Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jazz on NPR

Jazz may be off the radio in many markets, but it’s not off National Public Radio. A link on sent me to a jazz series airing this July on NPR’s News & Notes. Hosted by Farai Chideya, it began on July 3 with a segment called “What Is Jazz?” with experts Bill Kirchner, David Schroeder, and Eugene Holly Jr. On July 4, “Inside the Culture of Jazz” featured a conversation with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and drummer Kendrick Scott. Robert O'Mealy, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, discussed "The Intersection of Jazz and Social Protest" on July 10. July 11 looked at the jazz legacy in “A Jazz Journey from Its New Orleans Birthplace” with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, soul singer Irma Thomas, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band member Greg Davis. Each segment is about 17 minutes long.

Chideya admits at the outset of the series and repeats at least once that she doesn’t know a lot about jazz. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. If she did know a lot about jazz, she might have asked different questions (and would not have called Mayfield “Irving”). But many people already consider jazz esoteric and inaccessible. Hearing Chideya say “I’m a jazz novice” invites a “me, too” response and a willingness to keep listening.

From there I check the NPR jazz & blues archive and get deliciously lost for the next couple of hours. Check these out if you’re so inclined. All were broadcast recently (within the last month or so).
A story about Two Men with the Blues, the new CD by Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, and an interview with them on board Nelson’s bus.
A concert by the McCoy Tyner Quartet.
An interview with Cassandra Wilson about her new CD, Loverly.
A list of five pop songs covered by Patricia Barber.
A story about the Paul Bley trio’s reissued 1965 recording “Ida Lupino.”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The E Family Featuring Sheila E.

When: Saturday, June 28, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Sheila E., drums; Pete Escovedo, timbales; Juan Escovedo, congas and bongos; Joe Rotondi Jr., keyboards; Michael Angel Alvarado, guitar; Umberto Ruiz (?), trombone; Cary Lozhan (?), trombone; Mario Gonzalez, trumpet and music director; Curtis Olson, bass.

In town for a family wedding,
the close-knit Escovedos play two nights at the Dakota during the jazz festival. For the first night's second set, the curtain is open and the house is full and festive. The stage is crowded with musicians and instruments, mostly percussion of all shapes and sizes. Old friend St. Paul Peterson—son of our own Jeanne Arland, brother to Billy and Patty, formerly of the funk group The Time and Prince’s group The Family—has flown in from the Bahamas to sing. Everyone is here to have a good time.

At 72, father Pete Escovedo is a very handsome man. He’s proud of his family and loves that he’s sharing the stage with Juan and Sheila. His wife, Juanita, comes up from time to time to tell a joke or join in the music-making. They play something he calls the “E Medley,” a song he wrote for Tito Puente, an arrangement by Wayne Wallace of “Esta Noche,” and songs off the new CD, also a family venture. (“Our family finally did a CD together,” Sheila E. tells us. “We figured out how many family members could play on it and found 32.”)

Click photo to see full-size

It’s all smooth and shiny, flawless Latin jazz-pop with an irresistible beat. Hands and feet blur. Father and brother and sister move back and forth between drums and timbales and congas, playfully pushing each other out of the way. The star wattage of the front line is boosted by the strong back line, which includes three horns. Big sound, high energy, yet intimate. “It’s like being in our living room,” Juanita says. Just another family gathering for 250 friends.

A solo by Sheila E. to finish. She plays a melody on her drums. Notes emerge amid the rat-a-tats and rumbles and cymbal crashes. It’s “Jesus Loves Me,” a total surprise. And not the final song after all: The band joins in and St. Paul returns for bits of hits including “The Glamorous Life,” “Screams of Passion,” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine” (“Get up, get on up”). The audience screams for Miss E. like she’s a rock star, which she is.

Photos by John Whiting.

Amina Figarova Sextet

When: Saturday, June 28, 2008 • Where: Peavey Plaza • Who: Amina Figarova, piano; Marc Mommaas, tenor saxophone; Alex Pope Norris, trumpet; Bart Platteau, flute; Phil Palombi, bass; Tim Horner, drums

Our attendance at this year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival is pathetic.
We see several of the club shows but miss nearly all of the free outdoor shows except for Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band on Friday, June 20, and part of the Dakota Combo’s second set earlier today. We see just enough of Amina Figarova that I kick myself for not coming to Peavey Plaza sooner.

