Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paul Metsa is writing a book

I can't wait to read this. I'm expecting colorful with a capital C. Both the stories and the writing.

Here's the press release:


Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Paul Metsa signed a book deal yesterday with the University of Minnesota Press to publish Metsa's memoirs, tentatively titled Sometime Over the Rainbow.

The book, which is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2011, chronicles Metsa's life and times—from his childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota and coming of age in the psychedelic Seventies, to honing his craft in Minneapolis in the Eighties, where he shared the same musical battleground as the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the artist once again known as Prince.

Metsa, who long ago dropped out of the University of Minnesota, remarked, “There’s a lesson here somewhere.”

To request an interview with Paul Metsa, please contact Kevin Avery at Mere Words Media Relations: 347.236.2649 or Visit the artist’s website at

Photo of Paul Metsa by John Whiting. This was taken when Metsa opened for John Hammond at the Dakota in March 2010.

Jazz concert review: George Cartwright and Crux

When: Friday, Oct. 29 • Where: Whiteroom • Who: Crux: George Cartwright, saxophones; Andrew Broder, guitar; Tim Glenn, drums

Shortly before leaving for Jekyll and Hyde Come Alive at MacPhail, I saw a facebook posting from drummer Tim Glenn for “An Evening of Transparent Radiation” at a place called the Whiteroom on Jackson Street. Lights and production by Wonderhaus, sounds and drone by DJ Overzealous, three bands: Delta Lyrae, Crux, Dallas Orbiter.

It was Crux that pulled us there: George Cartwright, Andrew Broder, Tim Glenn. Cartwright, a saxophone and improvising monster, once a fixture in NYC at the Knitting Factory and now living in the Twin Cities, plays out too seldom (and updates his online calendar even less often, hint). The last time we saw him, at the Acadia with Davu Seru and Josh Granowski, the music was good but the room was bad. The new Acadia has shoved its stage into an acoustically crappy corner, and the people who sat directly in front of the stage were disrespectful. They behaved as if the three musicians playing their a**es off were a television someone had left on by mistake, so it was okay to laugh and talk loudly and carry on.

Back to Crux: Since we didn’t get out of MacPhail until after 10, I thought we might be too late, but we arrived just in time for their set.

Jazz concert review: Jekyll and Hyde Come Alive

When: Friday, Oct. 29 • Where: MacPhail Center for MusicWho: Nicollet Circus Band: Kelly Rossum, trumpet/director; Scott Agster, trombone; Chris Thomson, saxophones; Brandon Wozniak, saxophones; Bryan Nichols, piano; Brian Roessler, bass; Eric Strom, percussion; Steve Roehm, drumset

More jazz musicians are writing and performing live scores to silent movies, a kind of performance art that merges two worlds, jazz and film. My first taste of this was in February 2006 at the Walker Art Center, when John Zorn and Electric Masada played Zorn’s scores to experimental American films from the Walker's collection including Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart. Avant-garde art films plus avant-garde music doubled the fun.

In April 2009, we went to the Armatage Room (now closed) to see Patrick Harison play his score to Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. It was extraordinary, not only because of the music—solo accordion all the way—but also because this was my first time seeing an extended performance by Harison, one of the most consistently interesting artists on the Twin Cities music scene.

Earlier this month, Dave Douglas and Bill Morrison brought their Spark of Being project to the Walker. Trumpeter/composer Douglas and his band Keystone played Douglas’s music to Morrison’s film, a pastiche of archival and found footage retelling the Frankenstein myth. Both Douglas and Morrison used Shelley’s Frankenstein as “loose inspiration.” Neither the music nor the film was narrative, but it was a complete and provocative experience. Not just a movie with a soundtrack, but denser, more complex, often puzzling.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Marcus Printup's Hat

Marcus Printup rocks his hat, but then, he's Marcus Printup. He'd look cool and composed with a fake arrow through his head.

The Hats for Cats project abides. Coming soon: hats for Maud Hixson, Fred Hersch, and Craig Taborn.

The latest list of cats with hats:

Reid Anderson • Paul Aschenbrenner • Chris Bates • JT Bates • Leah Beach • Tim Berne • Don Berryman • Brian Blade • Walter Blanding • Leon “Chocolate” Brown • Andrea Canter • James Cammack • Laura Caviani • Larry Clothier • Pat Courtemanche • Chris Crenshaw • Dan Cunningham • Joe Doermann • John Economos • Craig Eichhorn • Dan Eikmeier • Michael Ekhaus • Kurt Elling • Jay Epstein • Douglas Ewart • Milo Fine • Arne Fogel • Scott Fultz • Larry Fuller • Vincent Gardner • Alvester Garnett • Rick Germanson • Ted Gioia • Dave Graf • Benny Green • Doug Haining • Roy Hargrove • Patrick Harison • Nancy Harms • Carlos Henriquez • Ruth Hiland • Laurence Hobgood • Kenny Horst • Ethan Iverson • Ali Jackson • Ahmad Jamal • Willard Jenkins • Gordy Johnson • Sean Jones • Stanley Jordan • Jason Jungbluth • Stefan Kac • Dave King • Mary Lewis • Michael Lewis • Wendy Lewis • Adam Linz • Dean Magraw • Wynton Marsalis • Charnett Moffett • Kristen Mors • Bryan Nichols • Phil Palombi • Lowell Pickett • Marcus Printup • Joshua Redman • Hank Roberts • Justin Robinson • Reuben Rogers • Christine Rosholt • Kelly Rossum • Maria Schneider • Lilly Schwartz • Jaleel Shaw • James Singleton • Greg Skaff • Tim Sparks • Maryann Sullivan • Chris Thomson • Deborah Upchurch • Jeremy Walker • Marsha Walker • Pete Whitman • John Whiting • Davis Wilson • Miguel Zenon

How strange and serendipitous that the email immediately following the one from Marcus included a link to a NYTimes review of a new book by Stephen Sondheim called Finishing the Hat. That is also the title of a Sondheim song with these lyrics:

However you live,
There's a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat...
Starting on a hat...
Finishing a hat...
Look I made a hat...
Where there never was a hat.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fred Hersch on "Selling New York"

"Selling New York" is a realty reality show on HGTV in which teams of realtors (no, I will not capitalize that word) show and try to sell very high-end properties. It's condo porn, plain and simple, but oh so tasty.

In Episode HSNY-107H, "Extra Special Spaces," agents drum up interest in a $13 million Soho loft by inviting top brokers to a charity event in the space. The evening includes a performance by the great jazz pianist/composer Fred Hersch. He's not mentioned by name or listed in the credits but there he is at a lovely old Steinway starting at the -03:29 mark, near the end of the show.

Watch closely and you can glimpse him earlier, standing around and chatting. He plays for about ten seconds.

