Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, February 25-March 3











© Andrea Canter

I love New York…. But also appreciate the Twin Cities jazz scene when I return. There are not as many choices at one moment. But I can only go to one thing at a time. And no one here is charging $20 minimums on top of cover charges.

Highlights, Last Week
Most of mine were in New York. Joe Locke Quintet at Dizzy’s, Oregon (40th anniversary tour!) at Birdland, Village Vanguard Orchestra at the Vanguard, and amazing—Dan Tepfer/Paul Motian duo at Cornelia Street. But the local connections were particularly special—The John Raymond Project with Javier Santiago very late at the Iridium, and the Dakota Combo capturing the spirit of Mingus (and the Mingus Spirit Award) at the annual Charles Mingus High School competition held at the Manhattan School of Music. The only local music I got to in the past week—the utterly divine Lizz Wright at the Dakota (2/23). Sort of jazz, sort of gospel, sort of soul….. sort of everything.

Highlights, This Week
Peruvian guitarist Andres Prado made a lot of friends and fans during his two years in the Twin Cities, and now he’s back as part of a residency at McNally Smith, finishing off his visit with two nights (2/25-26) at the Artists Quarter with his Minnesota Quintet—Pete Whitman, Peter Schimke, Jeff Bailey, Kevin Washington. The music will lie somewhere between Coltrane and Lima.

Jazz legacy and soulful vocalist Lila Ammons has assembled a quintet, launching this weekend with a concert Friday night (2/25) at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Linden Hills. Granddaughter of boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons and niece of sax titan Gene Ammons, Lila successfully moved from her classical training to jazz, blues and –yes—boogie woogie, currently touring Europe with a German boogie woogie pianist. But her quintet is purely local, featuring veteran saxophonist Dean Brewington.

After last month’s sold-out opening of his Hollywood Cabaret series with songs from the 1930s, Arne Fogel and friends are turning to the 40s with two performances at the Bloomington Art Center’s Black Box Theater, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (2/26-27). Joining the affable crooner this time will be songbirds Maud Hixson and Jennifer Eckes.

Special event for anyone who recognizes the importance of jazz education is the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education’s Jazz Brunch Fundraiser, this Sunday (2/27) at the Dakota Jazz Club. You can support the future of jazz and enjoy Chef Jack Riebel’s cuisine, hear the remarkable Dakota Combo as they join forces with Irv Williams and Ginger Commodore, hear inspiring comments from special guest speaker Branford Marsalis, and enjoy the fun of a live auction. Help support summer festival youth stages, summer jazz camp scholarships, artists in the schools, and more.

Sunday night is a cross-town festival of its own: Starting at 5 pm, come down to the Artists Quarter for a benefit to support trombone star Dave Graf, as he recovers from injuries suffered when he challenged an ice dam on his roof and lost. Dave is doing well, even playing some trombone again, and he’ll be on hand to hear Locally Damaging Winds, Tanner Taylor, Lucia Newell, Brian Grivna and more. Back on Nicollet Mall, the prime time gig features two of the hottest jazz ensembles on the scene—back to back sets at Orchestra Hall with the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard Quintet. I heard both bands last September at the Detroit Jazz Festival, and there are none better when it comes to modern mainstream. Branford brings along long-time cohorts Joey Calderazzo on piano and Eric Revis on bass, with relative youngster Justin Faulkner on drums. Blanchard also has a crew of young titans, with Brice Winston in sax, Fabian Almazan on piano, Joshua Crumbly on bass and the volcanic Kendrick Scott on drums.

And further down the block—another Marsalis! Youngest offspring Jason brings his vibes quartet to the Dakota for two nights (2/27-28), overlapping big brother Branford with his early set Sunday, but expect some “surprise” guests for the late set! And come back Monday night for two more rounds. Initially making his mark as drummer for Wynton and Marcus Roberts, as well as co-founding Los Hombres Caliente, Jason has focused more on vibraphone for his own band. Come hear why his older brothers claim Jason is the most talented of the clan!

Thursday (3/3) is an opportunity to see youth and veterans on the same bill. The Twin Cities Jazz Society Jazz From J to Z series presents Brazilian vibes with Ticket to Brasil, led by guitar whiz Pavel Janey, with the St Paul Central High School Jazz Band playing an opening set. TTB will be doing a clinic with the high school band, and inviting one or more to sit in later in the evening, all at St Paul Central HS.

More Jazz This Week!
Pamela has the most complete listing of area jazz on her blog. Some worthy options:

Friday, 2/25: Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Community Pool—Deep End Music Series at the Black Dog (Pat O’Keefe, Viv Corringham, Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler tonight); Nachito Herrera followed by Jeremy Walker’s Small City Trio at the Dakota.

Saturday, 2/26: Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira at Midtown Global Market at noon; An all-instrumental night at First Course Bistro with James Allen and Tom Pieper; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); CC Septet at Jazz @St Barneys (St Barnabus Church in Plymouth); Patty Peterson at the Dakota.

