Friday, December 25, 2009

The Lead Sheet -- Twin Cities Jazz, December 25-31

© Andrea Canter

From one holiday to another, this is a week of festive music, seasonal or otherwise. Even Christmas Day is filled with some great jazz.

Today (12/25), from 4 pm til the wee hours, you can “weather the storm” with nonstop headliners at the Dakota. Start at 4 with the best happy hour around—Peter Schimke and Irv Williams, reprising the music that made their Duo recording such a hit. Next, the Bad Plus open their 3-day residency with two hot sets, while another internationally acclaimed trio, Fat Kid Wednesdays, caps off the evening (and early morning) from 11:30 pm. If that doesn’t melt the snow, nothing will. You can also catch the Bad Plus Saturday or Sunday (12/26-27). The very hot Atlantis Quartet, still steaming from their recent CD release, take the Late Night stage on 12/26.

Saturday night across the river brings the annual holiday gig with Bill Carrothers at the Artists Quarter. He’s joined by frequent local cohorts Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst, and we can always count on an evening of unbridled invention, humor, and surprise from one of his generation’s most potent improvisers and composers.

Young artists are at the forefront this week, some just in the area visiting family as well as others who are emerging as leaders on the local jazz scene. Sunday night (10/27), a triple bill at Rogue Buddha Gallery in NE Minneapolis highlights a number of these talents, starting at 4 pm with a set from the Joe Strachan Trio (with Cory Grinberg and Cam LeCrone). Joe, the 2009 winner of the Schubert Club/Dakota Foundation Jazz Piano Competition, is studying at the Lawrence University Conservatory, while Cory is pursuing bass studies at Northwestern and Cam is finishing high school and handling the drumkit for the Dakota Combo. Joe and Cory will join up with three other young up-and-comers as the Metropolitan Port Authority (Jake Baldwin, Remy Tahgavi and Isaac Zuckerman) for the third set at the Buddha, while a veteran trio headed by Adam Linz will hold down the middle set.

Newly launched young professionals are featured as the Young Lions Showcase at the Dakota Monday night (12/28): Pianist Paris Strother (now in LA), twin sister vocalist Amber (also in LA); trumpeter John Raymond (now at SUNY Purchase in New York); bassist Chris Smith (finishing his degree at the New School in NYC); drummer Brandon Commodore (touring with Mint Condition and Sounds of Blackness); and sister vocalist Ashley (finishing at DePaul University and appearing with Sounds of Blackness). Anyone wondering about the impact of jazz education will find plenty of evidence with this performance!

New professionals and young veterans abound at the Clown Lounge, now booking modern and experimental music Monday and Tuesday nights. On 12/29, Poutums (Chris Thomson, Adam Linz and Alden Ikeda) share the bill with young trumpeter Adam Meckler and his quintet.

The Big Gigs on Wednesday (12/30) include the always-popular New Standards at the Dakota and the teacher/former student duo of Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh at the AQ—a seldom-heard pairing of vibes and piano that promises to be one of the season’s highlights.

As usual, there are fine voices to be heard throughout the region this week: Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (12/26); Charmin Michelle with Rick Carlson at the West End Crave for brunch, and in the evening with the Jerry O’Hagen Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom (12/27); Connie Evingson’s Holiday Songbook at the Jungle Theater (12/27); Charmin Michelle with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (12/28 & 12/30); Rachel Holder at Hell’s Kitchen (12/29-30); Debbie Duncan with Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar (12/29); Christine Rosholt at Honey (12/30); Nancy Harms and the Hot Swing Trio at Erte (12/30). And chamber jazz is alive and well, with Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske offering jazzy duos in the St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar (Fridays and Saturdays as well as New Year’s Eve); the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel Friday and Saturday nights; the Zacc Harris Trio in the Riverview Wine Bar every Sunday night.

There’s too much going on New Year’s Eve to list here (see Jazz Police, Twin Cities page for a full accounting), so I’ll mention only two: For a big splurge and perhaps the classiest party, the Dakota Jazz Club offers three waves of music and three levels of tickets – solo piano from Paris Strother at 5:30 pm, a dinner show with the Steeles at 8 pm, and a cocktail show with Irvin Mayfield’s Quintet (part of NPR’s Toast of the Nation) at 10:30 pm (you can get dinner, cocktail or both show tickets). Across the river is my favorite NY Eve jazz party, more down-home, casual, and less likely to seriously add to your holiday debt-- the annual Artists Quarter party with Carole Martin and the Irv Williams Quartet, complete with light buffet, noisemakers, hats, and some blues at midnight. Both of these events require advance reservations.

Coming soon? Billy Franze Quartet at the AQ (1/2); Christine Rosholt , Leslie Ball and Dave Singley celebrating birthdays at the Dakota (1/5); Milo Fine CD release at Art of This Gallery (1/5); Triplicate in a rare performance at Hell’s Kitchen (1/7); Nellie McKay at the Dakota (1/6-7); Dakota’s Django Fest (local hot clubs on 1/17; Dorado Schmitt 1/18-19; Mark O’Connor 1/20); Jon Weber at the AQ (1/22); Roy Hargrove at the Dakota (1/24-25); X-Tet with Kelly Rossum at the AQ (1/28-29); Kelly Rossum Quartet, Dakota Late Night (1/30); Ahmad Jamal at the Dakota (2/21-23). Also look forward to hearing Christine Rosholt, Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson on a regular basis at the new Honey (old Jitters location) in 2010.
Photos: (Top to bottom), The Bad Plus; Bill Carrothers; Dave Hagedorn; Carole Martin. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jazzy Jane

©Andrea Canter

The already too-small jazz audience lost one of its most faithful with the death Friday of Jane Donahue, long-time board member of the Twin Cities Jazz Society and one of the most eclectic in her personal support of the music. At 77, Jane was of a generation that often serves as the guardians of swing and trad, yet Jane was as likely to appear at a Dixieland show as a Michael Lewis gig. Her criteria seemed only to be, like Duke Ellington’s – good music.

To me Jane was the face of TCJS, the first person I met who was active in the organization. And soon I realized she was everywhere – hear a blue note or a spontaneous improvisation, Jane was near by. For years, it was Jane’s phone number that served as the TCJS hotline. If you wanted to promote your gig, you called or emailed Jane (address—

I served the past two years on the TCJS Board with Jane. She helped shape our direction quietly, kindly, but often with a razor-sharp comment that literally cut through the extraneous notes to the core melody. She was the most open-eared of TCJS, far more so than me.

At the TCJS 30th Anniversary party last winter at the Dakota, Jane was cited by TCJS President Lee Engele for her three decades of service—essentially the full history of the organization. She didn’t want the spotlight that night, didn’t want to come on stage. So now we will turn the spotlight on Jane in her memory, some time in the next month, with a grand jazzy send-off.

We know she’s still listening.

Photo: TCJS photographer Don Jackson caught Jane in 1999, receiving an award for then-20 years of service to the organization.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Lead Sheet--Twin Cities Jazz, December 18-24

© Andrea Canter

The Lead Sheet will be more cryptic over the next month or so—as I am keyboarding pretty much one-handed these days. (Who says these are the “golden years?” Our joints wear out and need fixing and replacing....) For a calendar of area jazz events, see Pamela’s blog (

One-handed or not, I plan to enjoy some holiday cheer delivered by Connie Evingson this weekend (12/18-19) at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, are really nice moderately sized theater with good acoustics and sightlines, a great environment for songbird Connie and a band of jazz elves—Tanner Taylor, Terry Burns, Phil Hey, and Dave Karr. Tunes from her popular The Secret of Christmas will be part of her repertoire. The holidays have a different flavor at the Dakota Friday and Saturday nights with Nachito Herrera’s Cuban Christmas show. Try a little Rhumba with your eggnog? And on Saturday (12/19), stick around for some modern excitement from the Bryan Nichols Trio as part of the Dakota’s Late Night series.

The weekend gig at the Artists Quarter (12/18-19) will offer very different fare as the Atlantis Quartet releases their second CD, Animal Progress. Four of the area’s most creative (and busy!) musicians—Brandon Wozniak, Zacc Harris, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig—composed the dozen tracks on the recording, reflecting a wide range of influences that keep the attentive listener engaged throughout. Also with a CD release—the Jack Brass Band, our only true New Orleans brass ensemble locally, marks their 10th anniversary with their fourth CD release, Fourth Movement, taking place Friday night (12/18) at The Cabooze. Want one more? Paul Renz and his quintet officially release In My Hands, my favorite in a growing list of recordings from the Twin Cities’ guitar master, hot off a tour stretching from Midwest to east coast. They celebrate Sunday night (12/20) at Brit’s Pub.

