Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 29-November 4

© Andrea Canter

I just noticed this is my 300th post to this blog! So Happy Halloween! And the Twin Cities jazz community has a lot of treats, starting with a homecoming weekend for Kelly Rossum and the return of guitar virtuoso Paul Bollenback, with a much-anticipated return of Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread project to spice up midweek.

You can’t go wrong on either side of the river this weekend. When trumpeter Kelly Rossum relocated to New York in fall 2009, he had recently completed a commission from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to write a soundtrack for the 1920 silent film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which he premiered with his newly formed Nicollet Circus Band. The work will be presented three times this weekend, twice in MacPhail’s stunning Antonello Hall (Friday and Saturday nights, 10/29-30) and again Sunday afternoon on the River Falls campus. It’s a creepy film, of course, and I would expect creepy excitement from Kelly and his Nicollet Circus Band, a cast of characters themselves reflecting the best of the area’s freer jazz artists—including Scott Agster, Chris Thomson, Brandon Wozniak, Brian Roessler, Steve Roehm and more.

Guitarist Paul Bollenback has been a longtime favorite at the Artists Quarter, and he’ll be on the bandstand this weekend (10/29-30). He’s performed with the best, including Joey De Francesco, Steve Gadd, Gary Bartz, Paul Bley, Charlie Byrd, Terri-Lyne Carrington, Herb Ellis, Geoffrey Keezer, Joe Locke, Jack McDuff, James Moody, David “Fathead” Newman, Houston Person, Stanley Turrentine, and (wife) Chris McNulty. For some reason I missed his last visit, but will make amends this weekend.

Come Tuesday (11/2), the third violinist to hit local jazz stages within one week lands at the Dakota. Following last week’s appearances by Amanda Shaw (Dakota) and Christian Howes (AQ), Regina Carter brings yet another perspective to the violin as an instrument of improvisation with her Reverse Thread project. Performing earlier this year at Ted Mann Concert Hall as well as releasing the same-named recording, Carter and Reverse Thread bring together the roots of African music and modern-day post bop, and feature kora master Yacouba Sissoko and accordionist Wil Houlshouser along with the highly talented Chris Lightcap (bass) and Alvester Garnett (drumset). Carter’s projects are always well considered, with Lightcap and Garnett collaborators of long-standing. And how often do you get to enjoy the kora in the environs of a classy jazz club?

And what would Halloween be without a new spooky show from the Atlantis Quartet? Having brought us their interpretation of A Love Supreme (2008) and The Head Hunters (2009), the adventurous ensemble (Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig) now take on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy at, where else, Hell’s Kitchen on Halloween night (10/31). Forget those trick or treaters, the tricks and treats are all in Hell tonight!

On the new music front, Zeitgeist and Studio Z are hosting a series of Lowertown cabaret music events. With almost three hours of local live music each night, the cabaret features some of the Twin Cities’ most inventive musicians coming together. New music fans are invited to attend one, two or three shows each night at Studio Z (7:30–10:30 pm), 11/4-6. Thursday night features the Renegade Ensemble, Zeitgeist, and Hanson/Ren/Roessler.

More special treats this week include gigs at the AQ from Framework (Jay Epstein, Chris Olson, Chris Bates) on Wednesday (11/3) and the seldom heard Pete Whitman Quintet (Chris Olson, Laura Caviani, Gary Raynor, Dave Schmalenberger) on Thursday (11/4), and the next KBEM Community Education class, moving to Minneapolis’s Northeast Middle School for November, starting Wednesday (11/3) with host Calvin Worthen and “Jazzin’ the Blues.”

Want more?
Friday (10/29): Arne Fogel at Ingredients Café in White Bear; Lee Engele at Pardon My French in Eagan; Fantastic Fridays (Nathan Hanson on Sax, Rahjta Ren on piano and Peter Leggett on drums) at the Black Dog; an evening with Milo Fine at Homewood Studios; Three Keys Quartet at Honey; Charmin Michelle with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at the Medina Ballroom; Benny Weinbeck Trio at Chambers Hotel (again Saturday night)
Saturday (10/30): New Orleans Halloween Party at Roy Wilkins Auditorium featuring Charmaine Neville –dinner earlier in the evening to benefit the Twin Cities Jazz Festival; Rare Medium at Tryg’s; Lee Engele at Nonna Rosa; Joanne Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel
Sunday (10/31): Charmin Michelle and Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom
Monday (11/1): Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge
Tuesday (11/2): Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Jack Brass Band at Favor Café; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s
Wednesday (11/3): Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg (international night) at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)
Thursday (11/4): Christine Rosholt at Chocolate Sampler Night at the Minnesota History Theater

