Friday, August 28, 2009

The Lead Sheet, August 28-September 3

© 2009, Andrea Canter

There’s a lot of great jazz around the Cities as we heat up to Labor Day weekend. And generating the most heat is Kelly Rossum, former Mohawk Man, trumpeter, composer, bandleader, educator, jazz advocate general. His announcement about six months ago that he would be leaving for the less certain, more challenging epicenter of jazz, New York, was greeted with dismay and understanding—he needs to leave his comfort zone and test the deepest jazz waters. If talent counts, he should be swimming with the big fish soon.

But first, one last “farewell” weekend, this time at the Dakota with his brilliant quartet featuring Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates and JT Bates (8/28-29) with the added treat at 10 pm Saturday, when Kelly and JT meet up with sensational German organist Barbara Dennerlein. I saw her about a year ago here and for the first time appreciated the role of foot action on the Hammond B-3. She is in constant motion and her fancy footwork yields some exciting harmonics. Tonight, however, it is all quartet madness, and even without his trademark mohawk (he’s starting “clean” headed in NY), Kelly Rossum is always a unique voice, his horn spewing notes and phrases that can be as sublime (and decadent) as chocolate mousse and as biting and jolting as wasabi. For every human emotion, Kelly has a note, a sound. His vocabulary encompasses every language. Will we see these four musicians together again? Maybe Lowell Pickett has already booked the first reunion gig. Hang out late tonight for Nichols with Jay Epstein and Jeremy Boettcher.

There’s plenty of action across town, with a Charlie Parker Tribute Weekend at the Artists Quarter, featuring five sax giants—Dave Karr, Gary Berg and Bob Parsons tonight; Pete Whitman and Brandon Wozniak joining Dave tomorrow night (8/29), ably supported by Chris Lomheim, Adam Linz and Kenny Horst. And one more chance to enjoy Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul, tonight (8/28).

Two big tribute gigs on Sunday for different reasons. From noon til 10 pm, there’s the first of several benefits for ailing guitar master Dean Magraw, this one at the Celtic Junction in St. Paul. Dean, recovering from a bone marrow transplant to fight lymphoma, has been one of the most prolific (and upbeat) musicians in town, covering folk, fusion and jazz traditions, and his fellow musicians and friends are hosting the fund raiser. (Other benefits include 9/14 at the Dakota and 10/11 at the Artists Quarter.) Sunday evening (7 pm), Minnesota’s matriarch of jazz, Jeanne Arland Peterson celebrates 88 x 2--- her birthday and her double CD release (88 Keys) at the Artists Quarter. Cake, swinging piano, and probably more Petersons than you can count.

Wednesday (9/2), one of my favorite local vocals returns to the Dakota—Nichola Miller. She’s full of sassy swing, a great songbook, and warming up to release a CD in November. Amina Figarova and her marvelous sextet return to the Twin Cities Thursday (9/3). A native of Azerbaijan now based in The Netherlands, Figarova is an amazing pianist, composer and arranger who wowed crowds at the 2008 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. This is a rare opportunity to hear one of the most exciting European ensembles on the scene. Competing on Thursday night is the first of the season’s REEL Jazz films at Bryant Lake Bowl. This evening’s screenings include four indie films covering Elvin Jones, Jaki Byard, jazz dance and more. Contact Kevin Barnes at Jazz 88 for reservations,

Coming soon: I for one will spend Labor Day Weekend in Detroit at the 30th annual Detroit Jazz Festival, enjoying a preview of Chick Corea with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, who appear at the Dakota on September 7-8. We also anticipate hearing Hank Jones and Wayne Shorter among others in Detroit. Closer to home is the annual Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend, with everyone not in Detroit... and some who are. It’s also Jon Pemberton’s Tribute to Lee Morgan at the AQ that weekend, and a singers jam at the Sage Wine Bar in Mendota Heights (9/5), put on by the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota. Check the Dakota calendar – September 10th offers a triple header with vocalists Tierney Sutton, Gretchen Parlato, and Sachal Vasandani. The Selby Avenue Jazz Festival returns featuring smooth man Kim Waters, on September 13th.

Photos: A dizzying Kelly Rossum; Dean Magraw; Jeanne Arland Peterson again will blow out the candles; Amina Figarova at the TC Jazz Festival (photos by Andrea Canter)

Last Weekend, and One More With Kelly Rossum

© 2009, Andrea Canter

Kelly Rossum is one of those musicians that you appreciate not only for his own music but for the company he keeps. Despite his upcoming move to New York City (this Sunday!), we can hope that he continues to keep good company, both on journeys back to the Twin Cities and in his new home in the Big Apple. Even without the mohawk (shorn – even his head gets a fresh start in NY), Kelly remains one of our most unique and creative voices in modern music.