Sunday, 2/27: Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar; Jacqueline Ultan presents four bands at the Cedar (Jelloslave, Anti Gravity, Starfolk and Saltee)

Monday, 2/28: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson at the Loring Pasta Bar; Denny Malmberg and guest at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Tuesday, 3/1: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Geoffrey West Sen and Stefan Kac, House of Mirrors at Hamm’s Brewery, Swede Hollow (St Paul)

Wednesday, 3/2: Glen David Andrews at the Dakota; Steve Kenny and the Bastids at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Thursday, 3/3: Glen David Andrews at the Dakota; Black Heralds at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• March 5, U of M Jazz Festival, Ted Mann Concert Hall
• March 8-9, Patty Austin 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 20, Milo Fine/Two Trios at Studio Z (TCJS, Jazz From J to Z series)
• March 21-22, Jane Monheit at the Dakota
• March 24, Mingus IV (Jazz Thursdays) at MacPhail
• March 28, Robert Glasper at the Dakota
• March 29, Judi Donaghy, Live at Five at McNally Smith
• March 30, Ben Allison Trio at the Artists Quarter
• April 2, Joann Funk Trio, CD Release at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

Photos: (top to bottom) Andres Prado at the AQ; Dave Graf; Branford Marsalis; Terence Blanchard (both at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival); St Paul Central HS Jazz Band directed by Matthew Oyen at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival (all photos by Andrea Canter)





Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mingus Spirit: The Dakota Combo in New York





© Andrea Canter

I promise a full post by the end of the week, but wanted to announce that the Dakota Combo, the premiere high school jazz combo in the Twin Cities area, competed this weekend in the third Charles Mingus High School Band Competition held at the Manhattan School of Music. There were 12 bands selected from applicants, three in each category of combos/big bands, regular high schools/special music schools. Only two bands of the 12 came from outside the New York/Boston area.

I've been an advocate for the Combo since its first auditions five years ago, as a member of the Dakota Foundation for jazz Education Board which funds the program in partnership with MacPhail Center for Music. Each year the band brings a unique personality to the music, and I could not imagine a better group to study and perform the music of Charles Mingus. First, the Combo is directed by bassist Adam Linz, a devotee of Mingus's music and long-time Mingus scholar. The 2010-2011 edition of the Dakota Combo has a joyful spirit, great camaraderie, and a lot of creative energy. That combination was in full bloom during the final performances earlier today, with judges Gunther Schuller, Vincent Herring and Boris Kozolov listening attentively. It was not just our core of parents cheering the solos and ensemble efforts -- something about the Combo seemed to catch on throughout the audience of other bands, area students and families. In the end, the Dakota Combo was awarded the Mingus Spirit Award for the combo divisions.

It was exactly the right recognition. Jazz, and particularly the music of Mingus, is not about competition, it is about feeling the music, feeling the spirit of invention, of interaction. There was no other band today that captured that spirit as well. And these seven musicians were way on top of their music. To those of us who have followed them all year, they topped it all.

At the same time, the National Endowment for the Arts announced it will discontinue the NEA Jazz Masters recognition following the 2012 round. It seems an odd juxtaposition -- hearing about a hundred of the nation's best student musicians, many of whom will go on to be "masters" of the art, and learning that those who have reached legend status will not longer have this highly respected recognition.

We need to honor our top jazz artists at all levels. This week I have seen the masters of Oregon (Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless), of the Joe Locke Quintet (with Geoffrey Keezer), Buster Williams, Paul Motian. But most inspiring - the Dakota Combo. With or without the NEA, jazz has a bright future.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Combo musicians gather near the entry to the Manhattan School of Music; the Dakota Combo performs during the competition; in the spirit of Mingus--John Cushing, Quentin Tschofen and DeCarlo Jackson cut loose. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, February 18-24








© Andrea Canter

There’s some exciting music coming our way this weekend. And mine – I will be in New York for five days. The big gig among big gigs—the Dakota Combo directed by Adam Linz in the finals of the Charles Mingus High School Band/Combo Competition, to be held this weekend at the Manhattan School of Music. Adam notes that the idea of a competition is antithetical to the spirit of Charles Mingus, but promises that the septet of local teen wunderkinds is well prepared to “be messy” in a way that Mingus would have not only approved, but expected. If it’s too polished, can it be Mingus? My other plans include Geoffrey Keezer and Joe Locke, Paul Motian, Buster Williams, hopefully Geri Allen. Too much to choose from. Sort of like the Twin Cities?

Highlights Last Week
Keep in mind, my “last week” in town ended Wednesday and I’ve been madly packing and writing stuff like this since the weekend. But what I heard, I really liked:
Bobby Peterson Memorial Piano Showcase, February 11 at the Artists Quarter. I got to the AQ after the SPCO concert, missing most of Mary Louise Knutson’s opening set save a lovely rendition of "Trieste," and caught the first rounds for Peter Schimke (including a wonderfully abstract “All the Things You Are”) and Phil Aaron (opening with a swinging "Waltz for Debbie"). I’m sure the second night was equally inspiring.

Roni Ben-Hur Quartet on February 12th at the St Paul JCC. The JCC holds an Israeli Jazz night every year, and this one was truly exceptional. Guitarist Ben-Hur and a formidable ensemble with pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist Santi Dibriano, and drummer Steve Williams turned a lackluster auditorium into concert hall, churning through a wide range of originals and a few reconfigured covers. See review here (February 13th).

