Friday, April 29, 2011

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

This week, it’s all about local artists—and by that I mean artists who happen to live here. As Jeremy Walker said at his final NOWnet performance earlier this month, “Everyone is a local jazz musician and everyone is a national jazz musician.”

Friday and Saturday: Connie Evingson at the Artists’ Quarter

Can this really be Connie’s first-ever AQ weekend? We’re talking Connie Evingson, jazz vocalist extraordinaire, Moore by Four member, “Jazz at the Jungle” star, maker of several fine CDs including Let it Be Jazz (Beatles songs), Little Did I Dream (Dave Frishberg songs), and Gypsy in My Soul (gypsy jazz).

Apparently, yes. To digress: As the Dakota has broadened its programming to include folk, rock, pop, world music, and blues, the AQ (still a straight-ahead jazz club) has opened its door to more singers. Lucia Newell and Debbie Duncan have long been welcome there, but this has not traditionally been a singers’ room. That seems to be changing. Last week, Charmin Michelle had her CD release there (for Dawning and Daylight with Joel Shapira). The night was a smashing success, with a big turnout.

More singers are scheduled: Vicky Mountain (see below), Paula Lammers in May, and I’m hearing about other possibilities as well.

Connie will be joined by Tanner Taylor on piano, Graydon Peterson on bass, Mac Santiago on drums, and Dave Karr on saxophone for two swinging, stylish evenings.

Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m., Artists’ Quarter in the basement of the Hamm Building, St. Paul. $12.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

News about e.s.t.

From B.H. Hopper Management in London:

German-French cultural TV-channel ARTE broadcasted an 8 minutes report on Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström in their tremendously popular culture show ‘Metropolis’.

You can view the full show for the next 5 days when you follow this link.

The report about Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström starts after roughly 23 minutes – so feel free to scroll forward.

On its website ARTE has also placed bonus material about both artists, as well as e.s.t.

You can watch the full length video clip of TONBRUKET´s “Sister Sad” and the full length interview with Magnus Öström here.

You can watch e.s.t.´s “Goldwrap” video clip here.

Magnus Öström has just recently released his debut album “Thread of Life," which received rave reviews and has entered the charts in Sweden and Germany. There is a guest appearance of Pat Metheny on the album in a song titled “Song for E,” Magnus Öström´s tribute to his long-time friend and musical partner Esbjörn Svensson.

Dan Berglund´s new band TONBRUKET will release their second album in May: “Dig it to the End” (ACT).

Both bands will tour heavily this summer and autumn.

Confirmed dates and further information you can find on the following websites:

2011 Iowa City Jazz Festival is worth the drive

Each year, quite a few jazz fans from the Twin Cities drive to and from Iowa City over the Fourth of July weekend for the Iowa City Jazz Festival. Depending on who's performing, it's worth the drive (about 600 miles round trip) for this free festival that often books top talent.

Over the years, featured artists have included John Scofield, Paquito D’Rivera, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Joey de Francesco, Charlie Hunter, Greg Osby, Cubanismo, Pat Martino, Paul Motian, Don Byron, Andrew Hill, Carla Bley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Roswell Rudd, Steve Swallow, Yellowjackets, Patricia Barber, Sex Mob, and Stefon Harris.

This is a good year. Saturday brings New York/LA-based jazz-rock band Kneebody, followed by the Josh Roseman Unit. Roseman is a trombonist who studied under Lester Bowie and has played with people like Muhal Richard Abrams, John Zorn, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, Oliver Lake, and Medeski, Martin and Wood.

If you can go for just one night, make it Sunday. John Ellis and Double-Wide, who wowed last year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, will play at 4. They’ll be followed at 6 by Ambrose Akinmusire, who currently has the hot new trumpet CD, When the Heart Emerges Glistening. At 8 the great pianist/composer and NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston will take the stage. When he plays “High Fly”—which he probably will; it’s a signature song for him, and it’s on his latest CD, The Storyteller—the crowd sprawled and seated on the lush green lawn of the Pentacrest will sigh the leaves off the trees.

Randy Weston
2011 Iowa City Jazz Festival
Friday, July 1–Sunday, July 3
Full schedule here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Concert review: The Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog

When: Friday, April 22, 2011 • Where: Black Dog, St. Paul • Who: Nathan Hanson, saxophones; Brian Roessler, bass; Daniel Levin, cello; Pete Hennig, drums

L2R: Hanson, Hennig, Levin, Roessler
Oh, those Merlins were exciting on Friday. Playing for an overflow crowd at the Black Dog, they gave us two full, variegated, concentrated sets of melody and improvisation. They pulled from their velvet bag of existing compositions and also featured works by their new cellist, Daniel Levin, who officially became a Fantastic Merlin in January.