Kelly’s exit is not without a good deal of trumpet fanfare (or is that fans of trumpet fare?). Last week, Phil Hey turned his monthly Quartet outing into the Out to Lunch Quintet’s “final” performance (I hope he meant final before Kelly leaves town... and not “final,” period.) Their first set at the Artists Quarter included the full presentation of Eric Dolphy’s classic that gives the band its name and inspiration. Dave Milne’s hollow bass clarinet and Tom Lewis’ bowed sandpapery bass shined on “Something Sweet, Something Tender,” while Rossum spewed brassy slapstick on “Straight Up and Down,” like an aural version of Dick Van Dyke’s classic pantomimes of a staggering drunk. The OTLQ is always a playground for these five artists, a chance to see Dave Milne on his arsenal of horns (alto, flute, bass clarinet), Dave Hagedorn’s acrobatics on vibes, Phil Hey all over the drum kit, Tom Lewis busting out of the straight man role. And of course Kelly Rossum, whose trumpet slides, cackles, grins and groans like no other.

The OTLQ was followed at the Artists Quarter by two nights of further mayhem with Kelly in the vortex. Again Phil Hey behind the drum kit, but here augmented by two more of Kelly’s frequent cohorts, pianist Bryan Nichols and bassist (and his replacement at MacPhail) Adam Linz. A set with just the rhythm section soared (both nights) on a handful of Herbie Nichols tunes (why isn’t Herbie’s book more popular among modern ensembles?), some less frequently played bebop masterpieces (Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” and Parker’s “Perhaps”) and a few originals from Bryan, one of the most, maybe the most original keyboard voice in the area. At times it seems that his piano has its own sound track built-in, the full rhythm section in 88 keys.

Bassist often have large hands, but don’t tell Adam Linz, whose smaller weapons cover more territory with more dexterity and grace than anyone I’ve seen. And while a number of musicians tend to subvocalize as they play (usually pianists!), Adam is the only one I hear (and it is easy to hear!) whose audible accompaniment is actually musical if not deliberate. And then there’s Phil Hey who creates more nuances of sound from a standard kit than drummers who bring twice the hardware to the bandstand—be it through deftly alternating brush, mallet and stick in a single verse or dampening a cymbal with one hand while muffling a snare with an elbow or dancing his sticks on a rim.

The centerpiece set of both nights was the CD release celebration for Conflict, a Hey/Rossum duo recorded live as a late night experiment at the Dakota two years ago. The story of the CD title may be part myth and part reality, suffice it to say that there was no antagonism between the musicians, but considerable jousting. It’s a joy to hear but even more engaging live as equal partners carry out their parts of conversations that range from sublime to cacaphonic. Here are two musicians with the capacity make (seemingly) infinite sounds, create infinite moods as soloists, now merging into dialogues that reveal full storylines.

Each night the full quartet played the third set, each musician exploding like the finale of 4th of July fireworks, Kelly spattering notes like an Uzi gone wild. Nothing like going off in a blaze of brass, taking no prisoners, leaving us wanting just one more night.

We get two more nights this weekend at the Dakota, this time Kelly Rossum and his long-standing quartet with Bryan Nichols back on piano, Chris Bates on bass, JT Bates on drums. And as a special send-off tomorrow night, Kelly and JT join German organist Barbara Dennerlein for the 10 pm set. Then Kelly loads up the van and heads east. I hope someone has booked his reunion “tour.”

For a review of Conflict, visit Jazz Police at:
Photos (top-bottom): Kelly's "last" gig with the Out to Lunch Quintet on August 20th; Kelly with mohawk; Kelly without mohawk. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Lead Sheet, August 21-27

© Andrea Canter

If only the two consecutive weekends of Kelly Rossum gigs were not farewell appearances! But sooner or later, it is inevitable that top echelon artists will look east for inspiration and opportunities, and we wish Kelly well as he tackles new challenges in the Big Apple. Before he takes off, however, he celebrates the release of Conflict, a duet set with drummer Phil Hey, recorded live during a Late Night at the Dakota gig. Why is the release at the AQ instead of the Dakota? Maybe that’s part of the “conflict?” Regardless, the recording is every bit as unpredictable, challenging, and intriguing as one would expect from this pair. It’s like listening to an intense conversation between two creative and headstrong individuals who somehow find a point of collaboration while still following their own inner urges. The conversation is at times mellow, at times more “conflicted,” sometimes aggressive, sometimes humorous. The first sets on Friday and Saturday at the AQ (8/21-22) will be the duet; second sets will feature the Phil Hey Trio with Bryan Nichols and Adam Linz; the final sets will be the full quartet. Come early, stay late. You might never see these configurations again. And buy the CD.

Since clearly great things occur on the Dakota stage during the late night gigs, be sure to check out Monk in Motian on Saturday night at 11:30 pm. Earlier in the evening you can catch one of the great blues guitarists, Duke Robillard, but be sure to stick around for Late Night. Monk in Motian was spawned about two years ago by guitarists Zacc Harris and Park Evans, taking the music of Monk as interpreted by the great electric band of Paul Motian, and given a Minnesota spritz. This weekend, usual cohorts Harris, Evans and saxman Scott Fultz bring in Chris Thomson and the Bates brothers (Chris and JT) to put a somewhat different spin on their always fascinating translations of the Monk repertoire.