Another celebration of a different sort, again at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, is the 60th Anniversary tribute to Birdland, perhaps the most famous jazz club in the world. On Sunday afternoon (12/20), the Twin Cities Jazz Society sponsors a Birdland Birthday bash with vocalists Debbie Duncan, Lee Engele, and ex-Twin Citian Bruce Henry. Songs will cover the heyday of “the jazz corner of the world.” Another tribute this week is trumpeter Steve Kenny’s salute to talented and tortured Chet Baker, at the Artists Quarter Wednesday (12/23).

Iff you need yet another dose of holiday cheer, there’s the annual Peterson Family “Home for the Holidays” celebration at the Dakota, Sunday and Monday nights (12/21-21); and George Maurer’s Big Band Holiday, at the Dakota on Wednesday night (12/23).

Check out the smaller venues this week – JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St. Paul Hotel (12/18-19); the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel (12/18-19), Lee Engele at the Hat Trick Lounge (12/18); Sophia Shorai at Honey (12/18); Eric Gravatt at Café Maude (12/19); the Twin Cities Hot Club at Honey (12/19); Charmin Michelle at Crave in St. Louis Park (12/20) and as usual, at Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg (12/21 & 23); the Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (12/20); the John Raymond Project with an early start (7:30 pm) at the Clown Lounge (12/22); Nancy Harms with the Hot Swing Trio at Erte (12/23); the Wolverines Trio with Rachel Holder at Hell’s Kitchen (12/23).

Coming Soon! Very Soon!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day find many venues closed, but not the Dakota. Start your evening early with happy hour’s finest duo of Peter Schimke and Irv Williams; reserve for prime time with one of the hottest jazz trios on the planet, The Bad Plus; and cap Christmas Night with the late show featuring the internationally acclaimed Fat Kid Wednesdays. That might be one of the most volcanic triple headers of the year. The Bad Plus hang out through Sunday night. Although closed Christmas Day, the Artists Quarter comes to life quickly, with the return of Bill Carrothers on Saturday night (12/26). Watch the following week for Connie Evingson’s Holiday Songbook at the Jungle Theater (12/27), the Young Lions Showcase with Paris and Amber Strother, Chris Smith, John Raymond and Brandon Commodore at the Dakota (12/28), and Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh’s duo delight at the AQ (12/30).

Photos: (Top to bottom) Connie Evingson; John Raymond; Paul Renz (photos by Andrea Canter)

The Atlantis Quartet Strikes Again (None Too Soon!)

© Andrea Canter

Only three years along in their collaboration, the Atlantis Quartet is growing its reputation as one of the most creative and daring bands in the Twin Cities. Four of the most innovative jazz artists in the area, the group includes saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Pete Hennig. After a promising debut recording, Again Too Soon (2007), the band tackled two classics of modern jazz in live performance, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Herbie Hancock’s The Head Hunters. Now the Atlantis Quartet again highlights its primary direction of original music with its second release, Animal Progress, Again, it’s another winner, and for fans of the quartet, it’s definitely not too soon!

The Atlantis Quartet’s first effort was recorded before bassist Chris Bates joined the group, and featured Brandon Wozniak on tenor rather than alto, so Animal Progress is a debut of sorts. A dozen new compositions (one from Bates and 3-4 from each of the other musicians) highlight the quartet’s eclectic roots in modern jazz, ranging from up-tempo swing to sparse ballads in odd meters. Notes Zacc Harris, “We learned a lot about what to do and what not to do on a record from the last effort, and we feel like this album is 72 minutes of really strong material [that] really begins to define the band’s unique sound, in all of its dimensions.”

Part of the delight of Animal Progress is the diversity of the compositions. Drummer Hennig’s work opens (“Verge”) and closes (“Bottles N Cans”) the set, and in between, we’re treated to “Red Headphones.” The opening theme has a Monk touch with its jerky, shifty rhythms. Chris Bates’s bass literally bounces across the sound page, followed in kind by Harris. Hennig’s framework becomes more and more up front, while the two strings intertwine in an engaging duet. Wozniak solos over this delightful mash, adding concentric layers of notes as Hennig stokes the furnace, finally taking over completely.

Brandon Wozniak proves his writing chops are every bit as stellar as his saxophone skills (which hint strongly of his studies with Chris Potter). His “Radio Games” has a classic bop feel with 21st century sonics. The composer is at the improvisational vortex, taking apart the wide expanse of the alto for exploration, while Bates has a doubletime good time soloing. Wozniak’s “Ballad for Ray” (Ray Charles?) has a gospel flavor, like a country hymn. The bass and guitar combine again for an almost accordion like sound, while the alto sax winds its way around a melodic, solemn core.

Zacc Harris offers the aptly titled “Eastern Horizons,” with a Middle Eastern vibe suggesting belly dancers and aromatic spices. Hennig’s percussion gives it a lot of oomph (or maybe its “oompah?”), a bit of East Meets the Tropics. Harris’s guitar effects suggest a sagging accordion, and his solo continues the eerie sound and whirling motion. Another standout composition, Harris’s “Meltdown” starts with the restrained fury of a locomotive, largely fueled by the strings, particularly the composer’s single-line ramble. Wozniak grabs the tension and runs with it, while Hennig and Bates ensure an anxious pulse.

Chris Bates wrote “Ripples,” centered around a bass vamp and whiney horn motif that sets up the tune to work a few notes from all angles. The harmonizing among sax and guitar produces an electric vibe—ripples of sound. Harris takes over with serpentine phrases over Bates’s counterpoint, while Hennig maintains continuous crackling, popping support that occasionally erupts into pounding pepper spray. Bates own solo is a workout of few notes, many ideas.

This is a band of bold artists, not afraid to tackle such iconic music as Love Supreme or Head Hunters, yet equally fearless in delivering their own compositions without compromise. Maybe that is the meaning of “Animal Progress?”

CDs will be available at the release party at the Artists Quarter, December 18-19,, or check the band’s website at

Photos: CD image and Andrea’s photo of the quartet at the AQ

Seven Kings of Brass: CC Septet Releases New CD

© Andrea Canter

A few months ago they released She’s Big in Egypt, a collection of diverse original compositions highlighting the elegance and versatility of brass. Now the CC Septet takes on the holidays, and particularly some of the season’s most beloved songs and carols, rearranged as should-be jazz classics. The Septet celebrates We Three Kings and a Horn Section on a double bill with vocalist Jennifer Grimm at the Dakota Jazz Club on December 15th.

The CC Septet includes musicians connected one way or another to Century College in White Bear Lake: Tim Lackas, piano; Greg Stinson, bass; Brett Smith, drums; Ralph Brindle, trombone; Paul Peterson, tenor sax; Larry Neumann, alto sax; and Scott Snyder, trumpet. And while White Bear Lake might be an unlikely wellspring of jazz chops, the CC Septet has repeatedly defied expectations, largely due to a spirit of team creativity that is fundamental to the septet’s sound and longevity. Unlike their first two albums, We Three Kings is entirely familiar material, arranged by band members as uptempo swing, jazzy ballads, and funky grooves.

“Rudolph” (arranged by Tim Lackas) initially sounds a mournful blues via Scott Snyder’s trumpet and morphs into a swinging sleigh ride with a zany undercarriage of racing bass and saxophones. The red-nosed Rudolph might well have trouble keeping up with these reindeer games! As they so often do, the septet sounds like a big band on fire. Switching gears dramatically, Greg Stinson’s arrangement of the traditional “Sussex Carol” highlights beautiful harmonies with celestial touches from Lackas’s piano.

Lackas’s arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” gives “drummer boy” Brett Smith plenty of room to show off his talents with plenty of support from soprano sax (either Neumann or Peterson), while Lackas’s bluesy arrangement of “Mr. Grinch” puts the trombone in the spotlight, courtesy of Ralph Brindle’s tipsy, spoiled-sport whines and growls. His closing muted statement is both hilarious and utterly dark. “Coventry Carol” as arranged by Stinson is a clever, effective paradox of funk meets hymn, brightened by sax solos interspersed among the solemn melody lines and elegant harmonies. Another Stinson arrangement, “Silver Bells” opens with Lackas swinging at the keyboard, while Scott Snyder sneaks in a few licks straight out of Preservation Hall.

Paul Peterson handles the arranging on “We Three Kings,” drum and bass introducing the tune with funk and soul, heightened by Lackas switching to organ. The next two tracks seem reversed relative to their usual moods, with Lackas’s “Silent Night” presented as a joyous bop buoyed by Snyder on flugelhorn, while Paul Peterson gives the normally upbeat “Santa Claus is Coming” a contemplative overcast. The final two tracks showcase the jubilant majesty of brass, “Joy to the World” (Stinson) and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Peterson).

You can spend an evening with these Merry Gentlemen at the Dakota on December 15th, 7 pm. In addition to the CD release, they will share the stage with Jennifer Grimm, bringing her sultry alto to music from her holiday release, Christmas With Family and Friends. Enjoy this double dose of holiday spirit!

