Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 1-7

© Andrea Canter

If October 7th was the only day for jazz around town this week, it would be plenty. Maybe even too much. But of course there are six more days. No one should go musically hungry this week!

First, the weekend. Ever wonder what Thelonious Monk would do if he encountered our local jazz heroes? The Artists Quarter poses that question, and answers it with an all-star quartet to honor the eccentric genius’s 93rd birthday anniversary (10/1-2). Trumpeter Steve Kenny (Illicit Sextet), pianist Peter Schimke (How Birds Work), bassist Billy Peterson (Steve Miller Band) and AQ owner/drummer Kenny Horst bring long lists of credentials and hours of play with the best from near and far. Masters of quirky rhythms and playful arrangements, they are sure to satisfy the most ardent fans of Monk’s music.

If you missed guitarist Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric CD release last week at the Dakota, you can hear a pared down version at Café Maude (10/2) with Chris Bates and Greg Schutte. It will be different without keyboard and trumpet, but that only makes it more interesting… and a good reason to hear this music again even if you were at the Dakota! (See last blog for more about this innovative guitarist’s music.)

One of the true musical treasurers of the Midwest, the JazzMN Orchestra (aka, JazzMN Big Band) opens its new season Saturday night (10/2) at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center with trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman and local chanteuse Charmin Michelle as special guests. Mossman has played with just about every Latin Jazz star on the planet.

And then there’s December 7th. The evening starts early (7 pm) at the AQ with the next Young Artists Series gig, sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society. This time the featured performer is pianist Joe Strachan. Joe, a graduate of Northfield High School, was a 2008 finalist and a 2009 winner of the Schubert Club/Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education Jazz Piano Scholarship Competition and the pianist for the Dakota Combo during his senior year. After a year at Lawrence Conservatory, Joe decided he wanted more gigging opportunities than were available in Appleton, WI, and transferred to the U of M. He’ll be joined by young trombonist John Cushing, a senior at Minnetonka High School and returning member of the Dakota Combo, and vocalist and fellow U of M student Madelyn Hartke. The music will be as interesting as the instrumentation!

Across town, clarinet/saxophone virtuoso Anat Cohen returns to the Dakota with her quartet, just six months after her Dakota debut with her acclaimed Benny Goodman tribute ensemble. This Israeli native has redefined jazz clarinet with dazzling music that blends bebop, post bop, klezmer and folk traditions. She’s doing two sets, for which I am grateful as it allows me to get to the Walker’s McGuire Theater for the 8 pm performance of Dave Douglas’s Keystone sextet, performing the much anticipated Spark of Being, a multi-media collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison to reconsider the Frankenstein myth. Trumpeter Douglas has proven to be one of the most prolific composers and performers in modern jazz, leading multiple and diverse ensembles. Fortunately, the Walker and Dakota are only minutes apart. And if you are really up for a cross-town jazz fest on Thursday, the Phil Hey Quartet perform at 9 pm at the AQ…. and will go til about midnight. Meaning one could catch the late set with Phil after Dave Douglas, after Anat Cohen…. Or just hang out all night at the AQ. This is win-win. (Or make that win-win-win?)

And of course, there is more jazz this week. For some hot instrumental music: On Friday (10/1) it’s Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog featuring saxophonist Nathan Hanson and pianist Rahjta Ren; Milo Fine’s Free Jazz Ensemble holds a semi-regular musical feast at the West Bank School of Music; at the Dakota, Nachito Herrera and friends take you to a night in Havana, and again on Saturday (10/2). Also on Saturday: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske will soothe your soul at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel. On Sunday (10/3), there’s a Gypsy Jazz Festival at the Cedar featuring the Clearwater Hot Club. On Monday, Jazz Implosion usually brings Fat Kid Wednesdays to the Clown Lounge. On Tuesday (10/5), the AQ hosts the Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band; the Jack Brass Band is at Favor; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion swings at the Loring Past Bar. Come Wednesday, young saxophonist Tyler Anderson and a band of like-minded musicians from the U W-Eau Claire jazz program release a CD at an early set at the Artists Quarter, followed by intrepid Dave Karr; and fans of experimental music will want to catch the Symphonic Transients Orchestra at the Terminal Bar.

Always, lots of vocal jazz in the Twin Cities. On Friday (10/1), Arne Fogel sings at Ingredients in White Bear; on Saturday (10/2), Banu Gibson brings New Orleans warmth to the Hopkins Center for the Arts; on Sunday (10/3), you can still catch Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra, but the (brunch) gig is up at Crave in the West End. (Is there any music left at any Crave?) Cynthia Johnson and Michael Bloom perform as part of “Jazz at the J” (Sabes JCC in St Paul) and Ruthie Foster brings roots and more to the Dakota—and again on Monday (10/4). Charmin Michelle is on “stage” with Denny Malmberg Monday and again on Wednesday (10/6) at Fireside Pizza in Richfield. Tuesday (10/5): Arne Fogel fronts the Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood; Nick Lowe is featured at the Dakota (and again Wednesday), and Christine Rosholt takes on Beasley’s Big Band at O’Garas. Wednesday (10/6), Arne Fogel again, this time with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; on Thursday (10/7), Lee Engele swings with the Moonlight Serenaders at the Wabasha Street Caves.

Coming Soon
• October 9-10, “Blue –Songs on the Indigo Side” with Katie Gearty, Nancy Harms and Rachel Holder at the Capri Theater
• October 12, Gerald Albright at the Dakota
• October 13, Louis Hayes Trio at the Artists Quarter
• October 14, Jazz Thursdays (Chris Thomson, Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda) at MacPhail
• October 15-16, Nichola Miller CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• October 17-18, Nellie McKay at the Dakota
• October 20-21, Hugh Masekela at the Dakota
• October 22-23, Diane Witherspoon at the Artists Quarter
• October 22, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• October 23, “With These Songs in Our Hearts” (music of Rogers and Hart), featuring Arne Fogel, Lucia Newell and Maud Hixson with the Tanner Taylor Trio at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• October 23-24, KBEM 40th Anniversary Gala Weekend
• October 29-30, Kelly Rossum and Nicollet Av Circus Band/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at MacPhail
• October 29-30, Paul Bollenback at the Artists Quarter

Photos: (top to bottom), October 7th brings Joe Strachan to the Young Artists Series at the AQ; Anat Cohen returns to the Dakota; and Dave Douglas brings Keystone and his new Spark of Being project to the McGuire Theater at the Walker (all photos by Andrea Canter)

A Love Electric

© Andrea Canter

When I arrived for the second set of Todd Clouser’s CD release at the Dakota, I fully expected to hear some of the energetic compositions from his A Love Electric. “Meet Me at the Polo Grounds” and “Habit Kick” did not disappoint, and even with different personnel on stage versus the recording (Clouser on guitar, Bryan Nichols on keys and Greg Schutte on drums were the holdovers from the recording), the music was nevertheless just as funky and foot-tapping, and bassist Chris Bates and trumpeter Adam Meckler were more than up to the task. What I didn’t expect was a balladic solo piece from Clouser and engaging arrangements of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” and Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce.” Nichols, sliding between acoustic piano and electric keyboard, tore apart whatever Clouser presented to him, while Meckler delivered one impassioned solo after another. As for Clouser, he gave us a whirlwind tour of his resume, adding in tunes from earlier recordings as well as his newborn, showing us that “a love electric” can be soft and sweet as well as frenetic and freewheeling.

Todd spends most of his time in Baja, performing, composing and teaching, but does get back to his Minnesota roots now and then, and keeps the connection strong with another band, a trio with drummer JT Bates called Hope Tonic. And if you missed the Dakota gig, you have another chance to hear Todd, with Chris Bates and Greg Schutte, at Cafe Maude Saturday night (10/2).