Coming Soon!
• November 5-6, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and the SPCO live premiere of Highway Rider at the Walker Art Center
• November 5-6, Dave King Trucking Company at the Artists Quarter
• November 9, Dean Magraw & Marcus Wise, CD release at the Artists Quarter
• November 11, REEL Jazz (“Last of the Blue Devils”) at the Trylon Theater
• November 12, Chanteuse Diaries (Maud Hixson and Lee Engele) at Burnsville Performing Arts Center, Black Box Theater
• November 12-13, Laura Caviani’s Tribute to Mary Lou Williams at the Artists’ Quarter
• November 15-16, Kenny Barron Quartet with David Sanchez at the Dakota
• November 18, Meditations II (Music of Mingus) at MacPhail
• November 19-20, Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter
• November 20, JazzMN Orchestra and Stephanie Nakasian (Kenton salute) at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 20, Ann Hampton Calloway at Orchestra Hall
• November 21, “Something (Vo) Cool” with Rhonda Laurie, Connie Olson and Tommy Bruce at the Women’s Club (Minneapolis)
• November 26-27, Ricky Peterson and the Brothers with Patty Peterson at the Artists Quarter
• December 2, Jenny Sheinman at Walker Art Center
• December 6-7, Ravi Coltrane Quartet at the Dakota
• December 8-9, McCoy Tyner at the Dakota
• December 17-18, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota

Photos: Kelly Rossum; Zacc Harris of the Atlantis Quartet; Calvin Worthen, KBEM's host for "Jazzin' the Blues," the next community ed installment. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Strings x Three

© Andrea Canter

There’s been an explosion of new CD releases this fall, with local jazz artists no exception—Wendy Zaro, Tyler Anderson, Sophia Shorai, and tonight (10/28), Lee Engele. And there’s more on the horizon, with three new ones coming from local guitar heroes:

Guitarist Joel Shapira and his quartet have been previewing Open Lines, a spirited set that brings together an outstanding bop and beyond ensemble with saxophonist Pete Whitman, bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Dave Schmalenberger. They aired some of these tunes at Hell’s Kitchen last week and an official CD release party is in the works. But meanwhile, the new CD is available from Joel, one of the busier artists in the metro –with this quartet, Pooch’s Playhouse, his duo with Charmin Michelle (Charmin & Shapira) and an occasional gig with Triplicate, as well as frequent supporting roles for area vocalists.

In the realm of full disclosure, I have to note that I did the front and inside jacket photos for Open Lines, well before I heard the music. I hope the artwork adequately conveys the often colorful, sometimes sublime arrangements of an eclectic set of great jazz covers, and the movement of the music, from subtle to outright bouncy. I think it is fair to say that after “shooting” Joel throughout Wild Sound Studios, we had at least one photo that represented each track – boppishly straight ahead (“Have You Met Miss Jones”, “It Could Happen to You”), luxuriously subdued (“Nardis,” “How Insensitive” and “Time Remembered”), adventurously dark (“Invitation”), just a bit funky (“Turnaround”), and teetering on the edge (Frank Foster’s “Simone” and even every high school jazz band’s cover, “Confirmation”). Most telling is the music itself, that open feel to the quartet’s interplay, those “open lines” of communication that inform the disk’s title. (Charmin & Shapira are wrapping up a new CD of their own, stay tuned.)

When Lee Engele celebrates the release of In the Key of L (October 28th at Pardon My French), she’ll bring to the bandstand (as on the CD) a guitarist who is perhaps the most prolific of local recording artists, Reynold Philipsek. Philipsek figures prominently on another upcoming release, this one from Rhonda Laurie and Sidewalk Café (November 17th at the Aster Café). One might label Reynold a studio junkie, with over 30 albums to his credit, averaging at least one per year. Just this past July, he celebrated a full-length recording, All the Things You Are, taking us on a journey through his ancestry and significant life events.

Now Reynold has a new mini-release, a two-track CD in the spirit and design of an old fashioned 45 rpm disk that pays homage to his St. Cloud childhood with a new tune, “St. Germaine Street” and a reprise of an earlier original, “Astoria.” Yes, seems I did the cover photo for this one as well, although originally it was just a photo from one of Reynold’s gigs at Hell’s Kitchen with Sidewalk Café, with Reynold intently strumming the guitar while bassist Jeff Brueske keeps the pulse going. Jeff plays on “Astoria” along with harmonica virtuoso Clint Hoover; percussion master Michael Bissonnette joins in on both tracks.I am not familiar with “St Germaine Street” in St. Cloud but Reynold’s composition gives me an inner view of a vibrant town-center marketplace. At times he creates a near-mandolin sound from his six strings, indeed evoking carefree childhood days of the 60s, a bit nostalgic but forward-moving. On the “B” side, “Astoria” is tango-flavored, with Hoover’s harmonica sitting in for accordion and it all lilts and sways as if an homage to Piazzola… and maybe it is. Astoria?

In a couple weeks, there will be plenty to celebrate when guitarist Dean Magraw returns to the bandstand at the AQ with tabla player Marcus Wise. More than a CD release, this will be one of Magraw’s first gigs since diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) and undergoing a bone marrow transplant in 2009. I haven’t heard this one yet, but any project involving Dean will be worthy listening. The party for the release of How the Light Gets In (Red House Records) is at the Artists Quarter on November 9th. (And Dean’s trio, Red Planet, returns to the AQ December 17-18!)

