Friday, June 25, 2010

Embraceable Two: Jose' James and Jef Neve at the Dakota

© Andrea Canter

The first time I heard José James was at the Dakota in maybe 2004, he sang as part of a benefit for something, I don’t remember what. Moore by Four was the main act and I only vaguely recall thinking José would “one day” be headlining himself. That day arrived quickly as José reached the finals of the Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition, moved to London, attracted significant attention there singing Coltrane and original compositions, and released two albums of diverse, mostly original music. It’s his latest duet set of (of all things!) standards (and mostly ballads at that!) with Belgian pianist Jef Neve (For All We Know) that has finally awakened American audiences and critics to the voice that may well be the most artistically powerful of his generation… and perhaps to be regarded as one of the best in modern jazz. His hometown audience at the Dakota last night seemed more than awake to this potential.

Although the first set was delayed an hour due to the cancellation of flights out of Chicago—José and Jef had to rent a car for the 7-hour drive-- the pair seemed relaxed, assured, and finely tuned to each other. They met in Brussells when José was a guest on Jef’s radio show, recognizing that their styles meshed well. They recorded For All We Know just for personal pleasure, only to have it snatched up by Impulse for its first new release since Alice Coltrane’s Translinear Light in 2004. That José is a John Coltrane acolyte, that Impulse was Coltrane’s label, may be prophetic.

The first set covered seven of the songs on For All We Know, and my immediate familiarity with the recording did not temper my reaction to each new rendition. On record alone, these two artists are as seductive as any outright provocation. In person, they are mesmerizing—ask any man or woman in that audience, their appeal transcends age or gender. Both are die-hard improvisers who never tread the same path twice; they tended to alternate rubato introductions that often extended a couple minutes with the barest hints of destination. Both have elastic command of their respective instruments, taking unpredicted flights across intervals, across time, across space. Both can move from subtle to assertive in a single note.

Here, I’ll note just a few high points of the evening: “Body and Soul” may be the slowest version ever, José’s a cappella scat rolling into the first a cappella verse before Neve joined in, every word a clear declaration that vibrates through your own body and soul. “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” was just downright sexy and José’s widely ranging dynamics unpretentiously dramatic—he might lull you with his subtle charm but he will quickly raise your heart rate with sudden shifts in time and volume. The long piano intro to “Lush Life” (one of the duo’s first joint efforts on Brussels’ radio) showed off Neve’s equally vast dynamic range, and the tune could be retitled “Lush Space” to best describe what sets this version apart from any other I’ve heard. Then there was the second set surprise guest, Denny Malmberg, Jose's South High mentor (and Fireside Pizza partner) who sat in on "Old Folks," sweet and gentle.

For me, the musical highlight of the entire night was the late set rendition of “Tenderly,” Jef’s intro suggesting Chopin and Ravel, José navigating the melody’s wide angles like soft-edged taffy, easily landing each shift in tone and rhythm as if a musical Cirque du Soleil.

Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling… José James. For all we know.

(See full review at and check out Lee Engele's video of "Old Folks" on YouTube at )

Photos: Jose' James; Jose' again; Jef Neve; Jose' with Denny Malmberg on "Old Folks;" Jose' and Jef at the end of the first set. (All photos by Andrea Canter on June 24, 2010)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, June 25-July 1

© Andrea Canter

In case you thought the Twin Cities Jazz Festival was over til 2011, not quite. For the past couple years, festival sound and tech guy Craig Eichorn has brought a taste of the festival to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Bloomington. Tonight (6/25), from 4 pm til dark, you can enjoy another free dose of eclectic jazz and soul in the pleasant outdoor setting, complete with a church picnic vibe (hot dogs,too!). Music starts at 4 pm with The Lows (I have no idea, but last year the festival opened with a young college band so I expect this might be another one), followed by the Twin Cities Seven with Charmin Michelle (led by saxman Doug Haining) at 5:45, the ever-amazing Moore by Four at 7 and closing with Ronn Easton’s Soul Revue at 8:30. That’s four good reasons to spend some time outdoors and you don’t have to be a Lutheran.

An interesting White Pine Festival feature in Stillwater Friday night (6/25), Minnesota Orchestra trumpeter and part-time jazz musician, Charles Lazarus, with his quartet (Mary Louise Knutson, Jeff Bailey, Craig Hara) joins up with the Miro Quartet, former Minnesota Orchestra Concertmistress Jorja Fleezanis and classical/fusion composer/keyboardist Jack Perla. The music is presented at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater—again, you don’t have to be Lutheran.

Indoors, and scheduled such that you can just trek on over after the early evening in Bloomington or Stillwater, there’s a weekend with Jay A. Young and Company at the Artists Quarter. Taking a break from his Lyric Factory—sort of, bassist Jay and friends will not likely stray far from their groovin’, soulful beats, and for sure there will be some strong vocals in the mix (6/25-26).

In case you missed them on the Youth Stage at the Jazz Festival last weekend, you have another chance to hear the invigorating Jake Baldwin Quartet on the Late Night at the Dakota series tonight (6/25). Their talents already exceed the expectations of a “youth” stage and most likely they’ll be hitting the prime time slots before the end of summer. In addition to prodigious trumpeter Jake, enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music, the band includes pianist Joe Strachan (transferring this fall from Lawrence to the U of M to expand his gigging options), bassist Cory Grindberg (at Northwestern in Chicago) and drummer Rob Fletcher (at DuPaul in Chicago). These guys have plenty of chops and already display considerable flair as composers and arrangers. No chance you will nod off in the wee hours with this band on stage.

A unique meeting of three creative minds that cross genres is slated for Guthrie Theater on Monday (6/28) with banjo magician Bela Fleck, tabla/percussion master Zakir Hussein, and eclectic bassist Edgar Meyer. World music, bluegrass, jazz, and just about anything else you can think of are fair game for this trio.

Last December I had to miss Dan Cavanagh and Dave Hgedorn at the AQ; looks like history will repeat itself and I will miss them this week as well (6/30). But I also expect it will be a repeat in terms of the music, which I was told was one of the best nights of the year at the AQ as the master vibes Hagedorn connects with former student, pianist Dan Cavanagh, for a night of amazing duets. OK, somebody, please get me a tape of this?