Jazz classes in Minneapolis

KBEM/Jazz88 is partnering with Minneapolis Community Education to offer a series of classes led by show hosts from the radio station. Three classes have already happened: "REEL Jazz" hosted by Ed Jones, "The Big Band Scene" hosted by Jerry Swanberg, and "Hillbilly Jazz" hosted by Phil Nusbaum and Kevin Barnes.

Coming up:
• Wednesday, October 27: "Women in Jazz" with Maryann Sullivan, host of "Corner Jazz," and vocalist Maud Hixson. Washburn High School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 3: "Jazzin' the Blues" with Calvin Worthen, host of "Blue Friday."  Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 10: "Bing, Frank and how the microphone changed singing
forever" with Arne Fogel, host of "The Bing Shift."
Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 17: "Jazz in the Spirit" with Michele Jansen and Steve Blons, hosts of "Jazz and the Spirit." Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.

Cost for each class: $15, $10 for current Jazz88 members. Register online at Minneapolis Community Education. Jazz88 members, call the sites directly to register and receive the member discount.

Stefan Kac is teaching a Jazz History and Listening class at the West Bank School of Music starting Wednesday, November 3. The class meets weekly from Nov. 3–Dec. 22, 7:30 pm–9 pm. His description: "Explore the history of recorded jazz music from its origins through the present day. Listening will be interspersed with discussion of relevant historical and technical topics." Cost for the series (12 hours): $145. I'm taking this class.

Milo Fine and Stefan Kac are teaching an Improvised Music Workshop at Walker Community Church beginning Monday, November 15, and continuing weekly through December 13, 6:30 pm–9 pm. The five sessions will include private coaching, group sessions, and a concert performance. Cost for the workshop: $125. Open to musicians and would-be musicians at all levels of technique and experience. More information here.

Accordion-O-Rama Photos

Ready to go
Four accordions on one stage in a former Carnegie library in Zumbrota. I had heard about Accordion-O-Rama for years but we finally made it down ("down" meaning about 65 miles south of the Twin Cities) on Saturday night, Oct. 23. I was thoroughly charmed by the whole experience. Here are some photos from the evening. And here's my review.

The crowd gathers
L2R: Dan Newton, Patrick Harison, Simone Perrin, Denny Malmberg
Patrick Harison
Dan Newton

Denny Malmberg
Simone Perrin
L2R: Dan Newton, Patrick Harison, Simone Perrin, Denny Malmberg
 All performance photos by John Whiting.

Concert review: Accordion-O-Rama: Magic on a moonlit night in Minnesota

Originally published at, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010 

Live music is about the music, of course, and the musicians, but it’s also about the setting. We all have our favorite place to hear music, whether it’s a booth at the Dakota or a bar stool at the Artists’ Quarter, the main floor at First Ave. or a corner table at a coffee shop.

Last Saturday night, the setting for Accordion-O-Rama was a Carnegie library in Zumbrota turned art gallery/concert hall, where nearly 100 people gathered to hear four accordionists from the Twin Cities.

Accordion-O-Rama, an annual event with a tongue-in-cheek name, was conceived in 2004 by Dan Newton, a.k.a. Daddy Squeeze, and Marie Marvin, who runs Crossings at Carnegie. The idea was to hold a miniature accordion festival, showcasing different musicians and musical styles, in a town where people were likely to show up, a stronghold of Polish and German heritage and polka.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy birthday, KBEM

Originally published at, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Radio station KBEM, a.k.a. Jazz 88, turns 40 this year. This weekend, the station will throw a two-day party for itself, with a little help from its friends.

On Saturday, Oct. 23, celebrants will gather at International Market Square for food by D’Amico Catering and Three Tiers Bakery, a silent auction, and music by the very danceable Wolverines Big Band. On Sunday, Oct. 24, the festivities move to Vic’s restaurant on the riverfront for a five-course dinner with wine pairing, dessert by Three Tiers, and music by Grammy-nominated vocalist Karrin Allyson and the Laura Caviani Trio plus one: Caviani on piano, Phil Hey on drums, Gordy Johnson on bass, Pete Whitman on saxophones.

Both events are fundraisers because KBEM, like MPR but on a far smaller scale, is a public radio station that depends on donations and memberships.

Currently KBEM is one of only 30 full-time jazz radio stations operating in the United States. It hasn’t always been a jazz radio station; when it opened in 1970 in a vocational high school, it played a mix of news, music, and educational programs. By 1983, it had moved to North Community High School and made jazz its main focus.

Housed by the Minneapolis Public Schools, licensed to the Minneapolis Board of Education but paid not a dime by the district, the station has a strong educational commitment, training students in broadcast communications and putting them on the air. It also has an active community presence, sponsoring the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, presenting the REEL Jazz film series, supporting summer jazz events at the Lake Harriet bandshell, hosting monthly RestauranTours and offering community education classes on jazz.

Many people know KBEM as the station they tune to during drive time for live, up-to-the-minute, often chatty traffic reports. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has had an almost 20-year partnership with KBEM, paying the station to broadcast its reports and contributing a sizable chunk to the station’s annual budget. When MnDOT announced in December 2004 that it would end the partnership for cost-cutting reasons, there was enough of a public outcry that the state continued the contract.

Even though KBEM station manager Michele Jansen is up to her eyeballs this week with party and personal plans, she made time to answer questions by email.

MinnPost: Why do you think KBEM is important to our community?

Michele Jansen: Jazz 88 provides programming that no other Twin Cities station provides; jazz in all its beautiful colors. We also offer a totally unique educational experience for the students of the Minneapolis Public Schools. It’s important that students learn skills for the 21st century: technology skills, but also communication skills. And they’re learning about jazz! Jazz needs to be played on the radio locally so that local artists can be heard and promoted.

MP: Why do you think KBEM has survived when so many other jazz radio stations have failed?

MJ: The Twin Cities has a great jazz community, so the TC audience knows this genre and wants to hear it on the radio. It has also received the support of the Minneapolis Public Schools for a very long time. They’ve never pressured the station to change format or tried to sell the station, and they could’ve many times over. So I have to credit MPS for keeping us on the air.

MP: What sets KBEM apart from other jazz radio stations? What makes it unique?

MJ: That’s easy ... clearly the student program is what makes KBEM unique. There are other radio stations owned by school districts, in high schools, with high school students on the air, but none that are jazz. We have this great opportunity to teach a new generation about this great American art form.

MP: What are the greatest challenges KBEM faces?

MJ: The economy has been very hard on nonprofits because the foundation support has practically gone away. Donors are becoming much more discerning about how to spend their philanthropic dollars. School districts are in flux. Keeping pace and staying relevant in the educational arena is always challenging. Traditional media is also in flux. Audiences have so many more choices now, and also immediate access to anything they’re looking for.

