Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review

© Andrea Canter

The week really isn’t over but I’ll miss the rest of it, including a performance by Snowblind at the Artists Quarter. I hate to miss that great brass band. Fortunately there was a lot I did not miss this past week, and the highlights were as different from each other as one can imagine and still be in the jazz world.

Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric at the Loring, August 5. This was billed as the warm-up band for Marco Benevento but this ensemble deserves top billing. Former Twin Cities resident Clouser has taken his guitar to Mexico but comes “home” often, building two ensembles featuring some of the best of our local talents. A Love Electric is the quintet, with Adam Meckler on trumpet, Bryan Nichols on piano, Chris Bates on bass, and Greg Schutte on drums, and they recently completed a tour of the Midwest and East Coast. It’s a bit hard to define this music, filled with the electronic energy of 70s rock and jazz fusion, maintaining the improvisational sophistication of Coltrane and Coleman. And often there’s chunks of Frisell. And given the intense volume of the Benevento set (I lasted for four tunes), I really appreciated CLouser and Company for keeping the volume loud enough to assert their voices yet under enough control to avoid offensive aural assault. I think Benevento would have sounded terrific from a block away. Or maybe two blocks.

Laura Caviani Trio at the Artists Quarter, August 6. What a delightful evening! The ever-inspiring and Monkishly swinging Laura brought two “new” cohorts to the stage, Prairie Home Companion bassist Gary Raynor and under-appreciated drummer Nathan Norman. It was difficult to remember that this was their first performance as a trio. Laura dug into her songbook for some favorites, like her arrangement of Sibelius’s “Finlandia,” her own “Paper Cranes,” and samplings of Mary Lou Williams and Horace Silver (“Room 608”, “Peace”). Laura might be the only local artist I have heard cover Abdullah Ibrahim’s magnificent “Mountain,” a showcase for Norman’s elegant brushwork. The big surprise was the appearance of folkie/jazzy singer Claudia Schmidt during the second set. Schmidt moved back to the Twin Cities just a week earlier after some years in rural Michigan. And for all who think of Claudia as that great Red House Records folk artist, take note. The lady has jazz chops to burn—evidenced on “Peace” and “Blue Monk.”

Bettye LaVette at the Dakota, August 9. Unlike past years (she comes to the Dakota annually), Bettye did only one set per night. But oh, what a set, ninety minutes of hell-raising, soul-baring, bra-burning (figuratively), heart-wrenching, blues-slinging song. Not specifically promoting a recording this trip, Bettye chose to present a retrospective of her work, from her first hit in 1962 (the very upbeat blues, “My Man”) and the 1972 blockbuster “Heart of Gold,” to her arrangement of Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy,” released last year on her British rock tribute album, Interpretations. She also gave us a gorgeous reading of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and the sexiest “Round Midnight” imaginable. (Hear that? The Great Lady of Soul could be the Great Lady of Jazz.)

Photos: (Top to bottom), Todd Clouser with Greg Schutte and Chris Bates (A Love Electric), caught at the 2011 Dakota Street Fest; Laura Caviani Trio with special guest Claudia Schmidt at the AQ; Bettye Lavette bares her soul at the Dakota. (All photos by Andrea Canter)