Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Loring Theater closes

From the Loring Theater's website:

Friends of Loring Theater:

The Directors, LLP has decided not to renew its lease on Loring Theater (a.k.a. The Music Box Theatre) located at 1407 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.  The company will cease operating in the building effective December 31, 2011.

In early 2010 we began to transform The Music Box Theatre into a modern day variety house under the building’s original name Loring Theater.   With the support of a group of investors, the owner of the building, a talented staff of professionals and many others we built an operating infrastructure that added a fantastic 440-seat venue back into the vibrant Twin Cities performing arts scene.

Since we opened, over 15,000 people walked through the doors and hundreds of artists performed on the stage.  We are proud of our work, honored to have been stewards of the space, and grateful to all who contributed their time, talent and money to this amazing venture.  Loring Theater is an amazing building in a phenomenal location and there are many, many artists who love performing on that stage.  Our hope is that someone will pick up where we left off and continue to make Nicollet Avenue and 14th Street in the Loring Park Neighborhood a destination for affordable quality entertainment. 

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous New Year.

Steve Barberio
The Directors, LLP

I'm sorry to learn this, but not surprised. The Loring was on a busy street in an inner-city neighborhood, and while free parking was available, it was a block away in a school parking lot surrounded by a chain-link cage.  The theater is an old venue in need of a facelift, with uncomfortable seats and a buzzy sound system. And yet, I really liked it--the spaciousness, the ornate plaster work, the columns, the sense of history. Somehow the room managed to expand and contract to fit the size of the audience, so when the large balcony was empty and dark, it disappeared, making those of us seated downstairs feel as if we were in a cozy, intimate space.

Friday, December 30, 2011

This week's jazz picks, loosely, and our sad news

I've been away from my desk for several days, off the radio and the blog, so there are no official picks this week. Though I strongly recommend pianist Rick Germanson at the Artists' Quarter tonight. Rick returns tomorrow for the sold-out or nearly sold-out New Year's Eve party at the AQ with Carole Martin and friends (Dave Karr, Graydon Peterson, Kenny Horst), plus the famously casual once-a-year buffet complete with meatballs and Junior Mints.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nachito Herrera at the Dakota: Guest review(s) by Rea Rettarath

Earlier this month, the members of Theoroi, the group of young Twin Cities professionals and arts lovers sponsored by the Schubert Club, gathered at the Dakota to hear the Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band. One requirement of membership is the commitment to write about events afterward using social media. Reproduced with her permission, here's Rea Retterath's two-part take on Herrera's performance now (December 2011) and then (April 2005). Read Reece Peterson's perspective herebb

Tuesdays at the Nicollet

Scenes from a typical Tuesday night at the Nicollet Coffee House on the corner of Nicollet and Franklin. Live music, dancing, conversation, people with laptops, friends greeting each other.

On stage, L to R: Doug Haining, Kristin Sponcia,
Rhonda Laurie, Maryann Sullivan, Trevor Haining

What began in August has become a going thing. Maryann Sullivan and Rhonda Laurie are co-curating the music, and owner Jeremy Konecny is hoping to score a beer and wine license before too long, which should help make the place even more of a destination.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This week's jazz picks

The Bad Plus come home for Christmas for the 12th year in a row. Their holiday residency at the Dakota is now a tradition. Dave King told the Strib's Chris Riemenschneider that the trio will debut new compositions from their second all-original recording, due out next year. In his blog, Do the Math, Ethan Iverson calls the successor to 2010's Never Stop "definitely one of our best records." 7 and 9 p.m. tonight (Friday, Dec. 23), Sunday, and Monday. $40.

Tonight in St. Paul, the Artists' Quarter hosts a Holiday Bash with pianist Phil Aaron and special guests. Get a free CD with paid admission--and there are many to choose from; several fine CDs have been recorded live at the AQ. Great music, that warm AQ vibe, drink specials, and more. Say "I'm a friend of Donny" at the door and take half off the cover price. 9 p.m., $10.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New radio series reveals St. Paul’s lively musical side

Larry Englund
A lot of Minnesotans, especially those of us who live in Minneapolis, think that St. Paul rolls up its sidewalks at night and plays dead.

Not so, says Larry Englund, producer of “St. Paul Live!,” a radio series that features live music performances recorded in several venues around the city. The series airs on KBEM starting January 2.

“That’s exactly the reason I’m doing this series,” Englund says. “A few years back, I thought—there’s more going on in this city than people realize. 

“I approached Joe Spencer, the director of arts and culture for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and he encouraged me. He’s a big supporter of live music. Then I sat down with Kevin Barnes and Michele Jansen at KBEM and got down to brass tacks. We wrote a Cultural STAR grant and it was approved.”

St. Paul’s Cultural STAR program promotes economic growth in the city by strengthening the arts and cultural sector, and by supporting downtown St. Paul as a vital cultural center.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Bad Plus: A Christmas tale

Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King--collectively known as The Bad Plus--will play three nights at the Dakota starting this Friday, Dec. 23, skipping Christmas Eve, returning on Christmas night and again on Monday the 26th, for two sets each night at 7 and 9 p.m.

This will be their twelfth Christmas at the Dakota. According to club owner Lowell Pickett, here's how the tradition began. (Note: Dave King is from here and still lives here. Reid Anderson grew up in Minneapolis; Ethan Iverson is from Menomonie, Wisconsin.)
Dave called me in 2000 and said he had two friends coming into town for the holidays to record some stuff. He wanted to know if they could play a couple of nights. I ran an ad for "Dave King and Friends" and we charged $5.
Dave saw the ad and called me and said, "Can we change that to The Bad Plus?" Who was The Bad Plus? Nobody knew, so I changed it to "The Bad Plus Featuring Dave King and Friends."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Doug Haining's hat

Doug Haining, known around these parts (and others) as quite the saxophonist and leader of the Twin Cities Seven, seems pleased with his Hats for Cats hat. Trombonist Dave Graf prefers the term "Bebopified cap." Graf recently posted this on Facebook:

"Bebopified caps--they are the only brand that keeps heat and awesome improv ideas from escaping out the top of your head."

Hats keep rolling off the needles in my quest to warm the heads of jazz musicians whose music I enjoy, and others associated with jazz whose efforts I appreciate. In November, I saw Miguel Zenon in New York, at the Jazz at Lincoln Center listening party for his remarkable new CD Alma Adentro (which is appearing on end-of-year Best Jazz Albums lists everywhere, and topped Patrick Jarenwattananan's at NPR's A Blog Supreme). Afterward, I thanked him for speaking and mentioned that I'd made him a hat a while back, and he introduced me to his lovely wife, Elga Castro.

Here's the latest list of cats with hats:

Friday, December 16, 2011

This week's jazz picks

This weekend, it’s all about St. Paul.