Photos: Todd Clouser Quintet at the Dakota on September 27th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Good Vibes, Again Tonight at the AQ

© Andrea Canter

If, like me, you grew up on the unique sound of the Modern Jazz Quartet, or if you otherwise have an affinity for the hollow beauty of the vibraphone, you need to come down to the Artists Quarter tonight (9/25) for the second and last night of Ben Thomas. Based in Seattle, Thomas will be on stage with former grad school cohort Laura Caviani and her trio, bassist Jeff Bailey and drummer Phil Hey. They drew a decent crowd last night, and we were all treated to one stunning arrangement after another, including an unforgettable “All the Things You Area,” topsy-turvy “I Mean You” and sizzling “Alone Together.” And then there was Laura’s “Paper Cranes,” an elegant homage to a trip to Japan which she plays often, but this is the first time I’ve heard it with vibraphone. It’s a match made in heaven.

Laura noted she has recently been delving into the works of Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), and the quartet performed a favorite of mine, “The Mountain.” Or sometimes it’s titled “Mountain of the Night.” At least that’s how it appears on Lynne Arriale’s Inspiration, where I first heard it. And Ibrahim himself has recorded the tune under both titles. No matter. It is one of the most gorgeous melodies in the piano literature, and with vibes, it is transcendent. Maybe they will play it again tonight. And I’m hoping they cover some of Thomas’s compositions again. Last night, I didn’t stay late enough. Tonight I will.

Photos: Ben Thomas at the Artists Quarter, September 24th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, September 24-30

© Andrea Canter

If the nights seem to be cooling off, the jazz around town is only heating up. This weekend we have the long-awaited return of master vibraphonist Ben Thomas and the opening of the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Jazz From J to Z season, while the coming week brings back one of the High Priests of the genre, Charles Lloyd and his stunning quartet with pianist Jason Moran.

If you haven’t heard of Ben Thomas, it’s about time. Based in Seattle, he has appeared at numerous jazz festivals and concert halls, and currently leads projects spanning jazz, salsa, tango, swing, and chamber music. Of more relevance to us in the Twin Cities, Thomas was a grad school classmate of Laura Caviani at the University of Michigan; Laura appears on several of Thomas’s recordings and performed with him at the Dakota five years ago. This weekend, old pals reunite, this time at the Artists Quarter (9/24-25) with superior support from bassist Jeff Bailey and drummer Phil Hey. It’s a “modern jazz quartet” format and the play list will surely include a lot of originals from both Ben and Laura. And you have to be intrigued by a guy who names his most recent CD, Triskaidekaphobia –fear of the number 13!

There’s much to like about the Midtown Global Market in the old Sears building on Lake Street in south Minneapolis. There’s great food for take out or take in from a truly global array of vendors; there’s fresh produce and meats as well as imported goods; even clothing and gift items. But my favorite part of the MGM is the live music, particularly early Saturday afternoons. What’s better than sitting in the sunny (or at least bright!) atrium with a plateful of spring rolls or tamales or East African stew listening to Mary Louise Knutson on solo piano? You know where to find me tomorrow (9/25) for lunch.

Sunday afternoon, the Twin Cities Jazz Society presents the first concert of the 2010-2011 Jazz From J to Z season at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, with the CC Septet taking the stage. All current or past members of the Century Jazz Ensemble in White Bear Lake, these musicians make a small hornline soar like a Big Band, and their original compositions take on international flavors. Sunday they will play music from their 2009 release, She’s Big in Egypt. They will be Big in Bloomington.

Monday night (9/27), the Dakota hosts a CD release from young Minnesota-bred guitarist Todd Clouser. Now based mostly in Baja, Clouser has been compared to Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, not only for his electrifying string chops but also for his eclectic repertoire that defies easy classification. His A Love Electric recording boasts a largely Twin Cities ensemble of high flyers—Gordy Johnson, Greg Schutte, Bryan Nichols, Jason Craft, Adam Linz, and (recently local) Kelly Rossum. Steven Bernstein handles much of the horn duties on the recording, but at the Dakota, fast-rising trumpeter Adam Meckler will add his energy to the band, which includes Clouser, Nichols, Schutte and Chris Bates. I’ve been listening to the recording—imagine the pulse and vibe of 70s indie jazz/rock fusion filtered through 21st century technology and imagination. There’s something pleasingly old-fashioned about the way Clouser creates his menagerie of futuristic sounds.

Also on Monday (9/27), the acclaimed Claudia Quintet, with the Dave King Trucking Company, appears at The Cedar. Led by drummer John Hollenbeck, this is a band of some of the most creative musicians in any genre, exploring the possibilities of electronics in the context of free improvisation—bassist Drew Gress, violist Matt Moran, accordionist Ted Reichman and multi-reedman Chris Speed, accompanied by guest pianist Matt Mitchell. The Dave King Trucking Company debuted during the Dave King Weekend last spring at the Walker, and features stalwarts of the local experimental music scene—King, Erik Fratzke, Adam Linz—along with Chris Speed. I guess on Monday night that makes him Double Speed.

Charles Lloyd has been through it all—Coleman Hawkins, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Keith Jarrett. And then he ran away from it and found peace in Eastern meditation. But collaboration with the late Billy Higgins pulled him back into performing and recording in the late 1980s, and he’s been steadily producing some of the most beautiful music in modern jazz for the past two decades, including his trio with Zakir Hussein and Eric Harland, quartet with Geri Allen, and now his “new quartet” with Harland, Jason Moran and Reuben Rogers. Their ECM 2008 release Rado de Nube was on many top ten lists including mine, and the just-released Mirror is sure to elicit a similar response. I think it soars even higher. Composer of prayerful melodies and exquisite harmonies, Lloyd also brings magic to arrangements of standards and traditional works, and seems perfectly paired with the creative and playful mind of pianist Jason Moran, a modern-day genius who has infused new energy into the music of this jazz mystic. The quartet is here for one night only, at the Dakota on Thursday (9/30).

Some inspired singing this week: On Friday, 9/24, hear Patty Peterson at the Dakota; Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen. On Saturday (9/25); Ginger Commodore returns to the Dakota; Maud Hixson's in a swinging duet with guitarist Vinny Rose at Erte'. On Sunday (9/26), Charmin Michelle serenades at Crave in the West End and later at Cinema Ballroom. On Monday (9/27), Charmin joins Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield) and again on Wednesday (9/29). Christine Rosholt and company entertain at the Dakota on Tuesday (9/28). On Wednesday (9/29), Judi Donaghy fronts the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen, while Doug Haining’s Twin Cities Seven with Arne Fogel keeps Hell burning on Thursday (9/30).

More instrumental jazz this week: On Friday (9/24), it’s Fantastic Friday at the Black Dog and Mississippi Peace at Café Maude. On Saturday (9/25), start your day with Framework at brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Shilad Sen, Graydon Peterson and Vinnie Rose back a swing dance at the Tea Garden; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske prolong happy hour at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel; Jon Pemberton Trio performs at the Loring Pasta Bar; Ear Worm is on call at Café Maude; and College Music Society Jam finishes the evening on the Dakota Late Night bill. On Sunday (9/26), have brunch at Hell’s Kitchen with Firebell; Chris Lomheim and trio perform a quasi public gig at Schmitt Music in Edina (sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s jazz club, tickets largely sold in advance to OLLI members but there might be a few seats left); the Zacc Harris Trio holds their weekly gig at the Riverview Wine Bar. On Monday (9/27): Jazz implosion at the Clown. On Tuesday (9/28), Cory Wong Quartet and the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ; Hiroshima at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. On Wednesday (9/29), Media Addicts at the AQ. On Thursday (9/30), Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the AQ.