Levin is the Merlins’ third cellist. The first, Jacqueline Ultan, moved on to other projects after recording A Handful of Earth. She was followed by Matt Turner, heard on How the Light Gets In, who soon had scheduling conflicts.

Levin initially joined the band for a weeklong tour of France in 2010. “From the very first note we played together,” wrote the Merlins on their website, “it was clear that we are all on similar trajectories.” Jean Rochard, producer of How the Light Gets In (and founder of the French record label Nato), was at their debut show in France, before 500 people. He says that Levin was an immediate fit.

I’ve loved the Merlins since the first time I saw them play, but this is a different band, with a different energy level. Not to cast the slightest aspersion on any of the previous versions, but there’s more—how to say it?—testosterone now. Levin is a fierce, aggressive player, and the whole band seems tougher, edgier, badder. They’re still the lyrical, musical Merlins, but with more of a swagger. It’s a boy band.

Levin isn’t always fierce. Sometimes he coaxes sounds from the cello, leaning into it with gentle regard. Other times, however, he seems about to pull it apart or set it on fire with the force of his playing. 

In The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, author Thad Carhart writes that Liszt played the piano so hard during concerts that the stage would be littered with broken pianos. I thought about that while watching Levin play, and I prayed for that borrowed cello.

Photo by John Whiting.

Friday, April 22, 2011

2011 Twin Cities Jazz Festival lineup announced

The Twin Cities Jazz Festival used to be in Minneapolis, then in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. It used to be called the Hot Summer Jazz Festival. It used to go on for 10 days. And, for a time in 2009, it seemed doomed. Strapped-for-cash sponsors had pulled out and the organizers were ready to cancel.

Then St. Paul stepped up. Mayor Chris Coleman, local chambers, sponsors, clubs, and businesses joined forces to lure the festival across the river and into Mears Park, a gem of an outdoor space. The festival responded with a strong lineup that included Allen Toussaint and Esperanza Spalding (two years before she won the Best New Artist Grammy). During Spalding's set, Prince sat backstage in his limousine, listening.

Last summer brought several big names: trumpeter Sean Jones, saxophonist Joe Lovano, John Ellis and Double-Wide with Jason Marsalis, and John Scofield's Piety Band. Mears Park was packed. Vendors ran out of hot-dog buns and had to serve naked wieners in paper trays.

Mark your calendar now for June 23-25, because you won't want to be out of town for the 13th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival. This year's headliners are Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, paired with the great bassist John Pattitucci, and the New Gary Burton Quartet featuring Julian Lage, Antonio Sanchez, and Scott Colley.

High fives, TCJF.

Starting Thursday, June 23 (Jazz Night Out), the festival will also present many area musicians and groups, which is the right thing to do, given the richness of our jazz community. Performers will include Connie Evingson, Seven Steps to Havana, the Petersons, James Buckley, the Jazz Central All Stars, Salsa del Soul, and a so-far-unnamed quartet with Miguel Hurtado, Marquis Hill, Zacc Harris, and Jeremy Boettcher.

More area artists will perform in St. Paul clubs: Atlantis Quartet (just named "Best Jazz Artist" by City Pages), Butch Thompson, Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson, JoAnn Funk, Nathan Hanson/Brian Roessler/Pette Hennig, Gypsy Mania, the George Maurer Group, Ticket to Brazil, Lee Engele, Jack Brass, Cory Wong, Red Planet, and student bands.

On Thursday, the AQ will host a Stride Night with Butch Thompson and festival stalwart Jon Weber, who lives in New York but always comes in for the festival. Trust me: Stride Night is awesome.

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

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 the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web

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

Friday: Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog

Confess: You’ve always wanted to know how to improvise. Or, at least, you’d like to know more about how improvisation works. Find out tonight at the Black Dog, when the Fantastic Merlins—saxophonist Nathan Hanson, bassist Brian Roessler, cellist Daniel Levin, drummer Pete Hennig—give a free masterclass. They’ll cover beginning techniques, improvising with an ensemble, and developing a personal voice. Piano, bass, and drums provided; if you play something else, bring it. Open to the public, to musicians of all ages and experience levels.

The class will be followed by a concert at 8-ish. We rarely hear the Merlins play live in the Twin Cities for the simple reason that Levin is a New Yorker. I like this group very much, and their blend of jazz, improvisation, and chamber music. Their playing always makes me feel hopeful, and these days that’s an especially good thing.

Friday, 5:30 (masterclass), 8-ish (concert), Black Dog in St. Paul’s Lowertown. No cover, but please feed the tip jar.

Friday-Saturday: Kip Jones CD Release at Studio Z

Kip Jones is a young violinist with a unique musical voice and background. Born in Duluth, he earned his degree in violin performance from Berklee in Boston, then hit the road: a nine-month motorcycle trip across North America, studies in Mumbai, a stint in rural South Korea, a year-long trip through South America.