MP: What are you most looking forward to as station manager?

MJ: I’m always looking forward to see who the next radio star will be. There are always certain kids that connect with me, and I never can predict who that will be. I would love to see KBEM grow beyond our expectations, in terms of listeners, students and the quality of music we play. We’re always working on all of that.

MP: Are there any new developments on the North High situation that you care to share? [Last week, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson proposed closing North High at the end of the 2013-14 school year. KBEM pays no rent for its space at North High.]

MJ: We continue to have the support of the school board and the Minneapolis Public Schools. We will be in North High as long as it's open. Ultimately, MPS will decide if we move to another location, but I am confident KBEM will be fully involved in this decision. While North High is obviously our main source for students in our educational program, we've been reaching out to other schools through our online classes (which has an in-studio requirement), our after-school program, and our summer internship program.

KBEM’s 40th Anniversary Gala, Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 23-24. Saturday: 6 p.m., International Market Square, 275 Market Street, Minneapolis. $88.50 per person. Register online. Sunday: 6 p.m. Vic’s, 201 Main Street SE, Minneapolis. $125 per person. Register online.

Miss Carmen, 2003-2010

Carmen, our effervescent, joyous little dachshund, died suddenly this week from IMHA, Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, despite the best efforts of the kind and caring doctors at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center to save her.

This evil disease strikes suddenly, with no known cause or cure. Carmen had just turned 7.

She was still her puppy self last Friday before she died. John took this picture earlier that week on one of their regular morning walks. It was a bright, beautiful day and she was happy. She was always happy, and she made us happy, and we're grateful to have had her in our lives.

We brought Carmen home in January 2005. In December I wrote this essay for Minnesota Monthly.

We met her at a dog show in St. Paul. Skirting herds of giant poodles and flocks of Bichons, we went looking for miniature dachshunds—wiener dogs. We had two at home, both old and one ill, and were in the early stages (we thought) of finding a breeder from whom we might buy a puppy. Soon a small red dog was nestled in my husband’s arm. She tipped back her hound head and looked him in the eye. Then she tucked her nose into his armpit.

She wasn’t a puppy; she was a 15-month-old daughter of champions who’d had her turn in the ring and was about to be retired. A teenager. Housebroken, socialized, accustomed to the car, the crate, and the leash, and less likely than a puppy to gnaw chair legs. It was an option we hadn’t considered. We told the breeder we would mull it over. The next day, our littlest dachshund died. Two weeks later, we brought the new dog home. She slept on my lap in the car the whole way—portable, adorable, softly snoring.

In the interim, friends had asked, “Are you sure you want another dog?” The subtext being, “Your children are grown. Young dogs are a lot of work. Are sure you’re up to it?” We were. The timing seemed fortuitous. We have home offices, so we’re around. We know dachshunds; this would be our fourth. Our main concern was how the young dog and our old dog would get along. We were told that the young dog was respectful toward her elders.

Her name was Karma. But we call her Carmen, after Bizet’s tragic opera heroine, the banana-hat-wearing Brazilian bombshell, or the jazz singer, depending on who asks. At home, she’s the Red Rocket--or the Red Menace, Coppertop, Crab Cake, Junior Mint, Pop Tart, Pimiento, Smallpox. She answers mostly to Cookie, Supper, and Walk.

Lily, our old dog, is a creature of placid habits, led by sleeping. Carmen is nine pounds of spring-loaded action whose favorite chew toy is a Pizzle Stick—a dried bull penis. (The breeder kindly gave us a couple to start with. They’re stinky.) In the first few months, Carmen jumped on the coffee table and stood there wagging her tail. She shredded the edge of our dining room rug. The dog bed that lives in the corner of the kitchen was found upside-down in the den. I caught her with a Stuart Weitzman boot and saved it; I wasn’t as lucky with the Cole Haan sandal. She barked at Tim the mailman, at passersby, at thunder, at car doors closing, at the sound of the newspaper hitting our door at 6 a.m. She peed and pooped on the floor. If we didn’t power walk her at least twice a day, she drove us crazy. Her greatest desire was to murder a squirrel. Every evening before dinner, she got the zoomies, running in wild circles through the house.

Lily snapped out of mourning and into survival mode, which meant staying out of Carmen’s way. I didn’t know dogs could make the oof sound; body-slammed by Carmen, Lily can. Within a week, the two were touching noses, then sleeping like spoons. Lily seems younger every day.

The breeder said that if Carmen didn’t work out for whatever reason, we could send her back. We joke about putting her on a Greyhound to South Dakota, but we’d never let her go. One long leap lands her on my lap, where she’s almost always welcome. She still does the nose-in-the-armpit thing. She knows how to work a room. She sleeps in bed with us, burrowed under the covers. In the morning, she emerges, licks our faces, rolls on her back, stretches, and groans. She is not an early riser. Pizzle Sticks have been replaced by chewies, tuggies, bouncies, and the loofah dog from PetSmart’s “Where’s Bobo?” commercial. I hoped the toy dog would last five minutes; it was gutted in three and we were out six bucks. Our life is set to a soundtrack of squeaky toys. We laugh a lot. We never leave shoes unattended on the floor.

On our daily walks, we often meet people who stop to pet Carmen and reminisce wistfully about dogs they once had. Now, they claim, they don’t want to be bothered with dogs anymore. Their kids are grown, they travel too much, they have new carpet, they live in a condo, they’re through with dogs. I nod. I sympathize. I can certainly understand.

Carmen waits impatiently while we natter overhead. Let’s go, she urges; let’s go.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jazz concert review: First concert in MacPhail's Mingus series sets the stage for more

Originally published at, Monday, Oct. 18, 2010

L2R: Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda, Chris Thomson
Inspired performances, a warm and relaxed vibe, and an ideal setting combined in a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Thursday’s “Meditations and Revelations” concert at MacPhail Center for Music’s Antonello Hall.

Created by MacPhail’s jazz coordinator Adam Linz, supported by a grant from the NEA, “Meditations and Revelations” is a four-concert series showcasing the music of jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus, one of the most important figures in 20th century American music. Thursday’s concert, titled “Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon” (after one of Mingus’s compositions), was the first in the series, and it got things off to a great start.

Bassist Linz and the other members of the trio — Chris Thomson on saxophone, Alden Ikeda on drums — have played Mingus’s music together for 10  years. Their camaraderie and comfort with the often daunting compositions was evident. The program included “Prayer for Passive Resistance,” the speedy showpiece “Slippers,” the beautiful Ellington-inspired ballad “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” “Dizzy Moods” (Tijuana meets Dizzy Gillespie), and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.”