The annual Spark Festival—a celebration of electronic art and music—returns this week, September 28-October 3 throughout the Cedar/Riverside area. Visit for schedule and details.

Coming Soon

• October 2, JazzMN Orchestra with Michael Philip Mossman and Charmin Michelle (Hopkins HS Performing Arts Center)
• October 7, TCJS Young Artists Series, Joe Strachan at the AQ
• October 7, Anat Cohen Quartet at the Dakota
• October 7, Dave Douglas & Keystone Present Spark of Being at the Walker
. October 8-9 Jef Lee Johnson at the AQ
. October 9-10, "Blue: Songs on the Indigo Side" with Nancy Harms, Rachel Holder and Katie Gearty at the Capri Theater
. October 13, Louis Hayes Trio at the AQ
• October 14, Jazz Thursdays (Chris Thomson, Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda) at MacPhail
. October 15-16, Nichola Miller CD release at the AQ
• October 17-18, Nellie McKay at the Dakota
• October 20-21, Hugh Masekela at the Dakota
. October 23, "With These Songs in Our Hearts," Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson & Lucia Newell at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• October 23-24, KBEM 40th Anniversary Gala Weekend
. October 27, Christian Howes at the AQ
. October 29-30, Paul Bollenback at the AQ
• October 29-30, Kelly Rossum and Nicollet Av Circus Band/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at MacPhail
Photos (top to bottom): Ben Thomas at the Dakota in 2005; Charles Lloyd at the Dakota in 2009 (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

She's the Top, She's the Bottom, She's Esperanza

© Andrea Canter

It’s hard to remember she’s a few weeks shy of 26. She barely looks a day over 20 and her music soars with the sophistication and inventiveness of at least two additional decades. She dropped out of high school, dropped in to Berklee, and by 20 was their youngest faculty member. If you are looking for a modern definition of artistic genius, look no farther than bassist/vocalist/composer/bandleader/educator Esperanza Spalding. And look at your calendar, because you have one more night (tonight!) to catch her at the Dakota Jazz Club.

In 2008, Esperanza released a highly praised American debut recording. She made her first appearance at the Dakota in spring 2009, returning a few months later to headline the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (the other headliner was Allan Toussaint). Since then, in addition to a long list of guest appearances at such gatherings as the White House and Nobel Peace Prize concert, she’s launched a new “Chamber Music Society” project that injects a classical string ensemble and additional voices into her jazz trio. Her recent CD reflects the original compositions and arrangements written for the Chamber Music Society, music that she brings along on her fall tour with her entourage of musicians and crew.

And it’s an entourage fit for a rock star, which she may yet become. Mostly they travel by bus—cheaper for a large group, more comfortable and reliable. And it allows more props. Which is an important feature because this is not just a music gig, this is theater. Good theater. Her first set opens to a dark stage, the voice of Dakota owner Lowell Picket thundering his “upcoming events” from somewhere above rather than his usual greetings from the stage. Then a moment of silence as the small figure emerges in the darkness, making her way to a comfy chair in front of the stage. She flicks on the small lamp,removes her trench coat, shrinks into the chair, gathers her wits, reaches for the adjacent bottle of wine and pours. Like anyone coming home from a hard day at work. Time to relax.

Soon, Esperanza is on stage, grabs her upright bass, and the lights come on. Her string trio, pianist (Leo Genovese) and drummer (Richie Barshay) are in place. And for the next hour+, we are witness to an orchestral suite, its own one-act play where the musicians rely on what seems to be a skeletal script that allows for considerable interaction among the artists as they write and rewrite their variations on compositions that come largely from Chamber Music Society. There’s no chatting with the audience or announcing tunes. Yet we sense we are a critical component of the experience. What’s art without response?

They open with her “Little Fly” (setting the words of William Blake's poem), Spalding’s high pitched soprano voice gently sparring with her own low basslines, blending with the violin/viola/cello and (vocally) suggesting some of Gretchan Parlato’s recent work… but Gretchen sticks to one instrument. Esperanza balances two for most of the set. Each segment moves seamlessly (save applause) into the next. Is it all from Chamber Music Society? Maybe. By the time she gets to her arrangement of the Tiomkin/Washington “Wild Is the Wind,” we are mesmerized, by the music, the drama, the originality of the arrangements, the blend of high strings, high voice, bottomless basslines.

The drama continues as Esperanza now sits on stage, a brief interlude without bass and just her own voice, now smoothly transitioning to a cleverly arranged bilingual vocal duel with her “backup” vocalist on Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem." “Apple Blossom” is a Spalding original that shows off her skill as a lyricist, a poet as much as composer; despite differences in voices, she suggests Norma Winstone in her ability to fit music to words, words that recall the classical writers of epic poems set to a music that belongs only in this century. And let’s not overlook the fact that, if Esperanza woke up without a voice, she would remain one of the strongest bass talents of her generation, a fact driven home by her extended solo on her “Winter Sun.”

The formal part of the suite ends as it began, lights dimmed, Esperanza settling briefly in the easy chair, putting on her trench coat, turning out the light. But there’s a curtain call. “Midnight Sun” (Lionel Hampton/Johnny Mercer), a solo encore, really steals the show after the fact. Two-instrument “solos” are challenging enough when it’s piano and voice, guitar and voice. Bass and voice have a special challenge, at least with Esperanza’s arrangement. Unaccompanied voice requires perfect intonation, but voice accompanied by bass improvisation? Not only is there no melodic anchor for voice, there is a competing rhythm and melody. And if Esperanza finds it challenging, she gives us no hint. Her high-range vocal blues sounds oddly beautiful against the bottom tones from her percussive bass, and her interpretation takes advantage of both, bringing complementary notes close together while opening pungent spaces.

Not that the rest of the cast was superfluous, but the night would have been completely satisfying and long-remembered had it been limited to that hypnotizing epilogue.

Photos: Esperanza Spalding (and company) at the Dakota, September 21, 2010. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Four-Play: Great Music Here at Home

© Andrea Canter

I might have expected a music let-down after three days of nonstop jazz at the Detroit Jazz Festival. But this past week was a festival of its own, and I only needed to drive 10-20 minutes from home. And it was easily as eclectic as any jazz festival.

September 12, Turtle Island Quartet. The coolest group of strings on the planet played to a full house, validating the appeal of classically trained string players improvising on Jimi Hendrix tunes in the context of a jazz club (The Dakota). Attired in jeans, not tails, the quartet played two sets, drawing heavily from their new release, Have You Ever Been…?, the music that violinist David Balikrishnan and cellist Mark Summer heard coming of age, well before the births of their younger cohorts, violinist Mads Tolling and violist Jeremy Kittel. But they were all clearly of the same mind on stage, bringing an orchestral elegance to 60s rock and material from Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland , as well as some favorites from Chick Corea and Fleetwood Mac and Balakrishnan’s own suite, a commission dedicated to Charles Darwin and Origin of the Species. The group cohesion was inspiring, but so was Mark Summer’s solo on Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” where he noted he simultaneously needed to be cello, bass and drum. And listening to Bob Dylan’s “Along the Watchtower,” why was I wondering how the TIQ would take on Bartok?

September 15, Chris Lomheim Trio’s Tribute to Bill Evans. Nearly every year, it seems, pianist Chris Lomheim holds a birthday party for his muse, Bill Evans. At the Artists Quarter this week, his trio also marked the 20th anniversary of Evans’ death. With Chris Bates on bass and Jay Epstein on drums, elegance and fluidity were in abundance. Lomheim knows the Evans repertoire better than anyone around here, and as a result, we get to hear compositions that are seldom played on local stages, maybe on any stages. They opened with the appropriate swinger, “The Opener” followed by a piece dedicated to Orrin Keepnews, “Re: Person I Knew.” Chris often plays “But Beautiful” and “Funk-a-lero,” the former a Van Heusen standard and Evans favorite which showcases Chris’s exquisite touch, the latter as close to Monk as Evans could be and filled with delightful rhythmic quirks. That Lomheim touch, that clean articulation graced Kern’s “Up With the Lark,” with Bates and Epstein bringing their voices together like extra-terrestial bells, while the trio’s rendering of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” was simply stunning. Happy Birthday, Bill.

