Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, December 31-January 6

© Andrea Canter

New Year’s Eve gigs dominate the weekend, while 2011 gets underway on some upbeat notes.

Highlights, Last Week
• The 11th annual holiday visit to the Dakota from The Bad Plus, with three relaxing nights of mostly original music and favorite covers, from Aphex Twin to Ornette and even a dash of Rogers and Hart. But my favorites are still Iverson, Anderson and King.

• Pianist Paris Strother also has a traditional winter gig at the Dakota where she got her start opening for Bobby Watson in 2003. She’s returned with fellow young lions in tow, and last week, she showed off her recent collaboration with twin sister, vocalist Amber Strother, with vibrant backing from bassist Chris Smith and drummer Brandon Commodore.

Horizon is the new duo CD from pianist/composer Dan Cavanagh, currently teaching at the University of Texas-Arlington, and his former music prof at St. Olaf, vibes master Dave Hagedorn. Maybe the best piano/vibes duo since Corea and Burton, but distinctively different particularly given Dan’s far more jagged approach to the keyboard. We got a nice sampling of the CD as well as some interesting covers of Richie Bierbach, Frank Kimbrough and Charlie Haden at the CD release party at the Artists Quarter.

New Year’s Eve Jazz
This is no ordinary weekend with local jazzers ringing in the New Year at a smattering of venues around the metro. See venue websites for complete information:

Artists Quarter, Carole Martin and Friends. Annual bargain bash with some of the best jazz in the Midwest. Singer Carole Martin covers the torch song repertoire as well as blues and plain old swinging standards. Her cohorts this year include guitarist Dean Magraw, saxman Gary Berg, and other local stalwarts. $38 (by 12/23) includes a light buffet, champagne toast, hats and noisemakers.

Café Maude, Patty and the Buttons. Jazz, klezmer and world music from accordion ace Patrick Harrison and friends. No cover for music but dinner reservations highly recommended.

Camp Bar, Christine Rosholt. Popular chanteuse with a sextet at the campiest bar in St Paul.

Cinema Ballroom, Charmin Michelle and the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra. If ballroom dancing is your thing, you can’t do better than the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra, and with the always-stellar voice of Charmin Michelle, you can enjoy yourself without cutting a rug. Tickets $70 at the door ($50 students) includes hors d’oeuvres, noisemakers, champagne toast.

. Dakota Jazz Club, Christine Rosholt and Lee Blaske. It's a Happy New Year Happy Hour with feisty songbird Christine and elegant pianist Lee. If you can, and have the financing, stick around for the formal celebration with The Average White Band. Or enjoy the ambience and head out for more jazz.

Hell’s Kitchen, Alicia Wiley. Pianist/vocalist charms early revelers, no cover.

Honey, Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson. One of the most sublime collaborations around, no cover. Party begins with DJ, food and more.

Hyatt Regency, Patty Peterson and Friends. Can’t ever go wrong with Patty Peterson. And among her friends, pianist Peter Schimke and brothers Billy and Ricky Peterson.

Ingredients Café, Roxy and Joe Cruz. One of the swingingest couples and longtime favorites at Ingredients, guitarist Joe and vocalist Roxy bring a mix of standards and bossa to the party.

Lobby Bar, St Paul Hotel, Joann Funk Trio. Pianist/vocalist Joann expands her usual duo with Jeff Brueske by adding drummer Nathan Norman for a swinging evening. No doubt some Blossom Dearie will be on the menu.

Nonna Rosa’s, Lee Engele and Pietro. No cover, regular menu at this Robbinsdale hot spot. Local songstress Lee Engele swings Italian style with Pietro Benso.

Red Stag Supper Club, Sophia Shorai and Brad Senne. Songbird Sophia released one of my favorite vocal albums of the year (Long as You’re Living).

And if you are staying home tonight, you can enjoy jazz at top venues around the country by tuning into KBEM (Jazz 88.5 FM) radio and the annual Toast of the Nation. The broadcast starts at 7 p.m. and features Lionel Loueke from the Berklee College of Music in Boston; the Jon Faddis Orchestra of New York with Nneena Freelon in Washington D.C.; Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Green, Jimmy Heath and Nicholas Payton in New York City; the battle of the saxes with Von Freeman and Edward Peterson in Chicago; and Dianne Reeves from Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

More Jazz This Week!
Start your 2011 with some hot gigs to warm up our usual subzero January nights! Bryan Nichols and his quintet return to the Artists Quarter Saturday (1/1) as a “make up” for the canceled gig on blizzard weekend. Those of us who got to his Friday show were treated to some of the most ingenious new compositions in town, to Bryan’s formidable piano chops, to the dynamic sax duo of Brandon Wozniak and Mike Lewis, and the bass antics of Erik Fratzke. JT Bates is the usual drummer but for this New Year’s Day outing, Sean Carey takes over the trapset.

Guitarist/composer Reynold Philipsek celebrates the New Year (1/1) with a toast to his home town St. Cloud, subject of one of two compositions he’s put onto a disc—sort of a party favor for those at his solo/duo gig at the 318 Café in Wayzata. You can hear, and take home, “St. Germaine Street” and “Astoria” and enjoy Reynold alone and in the fine company of violinist Gary Schulte.

The Dakota starts the year with jazz, New Orleans style from the boppin’ sax of Charles Neville (1/1-2). He was a big hit when was here with brother Aaron’s holiday show, and now returns with his own band. What can you expect from a musician who cites John Coltrane and Professor Longhair among his muses? Soulful improv, for sure. And at the Dakota on Monday night (1/3), catch a rare prime time appearance by the Atlantis Quartet. With Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig, the Atlantis is one of the most innovative foursomes in the metro, as inclined toward Coltrane as toward Hendrix, and their own compositions are equally engaging.

Jazz Central continues its series of Monday night performance/jam sessions, this week (1/3) featuring accordion monster Patrick Harrison. Usually it’s Tanner Taylor on keys and Mac Santiago on drums, and it’s always an invigorating evening, with combinations of musicians and new music that is not likely to be heard anywhere else. Speaking of new music, the Artists Quarter on Wednesday (1/5) presents some of the newest professionals, with a trio gig featuring pianist Javier Santiago, drummer Miguel Hurtado, and the relative veteran bassist, James Buckley. Javier was impressive in a recent Jazz Central gig—catch him quick before he heads back to New York and his final year of study at the New School. Miguel, a recent Manhattan School of Music graduate, has been forging his career locally in diverse contexts, while James is increasingly cited as one of the premier composers and performers on the modern music scene.

And the AQ keeps some of the best veteran artists on stage as well, this week (1/6) boasting the ever-exciting Phil Hey Quartet (with Phil Aaron, Tom Lewis and Dave Hagedorn). If, like me, you grew up listening to the charms of the Modern Jazz Quartet, just think what they would sound like today—and you have an idea of the powers of the PHQ. The voice of experience will also rock the Dakota Jazz Club (1/6) with a long-awaited return of vocalist Cookie Coleman, appearing with a dream band of pianist Adi Yeshaya, bassist Tony Axtell, drummer Nathan Norman, and accordionist Dan Newton.

And More….
Saturday, January 1: Start 2011 with brunch at Hell’s Kitchen with the Jana Nyberg Group; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel; Miguel Vargas at the Honey Lounge.

