Friday, November 26, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 26-December 2

© Andrea Canter

Highlights, last week
: Doug Little’s Seven Steps to Havana, with a couple extra steps (violins from his Charanga Tropicale), turned Studio Z into a mostly Latin hot spot, with a raft of new compositions supported by a recent Jerome Foundation grant that sent Little back to Cuba for inspiration; the JazzMN Orchestra hosted vocalist Stephanie Nakasian, who helped launch a 100th birthday celebration of the great Stan Kenton; Rhonda Laurie, Connie Olson and Tommy Bruce didn’t let an icy Sunday and thin audience dampen their lively banter and “vo-cool” songfest at the Woman’s Club; Jazz Central’s “underground” stage boasted saxman Doug Haining, proving to be as elegantly satisfying in bebop mode as his usual swing.

Don’t Miss This Week!
It’s family reunion time with a Peterson weekend at the Artists Quarter (11/26-27), this time spotlighting keyboardist/vocalist/producer Ricky Peterson, hitting the stage with brothers Billy and Paul, sister Patty, nephew Jason DeLaire and Prince drummer Michael Bland. Remember, every time there’s a Peterson reunion, the line is out the door. Arrive early!

Homecomings continue with Seattle-based pianist Josh Rawlings making his debut at the Dakota (Late Night) on Saturday (11/27) with a quartet of local talents (Adam Meckler, Graydon Petereson, Pete Hennig), and at the Clown Lounge on Tuesday (11/30) with the sublime addition of Zacc Harris. Rawlings grew up in the Twin Cities, moving west as a teenager and landing in the jazz program at Cornish College. Now he’s touring, recording, composing, producing… all things music.

Two of the week’s big gigs fall on Thursday (12/2). Violinist/vocalist/composer Jenny Scheinman brings her Mischief and Mayhem band to the Walker. Described as a “folk/country/rock/jazz musician,” Scheinman has worked with such diverse artists as Lucinda Williams, Bill Frisell, Norah Jones and Lou Reed. Her aptly named band includes Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Ani DeFranco’s bassist Todd Sickafoose, and futuristic drummer Jim Black. Genre-bending in her own right, singer Mina Agossi returns to the Dakota. Using her voice (or is it her entire body?) as an instrument in ways that most innovative singers have never imagined, Agossi made an undeliable impression on her previous visits to the Twin Cities, returning now for two sets of mesmerizing interpretations of standards and exciting original compositions.

And a smaller gig or two, also on Thursday (12/2) at the Artists Quarter, help remind us that jazz is alive and well in the hands of students at all levels. The early show (7 pm) features a sextet from St Paul Central High School’s renowned jazz band, headed by young trumpeter Alex Grothe, part of the TCJS Young Artists Series. They will be followed by the annual McNally Smith Showcase.

Friday, 11/26: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (and again Saturday); Arne Fogel with the Tanner Taylor Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson and Jay Epstein) at Café Maude.

Saturday, 11/27: Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira (Charmin & Shapira) entertain in the artrium of the Midtown Global Market early afternoon; Rahjta Ren for brunch at the Black Dog; East Side for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; “Free Music Society” nights at the Acadia Café (again on Sunday); Arne Fogel and Rick Carlson at Ingredients Café.

Sunday, 11/28: Charmin Michelle with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar; Roxy and Joe Cruz at Washington Square

Monday, 11/29: Jana Anderson at the Dakota; Head Space at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield) and again Wednesday; Milo Fine and Erkki Huovinin at Homewood Studios; U of M Jazz Combos at Lloyd Ultan Hall (West Bank campus); weekly jazz jam headed by Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago at Jazz Central.

Tuesday, 11/30: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar.

Wednesday, 12/1: The Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; TEFSA Combo jam followed by the Joe Smith Quartet at the Artists Quarter.

Coming Soon!
• December 3-4, Jon Pemberton CD release at the Artists’ Quarter
• December 4, Dakota Combo with Johnathan Blake at the Dakota
• December 6-7, Ravi Coltrane Quartet at the Dakota
• December 8-9, McCoy Tyner at the Dakota
• December 9, Jason Price, CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 10-11, Bryan Nichols Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• December 17, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield at Orchestra Hall
• December 17-18, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve with Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter

Photos: (Top to bottom) Ricky, Billy, Patty Peterson and Jason Peterson DeLaire; Jenny Scheinman; Mina Agossi; Alex Grothe (left) and members of his sextet. (All photos by Andrea Canter except press photo of Ricky Peterson and Jenny Scheinman by Sarah Krulwich)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mingus Among Us, Part II

© Andrea Canter

“Half politician, Half musician. Half New World explorer. Charles Mingus set the new standard for intensity in jazz. From wild highs to beautiful lows his music has shaped young musicians all over the world to ask, ‘Why is Governor Faubus so ridiculous?’” –Adam Linz

Three NEA grants (American Masterpieces) for chamber music in 2010-2011 support projects devoted to the works of Charles Mingus, including the four-concert series at the MacPhail Center for Music. Presented as part of its annual Jazz Thursdays program, “Meditations and Revelations” is the brainchild of bassist/MacPhail jazz coordinator Adam Linz, a longtime devotee of the “one-man avant garde,” to quote John McDonough in his article about the MacPhail grant in this month’s issue of Chamber Music magazine. In explaining the rationale for presenting the music of Mingus live, Linz told McDonough, “It’s the ability to find spontaneity in music that’s fifty years old [and to] take it somewhere it hasn’t been. That’s the spirit of Mingus… You have a band that rehearses without charts and adds to the performance…we want to keep that spirit that it may all fall apart.”

