Friday, December 25, 2009

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jazzy Jane

©Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

We know she’s still listening.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atlantis Quartet Strikes Again (None Too Soon!)

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Kings of Brass: CC Septet Releases New CD

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

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

© Andrea Canter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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