Although the AQ is closed for the Fourth of July weekend, Kenny Horst guarantees the weekend will get off to a jazz-bang start with a one-night special gig with St. Paul native saxophonist Pat Mallinger on Thursday (7/1), already billed as the only local appearance for Pat in 2010. So don’t miss this one, Mallinger is one of the hottest young alto players around, and his most recent release, a duet with pianist Dan Trudell (Dragon Fish), is really high on my list for top albums of the year.

Otherwise it is a week of the usual –meaning great jazz from vocals to swing to experimental ensembles. For a good song, check out: Lee Engele at Elixr (6/25), at Minnetonka’s Music in the Parks (6/29) and with the Moonlight Serenaders at Wabasha Street Caves (7/1); Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (6/25); Charmin Michelle with Rick Carlson at Crave in the West End Shops (6/27) and with Denny Malmberg and Fireside Pizza (6/28 and 6/30); Paula Lammers with Mary Louise Knutson at the Eagan Art Festival (6/26); with the swinging Cloud Nine at Como Park Pavillion (6/27) and with the River City Jazz Orchestra at O’Gara’s (6/29); Bobby Caldwell at the Dakota (6/28-29).

And for a wide range of instrumental jazz (and maybe some vocals too), there’s another dose of Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (6/25); Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell at Roman Anthony’s (6/25-26); two blistering nights with Nachito Herrera at the Dakota (6/25-26); Joann Funk at Luna Rossa (6/26); Twin Cities Hot Club at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square (6/28); Butch Thompson at Old Log Theater (6/28); something out of sight at the Clown Lounge (6/28-29); Milo Fine at Homewood Studios (6/28); Cory Wong followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (6/29); the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (6/30).

Coming Soon!
• July 2-3, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• July 7, Valve Meets Slide at the AQ
• July 9-10, Kendra Shank at the AQ
• July 12-13, Bill Frisell at the Dakota
• July 17, Dakota Fest on Nicollet Mall
• July 19-20, Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Dakota

Photos: Charmin Michelle and Doug Haining (Twin Cities Seven); Jay Young; Jake Baldwin Quartet (at the Youth Stage, Cray Atrium); Pat Mallinger (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Doc is Definitely In!

© Andrea Canter

When I think of Doc Severinsen, I naturally think, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” and hear the Tonight Show’s theme song, the signature of Johnny Carson’s long-running nightcap through the 50s up til his retirement in 1992. Severinsen, first as lead trumpet and soon as the bandleader, led the NBC Orchestra throughout that period. But he never retired, continuing recording, performing, bandleading, arranging and composing through the current day. He’s been a popular performer at Minnesota Orchestra Hall (serving as Pops director), most recently appearing earlier this season with the Latin ensemble, El Ritmo de la vida. I wasn’t really sure what I would hear when Doc brought this band into the Dakota Jazz Club, but the chance to hear him in a club setting was irresistible. So, too, proved to be the music.

El Ritmo de la vida was not simply a Latin band, but a quartet of virtuosic musicians dedicated to their own interpretations of the music of Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappeli, Astor Piazzola, De Falla, Chick Corea and more—sort of a Spanish-tinged hot club hybrid. And it worked beautifully, bringing a 21st century zing to 30s harmonies and rhythms, and laying a foundation for Severinsen’s crisp and bright trumpet, even outshining his stage-side humor. How many times have we heard “Nuages?” Apparently not often enough, as Doc and El Ritmo took Parisian café south to Costa del Sol. More popular American fare, “Sweet Georgia Brown” became a Latin rag, while Ray Charles’ “Georgia” was simply a beautiful showcase for Severinsen.

Now 82, Doc shows no signs of slowing down, or taming his wardrobe for that matter, hitting the stage with the bright colors that made him a visual as well as aural icon for NBC. But most significantly, his music continues to grow and reach new audiences.

Heeere’s Doc!

Photos: Doc Severinson; Jimmy Branly; Gil Gutierrez; Ali Bello; double percussion from El Ritmo de la vida. (All photos by Andrea Canter, June 21st at the Dakota)

For All We Knew: Jose' James, From South High to Impulse

© Andrea Canter

Expectations were high when José James was the lead vocalist for the Minneapolis South High School’s Pop Singers in the mid 1990s. And as a teen, he gigged with the great Carei Thomas before heading to Manhattan’s New School. He returned for a while and gigged at Fireside Pizza, only to become a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition in 2004. Now based in London, James has three acclaimed recordings to his credit and another in the can, a feature in the May issue of Jazz Times, and blatant suggestions that he is on the brink of super-stardom. While critics scratch their heads as to how to label his wide-ranging talent, José returns to the Twin Cities with pianist Jef Neve in support of their duet release, For All We Know (Impulse), to be celebrated at the Dakota tomorrow night (June 24th).

José notes early inspiration from Nat King Cole, and perhaps had Cole worked into the 21st century, this is where he would have taken his music. What we hear now on For All We Know are the influences of Elling, Murphy, Willliams, Lucien, and Hartman; and, at least coincidentally if not intentionally, across the gender divide, Shirley Horn, Betty Carter, Cassandra Wilson, even Norma Winstone. That’s heady company for a 31-year-old, but José warrants the comparison.

For All We Know includes nine standards from jazz and popular repertoire which James and Neve recorded themselves as an “artists’ record” without considering its appeal, that it might be picked up by a label like Impulse (issuing its first new recording since Alice Coltrane's Translinear Light in 2004). That appeal lies in the selection of timeless tunes with new interpretative twists, as if each song was written in this century, and sung as would only one with an affinity for both Coltrane and Cole. And Jef Neve isn’t merely an accompanist, but rather offers his own abstract counterpoint, which only works when a singer has unflappable pitch control and when the two musicians—as two poets-- think with one mind. The result is not only the most technically and artistically brilliant vocal album I’ve heard from his generation—male or female—but most definitely the most unpretentiously seductive.

We can be seduced at the Dakota tomorrow night, and are promised a preview during Debbie Duncan’s gig there tonight. Who knows, we might be subject to the most unpretentiously seductive duet in Dakota history.

CD review to be posted this week on JazzINK and Jazz Police.

Photo: José James at the 2008 Detroit Jazz Festival (by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

12th Twin Cities Jazz Festival: Bridging Art and Community

© Andrea Canter

For the twelfth time, area jazz fans, general music fans, and folks just out for some free fun found plenty to enjoy at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, formerly the Hot Summer Jazz Festival. And formerly, it was a two-weekend, two-city affair. The flailing economy as well as some loss of enthusiasm on the west side of the river nearly brought the festival to a halt a year ago, but thanks to producer Steve Heckler, the city of St. Paul, and some renewed corporate support, the festival was reborn in 2009 as a one-city, one venue event at Mears Park.