This past week, Linz and cohorts presented the second concert of the series, titled “So Long Eric” after a Mingus composition written on the occasion of Eric Dolphy’s departure from his band. A pre-concert Q&A in MacPhail's Antonello Hall addressed the assertion that “Mingus was amazing.” Why? The evening’s quintet—Linz, pianist Bryan Nichols, saxophonist Mike Lewis, trumpeter Greg Lewis (Mike’s dad), and drummer J.T. Bates—offered answers: the flow of his compositions, his unique chord changes, his engaging melodies, his modern harmonies, his drive to challenge tradition that landed him somewhere between mainstream and free jazz. More specifically, they noted how Mingus combined the influences of bebop, choral music and Bartok, how he steadfastedly played his own music, how he managed to maintain his own bands. And how his music reflected the politics of the day, particularly racial segregation. Musically, Mingus was a civil rights activist.

The first concert in October was a trio presentation. The November event upped the complexity factor with the addition of two horns, adding dissonance, extending harmonies, creating at times a (somewhat) controlled chaos. “So Long Eric” was a toe-tapper with one rippling solo after another, at times melodic (especially Linz) and ending in a cacophony of bird calls, courtesy of Lewis and Lewis. More lyrical, more balladic was “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress," highlighted by the father-and-son horn duet, songful Linz solo, gentle brushwork from JT (interspersed with aggressive accents), Greg Lewis’ soulful flugelhorn, and jaunty keyboard spins from Nichols. Somehow Mingus manages to swing while simultaneously disemboweling conventional structures. And Mike Lewis manages to simultaneously create the hymnal sound of Charles Lloyd and powerful wail of Sonny Rollins.

How can anyone hear “Fables of Faubus” and not like jazz? The music unfolded like a cartoon soundtrack, each instrument a character defined as much by posture and gesture as by sound. If only he had not been real, Faubus would have been hilarious. More serious, “Weird Nightmare” featured Greg Lewis’ beautiful tone on flugelhorn, his lines weaving in and out with Mike’s alto—a lovely combination of the lower brass and higher reed. Nichols seemed to channel Bill Evans here, while Linz delivered slow, exquisite lines, his long glissindos falling into further silky passages from Greg Lewis. “Jelly Roll” was an engaging circus of bop acrobatics with a freer purpose, summing Mingus’s efforts to swing, to experiment, to collaborate with like-minded artists. Yes, at any minute, it might fall apart. What fun.

You can find John McDonough’s article about the MacPhail grant in the November/December 2010 issue of Chamber Music, the magazine of Chamber Music America. The next Mingus concert at MacPhail will be February 3, 2011.

Photos: (Top to Bottom) MacPhail's Mingus quintet in Antonello Hall; Adam Linz; Bryan Nichols; Mike and Greg Lewis; JT Bates (All photos by Andrea Canter at MacPhail on November 18, 2010)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 19-25

© Andrea Canter

Highlights, Last Week
Kenny Barron, Kenny Barron and Kenny Barron. Not only was his “meet the artist” chat informative and uplifting (see blog, November 13), his quartet gigs in both Iowa City and Minneapolis affirmed the NEA’s decision to name him a Jazz Master for 2010. And his bandmates, David Sanchez, Kim Thompson, Kyoshi Kitagawa (Iowa City) and Linda Oh (Minneapolis), truly gilded the lily.

The Coming Week
This is one of the busiest jazz weekends I can remember since the TC Jazz Festival. Seems every venue will be occupied, with a lot of win-win conflicts. We’ll need that holiday!

Friday night (11/19) is a smorgasbord of delights for all tastes. It might seem a bit of a culture clash when Doug Little’s Seven Steps to Havana (complemented by his Charanga Tropicale string section) takes the stage a improvised music venue Studio Z, but kudos to the Z folks for keeping the venue globally vital. Little and company (Viviana Pintado, Jim Anton, Bill Simenson, Mariano Flores, Pete Hennig, Peter Shu, and Matt Hanzelka) will be performing new works from a Jerome Foundation commission. Moving from Lowertown to Downtown, the Artists Quarter hosts two nights (11/19-20) with torch singer/balladeer/bluesy singer Carole Martin. Carole was a popular night club act in the 60s, retreated to raise a family, returning to the scene over the past decade with two new recordings. She’s the main attraction of New Year’s Eve at the AQ and gives us a few shows each year, so each one is something special.

And homecomings are always special, particularly when the artist is a prolific composer and astute bandleader like Jeremy Walker. The man behind the short-lived but highly regarded Brilliant Corners club in St Paul and continuing Artistic Director of the Jazz Is Now “Nownet,” Walker moved to Manhattan early this year but keeps his local ties strong through the Nownet and long-running Small City Trio (with Jeff Brueske and Tim Zhorne). After 16 years, Small City finally has its first CD release, on the Late Night calendar at the Dakota Friday night (11/19 at 11 pm). The CD, Pumpkins' Reunion, includes six originals from Walker and a couple vocals atop Jeremy’s Monkified instrumental gemstones.

Big stages host big talents on Saturday (11/20): The always-worth-hearing JazzMN Orchestra, led by Doug Snapp, celebrates Stan Kenton’s centennial with vocalist Stephanie Nakasian, reprising the work of Kenton star June Christy, at the JMO home stage at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center. Downtown Minneapolis, Orchestra Hall brings in the engaging Ann Hampton Callaway, backed by one of the world’s great symphony orchestras; and not to be outdone, Ordway Theater in downtown St. Paul presents Tiempo Libre, the Cuban ensemble that has recently tackled Bach with great success.

Come Sunday (11/21): The Twin Cities Jazz Society presents its November installment of its Jazz From J to Z series, for the first time at the Woman’s Club in Minneapolis. The matinee concert “Something (Vo) Cool” is a revue of songs and singers from the “Vo-Cool” era, spearheaded by Anita O’Day and compatriots. The Minnesota version features three outstanding voices – Rhonda Laurie, Connie Olson and Tommy Bruce.