Born in Azerbaijan, first trained as a classical pianist, Figarova now lives in Rotterdam, composing and performing and recording jazz. She ended up in Minneapolis in June because she was on a US tour that started in Erie, PA and brought her to Chicago last night. She’s with a sextet that includes her husband, flautist Bart Platteau. (We learn later that he plays flute exclusively, not saxophone and flute, as many jazz musicians do.) Saxophonist Mommaas was raised in Amsterdam and is now based in NYC; trumpeter Norris is out of Reston, VA; Tim Horner (I’m guessing) is from the states. Palombi is also based in NYC. We’ve met him and spoken with him before but didn’t know he’d be here with Figarova. After the set we have the chance to hang out a while and catch up.

I don’t hear enough of Figarova’s live set to offer more than a few impressions. She’s slight and exotic but strong on the keys, and she swings. (Like Barbara Dennerlein, who was here earlier this week.) Her music is stormy and dreamy and full of melody. I bring home her latest CD, September Suite. Figarova was living in Brooklyn when the towers fell on 9/11, and this all-original work, based on her own experiences following the attack, is heartbreaking and uplifting, art rising from the ashes. (Like Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will rose from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.) I want to hear more of this wonderful pianist.

Hear Amina Figarova on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.
Photos by John Whiting.

Bruce Henry

When: Friday, June 27, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Bruce Henry, voice; Bryan Nichols, piano; Dean McGraw, guitar; Johannes Tone (?), bass; Peter Vertz (?), saxophone; Darryl Boudreaux, percussion; Kevin Washington, drums

It’s a bittersweet celebration:
Bruce Henry’s final public performance in Minneapolis before moving to Chicago. It’s not that he won’t be back—he’s already scheduled to play a free concert on Peavey Plaza on July 23—but it’s not the same as having him here with us.

He gives us songs we love: “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Autumn Leaves” (a fiery solo by McGraw, a falsetto verse by Henry), “Africa Cries” (Henry’s own composition, always achingly beautiful), “Billy’s Bounce,” “Mighty Mighty” (another Henry original, this time with a killer solo by “Kilowatt” Washington), “Hearts Afire” (during which the audience joins in to sing “Keep your head to the sky”). He invites his Freedom Train group on stage—including Debbie Duncan and Katie Gearty—to sing “It’s a Party” (“a freedom party!”). Every minute of this night is a party, with tables crowded together and every table full and people standing in doorways and at the bar. Other musicians have come to pay tribute: Mary Louise Knutson, Connie Olson, Rhonda Laurie.

After the break: “Hallelujah!” Then “Jump That Broom.” The crowd is growing. People are dancing. Debbie Duncan and Gwen Matthews are summoned to the stage. “We used to have a group,” Henry tells us. “It was called Henry Duncan Matthews. They put my name first because I was youngest.” The three sing “Everything must change, nothing stays the same/Everyone will change, no one stays the same” and Matthews is crying. For the next tune, Ginger Commodore, Connie Olson, Katie Gearty, and Yolanda Bruce join in for “Sweet Home Chicago” and change the lyrics to “Hey Hey Bruce, don’t go.”

For his final song, we wonder if we’ll hear “Nature Boy” or “The House of the Rising Sun,” two famous tunes Henry has made his own and each one a showstopper. Instead, we hear a song he has promised to someone in the audience: “The Second Time Around.” Accompanied by saxophone, it’s gorgeous, a singer’s song, with low, deep notes and caressing vibrato. Is it for his wife? It feels very private in a room packed with people who are hushed and listening hard.

Photos by John Whiting.