From my perspective, the St. Paul side of the festival has been the epicenter of community support for years; the crowds maybe were never as big as on Peavey Plaza, but the thousands that came to Lowertown seemed to regard this as a community tribute to the music more than their counterparts on Nicollet Mall. I remember a few years ago at Mears Park when rain threatened to end Mose Allison’s set before it was really underway. Within a few minutes, at his invitation, a sizeable audience crammed onto the Mears Park stage, like a big family reunion in a park pavilion. Hard to imagine that on Peavey Plaza.

No, I don’t really miss the festival presence on Nicollet Mall. There’s still plenty of activity all summer along Minneapolis’ urban Boardwalk, and in a few weeks, the Dakota Jazz Club will host its first “DakotaFest” with a day of jazz, blues and more. And who can argue with the success of the born-again TCJF? I haven’t heard attendance estimates (and I still can’t figure out how they even come up with the numbers!), but given no tables in the main seating area in front of the Mears Park stage that allowed more chairs, the crowd did seem denser by the evening finales than last year, and with the beautiful weather, the crowds seemed to gather earlier in the afternoon.

If attendance is one measure of success, the sustained energy and creativity of the music is another. No one glows on stage like trumpeter Sean Jones, who manages to grin while wrapping his lips around the mouthpiece; Jones leaves no doubt as to the respect he holds for his bandmates, evident in his words as well as the space he gives them musically. Truly generous, he also invited Bobby Watson to join (and star) on one tune, Watson arriving a day ahead of his own performance to enjoy the festival. And no bandleader has assembled more outstanding and diverse projects than Joe Lovano, here with his latest band of much younger virtuosos, Us Five. Playing original music in a somewhat odd format of two trapsets, Us Five treated us to the music of their much honored debut recording, Folk Art. Most innovative, perhaps, was young Aakash Mittal and his quartet from Denver, playing all original music that blends Mittal’s multicultural background of American post bop and Indian ragas.

And perhaps nothing was more inspiring than hearing seven bands on the Youth Stage. The Mid Level Honors Band of the Minnesota Jazz Educators Association had one four-hour rehearsal the previous day with guest conductor Dave Hagedorn, and opened the Youth Stage as if they had spent the past year together. And these were just middle schoolers. Few high school bands could top their sharp execution. We also heard some stellar ensemble and solo work from the Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp band (middle and high school students who had all of four days of camp to work up these charts); the middle and high school students of the St. Cloud Area All-Star Jazz Band; the St. Paul Central High School jazz band, one of the premiere jazz programs among area public high schools; BFGS, a quartet of young area jazzmen who each just completed his first year of college music studies; two trios headed by winners of the recent Jazz Piano Scholarship Competition (17-yeaer-old Kai Olstad and 16-year-old Quentin Tschofen); and the Dakota Combo, an ensemble of gifted students grades 9-12. The Combo deserves special recognition for poise and tenacity under unfortunate circumstances—some administrative glitch resulted in overlapping events at Cray, the Youth Stage in the center Atrium and a wedding reception in the adjacent restaurant atrium space.

One of the most attractive features of the TCJF aside from the music is its appeal to families who make the most of one of the region’s gems of urban parks. Kids playing in the stream running through Mears, toddlers in strollers, dogs on leashes, the lady with the large inflatable batman, the guy with the tall clown hat, folks in motorized wheel chairs, students wide-eyed as they see and hear their musical heroes – the TCJF is more than a dazzling showcase of music. It’s a family event, a magnet for all that is right with urban communities. And that’s so very basic to jazz and its future.
Photos (top to bottom): Young fan scans the program; Mears Park main stage, rear view; Sean Jones; Joe Lovano; Bobby Watson with pianist Richard Johnson; Dakota Combo violinist Zosha Warpeha. (All photos, June 18-19 at the TCJF by Andrea Canter)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jazz Night Out

© Andrea Canter

One of the unique traditions of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival is "Jazz Night Out," a club crawl of sorts in which a bunch of more or less nearby venues schedule jazz the night before the main festival gets underway. About ten such venues participated last night, ranging from the over-the-top soulful vocalist Pippi Ardennia in Mears Park to the sublime Maud Hixson and Arne Fogel reuniting for a double dose of great songs with the Wolverines Trio at Mancini's on W. 7th. At points inbetween, there was a lineup of four bands at the Hat Trick Lounge, the "Stride Piano Night" at the Artists Quarter with Jon Weber, Butch Thompson and Paul Asaro, the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota Showcase at Camp Bar, and more in and around Lowertown. It was impossible to do it all, and the threatening weather probably kept some fans away or secured in one venue.

I missed Stride Night.... and I hear it was a blast and full house at the AQ. I'll have to catch Jon Weber tonight in trio format. I did catch the end of George Avaloz at the Hat Trick, particularly featuring a strong front line of Dave Brattain on sax and Steve Kenny on trumpet, nearly lifting the roof regardless of outside windspeed. Next at the Hat Trick, the ever-inventive Larry McDonough on keys with Chad Draper on drums and Craig Matteresse on bass, longtime cohorts and equally adept at sublime originals and high flying bop classics. I stayed for the first part of Globafo, guitarist John Penny's latest project with Charlie Riddle and Rey Rivera, Brazilian infused fusion. The lighting is quite at odds with photography in the Hat Trick but the music was fun and the crowd near overflowing when I left to head up to Camp Bar. Five of the Jazz Vocalists of MN most seasoned and acclaimed singers had one set to go, and I thorougly enjoyed a revue of Lucia Newell, Rhonda Laurie, Connie Dusseau, Dorothy Doring and Lee Engele, backed by the Phil Aaron Trio. And their impromptu finale as a vocal quintet on "Mr PC" was a great night cap.

But not quite done, had to run up to Mancini's to catch the reunion gig of Arne and Maud, in time to hear a tune sung back and forth in French (Maud) and English (Arne) and their closing "Thanks for the Memories." The memories were readily accessed and hopefully this duo will find more reasons to perform together and soon.

Now, on to the festival, today and tomorrow. Let there be sunshine.