If you are interested in purchasing We Three Kings and Horn Section (CDs make great gifts!), email the band at Or better, go to the CD releaese party and get it first hand!

Images: Cover art for the CC Septet's new release; a photo composite from their last gig at the Dakota (composite by Andrea Canter)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Lead Sheet--Twin Cities Jazz, December 11-17

© Andrea Canter

Holiday music is never in short supply, and this weekend’s highlights will be both seasonal and magical. Sisters in Song—aka Lila Ammons, Dorothy Doring and Vicky Mountain—return to the Dakota County Steakhouse stage with a swinging bunch of holiday tunes as well as some favorites from their tribute to Ella, Carmen and Sarah, on Saturday (12/12). Each singer is a star in her own right, but they also shine as a threesome. Tough choices must be made on Sunday (12/13) as two highly regarded events will be underway at the same time: In Minneapolis, the Dakota hosts a reprise of “A Copasetic Christmas Carol,” a “hip” take on Dickens featuring vocalist Charmin Michelle, multi-reedman Doug Haining, and the swinging Twin Cities Seven, along with master narrator Craig Eichorn. Haining’s original music and Michelle’s lyrics first came together a few years ago at the Dakota, and since have been on stage at the Capri Theater. Now the show returns to the Dakota, 7 pm.

Across the river at the Artists Quarter, Laura Caviani celebrates the holidays and music from her popular Angels We Haven’t Heard, in the fine company of vocalist Lucia Newell, saxophonist Pete Whitman, bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Phil Hey. And hipness abounds at the AQ, with Hip Santa Davis Wilson. The fun begins at 7:30 pm. If you are really undecided, you can probably catch a set of each show, start at the Dakota and then drive down I-94 and catch the late set at the AQ.

There’s more to the weekend than holiday gigs: The African Jazz Trio (Loba Akou, Serge Akou and Stokely Williams) debuts at the Artists Quarter (12/11-12); Mary Louise Knutson provides a keyboard serenade in the Galleria –stick around for Lucia Newell with Laura Caviani at Crave (12/11); Karen Quiroz and Mariameu add some Brazilian heat at Café Maude (12/11); the Dakota Late Night features young up and coming trumpeter Adam Meckler and his Quintet (12/12).

Some exciting modern jazz takes place on Mondays and now Tuesdays at the Clown Lounge in St. Paul. Things start late (10 pm) but... that’s improvisors’ prime time! On Monday (12/14), it’s Happy Apple with Adam Linz and JT Bates doing deejay duties; on Tuesday (12/15), it’s Dave King, Adam Linz, and Scott Fultz, followed by the Zacc Harris Quartet with Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates, and JT Bates. (Try to find such talent back to back at a Manhattan club!) For bop and post bop fare, the AQ this week features Dave Karr (12/16) and Phil Hey (12/17). Warming up for Phil with a 7 pm set are young lions “530” – Chris Misa, Cory Grindberg and Rob Fletcher, three Twin Citians now enrolled in music programs in Chicago. They were part of The Alternates last year, a quintet of high schoolers who had a handful of gigs at the AQ.

Fine voices ring out all over the metro this coming week, with Charmin Michelle at Crave in St. Louis Park (Sunday brunch) and Fireside Pizza (Monday) on either side of her Copasetic gig; Nancy Harms with the Hot Swing Trio at Erte, while Maud Hixson meets up with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen, Debbie Duncan swings at the Dakota, and Mary Ann Sullivan joins Reynold Philipsek and Doug Haining at Fireside Pizza—all on Wednesday night (12/16).

Coming soon: Listen for the Atlantis Quartet’s much anticipated CD release at the AQ next weekend (12/18-19), Connie Evingson’s Secret of Christmas (12.18-19) and an all-star tribute in honor of the 60th anniversary of Birdland featuring Bruce Henry, Debbie Duncan and Lee Engele (12/20), both shows at the Bloomington Center for the Arts; and the annual Peterson Family holiday show at the Dakota (12/20-21). Steve Kenny puts on a tribute to Chet Baker at the AQ (12/23), the Bad Plus arrive for three nights at the Dakota (12/25-27), and Bill Carrothers returns to the AQ (12/26).

Photos: (Top to bottom) Charmin Michelle and Doug Haining will be very "copasetic"; young lions of "530" -- Chris Misa, Cory Grindberg and Rob Fletcher stretch their wings at the AQ. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Inspiration Is a Two-Way Street (Or Is It an Intersection?)

© Andrea Canter

It’s always exciting to see young talent blossom with each note. It seems to work that way every December (since 2006) when the high school musicians of the Dakota Combo rehearse and take the stage with a guest artist, performing in front of family, friends and perfect strangers at the Dakota Jazz Club. Maybe because this is the youngest band in the ensemble’s history (only 2 seniors, and including a 9th and 10th grader), maybe because it is the most gender-diverse of the four bands to date (three young women of the seven), maybe because the instrumentation is out of the ordinary (violin joining three horns and the rhythm section), maybe because it is Adam Linz’s first year directing the Combo....for whatever reason, there was just more voltage in the air this past weekend when the Combo rehearsed and performed with saxophonist Tia Fuller.

Fuller herself is a source of turbulent energy and enthusiasm, still young enough to feel a kinship with serious teen talents and eager for opportunities to promote “the gift” among talented youth. Although her ongoing gig with R&B star Beyonce created an incredibly tight schedule for the weekend in the Twin Cities, she arrived with sax in hand Saturday afternoon (having left the Dominican Republic at 3 am) and within minutes was on the Dakota stage, working with the septet on the tunes they would play together in just a few hours. She had sent ahead charts of one of her sister’s compositions (“Ebonics”), and now she was preparing to solo on pianist Quentin Tschofen’s original, “Neither Here Nor There.” It was more than a rehearsal, it was both a clinic and a collaboration. If anyone was nervous about the evening’s performance—the first major public appearance for the young Combo—it was hard to tell; big grins hide butterflies.

The evening proved magical, nearly every chair in the club filled (many with family, more with friends gathered through Face Book technology, many who were seeing their first jazz performance). Adam Linz watched from a booth but the Combo musicians were on their own, calling tunes, signaling a turnaround or final chorus. Zosha, the 14-year-old violinist, got through her first solo and grinned. Quentin, only a year older, went fully solo on his version of “Monk’s Dream” and brought down the house. Tia Fuller came on stage at the end of the first set for “Ebonics”, and the band surrounded her with competent, if wide-eyed, support.

Quentin’s composition, “Drunken Monkey Framing Company,” opened the second set. Some, like me, wondered if this was an obscure Monk tune. It fit well with the difficult, nonstandard repertoire Adam has introduced to the Combo this fall, the rhythms easily conjuring a tipsy monkey. And how does it feel to have one of the nation’s fast-rising jazz stars play your original composition (“Neither Here Nor There”) on a major club stage? My guess is that Quentin has already written another composition reflecting this moment. By the time the band played the last note of its finale, “Four,” the smiles were beyond the ears. Count Adam and Tia among the biggest grins.

The weekend wasn’t over. The following afternoon, Tia Fuller conducted a clinic and jam at MacPhail, supported by the Combo and involving another 8-10 local student musicians. There were lots of questions, lots of music, lots of smiles. Inspiration moves from student to expert... and back again. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Tia Fuller joined the Dakota Combo front line (Zosha Warpeha on violin, Ann Buchholz on soprano sax); Quentin Tschofen contributed two compositions to the set list at the Dakota Jazz Club; the Dakota Combo and Tia Fuller after rehearsal (all photos 12/5/09 by Andrea Canter)

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Lead Sheet -- Twin Cities Jazz, December 4-10

© Andrea Canter

The holiday season is in full swing... and there’s plenty to swing about in jazz city. Start the weekend with a good dose of Patty Peterson, at the Artists Quarter Friday night (12/4) with the Phil Aaron Trio. Patty usually brings on her own band so this is a bit unusual and promises to be a dynamite combination. Further east in Stillwater, swinging in a personally inventive direction, singer Nancy Harms will be entertaining all at Ruby Begonia’s in Stillwater on Friday night (12/4); she’s back at Erte in northeast Minneapolis on Wednesday, 12/9. Stay out late, and catch the Zacc Harris Quartet at the Dakota for the “Late Night” gig starting at 11:30 pm.

