Friday, July 31, 2009

The Lead Sheet July 31- August 6

© Andrea Canter

Minnesota Monthly strikes again, this time with the claim that jazz in the Twin Cities is “stuffy.” Maybe “stuffy” now means “stuffed to the brim with diversity.” Take this weekend, for example.

You can start out in downtown Minneapolis with one big horn extravaganza, the Trumpet Summit at the Dakota tonight (8/31). No less that five powerful horns covering classical and jazz idioms, covering maybe three generations of artists take the stage—Kelly Rossum in one of his final Dakota appearances before moving to New York; John Raymond in perhaps his final appearance before heading to SUNY-Purchase for grad studies; Charles Lazarus, one of the top horns of the Minnesota Orchestra who has been straddling classical and jazz for years; special guest and principal trumpet at the Minnesota Orchestra, Manny Laureano. And then there’s 18-year-old Jake Baldwin making his pro debut at the Dakota before leaving home for the New England Conservatory of Music. The Dakota Trio “backing band” fronts for everyone—Tanner Taylor, Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey. Gordy and Phil were on the bandstand at Birdland earlier this summer, backing singer Stacey Kent.

At 11 you have options: Stay put and enjoy another set with John Raymond, this time with his own John Raymond Project featuring another young phenom, Javier Santiago on piano. Or you can race across town at and catch the late set from the Chris Morrissey Quartet at the Artists Quarter as the New York transplanted bassist celebrates the release of new CD on Sunnyside. Of course you can also enjoy this creative foursome (with Bryan Nichols, Michael Lewis and Dave King) again on Saturday night (8/1).

It’s the last Friday of the month to hear Rick Carlson and Maude Hixson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill. And Friday night brings another stellar combination to Crave at the Galleria when the Laura Caviani Trio meets up with buttercream vocalist Charmin Michelle. Of course you have two more chances to enjoy Charmin as well as some of the best pizza in town---Monday and Wednesday nights at Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg.

More late choices this weekend. Modern jazz never sounded better than at Café Maude (after 9 pm). Try some esoteric strings with Anthony Cox and Dean Granros on Friday night; come back Saturday night for Bronkow Vision with Cox, Brandon Wozniak, Stefan Kac and Jay Epstein.

Bring the family for an afternoon and early evening of fun and outstanding music as the Freedom Jazz Festival returns to Minnehaha Falls Park on Saturday, from 1 - 8 pm. On hiatus in 2008, this annual free event features some of the finest but less visible jazz and blues artists in the area, as well as a few high profilers like Debbie Duncan and Cornbread Harris. The festival celebrates youth and veterans alike. And you are within spitting distance of Sea Salt, the informal park eatery that boasts the best fried oysters between the coasts. The festival ends in plenty of time to get to the Artists Quarter for Chris Morrissey, or take a breather and then head to the Dakota for Late Night, this time with Jeremy Walker’s Small City Trio. Morrissey’s celebration moves to the Clown Lounge for night owls on Monday at 10:30 pm.

Tanner Taylor, one of the best pianists of his generation that I’ve seen, gets out in front of the band twice this week, at Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday and at the AQ on Thursday night (8/6). I’ll try to get to St. Paul after an evening with flautist James Galway and the Cuban explosion, Tiempo Libre at the Dakota. Together they reworked the famed Claude Bolling Suite for Flute and Jazz Trio. Tiempo Libre returns next Friday sans Galway.

August keeps heating up, watch next weekend for the Kevin Washington Quartet at the AQ (8/7 & 8/8), the Bloomington Jazz Festival (8/8), and a CD release on 8/8 from one of the strongest of the new young bands, Metropolitan Port Authority, in port at the Beat Coffee House.
Photos: (Top) Official poster of the Freedom Jazz Festival; Kelly Rossum and Jake Baldwin, the veteran who will be leaving the Twin Cities at the end of the month, and the "rookie" who heads to Boston for studies at the New England Conservatory in a few weeks--master and apprentice at the Trumpet Summit. (Rossum and Baldwin photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Can I Find Jazz in the Twin Cities? Ask Pamela

© Andrea Canter

Despite what you might read in Minnesota Monthly, not only is there plenty of jazz in the Twin Cities, but it is not all that hard to find. If you know the right source! Every jazz scene, like other arts scenes, needs someone to be the “go-to” for up-to-date information. In some areas there’s a local jazz society that manages this function. But it’s really hard to find volunteers to take charge and maintain the effort over time. Our Twin Cities Jazz Society maintains a website, but the calendar is at the mercy of “spare time” –which no one has. The Jazz Police website maintained a calendar for several years, but again, there’s no fulltime websmaster to handle calendar updates as well as manage the rest of the site.

