Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Craig Taborn on Sound and Improvisation

© Andrea Canter

On June 7, Downbeat Magazine’s 2010 electronic keyboards “Rising Star” Craig Taborn will celebrate the American release of his first solo piano recording, Avenging Angel, on ECM. Totally acoustic and totally improvised, Avenging Angel may surprise those Taborn followers who are most familiar with his electronic wizardry and dual-keyboard gymnastics with such leaders as Tim Berne, Chris Potter, Michael Formanek, Roscoe Mitchell, and Evan Parker. And similarly, the free nature of the new project might surprise his early-career fans who recall his acoustic mainstream work with James Carter. Or maybe not. Ever since his first recordings as leader or sideman, Taborn has impressed critics and general listeners with his unique approach to his instrument and its sonic vocabulary, whether following lyrical melodic themes or creating thunderstorms of dissonant chords, often while playing Fender Rhodes (or laptop) and acoustic keyboard in tandem.

Avenging Angel is a mini-epic, a series of mostly short sound experiments in which Taborn takes a specific idea, or “detail,” and explores possibilities from multiple directions without losing the listener, altering small components that allow the music –and the mood—to move. In the press release accompanying Avenging Angel, Taborn notes that “Throughout this recording, I'm honing in on specific details. The music is really improvised: I just start. But having started, I try to relate everything that happens, like the motivic or rhythmic and textural detail, to the initial ideas as closely as I can.” He also notes the importance of the instrument (a Steinway D in the ECM studio in Lugano, Switzerland), “the sound of the piano itself and what it is generating.”

And after hearing Avenging Angel a few times, I was eager to ask Craig about the notion of a solo acoustic recording and his approach to improvisation in this context.

AC: What led you to record solo, and on acoustic piano? Had you resisted the idea of solo in the past?

“I never resisted the idea of solo piano before, but just never had the opportunity to do a solo album. Actually both of my trio recordings have a solo piano piece on them, and I have been
doing solo concerts in New York and elsewhere for the past 10 years. I was working on developing a particular approach to solo improvised performance and had been contemplating various strategies for doing. So when ECM inquired about me doing a solo piano album, it was clear that that would be the ideal way to document this project.”

AC: Regarding where the ideas came from, you say you “just start.” But what leads to that first note or set of notes—that first idea? Is it a spontaneous thing or are you (sometimes) taking something that you have been hearing in your head (or in your environment) as a starting point?

“Sometimes just listening to the present environment and getting an idea from sounds in the space works. Other times I may start with a kernel of a musical idea (a melodic fragment or harmonic cadence). And sometimes by just throwing my hand down on the piano to generate some sound or event that I then have to respond to. In general it is best not to begin with too many plans about what a particular improvisation should be because too many intentions can be very disruptive to the immediate creative process.”

AC: You mention the influence of the specific instrument. What characteristics of this particular piano in the ECM studio were significant, versus other instruments? Is there any one piano that stands out in your performing history that you would like to find again and play solo? (Has there been a favorite?)

“Well, the instrument is always a crucial factor in what music ultimately emerges because, despite any clear musical ideas one may have in the moment, and beyond the ability to technically render this, the piano's character will color the music. Also the condition it is in will enhance or compromise one's own proficiencies. The instrument in the Lugano studio was simply a very well maintained and great instrument--very responsive with a full sound but also not yielding too easily. It makes you work for things, which is crucial with improvisations because you are always forced to weigh your decisions against their difficulty as well, which can help in real time editing of ideas.

I can not think of too many specific pianos that I really could not live without playing again. There are many nice instruments but all pianos are useful for certain things and don't always lend themselves to very kind of vernacular or playing approach. And as an improviser I relish the individuality of the instrument even if it is in not very good shaped because it will give me something to work with. But that being said, a piano like this Steinway in Lugano could certainly top the list just in terms of being the most able to allow me to realize certain ideas without having to alter my initial conceptions too much.”

AC: Often you plays two instruments on a gig, acoustic and electric keyboard, sometimes one hand on each. I read in a recent interview where you said "I'm trying to hear multiple ideas all the time. A lot of that is an extension of things I heard Sun Ra do.” So when playing solo here, are you pursuing multiple ideas simultaneously with left and right hand? Or is your approach totally different when it is just one instrument?

“I am often thinking of more than one idea. Actually often more than two ideas. Playing different instruments does not change this for me at all. I think that, with a battery of keyboards, it is easier to play more than one timbre at the same time, so I may make use of that possibility in those situations. However, in a more limited way, the same is also true of the piano. The keyboard instrument was designed to enable one person to play multiple parts musically, and an extension of that is the idea that, through touch and tonal control, you can try to get some of this out of the piano, between the fingers and the two hands. So in this music I am definitely attempting to get at least two ideas working, and sometimes three or four, but there is a limit to this for me both technically and conceptually, but I am always working to extend my abilities in this regard.”

AC: Do you find yourself coming back to some of the soundscapes you created for Avenging Angel in other contexts (like when you are playing with other bands)?

“Well, I think there is some carry over conceptually between certain pieces on Avenging Angel and the work I am doing in my current trio (with Gerald Cleaver and Thomas Morgan). However, the emphasis with the solo project is pure improvisation and, while a good part of the trio is improvising as well, there is a bit more through-composition and structure going on there. But I think that the basic aesthetic terrain is consistent between these two projects.”

AC: It seems you have been fascinated with pure sounds, and extremes of sound, since your teens or before. What’s your earliest recollection of fascination with sound of any sort? Was it that way from the beginning with the piano (was it the sound itself that caught your attention?)

“In childhood I remember always being into the different moods that music could create and I had an intuitive awareness that sound and listening context were inextricably tied to this mood-setting. For instance, I remember my father playing the piano downstairs at night with one lamp on, and smoking cigarettes. He would play blues things in minor keys with a darker feeling to them and it would be mesmerizing and very soothing, too. And I was very much aware of this in incidental music in films--how the swelling music in Star Wars was linked to the sound effects and how all of this made a sonic whole, even though they were created by different "departments" of the Lucasfilm machine. But I still hear the incidental music in Star Wars attached to the sound effects-- the sound of tie-fighters speeding by as trumpets play these staccato notes. It was the sounds and the notes as a whole that made everything work a certain way. So I think I always understood that playing notes was only a small part of making the music effective and meaningful.”

Avenging Angel is indeed effective and meaningful music, revealing not only details of the sonic potential of the piano but insight into the creative mind of Craig Taborn.

See review of Avenging Angel on Jazz Police.

Photo: Craig Taborn (at the Iowa City Jazz Festival)--and no, that is not an acoustic piano.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Dogged Performance By a True Pro

© Andrea Canter

It would have been disappointing if Eric Alexander had canceled his performance at the Artists Quarter last night. Disappointing, but perfectly understandable. In town for his almost annual Memorial Day Weekend 3-night stand, Eric was jogging in Lilydale Park when a lunging rotweiler (on a leash, no less) grabbed his left hand and wouldn’t let go. As if the bite wasn’t enough, Eric is allergic to dogs, and “swelled up” immediately. But there he was on the band stand Saturday night, having spent the better part of the afternoon in the ER, his left hand wrapped to the knuckles in blood-spotted gauze. If you watched him between solos, you could tell it hurt like hell. But just listening to his dazzling cadenzas, acrobatic phrases and quantum leaps across octaves, Eric Alexander was in top form, nothing but music on his mind or in his heart. And he carried on in such fashion through two long sets.