Tonight (Friday, Dec. 16) and tomorrow at the Artists’ Quarter, you can hear the great singer Debbie Duncan, who once told me that if she doesn’t mean it, she doesn’t sing it. 'Tis the season, so she'll probably draw from her CD, It Must Be Christmas. 9 p.m., $10.

Tonight at the Black Dog in Lowertown, the Community Pool: Deep End series of improvised music continues with a rare performance by Brad Bellows on valve trombone and Donald Washington on saxophone. Brian Roessler on bass, Pete Hennig on drums. 8 p.m. Tip jar.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Aakash Mittal Quartet wins CMA/ASCAP Jazz Ensemble Award

The Aakash Mittal Quartet at the Dakota by John Whiting
From Chamber Music America and ASCAP:
Five presenters and three ensembles will be recognized with CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming at the 34th Chamber Music America National Conference on Sunday, January 15, 2012. The ceremony will take place at the Westin New York at Times Square (207 W. 43rd Street) in New York City. Cia Toscanini, vice president of concert music, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), will present the awards. 
Established jointly by Chamber Music America and ASCAP, the annual awards recognize U.S.-based professional ensembles and presenters for distinctive programming of new music composed in the past 25 years. The recipients were chosen by an independent panel of judges, who evaluated the applicants on the basis their programming of recent works and innovations in attracting audiences to new music performances... 
The Aakash Mittal Quartet (Boulder, CO) will receive the jazz ensemble award.  Led by saxophonist Aakash Mittal, the group performs its members’ original works and draws heavily on the improvisational vocabulary and compositional aspects of the North Indian classical raga tradition. Mittal’s Videsh Suite takes the listener on a journey to India through the use of post-bop, raga music, serialism and electronic samples.
I've enjoyed this quartet since their debut independent release, Possible Beginnings (2008) and had the pleasure of hearing them play Videsh (2009) from start to finish at a Dakota late-night show in 2010. They've been to the Dakota three times and played the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Most recently, in October, they gave a combined performance and clinic at Walker West Music Academy.

Related: Larry Englund's March 12, 2011 interview with Mittal.

The top 10 Twin Cities jazz CDs of 2011

In alphabetical order:

Atlantis Quartet, “Lines in the Sand”
Recorded live at the Artists’ Quarter over two nights in May, 2011, the fourth CD by the Atlantis Quartet features five songs from earlier releases, but live is always fresher and edgier. The mix of instruments, the strength of the all-original compositions, and the skill and imagination of the players—Zacc Harris on electric guitar, Brandon Wozniak on tenor sax, Chris Bates on bass, Pete Hennig on drums—gives this group its own distinct sound. “Lines in the Sand” is stuck in my head, and “Ballad for Ray” haunts my dreams. 

John Devine, “A Little o’ That”
A fixture on the Minneapolis music scene, co-founder with Michelle Kinney of the now-legendary IMP ORK improvisational ensemble, saxophonist/composer Devine gathered a few of his friends (Jon Pemberton, Michelle Kinney, Brock Thorson, Alden Ikeda, William Reed Lang, and others) for a joyous, sometimes ferocious exploration of 11 originals and a Monk cover. It’s jazzy, bluesy, funky, and free, with robust playing by a regional sax master. Devine recently suffered a stroke but is recovering sufficiently that he’s promised to play a benefit in February.

Doug Haining Quintet, “Last Man Swinging”
Put Doug Haining, Dave Graf, Rick Carlson, Steve Pikal, and Dick Bortolussi in a room, and this is what you get: jazz standards that swing coolly, effortlessly, light on their feet. All five men have played around the Twin Cities for years, part of the backbone of our jazz community and co-conspirators in Haining’s Twin Cities Seven. For their latest CD, they met at Wild Sound studio with a few sketches and a couple of lead sheets and laid down a bunch of first takes. From “It Ain’t Necessarily So” to “Jitterbug Waltz” to Ferde Grofé’s “On the Trail,” this is how it’s done.

Kip Jones, “Hallazgo”
Violinist/composer Kip Jones is a restless spirit; at this writing, he’s en route to Laos from Vietnam. Composed during a 14-month trek through South America, Hallazgo features Jones alone on voice (singing in English, Spanish, and Korean) and violin (strung with viola strings to better match his voice). He calls his music “traditional fiction”—music from people or regions that don’t exist. It defies categorization, but not in a self-conscious way. You get the feeling that he’s going wherever his mind and his heart are leading. From the opening track, the utterly unexpected “Darn That Dream,” Hallazgo (which means “finding” in Spanish) is a journey without boundaries. 

Prudence Johnson, “A Girl Named Vincent”
I wrote a lengthy review of this CD in April and wouldn’t change a word, except to add that it gets even better on repeat listenings—and stays with you. Taking the water taxi from Wall Street’s Pier 11 to Brooklyn’s IKEA earlier this year, I found myself singing phrases from “Recuerdo,” about riding back and forth, back and forth all night on the ferry. Rich, expressive lyrics (all poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay), wonderful music (original compositions by Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Michelle Kinney, and Gary Rue), and gorgeous singing by Johnson add up to a CD that deserves to become a classic.

Dave King Trucking Company, “Good Old Light”
Given the band members—King on drums, Erik Fratzke on electric guitar, Adam Linz on bass, Chris Speed and Brandon Wozniak on saxophones—you'd expect a big, bashy outing, not this tuneful, thoughtful band that King describes as his “Americana group.” It begins with King on piano (you read that right), pairs two fine saxophonists, and ventures into swing, gospel, and rock in eight original compositions, seven by King and one by Fratzke. Listen once or twice and you can hum along. Don’t worry; King puts plenty of muscle into the sticks (and Fratzke breaks all hell loose in his “Hawk Over Traffic” solo). But there’s a lot of sweetness and melody here, and a sense of something weighty and new.

Mary Louise Knutson, “In the Bubble”
Pianist/composer Mary Louise Knutson is an admitted perfectionist, one reason she made us wait 10 years for her second CD as a leader. (Geez, Mary Louise!) Turns out it’s perfect, from the music (well-chosen standards and elegant, sometimes playful originals, including one based on her phone number) to the musicians (most often with her excellent trio mates Gordy Johnson on bass, Phil Hey on drums) and the recording (crystalline). Knutson’s playing has a carillon quality, clean and clear and true. This is timeless, classic piano trio music, right up there with Bill Evans and Bill Charlap. 

Dean Magraw’s Red Planet, “Space Dust”
This CD was due to come out in 2010, but the official release was delayed until May of this year when guitarist Dean Magraw became seriously ill, so I’m counting it for 2011. Magraw can be the tenderest of pluckers, but here he’s Rock God Dean, lighting Coltrane’s “Africa” on fire, channeling Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” blazing through several original compositions. Even the slower ones smolder. Chris Bates is marvelous on bass, ditto Jay Epstein on drums and cymbals. Nobody plays the cymbals like Epstein. 

