By Chris J. Walker
New Year’s Eve at Disney Hall for almost 20 years has been highlighted by a wide array of artists. Among them are Pink Martini (2003, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2021), Sergio Mendes and Sheila E (2013), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (2005 and 2009), Lyle Lovett (2006), Belinda Carlisle and Rufus Wainwright (2007), Kristin Chenoweth (2010 and 2019),Idina Menzel (2012), Gladys Knight (2015), Scott Bradlee’s Post-Modern Jukebox (2017) and The Roots for 2022
Without a doubt, The Roots and their unique brand of “organic hip-hop” are the most raucous and unconventional of all the celebrated venue’s New Year’s Eve performers. The band led by vocalist/rapper Black Thought and drummer Questlove, was powered by Kamal Gray-keyboards/vocals, “Captain” Kirk Douglas-guitar/vocals, Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson- baritone saxophone /sousaphone, Scott Storch-keyboards, Leonard Nelson “Hub” Hubbard-bass, Stro Elliot-electronic drum pad, Ian Hendrickson-Smith-saxophone and Dave Guy-trumpet.
In anticipation of the group’s performance the audience gave them a rousing standing ovation as they came on stage. Black Thought commandingly stated, “It’s been a hell of year, a hell of a past few years, 2020 is over, 2021 is over and 2022 is over.” From there the singer/MC blasted into James Brown-like funk tune “We Takin’ Over” with the brass players blazing away. From there it was a wild ride that included Kool & Gang’s pop funk “Jungle Boogie,” Manu Dibango’s 1972 Afro-funk classic “Soul Makossa” garnished with Smith soloing intensely and Gina G’s “Gimme Some Love” with AWB styled brass choruses. The band took some of the edge off for soulful and jazzy “I Still Love You” featuring Guy’s blazing trumpet. Additionally, sousaphone was highlighted for a solo interlude.
As would be expected hip-hop had a strong presence throughout the concert with hard-hitting joints espoused by Black Thought and other crew members. Among them were “Looking at The Front Door,” “What They Do” augmented with a jazzy brass foray, raw and explosive “Clones,” upbeat/party down “How I Feel,” “Change (Makes You Want To Hustle),” and fast rapping and rhythmic “Web” that blew the audience away. It was adorned with a dazzling synth solo featuring snippets of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.”
In recent years, the Roots’ concerts have featured their guitarist on “You Got Me” originally recorded with Erykah Badu. The New Year’s Eve concert followed suite with “Captain” Kirk Douglas taking siege of the stage through rapid-fire chanting/scatting along with ferocious and also tender playing to totally enthrall the audience who enthusiastically sang the chorus.
Amazingly, after Douglas 12-minute tour de force performance, The Roots had plenty of energy in the tank. Black Thought and the guitarist launched into their early rocking hit “The Seed” and the Impression’s vintage R&B classic “Move on Up.” Not to be forgotten was their co-leader Questlove who got into a hot percussion jam with Elliot creatively manning an electronic drum pad while the countdown to 2023 began.
Following the arrival of the New Year, the band returned to the Impression’s songs and wished everyone Happy New Year. They briefly played a snarly version of “Auld Lang Syne” and quickly shifted into high voltage fast rapping/rocking hip-hop with “Do You Want Do You Want More?!!!??!” to draw a frenzied standing ovation. For more info go to: theroots.com and www.laphil.com.
The Blind Boys of Alabama formed in 1939 in Talladega, Alabama, are considered the longest standing group presently. Of the original members, only Jimmy Carter is still alive and leading the popular gospel/spiritual music singers. The five-time Grammy-winners and multiple nominees appeared at Pepperdine University’s Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts. With Carter, they were comprised of Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Reverend Julius Love and Sterling Glass, along with Joey Williams-Music Director/guitar/vocals, Peter Levin-organ, Stephen Raynard Ladson-bass and Austin Moore-drums.
As expected, the singers and band turned the Malibu Christian college venue into an old-time gospel revival filled with irrepressible toe-tapping rhythms, rejoiceful singing/harmonies and traditional gospel/spiritual songs wrought with devotional lyrics. “Way Beyond The Blue (Do Lord)” got things going and immediately had the audience clapping along.
Many of the gospel group’s songs were linked to pop, R&B and rock n’ roll chart toppers such as Curtis Mayfield/The Impression’s “People Get Ready” that was soulfully drenched with rich harmonies. “Spirit in The Sky” popularized by Norman Greenbaum in 1969 drew noticeable crowd reactions. Universally popular “Amazing Grace” mashed with The Animals’ (Eric Burdon) version of the traditional folk classic “House of The Rising Sun” was one of the standout songs performed.
While Tom Waits’ wickedly forbidding warning about the devil, “Way Down in The Hole” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” both with Charlie Musselwhite remarkably contributing and stretching out on harmonica were rightly in a category by themselves.
Carter expressed the group’s love for the audience and segued into lightly supported gospel ballad “God Knows Everything” that amazingly ended with McKinnie’s astonishing falsetto. Continuing in pure religious mode was deeply devotional ballad “God Said It,” rocking “I Can See” featuring William’s guitar solo and Carter howling away. “Stand By Me” was accented by organ as the group co-founder wailed away, and up-tempo “Soldier in the Army of the Lord” maintained the mood.
“I Shall Not Be Moved” was also lively, showcasing the band before Carter and his cohorts injected soulful vocals and choruses to further rev up the audience. The lead singer was so taken by the moment the he ventured into the audience as they clapped and chanted along. Carter remarked in closing, “We hope you enjoyed yourself tonight; the Blind Boys had a good time!”
Musselwhite opened the concert, playing guitar, harmonica, singing, and in laidback fashion talked about his background. Noticing that audience seemed surprised seeing with him play guitar, he quickly cited. “I been playing guitar since I was kid too. When I got up to Chicago in 1962, I was 18 and there were tons of guitar players, so I became known as a harmonica player.”