Combine talent with travel, curiosity, and intelligence and (if you’re lucky) you get Hallazgo, Jones’s new CD of original compositions, performed on solo violin and voice. “Hallazgo” is a Spanish word meaning “a find,” and it fits. Jones calls his music “traditional fiction” or “experimental folk”—traditional music from regions or people that don’t exist—and says it’s “stylistically indebted to J.S. Bach, the Delta Blues, and minimalist Steve Reich.” To my ears, it’s foreign and familiar at the same time, solid and truthful and deeply intriguing.

The concert will have two parts: Jones solo, followed by Zations, his trio with accordionist Patrick Harison and bassist James Buckley. “Bulgaro-Macedonian improvisational stringy-accordion madness.” Bring it on.

Friday, 8 p.m., Studio Z, Northwestern Building in St. Paul’s Lowertown. Look for the big red neon Z in the window. $5.

Friday: Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira CD Release

A class act through and through. Lovely, elegant singer Charmin Michelle and virtuoso guitarist Joel Shapira, longtime collaborators on the Twin Cities music scene, have made their second CD together, after Pure Imagination (2005). 

Just out, Dawning and Daylight is what they do best: jazz standards and classics from the Great American Songbook. This will be a night of beautiful music, swinging and soulful, pitch-perfect and impeccably performed. 

Friday, 9 p.m., Artists’ Quarter in the basement of the Hamm Building, St. Paul. $10.

Sunday and Monday: John Pizzarelli at the Dakota

Hearing jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli perform live is like having him show up in your living room. His concerts are warm, intimate, and relaxed—good music (Great American Songbook and beyond), performed with profound knowledge and real affection.

If you’ve heard his syndicated radio show, Radio Deluxe, which airs every Saturday on KBEM from 4–6 p.m., you have a sense of what he’s like in person. Pizzarelli is especially fond of Nat “King” Cole, and his latest recording, Rockin’ in Rhythm, celebrates the music of Duke Ellington. You can’t go wrong. 

Sunday and Monday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall. $40/$25.

Wednesday and Thursday: Omar Sosa Afreecanos Quartet at the Dakota

Unless I'm mistaken, it’s been several years since multi-instrumentalist and five-time Grammy nominee Omar Sosa performed here. The last time I remember was 2002, when he played at the Walker with his septet—minus his vocalist, who couldn’t get a visa. 

Sosa returns this week with his Afreecanos Quartet to explore the music of the African diaspora, mixed with the sounds of modern jazz and the latest technology. Cutting-edge and traditional, folkloric and contemporary, global and personal, Sosa’s music is unlike anything else you’ll hear. Take a chance. 

The quartet includes Marque Gilmore on drum-and-bass, Childo Tomas on electric bass, and Peter Apfelbaum on saxophone. Sosa's latest CD is a solo piano album, Calma; we’ll probably hear some of that as well. His piano chops have been compared to those of Chick Corea and Chucho Valdes.

Wednesday and Thursday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall. $30/$20.

One more thing:

Over at the Penumbra, Dennis Spears is starring in I Wish You Love, a new play by Dominic Taylor about Nat “King” Cole. After its world premiere performances here, it moves to the Kennedy Center. I bought tickets earlier this week and had a hard time finding a night when I could get two tickets together. Here’s Rohan Preston’s story from the Strib.

Wednesday–Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) through May 22, Penumbra Theatre. $38.

Check the live jazz calendar at the right or here for many more events.

John Pizzarelli photo by John Whiting. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Icons Among Us complete set now affordable

Back in February, I griped about the fact that the full-length, four-part version of Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense was prohibitively expensive. At $495, it was priced for the educational market, which was once a major cash cow, like the Pentagon.

A shorter (90 min.), less expensive ($18.99) feature-length version has been available since 2009, but I've been dying to see the whole thing, which has aired on cable channels in some markets. So I'm pleased to report that the complete documentary series, plus extras, is now available for $49.95. For a limited time, whatever that means.

The four parts together run 220 min. Two hours of extras include performances by the Donald Harrison Jr. Quartet, Bill Frisell Trio, Matthew Shipp, Danilo Perez, Dafnis Prieto Sextet, The Bad Plus, Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band, Jacob Fred, Jazz Odyssey, e.s.t, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and Bugge Weseltoft, along with profiles of jazz advocates including Jazzreach, Earshot Jazz, and the Jazz Foundation of America. The set also includes a study and discussion guide on CD-ROM.

Go here to learn more about the series, view some videos, download a sample of the study guide, and press the BUY NOW button, if you're so inclined.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A history of jazz in the Twin Cities

This arrived in my mailbox on Saturday, and I can't wait to read it.

