Wed, 26 June 2013
In today’s jazz world, Terence Blanchard stands with only a few other musicians as a master of performance, recording, education, and composition. His desire to stretch himself artistically has resulted in dozens of Broadway, television and film scores, large scale suites, and now, an opera.
On June 15th, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis combined forces to premiere Blanchard’s first opera, Champion, an “Opera in Jazz” based on the story of the boxing champion Emile Griffith. With music by Blanchard and libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Michael Cristofer, Champion gives Blanchard the opportunity to blend the uniquely American tradition of jazz with the dramatic power of opera. The work has been called "a new kind of American masterpiece."
The opera will run through the end of June, when the Blanchard Quintet will hit the road for a summer of festivals and stages around the world. That tour will end with an extended run at Dinaledi Stage in Johannesburg, S. Africa with special guest – and recent collaborator - Lionel Loueke joining the band.
I spoke with Blanchard as he was finishing a week-long stay at the Jazz Standard in New York, where the Quintet featured material from the new CD Magnetic. A true group collaboration, the CD gives the band – Blanchard on trumpet; Fabian Almazan on piano; Kendrick Scott on drums; Brice Winston on tenor saxophone; and Joshua Crumbly on bass – the opportunity o record compositions from the various members, with Blanchard encouraging them to write and grow as artists. The results are a sonic palette that moves from straight ahead sounds (“Don’t Run”, which features guests Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter sitting in) to more experimental textures on “Hallucinations” and “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song”.
Podcast 359 can be downloaded here, as Terence and I talk about the Quintet, Champion, and the creative process of scoring jazz for the stage and screen. Music featured in the podcast includes:
Terence Blanchard – “Jacob’s Ladder” from Magnetic. 21-year-old bass prodigy Crumbly composed what might be the finest track on the CD – a beautiful ballad with a memorable Blanchard solo.
Terence Blanchard – “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song” from Magnetic. Blanchard's electronically processed trumpet is a highlight of this Fabian Almazan composition, as well as virtuosic piano work, and Lionel Loueke's usual finesse on guitar and vocalizations.
\Terence Blanchard – “No Borders Just Horizons" from Magnetic. Drummer Kendrick Scott is an underrated performer on the drums, and a strong composer as well. Blanchard is generous with his praise of Scott’s ability to be :”in the moment” as the band improvises.
Terence Blanchard and the Branford Marsalis Quartet – “Say Hey“ from the soundtrack to Mo’ Better Blues. Blanchard has scored dozens of film and stage productions, including a number by Spike Lee, who directed this Denzel Washington film in 1990. The band is Blanchard on trumpet, Marsalis on sax, Robert Hurst on bass, the late Kenny Kirkland on piano and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.
Direct download: Podcast_359_-_A_Conversation_with_Terence_Blanchard.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00am EDT
Tue, 25 June 2013
Jason Miles was coming of age in New York during the late 1960’s, and he and his friends haunted the concert halls and clubs of the day to catch now-legendary performers. One magic evening he recalled was the night they caught Sly & the Family Stone opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I checked his memory to make sure – May 10, 1968 at the Fillmore East. Not a bad bill! Miles was mesmerized by the funk pioneers, who hit the stage with a mix of performers who were both white and black, and male and female. Their mix of rock and soul music, featuring tunes from the two week old album Dance to the Music, brought the house down.
Forty-five years and over one hundred recordings later – including the synthesizer programming for Miles Davis’ ‘80s masterpieces Tutu, Music From Siesta and Amandla – Jason revisits those sounds with his band Global Noize on Sly Reimagined – The Music of Sly & the Family Stone on the Zoho Roots labe. Miles and Global Noize may be the perfect collection of musicians to tackle the Family Stone repertoire, as they carry on the wonderful concept of mixing race, sex, style, age and genre in one sound that is difficult to pigeonhole. Global Noize will celebrate the CD release with a show at Joe’s Pub in New York on June 26.
Miles has made it his specialty to “reimagine” the classic music of artists as diverse as Ivan Lins, Weather Report, Marvin Gaye and Grover Washington. Sly Reimagined takes this process one step further, as Global Noize lays the foundation for guests like Roberta Flack and Nona Hendryx,to vocalize. Adding further authenticity to the project is the appearance of Greg Errico, the original Family Stone drummer on three tracks.
