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, formally 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.