Photos: Pipipi, Larry, Dorothy, Arne and Maud (Photos by Andrea Canter, Jazz Night Out 2010)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, June 18-24

© Andrea Canter

The Lead Sheet will be relatively narrowly focused this week, which is not a reflection of the quantity or quality of great music popping up all over the Twin Cities. But it’s Jazz Festival Weekend, and writing time is limited!

Four words are all you need to know to ensure a jazz-filled and thrilled weekend—Twin Cities Jazz Festival (aka, Hot Summer Jazz Festival). If you made through the storms to one or more of the Jazz Night Out Venues last night, you got a taste of what lies ahead. The main events begin today (6/18) at 4 pm at Mears Park in Lowertown St. Paul, with local sextet Story City kicking off on the main stage, paving the way for two of the weekend’s most anticipated bands, Sean Jones’ Quintet (6:00) and Joe Lovano’s Us Five (8:30). Jones has been here a couple times in the last few years, with his quintet at the Dakota and with Downbeat’s “Rising Stars” ensemble at Orchestra Hall. Jones recently relinquished his role as leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra but continues his rise to the top of 21st century trumpeters, and brings together a band of equally boiling young talents.

And stick around for tonight’s finale with living legend of tenor sax, Joe Lovano, and one of the hottest bands in modern jazz. Lovano has been at the top of his horn for the past 2 decades but his recordings and live performances have been garnering more and more accolades and awards with every year. His Us Five band released one of 2009’s top recordings, Folk Art, just named record of the year by the Jazz Journalists Association, which also honored Lovano as top tenor of the year. The quintet features a double drum line with Francisco Mela and Otis Brown II; the marvelous James Weidman on piano, and Peter Slavov on bass—Esperanza Spalding has filled the bass chair but is not on this tour. No matter, this is a band to be reckoned with and a rare opportunity to see Lovano in the Twin Cities.

Two other highly regarded saxmen are playing tonight on the adjacent Sixth Street Stage, conveniently timed to perform between the main stage sets: Pete Whitman’s X-Tet finally gets to play in a space meant for large ensembles (instead of their usual takeover of part of the AQ’s seating area!). They are followed by young Aakash Mittal and his quartet, in from the Denver area to share some of the most interesting fusion of east and west. Multi-reedist Mittal has been exploring his Indian heritage while continuing to evolve as a post-bop composer, and the result is sort of Charles Lloyd meets Rudresh Mahanthappa in the shadow of John Coltrane. Very cool. He’s also on stage at the Dakota for “Late Night” tomorrow (6/19).

Next comes Saturday (6/19), a full day from noon til after dark, spreading from Mears Park across the street to Cray (aka Galtier) Plaza and the Youth Stage. Main Stage events include Bobby Watson, John Ellis’s Double Wide, and the closing blowout with John Scofield and his Piety Street Band. Connie Evingson, Salsa Del Soul, Twin Cities Seven with Charmin Michelle and more take the Sixth Street Stage. The Youth Stage, sponsored by the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, boasts bands from middle school through college level, from jazz camps to high school bands to independent ensembles. The Dakota Combo finishes off the evening at 7, while 3 Combo grads will play earlier as BFGS. And it is indoors, cool, dry….

Throughout the weekend, there’s much going on down the block at the Hat Trick Lounge, a nice respite from sun and heat – you can hear Mary Louise Knutson’s trio, Pooch’s Playhouse, the Atlantis Quartet, Frankhouse, Cory Wong and more. The Artists Quarter is again hosting the incomparable pianist Jon Weber on Friday and Saturday nights, a great way to cap off your festival experience.

Did I mention that, except for the AQ’s usual weekend cover, all of these events are free? (Well, parking is never free… or easy to find in St Paul during Light Rail construction! Check out the garage at Cray Plaza, Lowertown Parking Ramp, the Farmer’s Market if after market hours, a few other ramps within 2-3 blocks of Mears Park…)

With all attention focused on the festival, be sure to not forget the rest of the week around town, and particularly the triumphant homecoming of Jose James. Jose graduated from Minneapolis South High, gigged with teacher Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza, and went on to jazz voice studies at the Manhattan School of Music. We knew he was good. Now the world has noticed as Jose (based in London and New York) has performed and recorded with the likes of Chico Hamilton and has garned raves for his first two R&B tinged recordings. But maybe nothing prepared us for his new release on Impulse, For All We Know, a gorgeous set of duets with pianist Jef Neve. Simply, the most haunting jazz vocal recording I’ve heard in some time, conjuring Johnny Hartman and Joe Williams. Jose performs at the Dakota on June 24th.

A few other highlights of the week—trumpeter John Raymond, on summer leave from grad studies in New York, with his Project (including Aaron Hedenstrom, Daniel Duke, Miguel Hurtado and Javier Santiago) for Late Night at the Dakota tonight (6/18); Nichola Miller at Hell’s Kitchen (6/19); Peter Schimke with Chris Bates and Jay Epstein at Café Maude (6/19); Doc Severinsen still going strong with El Ritmo de la vida at the Dakota (6/21-22); pianist Javier Santiago again, with pals at the Artists Quarter (6/23); Maud Hixson at Erte (6/24); Pete Whitman’s X-Tet back at the AQ (6/24).

There’s a lot more, the regular gigs and surprises. Check out Pamela’s calendar at

Coming Soon!
• 6/25, Jake Baldwin Quartet at the Dakota (Late Night)
• 6/30, Dan Cavanagh and Dave Hagedorn at the AQ
• 7/1, Pat Mallinger at the AQ
• 7/2-4, Iowa City Jazz Festival (OK, not local, only 5 hours south)
• 7/6-7, Poncho Sanchez at the Dakota
• 7/9-10, Kendra Shank at the AQ
• 7/17, Dakota Fest on Nicollet Mall
Photos: Headliners at the TC Jazz Festival this weekend include (top) Joe Lovano, Sean Jones and Bobby Watson (all captured at appearances at the Dakota); the week closes with a special appearance by Jose James (photo from the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival). (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride for Two: Hiromi and Stanley Clarke

© Andrea Canter

I liked the analogy that Lowell Pickett used to promote the Hiromi/Stanley Clarke duo gig at the Dakota. He told his customers (several times) that, watching and listening to Hiromi when she was here solo in March, convinced him that the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was not fiction. “She really can fly above the tree tops,” he said. Having seen her solo in both Chicago and Minneapolis, I had no reason to disagree. And after seeing two of her four sets with Clarke this week, I still have no reason to disagree. But for all of Hiromi’s charm, virtuosic pyrotechnics, and jaw-dropping feats of sleight of hand, I also believe that Stanley Clarke can fly, that his acoustic bass is really a magic carpet upon which he rides through space and time. Hiromi is surely a legend-in-the-making; Stanley Clarke is a living legend, and he is not through writing his mythical tales.