September 17, Jazz Crusaders. I had doubts that I should have spent the money on this show, reuniting Joe Sample with Wayne Henderson of the original Jazz Crusaders. Wilton Felder would have rounded out the original group’s core but health issues forced him to sit out this tour, and in his place, saxophonist Gerald Albright was given special guest billing at the Dakota. I must have heard the original band in the 60s but have no specific memory of the music. Given the R&B and soul bent of the band in its later years, I was skeptical. Adding Albright, I feared, would only push it farther into what is known as “contemporary” music. I was wrong. Sure, the music was definitely soulful, but there was a lot of grooving hard bop and burning soloing from Sample, Henderson and Albright, some agile basslines from Reggie Sullivan, and a pyrotechnic drum display from Morris Lucas. Sure, they played expected hits like “Young Rabbits” and “Way Back Home,” but as I heard someone say as the applause died down, “I’ll never hear ‘Eleanor Rigby’ the same again.” Interspersed among the barnburners, Joe Sample proved to be an engaging storyteller, recalling the political, social and cultural times of the 60s. It was a bit like a journey through a time warp, taking us back to the music that stirred crowds of a cross-section of America, music that made you want to get up and dance, get up and sing, just get up and cut loose. It was jazz that was still popular music, even as the Beatles were redefining pop and rock. And Albright? He fit in perfectly and blew some pretty spectacular solos. Lowell Pickett announced he is working to find a date for Albright and his own band. Sign me up.

September 18, The Atlantis Quartet. I’ve enjoyed this local ensemble since I first heard them about four years ago. In addition to composing some of the most interesting new music in town, Atlantis is building a reputation for its reworkings of classic recordings, from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to Herbie Hancock’s The Head Hunters, and soon (on Halloween, of course), they will perform in full Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Last weekend at the Artists Quarter, Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig performed compositions from their first two recordings as well as some new material. Wozniak is high on my list of horn players, showing a wide range of moods and his own signatures on every tune, putting a lot of body language into each note. Harris, too, has evolved a personal sound, one of the most lyrical guitarists in the neighborhood. Chris Bates is everywhere these days, and is as adept at the melodic intricacies of Bill Evans as the rhythmic explorations of the AQ. And Pete Hennig—he’s a drummer I can watch all day, one who manages the exuberance of a toddler discovering new sounds with the sophistication of a seasoned artist.

Just another week of jazz in river city.

Photos (top to bottom): David Balikrishnan with Mads Tolling of the Turtle Island Quartet; Chris Lomheim celebrates Bill Evans; Wayne Henderson boned with funky energy with fellow Jazz Crusaders; Zacc Harris and Brandon Wozniak (Atlantis Quartet) dueled at the AQ. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Road Music: CDs That Transcend Holiday Traffic

© Andrea Canter

Did I mention it took 14+ hours to drive from Minneapolis to Detroit for the Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend? Perhaps the only reason three of us did not go insane or turn on each other was the nonstop music we brought along. We were selective and adventurous, bringing a few well-known favorites but mostly new music, some recordings that were not yet released and only available as review copies, some that we just had not caught up with yet. While this music might not prevent a rush-hour slow down or expressway speed trap, it will do more than pass the time. This music—and it is an eclectic collection—will inspire you to listen again and again in more relaxing, acoustically refined settings.

Favorites for the Road
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. You can’t listen to his 1959 classic too often or too seriously. Each hearing of “All Blues,” for example, brings new revelations. One has to wonder what directions Miles might have gone if his partnership with Bill Evans had gone on through the 60s. Or what direction Bill might have turned. Ashley Kahn’s “bio” of this recording session is must reading for anyone who finds this music irresistible. (Columbia/Sony, 1959)

Karrin Allyson, By Request. The recording is not an old favorite, having been released a year ago, but these are all tracks from her first dozen or whatever recordings on Concord, and it is a stunning retrospective that traces the development of one of modern jazz’s most effective singers. Allyson seemingly hatched poised for stardom back in the early 90s, but hearing her early renditions of "Nature Boy" and "O Pato" offers a chance to consider her evolution and her sidetrips through the songs of Paris and Rio, the Great American Songbook, the works of the great Brazilian writers as well as the songbook of John Coltrane, and more. The voice is a bit more dusky on tunes from Imagina and Footprints than Collage and From Paris to Rio, but that distinctive alto has never faltered. We also had From Paris to Rio (Concord, 1999) and enjoyed an Allyson encore in French, Portuguese and English. (Concord, 2009)

Bad Plus, Blunt Object: Live in Tokyo. Everything they do seems to incorporate everything that’s been done without sounding retro. This release included such crowd pleasers as “Flim,” “Heart of Glass,” “We Are the Champions” and even a cover of “My Funny Valentine.” The small handful of originals, though, reminded me of my first love of TBP, their own works, subserivent to pop covers on their recordings until the September release of Never Stop….which I brought along to preview (see below). (Columbia, 2006)

New Releases
Turtle Island Quartet, Have You Ever Been…? Fast becoming one of my favorite ensembles in modern music, the string quartet configuration is just a façade. It looks like a classical quartet. Indeed, these four musicians could surely make a good living in staid concert halls. But they have chosen to have more fun and take more chances, reimagining the music of Coltrane and now Jimi Hendrix. If you aren’t familiar with, or a fan of, Hendrix or Dylan or John McLaughlin, it really doesn’t matter. You just have to enjoy music with broad harmonies, interesting rhythms, playful one minute and celestial the next. This recording focuses on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland recording, but also includes a 4-part suite from founding violinist David Balakrishnan that salutes Darwin as much as Hendrix. That this was a preview of their live show at the Dakota last weekend was icing on the travel cake. (Telarc, 2010) (See review at:

Bad Plus, Never Stop. Another favorite ensemble celebrates its first decade by releasing an all-originals set. They’ve been playing some of these compositions on recent tours, like Dave King’s futuristic herky jerky “My Friend Metatron” or Reid Anderson’s whirling “Beryl Loves to Dance,” but many were new to me as well as to the recording studio. There’s Iverson’s exploration of the inner mind of an off-duty stunt driver and King’s vague satire of “Super America.” It’s pure Bad Plus, unfettered by any preconceptions that might follow their deconstructed pop covers. May they “never stop.” (Do the Math Records, 2010). (See review at:

Anat Fort Trio, And If. Israeli native pianist Anat Fort flew under my radar til last spring when she was in town for a master class and evening concert at MacPhail. One of the pieces she did with Adam Linz and JT Bates was “Something About Camels,” a rather long multilayered composition that began with Anat tugging inside the piano, Adam batting his hands on the top of the bass neck, and JT scraping his sticks across the skins on the tom. It was a collection of oddly beautiful sounds. It evolved into a desert trek on camelback with swirling sand and distant oases. That composition is the centerpiece of And If, but just the tip of the iceberg of ideas that Fort brings to her trio. One of the most beautiful recordings of 2010. (ECM, 2010) (See review at:

Anat Cohen Quartet, Clarinetwork. We heard the agile and electric Anat Cohen with her Benny Goodman tribute quartet at the Dakota last spring --pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Lewis Nash. Not the quartet she primarily tours and records with, but a special band for a special salute. Cohen makes Goodman modern without losing the swing, the melodies that made him a legend. Now Cohen is bringing the clarinet new respect, new audiences. She's back in the Twin Cities (at the Dakota) on October 7th. (Anzic, 2010).