Photos: (top to bottom), Joel Shapira (one of our out-takes at Wild Sound Studios); Reynold Philipsek with Jeff Brueske (used on the cover of his new 2-tune CD); Dean Magraw at the Artists Quarter in 2008. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 22-28

© Andrea Canter

There’s big names hanging out in the Twin Cities this weekend and into the coming week, but perhaps the biggest gig in area jazz is not a musician but a radio station. KBEM, or “Jazz 88,” celebrates 40 years on the air, with the past two decades or as a fulltime jazz (“and traffic”) station, one of only a handful left in operation in the U.S.

The celebration comes at a somewhat anxious time for KBEM, with the recent proposal from the Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent that host school North High close in three years due to a sharp decline in enrollment. So far, the school district has voiced support for the future of Jazz 88, wherever that might be. And that’s a wise position, given the contributions of the station to both the district and the community. KBEM is first and foremost an educational program, an elective learning opportunity for high school students to learn about broadcasting and, of course, jazz. They earn credit for an academic course as well as gaining experience with all aspects of radio programming, including on-the-air. And of course many of us benefit each day from KBEM’s many jazz programs, calendar updates, interviews, news and traffic information, as well as special programs like the Restaurant Tour, Gallery Grooves, REEL Jazz and the new community education series. It’s not too late to get tickets for Saturday night’s party with the Wolverines at International Market Square (10/23) or Sunday night’s gala at Vic’s, featuring special guest Karrin Allyson and the Laura Caviani Trio (10/24). (See KBEM’s website for more information –

Friday night brings two outstanding voices back to the Twin Cities. At the Dakota, Bruce Henry sings, entertains and informs through a couple sets soaring with jazz classics and bits of gospel. No one has filled Bruce’s musical shoes since he relocated to Chicago two years ago, but fortunately it seems easy to lure him back, especially when so many of his long-standing cohorts are available for a gig.

Competing on Friday night, the Northrop Jazz Series returns in a new venue, the intimate cabaret space of the Campus Club on the U of M campus (inside Coffman Union). This one is a double bill, starting with “New African Soul” singer/songwriter Somi and her trio, followed by a set of classical jazz standards by Twin Cities vocalist/actress Thomasina Petrus and star pianist Thom West. And you will be the first to hear about the rest of the Northrop Season if you are in the audience.

Across the river, on both Friday and Saturday (10/22-23), Diane Witherspoon returns “home” at the Artists Quarter. Sister of the late Shirley Witherspoon and cousin of the late Jimmy Witherspoon, Diane grew up in Minneapolis and attended St. Olaf College before finding her niche in Los Angeles. She’s sung with legends and around the world, and now she’s back for homecoming weekend. Peter Schimke is on piano and gave me a strong recommendation to fit this into my schedule! Also for Friday and Saturday, it’s the long-awaited return of the Benny Weinbeck Trio, settling in again for weekend piano jazz at D’Amico in the Chambers Hotel.

Another option on Saturday (10/23) is the musical revue of the great sons of Rodgers and Hart, “With Songs in Our Hearts,” featuring Arne Fogel, Lucia Newell and Maud Hixson—three singers who are guaranteed to put songs into the hearts of anyone in earshot. The show will be staged at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, with instrumental backing provided by the Tanner Taylor Trio. Earlier in the day (noonish), enjoy the many global gourmet options at Midtown Global Market, grab some lunch, and find a seat in the atrium where you can enjoy the soothing sounds of Charmin [Michelle] and [Joel] Shapira, one of the longest-standing jazz duos in town.

Monday (10/25) is the swift return of Max Weinberg’s Big Band. In town just a couple months ago at the Dakota, now Weinberg takes the stage at the Guthrie (in the Wurtle Theater). Drummer and bandleader, most will recognize at least the Weinberg name for his longstanding work with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. Think of this as 15 musicians paying tribute to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Doc Severinsen, and Maynard Ferguson.

Tuesday night (10/26) they call it Jazztastic Voyage at the Clown Lounge, and I recommend Adam Linz’s solo set to anyone with a heart beat, since that is truly the nature of the upright bass. And Linz can make that heart beat in any tempo, any speed, through any arrhythmia. The edgy Atlantis Quartet follows.

Wednesday night (10/27) is the last in the KBEM community ed series at Washburn High School, and tonight it’s Women in Jazz with two of our own women in jazz, Maryann Sullivan and Maud Hixson. These one-shot classes have offered an intimate setting (about a dozen “students” in a large choir room!) with presentations and guided listening from some of Jazz 88’s most renowned hosts. The program moves to Northeast Middle School for Wednesdays in November. At $15 per class, it’s a bargain as well as informative fun.

Strings and things come to the Artists Quarter on Wednesday night (10/27) in the form of violinist extraordinaire, Christian Howes. I saw Howes at the Dakota a few years ago and truly makes his instrument dance. Classically trained, Howes was a fiddle champ in his teens and somehow merges a wide range of influences onto a mere four strings. I’ll dash to the AQ after my KBEM class!