Bryan Nichols Quintet, “Bright Places”
Pianist/composer Bryan Nichols gets more intriguing with each new venture: forming bands small (the Bryan Nichols Trio) and large (We Are Many), backing out-of-the-box singers like Kendra Shank and Nancy Harms, going solo at MacPhail. His debut CD features his quintet—Michael Lewis and Brandon Wozniak on saxophones, James Buckley on bass, JT Bates on drums—on nine original compositions that share five qualities: improvisation, exploration, interaction, emotion, and a keen intelligence. 

Jerry O’Hagan Featuring Charmin Michelle, “Dance Time Volume 1”
The ink is barely dry on this one, which came out about a minute ago and totally won me over. A tight big band, a terrific singer, and a track list chosen by fans who go to the Cinema Ballroom in St. Paul on Sundays to dance to this music live. (This is Volume 1 because the band has a big book.) Michelle is class and sass on songs including “Big Spender” and “That Old Black Magic.” Her voice is silky and sure; she lands the notes, even the high ones, the fast ones, and the far-apart ones. 

Honorable mentions (because lists are supposed to stop at 10):

JazZen, “Bounce Off the Moon”
“Afro Blue” and “Footprints” played on dizi and xiao (Chinese flutes)? Add electric cello and drums and you could get New Age woo-woo, but that's not what happens in JazZen. Flutist and leader Bobb Fantauzzo (who also plays Native American flutes, bawu, and spring drum) keeps things jazzy for this collection of covers and originals. 

JoAnn Funk, “Pick Yourself Up”
Here’s a review from March of this year. Soothing, teasing, up-close-and-personal songs by a pianist/vocalist who performs each weekend in the Lobby Bar at the St. Paul Hotel. With Jeff Brueske on bass, Nathan Norman on drums, and a taste of Greg Lewis’s trumpet.

The George Maurer Group, “Twisted”
I’m a little too close to this one—my husband, John Whiting, took the photographs for the CD booklet, and I helped with the liner notes—but I can say that a George Maurer Group recording is a party in a jewel box. “Twisted” captures the fun, camaraderie, eclecticism, and musicality of their live performances. What’s next for Maurer? An opera.

Not jazz, but I love these Minnesota Beatle Project CDs. I heard Tapes ‘n Tapes do “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on the radio and called the Fetus to reserve my copy. I should have gotten vinyl. 

The Jana Nyberg Group, “Fever”
Jana Nyberg has a big, elastic voice, and she knows how to use it—and when to bring it down to a sigh for songs like “The Nearness of You.” Her band includes her husband, the in-demand trumpeter Adam Meckler, whose arrangement of the title track shakes off the cobwebs and gives Janna room to play. 

Reynold Philipsek, “Tales from the North Woods.” If it’s Tuesday, the tireless and prolific guitarist/composer Reynold Philipsek must be releasing another CD. “Tales” looks back to his childhood in northern Minnesota—songs he heard as a boy, a melody inspired by a painting that hung in the family home, tunes informed by his Czech and Polish heritage. Philipsek is a first-call accompanist for many singers around town; he deserves to be heard on his own, just a man and his acoustic guitar.

Joel Shapira Quartet, “Open Lines”
For their debut recording, this fine foursome—Joel Shapira on guitar, Pete Whitman on tenor sax, Tom Lewis on bass, Dave Schmalenberger on drums—delivers standards by Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Tom Jobim, and more. A swinging, sophisticated outing where everyone shines.

Irv Williams, “Duke’s Mixture”
At 92, saxophonist Irv Williams, a.k.a. “Mr. Smooth,” may be the Twin Cities’ most senior working musician. He still plays Friday happy hours at the Dakota, and he’s still recording, though he has stopped with the teaser titles (2004’s “That’s All?”, 2007’s “Finality”). His latest, an affectionate collection of standards and songs written for his kids (and his dog, Ditto), features longtime friends Peter Schimke on piano, Steve Blons on guitar, Billy Peterson on bass, and Jay Epstein on bass. It’s worth buying just to hear Williams sing “Until the Real Thing Comes Along.”

Kate Nordstrum is hired by the SPCO

Good news for Twin Cities music heads: Kate Nordstrum, formerly of the Southern Theater, will join the SPCO as Producer, Special Projects. Her position will be funded by the New York-based Augustine Foundation, and her job will be to create new projects at SPCO Center, an excellent and underused space in the Hamm Building.

From today's press release:
Nordstrum will work with SPCO staff to develop projects that provide new access points to a broad range of audiences for experiencing and learning about classical music. Her work will include planning a new series for SPCO Center focused on introducing contemporary classical composers and musicians to the Twin Cities, capitalizing on the flexibility of the Music Room to serve as a comfortable, casual and intimate performance setting for artists and audiences.
Kate's work at the Southern (and subsequently) has broadened and deepened my musical world, and for that, I'm grateful. She's been my introduction to artists including Nico Muhly, Gabriel Kahane, Alisa Weilerstein, Nadia Sirota, and, most recently, the fascinating sad sack Corey Dargill. I'm overdue to hear Accordo, the Minnesota-based chamber group she presents in league with the Schubert Club and Northrop Concerts and Lectures.

Congratulations, Kate. I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best Music Writing to be independently published starting in 2012

My copy of Best Music Writing 2011 arrived in today's mail. I look forward to this book each year, knowing I'll read writers I admire and those I've never read from publications famous and obscure on music I know and don't.

For music writers, and aspiring music writers, this annual compilation is a banquet of styles and opinions, personal responses and approaches to a topic that's almost impossible to put into words. How can you write about sound and emotion? About rhythms that change your breathing and heartbeat, and melodies, notes, lyrics, or moments in time that make you want to dance with joy, scream with rage, join a revolution, burst into tears, laugh out loud, confess everything, change your life, kill yourself, or kiss someone?

Friday, December 9, 2011

This week's jazz picks

Friday, Dec. 9: Most of us know that Tchaikovsky wrote a ballet called The Nutcracker, and we’ve probably heard the Nutcracker Suite, a greatest hits version, but how many of us know that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote a jazz version? In 1960, the two collaborators reinvented Tchaikovsky’s classical ballet as a jazzy, brassy, classy melting pot of musical styles. Writing for CD Review in 1998, Steve Schwartz noted: "They don't just put a jazz beat behind Tchaikovsky's ballet...they extend Tchaikovsky's basic ideas and harmonies in new and surprising ways....I consider this one of the great American scores, and you'll probably never hear it at your local symphony."

But you can hear it tonight, when the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Dave Milne comes to the historic and elegant Landmark Center in St. Paul. It's a three-part event: reception at 6, music at 7, swing dance at 8. I imagine the Landmark Center has been dressed up for Christmas. Tickets are available at the door, and if you're a student, you get in free with ID. (That's true for any student, not just those attending UW-RF.) $25.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This week's jazz picks

Note to jazz artists who are playing holiday gigs: Send an email with the details to so we can get you on the live jazz calendar on KBEM's website (and at the right).

