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Scientific research and anecdotal evidence have made it clear that music can be a healing force. That intersection music and science is a two-way street. Look no further than Tampa-based jazz pianist John C. O’Leary III, who has composed music that is inspired by science. In this case, it reflects aspects of his research as neuroscientist.

John O'Leary
This Mexican-born performer has had a hybrid educational life. He attended the University of South Florida where he studied tuba, jazz piano and biochemistry. He graduated with a B.A. in jazz piano performance, a minor in tuba performance, and an honors thesis in biochemistry. He then earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience. For his doctoral dissertation, he researched a group of proteins termed “chaperones” and their effects on the development of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, and stress-related psychiatric diseases. 

Ultimately, his love of jazz piano shifted his career track to music full time. He’s the pianist in the fine Tampa Bay Area-based trio La Lucha, which includes bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman. But O’Leary’s interest in neuroscience inspired his 2018 solo recording project, CRISPR, which bridges his twin interests.

The repeating melody that runs through the title track, with slight variations, acknowledges the impact of CRISPR, an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”  These DNA base pairs are found many forms of bacteria. CRISPR technology is used to destroy viruses and otherwise improve health through gene editing. O’Leary said he considers it the most significant scientific development in this new century.

Another composition, “Polymorphism,” is built around the idea that a shift of just one note can make a dramatic change the feeling of a piece of music, just as a change in one protein in the body can have major consequences on one’s health. His blues, “Gamma Frequency,” reflects the research that exposure to gamma rays can impact goal-oriented behavior.

The afternoon’s tour-de-force was his composition “Edna Welsch.” The instrumental was commissioned by a grandchild to remember and capture the inner beauty of a woman who died from Alzheimer’s  It began as light and upbeat, then grew progressively darker and brooding, before resolving with an ending segment that, while a bit different from the opening, had a sense of peace and beauty.

“The opening melody expresses her young, vibrant life,” O’Leary said, “then it becomes more angular and depressing, and in its final stage, she has moved on to the next life.” A listener could also interpret the ending as resolving with the memories that friends and relatives retain of her vibrant years.

O’Leary shared his science-and-music perspective on June 15, at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Medical Grand Rounds lecture series. Several times a year, the medical forum focuses on different aspects of the links between music and medicine.

The prior evening, La Lucha performed at JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, performing originals and jazz standards flavored with the band’s adventurous touches. One gem, “Cheek to Cheek,” opened with the standard melody before O’Leary inserted Latin clave and blues interludes.
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This singers unlimited edition takes a look at new CDs by Tony Adamo, Laurie Antonioli, Nancy Kelly, the Tierney Sutton Band and Judy Wexler .…

Tony Adamo, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad (Ropeadope)

No single adjective quite sums up the essence of Tony Adamo, though he tries with his own “hipspokenword” descriptive. He’s a beat poet. hipster and a bit of a musicologist rolled into one. He sounds like he was born a few decades too late to savor the vintage bopping atmosphere he sings and talks about with authority in much of his material. Adamo digs the 1950s and ‘60s – capturing the mood of the times, and other things, on his latest recording, Was Out Jazz Zone Mad. Along the way, he improvises about the likes of saxophonist Joe Henderson, bluesman B.B. King, trumpeter Eddie Gale and singer Leon Thomas, as well of the times that resulted in the “Birth of the Cool.” On “Too Funky to Flush,” he also revels in the atmosphere – and food – of New Orleans. This jazz and funk odyssey finds him in fine musical company, including drummers Mike Clark and Lenny White, B-3 player Mike LeDonne, Tower of Power keyboard player Roger Smith, percussionist Bill Summers, pianist Michael Wolff, guitarist Jack Wilkins, saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Tim Ouimette, among others, on various tracks. Ya dig?