Backed by Chris Lomheim, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst, the Eric Alexander Quartet took no prisoners, and in addition to his trademark postbop fireworks, Eric led the troops through a mesmerizing version of the Michael Jackson hit, “She’s Out of My Life,” a no-holds-barred “Night in Tunisia,” and a surprisingly up-tempo, delightfully obtuse “Body and Soul” (“like my mentor, George Coleman”). Local trumpeter Solomon Parham distinguished himself, sitting in on two tunes, including the night’s closing beauty, “In a Sentimental Mood.”

I asked Eric during the break if he had to adjust his playing or set list to accommodate his still-bleeding hand. “At this point, it is so instinctive, I’m just playing through it, I am not thinking ‘how can I do this so it won’t hurt’—I just play.” And he just played and played.

What about that rotweiler? We can hope that, at the least, the dog will be sporting a muzzle at future public appearances. But there’s no muzzling Eric Alexander. He’s the real deal.

Photo: Eric Alexander at the AQ, post dog bite, 5/28/11. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 27 - June 3

© Andrea Canter

Holiday weekends are not always conducive to live music, but between the barbecues, gardening, trips “up north” and whatever else is on your plate for Memorial Day, don’t pass up some great gigs!

It’s almost an annual event –Eric Alexander at the Artists Quarter for Memorial Day weekend (5/27-29). For three nights, six sets, the tenor titan joins Chris Lomheim, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst for some of the best straight-ahead in the universe. Alexander is hardly old enough to have three dozen recordings as leader, and if one is judged by the company he keeps, his reputation is impeccable—many collaborations with the great Harold Mabern, Jim Rotondi, Joe Farnsworth, Steve Wilson, David Hazeltine and a stint with McCoy Tyner’s sextet.

Always as charming and elegant as she is vocally engaging, Connie Evingson has back-to-back gigs at the Dakota, on her own Saturday (5/28) and with Moore by Four on Sunday (5/29). On Saturday, she’s likely to give us a preview of her upcoming Summer Samba recording and Jungle Theater show (6/12) as well as a warm-up to her gypsy swing party with Pearl Django at Jazz Alley in Seattle (6/7-8). Moore by Four (Connie, Ginger Commodore, Yolande Bruce, Dennis Spears, Sanford Moore) has been swinging standards and modern hits for 25 years but their gigs are now few and far between as each musician has forged his or her own starbright career, making this Sunday show a special holiday treat.

The International Trumpet Guild Conference (at the Hilton this past week) winds down, but not before a couple more horn-blowing nights of music. Friday (5/27), hear the sublime Marvin Stamm Inventions Trio at the Minneapolis Hilton followed by another late jam at the Dakota, hosted by Rashawn Ross with the local Lee Blaske Trio providing support. I loved the Inventions CD, Fantasy, maybe because the instrumentation is so cool---piano, cello and trumpet. More Saturday night (5/28) as Stamm, Marcus Printup and Wayne Bergeron join the Steve Wright band at the Hilton, followed by one last jam led by Joey Pero, backed by our own Mary Louise Knutson Trio. The jams at the Dakota are a mere $5 cover. Standing room only if you don’t get there early!

Continuing the innovative series Community Pool: Deep End, curated by Nathan Hanson, the Black Dog Café has an exciting trio Friday night (5/27) with Kip Jones (voice and violin… at the same time), Brian Roessler (bass) and Marc Anderson (percussion). (See Larry Englund’s blog for an interesting interview with Jones, surely one of the most interesting musicians in town!)

Some midweek jazz to help overcome any holiday letdown—Lucia Newell at the Artists Quarter on Wednesday night (6/1). One of the most distinctive songbirds around, Lucia will give us “lots of new songs and the old favorites, too” – which means some samba, some Anita O’Day, some Betty Carter, some pages from the Great American Songbook. With Phil Aaron, Gordy Johnson and Kenny Horst!

And it’s a final gig for ace harmonica master Clint Hoover, who is moving to Pittsburgh, but not before one more round with East Side at Hell’s Kitchen on Thursday (6/2). With partners Reynold Philipsek, Matt Senjem and Michael Bissonnette, Clint has performed an eclectic range of music from Piazzolla to Miles. His move might cut the local jazz harmonica population in half!

More Jazz, Night and Day
There’s always more! Don’t miss your favorites or some new ones. Check KBEM, TCJS website and Pamela’s blog for more listings. A few more recommendations:

Friday, May 27: KBEM Riverboat Jazz Cruise with Tanner Taylor and Sophia Shorai (sold out—check station re cancelations); Jack Brass Band at Hell’s Kitchen

Saturday, May 28: Jana Nyberg Trio, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin & Shapira at Midtown Global Market (12:30 pm); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske, last weekend gig til September at Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Twin Cities Seven at Hell’s Kitchen

Sunday, May 29: Patty and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, May 30: Yellowjackets at the Dakota; Tanner Taylor Trio (Gary Raynor, Jay Epstein) at Jazz Central; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); James Buckley at the Red Stag (note, Artists Quarter closed for the holiday)

• Tuesday, May 31: Yellowjackets at the Dakota; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Paula Lammers and River City Jazz Orchestra at O’Gara’s; Zacc Harris Trio at Jazz Central

Wednesday, June 1: Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Steve Kenny and the Bastids (followed by Lucia Newell) at the Artists Quarter

Thursday, June 2: TCJS Young Artists, MacPhail Advanced Jazz Ensemble followed by the Chris Lomheim Trio

Coming Soon!

• June 3-4, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter

• June 5-6, Stacey Kent at the Dakota

• June 17-18, Tommy O’Donnell Trio at the Artists Quarter

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

• June 24-25, Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Gary Burton, Danilo Perez and more, at Mears Park

• June 26, “Two Bass Hit” with John Pattitucci and Billy Peterson at the Artists Quarter

• July 12, Rene Marie at the Dakota

• July 16, DakotaFest on Nicollet Mall

Photos (top to bottom): Eric Alexander; Connie Evingson; Lucia Newell (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review - May 20-26

© Andrea Canter

For lovers of modern jazz, there was no better weekend than May 20-21. Unless of course you wanted to get to it all, in which case it might have been a very frustrating weekend. In retrospect, I could have done it all… if only I knew in advance how brief one round of graduation would be. But… I missed Insurgent’s gig at Studio Z with guest Michael Attias. I am sure it would be on my list otherwise.

The Bad Plus, On Sacred Ground (Rite of Spring) at the Loring Theater (5/21). Move over, Igor, TBP are now part-owners. Their first large-scale work will hopefully not be their last. Yes, it was still The Rite of Spring. But it was most definitely TBP. Elegant, maniacal, filled with unexpected twists and turns. And the original fare after intermission was worthy of a stand-alone gig. Stravinsky would have approved of both segments. (See review on this blog)

Bryan Nichols Quintet, CD Release at the Artists Quarter (5/20). Bright Places is Bryan’s first recording as leader (and composer), and its send-off provided an enticing sampling of his wide imagination as well as the range and skill of his cohorts. The two-sax format (Brandon Wozniak and Mike Lewis) provides unlimited opportunities for harmonization and daring exchange; bassist James Buckley and drummer JT Bates provide the surging rhythms. Sometimes it’s just beautiful, and sometimes it’s just a wild ride.

