track. It was documented that non-immigrant American Caucasians workers preferred mining and agriculture, except in Utah due to the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young’s involvement.
Captivatingly leading the 13-person consortium was two-time Grammy, Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient, multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/composer Rhiannon Giddens. She became Silkroad’s Artistic Director in 2020, succeeding the non-profit organization’s founder cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
For the concert Giddens who played banjo, fiddle and sang was inconspicuously among her colorfully dressed bandmembers: Shawn Conley-bass, Pura Fé-lap-steel guitar/voice, Haruka Fujii-percussion, Sandeep Das-tabla, Karen Ouzounian-cello/voice, Mazz Swift-violin/voice, Niwel Tsumbu/guitar, Francesco Turrisi-frame drums/accordion, Kaoru Watanabe-Japanese flutes/percussion, Michi Wiancko-violin/voice, Wu Man-pipa and Yazhi Guo-suona/Chinese percussion.
In the course of two hours, not including intermission, they performed 17 deeply spiritual ethnic, world and American folk time piece selections, showcasing themselves individually and collectively within the ensemble. Included were commissioned pieces, traditional folk songs “Swannanoa Tunnel” and “Steel-Driving Man” arranged by Giddens, pipa featured “Time Elapse” arranged by Zhang Haihui, “Wíhaŋblapi Mázačhaŋku” or “Railroad Dreams” by Oglala Lakota composer Kite, and Cecile McLorin Salvant’s interpretation of the bluesy hymn “Have You Seen My Man?” to further engross the audience.
Overall, Gidden and ensemble’s main intent according to their website was. “Lifting up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been overlooked or erased, while advocating for a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins through art.” For more info go to: www.silkroad.org, rhiannongiddens.com and thesoraya.org
Virtuoso banjoist Béla Fleck and equally talented double-bassist Edgar Meyer’s creative relationship began over 40 years ago, and they have regularly worked as a duo and on each other’s individual projects since then. In 2009 they enlisted master table player Zakir Hussain to help write a concerto that ended up being The Melody of Rhythm, recorded with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
Interestingly, the magic between the three world-class musicians didn’t occur until they started touring to promote the album. Then, they quickly found through improvisation a common language, even though each of them musically and culturally had very different backgrounds. Bluegrass, classical and jazz fusion for Fleck, Meyer was steeped in Western classical, and for Hussain it was Indian classical, Indian fusion and rock.
While performing in India, Rakesh Chaurasia, a talented bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) player sat in. His uncle was Indian flute legend Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, who Hussain knew well. Amazingly, he injected additional color and greatly opened things up, resulting in everyone being challenged and reaching new heights.
14 years later and after many concerts the magical quartet released As We Speak, their first recording together, and triple Grammy-nominated. It expresses their conversational process for composing and performing, while weaving a diverse mixture of elements, such as raga, Indian classical, blue grass and Western classical into an astounding union.
At Soka University’s Concert Hall, Fleck, Hussain, Meyer and Chaurasia treated the audience to a beguiling and highly stimulating evening, beginning with bluegrass laden “Bubbles” that was heighted by the banjoist and bassist’s exchanges. While “Conundrum” was more raga-like featuring superb tabla and bansuri playing with bass contributing an incredible rhythmic solo.
Hussain’s Indian classical themed “J Bhai” honored his longtime friend and musical partner, guitarist John McLaughlin from Shakti. It featured bowing bass, with flowing tablas and bansuri, and banjo injecting astounding textures and rhythms to blow the audience away. A little later the quartet served up “Pashto,” influenced by British marching bands in India during the 1800s. Chaurasia’s graceful playing and Meyer’s robust bowing bass were prominent, while Fleck and Hussain adding lively support to end the first half of the program.
After intermission, “Rickety Karma” an entertaining merging of bluegrass and raga started the second half of the concert and was propelled by Fleck and Hussain’s jam-like playing, with Meyer also soloing. While “Tradewinds Bengali” was much more melodic and flowed with gentle bansuri playing augmented by attacking banjo and tabla textures.
Not on the new recording and without bansuri was a 15-beat Western classical structured canon starting with bass, then banjo, as tabla was involved throughout. With Chaurasia back in the fold, the remarkable quartet concluded their concert with the title selection and “The B Tune,” both chocked with dynamic energetic playing to draw an enthusiastic standing ovation. For the encore mid-tempo pastoral styled “1980” composed by Hussain was showcased. For more info go to: www.belafleck.com and www.soka.edu/soka-performing-arts-center
As part of the California Festival: A Celebration of New Music, Dudamel Conducts Ortiz and Piazzolla The Music of Tango and Ballet was presented at Disney Hall and well received with passionate standing ovations. In 1969 legendary Argentinean tango innovator Astor Piazzolla reworked Vivaldi’s Four Seasons into the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Almost 30 years later Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov arranged it for solo violin and orchestra that was first performed at Disney Hall in 2014 featuring Nicholas McGegan conducting and Martin Chalifour as the solo violinist.
Under Dudamel’s dazzling guidance, Spanish/Peruvian Leticia Moreno was the featured soloist and injected spark-flying vibrance into the sweeping work. The conductor provided plenty of Latin flavored orchestrated fireworks. He also gave the violinist ample space to improvise, amplify and inject her personality into the sections. Without question, it was a magnificent performance that hopefully will be revisited again.
Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s newly created Revolución Diamantina (Glitter Revolution) was an important and timely modern classical six-movement work. It incorporated stunning wordless singing from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, agile ballet dancers, and driving instrumentation and thundering percussion under Dudamel’s direction. Ortiz’s inspiration was an August 2019 incident in Mexico City, where protesters threw pink glitter at the Chief of Police for giving impunity to officers who blatantly raped a woman. For more info go to: www.leticiamoreno.com, www.gabrielaortiz.com and www.laphil.com
Music & Design: Mid-Century Venezuela at the Getty Museum included a concert from Venezuelan drummer/percussionist/Music Professor Aaron Serfaty’s Trio with keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz and bassist Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu.
Outside on the museum’s courtyard, the musicians served up palatable Latin jazz, classic Venezuelan songs and related tunes. Chick Corea’s popular chestnut “Windows” renamed “Ventanas” by Serfaty was easy flowing, while also providing keyboards and bass room to contribute tasteful solos.