Laurie Antonioli, The Constant Passage of Time(Origin)

Singer Laurie Antonioli has a gem here, one that reveals the many facets of her musical talent. She’s got perfect pitch, the ability to immerse herself into the band she works with (a musician whose instrument is her voice), and she’s a superb lyricist. This long-time educator chairs the vocal program at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. Antonioli and her band-mates put fresh spins on a wide variety of source material including Sheryl Crow’s “Riverwide,” Neil Young’s more intense “”Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” and several Joni Mitchell pieces: “Love” and a medley of two other Mitchell tunes, “Harry’s House” and “The Arrangement.”
Favorite tracks: the Crow and Young tunes, and several collaborations for which Antonioli wrote beautiful lyrics. They include “Layla” (a piece by guitarist Nguyen Le originally titled “Bee”), “Highway” and “Moonbirds,” both of which she co-wrote with German saxophonist Johannes Enders, and Paul Nagle’s “And So It Is” (originally titled ”As Is”). Antonioni’s band includes reed player Sheldon Brown, guitarist Dave MacNab, pianist Matt Clark, bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Jason Lewis. All contribute much to the project, with MacNab soaring on his axe.

Nancy Kelly, Remembering Mark Murphy (SubCat)

The late Mark Murphy was a jazz singer like no other – his delivery digging deep, soaring and swooping as he found his own rhythmic and melodic essences in a song. He also was a fine lyricist when so inspired. Nancy Kelly selected 10 tracks from Murphy’s extensive repertoire to celebrate his legacy. She puts her own breezy stamp on that material with a talented band that included pianist and producer John DiMartino, alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, guitarists Paul Bollenback, Steve Brown and Paul Meyers, bassists Ed Howard and Peter Mack, and drummer Carmen Intorre Jr. Randy Brecker joined the band for three tracks on which he also played trumpet on Murphy’s recordings: Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” (with lyrics by Murphy), “Vera Cruz” and “Body and Soul.” Favorite gems include two tracks for which Murphy penned lyrics: “”Song for the Geese” and Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments. This beauty stands out for its homage to Murphy, and for Kelly’s beautiful updates with her talented band.

Tierney Sutton Band, ScreenPlay (BFM Jazz)

Singer Tierney Sutton is no stranger to the intersection of music and film. She recorded one song on the soundtrack for 2003’s The Cooler, and she and her excellent band wrote and recorded the soundtrack for 2016’s Clint Eastwood-directed film Sully. That movies-and-music affinity has come to full blossom on the Tierney Sutton Band’s latest recording, ScreenPlay. Digging through 80 years of American cinema, Sutton & Co. put their own artful stamp on 15 movie songs. All five members of the band – Sutton, pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker – contributed carefully crafted arrangements that revealed new and interesting facets in this material.

Five tunes, including the opener, Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” feature lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Alan Bergman joined Sutton for a vocal duet on his classic “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” Guitarist Serge Merlaud also joined on that one, as well as “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio and “It Might Be You” from Tootsie. “Windmills” is propelled by Brinker’s exotic, windmill-like brush pattern. Other favorite tracks include their update to Paul Simon’s “The Sounds of Silence” from The Graduate and a clever Latin 5/4 burner on “You’re the One That I Want,” one of two featured tracks from Grease. The most innovative are the band’s beautiful mash-up of “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and “Calling You” from Baghdad Café, and Axt and Henry’s two-bass romp through “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz. Sutton is an exquisite top-tier vocalist who immerses herself in the band atmosphere. Because of it, there’s so much to like here.

Judy Wexler, Crowded Heart (Jewel City Jazz)

The finest songs in the Great American Songbook and vintage jazz canon contain carefully crafted lyrics speaking to the human experience with wit and/or wisdom. Singer Judy Wexler used her latest project, Crowded Heart, to share newer material of that same high standard. Its 10 songs were developed by modern-day jazz singers and instrumentalists. There’s quite a stylistic range here, blended into a cohesive song palette by Wexler, pianist and co-producer Alan Pasqua, and their fine Southern California  band. It includes reed players Josh Johnson and Bob Sheppard, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, drummer Steve Hass, percussionist Aaron Serafty and cellist Stefanie Fife.

