Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, January 28 - February 3







© Andrea Canter

I’m off to New York in a few weeks and starting to pull out my hair over the conflicting jazz club schedules. But really, in New York or the Twin Cities, I can only go to one gig at a time. And here at home, clubs/stages are rarely more than 20 minutes apart and I don’t have to depend on a cab.

Highlights, Last Week
What I missed – Billy Peterson’s 60th birthday bash at the AQ; the reunion of the Phil Aaron Trio (Jazz @ St Barneys); Lucia Newell and Rick Carlson at La Chambre Rouge of the Loring Pasta Bar. But there was great music that I did manage to hear:

• Quentin Tschofen Trio at the Dakota Late Night (1/21). What? Who? Three bright lights on the jazz scene, still in high school. They weren’t afraid to play two hours’ worth of original music and easily matched the skills of many 20-somethings. Quentin’s compositions have the sophistication of musicians twice his age (or more), and the trio kept us old folks on high alert into early Saturday morning. (See blog, 1/24)

• East Side at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (1/23). This eclectic quartet covers the stylistic range “From Miles to Astor,” although they played no Miles, no Astor. Mostly the fare was originals from very original guitarist Reynold Philipsek. (See blog, 1/26)

• Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Dakota (1/24-25). Not a bad substitution for the Dave Holland Quintet (postponed til fall). While it would probably be impossible for Roy and company to surpass their January 2010 gig, they came close, spurred by mostly original compositions and soulful soloing particularly from the leader himself and one of the genre’s most under-recognized saxmen, Justin Robinson. Roy even took the microphone to close the first set of night two with a vocal on…. His singing may never challenge his horn chops, but….

Latin Jazz All-Stars at the Dakota (1/26). Claudio Roditi was delayed but made it on stage by the second chorus of “Little Suede Shoes.” Pete Escovedo manhandled the timbales like a 20-year old. Steve Turre was charming and virtuosic on both trombone and conch shells. But Nachito Herrera sat in on one tune and stole the show.


Highlights, This Week
Decisions, decisions. There’s everything from stride and swing to bebop and Mingus. Oh, I guess all that is Mingus.

A perennial summer jazz festival favorite, pianist Jon Weber often comes to town for a winter preview at the Artists Quarter. He’ll be here Friday night (1/28) for a couple sets that no doubt will show off his remarkable stylistic range (from stride to posbop) as well as encyclopedic knowledge of music. With some performers, we are lucky if they just tell us the title of the tune; with Jon we are likely to get a short biography, an anecdote, birth dates and more. He also takes requests—like, what time signature should I use? What style should I play? His pals Gordy Johnson and Kenny Horst will be on hand (although Jon will surely play some solo works), and a special treat will be some songs with Maud Hixson. Maud just returned from a couple gigs in the New York area, including a musical revue of the songs of Mickey Leonard at the famed Metropolitan Room –with Jon Weber on piano.

Maud heads back to the Big Apple in a couple weeks for a repeat performance, but first takes the stage with Arne Fogel and Nicola Miller in the first of three Hollywood Cabaret shows that Arne has put together for the Black Box Theater (Bloomington Center for the Arts); this one features songs of the 30s in two shows, Saturday night (1/29) and Sunday matinee (1/30). Maud ends the week at the Dakota next Thursday (2/3) with the swinging French 75 ensemble.

Splitting the AQ weekend with Jon Weber is The Five (1/29), a quintet of local veterans who gather only once or twice each year to make some merry mayhem. The Five are Dave Karr, Steve Kenny, Mikkel Romstad, Tom Lewis and Kenny Horst.

Roberta Gambarini, considered by many to be the top female jazz vocalist on the scene, returns to the Dakota on Monday and Tuesday (1/31-2/1), riding on the success (and a couple Grammy nominations) of her most recent recordings. Her phrasing is elegant, her intonation perfect, her scatting pure artistry. The late Hank Jones, who appears on her 2008 release (You Are There), compared her to Ella, and he was not one to render such praise casually.

Roberta is not the only vocalist of note on Monday (1/31). Local songbird Connie Evingson teams up with eclectic guitarist Tim Sparks for an unusual evening of Musique Mystique at the Loring Pasta Bar. Both Connie and Tim have wide followings and diverse projects, but their duo suggests some new musical directions for both are in store.

The MacPhail series of Jazz Thursdays concerts devoted to the works of Charles Mingus continues (2/3) with Concert III: Something Like a Bird. This time the focus is on the large ensemble works of this “modern extension of Duke Ellington,” and features Adam Linz, bass; Bryan Nichols, piano; Michael Lewis and Chris Thomson, saxophones; Greg Lewis, trumpet; Scott Agster, trombone; Stefan Kac, tuba; Dave Karr, baritone saxophone; and J.T. Bates, drums. The musicians will further entertain with a Q & A session at 7 pm before the concert.

Some fun gigs at the AQ this week: Bill Brown’s 50th birthday with the Tuesday Night Band (on… of course, Tuesday night, 2/1); the return of the Chris Lomheim Trio after a few months’ hiatus (2/2); the return of Framework, the ensemble of musical explorers—Jay Epstein, Chris Olson, Chris Bates (2/3). And every Wednesday, the early set will now feature Steve Kenny and the Bastids.


More Jazz All Week
See the monthly and daily listings on Bebopified. Note in particular:

Friday, 1/28: Joan Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar at the St Paul Hotel (a nice starter for the evening and only a couple blocks from the Artists Quarter); Septonics with Paul Renz and Maggie Diebel at the Riverside Café; Adam Meckler Quintet on the Late Night schedule at the Dakota; Joel Shapira Quartet at Café Maude (catch weekend music there while you can—only one more month)

Saturday, 1/29: Zacc Harris Trio for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen and at the Hat Trick later in the evening; Funk and Brueske back at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel; Lee Engele & Tim Patrick at the Medina Ballroom; Century College Jazz Festival, evening concert with Century College Jazz Ensemble and Tom Malone.

Sunday, 1/30: Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café for brunch; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, 1/31: Saxophonist Mark Yannie at Jazz Central; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Tuesday, 2/1: Cory Wong Quartet, early show at the Artists Quarter; Vital Organ with Katie Gearty at Hell’s Kitchen; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s.

Wednesday, 2/2: The Wolverines and Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield).

