Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, April 1-7





© Andrea Canter


April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and there seems to be no end of options to enhance your appreciation. Jazz is alive here, no April Fool!


Highlights, Last Week

Robert Glasper Trio at the Dakota (March 28). Deriving his own sound from eclectic influences (bebop to hip-hop), Glasper is one of the most lauded of his generation of pianists. Although they started out with a rather static series of lovely but ultimately immobile musings, energy began to flow after about 30 minutes and a near sell-out crowd was treated to some ever-shifting, playful and virtuosic chamber work. And it was the longest jazz set I ever heard, anywhere, at about two hours and fifteen minutes. Easily the best show value per minute!

Judi Donaghy’s Live at Five at McNally Smith College (March 29). Judi finally put her songwriting skills on the front burner, and with a raft of new songs and new arrangements, produced a slambang show of everything from blues, swing and pop to hymn and cattle calls. It all worked. Keep ‘em coming, Judi.

Ann Millikan’s House of Mirrors IV at Hamm’s Brewery (March 29). OK, now shoot me for missing the first three installations! Millikan’s finale brought together the musicians who performed solo in the earlier editions, giving us two trios freely improvising with each other and interacting with an assortment of contraptions and quasi instruments communicating via a Rube Goldberg microphone set up. Call it free jazz, avant garde classical, experimental music….. call it fun. (See blog earlier today)

Maud Hixson and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (March 30). It’s usually Charmin Michelle’s gig but when she needs a sub, she can’t do better than Maud Hixson. And why not turn a suburban pizza joint into a sophisticated cabaret? Songs we know, songs we don’t, songs in French, and special treats like Doug Haining on clarinet and a guest spot filled by Arne Fogel. And it’s certainly worth the jaunt to Richfield on Charmin’s nights as well, usually every Monday and Wednesday.

Highlights, This Week

It’s a dense weekend of jazz, from the smooth voice of Bruce Henry to the sonic antics of Dave King. Bruce returns from Chicago to join up with his old band and serenade the weekend crowd at the Dakota (4/1-2). Fortunately his frequent visits fill the gap we all feared with his departure two years ago. There isn’t another male vocalist within earshot who has the same level of delivery or repertoire as Bruce, who for some reason is not yet a national treasure. I guess we’ll just keep him for ourselves. Across the river, our home town drum monster Dave King keeps a higher profile with The Bad Plus and Happy Apple, and now with his new project, the Dave King Trucking Company, driving into the Artists Quarter for the weekend (4/1-2). And it’s a talented crew, with Brandon Wozniak on sax, Erik Fratzke on guitar and Adam Linz on bass. Somewhere between the acoustic jazz of TPB and over-the-edge antics of HA, the DKTC is also a force in modern music, recently returning from gigs in Europe.


Down the block from the AQ, the Lobby Bar of the St. Paul Hotel hosts a CD release party for its queen of weekend Happy Hour, JoAnn Funk, Saturday night (4/2) with longtime bass partner Jeff Brueske and frequent drumming cohort Nathan Norman. The title of the recording, Pick Yourself Up, not only refers to the opening track but to the benefits of spending an evening with JoAnn in the Lobby Bar. The music is upbeat, sultry, and a perfect unwind.


And across town, it’s the very cool avant Jelloslave at the very cool and classic digs of the Aster Café (4/2), making it too many options for a Saturday night, but aren’t we lucky to have the dilemma? And to have bands like Jelloslave (cellos, tablas, drums) in such accessible settings?


Sunday afternoon (4 pm) is another Jazz From J to Z concert sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society. This one at the Artists Quarter brings us across the Atlantic to the songs of the continent, or at least inspired by continental themes, performed by French 75 and vocalist Maud Hixson. French 75 (referring to a cocktail named for an artillery gun) is the brainchild of clarinetist Tony Balluff, and with Robert Bell, Gus Sandberg, Steve Pikal and Nathan Norman, it’s one of the most swinging bands around. Add in Maud’s subtle swing (and perfect French!) and it will be a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