I’m not aware of the origin of the relationship between Clarke and Hiromi but suspect Chick Corea has something to do with it as a common denominator between the two—Clarke of course a long-time partner of Corea and Hiromi a long-time protégé, the two pianists releasing a luscious duet album in early 2009. With Lenny White, Clarke and Hiromi toured and recorded one of the best CDs of 2009, Jazz in the Garden. Much of what they played together at the Dakota comes from that release. Maybe too much, maybe not enough. My only quibble with an otherwise amazing two sets of magical music was that there was nearly complete duplication of compositions (“Paradigm Shift,” “Isotope,” “Sakura Sakura,” “Three Wrong Notes,” “No Mystery”). And from reports from others, these two sets were essentially like the two I missed, the main variant being which solo Hiromi chose. And at least twice, it was “I’ve Got Rhythm.” And in no case did she play one of her own outstanding compositions, not from Jazz in the Garden, not from her stunning solo release (Place to Be). Quite odd, I think, given original compositions have been a mainstay of Hiromi’s repertoire throughout her career.

Hiromi has been like a rapidly growing vine since her 2003 Telarc debut, sprouting leaves and flowers while twisting her way through a mélange of straight-ahead post bop and more pop-infused electronics, never losing connection to her Japanese roots. But in the past year or so, new buds have formed and the floral spray has yielded new colors and fragrances as she has taken to new explorations in a fully acoustic vein, first in duet with Chick Corea, then “in the garden” with Clarke and White, and then finding her own source of nurturance in the all solo Place to Be. Each adventure seemed more sure, and more exquisite, than the last, be it at breakneck speed (her “I’ve Got Rhythm” pushes Art Tatum to the side as her stride flies by like a Minute Waltz) or with the intricacies of a Bach Toccata (as on the Return to Forever classic. “No Mystery”). In Stanley Clarke, she may have found her most sympathetic partner, and one who can match her magic while retaining his separate identity.

And so the reverse is also true—in Hiromi, maybe more so than in Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke has found the yin of his yang, a couple generations removed but perhaps that is part of the connection, a source of rejuvenation. Having spent most of his career on electric bass, Clarke is rising from the pile of cables and amplifiers to reach the very top tier of acoustic artists. Each composition played at the Dakota gave Clarke ample space to experiment, to alter sound through slight shifts of hand position, through percussive attacks with fingers and palms, through gentle strokes of fingers against strings or more aggressive pokes, full-handed or single, double, triple-fingered. Each set, he played on full solo, and he flew above the tree tops and well beyond. Sometimes the sound seemed electrified – an exaggerated vibrato, a thwang, scrape or squeal as if those fingers were super-charged with sonic static. Sometimes Clarke gave new meaning to the notion of a “slap bass.” Once in a while, it seemed that the bass slapped back. On “No Mystery,” the bass became a conga.

Hiromi is currently touring with the Stanley Clarke Band, a quartet. But I’m not sure what roles are left for the other two musicians. Hiromi and Clarke, 30 years apart, come together with a rare capacity to make each other fly higher, travel farther, and sing more beautifully, and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are playing in tandem or soloing in the presence of the other.

Photos (top to bottom): Hiromi and Stanley Clarke at the Dakota; Hiromi taking no prisoners at the keyboard; the rest--the many moods of Stanley Clarke (Photos by Andrea Canter, June 13-14, 2010)

Raconte-Moi, In Any Language

© Andrea Canter

Chanteuse Stacey Kent—perhaps no other contemporary singer better fits that label! There are singers, there are vocalists, there are songbirds… but Stacey is a chanteuse, most fitting now that she has released her set of French songs, Raconte-Moi, loosely translated as “tell me a story.” And storytelling, and particularly storytelling in French, is Stacey’s strength, on full display last week at the Dakota Jazz Club. Hers is not a big voice; some might describe it as sweet, feathery and more suited to cabaret intimacy than concert hall or festival stage. This was my third encounter with Kent, and she seemed more at home with her material and band than ever before. Especially when she turned to French, not her native language but the one she has studied and perfected.

I’ve heard Jobim’s “Waters of March” in English and Portuguese….and now in French, which surprisingly seemed natural. But Stacey is branching out linguistically, studying Portuguese (“a poetry I want to understand”) and rendering “Corcovado” in its original lyrics. She did sing about half the set in English, her quiet charm often in elegant contrast to the meaty tenor (or soprano) of husband Jim Tomlinson; that charm turned a welcomed sultry and spicy on a very slow reading of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top.” (Kent, it seems, has more dramatic range then we typically observe--I would love to see more of these snippets of daring over darling.) Tomlinson, moving from tenor to soprano, shined as brightly as “So Many Stars” and again on the band’s instrumental version of “Spring Is Here.”

Maybe the real kick for the Twin Cities audience, though, was neither Stacey nor Jim, but seeing our hometown heroes, Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey, swinging away as they have been doing throughout Kent’s North American tours of late, including gigs at Birdland. (New York Times' writer Stephen Holden all but named Phil Hey as the ideal drummer for Kent when he wrote, “The musical chemistry of Ms. Kent’s music is unusually delicate; it requires light, unobtrusive percussion…” When backing a vocalist, Phil Hey meets this prescription perfectly.) It’s not unusual for our local stars to be called in to back a visiting artist, but hats off to Kent and too few others who recognize this talent pool and make our musicians their own.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Stacey and the band at the Dakota—Phil Hey, Jim Tomlinson, Kent, Gordy Johnson and Art Hirahara; Stacey and Art; Gordy Johnson with Stacey and Art; Phil Hey, master of elegant understatement. (Photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, June 7, 2010)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, June 11-17

© Andrea Canter

The Twin Cities Jazz Festival officially begins with Jazz Night Out on Thursday, June 17th, but the metro seems to be in a musically festive mood already. The relatively new Dave King Trucking Company kicks off a big week that finds Stanley Clarke and Hiromi taking some time off from a quartet tour to dazzle in duo format; Tanner Taylor holds his second AQ jam and Stride Piano Night returns to the AQ as part of Jazz Night Out. Don’t blink your ears or you will miss something good this week!