Party with B-3 and Trumpet and Cake

When: Thursday, June 26, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Tony Monaco, Hammond B-3 organ; The Heatin' System: Andrew Beals, saxophone; John Hart, guitar; Rudy Petschauer, drums plus Sean Jones, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Dave Stryker, guitar

After the DownBeat's Rising Stars show at Orchestra Hall,
we go to the Dakota for HH's birthday party. The mezzanine is mostly ours. Friends are there to greet us, a lovely chocolate cake from Wuollet Bakery awaits us (it says "Happy Birthday" to both HH and Rhonda Laurie, who shares his birthday), the splendid Joe Doermann is there to take care of us, Jon Weber has just finished his final set and comes upstairs to join us, and Tony Monaco is starting his late-night performance (a preview of the show he'll do for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival tomorrow night). It's a party.

Monaco was mentored by Jimmy Smith and Joey De Francesco; the Heatin' System was Jack McDuff's band. One of my jazz regrets is I never saw McDuff in person. He often played at the Artists' Quarter; he died in Minneapolis in 2001.

I'm not taking notes tonight so I can't report on the specifics of what Monaco played but it's hot. Burnin'. Fiery. All the things the writers say about this strange and complicated instrument when it's in the hands (and feet) of an expert. I hang over the rail to watch and listen.

The DownBeat's Rising Stars band comes to the Dakota and they all have cake. During a break between Monaco's sets, Sean Jones plays "Happy Birthday" to HH as a trumpet solo. (Thanks so much to Don Berryman for capturing this for us.) Then, during Monaco's second set, Jones, Wycliffe Gordon, and Dave Stryker all sit in with his band.

We close the Dakota and go to The King & I Thai restaurant for a nightcap. We arrive home very late—to quote Billy Strayhorn, "halfway to dawn."

Visit Monaco's Web site to hear "I'll Remember Jimmy."
Photos by John Whiting.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sean Jones and DownBeat's Rising Stars

When: Thursday, June 26, 2008 • Where: Orchestra HallWho: Sean Jones, curator and trumpet; Jason Koransky, host; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet and flugelhorn; Greg Osby, saxophone; Marcus Strickland, saxophone, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Dave Stryker, guitar; Dan Nimmer, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums

Koransky, editor of DownBeat magazine,
introduces an all-star line-up with a five-horn frontline. I’m happy even before the music starts. Jones takes the first solo, Osby the second, Pelt the third while the rest of the musicians lay down a bed of sound for the soloists to jump up and down on.

Stryker’s “24 for Elvin” leads into an arrangement by Pelt of “Mack the Knife” that’s smooth as steel. A tune by Strickland (twin brother to Ravi Coltrane’s drummer E.J.) called “Sesame Street” is not the familiar Toots version. Strickland’s arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” makes an old song sound fresh. Everything we are hearing tonight, Jones tells us, was composed or arranged by one of the musicians on stage.

The music is wonderful, the musicians are stellar (these are all guys I would go to see in NYC), but the sound is murky and indistinct. At times I can’t even hear the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums). Is it the hall? I hope not, given the quantity (and quality) of jazz coming to Orchestra Hall within the next year. But this isn’t the first time I’ve felt the sound in the big box left something to be desired.

The second set kicks things up a notch. On Osby’s “Next Time Not,” Gordon’s trombone is double-muted and has a conversation with itself. The ballad of the evening, Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” is a knockout. It begins with a lovely solo of improvised thoughts by Jones, whose horn then climbs the six short steps to the high note:

The rhythm section comes in on the start of the second measure to set the beat, Pelt steps up with his flugelhorn, and suddenly I can hear every note each musician plays. Have we stumbled on the perfect jazz configuration for this hall—the quintet? Toward the end, during his closing solo, Pelt leans back and points his horn up and sends the sound into the farthest corners, like golden ribbons. Calvaire adds a roll with his mallets and they’re done. Perfection.

A final tune by Stryker is fast and tight; the drums are fierce and the horns ride up and down together. In the time-honored jazz tradition, the drummer takes a solo and the band goes out with a bang.

Earlier Jones took a moment to thank Lilly Schwartz, Orchestra Hall’s director of pops and presentations, for “having the vision to bring a group like this into a hall like this. It happens a lot in Europe but not here, and it’s about time, don’t you think?”

Photos by John Whiting. He was there as the official (if unpaid) Orchestra Hall photographer, and one of his photos was published in the September issue of DownBeat magazine. Yay John!