For a south of the border jolt to start the weekend, Café Maude hosts Viviana Pintado, Ray Rivera and Matt Darling in a piano/trombone/percussion rhumba, while Nachito Herrera hosts his monthly Havana party at the Dakota, both tonight (8/21).

There’s still a bit of summer left which means a few more weeks of free, outdoor gigs across all genres of music. Sunday night (8/23), the sublime pair of Charmin (Michelle) and Shapira (Joel) serenade at the Wolf Park Amphitheater in St. Louis Park, 7-8 pm. Tuesday (8/25) I plan to trek over to the Como Park Pavillion and catch the Acme Jazz Company. This 19-piece band covers the gamut of jazz. I haven’t heard them yet but my attention was piqued when I learned that young Geoff LeCrone is holding down the guitar chair in a sea of veteran musicians, including his former Minnetonka High School bandleader, Miles Mortenson. Geoff, who was part of the second edition of the Dakota Combo in 2007-08, has been studying guitar with Joan Griffith at St. Thomas. Acme plays weekly at O’Gara’s in St. Paul.

Two chances this week to catch the Laura Caviani Trio, tonight at Crave with Lucia Newell and Thursday at the AQ with Gordy Johnson and Dave Schmalenberger. The AQ gig is Laura’s first with her trio since mangling her hand in a car accident early this summer. She’s been back at Crave and with the X-Tet since, clearly no permanent damage. And two chances to catch Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza, Monday and Wednesday, in Richfield.

Coming soon: Next weekend is really the finale for Kelly Rossum and his quartet, Friday and Saturday nights at the Dakota. The 10 pm set on Saturday features German organist Barbara Dennerlein with Kelly and JT Bates. Sunday from noon til 10 pm is a benefit for ailing Dean Magraw, one of the area’s favorite and most eclectic guitarists who is battling lymphoma. This benefit is at the Celtic Junction in St. Paul; there will be another benefit October 11th at the AQ. Also on August 30th, early evening, come celebrate Jeanne Arland Peterson’s #88 birthday and double retrospective CD release at the AQ. September 3rd, European pianist and bandleader Amina Figarova will be at the Dakota. A big hit at the 2008 TC Jazz Festival, Figarova is one of the most creative composers and arrangers working in modern jazz. And I hear a few tickets remain for Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke/Lenny White on September 7-8 at the Dakota.

For a listing of daily, weekly or monthly jazz in the Twin Cities, check Pamela’s blog at, also linked via Jazz Police, JazzINK, and the TCJS websites.

Photos: Kelly Rossum and Phil Hey, releasing “Conflict” at the AQ; Chris Bates (appearing this week with Monk in Motian and next week with the Kelly Rossum QT at the Dakota); Geoff LeCrone proves age is no barrier with the Acme Jazz Company (Tuesday at Como Park Pavillion); Laura Caviani returns to the AQ with her Trio

Monday, August 17, 2009

Growing Musicians, Feeding the Fire

© Andrea Canter

Saturday night I attended a true “house party,” where musicians gather for an organized presentation to an invited audience in a private home. No professional sound system, in fact no amplification at all. Just a grand piano, a full drumset, an upright bass. We dubbed it a Jazz Cram Session, given the tight space for performers and tighter space in adjacent rooms for folding chairs. The core musicians were three college students and former teen cohorts who play together as much as possible on school vacations; the party was organized by the bassist’s parents as a means of presenting their talents to an audience of not-necessarily-jazz fans but interested friends and neighbors.

These guys do get gigs on their own. Javier Santiago, pianist/arranger/composer, was on the bandstand at the Dakota last night filling in with Doug Little’s Seven Steps to Havana. A month ago, he and his trio had their own gig at the Dakota, and he just returned from a quick gig in California. After two years at the Brubeck Institute, he’s off to complete college studies at the New School in Manhattan. On bass, and host for the evening was Daniel Duke, student of jazz at the William Paterson University in New Jersey. Daniel and Javier were partners in the first edition of the Dakota Combo, the Twin Cities high school version of a Brubeck Institute ensemble. On drums was Miguel Hurtado, graduate of Minneapolis South High and heading back for his final year at the Manhattan School of Music, and long-time musical partner of Javier at South High and many other youth bands. On several tunes, the trio was joined by trombonist Ben Link, also an alum of the first Dakota Combo, Daniel’s classmate at St. Paul Central, and now a student at the McNally Smith College of Music. And on two tunes, a young woman named Berit added vocals like a pro. She's a new high school graduate headed to Brown. Like any small community in the arts, the young jazz musicians of the Twin Cities have been finding each other, and jamming together, for years.