Sunday, January 2: For Sunday brunch, check out Jack Brass Band at Tryg’s, Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café; the weekly night gig with the Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar. And if you want to stay home, catch 60 Minutes on CBS with Wynton Marsalis. (If you miss the show, go to the Jazz at Lincoln Center website to view this program and more—

Monday, January 3: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge

Tuesday, January 4: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Kimberley Michaels and Tony Axtell at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s; Rachel Holder and Scottie Devlin at Hell’s Kitchen

Wednesday, January 5: TEFSA Jam at the Artists Quarter (early set); David Roos at Le Bourget Aero (Bloomington); Lee Engele with the Moonlight Serenaders Big Band at Wabasha Street Caves; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg International Night at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Dan and Reuben Ristrom at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); Maud Hixson with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen

Thursday, January 6: Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Saltee (Mike Michel on guitar, Carnage [beatboxing], Jacqueline Ultan on cello) at Aster Café; Alicia Wiley at Barbette.

Coming Soon!
• January 7-8, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter
• January 9, Stanley Jordan at the Dakota
• January 14-15, Eric Gravatt and Source Code at the AQ
. January 15, Roseville Winter Jazz Blast (high school band festival) with JazzMN Big Band
and Wayne Bergeron
• January 17-18, Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Dakota
• January 20, Jazz Thursdays with MacPhail Jazz Faculty, Antonello Hall (MacPhail)
• January 20-21, Nellie McKay at the Dakota
• January 21, Quentin Tschofen Trio at the Dakota (Late Night)
• January 21-22, Billy Peterson’s 60th at the AQ
• January 22, Phil Aaron Trio at St. Barnabas Church (Jazz at St Barneys)
• January 24-25, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• January 26, Latin Jazz All Stars (Steve Turre, Claudio Roditi, Pete Escovedo) at the Dakota
• January 27, Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the AQ
• January 28, Jon Weber Trio at the AQ
• February 3, Jazz Thursdays “Something Like a Bird” (Mingus Concert III)
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota
• February 11-12, Bobby Peterson Memorial Showcase at the AQ
• February 18-19, Aaron Goldberg Trio at the AQ
• February 25-26, Andres Prado at the AQ

Photos: (Top to Bottom), Carole Martin rings in the New Year at the AQ; Bryan Nichols Quintet; Javier Santiago; Phil Hey (photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Bad Plus, Good Tidings

© Andrea Canter

For the past ten, or maybe eleven, holiday seasons, The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King) have gathered with family, friends, and fans at the Dakota Jazz Club for what is now a three-night gig celebrating one of the most enduring collaborations among modern jazz ensembles. Reid and Dave grew up in the Twin Cities, playing with such now-acclaimed talents as Craig Taborn, Mike Lewis and Adam Linz. Ethan was just a short drive away in Menonomie, and I have always wondered who he found to push him along his artistic journey before meeting up with Reid and Dave in the late 90s. Unlike Reid and Dave, Ethan was not immersed in the rock culture that engaged other teens of the time, but he made up for it as he joined forces with the bassist and drummer to reinvent pop hits by Blondie, the Pixies, Black Sabbath, Wilco, Aphex Twin and more. And classical works proved fair game as well, with interpretations of Ligeti and Stravinsky turning up on their 2009 release, For All I Care. Personally I have always preferred their original compositions, which now form a deep vault and the entirety of their 10th anniversary effort, Never Stop.

The Dakota edition of Bad Plus 2010 was highly saturated with the guys’ original works, and the performance was relatively mellow without losing any of the trio’s trademark edge, humor and elements of surprise. King was as propulsive as ever without blasting the heck out of his kit. Anderson still plays a lyrical foil but with plenty of assertive solos. And Iverson’s lines and harmonies have evolved in complexity over the decade without losing their basic engaging quirkiness. Over the two sets I attended, there were of course compositions from the new release, but also some old favorites as well as new unrecorded works, along with a few covers of Ornette Coleman, Rogers & Hart (a surprising encore “Have You Met Miss Jones?”) and one of my all-time Bad Plus favorites, Aphex Twin (“Flim”).

If TBP seem more mellow these days, it's not because the music is any less exciting or more predictable today than ten years ago. But in 2010, the music is less startling to jazz (and other) audiences. And the guys seem to be taking on a wider swath of influences of modern music, be it interpretations and reinventions or sounds from within. And they’ve stayed on the acoustic pathway, proving loops and overdubs and computer wizardry are not essential to 21st century music. Maybe that is the biggest surprise of all.

Photos: (top to bottom) Ethan Iverson; Reid Anderson; Dave King; The Bad Plus (all photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, December 25-27, 2010)

From Student to Stellar: The Paris Strother Quartet

© Andrea Canter

For a few years, I wrote about a young piano phenom from the Twin Cities, Paris Strother, as she moved from teen keyboard whiz who played the very first opening set at the relocated Dakota to standout student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Then she came again to the Dakota a year ago, a Berklee graduate and outreach coordinator with the Thelonious Monk Institute in LA, as part of a “Young Lions” ensemble organized by drummer Brandon Commodore, himself a recent grad of McNally Smith and wetting his professional feet with Sounds of Blackness. The Young Lions also featured yet another young local talent, bassist Chris Smith, now an alum of the Brubeck Institute Fellowship program and completing his college studies at the New School in Manhattan, Paris’s twin sister and aspiring vocalist Amber Strother, and Brandon’s sister, another talented vocalist, Ashley Commodore.

Now it’s time to recognize these musicians as rising professionals who can still fill a venue like the Dakota to the rafters with family, friends, long-time followers and new fans. Last night, Paris brought Amber, Chris (now a New School graduate) and Brandon (heading to Madison Square Garden with Mint Condition to open for Prince) to the Dakota stage again, and their two wide-ranging sets clarified their evolution from talented students to talented working musicians—as performers, arrangers and composers. Paris has never shied away from playing her own compositions, like the lovely “CCS” dedicated to Chris Smith. These days composing is largely a duo effort with Amber, yielding complex and intriguing works like “Migration,” “At the End of the Day,” and “Nightingale,” and on some tunes, like the latter, Paris adds vocal harmony as well as stellar keyboard solos and support.

Amber is evolving into a stylish and engaging vocalist in the direction of Gretchen Parlato and Esperanza Spalding—a soprano who uses her high range to impassion her lyrics. The sisters gave us two duets – just piano and voice, their arrangement of Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” and Amber’s original “Transform,” a melody reminiscent of Elton John.

The two sets covered a musical waterfront, with straight-up jazz trio readings of Cole Porter (“It’s All Right With Me”), Ellis Marsalis (a very swinging “12’s It”) and Frank Foster (“Simone”); soulful vocal interpretations of diverse classics, from “Moonglow” to Coltrane’s “Naima” as well as from a new generation (Robert Glasper’s “All Matter”); and leaning heavily into R&B land with the heart-tugging Bonnie Raitt signature, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and the voodoo funk of “People Make the World Go Round.” I’ve always heard the percussive attack and thick harmonies of McCoy Tyner in Paris’s piano, and now add to that the soul and funk of Patrice Rushen. Brandon Commodore has the propulsive drive and tendency to volcanic eruption that can carry just about any musical setting, while Chris Smith, effective in jazz setting ranging from Jeff Watts to José James, proves to be as much at home on electric as acoustic bass.

Paris and Amber have a new trio project in LA, “King,” which they confess is difficult to classify, but the music will soon be available on an EP digital release. I don’t expect I will be able to classify it either. I’ll just stick with Duke Ellington’s dichotomy—there’s good music and bad music. This will be good music, and if their latest gig at the Dakota is any indication, it will have wide appeal to lovers of instrumental jazz, contemporary vocals, and sophisticated R&B. Stellar modern music.