Thursday, 2/3: Public Newsense, Young Artists Series at the Artists Quarter (early set at 7)

Coming Soon!
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakota
• February 4, Matthew Shipp at the Loring Theater
• February 4-5, Kronos Quartet at the Walker
• February 5, Dean Magraw and Marcus Wise, CD Release at The Cedar
• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota
• February 10, Butch Thompson at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center
• February 11-12, Bobby Peterson Memorial Showcase at the AQ
• February 12, Roni Ben-Hur at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center
• February 18-19, Aaron Goldberg Trio at the AQ
• February 20, Laura Caviani’s “Songs of Alec Wilder” at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (TCJS Jazz From J to Z)
• February 25-26, Andres Prado Quintet at the AQ
• February 26-27, “Hollywood Cabaret 1940s” with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Jennifer Eckes and Rick Carlson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• February 27, Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education Fundraiser (Brunch) at the Dakota
• February 27, Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at Orchestra Hall
• February 27, Benefit for Dave Graf at the Artists Quarter
• March 2-3, Glenn David Andrews at the Dakota
• March 12, Mike Stern with the JazzMN Orchestra at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• March 15, Stanley Clarke Band/Victor Wooten Band at the Dakota
• March 21-22, Jane Monheit at the Dakota
• March 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota

Photos: (top to bottom), Jon Weber at the 2009 TC Jazz Festival; Tim Sparks; Roberta Gambarini; Maud Hixson with French 75 (all photos by Andrea Canter)




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

East Side on the West Side












© Andrea Canter

I always wondered why this quartet called themselves East Side. If anything they seem to play most often on the metro area’s west side. Turns out this was the name of one of Reynold Philipsek’s compositions that was to be on the playlist of their first gig. Last Sunday, East Side (Clint Hoover on many harmonicas, Michael Bissonnette on many percussion tools, Matt Senjem on acoustic bass, and Philipsek on guitar) played to an overly full house in the Black Box Theater of the Bloomington Center for the Arts, part of the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Jazz From J to Z season. The audiences for the season thus far have been a bit disappointing, but East Side proved to be a big draw despite the NFL playoffs. As someone suggested, maybe the jazz audience here does not overlap much with the die-hard football fans. And it was a relatively mild day for late January.

Not that East Side plays music for the faint of heart. Just the opposite. With a show title “From Miles to Astor,” referring to their diverse influences from Davis to Piazzola, the quartet performed works of neither, instead running through all original compositions save a swinging rendition of “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise.” Philipsek was the major contributor, and the set included many tunes from both his and East Side’s most recent recordings. You can’t help but have a gypsy or at least East European flavor wherever a harmonica is present, and there’s usually a folkloric bent to anything involving Michael Bissonnette. You can be sure of this just with a quick perusal of his “drum kit” – ankle bracelets of shells, congas, the cajon “stool” behind the snare drum, assorted bells, tambourine, hand drums and more. Bissonnette has been collecting percussion devices for years, and also makes his own. I suspect his childhood was spent banging on mom’s pots, pans and various utensils.

Philipsek shared his recent explorations of his Slavic heritage, which sparkled in recent compositions like “Upper Silesian Mist,” while tunes like “Beatnik Pie” maintained a Django undercurrent with a more contemporary rhythm. As a guitarist he shines with the best, as a composer he is as elegantly playful as prolific. (He’s released maybe 35-40 albums, and a lot of that is original material.)

We have very few harmonicists in this area, and Clint Hoover reigns supreme. If a tune calls for sax or clarinet, he reshapes for harmonica as if that was the intended voice—be it hot club swing or hard core bebop. Makes you wonder why the harmonica has not found a bigger niche in jazz. Especially with baggage restrictions on airlines. And Matt Senjem? On the surface, he’s the straight man, always there in support, occasionally soloing as a reminder of his art and passion. But you also get the sense that he’s a comedian at heart, and what could be more fun than standing among Hoover, Bissonnette and Philipsek?

Maybe sitting in the audience on a Sunday afternoon.

Photos: (top to bottom) Clint Hoover; Matt Senjem; Michael Bissonnette; Reynold Philipsek; three from East Side (All photos by Andrea Canter on 1/23/11 at the Black Box Theater in Bloomington)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Experimental Music in the Twin Cities: Improvising Over Dis-chordant Changes







© Andrea Canter

The changing commitment at the Clown Lounge was bad enough. Now one of the few remaining homes for experimental music in the Twin Cities is changing its focus as well. Café Maude, that neighborhood restaurant in Southwest Minneapolis that has offered a surprising range of avant-garde jazz and broad-reaching improvisational music for several years, will discontinue its weekend music as of March 1st. The Clown long hosted Fat Kid Wednesdays as its Monday night "Jazz Implosion," for at least the past five years. Visiting free thinkers and local guests kept up a weekly banter of excitement, and for a while there was a Tuesday Night series as well. No more. New management, different tastes. Café Maude had a more eclectic schedule but frequently offered varying combinations of the likes of Bryan Nichols, Adam Linz, Dean Granros, Patrick Harrison and more. Who knows, if Maude continues with some weekday music, perhaps some of our favorite improvisers will be on the schedule now and then?

It’s not that other venues have kept the faith. In the past few years, we’ve seen music venues close completely (The Times, Sophia’s, its replacement Picosa) and others discontinue weekend dinner sets. But we’ve also seen probably an equal number of venues open or add music (e.g., Loring Pasta Bar’s new Musique Mystique series, the new Pardon My French in Eagan, the revitalized Music Box Theater, now the Loring Theater). But save the Loring, which offers a highly eclectic series in a concert setting, the new opportunities have catered to very mainstream musicians and audiences, not to the far left of chord progressions. What’s a free improviser to do?

The Artists Quarter offers such fare now and then, hosting Happy Apple, Fat Kids, Dean Granros, Bryan Nichols and others in rotation with its hard bop and post bop regulars. Maybe Kenny Horst will open that door more often. The Dakota Late Night was initially home to more experimental bands, and still will bring in some edgier ensembles like the Bryan Nichols Trio, Ingo Bethke, Atlantis Quartet. There’s frequent free exchange at the Black Dog Café and neighboring Studio Z in St Paul’s Lowertown, both confined by small spaces. Even Hell’s Kitchen, generally regarded as a rather conservative music environment, occasionally goes out on a limb for weekend brunch with such bands as Fat Kids, Atlantis Quartet and more. But only the Black Dog has a weekly commitment to this music, with Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler now curating the Friday Night series, “Community Pool: Deep End.” And it’s maybe the smallest stage in town.