Jamming together is not really accurate. They’ve been working, collectively and individually, when no one told them they had to practice. When it was not homework for band class. Before there even was a band class. What sets serious young musicians apart from the many band students enrolled in middle and high schools each year is their degree of commitment, a dedication that comes from within. It’s an internal hard drive loaded with RAM and memory chips, and its own energy source. And passion. They don’t need external rewards to play, to practice, to study. They might need to be told to stop and get some sleep!

Most remarkable isn’t how much they accomplish under the guidance of band directors, private instructors, jazz camp leaders, but what they accomplish outside of the organized learning and performing experiences. For the house party, these guys, age 20-21, had composed the music, written the charts, provided direction as need to their fellow musicians, rehearsed. They spend hours honing their chops. They are their own agents, they make their own contacts, find their own gigs.

Of course now they are young adults. But already they have years of experience with the tasks of professional musicians. They have been composing, practicing, gigging, listening, learning, promoting since their early teens. All this while completing school, now completing college programs.

And they are not alone in their singular pursuit of careers that allow them to explore their passions in full. The young musicians who have been part of the Dakota Combo program for the past three years, generally 16-17 year-olds when they audition, similarly show this precocious professionalism whether engaged in organized rehearsals under adult direction or in finding and following through on private or public gigs. They constantly listen to the music that inspires their own, compose, arrange and rearrange, seek out new partners who share that passion, look for new learning opportunities.

I was most impressed in the past year with a quintet dubbing themselves The Alternates. With the exception of the bassist, who was selected for a second year with the Dakota Combo, these guys were all “alternates” for the Combo, and honor with no new opportunities. So they formed their own band, organized their own weekly rehearsals, sought their own gigs, wrote or arranged their own tunes. They were, in essence, “a band” –a group that developed its own sound, its own repertoire. Without adult guidance, without “assignments” or externally imposed rules or timelines. They just did it. And did it very well.

At the house party, we (the mostly-nonmusician, older-adults-in-awe) remarked about the level of passion and follow-through of these young men. But it’s really part of a bigger chain. Although not universal, supporting many of these bright talents is an equally strong commitment from families, from parents, to give them the green light, to give them permission, to give them wide berth to propel themselves into that musical universe. Parents somehow create those first opportunities, by directly introducing music and encouraging an instrument, or by affirming a youngster’s first expressions of interest, or simply by not blocking or deflecting the first spark. Then there’s transporting to lessons, paying for lessons, finding lessons, listening to hours of practice, providing space for the band. And cheering them on as if they were quarterbacks or goalies rather than saxophonists or drummers. And later? Refinancing the house, putting off vacations, whatever it takes to be sure that an acceptance at Juilliard or Manhattan or Berklee is more than an honor, but also a reality. And knowing that in the end, that music degree won’t likely translate into a lucrative job to pay back the loans.

The internal flame that fuels artistic passion burns on its own, and among the most gifted, it burns early. But having a support system to fan those flames makes a huge difference.

Thanks to the young artists who share their gifts. And thanks to the families who share their young artists.
Photos: (Top -bottom), Javier Santiago (at the Artists Quarter in 2008); Daniel Duke; Miguel Hurtado (Daniel and Miguel at the Dakota in July 2009). (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy 90, Irv!

© Andrea Canter

Friday night’s usual trickle-in crowd at the Artists Quarter was mysteriously replaced by a full house at showtime last night. Maybe not so mysterious, given the occasion was the 90th birthday celebration for everyone’s favorite grandpa and saxman, Irv Williams. Barely taller than his tenor and surrounded by “young” monsters in their own right (Peter Schimke, Jeff Bailey and Kenny Horst), Irv, the musician and the man, is never anything short of a giant. Big tone, big heart... naturally a big crowd.

Holding up his ultra-shiny tenor sax, Irv told of a request to donate his long-used horn to the Minnesota Historical Society for its Greatest Generation collection, resulting in turn in a gift of a much more expensive Selmer. “It’s a great horn, but I miss my old one, this one is not as mellow.” Yet I think Irv Williams could make a K-Mart whistle sound as mellow as warmed brandy on a winter night. They don’t call him “Mr. Smooth” for no reason.

The AQ birthday gig covered a lot of Irv’s favorites, from the majestic opening “I Hear a Rhapsody” to the energetic closing (energetic, after two sets ending at midnight), “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.” At least outwardly, Irv was as fresh as that morning sunrise, and glowing more.

It’s always hard to pull out highlights from an Irv Williams set, as there’s never a clunker, never a sour note, never a weak tune. “Days of Wine and Roses” featured a lovely opening duet with Jeff Bailey, Irv’s vibrato wide with a Ben Websterish whisper. Bailey starred often, particularly soloing on “On Green Dolphin Street” –melodic, assertive, nimble. One of the most versatile pianists around, Peter Schimke has long been Irv’s musical partner (their duet recording Duo is simply sublime) and their mutual affection shows in every encounter, be it graceful readings of “Besame Mucho” or rhythmic antics of “In a Mellow Tone.” Kenny Horst worked his kit inside out, from sticks to brushes to mallets, and sometimes all three in quick succession, sharply punctuating “Mellow Tone” and softly caressing “Old Folks.”