Photos: Paris (top) and Amber Strother at the Dakota, December 28, 2010. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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

© Andrea Canter

2010 is ticking down but the jazz steam is rising high, promising a strong year ahead for music.

Highlights, Last Week
Dee Dee Bridgewater with the Minnesota Orchestra and Irvin Mayfield Quartet at Orchestra Hall.. I’ve never heard her better or performing a more diverse repertoire, from Lalo Shifrin to Billie Holiday to Duke Ellington. Even the sort of surprise appearance by Doc Severinsen to dual with Irvin Mayfield in the first set fell far short of the sheer artistry, elegance and humility of one of the living legends of vocal jazz.

Red Planet at the Artists Quarter. A triumphant return of both Dean Magraw and his celestial trio (Chris Bates, Jay Epstein). The club was full at the start and essentially no one left between sets… cuz who wants to miss one note of Monk, Coltrane or Magraw from these guys?

Highlights, This Week
Holidays are for homecomings and the Dakota hosts two: As they have done for all (or nearly all) of the winter holidays over their first decade, The Bad Plus comes “home” for three nights of acoustic bedlam (12/25-27). Favorite covers and originals from their latest (all original) release, Never Stop, will undoubtedly fill the air, along with –who knows, there is always a surprise. This is their warm-up for a year-end run at the Village Vanguard.

And it’s also homecoming at the Dakota for Paris and Amber Strother, Chris Smith and Brandon Commodore, on stage as the Paris Strother Quartet Tuesday night (12/28). Paris first caught the ear of Lowell Pickett as a 13-year-old piano whiz studying at Walker West Music Academy. She moved on to wait tables and play at the opening of the Dakota in its new digs downtown, then on to four stellar years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is now into her second year as Outreach Coordinator for the Thelonious Monk Institute in Los Angeles. Meanwhile she has continued playing keyboards, composing and arranging, garnering accolades from titans like Christian McBride and Patrice Rushen, and working with twin sister Amber, a promising vocalist. The Strother twins share the stage with old pals with equally impressive resumes: Bassist Chris Smith was selected for the elite Brubeck Institute Fellowship Program after graduation from Minneapolis South High, and after his two-year stint, enrolled in the New School program in New York. He’s nearing graduation and has already toured with Jeff “Tain” Watts and performed with Tia Fuller at the Dakota. Drummer Brandon Commodore is upholding the family name, in particular working with Sounds of Blackness.

Back-up to Sunday (12/26): Connie Evingson has spearheaded Jazz at the Jungle, a series of vocal jazz shows at the eclectic south Minneapolis theater. Sunday closes the season with her Holiday Songbook, performed twice (4 and 7:30 pm) with the Tanner Taylor Quartet. Connie won’t just sell great holiday songs with her perfect tone and infectious swing, she’ll give you a big of jazz education along the way, with the stories behind the stories of the tune.

In case you are not inclined to venture out on New Year’s Eve, even for jazz, you can enjoy Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson a few days early in duo Monday night (12/27) as they perform in the Musique Mystique series at the Loring Pasta Bar. The sublime voice/piano duo typically offer a set list that ranges from old fashioned swing to ballads to cabaret song-stories, and you can bet Maud found something a little off-beat to throw into the mix. They’re at Honey on New Year’s Eve, but in the Red Room of the LPB, you can relax and enjoy without fear of rowdy revelers.

The AQ hosts a couple more exciting evenings, including a CD release for vibes master Dave Hagedorn and former student, pianist Dan Cavanagh on Wednesday (12/29) and a dynamic evening with the Lucia Newell Quartet on Friday (12/30). Dave and Dan always present some of the year’s finest jazz repartee when they get together, and Lucia and company (Phil Aaron, Gordy Johnson, Kenny Horst) plan “to take out 2010 with jazz in our hearts” and a bunch of new tunes to boot.

More Jazz All Week
Always, there’s more jazz musicians than gigs or venues, but still more jazz than any one person can manage to hear each week!

Friday,12/24/Saturday, 12/25: Many clubs are closed for the holiday, but you can catch Joanne Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel both nights, and of course, Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog.

Sunday, 12/26. Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Charmin Michelle and the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom; Minnesota Free Music Society monthly gig at the Acadia Café.

Monday, 12/27: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Bill Simenson at Jazz Central; Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Supreme Privacy at Barbette; Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge

Tuesday, 12/28. Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; East Side at Hell’s Kitchen; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar; NOVA Jazz Orchestra at the Shorewood; Big Band Christmas at St. Barnabus Church (Jazz on the Prairie and Just Friends Big Bands); Kimberly Michaels and Tony Axtell at Sawatdee (Maple Grove)

Wednesday, 12/29: Minnesota Youth Jazz Band at 5 pm at the Artists Quarter, followed by TEFSA Jam at 7, then Hagedorn and Cavanagh at 9; Dave Roos at Le Bourget; Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Capri Big Band Holiday Show at the Capri Theater; Reuben and Dan Ristrom at Swatdee (Maple Grove)

Thursday, December 30: Frankhouse at Hell’s Kitchen; New Standards at the Dakota

Coming Soon, New Year’s Eve
• Carole Martin & Friends at the Artists Quarter
• Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at Honey
• Christine Rosholt at Camp Bar
• Roxy and Joe Cruz at Ingredients Café
• Lee Engele with Pietro at Nonna Rosa

Coming Soon in 2011
• January 1, Bryan Nichols Quintet at the AQ
• January 9, Stanley Jordan at the Dakota
• January 17-18, Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Dakota
• January 20-21, Nellie McKay at the Dakota
• January 21, Quentin Tschofen Trio at the Dakota (Late Night)
• January 24-25, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• January 26, Latin Jazz All Stars (Steve Turre, Claudio Roditi, Pete Escovedo) at the Dakota
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota
• February 18-19, Aaron Goldberg Trio at the AQ
• February 25-26, Andres Prado at the AQ

Photos: (top to bottom) The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King); Paris Strother; Dave Hagedorn (photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Space Dust From the Red Planet

© Andrea Canter

In the midst of his battle with lymphona, Dean Magraw and his Red Planet (Chris Bates, Jay Epstein) released Space Dust (GoneJazz, 2009), filled with the trio’s celestial wanderings on covers of Hendrix and Coltrane as well as compositions from Dean and Chris. I don’t recall if there was a proper CD release since Dean was out of commission through 2009 and much of 2010. The reunion at the Artists Quarter this past weekend thus was a double celebration, of the music of Red Planet and of Dean’s return to action. It seemed as if the ensemble had never gone on hiatus, their interaction as telepathic as ever, Dean—if anything—singing through his guitars with even more clarity, more passion than before. Red Planet has long been sweet on Coltrane, paying homage on several tunes including an extended, ecstatic “Africa.” But Monk got his due as well, the first set including “Ugly Beauty” and a “Let’s Cool One” featuring a very musical solo from Bates and playful exchange between Magraw and Epstein—if ever a guitar trio was well suited for Monk, it’s Red Planet. Originals like Dean’s “Dawn Star” (on acoustic guitar) furthered the joyful return of one of the Twin Cities’ most endearing, and enduring, composers and performers. Our soundscape is once again aglow, our jazz stars back in alignment.

Photos: Red Planet at the AQ. (Top to Bottom) Dean Magraw; Chris Bates; Jay Epstein (Photos by Andrea Canter on December 18, 2010).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ovation for Dee Dee

© Andrea Canter

Some voices – mine for instance—are barely suitable for conversation. Some voices –very few—seem well-suited for almost anything defined as music. And even fewer can navigate across genres and styles while also entertaining and inspiring, be it for an intimate club audience or a full-house in a major concert hall. Or on the air. Dee Dee Bridgewater has such a talent, and it was on full display at Orchestra Hall last night as part of an evening of “Yuletide Jazz.”