Theaters, studios and concert halls might pick up some slack. In addition to the Loring (with Matthew Shipp on deck for Febuary 4th), there’s been expansion of modern jazz at the Walker Art Center (this year with Dave Douglas, Brad Mehldau, and Jenny Scheinman) and at MacPhail with the Mingus series; the Dave King Trucking Company was recently at The Cedar, which can always be counted on to bring in a few avant-friendly acts each season. Homewood Studios in north Minneapolis has long been home to Milo Fine and colleagues, as has the West Bank School of Music. Neither will seat more than a few dozen listeners. And again, these venues are no substitutes for those weekly gigs that help build audiences and keep the improviser’s muse sharp.

It might require a larger network of “underground” music. Jazz Central, the private club/studio run by Tanner Taylor and Mac and Luis Santiago in northeast Minneapolis, offers a model – a space run by musicians, funded by donations, with at least weekly opportunities for spontaneous combustion across the broadly defined jazz spectrum. We need more such spaces and more artists –or arts patrons-- willing to become house managers and promoters.

We need more improvisers on both sides of the stage.

Photos: (top to bottom) Kelly Rossum and Phil Hey in"Conflict" at the Clown Lounge in early 2010; Insurgents (Ellen Lease, Pat Moriarty, Adam Linz and Phil Hey) at Studio Z last spring; Ingo Bethke in a Late Night set at the Dakota in 2008; Brandon Wozniak, Mike Lewis, and Erik Fratzke with the Bryan Nichols Quintet at the Artists Quarter in December 2010 (all photos Andrea Canter)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jazz Uncensored: Blame It on Their Youth








© Andrea Canter
They looked pretty young up there on the Dakota Jazz Club stage, but to me this new generation of jazz musicians looks younger and younger. Or I am just getting older and older. Big names like Roy Haynes, Kenny Barron and Ramsey Lewis come to town with sidemen one or two (or more) generations removed, typically injecting a fresh vibrancy to the music. A few years go by and we begin to see the sidemen (and women) stepping out as leaders of their own ensembles.

So the trio at the late show Friday night didn’t really look out of place. They could have been advanced college students or newly minted graduates of the country’s top music programs. They played two sets of mostly original compositions penned by the leader/pianist. That in itself speaks volumes about these young artists – they are building an individual repertoire, they are serious about taking the music to a high level, they want to communicate their own ideas, and they have sufficient confidence to sell those ideas to an audience (and management) at one of the nation’s top jazz clubs. Within the music we heard an interesting cross-section of influences, fragments of Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau, Marilyn Crispell, Craig Taborn, Thelonious Monk, maybe even Debussy; there was exquisite darkness, transcendent light, quirky humor, joy at all tempos. And collaborative exchange—a visible and invisible connection among the musicians. You could tell they play together often and find more inspiration in that interaction.

It wasn’t all original compositions – Miles Davis’ “Nardis” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” filled out the playlist. Despite the numerous interpretations of “Blackbird” that flood modern recordings and performances these days, this one truly reinvented the standard, from the abstract solo piano opening to the sparely-there extraction of melody as the trio wove a new song.

Who are these upstarts? Leader/pianist/composer Quentin Tschofen varies from poetry-in-motion to tiger-on-the-loose, the keyboard (all of it) his playground; bassist Caitlin Kelliher plays with an understated elegance, a sensitive foil and engaging soloist; drummer Emerson Hunton manages time across a diverse rhythmic palette, occasionally taking the spotlight himself with delicate patter or explosive retorts.

We’ll be hearing more from the Quentin Tschofen Trio. Especially after they graduate from high school.

Quentin Tschofen, 16, will graduate from the Lighthouse program of Spring Lake Park Schools in June and currently attends classes at the University of Minnesota through the Post Secondary Options program; Caitlin Kelliher, 17, is a senior at Minneapolis Southwest High School; Emerson Hunton, 17, is a junior at Minneapolis South High School. They are all members of the Dakota Combo. Visit Quentin online at www.quentintschofen.com and read more on JazzINK.

Photos: (Top to Bottom), Quentin Tschofen; Caitlin Kelliher; Emerson Hunton; trio at the Dakota on 1/21/11. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, January 21-27












© Andrea Canter

The coldest weekend yet… but the music will be plenty hot, with the irreverent Nellie McKay at the Dakota, ever-young Billy Peterson celebrating #60 at the Artists Quarter, the unique sounds of East Side at the Bloomington Center for the Arts—all setting the stage for even more heat with the Roy Hargrove Quintet and Latin All-Stars coming into the Dakota to prevent a mid-week slump.

Highlights, Last Week
I didn’t get to everything I want to hear, notably missing Lucia Newell and Debbie Duncan at the Dakota. But, still, it was a great week of music:
Pat Moriarty and Phil Hey duking it out at the Black Dog (1/14). It’s much too rare that these guys confine themselves to duet mode. (See blog, 1/20)

Jeff Rinear in a rare small ensemble gig (with Bryan Nichols, Keith Boyles and Mac Santiago) at Jazz Central (1/17). Actually any small ensemble with trombone is pretty rare around here. More, please!

Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Dakota (1/18-19). Maybe it was unfortunate that Lewis was just here at the Dakota in September, as this high-price ticket did not draw the crowds it deserved. With young drummer Charles Heath and younger bassist Joshua Ramos forming his new trio, Lewis was a sparkling example of nuance, touch, and emotional flexibility. Sure, the gospel-inflected blues really rocked, but it was his delicate balladry and quick imagination that won the night.

Highlights, This Week
Let’s start the weekend on a wild note with the return of Nellie McKay to the Dakota (second night tonight, 1/21), this time bringing along her own touring band rather than relying on the talents (which are many) of the Prairie Home Companion crew. A singer-songwriter who defies classification beyond “extraordinary,” Nellie can be sweet as Doris Day (to whom she paid tribute on a recent CD), as prickly dark as Patricia Barber and as weird as Tiny Tim – and she plays the ukulele, too, as well as a mean piano. Go and have fun. And be sure to have some extra caffeine tonight so you can hang out through the Late Night set (tonight at 10 pm), featuring teen jazz wizards, the Quentin Tschofen Trio (with Quentin on piano, Caitlin Kelliher on bass and Emerson Hunton on drums). This will not sound like a student band. Quentin, still in high school, won last year’s Jazz Piano Scholarship Competition, plays for a second year with the Dakota Combo, and handles the piano duties for the U of M Jazz Ensemble II. Plus he’s a sophisticated composer. Caitlin and Emerson are up to the challenge, also members of the Dakota Combo –one of 12, and the only Midwest band, selected for the Charles Mingus High School Band competition to be held next month in New York. Where is jazz going? They know.