Danish singer Sinne Eeg wrote the title track with lyrics by Mads Mathias. Those bittersweet lyrics refer to the end of an affair with a married man. Other standout tracks: Luciana Souza’s stunning samba “Circus Life” about life in today’s fast lane; Gregory Porter’s “Painted on Canvas; Richard Galliano and Kurt Elling’s “Parisian Heartbreak” featuring Pasqua on melodica; Rene Marie’s sultry “Take My Breath Away”; the Fred Hersch-Norma Winstone collaboration “Stars”; and Pasqua’s “And We Will Fly,” with lyrics by Elling and Phillip Gladston. The latter is a beautiful showcase for Koonse’s guitar artistry. Wexler and Pasqua have done today’s jazz listeners a great service by artfully opening doors to material with which you may not have been familiar – or haven’t spent enough time savoring.
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While it is eight weeks away, the 2019 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival feels like it is right around the corner. Time flies, no matter which time signature you're using.

This August will bring my 39th annual trip to Newport, attending all but one of the Jazz Festivals since George Wein brought the storied event back to Newport in 1981, as well as many of its companion Newport Folk Festivals.

Three afternoons and one evening of music by more than 50 bands from August 2-4, cover mainstream, Latin, modern jazz and the avant garde. Only fans of Dixieland and other early jazz styles have nothing to sate their classic jazz appetites on this year's announced program. How times have changed since the very first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 when Eddie Condon's Dixieland band kicked off the event with "Muskrat Ramble."
Herbie Hancock

This year's headliners include Herbie Hancock, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, the Bad Plus, Common, and singers Dianne Reeves and Cecile McLorin Salvant.

With so much to choose from on four stages, here's what I most look forward to hearing:
  • Hancock, who as Artist-in-Residence will be featured in different contexts throughout the weekend. On Saturday, for example, he performs in a trio with bassist/festival artistic director Christian McBride and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
Friday
  • British singer Corinne Bailey Rae, who will perform Friday afternoon at Fort Adams State Park and also be part of Jon Batiste's Friday night concert at historic Newport Casino, the original Newport Jazz Festival setting and longtime home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
    Ravi Coltrane
  • Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz's band with tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and trumpeter Charles Tolliver.
  • Singer-pianist Kandace Springs
  • The afternoon will also feature a wide range of big bands: The Sun Ra Arkestra, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

Saturday 
  • Bassist Ron Carter's trio with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega.
    Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony.
  • New York's Royal Bopsters vocal group featuring special guest Sheila Jordan.
  • Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and pianist David Virelles.
  • Drummer Ralph Peterson's Messenger Legacy band, carrying on the great sound of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
  • Pianist Brandon Goldberg's trio.
Helen Sung
Sunday
  • Christian Sands' three-piano tribute to Erroll Garner featuring fellow pianists Helen Sung and Tarataka Unno.
  • Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto's Big Band.
  • Pianists Aaron Diehl, Eric Lewis (ELEW) and PJ Morton.
  • A duo performance by pianist Helen Sung and baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian. 
Jon Batiste
Ron Carter
There always will be pleasant surprises: great talents, emerging or otherwise, with whom I haven't crossed paths before. 

That's one of the joys of Newport. The other joy: there is always something for everyone, whether you sample tidbits at each stage - or camp in one spot for an artist you dig a lot.
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Drummer Paul Gavin digs hard bop, a hard-driving jazz subgenre that embraced strong elements of funk, soul and the blues when it emerged in the 1950s. And he plays it with great joy and enthusiasm.
Paul Gavin

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers band was one of hard bop's primary incubators. His unit also played a peerless role in developing scores and scores of fine bandleaders over the years. (You can find more detail on that legacy in this earlier posting.)

Gavin's newest band project, Mosaic, made its debut performance on Saturday, May 18, at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin. The band is named after one of Blakey's finest albums, a 1961 Blue Note project for which pianist Cedar Walton composed the title track.

This night's music was drawn entirely from the Jazz Messengers repertoire, which made sense for two reasons - Blakey's influence on jazz, and the fact that this is the centennial of his birth year. The Pittsburgh native was born on October 11, 1919. He died in 1990.
Bruce, Suggs, Gillespie

Tampa-based Gavin's sextet included pianist John O'Leary III, bassist Michael Ross, trumpeter James Suggs, tenor saxophonist Valerie Gillespie and trombonist Herb Bruce. They locked into the hard-bop groove and celebrated its vibrant legacy all night long in both ensemble sections and soloing.
Gavin, O'Leary

The repertoire was varied, drawing mostly from Jazz Messenger members Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Benny Golson, as well as Curtis Fuller, Bobby Timmons and Blakey himself.