Saturday night offers the best of young talent at the Dakota with the annual appearance of the Dakota Combo. Guest artist this Saturday night (12/5) is saxophonist Tia Fuller. I first heard Tia when she brought her exemplary hard hitting quartet to the Dakota in July. Still qualifying as a “young” artist herself, Tia has garnered a lot of attention (and steady work!) in Grammy nominee Beyonce’s touring band, but her jazz and teaching chops are what brings her to the Dakota and to rehearsal and a clinic with the Combo. While Tia is a talent deserving wide recognition, the weekend is also all about nurturing younger talents—in this case, seven of the most exciting high schoolers you will hear. With only two seniors, this is the youngest band to be selected as the Dakota Combo, and the presence of three young women in what has been a very male dominated band is almost as exciting as the instrumentation – a “hornline” including 2 saxes, trombone and violin! Adam Linz, new coordinator for jazz at MacPhail, leads these lion cubs through modern and classic jazz repertoire and at least one original tune as the students work on improvisation and composition throughout the year. This is the first major public appearance of the new Dakota Combo, and their enthusiasm and skill will surprise and entertain. These are very serious musicians.

If avant garde is your taste, one of the best will be at Walker Saturday night (12/5) – cellist Erik Friedlander. Pitchfork summed it up: "Erik Friedlander can do things with a cello that should have a reasonable listener fearing for her life. Rostropovich one second and Rottweiler the next." This show (Block Ice and Propane) features “cinematic cello compositions” inspired by family road trips paired with images created by Erik’s father, celebrated photographer Lee Friedlander. Come back to the Dakota at 11:30 for a “Suicide Squeeze” with saxman Bruce Thornton and a rhythm section of Patrick Harrison, Chris Bates and Joey VanPhillips.

Sunday (12/6) brings an unusual fund raiser at the Black Dog in St. Paul: Records for Dean, supporting guitarist Dean Magraw’s battle with lymphoma. Dean gained friends and fans in France after touring their with Francois Corneloup, Dominuqe Pifarely, Chico Huff and JT Bates. Now his friend collected 600 recordings to be sold along with other record and CD donations at this one-day event from noon- 6 pm. It’s a unique chance to find some rare music as well as donate to a great cause. And you can still get back to Minneapolis and MacPhail in time for a free holiday concert from the great strideman Butch Thompson, with the Dakota Combo as the opening act at 6 pm. (Yes, it is free but tickets are limited so go to or call KBEM to reserve your seat!)

And of course the usual weekend line-up includes JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar (Friday/Saturday), the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis (Friday/Saturday), the Fantastic Merlins at Black Dog in St Paul (Friday), Irv Williams at Il Vesco Vino in St Paul (Saturday), and Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson at Crave in St. Louis Park (Sunday brunch). More standing gigs during the week include Charmin with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Monday and Wednesday), modern music at the Clown Lounge in St Paul on Monday (Fat Kid Wednesdays on 12/7). Monday also features a free concert from the U of M Jazz Ensemble I at Ted Mann. The Tuesday Night Band follows the Cory Wong Quartet every Tuesday at the AQ. At Hell’s Kitchen, Maud Hixson swings with the Wolverines on Wednesday (12/9), while Arne Fogel and his trio perform on Thursday (12/10). Holly Cole brings her holiday show to the Dakota 12/8-9, while the AQ has two of its best regular gigs, Tanner Taylor Trio on Wednesday, and How Birds Work on Thursday.

Looking ahead: You have two great holiday choices on Sunday, 12/13 with the Laura Caviani Holiday show at the AQ (featuring Lucia Newell and Hip Santa Davis Wilson) and a reprise of “A Copasetic Christmas Carol” with Charmin Michelle and Doug Haining at the Dakota. The Atlantis Quartet releases their new CD on 12/18-19 at the AQ, Bruce Henry joins Debbie Duncan and Lee Engele to salute the 60th anniversary of Birdland at the Bloomington Center for the Arts on 12/20, Connie Evingson has two holiday shows coming (12/18-19 at the Bloomington Center for the Arts and 12/27 at the Jungle Theater), The Peterson Family celebrates at the Dakota on 12/20-21, Billy Carrothers visits the AQ on 12/26, and the Bad Plus reign at the Dakota, 12/25-27.

Photos: (Top to bottom) The Dakota Combo with leader Adam Linz; Patty Peterson at the 2009 TC Jazz Festival; Combo guest artist Tia Fuller at her July gig (photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dial M for Music: Mallinger, Monheit and Mulligan (Stew)

© Andrea Canter

I did not set out to contrive a list of recent performers with names beginning with “M” but my highlights of the past week just seemed to work out that way. One stunning vocalist sandwiched between two great bands led by saxophonists made for a very appetizing array of mainstream, but far reaching, jazz artists.

Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter (11/25, 11/27)
I’ve enjoyed Pat’s holiday visits to the AQ over the past five years or so. While we surely have one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country, the Twin Cities also seems to be a fine spawning ground for musicians who ultimately settle elsewhere. St. Paul native Pat Mallinger has been chewing up clubs in Chicago since the late 1980s, most notably on a regular rotation at the Green Mill with his organ band Sabertooth. Fortunately he has a lot of family and friends here and tried to plan his holiday visit around an opening in the AQ schedule. We were treated to three doses of Pat last week on either side of Thanksgiving. With Chris Lomheim on piano (and showing off the Yamaha’s new hammers), Graydon Peterson on bass, and Kenny Horst on drums, the opening set Wednesday night offered strong statements as the quartet covered such tunes as “Devil May Care,” “Poor Butterfly,” “Dedicated to You,” and Dexter Gordon’s rousing “Fried Bananas.” It was a sparkling, high energy set.

But I returned Saturday night to what seemed like one of the most perfect straight-ahead evenings of recent months. “Autumn Serenade” had an undercurrent of samba, and Pat barely kissed the low notes. The somewhat noisy crowd fell into rapt attention on Pat’s original “Hills Over Tuscany,” a soothing ballad featuring crystalline soloing from Lomheim. For me, the first set highlight was a seldom heard Charlie Parker beauty, “The Gypsy,” Pat’s alto sweet and tart in a dizzying display of ascents and descents, as if holding a perfect egg while doing somersaults and managing to leave the shell intact. The late set included an incredibly quiet and spacious reading of “I Concentrate on You” with Pat on tenor; his lovely “Madeline’s Lullaby” on alto (written for his daughter); and my favorite of the weekend, Pat’s evocation of both John Coltrane and Charles Lloyd, “Tetemetearri.” With an ongoing pairing of 7 and 5-bar phrases carried throughout by piano and bass, Pat’s wooden flute (and later tenor sax) fluttered and sang, suggesting at times an African or Asian folk melody. Pat noted that this tune has been very popular in Australia. It should have a similar response in Minnesota.

Jane Monheit at the Dakota (12/1).
Each time I hear Jane Monheit, I wonder what heights she would reach if she ever decided to let her improvisational instincts rule a live performance. Surely she has one of the finest vocal instruments in any genre, and she has very slowly added a bit more personal expression to each recording and each local visit. Speculation, for me, ended with Jane’s final set Tuesday night. Now the voice belongs to a jazz singer joining the ranks of Tierney Sutton, Dee Bridgewater, Diane Reeves, and Roberta Gambarini—purveyors of both standards and popular songs who become another instrument of interpretation and invention. Even Jane felt compelled to explain herself after scatting the solo on a particularly endearing rendition of “Stardust,” noting that “I wasn’t going to scat til I could to it like Ella... but that’s not happening!” But now, following the birth of her first child and crossing into her 30s, Jane finds herself more “fearless.” No, she does not scat (or sing) like Ella. She scats like Jane Monheit, and that is a joyous thing. And if “Stardust” was a grand revelation, each of her other songs offered varying degrees of improvisation, scatted intros, shifting dynamics and rhythms, creative phrasing that made even her most familiar selections (“Taking a Chance on Love,” “Waters of March,” and of course, “Over the Rainbow”) sound as if we had never heard her sing them before. This was a more relaxed and confident Jane Monheit. Maybe one key is not only the general joys of motherhood, but the proximity of her young son Jack, traveling at least this week with Mom and Dad (drummer Rick Montalbano). And she apologized before leaving the stage, noting that she would not be hanging out to sign CDs or chat, because she had to return to the hotel for a date to read “Where the Wild Things Are.” And I bet she gave Sendak a new sound, too.

Mulligan Stew, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Jazz Club (12/2).
Maybe I should not include a private gig here, but then, where else? For those of us who are willing to be defined as “seniors” (and AARP grants us that status when we hit 50), the University of Minnesota offers “lifelong” learning opportunities in the form of classes and special interest groups through OLLI. Some years back, there was a jazz appreciation course that dissolved into a jazz club under the stalwart leadership of Joan Delich. Each holiday season, the “Olli Cats” hold a musical evening open to the larger OLLI family, filled with great food and the sounds of a local jazz artist or ensemble. This year’s event drew 120 to hear Mulligan Stew, Dave Karr’s tribute to the great quartet of bari sax legend Gerry Mulligan. Dave described the band as akin to the car driven by the “little old lady” who only would go out for a drive on Sunday afternoons. “We’ve been playing together for ten years,” he said, “and we’ve only played maybe ten times—so we’re fresh and ready to go.” The last four or five times, the band was a quintet with Tanner Taylor on piano, but now Dave is back to Mulligan’s original piano-less quartet format, with Dave Graf on trombone, Gordy Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. As much as I love Tanner’s virutosic piano, I discovered I did not miss a piano during the two sets in the unlikely setting of the city of Columbia Height’s community center—a large, surprisingly warm room with decent acoustics, the only electric chord connecting the bass to a small amp.