Author Jay Goetting is a journalist and bass player who lived and worked in the Twin Cities; he now splits his time between Phoenix and San Francisco. The foreword was written by Leigh Kamman, who spent 60 years in broadcasting, many as host of MPR's The Jazz Image. The Minnesota Historical Society Press is the publisher.

Goetting will be in town the first weekend in May. On Saturday, May 7, the Artists' Quarter will host a book signing. Kamman will also be there, along with members of the MnHS Press. The signing starts at 8, after which the Atlantis Quartet takes the stage.

Related: Joined at the Hip at the MnHS website.

News about e.s.t.

Last Friday at the Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis, I picked up a copy of Magnus Ostrom's new CD, Thread of Life. Am looking forward very much to listening.

From B.H. Hopper Management in London:

On Saturday April 23 the tremendously popular cultural program “ARTE Metropolis” (France and Germany) will show a special report about Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund featuring their new bands and album projects. It can be accessed online via the arte TV website for seven days following the broadcast.

Magnus Öström has just recently released his debut album as a leader “Thread of Life”, which has been praised by the critics and entered the pop album charts in Germany and Sweden in March. Magnus will tour with his new band featuring Andreas Hourdakis (g), Gustav Karlöf (p) and Thobias Gabrielsson (b) throughout the rest of the year.

Dan Berglund´s TONBRUKET will release their second album on May 25 called “Dig it to the End” on ACT. TONBRUKET have extensively toured Europe in 2010 and will hit the USA and Canada for the first time in June this year. Further European touring will continue in autumn of this year. The new album consists of original material only and all members of the band, Johan Lindström (g), Martin Hederos (p) and Andreas Werliin (dr) have contributed.

2011 Monterey Jazz Festival lineup announced

It’s going to be a good one. The longest-running jazz festival in the world (think about that), Monterey is making sure that its 54th year is musical, memorable, and diverse, with something for everyone. 

Which includes non-jazz performers like Huey Lewis and The News (!) and India.Arie. To get this topic out of the way, Monterey has long (always?) included blues and some pop on its schedule. But unlike other big-name, so-called jazz festivals, it’s still mainly, mostly, predominantly, and proudly jazz. A point worth raising amid all the screaming about, for example, this year’s Montreux schedule, where the headliners include Liza Minnelli, Ricky Martin, Sting, Seal, Paul Simon, Deep Purple, and a whole lot of blues. It’s going to be hard to find what some people would call “real” jazz in Montreux.

Not Monterey. It’s delicious with jazz. Overflowing with jazz. Which will pose the usual hellfire torment for attendees: What will I see, what will I have to miss?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The NOWnet ends with a bang and a waltz

When: Friday, April 15, 2011 • Where: Loring TheaterWho: Jeremy Walker, piano; Chris Thompson, saxophones; Jeff Brueske, bass; JT Bates, drums; special guests Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson, saxophones, and Marcus Printup, trumpet

Except for the snow falling outdoors, it was a perfect night for fans and friends of the NOWnet, the Twin Cities-based jazz ensemble that played its final concert last night before officially disbanding. Founder Jeremy Walker has moved to New York; the NOWnet’s parent organization, the nonprofit Jazz is NOW!, has been turned over to pianist/composer Bryan Nichols, and things will change.

For the NOWnet’s last hurrah, Walker gathered friends from here and NYC (“everyone is a local jazz musician,” he insisted at one point, “and everyone is a national jazz musician”) for two sets of music, mostly his original compositions. “We’re going to play nice and comfortable tonight,” Walker said at the start, and they did, with plenty of fireworks in the solos. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

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

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 the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web

All weekend: The String Theory Music Festival

Orange Mighty Trio
The more free jazz/improvised music I hear, the more new music/contemporary classical music I like. They seem to occupy the same geographical area in my brain. The Southern Theater has been programming much of the exciting new music in the Twin Cities (thanks, Kate Nordstrum), and that continues this weekend with the sprawling String Theory Music Festival, with many events scheduled in several venues around the Twin Cities. The best place to learn more about the who/what/where/when is on the Southern’s website.

Of particular note, since this is a jazz blog: The Orange Mighty Trio will perform at the Artists’ Quarter tonight, followed by Felix. Orange Mighty is Zach Kline on violin, Mike Vasich on piano, and Nick Gaudette on bass, playing “maverick chamber music” heavy on improvisation, influenced by classical minimalism, American roots, and jazz. Felix is Michelle Kinney on cello, Eric Mayson on piano, Gary Waryan on tablas, and Chris Thomson on woodwinds and electronics. Go early and hear the Tanner Taylor Trio starting at 9.

Friday, 10:30 (Orange Mighty Trio) and 12 midnight (Felix), Artists’ Quarter ($5)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jazz is NOW, then and now: Talking with Jeremy Walker and Bryan Nichols

Founded in 2003 by Jeremy Walker, launched with a performance by Wynton Marsalis and his quintet at the Brilliant Corners jazz club in St. Paul, Jazz is NOW! has been a sort of cousin to Jazz at Lincoln Center and SF Jazz: a presenting organization, a composers’ forum, an affiliation of improvising musicians. 