Highlights, This Week
Shows I am sorry to miss this week: Dean Magraw puts together a new trio at the Artists Quarter (February 18-19), this time with young bass standout Graydon Peterson and AQ owner/drummer Kenny Horst. No matter what configuration, Dean gives us everything he’s got, and that’s a lot, from empassioned balladry to fusiony ambience to Coltranish adventures.

Guitarist/former Minnesotan Todd Clouser returns for another CD celebration, this time at the Red Stag Supper Club Friday night (2/18). A Love Electric came out late in the fall, previewed at the Dakota. Joining Todd are Adam Meckler, Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates and Greg Schutte, all young artists with plenty to say.

About a year ago I ventured out on a very cold afternoon to the wilds of Northfield to hear Laura Caviani and friends interpret a diverse set of compositions by Alec Wilder. Now she’s bringing the core of that concert and more to the Bloomington Center for the Arts, cosponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society as one of this season’s Jazz From J to Z events. Long enamored with Wilder’s striking compositions and classical influences, Laura brings in French horn specialist Gwen Anderson for a tune and otherwise interprets the Wilder repertoire with frequent cohorts Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey. It’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Or any afternoon.

Bill Frisell is back in town, this time with Brazilian guitarist and frequent collaborator Vinicius Cantauria at the Cedar (2/22). Quoting the Cedar’s press, “Expect improvisations that dive into a river of musical possibilities, and take you on a journey throughout the Americas and beyond.” Amen.

Whether or not you define vocalist Lizz Wright as a jazz artist or soul singer, you can’t go wrong attending a set at the Dakota on Wednesday night (2/23). Her songwriting gets better and better, and her voice soars. Orchestra Hall just announced she will appear with Kurt Elling on its 2011-12 season, which gives you an idea of her credentials.

Another singer amassing her credentials in fine style is one of our local talents, Sophia Shorai, appearing with recent recording partner Tommy Barbarella at the Dakota on Thursday (2/24). I’ll be back for this one! Sophia and Tommy released one of the best local recordings of 2010 (Long As You’re Living) and I look forward to hearing how the tunes have evolved and what other mischief they will create.

Later Thursday evening (2/24), catch an infrequent gig with Snowblind at the Artists Quarter. It’s brass ecstacy with saxophonist Shilad Sen, trombonist Scott Agster and trumpeter Adam Rossmiller, aided and abetted by bassist Graydon Peterson and drummer Reid Kennedy. They take brass into uncharted territory, original compositions and imposing covers, always with a joyful artistry. And who can refuse the charms of a brass ensemble?

Finally, note the visit of Peruvian guitar whiz Andres Prado. While he will end his visit with a quintet gig at the Artists Quarter on February 25-26, he is in residency this week at McNally Smith, with a couple free public offerings: On Friday (2/18) at 3 pm, Master Class (“Latin American Popular Styles and the Transition Into Jazz and Other Forms of Contemporary Music”) in the McNally Smith Recital Hall; and on Tuesday (2/22), a performance by Prado and his Minnesota quintet and the McNally Smith X-Tet at 7:30 pm in the McNally Auditorium.

More Jazz
There’s great jazz in town every night, sometimes where you least expect it. Crunched for time this week, I’ll send readers to Pamela’s jazz calendar at Bebopified rather than my usual quick list.

Coming Soon
• February 25-26, Andres Prado Quintet at the AQ
• February 26, Lila Ammons Quintet at the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community
• 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
• February 27-28, Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet at the Dakota
• 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 24, Mingus IV (Jazz Thursdays) at MacPhail
• March 30, Ben Allison Trio at the Artists Quarter
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

Photos: (Top to bottom) The Dakota Combo, ready for the Charles Mingus competition in New York this weekend; great guitars this week-- Dean Magraw (at the AQ), Todd Clouser (at the Red Stag) and Bill Frisell (at The Cedar). (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bringing Jazz Back to the Mainstream: And The Grammy Goes To....


© Andrea Canter

….Esperanza Spalding. Given the remarkable rise of this amazing bassist/vocalist/composer, her nomination and even her winning of a Grammy should not seem all that surprising…. Except for one thing. Spalding won the award last night for Best New Artist. Not “Best New Jazz Artist.” Spalding won the award over more obvious stars like Justin Bieber. No other jazz artist has ever won in this category.

Moments like this prove that, not only is jazz not dead, but jazz really does have an audience. And maybe tomorrow, or next month, some curious listeners will buy their first jazz album. It might not reach the legendary status of Kind of Blue, but Spalding’s Chamber Music Society is a good place for a new generation of jazz fans to start.

Winners in the jazz categories include Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Eleanora Fagan: To Billie Holiday With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater for “Best Jazz Vocal Album” and the late James Moody’s Moody 4B for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.”