For drop dead serious bebop, you can’t beat Mulligan Stew or its playlist, featuring Mulligan compositions like “Soft Shoe,” “Line for Lyons,” “Festive Minor,” and “Blueport.” The two horns—bari and trombone-- are an unlikely pairing for swinging melodicism, yet with the Daves, we got exactly that, and more, including an accelerating dual on “Blueport.” Both were quick to point out that the piano-less efforts worked only because Gordy and Phil provided all the rhythmic feel necessary; the format opened up more space for the horns to fill. But it works well, too, because these musicians keep their ears open and their brains engaged so thoroughly. Graf can drop a musical pun in a blink, like quoting “If I Should Lose You” in the midst of “Love Me or Leave Me,” a play on the words as well as the music. The last public gig for Mulligan Stew was at the Artists Quarter some months ago. Hopefully Dave Karr will take his band out for a spin again soon.

Photos: (Top -bottom) Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter on 11/25; Jane Monheit press photo (she doesn't allow photos at the gig); Phil Hey, Dave Graf and Dave Karr with Mulligan Stew at MacPhail in 2008. (Mallinger and Mulligan Stew photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Lead Sheet --Twin Cities Jazz, November 27-December 3

© Andrea Canter
There are a few things you can count on around the holidays – lots of food, family and friends, and special music events. The Twin Cities has spawned more than its share of fine jazz musicians, which means we often have a chance to see them live around the holidays when they return to visit family. This weekend, we have the pleasure of enjoying saxophonist Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter. Home for much of the week to visit family in St. Paul, the Chicago resident warmed up Wednesday night and promises that the heat will only accelerate through Saturday night. Based on that preview, it’s hard to imagine a better way to burn off the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie than by swinging and swaying to Pat’s Twin Cities quartet with Chris Lomheim, Graydon Peterson and Kenny Horst. Soaring on alto through covers of Devil May Care and Poor Butterfly and his own “Hills of Tuscany,” Pat took up the tenor for “Dedicated to You” and Dexter Gordon’s “Fried Bananas.” Lomheim made the most of the new hammers on the AQ’s Yamaha. There’s two more nights of this Bop City titan (11/27-28).

Keyboard fire will be on the menu at the Dakota this weekend as Nachito Herrera cooks up some Havana treats (11/27-28), while Saturday’s Late Night sets cross the globe to Eastern Europe and the elegant interpretations of guitarist Tim Sparks, in trio with Chris Bates and Jay Epstein (11/28). One of the newer venues for music, the Red Stag Supper Club in Minneapolis features inventive pianist/composer Jeremy Walker and his Small City Trio (11/29). And there’s beautiful songs in the air – with Charmin Michelle at Crave in the Galleria (Friday) and Crave in St. Louis Park (Sunday brunch); Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire in St. Paul (Friday) and at the Ingredients Café in White Bear (Saturday). For more avant garde tastes, you’ll find Peter Schimke and Jim Anton trying out some new music at Café Maude (11/27) and Milo Fine releasing a new LP (!) at Rouge Buddha Gallery (11/28).

A highlight of the week for fans of vocal music will be the return of Jane Monheit to the Dakota (11/30-12/1). No longer qualifying as a starlet at 32 (and a new mom!), Monheit continues to prove that a buttercream instrument can mesh equally well with the Great American Songbook and the Global Popbook, as her most recent recordings document. Each outing, she seems to go just a bit further in personalizing timeless songs, making her appealing to just about any listener who favors a beautiful voice.

Regular jazz nights abound through the week, with JoAnn Funk and Jeff Bruekse at the St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar (Fridays and Saturdays); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico’s in the Chambers Hotel, downtown Minneapolis (Fridays and Saturdays); “Mr. Smooth” Irv Williams at Il Vesco Vino in St Paul (Saturdays); the Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar in south Minneapolis (Sundays); Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Mondays and Wednesdays); the Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (Tuesdays); Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar in downtown St. Paul (Tuesdays); Nancy Harms with the Hot Swing Trio this month at Erte in northeast Minneapolis (Wednesdays); the swinging Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (Wednesdays), this week with Tanner Taylor on keys and the fabulously sassy Nichola Miller on vocals.

Coming Soon! Next weekend features the annual Dakota Jazz Club performance of the Dakota Combo, now directed by Adam Linz and featuring the best high school jazzers in the metro area and beyond. They will perform Saturday (12/5) with hot young saxophonist Tia Fuller. Mark you calendars ahead for Laura Caviani’s annual holiday gig, this year at the AQ (12/13); the newly formed "530" band of area college musicians home for the holidays (Chris Misa, Cory Grindberg, Rob Fletcher, Jake Baldwin and guests) doing an early set at the AQ (12/17); CD release from the Atlantis Quartet at the AQ (12/18-19); the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s 60th birthday salute to Birdland with Bruce Henry, Debbie Duncan and Lee Engele at the Bloomington Performing Arts Center (12/20); the annual residency of The Bad Plus at the Dakota (12/25-27); and great New Year’s Eve parties all over town, particularly note the Dakota and AQ for tops in jazz.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Pat Mallinger at the AQ on 11/25; Tim Sparks at his Dakota Late Night debut in July; Jane Monheit (press photo). Photos of Mallinger and Sparks by Andrea Canter.

Our Hearts Belong to Roy

© Andrea Canter

Every two or three years, at least in this decade, living jazz legend Roy Haynes spends a weekend in St. Paul at the Artists’ Quarter with his pal Kenny Horst. It’s one of the few times you will not see Kenny playing drums with a visiting artist, but you can count on Kenny to do something else unusual—introducing the band. It’s a role usually reserved for the suave Davis Wilson, the one who always welcomes “my lords and ladies” and notes that the AQ is “pleased and flipped” to bring the music to the audience. But not when Roy Haynes is on the schedule. Drummer Kenny Horst regards drummer Roy Haynes as a mentor. In fact that set of green metallic drums that is usually on the AQ stage was a gift from Roy. When Roy comes to town, Kenny handles the host chores with a big grin on his face. He’s in Haynes Heaven. And so are we.

This past weekend, Roy returned for the first time since recording a live album (Where As) for Dreyfus, a “snap crackle” effort that brought an instrumental solo Grammy nomination to Haynes for his impromptu “Hippidy Hop.” This time, the band was his original Fountain of Youth, first seen here in 2004 with Martin Bejerano on piano, John Sullivan on bass, and Marcus Strickland on sax. Only Sullivan made the recording date in 2006, with Bejerano getting a rain check due to a schedule conflict, and Jaleel Shaw having assumed the horn chair with Strickland finding less and less time available as his own band gained recognition. Another whopping young talent, Robert Rodriguez, admirably held his own on keys. For a while, Sullivan dropped out of the band to pursue real estate and other projects. When we last saw Roy Haynes in the Twin Cities—at Ted Mann and at the Dakota, he had another fine young bassist, David Wong, along with Bejerano and Shaw. Smartly, Roy always surrounds himself with the best of the young rising stars. They benefit from his experience; he benefits from their energy. The Academy of Roy Haynes is a collaboration.

This time, it was Shaw who had the scheduling conflict, and fortunately Strickland was available. Sullivan had returned to active duty, so now it was a reunion of the original Fountain of Youth. And they made the most of it, four sets over two nights with a mix of old favorites and newer additions to their repertoire. And of course the commentary, banter, spontaneity and good humor of 84-year-old Roy Haynes, himself a veritable Fountain of Youth. They started out the weekend with a fiery reading of “Autumn Leaves,” initially disguised by Sullivan’s bass vamp, leading into Strickland’s elegantly swinging melody, subsequent solo and prolonged cadenza. Always one of my favorites from this band, Pat Metheny’s “James” was volcanic, bringing Roy out from behind the kit to brag about his protégés and off a solo spotlight on Bejerano, whose “Easy to Remember” will indeed be hard to forget, particularly how he turned postbop to stride and back as if that had been the composer’s intent all along. Marcus Strickland closed the set with an impromptu fling at a Maceo Parker riff. An equally spontaneous drum solo highlighted the closing set Saturday night, along with a smoldering treatment of “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” featuring Strickland on soprano, Bejerano’s full deconstruction, Sullivan’s slinky vamp, and busy accents from the leader, who ultimately pulled Strickland into a dual to take it out.

