Thursday, June 4, 2009

TheLead Sheet, June 5-11







© Andrea Canter

It’s always a treat to hear bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Phil Hey share the stage, and to be sharing it in support of vocalist Stacey Kent is a triple pleasure... if you happen to be in Manhattan this weekend. Unfortunately I won’t be that far from home but I can’t resist noting this at the top of this Lead Sheet. Maybe someone from New York is following this blog! Gordy and Phil have been touring with Stacey throughout 2009, but this is the Big One. Gordy told me this will be his first visit to Birdland. Not a bad first time out, to be on stage with the likes of Ms. Kent, one of the sweetest and jazziest voices of modern times. Actually they have been at Birdland all week, finishing off this weekend (6/5-6/6). Maybe we can get Stacey back to the Twin Cities soon – the bass and drums won’t cost much in travel!

Eric Kamau Gravatt, recently at Orchestra Hall with frequent employer McCoy Tyner, brings his Source Code back to the Artists Quarter with a new twist—a pianist. Mary Louise Knutson does the honors. It will sizzle.

Trumpeter Dan Frankowski will release Frankhouse, a rambunctious recording with Shilad Sen, Kal Koopman, Graydon Peterson, and Dave Stanoch, with a celebration at the Artists Quarter on June 10th. Always fun to hear new bands with some “old” favorites.

Bettye LaVette did middle age women a great service a few years ago when she recorded a “comeback” album and rekindled her career as one of the most passionate soul singers. Now a shade past 60, she proves on every outing that soul has no age limit, that hard hitting blues is timeless, and that some voices only improve over time. She’s at the Dakota for just one night (6/11) so plan accordingly.

Thursday night also features two back-to-back sets at the Artists Quarter that highlight why area jazz (and beyond) has a bright future. At 7 pm, it’s another gig for The Alternates, a quintet of high school students, four of whom have served as “alternates” for the Dakota Combo (see May 26, 2009 post). The fifth, Combo bassist Cory Grindberg, graduates this week along with drummer Rob Fletcher, saxophonist Peter Nyberg and pianist Chris Misa. That just leaves trumpeter Caleb McMahon, but I suspect he will “graduate” to the Combo next year given his chops. What’s driven these guys for the past year is a burning desire, make that need, to make music, compose, improvise, and interact well beyond the opportunities offered by school music programs—even arts high school program (Caleb and Chris attend the Perpich Center for Arts Education). Without any formal direction, the quintet has pursued its own practice schedule and sought out its own gigs. This will be their fourth appearance at the AQ, a real graduation celebration. Maybe they’ll play Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” for the occasion.

What’s next for teen jazz giants? Ask Tanner Taylor, who will bring his trio back to the AQ at 9 pm. A prodigy from Iowa, the young pianist was playing professional gigs as a teen, moved to the Twin Cities in his early 20s, and now, still under 30, he is one of the true monsters of the keyboard, be it as an accompanist for vocalists, leader of his own band, or a surprise local “filler” for a national touring artist.

Looking ahead: Jay Epstein, Anthony Cox and Bill Carrothers celebrate the release of Easy Company next weekend at the AQ (6/12-13). Monty Alexander holds an intimate party at the Orpheum with all seating on stage (6/12); Bobby and Ginger Commodore celebrate their anniversary and a few other things with a quartet gig at the Dakota (6/12-13). “Visual Jazz,” the art exhibit component of the Twin Cities Jazz Fest, opens at the Grand Hand Gallery on June 17th; the festival Jazz Night Out will be scattered across 15+ venues in St Paul on June 18th; The John Raymond Project returns to the Dakota for one of John’s last gigs before heading east (6/18). And of course Jazz Fest weekend at Mears Park in St. Paul will take place June 18-20.

So don’t leave town.
Photos (top): Bettye LaVette at the Dakota last October; The Alternates at their March gig at the AQ; Gordy Johnson at a recent recording session at Creation Audio (Photos by Andrea Canter)