We talked about the CD and Miles’ views of music and the music and the music business in Podcast 358. Click here to download the podcast, which features musical selections fromt eh album, including:
Global Noize – “It’s a Family Affair – Groove Vibe Version” from Sly Reimagined. It was this song playing on Jason’s iPhone that inspired the whole project. Miles says he heard Roberta Flack singing the song in his mind, so he went out and got her.
Global Noize – “In Time” from Sly Reimagined. Original Sly drummer Greg Errico guests on three tracks on the CD, including this one, which has Nona Hendryx (Labelle, Material) on lead vocals. Nona will join Global Noize on their June 26th gig at Joe’s Pub.
Global Noize – “You Can Make It If You Try” from Sly Imagined. Among the Jazz heavyweights who perform on the CD is trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, a long-time Miles collaborator who lends her horn to two tracks, including this one alongside tenor sax man Jay Rodriguez.
Tue, 25 June 2013
One of my favorite music writers, Dave Marsh, very eloquently discussed the passing of Bobby "Blue" Bland, the highly influential blues/soul singer:
Bobby Bland was, in his prime, the most powerful blues shouter of all time, though capable as well of a caressing tenderness. "Turn On Your Lovelight" is what the rock world knows, I guess, but the man's legacy is also in "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," "Farther Up the Road," "I'll Take Care of You," "I Pity the Fool," "Cry Cry Cry," "If You Could Read My Mind," to my ear the finest "St. James Infirmary" of them all, the entire Two Steps from the Blues album (the best Southern soul album, even including Otis's; it has the impeccable and beautiful and scary "Lead Me On," for many the greatest performance of his career. The list goes all the way up to his Malaco sides, particularly "Ain't No Love In the Heart of the City." It is not true that Bobby Bland never made a bad record; it is true that his ratio of great to mediocre is as high as any other singer you can name, in any genre you care to cull.
To call him Bobby "Blue" Bland always seemed redundant to me—as if he could be heard for so much as eight bars and you wouldn't know that this was his core, his essence and, one way or another, a heap of your own. But you can make too much of this essentialism--finally, you know Bobby Bland's name and music less well because he was like his audience. He was a key voice of the black Southern working class from the '50s onward. His role was to play the shouter from the anonymous ranks, the totally heart broken man among an all-but-totally heart broken folk. (And of course, once in a while, shouting with all the more exuberance because of that every day heartbreak.)
He was completely non-intellectual about the whole enterprise, as far as I can tell. He told Peter Guralnick that his ambition was to be able to sing each song the exact same way, every time he sang it. A strange kind of perfectionism. But his command of tone and phrasing was so great that for me he held the place that Frank Sinatra held for a lot of other people. "Lead Me On" in particular has never not brought me to tears. Not once, though I sometimes listened to it many, many, many times in a row--when I was by myself, the way that particular act of allegiance is best performed. And you know what? He sings it the same way every time.
Perfection is something he knew a lot about. And I, especially the I who found him on the radio and held him very close to the center of my being for the better part of half a century, will never be able to thank him enough. Or often enough. Or even express what I'm thanking him for altogether adequately.
I will tell you the real truth: He was, for me, probably the greatest blues singer of any kind, and the reason I can say this now instead of at the beginning is quite simple: I started listening to Two Steps from the Blues.
"No matter what you do, I'm gonna keep on loving you and I'm not ashamed, oh no, I'm not ashamed."
Category:general -- posted at: 10:56am EDT
Tue, 25 June 2013
The summer jazz festival season kicks off on a high note with the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which begins its 34th run from June 28th to July 7th. Besides presenting a series of top notch ticketed concerts, the Festival prides itself on sharing the wealth – one of their themes this year is “10 stages, 300 concerts, 3000 artists – all free.” The Festival itself will be dedicated to great pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, who had a long history with the event.