Four Generations of Miles at the Dakota (5/25). All four—Mike Stern, Sonny Fortune, Buster Williams, Jimmy Cobb—played in one edition or another for Miles Davis but never together. You couldn’t tell by the nature of their collaboration. Their sets were filled with stretched out interpretations of tunes covered by, if not written by Miles. Soloing was the prime directive as they passed the baton back and forth, but there were many moments of shared glory as well. Most enchanting, Buster Williams long solo intro to what seemed to be “Sketches of Spain,” only to open up into “All Blues”; Mike Stern’s build-up to “My Funny Valentine,” their last set closer, a madcap rendition of “Straight, No Chaser.” Sonny Fortune was blowing all night from a Coltrane heart.

International Trumpet Guild Jams at the Dakota. For four nights this week, the participants in the International Trumpet Guild conference, held down the street at the Hilton, gathered for a late night jam led by one of the ITG clinicians. On Wednesday, former Twin Cities trumpet king Kelly Rossum led the charge with his old quartet (Bryan Nichols, Chris and JT Bates) before the line-up of jammers. Most fun—three young trumpeters who still call the Twin Cities “home” while attending schools elsewhere (Jake Baldwin, Caleb McMahon, Preston Haining), jamming together and sounding like the young lions they are. Marcus Printup and Greg Gisbert joined Rossum for another round. Thursday night, the Dakota hosted the finals of the IGT’s Improvisation Competition, with Jake Baldwin in that final three. (Winners to be announced on 5/28)

. Prudence Johnson's "A Girl Named Vincent" at the Dakota 5/26. The number of musicians in the audience was ample evidence that this was a very special production. With original compositions from Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Michelle Kinney and Gary Rue, and using the poems of a young Edna St Vincent Millay as the lyrics, Prudence and her band (Caviani, Griffith, Kinney, Marc Anderson and Joe Savage) brought the story of the controversial poet to life, through the music and also the often humorous historial commentary from Prudence.

Photos: Four Generations of Miles (top to bottom), Jimmy Cobb, Sonny Fortune, Buster Williams, Mike Stern, Quartet, at the Dakota 5/25/11 (photos by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rite of Spring, Left of Center: The Bad Plus at The Loring

© Andrea Canter

One of the hallmarks of the Bad Plus is the equity of their long-standing collaboration. But the fact that there isn’t one star among the trio hardly means these musicians lack star power. Rather, it’s the merging of the three audacious talents that yields a supernova. And that galactic phenomenon never shined more brightly than in last night’s performance at the Loring Theater of “On Sacred Ground: The Rite of Spring.” Or on the set of original works that followed, proving that with TBP, there is no such thing as anti-climax.

In reconsidering Stravinsky’s legendary orchestral score as an acoustic trio venture, TBP revealed itself as a sustainable energy source. For 40 minutes, ranging from the most delicate whisperings to sudden ballistic uproars to impassioned swells, Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King brought together elements of all musics, all eras—their “Rite” is the penultimate cross-over. They neither abandoned Stravinsky nor their own penchant for reinterpretation in a 21st century, let-it-all-hang-out context. Whereas the first performance of “Rite” prompted riot and debate in 1913 Paris, no doubt this new “Rite” prompted viral conversation and dissection via Face Book and smart-phone in 2011 Minneapolis.

Yet, so spellbinding was the presentation last night that at least this reviewer finds words of little value in conveying the impact of the music. From the first notes, this was at once unlike any Bad Plus project to date and filled with Bad Plus signatures. Iverson’s introductory piano solo immediately focused all ears on the simple and haunting lines of melody, each note so carefully chosen to compliment the last and prompt the next, while effects from inside the piano (or beyond) suggested an old recording superimposed on the house concert grand. Anderson and King engaged in subtle experiments of a similar nature, disguising the build-up to a sudden crash. It’s hard to replicate a string session with just piano, bass and drums, but TBP expanded its sound to that of a much larger ensemble, piano and bass often suggesting the harmonies of horns, the intensity of King’s drumming a sufficient drive train. As they moved through each segment, panels of light and projections of often-ambiguous images augmented (and at times distracted from) the music, a visual choreography designed by New York architect Cristina Guadalupe and filmmaker Noah Hutton.

Some reviewers describe this new “Rite” as a “rock show.” That is far too simplistic as well as incomplete. Indeed there are rock elements, as there always will be with a drummer like Dave King, who merely needs to look at the bass drum to elicit thunder. And as with other BP repertoire, there are classical, blues and of course jazz elements that conspire with relentless percussion, yielding dizzying sonic assaults, tender balladry and quirky dances, often within the space of a few bars. Stravinsky’s ballet was primal, violent, beautiful and dissonant. Nearly 100 years later, the same adjectives describe its reincarnation by TBP.

The second half of the program might have appeared unnecessary save the general jazz practice of two sets per show. How can you serve a worthy dessert after such an entrée? Ever the iron chefs, the trio returned for a set of original and largely popular compositions, played as if for the first time. If there was any concern that the lengthy “Rite” would leave little energy for TBP’s trademark execution, it was unfounded. Perhaps the only thing missing was the usual level of whimsy—they were still “on sacred ground.” Reid Anderson’s “Giant” with his elongated solo was bigger and more spacious than ever; Ethan Iverson diddled as if playing a circus calliope on Dave King’s “The Empire Strikes Backwards,” while his own “Cheney Piñata” was a folkloric fiesta of rhythms that built to a vamping piano/bass accompaniment for a demonic King. After a majestic parade around King’s “Anthem for the Earnest,” we were treated to the evening’s second breath-taker, a new one from Anderson titled “In Stitches.” The evolution of this composition –a solo drum intro that hinted at “Peer Gynt” to a funereal piano/drum pairing that moved into a romantic ballad, to the steady build in intensity that suddenly broke free as three separate vamps collided, followed by the recession into droning bass, retreating ballad, and feathery bass finale—could only come from artists willing to tackle orchestral epics.

Having taken those first epic steps “On Sacred Ground,” we have to wonder, where will the muse take The Bad Plus next? Clearly there are no boundaries—to their repertoire, to their imaginations, to their physical and creative energies.

Photo: Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, Dave King, December 2010 at the Dakota (photo by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 20-26

© Andrea Canter

This weekend alone offers dizzying choices in live jazz, and some tough choices must be made! But surely everyone can find music! (See Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review for my highlights of the past week, on this blog.)

Highly Recommended This Week
“Rite of Spring,” Stravinsky’s once-controversial ballet and one of the most influential works of 20th century music gets a transformation from The Bad Plus, at the Loring Theater (5/20-21). And given reviews of the premiere at Duke University two months ago, we’re in for a few surprises as TBP retains the full score without giving up any of their audacious tactics.