Mosaic performed Morgan's "Calling Miss Khadija" and "Kozo's Waltz," Hubbard's "Crisis" and "Down Under," Golson's "Along Came Betty," Fuller's exotic-tinged "Arabia," and Walton's "Mosaic" and "Ugetsu."

There were two other fine spotlight moments:
Gavin, Ross
  • Mosaic's opening set concluded with Gavin's arrangement of Timmons' composition "Moanin'," which became the Jazz Messengers signature tune. After a horn-section intro, it became a very fine showcase for Ross. To Gavin's mind: "the Jazz Messengers never featured the bass player enough."
  • Gavin
  • The leader opened the second set with a stunning solo drum composition, reprising "The Freedom Rider," which Blakey wrote in tribute to the riders who helped end segregation on public buses - and ultimately, all forms of transportation.
The power and majesty of the trumpet was always a key element in the Jazz Messengers (whose horn-playing alumni included Hubbard, Morgan, Donald Byrd, Chuck Mangione, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis, among others). On this night, Suggs wore the mantle to great effect. His solos were on fire all night long. Gillespie and Bruce also had fine moments. Bruce, who works mostly in the classic jazz, Dixieland and swing genres, took on the hard-bop challenge and stretched his wings. He was showcased on "Along Came Betty."

Gavin, 27, is a 2015 graduate of the University of South Florida's jazz program. He works full-time as a performer and music educator.

Blakey's legacy was the inspiration for this band, but Gavin said he also plans to dig into other aspects of the hard-bop legacy as Mosaic develops. His said its next focus will be on the soulful sound of two Tampa natives who made a huge mark in jazz, brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley.
Bruce, Suggs, Gillespie, Gavin, Ross, O'Leary
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Hot House magazine has published my profile of drummer Antonio Sánchez in its May issue in conjunction with his week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard. He's scheduled to appear at the club May 7-12.

Antonio Sánchez

He's a fascinating musician, drawing attention from his long working relationship with guitarist Pat Metheny and his award-winning solo drums soundtrack to the movie Birdman.


Antonio had much to say about his musical journey, as well as theimmigration issues that are in the headlines every day. Those issues are key ingredients in the music he makes with his band Migration.

You can read about it here

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Taking a look at new CDs by Charlie Dennard, Five Play, Brandon Goldberg, Tom Harrell, Señor Groove, James Suggs and Dave Zinno …

Charlie Dennard, Deep Blue (Deneaux)
New Orleans-based Charlie Dennard knows quite a bit about travel. He has performed as a musical director for Cirque du Soleil shows that have brought him to more than a dozen countries over 15 years – and the keyboard ace is still at it. Deep Blue bubbles with a zest for travel, with musical imagery of strutting through New Orleans’ Garden District in weekend finery, coursing through a Middle Eastern desert or the urge to explore someplace still on one’s bucket list. The all-originals project features Dennard’s trio with bassist Max Moran and drummer Doug Belote on three tracks. Guitarist Brian Seeger co-wrote two tracks and is one of 11 collaborators who expand the band to a quartet, quintet or octet on the other compositions. The opener by the trio, “St. Charles Strut,” sets the travel tone with its sprightly second-line beat. It also makes it clear that Dennard learned much from mentor Ellis Marsalis about never overplaying. Dennard’s fourth CD is a gem from start to finish. [See my full review here.]

Five Play, Live From the Firehouse Stage (5Play) 
One of the fine offshoots of drummer Sherrie Maricle’s all-woman big band DIVA is the smaller ensembles drawn from its orchestra members. Such is the case with Five Play, a swinging, bopping quintet whose members have been working together for more than a decade. They include Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno, bassist Noriko Ueda, trumpeter Jami Dauber and saxophonist Janelle Reichman. This live session last October caught them in top form at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City, NY. There are three covers: Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face” and Jimmy McHugh’s “I Can’t Give You Everything But Love.” The rest are very, very fine originals. Favorite track: Five Play’s world-premiere performance of Ueda’s elegant gem “Uneven Pieces.”