Photo: Esperanza Spalding at the Dakota in October 2010 (photo by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From Israel to New York to St Paul: Roni Ben-Hur at the JCC







© Andrea Canter

The St. Paul Jewish Community Center is not generally on the jazz map, but perhaps it should be. Once per year, the JCC turns its auditorium into a jazz hall to feature a visiting Israeli performer. (And there’s a growing list to choose from, as the Israeli jazz diaspora continues to bring more and more talents to the American jazz scene.) Last spring, the JCC presented virtuoso flautist Mattan Klein. For 2011, the guest was the Roni Ben-Hur Quartet, featuring Israel-to-New York transplant guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, Ryan Cohan on piano, Santi Dibriano on bass, and Steve Williams on drums. Each of these musicians has outstanding credentials – Ben-Hur long associated with Barry Harris since arriving in New York in the mid-80s and leader on a handful of outstanding recordings, including 2010’s Fortuna (Motema); Cohan has been burning up the Chicago jazz scene, releasing one of my favorite albums of 2010 (Another Look) on Motema; Dibriano has played with a long list of titans, including Cecil Taylor, Hank Jones, Freddie Hubbard and Larry Coryell; Williams backed the late Shirley Horn for 25 years, as well as appearing with Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Mulgrew Miller and more.

There’s surely a lot to be said for Ben-Hur as both a performer and composer. His chops easily moved from ballad to bop to samba to fusion, and for one not brought up in the American tradition, he can swing like crazy (e.g., Harold Alden’s “Sleeping Bee”) and corral that blues feeling (e.g., Strayhorn’s “Intimacy of the Blues”). But he is most effective in the global realm of folkloric influences (“Recado Bossa Nova,” “Carinhoso,” “Eshkolit”), including his own “Eretz.”

But the most satisfying element of the nearly two hours of music was the empathetic interplay among the quartet--none of whom appear on Ben-Hur’s recent, highly touted release, Fortuna; only Dibriano has recorded with him to date. Cohan can comp with subtlety or dramatic fire, while his solos ranged from beautiful cascades (on “Like a Lover”) to break-neck gymnastics (“Recardo Bossa Nova”) and lightning streaks (“Guess Who”); Dibriano has a huge dynamic and emotional range, a seriously classical style emerging on balladic arco solos (“Like a Lover”) and a melodic undercurrent well serving a duet with Ben-Hur (“Carinhoso”); Steve Williams absorbed plenty backing Shirley Horn, showing a multitude of voices, particularly engaging in dialogue with Dibriano on “Intimacy of the Blues,” across all percussive tactics on “Eretz” and rattling cages on “Guess Who.” Without piano, the remaining trio provided a stunning interlude on the gorgeous arrangement of the traditional “Eshkolit,” while paring down “Carinhoso” to a bass/guitar duet suggests a future recording project.

This quartet plays with the fire and spice of the best, from the opening high energy of Ben-Hur’s “Fortuna” to the ferocious swing of “A Sleeping Bee” to the touches of fusion and Latin of his closing “Guess Who.” Hats off to the JCC for the foresight to bring such creative and joyous jazz to a community space.

A longer version of this review will be posted on Jazz Police.


Photos: (Top to Bottom) Roni Ben-Hur; Ryan Cohan; Santi Dibriano duets with Ben-Hur; Steve Williams. (All photos by Andrea Canter on 2/12/11 at the St Paul JCC)

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, February 11-17





©Andrea Canter

Again, a busy jazzy weekend in the Twin Cities! Weather should be a plus, and as the snow melts, the jazz steam rises!!

Highlights, Last Week
My friend Ray Hayes assures me I missed the best show in a long time—Matthew Shipp solo piano at the Loring Theater. I trust Ray’s judgment. He tossed off his tickets to the Kronos Quartet, I kept mine. And the Kronos put on two really interesting nights of music at the Walker Art Center. Still, I know Matthew Shipp was quite special. But I did enjoy:

Willie Akins Quartet at the Artists Quarter (2/9). A veteran hard bopping tenor saxman based in his native St. Louis, Akins brought together a band he recorded with over ten years ago, and it was some of the most energetic straight-ahead I’ve heard locally. With Moorhead State pianist Simon Rowe, St. Louis bassist Willem von Hombracht and masterful young drummer Montez Coleman, they ran through classics from Coltrane, Tyner, Jimmy Heath and more with a nearly full-house at the AQ. Hard to imagine better music of any sort for a $5 cover.

Kurt Elling Quartet at the Dakota (2/9-10). It’s hard to find appropriate adjectives for Elling—the usual “magnificent,” “ingenious” and “stellar” just fall short. He’s celebrating his new The Gate with longtime music director Laurence Hobgood and relatively new drummer Ulysses Owens and bassist Harish Raghavan, and special guest, Chicago-cohort, guitarist John McClean. He was elaxed, funny and downright poetic -- reminiscent of the shows I heard at Birdland a few years ago.

Highlights, This Week
The annual Bobby Peterson Memorial Piano Showcase fills the Artists Quarter this weekend (2/11-12), with an enviable cast of local piano greats—Peter Schimke, Tommy O’Donnell and Mary Louise Knutson on Friday, and Phil Aaron, Laura Caviani and Bryan Nichols on Saturday. It’s a great opportunity to sample the best (and diverse) keyboard artists while paying tribute to the one who got away too soon, the late Bobby Peterson. Ask local pianists who they really admire or who truly inspired their work, and chances are high they will mention Bobby as a mentor, teacher, and friend.

