By Chris J. Walker
For nearly two hours Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely kept concert goersat UCLA’s Center For The Art of Performance at Royce Hall spellbound. The all-women octet, which also has several male members (not at the UCLA show) consisted of Reagon-guitar/vocals, Josette E. Newsam-vocals, Be Steadwell-vocals, Ganessa James-bass, Allison Miller-drums, Mishti-guitar, Kim Jordan-keyboards and Juliette James-violin.
The bandleader, also a songwriter/composer, curator, producer and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships is a political/representative force to be reckoned. In between songs she unapologetically had plenty to say about the current state of affairs, loving yourself and maintaining dignity. She however, was never mean-spirited or overtly political.
Reagon and entourage in action mightily whirled through a passionate mixture of irrepressible rhythms, riveting textures and powerful singing, boosted by self-affirming/self-loving and uplifting themes. “Let Freedom Ring,” “I’ve Been Waiting” and “I’ll Love You My Way,” along with “You’re Not The Only One” featuring a powerful drum solo intro, were all hard-rocking and drew fever pitch reactions from the audience.
From a more humanitarian standpoint, “Ballad of Bird Outside My Window” was a folk /gospel treatise featuring an a cappella intro from the bandleader, prior to the rest of the group joining in acoustically. Beautiful World title track of Reagon’s latest recording was bluesy and incorporated Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” while exploring why people of color sing the blues. In the mode of blue grass/country was the singer/guitarist’s “Bring Me to My Knees” (written in hope of Dolly Parton recording it) a reaction to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and the surrounding area.
More gospel was delivered through “I Woke Up This Morning” penned by Reagon’s renowned mother Bernice Johnson Reagon and was further enhanced by the other singers and the bandleader’s blistering guitar strumming. Light R&B was also included with “Done Your Best” and “Didn’t I Tell You” to keep the energy up. Finishing up the extremely emotional and awakening concert was Americana “I Stand on The Mountaintop” with violin strongly accenting to draw an enthusiastic standing ovation. For more info go to: https://toshireagon.com/biglovely and https://cap.ucla.edu/
Just Jazz Presents showcased singer Lynn Cardona and guitarist Marcel Camargo, with Andre de Santanna-bass and Leonardo Costa-drums at Mr. Musichead Gallery. Prior to them performing host/emcee Leroy Downs briefly spoke with Cardona and Camargo about how COVID affected them and their artistry. Fortunately, their collaboration began prior to the pandemic and it only posed minor challenges. Also, Brazilian music heavily influenced the creative process and the singer was the only non-Brazilian in the group, yet very impacted by bossa and samba.
The merger of Cardona’s sultry and dreamy vocals with Camargo’s jagged and angular playing was interesting and at times challenging. They however, made it work for most of the tunes. The guitarist and other players opened with “Imaginary Girl Friend” that had a hypnotic and atmospheric vibe with Latin flavoring featuring Camargo soloing profoundly. While, “Vinte E Sete (27 in Portuguese)” was a Latin funk jam and a flavorful fused ballad ended their segment.
Cardona joined the trio for “Congress” that was not government oriented and instead she sexily sang with a rocking funk groove about two people coming together. “I’m Unlucky in Love” the first song the guitarist and singer wrote together was lightly grooving with romantic ethereal singing and the guitarist stretching out a bit. “One if by Land and Two if by Sea” and ‘The Gardener” were the best integration of the singer and guitarist’s style, with drums and bass lightly accompanying.
Before the show ended Camargo, Santanna and Costa injected into the set tribute “Jimi And Jaco” and “$7 Coffee Hang” a dynamic post-bop piece. Cardona returned to close the set doing coolly sung and rhythmically driving “No Diamond Ring Or Pretty Things” to draw strong applause. For more info go to: www.facebook.com/LynnCardonaMusic, www.marcelcamargo.com/ and justjazz.tv/
Los Angeles-based Latin Grammy Award and Spanish Music Award winning guitarist/vocalist/composer, Twanguero (Diego Garcia) hosted a CD Release Party at Hotel Café for his new solo project Backroads, Vol. 2. It’s a continuation of Backroads Vol I and was recorded in Costa Rica’s jungles. The verdant surroundings and abundant wildlife of the region provided inspiration, a sense of connection, heightened his respect for the environment and was a journey of self-discovery for the musician.