Brandon Goldberg, Let’s Play! (independent)
Pianist Brandon Goldberg’s debut recording is quite something: a blend of his own distinct arrangements of six standards plus three original compositions. He understands the basics and nuances of making jazz – and swings like mad in the great company of his trio mates, bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Donald Edwards. Tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland joins them on two tunes, the Monkish original “You Mean Me” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” 

Goldberg's twisting and turning reinterpretation of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles hit “Blackbird” adds interesting new facets to its charming melody. He also put his own spin on the beautiful ballad “Angel Eyes.” Day by day, Goldberg finds ways to breathe new life into classic jazz material, including two Ellington hits, “Caravan” and “In a Sentimental Mood.” The latter is a solo piano treat. The South Florida resident was a month shy of his 12th birthday when this New York session was recorded in January 2018, and he turned 13 two months before it release this year. His age and his musical maturity are poles apart – and the jazz world is taking note in a big way. (His trio is on the bill for the Newport Jazz Festival this August).

Tom Harrell, Infinity (HighNote)
Trumpeter Tom Harrell has many decades under his belt as a superior trumpet player and peerless composer. His latest recording, Infinity, enhances his reputation as one of the finest melody makers on the jazz scene. This new quintet session teams him with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Ben Street and drummer Johnathan Blake. It’s a first-time combination of these players. Percussionist Adam Cruz joins them on one track. Favorite tracks: “Hope” and “The Isle.” Both tracks are among several that take inspiration from and give a melodic nod to Harrell’s partly-Irish ancestry.

Señor Groove, Little Havana (Zoho)
This project features the Miami-based Latin jazz band Señor Groove, previously known as the Mr. Groove Band, whose principal members are brothers Roddy and Tim Smith, on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Marcelo Perez. The robust band also includes pianist Martin Bejerano and percussionist Murph Aucamp. They are joined on various tracks by special guests Ed Calle on tenor sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet and John Daversa on EWI. There’s also a robust string section on the lone cover here: a beautiful take on the traditional Cuban lullaby Drume Negrita, with vocals by Argentine singer Roxana Amed.

Tim Gordon’s flute work, riding over multiple layers of percussion, sets the tone on the exotic title track. Lynch and Calle team up with energetic horn work on “Linville Falls,” originally written as a bluegrass tune. But its full-bore Latin jazz treatment is something to behold. Andre Bernier adds more flavor on organ, supplementing Bejerano’s piano contributions. There is much to enjoy in this seven-track  tribute to the musical side of Miami’s Cuban neighborhood.

James Suggs, You’re Gonna Hear From Me (Arbors)
Thirty-something trumpeter James Suggs spent some time with ghost big bands, then on the cruise ship circuit and eight musically productive years in Argentina before settling in Florida’s Tampa Bay area five years ago. He’s developed into a first-call trumpeter with a glistening, creative sound, one whose debut recording as a leader was long overdue. You’re Gonna Hear From Me finds him in the splendid company of tenor saxophonist (and session producer) Houston Person, pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. 

The session includes a blend of Great American Songbook material, a few long-neglected jazz chestnuts, and three Suggs originals, plus one contribution from Person. Favorite tracks: their wistful take on the ballad “Laura,” the wistful “The Night We Called It a Day,” and Suggs’ original, “My Baby Kinda Sweet,” the latter fueled by Nash’s New Orleans second-line shuffle beat. Also not to be missed: the bluesy Duke Ellington piece “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” and the closer, Suggs’ poignant solo trumpet version of the Andre Previn-penned title track.