The John Raymond Project

When: Wednesday, June 25 • Where: DakotaWho: John Raymond, trumpet and flugelhorn; Javier Santiago, piano; Jeremy Boettcher, bass; Aaron Hedenstrom, alto sax; Kevin Washington, drums

Taylor Eigsti writes about his feelings;
John Raymond shares them with the audience during live performance. Introducing an original composition called “The Poor Blind Man,” Raymond explains that it’s not about a man who is physically blind and has no money, but about a man who can see and is wealthy but doesn’t see the right things, the right truths, or the right goals. It's foolish to think that wealth can make us happy, he says. It’s a bit didactic for an early-evening jazz show but the tune, a pensive ballad with Raymond on flugelhorn, backs it up and Raymond's words give you something to think about as you listen. I like it when musicians tell us something about their music, especially original works, though some people wish they would shut up and play.

I’m here after a meeting and stay for just the first set and part of the second, but it’s lively and enjoyable, a tight quintet playing solid straight-ahead jazz: Monk’s “Trinkle Trinkle,” Joe Henderson’s “Recordame,” Raymond’s original, a blues, a playful tune by Hedenstrom called “Think About It.” The Hedenstrom piece is especially interesting: slower measures followed by doubletime, slow, doubletime, slow, doubletime. I don’t think it has been recorded but I’d like to hear it again.

Hear “Poor Blind Man” and more on Raymond’s MySpace page.

Photos by John Whiting.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jon Weber on quoting

Pianist Jon Weber is a prodigious and profligate quoter. While playing one tune, he’ll toss in phrases from others—sometimes many others, and they're not always jazz tunes. He has a vast library of all kinds of songs stored in his head and I imagine tiny creatures running around up there, pulling volumes from shelves at a furious pace and tossing them down to other tiny creatures waiting at Weber’s fingertips.

While interviewing Weber for a MinnPost profile, I asked, “How do quotes happen?” He said:

“I guess if you’re playing and if you’re familiar enough with a given tune and its harmonic structure and you pretty much know where the 32 bars are going to be and the 12 bars, you know the form blindfolded in your sleep…instinctively, you start to look for more things to do. It’s like I want to juggle an extra chain saw, carry on a conversation, or add another intellectual process. It’s a form of human expression…. Sometimes songs remind you of other songs, you tangentially go from one to the next, and you want to include it…. Imagine a Quote Meter. You want to tempt fate and see if you can add one more. It’s fun. You do it for the other musicians and anybody else who knows and shares your repertoire…. The older and hokier the tune, the funnier it is, if you can sneak something in that’s so silly it doesn’t belong there. A trombone player and I used to have a gig at a Hyatt and we played this game we called ‘That Has No Business Being In There.’ We’d sneak in a quote from ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ just enough that people got it.”

Read a review of a Jon Weber show at the Artists' Quarter in January.
Photo by John Whiting.

Stride Piano Night

When: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Butch Thompson, Paul Asaro, and Jon Weber, piano

For fans of stride piano
(think melodies on the right hand, beats on the left; think Fats Waller), there was no better place on the planet to be than the Dakota on Tuesday night during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Three great pianists, two pianos, and a full house of enthusiastic listeners.

Butch Thompson opened the first set solo, Asaro the second, Weber the third, but each set evolved into a duo or trio. As he does on his Jazz Originals radio show, Thompson introduced each tune he played by telling us about it—who wrote it and when, plus a story or two. Asaro told us about Donald Lambert (“born the same year as Fats Waller, he never achieved fame except among musicians”). Weber asked us which key we wanted him to play in, which piano we wanted him to sit at, and how many flats he should play. (“Seven? Okay, seven.”)

The songs kept coming: by Eubie Blake, Fats Waller (“Squeeze Me,” “Your Feet’s Too Big”), James P. Johnson (“the Louis Armstrong of piano,” Thompson said), and Willie “The Lion” Smith. We heard Jelly Roll Morton’s “Pearls” (“not stride by strict definition,” Thompson explained, “but one of the building blocks of jazz”), “Jeepers Creepers” (all three men played this one—piano six hands), “A Cheerful Little Earful” by Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin, and George Gershwin’s “Slap That Bass.” A tune called “I Wish That I Were Twins, You Great Big Babykins.” And so many more. Weber told the audience, “You go to a jazz concert, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s all spontooneous.”