In the Twin Cities, writer/jazz "hound"/knitter of “hats for cats” Pamela Espeland has stepped in where few dared to tred, and has amassed as complete a listing of area jazz as humanly possible, which she maintains on her otherwise always-interesting and mostly jazz blog at Bebopified ( It has several view options so you can see the month or the full list for a given day. She might miss a few gigs but I’d be hard pressed to figure out what. Maybe something underground. The Jazz Society would be wise to link to Bebopified! If you would rather just hear about what’s coming each week, you can read Pamela’s weekly column in Arts Arena on MinnPost (, usually featuring an interview with someone doing something cool in the local or national jazz world, or catch Pamela chatting for a few minutes with Ed Jones on KBEM radio, every Friday morning at 8:30. (If you know Pamela, you know this early hour is a real sacrifice for the jazz community!) And once per month on KFAI (the last Thursday, usually), you can catch Pamela with Janice Ewart on The Jazz Eye, Janice’s weekly broadcast (Thursdays at 10:30 pm). Usually there is some theme to the music, an interview, and always some fun commentary.

So why is there a photo of a dachshund here instead of one of Pamela? Cuz she really hates having her photo taken and really loves Carmen. Carmen is a true jazz hound – she has been to many outdoor gigs and walks with a true swing feel.
Photo: Carmen at the 2008 Bloomington Jazz Festival. (Photo: Andrea Canter)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Lead Sheet, July 24-30

© Andrea Canter

Reunions seem to be increasingly popular in jazz. Last year, Chick Corea and company toured with a reunion of the legendary Return to Forever. Periodically, Corea and Gary Burton revive their duet magic. Locally, we celebrated Jazz Is Now!’s return from hiatus in 2008 with the NOWnet ensemble. And now, one of the most popular area bands of the 90s reassembles at the Artists Quarter this weekend (July 24-25) when The Illicit Sextet plays their first public gig in about 12 years. All the names are still quite familiar on the local scene—trumpeter Steve Kenny, saxophonist Paul Harper, guitarist David Roos, pianist Chris Lomheim, bassist Tom Pieper and drummer Nathan Norman. Their lone CD, Chapter One, still garners raves. Maybe after this weekend, there will be a Chapter Two!

Stretching the envelope late Friday night, Jelloslave performs at the Dakota as part of the Late Night series. This quartet features 2 cellos, tabla and percussion, guaranteeing the music will be far out of the ordinary. Also inclined to stretch and reshape the jazz envelope, Fat Kid Wednesdays returns to Café Maude on Friday night at 9 pm. That means you can really stretch Friday into Saturday, starting at Maude and ending at the Dakota. Pretend it’s New York with detours and more places to park.

Another alternative this weekend, especially if you like just a bit of jazz with your rock, is the increasingly popular New Standards at the Dakota (7/24-25). I heard them for the first time at the TC Jazz Festival in June, and instantly understood their appeal, at least to my generation. These guys sound like what I wish pop/rock sounded like in the 60s – all acoustic, great musicianship, catchy tunes. And with an eccentric jazz trio instrumentation (vibes, bass and piano), it’s all the more fun and interesting.

Monday afternoon and evening (7/27), celebrate 25 years of music at the Hat Trick Lounge in downtown St. Paul, with a free buffet starting at 3 pm and accordion music from Dan “Daddy Squeeze” Newton beginning at 6 pm. The Hat Trick presents a variety of music including jazz and served as one of the prime indoor venues during the recent Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Guitarist Zacc Harris either leads or performs in some of the most exciting bands in town (including the Atlantis Quartet and Monk in Motian), and at the AQ on Wednesday (7/29) he celebrates the release of his trio recording. Pete Whitman’s X-Tet returns to the AQ the following night (7/30), possibly the last chance to hear Kelly Rossum with the ensemble for some time. Across the river at the Dakota on Thursday night, young piano virtuoso Dan Musselman shows off his chops as performer and composer with his quartet, but I am hoping he does a few solo tunes as well, either from his 2008 release Ruminations or perhaps something we have never heard before.

If, like me, you missed Laura Caviani during her recovery from a hand injury earlier this summer, you have two chances to hear her this week: She’s at Crave Friday night (7/24) with the always-entertaining Debbie Duncan, along with Gary Raynor and Phil Hey. On Thursday (7/30), she’s back on the piano bench with the X-Tet at the AQ. That’s more like it.

There’s two more Friday nights with Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul (7/24 & 7/31); and a cold beer and pizza just need the good company of Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza, Mondays and Wednesdays. And if you happen to stay home Saturday nights, remember to tune in to KBEM 88.5 FM radio for Mary Ann Sullivan’s Corner Jazz.