In March, the Walker Art Center gave local drum legend Dave King a weekend to showcase his many jazz-related projects, including his newly formed Dave King Trucking Company. The truckers reunite at the Artists Quarter (6/11-12), with the splendid saxman Brandon Wozniak replacing Chris Speed, and the returning Erik Fratzke on guitar and Adam Linz on bass. It’s music to churn in your brain and ears.

Always worth celebrating, the opening of a new music venue! The very popular Fireside Pizza in Richfield gets a sibling this weekend with the opening of an expanded version in Rosemount. Denny Malmberg, who appears in Richfield two nights per week with Charmin Michelle, will headline the opening night (6/11) with Charmin as guest vocalist. Tomorrow (6/12), the music will be provided by Christine Rosholt and Chris Lomheim. You can’t go wrong with either, or with the pizza. Also now serving music as well as elegant seafood and more, Sea Change at the Guthrie presents weekend music on the patio, with pianist Bryan Nichols and trio tonight (6/11) and guitarist Nick Haas and trio tomorrow (6/12).

It’s a star-studded Sunday(6/13). Big band fans will enjoy the annual Jazz on the Prairie Festival at Starring Lake Amphitheater in Eden Prairie, featuring Acme Jazz Company, Just Friends Big Band, River City Jazz Orchestra, Just Friends Big Band, Bend in the River Big Band and Jazz on the Prairie Big Band. Or you can just stay in the city for one giant of a big band matinee, the Count Basie Orchestra at Orchestra Hall.

The big gig of the week comes in the evening (6/13), with the first of two nights at the Dakota with Miles Davis and Chick Corea alum Stanley Clarke and his much younger, equally magical co-conspirator, pianist non pareil Hiromi. Here together in October with Lenny White for the Stanley Clarke Trio, the two are on a quick break from the Stanley Clarke Band tour. Clarke’s last trio recording (with Hiromi and White), Jazz in the Garden, was his first all-acoustic effort, while he mixed it up on his new Stanley Clarke Band release. Whatever ax he brings forward at the Dakota, Hiromi will be there to lift it up and take it apart, unpredictable, unflagging energy, surprising lyricism, and lots of fun. Take Dakota owner Lowell Pickett’s analogy to heart—seeing Hiromi live will convince you of the veracity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as you will swear she can fly.

And save energy for Jazz Night Out (6/17). The popular kickoff to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, this annual club crawl allows you to visit a number of venues in close proximity and sample the best of mostly local music, as well as some special events such as Stride Piano Night at the Artists Quarter, with Jon Weber arriving from New York, Paul Asara from Chicago, and our own Butch Thompson. Weber will be active throughout the festival as he typically serves as the “house pianist,” and will also be back at the AQ over the weekend with his trio. Other not-to-miss stops on the club crawl (not that you can do them all!) include Pippi Ardenia at Mears Park; George Avaloz, Larry McDonough, Globafo and Axis Mundi at the Hat Trick (four separate sets); Nathan Hanson/Rahjta Ren/Pete Hennig at the Black Dog; Arne Fogel and Maud Hixon with the Wolverines at Mancini’s; the Jazz Vocalist of Minnesota Showcase (Lucia Newell, Rhonda Laurie, Dorothy Doring, Lee Engele and Connie Dusseau) with the Phil Aaron Trio at Camp Bar; Joann Funk at the Lobby Bar (St. Paul Hotel). See the festival website for more information at . There’s some festival spirit across the river, too, with acclaimed harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy at the Dakota.

Experimental and modern improvisational music can be found this week at the Black Dog with Fantastic Fridays (6/11); Jello Slave at Barbette (6/14); Jazz Implosion (usually Fat Kid Wednesdays) at the Clown (6/14); Tuesdays at the Clown (6/15, TBA). Trad and straight-ahead bands provide a lot of music this week, with Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell at Roman Anthony’s in White Bear (6/11-12); Barbary Coast at the Bloomington Performing Arts Center (6/12); Joann Funk at Luna Rossa in Stillwater (6/12); the Southside Aces jam at the Nomad (6/13); Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (6/13); Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at Loring Pasta Bar (6/15); Jack Brass Band at Favor Café (6/15); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (6/15); Tanner Taylor Trio jam with special guest, trumpeter Steve Kenny (6/16); the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (6/16); Tanner Taylor solo piano for Jazz After Work (KBEM) at Barrio in St Paul (6/17).

And you can always find plenty to sing about in town: The Jana Nyberg Group at Honey (6/11); Debbie Duncan with Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen (6/11) and with Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar (6/15); Lee Engele with Reynold Philipsek at the St Paul Public Library’s jazz festival series (6/12) and at Loring Kitchen (6/13); T. Mychal Rambo and friends at the St Paul Public Library (6/13); Arne Fogel and Jennifer Eckes with special guest Rhonda Laurie at Honey (6/13); Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza-Richfield (6/14 & 6/16); Nichola Miller and Tanner Taylor at Spoonriver (6/15); Paula Lammers at the VFW South St Paul (6/15).

Coming Soon!
• June 18, Twin Cities Jazz Festival (Sean Jones, 6 pm; Joe Lovano Us Five, 8:30 pm at Mears Park; Jon Weber Trio at the AQ at 9 pm)
• June 18, John Raymond Project (Late at the Dakota)
• June 19, Twin Cities Jazz Festival (Youth Stage at Cray, noon-8 pm; Bobby Watson, 4 pm; John Ellis Double Wide, 6 pm; John Scofield Piety Street Band, 8:30 pm at Mears Park; Jon Weber Trio at the AQ, 9 pm)
• June 19, Aakash Mittal Quartet (Late at the Dakota)
• June 21-22, Doc Severinson and El Ritmo de al vida (Dakota)
• June 23, Max Weinberg Big Band (Dakota)
• June 23, Javier Santiago Quartet (AQ)
• June 24, Jose James (Dakota)

Photos: Dave King; Stanley Clarke; Hiromi; Jon Weber (photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jazz Piano: From Launch to Apogee

© Andrea Canter

On June 3, within the span of one evening, the Twin Cities hosted jazz pianists at the start and prime of their respective careers, and the music in both situations was nothing short of remarkable.