On the same nights, pianist Bryan Nichols and a quintet that boasts two great saxophonists (Brandon Wozniak and Michael Lewis), inventive bassist James Buckley and the always spontaneous drummer JT Bates celebrates a long-awaited recording project at the Artists Quarter (5/20-21). His Bright Places is accessible and savvy, bright and dark. All things Bryan.

And Saturday night (5/21) adds yet more modern innovators to the equation as the seldom-performing Insurgents (Pat Moriarty, Ellen Lease, Phil Hey) join New York saxophonist Michael Attias for some mayhem at Studio Z. It will be recorded, so perhaps one day soon we can look forward to a CD release event?

No respite from tough choices come Sunday (5/22). In Minneapolis, it’s "The Foundations of Funk" at Orchestra Hall as Maceo Parker and Christian McBride bring their bands to town for some seriously funky music-making. In addition to hearing two leaders of their respective genres, note that Patrice Rushen will be on keys for McBride. (Note time change, to 7:30 pm.) Across town at the Artists Quarter, Paula Lammers celebrates her second recording, Deep Purple Dreams, and those dreams extended to a band of Mary Louise Knutson, Billy Peterson, and Jay Epstein. And speaking of funky, just down the street from Orchestra Hall, saxophonist Candy Dulfer kicks off a two night stand at the Dakota (5/22-23).

One of the biggest gigs of the year, Four Generations of Miles will cover four editions of the great trumpeter’s ensembles, featuring a mainstay of each—guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Buster Williams, saxophonist Sonny Fortune and drummer Jimmy Cobb. No trumpet needed to pay tribute to the Prince of Darkness. Four sets at the Dakota, 5/24-25.

Continuing a new trend toward vocalists at the Artists Quarter, Judi Donaghy joins the Wolverines Trio on Wednesday night (5/25, 8 pm start). With her recent production at McNally Smith for its Live at Five series, Judi is overcoming the drought in her public performances, and the jazz community is all the better for it.

I recall many years ago (2004?) attending an unusual musical evening at St Kate’s, the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay set to song and instrumental ensemble under the leadership of vocalist/songwriter Prudence Johnson. A Girl Name Vincent has now been released as a CD and the production itself revived and revised, coming to the Dakota on 5/27. Many of the Twin Cities’ finest are involved, including Dan Chouinard, Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Michelle Kinney and more, and the music soars through the life and times of one of the most intriguing figures of modern literature.

The International Trumpet Guild Convention is in town (at the Hilton downtown Minneapolis) all week, with jams at 11 pm at the Dakota. Of special interest, former TC star Kelly Rossum jams on Wednesday night (5/25) with Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates and JT Bates (his old quartet), and the international improvisation competition finalists perform Thursday night (5/26), including Minnetonka High School grad Jake Baldwin (currently at New England Conservatory of Music). See the convention website for a full calendar of public performances during the week.

More Jazz, Every Night
Pamela’s blog and the Twin Cities Jazz Society website will help you find jazz any night, every night. Some additional recommendations:

Friday, May 20: Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson, Jay Esptein) at Shanghai Bistro (Stillwater); Roseville High School Jazz Ensemble with Michael Attias at Roseville Area High School); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Milo Fine and Symphonic Transients at the Northern Warehouse (St Paul); Community Pool/Deep End series with Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and Paul Metzger at the Black Dog.

Saturday, May 21: Nick Haas CD release at Hell’s Kitchen; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek at Pardon My French; Travis Anderson Trio, Jazz@ St Barney’s (St Barnabus Church in Plymouth); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota

Sunday, May 22: Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café (brunch); Milo Fine and Symphonic Transients at Northern Warehouse (St Paul); Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Winebar

Monday, May 23: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Adam Meckler Quartet at Jazz Central; Maud Hixson with Rick Carlson, Musique Mystique at Loring Pasta Bar; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Tuesday, May 24: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; “An Evening of Jazz and Gospel Music With Charmin & Shapira & Friends” at Gethsemane Lutheran Church (Maplewood); JT Bates at Jazz Central

Wednesday, May 25: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Dean Magraw and Bryan Nichols at Café Maude; The Hornheads at the International Trumpet Guild convention at the Minneapolis Hilton

Thursday, May 26: Frankhouse at Hell’s Kitchen; Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• May 27-29, Eric Alexander at the Artists Quarter

• May 29, Moore by Four at the Dakota

• June 2, MacPhail Advanced Jazz Ensemble (TCJS Young Artists Series) at the Artists Quarter

• June 3-4, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter

• June 5-6, Stacey Kent at the Dakota

• June 17-18, Tommy O’Donnell Trio at the Artists Quarter

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

• June 24-25, Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Gary Burton, Danilo Perez and more, at Mears Park

• June 26, “Two Bass Hit” with John Pattitucci and Billy Peterson at the Artists Quarter

• July 12, Rene Marie at the Dakota

• July 16, DakotaFest on Nicollet Mall

Photos: (Top to bottom) The Bad Plus; Ellen Lease (Insurgents); Christian McBride; Jake Baldwin (ITG Competition) (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Twin Cities Jazz - Week in Review, May 13-19

© Andrea Canter

Seldom is a weekend as jazz-packed as last weekend. But next weekend looks just as jazzy! My personal highlights for the past week:

Guy Klucevsek and Zeitgeist at Studio Z (5/13). Klucevsek starred as both composer and accordionist, from tango to fugue to blues, from tributes to Satie and Ligeti to remembrance of 911. (See blog)

Red Planet, CD Release at the Artists Quarter (5/13). Musical explorers Dean Magraw, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein offered originals and takes on Coltrane that wandered from ethereal to rambunctious. Their CD Space Dust is equally appealing.

Brubeck Brothers Quartet at Hopkins Center for the Arts (5/14). Of course they played some of dad’s signature tunes but their own compositions really were the highlights of the night. I only wish Chris Brubeck had played acoustic bass. But his bass trombone tone was as lovely as the upright box.

John Raymond Project at the Artists Quarter (5/15). Back in town on a leg of his Midwest tour, the younger trumpeter and a band of Manhattan-based young lions roared through sets of original music. In his mid-20s, John was the “old man” of the crew, the youngest only 19. These are the guys to watch.

Maud Hixson and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (5/16). Richfield pizza parlor goes Cabaret, and the Great American Songbook seems to go especially well with the Veggie Deluxe. And when usual songbird Charmin Michelle is otherwise engaged, Denny often pairs with Maud. “She really loves those old songs,” said my pizza-chomping friend. Indeed she does, like no one else.

MayFest at the Loring Theater (5/19). Kudos to Maryann Sullivan and crew at KBEM for pulling this off so well, a 2+-hour salute to the Twin Cities jazz scene, and a freebie at that, courtesy of a grant from the Legacy Amendment and Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Programming the Bryan Nichols Trio back to back with a preview of Arne Fogel’s upcoming “Minnesota Voices: Certain Standards” series on KBEM (with Fogel, Connie Evingson, Debbie Duncan and Maud Hixson) was sheer genius, and lobby music from Patrick Harrison and the Chris Lomheim Quartet was delicious icing on the cake. If one could pull two show-stopping moments out of all this talent, I nominate Bryan’s poetic interpretation of Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” and Maude’s exquisite turn on the Van Heusen/Cahn beauty, “All My Tomorrows.” As for jazz in the Cities, all our tomorrows are bright.