Through his smokey singing and acoustic guitar playing that included slide, Musselwhite played vintage blues classics, including “Cryin’ Won’t Help,” “Honeybee” and “B-Line Special.” With Williams joining him on guitar, Musselwhite played harmonica and sang “I’m Just Driftin’.” Also, The Blind Boys guitarist/singer notably sang Inez Andrews’ gospel classic “Lord Don’t Move That Mountain” and with Musselwhite blues number “Times Gettin’ Tougher Than Tough.” For more info go to: http://www.blindboys.com/, www.charliemusselwhite.com and arts.pepperdine.edu/events/
Very few performers can sing and play piano solely, while also primarily talking about themselves—and make a romantic evening out it. Amazingly, John Legend did just that for two Valentines concerts at Disney Hall. Of course, a lot of it has to do with Legend’s (John Roger Stephen) on-stage personality, which is unassuming, warm and also suave. On the other hand, the singer/pianist/songwriter/producer/actor is extremely talented, hardworking, versatile and appealing. Most importantly to couples and lovers—Legend sings ballads and love songs lusciously and tenderly—with touches of Lionel Ritchie, Elton John and Stevie Wonder.
He quickly got down to business with a mixture of crowd-pleasing pop songs that included many of his own. Among them were “Save Room,” his first recorded original “Stay With Me,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Sade’s “By Your Side,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky.” Notably, Legend’s biggest hits “Ordinary People” and Academy Award Winner “Glory” written with Common for the film Selma had the most impact. In celebration of he and wife Chrissy Teigen 10-year wedding anniversary, “Good Morning” and “All of Me” both written for her were incorporated.
In between songs the artist talked about his background and professional development. That entailed Legend growing up in Springfield, Ohio, being in the Pentecostal Church, getting involved in its music at 7 and as a teenager becoming Music Director. His parents and extended family were prominent and upstanding members of the community. Unfortunately, at 10 his mother abruptly split from the family after her mother/his grandmother passed away.
That drastically changed Legend’s life and the singer/pianist was no longer being homeschooled; he entered high school at 12 due to his high-test scores and graduated Salutatorian of his class when he was 16. He consequently got admission and scholarship offers from Harvard, Morehouse, Georgetown and University of Pennsylvania. He chose Penn (best financial aid package), and while at the university he became President and Musical Director of the jazz/pop a cappella group the Counterparts and Music Director for a church in nearby Scranton.
Eventually, he started jamming around Philadelphia and then moved to New York City after graduating, while self-producing and promoting his music. Those activities led to playing on “Everything is Everthing” for Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, collaborating with longtime producer Dave Tozer, honing his craft with Kanye West, getting signed to West’s Columbia-affiliated GOOD Music and adopting his stage name.
Additionally, Legend met and worked with Teigen during a music video shoot for his song “Stereo.” Overall, the singer/songwriter/pianist/producer has worked with an extensive list of pop, R&B, hip-hop, stage, film and TV performers to be one of 15 and the only Afro-American to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. For more info go to: www.johnlegend.com and www.laphil.com.
The Soraya’s commissioned Treelogy works by distinguished composers Billy Childs, Gabriella Smith and Steven Mackey were fundamentally classically oriented. To make things official, Mark Villaseñor, Vice President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, the ancestral inhabitants of the region, blessed the concert with a welcoming song in his native tongue. He additionally explained his peoples’ relationship to the trees of the San Fernando Valley and California.
Five-time Grammy-winner, and recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards, pianist/composer/educator Childs began the program. Joining him for the occasion was bassist Dan Chmielinski, drummer Christian Euman and the self-conducted, Delirium Musicum chamber orchestra, led by violinist and Artist in Residence Etienne Gara, who supported all the composers.
Childs’ My Roots Spread Far and Wide dedicated to the Giant Sequoia was a dramatic and violin swept suite. It included an introspective solo piano interlude, the trio majestically playing without the orchestra and also with the incredibly vibrant strings. Overall, the work embodied the composer’s signature chamber jazz choruses and his beyond belief playing that soared to the upper stratosphere to receive a very enthusiastic and lengthy standing ovation.
Smith’s Joshua Tree was enhanced by electronic samplings created, and influenced by her time spent in the Joshua Tree National Park. The work also featured blue grass-like “fiddle” strumming and violin pizzicato, along with celestial/vortex, wolf-like and modern classical segments to draw feverish applause.
Ending Treelogy was Redwood led by guitarist/composer Mackey. The multi-layered composition was bold, with a mix of movie-like themes, and prog-rock motifs that came mostly from the guitarist. Gara’s searing playing was showcased profoundly, along with the orchestra’s impressive dynamics that kept the audience engaged.
Overall, a very unique calling for the plight of California’s tree spurred by New York Times journalist John Branch’s article in 2020 chronicling the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. The concert was also performed at other CSUs in Sonoma, San Jose, and Chico. For more info go to: www.thesoraya.org and www.treepeople.org
In 1960 Joseph Shabalala founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the highly successful and multi-Grammy-winning South African a cappella vocal group. After many years of international acclaim, spurred by the group’s collaboration with hit-making singer/songwriter Paul Simon in 1986, he eventually retired nearly 50 years later. However, the vocalist/songwriter’s four sons, Thulani, Thamsanqa, Sibongiseni and Msizi Shabalala, along with Pius Shezi, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko, Sabelo Mthembu and Mfanafuthi Dlamini have maintained the founder’s vision and artistry.
At Disney Hall the South Africans charmed, amused and astonished concert attendees with their sweet traditional Zula harmonies (isicathamiya) that melds with nimble choreography, their signature white tennis shoes and martial arts kicks. They began with chant-like “Nomathemba” one the group’s earliest songs. Other ones with less strident rhythms followed, including “I Pray With You,” “I Live to Sing” and Simon’s “Hello My Baby” with the audience clapping along and some funny antics mixed in.
Senior Shabalala who passed away in 2020 was honored with a special tribute highlighted by his sons that was well-received by the audience. Equally uplifting was “Tough Time Never Last, But Strong People Do” and the singers’ country celebrating 29 years of democracy. That led to “Long Road to Freedom” dedicated to Nelson Mandela their first President of the non-apartheid era. Alternatively, “Homeless” stressed Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s philosophy of world harmony and universal love that helped garner heavy applause and a standing ovation.