A few more jokes, a sing-along, and another Roy Haynes weekend wrapped up. The two sets I attended went on for about 90 minutes, including the finale, ending at nearly 1 am. If Roy was tired, he didn’t let on. Maybe I’ll be that perky when I’m 84, but I have a long way to go.
Photos: (top and bottom), Roy Haynes at the Artists Quarter; (middle) Marcus Strickland rejoined the FOY for the weekend, playing tenor and soprano. (Photos by Andrea Canter on 11/20/09)

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Lead Sheet--Twin Cities Jazz, November 20-26

© Andrea Canter

The biggest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving, is dubbed Black Friday. So what do we call the year’s biggest day of local jazz programming? The Blues Saturday? The roster on November 21st might seem normal for a weekend in Manhattan where audiences are pulled from millions, but this is hardly normal for the Twin Cities where our potential audience is much smaller. While it might not be a boon to spread out the audience across so many venues, this weekend serves up a great candy store of choices. If you focus on logistics, you can make at least three or four gigs on Saturday without exhausting your options for Friday and Sunday. Of course, you might just be exhausted.

I highly recommend Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth for Friday night (11/20) at the Artists Quarter—if you go Friday night, it might open more options on Saturday, while you can still catch a second dose via the second night late set. Or just forget the dilemma and sign on for all four sets this weekend. There is no jazz musician still active today with a resume like Roy Haynes. At 84, he can look back on a career with the likes of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie; yet he also still looks ahead to his continuing tour with young lions like Martin Bejerano, John Sullivan, Jaleel Shaw and Marcus Strickland. Minus Shaw, it’s the original Fountain of Youth Band that will be erupting on stage at the AQ (11/20-21), two ticketed sets per night. Haynes was most recently in the Twin Cities at the Dakota and Ted Mann Auditorium, but his usual area stomping grounds is the AQ where he recorded live his acclaimed Dreyfus release, Where As, in 2006. It’s a high entry fee for the AQ ($30/$25) but one of the cheapest tickets you’ll find for this legend. Reserve online at

If you want to stick to Minneapolis Friday night, might check out the new venue in the old Jitters space below the old Times space at 201 E. Hennepin. Top level Ginger Hop is hosting live music as well, but in the lower level Honey, you can catch some of the same musicians who have been churning out experimental vibes at Café Maude: On 11/20, that’s Park Evans, Chris Bates and Joey Van Phillips. Debbie Duncan will sparkle at the Dakota and the Benny Weinbeck Trio has its weekly gig at the new D’Amico Kitchen at the Chambers Hotel. But make it an early night, November 21st will be a long one!

For some details, see my posting on Jazz Police (“Saturday Night Live”) at Big events, all recommended, include Jazz @ St. Barney’s series concert (in Plymouth at St. Barnabus Lutheran Church) with songbird Maud Hixson and swinging pianist Rick Carlson at 7 pm; the JazzMN Big Band concert in Hopkins featuring “Three Tenors”—local top guns Pete Whitman, Dave Karr and Dale Mendenhall at 7:30 pm; Northrop Jazz Series’ concert at the Walker Art Center with the Dafnis Preito Sextet (not only Cuban drummer Preito, but a great band including trumpeter Ralph Alessi) at 8 pm. Soul singer Otis Clay will be at the Dakota at 8 pm; and around the corner at Hell’s Kitchen, the Vital Organ trio (Tanner Taylor, Zacc Harris, Pete Hennig) will celebrate their CD release at 8 pm. Earlier in the day, Nancy Harms holds her second CD release party of the week, this one an afternoon gig at the Jungle Theater with the Twin Cities Hot Club and crooner Arne Fogel (2-4 pm), and Maxine Souse' (aka Maryann Sullivan) sings at the Sage Wine Bar in Mendota Heights from 6-9 pm. So you can enjoy some great vocals as a warm-up to whatever you do later. And later, there’s some East European folk music translated into modern vibes at Café Maude with the Eisner Klezmorim (9 pm- midnight); the late set with Roy Haynes at the AQ at 10:30; and a CD celebration with edgy brassmen Ingo Bethke, Late at the Dakota, 11:30 pm-2:00 am. For Prairie Home Companion fans, note the appearance of brash and jazzy Nellie McKay at the live broadcast from the State Theater at 5 pm. Forgive me for whatever I have missed here, there’s just no excuse to stay home Saturday night.

Cap off the weekend on Sunday (11/22) with brunch at Crave in St. Louis Park featuring Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson; and then for a sonic dessert, hip and sassy Nichola Miller is recording live at the Artists Quarter with Creation Audio’s Steve Weise and a band with Rick Carlson, Keith Boyles, Nathan Norman and Dave Karr, starting at 7 pm.

In case you don’t get enough over the weekend, a few jazz events to check out during the coming week:

  • Monday (11/23): Lee Engele joins Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza

  • Tuesday (11/24): Nancy Harms at Hell’s Kitchen; Sophia Shorai at the Dakota; Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar in St. Paul; the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ

  • Wednesday (11/25): TC native Pat Mallinger returns home for the holidays, bringing his smokin’ alto sax to the AQ (and again Friday/Saturday); Charmin Michelle is back at Fireside Pizza in Richfield; Christine Rosholt checks out the new club Honey in the old Jitters space on East Hennepin

Coming soon! Two more nights with Pat Mallinger at the AQ (11/27-28); Jane Monheit at the Dakota (11/30-12/1); Dakota Combo annual gig at the Dakota (12/5); Laura Caviani’s Holiday Show at the AQ (12/13); Atlantis Quartet CD Release at the AQ (12/18-19); Birdland’s 60th Anniversary Tribute with Debbie Duncan, Lee Engele and Bruce Henry at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (12/20); the Bad Plus at the Dakota (12/25-27).

Photos (top to bottom): Roy Haynes, as exuberant as ever at his last AQ appearance; "Three Tenors" with the JazzMN Big Band (Dave Karr, Dale Mendenhall, Pete Whitman); Nancy Harms at her first CD release at the Dakota earlier this week. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Stringing the Line Between Classical and Jazz

© Andrea Canter

Musicians that typically generate classical, if also ultra modern fare, are finding their way into jazz clubs, jazz charts, jazz sensibilities. Two recent shows at the Dakota Jazz Club, and a small faculty recital a few hundred miles to the south, are good examples of genre-bending from a classical foundation.

I already said a bit about cellist Matt Haimovitz (October 28th) a couple weeks ago, but more seems warranted. He has appeared here as a solo act several times. Classically trained and acclaimed, on any given night his set list might include a Bach Prelude and a Jimi Hendrix tune. His current tour features avant garde singer/songwriter/keyboardist/laptop artist Du Yun who has been performing electronic cabaret. The duo performed material from their recent release, Figment to an audience that might have been expecting a more traditional classical recital or perhaps a more punk rock rebellion. Basically there was not that much of either. What we did get was a 90-minute suite that moved from 21st century experimental music particularly engaging via Haimovitz’ long solos—melodic with harsh fillers of percussive bowing and jagged plucking—to Du Yun’s oddly voiced solo piano, overlaid with heavy reverberations and electronic loops accompanied by eerie vocalizations, even an autoharp. It was an evening of mysterious pitches, haunting bass tones, visually intriguing slapstick antics that put the cello into another universe. Perhaps it was the confluence of John Cage and Cecil Taylor.

The Turtle Island String Quartet (November 12th) is more often heard in concert halls than small jazz clubs, yet their music seems equally at home in a jazz environment as in a classical venue. Bringing improvisation and an amalgam of styles to a classical music foundation, TISQ is the ultimate cross-over ensemble, most recently exploring the works of John Coltrane, which they brought to the Dakota. But even before they got to the much anticipated “Love Supreme,” they took on Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, and Trane himself with “My Favorite Things,” “Moment’s Notice,” and the exceptionally lovely “Naima,” the four strings conjuring at least three horns. Coltrane seemed more akin to Schoenberg than Coleman. But the main event was Coltrane’s masterpiece, now TISQ’s centerpiece, four movements starting with their interpretation of Coltrane’s full solo, the middle movements more classical in form and sound, the finale a prayer. Although lacking piano and drums, the TSIQ nevertheless conjures more voices than the Coltrane Quartet, as each stringed instrument is capable of multiple tones, creating thicker harmonies. But what string quartet sways with the music in time, taps its feet, turns its fiddles into percussion tools?

Cellist Mark Summers would have been a good alter ego for Jimmy Garrison. Summers, the most animated of the foursome, was given a solo spotlight, playing his own “Julio.” He bowed, he plucked, he slapped and danced through what resembled a traditional folk melody, and we forgot it was a cello, not an upright bass. TSIQ closed with Stanley Clarke’s Coltrane tribute, “For John,” adding a lick of “The Girl From Ipanema.” Even the great classicists were not above a few quotes!