Thursday night, vocalist Lee Engele holds a CD release party for her In the Key of L, a snappy and swinging short set buoyed by Reynold Philipsek, Matt Senjem and Gary Schulte. The bash, with all from the recording on hand, is at Pardon My French in Eagan. Oooh-lal-la.

Other jazzy tips for the week ahead:
• Friday (10/22): Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen; Alden Ikeda’s Quartet at Café Maude

• Saturday (10/23): Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson and Jay Epstein) for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel; Teresa Manzella at the Hat Trick

• Sunday (10/24): Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Charmin Michelle and the Jerry O’Hagen Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom

• Monday (10/25): Debbie Duncan at the Dakota; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield; Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Jazz Implosion at the Clown Lounge

• Tuesday (10/26): Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

• Wednesday (10/27): Arne Fogel with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; pizza and swing with Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield; Book signing and celebration for pianist/ composer Carei Thomas at the MacPhail Center for Music, with Thomas’s music by the Dakota Combo.

• Thursday (10/28): Doug Little in a long-awaited return to the Dakota; Pete Whitman’s X-Tet in their monthly blowout at the Artists Quarter.

Coming Soon!
• 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
• November 2, Regina Carter at the Dakota
• November 5-6, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and the SPCO live premiere of Highway Rider at the Walker Art Center
• November 5-6, Dave King/Anthony Cox/Dean Granros at the Artists Quarter
• November 15-16, Kenny Barron Trio + David Sanchez at the Dakota
• November 18, Meditations II (Music of Mingus) at MacPhail
• November 19-20, Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter
• November 20, JazzMN Orchestra and Stephanie Nakasian (Kenton salute) at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 21, “Something (Vo) Cool” with Rhonda Laurie, Connie Olson and Tommy Bruce at the Women’s Club (Minneapolis)
• December 6-7, Ravi Coltrane Quartet at the Dakota
• December 8-9, McCoy Tyner at the Dakota

Photos: (Top to bottom), Maryann Sullivan will help celebrate KBEM's 40th anniversary and later presents "Women in Jazz" through Minneapolis Schools continuing ed at Washburn HS; Bruce Henry returns to the Dakota; Arne Fogel at Hell's Kitchen (and sings Rodgers and Hart in Hopkins); Adam Linz goes solo (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Student Composers and the Elements of Style

© Andrea Canter

When I sat down to observe Dave Douglas’s recent workshop on composition, I figured I was going to hear about his strategies regarding musical composition, and particularly his advice to young musicians/budding composers. The two-night workshop was part of Douglas’s residency at the Walker Art Center, where he would be performing the Midwest premiere of his collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison, Spark of Being. This multimedia work was commissioned in part by Walker.

One of the cool components of some of the recent Walker residencies of jazz artists has been master classes/workshops in partnership with the MacPhail Center for Music, targeting advanced students in MacPhail’s jazz ensembles. Last spring, these students were able to share an evening of music and conversation with Bill Frisell, and a “meet and greet” hour with Dave King. The workshop with Douglas was an extended, hands-on experience, hopefully the first of many to come. This was not just a chance for students to meet one of the most creative artists in modern music, but to truly learn and put new ideas into practice. And play side by side with Douglas.

The core group of students was the Dakota Combo, a MacPhail project supported through a partnership with the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, open to area students in grades 9-12 selected through annual auditions. Others joining the Combo included members of the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band and others involved in MacPhail jazz ensembles. There were perhaps 15-20 students in total, most who attended both nights.

Douglas indeed addressed strategies for composition, the component variables of focus such as form, melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, style, texture, density, balance, instrumentation…. and more. But he put it all into a larger context, and I soon realized he was talking about composition beyond music—the organization of any creative form, be it a painting, a symphony, a novel – a blog! “Composition is organization,” he said early on. And much of his descriptions of the preparation, the execution, the antidotes for “writers’ block,” the transition from a “simple idea” to a finished work apply as readily to writing prose or fiction as to writing a 12-bar blues or jazz suite. Write a few lines, imagine the sound. What are all the different ways to think about sound, to vary the ideas, to get something on paper?

Of course the subject here was music, not a short story or CD review. But the parallels were obvious as Dave, on the second night, reviewed student assignments (to flesh out a short composition outlined the night before). Starting with the basic melody, how can you expand it? Turn it into a bassline; use bigger intervals; expand the range of tones; change the type of chords; transpose keys… And “write away from the piano or your usual instrument” in order to hear new voicings. Douglas noted that he often goes to the public library in order to concentrate on the sounds in his “ear imagination.”

Douglas proved to be as articulate and down to earth as an educator as he is in his music. He elicited respect and returned it readily. This was serious business but Dave made sure it was relevant and enjoyable. Everyone had a chance to participate, everyone’s work was worthy of evaluation and suggestion. The workshop proceeded from some brainstorming about the components of music composition to trying out simple ideas and variations on paper and then on stage, mostly the Dakota Combo playing out the concepts on the first night, adding groups of other young musicians the second night as students presented their fledgling compositions. For each composition, Douglas identified at least one kernel of creative energy that he turned into a lesson in vivo, a suggestion for expansion, an opportunity to experiment. And always, a reminder that jazz is a collaborative process, that they are composing for improvisors. “Some of your best ideas will come from members of your band,” he said.