Jazz is NOW! supported a flexible jazz ensemble called the NOWnet, one of the few groups in the country dedicated to composing and performing new music. It had a board and a website (where you could listen to music, view videos and photos, read a blog, download scores, and check the calendar for upcoming performances), and it brought in guest artists including Wessell Anderson, Ted Nash, David Berkman, and Matt Wilson.

Jazz is NOW! and the NOWnet have been good things. I always thought the NOWnet should be the house band at the Walker Art Center, playing jazz for gallery openings and special events, fronting other bands that appeared in its annual performing arts series.

The NOWnet most recently performed in 2009. It has been on hiatus since Jeremy Walker moved to New York City in 2010. On Friday, fans and friends can see the group one final time, at the Loring Theater, in a performance aptly titled “The NOWnet’s Last Dance.” 

Guest artists Marcus Printup (of Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson (the Wynton Marsalis Quintet) will join Jeremy Walker on piano, Chris Thomson on tenor sax, Jeff Brueske on bass, and JT Bates on drums for an evening of original music. Sometime during the evening, Walker will name pianost/composer Bryan Nichols the new Artistic Director of the organization.

We had a virtual sit-down via email.

CD Review: Prudence Johnson's "A Girl Named Vincent"

Why don’t more musicians look to poetry for song lyrics? Prudence Johnson’s latest CD, A Girl Named Vincent, in which every song is a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, suggests that more lyricists should shelve their rhyming dictionaries and head for their local library’s poetry section.

A Girl Named Vincent is a work of transcendent beauty and unexpected breadth. We’ve all heard pretentious and deadly art-song arrangements of poems; this is as far away from that as you can get. A Girl Named Vincent is a rare pairing of wonderful words with tuneful, totally listenable music. It's full of feeling and meaning, and often fun. These are songs you can (and will want to) hear again and again, hum along with, tap your foot to. It’s easy to imagine some of them entering the jazz canon: “The Penitent,” “Ashes of Life,” and “I Shall Forget You Presently” (which could have been written by Mose Allison).

Though all the poems are by Millay, the music is by four different composers: Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Michelle Kinney, and Gary Rue. Each composer is also a musician, and all play on the album: Caviani on piano, Griffith and Rue on guitar, Kinney on cello. The songs range from blues to ballads, jazz to folk. “She Is Overheard Singing” is a sea chantey; “Recuerdo” dances in church; “Exiled” hails from south of the border.

The common threads are the instrumentation (piano, guitar, bass, cello, drums, percussion, the occasional saxophone) and Johnson’s voice, itself a finely tuned instrument. Often described as a “silky alto,” it’s clear, resonant, and expressive, with precise diction (perfect for poetry) and a lush, warm vibrato she occasionally flattens for effect. Occasionally, she’s joined by Diana Grasselli and Gary Rue for added layers and harmonies.

Guided by the lyrics, which everyone seems to have known and understood because the music pairs so well with them, A Girl Named Vincent covers an expanse of emotional ground. “Afternoon on a Hill,” the opening track, is a celebration of simply being alive. “The Penitent” is an unrepentant meditation on having sinned (“If I can’t be sorry, I might as well be glad”). (The flattened vibrato works brilliantly here, as does Dave Karr’s sassy tenor sax.) “Exiled,” “The Philosopher,” and “Travel” are full of longing—for the sea, for a lover, for anyplace but here (“There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take/No matter where it’s going”).

“She Is Overheard Singing,” the sea chantey, is a sly commentary on the fact that women find bad men attractive. “Sorrow,” which moves at a measured, funereal pace, becomes almost unbearably sad with the entry of Kinney’s cello. “Recuerdo” shares the carefree, in-the-moment bliss of “Afternoon on a Hill,” but the waltz is rooted in gospel made golden by Kathy Jensen’s saxophone. “Ashes of Life” is ineffably weary (“Life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse”), “I Shall Forget You Presently” (one of Millay’s many sonnets) cheeky and bittersweet.

Throughout, there's variety in both the words and the music. And there are hold-your-breath moments: the gorgeous opening phrases of "Afternoon on a Hill;" the defiant, jarring harmonies at the end of "The Penitent;" the last long fading note of "Travel," like a train whistle in the night; the repeating tomorrows of "Ashes of Life."

Johnson saves the thorniest poem for the end, the brooding, ultimately redemptive “Journey.” It’s also the most emotionally challenging song. It’s hard to imagine anything coming after it, making it the likely closer for live performances of this exceptional song cycle.