One of the most highly regarded saxophonists brings one of his most successful bands to the Dakota for two nights, April 4-5. Joe Lovano and Us Five were big hits at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and just a couple months ago released Bird Songs, new interpretations of Charlie Parker gems. No, Esperanza Spalding is not on the Midwest tour, but bass duties again will be ably handled by Peter Slavov. The two-drum configuration makes this quintet a rhythmic powerhouse. The Dakota keeps the music coming this week, turning the stage over to the eccentric Philip Glass for a rare solo piano gig (4/6) in conjunction with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company’s shows at the Walker Art Center; and to 91-years-young Irv Williams for a CD release and what the elder statesman of sax claims to be a “Retirement Party” on Thursday (4/7).

This just in-- the Atlantis Quartet will begin a monthly "Shiftin Paradigm Music Series" at Jazz Central on the first Tuesday of the month. This week (4/5) will be a kickoff for their upcoming tour which includes stops at Nighttown in Cleveland and Puppets Bar in NYC.


Also on Thursday (4/7), it’s the April edition of the TCJS Young Artists Series at the AQ followed by the Chris Lomheim Trio. The young jazzers this month come from Minneapolis Southwest High School where they study with Keith Liuzzi. Two combos will perform starting at 7 pm. Stick around for a guy who was once one of those prodigious teens, now enjoying his status as one of the area’s top pianists, Chris Lomheim. Best know for his interpretations of Bill Evans, Chris is also adept at spinning bebop into gold, and usually throws in some of his own exceptional compositions.


More Jazz All Week For the most complete listing, see Pamela’s blog. Some recommendations:

Friday, April 1: No fooling! Catch the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble at the West Bank School of Music

Saturday, April 2: Brunch with the Zacc Harris Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Paula Lammers and Cloud Nine at the Lakeville Area Arts Center; Merciless Ghost, a new band with George Cartwright, Josh Granowski and David Seru at the Black Dog; Reynold Philipsek at the 318.

Sunday, April 3: Brunch with Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar.

Monday, April 4: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Lori Dokken’s Singer Showcase at Camp Bar with guest host Aaron Keith Stewart; James Buckley Trio at Barbette.

Tuesday, April 5: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter.

Wednesday, April 6: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the Dan Musselman Trio at the Artists Quarter; Sample Night Live at the History Theater, featuring Vicky Mountain.


Coming Soon!

• April 8-9, Michel LeGrand at the Dakota

• April 8-9, David Hazeltine at the Artists Quarter

• April 9, JazzMN Orchestra with Andy Martin at the Hopkins HS Performing Arts Center

• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota

• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota • April 14-17, String Theory Music Festival

• April 15, Jazz Is Now Nownet, Final Gig at the Loring Theater

• April 17-18, Lee Rittenour at the Dakota • April 19-20, Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota

• April 21-May 22, I Wish You Love (Nat King Cole) at Penumbra Theater

• April 22, Charmin & Shapira CD Release at the AQ

• April 22, Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog

• April 22, Bobby McFerrin at Orchestra Hall

• April 24-25, John Pizzarelli at the Dakota

• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

• April 29-30, Connie Evingson at the Artists Quarter

• May 1, Soul Café at Hennepin United Methodist Church

• May 6-7, Atlantis Quartet at the AQ

• May 12, Dakota Combo, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail

• May 13-14, Red Planet at the AQ

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

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Stravinsky Project) at the Loring Theater

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

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

• May 22, Paula Lammers CD release at the AQ

• May 23-24, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

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



Photos: (Top to bottom) Dave King; Bruce Henry; Maud Hixson with French 75; Joe Lovano (all photos by Andrea Canter)

New Music: Everywhere You Listen




© Andrea Canter


I described a recent concert as “new music,” prompting the inevitable question, “So what is new music?” Technically, new music would be music that has been recently written or created. Music of the 21st century versus earlier eras. Music in its nascent premiere state. More often the term is applied to music that defies classification as jazz, classical, bluegrass, what have you, and specifically to music based in experimental forms and formats. One could easily argue that “free jazz” or “free improvisation” is always “new music.” Pick your definition. Whatever it is, there’s been a lot of it around town lately in diverse contexts, from community theater stages to music school auditoriums to renovated industrial sites, in forms and instrumentation as diverse as the venues. And while it would be a stretch to include it all under even the broadest “jazz” label, it all contains at least one element critical to jazz—the element of surprise. That surprise might be as small as a sudden change in dynamics or rhythm or as overwhelming as a human voice soaring over remotely activated electronic thunderclaps. Or a Norwegian cattle call inserted in a country jig. Consider some of the music heard over the past few days in the Twin Cities.