Neo soul singer Madison McFerrin, daughter of Bobby McFerrin, opened and mesmerized the audience with soul-stirring originals from her upcoming album I Hope You Can Forgive Me and also injected socio-political commentary. She was backed by only drums (name was muffled by artist) and Julius Rodriguez-keyboards. For more info go to: www.mambazo.com, www.madisonmcferrin.com and www.laphil.com.
Bonnie Raitt was a surprise winner for Song of Year at this year’s Grammy Awards Ceremony. However, the win wasn’t her first; (she has 10) and it probably won’t be her last. The fan and fellow artists’ favorite, now 73, still has a lot of music in her and served up songs, mostly hits, from her 50-year catalog at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach.
Blues purists have questioned the singer/guitarist’s authenticity. Mainly due to her highly successful mixture of pop, R&B and roots/alt country, similar to fellow So Cal troubadours Jackson Browne, Randy Newman and Lowell George’s band Little Feat. Then again, Raitt is widely recognized as one of the foremost living slide guitarists, and her singing is unrivaled when it comes to expressing deeply painful emotions and heartache. Additionally, she has performed and/or recorded with blues royalty, such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Mississippi Fred McDowell, along with contemporaries Keb’ Mo, Taj Mahal, Jimmy Vaughan and Eric Clapton.
Without singing a note or playing a lick, the singer/guitarist/songwriter and activist received thunderous applause when she took the stage. Raitt thanked the audience filled with longtime fans, friends/associates/musicians and newbie listeners for attending. She proudly announced that the band travels with the Ukraine flag and was happy to see a sign language translator close by. From there it was mostly music, with a few injected quips about aging.
With her longtime touring band, Ricky Fataar-drums, James “Hutch” Hutchinson-bass, Glenn Patscha-keyboards/vocals and Duke Levine-guitar/vocals, songs from the newly celebrated album were featured. They were ballad “Made Up Mind,” rocking lightly blues tinged “When We Say Goodnight,” and blues torcher “Blame It on Me.” It was boosted by Raitt’s soulful singing and wailing slide guitar, along with an organ solo to thoroughly excite the audience.
For the recent Grammy-winning title song Just Like That, Raitt mentioned her recently deceased friend and mentor John Prine, and also loosing folk/rockers David Lindley and David Crosby. Still, what truly moved the crowd was when she talked about the woman who inspired the song. The woman’s son died in an accident she caused, and years later she met the young man who had received her son’s donated heart.
He encouraged the mourning woman to rest her head on his chest to hear her son’s heart beating—that brought her some grace, and had the audience in tears and emotionally cheering. For more sentimentality, Prine’s immortal ballad “Angel From Montgomery” with very light band accompaniment was spotlighted.
To lighten things up Raitt performed easy-flowing breakout hit “Nick of Time,” “Back Around” written with Malian singer/guitarist Habib Koité in honor of Hooker, and a slowed down version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” Amusingly, the singer/guitarist/songwriter mentioned that she waited 30 years to do the classic rock song and then jammed away with the band appealingly stretching out.
“Something to Talk About” also a Grammy-winning song was dedicated to Terrence William “Blondie” Chaplin, the South African singer/guitarist and former Beach Boys and Rolling Stones bandmember who was in the audience and recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. Additionally, Raitt got soulful by merging Chaka Khan’s “You Got the Love” and her own “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” to close out show.
As expected, the audience chanted for more and were obliged with a nearly 25min long encore. It included resoundingly sung pop/rock/blues torcher “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” without the bandleader playing guitar to captivate the concert attendees and lightly African-layered “One Belief Away” dedicated to Zimbabwe musician Oliver Mtukudzi (died 2019).
Singer/guitarist Roy Rogers, who opened the show, joined Raitt for blues rocking “Gnawin’ on It” and B.B.King’s “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” It featured a jumping piano solo and the guitarists, including Levine alternating soloing by having their guitars speak to each other to bring down the house. The multi-Grammy Winner proclaimed “I’m not the best, but I’m still at it.”
Rogers appeared solely, impressing the crowd with his guitar fretting and slide skills for “Crawfish City,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Down Home Girl” dedicated to Raitt, and a Delta strumming/ tasty slide playing Robert Johnson medley. Among the songs were “Stones in My Passway,” “Walkin’ Blues” and “Me and The Devil Blues.” For more info go to: www.bonnieraitt.com, http://www.roy-rogers.com/, www.longbeachcc.com
Susan Krebs, a cultural polymath whose talents and interests span music, thespian activities (theatre/film/TV), horticulture, ornithophilia and nature, performed with her WoRK Quintet at The Harmony Room @ St. BE’s. For this outing Krebs’ Trio WoRK was expanded and included Aaron Serfaty-drums, Rob Lockart-reeds, Tom Rizzo-guitar and Cooper Appelt-bass. They embarked with a perky bossa version of “Someone Like You” that featured the bandleader’s convivial singing, along with soothing sax, guitar and bass solos.
David Mann’s “No Moon at All” followed and Krebs’ who in song coolly conveyed the lightly rocking and bluesy tune’s essence, comically described it beforehand as “having a graveyard vibe.” Somewhat similar rhythmically, with a more pleasant feeling was Rizzo’s instrumental originals “That Day” and “Q&A” adorned by he and Lockart’s zesty playing. Also included was the guitarist’s stripped-down arrangement of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” helmed by the bandleader.
From a different direction were ballads, Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” with easy flowing guitar and sax solos and Jerome Kern’s “Long Ago (and Far Away)” with caressing flute and guitar. They along with a guitar/vocal duet of Hank William’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Jobim’s “How Insensitive” revealed the singer’s sensitive and gentle side. Contrarily, Bob Dorough’s “Never Had The Blues at All” accented by guitar and saxophone, and coolly interpreted by Krebs was a denial of not having feelings or caring.
Returning to positivity was the WoRK Quintet’s lightly funky and upbeat arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love,” and Clay Boland and Moe Jaffe’s liberating “The Gypsy in My Soul.” Finishing the diverse and engaging show was Krebs serenely singing and her crew tastefully playing Horace Silver’s meditative “Peace” to further delight the audience. For more info go to: susankrebsmusic.com and stbarnabaseaglerock.org/harmony-room.