Tonight (Friday, Dec. 2), trumpeter Chris Botti performs at Orchestra Hall. Botti is the top-selling American jazz instrumental artist (take that, Kenny G), with four #1 jazz albums, several Grammy nominations, and a close relationship with PBS. He tours more than 250 days out of the year. To some, he’s too much on the smooth/pop side; to others, he’s exactly the kind of jazz they want to hear. Tickets are very tight—maybe nonexistent by now—but you can always stop by the box office and hope for turnbacks. His band includes the excellent Geoff Keezer on piano. 8 p.m., $25–$100.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Update on Vijay Iyer's performances at the Walker in March

News from the Walker. A terrific opportunity to see an important pianist  in four different configurations, and solo (twice). Iyer was just appointed director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. I only wish we could squeeze Craig Taborn and Rudresh Mahanthappa in here somewhere.

On Thursday, March 1, Program A will feature:
Wadada Leo Smith + Vijay Iyer Duo
Vijay Iyer - Solo
The Vijay Iyer Trio (Marcus Gilmore, Stephan Crump, Vijay Iyer)

Experimental visionary jazz artist trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith joins Iyer for a world premiere duo. The Vijay Iyer Trio (with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums) will perform several new works as well as selections from their Grammy-nominated "Historicity" and from "Tragicomic."

On Friday, March 2, Program B will feature:
Mike Ladd + Vijay Iyer Duo
Vijay Iyer - Solo
Tirtha (Nitin Mitta, Prasanna, Vijay Iyer)

Paris-based Mike Ladd, a hip-hop MC and spoken word singer/musician collaborates with Iyer in what JazzTimes calls "a tour de force… steeped in the language of South Asian and pan-African culture but trafficking in universal impulses…." South Asian global chamber trio Tirtha features Indian-American tabla/percussion master Nitin Mitta and innovative Indian electric guitarist Prasanna.

Both evenings will feature solos from Iyer, including both original compositions as well as some inspired reimaginings of both classic jazz and modern pop songs from the likes of Michael Jackson, MIA, and A Tribe Called Quest.

Tickets for both programs are available for $38 ($32 Walker members). 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2011

Apologies for the tardiness of this posting. I've spent the past couple of days cooking, entertaining, and cleaning up. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving and are ready to hear some jazz.

This just in: Tomorrow morning, Sunday, Nov. 27, at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, the Rev. James Gertmenian will preach "in conversation" with jazz saxophonist Nathan Hanson at the 10:30 service.  According to an article in today's StarTribune, "Gertmenian says he will speak about a reading from Isaiah for a few minutes, then Hanson will respond with a musical interpretation for a couple of minutes. The two of them will go back and forth in this manner for the length of the sermon, about 20 minutes." I haven't heard Gertmenian preach, but Hanson is a soulful, intuitive player who communicates on his instrument as clearly as the rest of us speak English (if we're lucky). It's a good reason to go to church. 1900 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis.

Friday, November 18, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Nov. 18-26, 2011

Fridays and Saturdays: Benny Weinbeck Trio. This classic trio of seasoned, swinging—and, I might add, well-dressed—jazz pros returns to their regular gig at the D’Amico Kitchen at the Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Benny Weinbeck on piano, Gordon Johnson on bass, Phil Hey on drums. A classy trio in a classy but casual restaurant in a boutique hotel. Very New York. Occasionally one or more members has another gig that takes him away from the Chambers—for example, Gordy Johnson tours with England’s Stacey Kent when she’s in the States—but most of the time you can count on all three being there. Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30-11:30.  No cover.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jazz at Lincoln Center goes global

This just in from JALC:
New York, NY (November 16, 2011)  -  St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: HOT), and Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) announce today an unprecedented global partnership, bringing two New York icons together to concept and create a series of jazz clubs around the world in St. Regis hotels. With a shared ambition to open five jazz clubs in the next five years, St. Regis and JALC will open the first jazz club at The St. Regis Doha in April 2012.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jon Weber tapped to host new version of NPR's Piano Jazz

For those who love pianist, composer, and musical savant Jon Weber--and there are many, many of us in the Twin Cities, where Weber has been a regular at our annual jazz festival and a favorite at the Artists' Quarter--the news could not be better: Starting in January, Weber will host National Public Radio's "Piano Jazz Rising Stars," successor to "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz," the longest-running jazz show on NPR.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Nov. 11-17, 2011

I'm back from almost a week in NYC, during which I heard as much jazz as I could: Henry Butler at the Standard, the Three Cohens at the Vanguard, Miguel Zenon discussing his new CD with Phil Schaap at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note for Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin, and a little place on the Lower East Side called the Rockwood Music Hall. Midwest expat bassist Chris Morrissey sent me a message on facebook telling me he was playing there at midnight on Wednesday, so I went to hear him. He has a lot of fans. We had to squeeze in.

Jazz news

Beloved area sax player John Devine is in the hospital. On Monday, October 24, he suffered what his doctors are calling a hemorrhagic stroke and was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center for surgery. He is currently doing well but has a long recovery ahead of him. If you’ve enjoyed his music at the Loring Pasta Bar or the Birchwood Café, or the old Loring Café, where he used to play from the roof of the outdoor courtyard, you can send him some love and stay in touch at You can also listen to some of his music while you’re there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2011

Tonight (Friday, Oct. 28) at Orchestra Hall: Herbie Hancock, solo. Need anyone say more? He’ll play the Fazioli piano they’re bringing in just for him (he has promised that the sound will make us cry) and probably a lot of electronics, if his performance earlier this month at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia is at all prophetic. 7 p.m., $70-$40.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Free tickets now available for the next (last?) NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony and Concert

From the NEA via Jazz at Lincoln Center:

Washington, DC - Tickets for the National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Jazz Masters award ceremony and concert will be available to the public on Tuesday, November 1, 2011.  The award ceremony and concert that each year recognizes the newest members of this elite group of jazz artists and will also celebrate 30 years of honoring the best of jazz.

Friday, October 21, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Oct. 21-27, 2011

Tonight, Friday, Oct. 21, at the Black Dog in St. Paul's Lowertown, the Community Pool: Deep End series of improvised music continues with Todd Harper’s Full Moon Rabbit. Bassist Brian Roessler, who curates this series with Nathan Hanson, describes Harper’s music as coming out of the Sun Ra tradition: jubilant, funny, beautiful, messy, and real. Eight-ish, no cover.