About halfway through, Linz performed a solo section (which he introduced by joking with the audience, “If you don’t like solo bass, now’s the time to leave”). People often think that just because an instrument is big and low (like the bass or the tuba), it lacks range and expression. Slapping the fingerboard, dancing, humming and singing, Linz made his bass an orchestra in joyous interpretations of “Freedom,” “Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon,” and what he called “a mash-up from ‘Meditation.’ ”

All the musicians were in top form, whether playing together or soloing. The solos were delicious in the Antonello’s superb acoustics. (The Antonello is a small hall, seating 250 tops, wrapped in honey-colored wood and velvet curtains. Instruments don’t need amplification, musicians can speak from the stage without a mic, and even if you’re sitting in the back, you’re near the front.) Thomson’s tenor saxophone wailed, soared, and whispered; in the bebop bursts of “Slippers,” you could hear each note, and “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” was gorgeous. Ikeda used every voice in his drum kit, from bass to rims to splashy cymbals, adding layers of rhythm and texture to the mix.

Throughout, Linz told us bits about Mingus and the music they were playing. The mood was less concert hall, more livingroom — music shared among friends. That MacPhail is a community music school was reflected in the crowd, which included children who listened as closely as the grownups. (In a brief welcome prior to the concert, MacPhail president Paul Babcock told us that current students range in age from 6 mos. to 104 years.)

Many jazz musicians today play Mingus’s music. Tribute shows aren’t uncommon. In New York City, the Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty, and Mingus Orchestra, all managed by the composer’s widow, Sue Mingus, play his works exclusively (there are plenty to choose from). But it’s rare for anyone else to devote a year to studying, performing, and teaching his challenging, mystifying work. That — along with the quality of the music, the musicianship, and the hall — makes this series worth noticing.

Future concerts will feature more music and more musicians. Dates have changed since the series was first announced; here’s the latest information:
  • Thursday, Nov. 18: “Meditations and Revelations” concert II: “So Long Eric.” A quintet: Michael Lewis, saxophone; Greg Lewis, trumpet; JT Bates, drums; Adam Linz, bass; Bryan Nichols, piano.
  • Thursday, Feb. 3: “Meditations and Revelations” concert III. Not yet titled. This concert will be performed by a nonet.
  • Thursday, May 12: “Meditations and Revelations” concert IV. Not yet titled. This concert will feature a septet.
All concerts are at 8 p.m. at Antonello Hall, MacPhail Center for Music, 501 South Second St., Minneapolis. Each will be preceded by a Q&A with the artists starting at 7 p.m. Tickets ($10 adult, $5 youth) available by phone (612-767-5250) or at MacPhail.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jazz concert review: "Blue" makes Capri crowds happy

When: Saturday, Oct. 9, and Sunday, Oct. 10 • Where: Capri TheaterWho: Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms, and Rachel Holder, vocals; Phil Aaron (piano),  Graydon Peterson (bass), Jay Epstein (drums); directed by Arne Fogel

Build a jazz concert on the topic of blue—color, mood, feeling—and audiences will come. Reprising a program originally conceived for the Twin Cities Jazz Society and performed in April of this year, Blue: Songs on the Indigo Side so impressed Capri Theater director Karl Reichert that he brought it back to launch the theater's annual Legends series. Both the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon shows drew large and enthusiastic crowds. HH and I were there on Sunday.

After a relaxed and swinging opener by the trio (Miles Davis's "Nardis," renamed "Blue Nardis" for the show), the three featured vocalists—Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms, and Rachel Holder—joined in singing Miles Davis's "All Blues," with lyrics by Oscar Brown Junior. The three different voices blended beautifully in a song that also ended the program, a pair of blue bookends.

In between, with the exception of "Blue Moon" and a medley, all of the songs were solo performances. Highlights:

• Nancy's "Mood Indigo," arranged by pianist Bryan Nichols in 11/4 (if I remember correctly), a slyer, sexier version of Ellington's original 4/4 rhythm and one that leaves me a bit breathless. She performed an earlier version, even more mathy, at an Artists' Quarter show in August. Hearing Nancy sing almost any song makes you want to listen very closely, as if it's brand-new. Her sense of timing is such that each beat seems like a limitless expanse. Sometimes she sings the actual notes of a melody, sometimes she sings her own notes, but the melody is still present. Yet her singing never seems showy, artificial, or forced. You hear her and think, "Of course—that's how a particular song should have been sung all along." Except nobody else could sing it that way.  Visit her website and check out "Blackbird."

• Rachel's take on Toots Thieleman's lilting "Bluesette," with updated "girl power" lyrics by Rhiannon.

• Nancy's "Blue Monk," for which she sang her own newly-written lyrics ("Spinning around/Dreaming in blue/All the stars are dancing two by two... Thelonious Sphere/Floating in a world of blue/Lovely shades and hues of blue").

• Katie's "Blues on a Holiday," with lyrics by Susan Tedeschi. I've heard Katie sing before, but in small bits--a song here and there, or as one of Bruce Henry's group of singers. I like her bluesy attitude, the way she forms words and sings them with conviction, and the rich, resonant quality of her voice. I'll have to watch for her and catch her again soon, perhaps with Vital Organ.

• "Blue Moon," sung by all three with "mystery voice" Arne Fogel in the background. After a straight-ahead start, they swung into the Marcels' doo-wop version (bomp-bomp-ba-domp-a-dang-a-dang-dang). A fun, lighthearted moment in the program.

The last part was a medley and I'm not a fan of medleys. Actually, I resent them. You're just getting into a song (in this case, "Blue Bayou" or "Blueberry Hill") when it's yanked away, replaced by another, and the transition is rarely very interesting.

Throughout the show, I thought there was a bit too much talking. I appreciate it when vocalists (and instrumentalists) tell us what they're about to perform, and maybe something about a particular tune--the composer, the context, the significance. Fogel is a music historian and he's known for doing that in his live performances and on his radio shows. (You can hear his current program "The Bing Shift" every Saturday from 7–8pm on KBEM.) I don't want to discourage anyone from providing some background, but sometimes less is more and not everything needs an introduction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Movie reviews: "Ride Rise Roar," "Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn," "Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy"

Each fall, the Sound Unseen festival brings movies about music to Minneapolis. I would go to every film in the series if I could. This year, their 11th, I would have liked to see The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector, The Carter (a documentary about Lil' Wayne), and Do It Again, about a Kinks fan's efforts to bring the band back together again.

What I saw: Ride Rise Roar, a David Byrne concert film directed by David Hillman Curtis; Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn, directed by Josh Whiteman; and Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy, a documentary film by Reto Caduff about the great jazz bassist.

