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the word contemporary

Just turned 21 blind keyboardist Matthew Whitaker recently performed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Samueli Theater. He was introduced topiano at three and six years later taught himself to play organ. By the time he was 13 he was endorsed by Hammond Organs and subsequently named a Yamaha artist at 15. Basically, Whitaker has been astonishing listeners before he was teenager and in the last several years has become an international jazz sensation, even being covered by CBS’s much viewed 60 Minutes news program.

At the OC venue, backed by Marcos Robinson-guitar, Karim Hutton-bass, Isaiah Johnson-drums and Ivan Llanes-percussion, Whitaker came out blazing and quickly rendered a funk/rocking version of Chick Corea’s “Spain” on piano from his recently released recording Connections. Keeping the energy going, the youthful artist continued with hard-driving and lightly fused original “Journey Uptown” that segued into Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la “Turk” and included synth-laden reggae-tinged and funk piano interludes.

For a change of pace, Whitaker on organ paid homage to his recently passed away hero Dr. Lonnie Smith with gospel-flavored ballad “Pilgrimage to boldly exhibit his prowess that drew shouts of approval from the audience. Additionally, he showed off his classical and Latin chops with Michael Camilo’s “Caribe,” while showcasing his sidemen jamming mightily. Mixed into the piece was “My Favorite Things” on acoustic piano with the audience singing along briefly that naturally drew strong response.

During the latter moments of the concert the 21-year-old got a little political with rhapsodic “Stop Fighting” also on the new CD. Funk groove “Take a Break” adjoined with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” propelled by the bassist kept the party going. For the encore, Whitaker served up an energetic medley of Earth, Wind & Fire tunes to further delight the audience. Undoubtedly, Whitaker is incredibly talented and can go in many directions; he is definitely someone to watch further develop. For more info go: www.matthewwhitaker.net and www.scfta.org.

Hosted by Leroy Downs,

Just Jazz presented a special double-bill concert at
2220 Arts & Archives. The featured artists were guitarist/oud player Gordon Grdina from Vancouver and Brooklyn duo, alto saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist Greg Belisle-Chi.

Grdina, a Canadian Juno-winner showcased solo guitar compositions from Oddly Enough: The Music of Tim Berne, that were a multi-tempo mix of blues, fusion and jazz. On acoustic oud the emphasis was on traditional playing and light experimentation with Western modes.

Berne and Belisle-Chi were edgy and dynamic with touches of ambient textures throughout their set. The saxophonist was mostly in the forefront strongly wailing away. While the guitarist injected jagged riffs, rhythms and backdrops. Alternately, Julius Hemphil’s “No 2” and “No 8” were interestingly thematic, while maintaining daring attributes.

The remainder of Berne and Belisle-Chi’s segment was more explosive and forceful, falling somewhere in between progressive rock and free-jazz, featuring the players intensively interacting to draw strong reactions from the audience. For more info go to: gordongrdina.bandcamp.com,https://justjazz.tv/, https://greggbelislechi.com/ and  https://screwgunrecords.com/

Text Special Mention

Allan Harris was born in Brooklyn, NY, but influenced by Harlem where he grew up and honed his craft as a “triple threat” singer, songwriter and guitarist. He’s affectionately dubbed The Jazz Vocal King of New York by Harlem residents. Harris was additionally strongly impacted by his Aunt Kate’s popular luncheonette, Kate’s Home Cooking, situated directly behind the legendary Apollo Theater, and his 2021 CD Kate’s Soulfood is homage to her.

At CSU Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center with its backstage area converted into a cabaret club setting, Harris charmingly transported the audience to his beloved Harlem and beyond. Supporting the singer/songwriter/guitarist for an entertaining mix of originals and standards was a high caliber band consisting of Arcoiris Sandoval-keyboards/Music Director, Marty Kenney-bass, Dieter Rietz -drums and Irwin Hall-tenor saxophone.  