Tonight at First Avenue in Minneapolis—not a venue we get to mention too often here—Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, performs with his group Orleans Avenue. They're on tour with their new CD For True, which I'm listening to right now, and believe me, typing is the last thing you want to do when that music is playing. The CD features guests like Jeff Beck, Kid Rock, Ivan Neville, and Ledisi, but you won't miss them when Shorty takes the stage. It's going to be a high-energy, on-your-feet show of jazz, funk, R&B, pop, and New Orleans street-party music. Doors at 8, $25.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 22, back in Lowertown, the Jazz at Studio Z series returns with Seven Steps to Havana, Doug Little’s septet of musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Africa. Salsa meets jazz in a performance that Larry Englund will record for Saint Paul Live, his new radio series that will air on KBEM/Jazz88 starting in January. 7 p.m., $10.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New José James single released, forthcoming CD announced

Jazz fans in the Twin Cities feel kind of proprietary about José James. He's our homie. He grew up here, went to school here (DeLaSalle, South High), had his life turned around by a teacher here (Denny Malmberg), started performing here (at Fireside Pizza with Malmberg), prepared here for 2004 Thelonious Monk competition (which he didn't win), and leaped from our fertile, springy ground into the wide world. Today he's a star on the international scene, as versed in hip-hop and R&B as he is in jazz. His Facebook fans keep up with his dizzying schedule: gigs with Robert Glasper and Taylor McFerrin, tours of Europe and China with McCoy Tyner, guest performances with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (a Billy Strayhorn tribute), reviews in multiple languages from cities where he has performed. He's a comet streaking across the sky.

This just in from NYC music marketer Giant Step:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Jazz films on the horizon: Take five

Despite the star power of Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues (reviewed here), only a handful of people attended the screening we saw at the Showplace Icon in St. Louis Park. (Among them was Susan Smoluchowski, executive director of the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul, so we were in good company.)  I learned about the film from a Jazz at Lincoln Center press release but suspect it was poorly advertised. Or maybe people decided to wait for the DVD and watch it at home. Too bad for them, because seeing it on a humongous screen in HD with surround was awesome.

Theatrical screenings of jazz films are few and far between, and I try to call attention to the ones I hear about. Which led to today's MinnPost piece, "Jazz at the Movies: Five weeks, five films." 

Thanks to the Metropolitan Opera's "Live in HD" series, you can also see live-from-the-Met opera performances at your local movie theater, streaming in real time. The 2011–12 season starts tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 15, with Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Visit the website FMI.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul: Oct. 14-20, 2011

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday, Oct. 14–15) at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, you can experience the Good Life. Good Life is the name of a new quartet of four area musicians, all with big followings around the Twin Cities: Brandon Wozniak on saxophone, Peter Schimke on piano, Billy Peterson on bass, and Kenny Horst on drums. Each has a lot of history and musical knowledge to share. The music starts at 9 tonight and tomorrow at the AQ, St. Paul’s legendary basement jazz club. $10.

If you live in or near Plymouth, I hope you know about the Jazz@St.Barney’s series, held at St. Barnabas Center for the Arts on Old Rockford Road. On Saturday, Oct. 15, singer Connie Evingson will be joined by pianist Mary Louise Knutson in a rare duo performance. This family-friendly event starts at 7. $10 adults, $7 TCJS members, $5 students (free for SBCA students).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues: Concert film review

Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues was shown in theaters across the country just once, shortly before it was released on DVD. (A CD soundtrack is also available.) It’s what a concert film should be: up close and personal with the musicians on stage, beautifully filmed, great sound, and no silly panning of adoring audience members.

Filmed during live performances in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the film features Marsalis and Clapton (who have been friends for years) and six members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ali Jackson (drums), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Victor Goines (clarinet), Chris Crenshaw (trombone and vocals). Also on stage: New Orleans banjo master Don Vappie, Clapton’s keyboardist Chris Stainton, and (later) special guest Taj Mahal.

Marsalis explains the instrumentation in the liner notes: “We combined the sound of an early blues jump-band with the sound of New Orleans jazz to accommodate the integration of guitar/trumpet lead and to give us the latitude to play different grooves…. We decided to use the instrumentation of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band plus two (electric guitar and piano) because they transformed the world of music with a set of 1923 recordings and, with performances like ‘Dipper Mouth Blues,’ forever established the blues as a centerpiece of jazz.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Monterey magic: Memories of the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival

Sonny Rollins by John Whiting
A press release sent yesterday, announcing that the Monterey Jazz Festival had received a $300,000 grant from California’s James Irvine Foundation, made me nostalgic for this year’s festival. Has it really been three weeks since we walked through the gates on opening day to hear Robert Glasper? Even less since we walked out for the final time, the sound of Sonny Rollins’ saxophone still hot in our ears?

I wrote about MJF54 for NPR’s A Blog Supreme, including a recap with Patrick Jarenwattananon. But I haven’t yet written my personal impressions—the time-stood-still moments I’ll remember from three days and nights of jazz on the California coast. So, as they say, without further ado.

Robert Glasper Trio. The perfect opener for a jazz festival with a history and a future. Glasper’s music, his band, and his whole demeanor say, “Don’t worry, jazz fans, I know my stuff, I can play the standards—but it’s 2011, jazz is changing, let’s go.” His music merges jazz with soul, R&B, hip-hop, pop, quiet storm, Mos Def and J Dilla. High points: a soulful groove that made room for “In a Sentimental Mood.” The playful wave of Glasper's hand whenever a plane flew over. (The festival site is on a direct flight path to the Monterey airport.) Watching young drummer Chris Dave play. Learning that a new Robert Glasper Experiment CD is due out on Blue Note in 2012, this one with guests including Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Meshell N’Degeocello, and Stokley Williams.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

If you missed last week's Minnesota Orchestra season opener and the world premiere of TimePiece for Jazz Soloists and Orchestra by St. Paul composer Stephen Paulus and his son, Greg Paulus, you can download a recording of a live performance at the Orchestra's website for just $1.29. Listen for Bryan Nichols on piano, Greg Paulus on trumpet and electronics, Michael Lewis on saxophone, Adam Linz on bass, JT Bates on drums, and maestro Osmo Vänskä on clarinet; he improvises with JT at the start of the third movement. $1.29! What a bargain.

Tonight, Friday, Oct. 7, at the Black Dog in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Community Pool: Deep End series of improvised music continues with a stellar trio: Nathan Hanson on saxophones, Pete Hennig on drums, and Douglas Ewart on saxophones, clarinet, bassoon, flute, hand drums, didgeridoo, and Lord knows what else; he makes musical instruments, often from found objects including pot lids and crutches. No cover; starts at eight-ish. This is St. Paul Art Crawl weekend, so Lowertown will be a busy place. Read an interview with Ewart here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blues on a sunny afternoon

Paul Metsa by John Whiting
Yesterday afternoon, at a "private-public" event in a tree-filled backyard in Edina, Minnesota, the musician, songwriter, and raconteur Paul Metsa signed copies of his new book, Blue Guitar Highway, and sang a few songs--solo and with his friend Willie West, who had driven down from St. Cloud for the occasion. Willie's wife stayed home and worked his shift so he could attend the event.