All those elements are reflected in the new compositions and as Twanguero performed with percussionist Brian Griffith to a near-capacity audience he spoke about process for creating the album. Flamenco-styled “Samba de la
Jungle” influenced by his trek into nature was blazing, yet also tasteful. Alternately, “Jaguar” was a sultry and somewhat relaxed cumbia flavored number.
Taking a slight departure from the new material was a thematic and slow-drawn piece influenced by the guitarist’s flight over Iguazu Falls bordering Brazil and Argentina. It featured his vocal chorus and chorus/spoken word from Argentinian singer/actress Mía Maestro.
Additionally, Twanguero went back to his previous recording, entailing his travels through the U.S., Mexico and South America, which showcased his talents playing blues, country Chet Atkins-style and blue grass/folk that he called “Spanish Ragtime.” It all amazed the audience and included Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack” with the audience clapping along and singing the chorus. Wrapping up the showcase was an encore highlighting the new CD. For more info go to: www.twanguero.com and the documentary, Twanguero Costarica
Guitar icon, John Scofield known for his ripping and slightly distorted stye has been a fixture on the national and international jazz scene since the mid ‘70s. He’s played with numerous legends, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, along with leading various versions of his own bands. He returned to Theatre Raymond Kabbaz (TRK) to showcase his upcoming, soon to be released band project YANKEE GO HOME. The title is a little misleading and is actually about him returning to his roots and the music that influenced him as a teenager.
Joining the guitarist for the simulating concert was keyboardist/arranger Jon Cowherd, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Josh Dion. To make things interesting the bandleader didn’t announce any of the songs and sometimes would just shout at the originating band’s name at the end of the tune. Off the cuff he said, “Like to play some oldies, some older songs that the baby boomers know. If you’re not a baby boomer and don’t know the songs, asked the gray-haired, old person next to you.”
Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and something else not easily identifiable led things off and was full of wrangled guitar excursions. The Byrd’s “Hey Mister Tambourine Man” followed and was stripped down with guitar and light drums initially as piano and bass joined in later for extended improvisation to draw strong crowd reactions. One of the more melodic numbers played was Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell’s country-pop hit “Wichita Lineman.” Somewhat similar was Neil Young’s very lyrical “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”
For a little funk Scofield delved into Hall & Oats’ “I Can’t Go For That,” which included a creative drum solo. Thrown in for good measure was an original he lifted from the Youngbloods/Jessie Colin Young’s “Come Together.” Concluding the fun and fast-paced show was a very jazzed up version of the Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” and Richie Valen’s “La Bamba” that received a lively standing ovation. For more info go to: www.johnscofield.com and www.theatreraymondkabbaz.com.
Flamenco music is renowned for great guitarists, dancers and singers. Saxophone is not generally known to be part of the genre. However, saxophonist/singer Antonio Lizana is breaking tradition and is a pioneer of new flamenco jazz originating from Southern Spain. Lizana made his recent Southern California debut at the newly opened Bourbon Room in Hollywood. Supporting the saxophonist/singer were New York players Gabriel Chakarji- piano, Eviator Slivnik-drums, Ben Tiberio-bass and guest dancer Manuel Gutierrez.
Lizana, born in San Fernando, Spain in 1984 has performed for many years all over the world and is a very captivating performer. His music is definitely flamenco and his singing is traditional-oriented, but also in a framework of adventurous jazz that spans mainstream, fusion, contemporary and world idioms. The melding of styles by the Spaniard was amazing, and he makes it work as if it’s natural, which of course it is for him.