A few months ago, rather quietly, pianist Tanner Taylor and drummer Mac Santiago opened what might be best described as an underground jazz club at Central and 4th Street NE (Minneapolis) in what used to be Glacier Studios. The space includes a performance area with seating for at least 50 and recording studio. Jazz Central is “by the cats, for the cats”—for lessons, jam sessions, etc. Often you’ll find a great jam on Monday nights, donations happily accepted. And you can hear some of the best “cats” in town, usually with Tanner and Mac. But on Sunday night this week, the club hosts a special 40th birthday celebration for one of its frequent performers, singer Nichola Miller. She’s still recovering her voice after a nasty virus spoiled the second night of her CD release last month, but Nichola will be ready to chat and may sing a few tunes, while we can expect a lot of jazzy surprises during the evening. Visit the website for more info:

There’s another new game in town called "Music Mystique" at the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown, and this Monday (11/22) the featured artists are inventive vocalist Lucia Newell and sublime guitarist Dean Magraw, making one of his first public appearances since undergoing a bone marrow transplant over a year ago. Two unique artists together? Go hear the mystique! Next night (11/23), check out the on-the-edge gig at the Clown Lounge, featuring New York-based guitarist Nick Videen with Bryan Nichols on piano; Sean Carey on drums, and Jeremy Boettcher on bass. And to bring you right up to Thanksgiving, the ever-exciting Phil Hey Quartet appears at the Artists Quarter on Wednesday night (11/24), the best reason out there to forget that turkey –it will still be there in the morning.

The rest of the week:
Friday, 11/19: Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler, Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek at Pardon My French; Joel Shapira at Ingredients Café; Joanne Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St. Paul Hotel (and again on Saturday night); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; James Buckley Trio at Café Maude.

Saturday, 11/20: Hell’s Kitchen presents the Jana Nyberg Trio (brunch) and Vital Organ in the evening; Rahjta Ren, solo piano at the Black Dog (brunch); Lee Engele at Nonna Rosa; Tanner Taylor Trio at St. Barnabus; Sophia Shorai at Honey

Sunday, 11/21: Coordinator of jazz at Macalester, pianist Randall Bauer performs original compositions at a matinee in the Janet Wallace Auditorium; Charmin Michelle sings at Cinema Ballroom

Monday, 11/22: Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Head Space at the Artists Quarter; MacJazz Combos directed by Joan Griffith at Macalester College, Janet Wallace Auditorium.

Tuesday, 11/23: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Rachel Holder and Scottie Devlin at Hell’s Kitchen; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at Loring Pasta Bar

Wednesday, 11/24: Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Stu Katz (vibes) at the Dakota; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Coming Soon!
• November 26-27, Ricky Peterson and the Brothers with Patty Peterson at the Artists Quarter
• December 2, Jenny Scheinman at Walker Art Center
• December 2, TCJS Young Artists (Alex Grothe Sextet) at the Artists Quarter
• December 4, Dakota Combo with Johnathan Blake at the Dakota
• December 6-7, Ravi Coltrane Quartet at the Dakota
• December 8-9, McCoy Tyner at the Dakota
• December 9, Jason Price, CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 9-10, Bryan Nichols Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• December 17, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield at Orchestra Hall
• December 17-18, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve with Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter

Photos: (top to bottom) Doug Little, coming to Studio Z; Jeremy Walker, bringing Small City Trio to the Dakota; Ann Hampton Callaway, coming to Orchestra Hall; "Something Vo-Cool" singers Rhonda Laurie, Connie Olson and Tommy Bruce (All photos by Andrea Canter except publicity shot for Vo-Cool singers)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blues, Touch, Bop and Rhythm: In the Hands of Kenny Barron

© Andrea Canter

In the midst of a tour of America's Heartland, NEA Jazz Master pianist Kenny Barron took time to address a Saturday morning gathering of students and miscellaneous enthusiasts in Iowa City, a prelude to the evening's concert with his trio and special touring partner David Sanchez. The billing information suggested a more formal presentation, but Barron was anything but didactic. Rather, he was both personable and humble, entertaining and thoughtful. A lot like his playing.

For the first half hour or so, he shared anecdotes about his development as a pianist, composer and bandleader, sprinkling conversation with performance as he sat at the grand piano. He recounted beginning piano lessons at age 6 at his mother's insistence, noting that his first exposure to live piano music was courtesy of the ice man who came nearly daily until the family got its first real refrigerator. And the ice man only knew one blues tune that he faithfully played at each delivery. Thus Barron's first and lasting influence was the blues.

Kenny's oldest brother was into jazz, and among the 78s young Kenny listened to was a Miles Davis recording with Tommy Flanagan playing "In Your Own Sweet Way." Flanagan's touch and lyricism were to strongly influence Barron for years. Much later he had the opportunity to record a duo with Flanagan. "It was one of the times in my life when I was scared to death," noted Barron.

Thelonious Monk was another strong source of inspiration, and quite the opposite of Flanagan, said Barron, noting how Flanagan's phrasing gently ebbed and flowed, while Monk's jagged edges, percussive attack and "rhythmic displacements" often yielded a "deceptively simple" result –at least "it seemed simple til I tried to do it!" Illustrating how Monk took apart standards, he played Thelonious's original "Light Blue" and then put a Monkish spin on "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." Barron followed Monk with comments about Bud Powell's contributions to bebop, particularly his extended chords and use of triplets and "ghost notes," illustrating this time with the chord progression for Parker's "Confirmation."

Other influences included Art Tatum, Barron playing what he described as "my approximation of Art Tatum's 'Body and Soul,' and Bill Evans, who could totally change the feel of a chord by changing a single note, which Barron illustrated via "Young and Foolish." Was he influenced by horn players as well? Many, said Barron, but particularly Wayne Shorter. "I wanted to play piano the way Wayne Shorter plays tenor saxophone."