The bandleader mentioned that he first heard Nat King Cole through his three Latin albums and spotlighted the gentle ballad “Ansiedad” written by Jose Enrique Sarabia. Equally enchanting was a 5/8 merengue by Henry Martinez. A traditional Venezuelan ballad that was recorded by Serfaty’s father’s record company during the ‘50s closed out the fast-paced and slightly windy show
Afterwards, things shifted to the inside lecture hall for curators, Jorge Rivas Pérez (Jan Mayer Latin American Art at the Denver Art Museum)and Idurre Alonso’s (Latin American Collections at the Getty Research Institute) interesting discussion. They focused on Alfredo Boulton’s intellectual legacy and his trendsetting art. It incorporated both mid-century modern and historical Venezuelan traditions in the design of his house in Pampatar on Margarita Island. Incorporated into the program was the exhibition, Alfredo Boulton: Looking at Venezuela (1928–1978). For more info go to: www.aaronserfaty.com and www.getty.edu.
Celebrating the Holiday Season with reveling salsa and Latin jazz flair at The Broadstage was the 13-piece, 20-year-old and triple Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Led by pianist/Musical Director Oscar Hernández, the mighty ensemble’s two-part concert celebrated their renowned traditional sound and also special Salsa Navidad selections that included classic Latino Christmas Music.https://www.youtube.com/embed/kErd8azGa6k?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Straight out of the gate, tunes from the band’s latest recording Imágenes Latinas were showcased, beginning with “Llegó La Hispanica.” It was full of proud chanting/singing and scorching percussion. The tile track was ballad-like, featuring engrossing vocals, with brass forays and solos.
Contrarily, “Vestido De Flores” was a soulful cha-cha with serenading singing and choruses garnered with a blazing trumpet solo to excite the audience. Additionally, “Mambo 2021” was hard-driving and featured and the band turning in fiery solos. While even tempo “De Mi Para Ti” was more salsa oriented and romantic featuring Jeremy Bosch singing and playing flute. For the Salsa Navidad section of the concert, electric cuatro player Ray Gagon was featured with spirited playing from the orchestra that inspired the audience to clap along for many of the Xmas-themed songs. For more info go to: www.spanishharlemorchestra.com and broadstage.org.
Twanguero a.ka. Diego Garcia has demonstrated many times that he’s an incredible guitarist (and vocalist), and can play any type of music, although he tends to stay in realm of Latin-themed explorations.
His uniting with the Venice-based Los Silverbacks was perfect, taking pressure off him to be the main focal point, while still allowing to jam away and interact with the band members. They were Jose Agote-vocals/bass, Adrian Buono-vocals/guitar, Jason Tamba-vocals/guitar, Jonny Jyemo-drums and Mermans Monsego-vocals/percussion.
The world music collective, who incorporates African, Latin and Spanish textures and rhythms, with elements of rock en español, American country and rockabilly performed at Catalina. Ellington’s immortal and extremely malleable “Caravan” that in Twanguero and Los Silverbacks’ hands overflowed with a tantalizing mix of Gabor Szabo’s and Garcia’s live wire playing. Additionally, Mosengo and the other players injected spirited Spanish singing and choruses.https://www.youtube.com/embed/ccMI33hMxbE?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
“Esperanza,” Cesária Évora’s “Sodade,” and reggae flavored “Soul Rebel” flowed together into one song, showcasing the lead vocalist and Twanguero. Also, in that regard was “Tandisua” that was filled with jagged rock en Español riffs, along with “Rockamambo” that also was highlighted by Cuban percussion.
For more variety, Buono’s singing enhanced the tasteful Spanish themed ballad “Flecha” and romantic tune “Alegria.” “Mr Bobby” was a mix of ska and Latin rock with the audience singing the chorus. While Twangero’s zesty “Cumbia Del Este” was thematic and filled with his signature guitar ripping. And “Hay Amores” was a lively cumbia, featuring stirring band singing. Mosengo returned to the forefront to soulfully sing a reggae version Chuck Berry’s classic “Johnny B Good” that also resounded with wailing guitar.
Essential components of any concert Garcia plays are rockabilly and country, with him doing a Chet Atkins’ inspired instrumental version “Mr. Sandman,” fast-picking “Cannonball” and last song “Marea” that had a mix of reggae and rocking country to draw a buoyant standing ovation. For more info go to: twanguero.com, www.lossilverbacks.com and catalinajazzclub.com.
Two of the most common themes in blues are paying your dues and surviving. Singer/guitarist Ana Popović has done plenty of both many times over. She was born in Serbia when it was part of Yugoslavia under Communist rule. When that regime collapsed the then teenage guitar wiz was able to go to other parts of Europe to further her musical education and perform.
Along the way, she met and jammed with Americans, harmonica player/vocalist Junior Wells and guitarist Bernard Allison. Those connections led to her being the only female guitarist to be included on Jimi Hendrix Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix on Ruf Records in 2000 (similarly on the 2014-2018 all-star Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour) and subsequently getting her own recording contract.
Since then, the hard-rocking and unapologetic Popović has maintained a demanding touring schedule, released 13 albums with her band and fought for acceptance from the male-dominated blues establishment and audiences. In 2020 her efforts were curtailed by the Pandemic and being diagnosed with breast cancer (her mother died from it three years earlier). She fought it with intense determination that included 14 chemotherapy treatments in Amsterdam and since 2022 has returned to her trademark hard-hitting blues and R&B rocking, averaging about 150 shows a year.
At the Cerritos Center For Performing Arts, she and band that included brass players did their final show for 2023, highlighting Popović’s newest release Power. They lit up the stage, beginning with a fiery Intro jam. “Rise Up!” slowed things down a little, but didn’t lack firepower. Popović soulfully blazed away, while conveying a message of uniting and not giving up.
Alternately, the Manhattan Beach-based headliner revealed the sultry lover side of her persona with high-voltage and brass charged “Power Over Me,” along with snarly, assertive “Ride It” and alluring, soul-wailing “Strong Taste (For You).” The singer/guitarist further exerted dominance and control with “Queen of the Pack” and “Like It on Top” that boldly exhibited her powerful singing and playing.
Popović even showed a more traditional New Orleans quality through Tom Waits’ “New Coat of Paint” featuring her keyboardist, brass players and her own searing playing. She could have easily ended the show at that juncture, but continued with more molten hot songs such as Mandrill’s “Fencewalk” and new confessional/affirming “Doin’ This.” They were both filled with hot brass forays, soulful singing and of course “take no prisoners” guitar playing.
For blues and R&B purists she launched into juke joint shuffling “Brand New Man.” With the firepower of Buthel Burns-bass, Jerry Kelley-drums, Michele Papadia-keyboards, Claudio Giovagnoli-saxophone and Davide Ghidoni-trumpet, Popović could have played well beyond her allotted 75 minutes. She instead left the audience tasting for more in 2024.