Coming soon: Lots of great trumpets with The Trumpet Summit at the Dakota (7/31) featuring Kelly Rossum, Chuck Lazarus and the Dakota Trio (Tanner Taylor, Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey), followed by a late night gig with the John Raymond Project; guitarist Chris Morrissey’s quartet at the AQ featuring Dave King, Michael Lewis and Bryan Nichols (7/31-8/1); the Freedom Jazz Festival at Minnehaha Falls Park (8/1).
Photos (top to bottom): The Illicit Sextet in 1993 (band photo); John Munson on bass and vocals with the New Standards at the 2009 TC Jazz Festival; the Hat Trick Lounge, hosting Jon Weber and Alex Han during Jazz Night Out in June; Zacc Harris at the Artists Quarter. (Photos, other than Illicit Sextet, by Andrea Canter)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hat Trick of Great Music at the Dakota

© Andrea Canter

Hockey analogies may seem a bit far fetched when the topic is jazz, but this is Minnesota. I don’t really follow hockey but even I know that when a single player scores three goals in one game, it’s a “hat trick.” (And going back to the origin of the term in cricket, it referred to three consecutive strikeouts of a batter... or something like that.) So give three points to the Dakota for programming three consecutive winners this past week. Actually I hear it was really four, but I missed Steve Smith and Vital Information last Sunday. So maybe it was a crown trick? I’ll stick to what I heard first hand, which was plenty.

Monday night, after some urging by friends, I saw Lura’s first set. Lura is a singer, dancer, enchantress who takes her Cape Verdean heritage and blends in Latin, African and European elements to create an hour of incredible energy and diverse rhythms. Although we couldn’t understand a word of her lyrics (sung in Portuguese), there was no questioning the meaning behind her passionate vocals and seductive moves across and around the stage. Her tempos could shift on a dime and her phrases were as sultry as her swinging hips. She brought a band that could take on all-comers among global strings and percussion.

Tuesday and Wednesday, young guitar titan Julian Lage presided on stage with a band of equally young, primarily South American instrumentalists including bassist Jorge Roeder, at the Dakota this spring with the Kenny Werner Trio. I first saw Lage here with Gary Burton’s New Generations band when Julian was a mere 17; I caught him the next year in his native Bay area with the Billy Hart Quartet. But he was already a veteran, having performed professionally since age 8! Sometimes early prodigies turn out to be more ordinary as adults, but not so Julian Lage, now 21. With technique that seemed to cover the entire history of acoustic guitar, he played through a set of original music, fingers flying as he exchanged solos and big grins with his band mates. The music was exuberant, hard to classify, easy to enjoy. And no one had a better time than Julian Lage.

Lage played only one set Wednesday night, yielding the stage to a late set from Tia Fuller and cohorts from Beyoncé’s band. That’s right, Beyoncé’s all-woman band boasts some young talents who will hopefully find more time on tour breaks to polish their jazz chops. Which are already gleaming. Fuller, an alto saxophonist (and flautist, although she only played sax here), has already released two superb quartet albums with another ready for early winter release. She holds an advanced degree in jazz studies, spends as much time as her schedule allows teaching in clinics and jazz camps, and counts Sean Jones, Gerald Wilson, Steve Turre and T.S. Monk among her past and ongoing gigs. In a day early for the Beyoncé show at Target Center, Tia rounded up her long-time drummer Kim Thompson and a third Beyoncé partner, pianist Rie Tsjui. She just needed a bassist. When Dakota owner Lowell Pickett recommended Minneapolis native, New School senior Chris Smith, the quartet was complete.

The club was filled, and probably half the audience expected an R&B flavored evening. Mostly it wasn’t. Instead we were treated to some of the most energetic modern jazz of an already stellar year, and a number of delights that even the hard core among us did not anticipate: 1) Tia Fuller, in the style of Kenny Garrett among others, has a wicked musical imagination and engaging stage persona; 2) Kim Thompson might be the best of the powerhouse-style drummers you never heard of, but should, and surely will; 3) Rie Tsjui similarly might be the most creative and daring acoustic jazz pianist to fly below the radar screen. Add to that the always remarkable young Chris Smith, who soloed with aplomb and dexterity in his first hometown appearance without his local cohorts, and an impromptu appearance by trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, in town this week to work with the Minnesota Orchestra on a commissioned work he will premiere next week. Mayfield and Fuller went bell to bell on one of her compositions, and I have never heard Mayfield sound more free. The special guest list was not complete, though, and soon Tia had invited a couple more of the gals in the Beyoncé band to join in, drummer Nikki and a rapper who added another layer of zest to the set. While original tunes (many that Tia described as written with a specific family member or friend in mind) prevailed, Tia noted that her grandfather (also a musician) taught her to “always play at least one standard,” and dedicated a beautiful “I Can’t Get Started” to him.

So capped the Dakota’s Hat Trick. It’s a tough feat to replicate, but I know Lowell Pickett and his staff will do their best.
Photos (top to bottom): Lura; Julian Lage; Tia Fuller with Chris Smith and Kim Thompson; Tia and Irvin Mayfield; Kim Thompson. (Photos by Andrea Canter July 13-15, 2009). See Jazz Police ( for an article about Tia Fuller with interview excerpts.

The Lead Sheet, July 17-23

© Andrea Canter

Hmm, the Strib couldn't find a single jazz gig to list in the weekly Big Gigs column today? And here I was thinking, it never rains, it pours! In fact, I am noticing more and more difficulty picking jazz gigs for The Lead Sheet each week, and in deciding which ones I will attend.... that suggests there are more venues booking jazz around town. I don’t mind these dilemmas.