A few nights later I enjoyed a faculty recital at the University of Iowa. It was simply titled “Chamber Music” and was led by Volkan Orhon, faculty bassist who has some jazz chops in his arsenal. The evening featured a varied program dipping back to the 17th century and reaching ahead to the present day, with varying combinations of bass, violin, viola, 2 bassoons, oboe, harpsichord, and piano. Two works of note in the context of blended genres: “Duo for Viola and Double Bass” by Tom Knific, himself a bassist and director of jazz studies at Western Michigan University. The second movement in particular was a tapestry of the world of music from Baroque to post bop with flashes of gypsy swing and Spanish folk melodies, aptly titled “The Event.” The other surprise was a world premiere of sorts, a work by Mario Ulloa based on Mozart’s “Alla Turca” for bass and two bassoons. Titled “Um Turco no Brasil,” it crossed cultural as well as musical boundaries, a Middle East Meets Tropics frenzy.

The world on a string. And two bassoons to go.
Photos (top to bottom): Matt Haimovitz performs Figment at the Dakota; the Turtle Island String Quartet praised John Coltrane; TSIQ cellist Mark Summers conjured Jimmy Garrison. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Lead Sheet--Twin Cities Jazz, November 13-19

© Andrea Canter

If I were in town this weekend, I might have some dilemmas as to my preferred jazz events. So I guess I will just envy whatever decisions you make!

Big gigs on both sides of the river: At the Dakota, Debbie Duncan will carry on for a very lucky Friday the 13th, followed on Saturday night by the always exhilarating Ginger Commodore Quartet, augmented by the smooth and suave Dennis Spears. That’s a lot of soulful voices in one weekend on one stage! For a very different, equally exciting sound, the Pete Whitman X-Tet will blow hot and cool at the Artists Quarter. Pete and the gang typically get a weeknight gig every month, but the weekend shows are extra special. It’s about as big a band as you can squeeze into the AQ, too!

Regardless of your starting point, make the Dakota your end point on Saturday, with the Bryan Nichols Trio doing Late Night duties from 11:30 pm – 2 am. Nothing will keep you as alert and intrigued as Bryan and pals. Except maybe Ellen Lease and Pat Moriarty! Possibly the most “out there” jazz couple in town, Ellen on piano and Pat on sax normally head up the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet, one of the region’s finest avant garde ensembles. But on Saturday (11/14), it’s just Ellen and Pat in the first of their Tonight at Noon: Jazz at Studio Z series in downtown St. Paul. More to come later this winter and spring, including a new incarnation of the Quintet minus Kelly Rossum.

There’s more for the weekend of course: For some great free music, check out the Holiday Open House at the Galleria in Edina, and particularly stop by the courtyard outside the Good Earth for a dose of Mary Louise Knutson, with Jeff Bailey (11/13 at 5 pm) or with Gordy Johnson (11/14 at 11 am) or with Chris Bates (11/15, noon). Can’t beat that! (Mary Louise and Debbie Duncan team up weekly on Tuesdays at Camp in St. Paul!) The over-the-edge Enormous Quartet improvises at Café Maude (11/13), other Friday the 13th options—more inclined to soothe nerves-- include Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Redstone Grill in Minnetonka (11/13), Jo Ann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the St. Paul Hotel Lobby Bar, and the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. On the north end, relaxation is on the set list with Arne Fogel and Kristin Sponcia at Ingredients Café Saturday night (11/14).

During the week, you can get a big taste of New Orleans without leaving Minneapolis, as clarinetist Evan Christopher returns to the Dakota (11/17) in the company of fellow Crescent City pianist Henry Butler. Wonder if Jack Riebel will be offering some gumbo and pecan pie? If you want to live dangerously, check the return of Volcano Insurance at the Kitty Kat Club (11/17)! If swing’s the thing, Anita O’Day will be celebrated through the musical charms of Lucia Newell, at the Artists Quarter with the Phil Aaron Trio (11/18). Another local vocalist, Nancy Harms, celebrates the release of her debut CD, In the Indigo, with her quartet at the Dakota (11/19) and again over the following weekend at the Jungle Theater (11/21). This might be Nancy’s first recording, but it’s an effort worthy of a veteran, filled with original arrangements, lyrics, and very personal interpretations of familiar and less familiar works. On the west end, Rhonda Laurie and Sidewalk Café return to Spasso (11/19), Richfield as usual boasts Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza Mondays and Wednesdays, while the Dave Karr Quartet bops away at the AQ (11/19).

All this might be good training for the next weekend, which will truly challenge decision-making skills: Roy Haynes and the Fountain of Youth at the AQ (11/20-21); the JazzMN Big Band on 11/21with its Three Tenors (Pete Whitman, Dave Karr, Dale Mendenhall); the Dafnis Preito Sextet at Walker (11/21); Maud Hixson at Jazz@St. Barney’s in Plymouth (11/21); and Nichola Miller’s live CD recording session at the AQ (11/22). That is of course just one weekend.
Photos (top-bottom): Evan Christopher; Lucia Newell; Nancy Harms (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lead Sheet --Twin Cities Jazz, November 6-12

© Andrea Canter

We seem to be having our October weather this weekend, so get out and enjoy it, but save enough energy for some jazzy evenings.

Lucia Newell and the Laura Caviani Trio should garner plenty of attention from the noisy crowd at Crave in the Galleria tonight (11/6). Maybe Lucia will include some Anita O’Day tunes as a teaser for her November 18th tribute show at the AQ? If you really want to hear the music at Crave, come late, after 10 pm, and find a table as close to the “stage” as possible. Bruce Henry, whom I would rate as one of the best male singers out there (and I mean out there in the bigger world), returns to the Dakota for two nights (11/6-7) with his always hip band (Peter Schimke, Kevin Washington, Darryl Boudreaux, Peter Vricks, and Chris Bates filling in for Jay Young, who is across town at the AQ). It will be smooth, passionate and uplifting. And yes, Jay Young is leading a gig at the AQ this weekend, a tribute to Motown heroes, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. This funky bassist is overdue for his own show. Late Night at the Dakota is always worth checking out, no matter where you start your evening. Off the Map with Bryan Nichols, Brandon Wozniak and Jay Epstein takes the stage Friday night (11/6). Can’t find three more exciting improvisers!

Sunday (11/8) brings some interesting contrasts, but that means everyone should find something that appeals: Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson are perfect company for brunch at the new Crave in St. Louis Park’s West End. Later, at the Dakota, John Jorgenson brings his hot club band back after a highly regarded debut earlier this year. Across the river at the AQ, it’s Monk in Motian, a sextet celebration of the great compositions of Thelonious Monk as interpreted by drum legend Paul Motian and his Electric Bebop Band. And of course Zacc Harris, Park Evans, Brandon Wozniak, Scott Fultz, Matt Peterson and Pete Hennig have tricks of their own to share. This gig is sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society, and introduces the St. Cloud All Star Jazz Band to warm up the stage at 5 pm with a free set. This is a band of middle and high school musicians, directed tonight by drummer Steve Jennings. Free jazz fans (and eternally curious listeners) will find plenty to perk up your ears at Studio Z in downtown St. Paul when Trio Raro -- Milo Fine, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Davu Seru—perform.

Connie Evingson is not only a superb vocalist but she never fails to bring a terrific band to her shows. Monday night at the Dakota (11/9), she’ll be in the stellar company of Phil Aaron, Gordy Johnson, Phil Hey and Dave Karr. Try to find a better deal for $5! Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg will be in their usual slot at Fireside Pizza, Monday and Wednesday night, and the always avant Clown Lounge in St Paul features the Chris Thomson Quartet.

Nostalgia reigns at the Dakota Tuesday and Wednesday nights (11/10-11) with Herb Alpert (Tijuana Brass) and wife Lani Hall (Sergio Mendes), while the Tuesday Night Band celebrates the B-3 organ in their usual, long-standing weekly gig at the AQ... on Tuesday, of course. A few blocks away, Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson add class and finesse to Camp Bar in their Tuesday night sets. Wednesday (11/11) offers further diversity with How Birds Work at the AQ, the Wolverines with Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen, and Maud Hixson swinging with the Twin Cities Hot Club in northeast Minneapolis at Erte.

Close the week with some tough choices on Thursday (11/12), as the ever-exciting Phil Hey Quartet takes over at the AQ and the world-renowned Turtle Island String Quartet makes a rare club appearance at the Dakota. Bringing improvisation and an amalgam of styles to a classical music foundation, TISQ is the ultimate cross-over ensemble, most recently exploring the works of John Coltrane. Tonight they bring to the Dakota their “Love Supreme” project. Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson visit Minnetonka with two nights at the Redstone Grill (11/12-23).