For nearly another hour, Barron fielded questions that ran the gamut from his likes (and dislikes) among modern artists to his approach to bandleading and composition, and a few suggestions for young improvisers. He noted his admiration for Mulgrew Miller and Brad Mehldau, and "anyone who plays really well… I steal from the young guys." And of his partnership with Stan Getz, he recalled that they complemented each other, both emphasizing lyricism. New artists on the scene are going in many directions – he cited Gretchen Parlato and former student Aaron Parks for their interesting rhythms.

How much does he think about what he's doing when he improvises? "I try to keep a clean slate and let it be organic." He suggested taking a simple chord and working it from all angles, then extending the chord and finding more possibilities. As for composing, he feels it won’t work if you force it or schedule a time. "Sometimes it just comes like divine inspiration," he said, "or you might have a grain of an idea to work from… Sometimes I just noodle at the piano and find something."

As a bandleader, he prefers to let each musician do what he or she does best; "I don't want to tell people what to do." But it is different, for example, playing in his usual trio versus with the addition of a horn, as in his ensemble with David Sanchez. "I'll be more aggressive with a horn, but still I want to be melodic."

One question stumped Barron. "How do you want people to describe your contribution to music?" "I don't know how to answer that. It's not something I think about. I just want to play the best I can."

And that is a significant contribution.

Photo: Kenny Barron at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival (Photo by Andrea Canter). Quotes are my best approximations of my notes!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 12-18

©Andrea Canter

Highlights of last week: The world premier of Highway Rider (see blog, 11/7); the Fall New Music Cabaret at Studio Z (see blog, 11/9); Maud Hixson with French 75 at the Dakota.

Highlights this week: Some of my favorite performers headline the coming week, starting with the weekend. Not that I am in town for all of it….

Tonight (11/12), two of the area’s most popular singers present a unique show modeled after the format of the faculty performances at the Yale Cabaret Conference. Lee Engele and Maud Hixson go back to back in the Chanteuse Diaries, using songs to tell their personal “back stories”—the not-so-straighline journeys of their paths to careers in music. Lee includes such tunes as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cockeyed Optimist,” Frank Loesser’s “Rumble Rumble Rumble,” Francesca Blumenthal’s “The Lies of Handsome Men,” and Charles DeForest’s “When Do the Bells Ring for Me?” while Maud’s set list includes Noel Coward's "Chase Me Charlie", DeSylva, Brown and Henderson's "It All Depends On You", and Irving Berlin's "No Strings." And, as Maud adds, “selections you'll never hear us sing in a usual set of jazz for a club date.” The fun takes place in the Black Box Theater of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.

This weekend (11/12-13) also features a reprise of Laura Caviani’s highly praised salute to Mary Lou Williams at the Artists Quarter, backed again by Jay Young and Phil Hey. I saw the premiere of this one earlier in the year, and can think of no one better to present and interpret Williams’ work than Laura. And 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Williams’ birth. You won’t just hear great works from one of the key jazz composers and arrangers of the 20th century, but Laura makes sure we learn a lot about Williams along the way.

Two events on Sunday (11/14) that I hate to miss: Soul Café returns for one of its too-rare evenings of jazz and poetry at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church gallery space off Loring Park. To the long-standing core trio of Laura Caviani, Steve Blons and Brad Holden, they add Lucia Newell, Jay Young and Darryl Boudreaux for a dynamic sextet paired with readers of modern poets. This edition brings together the music of Miles Davis, the Great American Songbook and folk fare, in tandem with poetry from David Whyte, Pablo Neruda and Billy Collins. On the other side of downtown, MacPhail Center for Music presents a double quintet evening as part of its Spotlight Series, taking off from classical and jazz charts into the unpredictable world of improvisation: The Copper Street Brass Quintet (Allison Hall, trumpet; Corbin Dillon, trumpet; Timothy Bradley, French horn; Alex Wolff, trombone; Stefan Kac, tuba) interpret Brubeck, Thad Jones, Pat Metheny and Bela Fleck as well as some original Kac; the Bryan Nichols Quintet (Bryan Nichols, piano; Sean Carey, drums; Brandon Wozniak, saxophones; Mike Lewis, saxophones; James Buckley, bass) will focus on Nichols’ compositions.

The early week gem is the Kenny Barron Quartet at the Dakota (11/15-16), featuring volcanic saxman David Sanchez. I have seen Barron a number of times, never here at home. There is no more elegant pianist working in jazz today; he can swing hard and he can spin silver lace; his wordless stories are spellbinding. Sanchez has established himself as one of the kingpins of his generation of horn players. Also on the bandstand – Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, long a partner with Barron, and Kim Thompson on drums. Remember Kim? She’s often heard with Tia Fuller as well as Beyonce’s all-gal band. Kim was her with Tia in summer 2009, and in my opinion one of the most explosive drummers on the scene. I’ll see this band in Iowa City a couple nights before they hit the Dakota. No chance of an overdose.

One of our veteran jazz singers finally releases her own recording on Wednesday (11/17) – Rhonda Laurie joins up with Sidewalk Café (Reynold Philipsek, Jeff Brueske, Gary Schulte) at the Aster Café. So even if there’s “No Moon at All,” it will be bright (and very swinging) night!

Closing out the week on Thursday (11/18), MacPhail presents its second Jazz Thursdays event, and the second installment of its Mingus project, Meditations and Reflections. The first round last month was a trio; this time it’s a quintet –Greg and Mike Lewis, Bryan Nichols, Adam Linz and JT Bates. The title tune of this concert is “So Long Eric,” and the rest of the evening will bring us more of the exciting works of Mingus. Don’t miss the Q & A an hour before the concert, both in Antonello Hall.