Birthday parties starring a Peterson are getting commonplace, with an annual bash for Jeanne every August at the Artists Quarter. But this weekend (1/21-22), the candles shine for bassist Billy, celebrating his 60th with pals Peter Schimke, Brian Grivna and Kenny Horst. And likely a few Petersons. Any gig involving Billy offers stellar music and a good time. We can use that multitude of candle light to knock down that windchill!

Out “west” in Plymouth is a reunion of the Phil Aaron Trio (with Tom Lewis and Jay Epstein), part of the Jazz @ St. Barney’s series at St. Barnabus Church. The trio was one of my initiations into the Twin Cities jazz scene when I started getting serious about the music in the early 90s, when Phil and friends were regularly performing at the Hotel Sofitel. (It was a 15-year gig!) You can probably still find their one recording, I Love Paris. But a live show? The rarest of treats.

Sunday afternoon (1/23), head out to the Bloomington Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theater, and intimate space perfectly suited to the music of East Side. Guitarist Reynold Philipsek, harmonica master Clint Hoover, bassist Matt Senjem and percussionist Michael Bissonnette will present their alluring arrangements of music from Astor Piazzolla to Miles Davis – hence the show’s title, “From Miles to Astor.” One of the highlights of the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Jazz From J to Z season, this is a user-friendly gig, held during the warmest part of the day, with tons of free parking. Rumor has it that tickets are going fast. And if you miss it, or want more, East Side will be at Hell’s Kitchen on Tuesday night (1/25).

The Loring Pasta Bar continues its Monday Night “Musique Mystique” series of duos with the very tantalizing pairing of Lucia Newell and Dean Magraw (1/24). It will be savvy and fun, and largely unpredictable. Just like jazz.

The Dave Holland Quintet was originally scheduled at the Dakota for January 24-25, but Dave had to postpone. No worries, the Roy Hargrove Quintet will be on the bandstand instead. It’s about a year since Roy and his very smokin’ band were last here, and with each visit they only rise higher and higher. In all the years I have been hearing Roy Hargrove, he never “calls it in,” but plays each gig, each note, as if it is the only one that matters. This is why we love jazz.

The Dakota makes it three hot nights in a row with the Latin Jazz All-Stars (1/26), a relatively new ensemble with the likes of trombonist/conch shell specialist Steve Turre, trumpter Claudio Roditi, pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Yunior Terry, percussionist Pete Escovedo, drummer Diego Lopez, and conguero Chembo Corniel. Together they will create a fiesta of Afro-Cuban, salsa, Brazilian and Latin music – definitely an antidote for our subzero weather.

Across the river, the Artists Quarter keeps things steaming this week with the local sage of vibes and drums, Marv Dahlgren, and his quartet (1/26) and the nearly monthly showcase of the Pete Whitman X-Tet (1/27).

More Jazz This Week!
See the full week (month, day) of jazz and related music on Pamela’s blog at http://www.bebopified.blogspot.com/ ...In fact, do I need to list the rest of the week? Let me know if you find this helpful.

Friday (1/21). Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek at Pardon My French (Eagan); Angelique Kidjo at the Ordway; Deep End Music (formerly Fantastic Fridays) at the Black Dog with Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and Pete Hennig

Saturday (1/22). Zacc Harris Trio, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Pig’s Eye Jass Band at the Eagles Club (Minneapolis); Schulte/Senjem/Philipsek at Hell’s Kitchen; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Three Keys Quartet at Ginger Hop (Minneapolis); Hanson/Roessler/Hennig at Café Maude.

Sunday (1/23). Patty (Harrison) and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café (Minneapolis); Martin Luther King/Tapestry of Dreams at Ted Mann (with the Steeles, Langston Hughes Project: Jazz Moods for Dreamers); Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (Minneapolis); Mouldy Figs at Shamrocks (St Paul)

Monday (1/24). Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Zacc Harris at Jazz Central.

Tuesday (1/25). Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Nick Haas Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (early set)

Wednesday (1/26). Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; TEFSA jam at the Artists Quarter (early set); Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Overtones Trio at Riverview Wine Bar

Thursday (1/27). Jelloslave at the Aster Café; Gypsy Mania at Barbette; Patrick Harrison/Jon Davis/Devon Gray at Nick & Eddie’s (Minneapolis)

Coming Soon!
• January 28, Jon Weber Trio at the AQ
• January 29-30, “Hollywood Cabaret, 1930s” with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Nichola Miller and Tanner Taylor at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• January 31- February 1, Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota
• February 3, Jazz Thursdays “Something Like a Bird” (Mingus Concert III)
• February 3, TCJS Young Artists Series, Public Newsense at the Artists Quarter
• February 4, John Scofield at the Dakotaise,

. February 4-5, Kronos Quartet at the Walker

• February 4, Matthew Shipp at the Loring Theater

• February 5, Dean Magraw and Marcus Wise, CD Release at The Cedar

• February 9-10, Kurt Elling at the Dakota
• February 11-12, Bobby Peterson Memorial Showcase at the AQ
• February 12, Roni Ben-Hur at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center
• February 18-19, Aaron Goldberg Trio at the AQ
• February 20, Laura Caviani’s “Songs of Alec Wilder” at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (TCJS Jazz From J to Z)
• February 25-26, Andres Prado at the AQ
• February 26-27, “Hollywood Cabaret 1940s” with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Jennifer Eckes and Rick Carlson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• February 27, Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education Fundraiser (Brunch) at the Dakota
• February 27, Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at Orchestra Hall
• February 27, Benefit for Dave Graf at the Artists Quarter
• March 2-3, Glenn David Andrews at the Dakota
• March 12, Mike Stern with the JazzMN Orchestra at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• March 15, Stanley Clarke Band/Victor Wooten Band at the Dakota
• March 21-22, Jane Monheit at the Dakota


Photos: (top to bottom), Nellie McKay at the Dakota, fall 2010; Billy Peterson (at mom Jeanne's 89th birthday, August 2010); East Side (composite); Quentin Tschofen Trio (composite--Quentin, Caitlin and Emerson); Justin Robinson and Roy Hargrove at the Dakota (2009). (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dueling Pistosl (Pat and Phil at the Black Dog)



© Andrea Canter

Recently the Twin Cities lost one of its favorite venues for avant-garde music when the Turf Club and its jazz-friendly Clown Lounge changed management…. and music preferences. Still, for a mid-size urban area, some great little spaces remain. The Black Dog Café in St. Paul’s Lowertown has long been a haven for improvisers, with its Fantastic Fridays series (often featuring the Fantastic Merlins) and other efforts to make music experimenting as commonplace as weekly salsa and swing dancing. Performing curator Nathan Hanson is generally on hand if not on stage. Last Friday night, amidst a mediocre excuse for a snowstorm, he lured two of the area’s long-standing free thinkers to an exquisite reunion. Alto saxophonist Pat Moriarty and drummer Phil Hey performed and recorded together in the 70s, and have since worked in a variety of chamber ensembles, but rarely as a duo. Hopefully the synergy of Friday night will be repeated more often.