At the Launching Pad
At the Artists Quarter, the new Young Artists Series sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society presented a showcase of teen talent. Kai Olstad, 17, and Quentin Tschofen, 16, each performed a short set with a trio of accomplished peers on bass and drum. These young men had earned scholarships in the recent Jazz Piano Competition sponsored by the Schubert Club and Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education; Quentin had received the additional Performance Prize and a chance to sit in with the Christian McBride band at the Dakota Jazz Club. For the past year, Kai, who studies with renowned local pianist Laura Caviani, held the piano chair of the MacPhail Advanced Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Bryan Nichols; Quentin, who studies with Nichols, has been part of the Dakota Combo under the direction of Adam Linz. Between them, Kai and Quentin have been exposed to three of the most creative jazz musicians and educators in the area.

In addition to the common instructional link of Bryan Nichols, both Kai and Quentin showed an affinity for the works of Thelonious Monk but also exhibited decidedly different approaches. Kai mixed his bebop (Monk and Miles) with modern role models (Ethan Iverson of the Bad Blus) and an original by his bassist, MacPhail cohort Jordan Jenkins. Drummer Sean Powers offered usually subtle, but occasional forceful bursts, support. The band was swinging and Kai was in full control. Quentin has repeatedly demonstrated his evolving compositional hops throughout the year with the Dakota Combo; he shows a surprising emotional range for a mere 16, creating works that can sing melodically or twist and spin with hard edged humor. In all, like Monk. The highlight of the evening was Quentin’s original (unnamed) composition that folded seamlessly into Nick Drake’s “River Man.” Partners Caitlin Kelliher on bass and Cam LeCrone on drums were steady foils.

On a High Trajectory
Pianists (and husband and wife) Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes launched their careers separately and have followed somewhat different paths, Charlap churning out recordings and tours that highlight his respect for the Great American Songbook, Rosnes gaining insider respect for her fearless approach to both composition and modern jazz repertoire. They met, explored their music, fell in love, married (in 2007) and now have taken on the ultimate artistic challenge of putting their musical minds together. With two Yamahas head to head on the Dakota stage (covering pretty much all of it!), Charlap and Rosness treated the Minneapolis audience to two sublime and elegant sets of piano duos, avoiding the clichés and shtick that are sometime inevitable in a two-piano gig and giving standards and original works doubly engaging interpretations. I caught the end of the first set (having rushed over from the student gig in St. Paul), Rosnes’ eloquent “Saros Cycle” and Lyle Mays’ “Chorinho.” These pieces introduced me to the collaboration that marked the rest of the evening, the pianists alternating right and left hand roles, melody and rhythm, comping and soloing. Their syncronicity was so tight that it was often impossible to discern who was doing what without watching the overhead video monitor. (I often find this an unnecessary distraction, but tonight, it seemed to augment the experience.) The head to head arrangement of pianos was a seemingly essential component, allowing for eye contact that seemed telepathic.

Their second set saluted two generations of saxophonists, Jimmy Heath and Jimmy Greene, on Rosnes’ bluesy, almost stride-inflected “Jimmy Up, Jimmy Down.” Rosnes worked her lyrical magic on a beautiful Wayne Shorter piece, “Anna Maria,” before turning the delicate upper register to Charlap. The familiar “You and the Night and the Music” was first dismantled by Charlap, Rosnes comping as if an acoustic bassist. The exquisite Gerry Mulligan tune, “Little Glory,” featured some lovely descending intervals and gentle staccato phrases from Rosnes; the two pianists danced a gorgeous pas de deux on “Dancing in the Dark.” Two stunners closed the evening: “In a Sentimental Mood” began with a dark and lush solo from Rosnes, whose legato swirls and ripples left plenty of space for Charlap to fill with more tightly woven patterns, leading into a dual improvisation where two pianos became one orchestra, as if a long-married couple who now finish each other’s sentences.

Charlap had the first slow words of “Just in Time” before ramping up the swing feel, both pianists exhibiting a soft touch and communicating visually as well as musically, their alphabet constructed of facial expressions, eye contact and slight turns of the head as well as notes. The standard was soon dismantled, but gracefully so.

Bill Charlap and Rene Rosnes, each acclaimed as soloists and bandleaders, are writing a new chapter in their already-stellar career books, moving in tandem as they call upon their unique skills and, in this setting, the even more critical and nearly invisible shared language of love and piano. (Their first duet recording, Double Portrait, is a gem, but I would love a video companion.)

It’s a special night when you can look at genius in the bud and in full flower within the space of mere minutes.
Photos: (from top), Quentin Tschofen, Kai Olstad performed at the Artists Quarter after winning scholarships in the Schbuert Club/Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education piano competition; Rene Rosness and Bill Charlap performed on head to head pianos at the Dakota Jazz Club. (All photos June 3, 2010 by Andrea Canter)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, June 4-10

©Andrea Canter

This might be the quietest week of the month and still there’s plenty of action on the jazz scene, starting tonight with a rare weekend gig with How Birds Work and the close-out of the Capri’s Legends series with Debbie Duncan saluting Johnny Mercer.

The AQ splits the weekend between Birds and Source Code, guaranteeing a focus on edgy, creative, accessible modern jazz. Tonight (6/4), it’s How Birds Work. And normally they work a weeknight each month at the AQ. The band boasts top musicians in each corner—pianist Peter Schimke who is on the road so much these days we hardly get a chance to enjoy his versatile elegance at the keyboard; guitar virtuoso Dean Granros; one of the true adventurers in jazz bass, Chris Bates; and the always-congenial host and percussion dynamo, Kenny Horst. At their most recent AQ gig, Kenny noted that the band had never sounded better. Come hear for yourself. And come back Saturday night (6/5) to explore sonic wonders with internationally heeled drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt and his long-standing Source Code ensemble. Gravatt has been long associated with piano legend McCoy Tyner, both early in his career and over the past decade. So you know, this has to be the real McCoy, right? Eric’s compatriots typically include local sax great Jim Marentic, bassist Ron Evaniuk and trombonist David Leigh. Often it’s Mikkel Romstand on piano. Veterans all.

Across town in north Minneapolis, mistress of all things jazzy and songful, Debbie Duncan brings the songs of Johnny Mercer to life as the Capri Theater closes the season on its Legends series tonight (6/4). If the song has a good lyric, often Johnny Mercer is behind it. And if Debbie is behind the lyrics, you are guaranteed a high value for both artistry and entertainment. Mary Louise Knutson adds to that value with her eloquence on piano.