More jazz all week!
Friday, 11/12: Mary Louise Knutson and Gordy Johnson play at noon for the Galleria Holiday Open House (and again on Saturday); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico’s in the Chambers Hotel (also Saturday); Paul Renz & Co at Honey; Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen; Enormous Quartet at Café Maude (again on Saturday)

Saturday, 11/13: Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Joanne Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel; Teresa Manzella at the Sail Away Cafe

Sunday, 11/14: Alicia Wiley for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Second Sunday with Arne Fogel and Jennifer Eckes at Honey; Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom; Adam Levy and assorted guests salute jazz at The Southern Theater

Monday, 11/15: Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson at Loring Pasta Bar; Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge

Tuesday, 11/16: Cory Wong Quartet and Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen; Adam Meckler Quintet and Zacc Harris Quartet at the Clown Lounge; Jack Brass at Favor Café

Wednesday, 11/17: Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); TEFSA Jam followed by the Zacc Harris Quartet at the Artists Quarter; KBEM’s Community Education class at Minneapolis Northeast Middle School, “Jazz and the Spirit” with Michelle Janson and Steve Blons.

Thursday, 11/18: Gary Berg Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle at the Medina Ballroom; Paula Cole at the Dakota

Coming Soon!
• November 19, Doug Little’s Seven Steps to Havana at Studio Z
• 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 Woman’s Club (Minneapolis)
• November 26-27, Ricky Peterson and the Brothers with Patty Peterson at the Artists Quarter
• December 2, Jenny Scheinman 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: (top to bottom) Maud Hixson (L) and Lee Engele (R) star in Chanteuse Diaries; Soul Cafe reunites (Brad Holden, Laura Caviani, Steve Blons); Kenny Barron (at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival); Rhonda Laurie in the recording studio (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Insurgents, Slaves and All Sorts of Music That Goes Bump in the Night

© Andrea Canter

There’s a funky little performance space in St. Paul’s utterly funky Lowertown called Studio Z. You can fit maybe 50-60 chairs in front of the stage space on the second floor of the Northwestern Building, host to a variety of artists’ lofts and studios. Studio Z is the home space for a longstanding ensemble of new music practitioners known as Zeitgeist. This past weekend, the Z folks hosted their Fall Cabaret of New Music, featuring three ensembles each of three evenings, the common thread being Zeitgeist. But what lured me for the Saturday night cabaret finale was an email from saxophonist Pat Moriarty. Pat and wife/pianist Ellen Lease have been my connections to Studio Z for the past couple years, performing as a quintet (with Kelly Rossum, Chris Bates and Dave Stanoch) and more recently as a quartet, dubbed Insurgent, with Adam Linz and Phil Hey. Linz was touring Europe with Fat Kid Wednesdays, so this edition of Insurgent was a trio. But that was to be only the first set, followed by Zeitgeist and ending with Jello Slave. It’s hard to imagine putting a more off-the-wall, inventive group of musicians on a single stage in one evening, which of course was the whole point of the “new music” cabaret.

Zeitgeist has been around for thirty years; Jelloslave (the name sort of describes the two cello (“jello?”)/two percussion group) has performed together for about seven years. For some reason, this was my first exposure to both. Where have I been? I know. I was avoiding the so –called new music or avant garde back when Zeitgeist formed, which was about the time I moved to the Twin Cities. I grew up listening to classical music but generally winced at the sound of post-Stravinsky composers. I came of age listening to jazz but never explored Cecil Taylor or Eric Dolphy or beyond until becoming a born-again jazzhound in the 90s. And it didn’t go so well initially. Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures was the first CD I returned.

But like everything else, experience and time changes our tastes. I started with small exposures. Adam Linz soloing on bass at the Cedar. Happy Apple. Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic. Myra Melford’s “The Same River Twice” at the Walker. The Out to Lunch Quintet celebrating the music of Dolphy at the Artists Quarter. The sounds grew. Then came the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet at Studio Z, sometimes taking off on existing compositions, sometimes just taking off on a small group of notes followed by spontaneous combustion.

I was ready for some fun Saturday night and was not disappointed. Insurgent kicked off a 40-minute free improve with a riff from Pat that sounded a lot like the opening of “Days of Wine and Roses.” Soon it became a three-ring circus. Ellen has an amazing arsenal within her hands and forearms—every square inch of which gets put to good use. Her fingers curled like soft fringe, stroking the keys as a harpist strokes the strings; but then her fingers became sharp stilettos jabbing staccato notes. Other weapons of musical construction included the backs of her hands, the flat of her wrists, the pounding of her fists, every gesture pushing out a different sound, a different mood. Similarly Phil Hey creates his own menagerie, not only with sticks, mallets and brushes, but with bare hands—gentle fingers, slapping palms, an elbow jab. Pat might appear to be the “straight” man of sorts, since he handles his alto sax in a pretty traditional way—but any semblance of “straight” music ends there. Generally serving as the melodic pacesetter, Pat can go from sweet to tart to screech within a short run of notes, a sonic acrobat whose flips and turns land where you least expect. Over 40 minutes, Insurgent surged, receded, surged again, the roles among the three musicians evolving, rotating. All in all, riveting.

We only needed to watch the stage crew setting up for Zeitgeist to recognize this would be a set of unusual sounds. A table with a half dozen bowls? A vibraphone facing a marimba? Other stations of miscellaneous percussion? A gong? Four of the ensemble participated in varying combinations, starting off with Patti Cudd’s wildly varying, 4-mallet percussion solo (“Bone Alphabet”); the ethereal vibes/marimba duet on “Shades of autumn quietly lowered a humble veil upon the ground” (Patti and Heather Barringer); the aptly titled “Wind Chimes” with vibes, marimba and now piano (Shannon Wettstein), augmented by, of course, some table-top chimes (that’s four instruments capable of long sustained tones); the very Eastern tonalities of “Varied Trio” adding violin to vibes and piano; a piano vibes duet that had a more European flavor; Heather’s soloing on her set of bowls as well as a set of overturned metal boxes. A zoo of sound but never a cacophony.