Intelligently conceived, impeccably crafted, A Girl Named Vincent is a stellar recording. It sounds like a project everyone embraced from the start, and one to which they all gave their best. Each song is a story, its own little world. No two are alike, and none is expendable. Somehow the music sounds both classic and brand-new—in other words, timeless. It's everything we hope for when we slide a new CD into the player. 

Upcoming live performances of A Girl Named Vincent
With Prudence Johnson, voice and ukelele; Laura Caviani, piano and voice; Joan Griffith, acoustic and electric bass, guitar and mandolin; Michelle Kinney, cello and voice; Joe Savage, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, and voice; Marc Anderson, percussion
• March 25, 7 pm, Anoka-Ramsey Community College Theatre
• May 6, 7:30 pm, Northern Lakes Arts Assoc. Presents in Ely, MN
• May 7, 8 pm, Weber Hall, UMD campus, Duluth, MN
• May 8, 2 pm, Reif Performing Arts Center, Grand Rapids, MN
• May 21, 7:30 pm, Arrowhead Center for the Arts, Grand Marais, MN
• May 26, two shows: 7 and 9 pm, the Dakota, Minneapolis
• June 18, 8 pm, St. Mane Theatre, Lanesboro, MN
• June 24, 7:30 pm, Palace Theatre, Luverne, MN
• June 25, 7:30 pm, Paramount Theatre, St Cloud MN

• Read about Edna St. Vincent Millay on the Poetry Foundation website.
• Find several of her poems here.

Thanks to Dave Graf for many of the fine points.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Concert review: Greta Oglesby at the Capri

When: Saturday, April 9, 2011 • Where: Capri Theater Who: Greta Oglesby, voice; Sanford Moore, piano

Greta Oglesby is both actor and singer, which is the only conceivable reason her first solo show here as a singer was so long in coming. Oglesby has lived in the Twin Cities since 2000 but never headlined as a vocalist until this weekend. She’s been acting in theaters around the country, and locally at the Penumbra and the Guthrie. Next week, she opens in a comedy at the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. She doesn’t even have a manager for the singing part of her career.

After last night, that will probably change. At a sold-out show at the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis, she won us over instantly and brought us to our feet more than once. She also made me teary, and I’m guessing I wasn’t alone. Previously I’d heard her only on a YouTube video, and I wasn’t prepared for the force of her voice and her personality, her warmth, and her charisma. When she opens her mouth and starts to sing, Oglesby is irresistible.

For her Capri show, she sang traditional and modern gospel songs, Gershwin and Lerner & Loewe. She did a bit of acting, coming out in character and costume for “Bad Luck” from Dinah Was, inhabiting the role of Caroline for her knockout finish, “Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change. She’s very expressive when she sings, using her hands and face and body to communicate the message of the song.

She also did a bit of preaching. The daughter of a minister, married to a minister, Oglesby was up front about her faith. “As Christians, we sometimes get angry with God,” she said, introducing “He’s Been Faithful.” Before “I Could Have Danced All Night,” she told us about the first time she went dancing with the man she would one day marry. He led; having grown up in a home where dancing was a sin, she followed. “Submitting—I know, that word from the Bible—isn’t so bad when you have a man who knows how to lead,” she told the crowd.

She dedicated “Holy Ground” to the Capri, which is owned by Plymouth Christian Youth Center, where she teaches theater to high school students. “This is a sacred space,” she said. “It’s the engine that is driving the renovation of West Broadway.”

Every song was personalized with a story: about when she first heard it, what it meant to her, how she felt about it. Her stories never seemed like shtick or filler; they drew us in and made her performance more intimate. She told us about her childhood, her college years, seeing Lena Horne perform, having dinner with Puff Daddy (“the nicest guy”) in New York. She confessed that she didn’t like her future husband at first because he didn’t meet all of the requirements on her list.

During “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Pastor Dennis Oglesby stepped out from the wings and danced her around the stage. At one point, she threw the crowd a “see-what-I-mean?” look over her shoulder. It was priceless. He returned to join her in singing “Bess, You Is My Woman” from Porgy and Bess, and the pairing of their voices (his a deep, rich baritone) earned a standing ovation. His appearance wasn’t announced in the press release or the program, and it came as a delightful surprise.

The program was divided into two parts (Act 1: Gospel, Act 2: Broadway), letting Oglesby demonstrate her range, from soulful reverence to spiritual joy, down-and-dirty blues to musicals both glittering (My Fair Lady) and profound (Caroline, or Change). For “The Girl in 14G,” a song originally written for Kristin Chenoweth, she showed off a convincing operatic soprano and a jazz singer’s chops. Her voice is full and luscious in the lower registers, a bit thinner but still beautiful as she soars up and up—and up; a few songs ended on very high notes. Her vibrato is like shirred velvet.