Ride Rise Roar

This year, the Southern Theater was a sponsor of the festival, and also a site where screenings were held. Music programming director Kate Nordstrum planned something extra for people who came to see Ride Rise Roar. She flew Steven Reker in from Florida for a live performance before the film. Reker is a dancer in the film, and a musician; he sang a few of his own compositions for us, playing guitar, laptop, and a tiny keyboard, and ended with a winsome take on the Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More." Reker is charming and engaging; seated, playing his music, he moved his legs and feet as if he'd rather be dancing. When he forgot to turn on the reverb, he exclaimed "What a mess!" After the movie, he stuck around for a Q-and-A during which he told stories about traveling with Byrne and performing some 200 live shows per year during the tour. He says he's done with dance now, and it's all about music; he has a date at The Kitchen in NYC. His presence added a personal touch to the experience of watching the film, in which he figures prominently as one of the three dancers.

Ride Rise Roar is a riveting concert film, musically and visually. Everyone wears white. Dance—modern dance, choreographed by Anne-B Parson and Noemie LaFrance—transforms the experience from just another concert (albeit a concert by David Byrne) to something more dynamic and artsy. (Having just seen Reker live and knowing he was in the house made it especially enjoyable to watch him on screen.) At one point, the band's keyboard player talks about how the presence of the dancers affected him. He found himself playing along with their movements, imagining he was scoring a film. The music includes many of the songs we all came to hear—"Once in a Lifetime," "Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime," "Heaven"—and new collaborations by Byrne and Brian Eno. (Not, alas, "Psycho Killer" or "Take Me to the River.") Byrne dances. Even the backup singers dance—reluctantly at first (when they signed on, they didn't expect this) but then they get into it. At one point, everyone wears gauzy white tutus and it's glorious.

Watch the trailer.

Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn

Corbijn is the Dutch photographer who defined the look of rock bands including U2, Depeche Mode, and Nirvana (although Kurt Cobain claimed that everything Corbijn did for Nirvana was his idea). We've all seen Corbijn's iconic shots of Bob Dylan and Springsteen, watched his music videos (he's made over 80), and studied many of his 100 or so album/CD covers (example: U2's The Joshua Tree). He directed the film Control (2007), about the band Joy Division, which won awards at Cannes, and also the feature film The American (2010) starring George Clooney, which has gotten mixed reviews (and a 64% rating to date on the Tomatometer).

Shadow Play is an interesting film, but we learn very little about Corbijn as a person, except for the fact that he grew up in Holland and his father was a minister. Perhaps the most revealing part of the film comes near the end, when he dresses up as many of the rock stars he has photographed over the decades and films himself. But it's fascinating to see how Corbijn's eye and camera—and his unlimited access to musicians—transformed them from awkward, badly-dressed boys to brooding, charismatic superstars, most often in black-and-white. Worth seeing if you're into photography and rock-and-roll.

The film screened at the Red Stag Supper Club, another festival sponsor. That seemed like a good idea but turned out not so much. The Red Stag is a popular spot and it was full of regular customers, talking and eating and drinking and hanging out. Dishes clattered in the background, glasses clinked, pots and pants clanged, plus there was something wrong with the projector; the film kept stopping and sticking, as if it were being streamed on a bad wireless connection. Still, those who had paid to see the film were mellow. The stopping/sticking was annoying but no one yelled or left. Afterward, a Sound Unseen representative apologized profusely and promised to send us free tickets to another theater in town (the Trylon Microcinema).

Watch the trailer.

Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy

I previewed this film for MinnPost after seeing it on my Mac. It was a thousand times better on the big screen at the Trylon Microcinema. I still think it's too reverent (especially the ending, where the strings swell up), but maybe bassist Haden is as wonderful a human being as everyone in the film says he is?  My mind is boggled by the scope of his accomplishments: singing harmonies with his mother as a baby, performing on his family's country-and-western radio show, joining up with Ornette Coleman (and revolutionizing jazz), playing with Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, Hank Jones, Pat Metheny, et cetera ad infinitum, forming his own big band, the Liberation Music Orchestra, with Carla Bley, leading Quartet West, teaming with musicians around the world.

At one point in the film, Bley notes, "I don't think it's about music at all. Music is just the way he talks to people. There's a lot of bass players who can play faster and louder and longer and all of that, but everyone accepts that the feeling he gets out of one note is worth more than a hundred of another bass player's notes."

Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy is the story of Haden's life from his childhood to the present day. If you don't know him, it's a good introduction to the man and his music; if you do, it will deepen your appreciation of his contributions. He does appear to be a warm and gracious person. That was my experience when I interviewed him a few years ago. He was my first big national interview and I was scared to death. He immediately put me at ease, and he called me "Man." He calls everyone "Man."

If you see the film, watch for the part where Haden and a woman carrying his bass (his luthier) walk into Haden's home. Someone passes through the room just long enough for the camera to catch him. It's Ethan Iverson.

This was my first visit to the Trylon and I loved it. You enter through a big, open space with paintings of flying saucers on the walls and make your way to a small, dark room with 50 seats--cushy, rocker-back cinema seats. It's intimate and comfy, and the sound is amazing. KBEM is now screening its REEL Jazz film series there.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival: Jazz is still its syncopated beating heart

Roy Hargrove leads his Big Band
A jazz festival starts as a series of choices. What will you see? Whom will you hear? Where will you go next? How much can you squeeze in? It can turn into a scan of your radio dial: A bit of this, a bit of that, settling nowhere, a sonic blur.  

In my sixth year at the Monterey Jazz Festival (and my photographer husband John Whiting’s fifth), we decided to try a different approach. Rather than see a half-hour of one performance and ten minutes of another, we chose several we wanted to see from start to finish. This meant missing some things entirely and hearing only snatches of others. Was this the right decision? There’s no right or wrong way to do Monterey. You go with the flow. We heard stellar sets in their entirety and skipped others that people raved about. You win some, you lose some, and, deo volente, you return next year for more. 

From the moment we walked in the gate early Friday evening to the moment we walked out late Sunday night, dragging our feet, we had a great time. Monterey is a wonderful festival. Go once, and the second time feels like home. Held on a dusty WPA-era fairgrounds, it’s like a county fair, but with jaw-dropping jazz. The metal folding chairs and benches will kill you but the food is terrific. The people are mellow—mostly, except for the man who tried to steal a chair out from under me in the Coffee House, then grumbled when we resisted. 

And the music is spectacular. Festival general manager Tim Jackson can’t please all jazz lovers all the time, and he doesn’t try. Instead, he throws the doors wide open: to traditional jazz, avant-garde, international, mainstream, genre-crossing, forward-looking, hip-hop infused, rootsy. He welcomes legends and newcomers, elders and upstarts. There’s no such thing anymore as a “pure” jazz festival (whatever that means), but Monterey stays closer to jazz than many. Jazz is still its syncopated beating heart. 

And, except for a brief walk-through at Les Nubians’ performance on Friday night, jazz is where we stayed.