Amina Figarova, Sketches. I first encountered this Azerbaijan native/Rotterdam resident at the 2008 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and again a year later at the Dakota. With her long-standing sextet and a raft of soaring original compositions, Figarova creates tidal waves of glorious melodies and harmonies on Sketches. The concept of the album was to capture the sights and sounds the band encounters as it tours the world, and as such it seemed perfectly suited for our road trip. The band moves together like a well-oiled machine but the interactions are very human. (Munich Records, 2010) (See review at:

Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society. I had this in the car stereo for a few weeks and decided to leave it in rotation. Spalding will be here in the Twin Cities next week with her new project, jazz trio + classical string ensemble. Spalding’s feathery voice is nearly as prominent as her assertive bass, as if another string instrument added to the mix. It’s intriguing although I have to admit to preferring the instrumental tracks. Mostly originals from Spalding, whose talents seem endless, and timeless. (Heads Up, 2010). (See Pamela Espeland’s review at:

Jason Moran and The Bandwagon, Ten: The Bad Plus are not the only trio celebrating a decade of musical togetherness. Since he first organized The Bandwagon with bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, pianist Jason Moran has seemed limitless in his artistic energy and curiosity. He’s received commissions from the Walker Art Center, assembled a multi-media tribute to Thelonious Monk, and managed to anchor the “new” Charles Lloyd Quartet in his spare time. Some of his most engaging blues, free improvisation and oddball splicing of conversations into the music can be found on Ten. The more I hear Moran, the more I hear some common ground with Craig Taborn on the "out" side, Jarrett on the "in" side. Not a bad place to be. (Blue Note, 2010).

Charles Lloyd Quartet, Mirror. And speaking of Charles Lloyd, his quartet’s September 14th release might be his best yet of the millennium. The wizened High Priest of modern jazz brings his affinity for global (particularly middle eastern) and traditional sounds to the interplay with three young geniuses—Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums. This is the quartet that released the knock-out Rabo de Nube, and Mirror might even surpass that one. No one can make the saxophone (flute, taragato, whatever) more hymnal, more sacred, than Lloyd, even on standards like “I Fall in Love Too Easily” or Monk classics like “Monk’s Mood” or “Ruby My Dear.” And Lloyd has long loved to elevate the traditional hymn or spiritual, including here “Go Down Moses” and “The Water Is Wide,” along with such priestly originals as “Being and Becoming—the Road to Dakshineshwar With Sangeeta” or “Tagi.” Even at 75 mph, when giant semis are passing you in the right lane, Charles Lloyd is ethereal. (ECM, 2010)

One for All, Incorrigible. This band has been building its book through a long series of live dates in New York, mostly at Smoke. And they smoke! This old fashioned soulful hard bop in the finest sense of the term, and their longevity (13 years) proves it’s a timeless formula. With a hornline of Jim Rotondi, Eric Alexander and Steve Davis, fortified with Dave Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, you have to realize you’ll need a fire extinguisher. Sort of gives you courage to pass those semis… in the left lane. From an opening “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” to Davis’ closing “So Soon,” this largely original collection roars like a big band but offers the intimacy of the sextet. The only conflict on a road trip is the tendency to start tapping the wrong foot… (Jazz Legacy, 2010)

Purchased at the Festival
My friends got a bargain at the Mack Avenue tent after hearing sets from Danilo Perez and Tia Fuller. While I had heard these before, I was more than willing to listen again on the return trip.

Danilo Perez, Providencia. For his new Mack Avenue release, Perez sought to move out of his comfort zone with a handful of compositions that reflect experimentation on multiple levels, as well as reconsiderations of a pair of classic Latin compositions from a perspective emphasizing the tragedy of their lyrics. His assemblage of musicians help to pave the way for adventure—bassist Ben Street, drummer Adam Cruz, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and particularly alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, along with a classical ensemble of brass and woodwinds and other guests. Latin rhythms infuse the music throughout, yet more global components take the music well beyond home base. All but Haddad were on stage in Detroit, and the music here—and more—came to glorious life. (Mack Avenue, 2010) (See review here:

Tia Fuller Quartet, Decisive Steps. Perhaps no other release of 2010 has been so appropriately titled. Her fourth recording puts Tia Fuller at the top of mainstream altoists, somewhat reminiscent of Kenny Garrett as well as the unavoidable comparison to Charlie Parker. Fuller plays with more energy than a Bobo doll and seems to push that energy right back into the music of her cohorts—on the album, that’s sister and pianist Shamie Royston, bassist Miriam Sullivan and drummer Kim Richmond, with special guests Christian McBride and Sean Jones. On stage in Detroit, brother-in-law Rudy Royston broke the gender divide on drums. Live or on this record, the Tia Fuller Quartet is volcanic, on standards or on original tunes, with Tia proving her genteel chops as well on an exquisite “I Can’t Get Started.” She got started a while ago, and now we hope she never finds the finish. (Mack Avenue, 2010). (See review here:
I'm looking forward to my next road trip. But maybe I'll keep it under 500 miles.

Photos: Tia Fuller at the Detroit Jazz Festival; Charles Lloyd at the Dakota; Anat Cohen and Lewis Nash at the Dakota. All photos by Andrea Canter.

“Innerviews”: Anil Prasad’s “Music Without Borders,” in Print

© Andrea Canter

(Reposted from Jazz Police)

Ever wonder what that pianist or bassist or drummer was really thinking on stage? What concept or inspiration spurred that composition? Since 1994, Anil Prasad has delved into the minds of a deep pool of musicians through a series of insightful conversations which form the basis of his website, Innverviews, the longest-running online music magazine. Now Prasad has compiled two dozen of his conversations in one print volume, Innerviews: Music Without Borders, published this fall by Abstract Logix Books. Anyone interested in the art and mind of musical genius will find fascinating revelations here, be it from the world of rock, pop, folk, jazz or anything in-between or fused together. In fact, many of the artists that Prasad interviews defy simple classification, which is a large part of the fascination of Innerviews.

Prasad’s subjects have ranged from Bjork and Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese to Stanley Clarke and McCoy Tyner, from hip hopper Chuck D to the duo of John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein, from Ani DeFranco to Leo Koettke. His questions eschew the usual interview format which mine biographical details, early influence, current preferences, etc., and instead probe specifics that give readers insight into artistic concepts and challenges. He asks drummer Bill Bruford about his collaboration with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez on their recording, If Summer Had Its Ghosts. Why these partners, how does a drummer approach melodic composition? He asks Stanley Clarke about the status of bass guitar and his recent shift to acoustic bass. He asks Chuck D to describe his creative process, Ani DiFranco to describe her development of percussive fingerpicking, Bela Fleck to describe his approach to bandleading. Faced with an interviewer who probes beneath the surface, the musicians respond with a candor seldom found on the pages (or webpages) of typical music magazines.

Fleck, for example, cites mistakes he made early on as a bandleader. “I would push people really hard. I remember someone saying to me, ‘Hey, if you don’t like the way I’m playing, why did you ask me to play?’ My response was, ‘I do like the way you play but I want you to do something different than I’ve ever heard you do before.’ That didn’t’ feel very good to some people. So it made me want to find a different way to get that point across without hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s been a real challenge..”

Prasad interviews both John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein to gain insight into the development and influence of Shakti, and the dual perspective provides readers with a more complete picture of the music and its creators, particularly the negative reception that greeted the band initially. Noted McLaughlin, “After coming out of Mahavishnu—a very powerful electric band—here I was sitting on a carpet with Indian musicians. Everyone thought I flipped out. It was not well-received at all by the record company or my agent and manager. Artistically, I thought it was wonderful but they all thought I was a little loopy.” Added Hussein, “What happens is sometimes you have a vision and an urge to go forward and do something unique at a time when people are still tied to what is, as opposed to what should be or what can be… the record companies and promotional outfits had no idea what to call Shakti, what category of music it fit into or which bin in the record shop to put it in.”