I've been following the high school ensemble, The Dakota Combo, since their first edition three years ago. This year, director Kelly Rossum proposed a studio recording session, not only to get the music on record for posterity and PR, but also as a learning experience for the young musicians. The result is a CD of joyous original music and, according to these seven young men, a learning experience to last a lifetime. You can get a free copy of the CD and enjoy the last public appearance of the 2008-09 Combo on Peavy Plaza adjacent to Orchestra Hall (downtown Minneapolis) on Saturday morning (7/18) at 11:30 am. Stick around and hear two of the Schubert Club/Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education Jazz Piano Scholarship winners, Joe Strachan from 2009 and Jacob Wittenberg from 2008. It's all part of the DFJE Student Showcase at Sommerfest.
A seldom convened quartet takes the stage at the Artists Quarter this weekend, and it is among the best. Led by Pete Whitman, who is a demon on saxes and flute, it brings together pianist Peter Schimke, bassist Jeff Bailey and drummer Kevin Washington, each a monster. I first heard Jeff with the old Doug Little Quartet at the old AQ on Jackson Street, and a few times with the earlier incarnation of Jazz Is Now! But his public gigs have been few and far between lately. Irv Williams grabbed him for the TC Jazz Festival and it was great to hear him again. Kevin and Peter have numerous projects, Kevin most recently at the Guthrie Theater. This will be a hot one. And always hot, Nachito Herrera returns for his monthly blowout at the Dakota, just Saturday night this time.

Late Night at the Dakota keeps adding new as well as veteran performers. Worth staying up late on Saturday—Tim Sparks teams with Chris Bates and Jay Epstein to recapture the magic of his June release, Little Princess, an interpretative tribute to the great klezmer clarinetist, Naftule Brandwein. Sparks has long been the master of all things guitar, and particularly his blending of East European folk traditions with more global textures. There’s no clarinet in this trio, but the spirit of Brandwein shines nevertheless, with touches of flamenco and a dash of an Italian wedding. So sleep late on Sunday?

Sunday night a new band makes its first public appearance, at the Dakota. Story City brings together a sextet who have played together in varying combinations before finding their way into the Pat Metheny/Michael Brecker playbooks. Led by drummer Steve Jennings, this ensemble promises to become one of the most interesting on the local jazz scene.

Much more around town this weekend, with accordion star Patrick Harrison tonight at The Armatage (the offshoot of Café Maude, across the street in southwest Minneapolis);the ever-sbulime Maud Hixon & Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul, also tonight; two recommended cutting edge gigs at Café Maude –tonight with the Enormous Quartet (Chris Bates, Park Evans, Chris Thomson, Joey VanPhillips) and Saturday night with Van Phillips, Adam Linz and Nathan Hanson. Downtown, Hell’s Kitchen continues its ascent a first-rate music destination, Vital Organ with Katie Gearty on stage tonight, whiz-bang pianist Tanner Taylor on stage Saturday night. The Wolverines continue their run on Wednesday night (7/22).
Freebie of the week - Fat Kid Wednesdays on Peavy Plaza, Thursday at 5-7 pm as part of the free music of Sommerfest.

This coming week brings the unusual, and unusually talented Christopher O’Riley to the Dakota (July 20-21). Noted for his NPR show From the Top, O’Reilly has taken his classical chops to pop and rock, transcribing Radiohead, Nirvana, even Reid Anderson of the Bad Plus.

The Artists Quarter has its usual fine programming with the Tuesday Night Band (7/21), Tanner Taylor Trio (7/22) and Dave Karr Quartet (7/23), while Jeremy Walker’s NOWnet presents original music at the Dakota on July 23rd. That’s a big night in jazztown as trumpeter/Artistic Director for Jazz Irvin Mayfield presents a commissioned new work at Orchestra Hall. My suggestion is to go to Orchestra Hall, then come down the block and catch the last set of the NOWnet.

Coming soon—the long-awaited reunion of the Illicit Sextet at the AQ (July 24-25); Jelloslave at the Dakota Late Night (July 24); the Freedom Jazz Festival on August 1.

Photos (Top to bottom): The Dakota Combo prepares for its CD release; Jeff Bailey at the 2009 TC Jazz Festival; Jazz Is Now NOWnet performed in February with guest Ron Miles; Irvin Mayfield made an impromptu guest appearance with Tia Fuller at the Dakota on July 15th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Personal Manipulations: Ellen Lease

© Andrea Canter

When it comes to avant garde and experimental music, pianists have a more challenging task than most musicians. Unless you grab the inside strings or treat the piano as a percussion object, there is no way to alter the sound. A horn can slide and squeal or have mutes (or more!) stuffed into the bell; a bass or guitar can use pedals and loops or just sliding and slapping fingers to create different tones and overtones; a drum kit has infinite possibilities in terms of both objects and how they are used to strike something; even the human voice can be varied to change tones and tone quality. With a piano, you hit the key, the key hits the string, an A is an A....the quality of the sound totally depends on volume and that invisible thing called “touch,” leaving the pianist to create solely by varying the music itself. Of course some pianists do reach into the innards to dampen or pluck the strings—Craig Taborn (when rarely on acoustic piano), Ethan Iverson, Bill Carrothers and more are adept at adding this technique to their music, while Taborn, Uri Caine, Hiromi and others meld acoustic and electronic elements.