Friday Night: From Ben Flocks to Rudresh Mahanthappa  

The Ben Flocks Quartet had the festival’s primo spot: They were the opening act on the Garden Stage, with a starting time of 6:30, when nothing else was happening yet on any of the other stages. For an hour, they were the festival, and they made the most of it. Saxophonist Flocks, pianist Javier Santiago, bassist Chris Smith, and drummer Cory Cox are all in their 20s (Santiago had his 21st birthday in Monterey) and were Brubeck Institute fellows together. We arrived too late to hear Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” (a gracious bow to festival history) but in time for originals and works by Joshua Redman and McCoy Tyner. Santiago and Smith are both from Minneapolis; the crowd included Javier’s dad, drummer Mac Santiago. (We live in Minneapolis, hence the shout-out to our hometown.) 

The Marcus Roberts Trio played three sets at the intimate Coffee House Gallery; we heard the first and it was glorious. With Roland Guerin on bass, Jason Marsalis on drums, they made time stand still with elegant, eloquent renderings of Monk’s “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are” and Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” (into which Roberts, in a playful mood, tossed a handful of “Salt Peanuts”). When they segued into “Poinciana,” I got chills. I knew Ahmad Jamal would certainly play his signature song on Sunday night, at the festival’s final arena show. It would bookend Monterey 53. 

Between the food court and encounters with friends, we didn’t see as much of the Roy Hargrove Big Band in the Arena as we wanted, but enough to make us happy. First, this is a big big band—19 members including five trumpet players (Hargrove being one), four trombonists, five reed players, and a heavy rhythm section, with Gerald Clayton on piano. Until now we had only seen Hargrove in small-group settings. Special guest Roberta Gambarini came out in a red dress that brought gasps and a few whistles from the crowd, then coolly sang “La Puerta” and a “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” with Hargrove wistful and tender on flugelhorn.  

We caught the last ten minutes or so of Jazz Mafia’s Brass, Bows and Beats: 45 musicians shoehorned onto the stage at Dizzy’s Den. They wrapped up an hour-long suite fusing jazz, funk, hip-hop, electronica, and digital turntable, then moved into an arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s “Argentine Tango.”  

Food court time. The a cappella vocal group The House Jacks were holding forth on the Garden Stage nearby, so they were the soundtrack for our Korean barbeque. We spoke with someone later who enjoyed them a lot, but the parts we heard (and couldn’t help hearing) were awful: too-loud, karaoke-like takes on Prince and the Rolling Stones. Last year, at MJF/52, the avant-garde group Buffalo Collision played the Garden Stage on Sunday afternoon, and many people in or near the food court weren’t happy. Maybe the Garden Stage is the place to program music that everyone will like, if there is such a thing. 

Rudresh Mahanthappa
There was a long line at Dizzy’s waiting to get into the Roy Hargrove Big Band’s second performance of the night. Across the way, we walked right into the Night Club for alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, one of my must-sees. 

We first saw Mahanthappa at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with pianist Vijay Iyer, then again with an all-star band led by Danilo Perez. He’s very exciting in live performance, playing with a fierce intensity and strong, clear tone. Mahanthappa is Indian-American; guitarist Rez Abbasi is Pakistani-American; drummer Dan Weiss is traps-tablas, moving back and forth from one to the other. Their music is 21st-century jazz, crossing cultures, combining rhythms, bending notes. At first I thought—saxophone, guitar, drums/tablas? No bass or keys? Will that be enough? It was more than enough. We heard selections from their first CD, Apti (Innova, 2008), including the title track, “Adana,” and their version of Ravi Shankar’s raga “Vandanaa Trayee.” Unfortunately, Hargrove’s Big Band bled into the room for much of the hour. That’s sometimes a problem at Monterey and it can’t be helped, except perhaps by scheduling. 

Saturday: From Blindfold Test to Freedom Band 

Some of my favorite parts of each Monterey festival are the talkie parts—the interviews and conversations between artists and journalists that take place in Dizzy’s Den. Today began with the DownBeat Blindfold Test with Fred Hersch, hosted by Dan Ouellette

Fred Hersch
Hersch is one of my favorite pianists—as luck would have it, I saw a lot of him this weekend—and it was fascinating to hear his thoughts on the music Oullette played for him. (The idea behind the Blindfold Test, if you don’t already know, is to play a series of jazz recordings without saying what they are, then have the musician guess who’s playing each and offer his or her comments and reflections.) Hersch speaks his mind, and he’s articulate and convincing on what he likes, doesn’t like, and why. Afterward, I felt I had spent an hour in the presence of a great teacher, which he is. Read Oullette’s report on this blindfold test in an upcoming issue of DownBeat

Each year, MJF commissions a new work by a jazz composer; to me, this is one of the high points of the festival. In years past, we’ve heard brand-new pieces by artists as diverse as Marie Schneider, Dave Brubeck, and Jason Moran. This year’s commission went to composer/arranger/pianist Billy Childs, whose “Music for Two Quartets” combined the Billy Childs Quartet and the Kronos Quartet. The set began with two Childs compositions for jazz quartet only (Childs on piano, Steve Wilson on saxophones, Scott Colley on bass, Brian Blade on drums). “Aaron’s Song,” written for and about Childs’s son at age 3, was a romance for Wilson’s saxophone; “Hope, in the Face of Despair,” inspired by Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a searing Holocaust tale, was more lyrical than I expected when Childs introduced it. “Music for Two Quartets” brought Kronos (violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt on viola, cellist Jeffrey Ziegler) to the Arena stage for a lush, textured piece that joined jazz and classical, improvisation and composition. The two quartets traded sections back and forth, then all eight musicians played, and it worked. I liked it very much, my only complaint being that it was over too soon. I hope they record it. 

Chris Potter Underground
The metal benches and bleachers at the Garden Stage were full long before Chris Potter Underground was scheduled to play. I had found a seat near the back when Fred Hersch walked in. I made room. (Another thing that makes Monterey special: Many artists wander the grounds and go to hear other artists, so chances are you’ll run into several you know, and most will be happy to chat for a moment or two. I had Fred Hersch by my side for 45 minutes, and we talked during pauses in the music.) 

Underground—Potter on tenor saxophone, Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taborn on Fender-Rhodes, Nate Smith on drums—plays high-energy, funky progressive jazz. Led by Potter’s tenor, their music is intense, and if you match it by listening intensely (and intently), you’ll go away happy. I love this group and their jagged rhythms, sharp edges, and aggressive playing. It’s a workout on both sides. Drummer Nate Smith played so hard and fast that steam rose off his body into the cool night air. (No joke—check John’s photo in the slide show of images from the festival.) A highlight for me: their cover of “It Ain’t Me Babe,” which started softly and built to a blistering sax solo. 