The weekend also features the New Standards at the Dakota (6/4-6/5), one of the most interesting iterations of jazz and modern music. Chan Poling, John Munson and Steve Roehm form the unusual piano/bass/vibes ensemble, given to reworking pop and rock classics with a minimalist jazz sensibility and a dollop of old fashioned rock n’ roll.

The international star on our horizon this week is Stacey Kent, the British songbird who is long overdue for a return to the Twin Cities. Kent with husband/saxman Jim Tomlinson and our own rhythm-setting duo of Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey will be at the Dakota June 7-8, celebrating Stacey’s new all-French recording, Reconte-Moi. And note that Gordy and Phil are not merely the local team, they are Stacey’s American team, their duties including gigs at Birdland last winter.

One of the young kingpins of jazz piano in the Twin Cities, Tanner Taylor holds two consecutive Wednesday nights of jam and guests at the Artists Quarter. This week (6/9) he brings on trombone master of many idioms, Dave Graf. Tanner can do anything with a keyboard, and the same can be said of Graf and his instrument—from trad and swing to Mulligan Stew and Salsa del Sol. Should keep the AQ’s smoke detectors on red alert!

Other gigs of interest, vocally speaking: Charmin (Michelle) and (Joel) Shapira at the Edina Art Fair tonight (6/4); Sophia Shorai at Barbette (6/4); Katie Gearty’s Jazz Trio at Honey (6/4); Lucia Newell with the Laura Caviani Trio at Crave in the Galleria (6/4); Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (6/4); Christine Rosholt with the Tanner Taylor Trio at St. Anthony Main (6/5); Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom (6/6) and Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg (6/7; 6/9); Russ Peterson’s Big Band with Maud Hixson and Bob Glenn at the Old Log Theater (6/7); Rachel Holder at Hell’s Kitchen (6/8); Nichola Miller and the Tanner Taylor Trio at the St. Anthony Park Library (6/8); Alex Cuba at the Dakota (6/9); Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen (6/10); Maud Hixson at Erte (6/10).

And instrumentally speaking, the week includes Milo Fine and his Free Jazz Ensemble at the tiny West Bank School of Music concert space (6/4); Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (6/4); the Twin Cities Hot Club at Sea Change at the Guthrie (6/4) and at Hell’s Kitchen (6/5); the Zacc Harris Trio, Saturday Brunch at Hell’s Kitchen (6/5) and their usual gig at the Riverview Wine Bar (6/6); Lulu’s Playground (with Adam Meckler) at Honey (6/5); Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell at Roman Anthony’s in White Bear (6/5); the Enormous Quartet at Café Maude (6/5); Cory Wong Quartet opening for the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (6/8); the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (6/9); and the Dave Karr Quartet at the AQ (6/9). And don’t forget, something fun will be happening at the Clown Lounge, usually Fat Kid Wednesdays on Monday nights and other experimental music specialists on Tuesday nights.

Coming soon!
• June 11-12, Dave King Trucking Company at the AQ
• June 13-14, Stanley Clarke and Hiromi at the Dakota
• June 16, Tanner Taylor Trio jam with Steve Kenny at the AQ
• June 17, Howard Levy at the Dakota
• June 17, Stride Piano Night at the AQ (Butch Thompson, Jon Weber, Paul Asaro)
• June 17, Jazz Night Out, St Paul (Twin Cities Jazz Festival)
• June 18-19, Twin Cities Jazz Festival (Joe Lovano, Sean Jones, Bobby Watson, John Scofield, Jon Ellis, more and more) at Mears Park, St. Paul
• June 18-19, Jon Weber Trio at the AQ
• June 24, Jose James at the Dakota
• July 1, Pat Mallinger at the AQ
• July 2-3, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• July 5-6, Poncho Sanchez at the Dakota
• July 9-10, Kendra Shank at the Dakota
Photos: Stacey Kent at her last visit to the Dakota in 2006; How Birds Work at the AQ. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Dave Holland Quintet: Ongoing Moments of Musical Rebirth

© Andrea Canter

Pioneer Press reviewer Dan Emerson noted that there were five good reasons to attend the Dave Holland Quintet gig at the Dakota this week—referring to the five stellar musicians who form this now-legendary ensemble (Holland, Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson and Nate Smith).

Really there are at least six good reasons, the five individuals and the collective whole. Add in another, the savvy original compositions that make up the band’s repertoire. Now we have the Seven Wonders of Jazz on stage. If that sounds like mythology, consider that the Dave Holland Quintet released four acclaimed recordings on ECM before Holland launched his own Dare2 label in 2003; that the quintet forms the core of Holland’s Big Band, which to date has 2 Grammies; that the quintet forms the majority of Holland’s new Octet; that the quintet has mostly been together for thirteen years, Smith the newcomer with only five years on board. Perhaps only the long-running Keith Jarrett Trio has amassed more acclaim over twice as many years, but even Jarrett and company have not been so focused on original material.

The Dave Holland Quintet is truly a big band in sound and complexity, with no piano to add orchestral power, but rather a 2-horn frontline conjuring a full brass section with merely one trombone and one (at a time) saxophone, Potter and Eubanks together creating thick harmonies suggesting a trumpet and range of saxes. Separately they each offer propulsive gymnastics and meditative reflection in extended solos. Nelson the mallet magician, here with back to back vibes and marimba jammed onto the Dakota stage, provides the layer of lyrical melodicism and percussive accents that at times suggests the piano or Rhodes, sometimes ethereal, sometimes downright funky. An “energizer bunny” at the trapset, Nate Smith’s arsenal is relatively Spartan compared to the wide-ranging sounds he generates, at any speed, in any rhythm, in any mood.

You only need to hear the leader’s full phrases of double-stops and forthright resonance to realize you are in the presence of one of the greatest practitioners of jazz bass, his signature tone and depth commanding attention even from the most inattentive in the audience. (Even the couple in that corner booth put their passions on hold for a Dave Holland solo; that idiot who answered his cell phone—for several minutes—surrendered not to irate neighbors but to Dave’s assertive lines.)

I heard three of the four quintet sets at the Dakota. Some compositions repeated over the two nights, but the music was reborn each time, and for those moments, so were we.
Photos: All from the Dave Holland Quintet late set on June 1st at the Dakota: Top to bottom, two of Dave Holland, two of Chris Potter, Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, Nate Smith. (Photos by Andrea Canter)