Two pianos and three men (two quite tall—Weber and Thompson are both well over 6 feet) led to some interesting and occasionally alarming games of musical chairs. All three ran back and forth between pianos. One piano had a bench, and often two men would crowd onto it, one playing the melody and the other playing the beat. The other piano had two chairs, one of which was perilously near the edge of the stage. An alert man from the audience kept going up to make sure neither Thompson nor Weber took the plunge.

During a break, Weber told me, “If all the electricity went out forever, stride pianists would be just fine.” I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, but I think it had something to do with playing music that makes people happy.

Photos by John Whiting. Top to bottom: Weber and Thompson; Thompson and Asaro; Weber and Asaro.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Barbara Dennerlein

When: Monday, June 23, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Barbara Dennerlein, Hammond B-3; Pete Whitman, saxophones; Joe Pulice, drums

Dennerlein is in Minneapolis attending
the American Guild of Organists convention, which is why we’re hearing this phenomenal artist who makes her home in Germany. She’s at the Dakota for one night only. Lucky us, we’ll have another chance to see her later this year; she’ll be at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September.

Most of my live B-3 listening has been with Joey De Francesco and Dr. Lonnie Smith, each exceptional and outrageous in his own way. Dennerlein is a completely different experience. She’s small but strong. She swings hard. She exudes more joy than attitude (not that I’m complaining about attitude from B-3 players, I’m just saying). And she plays the pedals as if her feet were fingers, with that much dexterity and speed. I wished I had a clear view of her feet because it seemed she had more than just two.

We hear mostly original compositions: “Fly Away,” the slow blues “Farewell to Old Friends,” “Let’s Swing the Blondes” (a phrase she heard in Arizona and liked). She makes the lower registers on the upper keyboards thump and moan.

Part of the magic of live jazz is seeing how musicians respond to each other. Whitman plays kind of crazy tonight, wilder than I’ve heard him up to now. Pulice is right there, keeping up and keeping time and taking off on his own adventures. I’m guessing these three have never played together before and probably won’t ever again. It’s all in the moment.

Near the end of the evening, Dennerlein tells us how comfortable she feels at the Dakota (“it’s like a living room”) and how she started playing organ at age 11, by chance, when her grandfather gave her an organ as a Christmas present. “My father feared my grandfather would give me a flute,” she explains, “and he suggested the organ.” But her Christmas organ was small, with just one keyboard and no pedals. She had heard the B-3 and that’s what she wanted. “So my poor parents had to go to shop again and buy a bigger organ.” Her final tune, “Grandfather’s Funk” is a danke to her grandfather, full of blaps and exclamations and runs and sass, liberally salted with jazz quotes.

We meet her afterward in the lobby and she’s warm and charming. Most of the CDs she brought with her from Germany have already sold; I’m intrigued by Spiritual Movement No. 1. It’s jazz on the big, bad Goll pipe organ at St. Martin’s Church in Memmingen. Some might think it sacrilegious but as I listen to it later at home, I think Bach would have loved it to pieces.

Photos by John Whiting.

Henry Butler

When: Sunday, June 22, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Henry Butler, solo piano

Henry Butler has a wicked sense of humor.
“I’m going to talk to you tonight about the intricacies of playing ‘Three Blind Mice,’” he tells us. Butler has been blind since birth. “I helped W.C. Handy write ‘The St. Louis Blues,’” he claims. Handy’s tune was published in 1914; the best I can tell, Butler was in high school in the 1970s. “They have great sorbet here,” he says of the Dakota’s restaurant. “Put a little crack in it, a little cocaine…tastes good.” He laughs. We’re not sure if we should.