Highlights include performances by a wide range of artists encompassing jazz, blues, world music and beyond: Aretha Franklin, Wayne Shorter, Chucho Valdés, George Benson, Oliver Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, John Abercrombie, Ravi Coltrane, Bill Frisell, Holly Cole, Trombone Shorty, Jason Moran doing a “Fats Waller Dance Party”, and Gregory Porter. Rock fans will be able to catch Lyle Lovett, Chris Isaak, Boz Scaggs, a double bill of Dr. John and Leon Russell, and so many more. The Invitation TD series includes a pair of three-night runs hosted first by Charles Lloyd, then by Vijay Iyer. One of the highlights from the many performances on the outdoor stages will be Lorraine Klaasen’s “Tribute to Miriam Makeba”, twenty years after her first Festival visit.
It’s all too much to take in over ten days, so if you go, plot your course carefully, and be open to new and exciting music. There is so much more than music- the Galerie Lounge TD, located in the exhibition hall of Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme, Place des Arts, offers a treasure trove of works by artists from every provenance who share a common passion for jazz during the Festival, and there are a large number of Festival boutiques and restaurants. And of course, there is the backdrop of the wonderful city of Montréal.
Podcast 357 captures just a few of the musical performers who will appear in the Festival, including:
Aretha Franklin – “Crazy He Calls Me” from Aretha’s Jazz. From that brief period before she was the Queen of Soul….
Lorraine Klaasen – “Pata Pata” from A Tribute to Miriam Makeba.”Mama Africa” is warmly remembered on this CD, which includes this tune that became an unlikely crossover American radio hit in 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song. Backing Ms. Klaasen are Sebastian Andre Whiternan on bass, Assane Seck on guitar, and Moise Matey-Yawo on percussion.
Wayne Shorter Quartet – “UFO” from Without a Net. The first Blue Note album in years comes as Wayne celebrates his birthday. The Quartet is Shorter on sax, Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums.
Joshua Redman – “Last Glimpse of Gotham” from Walking Shadows. Redman is featuring with a string section at the Festival, playing a mix of standards and more modern tunes.
Charles Lloyd & Jason Moran – “Rosetta” from Hagar’s Song. They’ll be leading two separate bands, but their duet album released earlier this year on ECM is a delight.
Chucho Valdés & the Afro-Cuban Messengers – “Santa Cruz” from Border-Free. One of the great Cuban pianists of all-time makes an appearance as well. “Santa Cruz,” written in 1986, is a flamenco-tinged piece dedicated to Santi, a guitarist Chucho met from the Canary Islands.
Sun, 23 June 2013
If we are closing in on the last weekend in June, then it’s time for Summer Jazz Festivals to kick into gear. Podcast 356 is a preview of the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York, held this year on June 29-30th. A following podcast will focus on the Montreal Jazz Festival, which starts on June 27 and runs through the beginning of July.
The Main Stage Line-up for Saturday is: Arturo Sandoval; David Sanborn & Bob James featuring Steve Gadd; Gregory Porter; McCoy Tyner Quartet plus special guest John Scofield; The Cookers featuring Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee & Billy Hart; and Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak with David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, Dan Weiss & Rich Brown
The more intimate Gazebo Stage features the Gary Smulyan Quartet with Mike LeDonne, Peter Bernstein & Kenny Washington; Carmen Souza; Mahanthappa's Gamak; Ben Williams & Sound Effect; and the Gilad Hekselman Trio featuring Rick Rosato & Jeff Ballard.
The Main Stage Line-up for Sunday is: Buddy Guy; Tony Bennett; the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Kevin Eubanks with Bill Pierce, Rene Camacho & Nate Smith; and the Donny McCaslin Group with Jason Lindner, Tim Lefebvre & Mark Guiliana. The Gazebo Stage on Sunday features: Chris Bergson Band; Brianna Thomas; McCaslin; Ingrid Jensen Quartet with Gary Versace, Matt Clohesy & John Wikan and the Fabian Almazan Trio with an all-star trio featuring Linda Oh on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.
Danny Melnick, the producer of the two day event, talked with me about this year’s lineup, giving us a little taste of why he books certain artists, and which players he is particularly high on. Download the Podcast here, and listen to our conversation, including musical interludes by:
Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak – “Ballad for Troubled Times” from Gamak.
The Cookers – “Croquet Ballet” from Cast the First Stone
Gregory Porter - “On My Way to Harlem” from Be Good.
Bob James & David Sanborn – “Montezuma” from Quartette Humaine.
Gilad Hekselman – “March of the Sad Ones” from This Just In.