Dave Zinno Unisphere, Stories Told (Whaling City Sound)
Bassist Dave Zinno’s second recording with his Unisphere band digs into the Brazilian side of jazz and adds that flavor and energy to other material as well. The band, co-founded with tenor saxophonist Mike Tucker, includes trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom, pianist Tim Ray and Rio-born drummer Rafael Barata. All nine tracks here are superb, including Ray’s clever rearrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s classic ballad “Michelle.” Favorite tracks: Unisphere’s performance on Tucker’s original “Requiem,” written in memory of his father; and the opener, their take on J.T. Meirelles’ samba jazz classic “Neurótico.” Interestingly, Barata played on J.T.’s 2005 recording of the tune on his final album, Esquema Novo.

 
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Pianist Marcus Roberts made clear his musical agenda right up front. "We believe that a jazz trio should not put you to sleep." And they certainly didn't at a Friday, April 19 concert at in downtown Fort Myers, FL. The event wrapped the 2018-19 jazz concert season at the Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center.
Marcus Roberts

Roberts made sure his longtime trio mates, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis (the youngest brother in the musical clan from New Orleans), also got plentiful spotlights throughout the evening. Each player's ideas and instincts helped move the music's exploratory direction.

The first set was quite varied as they explored three Roberts original and four other gems from the jazz canon.The originals were "Cole After Midnight," his tip of the hat to Nat King Cole and Cole Porter; the hard-swinger "Perfect Timing"; and "Harvest Time" from his 1996 trio recording Time and Circumstance.

Roberts, Jordan
Rodney Jordan
Roberts and Jordan teamed up for a bass-and-piano duet on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Jordan was in the spotlight later in the set with a beautiful exploration of "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." 

Marsalis got a center-stage solo spotlight, playing just his snare drum, on an original piece called "The One Drum Band." At one point, he had seven different rhythms going. After a trio romp through Thelonious Monk's "Blues Five Spot," Roberts treated the audience to a delicate solo piano version of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

Jason Marsalis
The second set was very different - and something quite daring for a jazz trio to pull off. Roberts & Co. performed each tune, in order, from John Coltrane's 1964 Impulse! recording Crescent. This meditative Coltrane suite consisted of the title track, "Wise One," "Bessie's Blues," "Lonnie's Lament" and "The Drum Thing," the latter another fine showcase for Marsalis. The band topped off the evening with an earlier Coltrane piece, the blues "Traneing In," from his 1958 studio album with the Red Garland Trio.

The evening was a lesson in how to draw in an audience with deeply varied individual and group dynamics: the music could shift from bold to the softest, lightest touch in a heartbeat, showcasing the material and the talents of its makers.
Marsalis, Jordan, Roberts
The Marcus Roberts Trio at SBDAC


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Tampa-based Marty Morell is best known for his seven-year tenure as pianist Bill Evans' longest-serving drummer, from 1968 to 1975. He was in the house last season as the drummer in saxophonist Jeff Rupert's ensemble featuring singer Veronica Swift, but the Charlotte County Jazz Society's 2018-19 season finale on Monday, April 8 was the first local opportunity to hear him on vibes - and with a decidedly Latin flair.
Marty Morell

Morell came to Port Charlotte with the M&M Latin Jazz Ensemble, a septet that he co-leads with his wife, Michiko, a talented Japanese-born percussionist who also sings. On this night, she didn't sing nearly enough.

The percussion-rich ensemble also featured Rupert on tenor sax and flute, Richard Drexler on piano, Cuban-born Mauricio Rodriguez on bass, Omar Perdomo on congas and Dimas Sanchez on drums, the latter pair originally from Puerto Rico. Michiko played bongos and a gourd-like güiro, a Latin percussion staple that has exterior notches that when rubbed by a stick creates a ratchet sound.
Richard Drexler

Omar Perdomo, Mauricio Rodriguez
The band for the most part presented the cooler side of Latin jazz, with Morell's resonating and shimmering vibes riding over a poly-rhythmic cushion on tunes mostly from the Great American Songbook - or the mainstream jazz canon. They included "Night and Day," John Lewis's "Django" (from the Modern Jazz Quartet repertoire), "Midnight Sun," Mal Waldron's ballad "Soul Eyes" and Victor Young's "Delilah" from the movie score to "Samson and Delilah."