Coming soon!
Pete Whitman’s X-Tet has a weekend at the AQ (11/13-14); the Freedom Jazz Festival sponsors a day of music and art at the Capri Theater (11/14); Lucia Newell salutes Anita O’Day at the AQ (11/18), and Nancy Harms celebrates her debut CD at the Dakota (11/19) and Jungle Theater (11/21)—and it’s one helluva debut. Then there’s the following weekend which simply explodes with jazz, with Roy Haynes’ Fountain of Youth at the AQ (11/20-21), “Three Tenors” with the JazzMN Big Band (Whitman, Karr and Mendenhall on 11/21); drummer Dafnis Preito at the Walker Art Center (11/21) and Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at Jazz@St. Barneys, also 11/21. Nichola Miller holds a live recording session to cap that weekend at the AQ (11/22). Rest up.
Photos: (Top-Bottom) Bruce Henry; Maud Hixson; Phil Hey (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In His Own Sweet Way: Dave Brubeck at 89

© 2009, Andrea Canter

I seem to have a habit of catching jazz legends at the end of their careers –Doc Cheatham, Jay McShann, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson. Brown was ageless, and fortunately I had seen OP several times over the past two decades. His last performance at Orchestra Hall, about two years before his passing, was more a document of his failing technique than his enduring art. I have now seen Dave Brubeck four times in the past two years in settings ranging from Orchestra Hall to a small concert hall in Santa Rosa to the outdoor amphitheater of the Detroit Jazz Festival... and now this week in the small club space of the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. A month shy of 89, there is no question that even Dave Brubeck has lost some speed and agility, and his arrangements today defer more to his much younger (though still AARP-eligible) quartet cohorts-- Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums.

Yet Brubeck still retains much of what catapulted him to the top of the jazz (and popular music) charts in the 1950s and 60s—a unique approach to time, a keen melodic sense, sustained energy, the art of surprise, and an instant rapport with his audience. All was in abundance on the second of three nights of a rare club date. Already one set into the evening, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was on stage for 100+ minutes of nonstop music. Nonstop save a few of Dave’s stories and quips, starting with the introduction to “St. Louis Blues,” which Dave noted with a twinkle, “starts with a tango rhythm... but not for long!”

Dave on the other hand started with a tango and lasted well beyond swing, showing no signs of fatigue and giving us renditions of favorites that have been adapted to his 89-year-old fingers without losing any of their charms, including a particularly elegant “These Foolish Things” and a closing, humorous “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Bobby Militello rates special mention, not only for his agile alto sax but for his startling flute work on “Koto Song.” Initially suggesting the Eastern flavors of Charles Lloyd, his feathery vibrato and elongated swoops became orchestral passages of two and even three-party harmonies (or disharmonies!) paired with his own vocalization, or as Dave described it later, “two or three notes in contrary motion with a singing bassline.”

Brubeck was greeted at the outset with a standing ovation, the audience reverent in the presence of one who has contributed so much for so long. That ovation was repeated 100 minutes later, honoring not only his career, but the continuing vitality of the music and its maker.

I wish I had seen the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the late 50s and 60s. Fortunately that era is well preserved on record. Yet in the 21st century, Brubeck and company still have a lot to say.

Dave Brubeck will be inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors on his 89th birthday next month. See full review soon on Jazz Police and JazzINK.

Photos: (Top-Bottom) Dave Brubeck tops a run with a flourish at the Dakota; Bobby Militello created multiple voices on flute with support from Michael Moore. (Photos by Andrea Canter, November 3, 2009 at the Dakota)

Somewhere There's Music: Sometimes There's a Lot!

© Andrea Canter

The weather was unusually wet and cold, the colors rather blah, but the music was hot and bright at every turn.

Eric Alexander (10/24) played two nights at the Artists Quarter, and his beefy tenor sax has never sounded better. With his mom in the audience, perhaps he was just that much more inspired, and his local cohorts (Chris Lomheim, Tom Lewis and Kenny Horst) were perfect foils from the first notes of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” to the last blistering chorus of “Lover.” Generally Eric gives us familiar tunes, even what normally might be worn out standard like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” but he makes us fall in love with the melody as if for the first time.

Joan Griffith/Laura Caviani (10/25). Free Brazilian and related music on a gray Sunday afternoon is at least as good as light therapy to elevate mood. Particularly if the music comes from Joan Griffith and Laura Caviani. In the acoustic gem of Janet Wallace Auditorium on the Macalester College campus, Joan and Laura revisited compositions from their SambaNova! recording and related works, showcasing some of the legendary Brazilian writers as well as Joan’s own originals incorporating Brazilian traditions. Between their two sets, Joan gathered three of her students from the St. Thomas Guitar Ensemble, featuring each young man in turn. St. Paul might pride itself in its Irish heritage but on this afternoon, the festivals and villages of Brazil were a greater presence than fields of heather.

Evan Christopher (10/25) was the special guest at the annual A-Train Party at the Dakota, and his flight from New Orleans was made all the more worthwhile with support from Tanner Taylor, Reuben Ristrom, Gary Raynor and Joe Pulice. Was this quintet really together for the first time? Each of the locals has a reputation for unreserved swing and that fit perfectly with Christopher’s energetic clarinet. He traded it briefly (and magnificently) for soprano sax on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and closed the set with the unfamiliar (to me) “For Juanita Brooks.” This was Evan’s first gig at the Dakota and it won’t be his last--- Lowell Pickett immediately booked him for an open date in mid-November, with fellow New Orleanian Henry Butler on piano. All I know is that there isn’t enough clarinet in modern jazz, and Evan Christopher makes you wonder why. Don Byron and Anat Cohen aside, the instrument seems far more versatile than just trad and Dixieland. Maybe Evan can help change that.

Sophie Milman (10/27) has now appeared three times in two years at the Dakota, and each time the audience is larger and the applause more spontaneous. And each time, Sophie seems to have taken another leap in confidence. Playing at the club she described as “my favorite place in the U.S.,” the hottest commodity in Canada since Diana Krall enthralled a nearly full club and dining room with songs from her highly regarded 2009 release, Take Love Easy, her slightly dusky vibrato and right-on pitch gliding as smoothly through Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen as Rogers and Hammerstein. Earlier this fall, Sophie had canceled a chunk of her American tour due to voice strain (which she candidly discussed on her website), but there was no trace of any negative effects in her second-night opening set. And as usual, her band was supportive and thoroughly capable of carrying the music on their own, led by pianist/composer/arranger Paul Shrofel. Diego Rivera, whom I saw recently in Detroit with several large ensembles, blew bold solos on tenor sax, and it was great to see our own Gordy Johnson on bass.

Matt Haimovitz & Du Yun (10/28). I grew up on classical music and the chance to see a solo cello in the environs of a jazz club was irresistible when Matt Haimovitz first came to the Dakota a few years ago. This visit was over the edge, even for Matt, as he has teamed up with Japanese pianist/electronics artist Du Yun on a suite of simply intriguingly odd music, recorded recently as Figment. Spoken word—provocative and at times way off quadrant lyrics—invaded the music on several segments; long solo passages on cello sustained Haimovitz’s reputation for making dissonance beautiful; Du Yun’s unique voicings on acoustic piano and her laptop-directed electronics often countered the beauty but if anything, added to the mystery and forced careful attention. The single set was played (for nearly 90 minutes) without a real pause, like a classical suite, and with a pre-set program which was provided to the audience. It’s possible some was improvised, more likely not. It was as visually arresting as aurally spellbinding.

Joel Vanderheyden and Koplant No (10/28). Thirty minutes after the last notes of Figment, I found myself across the river in St. Paul, at the Artists Quarter for the local debut of Koplant No, a very young (it seemed) quintet led by native Twin Citian and now Iowa resident Joel Vanderheyden. Joel finished a doctorate in classical saxophone at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and has stayed on, leading Koplant No (he says the name comes from a bumper sticker, “Coal Plants – No!”) and recording his first CD (Complete Life) with the quintet and a few additions including veteran Iowa guitarist Steve Grismore. Koplant No plays all original music, much of it contributed by Vanderheyden, much of it integrating acoustic and electronic elements (and some vocalization) into generally melodic wholes. There’s injections of humor everywhere, particularly in the titles that are somewhat reminiscent of Bad Plus monikers, “Stubby McGhee is Somewhat Less Than Confrontational” being my favorite title. Often the music has an ECM ambience but there’s also that Midwest down-home comfort feel in the midst of the loops and pedals and tonal eccentricities. Koplant No will be on the main stage of the Iowa City Jazz Festival next summer.

I know there was a lot of good music around town this weekend, but after the whirlwind of the preceding week, I observed a few moments of silence. I wanted my ears ready for Dave Brubeck!
Photos: (Top to bottom) Eric Alexander at the AQ; Joan Griffith and Laura Caviani at Macalester; Evan Christopher at the Dakota; Sophie Milman at the Dakota; Matt Haimovitz at the Dakota; Joel Vanderheyden at the AQ. (Photos by Andrea Canter)