Donny McCaslin – Title Track from Casting for Gravity.
Buddy Guy – “Mannish Boy” from Live at Legends.
Direct download: Podcast_357_-_Previewing_the_Freihofers_Saratoga_Jazz_Festival.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:00am EDT
Fri, 21 June 2013
Some musicians kill time on the road playing video games or checking out local color. Ken Hatfield kills time before gigs reading.
Often Hatfield tries to relate the material he is reading to his music, seeking internal rhythms, interesting themes or using a book as a jumping off point for creativity. Earlier this year he fulfilled one of his fondest wishes by releasing For Langston, a song cycle he wrote based on the poetry of the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.
Hatfield, who plays with a distinctive sound from his use of nylon strings on his guitar, assembled a strong sextet to tackle the material he had written over the years. His frequent collaborator Jamie Baum, played alto flute and joined a rhythm section of. percussionist Steve Kroon, drummer Jeff Hirshfield and bassist Hans Glawischnig,
The key to the project’s success, however, may have been the addition of singer Hilary Gardner, who tackled the formidable task of giving voice to Hughes’ words. Ms. Gardner may be more familiar to Broadway fans from her role in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away or Alternative Rock listeners who caught her on Moby’s Wait For Me. Despite her lack of jazz credentials, her soprano voice adds the tone that is crucial to reimagining the sound of Hughes’ work, allowing the band, and Hatfield’s guitar in particular, to create something new and exciting.
Given that Hughes is an African-American icon associated with New York, and Hatfield is a white man born below the Mason-Dixon line, there has been some criticism of For Langston. We talk about those criticisms, as well as his creative approach to the poetry in Podcast 353. The Podcast can be downloaded here, and features music from the CD, including:
Ken Hatfield – “Argumentum Ornithologicum – Sixth Movement “ from String Theory.
Ken Hatfield – “Dream Boogie”, “Jazzonia”, and “Poem to a Dead Solider” from For Langston.
Direct download: Podcast_353_-_A_Conversation_with_Ken_Hatfield.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 3:00am EDT
Mon, 17 June 2013
For decades, the United States and Cuba have shared a complex relationship. While there have been many business, travel and diplomatic restrictions between the two countries, U.S. citizens have gravitated to Cuba's tropical culture - taking in the country's sights, sounds and cuisines.
From a musical standpoint, in addition to the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon and the enduring legacy of Los Van Van, there is a strong relationship between Afro-Cuban music and American jazz. Over the years, many of the world's finest jazz artists have hailed from Cuba - virtuosos such as Bebo & Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Israel López and Machito as well as the latest wave of great piano players, including Roberto Fonseca, Alfredo Rodriguez, and David Virelles.
Making his US debut this month is another player destined to join these great performers, Harold López-Nussa. López-Nussa has been in the spotlight since he guest starred on the Stefon Harris, David Sánchez and Christian Scott project Ninety Miles, which was recorded in Cuba. His US debut album, El País de las Maravillas was a quartet recording that featured Sánchez, López-Nussa’s young brother, drum prodigy Ruy Adrian López-Nussa, and bassist Felipe Cabrera
The brothers López-Nussa will be making their long-delayed US Debut for the rest of this month (June 18 / Jazz Standard / New York, NY; June 19 / An die Musik / Baltimore, MD; and June 21 / Regattabar / Cambridge, MA) and then will be an attraction at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 1. Harold’s next CD, New Day, will be released in the fall.
I spoke with Harold López-Nussa as he headed to New York to play in Manhattan for the first time. We talked about his musical education, and hoped for greater cooperation between Cuba and the US. The Podcast may be downloaded here, and features musical selections including:
Harold López-Nussa Trio with David Sánchez “Caminos” and “Perla Marina” from El País de las Maravillas .
Stefon Harris, David Sánchez and Christian Scott – “And This Too Shall Pass“ from Ninety Miles.
Harold López-Nussa Trio with David Sánchez - “Volver” from El País de las Maravillas .