Ellen Lease plays acoustic piano, and so far I have never seen her go inside to hit a string or turn to an electric keyboard or laptop. She composes interesting compositions for herself and four other instruments that do lend themselves to nontraditional manipulation—saxophone (Pat Moriarty), trumpet (Kelly Rossum), bass (Chris Bates) and drums (Dave Stanoch). With husband Moriarty, she coleads the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet, a long-standing avant ensemble that plays on only a few occasions each year, usually in a small obscure space at Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown. Each of these musicians is well suited artistically and technically for the compositions of Lease and Moriarty, journeys that provide a perfect introduction to the modern edge of jazz without submerging the listener in an endless sea of anarchistic cacophony. Rather, their compositions alternate between beautifully dissonant lyricism and joyous firestorms of chafing harmonies, freewheeling with purpose and often with subtle rather than overt rebellion.

Pat blows his alto through squiggly upheavals and layers of ascents and descents; Kelly, surrounding himself with a collection of mutes, takes his trumpet (or smaller piccolo trumpet) on sometimes sweet, sometimes acerbic expeditions to the heights and depths of the brass tubing, evoking grins if not downright guffaws. Chris strikes multiple strings with the back of his hand or slides fingers up and down the neck til the bass tones growl or skid or burp. And Dave confirms that anything, any body part, can become an agent of percussion, from bells to shells to elbows.

But Ellen Lease has no such devices beyond her command of ten fingers. Yet she evokes the sensation of tinkling bells, ominous thunder, oncoming traffic, crackling fires, tumultuous waves, showers of falling stars; her writing seems to fall between unlikely yet compatible pairings of Debussy and Iverson, Bartok and Taborn, Chopin and Moran. And on her closing composition last night (“Peril”), she managed with mere acoustic and manual weaponry to match the fluttering bird calls of trumpet and sax.

Each of these musicians deserves his or her own blog entry. But I’ll start here with Ellen Lease, whose instrument may have the least flash and be the least amenable to physical modification, making hers the most personal manipulation of all.
Photos (top - bottom): Ellen Lease (at last year's Artists Quarter gig); Pat Moriarty, Kelly Rossum, Chris Bates with Dave Stanoch, at Studio Z on July 14, 2009 (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, July 10, 2009

So ln Love With Bill Carrothers

© Andrea Canter

I met Lydia Holsten last night, right before the start of Bill Carrothers’ set at the Artists Quarter with his European Trio, Belgian bassist Nicolas Thys and drummer Dre Pallemaerts. Lydia was eager to see her former piano student before he moved on to a week-long gig at the fabled Village Vanguard in New York.

So what was young Bill like as a piano student? Lydia noted that he was quite young when she first taught him, but the die was cast. “He would play the assigned tune, but then he would do what he wanted with it,” she acknowledged. So, are we surprised? He proceeded to lead his cohorts through an opening set where, even when the tune was as familiar as “Moonlight Serenade,” Bill treated it as another opportunity to rethink, reinvent, redesign.

I can think of few jazz artists working today who have the power to evoke tears, laughter and even confusion with a single phrase from a single instrument. Bill has been jabbing at our emotional as well as intellectual frailties since his first recordings and performances in the early 1990s. Nothing is sacred, not even the sounds of American pop culture. One of his recent releases goes so far as to make modern jazz of such mundane tunes as “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and the Oscar Meyer Weiner theme song (check out Play Day on his Bridge Boy Music label).

I’ve enjoyed Bill in numerous configurations but arguably this European collaboration best fits his simultaneously off-kilter and accessible music. The first set Thursday night gave a trademark sampling of Carrothers, ranging from sublime elegance to quirky mayhem, starting with his thickly voiced “Home Row” and ending with the 70s lament of the passing of 50s bliss, “Those Were the Days” (the iconic theme song of All in the Family), taken as a romantic ballad. Ah, those were the days! In between Bill covered the history of classical piano from Bach to Ravel with snippets of Beethoven, offered a swinging version of Clifford Brown’s “Junior’s Arrival” that evoked charging cavalry, pulled “Moonlight Serenade” from a cauldron blending Cecil Taylor and Debussy, and took us back to the mid-19th century with “Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel,” his fat voicings bouncing like two-handed block chords hitting slightly out of register.

The Belgian musicians were as intriguing to watch as hear—Thys playing one of the deepest bass tones I’ve ever heard, expanding the piano’s voicings; Pallemaerts rarely lost his smile and devilish glint, and rarely paused, his constant motion never distracting as he shifted tools and moods.