Former Buddy Guy protégé, guitarist/singer Quinn Sullivan opened the concert with jaunting tunes from his latest album Wide Awake that were a mixture of classic and indie rock. Additionally, he showcased his new Hendrix styled single “Salvation.” For more info go to: anapopovic.com, quinnsullivanmusic.com and www.cerritoscenter.com
Pianist/composer/arranger/bandleader John Beasley, also a Grammy-winner and Emmy Nominee shares a birthday with the idiosyncratic pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (October 10th). The bandleader had a Triple Birthday Celebration at Zipper Hall on the Coburn School campus with the 10-year anniversary of his forward-thinking MONK’estra coinciding.
It was part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series and the 15-person band with Terreon Gully-drums, Reuben Rogers-bass and Beasley who are also Dianne Reeves’ rhythm section, roared during an exhilarating arrangement of Charlie Parker’s classic “Donna Lee.” The bandleader debated that Miles Davis actually wrote the tune.
Beasley who’s very active in scoring films and TV programs showcased a mostly explosive suite of MONK’estra’s work in that sector. It was for multiple Oscar and Emmy-winning composer Thomas Newman’s score for Let Them All Talk, who was in the audience, that was directed by Steven Soderbergh. Trumpeter Theo Croker joined the big band for a powerful funk-tinged number that was intensely introed by Reuben and boosted by a ferocious trombone solo. Included was a mash of Wayne Shorter/Weather Report’s lightly fused “Harlequin” and “Three Clowns.”
Ballad “Ruby My Dear” focused on Monk’s music and featured saxophonist Ralph Moore weaving around the somber, yet also flourishing arrangement. The icon’s signature “Rhythming” opened things for up all the players to interact vigorously and also turn in scorching solos that impressed the audience. In the closing moments of the show, Beasley attempted with an injured hand to play “Straight No Chaser.”
Pianist/producer Greg Phillinganes who was close by jumped on stage and took over with vocalist Dwight Trible also joining in and joyfully scatting away. He led the jamming band, and spirited crowd to enthusiastically sing “Happy Birthday” to the bandleader and Monk. For info go to: www.johnbeasleymusic.com and www.jazzbakery.org.
Shortly after blazing away during one of the final sets at the 2023 Monterey Jazz Festival, saxophonist Azar Lawrence’s Experience performed at The Miracle Theater. Lawrence, a former prodigy, worked with blues legend Muddy Waters, pioneering funk Watts 103rs St. Rhythm Band and War with Eric Burdon, while still attending high school in Los Angeles during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
After graduating and studying with trail blazing pianist Horace Tapscott and colossal drummer Billy Higgins, the powerful reedman was a sideman for icons Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Woody Shaw and Freddy Hubbard throughout the ‘70s. Also, during that era, Lawrence led and recorded with his own group that was broader in scope, encompassing modern jazz, holistic/spiritual explorations, Latin/Afro-Cuban jazz, funk and R&B.
In late ‘70s into the ‘80s, the saxophonist worked with high-caliber artists saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and pianist Henry Butler, while doing much more R&B related music with singers Marvin Gaye, Deniece Williams and Phyllis Hyman, along with Earth, Wind & Fire. After a 15-year break from music due to health reasons, Lawrence returned and merged all his previous avenues of expression into his current band. It included Lynn Fiddmont-vocals, Wes Lowry-drums, Chris Lowry-trumpet, Dennis Nelson-guitar, Robert Turner-keyboards and Michael Alvidrez-bass.
They began with the immortal “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” Kamasi Washington-like “All in Love” and fusion/funk styled “Lost Tribes of Lemuria.” The pieces were all from their 2020 music video Another Trip Around Sun recorded with recently departed saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders to celebrate his ‘80th birthday.
Special guests, keyboardist/vocalist Rickie Byars Beckwith and her daughter, singer Georgia Anne Muldrow rendered a deeply spiritual ballad “Child of The Sun” that was enhanced with gentle trumpet and sax solos to totally enthrall the audience. Closing out the set was a euphoric version of “My Favorite Things” featuring the bandleader and cohorts boldly playing and soloing to captivate the audience. For more info go to: azarlawrence.com and www.themiracleinglewood.com
Multiple Grammy nominated and many time jazz poll winner, guitarist Bill Frisell’s FIVE, was essentially two trios melded. It consisted of bassists Thomas Morgan and Tony Scherr, with drummers Rudy Royston and Kenny Wollesen who also doubled on vibes intermittently. They wistfully coalesced at the Theatre at The Ace Hotel as part of the CAP UCLA series. It was the perfect format for the guitarist, known for intermixing elements of electronic ambience, country, roots, jazz and rock into his music.
In fact, the opening number had a Grateful Dead feel, especially with two drummers and Frisell’s signature ethereal rambling style. The ensemble afterwards segued into an initially dreamy piece with Wollesen’s vibe playing complimenting the bandleader, before he shifted to driving fused playing and light electronic looping, and then later returned to the opening section.
From a more conventional standpoint, Frisell showcased his jazz chops for an up-tempo number that provided ample space for him and cohorts to stretch out. They contrarily got raucous when rendering John McLaughlin’s pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra composition “Arjen’s Bag” and a rhythmic African styled jam-like tune. For balance, melodic songs “What World Needs Now is Love” by Burt Bacharach/Hal David and encore “People” popularized by Barbara Streisand were included to receive impassioned standing ovations.
Also garnering a standing ovation was emerging trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Owl Song trio. Frisell was also a bandmember and Timothy Angulo on drums subbed for New Orleans-based Herlin Riley who’s on the upcoming album. This group was nearly as palatable as the headlining one and kept the audience spellbound.
The trumpeter and guitarist interlaced unbelievably well to create trance-like musical vistas, ranging from atmospheric neo-bop, fused funk to exquisite ballads. Additionally, Angulo’s adept touch and graceful sense of rhythm further elevated the unit. He, though, will not be on the record. For more info go to: www.billfrisell.com, www.ambroseakinmusire.com and cap.ucla.edu.
Truly a versatile jazz guitar statesman with a big personality, Russell Malone has worked with a wide swath of artists, including Diane Krall, Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Macy Gray and even Rickey Lee Jones recently. After a long time away since about 2016, he returned to So Cal and appeared at the Moss Theater for The Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast series with his quartet. It included Bill Cunliffe-piano, Mike Gurrola-bass, and Roy McCurdy-drums, who Malone declared should be a NEA Jazz Master.
They got down to business with cool swinging numbers, George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark” and “Love For Sale” featuring Gurrola and Cunliffe elegantly soloing, and a tradeoff with McCurdy. Slowing things down some was easy flowing “The Kind of Girl She is” composed by the Bergmans and Dave Grusin, and gentle ballad “While We Were Young” to draw approval from the audience.
For something different George Shearing’s bebop tune “Conception” showcased Cunliffe’s impressive chops, along with the other rhythm players as the bandleader sat it out. Additionally, Malone’s longtime friend renown flautist Hubert Laws joined him on stage for velvety renditions of “Misty” and bossa classic “Quiet Nights” to further captivate the attendees.