Irv’s amazing dexterity and lung power not withstanding, it’s the ballads that are his signatures, and two of his favorites are surely mine as well: “Here’s to Life” (which he first heard via Shirley Horn) and his own “Besti’s Song,” my nominee for the most angst-driven ballad in saxophone literature. It’s hollow, haunting, and beautifully tragic.

But it was not an evening of angst, despite Irv’s occasional suggestion that retirement is coming. It’s always coming. Last night, there was cake. Last night, youngest grandson Max came on stage to have a few words with Grandpa. There was the loving standing ovation at the close. We all (even Irv!) sang “Happy Birthday.”

At 90, Irv Williams has many stories to tell, and he’s a bit of a stand-up comic. But he lets his horn do most of the storytelling, and we’re still gathering at his knee for another, and another.

(This is a shorter version of a review to appear on and A second birthday bash will be held in Minneapolis at the Dakota on Irv's actual birthday, Monday, August 17th.)

Photos, all from the 90th birthday gig at the Artists Quarter on August 14th, top-bottom: Irv Williams with Peter Schimke; Kenny Horst; Irv with Jeff and Kenny. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Lead Sheet, August 14-20

© Andrea Canter

If you use local print media as your guide, you would have to agree with our friends at Minnesota Monthly that jazz is hard to find. Today’s Star Tribune, for example, in its “big gigs” listing, has no jazz at all. Maybe it does not help that the biggest gig at the Dakota Jazz Club this week (arguably) is Aaron Neville. And that is indeed a big gig.... but where’s the jazz? Fortunately, what’s missing from the Strib is in plentiful and exemplary supply, including jazz gigs at the Dakota.

And there should be a banner headline declaring this Irv Williams Weekend in the Twin Cities, as the tireless tenorman celebrates #90 on both sides of the river, tonight (8/14) at the Artists Quarter and again Monday (8/17) at the Dakota. As prolific in his 9th decade as most musicians in their prime, Irv still holds weekly gigs (happy hour at the Dakota on Fridays, pleasing the Saturday diners at Il Vesco Vino) and brings his quartet to the AQ a few times each year; he was one of the prime acts at the 2009 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. You won’t hear a sweeter horn or meet a sweeter guy. Birthday cake is on the set list, and Irv has more than enough lung power to handle 90 candles.

Another double-header this weekend features saxophonist/flautist Doug Little and his Seven Steps to Havana. It’s a multi-cultural experience, with band members from the US, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico, tied together by Doug’s immersion in the traditions of Cuba and Brazil as well as solid American post bop chops. They’re at the Dakota tonight (8/14) and the AQ Saturday (8/15).

There’s one more opportunity to enjoy Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul (Saturday, 8/15). There’s no finer voice/piano duo. Check out Maud’s website for some clips she recorded last winter in New York! (

The weekend also includes Patty Peterson at Crave in the Galleria (8/14); steamy vocalist Ginger Commodore at the Dakota followed by the edgy James Buckley Trio (8/15), young creators Bryan Nichols and Jeremy Boetcher in a piano/bass duo at Café Maud in southwest Minneapolis (8/15), and the always engaging Connie Evingson at the Dakota to close out the weekend (8/16). If you are down around Northfield this weekend, or decide to make the short drive, it’s the first Northfield Jazz Festival. There’s a ticketed performance by Butch Thompson tonight (8/14) and an afternoon of free music in the park from noon on Saturday (8/15). The opening act, the Joe Strachan Quartet, features some of the most gifted young musicians around.

For the night owls, Slide Huxtable, one of the area’s most exciting if infrequently appearing ensembles, takes the stage at the Clown Lounge (Turf Club) for a 10:30 pm gig on Monday (8/17). Their 2007 recording was one of my favorite of the year... and the next. SH features trombone master/leader Mark Miller, guitarist Bill Bergman, bassist Chris Bates and brother JT on drums.

Looking for Trouble? Vanessa Trouble, that is. The intriguing New York vocalist will be in town with Minnesota transplant, trumpeter Charlie Carinicus, for an exciting evening on Tuesday (8/18). Just down the street at Hell’s Kitchen, Maud Hixson takes us to Paris with a new project, French 75. Thursday night, Hell hosts the sublime Arne Fogel with the Wolverines Trio.

As always, great chamber jazz prevails at the AQ midweek, with Dave Karr’s Quartet on Wednesday (8/19) and Phil Hey’s Quartet on Thursday (8/20). For a noon reprieve, Vicky Mountain and James Allen offer the perfect break with swinging tunes at Anita’s Café in the Landmark Center in St. Paul, previewing their new release, Sincerely Yours (8/19). And your pizza quota for the week can be filled with song, Monday night with Charmin Michelle, Wednesday night with Maxine Sousé, at Fireside Pizza in Richfield, both accompanied by Denny Malmberg, master of wit and keyboards.