The music is sublime. Butler’s version of “The Entertainer” is a layer cake of sounds, making every other version sound simple and plain. “St. Louis Blues” is dense with runs and flourishes and trinkle-trinkles. A dozen notes crowd into the space usually occupied by one or two. Butler takes giant boogie-woogie strides, then adds unexpected bumps and grinds. He stomps out rhythms with his feet; I can't see to be sure, but I don’t think he uses the pedals. He sings: “Something You Got Makes Me Stay Home at Night,” “Working in a Coal Mine” (with thunderous piano), “CC Rider” (who knew this song had so many notes), the Professor Longhair tune, “Mardi Gras.” The old favorite “Mother-in-Law,” during which he invites us all to sing along. “High Heel Sneakers” (“Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we’re going out tonight”). Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” (“I’ve got a song, I ain’t got no melody”). Bluesy, rollicking, soulful stuff, damn fine even if we Minnesotans don’t get Butler’s jokes.

Photo by John Whiting.

Jazz Jam at the AQ

When: Friday, June 20, 2008 • Where: Artists’ QuarterWho: Mikkel Romstad, piano; Gary Berg, saxophone; Chris Bates, bass, Kenny Horst, drums

It’s a Twin Cities Jazz Festival tradition:
Following the concerts in Mears Park on Friday and Saturday nights, musicians head to the Artists’ Quarter to jam. Last year, after Kenny Garrett’s fiery set, his drummer, Jamire Williams, came to the AQ and played for much of the night. This year, people were hoping that members of the Fort Apache Band would show. They didn’t. Maybe they were already en route to their next gig, or maybe they were too irritated by the graceless end to their Mears Park show.

No matter; it was a jam after all. Dave Karr brought his sax and so did Jim Marentic. For a while, a mysterious stranger sat in on congas. Sometimes we heard one horn player; sometimes two or all three. The music was straight-ahead, standards everyone knew. The musicians had fun and so did we.

Photos by John Whiting.

Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band

When: Friday, June 20, 2008 • Where: Mears Park • Who: Jerry Gonzalez, trumpet, flugelhorn, and congas; Joe Ford, alto saxophone; Larry Willis, piano; Alex Blake, bass; Steve Berrios, drums

The 10th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival
officially began on Wednesday, June 18, with a poster release party at Your Art’s Desire gallery in Minnetonka. We went and it was awfully far to drive but worth meeting Minneapolis artist Christopher E. Harrison, whose colorful cut-paper collages translate well into posters. The festival continued on Thursday, June 19, with Return to Forever at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. But for many people, it really began at Mears Park on Friday when this great Latin band played a free outdoor concert starting at 8:30. (The Twin Cities group Salsabrosa opened, starting at 6.) We brought our lawn chairs, found a parking spot nearby, and enjoyed the perfect weather and the driving, rhythmic music—right up to 10 p.m., when a festival official walked on stage and told the band they would have to stop playing now as in N-O-W because of St. Paul’s noise ordinances. Gonzalez was clearly miffed at being interrupted mid-tune. They ended awkwardly. Gonzalez started to introduce the musicians, then stopped mid-sentence and walked off stage. None of them showed up later at the AQ’s jazz jam.

Side notes: 1) Andy Gonzalez, the band's regular bass player, was recently diagnosed with diabetes and had to have foot surgery; Alex Blake took his place. We most recently saw Blake with Randy Weston. He has the most unusual style of playing I have ever seen: seated behind the bass, as if it were a cello on steroids, he strums and slaps the strings. 2) Former New Yorker Jerry Gonzalez now lives in Madrid. The movie Calle 54 made him famous in Spain so he moved there. (Source: Britt Robson's Strib preview.)

Photos by John Whiting.

Robert Everest Expedition

When: Thursday, June 19, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Robert Everest, guitars and voice; Pete Whitman, saxophones; Gus Lindquist, trumpet; Dan Arlig, bass; Michael Bissonnette, drums; ??? percussion; Chico Chavez, percussion; special guest Mary Louise Knutson, piano

After leaving the Orpheum and RTF,
we go to the Dakota for Robert Everest and his group Expedition. I’ve heard Everest just once before, maybe at Rossi’s? He’s a serious student of guitar in mainly Latin styles, our resident Caetano Veloso. Expedition plays all kinds of music: Latin American, Brazilian funk, jazz, Mediterranean, Cuban, Mexican.