Closing things out was Dizzy’s hard swinging classic “Blue ‘N’ Boogie” featuring Laws, Malone and the other players all soloing passionately. They received a joyful standing ovation and in response the guitarist stated. “I’m going to have to come out here more often.” For more info go to: www.jazzbakery.org.
For two weeks the Angel City Jazz Festival, which took root 15 years ago, showcased an eclectic selection of threshold-pushing innovators and collectives. Common labels describing the music presented are avant-garde, free jazz, and third stream, when classical textures are integrated.
Regardless of sub-classification the sounds emulating from an assortment of So Cal locations, such as LACMA, REDCAT, Zipper Hall, the World Stage, Zebulon, 2220 Arts + Archives, Artshare LA and the Moss Theatre was unadulterated jazz intended for listeners looking to be both challenged and enlightened.
At LACMA Sam Rivers 100 celebrated saxophonist and free jazz innovator Sam Rivers’ legacy who was born in 1923. Arranger Mark Master assembled 13 players to focus on the saxophonist’s Blue Note Records releases from 1964 to 1973 originally recorded in trio, quartet and quintet settings. While at the World Stage, San Francisco Bay Area-based harpist Destimy Muhammad worked with a trio that included Leon Joyce Jr.-drums and Chico Lopez–bass, with special guest saxophonist Teodross Avery. Afterwards, distinguished flautist/composer/educator James Newton conducted an interview/Q&A with Muhammad.
2220 Arts + Archives hosted several engaging shows. Among them were emerging groups, Crump/Laubrock/Smythe and Jeong Lim Yang’s Zodiac Trio. Ennis Harris’ Images & Silhouettes did a World Premiere of Images & Silhouettes with 19-piece third stream ensemble that was commissioned by the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Jeff Clayton’s Memorial New Note Award and the second part of the concert was violaist Mat Maneri’s adventurous and occasionally turbulent quartet, consisting of Brandon Lopez-bass, Lucian Ban-piano and Randy Peterson-drums.
REDCAT highlighted the Next Jazz Legacy Showcase with: Anais Maviel-voice, Milena Casado-trumpet, Neta Raanan-saxophone, Anastassiya Petrova-keyboards, Kalia Vandever-trombone, Keyanna Hutchinson-guitar, Anna Butters-bass and Ivanna Cuesta-drums.
The second set was Nicole Mitchell’s JBM: Images Beyond Artwork and Poetry by Joan Beard Mitchell, with dramatic performance by actor/vocalist Maia and music composed by flautist/educator Mitchell. Bandmembers were Mitchell, Ganavya Doraiswami-voice, Jeff Parker-guitar, Maggie Parkins-cello, Jeff Gauthier- violin, Anna Butters-bass and Rajna Swaminathan-percussion.
Another performance at the venue was Billy Mohler Quartet ‘s ULTRAVIOLET CD Release Party with Mohler-bass, Mark Turner–tenor sax, Shane Endsley-trumpet and Jonathan Pinson–drums. The second set group was the Todd Cochran Trio, TC3 with special guest reedist Bennie Maupin. Bandmembers were Cochran-piano, John Leftwich-bass and Lyndon Rochelle-drums.
Artshare LA staged the newly established Vernacular: New Music series, presenting an inter-generational improvisation mashup of more than 20 veteran and emerging musicians. They performed eight 30-minute sets in duos and trio formats.
Zipper Hall spotlighted Gloria Cheng’s solo piano modern classical interpretations of James Newton’s “Eight Calla Lilies,” Gernot Wolfgang’s “Two Movements,” Jon Jang’s “Ancestors & Sisters” and other composers. Following Cheng, Jang on piano with saxophonist Hitomi Oba served up Ellington’s immortal “Come Sunday,” Oba’s modern classical oriented “Just Crossing By” and “The Butterfly Lovers Song.” Its based on a tale of a tragic romance in restrictive China with pre-arranged marriages that evolved into an opera and popular concerto.
Bassist/vocalist Linda May Han Oh and pianist/husband Fabian Almazan concluded the evening. They engulfed the concert hall with swirling post-bop selections boosted by swirling playing and enchanting wordless singing. Among the selections played were “The Imperative” and “Respite” from Oh’s latest endeavor The Glass Hours and Almazan’s “The Everglades.”
The Moss Theatre was the setting for Kirk Knuffke’s Trio, made up of Knuffke–cornet, Santiago Leibson–piano and Michael Bisio–bass, who created stimulating cutting-edge soundscapes. During the second half of the program Todd Sickafoose‘s abstract BEAR PROOF nine-movement suite was uncloaked. It was originally recorded in 2014 and not performed until that weekend in the Pacific Northwest and California. The all-star cast of musicians making it happen were: Sickafoose-bass,Jenny Scheinman–violin, Adam Levy-guitar, Carmen Staaf-piano, Ben Goldberg–clarinet, Knuffke–cornet, Rob Reich–accordion and Allison Miller–drums.
Zebulon flourished with the intriguing grouping of Tim Berne-alto sax, Aurora Nealand-accordion/clarinet/voice and Hank Roberts-cello/voice for OCEANS AND. They produced some of the most unusual harmonies during the festival. Running neck and neck with them in that regard was Harriet Tubman that brought together Melvin Gibbs-bass, Brandon Ross-guitar/vocals and J.T. Lewis-drums.
They interestingly were an amalgamation of Bad Brains, Parliament/Funkadelic, Sonny Sharrock, Hendrix and Nels Cline. The bluesy, funky and often spacey trio’s set was heighted by the soul stirring singing of their guest Georgia Anne Muldrow.For more info go to: angelcityjazz.com.
Miho Hazama’s m_unit Beyond Orbits week-long West Coast Tour included a stop at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts’ Samueli Theatre.
There, the fast-rising composer/arranger who was born, raised and educated in Japan and additionally earned a Masters at the Manhattan School of Music, grandly showcased her music. Several years ago, she was appointed permanent Guest Conductor for the acclaimed Metropole Orkest in the Netherlands and is also the Associate Artistic Director of the New York Jazzharmonic.
Hazama impressively conducted her youthful 13-person ensemble, who elegantly performed fascinating compositions from her latest project, also the name of the tour. “A Monk in Ascending and Descending” was lushly string laden, while additionally being garnished by saxophone solos, brass forays, and interestingly concluded with a funk-driven section featuring vibes.
The conductor/bandleader’s three-movement Exoplanet Suite, an impressive commission for the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2021 marked her West Coast debut. The work was inspired by new scientific revelations regarding the Solar System, and the state of the world during the Pandemic. Performed entirely, it showcased the New York-based composer’s adept feel for interweaving sweeping classical and jazz motifs, akin to Gil Evans, Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza.