There was one jewel after another, but the gemstone of all, to me, was Cole Porter’s “So in Love,” a beautiful tune in most any rendition but filled with little surprises and twists a la Carrothers. Starting out with a prolonged and exquisite piano solo barely hinting at the melody, he was soon rolling chords into triplets and vice versa, playfully reprising snippets of “Moonlight Serenade” before leading his crew back home. And we were so in love.

Photos (top – bottom): Bill Carrothers; Nicolas Thys; Dre Pallemaerts, at the Artists Quarter on July 9th, warming up for the Vanguard. (Photos by Andrea Canter). See expanded review at JazzNK (, coming soon!

The Lead Sheet, July 10-16

© Andrea Canter

I’m still buzzing internally from the amazing talents we saw at the Iowa City Jazz Festival (see last blog). Yet returning home, I can’t help but grin at the amazing talents we have here every day. At all levels of experience, this coming week offers opportunities to enjoy!

This weekend, one of the veteran entertainers and surely one of the most powerful jazz and blues voices in the Midwest takes the stage at the Artists Quarter. Every time I hear Debbie Duncan, I think she has raised the bar another notch. With frequent collaborator Mary Louise Knutson on piano, your satisfaction is guaranteed. Across the river, frequent visitor Estaire Godinez holds forth at the Dakota, which guarantees a weekend of hot Latin vocals and percussion, and another great band.

Short on experience but long on talent, the Javier Santiago Experiment gets underway at 11:30 pm Saturday as part of the Dakota Late Night Series. If you have followed youth jazz over the past five years or more, you have most certainly run into Javier at the piano, Chris Smith on bass and Miguel Hurtado on drums, long ago with the young teen group, The Eggz, and later Second Nature and The Bridge. The three alums of the terrific jazz program at Minneapolis South High (kudos to band director Scott Carter!) have been building their careers since high school—Javier and Chris at the highly selective Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific (in 2008, the Twin Cities, and South High, boasted two of the five “fellows” selected from nationwide auditions), Miguel at the Manhattan School of Music. First Chris, now Javier have continued studies at The New School in New York. They’ll be performing with saxophonist Aaron Hedenstrom, a UW-Eau Claire musician, and St. Paul Central HS grad Daniel Duke, alternating bass duties with Chris Smith. Javier and Daniel were part of the first edition of the Dakota Combo during their senior years of high school. So all in all, the Javier Santiago Experiment brings us an update of the trajectories of some of our finest young jazz artists. Definitely worth staying out late!

In the same age group, guitarist Julian Lage makes his Dakota debut as a leader on July 14-15. From the Bay Area, Lage was gigging with the big guys as a young teen, joining Gary Burton’s New Generations Band as a high school student. He was at the Dakota with NGB back in 2005. Now all of 21, Lage is a fast-rising star. I’ve seen Lage at the Headlsburg Jazz Festival with Billy Hart’s Quartet and am eager to see and hear him now as a maturing artist.

July 14th marks one of the rare performances of the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet, and perhaps the last time (in a while!) that trumpeter Kelly Rossum will be part of the ensemble, given his upcoming move to New York. Pianist Lease and saxman Moriarty have been leading this creative ensemble for a long time, but they only get together on stage a couple times per year. With Dave Stanoch on drums and Chris Bates on bass, it’s a band of eccentric inventors that turn each composition into a new experiment. Catch them at Studio Z in downtown St. Paul.
Something a little bit different – following Julian Lage’s early set at the Dakota on July 15th will be a special late night performance by Tia Fuller, best known these days as the saxophonist for Beyoncé. But she’s a fine jazz musician in her own right, as you’ll hear. (She’s in town for Beyoncé’s performance at Target Center the next night.)

Message from pianist Denny Malmberg that this Sunday (July 12) will be the last for brunch music with Denny and Charmin Michelle at Kozy’s in Galleria. But you can still catch them at their swinging, joyful best, most every Monday and Wednesday night at Fireside Pizza in Richfield. Another swinging duo, Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson, are serenading diners at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul every Friday night in July. I love them both, and best as a duo. Initmacy, classic style, and always divine material.

Coming soon—a rare weekend at the AQ with the Pete Whitman Quartet (July 17-18); a showcase of student jazz talents and CD release for the Dakota Combo on Peavy Plaza (July 18th, 11:30 am – 2 pm); a fascinating evening with Christopher O’Reilly and his classic-turned-rock inventions at the Dakota (July 20-21); Jeremy Walker’s Nownet at the Dakota and Irvin Mayfield’s new commissioned work for Orchestra Hall (both on July 23); the long-awaited Illicit Sextet Reunion at the AQ (July 24-25).