I can’t think of another vocalist who could so readily, so ably present Lalo Shifrin arrangements of “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “The Way We Were,” follow with a French rendition of “Autumn Leaves, ” greet the holidays (and Holiday) with “God Bless The Child,” “The Christmas Song” and a conjoined “Away in a Manger/A Child Is Born,” scat “horn” to horn with Irvin Mayfield on a jazz quartet version of “All of Me,” and close out the night with a stunning “Come Sunday.” Of course one look at Dee Dee’s discography and it’s clear she fancies diverse projects; one look at her press and it’s clear she continuously surpasses herself on each new venture. I’ve heard her with her French quartet and Malian “Red Earth” projects at the Dakota Jazz Club; fronting a big band at the Detroit Jazz Festival; and now engaging one of the world’s finest classical orchestras as well as dueling with its Artistic Director for Jazz, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield. And I’ve never heard her in better voice or more humble persona.

Dee Dee repeatedly noted, to the audience, that she was nervous; this was her first appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra. Turns out there had been only one rehearsal. She wanted to get it right. She nailed it. Every tune.

Dee Dee Bridgewater is a regal presence, from her flowing gown to her shaved head that only accentuates the beauty of her features, a high priestess of song who looks the part. With her voice she can summon sacred and profound, she can flirt and seduce, she can swing and swagger, and she can become any instrument—on the Orchestral Hall stage, another trumpet—and she was first chair despite Mayfield’s best efforts. But Dee Dee is more than a golden voice. Her Tony Award for her role (Glinda) in The Whiz was a peak but far from her only acclaimed role as actress; the ongoing success of NPR’s Jazz Set speaks to her skill as interviewer/broadcaster. But she’s also an incredibly graceful physical presence on stage, her gestures, her hand and arm positions, her movements suggesting a background as a dancer.

The Minnesota Orchestra and Irvin Mayfield, with and without his fine quartet (Ron Markham, Neal Caine, Jaz Sawyer), offered the first set of seasonal music, Mayfield becoming more satisfying as the evening wore on, and dueling with not-such-a-surprise guest Doc Severinsen on “Let It Snow” (Severinsen was in town for two shows with the Orchestra). But the night, the audience, belonged to Dee Dee Bridgewater. In true Minnesota fashion, she got a standing ovation on the final tune. In a rare Minnesota moment, she got a standing ovation on the preceding tune (“All of Me”) as well. She earned both. And then some.

Photo: The divine Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Detroit Jazz Festival. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Friday, December 17, 2010

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

© Andrea Canter

Highlight, Last Week
The snowstorm that hit the area from late Friday through Saturday nearly upstaged the music in the Twin Cities, and eliminated pretty much all live jazz on Saturday night. I said “nearly” because even Old Man Winter couldn’t outshine the Bryan Nichols Quintet, fortunately scheduled for two nights at the Artists Quarter. We only got Friday night, but that was enough to carry the weekend. Not only were we treated to new compositions from Nichols, but also to a sax duel between two of the most impressive horns in the region—Mike Lewis (on soprano, alto and tenor) and Brandon Wozniak (on tenor). Throw in Erik Fratzke and JT Bates, and you have magic. There was a good crowd despite the forecast, and everyone will get another chance when Nichols and company return January 1st.

Andrea’s Picks
Jazz tickets make great holiday gifts, and there’s good reason to start early: One of the most accomplished jazz vocalists of our time, Dee Dee Bridgewater, comes to Orchestra Hall tonight (12/17) to celebrate “Yuletide Jazz,” along with Orchestra Hall’s Artistic Director for Jazz, New Orleans’ trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, and his quartet, all backed by the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Sarah Hicks. Bridgewater, host of NPR’s Jazz Set and multi-Grammy nominee, has a long history of eclectic projects ranging from French love songs to Ella to the traditional music of Mali, and earlier this year released an acclaimed tribute to Billie Holiday. Whether it’s Holiday or The Holiday, it will be pure Dee Dee. There will be tunes from Mayfield, tunes from Bridgewater, and some collaborations as well.

One of the most anticipated reunions, Red Planet takes over the Artists Quarter Friday and Saturday nights (12/17-18). On hiatus while leader Dean Magraw recovered from a bone marrow transplant, this other-worldly trio (with Chris Bates and Jay Epstein) was sorely missed on the local scene. Magraw has been regaining strength with smaller gigs, and it will be a celestial “homecoming” when he takes the stage at the AQ.

For a night cap, check out Café Maude Saturday night (12/18) when local jazz experimenters Zacc Harris and Adam Linz host Bay Area-based, globally renowned percussion master Babatunde Lea. The setting may not seem conducive to virtuosic avant garde and improvised music, but Café Maude routinely books some of the most adventurous acts in town. An artist of Lea’s stature and history (he’s played with Leon Thomas, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson and more) alongside two clever modernists like Harris and Linz should put Maude on everyone’s jazz map.

More Jazz Throughout the Week
See Pamela Espeland’s new formatting for her live jazz calendar ( so I won’t try to be a completist here. Some particular treats:

Friday (12/17): Joanne Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (and again Saturday); Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Peter Schimke at Café Maude

Saturday (12/18):
Charmin (Michelle) and (Joel) Shapira midday at Midtown Global Market; Nachito Herrera’s holiday show at the Dakota; Twin Cities Hot Club at Hell’s Kitchen.

Sunday (12/19): Doc Severinsen at Orchestra Hall; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar.

Monday (12/20): Maud Hixson with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson, Musique Mystique at Loring Pasta Bar; Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge

Tuesday (12/21): Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Robert Everest’s World Quartet at the Dakota; Charmin Michelle and Holiday Strings annual dinner show at Jax Café (also Wednesday).

Wednesday (12/22):
Maxine Souse with Doug Haining and Reynold Philipsek at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); George Maurer Big Band at the Dakota; Park Evans at the Aster Café.

Thursday (12/23): Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Maud Hixson with Voodoo Patsy at the Aster Café; What Would Monk Do (quartet) at the Artists Quarter; Rob Fletcher Trio at Jazz Central (with Javier Santiago and Daniel Duke).

Coming Soon!
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 26, Connie Evingson’s Holiday Show at the Jungle Theater
• December 28, Paris Strother Quartet at the Dakota
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 30, Lucia Newell Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve with Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter
• January 17-18, Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Dakota
• January 24-25, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota

Photos: Dee Dee Bridgewater (at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival); Red Planet's three aces (Dean Magraw, Chris Bates, Jay Epstein). (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giants and Legacies: Ravi Coltrane and McCoy Tyner at the Dakota

© Andrea Canter

Perhaps the scheduling for its 25th Anniversary Week perfectly sums the current direction of the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant – two stellar mainstream jazz gigs, one by a modern rising star, one by a living legend, bookended by wildly popular (and local) gospel and blues. Robert Robinson kicked off the celebration last Sunday with his spirituals, standards and holiday vocals; blues band Davina and the Vagabonds was to close out the week on Saturday night. But in between!! Jazz Nirvana, with the Ravi Coltrane Quartet followed by the McCoy Tyner Quartet, featuring Gary Bartz. Those four nights would be hard to surpass anywhere.