Closing out the amazing set was up-tempo chamber jazz juggernaut “From Life Comes Beauty,” and a lightly percolating cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” that she retitled as “I’m no Longer Going to Hide Love” for the encore that both drew fervent standing ovations. For more info go to: www.mihohazama.com and www.scfta.org.
For almost 50 years guitarist Pat Metheny has played in a wide variety of settings, ranging from contemporary jazz, mainstream, bossa, acoustic guitar to even avant-garde. Along the way he has monumentally garnering 20 Grammy’s in 10 different categories through 53 albums. His easy going, Mid-western (Missouri) persona disguises his driven and extremely ambitious nature to continually find more avenues of expression. At CAP UCLA’s Royce Hall, part of his Dream Box Tour, he did a full concert performing solely.
Normally, the versatile guitarist usually includes a section for solo playing, amidst working in multi-instrument settings. Metheny talked extensively about the concept of the new record, his background and musical associations and influences, along with “in the weeds” info about guitar strings and composing on a piano. Metheny admitted he had done very little of that previously, and the audience enjoyed hearing him extrapolate about the subjects and his various recordings. That was especially true for Beyond the Missouri Sky done in partnership with iconic bassist and friend Charlie Haden, with selections played from it.
With an onslaught of guitar changeouts throughout the two-hour plus concert, Metheny played a variety of styles. That included raucous/distorted guitar for “Zero Tolerance for Silence,” “Alfie” and “Last Train Home” on baritone guitar, “Here, There and Everywhere” on nylon baritone guitar, and the 42-string Pikasso Guitar created by Canadian guitar maker Linda Manzer.
Furthermore, the guitarist utilized a looping bass backdrop he created for bossa classic “Morning of the Carnival” and a bluesy vamp to further delight the audience. Towards the tail end of the concert Metheny injected his Disneyland-like automated Orchestrion that was stealthily covered prior to “Signals,” synth guitar for fusion/world jamming “Straight on Red” and nylon guitar laden “Sueño con México” to receive a thunderous standing ovation. For the encore, without automation he served up Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell’s pop hit “Wichita Lineman.” For more info go to: www.patmetheny.com and cap.ucla.edu.
Keyboardist/vocalist Rachel Eckroth has both collaborated with and supported a diverse range of artists. Among them are Canadian operatic/folk/pop singer/composer Rufus Wainwright, triple Grammy-winner rock/pop singer/guitarist St. Vincent, Scottish indie rock singer/songwriter KT Tunstall, pop/jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, genre stretching saxophonist Donny McCaslin, and blues/jazz bassist/husband Tim Lefebvre.
With a group consisting of Andrew Renfroe-guitar, Billy Mohler-bass and Tina Raymond-drums, she spotlighted compositions from the newly released vinyl version of Humanoid at Sam First. It was also recorded there in 2022 for the venue’s label. Eckroth and crew, who supported the project, quickly summoned up spinetingling “Mind” one the first tunes she composed. It exhibited snarly guitar runs, poignant piano playing and an attacking rhythmic backdrop.
“Vines,” also an original by the bandleader contained bebop-oriented touches with fluid drums and bass accompanying mostly. Guitar later entered with a torrid segment to wrap up the piece. Carla Bley’s soulful ballad “Lawns” spotlighted the bandleader’s cool piano prowess, along with the other players strongly complimenting and soloing.
Bill Fisell’s “Strange Meeting” comparatively was livelier, with a slight ambient edge and featured Renfroe in the opening section with Eckroth soaring afterwards. The set ended with Mohler’s bass-driven and hardbop styled “Evolution.” Its pulsating rhythms, the players strong intermeshing and Raymond blazing solo definitely left the audience hungering for another set. For more info go to: www.racheleckroth.com and www.samfirstbar.com.
With par excellence pianist Keith Jarrett unable to play with both hands, due to his debilitating health issues, mostly significantly suffering from two strokes in 2018, Brad Mehldau could be his likely successor. Mehldau similar to Jarrett has a fluid style and is a superb interpreter and improviser. Additionally, he is classically trained, released recordings in the genre and has worked with some of its top vocalists, such as Renée Fleming, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Ian Bostridge.
Jazz wise, the pianist’s cred is beyond reproach, having worked and/or trained with legends Jimmy Cobb, Junior Mance, Fred Hersch, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden and Charles Lloyd. Additionally, Mehldau intermittently works with his contemporaries, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Brian Blade and Peter Bernstein, whose careers all began around the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
Where Jarrett and Mehldau mostly differ is their choice of material. Jarrett extraordinarily plays standards and variations of them, with touches of gospel and classical. Mehldau does too, but is much more adventurous, alternatively playing original compositions and diving into rock, pop and film music. Songs by Nick Drake, Radiohead, the Beatles and other rock artists often permeate his performances.
Naturally, with his most recent project being, Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays the Beatles that was especially evident during his concert at Disney Hall. With bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard the pianist began with a jaunty and free-wheeling version of “I Hear a Rhapsody.”
Afterwards, they segued into sweet ballad “Little Person” by producer, arranger, studio musician, songwriter, film scorer and sometime collaborator Jon Brion from the film Synecdoche, New York. Also included was Mehldau’s cascading “Spiral” that showcased his remarkable style and the trio cohesiveness and Charlie Parker’s bebop gem “Sheryl” featuring Ballard turning in a powerful solo to impress the audience.
However, the most noticeable highlights from the set were these pieces. Waltz-like Seymour Reads The Constitution based on a dream he had about the actor Seymour Hoffman, highlighted the bandleader’s spry playing with tantalizing bass and drums accompaniment. The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” the longest song of the concert was played as if it was originally a jazz tune, bolstered by enchanting variations and propulsive drumming.
A scorching bebop styled “Long Ago And Far Away” was enhanced by a rhythmic bass solo and explosive drumming, and a lyrical treatment of the ballad “The Folks Who Live on The Hill” received a zealous standing ovation. For the encore Mehldau served up thematic Highway Rider, title track of one of the albums he recorded with Brion. For more info go to: www.bradmehldaumusic.com and www.laphil.com.
Singer Dianne Fraser, by trade an executive for the management and production company, Industry Entertainment Partners, had a CD release party for her debut album YOU AND I, an Homage to The Words And Music of Leslie Bricusse at Catalina. In true Hollywood fashion she told the near-capacity audience. “This project has been a long time in development,” which drew laughs. “And it began when I was a very little girl in North Hollywood.”