Although the music flowed as free improv, the underlying melodic thread was largely, or perhaps entirely, Ornette Coleman, with “Round Trip” and “Endless” forming the first set, “The Blessing” the centerpiece of the second set. And fragments of the familiar surfaced throughout the evening, usually so suddenly and so transient that this listener’s brain could not download one identity before another melody came along. But this was not a night of “name that tune,” but rather a showcase of collaborative invention.

If you’re accustomed to hearing Phil Hey as a vocalist’s or pianist’s sideman, even if you have experienced his fiery leadership of the Phil Hey Quartet, his arsenal of melodic and often humorous weaponry in this context might surprise, and will surely delight. Beyond his trapset, he surrounded himself with gadgets—metal “spoons,” small gongs, a wooden box with mini-mallets, assorted bells and shakers, something that looked like a medieval agent of torture—a tall metal spring stuck in a metal base that vibrated crazily against a drum skin. Each item could be struck with a stick or mallet but could also strike against another percussive object, creating a deep toybox from which Phil could grab whatever sound suited the moment—a scrape, a squeal, a thud, a groan, a tinkle, a whine, a melodic sigh, even bare-handed taps and wet-fingered slides.
With all this paraphernalia surrounding Phil, Pat ended up the straight man in a science fiction rag, standing with a mere saxophone from which he extracts at least as many sounds, sometimes two distant tones simultaneously, sometimes in continuous, concentric spirals via circular breathing. At times I was sure there were at least two columns of air rising out of the sax’s bell.

It was not all dissonant, in fact there was a lot of melodicism in both the solo and duo soundscapes, yet there were many moments that suggested agitated birdcalls and creaky doors, as if Pat and Phil were rambling through a haunted aviary.

Or think of it as two guys generating an orchestra’s worth of sounds--eccentric, spooky, playful, serious….in glorious tandem.


Photos: Not from the Black Dog, but from a recent quartet gig at Studio Z, Pat on sax and Phil on drums. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, January 14-20








© Andrea Canter

Snow might have postponed gigs in New York this past week, but we’re intrepid in Minnesota! The jazz must go on!

Highlights, Last Week
For Love of Annie (Dakota): It wasn’t a jazz gig per se, but some of the area’s heavy hitters joined forces with musicians and entertainers of all ilks for a benefit for Ann Marsden, photographer of a wide range of performers and an amazing fine arts photographer as well. Aiding her battle against cervical cancer were impassioned performances from Connie Evingson, Laura Caviani, Dean Magraw, Gary Raynor, JT Bates, Regina Williams, Dennis Spears, T. Mychal Rambo, The New Standards, Kevin Kling and many more.

Stanley Jordan (Dakota). See January 12th blog. The inventive guitarist performed solo, and evoked duo, trio and orchestral scenarios tethered together by an underlying thread of baroque improvisation.

Maud Hixson and the Wolverines Trio (Hell’s Kitchen). The weekly Wolverines gig was augmented by Maud Hixson, back with her frequent cohorts (Rick Carlson, Jendeen Forberg) and, this week, with Steve Pikal on bass. Steve has been in Texas doing a few months duty with River Walk’s Jim Cullum in San Antonio. Steve will be back for good in March. Maud is always adding to her songbook, and tonight for the first time I heard her sing a personal favorite, “So Many Stars.”

Oleta Adams (Dakota). OK, this was not a jazz gig. But any fan of jazz, R&B, soul or gospel—or any music-- had to be moved by that voice…

Highlights, This Week
For fans of modern jazz and experimental music, I can’t think of a better gig than Pat Moriarty and Phil Hey. The sax/drum duo had a regular thing going in the 70s but these days their performances are very few and very far between. It’s been years! They’ll be mixing music and mayhem at the Black Dog Café tonight (1/14). Less than a mile away, more mischief will be on stage at the Artists Quarter with internationally renowned drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt and his Source Code ensemble (1/14-15).

Across town, you have one more night (1/14) to catch smooth-as-bourbon vocalist Bruce Henry, “home” from Chicago to raise the roof at Hell’s Kitchen with his usual band of local heroes, tonight with Zacc Harris, Bryan Nichols, Jay Young and—a special attraction—acclaimed drummer Babatunde Lea, recently transplanted from the Bay Area to western Wisconsin. Stay downtown and head to the Dakota for the late (11 pm) set with Harris, Nichols, Lea and Adam Linz.

Saturday night (1/15) brings volcanic activity to the Cedar, with the Dave King Trucking Company. Joining the imaginative anchor of the Bad Plus will be guitarist Erik Fratzke (a partner in Happy Apple) and New York reedman Chris Speed. Sunday night (1/16) offers a rare opportunity to hear the lucious Lucia Newell on the Dakota stage with the dazzling Debbie Duncan, joined by Tony Axtell and Mac Santiago.

Jazz Central continues its exciting Monday night series of music and jam sessions, this week (1/16) featuring trombone master Jeff Rinear. We usually get to hear Jeff only in the context of a large ensemble (X-Tet), but at this little underground (literally) club in Northeast, Jeff will have plenty of space with just Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago.

NEA Jazz Master Ramsey Lewis typically plays bigger spaces than the Dakota Jazz Club, but only a few months past his Labor Day gig he’s back, this time with a new trio and some new original compositions for another two-night stand (1/18-19). Over at the Artists Quarter, a veteran guitarist (Dean Granros on 1/19) goes back to back with a young upstart pianist (Dan Musselman on 1/20). Also on Thursday (1/20), Barbette hosts and outstanding edgy trio led by bassist James Buckley, with Bryan Nichols and JT Bates.