Photos: (Top to bottom), Dean Magraw (Red Planet); John Raymond (center) with Nils Weinhold (guitar) and Adam Larson (sax) at the AQ; Maud Hixson (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Orchestra in a Box + 4

© Andrea Canter

Zeitgeist dubbed its collaboration with accordionist Guy Klucevsek as “Hammers, Horns Skins and Squeezeboxes,” but they might have added “mallets, toys and cafeteria boxes” to acknowledge the full arsenal. Playing to full houses for three consecutive nights at Studio Z, the four Zs (percussionists Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd; multi-reedist Pat O’Keefe; pianist Shannon Wettstein) perfectly melded with Klucevsek on new arrangements of his compositions, including a world premiere of his “Three Hymnopedies.” From the tango sway of their opening “Tangocide” and tributes to Satie and Ligeti to choral harmonies, Baroque fugues and folkloric romps, one had to rethink the image of the accordion; in one evening Klucevsek covered much of the diversity of world music and proved that the accordion alone is an orchestra in a box. Add in the far-flung sounds of Zeitgeist and that orchestra becomes a sonic whirlpool.

It was an evening filled with memorable moments: Heather Barringer pounding on cafeteria boxes to augment the percussive intensity of “Urban Rite;” the second “Hymnopedie” (a pun on Satie’s “Gymnopedies”) with just bass clarinet and accordion; Sharon Wettstein’s piano solo segment followed by a whirling klezmer dance on the 9/11-inspired “Wing/Prayer;” Pat O’Keefe blowing air via his soprano sax into the “echo chamber” of the piano over Wettstein’s prolonged sustain-pedal ending of “Closer by Far;” the four-handed marimba followed by Wettstein’s madcap run on toy piano on the two-part selection from “Industrious Angels;” Klucevsek’s solo pieces, including the most sophisticated “iceskating” music (a continual V-I chord progression) on “My Walk With Ligeti” and the jousting rhythmic folksong, “Ratatatatouille;” the perfect harmony of clarinet and accordion on “AOK Chorale;” and the lumbering percussion of the final “Pink Elephant,” rendered as a twisted “Caravan.”

Throughout, Klucevsek was a charming commentator and accordion educator, his music filled with humor as well as soaring artistry. And no one at Studio Z had more fun than Klucevsek and his Zeitgeist co-conspirators.

Whatever they are doing at Studio Z, go! Throughout the year, Zeitgeist performs commissioned new works and presents an eclectic series of new and experimental music. Visit http://www.zeitgeistnewmusic.org/

Photos: (Top to bottom), Guy Klucevsek; Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd on marimba; Pat O'Keefe; Shannon Wettstein on toy piano (all photos at Studio Z rehearsal, 5/9/11 by Andrea Canter)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bryan Nichols Inhabits "Bright Places"

© Andrea Canter

Bryan Nichols brings a lot to the Twin Cities jazz scene, as a pianist, a composer and an educator. What the world may have lost in a potential genetics researcher (his undergraduate major at Iowa State) has been easily compensated in our gain of artistic vision. A Twin Cities native, Bryan spent a few years honing his piano chops in Chicago where his cohorts defined that modern scene—Corey Wilkes, Nicole Mitchell, Ari Brown, Hamid Drake, Von Freeman. Next came a residency with the acclaimed Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program in Washington, DC. And then came what he calls “the conscious decision” to return to the Twin Cities to become part of what he viewed as a vibrant jazz community. No part of our scene is more vibrant than Bryan himself. If you listen to Bryan and his compositions, you hear bits of Jarrett, Mehldau, Moran, Taborn, Iyer, Shipp, Taylor…. But mostly you hear Nichols.

Finally, after about six years of composing and gigging with the best and most creative, Bryan penned nine new compositions, thanks in part to a McKnight fellowship, and rounded up an ensemble to make any lover of new music drool—Mike Lewis and Brandon Wozniak on saxes, James Buckley on bass, JT Bates on drums. And out of Wild Sound studios comes Bright Places, making its official debut at the Artists Quarter May 20-21. But you can get a clever taste for the music and supporting attitudes on Youtube, where Bryan has posted a six-minute video sampling of the music (filmed in a practice room at MacPhail where Bryan teaches piano and jazz ensembles) and comments from his cohorts.

Bright Places presents melodies and harmonies that can soothe or provoke, one idea followed by another or a multitude of ideas vying for attention. It’s fun and it’s serious, light and dark, and not quite like anyone but Bryan Nichols.

Photo: Bryan Nichols, fall 2010 (by Andrea Canter)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 13-19

© Andrea Canter

The next two weekends are just impossible—if you want to get to every big jazz gig. I hope this just brings everyone out rather than spread the audience too thinly! But no doubt, the Twin Cities has one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country!

Highlights, Last Week
Rhonda Laurie, Happy Days Are Here Again at the Delano Library (May 6). One of the many presentations Rhonda has scheduled via Legacy funding, bringing the history and songs of the 20s, 30s and 40s to small towns throughout central Minnesota. With her in Delano, Robert Bell, Gary Schulte and Jeff Brueske. Definitely a happy afternoon. (see blog)

Atlantis Quartet, live recording sessions at the Artists Quarter (May 6-7). A quartet of the most creative composers and improvisers in our area, with Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes chaotic, full of surprises and always exciting to hear. Can’t wait for the recording.

Bobby Lyle, Organ Trio at the Dakota (May 11). Home town boy makes good…. It’s always a treat to have Bobby back where it all began, fingers flying, joy pouring out of every run. And special treat this time was guest saxman Irv Williams. His “Sophisticated Ladies” was indeed savvy but also sweet as we expect from Irv. 91 and still blowing beautifully.

Dakota Combo, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail (May 12). For their last formal performance of their season, these teen jazzers gave the Antonello Hall audience a spirited dose of Charles Mingus, adding in a tune from local hero Carei Thomas, a favorite original from pianist Quentin Tschofen ("Spleen") and a fully improvised tune from the collective titled "Open Letter to Charlie Sheen." (Yeah, it was raw, quirky and unsettling!)

Highly Recommended, This Week
It might be hard to sort out priorities this weekend. The good news is that you really can’t miss.
The weekend got off to an early start Thursday with the first of three nights (5/12-14) of wild accordion from Guy Klucevsek, joining forces with the innovators of Zeitgeist on new arrangements of relatively new compositions. I got a preview earlier in the week (see blog, 5/10) and promise nothing short of fun. What could be more fun than avant garde accordion, a marimba, drums, piano, bass clarinet… How about two musicians on one marimba? What about an adult playing a toy piano? You’ll have to come to Studio Z in St Paul and see and hear it for yourself.

Red Planet has long been a favorite of modern jazz fans and one of the most popular acts at the Artists Quarter. This weekend (5/13-14) the trans-galactic threesome of Dean Magraw, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein launch their first CD, Space Dust. (Review here) It’s everything you expect from Red Planet, some Coltrane, originals from the band, a little rock. Lots of roll.