We hear “Girl from Ipanema,” a tune from Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club, “Beyond the Sea” (written by Charles Trenet, originally “La Mer,” made famous here by Bobby Darrin; Everest sings it in French), tunes from Cuba and Brazil and Barcelona. Songs with melody and flavor and rhythm, nicely played and often sung in Everest’s clear tenor with a touch of vibrato. Knutson joins the band for “Sambado Brado” (?), a novel arrangement of “On the Street Where You Live,” Jobim’s “Chovendo na Roseira (Raining in the Rose Garden)” and “Double Rainbow” (Everest sings it in Portuguese), a Senagalese tune (with Whitman on soprano sax), and, of all things, “Misty.” Beautiful, accessible music, very well done. Expedition returns to the Dakota on July 24; Mary Louise will be there all night.

Hear samples of Everest’s music, including original compositions. Photos by John Whiting.

Return to Forever

When: Thursday, June 19, 2008 • Where: OrpheumWho: The original Return to Forever: Chick Corea, piano and keyboards; Al Di Meola, guitar; Stanley Clarke, bass; Lenny White, drums

I never got into Return to Forever.
I don’t own a single RTF CD, not even an LP. But their 2008 reunion tour is a very big deal, selling lots of tickets and getting rave reviews. So we buy the least expensive tickets available ($45 nosebleed seats, second to last row in the balcony in a hall that holds 2600) and bring our binoculars.

What have they been doing in the 25 years since they disbanded? White tells us: "Stanley has been mowing lawns. I've had a paper route. Chick is doing some teaching, and Al is making pasta."

The stage is a thicket of wires and control boards. White sits behind plexi panels in the back; Corea is encircled by keyboards, like Oz the Great and Terrible. Di Meola looks small compared to Clarke, who looks very tall. The music is loud, the light show trippy, and the crowd ecstatic, all except for the row right behind us (the very last row in the balcony) which keeps up a constant stream of chatter in German. (Note to self: Learn to say “Would you mind awfully much shutting your pie hole?” in several languages.) I don't know any of the tunes they play. Drums pound and guitars wail and keyboards go eeee-ooo-eeee. I'm bored. I think about the times when I’ve seen Corea at the Dakota, and Di Meola, and how much I enjoyed them. We leave at intermission.

P.S. I heard later from people who stayed that the second set was completely different, all-acoustic, transcendent and indelible. Oh well.

Photos by John Whiting. Top photo taken from the very back of the hall by a man with a steady hand.

Steve Turre and Sanctified Shells

When: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Steve Turre, trumpet and shells; Benito Gonzalez, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Dion Parsons, drums; Pedro Martinez, congas; Alioune Faye, talking drum; Roland Barber, tenor trombone and shells; Dion Tucker, tenor trombone and shells; Jimmy Bosch, tenor trombone and shells; Aaron Johnson, bass trombone and shells; Eddie Allen, trumpet and flugelhorn; Billy Harper, tenor saxophone

Twelve musicians, multiple instruments, one smallish stage. “The shells are the roots of the brass,” Turre says. Curvy, creamy, fragile, each once housed a living creature—a sea snail—somewhere in the South Pacific. The spiky ends have been replaced by mouthpieces. The musicians use their hands to shape the notes, sliding them in and out of the curved opening; the hand is like a mute in the bell of a horn. The sound is looser than a horn; the notes are distinguishable as notes but less precise, more open and ethereal. Later in the set Turre explains, “The same mouthpiece I use on trombone is on the shells, but there’s no little throat so it takes more air. It’s the same thing but it’s not.” One band member audibly remarks, “It hurts more!”

We hear “The Emperor,” a lengthy tone poem during which, Turre says by way of introduction, “various lords of their instruments will be introduced, and each instrument will tell a story.” Throughout the set, Turre is maestro, composer and leader. He plays trombone and shells, sometimes two shells at once, or he blows the trombone he holds in his right hand and conducts with the shell he holds in his left. He plays maracas and cowbell and block. He’s a one-man band of things you blow and shake and hit with a stick. For “Body and Soul,” he puts two mutes in his trombone and sounds like Louis Armstrong singing. Much of the music seems tightly arranged, but with room for individuals to stretch out in solos. For “The Rhythm Within,” it’s all about shells. The music is amazing, densely layered yet full of breath. Symphonic. Beautiful. How is it possible I'm hearing this in a club instead of a concert hall? I now believe the angels in heaven play conch shells.

