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.

Saturday, Nov. 19: Jazz at Studio Z: The Zacc Harris Group. Guitarist Zacc Harris (Atlantis Quartet, Monk in Motian, Vital Organ, Counterclockwise) has put together a series with a bonus feature: At 1:00 in the afternoon before each concert (the concerts start at 7), you can attend an open rehearsal for free. A jazz band is not an orchestra; they don’t play a program from a score. At a rehearsal, you can observe decisions being made on the spot and gain more insight into what happens during a live performance. (Even a little knowledge makes any type of music more enjoyable.) The third concert in the Jazz at Studio Z series features the Zacc Harris Group, with Bryan Nichols on keys and Fender Rhodes, Chris Bates on bass, JT Bates on drums, and guest saxophonist Brandon Wozniak. Saturday, 7 p.m., Studio Z in St. Paul's Lowertown. $10; 13 and under free.

Harris has just launched a Kickstarter project to fund his group's first recording. Other Kickstarter projects I like: Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler's Selenographia. Jeremy Walker's 12 Psalms. John Raymond's debut CD.

Saturday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 20: Regina Marie Williams in "Nina...I Put a Spell on You."  Ivey Award-winning actor and singer Regina Marie Williams performs the music of Nina Simone at the Capri Theater. This is the first concert in this year’s Legends Series, whose artistic director is Dennis Spears. I spoke with Regina the other day for a story that appears in today's MinnPost. If you love Nina Simone’s music—songs like “I Put a Spell on You,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me”—this is for you. You may remember seeing Regina in Dinah Was, about Dinah Washington, at the Penumbra or the Ordway a few years back. She has been in several plays at the Penumbra, the Guthrie, and other theaters; at the moment, she’s also in On the Spectrum at the Mixed Blood, where she’ll go after finishing Sunday’s concert at the Capri. Shows are at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. $25.

Wednesday, Nov. 23: Two CD releases. On Thanksgiving eve, while your turkey is brining and your cranberries are setting, you can attend a pair of CD releases, one in St. Paul and the other in Minneapolis.

In St. Paul at the Artists’ Quarter, pianist/composer Mary Louise Knutson will play songs from her second CD as a leader, In the Bubble. That’s her phrase for “in the sweet spot, where only good can come.” The whole CD is a sweet spot of wonderful tunes—standards like “It Could Happen to You” and “Bluesette,” plus several originals. For most of the songs on the CD, her bassist is Gordy Johnson and her drummer is Phil Hey (see Benny Weinbeck Trio above).  Gordy and Phil will both be with her at the AQ. 7:30 p.m., $5.

In Minneapolis at Jazz Central, you can hear the Doug Haining Quintet play songs from their brand-new CD, Last Man Swinging. Another excellent collection played by old friends who have spent a lot of time together: Doug Haining on alto sax and clarinet, Rick Carlson on piano, Steve Pikal on bass, Dick Bortolussi on drums. On Wednesday night, trombonist Scott Agster will step in for Dave Graf, who has a commitment elsewhere. 8:30 p.m. No cover, but respect the tip jar.

I like both of these CDs very much. Both are seriously swinging—the kind of swing that feels effortless and natural.

If you don’t want to go anywhere on Thanksgiving Eve, tune into Maryann Sullivan’s “On the Local Corner” program on KBEM starting at 7 p.m. and you’ll probably hear many of the people mentioned here.

As always, there's a lot more live jazz happening in the Twin Cities this week. Learn about it on the Live Jazz Calendar at the right or on KBEM's website. Send information about your gigs (who, what, where, when, $) to

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