Jelloslave closed the evening, two cellos (Michelle Kinney and Jacqueline Ultan) and two percussionists (Greg Schutte on trapset, Gary Waryan on tablas). In other words, this is an ensemble focused on low tones, percussive attack, alternating glissindos and staccatos. A two-cello duet conjured Brahms with contemporary harmonies, while the ensemble swirled into another composition like a East European folk dance, something out of Bartok with a splash of Coplandish bluegrass, Wendy wielding her bow like a mallet, Greg scraping and splatting his drum skins with the ends of brushes. Another cello duet on “Jello Trio” brought contrasting string attacks, Michelle brushing the strings as if playing jazz bass, Wendy alternating pizzacato and arco strategies. Another composition focused on a percussion duet that turned things inside out, Greg using his hands, Gary using hammers. The high point came at the end on “Pick Pocket,” an original Jelloslave composition now infused with a traditional Russian waltz (or “Jello-fied”). The East European melody was transected by shifting tempos, alternately lyrical and percussive segments and a tabla dirge. It was a “Fiddler on the Roof of the Space Shuttle.”

I lost count of the number of instruments on the Studio Z stage that night. But the ideas were endless. My ears are still tingling.

Photos: Ellen Lease and Pat Moriarty at an earlier performance of Insurgent; Zeitgeist; Jelloslave. Only Lease/Moriarty photo by Andrea Canter, the others are courtesy of press kits!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mehldau, Mostly in Motion: The Premier of Highway Rider

© Andrea Canter

Epic works are not for the faint-of-heart, and present challenges to composers, performers and audiences alike. Ideas need to flow convincingly, hold audience interest over a significant period of time, and showcase performers as well as composition. In creating his first orchestral work, pianist Brad Mehldau comes close to meeting these challenges in full. And even “close” merits the celebratory cigar.

The world premiere of the fully staged Highway Rider was performed November 5-6 at the Walker Art Center, with Meldau’s trio, guests Joshua Redman and Matt Chamberlain, and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. If not a perfect 10, Highway Rider nevertheless signals Mehldau’s maturation as a composer of modern eclectic music with broad appeal. Over the past decade plus, Mehldau has garnered consistent praise for both technical agility and a personal, typically introspective artistry. I’ve long admired both components of his music, but at the same time have been underwhelmed when his often-long solo improvisations turn so far inward that there is no room for conversation. Writing for many voices thus seems to serve Mehldau (and his audience) well, providing a context that demands interaction and thus greater movement of ideas to sustain the whole.

Highway Rider takes the small chamber core that has defined Mehldau’s music—with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums—and adds additional jazz voices (saxophonist Redman and second trapset drummer Chamberlain) as well as a small classical orchestra (SPCO directed by Scott Yoo), thus opening endless options for composition and improvisation. Even within the small ensemble format, which accounts for several segments of Highway Rider, Mehldau takes more chances and generates more excitement than I’ve witnessed in his usual trio club dates. And with fifteen “movements,” there was plenty of diversity in form and mood, from lyrical to stormy, from neoclassical to boppish to folkloric. Although there had been very little time for full rehearsal with the SPCO, the interactions among musicians drew upon long-standing relationships –Redman was one of Mehldau’s early employers; Scott Yoo was an old friend from childhood music programs; Ballard and particularly Grenadier have been Mehldau’s long-time trio-mates.

Right out of the gate, the opening “John Boy” brought the two drummers next to the piano, Chamberlain beating on a tom and Ballard thumping what can be described as a miniature conga. The effect simulated galloping horses. This was not to be a recapitulation of the Art of the Trio! The SPCO, as well, brought in some unexpected components throughout the work, from the four-piece French horn section to the contrabassoon and standing chimes.

The addition of Joshua Redman to the ensemble reflects one genius celebrating the gleam of another. Redman alternated on soprano and tenor, often sitting back as sideman, but rendering pure glory as soloist, from the country blues ‘n strings of “Don’t Be Sad” to the “hop-a-long” duet with Mehldau on “Old West” and tart swirls of "Sky Turning Gray.” Other segments of particular note include Mehldau’s shifty soloing on “Walking the Peak,” the near-tango sway of “We’ll Cross the River Together,” the percussive, folksy swirl of “Capriccio,” the Monkish “Into the City.”

In his extensive written introduction, Mehldau cites Beethoven for his architectural inspiration—“his way of generating not just the melodic material from a motif, but also larger tonal relationships that unfold and span the entire work, thereby connecting small scale and large scale…” A thematic thread indeed runs through the full work, but even Beethoven rarely extended his structures beyond an hour. The second half of Highway Rider occasionally stagnated, as if reaching a conceptual cul de sac. Two hours is a long time to keep any thematic thread intact, engaging, in motion.

But when Mehldau moves, so does the Earth.

Photo: Brad Mehldau (by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 5-11

© Andrea Canter

Highlights last week – Hearing Kelly Rossum’s edgy score for the 1920 classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with his 8-piece Nicollet Circus Band at MacPhail; hearing guitar wizard Paul Bollenback with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst at the Artists Quarter; and hearing (very up close) Regina Carter’s ethereal Reverse Thread Project with Yacouba Sissoko on the intriguing kora, at the Dakota. And there more coming our way (see blog, 11/3).