Laila Biali, a singer/songwriter/arranger/pianist, Juno winner (Canadian Grammy) and radio host, splits her time between Toronto and New York. Her talent spans pop, classical, jazz and contemporary jazz and seems unlimited. Additionally, she has worked with Sting, Dave Brubeck, Suzanne Vega, Paula Cole and the neo-classical crossover quartet Rose & the Nightingale.
At Pepperdine University’s Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts, Biali was backed by sidemen, bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Jared Schonig. They quickly got into the upbeat “Big Apple” influenced tune “We Go” featuring powerhouse singing and playing that was combined with touches of reggae, Broadway and hard bop. “Got to Love” was described as her old neighborhood in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights. It had tinges of Laura Nyro and was a superb merging of pop and jazz, which included an extended bass solo.
Biali further displayed her affinity for pop with a lightly jazz/rocking and lushly sung version of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” Afterwards, she played and solely sang a sumptuous interpretation of “Autumn Leaves,” and the intro to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” It was dedicated to recently departed David Crosby, since the anthem was popularized by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. After the intro, it shifted with full trio to an explosive jazz-fused jam that blew the audience away.
In addition, to her formidable musicianship, the Canadian/New Yorker revealed her warm, perceptive and fun personality through original songs. Some of them were her “Sugar” about sugar addiction, “Monolith” about her cousin-in-law Gwyneth Leech’s career as a building construction painter, “Upside Down” about romance in her 20’s and “Satellite” about her two endearing sons.
In the latter moments of the concert Biali gave a “shout out” to fellow singers in the attendance. Among them were Judy Wexler, Cathy Segal-Garcia, and Sara Gazarek. Gazarek was acknowledged for her group säje’stake on Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” which the Canadian/New Yorker rendered beautifully.
Without piano and only bass supporting she glowingly sang and scatted her second standard that night, “The Nearness of You.” The amazing singer/pianist and her trio wrapped up the enjoyable show with David Bowie’s mega hit “Let’s Dance.” Her styling of it slowly pulsated and was elevated by sultry singing and smoldering band interactions that received a standing ovation. For more info go to: lailabiali.com and arts.pepperdine.edu/events/
For those who attended the 65th Monterey Jazz Festival in 2022, Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour was a great way to reconnect and relive it. The super band consisting of Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling on vocals, Musical Director Christian Sands on piano, 2023 MJF Artist-in-Residence Lakecia Benjamin on alto saxophone, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums celebrated the longstanding event. On the other hand, for anyone who didn’t attend MJF 2022, the touring band is great opportunity to see what they missed and/or get motivated to check out the festival this year.
At Disney Hall the touring musicians were in great spirits and shot out of the gate with a high-flying treatment of “Too Close For Comfort,” featuring Bridgewater and Elling singing and scatting emphatically. Elling continued in the same fashion by extolling the virtues and sometimes necessity of staying in touch with significant others while on the road through “Did You Call Her Today” that included Benjamin and Sands turning in sizzling solos.
The group’s saxophonist making her debut at the architecturally forward venue and also celebrating her 41st birthday, showcased her composition “Trane.” It was a scintillating homage to John and Alice Coltrane and artists who came before them. Her and Sands highlighted the number by intensely blazing away with the stalwart support of Nakamura and Penn to garner strong crowd response.
Afterwards, the pianist shifted things to trio mode with the drummer and bassist. He recalled meeting Brubeck when he was 10 and the legend teaching him the ballad “Strange Meadowlark,” which he hadn’t played again until that evening. Needless to say, it was an excellent change of pace, performed elegantly and also included a resounding bass solo that was well received by the audience.
Bridgewater returned and with the musicians to honor her old friend, icon Chick Corea who sadly passed away in 2021. She sang and scatting his immortal composition “Spain,” with vocalese by Al Jarreau to draw thunderous applause. The vocalist continued scatting strongly for “Bye Bye Blackbird” with saxophone and piano reveling.
Elling also returned, citing Jon Hendricks and Joe Zawinul as major influences, before proceeding with his vocalese version of Weather Report’s sullen ballad “A Remark You Made (Time to Say Goodbye),”, composed by Zawinul. The singer with Bridgewater joining in closed out the concert with the very pertinent Les McCann/ Eddie Harris classic “Compared to What.” Bridgewater and Benjamin make it rowdier by getting into a heated call and response interlude, along with Nakamura and Penn turning in blistering solos to receive a very enthusiastic standing ovation. For more info go to: montereyjazzfestival.org/monterey-jazz-festival-on-tour/ and www.laphil.com.
In 2010 Cécile McLorin Salvant won the Thelonious Monk Competition, and since then has become a force in jazz—winning three GRAMMY’S and also receiving the MacArthur Fellowship and the Doris Duke Artist Award. She recently appeared at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall with Sullivan Fortner-piano, Marvin Sewell-guitar, Alexa Tarantino-flute and Keita Ogawa-percussion.
Songs from the acclaimed singer’s 2022 album Ghost Song were highlighted, along other songs spanning several genres. Many were Broadway oriented, but done with Salvant’s very creative and idiosyncratic methodology. Among them were spirited “There’s No Business Like Show Business” featuring lively band interplay, and boldly sung with hard-pounding piano “The World Is Mean” from Marc Blitzstein/Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Additionally, Salvant’s “Obligation” also on the new record was Broadway-like and dramatically exhibited her impressive vocal range and Fortner’s astonishing playing.
Dori Caymmi’s bossa “Obsession” opened the concert and was expressively sung with only piano initially, before the other bandmembers joined in. Original “Thunderclouds” also on the new album was a dreamy and poetic ballad dedicated to the bandleader’s grandmother, with only guitar and percussion supporting.
In the same vein, Fortner’s Grammy-Nominated ethereal arrangement of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” was showcased and magnificently sung. It seamlessly segued into Harold Arlen/ E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s “Optimistic Voices” and Gregory Porter/Herbert Stothart’s contemporary lullaby “No Love Dying” that included outstanding flute and piano solos
Mixing thing up even more, Salvant slyly sang Bessie Smith’s 100-year-old hit “Sam Jones Blues,” garnered with her pianist’s stride skills. Contrarily, the singer was strong and direct when rendering Nina Simone’s positively affirming and acoustic guitar driven “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,” which drew noticeable crowd reactions. Staying in that mode with an emphasis on folk was Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” that was forlornly sung. For even more variety was 500-year-old renaissance song “Flow Not So Fast Ye Fountains.” It that breathtakingly and operatically sung with gentle band support to receive a rousing standing ovation.