As he mentioned to the audience, Ravi Coltrane grew up thinking of McCoy Tyner as an uncle, the great pianist a member of his father’s most lauded quartet. But with his own band, own label, own merits, Ravi has earned accolades that, while confirming his DNA, also validate the power of his own voice. A significant correlate of that voice is Coltrane’s long-standing group of cohorts –Luis Perdomo on piano, Drew Gress on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums—who form one of the strongest small ensembles of modern jazz. Original compositions like “October Tune,” “Prelude” and “Between the Lines,” and arrangements of Bob Dorough (“Nothing Like You”) and Monk (“Espistrophy,” “Ask Me Now”), benefits not only from the virtuosic skill of each musician but also from each extended presentation, geared to the music rather than to a standard head-solo-head format. Any of the quartet might start out alone or in duet combination, with Coltrane likely to move forward and backward several times throughout a composition, in tandem or alone, his rhythm section taking the lead, any voice taking it back – anticipation, surprise, collaboration all defining the total.

High points: “Epistrophy” (last set on the second night) started as a Coltrane/Strickland duet with Ravi rattling off the theme with a shower of staccato notes, turning it over to the rhythm section for a furious verse. Strickland’s sharp, quick motions tended to stay within a relatively small arc—we expected a pile of splinters when the aural smoke cleared. Back in front, Coltrane –a very physical saxman—moved up and down, side to side with his notes, climbing way up the scale, engaging Strickland in another dual.

“Prelude” soared like an incantation, intitially a sax/drum duet, moving into a piano/bass dialogue, with Perdomo’s delicate lines etched by Gress’s deep tones. Coltrane moved up front with the quartet before launching into an extended duet with Strickland, a lonesome bird flying, crying over a thunderstorm. Piano and drums (Strickland using mallets here) followed, Perdomo’s phrases like a choir of bells; Strickland fluttering –he manages flutters regardless of the weapon at hand. The quartet reconvened in full, ramping up the intensity before returning to the opening prayer.

Monk again: Ravi’s a cappella solo introduced “Ask Me Now, ” improvised from the first note and soon a sax/piano duet, more densely notated than the usual interpretation, and morphing into a gentle but swinging trio under Perdomo’s guidance, the pianist’s phrases neatly mirroring Coltrane with lots of notes encircling each chord.

Last time I saw McCoy Tyner was early in 2009 at the Regatta Bar in Boston, with the same working quartet of Bartz, Cannon and Gravatt. Then, Tyner (just passed 70) seemed frail, guided on and off stage as if having some difficulty with balance; his keyboard efforts still burst with the dense artistry that has been his signature for over 50 years, but somewhat short on power and pizzazz. This week, however, that veil of fragility was gone; there was a spring in his step as he navigated across the stage, a smile on his face throughout the sets, and a confident smack of each chord. His speed may be less than breakneck these days, but Tyner is Tyner, his power --if below his peak years--still far beyond most half his age. He left most of the organization duties to Bartz, but there was never any doubt as to who was steering this battleship.

The quartet opened the first night with Tyner’s classic “Fly With the Wind,” the pianist lighting the fire, Bartz fanning the flames, Cannon puffing smoke, Gravatt inflammable in solo and supporting roles. Somehow Tyner still manages celestial lines and thundering chords simultaneously. His “Walk Spirit/Talk Spirit” conjured a herd of wild horses pounding across a wide plain; Cannon presented a symphony via a single upright bass—powerful, majestic, and much like Tyner himself.

On the last set, Tyner’s flying fingers suggested a bass harp on his “Sama Lyuca,” Bartz summing the Gods with his soaring alto. Piano and bass fell into a repeating pattern, setting the stage for one of Gravatt’s percussive eruptions – all in all, one imagined the cavalry charging ahead to its next conquest. “Moment’s Notice” appeared at least twice over the two nights, most effectively on the last set where Tyner opened with solo piano, answered by Bartz’s tart tone, before the leader charged into a swinging, stride-tinted gambit. While it seemed that Tyner was literally massaging the keys, this was no gentle rubdown but a real a Swedish massage!

Tyner announced each tune on the first set, only a few on the last, but the setlist throughout was largely Tyner’s works and an encyclopedic array of his themes and influences—flecks of bebop, Coltrane, Latin, Chopin and Ravel, sweeping orchestra and delicate chamber ensemble. Time may have softened the edges a bit, but McCoy Tyner has stories yet to tell, and tell again.

Thanks to Lowell Pickett and the Dakota for a celebratory week with a living legend and a new giant. And congratulations on 25 years of survival as one of the world’s top music venues.

Photos: (top to bottom) Ravi Coltrane with Drew Gress; the Ravi Coltrane Quartet; McCoy Tyner x 2 (Photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota Jazz Club, December 6 and December 8, 2010)

Friday, December 10, 2010

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

© Andrea Canter

Highlights, Last Week
The 25th anniversary celebration at the Dakota peaked with a legacy/legend back-to-back shows. The Ravi Coltrane Quartet repeatedly proves to be one of the top small ensembles in modern jazz, as its leader proves to star-worthy in his own right. And McCoy Tyner, if not the agile powerhouse of his earlier years, retains his trademark lyrical density and orchestral zeal leading long-time collaborators through his own timeless compositions and the elder Coltrane’s masterpiece, “Moment’s Notice.” And no more proof of the vitality of modern jazz was needed after the teens of the Dakota Combo, in collaboration with guest artist/masterful drummer Johnathan Blake, performed a long set of mostly Mingus on the Dakota stage Saturday night. Down at the Artists’ Quarter, locally acclaimed trumpeter Jon Pemberton proved it’s never too late to go back to your first instrument, celebrating the release of his sublime piano trio CD, On the Edge.

This Week, The Big Gigs
[Due to our giant snowfall, most live music was canceled Saturday night.... Wise to check with the venue for Sunday and Monday!]
A prelude to a long-awaited recording session, pianist Bryan Nichols brings an adventurous quintet and raft of new compositions to the Artists Quarter this weekend (12/10-11), a bright beacon of innovation in the midst of a predicted a snowstorm. This will be worth the slow drive. Heck, bring a sleeping bag and just plan to hole up at the AQ for the weekend! Joining Bryan will be a double whammy sax team of Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Fat Kid Wednesdays) and Brandon Wozniak (Atlantis Quartet), frenetic bassist Erik Fratzke (Happy Apple) and inventive drummer J.T. Bates (Fat Kids). An alum of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program, Nichols follows the path less taken by a local legacy of keyboard innovators, including Craig Taborn and Billy Carrothers. [Yeah, Saturday night was canceled due to snow... stay tuned, Bryan and company will be at the AQ again soon!]

Suburban venues have their share of swinging artistry this weekend, with Maud Hixson and Denny Malmberg dazzling at Pardon My French in Eagan (12/11) [SORRY-- Cancelled due to snowstorm!] and guitarist Reynold Philipsek going mostly solo at the 318 in Wayzata (12/11) [Yup, this was canceled too]. And back in the Cities; modern interpreters of Brazilian music, Lucia Newell and Joan Griffith shine in the new Musique Mystique series at the Loring Pasta Bar (12/13); Christine Rosholt returns to the Dakota (12/14), ready to fill your holiday stocking with the likes of Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and undoubtedly some seasonal surprises.