Photos (top-bottom): Debbie Duncan sang out recently as part of the TC Jazz Festival's Bloomington annex night; Javier Santiago at a recent AQ gig; Julian Lage at the 2006 Healdsburg Jazz Festival. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jazztown USA - The Iowa City Jazz Festival

  • © Andrea Canter

    I grew up in Iowa City, a Big Ten university town halfway between Minneapolis and St. Louis, Chicago and Omaha. My high school back in the 60s had a jazz band (“Rocky and the Squirrels”). I imagine the university also had a jazz band although I don’t recall hearing about it then. I didn’t discover the Iowa City Jazz Festival until 2001, and then it was quite by accident during a visit with my parents on a July weekend. I was downtown for some other reason, and came upon a crowd gathered around a stage in the intersection of two main streets, flanked by a few small concessions tents. Pat Martino and his quartet were performing. This was my first introduction to Martino as well as my first hint that Iowa City had become a jazz haven. Where had I been for the previous ten years? An avid jazz fan throughout the 90s and beyond, how did I miss the fact that my home town held this festival every July?

    The Iowa City Jazz Festival never escaped my attention again, and I have made it five times in the past seven years. Each year the festival seems just a bit stronger than the last. Why does this festival seem to work so well, garnering national attention? Iowa City is a unique environment, a city of 60,000 with the cultural amenities of urban centers of 600,000. It’s built around a large public university that boasts an internationally renowned Writers Workshop and highly regarded School of Music and theater departments. Then there’s Steve Grismore, guitarist, jazz faculty, and director of the festival since its modest beginnings in 1991. And sponsorship—the Iowa City Jazz Festival is supported by the city itself as well as perennial funder Toyota Scion of Iowa City and numerous other sponsors who ensure the annual event’s success. The festival is now part of the Iowa City Summer of the Arts, a series of cultural events that benefit from university and city support.

    Another rather unique aspect of the ICJF is its leanings toward modern jazz and world music. At past festivals I have heard for the first time the music of Patricia Barber, Henry Threadgill, Dapp Theory, Dave Berkman, Don Byron and Jacob Fred Oddysey; observed the creation of loops as Robin Eubanks performed in a trombone quintet with four electronic clones; enjoyed The Bad Plus, Geoffrey Keezer, Kenny Garrett, Buster Williams, Terell Stafford, Ron Miles, Conrad Herwig and Eric Alexander.

    There’s only one main stage in Iowa City, now planted on the partially shaded greenery of The Pentacrest, a confluence of the original university administration and classroom buildings that surround the gold-domed Old Capital, the state’s first capital building. It’s a charming setting for music and a stunning backdrop for fireworks. And there is no sonic competition—three side stages for high school, college and community bands are only in action between main stage sets.

    Did I mention the festival food? Another unique aspect about Iowa City is the gourmet concessions corridor, where you can get falafel, masaam curry, and African stews along with the obligatory pizza, smoothies and funnel cakes.

    The 2009 festival was a 21st century jazz fan’s “all you can eat” buffet. I was not able to get in for Friday night’s headliner, David Sanchez. But we managed the rest of the weekend:

  • Orquestra Alto Maiz, an Iowa-based Latin ensemble with four percussionists rotating among the cajon, timbales, and congas and a brass section that fired one volley after another.

  • Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, a funky volcano of sound coming from a band of 20-somethings, led by trombonist/ trumpeter/ vocalist Troy “Shorty” Andrews, surely one of the most charismatic young bandleaders around. Unexpected delight was the impromptu appearance of trombone master Robin Eubanks, in a day early for his performance with Dave Holland.

  • Lionel Loueke Trio, led by West African guitarist/vocalist Loueke. After Shorty and company, the set was almost too mellow, the vocalizations mirrored in the pedal effects and vice versa, creating a songful breeze from African forests.

  • Bob Levy and the J.O. Trio, with a veteran trumpeter playing through mostly original compositions that favored his warm vibrato and talented young cohorts.

  • Chris Potter’s Underground, surely one of the best of modern small ensembles, with Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Potter originals dominated the set, as did his virtuosic soloing (on tenor and soprano) that sets him apart from most every saxophonist in the current sea of virtuosic saxophonists. Taborn dissected themes and variations as high art; Rogers has one of the most musical approaches to modern guitar; and Smith is a power house that never overpowers.

  • The Bill Frisell Quartet, an ambient, relaxed interlude between two incendiary ensembles and a welcome opportunity to again hear the trumpet magic of Ron Miles as well as the lyrical side of Frisell.

  • The Dave Holland Quintet, demonstrating why it repeatedly tops DownBeat polls, the leader one of the living legends of jazz bass as well as a dominating force in modern composition. The Quintet is a long standing collaboration among musicians who are held in high esteem by peers as well as audiences, and including two from Underground, Potter and Smith, along with ubiquitous master Robin Eubanks on trombone and the ever-enchanting Steve Nelson on vibes. It was a sizzling end to the festival.

    Did I mention all this is free? I’ll be back in 2010.