The show could have easily ended there, yet continued with the somewhat related classically styled title track from Salvant’s latest project. It began with Fortner’s bluesy singing and intense playing. Salvant came in afterwards singing poetically as Fortner and Tarantino sang the chorus to garner an even more enthusiastic standing ovation. In response, she and band served up a few more songs that included a bossa version of “The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me).” For more info go to: www.cecilemclorinsalvant.com/ and https://cap.ucla.edu/
Out of the lengthy COVID-19 Pandemic fog comes vocalist Sara Gazarek’s four song EP Vanity. On the heels of her self-produced and acclaimed Grammy-nominated project Thirty Ghost, the singer creatively expanded and decided to take on her fears such as composing and working with a large ensemble. The EP accomplishes those goals with orchestration and arrangements by trombonist Alan Ferber, along with arrangements also by Geoff Keezer and Stu Mindeman.
Much like a proud parent, Gazarek showcased her EP at Sam First. She was supported by Ferber-trombone/orchestration, Miro Sprague- piano, Karl McComas Reichl-bass, Mark Ferber-drums, Brad Allen Williams-guitar, Michael Stever-trumpet, Joshua Johnson-alto sax, Daniel Rotem-tenor sax and Tim McKay-baritone sax.
Interestingly, the set began with Ferber’s arrangement of two Joni Mitchell songs not on the EP. First was the dynamically sung and intensely swinging interpretation of the songstress’ lesser known “Cherokee Louise.” Second was the increasingly insightful “Big Yellow Taxi (Paved Paradise)” that was lightly percolating and radiantly sung to draw strong applause. Gazarek remarked afterwards, “A voice in my head said, ‘there’s a chance if you book a nonet show at Sam First there will be more people on stage than in the house.’ You guys are amazing and you’re here.”
Getting into numbers from the EP was sullen, beautifully sung and resoundingly played ballad “Something Good” from the musical The Sound of Music. The singer’s original composition “We Have Not Long to Love,” derived from a poem by Tennessee Williams, was philosophical and musically intellectual, balanced by Gazarek’s serenading singing. Fiona Apple’s social commentary and women empowerment oriented “Extraordinary Machine” was full of hard-hitting orchestration and powerful singing.
Also included in the show was Sarah Vaughan “Lonely Hours.” It was from the Thirsty Ghost record and arranged by alto saxophonist Josh Johnson in a vibrant combo format featuring him and Gazarek soaring. She additionally included a powerfully sung version of Leonard Cohen’s ever popular spiritual ballad “Hallelujah” with only bass, drums and piano to touch the audience. For more info go to: saragazarek.com and www.samfirstbar.com.
20-year Django Reinhardt devotee French/American guitarist Stephane Wrembel’s concerts at Théâtre Raymond Kabbaz have been very popular, and well attended. In response, the venue expanded to a three-day celebration, aptly named Django a Go Go that included two masterclass workshops with guest guitarists Sam Farthing and Alfonso Ponticelli.
The final concert of the mini festival consisted of several group settings. Ponticelli starting things off playing solo. He began virtuosity strumming and fretting an energetic flamenco styled medley that included “Cry Me A River,” “Melancholy Serenade (Jackie Gleason Theme Song)” and original “Viva Montana.”
In sharp contrast, was a mid-tempo and easy flowing version of “Cheek to Cheek,” “Ouachita” a light flamenco tune and an exquisitely textured Spanish styled “Round Midnight.” Rounding out his portion of the show was a fast-strumming Django oriented original “Three Guitars” incorporating wizardry electronic looping.
Broadening things out, Josh Kaye-guitar, Nick Anderson-drums and Ari Folman-Cohen-bass joined Ponticelli for a high-flying adaption of “Limehouse Blues” that showcased solos by all. Afterwards, Wrembel joined the group and primarily focused on gypsy/Reinhart music starting with the well-established and fast paced “Gypsy Swing,” featuring him and Ponticelli remarkably soloing away.
Sam Farthing joined the group for multi-guitar laden “I’ll See You in My Dreams” that was full of amazing solos and tradeoffs that delighted the audience. Filling out the occasion were guitarist/guitar store owner Tommy Davy and violinist Luanne Homzy. They, with the full ensemble performed Django’s cool shuffling “Douce Ambiance,” which enjoyably showcased the guitarist and violinist’s impressive talents.
For more variety, Davy and Homzy who perform regularly together injected an amazing Eastern European/klezmer-like duet entitled “The Lark” to totally blow the crowd away. Concluding the Django/gypsy showcase was Wrembel’s enchanting “Bistro Fada,” written for the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. A “mock” vote by the audience chose classic “Minor Swing” and another Django song to finish the captivating show. Django a Go Go will return next year. For more info go to: www.stephanewrembel.com and www.theatreraymondkabbaz.com.
The Soraya’s Jazz at Nazz Festival ambitiously scheduled Christian McBride’s: The Movement Revisited, Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks, Melissa Aldana’s Quartet, Joel Ross’ Octet and The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with Samara Joy. Also, on the venue’s calendar for the month was Treelogy, A Musical Portrait of California’s Redwood, Sequoia and Joshua Trees, featuring Billy Childs, Steven Mackey, Gabriella Smith, and Delirium Musicum, commissioned by The Soraya.
Unfortunately, McBride’s ensemble due to COVID-19 issues, and the Clayton Hamilton Orchestra with Samara Joy who became sick after winning two Grammy’s did not perform then. But Charles Lloyd’s 85th Birthday Celebration was added for March 18 and CHJO with Joy was rescheduled for March 26. McBride’s new date is to be determined.
Bandleader/bassist/bass saxophone/tuba player/historian and occasional singer Giordano and his 11-person band, The Nighthawks vividly conveyed the spirit, rhythms and textures of the bygone early jazz and swing eras. For lovers of music from the ‘20s and ‘30s the concert was a delightful, amusing and educational romp fueled by great playing.