And the week will close out in fun style with the return of Nellie McKay to the Dakota (1/20-21). Yes, she was just here in October with the Prairie Home Companion band, but now she’s bringing her own touring ensemble. On vocalist and piano or ukulele, she’s irreverent and irresistible.

More Jazz This Week!
Friday, January 14: Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Tampered Seals at Café Maude

Saturday, January 15: Joel Shapira Trio, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek, early afternoon at Midtown Global Market; Dorothy Doring with the Curtis Marlaat Trio at Roman Anthony’s; Roseville Jazz Blast (8-5 pm) followed by the JazzMN Orchestra evening concert with guest Wayne Bergeron at Northwestern College; Teresa Manzella and John Hyvarian at the Hat Trick; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar, St Paul Hotel

Sunday, January 16: Reuben and Dan Ristrom, brunch at Tryg’s; Patty and the Buttons (Patrick Harrison), brunch at the Aster Café; Mouldy Figs at Shamrock’s; Charmin Michelle with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, January 17: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Christine Rosholt at the Dakota; Headspace at the Artists Quarter

Tuesday, January 18: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar; Vital Organ with Katie Gearty at Hell’s Kitchen; Kimberly Michaels and Tony Axtel at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); Acme Jazz Company with Arne Fogel at the Shorewood

Wednesday, January 19: TEFSA Jam (early set) at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Reuben and Dan Ristrom at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen

Thursday, January 20: MacPhail Jazz Faculty, Antonello Hall at MacPhail; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at the Wabasha Street Caves; Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek at Nonna Rosa’s

Coming Soon!
• 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 23, East Side at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (TCJS Jazz From J to Z)
• January 24-25, POSTPONED: Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota
• January 24-25, Roy Hargrove 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
• January 29-30, “Hollywood Cabaret, 1930s” with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Nichola Miller and Tanner Taylor at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• January 31- February 1, Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota
• February 3, Jazz Thursdays “Something Like a Bird” (Mingus Concert III)
• February 3, TCJS Young Artists Series, Public Newsense at the Artists Quarter
• 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 20, Laura Caviani’s “Songs of Alec Wilder” at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (TCJS Jazz From J to Z)
• February 25-26, Andres Prado at the AQ
• February 26-27, “Hollywood Cabaret 1940s” with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Jennifer Eckes and Rick Carlson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• February 27, Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at Orchestra Hall
• February 27, Benefit for Dave Graf at the Artists Quarter
• March 2-3, Glenn David Andrews at the Dakota
• March 12, Mike Stern with the JazzMN Orchestra at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• March 15, Stanley Clarke Band/Victor Wooten Band at the Dakota
• March 21-22, Jane Monheit at the Dakota


Photos (top to bottom): Pat Moriarty; Dave King; James Buckley; Nellie McKay (photos by Andrea Canter)


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stanley Jordan and the Sounds of Three Hands (or No Hands), Tapping





© Andrea Canter

Stanley Jordan came to down Sunday night, literally moments behind the birth of his granddaughter. “I’m in a great mood tonight!” he told the Dakota audience. He had been present for much of the birth before heading to the airport for his flight to Minneapolis, getting the word “she’s here” just before boarding. Not that he needed any additional source of inspiration for his solo guitar evening, but surely it was icing on the cake. Or a few more dazzling notes on the fretboard.

I caught the second set. On the way out, friends who had been at both sets noted that the two programs were totally different, the earlier set more funky, the second more mellow and classically informed. “He didn’t play Mozart earlier.” Maybe not, but I bet he played Bach all night. Bach has long been cited among jazz improvisers as the ultimate source of variation in chord progression and harmony, and Sunday night, Jordan seemed to be living proof. Behind every intricate, multi-layered journey lurked the remnants, or even the more overt manifestation, of toccata and fugue, counterpoint and variation.

Stanley Jordan came to fame with a new way of generating sound from the electric guitar, a process known as “tapping.” Just from the observer’s viewpoint, “tapping” appears to refer to the way the fingers on both hands, particularly the right hand, attack the fretboard –not so much via strumming or the usual plucking but by tapping fingers on strings, almost like playing a keyboard. Using the same process with the left hand provides another keyboard; thus notes are often generated from both hands simultaneously. It’s like playing two guitars. Which I think Stanley could do anyway, given his skill at simultaneously playing guitar and piano.

Stanley Jordan also uses his face to generate music. Every note is visible in his facial expressions. But even more literally, he augmented “Eleanor Rigby” with his chin, using it as a third hand on the fretboard. Did I mention Stanley is a contortionist? It’s an essential skill when you apply certain body parts to musical instruments. Somehow he makes it seem totally natural, not a novelty act, just another indication that music is a body language.

During the late set, we were treated to a wide range of source material, from original compositions from his State of Nature release to the slow movement of Mozart’s "Piano Concerto #21" to a highly syncopated “Autumn Leaves” to the Baroque improvisation that emerged as “My One and Only Love” and of course his Lennon and McCartny encore, “Eleanor Rigby.” But Bach was always present, the electric guitar emulating harpsichord, piano, lute, mandolin.

Two compositions were do-it-yourself duets, guitar and piano, starting with solo piano that was a direct reflection of his guitartisry – intricate, contrapuntal, thick voicings but lacy lines. Then the duet, left hand on guitar, right hand on piano…. Then switch, bass notes from piano, treble from guitar. Add vocalization and Jordan was a trio. The harmonic variations moved the feel from East to West, landing somewhere in Spain amidst a sequence of tumbling cascades. At some point he suggested Chopin on steroids, Granados meets Tyner. Gestures feed the music—on “Autumn Leaves,” his shifting posture mimicked a horseback rider, leaning back with one hand on the reins. And sometimes, that carefree toss of a hand, tilt of the guitar, the big smile seemed to say “Look Ma, no hands!” Indeed, at times it seemed that Stanley Jordan needed to merely look at his strings to coax the ever-willing music.