Other people came from faraway places including Paul's friend Joe, whose last name I forgot but will have to ask Paul about because he, too, is writing a book about music, forthcoming from SUNY Press. Photographer Darin Back was there, and Paul's lovely girlfriend, Amy, who has a farm where Paul finished writing his book and where his dog, Blackie, now prefers to stay, returning only reluctantly to Paul's apartment in Northeast Minneapolis.

Music promoter Sue McLean stopped by, and Paul thanked her for giving him his first gig at the Guthrie—the old Guthrie, which he had futilely tried to save from demolition in the mid-2000s. (He writes about that in his book, in a chapter called "Slings and Arrows.") We had scandalous early-afternoon cocktails and talked with our friends Jon Tevlin and Ellen Hatfield.

Friday, September 30, 2011

An interview with Wynton Marsalis, and a look ahead at fall

I spoke with Wynton Marsalis earlier this month. The interview appears in today's Minneapolis StarTribune. Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra come to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on Sunday.

My editor at MinnPost asked for a post on jazz coming up this fall in the Twin Cities. She probably got more than she bargained for, simply because there's so much going on. To borrow words from Davis Wilson at the Artists' Quarter, I continue to be pleased and flipped at the quantity and especially the quality of live jazz available to us in flyover land. We're not New York City, but we surely are Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The MinnPost piece replaces my usual This Week's Jazz Picks post.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Behind the scenes of Arne Fogel’s radio series “Minnesota’s Voices—Certain Standards”

Arne Fogel by John Whiting
If you listen to public radio or frequent Twin Cities jazz clubs, you know singer, musician, actor, writer, producer, recording artist, and storyteller Arne Fogel. His radio series “The Bing Shift,” featuring the music of Bing Crosby, airs Saturdays at 7 p.m. CST on KBEM. Fogel is an acknowledged expert on Crosby; he wrote the liner notes for the first American release of Crosby’s 1975 album A Southern Memoir and the text for the radio section of the official Bing Crosby website.

For 12 years, he produced and hosted “Arne Fogel Presents” for Minnesota Public Radio. With Connie Evingson, he co-hosted “Singers & Standards” on KBEM from 2002–05. You can read more about Fogel on his website.

He’s a busy guy, an idea man, and when he has a good thought, he doesn’t let it go. There’s a Post-it on the wall in his home office on which he has written two words: “Certain Standards.” It’s been there for years. An old file on his computer describes a radio show of songs from the Great American Songbook and the stories behind them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Program announced for JazzMN's concert with John Clayton

Grammy-winning bassist/composer John Clayton is the JazzMN Orchestra's special guest as Minnesota's premier big band launches its 2011–12 season on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Judi Donaghy is  guest vocalist.

JazzMN's artistic director Doug Snapp has announced the evening's program.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Behind the scenes of "TimePiece for Jazz Soloists and Orchestra" by Stephen Paulus and Greg Paulus

Greg Paulus (l) and Stephen Paulus
All rehearsal photos by John Whiting
In 2007, St. Paul composer Stephen Paulus went to a chamber music concert where Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä was playing clarinet. Stephen stuck around after to talk with the maestro and mentioned maybe writing something with his son, jazz and electronic musician and composer Greg Paulus. A work for jazz soloists and orchestra, perhaps. What would Vänskä think about that?

According to Stephen, Vänskä’s response was immediate: “That’s just exactly what we need to do with the orchestra.”

Four years in the making, composed partly over Skype (Greg is now based in Brooklyn but tours the world with his electronic production team No Regular Play), TimePiece will have its world premiere at the Minnesota Orchestra’s season opener this weekend. Joining the orchestra on stage will be Greg Paulus on trumpet, Michael Lewis on saxophone, Bryan Nichols on keyboards, Adam Linz on bass, and JT Bates on drums.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amiri Baraka comes to the Southern for an evening of spoken word, jazz, and dance theater

From Tru Ruts Freestyle Theater, a chance to see the great poet/playwright/activist Amiri Baraka live and in the company of many fine Twin Cities artists including Kevin Washington, Anthony Cox, and J. Otis Powell. Tickets are available online. Easy-breezy; order, pay, print them out.

Here's the press release, abbreviated:

E.G. Bailey adapts Amiri Baraka's Wise Why's Y's, an epic journey through the history of Africans in America, and a perfect blend of avant-garde poetry with the griot consciousness. Paying homage to Langston's Ask Your Mama, William Carlos William's Patterson, and Melvin B. Tolson's Liberia alike, it attempts to articulate the history of a people or a place. Wise Why's Y's questions and answers broad themes of history and cultural identity.

Concert review: Theo Bleckmann at Macalester

Theo Bleckmann
by Susie Knoll
From what planet does Theo Bleckmann come, and what century? His music is both otherworldly and timeless—not in a never-gets-old way, but in a Time Lord/Highlander way of someone who moves from era to era easily, casually, like the rest of us cross the street.

In solo performance Friday night in St. Paul, part of Macalester College’s annual New Music series, the singer/composer took us back to the French courts of the 14th century and forward to a day in the future when a song like his surrealistic version of “I Remember You”—with a small talking bear squeaking “I love you! Kiss me!”—might conceivably top the pop charts.

I’ve read about Bleckmann, watched some YouTube videos, listened to him online (and friended him on Facebook), but nothing compares to seeing and hearing him make music on the spot. (I went with a friend who’d seen him three times before, and he said this night was completely different than the others.) There were moments of haunting, heart-rending beauty, Bleckmann’s pure, clear voice looped, layered, and soaring. (That the performance took place at Macalester-Plymouth Church upped the ethereal factor.) The music was inspiring and disturbing, serious and funny, provocative, strange, and utterly absorbing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight (Friday, Sept. 23), the famously inventive singer/composer Theo Bleckmann comes to town, thanks to Macalester College. I totally forgot to mention this on the air with Ed Jones this morning; smacking self now. I've been looking forward to Bleckmann's performance ever since learning about it in late August. He'll do a solo show at Macalester-Plymouth United Church--no band, just Bleckmann and his array of low- and high-tech toys. Here he is singing Kate Bush's "And Dream of Sheep." I do hope he sings some Kate Bush. 1685 Lincoln Ave., St. Paul, one block south of Grand, one block west of Snelling, adjacent to the Macalester campus. 8 p.m. Free.

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday), New York-based alto saxophonist Jim Snidero heads downstairs to the Artists’ Quarter. He has performed with the Frank Sinatra Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, Sting, Billy Joel, and other stars; his latest CD, Interface, features Paul Bollenback on guitar. Snidero plays standards and originals based in bop. Should be two swinging, solid nights at the AQ. 9 p.m. ($15)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

For NPR's A Blog Supreme: Monterey Jazz 2011: A Recap

Sonny by Johnny
(Sonny Rollins by John Whiting)
Patrick Jarenwattananon and I had an iChat late Monday night about this year's Monterey Jazz festival and the music. It was his first time there, my sixth, but we both thought it was pretty great. I'll probably follow later with a few more thoughts/memories of my own. Someone needs to mention the strawberry man.