The bandleader was keen to highlight the music’s link to Hollywood through “The Theme Song For Universal Pictures,” “Putting on The Ritz” and “I Got Rhythm” featuring him singing on the latter two songs. Also, in the grouping was “Powerhouse” adapted for Warner Bros Cartoons and a medley of Leroy Shield’s tunes that included the Little Rascal’s “Our Gang Theme.”
From a purely jazz standpoint were superbly played Fletcher Henderson’s “Wild Party,” Bix Beiderbeck’s march-like “Deep Harlem,” Joe “King” Oliver’s “Sugarfoot Stomp” and iconic “The Westend Blues” showcasing the pianist and lead trumpeter. Additional, highpoints were Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in foxtrot cadence, Ellington’s steamy “The Mooch,” and “Back Home in Indiana.” Giordano sang and soloing on bass saxophone for it, along with singing Jimmy Lunceford’s “Rhythm is Our Business.”
London Wainwright III, not really a jazz singer and best known for being a singer/songwriter in the realms of folk, blues and rock, along with sporadic TV/film acting roles joined the group during the latter part of the concert. He spotlighted their album collaboration—I’d Rather Lead A Band. Whatever Wainwright lacked in talent he made up for it with humor and folksiness.
Some of the songs he performed were “A Ship Without a Sail,” “I’m Telling The Bird And Bees How I Love You,” “I’m Going to Give It to Mary with Love” and the album’s title track from the movie Follow The Fleet. In the film category he inserted Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from Stormy Weather, “So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together” from The King of Jazz, and hymn “The Perfect Day” from the movie Remember The Night.
Leaving the most dynamic for last was Wainwright raucously singing Sam Theard’s “You Rascal You (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead),” and band’s riotous version of the immortal swing tune “Sing, Sing, Sing.” It featured soaring brass and thunderous drumming, which drew enthusiastic cheering from the audience. For more info go to: vincegiordano.com and www.thesoraya.org
Representing modern 21st century jazz was fast emerging artists, Aldana and Ross. The Chilean-native’s group consisted of bassist Pablo Menares, pianist Gadi Lehavi and drummer Kush Abadey. They showcased compositions from the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition Winner and 2019 Grammy-Nominated tenor saxophonist’s latest recording 12 Stars, beginning with the title track. It was a sullen ballad featuring expressive and subtle playing from the bandleader.
Lengthy “Falling,” and The Bluest Eye inspired by Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison’s novel closed out the first half. It was abundant with dynamic interplay and solos from the sidemen. While Aldana floated over them with ethereal and spiraling layers. For march-like “Intuition” she was less nuanced and played dominantly, yet allowed ample space for the backing musicians to thrive.
During the second half of the program the Chilean showcased thematic and classical styled “Intention.” The new piece was melodic and overwrought with resounding solos from her and pianist Lehavi, which impressed the audience. “Los Ojos de Chile (The Eyes of Chile)” returned to the saxophonist’s recent album and was explosive post-bop that drew enthusiastic cheers from the attending music students in the audience.
Alternatively, the closing number “Emilia” also from 12 Stars and inspired by Aldana’s dream, in which she had a baby of the same name was a caressing ballad that exhibited her gentler side. For more info go to: www.melissaaldana.net and www.thesoraya.org.
Acclaimed poll-winning vibraphonist/composer Ross focused on his 2022 project The Parable of The Poet. His supporting ensemble consisted of Maria Grand-tenor sax, Rick Rosato-bass, Craig Weinrib-drums, Josh Johnson-alto sax, Kalia Vandever-trombone, Marquis Hill-trumpet, Sean Mason-piano and Gabrielle Garo-flute. The group also had the distinct honor of being the first large band to play on the Soraya’s Jazz Club’s stage.
Getting things underway, they slowly unveiled the heralded vibraphonist’s multi-layered suite. Like a blossoming flower it gradually opened and then swelled with dense choruses. Interestingly, the bassist was the first to play solely and then was joined by Ross and drums, before the brass players slowly eased in.
Afterwards, the flautist soared with only drums and bass accompanying. Then a somber brass chorus with trombone and trumpet leading ensued for a rousing full band crescendo that drew applause. Even more serious and deep sounding playing, there was a section with droning trumpet and ensemble that was elevated by the bandleader’s playing to end the program’s first half.
The second part of Ross’ concert initially resembled an orchestra tuning, and then shifted to a free jazz-oriented saxophone call and response segment backed by thunderous vibes and bass. The bandleader surfaced from the musical downpour for a brief solo moment before alto saxophone came to forefront to weave through the band’s bubbly textures.
He then returned for a full assault that later shifted to outstanding flute and trombone sections, which delighted the audience. Additionally, tenor saxophone movingly introed for an energetic progressive post-bop sequence that also showcased outstanding Monk-like piano playing. Nicely concluding varying moments of tension and density, the final moments of the suite were tranquil and lightly thematic. Overall, a very impressive and ambitious outing from one of the young lions of jazz. For more intro go to:
http://www.iplayvibes.com and www.thesoraya.org.
Lloyd’s 85th Birthday (March 15) was celebrated at the Soraya. Much like the 2015 NEA Jazz Master saxophonist’s introverted and also forward-thinking personality, the concert only focused on two of his three 2022 trio recordings. They were Charles Lloyd Trios: Ocean featuring Gerald Clayton & Anthony Wilson and Charles Lloyd Trios: Chapel featuring Bill Frisell & Larry Grenadier.
Even though the very healthy and vital Lloyd prefers not to dwell on it, he unquestionably is “living jazz history.” His illustrious career spans playing with blues legends Bobby Blue Bland, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King in his hometown Memphis. In LA, Free Jazz in with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Eric Dolphy, big band with Gerald Wilson and unconfined mainstream with Chico Hamilton and Eastern meditation with Billy Higgins. And in New York, engaging hard bop with Cannonball Alderley.
As a leader, he broke down barriers and appealed to the college and hippie crowd with his “crossover” quartet that produced platinum selling and avant-garde and transcendental melding Forest Flower. Its personnel were soon to be iconic players keyboardist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and bassist Cecil McBee.