Just before singing “Lot’s Wife,” she told us that her feet were hurting. After “Lot’s Wife”—a wringing, emotional performance, after which most singers would have had nothing left—she reprised part of the gospel song “He’s Been Faithful,” and it was clearly her way of saying thanks: “When my strength was all gone/When my heart had no song/Still in love He’s proved faithful to me.”

Heads up: Oglesby will perform a solo jazz concert this August, as part of the Cleveland Neighborhood Association’s free outdoor series, “Live on the Drive.”

Set list:

Act 1: Gospel
“Oh Jerusalem” (traditional; arranged by Sanford Moore)
“He’s Been Faithful” (Carol Cymbala)
“Holy Ground” (Geron Davis)
“Prodigal Son” (Anonymous)
“Wade in the Water” (Anonymous)
“Deep River” (Anonymous)
“My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” (arranged by Moses Hogan)
“Glorious” (Martha Munizzi(

Act 2: Broadway
“Bad Luck” (from Dinah Was; Hill/Washington)
“The Girl in 14G” (Scanlon/Tesori)
“I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady; Lerner/Loewe)
“Bess, You Is My Woman” (Porgy and Bess; Gershwin)
“Lot’s Wife” (Caroline, or Change; Kushner/Tetsori)

Related: Read my pre-concert review with Oglesby here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

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

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 the week's jazz picks and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web

It's a big weekend for piano.

Friday and Saturday: Michel Legrand Trio at the Dakota

The legendary French composer/ pianist/ singer/ arranger/ conductor/ producer is 79, and he's never performed in the Twin Cities. Long story short: 200+ film and TV scores, over 100 albums, 3 Oscars (out of 13 nominations), 5 Grammys, and a passion for jazz that began when he attended a concert by Dizzy Gillespie. A few of his famously heart-tugging compositions: "The Summer of '42" theme. "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" "Windmills of Your Mind." "If It Takes Forever, I Will Wait for You" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. 

Here's Legrand playing a jazz version of "I Will Wait for You." 

He's bringing John Pattitucci on bass (someone we haven't seen for a while--welcome back!) and Willie T. Jones on drums. If you can scrape up the ducats, don't miss this.

Here's Jon Bream's article in the Strib.

Friday and Saturday, 7 and 9 p.m., Dakota ($55/$40)

Friday and Saturday: David Hazeltine at the Artists' Quarter

What Ira Gitler says: "Even in the crowded, competitive New York scene, it is obvious to me that the hip-without-fanfare Hazeltine is a standout." Known as a "musician's musician," Hazeltine has recorded more than two dozen CDs, and his reach is broad, from bebop to pop tunes. There's lots to hear and enjoy on his website, and I encourage you to spend some time there. (Click on "Recordings" at the left, then on any of the album titles at the right, then wonder where the day went.) 

This could easily turn out to be one of those Perfect Jazz Nights: cozy basement club; Davis Wilson at the door; generous drinks; attentive crowd; smart, swinging, impeccable playing.

Friday and Saturday, 9 p.m., Artists' Quarter ($15).

Saturday and Sunday: Greta Oglesby at the Capri

Not jazz, but who's quibbling? Winner of the Ivey Award for her tour-de-force turn in Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change at the Guthrie, actor/singer Greta Oglesby sings a program of gospel songs and Broadway tunes (including "Lot's Wife" from Caroline) in two exceedingly rare solo shows at the Capri. With Sanford Moore on piano.

Here's Oglesby singing "Bad Luck"--a taste of her magnificent voice. Here's my interview with her, and here's Bream's story.

Heads up: Oglesby will give a live outdoor jazz concert in the Twin Cities in August, as part of the "Live on the Drive" series. Mark your calendar: August 11, 6 p.m.

Saturday, 7 p.m., and Sunday, 3:00 p.m., Capri Theater ($25)

Sunday: Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota

Have we died and gone to piano heaven? Brad Mehldau was here most recently in November of last year, when he performed the world premiere of his work for jazz trio and chamber orchestra, Highway Rider, at the Walker with the SPCO. He's back for one night only with his brilliant, mind-reading trio: Larry Grenadier on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums. 

Mehldau's latest release, Live in Marciac, is a solo concert recording from the 2006 Marciac Jazz Festival. (The recording comes with a DVD; visit Mehldau's home page for a video with keyboard closeups.) We might hear a selection or two from that, or music from any of the dozens of CDs he has made as as a leader, co-leader, sideman or guest. Whatever they play will be beautiful, dense, and intense. 

Sunday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Dakota ($40/$30)  

Check the live jazz calendar at the right or here for many more events.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The music returns to Maude in May

It's just one night a week, a Wednesday, but it's the good stuff: musicians we went to see at Cafe Maude when the southwest Minneapolis neighborhood bistro featured live (mostly) jazz every Friday and Saturday.