Highlights included:
  • Morell's take on a Bill Evans arrangement of "Goodbye," a poignant Gordon Jenkins tune that became Benny Goodman's closing theme for his big band broadcasts.
  • The band heating up on "The Day After Yesterday," one of two Morell originals shared this night with Rupert shifting to flute.
  • The band's Latin take on Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Rupert turned in a superb tenor sax solo here as the band transformed this classic into something exotic.
  • Jeff Rupert, Michiko Morell
  • Michiko's passionate vocals and güiro playing on the lone Latin tune in the program, the Cuban band Orquesta Aragon's classic "Son al Son." This gem also featured Rupert on flute. 
Vocals were featured only "Son al Son," which would have been far more effective had it been performed in the first set rather than after the intermission. The enthusiastic crowd response it drew also showed that there should have been more vocal numbers.

The ensemble only performed five tunes in each of the lengthy sets. As superb as the playing was, the extended solos given to each player in every arrangement slowed the evening considerably.

The concert drew a crowd of more than 300 to the Cultural Center of Charlotte County's William H. Wakeman III Theater.
Drexler, Rupert, Perdomo, Rodriguez, Michiko, Marty Morell, Sanchez
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Billy Marcus
Pianist Billy Marcus headlined the South County Jazz Club's 2018-19 season-closing concert on Wednesday, April 4 in Venice FL. Marcus is blessed with savvy musicality and pyrotechnic piano chops - and his trio mates helped make the evening even more special. 

Mark Neuenschwander
Bassist Mark Neuenschwander is a longtime jazz educator who teaches in the Tampa Bay area and is a first-tier player. Marcus simply calls him this blue-ribbon bassist "the Rock of Gibraltar." Dave Morgan is a triple threat. Besides tasty work at the drum kit, he was also featured on vibes and vocals.

The Great American Songbook, songs from a range of movies and jazz chestnuts were the raw material for their inventive explorations. Vintage material included Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Marcus's romp through the latter burner was one of the evening's showcase moments at the Venice Art Center.

Another was his tour-de-force medley blending gems written by Michel Legrand, who died this year. They included "I Will Wait For You" and "The Theme From Summer of '42." Marcus also paid tribute to composer Andre Previn, who died in February, with "You're Gonna Hear From Me" from the soundtrack for the movie "Inside Daisy Clover."

Dave Morgan
In every instance, the trio found creative ways to put a personal stamp on the music. For example, they performed "A Beautiful Friendship" as a bossa nova. It featured Morgan on drums and vocals. An interesting footnote: this gem was written by Donald Kahn and Stanley Styne, the sons of songwriting giants Gus Kahn and Jule Styne.

Other material included Johnny Mandel's "Emily," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste" and Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation" (all featuring Morgan on vibes), "Let's Fall in Love," "I'm Old Fashioned," "My Foolish Heart," "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "Corner Pocket." The latter was an ideal closer, for the band had this audience in its pocket all night long. 
Billy Marcus, Dick Hyman

Pianist Dick Hyman, who moved from New York to Venice many years ago, was in the house. Marcus was quick to quip: "If I had known Dick Hyman was going to be here tonight, I might have taken a couple of tranquilizers." If he felt any stress, he never showed it.


Marcus, Morgan, Neuenschwander
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April is Jazz Appreciation Month.


To me, that also means that this is also Jazz Fan Appreciation Month, because the listeners are a key ingredient at every performance - inspiring players to reach for something extra.



Throughout April, I‘m offering a $10 discount on purchases of "Jazz in the Key of Light.” Many of the images are from jazz events in Boston and Newport. Many were taken during my long tenure at UPI, where I was jazz columnist for nearly 20 years.


This is limited-edition hardcover photography book retails at $59.95. During April, it’s yours for $49.95 plus $4 shipping to points in the U.S. Shipping to points outside the US will require a separate surcharge.


Each book ordered will be signed - and inscribed to whomever you wish upon request.



This discounted offer only is available right here through my blog, not through Amazon. Click on the “Buy Me Now” button beneath the book cover for a direct, instant order.

And since it is Jazz Appreciation Month, be sure to give some of your favorite recordings some fresh listens - and get out to support live music as your schedules permit.
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