Thursday, September 1, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, August 26-September 1

© Andrea Canter

Sometimes good ol’ bop and swing are all you need to hear. And then, of course, sometimes that oddball, hard-to-define-but-really-cool event is the highlight of the week. Check out the Picnic Operetta from Mixed Precipitation if you feel your musical adventures are stagnating (see blog, September 1). Then again, finishing the week with Amina Figarova is a pretty elegant way to ice a jazz cake.

August 26, Jeanne Arland Peterson/Cliff Brunzell Celebrate 90 at the Artists Quarter. It was legends of jazz times two with Peterson Family Matriarch Jeanne teaming up with Golden Strings maestro/violinist Cliff to show off their youthful 90 years. Tanner Taylor with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst put everyone in a gently swinging mood with their opening “Waltz for Debby,” but it was Jeanne’s “All The Things You Are” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” that set the stage for Brunzell. From there, the two made quite the sizzling pair on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Stardust,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and more; Billy and Cliff duked it out string for string. And the evening would not have been complete without Patty Peterson taking a guest solo or two, singing a salute to Mom on “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Over the Rainbow.” As music goes, this was over the moon.

August 29, Connie Evingson at the Dakota. Connie has had so many special projects-- from Peggy Lee to the Beatles to Hot Club swing to Dave Frishberg, and now her new Summer Samba—that we might forget those bread-and-butter songbook standards that launched her career. This was a late addition to the Dakota calendar and a relatively small audience for such a popular star, but Connie made the most of the intimacy of the evening with a stroll through her earlier repertoire. She had just the right partners—Rick Carlson on piano, Gordy Johnson on bass and Dave Karr on sax and clarinet. No drums. “I wanted to make it a more intimate set,” Connie said at the break. And so it was. And unforgettable was her sultry, smoky stake on “Comes Love,” starting out with just Gordy’s elegant bass and progressing to a bass/sax duet that would be the blueprint for another intimate evening. Connie and Rick are also a heavenly pairing. Rick touches the piano as if touching a baby’s bottom, and at times makes you wonder how he can coax a sound without actually making contact with a key. It was an evening showcasing the best definition of “nuance.”

August 30, Debbie Duncan with the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter. What’s better than an evening of organ trio magic served with a side of home-made tacos and tres leche cake? And evening of organ trio magic, Mexican home cooking and a side of Debbie Duncan. The tacos (a steal at $2 each) and cake ($1 a slice) come to the AQ courtesy of V-Lo every Tuesday, and Tuesdays are always reserved for B-3 Organ Night with Downtown Bill Brown, guitar maniac Billy Franze and AQ owner, drummer Kenny Horst. As a trio, they conjure the best of Captain Jack McDuff and Joey D. But throw in Debbie Duncan. Now it’s a swinging organ trio + a voice that transcends the blues, ballads and bebop. “Blue Skies,” “I Remember You,” and a heart-stopping “All in Love Is Fair” (Stevie Wonder) paved the way for Debbie’s reprise of her first experience scatting on “Lullabye of Birdland.”

September 1, Amina Figarova Sextet at the Dakota. I sort of felt like I was cheating because I am going to catch up with Amina again in Detroit this weekend. But you can’t have too much of such a good thing… And it was a quintet rather than the usual sextet as saxophonist Mark Mommaas had a conflict tonight. (He’ll catch up with the band in Detroit.) Too few Americans have heard of Amina Figarova, and hopefully that will change after playing a big festival and a night at the Metropolitan Room in New York in the coming week. This was Amina’s third visit to Minneapolis (she played the 2008 TC Jazz Festival and in fall 2009 at the Dakota) and it was an inspired and inspiring evening, two sets of music that ranged from the rambunctious to the sublime to the intensely emotive segments of her acclaimed September Suite, a tribute not only to 9/11 victims and their loved ones, but to mourning more generally.

The full suite will have its American premiere in New York, but we got an exquisite taste, one segment played during the first set, and three played without pause as a mini-suite during the second set. Figarova attacks the piano like her muse Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, but also caresses the keys like Fred Hersch and Jessica Williams. Stripped of one horn, perhaps the remaining flute (Bart Platteau) and trumpet/flugelhorn (Ernie Hammas) had that much more room to solo and harmonize, elegantly in the fashion of a Maria Schneider horn section. Bassist Roland Guerin (the sole American) and Dutch drummer Chris “Buckshot” Strik were perfect foils; and for a guy (aptly) dubbed “Buckshot,” Strik proved he could also be Mr. Gentle with mallets in hand. I’ll eagerly follow this band to Detroit.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Cliff Brunzell with Billy Peterson; a composite of Jeanne with Patty and Billy; Debbie Duncan (with Billy Franze); Amina Figarova (all photos by Andrea Canter)