Friday, January 2, 2009

The Lead Sheet, January 2-8











I already like 2009 as a great year for jazz in the Twin Cities. When you close out December with Bill Carrothers, the Bad Plus, and the annual AQ bash, January could easily be a let down. Not 2009.

Tonight (January 2) is a welcome return of the inventive threesome with that odd name, Fat Kid Wednesdays. That’s Mike Lewis on saxes, Adam Linz on bass and J.T. Bates on drums. Put them on the same pedestal with The Bad Plus and Happy Apple but with their own sound, their own sense of harmony, their own road maps to the edge of the acoustic universe. One night only at the Artists Quarter (9 pm), this gig is a warm-up to their debut at The Stone in New York’s East Village January 15-16. (The Stone’s guest curator this month is native son Craig Taborn, and he is ensuring that Big Apple jazz audiences get an earful of some of the most innovative musicians from the Minneapple. Check http://www.thestonenyc.com/)

Gypsy jazz at the AQ? Seems just a bit to the left of traditional jazz for this bastion of postbop and avant garde—which puts the Twin Cities Hot Club in select company. This is the main gig for the four virtuosos who formed the TCHC some years ago, so if you want to hear some truly tricky acoustic guitar licks (Robert Bell and Reynauld Philipsek), energetic basslines (Matt Senjum), and exquisite fiddling (Gary Schulte), catch it all in one night (January 3rd). You can hear them every Sunday night at the Times, too, but at the AQ there’s no dance floor and superior sound—and these guys are truly worth listening too, not just as wallpaper for a swing dance. Maybe you can dance on the tables.

After a two-year absence, soulful Barbara Morrison returns to the Dakota for two nights of blues, standards and spit-n-vinegar banter (January 5-6). Count me among this lady’s biggest fans. She headlined the Twin Cities Jazz Festival for two consecutive summers and made her last recording Live at the Dakota in 2006. She’s living and teaching in LA so we’re lucky she’s willing to come here in the dead of winter. Be ready for a January Thaw like none other.

Will our prodigal teen jazzers keep coming back “home” after they’ve launched their adult careers? Two such local products share the bandstand Wednesday night (January 7) at the Dakota when pianist Paris Strother returns for a visit, this time with longtime pal Chris Smith on bass and hot-handed drummer Kevin Washington in the elder statesman role. I first encountered Paris playing blitzkrieg piano runs at the grand opening of the new relocated Dakota in 2003. She was still a highschooler at the time and clearly destined for big things. Four years at the Berklee College of Music fanned the flames of her talent as both performer and composer, and after her May graduation she did an internship with the Monterey Jazz Festival. Now establishing herself in the LA area, Paris accepted an invitation to perform with her trio at the Dakota. One of Paris’ former teen cohorts, Chris Smith finished his two-year stint at the prestigious Brubeck Institute and enrolled last fall in the jazz program at the New School in Manhattan. Perhaps the most accomplished young bassist from this region in years, Chris has already won a Downbeat student composer’s award. And Kevin Washington, a small generation ahead, is one of the most explosive drummers out there, recently sitting in for a few tunes with James Carter. Check out the future of jazz from three electrifying talents.

Competition is a good thing, right? While the Paris Strother Trio is scorching the stage at the Dakota, the Tanner Taylor Trio, led by a still-20-something volcano at the keys, will be inflicting similar damage across the river at the AQ on January 7th. Hint: The music at the AQ will start later (9 pm) and go on longer (midnight) than the sets at the Dakota. So you can have your jazz cake and eat it too.

There's always more--Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg swing with the greatest of ease at Fireside Pizza Monday and Wednesday nights; the edgy How Birds Work hold court at the AQ on Thursday, while Minnesota's First Lady of Song, Debbie Duncan, chills out at the Dakota, also on the 8th. And look ahead, the legendary James Moody and a fine quartet led by trombonist Jay Ashby come into the Dakota January 12-13.
Photos (top to bottom): Tanner Taylor; Paris Strother (at the Dakota in 2008); Barbara Morrison; Michael Lewis with Adam Linz (FKW). All by Andrea Canter.