Thursday, December 16, 2010

Live jazz to see in Minneapolis-St. Paul: This week’s picks

Are you in your car or near a radio at 8:30 CST on Friday mornings? Tune to KBEM to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about these events and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities; streaming live on the Web.

Friday, Dec. 17: Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

The cover of "Eleanora Fagan"
One stage, two jazz stars (maybe more). Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater has a mantel full of serious music awards—a pair of Grammys, France’s Victoire de la Musique, a Tony for her turn as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz—and she’s exciting to see in person, passionate and uninhibited. She sings, she scats, and she makes jazz standards new again; on her latest CD, Eleanora Fagan (1915–1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee (Emarcy, 2010), she conveys the spirit of Billie Holiday without imitating her.

Irvin Mayfield
New Orleans-based trumpeter and composer Irvin Mayfield has been the face of the Minnesota Orchestra’s jazz series since being named its first Artistic Director of Jazz in 2008, a position he still holds. (He has since gone on to win a Grammy and a seat on the National Council on the Arts, which advises the NEA.) Founder and artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), he serves as cultural ambassador for his city and proud papa of Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, a club on Bourbon Street.

On Friday, both artists will perform with Mayfield's rhythm section—Ronald Markham on piano, Neal Caine on bass, Jaz Sawyer on drums—and the Minnesota Orchestra led by Sarah Hicks.

The first part of the concert will feature Mayfield playing a program of holiday faves including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He may be joined by a special guest. I can't get more specific than that, but (big hint) who else is in town this week playing at Orchestra Hall?

Following the intermission, Bridgewater will sing "The Christmas Song" and other classics, plus jazz and pop standards including “The Way We Were” and Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” It's likely that Mayfield will be at her side for at least part of her set.

The final concert is still in the works. I spoke with Lilly Schwartz, the Orchestra's Director of Pops and Special Projects, on Thursday morning, and she put it this way: "It's jazz, It's always improvised. You go in with a plan and it creates itself. The concert itself becomes a jazz song."

8 p.m. Friday, Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis ($22–$50, $60 VIP). Tickets online or call 612-371-5656.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 17–18: Red Planet at the Artists’ Quarter

If memory serves and my notebooks don’t lie, I last saw Red Planet—the trio of Dean Magraw on electric guitar, Chris Bates on bass, and Jay Epstein on drums—in February 2009. Not long after, Magraw dropped out of sight to battle a life-threatening disease.

Red Planet's latest CD
He’s back with a new immune system and two new CDs, the just-released How the Light Gets In with tabla player Marcus Wise (Red House, 2010) and last year’s Space Dust with Red Planet (GoneJazz, 2009), which I’m counting as new because it came out during Magraw’s absence and hasn’t yet gotten the celebration it deserves. Featuring original compositions by Magraw and Bates and “deep-space tributes” to Coltrane (“Africa”), Hendrix (“Little Wing”), and Solomon Linda (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), it’s part poetry, part rock-and-roll, part flamethrower.

I saw Magraw play at Café Maude a couple of weeks ago and he looks and sounds great.

9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Artists’ Quarter,  in the basement of the Hamm Building in St. Paul ($10). Tickets at the door.

Saturday, Dec. 18: Zacc Harris, Adam Linz, and Babatunde Lea at Café Maude

Jazz guitarist Zacc Harris and bassist Adam Linz are familiar faces around town, but Babatunde Lea? The Afro-Cuban jazz/world beat drummer/percussionist who has played with Pharoah Sanders, Stan Getz, McCoy Tyner, Steve Turre, Ernie Watts, and Van Morrison, to name just a few?* What brings him to Maude in south Minneapolis? I called Harris to find out.

Lea from the cover of his "Soul Pools" CD
“I was doing a restaurant gig in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and during our last set a drummer asked if he could sit in,” Harris said. “We were like, all right, sure, and he came up and swung like crazy. Turns out he’s moving to western Wisconsin. We exchanged information, and later I went and checked out his website. He’s a heavy, but I knew that from playing with him. Since then, I’ve called him a couple of times to see when he would be in town. This gig [at Maude] was around the holidays, so I thought there was a good chance he’d be around.”

How would Harris describe Lea’s style? “Hard swinging, with a hard bop vibe going on, and a lot of world influences.”

The plan: Meet at Maude (with no rehearsal ahead of time), introduce Lea to Linz (the two have never played together before), play some standards, see what happens. Given the musicians, it’s bound to be good, it has the potential to be really good, and it’s definitely going to be as new as it gets. 

* Lea is not a household name; he's mostly known around the Bay area, where he spent several years. I happen to have heard him because someone gave me his Soul Pools CD a few years back, and I learned more about him then.  So there's no implication here that Zacc Harris doesn't know his drummers.

9 p.m. Saturday, Café Maude, 5411 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis. No cover, but reservations are recommended: 612-822-5411.

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