Photos: Stanley Jordan, at the Dakota Jazz Club on January 9, 2011 (photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, January 7-13








© Andrea Canter

Diversity reigns as Jazz 2011 gets underway, from the bluesy swing of Debbie Duncan to the virtuosic eccentricities of Stanley Jordan to such favorites as Benny Weinbeck and Bruce Henry and some edgy stuff from Zeitgeist. Notably absent however is the long-standing Fat Kid Wednesdays gig at the Clown Lounge, a Monday night staple for modern jazz fans. Its parent/upstairs venue, the Turf Club, abruptly closed over the weekend, and will reopen under new management. But without its Monday night jazz gig. Being named “best jazz club” of 2010 by City Pages apparently was not enough of a reason to keep the small experimental music schedule going? Fat Kids will keep on, for sure, with ten strong years and a long list of fans. Where? Watch Café Maude, the Artists Quarter, Hell’s Kitchen, and who knows…. Seems that around the Twin Cities, when one jazz door slams shut, another opens. Somewhere.

Highlights, Last Week
New Year’s Eve at the AQ: Carole Martin was limping a bit with a sore hip, but she was still able to play food manager, hostess and vocal diva to the usual NYE crowd and swing with a band of Phil Aaron, Dean Magraw, Jay Young and Kenny Horst, with Gary Berg coming along to blow his horn through the second set. And as always, we got the special mother/daughter treat when Dawn Horst joined Carole at midnight for some down and dirty blues.

• Bryan Nichols Quintet at the AQ: It was the “snow check” night as Bryan returned with his quintet (and with Sean Carey ably filling in for JT Bates) to finish the gig wiped out by the December 11th blizzard. You could tell the guys were a bit high on adrenalin from their recent recording session, and the music—from sublime to volcanic—served notice that this will be one of the best recordings of 2011.

Charles Neville Quartet at the Dakota: Anyone seeking adventuresome experiments would have been disappointed, but if you came to the Dakota to relax with some old fashioned bebop arrangements, Neville (and young vocalist Jessica Freeman) wrote the perfect prescription.

Javier Santiago/James Buckley/Miguel Hurtado at the AQ: Every time I hear him, Javier Santiago, now in his senior year at New School for Jazz, blows my mind a little bit more. With longtime pal, drummer Miguel Hurtado and the relatively old guy, bassist James Buckley, Javi took us through some inventive dismemberings of classic tunes, turning to the Javier Santiago Songbook on the late set.

• Phil Hey Quartet at the AQ. I should go every month. These guys are our answer to the MJQ. This week they dug into the Cedar Walton repertoire. Very cool.

Highlights, This Week!
Start the weekend on an experimental note with Zeitgeist, celebrating a new recording (Here and Now) in their home space at Studio Z in Lowertown. Actually the celebrating got underway Thursday and continues through Saturday (1/6-1/8). As these adventurous musicians note on their website, “two years ago, Zeitgeist asked 30 Twin Cities’ composers to create short works for us during the state’s sesquicentennial. Now…this collection delivers an aural snapshot of the amazing diversity of artistic voices that are the ‘zeitgeist’ of our Twin Cities new music community in the Here and Now.” Where jazz, classical and improvisational music blur, it’s Zeitgeist.

Everyone’s favorite jazz entertainer, Debbie Duncan will melt the snow around the Artists Quarter this weekend (1/7-8), with a band yet to be announced, but the rumor is that Adi Yeshaya is in town and with his longtime association with Debbie… well it is just a rumor. Whoever is on the bandstand, Debbie will ensure that we all have a fun night and that our ears are massaged with wit and song.

One of the most amazing performers I saw in the past few years was guitarist Stanley Jordan. But calling him a guitarist is like calling Kurt Elling a singer. Jordan will do one night, two sets solo at the Dakota (1/9), during which we might witness him dueting with himself, one hand on the guitar and one on the piano, or using his impossible to describe “tapping” technique, or reinventing Mozart.

All-stars across musical genres will be on hand at the Dakota Monday night (1/10) to raise funds for arts photographer Anne Marsden, who is battling cancer. Anne’s sensitive and evocative portraits grace many an album cover or artist’s website (e.g., Christine Rosholt, Maud Hixson). I met Anne at the AQ last fall (she likes the music too!) and hold her partially responsible for some good decisions I made about cameras and more. Artists set to perform at the benefit include Prudence Johnson, The New Standards, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, Laura Caviani, Dennis Spears, Debbie Duncan, Lori Dokken, T. Mychael Rambo, Regina Williams, Connie Evingson, Leslie Ball, Erin Schwab, Gary Raynor and the Minnesota Orchestra’s brass section. Reserve on the Dakota’s website.

The Wolverines are at Hell’s Kitchen every Wednesday, and usually one of the fine voices of the Twin Cities joins in. This week (1/12) you can catch a reunion of sorts when Maud Hixson joins up with husband Rick Carlson on keys, Keith Boyles on bass and Jendeen Forberg on drums. At least I have not seen Maud and the Wolves in a while and it will be aural pleasure to catch at a set, or more… Maud also has a “homecoming” at Erté this weekend, Friday night (1/7) with Rick and Saturday night with guitarist Dave Singley (1/8).

And Bruce Henry comes into town, this time for two nights at Hell’s Kitchen (1/13-14). For someone working in Chicago these days, he still manages to get back to his old stomping grounds about every other month, and this time the surroundings are definitely funkier and more likely to induce serious blues and fun. Down the street, catch a rare Dakota club gig with pianist extraordinaire Benny Weinbeck, usually found in the company of Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey; his trio also plays weekly, Fridays and Saturdays (1/7-8), at D’Amico Kitchen.

More Jazz All Week
Friday, January 7: Note, no music tonight at the Black Dog! Katie Gearty with Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Rahjta Ren at Café Maude

Saturday, January 8: Nichola Miller swings the hell out of Hell’s Kitchen; Dorothy Doring at Roman Anthony’s; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Cedar; East Side at the Aster Café; Dan Musselman Trio (with Graydon Peterson and Alex Young) at Café Maude

Sunday, January 9: Alicia Wiley, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Patty and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café; Keys Quartet, brunch at Tryg’s; Mouldy Figs at the Shamrock; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, January 10: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Milo Fine’s Improvised Music at Homewood Studiios; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Adam Meckler, Jazz Central

Tuesday, January 11: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at Loring Pasta Bar; Kimberley Michaels with Tony Axtell at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen; Javier Santiago, Jazz Central

Wednesday, January 12: TEFSA jam followed by the Brian Grivna Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Dan and Reuben Ristrom at Sawatdee (Maple Grove); David Roos at Le Bourget Aero; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Thursday, January 13: Black Heralds Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Gregg Marquardt with the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra at Wabasha Street Caves

Coming Soon!
• January 14-15, Eric Gravatt and Source Code at the AQ
• 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, POSTPONED: Dave Holland Quintet at the Dakota (new dates TBA)
• 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), Zeitgeist; Debbie Duncan; Stanley Jordan; Bruce Henry (Zeitgeist press photo, others by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dakota Combo: Inspired by Mingus... and Another Bassist





© Andrea Canter

I’ve been a fan of the Dakota Combo for about five years, ever since the first ensemble of seven high school jazz students gathered for rehearsal under the direction of trumpeter Kelly Rossum in the rehearsal space in the old MacPhail Center of Music building near Orchestra Hall. Or make that, since the first audition. Not just because I am on the Board of the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, although that role certainly is what brought me to that audition and subsequent rehearsals and performances. But my ongoing interest (and delight) is fueled by the opportunity to witness inspiration as it occurs and as it grows, all in the context of a music I love. There’s nothing like watching young musicians “get it” and take it as far as they can, as individuals and, even more so, as a “band” that becomes another family.