Underground ran long but we stayed put and stuck around after to say hi to the band; Taborn is from Minneapolis and we’re fans. So we didn’t hear much of the Chick Corea Freedom Band—Corea on piano, Kenny Garrett on alto sax, Christian McBride on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums—in the Arena. Enough to catch “Monk’s Dream” and a showy solo from the ageless Haynes, during which the other members of the band stood around him admiringly. At the end, Haynes stood up, strutted around the stage, walked to the front of his bass drum and gave it a final whack that rang out like a gunshot.  

Sunday: More Talk, More Music 

At a Jazz Journalists Association panel discussion hosted by Dan Ouellette, Taylor Eigsti, David Gilmore, Fred Hersch, Willard Jenkins, Mark Levine, and Marco Pignatoro talked about whether jazz musicians are trading touring for tenure. It was interesting to hear Hersch (who turns 55 this year) and pianist Eigsti (who just celebrated his 26th birthday) share perspectives. Touring has never been easy; signing with a label has never been a guarantee of success. Why not join a faculty? On the other hand, as one audience member pointed out, full-time jobs take musicians out of circulation; she specifically mentioned Bobby Watson, who once toured extensively with his group Horizon but no longer does. 

Roy Haynes
A Conversation with Roy Haynes hosted by Yoshi Kato started a half-hour late through no fault of Haynes’s. It was worth the wait. Kato joked, “We found Roy at an all-night jam session and had to pull him out.” Haynes apologized for being tardy, noting that “This year I have traveled more than any time in my musical career. It feels good, but I can’t remember where I am.” 

He’s a living jazz history book; born in 1925, he has played with everyone and is still playing strong. He is also a tough interview, if this event was any indication. He deflected some questions and sometimes became the questioner, asking Kato “Have we met?” “Do you play an instrument?” “Why not?” “Did you ever play the drums?” Kato rolled with it. 

Like Hersch on Saturday, Haynes spoke his mind. “When you get to be this age and you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you can just talk the truth,” he said at one point, then blasted the NEA for taking too long to name him a jazz master (in 1995) and giving him less money than Denmark did for its Jazzpar Prize a year earlier. He seems more comfortable behind the drums than before a mic, and said as much near the end of the conversation: “I try to do my talking on the instrument. I’m just an old-time jazz player.”  

There was time for a taste of singer Sachal Vasandani at the Garden Stage before meeting friends and getting in line for Fred Hersch’s first set at the Coffee House. I’ve seen Vasandani before and I think he’s the real thing and here to stay, a singer who will one day nip at Kurt Elling’s heels. Handsome in photos and in person, he’s luminous on stage, connecting easily with the crowd. We heard Abbey Lincoln’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and something playful, flirtatious and scatty. His excellent band: Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums.  

Back to the Coffee House for the first of two sets by the Fred Hersch Trio: Hersch on piano, John Hebert on bass, Eric McPherson on drums. (Both Hebert and McPherson played with the late Andrew Hill.) Writing about jazz is hard enough; writing about hearing Fred Hersch play live is almost impossible without resorting to gushy superlatives. It’s poetry and artistry, emotion and intelligence and grace. We heard a sampling of music from Hersch’s oeuvre: “From This Moment On” (Songs Without Words), “At the Close of the Day” (Leaves of Grass), “Some Other Time” (Live at the Village Vanguard), “Let Yourself Go.” He also gave us three songs from the new CD, Whirl (Palmetto, 2010), including the lilting and vivid title tune, dedicated to the ballerina Suzanne Farrell. When you listen to this, which I hope you will, close your eyes and you’ll see her in the spotlight, turning and turning. Another new masterpiece: “Sad Poet,” dedicated to Tom Jobim. “I’ve been playing his music as long as I’ve been playing jazz,” Hersch said by way of introduction, then broke our hearts. The trio was three souls, one mind. 

Ahmad Jamal
Meanwhile, Ahmad Jamal had begun his set—the final Arena show on the final night of the festival, always bittersweet. At 80, Jamal was making his Monterey debut, a fact that still boggles my mind. Dressed in white, accompanied by his extraordinary musical companions—bassist James Cammack, who’s been at his left hand for 27 years; drummer Herlin Riley, a member of the band in the 1980s and back again; percussionist Manolo Badrena, perhaps best known for his work with Weather Report—Jamal owned every inch of that large and cavernous stage. As I hoped, they played “Poinciana” under the stars. (Stars, by the way, are unusual in misty Monterey, but tonight we had Cassiopeia blazing above us, and bright Jupiter in the east.) Also “Swahililand,” their “Wild Is the Wind/Swing” medley, “Topsy Turvy,” and “Acorn,” with a breathtaking solo by Riley. It was music of stabbing chords and silence, speed and precision, densely layered notes and spaciousness, supported by Cammack’s expressive, singing bass, punctuated by bells and whistles from Badrena’s play station, propelled by Riley’s drums—and choreographed by Jamal’s gestures from the piano. You (he points at Cammack); now you (to Badrena or Riley). They played at his pleasure, and for ours.  

MJF/53 wasn’t quite over. Fittingly, the festival’s oldest performer was still holding forth in Dizzy’s Den. We arrived in time for the last few songs by the Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band, including a spectacular solo by pianist Martin Bejerano, a guest turn by bassist Christian McBride, and the whole band—Haynes on drums, David Wong on bass, Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone—for one of Haynes’s signature songs, “Summer Night.” It was the perfect ending. 

Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth
In brief, here’s what we missed: Trombone Shorty, the hit of the festival (which, by the way, I predicted, having seen him earlier this summer in Minneapolis). After a nuclear performance in the Arena, he played a second set at the Garden Stage, where people climbed trees to get a better view. Kyle Eastwood, whose band (we learned too late) featured two players we like a lot: pianist Rick Germanson and trumpeter Jim Rotondi. Festival artist-in-residence Dianne Reeves. We would have loved to have seen her “Strings Attached” set with Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo. Angelique Kidjo, whose band included Christian McBride and fellow Beninese Lionel Loueke. Headliner Harry Connick, though John got some photos. Gerald Clayton, who played three sets in the Coffee House with his trio. Septeto Nacional de Cuba. And Gretchen Parlato, whose voice wafted through the doors of the Night Club like silk ribbons as we walked toward the Arena for Billy Childs. Oh well. C’est la vie, c’est la Monterey

Photos by John Whiting. View a slide show of the festival here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jazz film (p)review: "Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy"

Originally published at, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010

In 2006, during the 6th annual Sound Unseen festival, jazz fans gathered at the Riverview Theater to see “My Name is Albert Ayler,” a documentary about the free-jazz saxophonist who played at Coltrane’s funeral. Afterward, people strolled across the street to the Riverview Wine Bar to talk about the film.

