Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 23-29

© Andrea Canter

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the music of New Orleans has had its own tidal wave of popularity as clubs like the Dakota and venues like Orchestra Hall have made it a priority to bring the best of the Delta up north, initially to ensure employment for displaced musicians, but now it seems more to ensure ongoing appreciation for the culture and history of the birthplace of jazz. I don’t think Dr. John, Irvin Mayfield, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, or Evan Christopher are having trouble getting gigs. But each time they perform, they gain some new fans and solidify their connections with the already faithful. Maybe that will enhance NOLA tourism. But from a purely musical standpoint, I am eager to here bands from other regions, like Bulgaria or Tel Aviv or Tokyo or even Denver, just to broaden my horizons and keep it all interesting. American jazz has spilled into every corner and every culture, and in turn, every culture has injected some new sounds into American jazz.

Tonight (7/23), however, I’ll go back to New Orleans for a couple hours in the company of Evan Christopher, one of today’s masters of clarinet (and soprano sax) as well as musical spokesman for Crescent City’s heritage. Christopher, who made a splash at the Dakota last fall in the company of a swinging local quartet, returns with the Minnesota Orchestra to perform the world premiere of his work, Treat it Gentle Suite. In addition to the backing of one of the world’s top orchestras, Christopher will be joined by Irvin Mayfield (the orchestra’s Artistic Director for Jazz), guitar/banjo virtuoso Don Vappie, and one of Preservation Hall’s most revered performers, drummer Shannon Powell. A bunch of local artists who perform with the Jack Brass Band will also lend support, so consider this a melding of artists from both ends of the Mississippi. Christopher is worth seeing regardless of the program, an agile performer who can give traditional jazz a modern edge. The first part of the program at Orchestra Hall offers another treat, the fine voice and songwriting of Lizz Wright. It’s been a few years since her Dakota debut, and I am eager to hear the current directions in which her luscious voice is moving.

Sticking to the northern end of the Mississippi, the Artists Quarter hosts the Laura Caviani Quartet this weekend (7/23-24), and this time the local queen of jazz piano offers something a little different with Chris Olson on guitar. Jeff Bailey (7/23) and Chris Bates (7/24) trade off bass duties while longtime Caviani cohort Phil Hey handles the drums. Laura has hinted that some vocals will be on the set list. Whatever, it will be serious fun. Serious fun is also on the menu at the Dakota where the always entertaining Ben Sidran delivers original piano music and commentary, 7/23-24. Maybe there will be room late for anyone coming from Orchestra Hall tonight? Out in the north burbs, Ingredients Café hosts a sublime and swinging pairing of Maud Hixson and Tanner Taylor, perfect for that Saturday date night (7/24).

Long a hot house for experimental music, the Black Dog Café in Lowertown hosts the Lowertown Block Party on Sunday, 2-9 pm, featuring an eclectic mix of jazz, blues and beyond---Irv Williams, Davina and the Vagabonds, Ursus Minor, the Fantastic Fridays House Band, and more. The Black Dog kicks off the weekend with its Fantastic Fridays music series, tonight (7/23) featuring a special sax and piano summit, with Pat Moriarty and Ellen Lease with "excellent bassist Josh Granowski and young trumpet sensation Noah Ophoven-Baldwin" (quoting Pat).

The Clown Lounge hosts some of its favorites, including two bands that provided a sampling of their creative exploits at last weekend’s Dakota StreetFest—Fat Kid Wednesdays (7/26) and the Atlantis Quartet (7/27); Fat Kids share the bill with the James Buckley Trio. More on the edge music can be found at Studio Z where Anti-Gravity defies the Earth’s pull on Thursday night (7/29), thanks to Dean Granros, Jaqueline Ultan, Steve Goldstein, Scott Fultz, Pat O’Keefe and guest vocalists Viv Corringham. (So, what do you get when you mix guitar, cello, clarinet, sax, lap top and voice?)

Midweek also brings jazz turned jazz/funk/R&B vibraphonist Roy Ayers to the Dakota (7/28-29) for what should be two exciting nights of vibes magic. Meanwhile, a veteran never-turned-away-from-bebop saxman, Gary Berg, brings his own magic to the Artists Quarter (7/28), followed by the monthly blowout from Pete Whitman’s X-Tet (7/29).

More blazing instrumental jazz can be found around the metro every night—young keyboard whiz Micah Fitch brings an energetic band to Ginger Hop, which is just starting its music calendar tonight (7/23); Zacc Harris takes his trio to the Dakota for Late Night tonight (7/23) and back to the Riverview Wine Bar for the usual Sunday night gig (7/25); Patrick Harrison brings his accordion to the Aster Café tonight (7/23) and again on Tuesday night (7/27); also tonight, at Café Maud, you’ll find one of the most unusual bands in the area, Adam Levy and Liminal Phase (complete with cello, guitar, bassoon and harmonium); Joann Funk tinkles the ivories at Luna Rossa (7/24); Cory Wong Quartet opens for the funky Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (7/27).

Singers’ gigs are plentiful—Nichola Miller has a big week, starting out tonight (7/23) with Tanner Taylor at Hell’s Kitchen where they return for Sunday brunch (7/25); the sassy swinger is back at Spoonriver with Rick Carlson on Thursday (7/29). Charmin Michelle joins the Real Thyme Trio tonight (7/23) at Crave in the Galleria, one of the last gigs before the restaurant discontinues live music at the end of the month; Charmin also has her regular gigs at Crave in the West End Shops with Rick Carlson on Sunday (7/25) and at Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg, Monday and Wednesday (7/26 & 28). Sophia Shorai adds pizzazz to Hell’s Kitchen Saturday Brunch (7/24) and returns Tuesday night (7/27); Vicky Mountain sings Saturday night (7/24) with James Allen at First Course; Christine Rosholt returns to the Dakota on Monday night (7/26); Reuben and Dan Ristrom pair up at Sawatdee in Maple Grove (7/28); Maud Hixson sings in the very comfortable company of the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen on Wednesday (7/28) while Arne Fogel banters and croons with the Tanner Taylor Trio there on Thursday (7/29).

Coming Soon
• July 30-31, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter
• July 31, Reynold Philipsek CD Release at the 318
• August 9-10, Bettye LaVette at the Dakota
• August 13-14, Kelly Rossum at the Artists Quarter
• August 19-21, Guitar Hero Weekend at the Artists Quarter with Greg Skaff

Photos: (top to bottom), Evan Christopher; Laura Caviani; Fat Kid Wednesdays (on the Starkist Stage at Dakota StreetFest); Nichola Miller with Tanner Taylor at Spoonriver in May, this week at Hell’s Kitchen. (All photos by Andrea Canter)