Harris demonstrated why many compared him to the iconic Nat King Cole through his velvety baritone delivery of “It’s You That I Love,” gentle ballad “I Remember You,” and “The Very Thought of You.” Prominently featured in the show were Cole’s signature “Mona Lisa” with only piano superbly backing him and a very upbeat “Nature Boy” that included scatting as keyboards and the other musicians jammed away. Harris also slipped in tunes from his new album The Genius of Eddie Jefferson, singing the late great vocal stylist’s hip vocalese versions of Miles Davis’ “So What” and Benny Golson’s “Jeannine.”

When the bandleader played guitar, it wasn’t a prop or perfunctory. For contemporary original “Open Up!” he wailed mightily with his band and also featured his saxophonist. While for “Black Coffee Blues,” a thinly veiled endorsement for early morning amorous activity, he blew the audience away with his incredible slide guitar playing and sultry singing.

From a creative standpoint Harris injected fusion guitar into his mash of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” and “Fly Me to The Moon” to continue to impress the crowd. Overall, Harris both astonished and enamored the audience, and ended his captivating concert with “I Wish You Love” to draw an enthusiastic standing ovation. For more info go to: www.allanharris.com  and www.carpenterarts.org

At the beginning of the Wayne Shorter Celebration at Disney Hall, his former bandmate (Miles Davis Quintet) and longtime friend Herbie Hancock, also the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Creative Chair For Jazz as host welcomed everyone. He mentioned that the concert was originally scheduled two years ago and everyone on that bill then was there that night.

Multi-award, consistent poll winner and extremely influential, Shorter, 88, was in the audience and listened intently as Hancock referred to their tenure with Davis. The keyboardist/composer recalled an interview when he said, “The master writer to me in this group was Wayne Shorter. Because all of us would put music in and it would get changed, except Wayne’s—it was always perfect. 50 years later that has not changed and Wayne is still the master writer.”

Shifting to music, trumpeter Terence Blanchard came on stage to perform with Shorter’s longstanding sidemen, Brian Blade-drums and John Patitucci-bass, along with Hancock making a very specia guest appearance. The stellar quartet quickly launched into the icon’s classic composition “Footprints” with Blanchard and Hancock turning in angular and slow-building solos.

Afterwards Shorter in a wheelchair, briefly spoke about being a kid and the shenanigans he and friends would get into. Of course, when his parents asked what he’d been doing being all day, he would say, “Nothing.” That type of exploration is what he’s tried to maintain all his life, and drew strong crowd response.

Upon Hancock’s stage departure, saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Joe Lovano, and keyboardist Danilo Pérez aligned with Blanchard, Blade and Patitucci to interlace older and newer Shorter compositions. Among them was an extended version of “Witch Hunt” and in the newer category was the driving crescendo of “Prometheus Unbound.” They provided ample space for the musicians to freely express themselves and amazingly interact, while keeping the audience spellbound. Shorter seemed very happy with the performance.    

Fast emerging trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire opened the concert and showcased his 2018 recording Origami Harvest. It was totally 21st century with a high-energy combination of spoken word and vocals through Kokayi, chamber music featuring the Mivos string quartet, and free improvisation and hip-hop through Sam Harris-keyboards, and Justin Brown-drums playing. Overall, Akinmusire’s segment strongly appealed to the younger attendees and was a good counter-balance to Shorter’s mainstream compositions.

Delfeayo Marsalis & The Uptown Jazz Orchestra are steeped in New Orleans traditions and history, from both a jazz and popular music standpoint. One could say they’re a mix of the Count Basie Orchestra and the New Orleans-based soul and funk Neville Brothers Band. Trombonist and band leader Delfeayo Marsalis, a member of the illustrious Marsalis family, maintained a high level of artistry at the Broad Stage. Contrarily, he rarely missed an opportunity to be humorous and entertaining, unlike his very serious brothers, Wynton, Branford and Jason and recently departed father Ellis.