Back then she wanted to be Petula Clark (her 90th birthday occurred that day), the British pop singer/songwriter and actress who during the ‘60s into the ‘70s churned out chart-topping hits such as “Downtown,” “Don’t Sleep in The Subway” and “My Love.” Fraser did them as a quick medley with her backing musicians Todd Fraser-piano/Musical Director/Producer, Adam Cohen-bass and Denise Fraser-drums and sister.
After repeatedly watching the 1969 film musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which included her title track You And I, starring Clark and Peter O’Toole, young Fraser started reading the credits. She was surprised to find her idol didn’t write any of the songs she fell in love with and wanted emulate—it instead was Leslie Bricusse, who she initially thought was a woman.
Fraser learned about the multi-Tony Award-nominated “male” British songwriter/composer/lyricist/playwright, who collaborated with film composer giants Henry Mancini, John Williams, John Barry, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even more so, Bricusse worked with songwriter/singer/actor Anthony Newley. That discovery greatly elevated Fraser’s taste in music, theater and film (mainly musicals). Ultimately it cultivated a long-lasting love and respect for Bricusse, whose songs everyone knew, but not him.
The spectrum of his songs and themes included, Grammy-winning “What Kind of Fool Am I,” James Bond classics Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, two-time Academy Award-winning “Talk to the Animals” from 1967 Doctor Doolittle, “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man” from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and “Feeling Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd. Nina Simone’s recording of it is the best-known and has been widely sampled, which led to Fraser doing a stirring bossa-tinged version.
In 21st century-mode, the singer showcased her wonderful singing through diverse mashes of “Crazy World” from the film Victor/Victoria and “If I Ruled The World” from the musical Pickwick, with guest vocalist Damon Kirsche “Look at That Face” from Grease Paint and “Something In Your Smile” from Dr. Dolittle that were marvelously sung and on the record.
Also included were ballads “Once in a Lifetime” from Stop The World I Want to Get Off and “This is The Moment” from the musical Jekyll And Hyde. Fraser additionally showed off her French skills, developed from the language being her major in college and living in Bordeaux for a year, with “Le Jazz Hot” from Victor/Victoria. It featured with her donning a top hat and singing with carefree joie de vivre.
It didn’t seem like Fraser ever met Bricusse, who died in 2021. She did hear from his son Adam. He said, “great stuff, Leslie, I’m sure Leslie would have been delighted!” To say the least, she was very happy and closed the concert with her title track and “Two for the Road” that were both very romantic and positive. For more info go to: diannefraser.com, lesliebricusse.com and catalinajazzclub.com.
Ever since the release of the 1961 ground-breaking album Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings, the singer has been a treasure in the San Francisco Bay Area. She, though, is popular in many other places as well, and according her website, Stallings was the first jazz artist ever to perform at Prague’s renowned National Theatre in 2011.
Additionally, through the course of her exemplary six-decade career that includes a decade off to raise her daughter Adriana Evans, she performed and recorded with jazz royalty. Among them were Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstein, Count Basie, Ben Webster, the Montgomery Brothers (Wes, Monk and Buddy) and many others all around the world.
At San Francisco’s North Beach area’s Key Jazz Bistro, close to where Stallings recorded with Tjader during the mid-20th century, she holds court monthly for a couple of nights. Supporting trio, pianist and Musical Director, David Udolf, bassist Ron Belcher and drummer Jeff Minnieweather created sumptuous accompaniment and swinging rhythms for the vocal queen.
She began singing with cool ease “It’s Crazy (But I’m in Love With You” and also featured her trio stretching out. Reassuring “Close Your Eyes,” elegantly arranged by Udolf was perfect for the headliner’s sophisticated phrasing and feel, especially during the brief segment with only bass that tantalized the audience.
Also getting a new “treatment” from the Music Director was “It’s Just The Gypsy in My Soul,” mashed slightly with the rhythm of “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” It evoked soulful purr-like singing from Stallings who comfortably submerged herself into the tune and also seemingly effortless sang the ballad “I Took a Trip” that drew strong applause. While “East of The Sun (West of The Moon)” heated things up with the singer and trio cutting a soothing upbeat groove.
Stallings briefly departed from standards with “Monk’s Dream.” Before getting into the post WWII tune, she recalled the halcyon years of the locale (late ’50 early/ ‘60s). While on her break from a rehearsal at the El Matador with Tjader she saw Monk do an unbelievable free warmup prior to his show at the Jazz Workshop. She was ecstatic afterwards and told her bandmates. She also remembered meeting Cannonball Alderley and seeing Oscar Peterson and Carmen McCrae in neighboring clubs.
Wrapping up the quickly transpiring set was the very apt Latin-tinged “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” that drew a very appreciative and deeply respectful standing ovation. For more info go to: marystallingsjazz.com and keysjazzbistro.com
KKJZ 88.1’s 2023 Jingle Jazz at The Miracle Theater brought together longtime musical companions, multi-Grammy-nominated vocalist Tierney Sutton and first call/high in demand pianist Tamir Hendelman. They were introduced by popular pianist and KKJZ on-air personality David Benoit, and launched into Sutton’s sophisticated interpretation of Dizzy’s “Con Alma,” intermixed with sung Bach etudes and vocalese by Sonny Henry.
That definitely wasn’t what anyone was expecting at a Holiday-themed concert and the singer admitted they had mixed feeling about Xmas music. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” was transformed into amusing and vibrantly sung/scatted “I Got Tamir to Keep Me Warm” and featured superb piano playing. Also in that category was a sweetly sung and unadulterated version of David Frishberg’s “Sweet Kentucky Ham” and hot swinging “L.O.V.E.” which delighted the audience.
From a traditional standpoint with some tweaks lyrically and musically were “It’s That Time of Year Again (Merry Christmas),” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas” that became “It’s Too Darn Hot” bolstered by highly emotive singing and dazzling piano playing.
For the second part of the show, Hindelman played with Alex Frank on bass and Dean Koba on drums. They conjured up jazzy/Vince Guaraldi styled versions of “O Tannebaum,” “Hark The Angels Sing” and “Christmas Time is Here” with some Monk thrown in.
Upon Sutton’s return, she mashed a scat-laden version of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” with the Julie Andrews’ popularized/Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” into a swinging jaunt that impressed the audience. Also included, was “All Blues” mashed with “Silent Night.”
Also, from stage and screen was scaled down and beautifully sung “I’ve Got No Strings To Hold Me Down” from Pinocchio and the Bergman’s (Sutton always included one of their songs in her shows) “Summer Me, Winter Me” from the film The Picasso Summer. In response to the occasion Sutton couldn’t resist having fun singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” with the trio strongly backing her.
For good measure Xmas classics “Christmas Song” and “I’ll be Home For Christmas” were included and sumptuously adorned by Frank’s bowing bass. Wrapping up the interesting mix of conventional and nonconventional Holiday music was low key “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It shifted up tempo for Sutton, Hendelman and trio to surge for its latter section and drew an appreciative standing ovation. For more info go to: tierneysutton.com, www.tamirhendelman.com, kkjz.org and www.themiracleinglewood.com.