By the end of the second night, at least ten student compositions had debuted on stage, often with Douglas right there in the horn section. And keeping up with his students, Dave also brought in a composition in progress, offering self critique and seeking student comments. A theme throughout the workshop was summed early when he told the young composers, “I don’t want to get technical at the expense of emotion.”

Often the problem with completing a composition is figuring out what belongs and what can be set aside. How many times have I pondered revisions to an article, unable to come up with a good way to use all the comments from an interview, all the information from online sources? “You don’t have to use everything you come up with,” Douglas told his students. Neither do I.

During a break, I mentioned to Dave that so much of his approach to writing music applied to writing words. He agreed – he still relies on Strunk and White’s bible of good writing, The Elements of Style! Mrs. Moore, who taught me English Composition in high school, would have liked Dave Douglas. And I think she would have liked Spark of Being, played out in the McGuire Theater at the Walker on the night following the last workshop session. It was complex, it was exciting, and it was never technical at the expense of emotion.

Sitting in the audience, I saw at least a dozen young jazz musicians from Dave’s workshop. And I bet that, by the next morning, there were at least a dozen new or expanded compositions in their notebooks.

On behalf of the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education and myself, thanks to the Walker Art Center and Dave Douglas for providing this opportunity to our student musicians, and for allowing me to participate as an observer and photographer.

Photos: Dave Douglas, artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center, leads a compositional workshop at MacPhail Center for Music, October 2010. (Top to bottom) Douglas brainstormed the components of music composition with students; student musicians shared ideas for composition; Douglas gave Dakota Combo musicians some ideas for expanding a student composition; Douglas and student musicians did a "test drive" of a fragment of a new composition. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mingus Among Us

© Andrea Canter

MacPhail Center for Music is the recipient of an exciting grant from the NEA to bring the eccentric world of Charles Mingus front and center, not only for student musicians but also for the general music-centric public, an audience that by and large is aware of the large body of work generated by the great bassist/composer, but likely has only a casual familiarity with it. Adam Linz, MacPhail’s Jazz Coordinator and a sterling bassist/composer himself, is spearheading the project, which involves four of this season’s Jazz Thursdays concerts in MacPhail’s stunning Antonello Hall as well as workshops and presentations for students and the community, and a focus on the works of Mingus among MacPhail’s student ensembles.

If the first of the Jazz Thursdays concerts is any indicator, then we are in for a season of exciting music and insights into one of modern art’s most creative minds. Or make that some of modern art’s most creative minds, as those sharing their interpretations on the stage at Antonello Hall must be considered as well as their source of inspiration.

Last night’s opening volley in the “Meditations and Reflections” project featured an incomparable trio of restless experimenters, including Linz and cohorts Chris Thomson (tenor sax) and Alden Ikeda (drumset). Interestingly, the first and final compositions evoked sacred and profane messages in both title and performance--“Prayer for Passive Resistance” and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”—and seemed to perfectly sum the artistry and mindset of Mingus, part incantation, part community call and response. Some if not all of the works this evening are most often heard on the recordings of the mid-60s, when Mingus often used large ensembles such as the massive orchestra he convened at Town Hall. Thus the instrumentation of bass, sax and drums provided a more skeletal revelation of Mingus’ often-beautiful melodies and unique approach to rhythm and harmony that invariably conjure very human conversations. Both Thomson and Linz carried the joyous burden of serving as those human voices, happy, angry, confused, elated, often argumentative, while Ikeda provided steerage to all ports.

Adam noted that Mingus had some sort of fetish regarding slippers, and his “Slippers” was a fast-paced, slippery boppish romp. “Mingus was an extension of Ellington,” Linz explained, and their relationship was recorded just once in what he described as a “disastrous” session; nevertheless, Mingus honored Ellington with his composition, “Duke Ellington’s Song of Love.”

Thomson and Ikeda took a break, leaving Linz alone to revel solo in excerpts from the epic suite, Epitaph (“Freedom,” “Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon”) and a medley of “Meditations” and “So Long Eric.” I never heard Charles Mingus live but I’ll take comfort in the opportunities to hear Adam Linz go solo. If the bass is compared to the heartbeat of a composition (and well it should!), Linz’s instrument would short circuit an EKG. He flutters, he slaps (hard!), he glides, he slides, he chirps, he vibrates--every inch of every string is called to action. No glissando whines more slowly, no space is presented as mere filler—each opening, each transition serves the music directly.