Photos (top-bottom): Chris Potter blows soprano with Adam Rogers; Nate Smith kept busy with both Underground and the Holland Quintet; Dave Holland (black and white? the deeply orange lights were a bit much!). Photos by Andrea Canter at the 2009 Iowa City Jazz Festival.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Lead Sheet, July 3-9

Major clubs are taking a holiday this weekend, but music never sleeps! It might be more difficult to find live jazz on July 4th, but you can nevertheless find acoustic fireworks over the weekend and beyond. The best bargain in live jazz is a five-hour drive south to Iowa City for the IC Jazz Festival. Tonight (7/3) features saxophone master David Sanchez and his Quartet; Saturday night brings the entertaining Trombone Shorty followed by West African guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke and his trio, very impressive in their Dakota debut this spring. But if you can only come down for one day, make it Sunday-- back to back to back it's Chris Potter's Underground Quartet (with Twin Citian Craig Taborn on keys), Bill Frisell's Quartet with Ron Miles on trumpet, and the Dave Holland Quintet--Potter getting another workout along with Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, and Potter's drummer, Nate Smith.

But if you stick around the Twin Cities this weekend, you will not be disappointed. Tonight (July 3) finds three of the area’s most distinguished vocalists on stage: Debbie Duncan, with pianist Mary Louise Knutson and more, entertains at the Dakota, while Lucia Newell helps celebrate Laura Caviani’s return to the keyboard at Crave in The Galleria. Laura’s been sorely missed over the past month while recovering from severe hand cuts suffered in a car accident. Across the river at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill off W. 7th in St. Paul, Maud Hixson with Rick Carlson will put you in the mood for a romantic holiday. (Maud and Rick perform every Friday night in July, except for July 10th when her partner will be guitar master Reuben Ristrom.)

And indeed there is some pretty hot jazz on July 4th—pianist Larry McDonough and his long-time cohort Richard Terrill on saxes will perform at the Sage Wine Bar in Mendota Heights. This is a very cozy venue for music with an eclectic menu of food, wine, beer and more. The exterior says Suburbia. The interior says casual urban elegance. Best of all, Larry is one of the most inventive musicians in the Twin Cities, taking apart standards and reconfiguring time signatures and rhythmic structures, adding some vocals as well as original compositions. And I happen to think that piano/sax duets are particularly enticing.

Tuesday (7/7) at the Dakota marks a return engagement with one of the area’s fast rising stars, vocalist Nancy Harms. Nancy has a unique style—she’s a swinging storyteller whose song book is ever expanding.

The Artists Quarter features some special post-holiday mayhem, starting with the Atlantis Quartet on Wednesday (7/8) and then the “big gig” of the week, Bill Carrothers with his European Trio on Thursday (7/9). Atlantis features master bassist Chris Bates and three stars-in-the making---guitarist Zacc Harris, saxman Brandon Wozniak, and drummer Pete Hennig. In various combinations, these musicians are drawing a lot of attention to creative music.

Bill Carrothers grew up in Edina, spent just enough time in New York to realize he wasn’t enjoying the fast pace of ultra-urban life, and relocated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But he’s hardly been out of the limelight, especially in Europe where he spends far more time performing than on this side of the Atlantic. Two of his favorite cohorts in Europe now join him for a brief American tour, starting at the AQ, moving on to the Green Mill in Chicago, and ending with a week-long residency at the Village Vanguard in New York. Nicolas Thys on bass and Dre Pallemaerts on drums will provide the counterpoint to Bill’s never ending quest to pull every sound possible from an acoustic piano while reinventing standards and pop tunes. Only Bill can work magic with the Oscar Meyer Weiner theme song!

There’s always great pizza and jazz with pizzaz at Fireside Pizza in Richfield, with Charmin Michelle (back from Spain) and Denny Malmberg providing the best music to go with pepperoni, every Monday and Wednesday. Arne Fogel sings with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen this Wednesday night (7/8)—and if you remember the old Rossi’s space, you will be pleasantly surprised by the transformation since Hell took over.

Coming soon! I’m looking forward to the Dakota Late Night on July 11th when three young men with amazingly bright futures reunite—Javier Santiago leads the trio, fresh from his two years with the Brubeck Institute and ready to join pal/bassist Chris Smith at the New School in New York. Chris also did a two-year stint at Brubeck. Miguel Hurtado, studying drums at the Manhattan School of Music, completes the trio. I first heard these guys when they were barely in their teens, performing with saxophonist Owen Nelson as The Eggz. Well, these eggz have hatched! Guitarist Julian Lage, another prodigy now barely in his 20s, makes his Dakota debut as a leader on July 14-15. (He was here as a 17-year-old with the Gary Burton New Generations Band.) And also on July 14th, catch the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet in what may be their last performance with Kelly Rossum before the trumpeter moves to New York. They will be performing in the intimate Zeitgeist space at Studio Z in St. Paul.

Photos: Laura Caviani is back at the keyboard; Nancy Harms performed during the Jazz Night Out Singer Showcase at Camp Bar during the TC Jazz Festival; Bill Carrothers warms up for the Vanguard at the AQ. (Photos by Andrea Canter)