Jazz comes back to Hopkins Center for the Arts with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet on Saturday (5/14). Chris and Dan Brubeck have quite a legacy to follow, but they are doing it on their own merits and in their own styles. With Mike Demicco and Chuck Lamb, the quartet promises an evening of high flying straight-ahead magic. (Keep you eye on the HCA new season—some big jazz gigs are coming our way in the west burb!)

I first heard trumpeter John Raymond as a college freshman on the bandstand with an early version of Jazz Is Now. Soon he had his own John Raymond Project, then a degree from UW-Eau Claire, and then grad studies in New York (SUNY-Purchase) with the great John Faddis. He’s leading a Midwest tour this month with cohorts from the New York area, stopping this weekend at the Dakota for Late Night antics on Saturday (5/14) and then for two sets at the Artists Quarter Sunday night (5/15).

Joel Shapira has assembled a firebrand quartet with Pete Whitman, Tom Lewis and Dave Schmalenberger, celebrating the group’s first CD, Open Lines, at Hell’s Kitchen next Thursday (5/19). Joel’s no stranger to recordings, working with Triplicate and in duo with Charmin Michelle as Charmin & Shapira. But this is truly Joel’s group, charging through some classic jazz tunes from Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Jobim and more.

Hope you already reserved free tickets to the KBEM MayFest at the Loring Theater on Thursday (5/19), as the website says there’s no seats left! The Bryan Nichols Trio, Patrick Harrison, the Chris Lomheim Quartet, Arne Fogel, Connie Evingson, Maud Hixson and Debbie Duncan with Tanner Taylor make for a formidable lineup.

More Jazz All Week
See club schedules as well as listings from Pamela’s blog and TCJS website. Among additional recommendations:
Friday, May 13: It’s Lucky Friday the 13th with a quintet headed by Nathan Hanson and Erik Fratzke at the Black Dog; Lee Engele with James Allen at Mendoberri Wine Bar (former Sage space)

Saturday, May 14: Israeli flautist Mattan Klein with the Chris Lomheim Trio at the Loring Theater; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)

Sunday, May 15: Patty and the Buttons for brunch at the Aster Café; Century Jazz Ensemble at Century College; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, May 16: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle with Rick Carlson at Loring Pasta Bar’s Musique Mystique; Maud Hixson and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Tyrell at the Dakota; Jimmie Wallace at Barbette

Tuesday, May 17: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Steve Tyrell at the Dakota; Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood

Wednesday, May 18: Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the Brian Grivna Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Ottmer Liebert at the Dakota; Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen

Thursday, May 19: Ottmer Liebert at the Dakota; Tanner Taylor Trio at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• May 20, Roseville Area High School Jazz Ensemble at Studio Z

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) at the Loring Theater

• May 20-21, Bryan Nichols CD Release at the AQ

• May 21, Insurgent - Threat Level Orange, with special guest Michael Attias at Studio Z

• May 22, Maceo Parker and Christian McBride at Orchestra Hall

• May 22, Paula Lammers CD release at the AQ

• May 22-23, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

• May 24-25, Four Generations of Miles (Stern, Fortune, Williams, Cobb) at the Dakota

• May 24-27, International Trumpet Guild, Minneapolis Convention Center; nightly jams at the Dakota

• May 27-29, Eric Alexander at the Artists Quarter

• May 29, Moore by Four at the Dakota

• June 2, MacPhail Advanced Jazz Ensemble (TCJS Young Artists Series) at the Artists Quarter

• June 3-4, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter

• June 5-6, Stacey Kent at the Dakota

• June 17-18, Tommy O’Donnell Trio at the Artists Quarter

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

• June 24-25, Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Gary Burton, Danilo Perez and more, at Mears Park
• June 26, “Two Bass Hit” with John Pattitucci and Billy Peterson at the Artists Quarter

• July 12, Rene Marie at the Dakota

• July 16, DakotaFest on Nicollet Mall

Photos: (top to bottom) Guy Klucevsek with Zeitgeist percussionist Heather Barringer at Studio Z; Red Planet at the Artists Quarter; Joel Shapira (photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New and "Precarious" Sounds: Zeitgeist Meets Accordion

© Andrea Canter

I think what appeals to me most about jazz, and more generally what is often dubbed “experimental music,” is witnessing the act of creation on stage. That creative act might be as subtle as a minor alteration of a well-known melody such that it evokes a slightly different feeling; or it might be as dramatic as spontaneous improvisation where there was no pre-determined key, mood, harmony or communication plan, yielding one surprise after another.

“Experimental music” is based on this art of surprise, be it through-composed or fully improvised; it seems to be a label applied to a broad spectrum of music that otherwise defies (and rejects) labeling. Local ensemble Zeitgeist has helped define the undefinable over the past 30 years through performing, collaborating and promoting new compositions, often with guest artists who bring unlimited artistic possibilities to the intimate soundspace of Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown. This week, that special guest is Guy Klucevsek, a New York-based wizard of accordion and composition.

What we’ll hear at Studio Z will be a concert of Klucevsek’s works, most composed quite recently, some never before performed live. And generally none were originally written for Zeitgeist’s varying combinations of reeds (Pat O’Keefe on clarinet and bass clarinet), percussion (Heather Barringer and Patty Cudd on drum set, marimba, vibes, xylophone and, often, menageries of objects), and piano (Shannon Wettstein). Notes co-director Barringer, “it can be a challenge to have three keyboards executing a unison line…we create a new, unique sound. Life is precarious!” But for Klucevsek, whose resume includes Dave Douglas’s Charms of the Night Sky, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Mary Ellen Childs and his own Accordion Tribe, the opportunity to transform music typically written for solo or duo (accordion and/or piano) to “fit” Zeitgeist was not so much a challenge as an invitation to stretch a little. “I’m not a jazz improviser although we use similar vocabulary,” he said. “Zeigeist improvises in a different way than what I typically do.”

Klucevsek is in town all week to rehearse and adjust his compositions for this collaboration. A piece he re-arranged for vibes and marimba doesn’t sound right at tonight’s rehearsal—it really needs two marimbas! A few trials later, the piece now boasts one marimba and four hands, Heather taking the high notes, partner Patty Cudd taking the low end. Moving on to another piece, clarinetist Pat O’Keefe asks Guy if there is any leeway for improvisation off the composed scale. “It’s a jazz thing,” notes Guy. “It’s OK if you play notes that make sense.” Another piece, “Winged Prayer,” needed less modification from the original which Klucevsek wrote shortly after 9/11 for the Philadelphia-based counterpart to Zeitgeist, Relache. “It was written for seven instruments, so it’s similar to the range of Zeitgeist.”

I don’t want to give away the surprises; there will be plenty, both from within the compositions themselves and from the inevitable unplanned interactions that occur among creative musicians on stage. But keep in mind the title of the concert— “Hammers, Horns, Skins ‘n Squeezebox,” and the descriptor on Zeitgeist’s website—“twisted tangos, barnstorming boogies and other irreverent music-making.”

“I don’t think of it as a challenge,” says Klucevsek of the arrangements for this project. “I do it because it’s fun.” Adds Barringer, “Good, old fashioned fun.”