Interviewing McCoy Tyner, Prasad opens a conversation about the accessibility of jazz, eliciting from Tyner comments on the the public’s view of jazz. “My mother knew who Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Duke Ellington were.. because they were part of the community and we were proud of these people. That kind of accessibility doesn’t seem to to exist at that level anymore… where the average housewife, plumber or carpenter is aware of this music….”

In the last interview, with the late Joe Zawinul, Prasad prompts one of the more colorful analogies I’ve come across in music writing, when he asks, “Are there any similarities between the lives of boxers and musicians?” Zawinul, who was an avid boxing fan, notes “… you can’t blink an eye. You’ve always got to be alert or you’ll miss the moment. It’s all related. You gotta use your limbs, hands and feet in music and you have to do that in boxing as well…”

There are many collections of interviews with musicians. Anil Prasad offers more than Q and A. He gives his subjects an opportunity to reflect on their philosophies, their challenges, their triumphs, and in doing so gives readers an opportunity to go beyond the notes and melodies. And that kind of accessibility brings us closer to Tyner’s notion of community.

“…Anil is like a great musician. The way he expresses himself through his art—his writing—causes readers to feel inspired, as if we’ve learned about ourselves, as well as the subject of the interview… Anil executes beautifully what we musicians are continually trying to do…” –Victor Wooten (Forword, Innerviews)

Innerviews will be officially released in October 2010. Available now from the publisher at

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, September 17-23

© Andrea Canter

Big names, crowd pleasers, national and local talents fill Twin Cities venues this week, starting with a funky and high energy weekend.

Tonight (9/17) is the second and last night of Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders at the Dakota. An iconic pioneer of jazz/soul fusion in the 60s and 70s, the Jazz Crusaders (aka The Crusaders) sort of disbanded in the mid 80s, only to return in various configurations for reunions in the 90s and beyond. The current tour finds founder/keyboardist Joe Sample pairing with original trombonist Wayne Henderson and guest saxman Gerald Albright, filling in on this tour for an ailing Wilton Felder. Get ready to relive your soulful youth!

Soulful in a different way, the Atlantis Quartet is a team of young jazz pioneers, bringing their hip sounds to the Artists Quarter for the weekend (9/17-18). Four of the area’s most creative musical minds are at work—guitarist Zacc Harris, saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Pete Hennig. While much of their repertoire is original fare, these guys are also well known for their reinterpretations of great recordings, including Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Hancock’s Headhunters. (Watch for their upcoming Halloween gig at Hell’s Kitchen when they take apart Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Holy Moly! Trick or Treat!)

Always a treat for the eye and ear, Mary Louise Knutson brings her trio (with Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey) out to Plymouth tomorrow night (9/18) as part of the Jazz @ St. Barney’s series at St. Barnabus Church. Along with some favorite standards, you can always count on some new compositions from one of our area’s most eloquent composers and pianists.

Monday night (9/20) at the Old Log, vocalist Connie Evingson reminds us of the magnitude of Peggy Lee’s influence as songwriter as well as singer. Connie has long been a Peggy Lee fan herself, releasing Fever early in her solo career and previously bringing Lee to area stages. Tanner Taylor and Dave Karr head a quintet backing Connie in “Happy With the Blues.”

One of the fastest trajectories in recent jazz history has been the rise of bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Now all of 26, she’s been on the Berklee College of Music faculty for six years already, has performed at the White House and at countless festivals and major venues, tours with Joe Lovano’s Us Five, and just released her second recording, Chamber Music Society, bringing classical strings to the stage with her jazz trio. She’s mesmerizing as well as ridiculously talented as performer and composer. She’s at the Dakota Tuesday and Wednesday (9/21-22). The crowds were huge when she visited the Dakota and later Twin Cities Jazz Festival in 2009.

Two favorite area jazz ensembles are at the Artists Quarter midweek—How Birds Work (9/22) and Snowblind (9/23). HBW (Peter Schimke, Dean Granros, Chris Bates, Kenny Horst) is a nearly monthly act at the AQ but one never grow tired of their creative interpretations and original works; Snowblind (Shilad Sen, Adam Rossmiller, Scott Agster, Graydon Peterson, Reid Kennedy) is now a seldom-heard brass ensemble with some of the area’s top young performers, also known for their full throttle covers and intriguing compositions.

Other jazz worthy of close attention this week: Fantastic Fridays (and a new piano!) at the Black Dog (9/17); the Neighborhood Trio at Café Maude, featuring Steve Roehm, Dan Schwartz and Brian Roessler (9/17); Joel Shapira Trio for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen (9/18); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel (9/18); Parisota Hot Club at the Loring Pasta Bar (9/18); Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (9/19); Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson, Jay Epstein) for Sunday brunch at Hell’s Kitchen (9/19); Fat Kid Wednesdays (usually) at the Clown Lounge (9/20); Framework at the Clown on Tuesday (9/21) with an early 8 pm start; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (9/21); Todd Clouser with the first of at least two CD releases, tonight (9/23) at the 501 Club (with Bryan Nichols, James Buckley and JT Bates) – he also celebrates at the Dakota on 9/27.

For the best of song, you can hear Sophia Shorai at Hell’s Kitchen (9/18); Nichola Miller at the Tapestry Folkdance Center (9/18); Teresa Manzella at the Hat Trick (9/18); Charmin Michelle with Rick Carlson at Crave in the West End Shops (9/19) and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (9/20 & 22); Rachel Holder with Scottie Devlin at Hell’s Kitchen (9/21).

Coming Soon!
• 9/24-25, Ben Thomas and the Laura Caviani Trio at the AQ
• 9/26, CC Septet at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• 9/30, Charles Lloyd Quartet with Jason Moran at the Dakota
• 10/2, JazzMN Orchestra with Michael Philip Mossman at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• 10/7, Anat Cohen Quartet at the Dakota
• 10/7, Dave Douglas Keystone Sextet at the Walker Art Center
• 10/9-10, “Blue” with Nancy Harms, Rachel Holder and Katie Gearty at the Capri
• 10/13, Louis Hayes Trio at the AQ
• 10/14, Jazz Thursdays with Adam Linz, Chris Thomson and Alden Ikeda at MacPhail
• 10/23-24, KBEM 40th Anniversary Gala Weekend
Photos (top to bottom): Zacc Harris leads the Atlantis Quartet at the AQ this weekend; Mary Louise Knutson brings her trio to St Barnabus Church in Plymouth; Esperanza Spalding at the 2009 TC Jazz Festival. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, September 10-16

© Andrea Canter

I promise, I will remember to post this today!

The weekend is packed even tighter than usual with a wide range of jazz and related activity. The annual Lowertown Concrete and Grass Music Festival kicks off the fun in Mears Park tonight and running through tomorrow evening (9/10-11). The focus is more pop but there’s something for everyone, with Energizer Bunny Irv Williams performing this evening and the Tanner Taylor Trio on deck tomorrow. Catch a little opera, blues, and rock along the way!

For night owls tonight (9/10), a fast-rising sax star/composer will preview music from his forthcoming debut CD when Aaron Hedenstrom and his quartet play at the Dakota Late Night. A recent graduate of the UW-Eau Claire jazz program, Hedenstrom has been busy recording with his Aaron Hendestrom Orchestra, fusing some hip hop to his post bop. Tonight, without the hip hop and big band components, it’s more mellow but with plenty of room for surprise from four young turks—Aaron on sax, Joe Strachan on piano, Graydon Peterson on bass, Brian Claxton on drums.