When you visit Turre’s Web site, the music you hear is “Exploration” from Sanctified Shells(1993). You can go to the Recordings page on his site and hear selections from several CDs. Video by Don Berryman. View more photos at Steve Turre Is Cool.

Patricia Barber

When: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Patricia Barber, piano; John McLean, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Eric Montzka, drums

Hearing Patricia Barber play is not about tapping your feet
and snapping your fingers and clinking your ice in your glass. It’s about paying attention and feeling reflective and sometimes rueful and sad. If you want jazz as entertainment, Barber is not your girl. She often seems removed from her audience, tonight more than usual. We learn after her set that her longtime sound man, tour manager, and friend Jay ten Hove died over Memorial Day weekend. On Barber's Web site, ten Hove is a member of the band.

Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” is rarely a solemn tune, but it is tonight, beginning with Arnopol’s thoughtful bass solo. The melody and chord changes are Monk but the rhythm and mood are Barber. Toward the end, it becomes Bach’s Two-Part Invention #1, a beautiful trio on piano, guitar, and drums. “But Not for Me” is haunting and spare. Barber’s original “Hunger” (from Mythologies) is a song with issues, toothy and wicked. (McLean wryly throws in a quote from “Salt Peanuts.”) There’s a dense instrumental that spends a lot of time on the piano’s lower keys, and an intriguing tune or two from her new CD, Cole Porter Mix, due out in September. (One sounds a bit like “My Way.”) An elegant “Jitterbug Waltz,” a sardonic “White World,” and, as an encore, a Barberesque “Norwegian Wood” that makes me forget all about John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Visit the a/v page on Barber's Web site to see and hear her play.

Taylor Eigsti

When: Monday, June 16, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Taylor Eigsti (piano and keyboard), Harish Raghavan (bass), Justin Brown (drums)

In the liner notes to his latest CD,
Let It Come to You, Taylor Eigsti writes: “The main reason I’m a musician is because interactive improvisation is the only activity I can possibly think of that forces me to immerse myself completely in the present moment, where I’m truly the happiest.” Listen to interactive improvisation makes me happy. That’s why I go to so many live jazz performances. The energy of what happens on stage fills the room. Every note is in the present moment. You’re there from creation through completion and then it’s gone.

I’ve seen Eigsti once before, in Chicago at the old Jazz Showcase in 2006. Our excuse for the Chicago trip was the big King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum, but we turned it into a jazz blur, going from the Green Mill to the Showcase, the Hyde Park Art Center, Velvet Lounge Hot House, and Andy's. I remember thinking that Eigsti was very young, which he was—21 at the time. (A former child prodigy, he began his performing career at age 8 when he opened for David Benoit.) He’s still very young which is interesting but not what matters most. That would be the music. Tonight we hear original compositions, Wayne Shorter’s “Deluge,” Woody Shaw’s “Jean Marie.” Eigsti plays with strength and speed, imagination and joy. So much joy that he feels the need to introduce “I Got It Bad” by saying, “Right now I’m really happy but I’ll try to channel the angst.” Battle lost; he smiles the whole time.

Hear Eigsti play on his Web site and MySpace page. On his Web site, click on Media to go to a page with videos. Photos by John Whiting.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Carmen's afternoon

Carmen the wiener dog lives a good life.
A little too good from the looks of her. She's not quite as plump as she appears; they say the camera adds ten pounds. Or maybe only two if you're a dachshund.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Aberrant behavior

HH and I did something strange and unusual last night. We stayed home. June was the most ferocious jazz month in memory, with a series of performances that seemed unmissable (and many turned out to be that way). I'll spend most of the weekend writing about them and posting John's pictures. If I were Dakota jazz club owner Lowell Pickett (or any of his hard-working staff...Deborah or Joe or Leah or Sully or Dan or Sarah or John or Craig...) I'd spend it lying flat with a cold towel on my head. And congrats to Steve Heckler and Kevin Barnes and Pat Courtemanche et al. for a terrific Twin Cities Jazz Festival.