One night each year, the St. Paul Jewish Community Center transforms itself into a top flight jazz venue, presenting a top Israeli artist. This year, the acclaimed guitarist Roni Ben-Hur is featured with his quartet, Saturday night (2/12). Ben-Hur has been on the New York scene longer than most of his fellow Israeli jazzers, and has established himself as one of the top guitarist of his generation. And if we judge him by the company he keeps, he remains high on the list! His quartet for this tour includes a knock-out Chicago pianist, Ryan Cohan; long-time associate bassist Santi DiBriano; and busy drummer Steve Williams. Cohan’s 2010 CD, Another Look, was one of my faves of the year.

Also this weekend (2/12-13), Two of our “sultry divas of jazz,” Connie Evingson and Ginger Commodore, pay tribute to Peggy Lee and Nancy Wilson at the Capri Theater, part of its Legends series. Long-time cohorts as half of Moore by Four, both singers have their own history with the music, Evingson having honored the songs of Peggy Lee with her recording (Fever) and subsequent acclaimed revue (in part revived recently at the Jungle Theater); Commodore saluting Wilson a few years back at the Dakota. There’s a distinctive difference in style separating the songbirds, but as Capri Artistic Director Dennis Spears notes, “They are both known for their sultry and sassy jazz styles, their class and elegance, and their experiences in acting.”

On the experimental/avant garde scene, some fine options this week: At Studio Z, it’s a long fun weekend with Zeitgiest and pianist/composer Carei Thomas with the annual Playing it Close to Home concert. This series celebrates our local creative artists, this year with winning songs from the Eric Stokes Song Contest and works by the ever-inventiveThomas. And it’s all in the neighborhood on Friday (2/11), as just across the street at the Black Dog, it’s the next installment of the Community Pool: Deep End Music Series, tonight with Bryan Nichols, Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and Peter Leggett –a quartet to truly buzz your brain and ears.

It’s Nichola Miller Week! Catch the swinging hipster for brunch at Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday (2/12), in trio for Valentine’s Day, again at Hell; and at the Dakota on Wednesday (2/16).She doesn’t get on the Dakota stage as often as she should, but when she does, watch out! She recorded live a while back and now returns for a night of sass, swing, and probably a little mayhem, in the dashing company of Rick Carlson, Keith Boyles and Nathan Norman, on Wednesday (2/16).

More for Valentine’s Day
It’s a big band Valentine celebration at Orchestra Hall Saturday night (2/12) with Charmin Michelle fronting the Minnesota Orchestra, featuring trumpeter Charles Lazarus and vocalist Brad Benoit. And some of our favorites help celebrate a night for romance on February 14th:
Nichola Miller Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (see above)
Cookie Coleman and Dan Newton at Loring Pasta Bar (Musique Mystique series)
Maud Hixson and Jim Chenoweth at Honey (“The Opposite Sex: Songs Written by a Man and Woman Singer”)
Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)
Lee Engele with Pietro Benso at Nonna Rosa’s (Robbinsdale)

More Jazz This Week
See Pamela’s blog for the area’s most complete jazz listing. Some notable gigs:

Friday, February 11: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Vital Organ with Katie Gearty at Hell’s Kitchen, Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at Erte; Gregg Marquardt and Bruce Pedalty at the Hat Trick Lounge

Saturday, February 12: Funk and Brueske again at the Lobby Bar; Karen Quiroz and James Allen at First Course Bistro; Roxy and Joe Cruz at Ingredients Café (White Bear Lake)

Sunday, February 13: Dan and Reuben Ristrom, brunch at Tryg’s; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, February 14: Headspace at the Artists Quarter

Tuesday, February 15: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

Wednesday, February 16: Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the Peter Schimke Trio at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Thursday, February 17: Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Dennis Spears at the Dakota

Coming Soon!
• February 18-19, Dean Magraw 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
• February 27-28, Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet at the Dakota
• 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 24, Mingus IV (Jazz Thursdays) at MacPhail
• March 30, Ben Allison Trio at the Artists Quarter
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota


Photos: (Top to bottom) Peter Schimke, Mary Louise Knutson and Phil Aaron, all appearing in the Bobby Peterson Memorial Piano Showcase at the Artists Quarter (Peter and MLK on Friday, Phil on Saturday) (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Supporting Jazz Education







© Andrea Canter

The debate over “Is Jazz Dead” seems so tedious and dated that it isn’t worth addressing any more. Let’s agree, jazz is not likely to ever regain its 1930s status as American’s “popular” music, any more than classical music will fill stadiums or dance halls. Rather, let’s ask “how do we keep jazz vital, ever-evolving, and heard by an expanding audience for years to come?” Vijay Iyer made the accurate and interesting observation in the February 2011 issue of Jazz Times that college level jazz programs seem to be proliferating, and graduating more and more students, without any increase, and maybe a decrease, in performance opportunities (“Too Many Graduates, Not Enough Gigs”). The upside of the popularity of this level of jazz education is the potential to bring jazz to a wider audience in the community at large and in our nation’s schools. Maybe if we build it, they will come? But we are not likely to see a lot more jazz venues until there is evidence that more people want to hear the music, not just play it!