Lloyd had somewhat of a 10-year absence during the ‘70s with some interactions with the Beach Boys. He fully resurfaced with coaxing by French wunderkind pianist Michel Petrucciani who had osteogenesis imperfecta, was only three ft. tall and died when he was 36 in 1989. Since then, the free-thinking saxophonist has recorded and performed in a variety of settings with many talented jazz innovators. Additionally, he has also worked with alt/country singer Lucinda Williams and classical Greek singer, Maria Farantouri.
Of course, during the concert, which was Lloyd’s Soraya debut, none of his impressive history was mentioned. After the audience’s impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” to him, he got down to business with the Ocean Trio backed by Clayton-piano and Wilson-guitar. The saxophonist’s resonating tone floated over the concert hall for thematic “Defiant,” while his side soothingly accompanied and also tastefully soloed.
Ballad “Black Butterfly” contrasted with soft blues and gospel tinges from the players. Notably, ballad “Evanstide, Where Lotus Bloom” didn’t include him for about a third of the piece, with sidemen delectably interacting, before he majestically joined him. “Third Floor Richard” Lloyd’s composition from the mid ‘60s mixed things up and showcased his jubilant flute playing, with spirited guitar and piano solos, along with “Kuan Yin” from the trio’s recent record to draw a rousing standing ovation.
Lloyd’s second trio, Trios: Chapel, actually the first one recorded consisted of Frisell on guitar, who also received birthday acknowledgement (his was March 18) and Grenadier on bass, who was not on the record. Interestingly, unlike the first group, they played all the selections on their new album. They very conventional in execution, beginning with Billy Strayhorn’s airy and blues-tinged “Blood Count.” The guitarist coolly started with bass prominently featured for the original ballad “Song My Lady Sings” as the trio leader relaxingly came in later, and breezy “Ay Amor” was similarly structured.
“Nu Blues” not on the project was flute oriented and consisted of textures reminiscent of Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó, which Frisell stylishly adapted. Sparse original “Beyond Darkness” filled with Lloyd’s spacious phrasing closed out the set and received thunderous applause resulting in encore “Dorotea’s Studio.”
The tune featured both trios and began with Clayton’s waltz-like and Spanish styled playing. The other musicians came in and skillfully weaved an intoxicating backdrop for Lloyd to serenely glide over. The piece thoroughly enthralled the audience, who enthusiastically rendered a standing ovation. For more info go to: charleslloyd.com and www.thesoraya.org
With recent 2023 Grammy wins for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best New Artist (only 2nd jazz performer, Esperanza Spalding in 2011 the first), The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra Featuring Samara Joy at The Soraya, originally scheduled in February was highly anticipated. Even though it was early in the year, the concert had the potential to be the concert of the year for So Cal jazz lovers.
Roughly, about halfway into CHO’s 100-minute set the 23-year-old singer appeared. Before the moment, the big band did rollicking versions of “Georgia,” “On The Sunny Side of The Street,” Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” featuring the bassist/bandleader, “Back Home Again in Indiana” showcasing coleader/drummer Jeff Hamilton incomparable brush skills and Horace Silver’s funky “The Jody Grind,”.
With Josh Nelson subbing for the big band’s regular pianist Tamir Hendelmin, Joy graciously took the stage and leaped into “This is The Moment.” She immediately soared with lush singing and scatting that took the crowd’s breath away.
The super talented singer casually mentioned that a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks and shared some of the great new opportunities being presented to her. One of them will be going to Paris for the second time in grander style. That led to her joyfully doing “April in Paris” in English and French (through Google Translate) with paired down support.”
Not to forgotten, were the many teachers who helped Joy on her path to success. Among them was bebop pianist/arranger/composer/educator Barry Harris (died 2021), whom she amazingly honored with his composition “Now And Then” beautifully arranged by Clayton.
For more variety and amusement, she was accompanied by only Clayton on bass and Hamilton on snare for a cool styling of “(The End of) A Beautiful Friendship” that featured fun and banter-like singing and playing. With only piano initially and light full band later, Joy slyly served up ballad “Guess Who I Saw Today” as homage to Nancy Wilson. With both the Grammy-winning singer/scatter and the orchestra roaring, Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call” was delightfully performed to end the concert.
Conversely, the audience who applauded and cheered wildly as CH laid down a swinging backdrop and close, wanted more. Joy in response offered Joe William’s classic “5 O’clock in the Morning.” She blazed away with energy and flair for the blues vamp, boldly supported by the orchestra, to leave no doubt—she’s the real deal! For more info go to: www.samarajoy.com, www.facebook.com/ClaytonHamiltonJazzOrchestra and www.thesoraya.org.
Tina Raymond, drummer/composer/educator and Director of Jazz Studies at CSU Northridge, with guitarist Andrew Renfroe-guitar and bassist Karl McComas-Reichl, welcomed an audience to her living room. Actually, it was the cozy confines of the Sam First jazz club, with her teacher/mentor Joe LaBarbera in attendance (it was his birthday). There she showcased original tunes from the trio’s upcoming recording, scheduled to be released fall 2023.
Commencing things was Monk’s lesser-known, but definitely strong bebop swinging “We See” that’s not on the new record. The trio quickly got into the tune, exhibiting solid cohesion, while also stretching out and soloing extensively.
Another departure from the forthcoming CD, and from an earlier project by the bandleader was a stark and haunting replication of Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle And The Drum,” in which the Canadian singer/songwriter in 1969 questions America’s international aggression. For even more variety Raymond served up Pat Metheny styled “Brushfire” that included a thunderous drum solo from her all-women Esthesis Quartet’s newly released effort Time Zones.
Getting into Raymond, Renfroe and McComas-Reichl’s album based on tarot cards was upbeat and slightly fused “Seven of Wands,” while “Eight of Wands” done in 7 time had a rich and soothing bass line, with drums and guitar injecting light and tingling textures. Raymond and McComas-Reichl coalesced and soloed intensely, while Renfroe unleashed jagged riffs.
For “The Star” the guitarist sounded somewhat more melodic, but with an edge and featured Raymond unleashing a ferocious solo. Vastly different and closing the set was the gentle theme piece “The Lovers” laden with easy-flowing and caressing playing from the trio to receive a standing ovation. For more info go to: www.tinaraymond.com and www.samfirstbar.com.