That informal gathering — Janis Lane-Ewart from KFAI, Kevin Barnes from KBEM, musicians Carei Thomas and Joe Damman, among others — planted the seed for KBEM’s REEL Jazz film series.
Succeeding Sound Unseen festivals have featured “Let’s Get Lost,” Bruce Weber’s film about Chet Baker that left many viewers stunned and speechless (turns out Baker was a terrific trumpet player but a horrible human being), and “Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense,” which spotlights jazz stars of today.

Sound Unseen usually shows at least one film about jazz. This year it’s “Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy,” a reverent documentary by Swiss-born filmmaker Reto Caduff.

Bassist (and beyond) Haden is one of jazz’s living legends. Now in his 70s, with a career spanning more than 50 years, he recently released an elegant recording with pianist Keith Jarrett, whose first trio (with drummer Paul Motian) he was part of in the 1970s. (This film brought Haden and Jarrett together for the first time in decades and prompted the new recording.)

Bassist, and beyond: Haden is also a composer, political activist, loving husband and father. The film touches on these areas as well, but it’s mostly about the music. In archival performance clips and recent interviews with other jazz greats, it tells of his country-music childhood, his early obsession with jazz, and his beginnings and maturation as an influential and respected jazz musician.

We learn of his meeting with Ornette Coleman, with whom he would revolutionize jazz, his work with Alice Coltrane, the Keith Jarrett Trio in the 1970s, his politically motivated Liberation Music Orchestra with Carla Bley, his noir-inspired Quartet West, and collaborations with artists around the world. Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny, Ethan Iverson, Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano, Jarrett and others are willing interviews, saying nice things about a man who by all accounts is a genuinely nice person.

If anything, Caduff’s film is too reverent, too warm and fuzzy. It makes no mention of Haden’s heroin addiction in the 1960s, or the fact that he suffers from tinnitus, a problem for many musicians. If you’re looking for a film about the dark side of jazz, check out “Let’s Get Lost” or “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” or Clint Eastwood’s “Bird,” about the life of Charlie Parker. But if you want to know more about Haden and his music, this well-made, nicely paced portrait — not too long, not too short, just right at 84 minutes — is a fine way to spend part of your Saturday afternoon.
Sound Unseen 11: “Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy,” a film by Reto Caduff. Saturday, Oct. 9, 1 p.m., The Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis ($8). Tickets online.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jazz concert review: Charles Lloyd New Quartet at the Dakota

When: Sept. 30, 2010, second set • Where: Dakota • Who: Charles Lloyd, tenor saxophone; Jason Moran, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums

He knows bliss in the Atman
And wants nothing else.
Cravings torment the heart:
He renounces cravings.
I call him illumined.

Not shaken by adversity,
Not hankering after happiness:
Free from fear, free from anger,
Free from the things of desire.
I call him a seer, and illumined.

For the final song in last night’s second set at the Dakota, Charles Lloyd pulled up a piano bench beside Jason Moran’s chair, brought the mic close, and quoted a lengthy section from Christopher Isherwood’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita from memory (portions above). It made perfect sense in an evening of musical meditation.

Over the years, I’ve seen Lloyd several times—at the old and new Dakota; at the 2006 Monterey Jazz Festival; at UC Santa Cruz, where I traveled last December for a conference on improvisational music, in part because I knew he would be there. But I’ve never seen a performance as subtle, understated, and nuanced as last night’s.

Lloyd and the other members of his quartet—newly minted MacArthur fellow Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums—filled the room with music and a profound, almost ethereal calm. They played a lot of notes, often very quickly—Lloyd can take the first phrase of “Monk’s Mood,” for example, just 12 notes, and turn it into dozens more—but without urgency or excess. Early in the set, a thought came to mind: When you speak quietly, people lean in to listen. I have rarely heard the Dakota as quiet as it was during this performance.

Lloyd would play, then sit at the side of the piano while his trio played, surrounded by their music, their communication and interplay, like the eye of a storm. He gave them a lot of room, and why not? Each is an artist of depth and inventiveness. What drummer plays a lengthy solo during the first song of a set? Harland did, interspersing feathery rimshots with pops and thuds. Rogers’s beautiful solos on the acoustic bass hummed and sang. Even Moran, the restless young innovator whose music can be full of sharp turns and edges, seemed centered in stillness. His solos were delicate and restrained, while his comping was almost a whisper, one you leaned in to hear.

When Lloyd played, each passage was a torrent of ideas, a saxophonic language with words you understood not in your head but in whatever you want to call it—your heart, your spirit, your soul. (For this set, he played just the tenor sax, no flute or Tibetan oboe.) The only spoken words were those from the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred “song of God,” during which Harland hummed like a Tibetan monk, rumbly and low.

Lloyd wrote on his website: “Music is a healing force. It has the ability to transcend boundaries, it can touch the heart directly, it can speak to a depth of the spirit where no words are needed.” That’s what I felt. Others did, too. I heard it in conversations after the show, read it in emails and postings later. People were moved by this experience, and uplifted. It’s rare these days to feel uplifted and not wonder later if you’ve been manipulated or gulled. So much popular music is about packaging, branding, and gloss. This was the real thing, ravishing and rapturous, neither entertainment nor diversion but something more substantial: spirituality, emotion, gift. It was the jazz version of an audience with a great teacher. The church of Charles Lloyd. After which, incredibly, he thanked us.

Here's what we heard in the 90-minute second set:

“New Blues" (with Harland's wonderful solo)
"Monk’s Mood” (a sweeter, more tender version than on the new CD, "Mirror")
“Dream Weaver" (Meditation/Dervish Dance) (so many notes, not one too many)
"Passin' Thru" (why hasn't Lloyd ever recorded this on one of his own CDs as leader? He plays it often enough)
"Mirror" (pure gossamer)
"Forest Flower: Sunrise" and "Sunset" (the last time I heard Lloyd play "Forest Flower," Geri Allen was at the piano)
“Tagi” (the Bhagavad Gita piece)


Thanks (once again, and not for the last time, I sincerely hope) to John Scherrer, who tipped me on the Bhagavad Gita and most of the set list.

It’s not entirely true that the only spoken words were from the sacred “song of God.” Lloyd did not address us from the stage—he didn’t introduce his band members or tell us what he was playing or mention that he had a new CD for sale. He did, however, express displeasure with an audience member who called out a request, and ask another who had been shooting video with his camera directly in front of him for most of the night to stop (“No more, brother”). Please, people, show some respect. Please, club owners, set some ground rules—fair and reasonable ground rules that permit nonintrusive photography (no flash, no bounce light, no standing in front of the stage) when the performers allow it. HH took the pictures included here but he wasn't a jerk about it.

Photos by John Whiting.