It’s been said a few times before and this time it might be true. At Disney Hall, ten-time Grammy-Winning vocalese quartet Manhattan Transfer made their final appearance. Being together for over 50 years with several personnel changes, including founding member Tim Hauser dying almost 10 years ago, and a 28-album discography, amounts to a lot of history and music. Writer/comedian/actor Bruce Vilanch who saw the group perform when it solidified in 1972 gave a nearly 10-minute introduction to set the mood for the momentous occasion and often had the audience chuckling.
Additionally, Claude McKnight, founding member of the popular a cappella group Take 6 cited MT’s impact, achievements and diverse collaborators. Among them were his own group, Jon Hendricks, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Count Basie Orchestra, and many, many others.
Furthermore, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jacqueline Hamilton, a long-time fan of MT, recalled seeing them at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to Hauser’s radio show on KRCW and taking the group’s UCLA Extension songwriting class. She declared with a certificate on behalf of Mayor Karen Bass that the day was officially Manhattan Transfer Day (12-15) in Los Angeles. If that wasn’t enough, midway through the show, subbing for Karem Abdul Jabbar (took a fall prior), Mervyn Warren, former member of Take 6 and producer of MT’s album The Junction read a letter of praise and blessing from Vice President Kamela Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.
Musically, the group that included Janis Siegal (alto), Alan Paul (tenor), Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) and newest member Trist Curless (bass) revved up the audience with their appealing melding of vocalese, pop, doo wop, jazz and Brazilian tunes. MT was initially grandly supported by the all-women Diva Big Band led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, who were coincidentally celebrating their 30th anniversary, pianist/Music Director Yaron Gershovsky (been with MT for 44 years) and guitarist Pete McCann.
The vocalists began with the essential roots of their music from the ‘30s and ‘40s with vocal pop pioneers the Ink Spots’ “That Cat is High” and Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra’s swing band classic “Tuxedo Junction.” The group’s signature “Java Jive” with mostly guitar and light band backing was dedicated to Hauser with his picture projected overhead. Louis Jordan’s “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” stayed in that era and was bolstered by a hot solo from Gershovsky. Not forgetting the festive season, MT served up brass wailing “Happy Holiday.”
From a more refined standpoint were jazzy “Blue Champagne” (the first song they learned) by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra and “Snootie Little Cutie” by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, and also velvety sung and orchestra sweeping “I Know Why (And So Do You)” by Glenn Miller. Jon Hendricks’ adaptation of Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers” and Clifford Brown’s “Sing Joy Spring,” along with Kenny Clarke/Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and Duke Pearson/Oscar Brown, Jr.’s hardbop “Jeannine” transitioned to high-flying vocalese with the singers’ superbly showcasing their cohesiveness and adept abilities to astonish the audience.
Almost like a completely different group, MT rocked with doo wop hit “Operator” featuring Siegal and lead alto saxophonist Alexa Tarantino wailing away. Afterwards, Gershovsky with bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Ross Pederson, and McCann got into high-energy funk/rocking jamming as a prelude for hip/pulsating “Swing Balboa (Down on Riverside)” to shake the house. Smoothing things out was the immortal “Route 66” with singers melding fabulously and the musical director injecting a riveting solo.
Funk-tinged groove “On the Boulevard” focused on cool singing with Paul and Bentyne mostly leading and included a searing guitar solo. While “Bahia” was a vibrant romp from their Brasil record and “Cantaloop (Flip Out)” with rapping included was a wild merging of Herbie Hancock and hip-hop group Us3. Returning to MT’s signature sound was doo-wop styled hit “The Boy From New York City” to end the concert with a fervent standing ovation. As would be expected, Weather Report/Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” was the encore with Diva and the group’s touring quartet all gloriously supporting the singers to definitely give the audience a very memorable moment. For more info go to: manhattantransfer.net, divajazz.com and www.laphil.com.
Over the last four or five years, Latin jazz trumpeter phenom, 10-time Grammy-winner and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Arturo Sandoval’s annual Swinging Holiday concert at Disney Hall has become a tradition and seasonal highlight. At the same time, the former Cuban refugee always delightfully amazes audiences and is full of surprises.
That aspect was maintained in 2023 and started with the Mariachi Vargas band opening. They rowdily performed “Jingle Bells” and got the crowd who were in a super festive mood to clap along. Keeping the energy going, the acoustic/traditional folk musicians played appealing ranchera-styled versions of “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Feliz Navidad” that was sung both in Spanish and English.
After thanking the mariachi players, and the LA Phil for repeatedly having his band, Sandoval leading a twenty-person ensemble quickly shifted to his own music, with the signature and sizzling “Funky Cha-Cha.” It roared with the bandleader’s soaring trumpet, waves of hard-hitting brass choruses and a ripping guitar solo from William Brahm, along with percussion and piano vigorously contributing to totally rev up the audience. Trumpeter Tony Guerrero’s Tijuana Brass styled tune was also showcased and Sandoval’s own blazing “Mambo Caliente” was related to him hoping his homeland will someday be free.
Naturally, the high caliber trumpeter included a good dose of Xmas music, beginning with roaring big band styled “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” an easy flowing/jazzy version “Hark The Angels Sing” and him blowing the audience away with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Also included were ripping guitar and top-notch brass arrangements were for “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells.”
The bandleader’s special guests were vocalists Jane Monheit and Lia Booth. Monheit with the Latin orchestra performed pianist Maxwell Haymer’s propelling arrangement of “Silver Bells,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that were elevated by her powerful singing and scatting. Booth superbly sang “My Favorite Things” with Sandoval inserting vocal choruses and also sophisticatedly conjured up “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Mixed into the concert were Sandoval’s piano playing for a funk-tinged rendering of “All The Things You Are,” his sentimental singing of Charlie Chaplin’s immortal “Smile,” and his amusing charm, and fun banter with percussionist/actor Andy Garcia. All in all, it was a great show that amassed a rousing standing ovation. For the encore the multi-talented bandleader served up a mix of pop, salsa, Latin jazz and traditional Cuban music with him singing and rapping. For more info go to: arturosandoval.com and www.laphil.com.
Drumming pillar and educator Roy McCurdy is highly regarded for his long tenures with jazz legends Cannonball Alderley and Nancy Wilson, along with stints with Count Basie, Wes Montgomery, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and many other top-level artists. However, at Sam First his lesser-known talents as a bandleader were showcased, with bassist Mike Gurrola, saxophonist Rickey Woodard and pianist Bill Cunliffe.