Direct download: Podcast_355_-_A_Conversation_with_Harold_Lopez-Nusso.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 4:09pm EDT
Mon, 17 June 2013
Was I alone in thinking that we had heard the last of the wonderful Bob Dorough on recordings? A seminal musical figure in the life of anyone who was a child in the 1960’s, he worked onstage with Lenny Bruce and Allen Ginsburg; wrote and recorded with Miles Davis (“Blue Xmas”); produced Spanky and Our Gang (“Sunday Will Never Be the Same”); and most importantly, was the pivotal figure behind Schoolhouse Rock! Not only did those animated vignettes teach my generation about grammar and math, but the hip-hop generation that followed returned to the tracks as material to sample – check De La Soul’s use of “Three is a Magic Number”.
And now, with Bob pushing 90 years young, we get a new CD, Bob Dorough Duets; which is exactly what its title implies – an album of all Bob Dorough compositions with Bob singing each song with a different artist. On this recording he is paired with the New York Voices, Nellie McKay, JD Walter, Heather Masse, Janis Siegel, Grace Kelly and others, on some of his most iconic songs such as “Devil May Care”, “I’m Hip” (which is my favorite), “Comin’ Home Baby”, and more. The recording also features Grace Kelly, Phil Woods and David Liebman on saxophones, Phil Markowitz on piano, and many other musicians from Bob’s ‘neighborhood.’
The CD is a fundraising project for COTA, the Celebration of The Arts Jazz Festival (cotajazz.org) in the Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania – a local event for Mr. Dorough and his friends. The festival also sponsors a jazz camp (campjazz.org) and youth big band. These events are fostering young talent and keeping jazz alive!
Category:general -- posted at: 3:57pm EDT
Sun, 16 June 2013
It may be hard to believe, but despite the fact that Bob James and David Sanborn have one of the best-selling jazz albums of the last thirty years in Double Vision, they have never toured together. That album spent more than a year on the Billboard charts, and won them each a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance.
When they hit the stag at The Town Hall in New York City they kicked off a world-wide tour together, leading a quartet that includes drummer Steve Gadd and bassist James Genus. Along the way, they will appear at a number of top jazz festivals, including the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival later this month. Watch this space for more preview podcasts on that great weekend of music.
Those who are expecting their new CD, Quartette Humaine to be a sound-alike to the platinum Double Vision will be surprised at the sterling acoustic sound of this group. Both Sanborn and James are quick to point out that they are in different musical places at this stage of their stellar careers, and that the new CD is a more accurate picture of the kind of “honest music” they want to make now. The CD is in some ways a tribute to the sound of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with shifting, highly melodic compositions and deft performances.
I caught up with both of them recently, and you can listen to our conversation in Podcast 351, which featuring musical selections from the duo, including:
Bob James and David Sanborn – “Sofia” from Quartette Humaine. One of the top ballads on the CD is this composition written by Sanborn for his wife.
Bob James and David Sanborn – “My Old Flame” from Quartette Humaine. One of the few covers on the new CD, Bob James said they chose it since it had always been one of his favorite tunes, and that he had always heard Sanborn’s horn playing the lead in his head. Now, we all can share it.
Bob James and David Sanborn – “Follow Me” from Quartette Humaine My favorite tune from the CD is this Brubeckian number written by James. Check out their lengthy conversation about this tune in the podcast, including Sanborn’s comments on how difficult the tune turned out to be to play.
Bob James and David Sanborn – “You Don’t Know Me” from Double Vision. Fans of this classic electric album need not despair – the duo plans on playing a number of songs from the record in concert, but in acoustic settings. Here’s hoping this is one of them.
Direct download: Podcast_351_-_A_Conversation_with_David_Sanborn_and_Bob_James.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:00pm EDT
Sun, 16 June 2013
Straight No Chaser Song of Father’s Day is, of course, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father”. A hard bop classic, the original was released in 1965 and featured Silver on piano, Joe Henderson playing the unmistakable melody on sax, Carmell Jones doubling Henderson on trumpet, Teddy Smith on bass and Paul Humphries on drums. It’s got a Brazilian flavor to it, a Bossa Nova bounce that has become a well-deserved standard. The cover artwork pictured here features a photograph of Silver's father, John Tavares Silva, to whom the title song was dedicated
Lyrics were written to the tune, which is purely instrumental in this recording. I'd like to share them with you today to honor the memory of my father, Bert Siegel, who passed away a few years ago.
If there was ever a man
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am EDT