Jazz This Week!
Good thing we can get an extra hour of sleep on Sunday! The weekend kicks off grandly with the world premiere of the full performance of Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider, which he previewed last spring at the Dakota with his trio. But this weekend at the Walker, it will be fully staged with trio mates Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard, additional drummer Matt Chamberlain, saxophone colossus Joshua Redman, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned the work. That should fill the McGuire Theater stage for two nights (11/5-6)! Mehldau has performed much of his career in trio and solo formats, making this large-scale production an exciting shift.

Also high on the excitement scale is the Dave King Trucking Company, at the Artists Quarter Friday and Saturday nights. King debuted this ensemble at the Walker last spring, and drew raves when he brought the band to the AQ this summer. Certainties are drum monster King, inventive saxman Brandon Wozniak, and versatile guitarist Erik Fratzke, King’s playmate in Happy Apple. Of course Fratzke also plays bass, which might come in handy this weekend as usual DKTC bassist Adam Linz is in Europe, touring with Fat Kid Wednesdays. So who is on bass this weekend?

And yet another opportunity for lovers of new music, this weekend the Fall New Music Cabaret continues at Studio Z with three bands each night (11/5-6). Friday night, the music will be delivered by Jeff Lambert, followed by host Zeitgeist, ending with the Symphonic Transients Orchestra. On Saturday night, the music launches with Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty/Phil Hey, followed by Zeitgeist and closing with Jello Slave. To quote Zeitgeist, the Cabaret presents “an eclectic lineup of new music performers that create their work on the very frontier of today’s artistic world. While all of these artists are very different from each other and represent different facets of the musical world, they are similar in that they have long abandoned (or never embraced) the confines of more commercially viable, mainstream musical expression in order to challenge the boundaries of their respective musical forms.”

Guitarist Zacc Harris has a busy weekend, with his quartet (Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates, Jay Epstein) at Café Maude on Friday (11/5) and his trio (Matt Peterson and Pete Hennig) at Hell’s Kitchen for Saturday brunch (11/6) and at their usual Sunday night spot, the Riverview Wine Bar (11/7).

Usually Fat Kid Wednesdays holds the fort at the Clown Lounge on Mondays, but the guys are on tour in Europe this week. Jazz Implosion instead features a dueling bass duet with Chris Bates and Josh Granowski and Bates’ Double Bass Trio (11/8). Sounds doubly cool. Sticking to strings for a moment, guitarist Dean Magraw and tabla player Marcus Wise celebrate a CD release at the Artists Quarter on Tuesday (11/9), but this is truly a party, not a gig, or so the story goes. Getting back into playing form following his bone marrow transplant and cancer treatments, Dean will be officially celebrating the CD release with a live gig at the Cedar in February, and is set to play with his Red Planet trio at the AQ in December. Tuesday is party time, celebrating music and life with goodies and a first chance to hear (and buy) the CD.

And Wednesday (11/11) brings a too-infrequent chance to hear elegant songbird Maud Hixson at the Dakota, this time with the sophisticated swing of French 75. For this gig, Maud has rounded up quite a crew--Dale Mendenhall, Reynold Philipsek, Keith Boyles and Michael Bissonette.
More for the Week
Friday (11/5): Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico in the Chambers Hotel (also Saturday); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at Enjoy!; Patty Peterson’s Birthday Bash at the Music Box Theater; the Fantastic Merlins’ bon voyage gig (before leaving for their tour of France) at the Black Dog.

Saturday (11/6): Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel; Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro; Neighborhood Trio (Steve Roehm, Dan Schwartz, Brian Roessler) at Café Maude

Sunday (11/7): Tanner Taylor reprises his tribute to Oscar Peterson in a fund raiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation this evening at the Artists Quarter.

Monday (11/8): Trumpeter Adam Meckler’s Masters’ recital at the U of M, open to the public, and including members of his quintet (Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Greg Schutte, and Graydon Peterson); Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (and back again Wednesday night); Milo Fine and fellow improvisers at Homewood Studios; Jello Slave at Barbette; Headspace at the AQ.

Tuesday (11/9): Christine Rosholt at the St Anthony Public Library; Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Connie Dusseau and Herb Reineke at the Lowry Lab Theater; Lulu’s Playground at the Clown Lounge

Wednesday (11/10): KBEM community ed with Arne Fogel (“Bing and Frank”) at Northeast Middle School in Minneapolis; TEFSA jam followed by How Birds Work at the AQ

Thursday (11/11): REEL Jazz at the Trylon Theater (“Last of the Blue Devils”); Doug Haining and the TC Seven at Hell’s Kitchen; Dave Karr Quartet at the AQ; Sophia Shorai at Barbette.

Coming Soon!
• 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 Woman’s Club (Minneapolis)
• November 26-27, Ricky Peterson and the Brothers with Patty Peterson at the Artists Quarter
• December 2, Jenny Scheinman 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: (Top to bottom), Dave King with his Trucking Company; Brad Mehldau; Pat Moriarty with Ellen Lease at Studio Z; Maud Hixson with French 75 (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reverse Thread: A Glorious Reprise

© Andrea Canter

Last March, Regina Carter brought her latest musical journey to Ted Mann Concert Hall. Supported by a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, the ever-curious violinist sought to bring the music of the African Diaspora into the 21st century, blending folk traditions and contemporary global rhythms and communicating through an eclectic array of instruments, including the 21-string Kora and accordion. Much of American music owes at least some of its foundation to African art forms, and the sounds of Carter’s Reverse Thread project conjured as much Appalachia as Mali. But that evening’s presentation was cloaked in the formality of the setting, a moderate-size concert hall that was only (tragically) half full, five musicians on a large stage. Last night, this time at the Dakota Jazz Club, Carter and company reprised the spring performance in a warm and intimate room that seemed designed with Reverse Thread in mind. The stage and lighting fit the ensemble perfectly, and sitting a mere 8 feet or so from instruments like the kora, violin and accordion provides both eye and ear candy.