On the jazz horizon: A dazzling weekend (8/21-22) at the AQ with Kelly Rossum (releasing a duo CD with Phil Hey and playing in varying combinations with Hey, Adam Linz and Bryan Nichols); one night with the amazing pianist Amina Figarova at the Dakota (9/3); two nights with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White at the Dakota (9/7-8). And way out on the horizon but never too early to mention – Dave King for Two Days, an amazing line up over two nights (March 13-14) of Dave King’s many projects, all at the Walker’s McGuire Theater, and featuring The Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Bad Apple, Buffalo Collison (with Tim Berne and Ethan Iverson) and two new bands, one reuniting Golden Valley “kids” King, Reid Anderson and Craig Taborn and another with Adam Linz and Chris Speed. Call it the Dave King Modern Jazz Festival. Check the Walker website for tickets.
Photos: Irv Williams blew sweet and cool at the TC Jazz Festival; Doug Little propels Seven Steps to Havana; Maud Hixson, always on key (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Six Cool Picks

© Andrea Canter

I’m afraid I’d be in dire straits if I depended on writing gig reviews for a living. Not because I don’t get out to hear live jazz, and not because I fail to record my thoughts about performances at the time. But finding time to put those thoughts into some semblance of a review in a timely manner is challenging to say the least.

But I might borrow a strategy from the Star Tribune, which otherwise has little to offer in the realm of jazz, and “pick six” cool jazz gigs from the past week or so. Each deserves its own blog, but... this fits my reality better at the moment. Think of this as six short blogs in one long entry.

July 30, Dan Musselman Quartet at the Dakota. Dan’s star is rising fast, and deservedly so. His brash recording debut of all original solo compositions was a valid heads-up. Young (maybe 23?), creative and technically brilliant, somehow the fact that Dan studied with both Craig Taborn and Kenny Werner says it all regarding his melodic bent steeped in harmonic excitement. With masterful Adam Linz on bass and Jay Epstein on drums, and another quickly rising star, Brandon Wozniak on alto sax, this was the sort of night that defines a good jazz gig—nothing held back but lots of appeal to a wide audience. My friends came by mistake, they thought this was the night of the Trumpet Summit. They stayed, they bought Dan’s CD, and raved about their accidental discovery.

This glorious night deserved repeating, and we only needed to wait two weeks for the next gig at the Artists Quarter on August 12th. As in Minneapolis, this was another night to savor Dan’s technical wizardry and creative explorations, as well as those of his cohorts. Even if Adam Linz was heard to mumble “Oh man, this one is hard” at the start of Dan’s “On the Way,” the bassist made it seem easy. It’s hard to photograph the musicians who use body English to form notes and phrases, and Brandon Wozniak is artfully in that camp. And there’s no one in this jazz town with more dramatic body language than Jay Epstein, whose entire forearm is a drum stick.

July 31, Trumpet Summit at the Dakota. We get lots of opportunities to hear Kelly Rossum in a variety of moods and configurations this month, but it’s all a grand farewell as he takes off for New York on the 30th. But first, he assembled a gaggle of horns for an evening of everything trumpet. The initial billing was a foursome—Kelly, young whiz John Raymond, and two of the finest from the Minnesota Orchestra, Charles Lazarus (who legitimately composes and plays jazz) and Manny Laureno (who sticks with classical repertoire but has the chops for more). That would have been exciting enough, but then Kelly invited his recent mentee, now alum of the Dakota Combo and incoming freshman at the New England Conservatory of Music, Jake Baldwin. Now more than enough to sing the glory of brass, there was more, as the final set found several local trumpeters taking their turn, and the final chorus was a blowout of no less than six .

With all that it could have been too loud and too raucus, but then that’s the beauty of trumpet in expert hands and lips—one, two, three or more at a time, these trumpets sang, soared, sassed, whined, cackled.... but it was always musical. Kelly opened soloing with the always fine Dakota Trio (Tanner Taylor, Gordy Johnson, Phil Hey) on “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” the tune Jake soloed on with the Combo last December. Jake got his turn later, and made it count, his professional debut at the Dakota as well as his own farewell, at least til the holiday break. Only 18, he proved he belongs on stage with the best in town. And John Raymond, with an unforgettable “Night in Tunisia,” saved some energy to lead his band in the Late Night set, also a memorable farewell as he heads to New York (SUNY Purchase) for graduate studies. Maybe he and Kelly can join forces.., and hey, Jake is only a short commute away in Boston. Maybe the Trumpet Summit East is on the horizon!