Young Aaron Hedenstrom celebrates A Symphonic Jazz Hip Hop Experience, the debut recording of his orchestra, at O’Gara’s (12/14). Bringing together a long list of young area musicians, his original compositions were previewed last fall on the Dakota Late Night series. In describing his music, Aaron noted that “the themes revolve around the process of learning how to live life as it happens-- whether that is in the emotional, physical, or spiritual realm.” Additionally, the songs were written to feature the musicians, who include his friends and early teachers. In total, the project has involved 22 musicians, including acclaimed artists Brandon Wozniak, Nick Videen, Chris Thomson, John Raymond, Bryan Nichols, Chris Graham, Jeremy Boettcher, Sean Carey and Brian Claxton.

A plethora of goodies on Thursday (12/16): KBEM throws its annual holiday bash, this year at Vic’s on the Mississippi River with a special menu and jazz provided by the most sublime of duos, Peter Schimke and Irv Williams. Check Jazz 88’s website for availability of reservations. Just across the way in Anthony Main, guitarist Todd Clouser returns to the Twin Cities with a gig at the Aster Café. The Baja resident might go into weather shock but that will only up the excitement of his music. And across the river, it’s Phil Hey night at the Artists Quarter with his near-monthly quartet gig, always a special occasion.

More Jazz All Week
[Check venues regarding cancelations over the weekend and early in the week!]

Friday, 12/10: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (and again Saturday night); Patty Peterson at School of the Wise II; Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen; Jackie Moen with the Three Keys Quartet at Ginger Hop; Adam Levy’s Liminal Phase at the Dakota Late Night series; Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog.

Saturday, 12/11: Ticket to Brasil at Hell’s Kitchen; Rahjta Ren solo piano at the Black Dog; the Capri Big Band’s holiday show at the Capri Theater; Arne Fogel and Tanner Taylor at Ingredients Cafe; Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson and Jay Epstein) at Café Maude.

Sunday, 12/12: Alicia Wiley for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Patty (Patrick Harrison) and the Buttons for brunch at Aster Café; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar; Beats and Bongos (from Cafe Accordion) at the Black Dog; Lila Ammons Jazz Quintet (with Dean Brewington) presents its Jazz Caravan at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.

Monday, 12/13: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Russ Peterson’s Big Band at the Old Log Theater; Alicia Wiley at Barbette; Dale Mendenhall at Jazz Central; Fat Kid Wednesdays and Jazz Implosion at the Clown Lounge.

Tuesday, 12/14: 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 the Loring Pasta Bar; Lee Engele with Pippi Ardennia’s “Fever Pitch” series at FACES Mears Park.

Wednesday, 12/15: The Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; TEFSA Jam and How Birds Work at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield).

Thursday, 12/16: Doc Severinsen with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall; Christine Rosholt at Wabasha Street Caves; Charmin Michelle at the Medina Ballroom.

Coming Soon!
• December 17, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield at Orchestra Hall
• December 17-18, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 18, Zacc Harris with Adam Linz and Babatunde Lee at Café Maude
• December 21, Robert Everest’s World Quartet at the Dakota
• December 22, Snowblind at the Artists Quarter
• December 22, George Mauer’s Christmas at the Dakota
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 26, Connie Evingson’s Holiday Show at the Jungle Theater
• December 28, Paris Strother Quartet at the Dakota
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 30, Lucia Newell Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve with Carole Martin at the Artists Quarter
• January 24-25, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota

Photos: (top to bottom), Bryan Nichols; Denny Malmberg and Maud Hixson; Todd Clouser (all photos by Andrea Canter)

James Moody, 1925-2010

© Andrea Canter

You’d think having the title NEA Jazz Master, a fistful of Grammy nominations, and a 70th birthday party at the Blue Note might be ample reason to slow down, but James Moody was as active in the first decade of the 21st century as he was for more than half of the 20th century. I first saw him live about eight years ago with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Band in New York, again with the Gillespie band at the 2008 Detroit Jazz Festival, and, for what turned out to be the last time, at the Dakota Jazz Club in early 2009. His personal charm was only exceeded by his artistry on saxophones and flute. Moody died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at age 85, not quite six months after feted in absentia with a Carnegie Hall “Salute to James Moody” featuring a long list of multi-generational artists.

Best known for his tenure with Gillespie and his enduring signature tune, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” it was perhaps the latter years of his career that were most remarkable: Well into his 80s, he won a Grammy nomination in 2008 for his solo on Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival, was Downbeat’s 2008 Jazz Flautist of the Year, and issued back to back acclaimed recordings, Moody 4A (2009) and Moody 4B (2010). The latter was, and still is, on my list of favorite recordings of the year. (See review at

I remember his gig at the Dakota. At the time, I wrote: “Anyone uncertain as to the definition and nature of ‘bebop’ should enroll in the James Moody Academy of Jazz. At the Dakota Jazz Club, Moody’s opening set could have served as a lesson for the uninitiated as the 83-year-old saxophonist conducted nonstop experiments in rhythm and harmony, exposing, renovating, and designing the details of every structure. That he conducted his class with equally nonstop humor and humility made the lesson all the more effective and entertaining.”

See full review of James Moody at the Dakota at

Photos: James Moody, top to bottom: At the 2008 Detroit Jazz Festival, two from the Dakota in 2009 (photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brubeck at 90-- It's Time In

© Andrea Canter

Like many jazz fans who are now of a certain age, I cut my music teeth early on listening to Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. Peterson’s gone but Brubeck seems indefatigable. Today is his 90th birthday. And tonight, he’ll celebrate with family by watching a new Bruce Ricker/Clint Eastwood documentary, Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way (Turner Classic Movies). Maybe our local jazz station, KBEM, will screen the film in an upcoming REEL Jazz series.

Among a long list of commemorative activities, there are several new anthology recordings. Two such sets were just issued by Sony’s “Original Album Classics” series.“Dave Brubeck” includes three mid-50s-early 60s recordings with the classic quartet (Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright, Joe Morello), Gone With the Wind (1959), Brandenburg Gate Revisited (with orchestra, 1963) and Jazz Impressions of New York (1964), plus an earlier quartet with Bob Bates and Joe Dodge, Jazz Goes to College (1954), and the solo album, Brubeck Plays Brubeck (1956). The "Dave Brubeck Quartet" set features five LPs from the classic quartet —Time Out (1959), Time Further Out (1961), Countdown: Time in Outer Space (1962), Time Changes (1963) and Time In (1966). Forty, almost fifty years later, these remain intriguing works, the perfect artifacts for today’s young pianists and composers who seek rhythmic as well as melodic inspiration.

Only two tracks on Jazz Goes to College (recorded live on Brubeck’s famed college tours of the early-mid 50s) were original compositions from the Brubeck/Desmond team, “Balcony Rock” and “Le Souk.” But the former offers a good 11+ minutes of the best of the early quartet, the signature sound of Desmond’s cool alto and the majestic walk of Gene Wright, as well as Brubeck’s affinity for the blues form—and his penchant for improvising from the first notes. “Le Souk” hints at Asian influences that would appear over and over again throughout Brubeck’s career, here evidenced through Desmond’s snake-charmer saxophone.

The original LP note for Time Out (by Steve Race) well summarizes Brubeck’s “Big Bang” breakthrough in his ongoing experiments with “compound time,” his use of “exotic time signatures, and even layering one rhythm in counterpoint over another.” The album “shows a blending of three cultures: the formalism of classical Western music, the freedom of jazz improvisation, and the often complex pulse of African folk music.”