Uh...for sale?

Discovered during one of those web self-searches we all do during idle moments, like while waiting for our coffee to cool or sitting on hold on the phone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Photo: JazZen at The Nicollet

JazZen (l2r): Bobb Fantauzzo, Native American flutes;
Aaron Kerr, electric cello; Derrin Pinto, drums.
Photo by John Whiting.
In performance at The Nicollett, September 20, 2011.

Click here FMI about JazZen.

Photo: James Farm at the Dakota

James Farm (l2r): Aaron Parks, Joshua Redman,
Matt Penman, Eric Harland by John Whiting
Second set, September 20, 2011, Dakota.

Donny McCaslin Passes the Blindfold Test

(More from the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival, September 17-19)
Donny McCaslin (L) and Dan Oullette (R) by John Whiing
It was the perfect day for a mid-coast California outdoor festival. Blue skies, bright sun, but not too hot. A crowd turned out for "An Afternoon in Treme" in the Arena at 1 p.m., and even more came later for Huey Lewis & The News at 3 (a soulful, rocking good time). In between, a respectable number of aficionados (okay, jazz nerds) made their way to Dizzy's Den at 2 for the annual live DownBeat Blindfold Test.

Begun by Leonard Feather in the 1940s for Metronome magazine, the Blindfold Test is now one of DownBeat's most popular features. In simplest terms, a jazz journalist plays a series of recordings for a jazz musician, and the musician identifies (or tries to identify) who's playing. Saxophonists are asked about saxophonists, trumpeters about trumpeters, and so on.

Jazz writer Dan Ouellette is a frequent Blindfold Test contributor and has for many years hosted the live version at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Under Ouellette's hand, the test is more than an aural/oral exam. It's a freewheeling conversation about music, and a rare opportunity to hear a musician think out loud about what he or she is hearing.

This year, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin was in the hot seat. After joking that his friends in the audience should feel free to text him the answers, he settled in and listened intently as Ouellette lobbed musical hardballs. He answered in threes—"It could be David Murray, Von Freeman, or Charles Lloyd"—and explain why he thought each was a possibility. He pretty much nailed the test. We saw how much he enjoyed listening to the music (responding with "Yeahs!" and "Mmmms!") and learned that he looks for the feeling of a piece and the humanity of the player. Commenting on what turned out to be a Von Freeman track (appropriately named "Never Fear, Jazz Is Here"), he noted the freedom of the player, and his devil-may-care attitude. 

Commenting later on Stanley Turrentine: "You feel it in your body when he's playing."

"That Turrentine track is from an album called 'Don't Mess with Mr. T.,'" Ouellette tells McCaslin.

"I won't mess with him," McCaslin says.

It would be messing with the test to give more away—what was played, what McCaslin said—because the print version will be published later this year in DownBeat magazine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Khyber Pass Cafe Music Series

Noted in last Friday's jazz picks, the Khyber Pass Cafe in St. Paul needs our help. It's holding a series of music-fueled fundraisers, and some of the Twin Cities' best musicians are stepping up.

The Khyber Pass is Emel Sherzad's place. Emel is an artist and a great supporter of improvised music. His art is inspired by improvised music, and he hosts a weekly radio show on KFAI called Radio Duende (formerly International Jazz Conspiracy), heard Mondays from 10 p.m. 'til midnight.

Here's the latest schedule. I've added these events to the live music calendar and will continue updating as news is made available. Watch the website for more.

  • Friday, Sept. 23: Davu Seru and Dean Magraw
  • Saturday, Sept. 24: Merciless Ghost (George Cartwright, Josh Granowski, Davu Seru)
  • Sunday, Sept. 25: Charcoal (Anthony Cox, Milo Fine, Davu Seru)
  • Thursday, Sept. 29: Jelloslave (Jacqueline Ultan, Michelle Kinney, Greg Schutte, Gary Waryan)
  • Friday, Sept. 30: Dave King Trucking Company
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: Andrew Broder
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: Joan Griffith and Clea Galhano

Monday, September 19, 2011

For NPR's A Blog Supreme: Interview with Bill Carrothers

Bill Carrothers by John Whiting for NPR
I've seen Bill Carrothers perform several times. Despite being "overlooked" and "underrated," he's well known and highly respected in the Twin Cities. It was great to see him at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and I jumped at the chance to interview him.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For NPR's A Blog Supreme: Interview with Helen Sung

Helen Sung by John Whiting
Spur of the moment, on the fly: A late-night interview with Chinese-American pianist and composer Helen Sung. She's delightful to talk to. She emits sparks of pure energy, and her conversation is punctuated with exclamations and laughter—“Wow!” “Ha!” “Oh my goodness!” And she plays the piano beautifully. I can't wait to hear her new poetry project.

New jazz concert series starts at Studio Z

Zacc Harris by John Whiting
What was once a bare box on the second floor of the Northwestern Building, a neoclassical high-rise artists’ cooperative in St. Paul’s Lowertown, has been transformed into a gem of a listening room, thanks to the Zeitgeist new music ensemble, whose performing space it is.

Over time, they have added drapes, color, sound baffles, and risers to create an intimate, welcoming place to hear some of the most inventive music the Twin Cities offers—not only their own, performed throughout the year, but also that of guests who rent it.

Since I first discovered Studio Z in 2009, when I went to hear the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Jazz Quintet, I’ve returned often—for George Cartwright’s GloryLand Ponycat and “Bonanza: The Musical,” Trio Raro, Antigravity, the Consortium of Symphonic Transients, Milo Fine. 

Starting in September, it’s home to a new monthly jazz concert series, sensibly named Jazz at Studio Z.

Curated by guitarist Zacc Harris, the series features large-ish ensembles beginning with the Dave King Trucking Company on September 24.

Friday, September 16, 2011

For NPR's A Blog Supreme: A game plan for the Monterey Jazz Festival

Assignment #2: What to see and hear at this year's Monterey Jazz Festival starting tonight, if you're here for the whole weekend with Arena passes, unflagging energy, and catholic tastes.

Monterey before the crowds

How the Monterey Jazz Festival grounds looked around noon today, when we went to pick up our press credentials.

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonight (Friday, Sept. 16) at the Black Dog in St. Paul: High Dive into the Deep End. The excellent Community Pool: Deep End series of improvised music performances resumes at its welcoming home in Lowertown. Curated by Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler of Fantastic Merlins fame, this series has for me been one ear-opener after another. Tonight: Eric Fratzke on guitar, Hanson on saxophone, Roessler on bass, and two drummers: Pete Hennig (of the Merlins, Atlantis Quartet, the Zacc Harris Trio, and more) and Peter Leggett (Heiruspecs). Together they have recorded a not-yet-released collection of tracks called Fort Knox Nostalgia; check out "Morgan's Raid" on Soundcloud. Here's an interview with Roessler about the series. 8 p.m. No cover.