August 1, Chris Morrissey Quartet at the Artists Quarter. There’s a growing number of top-level jazz artists who call the Twin Cities “home,” even long after they move on to New York or beyond: Bill Carrothers, Craig Taborn, Reid Anderson, Michael O’Brien, Geoffrey Keezer (if you stretch your boundaries of the Twin Cities), and more. Now count bassist Chris Morrissey, based in New York, who returned to celebrate his debut recording for Sunnyside, The Morning World, with Michael Lewis, Bryan Nichols and Dave King—three hot commodities in the jazz world who maintain their Twin Cities addresses. Sometimes suggesting a Bad Plus With Saxophone, this quartet played some of the most interesting, accessible modern music I’ve heard in quite a while, varying from lushly beautiful to edgy and even humorous, all from the pen of Morrissey, all highlighting the individual as well as collective voices. I hope Morrissey enjoys many visits back home.

August 7, Kevin Washington Quartet at the Artists Quarter. Usually in a sideman role in which he often steals the spotlight with his explosive percussion, 34-year-old Kevin Washington has been booking and leading gigs at the Blue Nile. It was time to put his far-ranging musical ideas on stage at a prime jazz venue. Seeking to go beyond the usual sounds of post bop and infuse both the energy and the rhythms of an even younger generation, Kevin put together a quartet of young artists, tossed in veteran bassist Jay Young, and brought down the house at the AQ. The repertoire covered “Work Song” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and a batch of Washington originals, including his glorious “Air” and the hymnal “Completion,” the latter written for wife Lisa. Lisa, aka spoken word artist Sol Testimony, joined the band as well.

But the surprise delight of the evening was Kevin’s vocals. Yes, mom Faye Washington is a singer as well as flautist, and yes, Lisa had advised me some time ago that Kevin really can sing. But this was my first opportunity to hear him, providing another “horn” voice for the quartet. Overall it was an evening of surprises, starting with a young keyboard giant whose name, I think, is also Kevin. I better get down to the Blue Nile and check out these guys on their home turf. And maybe we will see the KWQ again, soon, on one of our mainstream stages?

August 8, Metropolitan Port Authority CD release at The Beat. I’ve met each of the young musicians of MPA in one context or another. Pianist Joe Strachan, bassist Cory Grindberg, and trumpeter Jake Baldwin have been part of the Dakota Combo (Jake and Cory for the past two years); drummer Isaac Zuckerman is a familiar voice of Jazz 88 radio as a student broadcaster and has also led his own quartet as a warm-up to the KBEM REEL Jazz film series at Bryant Lake Bowl. Saxophonist Remy Taghavi was already familiar from his years with Walker West and MITY jazz ensembles. Five young men on a mission to create new compositions and arrangements got themselves a studio date and recorded a CD that surely verifies jazz as a very much alive and attractive genre.

At the Beat Coffee House in Minneapolis’ Uptown, and despite the parking challenges created by the final evening of the Upton Art Festival, a full house of family, friends, and interested bystanders enjoyed a remarkable performance, highlighted by original compositions and intriguing arrangements. All but Taghavi are new high school graduates now headed to college music programs, while Remy is returning for his second year at the University of Southern California where he studies classical bassoon. They gig around town as MPA, and hopefully will reunite periodically as school vacations allow.

The CD, and the gig at The Beat, were filled with original compositions, like Joe’s “Beetle Day,” Jake’s “User Error,” Cory’s “French Benefits” and Remy’s “Bathroom of the Gods.” One of my favorites was Cory’s “Faded,” recorded for the Dakota Combo self-titled release but performed by MPA with a new arrangement, the pseudo-scary trombone antics of the original replaced by a more swinging, sassy groove for trumpet and sax. The band also powered through a set of standards with new twists, from Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G” to “Lady Bird,” “Lullabye of Birdland,” a rousing “Footprints,” and an ethereal “Round Midnight.” St. Thomas U guitar student Geoff LeCrone joined the band for a final set. No one left, the house was still full at the end of the third set.

August 12, Nancy Harms and the Hot Swing Combo at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. I live so close to Lake Harriet that it is a crime I don’t get to more of the summer concerts at the bandshell. With some new seating and landscaping, it is as classy a venue as you will find in an outdoor Twin Cities park. Of course you have to put up with an occasional jet overhead and a sound system that, at least on this evening, wreaked havoc with the reverb from guitar and accordion, but Nancy’s vocals were clear and generally the sound system did not interfere with an enjoyable set of swinging standards interpreted with a sassy warmth. I still remember less than two years ago when Nancy debuted at the Dakota, her relaxed voice totally out of sync with her stiff body language. That’s all history now, as she seems as comfortable physically as musically. She’s been performing a lot with the Hot Swing Combo, featuring hot club guitar specialist Robert Bell and the always interesting young master of accordion, Patrick Harrison. Nancy pleased a decent midweek crowd (and handful of swing dancers) with “If I Were a Bell,” “’Deed I Do,” and my favorite, her bluesy swing on “Summertime.”

I am temporarily passing over one of the coolest events of the summer, The Freedom Jazz Festival. It will get its own blog. Soon. Really.