That first year, the Combo was entirely seniors, so the process started from scratch at the following year’s audition. Since then, there has been at least one carryover, at least one younger student who returned for a second year. This year, there are four – because last year’s band was the youngest yet, because those “young” students grew phenomenally in skill and motivation over the year. And because they were inspired to spend another year with director/bassist Adam Linz and the works of Linz’s hero, Charles Mingus. Fortunately there were many students eager for the experience, and at the fall audition, four more students stood out, not only for their current level of skills, but for what Linz and his fellow instructors recognized as a potential affinity for the music of Mingus. Unlike the four previous editions of the Combo, the 2010-2011 ensemble would focus on the works of one composer. The MacPhail Center for Music, where Linz directs the jazz program, had just received an NEA grant to present the music of Mingus over its Jazz Thursdays concert season. What better time than now to introduce student musicians to the very complex and exciting compositions of the eccentric bassist, long recognized as one of the most original writers in jazz? And as a bassist himself, Linz was no stranger to Mingus, but a lifelong (well, through his first 35 years!) devotee and Mingus historian.

Thus Linz came up with a new project for the Combo—to learn the music of Mingus, record their efforts, and submit the tapes as part of the application for the annual Charles Mingus High School Band Competition in New York. It was maybe a longshot, as the current Dakota Combo only began rehearsals, only began studying this music, in mid September, and applications were due December 1st. The band rehearsed biweekly, tried out a few tunes early on when they played at MacPhail in October to honor local composer Carei Thomas. Their next public performance in early December, at the Dakota Jazz Club, was held a few days after the application tapes were sent to the Charles Mingus Institute.

It’s perhaps surprising that this band of students, half of whom were not part of the ensemble before September, none of whom had extensively studied the difficult music of Mingus, could so successfully come together and, not only learn the music, but develop such a level of artistic interaction in little more than two months of biweekly rehearsal. But come watch a rehearsal sometime. First, there is no doubt these students are playing many hours, both alone and with each other, between rehearsals. And listening. Listening to the many original recordings of Mingus. But there’s more to this than practice and study. Adam Linz, like the music of Mingus itself, inspires his students and readily, almost telepathically, taps into each young musician’s drive to excel, to find his or her heart in the notes and within the collaboration with fellow musicians. It’s the inspiration that fueled his own development and his ongoing evolution as a jazz musician.

The good news arrived this week – the Dakota Combo was one of 12 high school bands nationwide to be invited to compete in New York City on February 19-20. They will compete in the Combo/Special School & Program Division against bands from arts high schools in Hartford and Manhattan. And they will participate in a day of clinics and jam sessions prior to the competition, all held at the Manhattan School of Music. There are some other special activities as well, including opportunities to hear the Mingus Big Band at Jazz Standard and to hear the Mingus Orchestra, directed by Gunther Schuller, performing works with gospel choir at the famed St. Bart’s Church.

And most of all, as Quentin Tschofen, Combo pianist, points out, there will be “the opportunity to play jazz in New York among a lot of people who really love the art form…”

They’ve already won.

The Dakota Combo is a program of the MacPhail Center for Music, supported in partnership with the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education (see http://www.dfje.org/). The Combo for 2010-2011 includes DeCarlo Jackson (tpt), Danny Hupp and Brad Allen (sax), John Cushing (tb), Quentin Tschofen (piano), Caitlin Kelliher and Jordan Jenkins (bass), and Emerson Hunton (drums). All but DeCarlo and Emerson will graduate in June.



Photos: (top to bottom), members of the Dakota Combo; Adam Linz directing the Combo; the Dakota Combo performing at MacPhail in October 2010. (All photos, composite design by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Jazz Legacy, Taylor-Made


© Andrea Canter

I only heard pianist and NEA Jazz Master Billy Taylor in one live performance – at the “Witness” concert at Ordway in St. Paul in early 2009. This program was part of the Vocalessence season, their annual celebration of African American history and culture. For the second half of the afternoon, Vocalessence welcomed the Billy Taylor Trio. A decade ago, Taylor wrote “Peaceful Warrior” in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, performing with Vocalessence, so this was a reprise. At the time, on this blog, I wrote: “Peaceful Warrior in three movements was the mainstay of Taylor’s trio performance. Despite a stroke that weakened his left hand in 2000, the 87-year-old Taylor played with sufficient swing and dexterity to enliven the melodies and support the soloing of his very accomplished cohorts, Chip Jackson on acoustic bass and Winard Harper on trapset...” That Sunday afternoon, it was Harper who stole the show with his graceful if wild antics, but for much of his life, it was Taylor who brought jazz out of its often-Ivory Tower and down to earth through concerts, broadcasts, writings and teaching. Taylor died at 89 on December 28th, and a memorial service has now been scheduled in Manhattan for January 10th.

Although Wynton Marsalis is typically cited as the one musician who made jazz a household music over the past two decades, arguably Taylor has been at least as significant a figure, Ken Burns notwithstanding. In addition to his hundreds of broadcasts on CBS Sunday Morning and his status as an NEA Jazz Master, Taylor brought jazz into the streets and low-income neighborhoods of New York City for more than 40 years through his Jazzmobile program. Through Jazzmobile, jazz musicians and educators have performed free concerts and presented clinics and demonstrations in Harlem communities and beyond. Taylor’s family has asked that donations be made in his honor to Jazzmobile –online at http://www.jazzmobile.org/ . You can read more about Taylor on Jazz Police.

Photo: The Billy Taylor Trio in about 2005, with Taylor (left), Winard Harper (center) and Chip Jackson (right). Photo provided by Jazz Corner.