We can’t depend on college programs to build the audience that will ultimately pay to hear their graduates, any more than we can depend on college programs to stimulate the interest in performing jazz music. An interest in the arts in general comes from early exposure, and in the long run, the development and expansion of jazz depends on catching kids’ ears well before high school graduation. Or even before middle school graduation. Community jazz education efforts are essential beyond what our public schools can offer, which often is very little. There are notable exceptions right here in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, public middle and high school programs generally pushed ahead by an ardent educator who takes extra time to build a jazz band and/or combo program. But school budgets are such that arts generally fall by the wayside when the bottom line is in the red. To inspire interest in jazz performance, as well as to build a future audience, we need community programs and partnerships.

Locally one such entity is the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education. And I am on the Board so this does border on propaganda. But hey, it’s my blog and if you are reading this, you have some interest in supporting jazz, right? DFJE has been around for about 13-14 years, initiated by Lowell Pickett of the Dakota Jazz Club and long-time patron, the late Jane Matteson. Originally called the J-Train, it was aimed middle and high school students, bringing some of the Dakota’s guest artists in for afternoon clinics and demonstrations. It’s grown in scope over the past 5 years or so, bringing some national jazz programs like the Brubeck Institute and Monk Institute to town to work with local jazz bands; sponsoring a youth stage at the annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival; cosponsoring an annual high school jazz piano competition with the Schubert Club; providing scholarships for students attending six area jazz camps; and perhaps most notably, sponsoring the Dakota Combo –a highly selective ensemble of high school musicians—through the instructional programming of the MacPhail Center for Music.

While the Combo in particular promotes a high level of instruction and performance for a targeted group of already-skilled students, it also brings jazz into the community through public performances (at the Dakota, MacPhail, jazz festival, other clubs) and through an annual day touring area schools. Those school visits include introducing jazz music to young students as well as offering a more specific demonstration of jazz to the school’s jazz and general music students. The goal is to inspire budding musicians and to expose others to jazz. In other words, to promote talent and to build a future audience.

DFJE recently was awarded an MRAC (Minnesota Regional Arts Council) grant to bring national and local jazz artists into a group of metro schools over the next 18 months. Again the goals are two-fold---to offer specific master classes and clinics to all levels of jazz students to hone their skills, and to offer informational performances and demonstrations to the general student body to help build a future audience.

DFJE is a foundation dependent on donations as well as grants to fund existing and new programs. Donations are always accepted but a fundraising Jazz Brunch at the Dakota Jazz Club on February 27th offers a fun (and tasty) way to contribute to the future of jazz. In addition to a live auction, the event provides attendees with the opportunity to hear the results of DFJE programs: Pianist Joe Strachan, currently a sophomore at the U of M and pianist for its Jazz Ensemble I, will perform solo. Joe was a finalist two years in a row in the Jazz Piano Competition, winning the Performance Prize in his senior year; he was also the pianist for the Dakota Combo (2008-09). Later, the current edition of the Dakota Combo (directed by Adam Linz) will perform two short sets, sharing some of the music they will be performing in New York (the previous weekend) as finalists in the Charles Mingus High School Competition, and backing local favorite vocalist Ginger Commodore. (And the usual septet will be without one sax and a trombone—two Combo musicians will be out of town for music school auditions…. Really, not a bad excuse!)

The fundraiser is also an opportunity to honor jazz educators, and this year the DFJE steps outside the box and will present the Jane Matteson Jazz Educator Award to KBEM Radio rather than to an individual. Celebrating 40 years of teaching students about jazz and broadcasting, of presenting a wide range of jazz and related music to its radio audience, and sponsoring such programs at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, music in the parks, REEL Jazz (film series) and most recently, a series of community education classes through Minneapolis Schools, KBEM has been the premiere source of jazz education in our community.

Finally, the fundraiser presents inspiring words – from a former recipient of DFJE programs (Joe Strachan), from parents of a current program participant (Carmen and Martin Tschofen, parents of Quentin—Combo pianist and 2010 winner of the Jazz Piano competition), and from our very special guest, Branford Marsalis. In town for a concert at Orchestra Hall that evening, Branford has graciously agreed to talk about inspiring young musicians and audiences through jazz education.

If you are so inclined to invest in the future of jazz through the DFJE’s programs, please consider registering for the Jazz Brunch. You can also simply make a donation. Visit the website for registration or donations at http://www.dfje.org/. And consider attending some of the free events that showcase young jazz artists – the Dakota Combo performing at the Artists Quarter (May 5) and at MacPhail (May 12), the jazz piano scholarship competition finals at the Dakota Jazz Club (May 15), the jazz piano scholarship finalists at the Artists Quarter (June 2), 6-7 student ensembles on the Youth Stage at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival on Prince Street in St Paul (June 25). Watch the website for more.

Photos: (top to bottom)Young drum student at the Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp, with mentor Dean Brewington (2010); Dakota Combo guitarist Geoff LeCrone answered a question about jazz from a 4th grader at Richard Green School in Minneapolis (2007); Quentin Tschofen played an encore at the 2010 Jazz Piano Scholarship Competition (with Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey); the 2009-10 Dakota Combo performed at the Dakota with guest artist Tia Fuller. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, February 4-10







© Andrea Canter

Sometimes our jazz scene seems like a perfect storm – many forces of artistic nature converging on one or two nights. That can make decisions very difficult but there is luxury in having such choices! Don’t get lost in hesitation—whatever you choose, you’ll be a winner.