Also in direct service to the music, intentionally or not, Adam vocalizes with every solo. But unlike Glenn Gould or Keith Jarrett, this near-scatting is neither a distraction nor truly incidental. Adam is on key, his voice a second instrument at times harmonizing, at times contrapuntal. If his finger slowly slides down the string, his voice is in tandem. We only need to put the microphone to his lips and make this duality more audible. Or more accurately, this trio or quartet, as the bass takes on multiple voices, often simultaneously. Mingus would be gratified.
“Dizzy Moods” (Mingus’ take-off on “Woody ‘N You”) featured the many voices of Chris Thomson, who, like Linz, can dazzle with seemingly limitless tactics that cover the entire range of the tenor, from melodic phrases, grunting bursts, spiraling squeals and prayerful cries. His columns of air can mimic arsenals of percussion, but not to diminish Alden Ikeda’s contributions. With sticks or brushes, Ikeda is the propeller, the gyroscope, inserting both subtle and ferocious accents, often when least expected.

This first Mingus program reminded us of the depth of the late composer’s repertoire as well as its accessibility. Bop, blues, stride, rag—it’s all part of the Mingus legacy, rearranged, retrofitted, reconstituted to feel as modern as intergalactic exploration and as familiar as home. Thanks to Adam Linz and MacPhail for putting Mingus among us.

The next Mingus excursion will be November 18th at MacPhail's Antonello Hall with Adam Linz, Mike Lewis, Greg Lewis, Bryan Nichols and JT Bates.

Photos: (Top to bottom) The trio of Adam Linz, Chris Thomson and Alden Ikeda performing in Antonello Hall; Linz and Thomson; Adam Linz; Chris Thomson; Alden Ikeda. (All photos by Andrea Canter, from the October 14th Jazz Thursdays concert)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 15-21

© Andrea Canter

What an eclectic week awaits us in Jazzland—from the swingy/sassy Nichola Miller’s CD release to the sassy/way-out-there return of Nellie McKay, from a friendly sibling rivalry to the global musings of trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the wild experiments of Anti-Gravity….

Nichola Miller kicks off the weekend (10/15-16) at the Artists Quarter with the same cast that swing through her new recording, a live session at the AQ from November 2009. If you were there, you no doubt remember the sassy energy that bubbled off the stage. It’s all well preserved on Thou Swingeth --“old school jazz with punk rock attitude,” to quote Nichola. Throw in Rick Carlson, Keith Boyles, Nathan Norman and Dave Karr. That’s a party!

The New Standards are just that – a trio that looks back to the glory days of rock and pop, and injects their jazz-informed update. John Munson, Chan Poling and Steve Roehm bring unique instrumentation as well (keyboards, guitar and vibes) to the Dakota stage Saturday night (10/16).

It’s hard to describe Nellie McKay’s music to the uninitiated. The Girl Next Door Meets Lizzie Borden? She can be wicked, she can be hilarious, she is unpredictable and fully entertaining. And she has a new recording of original material, Home Sweet Mobile Home. For a really wild weekend of song, go hear Nichola Miller and follow-up with Nellie McKay (10/17-18). Two really hip and sassy women, one making her point with pure swing, the other by swinging at tradition and whatever else crosses her path.

Add a third singer with a big weekend—U of M voice faculty member Wendy Zaro seems to have successfully shed the classical veil of her training and early experience as she releases Fly Home Little Heart, a collection of popular songs given new life through Laura Caviani’s beautiful arrangements and Zaro’s intimate interpretations. The celebration will be held Sunday night (10/17) at Ted Mann Concert Hall on the West Bank campus, with a cast to make anyone drool—Caviani on piano, Pete Whitman on sax and flute, Chris Olson on guitar, Gordy Johnson on bass, Phil Hey on drums. The result is the intimacy of cabaret and accessibility of the Great American Songbook. The concert is free and proceeds from CD sales will help support the Suicide Awarenes/Voice of Education (SAVE) project. So pick up some early holiday gifts!

Sibling rivalry had a different meaning for Joan and Marshall Griffith—instead of vying for the car keys, they tried to outdo each other figuring out the tunes they heard on television shows and playing them back by ear. Eventually, Joan studied classical guitar and found her way to Minnesota, heading up jazz at St Thomas and Macalester and becoming the local guru of Brazilian guitar, bass and mandolin. Marshall took a more academic route through the Cleveland Institute of Music, earning his DM, landing on the faculty and becoming a highly sought-after composer and performer. It’s a family reunion on Monday (10/18) as Marshall guest stars at an evening of mostly original music at Janet Wallace Auditorium on the Macalester campus, featuring the premier of his “Jazz Impressions of Minnesota.” Joining the siblings will be Dave Karr and Gordy Johnson. This is a freebie! (I heard a preview of “Jazz Impressions of Minnesota”—don’t miss this one.)

Surely one of the highlights of October is the return of trumpeter Hugh Masekela, gracing the Dakota stage Wednesday and Thursday (10/20-21). Born in South Africa and raised in the shadow of apartheid, his early exposure to the conflict between the privileged white minority and the oppressed black majority seeped into his music. He left South Africa in 1960 following the Sharpesville massacre, ultimately landing the U.S. at the Manhattan School of Music, becoming an international star by the 1970s. And he’s still at it. Beautifully.