Mention Time Out and we tend to immediately hear Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” But the lead-off tune, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” if not quite as popular, is the quintessential example of Brubeck’s time experiments, played in 9/8 over the unique form of 2-2-2-3, moving into alternating bars of 9/8 and 4/4, all the while incorporating a Turkish folk vibe. We who are not musicians don’t have to recognize the specifics – we only need to hear how “Blue Rondo” flows to recognize Brubeck’s genius in creating tension through rhythmic innovation. “Strange Meadowlark” follows, suggesting a waltz, Desmond suggesting some of the gentle altoists of a previous generation, playing out of their time zone but well within the melodic reaches of swing and bebop, and reflecting Brubeck’s lyrical magic. Which brings us to “Take Five,” written by Desmond in 5/4, what Race termed “one of the most defiant time signatures in all music, for performer and listener alike.” Not only does the rhythm keep ears perked, there’s an underlying swinging vamp from Dave that ensures unforgettable, toe-tapping anticipation.

Time Further Out was inspired by Brubeck’s reflections on the relationship jazz and a Miro painting, yielding a blues suite of compositions, or rather experiments on the 12-bar blues form. The time signatures vary from basic 3/4 and 4/4 to 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/8 and 9/8. Talk about rhythmic diversity! Take “It’s a Raggy Waltz,” not really a rag although it has the swinging herky-jerky of ragtime, and not the sort of waltz that one could easily put onto a dance floor. One thing about Brubeck—even if his time signature seem standard, his forms never conform; there is always a significant element of unpredictability in the rhythm and flow, something dissonant in the harmony, with each musician contributing his own piece of surprise. Dave wrote his 6/4 “Maori Blues” based on a rhythm he heard at a Maori ceremony when the quartet toured in New Zealand. Often obscured by his flashier bandmates, here bassist Eugene Wright really shines with a staggering walk that adds some darkness to counter the more joyful piano lines. His prolonged solo opening for “Unsquare Dance” becomes the underlying vamp supporting handclaps in 7/4 and ultimately Dave’s vigorous, if brief swinging statement.

Further into his time experiments by 1964, Brubeck issued several “Jazz Impressions of…” albums, and his tribute to New York was one of my earliest Brubeck purchases. Four compositions provide seasonal reflections, tied together with a common ¾ meter that somehow defies ¾ -- “Autumn in Washington Square,” “Spring in Central Park,” “Summer on the Sound” and “Winter Ballad.” Then there’s the album closer, “Upstage Rumba,” a playground of percussion and Latin rhythms that builds slowly to a steady simmer. But it was the opening “Theme From ‘Mister Broadway’” that hooked me in my teens, and still today, with a hard-to-define rhythm and drive that quickly recalls “Take Five.”

Brubeck now limits his touring to the U.S., but that hardly is much of a slowdown. Despite surgery to implant a pacemaker in October, he recently played three sold-out shows at the Blue Note in New York. And the December issue of Downbeat announced his current quartet as the Jazz Group of the Year in its annual Reader’s Poll, an honor he received multiple times from 1953 through the mid-60s.

Even at 90, Dave Brubeck takes no Time Out.

Photos/Images: (top to bottom), Dave Brubeck on the cover of
Time, November 8, 1954 ; at the Dakota Jazz Club in November 2009; at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2009.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, December 3-9

© Andrea Canter

Highlights, Last Week
I didn’t get out as much as usual this past week – in hibernation mode, but thoroughly enjoyed seeing my first Musique Mystique evening at the Loring Pasta Bar with the ever-elegant duo of Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson (11/29). Just when you think you know Maud’s songbook, she adds to it—Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For,” Johnny Mercer’s “Dreamin,” and maybe the genre’s slowest version of “Love for Sale.” Sold! And then came Jenny… Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief and Mayhem generated a lot of both at the Walker. And personally I preferred the mischief (playful lines of bluegrassy violin bashing notes with rockin’ guitar, bass and percussion) to the mayhem (although just watching Nels Cline clash and bash and pulverize was a year’s worth of visual as well as auditory fireworks). Even Scheinman was out of breath. I had to come home listen to Rick and Maud to lower my heart rate and regain equilibrium.

This Week, the Big Gigs
The week ahead oozes big city heat – and makes jazz the number one art’s attraction in town. In my opinion. The Dakota launches its official “25th anniversary week” on Sunday with gospel prince Robert Robinson, but there’s a great prelude starting this weekend. First, LA-based percussionist/vocalist and former TC resident Estaire Godinez plays two nights at the Dakota (12/3-4). And on Saturday (12/4), the long opening set features the young lions (and a lioness) of the Dakota Combo in consort with guest artist Johnathan Blake. Blake is a fast-rising drum star, currently touring with Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell and Russell Malone, and an alum of the Mingus Big Band. Which is more than appropriate given the repertoire of this year’s Dakota Combo under the direction of Adam Linz, himself a Mingus scholar. Blake will lead a student clinic earlier in the day, after rehearsing with the Combo Friday afternoon. The early show will be a separate cover charge of $10 starting at 6 pm; stay for Estaire for another $15.

Across the river, the weekend brings a CD release party to the Artists Quarter, putting the spotlight on the piano talents of Jon Pemberton and his trio. Known best for his trumpet chops and as leader of the Pembertones, Jon unleashes his keyboard magic with Gary Raynor and Jay Epstein on his new On the Edge. Which it is. (See review at Tonight, Billy Peterson fills the bass chair, which is only fitting as cousin Bobby Peterson was Pemberton’s mentor and penned two of the tunes on the CD.

And for a night cap (12/4), I can’t imagine a more sublime pairing than Dean Magraw and Bryan Nichols, together at Café Maude. Just seeing Dean back on stage is reason enough to drop by (less noisy the later you go!), but the artful guitarist in tandem with the master of piano invention? That should be enough reason for all bar talk to cease!

The Dakota’s anniversary party gets into full swing with the Ravi Coltrane Quartet starting the week (December 6-7). Few saxophonists of his generation can boast the imagination, compositions, bandleading dexterity and business acumen of Coltrane, who has set aside comparisons to his father as he has forged his own identity, his own sound. And he has long worked with three of the best in modern jazz—Luis Perdamo, Drew Gress and E.J. Strickland. Enjoy, take a breath, and go back to the Dakota December 8-9 for the crowning gig of anniversary week, the McCoy Tyner Quartet with Gary Bartz. Tyner added a horn voice to his famed trio some years ago, and Bartz has been one of his most consistent partners. And it was in 1988 that McCoy Tyner became the first national artist to perform at the Dakota, then in Bandana Square and solely dedicated to the performances of local musicians. But a lot of cajoling and a previous connection between Tyner and Dakota owner Lowell Pickett eventually succeeded in opening the national door, now the club’s bread and butter. Or make that fries and béarnaise. Bassist Gerald Cannon and Twin Cities-based drummer Eric Gravatt round out this sublime quartet. (Call for availability of tickets—rumors of a sell out abound!)

It’s hard for a young drummer to compete with all that hoopla but Jason Price will do just that as he celebrates the release of his first recording, Collaborations, at the Artists Quarter on December 9th with recording partners Dan Musselman, Matt Peterson, Greg Keel and more—the recording features several different combinations of musicians from the Twin Cities and beyond. (This is an early show, starting at 7…. You can catch him on either side of Tyner’s Dakota sets!) See CD review at:

More Jazz Every Night
Friday, 12/3: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar, St Paul Hotel (and again Saturday); Debbie Duncan’s Christmas Show (with Adi Yeshaya) at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community; Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; Sophia Shorai at Honey; Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble at West Bank School of Music; Zacc Harris Quartet at the Dakota (Late Night)

Saturday, 12/4: Brunch dates--Zacc Harris at Hell’s Kitchen, Rahjta Ren at the Black Dog; Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro; Jana Nyberg Group at Honey.
Sunday, 12/5: Brunch with Daddy Squeeze at the Astor Café; matinee with the New Standards Trio’s Holiday Show at the Fitzgerald; Patty Peterson’s holiday show at Mt. Olivet; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar; Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom

Monday, 12/6: U of M Jazz Ensembles at Ted Mann; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Musique Mystique at Loring Pasta Bar; Headspace at the Artists’ Quarter; Jazz Implosion at the Clown Lounge.