I’m not sure about the “old fashioned” part. But fun, for sure.

Tickets for “Hammers, Horns, Skins ‘n Squeezebox” are available at the door ($10) or from Zeitgeist’s website. Shows at 7:30 pm, May 12-14, at Studio Z, 275 E. 4th Street, St Paul, across from the Farmer’s Market and kitty-corner to the Black Dog Café, in the middle of Lowertown’s New Music (and light rail) corridor! Thanks to Zeitgeist and Guy Klucevsek for opening their rehearsal to me and my camera.

Photos: All from rehearsal on May 9, 2011 at Studio Z, top to bottom, Zeitgeist with Guy Klucevsek; Guy Klucevsek; Heather Barringer and Patty Cudd on marimba; Pat O'Keefe and Shannon Wettstein (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jazz in the Library: Rhonda Laurie Brings "Happy Days" to Small Town Audiences

© Andrea Canter

How did a gal raised in Queens end up singing Irving Berlin tunes in a library in Delano, MN? If you know Rhonda Laurie, the connection isn’t that remote. The Twin Cities-based vocalist, teacher and former paralegal spent childhood summers in the Catskills where her grandfather performed vaudeville shows. She got another taste of musical theater performing and directing high school productions. Then there was that detour working as a paralegal on Wall Street, a career she finally abandoned after years of trying to squeeze her music into her “free time.” Now in Minnesota, she found her way into the Twin Cities jazz scene where she has become an increasingly popular and steady presence, both as a vocalist and music business instructor.

The “Legacy Fund” created by the Minnesota Legislature to support the arts opened a new door when Rhonda was contacted by the Council of Minnesota's Regional Library System Legacy Program Coordinator of the statewide Legacy Fund Partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). They were looking for a performance project to align with the MHS Exhibit, "Minnesota's Greatest Generation.” Soon, Rhonda was at work on “Happy Days Are Here Again: Uplifting Songs of the Greatest Generation,” which she notes was “developed in response to partnership audience feedback, which stated that they were thrilled with the programs that: brought top-quality jazz performers to them (rather than having to drive to the Cities). They wanted access to more jazz musicians, and that mixing of historical information in with the songs was a big plus.”

With the backing of stellar musicians like guitarists Robert Bell or Reynold Philipsek, violinist Gary Schulte and bassist Jeff Brueske (and sometimes with pianist Rick Carlson), Rhonda created a celebration of “what is so great about our music in America from the 1930s to the 1950s,” songs about life and love and the optimism of the American Dream that became the popular music of the day through radio, theater, film and records. With the help of scriptwriter Beth Gilliland, Rhonda was able to weave a script “to tie the songs and stories together… something for music fans, jazz fans and history fans alike to enjoy.”

“Happy Days Are Here Again…” became the third series of performances available to statewide regional libraries that ties to the MHS Minnesota’s Greatest Generation exhibit. Since January, Rhonda has been “on the road,” bringing the show to community libraries in Princeton, North Branch, Aitkin, Chatfield, Little Falls and more, currently scheduled through June.

My pal Mike and I decided early May was perfect for the relatively short drive from South Minneapolis to Delano—just down Highway 12, through rolling hills with trees laden with fuzzy chartreuse leaflets. In fact it was the first truly “spring” day of the season. I was expecting a quaint old library building but this one was more updated. It reminded me of my elementary school library of the 50s—lots of low shelves lined with colorful books, bulletin boards covered with pictures of “endangered species,” children’s artwork on display, reading rooms stocked with magazines. In fact the only hint of 2011 was a row of computers with WiFi. The “concert space” was an open area set with folding chairs and Rhonda’s portable sound system. It was 1 pm on a Friday afternoon, and library staff noted stiff competition with the lovely weather and gardening chores. There were a dozen of us. Rhonda noted that this was typical of the daytime audiences, while evening performances have been a much better draw.

I’ve heard Rhonda sing in many different contexts, but there’s something very special about an original show that combines great songs and great stories, entertaining while educating. The music itself was worth the drive—Rhonda (with Robert Bell, Gary Schulte and Jeff Brueske) on a songlist that included “Cheek to Cheek,” “Blue Skies,” “Love Is Just Around the Corner,” a very beautiful “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a swinging bossa arrangement of “Over the Rainbow,” Streisand’s version of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and a clever parody of “Making Whoppee” that became a worker’s anthem, “Ain’t Got a Union.” Between songs we learned not only about the history of the music but its Minnesota, historical context. From a gal who grew up in Queens.

Next time you groan about our taxes in Minnesota, remember the Legacy Amendment, bringing access to the “happy days” of the greatest generation of songs to communities like Delano and Paynesville.

You can’t find “Happy Days Are Here Again” in the metro area, but some upcoming shows aren’t all that far away! Check dates and venues on Rhonda’s website at http://www.rhondalaurie.com/

Photos: At the Delano Library on May 6, 2011, top to bottom, Rhonda Laurie; Gary Schulte; Jeff Brueske and Robert Bell; the band (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, May 6-12

© Andrea Canter

Book signing, live recording sessions and a few visiting stars mark what is hopefully a truly spring weekend in the Twin Cities!

Highlights, Last Week
Connie Evingson at the Artists Quarter (4/29-30). It was long overdue that Connie would front her own band at the AQ, and from the first set she made it clear she was as comfortable in St Paul as in Minneapolis, Seattle or Stockholm. We heard samplings of her upcoming CD and Jungle Theater show, Summer Samba as well as standards and a little Charlie Parker.

Soul Café at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church (5/1). Now expanded to a sextet, this ensemble performs infrequently these days, but they make every note and very verse worthwhile when they do. Songs and poems of “Loving and Listening” included “You Must Believe in Spring”—which apparently served as a good omen for the week. And why don’t we hear more from alto saxophonist Brad Holden?

U of M Jazz Ensembles I & II at Ted Mann (5/2). The U of M jazz program might not be one of the “big” programs on the college map, but it’s clear from concerts like this one that director Dean Sorenson and students have the chops. Most enjoyable—an opening two-piano romp through “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” Joe Strachan and Quentin Tschofen were all over the keyboards.

Dean Granros Trio at Café Maude (5/4). The return of jazz to this southwest Minneapolis bistro was loud, but welcome (see blog 5/4)

Dakota Combo/Vicky Mountain with Chris Lomheim at the Artists Quarter (5/5). Some of the youngest to play at the AQ, the high schoolers of the Dakota Combo also played some of the most complext music as they sailed through a set of mostly Mingus, followed by veteran songstress Vicky Mountain and the swinging Chris Lomheim Trio. A great and diverse doubleheader.

Highly Recommended, This Week
If you are out in the west burbs, consider a Friday afternoon or evening (5/6) with vocalist Rhonda Laurie and her “Happy Days Are Here Again” project, turning up now at the Delano Public Library (1 pm). Robert Bell, Gary Schulte and Jeff Brueske help guarantee plenty of swing. With Rick Carlson in place of Bell, the show moves to the Paynesville Library for Friday night (5/6) and to Little Falls on Saturday (5/7). If that’s not enough swing for one day, check out Nichola Miller at Hell’s Kitchen and Maud Hixson with French 75 at the Dakota. Really, there’s no reason you can’t do it all—just follow a straight line from Rhonda in Delano to Nicollet Mall; Nichola starts early enough for appetizers, then head down the street for Maud, French 75 and the entrée.