The concert with the supporting musicians, who sometimes customarily clapped as Lizana sang and played was a wild ride that kept the audience on the edge of the seats. Yet, for the most part the concert wasn’t extreme or unbearable. Lizana additionally communicated with the audience occasionally and expressed his gratitude for being in LA and getting the opportunity to play. Overall, the audience enjoyed the saxophonist/vocalist’s artistry. Whenever he returns to LA, he definitely will have plenty of fans. For more info go to: http://www.kalakoa.com/flamenco.html and https://www.bourbonroomhollywood.com.
Cuban keyboard genius Omar Sosa and Senegal master kora player Seckou Keita are kindred spirits who started playing together in London ten years ago at the request of a mutual friend, drummer Marque Gilmore. Almost immediately the pair knew they were destined to collaborate, record and perform together. Transparent Water was the first effort they recorded in 2017 and in 2021 Sosa and Keita reunited on the island of Menorca for SUBA, the Mandinka word for sunrise.
At Catalina the virtuosos along with Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles mostly showcased selections from their latest album. Sosa normally a high-energy, near acrobatic keyboardist was much more spiritually oriented, and focused on the pair’s connection and splendor of the music. It was a beautiful tapestry of Cuban and African rhythms and textures that mesmerized the audience.
Of course, there were moments when Sosa cut loose with a frenzy of driving Afro-Cuban motifs to impress the crowd, with Ovalles supplying powerful percussion. Keita also delivered high-octane interludes, with his friend, while singing poetically and with remarkable exquisiteness. Not to be left out, the audience who was eager to get involved clapped and chanted along when opportunities occurred. Overall, the concert was overwrought with jaunting rhythms, pulsating percussion and serenading vocals. The attendees wished the show would never end. For more info go to: www.seckoukeita.com/omar-sosa-seckou-keita and http://www.catalinajazzclub.com/
The Ukrainian quartet Dakhabrakha, which means “give/take” in old Ukraine, was formed in 2004 at the Kyiv Center of Contemporary Art by its avant-garde Theatre Director, Vladyslav Troitskyi. The group members are Marko Halanevych-vocals/percussion/accordion/trombone, Iryna Kovalenko-vocals/keyboards/accordion/percussion, Olena Tsybulska-vocals/drums/percussion and Nina Garenetska-vocals/cello/percussion. The musicians embody their nation’s traditional folk and theatrical music, melded with elements of rock, classical and diverse ethnicity.
Dakhabrakha’s unique sound, appearance and scenic effects have made them musical ambassadors. The recent Russian invasion of their homeland created more urgency for the band’s messages, while making them even more popular. This was evidenced before the concert at the Theatre at The Ace Hotel with a long line of attendees donning blue and gold in solidarity, nearly going around the block as they waited to get in. Once inside the audience was greeted with a vibrant mix of accordion, cello, piano, vocal harmonies and pounding drumming.
The group continued with a jazz-tinged waltz tempo song, similar to “St. James Infirmary” featuring rich harmonies by the women in the group as Halanvych’s stirring falsetto layered over them and at times mimicked a trumpet to astonish everyone. From a modern perspective, the accordionist/singer rapped to driving rock beat, while Kovalenko and Garenetska sang howling-like ethnic folk choruses that drew even bigger applause. Later the drummer/percussionist also rapped and was fast-paced to a jazzy and classical backdrop played by cello.
The cellist/vocalist sang solely and played beautifully in a Middle Eastern vein with light percussion, accordion and chorus from the others, who later joined in. In reaction, Ukrainian audience members shouted proclamations and protests against Russia and later prompted Halanvych to mention, “Four million people have evacuated Ukraine-we will always remember.”