Regina Carter proved long ago that she can do just about anything musical with a violin, be it the blues, swing, Motown, or modern classical repertoire, but perhaps she has never been closer to the fiddler tradition as with Reverse Thread. During the late set, her violin issued an invitation to dance at every turn, be it tinged with African ritual (the stunning opening “Hiwambe Awumba,” the soothing Constant Gardener theme “Kothbrio”), Latin tango (a Piazzola scented“Un Aguinaldo Pa Regina”), carnival (drummer Alvester Garnett’s post Katrina spiritual, “New for New Orleans”) or a meeting of Middle East and Appalachian folkloric (the foot-stomping “Artistiya”). Every tune was a fully realized conversation that hauntingly evoked more than the ancient “threads” of modern music, but more broadly a sense of human history and diversity as well. Yet despite its depth, that conversation never turned formal, never felt choreographed, but rather as spontaneous as a bebop jam session and with a familial camaraderie. (In part, that might be logical given that Carter and Garnett are husband and wife; bassist Chris Lightcap is a long-standing collaborator.)

The kora alone, in the hands of Mali magician Yacouba Sissoko, deserves its own review. At a pre-concert talk at Ted Mann, Sissoko had described the making of his instrument from a large gourd, ten strings on one side, 11 on the other, yielding a sound much like a dulcimer without the hammerstrike. Tonight I could see each of his hands stroking, sliding, gently tapping strings, literally weaving sound. Augmenting each composition, Sissoko particularly brought a unique layer to “Artistiya,” a peasant dance that was alternately thumpy (thanks to heavy rhythmic antics from Garnett and Lightcap) and joyously bluegrassy; Carter’s violin sparked images of Mark O’Connor and Aaron Copland. “Kothbrio” started as a kora/bass duet, soon a trio with Carter (that’s 29 strings!), Garnett adding percussion to create a repeating theme that quickly embedded itself in the ear canal. Sissoko’s solo – massaging the strings as if an upright thumb piano-- added wistful layers to an already intoxicating harmony, while the multiple strings added frenzy to the bustle of “Fulltime,” written by African bassist Mamado Ba to reflect his first impressions of New York City.

If violin and kora were out front much of the evening, the “rhythm section” offered an essential glue. Garnett provided constant propulsion and occasionally took the spotlight, demonstrating the many voices inside a traditional jazz trapset, be it his own verbalizations that served as oddball mouth percussion during his solo on “Fulltime,” or his attacking monologue on the encore juxtaposition of “Juru Nani” and the hymn, “God Be With You,” a mélange of cowbells, rimshots and pounding on the sides of his tom. Lightcap was more the master of subtlety, often weaving in and out with Sissoko, setting the elegant vamp of “Kothbrio,” adding muscle to “Artistiya” and sway to “Un Aguinaldo Pa Regina.” If there was an unsung hero, it was accordionist Will Holshouser, who rarely came forward but whose slow moving currents added soft texture throughout, whose duet with Lightcap on “Un Aguinaldo Pa Regina” added pathos, whose swing tooks us straight to Congo Square on “New for New Orleans,” whose bluegrass flavorings served as the bridge between African and American roots on the encore.

Very few jazz artists have received the coveted MacArthur grant. In live performance or recording, Reverse Thread validates Regina Carter’s “genius” decree, as performer, arranger, improvisor, composer and cultural explorer.

Photos: (Top to Bottom), Regina Carter (2); Yacouba Sissoko and the kora; Chris Lightcap (All photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, November 2, 2010).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


© Andrea Canter

I previously saw Christian Howes at the Dakota, about three years ago. He played violin. I don’t recall that he also played guitar and bass. In looking back at my photos from that night, he came with a quartet (keyboard, drums, guitar). And had he confined his playing to just violin last week (October 27th) at the Artists Quarter, it would have been a good evening of eclectic, even eccentric music ranging from bop and blues to down-home electronica.

But Howes also played guitar and bass, sometimes all three instruments in quick succession, and sometimes adding loops to create a simultaneous string section. Drummer Cedric Easton and keyboardist Hamilton Hardin filled out the “orchestra,” but even with some fiery solo exploits, particularly from Easton, Howes’s three-pronged array could have sufficed as a one-man/multi-instrumental showcase. His recent release, Out of the Blue, features guitarist Robben Ford, but here, Howes supplanted Ford with his own six strings (or, rather, his own 14-string arsenal), his loops allowing him to pick up the bass or violin while continuing the guitar vamp.

The first set of music included original compositions from the new album--the title tune and “Bobby’s Bad” (in honor of Bobby Floyd), and from an earlier release, “When She’s Like Water” (based on a Cat Stevens tune). “Out of the Blue” was the most compelling, Howes not only moving back and forth seamlessly from one ax to another but both Easton and Hardin taking their own spins, the music running the gamut from whiffs of “Amazing Grace” to sensations of an electrified Stravinsky, and particularly on violin, Howes conjuring the intensity of John Coltrane’s soprano.

Many musicians are “multi-instrumentalists” and it is not unusual to see a saxophonist move across two reeds in a given composition. More unusual is an artist who can move through three instruments (four counting the loops) in a matter of a few bars, particularly when one involves alternating arco and pizzicato technique. And rather than a novelty act, make it all seem perfectly logical.

Out of the Blue is an intriguing and highly enjoyable recording, featuring not only Robben Ford but also pianist Tamir Hendelman, organist Bobby Floyd, bassist Kevin Axt and more. But I suspect it could have been just as successful had Christian Howes gone “solo.”

Photos: (Top to bottom) The many musical faces of Christian Howes, on violin, guitar, bass... and an unusual hand position on violin. (All photos by Andrea Canter at the Artists Quarter on October 27, 2010)