Initiating the set was Cedar Walton’s swinging hardbop gem “Martha’s Prize,” featuring adept soloing from all, including fiery tradeoffs with McCurdy, along with a similarly structured tune that had him soloing extensively to the audience’s delight. Also appealing to them was a party-like mixing of jazz and calypso featuring high flying sax and pulsating drumming. For a change of pace, Woodard’s rich tones and Cunliffe’s supple touch tastefully shined on the soothing ballad “Who Can I Turn to.”
McCurdy, who had been relatively quiet previously, spoke about playing with Kenny Dorham in the early ‘60s and doing the trumpeter’s gigs at the Blue Cornet in Brooklyn with pianist Harold Mabern and bassist Tommy Williams. Getting there on the subway with his drums was arduous and always wore him out.
Recalling that era, he and band played Dorham’s Latin-tinged hardbop classic “Una Mas” that was adorned with a tantalizing melody and accentuating solos by all. Leaning more to straight ahead was a spry and bouncy rendition of “I Just Found Out About Love” that included an extended solo from the bandleader. Wrapping up the fast-paced show was an entertaining blues vamp abounding with more great playing to draw a standing ovation. For more info go to: www.samfirstbar.com.
The documentary, What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? was shown at the Grammy Museum and revealed the Faustian-like rise of fall of one of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s supergroup. BS&T still exists, but as would be expected, is without the original players and lead singers or fanfare. Following the screening, filmmaker John Scheinfeld, original drummer Bobby Columby, who wrote the score and owns the band (hasn’t played with them since 1976), and music journalist Steve Hochman discussed the story behind the project and how it came to fruition.
In 1970 at the height of BS&T’s popularity, the U.S. State Dept. requested that they do a sponsored tour in several communist ruled countries, Yugoslavia, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. In exchange, Canadian lead singer David Clayton-Thomas’ Green Card wouldn’t be revoked (he had a criminal record in his home country). That was not widely known, especially then and upon the band’s return they received harsh criticism from the rock media/press, record industry, concert bookers and ultimately their fans, leading to a catastrophic loss of popularity.
Right-wing factions were equally outraged and questioned the decision to send and pay for an anti-Nixon rock band to represent the country. BS&T unfortunately were caught in the middle, sworn to secrecy and paid a hefty price for the whole thing. Also coinciding with the damning tour was their subsequent show in Las Vegas, which then was considered taboo for a rock band, although Elvis had done a comeback show there a year earlier.
Scheinfeld knew that all of the 65 hours of the concerts had been filmed and also recorded on portable 8-track audio machine. The material though couldn’t be found and he doggedly searched for all the assets. Fortunately, during COVID a LA film vault manager found a binder from the ‘70s with slight references to BS&T and in a dark corner of the vault was a pile designated for destruction with two never shown prints of the concerts. They had been edited down from the original two and a half-hour film the State Dept shelved.
Propelled by the recovered footage and audio, and internal State Dept. files/communications found in the archives at the University of Arkansas, the director searched and found Eastern European concert goers now in their ‘60s and ‘70s for interviews. Additionally, Scheinfeld recorded the original director hired by the State Dept. (he died before What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears was completed), historians, and former band members, including Thomas and keyboardist/singer/producer Al Kooper who originally formed the band in 1967.
Columby mentioned that the players had not talked about what happened. He also vividly remembered witnessing the heavy hand of the communist regimes and how its citizens were fearful of being seen talking to the band members. The final product was astonishing, giving those who weren’t around during that era a bird’s eye view, and for those alive then nostalgic memories. Q&A with the audience covered, why didn’t the band say anything after the tour, band concept, band conducting and reactions from other bands. For more info go to: www.bstdoc.com, bloodsweatandtears.com and grammymuseum.orghttps://www.youtube.com/embed/xQXInltKe8E?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent
Love to Love You Baby was Donna Adrian Gaines aka Donna Summer’s (December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012) breakout underground disco hit in 1975, and the title of the documentary celebrating her life and achievements. At the Grammy Museum, weeks before what would have been her 75th birthday, disco/electronic music trailblazer Giorgio Moroder, Summer’s daughter and co-Director of the documentary Brooklyn Sudano, Summer’s singer/songwriter husband and Executive Producer of the documentary Bruce Sudano and moderator Lyndsey Parker, Managing Editor of Yahoo! Music engaged in a lively panel discussion about the project.
It was nominated for the Best Music Documentary at the 2023 Critics Choice Documentary Awards, and Summer’s daughter sought the truth and wanted to see where that would lead them. Most importantly, the film allowed her to explore and extensively talk to family members, musicians, her mother’s previous relationships and early collaborators openly, which otherwise might not have been possible.
In addition to the snippets of interviews, music videos and news clips, was a collection of candid campy and alluring rarely seen videos. Summer who was interested in acting (was in the film Thank God It’s Friday and TV show Family Matters), and being a filmmaker, shot them on newly invented cam-corders of the time.
Moroder spoke about the genesis of the breakout hit, beginning with Summer coming up with the concept and title, him and his partner Pete Bellotte expanding it with musicians and electronics, and then coaxing the singer into doing it more sensually. The 20-minute song unquestionably broke ground and became a disco anthem that led to a recording contract, new opportunities, fame and many awards. Among them are five Grammy’s, an induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and being aptly dubbed The Queen of Disco.
Summer’s husband Sudano also noted that it was very important for her to be known as a songwriter and be seen as an artist, and was very creative. Him and his daughter thought it was very crucial to make that point. Brooklyn added Summer was always looking for paper to write down lyrics that came to her, along with regularly writing songs with her father.
Because of that the singer was able to transcend disco with a wave of pop and R&B hits, especially during the backlash against the genre in the late ‘70s that was slanted to racists and homophobes. Moroder shifted to film scores and continued being successful as well. She was also the first black female to appear on MTV, with Michael Jackson and Rick James first making inroads for black artists who weren’t stereotypical rockers.
Contrarily, the time (early ‘80s) wasn’t a total “bed of roses” for Summer. She had a legal squabble with Casa Blanca Records who first signed her, which resulted in the disco/pop star acquiring her publishing rights. Almost ten years later, Summer was accused of making anti-gay remarks, regarding the then newly discovered AIDS disease. Eventually, the matter with New York Magazine was settled out of court with no details revealed.
Q&A from the audience covered, releasing lost single “The Planet is Alive,” Summer’s spirituality and empathy, drug use, singing with Barbara Streisand, releasing the Christmas Album, songs in the “vault,” how Moroder found Summer, the singer’s paintings going on sale or to be published in a book, and footage from the VHS special Live And More Encore. For more info go to: www.hbo.com/movies/love-to-love-you-donna-summer, donnasummer.com and grammymuseum.org
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