Pianist Kovalenko played a solemn and dramatic classical theme, and sang as well with the others adding enthralling harmonies. The accordionist/vocalist sang in English to minimal backbeat “I’m not afraid of dying,” to draw fervent crowd reactions. More powerful vocals and choruses ensued, with intense playing to drive home the reality and extremity of their people’s plight. For more info and how to support Ukraine go to: www.dakhabrakha.com.ua and https://cap.ucla.edu
The concept of a big band rendering the music of the Allman Brothers, one of the top rock bands in the ‘70s and pioneers of Southern rock, seemed unfathomable. But it actually had been conceived 50 years ago. Even more unlikely was the choice of millennial sextet Sammy Miller and The Congregation for Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers. They definitely weren’t around during AB’s most popular and successful period (1969-1976).
Also, the addition of original drummer, Jaimoe (John Lee Johnson) one of the two surviving AB members (guitarist Dickey Betts the other) and vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr. whose late father was one of AB’s bassists, as special guests made the project more intriguing. Miller’s Congregation and the AB associates tour made a stop at The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts.
Drummer/bandleader Miller was the defacto emcee, and injected personality and humor into the affair and sang “Happy Birthday to his father in the audience. His group, which included his sister Molly on guitar, got things started. Their trademark mix of New Orleans trad, jazz, R&B, vaudeville, gospel and even Victor Borge chicanery amused the audience. The opening set included gospel classic “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and tongue-in-cheek romp “Whatcha Gonna Do? (ode to Moses)” uplifted by moving solos to thoroughly delighted the crowd.
The full band began coolly reveling similar to the Count Basie Orchestra with Jaimoe and Miller on drums to replicate the Allman Brothers dual-drummer sound. The final touches were when slide guitarist Drew Smithers and singer Williams ramped things up several notches for “Statesboro Blues” with the band solidly supporting. Immortal instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” had a jazzy edge, beginning with sax leading off and later scorching guitar, topped off with both drummers soloing together.
“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” intermixed soulful singing, brass choruses and solos, with torrid slide guitar and a guitar tradeoff close by Smithers and Miller. In a more classic blues/big band mode was “Don’t Want You no More” featuring the brass passionately soloing and jamming away for a long exposition before Williams mournfully joined in to wow the audience.
As would be expected, “Dreams” which Jaimoe explained was Duane Allman’s tribute to Miles Davis and based on “All Blues” with it serving as the intro, and “Whipping Post” were the highpoints of the concert and blew the audience away to command a standing ovation. For info go to: www.bigbandofbrothers.com, www.sammymillercongregation.com and lamiradatheatre.com.
In troubled times such as is the case presently, friendships are essential for surviving, reflection and escape. In light of that, The Josh Nelson/Bob Bowman Collective consisting of Los Angeles high-caliber musicians: Nelson-piano and keyboards, Bowman-bass, Bob Sheppard-saxophones, Klay Jenkins-trumpet,Steve Houghton-drums andLarry Koonse-guitar celebrated their longstanding friendship with the album Tomorrow Is Not Promised. At Sam First they had a CD release party for the new project and showcased some of its compositions.
Leading things off was the title track, which was slightly hard-bop and thematic. It featured co-leader Nelson playing deftly with spiraling nuances, while Sheppard and the other players were muscular and Koonse injected angular phrasing for counter balance. Alternately, “Blues for Albert E” was 21st century oriented. Koonse, the composer described it as “blues with quantum theory,” featuring Jenkins, sax and himself turning in hip solos.
A tune not written by any of the band members (Sheppard picked it) was “Water Mile” by New York based, by way of St. Louis, saxophonist Chris Cheek. It was lively and upbeat, but not overstated, featuring Sheppard playing dazzling soprano saxophone, with also piquant guitar and piano layering.
“Yae San” was composed by Bowman for his wife who did the photography and design for the record. The bassist led off solely for the intro before settling into a relaxed waltz-like cadence. Garnering it were mystic and Japanese textures from all of the rhythm players to draw strong audience reactions.