Back in January, when owner Kevin Sheehy pulled the plug (bookings through February were honored, but the music officially ended in March), he said he'd bring the music back if and when he could. That it only took two months is kind of a miracle, and greatly to his credit.

All of the dates (including one in June) are now on the live jazz calendar at the right and here.

Note: The Music Calendar below says "music from 9 pm - midnight." That's the old time. The online calendar says 7 pm - 10 pm. That's correct.

Friday, April 1, 2011

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

Are you in your car or near a radio at 8:30 CST on Friday mornings? Tune to KBEM to hear me and station manager Michele Jansen talk about these events and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities, streaming live on the Web.

Saturday: JoAnn Funk CD Release at the Lobby Bar. Pianist/singer/arranger JoAnn Funk's new CD (her third) is called Pick Yourself Up, and I like it a lot. Here's a reviewJoAnn and bassist Jeff Brueske perform every weekend at the classy Lobby Bar in the Saint Paul Hotel; for the CD release on Saturday, they'll be joined by drummer Nathan Norman. 
7 p.m., Lobby Bar at the Saint Paul Hotel (no cover).

Saturday: George Cartwright's Merciless Ghost at the Black Dog. Saxophonist/composer George Cartwright is an improvising monster in our midst. He spent several years in NYC, playing with his band Curlew at the Knitting Factory. He moved to Minneapolis for love in 1999 (his wife's family lives here) and formed a band called GloryLand PonyCat with Adam Linz and Alden Ikeda. Merciless Ghost is his brand-new band, with Josh Granowski on bass and Davu Seru on drums and percussion. Get a sneak preview here. (Check out the "Art of This Madame" tracks, recorded during a Tuesday Series performance at Madame of the Arts.) I once asked George to define improvisation, and he replied, "I would say it was somebody who was trying to make the very best music they can at that moment." You can read an interview with George here. All three members of Merciless Ghost are powerful players. I would describe their music as fresh, immediate, deeply engaging, and also (if this makes sense--it does to me) open-hearted and generous. 
8 p.m., Black Dog (no cover, but respect the tip jar).

Friday and Saturday: The Dave King Trucking Company at the Artists' Quarter. Nationally and internationally, Dave King is best known as the drummer for The Bad Plus. But here in the Twin Cities, where he lives, he's kind of the Johnny Appleseed of bands. A short list of Dave King joints, present and past, includes Happy Apple; Halloween, Alaska; The Gang Font; Buffalo Collision; Golden Valley Is Now; 12 Rods; F*K*G; and Siamese Fighting Fish. One of his latest ventures, the Trucking Co. features Eric Fratzke on guitar, Adam Linz on bass, and Brandon Wozniak on saxophones. Expect surrealistic stories, dry jokes, and big, beautiful music. 
9 p.m., Artists' Quarter ($12).

Sunday: French 75 with Maud Hixson at the Artists' Quarter. Jazz in the afternoon? Sounds like a plan, especially on a school night. The cool and lovely Maud Hixson and French 75 (named for a cocktail popular during WWI) will perform a program titled "Beyond the Sea: Jazz from the Continent," featuring jazz standards that came to the States from Europe (and some from here). With Tony Balluff on clarinet, Gus Sandberg on saxophone, Robert Bell on guitar, Steve Pikal on bass, and Nathan Norman on drums. Continental jazz extraordinaire, sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society.
4 p.m., Artists' Quarter ($15). 

Monday and Tuesday: Joe Lovano and Us Five at the Dakota. No matter where you are on the jazz fan spectrum, from rabid to mildly curious or willing-to-be-dragged-to-a-show, don't miss Grammy-winning saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano, (If you can afford the ticket price. I understand the pain of coughing up $40 or more for a seat at the Dakota. Tip: The later shows are almost always more affordable.) Lovano is one of the great jazz artists of our time, a master on the tenor sax who has played with other luminaries including Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, and many more. Bird Songs, his latest CD (and his 22nd for Blue Note), explores the music of Charlie Parker. Lovano will be here with his ensemble Us Five. Esperanza Spalding (named Best New Artist at this year's Grammys) is their usual bass player; she's in France on tour, so we'll hear Tetar Slavoe on bass, along with James Weidman on piano, Otis Brown III on drums, and Francesco Mela on drums. You read that right--two drummers.
7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Dakota ($40/$25).

Monday: Lori Dokken's Singer Showcase at Camp Bar. Remember Monday and Tuesday nights at the old Times Bar & Cafe, when area singers took the stage? Piano bar entertainer/cabaret singer Lori Dokken is bringing that feeling and spirit back to Camp Bar with her Singer Showcase, This week's co-host is Aaron Keith Stewart. Guests include Doug Anderson, Christina With, and Wendy Zaro-Mullins, who recently released a CD with Laura Caviani.  
7:30 p.m., Camp Bar ($5).

Check the live jazz calendar at the right or here for many more events.