Tonight and tomorrow (Friday–Saturday, Sept. 16–17) at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul: Bryan Nichols, Anthony Cox, Dave King. This newly-minted trio has already been dubbed a "supergroup" and who's to argue?  McKnight artist Nichols is, to me, the most consistently interesting, surprising, and satisfying pianist in the Twin Cities, whether leading his own groups small and large or playing well with others (Gang Font, James Buckley Trio, Zacc Harris Quartet). His quintet's debut recording, Bright Places, released earlier this year, features all original compositions. Both bassist Cox (who has played with Geri Allen, Joe Lovano, ad infinitum) and drummer King (The Bad Plus, The Dave King Trucking Co., etc. etc.) are beasts. 9 p.m. both nights. ($9) You can reserve online and I would if I were you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band at Kuumbwa Jazz Center: Concert review

They've been together 14 years, and it shows. This exquisitely expressive quintet speaks with one voice and five voices, depending on the moment and the phrase. Fronted by Myron Walden on bass clarinet and alto saxophone, Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor saxes, framed by Jon Cowherd on piano and organ, Chris Thomas on bass, with drummer Brian Blade at the back, the Fellowship Band played two profoundly moving, frequently thrilling sets at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz on Monday, Sept. 12. Starting shortly after 7 p.m., the music ended around 10:15.

It's hard to be descriptive about the Fellowship Band's music. Where is the vocabulary to convey pure emotion? From the first moments—Cowherd's delicate piano chords, accompanied by Thomas's elegant bass—I was lifted up and carried like a baby. When the rest of the band entered on the first tune and Butler stepped hard on his soprano, I thought for a moment we were in for a wild time, but Walden's bass clarinet announced a beautiful melody, cushioned by piano and arco bass, and beauty remained the mood for much of the evening. It was all about beauty, and a torrent of pure emotion.

When Butler and Walden switched to tenor and alto saxes, then traded eights, their music was a series of rhyming couplets, a conversation among close friends. When they played together, it was two rivers meeting and separating, flowing together and branching out and joining again. The last time I heard a pair of horn players who made me feel that way, I was listening to David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon.

There was no talking to the audience during the sets, but after each set, Blade announced what we had just heard. First set: "Landmark" and "The Mary Suite" (I think;  I was writing in the dark) "The Mercy Suite," both recorded but not yet released, and "Alpha and Omega" from Season of Changes (Verve, 2008), their most recent recording. "We hope to release our next CD soon," Blade told us. And: "We only played three songs this set, although it may have sounded like more."

The second set began with a slow simmer on the tenor and alto saxes, and a solo by Blade. Then Walden cut loose on his alto sax and everything changed.

Although this is technically a drummer-led band—Blade started it, and it's his name most people know—it's a genuine ensemble, a fellowship. Unless someone is soloing, you are aware of all five musicians equally, and there is no clear leader. Your attention shifts from one player to the next, then back again, following the sound around the stage. But Walden was the star of this set, with the other four giving him all the support and companionship he could possibly need as he leaned over the edge of a high place and jumped. He soared, he roared, he screamed, he shook us hard. At the end, as the audience yelled its approval, my face was wet with tears. When Walden lowered his horn and raised his face to the ceiling, eyes closed, it could have been over, but it wasn't. Butler entered with his tenor, soft and caressing, the calm after the storm, and led us safely home.

Second set: "Farewell Bluebird," which Blade explained is a song written about a cafe in New Orleans. Then "Season of Changes," the title track to their latest CD. "Shenandoah," which began with a lyrical, thoughtful organ solo by Cowherd. And "Migration," which began with a solo by Blade that made me think of a watercolor painting. The encore: a melody Blade wrote for his mother, "Friends Call her Dot." Sweet and tender.

I haven't said nearly enough about Cowherd or Thomas or Blade. I wish I could write more about them all, if only to communicate (or try) what it was like to hear this music. When the concert had ended and most of the audience had left, and the staff was going around the room picking up plates and bottles, Walden sat at the side of the stage, hands clasped, head bowed, looking exhausted. People approached him to greet him and thank him, and he roused himself each time, but in between, he folded. I have rarely heard music so full of feeling. I felt I'd been in the presence of five preachers, and I left convinced that they were speaking truth.  If jazz is as much about feeling as technique, if expression is as important as history and repertoire, I can't imagine better spokesmen than the musicians of the Fellowship Band.

This was my first visit to the Kuumbwa, which must be one of the best rooms on the planet for live jazz. It's a serious listening room, seating maybe 200, with food and beverages (including wine and beer) available, but no service during performances. People are there to hear jazz, not to see and be seen or talk with their friends (except during breaks). Kuumbwa is supported by grants and memberships, and it books jazz during the weeks, not on the weekends, catching major jazz acts as they travel down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Tim Jackson is artistic director for the Kuumbwa, and also for the Monterey Jazz Festival; he knows everyone. The sound in the room is brilliant, and the door is left open to the outdoor patio, letting in the fragrant night air and sending music into the neighborhood.

If I lived in Santa Cruz or nearby, I would come back next week for Branford Marsalis, and again in October for Rudresh Mahanthappa, and then for Gary Burton, and after that for McCoy Tyner with Jose James and Chris Potter. An amazing lineup for a room that Santa Cruz and mid-coast California are very lucky to have.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Community Pool: Deep End series announces new season at the Black Dog

Brian Roessler by John Whiting
Formerly known as Fantastic Fridays, the Community Pool: Deep End series is about to begin its fifth year—a respectable number for any live music series, especially one committed to improvised music.

The fall concerts begin on Friday, September 16, and continue through Friday, December 16.

Earlier this month, I spoke with bassist Brian Roessler, who co-curates the series with saxophonist Nathan Hanson.

Pamela Espeland: First Fantastic Fridays, now Community Pool, but always at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in St. Paul. How did that relationship begin?

Brian Roessler: During our first Fantastic Merlins tour in 2005, the last show we played was at the Black Dog. That was when we met [Black Dog owner] Sara Remke. She liked the music, and we liked playing there, so we hit it off and started talking. Eventually, she asked Nathan if he wanted to curate Friday nights there. We got to know Jean [Rochard, Remke's partner and founder of the French record label NATO]. He liked what we were doing, and we had a lot of interesting conversations, one of which led to our last record with Kid Dakota [How the Light Gets In].

PLE: Why the name “Community Pool”?

BR: Nathan and I share an interest in trying to use music, and art in general, as a way to build community. Not on a grand scale, but from the personal connection with other artists and with audience members. It’s a reflection of our view of the interconnected nature of the world and society, artists and listeners.

In the town where I grew up, the local swimming pool was called the Community Pool. I always thought that was cool.