Photos: Dan Musselman; Chris Morrissey; Kevin Washington (all at the AQ); Cory Grindberg and Joe Strachan (MPA) at The Beat. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lead Sheet, August 7-13

© Andrea Canter

Today is my mom’s 87th birthday, and she still enjoys jazz as long as it’s not over-amplified. Her hearing is still perfect, which is probably more than I can say for a lot of us who often sit too close to the speakers, monitors and drumsets!

For my mom, the volume might be beyond her comfort zone at the Artists Quarter this weekend (8/7-8/8), with Kevin Washington and his Quartet. However, she’d probably enjoy hearing about this young powerhouse who has been a professional musician since age 5 and whose very muscular and aggressive approach has garnered a wide following locally and beyond. Kevin has great respect for the traditions of the music while also seeking to infuse his compositions and interpretations with the sounds of the “street music” of the past twenty years. He hinted that there might be a hip-hop or rap artist or two in the vicinity of the AQ stage this weekend.

If you missed Tiempo Libre’s gig with classical flautist James Galway last night at the Dakota, the young Cuban ensemble returns on their own for another firestorm tonight (8/7). The recently released O’Reilly Street, their collaboration with Galway on a new interpretation of Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flue and Jazz Piano, and their own melding of classical grace and Cuban fiesta, Bach in Havana. Be ready to stand up and sing, dance, and just party!
Keyboard master and master of all things music, George Maurer, holds down the Saturday night slot at the Dakota, this time with everyone’s favorite diva, Debbie Duncan. And hang out or come in late for the weekend editions of Late Night at the Dakota—guitar whiz Park Evans and quartet shine tonight, and a new project from tuba king Stefan Kac (Kac/Granowski/Hepola) takes us into the wee hours Saturday.

Patty Peterson and her trio perform tonight (and next Friday night) at Crave in the Galleria (Edina) – acoustically far from perfect but if you can grab a table near the music after 10 pm, you can enjoy a very intimate set – not a common opportunity with a performer as popular as Patty. Only a few miles away but seriously divergent in sound and source, Café Maude offers contrasts in modern jazz, with the electronic wizardry of Ryan Olcott’s circuit bendings with James Buckley and Joey Van Phillips as the Food Team Trio tonight, followed by Eisner’s Klezmorim with accordionist Patrick Harrison tomorrow night.

But if youthful energy and unencumbered creativity appeal to you, look no farther Saturday night than The Beat Coffee House in Minneapolis’ Uptown. On stage, releasing their first recording, will be the Metropolitan Port Authority, a quintet of young rabble-rousers with precocious jazz chops. Three of these still-teens are recent “grads” of the Dakota Combo—Joe Strachan, Jake Baldwin and Cory Grindberg, now heading off to college programs at Lawrence, New England Conservatory and Northwester U, respectively. Their partners are saxophonist Remi Taghavi, the “old man” of the bunch and starting his second year at the University of Southern Cal Thornton School of Music (as a bassoon major!) and KBEM student announcer/drummer Isaac Zuckerman, heading out to the U of Colorado. See details and CD review on Jazz Police. They may be leaving town for school, but I think we will be hearing a lot more from them, collectively and individually.

Sunday will hopefully bring a dry summer day for the annual Bloomington Jazz Festival, held at the Normandale Lake Bandshell. Swing is front and center with Vic Volare, Christine Rosholt and The George Maurer Group. Nice setting, good music, perfect for a family outing.

Tips for the coming week include another opportunity to hear the Dan Musselman Quartet (at the AQ on 8/12)—their gig last week at the Dakota was one of the best of local jazz of the summer; The Tuesday Night Band with very special guest Jim Rotondi (8/11) and How Birds Work (8/13), all at the AQ; pizza and swing with Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield; Reynold Philipsek and Jeff Brueske, free at Centennial Lakes (8/11); Ramsey Lewis with Bruce Henry at Orchestra Hall (8/13). If you enjoyed the KBEM REEL Jazz series of films over the past two years, check out the Bela Fleck flick—complete with guest host Bela Fleck—at the Cedar on Thursday (8/13).

Coming soon—Irv Williams’ 90th Birthday Bash (8/14 at the AQ and 8/17 at the Dakota); Doug Little’s Seven Steps to Havana, at the Dakota 8/14 and AQ on 8/15; Ginger Commodore at the Dakota on 8/15, Connie Evingson on 8/16; New York vocalist Vanessa Trouble with trumpeter Charlie Carinicus at the Dakota on 8/18. Maud Hixson has a couple hot gigs coming up – with Rick Carlson at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill on 8/15 and with a new French ensemble at Hell’s Kitchen on 8/18. Finally, the charming town of Northfield holds its first jazz festival Saturday afternoon, 8/15.

Photos : Metropolitan Port Authority, with (L-R) Joe Strachan, Remi Taghavi, Jake Baldwin, Cory Grindberg and Isaac Zuckerman (photos, composite strip by Andrea Canter)