For the best of improvised and experimental music, look no farther than Studio Z and Anti-Gravity on Thursday night (10/21). Among the most creative musicians in the area, Anti-Gravity brings together the talents of Dean Granros (guitar), Jacqueline Ultan (cello), Steve Goldstein (laptop), Scott Fultz (saxes) and Pat O'Keefe (clarinets), with special appearances from vocalist/improviser Viv Corringham and pianist Rahjta Ren.

Sure, there’s more! Tonight (10/15), Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek preview Lee’s new CD at Pardon My French; the edgy Leisure Valley (Bruce Thornton, Patrick Harrison, Joey Van Phillips, Chris Bates) ramps up the improv at Café Maude. Saturday (10/16), Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske offer gently serious music in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel; Christine Rosholt helps you swing dance the night away with Beasley’s Big Band at the Wabasha Street Caves (and for a repeat, go back on Thursday); the African guitar trio Body Omara keeps you awake at Café Maude. On Sunday (10/17), the Zacc Harris Trio takes the stage for their usual weekly gig at the Riverview Wine Bar. Come Monday (10/18), Headspace warms up for poetry at the Artists Quarter; the U of M Jazz Ensemble II (with 16-year old pianist Quentin Tschofen) holds their fall concert at Ted Mann; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg host their semi-weekly gig at Fireside Pizza (again on Wednesday, 10/20); and as always, its Jazz Implosion night at the Clown Lounge.

Tuesday (10/19) brings the weekly back-to-back gigs of the Cory Wong Quartet and Tuesday Night Band at the AQ; the Atlantis Quartet is featured at the Clown Lounge; Arne Fogel croons with the Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood; Café Accordion swings at the Loring Pasta Bar; Jack Brass honors Crescent City traditions at Favor Café. Wednesday (10/20), Arne Fogel again, this time with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; a fabulous trio of Tanner Taylor, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst take over at the Artists Quarter following the weekly TEFSA jam. On Thursday (10/21), master percussionist/vibes man Marv Dahlgren proves age is meaningless in jazz, at the Artists Quarter; guitarist Joel Shapira previews his new recording (Open Lines) at Hell’s Kitchen.

Coming Soon!
• 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 28, Lee Engele CD release at Pardon My French
• 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
• November 2, Regina Carter at the Dakota
• November 5-6, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman and the SPCO live premiere of Highway Rider at the Walker Art Center
• November 5-6, Dave King/Anthony Cox/Dean Granros at the Artists Quarter

Photos: (Top to Bottom), Nichola Miller; Joan Griffith; Wendy Zaro; Joel Shapira. (All but Zaro photos by Andrea Canter; Wendy Zaro photo provided by artist.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Promoting Jazz: Listener-Supported Radio Needs YOU

© Andrea Canter

Recently I had my first tour of jazz radio station KBEM, housed at North High School in Minneapolis. Aside from feeling that, after listening for nearly 40 years and as a member for about 20, it was time to visit, I was also gathering information and insights for an article I’ll soon post about KBEM’s 40th anniversary. I recommend a station visit to any fans of KBEM—it’s a great way to gain perspective on the other side of the microphone. Part of that perspective is the realization that jazz radio reaches so many listeners with so little return in the way of financial support. Perhaps the most startling revelation was from Kevin Barnes, the guy behind KBEM’s corporate fundraising and grant writing efforts as well as host of String Theory, Bluesville and the REEL Jazz film series. Said Kevin, “We're the "first choice" radio station for roughly 30,000 of these listeners. Currently we have roughly 7,000 listener donors.” My basic math tells me that there is a discrepancy of 27,000 donors among these first-choice listeners. How many hours of jazz radio could be underwritten if all regular listeners sent in as little as $10 per year?

Odds are that many of my readers, my jazz-club cohorts, my colleagues in various jazz-related media are among those 27,000 who enjoy this unique public service without making even a small contribution. In recognition of the hours you have spent listening to new jazz recordings, broadcasts of public radio favorites like Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz or Jim Cullum’s River Walk, regular shows highlighting jazz legends and big bands, and Maryann Sullivan's interviews with local and national artists on Corner Jazz; in thanks for programs like REEL Jazz, Restaurant Tour, Gallery Grooves and the new community education classes; in appreciation for sponsoring the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and jazz performances in our area parks…. How about a contribution, no matter how small, to one of the few surviving full-time jazz radio outlets in the country? To one of the few (or maybe the only) jazz radio station dedicated to public education, offering high school students the opportunity to learn about radio broadcasting as well as jazz?

And the next time you hear a student announcer massacre a name like “Thelonious,” remember that this student likely never heard Monk before coming to KBEM. And maybe next year this student will be a broadcast journalism major; maybe in ten years, this student will be sitting next to you enjoying a set at the Artists Quarter or Dakota, featuring an artist you just heard interviewed on radio. Thanks to KBEM. Thanks to those “listerner donors” who keep jazz radio alive and well.

Happy Birthday, KBEM. Many more.