The Artists Quarter continues its at-least-monthly parade of national artists with the Kyle Asche Trio (9/10-11). Based in Chicago, Ashe was a semifinalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition and has been burning up the Windy City stages at venues like the Green Mill. His cohorts include Chicago drum legend George Fludas and the great B-3 veteran, Melvin Rhyne. The AQ does not often bring in a full touring band so this is a special occasion.

Another special occasion, although it should be far more common, is the appearance of the Twin Cities Seven with guest vocalist Arne Fogel, at the Dakota on Saturday night (9/11). Scheduled at the last minute due to a cancellation, it’s everyone’s gain to have a relaxing Saturday night listening to one of the Midwest’s finest swing ensembles and crooners in a rare club collaboration. There probably will not be room for a dance floor but you never know….. Led by sax and clarinet expert Doug Haining, the TC Seven has been swinging for more than a decade and boasts some of the area’s finest, with Rick Carlson on keys, Steve Wright on trumpet, Dick Bortolussi on drums, and more. And of course Arne, host of The Bing Shift on KBEM, brings Bing and Frank to life. It’s time that the Dakota brought back some old favorites!

Saturday also brings back the Selby Avenue Jazz Festival, a truly neighborhood family gathering in the heart of St Paul at Milton and Selby Avenues. For the past decade, this event (from 11 am til dark) has brought together a diverse community and a diverse array of music, from soul and gospel to swing, bop and contemporary jazz, drawing largely from our own well of talent as well as at least one artist from the national scene. Headliner this year is bassist Gerald Veasley, with musicians from Walker West, Brio Brass, and Penumbra Theater among the local highlights. It’s free, with plenty of food and fun for the family.

If your ears lean toward modern strings, make the trek to Turtle Island—the Turtle Island Quartet at the Dakota on Sunday night (9/12). My first exposure to TIQ was last fall’s Coltrane-oriented show, and I was entranced. It’s a standard string quartet in instrumentation, but these guys are skilled and clever improvisers who bring a Schoenberg essence to their interpretations of Coltrane or, as in the case of their latest release, Jimi Hendrix. Their credentials speak to their eclecticism—scan their bios and you’ll see references to jazz, bluegrass, and Celtic fiddling as well as traditional classical training. You do not have to be a fan of 60s rock to enjoy this 21st century ensemble. Hendrix never sounded this close to Aaron Copeland, or vice versa!

It’s been a while since we heard from Monk in Motian, the ensemble dedicated to the approach of Paul Motian’s Electric Band. They’re back to back with the Enormous Quartet at the Clown Lounge for night owls on Tuesday (9/14).

And marking the 30th anniversary of the death of one of the true legends of modern jazz, Bill Evans, will be Chris Lomheim and his trio (Chris Bates, Jay Epstein) at the Artists Quarter (9/15). There is no finer interpreter of Evans than Lomheim, and the trio will surely do justice to some of Evans’ best ensembles.

The week will close with a special appearance from Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders, or at least some incarnation of the band that made contemporary jazz intelligent and, well, contemporary in the 70s. Saxophonist Gerald Albright brings a special touch to this tour, stopping at the Dakota Thursday and Friday (9/16-17).

So what else is up this week? The Fantastic Merlins are back at the Black Dog for Fantastic Fridays (9/10); one of the area’s premier big bands, the St. Croix Jazz Orchestra performs at the Stillwater Library Terrace (9/10); the Zacc Harris Quartet plays Café Maude (9/10); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske are back at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (9/11); Alicia Wiley brings the keys to Hell’s Kitchen brunch on Sunday (9/12); Milo Fine and like-minded improvisors (Stefan Kac, Scott Newell, Dave Seru) star in the Improvised Music Series at Homewood Studios (9/13); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (9/14); James Buckley Trio at the Aster Café (9/15); Jon Pemberton Quintet at the AQ (9/16).

The air will be filled with song this week, thanks to Arne Fogel at the Ingredients Café (9/10), the Dakota as noted above (9/11), and in a Sunday night cabaret at Honey with Jennifer Eckes and special guest Maud Hixson (9/12); George Faber and Debbie Duncan at the Dakota (9/10); Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom (9/12) and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (9/13); Nichola Miller with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (9/15); Maud Hixson (again) with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (9/15); Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at the Wabasha Street Caves (9/16).

Coming Soon!
• September 18-19, Atlantis Quartet at the AQ
• September 21-22, Esperanza Spalding at the Dakota
• September 24-25, Ben Thomas with the Laura Caviani Trio at the AQ
• September 26, CC Septet (TCJS Jazz From J to Z) at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• September 30, Charles Lloyd Quartet with Jason Moran at the Dakota
• October 2, JazzMN Orchestra with Michael Mossman, Hopkins High School Arts Center
• October 7, Anat Cohen Quartet at the Dakota
• October 7, Dave Douglas & Keystone, “Spark of Being” at the Walker

Photos (top to bottom): Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson (at the TC Jazz Festival in June); Mark Summer of the Turtle Island Quartet; Chris Lomheim (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Round Trip to the Jazz Planet, AKA Detroit

© Andrea Canter

My friends Keith and Linda and I have this routine down cold. For Labor Day Weekend, we fly out of the South St. Paul airport on Friday morning in Keith’s 4-passenger Bonanza. We arrive at Willow Run airfield in Ypsilanti midday, rent a car, and take off for 3 ½ days of nonstop (really) jazz that runs the gamut from early swing to avant garde, with big helpings of Detroit-spiced bebop and sprinklings of Motown and soul. We stay through til at least the first part of the final big band set in the Carhartt Amphitheater on Hart Plaza and pack up for our flight home Tuesday morning. The annual Detroit Jazz Festival has become our annual pilgrimage to a city that manages to rise above its internal challenges to welcome 750,000 jazz fans and literally “put on a happy face.”

This year we had to punt. High winds aloft. Icing at 4000 feet. Same forecast for Saturday made a minor one-day delay even iffy. So we did the unthinkable. We drove the 700 miles between Minneapolis and Detroit. What was officially an 11-hour trip took a good (or bad?) 14 hours, hitting the Chicago/Gary tollway maze on the late Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. We arrived at our destination in Detroit around midnight, missing the festival’s opening sets with Take Six and Tower of Power. (Not to dismiss these great bands, but last year, we would have missed the opening gala with Chick Corea and Hank Jones. In comparison, this was a minor annoyance.)

The drive was not all torture and farm fields. In 14 hours held captive in a Subaru Forester, you can hear a lot of music. We happily went through a stack of CDs, everything from Kind of Blue and the Best of Karrin Allyson to preview copies of upcoming releases from The Bad Plus, Charles Lloyd, and Anat Fort. (Stay tuned for a blog on our “Road Music.”)

Was the drive worth it? Essentially, and musically, absolutely. The 31st annual Detroit Jazz Festival surprisingly seemed to generate as much enthusiasm and crowd ecstasy as did the more celebrity-laden 30th anniversary festival in 2009. The weather was near perfect if a bit cool and windy to start; a few passing sprinkles on Monday were barely noticed. The main stages seemed to overflow more quickly than ever, earlier in the day. The blue-shirted regiments of volunteers were upbeat and helpful (as always); and the crowds reflected the world that defines Detroit diversity. This isn’t Monterey. This isn’t Montreal. This isn’t a ticketed, “reserve now or be left out” affair. This is Detroit. It’s the largest all-free jazz festival in North America. Maybe the world. No one seems sure. What’s sure is that the level of international and national talent equals any other jazz festival on earth; the number of “headline” acts per day, as far as I can tell, also equals any other jazz festival on earth. (Montreal goes on for 12 days….but does anyone do it all? And live to tell about it?)