Highlights, Last Week
The Hollywood Cabaret/1930s with Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson and Nichola Miller was sold out. I’ll get my tickets early for the 1940s edition (February 26) –it’s already sold out for the Sunday matinee.

Jon Weber at the Artists Quarter (1/28). The encyclopedic sage of piano was in top form, tossing off factoids nearly as quickly as he was inserting quotes into his arrangements of classic tunes, and it was pure delight to have Maud Hixson on hand to give us a taste of the songs of Mickey Leonard, which she and Jon had performed with a stellar cast at New York City’s Metropolitan Room the week before.

Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota (1/31). Even though I thought the 2010 gig had a bit more energy, any night with Roberta is a feast for the ears. (See blog, 2/2)

Public Newsense at the Artists Quarter (2/3). The Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Young Artists Series hit a high note with one of the youngest bands so far. Even without saxophonist DeVante Jackson (recovering from strep), this group of St Paul teens was tight and invigorating, and trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson’s “My Funny Valentine” belied his 15 years in memorable fashion. No pick-up band, they’ve been working together for a couple years already.

Meditations and Revelations III at MacPhail (2/3). The third installment of the Jazz Thursdays series devoted to the music of Mingus featured a nonet of area titans and stunning music from Mingus’ mid-60s recordings. And pure heaven to hear Dave Karr (on bari) sharing the sax section with Michael Lewis and Chris Thomson. The near-sellout crowd enjoyed some after-show music with MacPhail’s Advanced Jazz Ensemble –Mingus would have approved.

Highlights, This Week
Choices, choices. Tonight (2/4), the Dakota hosts a one-night stand with living legend of guitar, John Scofield (two shows). Scofield was in town for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival last June, with his Piety Street Band, and there was a near riot when some overly excited fans had to be escorted out. Should be a lot calmer at the Dakota but the music will be no less provocative. The veteran of tours with Mingus, Metheny, Burton and Miles, Scofield brings eclectic muses to every project. Tonight he's bringing in a worthy trio with Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums.


On the south end of Nicollet Mall, another living legend goes solo tonight, with a rare appearance of Matthew Shipp in an all-acoustic piano gig at the Loring (formerly known as Music Box) Theater. Although his recent electronic experiments have won critical acclaim, Shipp’s new double CD takes his “Art of the Improviser” to higher levels of acoustic music, perfect for the intimate concert hall setting. It might work to catch Shipp and dash off to the Dakota for Scofield’s late set?

Saturday night (2/5) is the long-anticipated CD release celebration at The Cedar for Dean Magraw and Marcus Wise’s duo, How the Light Gets In. The guru of guitar and master of tablas first met over thirty years ago, and Wise recalls in his liner note that the two immediately found “the ability to make music intuitively, without structured written pages, listening for the music between the notes of each others’ voices.” The new studio recording contains what Dean describes as “spontaneous melodies.” For their CD release party, we can expect some new creations on the spot. (Is this jazz? It’s maybe best defined as “world music” but given the improvisational nature… a treat for jazz ears, no doubt.)

Fortunately there are two opportunities to catch the Atlantis Quartet at the Artists Quarter this weekend (2/4-5). Brandon Wozniak, Zacc Harris, Chris Bates and Pete Hennig have been collaborating for a few years now, and it just keeps getting more and more interesting as they add original fare to their playbook. Of course some of their most intriguing material has come from reworking iconic material from John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Led Zeppelin.

There’s also two opportunities to hear one of the most innovative ensembles in music, the Kronos Quartet, playing two totally different programs at the Walker Art Center (2/4-5). Not jazz in the usual sense (is there a usual sense?) but lovers of experimental music will find plenty to tickle the mind and ear, including a new work from Maria Schneider (Saturday).

Getting past the weekend and Super Sunday, Kurt Elling makes another much-anticipated return to the Dakota (2/9-10), bringing his working trio headed by long-time pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood and added attraction, guitarist John McLean. With Harish Raghavan on bass and Ulysses Owens on drums, this would be a great band even without Elling. But Elling of course is one of a kind, and one of the most scintillating and creative vocal talents of the modern era. McLean may not be well known but has been a mainstay of the Chicago jazz scene for years; I caught Elling with McLean at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival –it’s a magical pairing.

Making their AQ debut, the Willie Akins Quartet comes to the Artists Quarter on Wednesday (2/9). An accomplished saxman, St. Louis –based Akins has a resume that includes Roy Haynes, Jack McDuff and McCoy Tyner. He’s bringing along pianist Simon Rowe from Fargo, fellow St. Louis artist Willem Von Hombracht on bass, and the volcanic drummer from Roy Hargrove’s band, Montez Coleman.

More Jazz All Week
For as complete a calendar as we have in the Twin Cities, visit Pamela’s blog. Some recommendations:

Friday (2/4):Community Pool: Deep End Music Series” at the Black Dog (tonight with Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and Peter Leggett); Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble at the West Band School of Music, James Buckely Trio (with Bryan Nichols and JT Bates) at Café Maude.