Over 10 years ago pianist/composer/arranger and former Musical Director for pop/R&B/gospel sensation Natalie Cole, Josh Nelson debuted his concept series Discoveries. The accompanying concerts were multi-media events, sometimes including narration by a historian, unique lighting, special effects, graphics and video clips. Subsequent editions were Exploring Mars in 2015, The Sky Remains in 2017 and The Discovery Project Live in Japan 2020. In 2022 he recorded LA Stories, and did an Album Preview Show at Sam First, whose inhouse label recorded the project.
The piano/producer/bandleader’s ensemble for the recording and the show, sans multi-media, included Walter Smith III-tenor saxophone, Larry Koonse-guitar, Luca Alemanno-bass, Dan Schnelle-drums and special guest Gaby Moreno-vocals. In action, Nelson shined brightly with his stellar group, peppered with solos from Smith, Koonse and Schnelle for the lightly cascading post-bop “Forward Momentum,” the new project’s first track.
Getting more LA specific was “Travel Town” a breezy tribute to the Griffith Park Museum and the small train that circles it. The tune incorporated a subtle train-like shuffle rhythm and spiraling soloing from Nelson. Another homage was a lightly textured and forlorn ballad, beautifully sung by Moreno, asking Tiburcio Vásquez to change and settle down. He was the legendary Robin Hood-styled bandido/revolutionary who hid in the northern Los Angeles County rock formations named after him, and many other Southern and Northern California locations from 1852 to 1874.
The Latin Grammy-nominated vocalist also enchantingly sang in Spanish and English “Feed The Birds,” with light support from piano, guitar and drums. It was from Disney’s original 1964 film Mary Poppins, which Nelson, whose father was a Disney Imagineer, watched regularly while growing up. “Red Car Reminiscing,” also Disney related (Trolley Town), with the full band tastefully garnered by riveting bass, saxophone and guitar solos, musically recalled “pre-freeway” Los Angeles.
Concluding the palatable and history interwoven set was “Spirit” from Nelson’s Exploring Mars record. The thematic duet featuring spry interplay between bandleader and Smith acknowledged the rover built at JPL in Pasadena. Sadly, it got stuck in a bank of mud and only lasted a couple of years, while its counterpart Opportunity went beyond expectations for 15 years. For more info go to: www.joshnelsonmusic.com and www.samfirstbar.com.
The concept of “Rent Parties” or “House Parties” has been around for over 100 years, originating during the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout that period, African-American tenants conceived unconventional methods for raising rent money, while also getting the community involved through food, music, dancing and conversation. West Coast Get Down trombonist Ryan Porter and graphic artist Amira Lopez are revising the model with 21st century sensibilities through Rent Party_LA.
“Me, along with Amira are trying to start a concert series,” Porter explained in the green room at The Goldfish in Highland Park before performing, “where we take the musicians that we have and connect them with audiences in LA (all around). Instead of doing a residency at the same place, we’ll switch it up and do it at venues that aren’t so sought after and/or not necessarily jazz oriented.”
Continuing, the trombonist cited the reasons for getting involved with community-based concert promotions. “Our intention is to take the proceeds of what we get to help musicians facilitate a means for themselves. Working in this industry for a long time, it’s been the same pay for years and years and years.” Lopez added, “Everything has evolved, such as the way music is made, recorded and consumed. Yet, somehow the basic component of sustaining the very artists that create this amazing music that is medicine for all of us has not.”
Essentially, she and the trombonist are concerned about financial equity for musicians. From the grassroots, non-corporate level, they want to setup a model for fans to get involved and more directly support the music and musicians they love. “I’m a huge fan of the music,” the graphic designer stressed. “I always felt like it was a luxury that I could go to a small venue in LA with maybe 20 people there and listen to the greats of today two feet away for $15.”
However, she was surprised about the economics from the artists’ perspective, and said she’d gladly pay more to ensure that their needs and obligations are covered. On the other hand, ticket prices for stadium shows have skyrocketed and attendees seem willing to purchase them. The chances of jazz reaching that scale, especially on a local level is not likely. Lopez and Porter though, hope LA’s jazz connoisseurs want to get more involved, and that they and the artists will both benefit.
The trombonist cited the iconic drummer Billy Higgins as a shining example, especially regarding helping young musicians. “He provided a place for me to play and I think it’s my time to do that for young people. Amira mentioned upward mobility. Where is that for them, what is it going to look like and where are they going to play? Also, how are the people who appreciate this artform going to contact them and contribute to their art? Those are the kind of things we’re trying to setup now.” For more info go to: https://www.instagram.com/rentparty_la
The Cookers septet formed in 2007, consists of high caliber players, Billy Harper-tenor sax, Eddie Henderson-trumpet, David Weiss-trumpet, Donald Harrison-alto sax, George Cables-piano, Cecil McBee-bass and Billy Hart-drums. Additionally, they all are equally adept bandleaders, arrangers and composers individually. As a group, they held court at Segerstrom Center For The Arts’ Samueli Theatre with Jaleel Shaw holding down Harrison’s chair.
The New York based ensemble’s music is pure hard-bop and not for the faint of heart, with most of the players having tenure with legends Art Blakey (Harper, Henderson, Harrison), Lee Morgan (Harper), Jimmy Heath (Weiss) and Elvin Jones (McBee). Straight out of the gate, they exploded with Harper’s Call of The Wild, the title track of their 2016 record. McBee’s “Peacemaker” was a dreamy theme piece, with jolts of brass choruses and featured Henderson’s stirring trumpet, Harrison sax and the composer’s bass.
Going back to his time with Morgan, Harper showcased his throbbing “Croquet Ballet,” laden with his, Weiss and Cable’s strong playing for the piece originally recorded with the trumpet icon in 1971. The saxophonist also arranged Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core,” which displayed Hart’s powerful drumming and also Weiss and band’s fiery playing to blow the audience away.
That was supposed to be the band’s last number for the set, but nobody told them to officially stop. With the audience’s approval they performed for another 10 minutes. With the extra time the septet jumped into Cables’ hard-hitting “Blackfoot” that displayed superb soloing from him, Henderson and Shaw with a pounding foundation from the rhythm section to draw an energetic standing ovation. For more info go to: www.thecookersmusic.com/ and www.scfta.org.
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