Fun at the Artists Quarter this weekend (5/6-7) as the Atlantis Quartet (Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig) records live. The guys were just named Jazz Band of the Year by City Pages and recently returned from a tour that landed them in New York. They have some reworkings of old favorites and new compositions. On Saturday (5/7), there’s a pre-gig (8pm) celebration of the new Minnesota Historical Society’s publication, Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities. Author Jay Goetting and preface writer/honored broadcaster Leigh Kamman will be on hand to sign books and talk about the musicians who shaped our jazz scene. That means on Saturday night, you can hear about history and then hear history in the making!

Up for a drive or based in southeast Minnesota? On Saturday night, one of the nation’s best big bands, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, performs at the Mayo Center in Rochester. I heard this band live for the first time this winter at their weekly Village Vanguard gig, and they were rattling the basement walls. A few generations removed from the original Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, the VJO has continued the tradition of hiring only the best at every instrument.

And remember Mother’s Day! There’s no better way to celebrate with mom than at the Dakota’s special brunch (5/8) with mother/daughter team Jeanne Arland Peterson and Patty Peterson.

Musique Mystique continues at the Loring Pasta Bar, with Lucia Newell and Dean Magraw in the “red room” space on the usual Monday night (5/9), a series highlighting the best voice and guitar or keyboard duos in town. Twin Cities native (and one of the musicians profiled in Joined at the Hip) Bobby Lyle returns home for two nights at the Dakota (5/10-11) with his organ trio. Master of mainstream and smooth jazz idioms, Bobby has built his career not only as an entertaining performer but also as a producer, music director and arranger. He can promise something for everyone and a rockin’ good time. Jazz continues at Café Maude on Wednesday (5/11), this week with Zacc Harris, Chris Bates, Bryan Nichols and JT Bates.

Culminating a year of rehearsal, workshops, performances and a weekend in New York, the Dakota Combo performs the last Jazz Thursdays concert at MacPhail’s Antonello Hall on Thursday night (5/12). It’s not the last chance to see this young bunch of jazzy upstarts, as they will be on festival stages for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June, Dakota Fest in July and Burnsville’s Art and All That Jazz in August. But it’s their last formal concert with a terrific sound system and good seating! Under the direction of Adam Linz, their repertoire this year has been largely Mingus, but expect some other works including originals from the band. And it’s free!

Also Thursday, with two sets in case you want to hit MacPhail earlier, the Artists Quarter hosts drummer/Phil Woods cohort Bill Goodwin and New York saxophonist Adam Niewood, a former William Paterson classmate of local bassist Adam Linz. Adam will get there for the last set, with Gordy Johnnson on bass for the opening set and Bryan Nichols on piano.

For three nights starting Thursday (5/12-14), there’s a special treat for fans of experimental music, the accordion and the Zeitgeist ensemble at Studio Z. The free-thinking quartet joins forces with Guy Kluvesek for an evening of “twisted tangos, barnstorming boogies and other irreverent music-making.” Kluvesek, an original member of Dave Douglas’s Charms of the Night Sky, has led Ain’t Nothing But a Polka Band and The Accordion Tribe.

More Jazz!
See the Bebopified jazz calendar for more complete listings. More recommendations:

Friday, May 6: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Community Pool Deep End Music Series with Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and more at the Black Dog.

Saturday, May 7: Zacc Harris, brunch at Hell's Kitchen; Charmin (Michelle) and (Joel) Shapira, noon at Midtown Global Market; Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro

Sunday, May 8: Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, May 9: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg, Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Milo Fine’s Improvised Music at Homewood Studios

Tuesday, May 10: Cory Wong Quartet and Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Cedar Avenue Big Band at the Shorewood

Wednesday, May 11: Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• May 13-14, Red Planet at the AQ

• May 14-15, John Raymond at the Dakota (Saturday) and AQ (Sunday)

• May 14, Brubeck Brothers at the Hopkins Center for the Arts

• May 14, Mattan Klein at the Loring Theater

• May 15, High School Jazz Piano Competition Finals at the Dakota

• May 16-17, Steve Tyrell at the Dakota

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) at the Loring Theater

• May 20-21, Bryan Nichols CD Release at the AQ

• May 21, Insurgent - Threat Level Orange, with special guest Michael Attias at Studio Z

• May 22, Maceo Parker and Christian McBride at Orchestra Hall

• May 22, Paula Lammers CD release at the AQ

• May 22-23, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

• May 24-25, Four Generations of Miles (Stern, Fortune, Williams, Cobb) at the Dakota

• May 24-27, International Trumpet Guild, Minneapolis Convention Center; nightly jams at the Dakota

• May 27-29, Eric Alexander at the Artists Quarter

. May 30-31, Yellowjackets at the Dakota

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

• June 24-25, Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Gary Burton, Danilo Perez and more, at Mears Park
• June 26, “Two Bass Hit” with John Pattitucci and Billy Peterson at the Artists Quarter

• July 12, Rene Marie at the Dakota

Photos: Zacc Harris and Brandon Wozniak (Atlantis Quartet); Maud Hixson (French 75); Adam Niewood at the AQ a few years ago; the Dakota Combo at MacPhail in October 2010 (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jazz Is Back at Cafe Maude

© Andrea Canter

It’s a rather odd place for modern music and for a while the music disappeared. But Café Maude in southwest Minneapolis is again sporting some of the most innovative sounds in town, once per week for now, and starting off with some of the most consistently creative jazz musicians on the scene.

For the most part, jazz at Maude was a later night, weekend event through winter 2011, with the likes of Bryan Nichols, Adam Linz, Dean Granros, James Buckley and more starting off at 9 pm as the dinner crowd filtered out and eager listeners grabbed tables near the small stage. Then for about two months, no music at all. The revival is most welcome given the paucity of venues for this level of improvised music in the metro. Will it last this time around?

Maybe. Although eager to hear the Dean Granros Trio tonight, I felt bombarded by the sound system during much of the first set. This is not a large place, a bistro with a few rows of tables on either side of the bar. And it is a restaurant, and with a 7 pm start for the music, jazz had to compete with the dinner crowd…. And vice versa. And it seemed that few patrons were there to listen to music that was not chosen for its compatibility with conversation. No faulting the trio—Dean Granros is one of the most inventive artists around, and his cohorts, James Buckely (bass) and David Seru (drums) are similarly inclined. Granros coaxed a wide range of sounds from that one guitar, and he and Buckley gave us some serious string dialogue at all tempos, all volumes. The schedule for the rest of May promises similar degrees of artistic freedom, with Zacc Harris, Bryan Nichols, Dean Magraw and more.

If you value the availability of this music, in a convenient location, free parking, no cover, with tasty and diverse food offerings, do plan a Wednesday evening at Café Maude sometime soon. Just don’t expect a quiet romantic evening. Save your conversation for later, have ear plugs just in case, and enjoy the music. (And maybe that chocolate torte.)

Photo: Dean Granros (in the better lighting of the Artists Quarter, by Andrea Canter)