Saturday (2/5): Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro (Minneapolis), “Keys Please” (Paul Cantrell, Carei Thomas, Todd Harper with Kim Sueoka) at Studio Z; James Buckley Trio again at Café Maude

Sunday (2/6): Sunday Brunch at the Aster Café with Patty and the Buttons; brunch at Hell’s Kitchen with Zacc Harris Trio, and Zacc later at Riverview Wine Bar

Monday (2/7): Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Zach Lozier (trumpet) with Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago at Jazz Central.

Tuesday (2/8): Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen

Wednesday (2/9): Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Kenny and the Bastids, a reincarnation of the TEFSA ensemble, start a weekly early set gig at the AQ.

Thursday (2/10): Phil Hey Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Gregg Marquardt with the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra at the Wabasha Street Cave; Butch Thompson at the Wellstone Center (tickets are gone)

Coming Soon!
• 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, Dean Magraw 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
• February 27-28, Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet at the Dakota
• 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 24, Mingus IV (Jazz Thursdays) at MacPhail
• March 30, Ben Allison Trio at the Artists Quarter
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

Photos: (top to bottom), John Scofield (at the TC Jazz Festival in June); Dean Magraw; Kurt Elling; John McLean--the latter two at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Best Is Yet to Come: Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota




© Andrea Canter

At the Dakota on January 31st, Roberta Gambarini was good. Even wonderful. (I did stay for two sets!) But I hesitate to say “amazing.” There is no doubt she is a very talented jazz singer who deserves (and gets) serious accolades. I gave her plenty myself a year ago after her stunning sets at the Dakota. But I think calling her “the best new singer of the past 50 years” (the often quoted praise of the late Hank Jones) is over-reaching and, if anything, a disservice to Roberta as much as to other top echelon vocalists of the 21st century.

One of the best” would be fair. But is she more remarkable than Kurt Elling, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tierney Sutton, Diane Reeves, Karrin Allyson, Mark Murphy, even octogenarian Sheila Jordan in her early career? What about the far less heralded but truly remarkable Mary Stallings—who perhaps should be considered “new” at several points in time? What about the avantly talented Brit, Norma Winstone? And within the last fifty years, what about the late greats, Irene Kral, Shirley Horn, Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter? I’ll stop, you get the point. It would be hard for anyone to be “the best” given the company they keep. And to be so dubbed at age 38 borders on the ridiculous no matter how talented, no matter how bright the future.

Roberta is perhaps more in the mainstream than all of the above, in the mode if not the embodiment of Ella, the Great American Songbook her playground. She has a lovely voice quality and usually (not every note last night), her intonation is spot on. To open solo on “Stardust” was gutsy and a perfectly executed beginning. But she had some odd trouble navigating the steep intervals at the start of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” later in the first set, which is a very difficult song and one I heard her handle a year ago with elastic ease. And while she seemed relaxed, even playful in her interactions between with the audience between tunes, in song she seemed a bit stiff. Not just serious, but somewhat rigid in her physical presence. Until she sang a ballad (“Poor Butterfly,” “Lush Life”), and particularly a ballad in her native Italian (e.g., her gorgeous “Estaté”… who needs a translation?). Maybe that’s a key – is it harder to really inhabit a lyric and sell it to your audience when your are singing in your second language? Does it require just a shade more concentration that drains emotional projection? Or is there just a little kernel of fear that you might not live up to the hype of the “best new singer of the past 50 years?”

Roberta’s strength may be her exquisite phrasing (“You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “The Heather on the Hill,” her medley from Porgy and Bess). And she scats well and often, at times her vocalese truly serving as a horn section (sax, trumpet, trombone—and at times all of the above) on such memorable blue turns as “No More Blues” and “You Ain’t Nothing But a JAMF.” But at times the scat also felt self conscious, like a competent but not quite natural translation from another language. In the second set, she seemed more relaxed, and gave us a totally different batch of songs. Which was a good thing, as many in the criminally small audience were carry-overs from the early show, which was not nearly as well attended as her talent (and hype!) deserved.

Throughout both sets, one had to be hooked by Roberta’s arrangements. Often she started a song with the less familiar verse, a cappella or with just one of her exceptional cohorts (pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Neil Swainson, drummer Willie Jones III), suddenly shifting into full ensemble mode or very slowly adding one more voice, then one more. Nothing seemed recycled. But in some ways, the opening night of 2011’s Dakota show fell a little short of a very similar show in early 2010. The material overlapped considerably, which can readily invite comparisons. And while it was well beyond what most singers accomplish in one evening, it was a tad short of exceptional.

Make no mistake. Roberta Gambarini is already a remarkable talent with three outstanding American recordings behind her. But surely her best is yet to come. She can do some amazing things with her voice now and I like to imagine how she might approach modern, even pop or “out” repertoire. We already had Ella. The lasting magic of Roberta Gambarini will not come from being the “best” of the past fifty years, but –very likely--from being one of the greats of the next fifty years.


Photos: Two moods of Roberta Gambarini. (Photos by Andrea Canter on January 31, 2011 at the Dakota.)