You can still get tickets for the October 23rd birthday bash (and there may be a few tickets left for the gala on October 24th). And it is never too late to send in a donation! Visit

Photos: (Top to bottom) Student broadcaster Emmanual Perry on the air; Station Manager Michele Jansen with the extensive CD collection at KBEM studios; fund raiser, string man, and perennial event host Kevin Barnes; Maryann Sullivan interviewed Steve Heckler live during the 2009 Twin Cities Jazz Festival (photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 8-14

© Andrea Canter

I hope I can space out my music better this week than last. I did a triple header Thursday night. I need a break. But of course there are always competing gigs!

The Artists Quarter continues its recent spate of national artists with Philadelphia-based guitarist Jef Lee Johnson (10/8-9). And let me quote from the AQ’s press since I am not familiar with this guy, who they say “is as fearless and innovative as they come…capable of creating highly experimental guitar inventions that will drop your jaw. Chaka Khan called him ‘a gift from God’ and D’Angelo called him ‘the Hendrix of our generation.’ Johnson joins forces with Twin Cities bassist Yohannes Tona, an Ethiopian immigrant who has become a notable bandleader and sideman for the likes of Nachito Herrera and Stokely Williams, and internationally renowned drummer Michael Bland, long associated with Prince.

The Atlantis Quartet, recently on stage at the AQ, makes Late Night at the Dakota the place to be after hours on Saturday (10/9), as Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig create some of the most exciting sounds in the metro. They're the resident artists at the Clown Lounge on Tuesdays through October.

Sunday afternoon (10/9) presents one of those win-win conundrums, with the reprise of two popular shows from 2009: In Bloomington (at the Center for the Arts), Basie drummer Butch Miles returns for another round with the Wolverines Big Band, cosponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society. Last fall, Miles appeared in three configurations, including both the large and small ensembles of the Wolves. Now he’s back for just one gig, with one of the finest jazz orchestras in the Midwest. On the other end of the metro at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, there’s a repeat of “Blue: Songs on the Indigo Side” with three of the area’s most enchanting voices—Katie Gearty, Rachel Holder and Nancy Harms. And we really can’t claim Nancy as a Twin Citian now that she has moved to New York. This will be her first homecoming. This show has two options, with Saturday night as well as Sunday matinee.

Also this weekend, you can see a variety of films in the Sound Unseen –Films on Music festival (10/7-9). The most jazzy offering is Ramblin’ Boy (regarding bassist Charlie Haden) at the Trylon Theater on Saturday afternoon (10/9).

Two top-notch artists bring a lot of souful passion to midweek: Saxophonist/bassist Gerald Albright might be best known for his smooth and R&B best-selling albums, but he’s a hard-groovin’ soulful jazzman, as we heard last month at the Dakota when he toured with Joe Sample and Wayne Henderson as the Crusaders. Lowell Pickett knew a good thing when he heard it and quickly booked Albright to bring in his own band (10/12-13). Across the river, one night only at the AQ (10/13), veteran drummer Louis Hayes appears with his trio (Abraham Burton on sax and Santi DiBriano on bass). Best known for his associations with Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver and Oscar Peterson, Hayes was last in town with his Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band.

A gig I am particularly looking forward to is the first of four Jazz Thursdays focusing on the works of Charles Mingus, at MacPhail (10/14). With a grant from the NEA, MacPhail, and specifically jazz coordinator Adam Linz, are exploring the vast composition legacy of Mingus through faculty and guest performances, workshops for students, and through the repertoire of the Dakota Combo. This first concert features Linz, Chris Thomson (sax) and Alden Ikeda (drums) and includes Ellington’s “Sound of Love,” with a pre-concert Q&A session at 7 before the live music at 8 pm. Unfortunately competing down the street at Ted Mann, it’s the annual Jazz Ensemble I Fall Concert at the U of M, directed by Dean Sorenson. This time the band explores the works of Bob Brookmeyer. And it’s free! If you’d rather sit in an intimate theater, KBEM continues its REEL Jazz series at the Trylon Theater with another round of rare film footage from archivist Bob DeFlores.

Other highlights this week include the band of young rising stars—Chicago saxman Michael Davenport, bassist James Buckley, and drummer Miguel Hurtado at Honey (10/8), Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (10/8); JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (10/9); New Orleans keyboard sensation Davell Crawford at the Dakota (10/10-11); “Second Sunday” at Honey with Arne Fogel and Jennifer Eckes (10/10); Charmin Michelle at Fireside Pizza in Richfield with Denny Malmberg (10/11 and 10/12); Jazz Implosion on Mondays (usually Fat Kid Wednesdays) at the Clown Lounge (10/11); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (10/12); Lee Engele is this week’s guest artist in the new Fever Pitch series at FACES at Mears Park (10/12); How Birds Work hold their monthly dialogue at the AQ (10/14).

Coming Soon!
• 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) Gerald Albright a few weeks ago at the Dakota, returning with his own band; Louis Hayes at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival, now coming to the AQ; Adam Linz, coordinator of jazz at MacPhail and on stage for Jazz Thursdays. (All photos by Andrea Canter)