Right off the top Marsalis had the audience clapping a cadence for “Mardi Gras Mambo” one of New Orleans’ most popular party songs that had both the soloing 14-piece ensemble that included Los Angeles drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and the audience reeling. In a serious mode the UJO swung hard with impressive solos abounding for a Basie-styled number. Returning to humor the bandleader introed a number relating to the greatest day in American history, which after a little self-debate he decided on the day before Columbus arrived in 1492 for the mid-tempo theme piece.

For funk and fun in a big band orientation with vocals by several of the players were “New Suit” describing the Mardi Gras Indians ritual of creating a suit yearly, danceable “It’s Carnival Time” and mid-tempo Meter’s song “They All Ask’d For You.” Original “The Raid on The Mingus House Party” slightly returned to a jazz context with a baritone sax driven complex melding of themes for the lengthy piece.

Powerful vocalist Tonya Boyd-Cannon joined the band for swinging Jazz Party, title track of UJO’s latest CD. It featured her getting the audience to sing along, and solos by two students subbing for regular sidemen unable to play that night. Boyd-Cannon additionally emotively sang Monk’s classic “Round Midnight.” There was no doubt of jazz cred when the UPO ripped doing Basie’s take no prisoners “Vine Street Rumble” as the audience clapped along.

For a little vintage stroll “Making Whoopie” featured Marsalis on muted trombone to astonish the crowd. Concluding the concert with an encore was the roaring and jumping “Blackbird Special” also on the new album. For more info go to: https://theujo.org/ and /thebroadstage.org.  

In a class all by herself is Maria Schneider and Orchestra (John Deversa and Vince Mendoza are in close proximity). Mainly, Schneider is a complex, yet articulate composer/arranger heavily influenced by mentors, arranger Gil Evans and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. A common thread through her compositions is the incorporation of classical, jazz, avant-garde and sometimes even rock (with David Bowie).

At Disney Hall the multi-Grammy winner and 2019 NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship-winner opened with a bolero-like work commissioned by George Wein for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. It featured Danny McCaslin-tenor sax, Marshall Gilkes-trombone, Greg Gisbert-trumpet and Jonathan Blake-drums all intensely soloing. Following that Schneider solely focused on her latest recording double CD Data Lords, which won a Grammy in 2020 for Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

The project is duo themed; negatively, the mass proliferation of technology, paltry revenue for artists and a loss of privacy, and positively, connecting with art, nature and each other. “Don’t Be Evil,” Google’s questionable motto was from the negative disc. The selection possessed lumbering, dark and ominous motifs boosted by contributions from Jay Anderson-bass, Ben Monder-guitar, Ryan Keberie-trombone and Gary Versace-piano. Even more gloomy was the swirling title composition.

“Sputnik” also on the corrupt side was much easier to digest and featured Scott Robinson on baritone sax. He artfully with the orchestra conveyed the sweeping vastness and unknown eeriness of outer space exploration to draw thunderous applause. From a lighter perspective, child-like “Stone Song” propelled by Steve Wilson-soprano was constructed around an ishi no sasayaki (song inside a stone), a Japanese stone with a rattle created by potter Jack Troy and shook by Blake. Concluding the highly stimulating concert was the encore, electronic sounding “Sanzenin” inspired by the temple of the same name in Japan.

Highly awarded, poll-winning and Grammy-nominated violinist Regina Carter started the concert. Her group that included drummer/husband Alvestor Garnett was comparatively conventional in approach and swung dynamically. First with a jazzy version of the Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love,” then “My Favorite Things” with a riveting classical violin intro, and later Richard Bona’s Afro-Cuban flavored “Mandingo Street.” It also featured her scanting/chanting with the band adding vocal choruses. Balancing things out was the soothing ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Johnny Hodges’ high-flying “Squatty Roo,” which received a standing ovation. For more info go to: reginacarter.com and www.mariaschneider.com.

 

Any information to be considered for this column can be sent to:  chrisjwalker1@earthlink.net