Tuesday, 12/7: Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists’ Quarter

Wednesday, 12/8: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); TEFSA Jam followed by the Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists’ Quarter; the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen

Thursday, 12/9: Vital Organ with Debbie Duncan at Hell’s Kitchen; Gregg Marquardt with the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra at Wabasha Street Caves

Coming Soon!
• December 10-11, Bryan Nichols Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• December 14, Christine Rosholt at the Dakota
• December 16, Todd Clouser at Astor Café
• December 17, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield at Orchestra Hall
• December 17-18, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 21, Robert Everest’s World Quartet at the Dakota
• December 22, Snowblind at the Artists Quarter
• December 22, George Mauer’s Christmas at the Dakota
• December 25-27, Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 26, Connie Evingson’s Holiday Show at the Jungle Theater
• 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
• January 24-25, Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota

Photos: Dakota Combo; Jon Pemberton's new CD; Ravi Coltrane with Drew Gress (2008 TC Jazz Festival); McCoy Tyner. (Dakota Combo, Coltrane photos by Andrea Canter; Tyner courtesy of his website press kit)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grammy Nominees, My Nominees: And the “Best” Keep Coming…

© Andrea Canter

The CDs keep coming. I’ve heard a good binful of marvelous recordings released in 2010. Yet hardly any are in the running for a Grammy. Neither are the way-too-many promising titles (some already in the 4-5 star category in published reviews) that I really plan to listen to in coming weeks. That pile is much more intimidating. I mean, I have yet to listen to what I know will be outstanding efforts from Matt Wilson, Chris Lightcap, Randy Weston, Bill Frisell, Jane Monheit, Michael Formanek… Everyday, something new comes into my mail box that intrigues, and terrifies me. When will I listen to this one? What if it’s the very best of the year?

So I am thus intimated by the Grammy nominees for jazz recordings, because most are not familiar (yet) –Positootly by John Beasley, New Song and Dance from the Clayton Brothers, Infernal Machines from Darcy James Argue, When Lights Are Low from Denise Donatelli (with a second nomination for arranger Geoffrey Keezer), and (how did I miss it?) Eleanora Fagan: To Billie With Love From Dee Dee (Bridgewater)?

On the other hand, how did they miss my faves so far? A best of the year list without Jason Moran’s Ten? Celebrating a decade leading his Bandwagon Trio with Tauras Mateen and Nasheet Waits, some of Moran’s most engaging blues, free improvisation and oddball splicing of conversations into the music appear on Ten. The more I hear Moran, the more I hear some common ground with Craig Taborn on the “out” side, Jarrett on the “in” side. Not a bad place to be. And speaking of Moran, what about Charles Lloyd’s Mirror with Moran, Reuben Rodgers and Eric Harland? The second release of his “new quartet,” no one can make the saxophone (flute, taragato, whatever) more hymnal, more sacred, than Lloyd. And oh yes, again Moran as part of Paul Motian’s Lost in a Dream (with Chris Potter), a splendid hour of Motian compositions interpreted by a cross-generational band that coheres as if a tight family unit.

And there are indeed a good group of pianists among the Grammy nominees, with Alan Broadbent, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, Danilo Perez and Keith Jarrett among the chosen. And I can hardly argue with the inclusion of Jarrett (for his solo on "Body and Soul, "on his duo Jasmine with Charlie Haden). But it’s hard to zero in on one solo or even just on Jarrett, For this is a gilded set of music, so beautifully delivered via the simplicity of duet and the timeless artistry of the collaborators. Jarrett and Haden could be two singers, two pianists, two horns, two bassists—they are two melodic voices that transcend specific instruments. As for Perez, Providencia seems to be his most adventurous, satisfying outing to date, and one that fortells projects to unify the diverse elements of modern music.

But what about Fred Hersch’s amazing trio release, Whirl? In light of his near-death, horrific round of medical crises in 2009, how did he sum all this energy, this melodic exploration, this sensitive interplay with cohorts John Hebert and Eric McPherson? And in the realm of sheer elegance and imagination, how can one pass by Anat Fort’s As If , or Frank Kimbrough’s Rumors, or Amina Figarova's Sketches, or solo recordings from Hiromi (Place to Be), Jessica Williams (Touch), Vijay Iyer (Solo) or Andy Milne (Dreams and False Alarms)? And for more swing, more flourish, did anything top Cyrus Chestnut’s trio chestnut, Journeys? And what about Geri Allen? Not only did she release her first solo recording (Flying Toward the Sound), she released yet another glorious trio +1 –Kenny Davis and Kassa Overall joined by tap dancer Maurice Chestnut (Timelines Live)-- four voices speaking one language, musical freedom fighters led into the stratosphere by a truly fearless creator.

I’m all for celebrating the feats of veterans who could just as easily lay back and rest on the accolades they have accumulated. But not James Moody. This Grammy nominee followed up his acclaimed 4A with, what else, 4B, a monster quartet outing with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Lewis Nash. Each musician shines although perhaps none more than the leader, whose tone throughout is impeccably clean and majestic . But beyond veterans, every year we are struck by the finesse, the power, the personal voice of rising stars, and my nod this year has to go to Tia Fuller’s Decisive Steps. Newly graduated from Beyonce’s all-girl band tours, saxophonist Fuller also found a place for guest tapdancer Maurice Chestnut, who himself deserves a Grammy nomination for inventive percussion. I’ve seen Fuller in club and festival contexts a few times in the past year or so, and much of that energy and hard bop heart is evident on the recording.

What about the on-the-edge-of-rock Turtle Island Quartet and their Jimi Hendrix homage, Have You Ever Been…? You just have to enjoy music with broad harmonies, interesting rhythms, playful one minute and celestial the next, especially when the musicians outwardly suggest a program of Schubert or Brahms. In a somewhat similar vein, happy to see Matt Haimovitz’s Meeting of the Spirits with his polyphonic, many-cello ensemble in the “classical crossover” category.

I agree with the Grammy’s nomination of Lorraine Feather’s Ages, an album covering uncommon covers and clever originals, as Feather readily conveys the range of emotions expressed or implied in her own lyrics, and to brings us into the conversation as if we belong there. But wait a minute, where’s Norma Winstone’s Stories Yet to Tell? Nearing 70, her instrument remains supple, maintaining the intonation and elasticity that allow her to take her own words, or no words at all, to simultaneously evoke distant shores, ancient times, and modern foibles. With bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing and pianist Glauco Venier, her trio transcends the dichotomy of voice versus instrument – for her there is no difference. Not as different from Winstone as he may first seem, hometown-boy-makes-good singer Jose James released a gem in For All We Know, a duet with extremely talented pianist Jef Neve. James is as comfortable with Gershwin and Ellington as with Coltrane and beyond, able to assimilate past and future in a single phrase.

My list goes on. As do the piles of recordings I have yet to open. And I just heard the mail carrier on the porch. Help!

Photos: Just a few favorites of the year, Jose James, Jason Moran, Lorraine Feather. (James, Moran photos by Andrea Canter)