And you don’t have to wander back and forth across a metroplex, take a shuttle from one arena to another, catch a cab to the clubs where the “real” headliners are on stage, or even reserve a seat. Just show up. The three main stages are within a city block of each other. Maybe even too close—sometimes a loud big band passage on the amphitheater stage can be heard between tunes a half block away at the riverfront stage. With staggered start times, it is possible to take in at least half of every set among the main stages. And there are three more music stages to catch up with high school and college bands, local up-and-comers. A “talk tent” to hear interviews and a “blindfold test” with the visiting legends. A “Kid Bop” area to introduce the youngest fans to the music. And the usual festival accoutrements of concessions, flea market merchandise, CD sales.

Maybe the stamina required to sit in a car for fourteen hours was akin to jazz fest boot camp—in comparison, getting ourselves from one stage to another and back again, multiple times over the ensuing three days, was a piece of cake.

I’ll be writing at length about the music, but just a few highlights:
• Pianist Mulgrew Miller in multiple contexts, including a two-Steinway duel with the great Kenny Barron
• Terence Blanchard with his quintet and the Wayne State Big Band
• Rudresh Mahanthappa on stage with Danilo Perez (whose tragic reading of “Besame Mucho” was one of the single highlights of the weekend)
• Maria Schneider conducting her orchestra as if floating on a thermal on her “Hang Gliding”
• Matt Wilson turning the drumkit inside out with Trio M
• Roy Haynes, at 85, still dancing around with “kids” of his grandson’s generation
• Kurt Elling letting it all hang out with Ernie Watts
• Young Justin Faulkner splitting the skins as the new drummer for Branford Marsalis
• Bobby Watson and Horizon bouncing through “Lemoncello”
• Tia Fuller, maybe the knock-out punch of the whole festival, taking her quartet through works from her very hot Decisive Steps

Would I drive 14 hours to the Detroit Jazz Festival again? Probably not in one day. But I am not sorry I did it last weekend.

As for next year? Please, fly me to the Motor City moon. Or “Beam Me Up, Scottie.”

Photos: Bless press passes. Thanks to Chris Harrington, head of press relations for the DFJ, for a generally thankless job. Photographers are a hard lot to make happy in what are typically odd shooting conditions. Top to bottom: Mulgrew Miller; Tia Fuller; Terence Blanchard; Matt Wilson; Maria Schneider (All photos, 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Lead Sheet, The Rest of the Week--September 8-9

© Andrea Canter

Sorry about that. I wrote the usual Lead Sheet to post before leaving for the Detroit Jazz Festival. Then I forgot to post it. And there was some great music that I missed over the weekend, but hopefully you found it—Rene Marie. Phil Hey. Tony Hymas. Ramsey Lewis. But there’s still lots going on midweek:

Framework is a trio of three of the area’s most inquisitive musicians, who together form one incendiary ensemble—drummer Jay Epstein, guitarist Chris Olson and bassist Chris Bates. There’s a lot of original material as well as interpretations of modern jazz icons. They don’t play often so don’t miss this opportunity (9/8) at the Artists Quarter.

We’ve been enjoying a revival of hot club music in the Twin Cities for the past decade and particularly since vocalist Connie Evingson turned her voice toward gypsy jazz with two acclaimed recordings and appearances with local and national hot club ensembles. Often in the company of the Twin Cities Hot Club, Parisota Hot Club and Clearwater Hot Club in the metro area, Connie also recorded with the Hot Club of Sweden and has appeared nationally with Pearl Django and the Hot Club of Detroit. The Detroit band will be at the Dakota this week (9/9) and Connie will join the fun. HCOD is one of the top ensembles reinterpreting the Django era, but they also put a new spin on more contemporary works. I just heard the band, without vocalist, and they sizzle. (And no violin!)

KBEM’s REEL Jazz Series kicks off the fall season at a new venue, the intimate Trylon Theater in east Minneapolis, on Thursday (9/9). The screening –the Monk biopic, Straight No Chaser. Check the KBEM website for tickets and more information,

Keeping the jazz flame burning the rest of this week: Debbie Duncan with the Dakota Trio (9/8); Maud Hixson with Denny Malmberg (on accordion) at Fireside Pizza (9/8); Nichola Miller with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (9/8); Greg Marquardt with the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra at Wabasha Street Caves (9/9); Tanner Taylor Trio at the AQ (9/9).

Coming Soon
• September 10-11, Lowertown Concrete and Grass Festival at Mears Park
. September 10, Aaron Hedenstrom Orchestra at the Dakota Late Night
• September 11, Selby Avenue Jazz Festival
• September 10-11, Kyle Asche Trio with Mel Rhyne and George Fludas at the AQ
. September 11, Twin Cities Seven (Doug Haining) with Arne Fogel at the Dakota
• September 12, Turtle Island Quartet at the Dakota
• September 15, Chris Lomheim Trio Birthday Tribute to Bill Evans at the AQ
• September 16-17, Joe Sample and the Crusaders at the Dakota
• September 21-22, Esperanza Spalding at the Dakota
• September 24-25, Ben Thomas and the Laura Caviani Trio at the AQ
• September 30, Charles Lloyd Quartet with Jason Moran at the Dakota
• October 2, JazzMN Orchestra with Michael Mossman at the Hopkins High School Arts Center
• October 23-24, KBEM 40th Anniversary Weekend Celebration
Photos: (Top to bottom), Framework at a recent AQ gig; Maud Hixson with accordion specialist Denny Malmberg; the Hot Club of Detroit at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Karrin's Happy Madness

© Andrea Canter

It seems too easy to just write that singer Karrin Allyson pushes the bar higher each time she comes to town. Accurate, but too easy. So thinking further, I realize that what pushes her above most of the fine artists, and particularly vocalists, who come to the Dakota is her bold attitude toward both herself and her audience—a willingness to experiment right there on stage, which presumes a willingness to falter as much as a desire to soar. It’s an attitude that shows both confidence in one’s own ability and respect for, and confidence in, the audience. No matter what recording has just been released, what favorites are anticipated or requested, Karrin is never content to just ride through on a sure thing. She brings us new tunes, perhaps testing out audience reaction, perhaps challenging herself to move out of the comfort zone, perhaps merely going in the direction that feels right at the moment.

She wants us to enjoy our favorites (and that is a long list!) but she also wants us to experience the joy of hearing new arrangements and new songs, to share her own joy of discovery that gives each set a fresh point of interaction with the audience, be it filled with family and old friends or new encounters. Her 2009 By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson was represented but did not dominate her Monday night set at the Dakota. Rather, she opened on a new note with the seldom sung Richard Rodgers swinger, “Loads of Love,” countered with one of her bilingual signatures, “Happy Madness (Estrada Branca),” came back with another new (overdue!) entry to her songbook, “Born to Be Blue,” and another favorite, a humorously dramatic rendering of “Robert Frost.” She saved her boldest moment for the encore, not a request, not a “best of,” but a solo (“I have never played this before”) knock-out of Anthony Newly’s “No Such Thing As Love.”

And for Karrin, there’s no place to hide with only guitar (Rod Fleemans), bass (Larry Kohut) and her own (excellent) keyboard skills on the stage. We’ll hear everything. We see the little nuances of musician interaction. We hear each note and each syllable of lyric. We’ll notice any hesitation delivering new words and new notes. And we’ll also quickly notice that the intonation, articulation and interpretation are as spot-on when the song is the ever-requested “O Partot” as when Karrin goes out on a limb, alone, on “No Such Thing As Love.” And she seems quite comfortable on that limb, trying a new tune, a new arrangement, a new gesture, hearing a new response--what makes this jazz.

See full review on Jazz Police at
Photos: (top to bottom) Karrin Allyson at the Dakota, with Larry Kohut on bass and Rod Fleemans on guitar, on August 30, 2010 (photos by Andrea Canter)