Wrapping up the engaging set was the energetic bebop number “Your Night Your Music” by Sheppard. He blazed away soloing, and with Jenkins who also contributed intensely. Nelson and Houghton amazingly jammed away as well, saving their most fiery playing for the end of the show. For more info go to: www.joshnelsonmusic.com, bobbowman-lownote.com and www.samfirstbar.com
Just Jazz presented pianist Nduduzo Makhathini at Mr Musichead Gallery featuring Jeff Littleton-bass, Marvin “Smitty” Smith-drums, Teodross Avery-tenor sax and special guest Logan Richardson-alto sax/flute. As is the custom at Just Jazz host/emcee Leroy Downs interviewed Makathini prior to the concert.
The pianist is head of the Music Department at Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He spoke about his homeland and how sound is related to daily functions and rituals there, and always has meaning. When he came to the U.S., he had difficulty with sound not always being associated with something, such as motivation and healing.
In regards to jazz, the pianist said the music wasn’t recognized as being legitimate by the Afrikaners during Apartheid and went underground in order to be heard and learned. Makhathini got very deep with his answers and was getting drained by the conversation. In closing he said jazz was an echo of Africa and reminded Africans of what they took for granted.
The rising star artist eventually got down to business with his group, resembling an amalgamation of Americans, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston and John Coltrane, along with fellow Africans, Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa, and Abdullah Ibrahim. Makhathini played regally and also chanted, as he showcased compositions from In the Spirit of Ntu, newly released on Blue Note’s new imprint Blue Note Africa. With the label’s President, Don Was in attendance, the pianist sidemen, especially Smith played powerfully as they alternated solos and astonished the audience.
After serving mostly as the bandleader and focusing on the cohesion and execution of the compositions, Makhathini own playing was showcased during “Nyonini Le” an abstract Monk-like number that garnered respect from the audience, along with a standing ovation. For more info go to: https://www.thesouthafrican.com/culture/music/nduduzo-makhathini-spirit-of-ntu-album/ and justjazz.tv
Did you know actor Jeff Goldblum is a jazz pianist and has a group called Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra? It included guitarist John Storie, organist Joe Bagg, bassist Alexander Frank, drummer Kenneth Elliott, saxophonist Scott Gilman, trumpeter Gilbert C. Castellanos and trombonist Nicholas Daley. Additionally, singers, Gina Saputo, Lia Booth, Inara George and Maiya Sykes were part of the concert. They supported Goldblum at Disney Hall and were sometimes foil for his jokes and off-beat commentary.
The actor/pianist/band leader presented the concert as a mixture of a night club act, late-night talk show and trivia game show that the audience actually enjoyed. Goldblum began taking questions from the audience and doing shout outs to famous friends in attendance, including his wife, Emily. It was somewhat amusing and definitely different, especially for Disney Hall. Eventually, he and the band coolly grooved and tastefully soloed for Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square.”
Afterwards, Goldblum quizzed the audience about the tune and its composer, which someone actually knew. Lalo Schifrin’s bouncy “The Cat” followed and also got quiz treatment, while Herbie Hancock’s soulful hardbop piece “Driftin’” featuring piano, organ, guitar and sax working out was pre-announced and not subjected to quiz treatment. Nor was Hank Mobley’s “Moanin’.”
First among the singers to join the band was Saputo, who did a steamy interpretation of “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” along with a stellar scatting number, while the band elegantly embellished. Booth appeared later and before singing jivey “Straighten Up And Fly Right” encouraged Goldblum’s banter. She then took part in the “pre-silver fox or silver fox” survey of different actors and the audience preferred Goldblum as a silver fox.
George nonchalantly transformed Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” into Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” featuring trumpet blazing away. Sykes was vastly different doing soaring renditions of theatrical songs such as “A Brave New World” from Aladdin, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins and “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio. Jimmy Durante’s “Make Someone Happy” was closer to jazz. For the grand finale all the vocalists came out for Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.” It received a stirring standing ovation and was highlighted by all the band members contributing spry solos.
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