St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Music Series (March 26, Capri Theater). This season the SPCO is providing a series of free concerts in the heart of the Minneapolis northside. This performance included six works for no more than five musicians, ranging from solo marimba and duo trumpet fanfares to wind quintet, with the oldest composition written in the late 1940s and the newest from the late 90s. So how is this “new music” when it’s all been around for more than a decade? For an audience largely accustomed to more traditional classical works in a theater known for swing and blues productions, likely this concert marked a number of firsts—probably the first solo marimba performance, probably the first duos for violin/marimba and violin/djembe; probably the first Stravinksy fanfare. Certainly the marimba/djembe and Stravinksy fanfare were firsts for me, and I get around. That element of surprise came through in the instrumentation alone, as well as in the single and collaborative voicings.


New to the SPCO, principal timpanist Michael Israelievitch delivered the melodic centerpiece, a six-movement work by Jacob Druckman for solo marimba, aptly titled “Reflections on the Nature of Water.” Through his choice of various mallets, Israelivitch’s “reflections” varied in nuance just as water, in droplets, cascades or tumult, creates divergent images and sounds. Irving Fine’s “Partita for Wind Quintet” was a fascinating menagerie of harmony via flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. Ruggero Allifranchini joined Israelievitch on Michael Colgrass’s “Hammer and Bow” (Fantasy for Violin and Marimba), and the duo finished the evening with Israelivitch moving to djembe for a reading of Chriastian Woehr’s “Djembach.” Here Baroque concepts collided playfully with African percussive abstractions. Each half of the program was introduced by a fanfare for two trumpets, first a variant on 17th century welcomes written by SPCO harpsichordist Layton James, and second the very modern sounds from Stravinsky, actually written some 30 years before James’s. It’s new programming and the level of applause suggests there’s a welcoming audience.


“Life, Love, Questions and Cows” (Songs by Judi Donaghy), Live at Five at McNally Smith College (March 29). Of course compositions performed for the first time are “new music.” Although she has written songs in the past, vocalist Judi Donaghy has mostly performed others’ works in her spare time while running the voice department at McNally Smith. The college’s Live at Five series offered her an opportunity to return to songwriting, yielding a college all-star show with Judi in the role of composer, singer, producer, and arranger. The music ran a stylistic gamut from blues and Latin to hymn and hip-hop to swing and cattle call. Yes, cattle call. One of Judi’s McNally colleagues, Peggy Larson, has studied folk music from here to Oslo, adding Norwegian cattle calling to her repertoire. So naturally Judi had to include a swinging back country jig in the playlist, giving Larson a chance to show off an elastic voice as likely to bring attention from Garrison Keillor as from any wandering livestock. But it was perhaps the new hymn written for pianist/vocalist Lori Dokken that lingered longest in the ear. As Judi said in introducing the song, Lori can sell the lyrics, the feelings, like no one else. We can hope that the success of this production will spur Judi to more songwriting. And maybe more performing as well?


House of Mirrors IV – Experimental Improvisation/Interactive Sound Installation from Ann Millikan (Hamm’s Brewery, March 29). For me it was a double header night, one demonstrating that “new music” goes in many directions. The first three installments of Ann Millikan’s House of Mirrors passed me by, somehow. Funded in party via the McKnight Composers Fellowship Program, eclectic composer Millikan created a multi-part “installation” that “focuses on the internal experience of the performer…where the performer is surrounded by sound and stimulus both internally and externally… Various materials are given to stimulate improvisation: the score, resonant surfaces which are excited by using modified speakers, and ‘sound boxes’ that are manipulated with the feet.” Think of it as music in four dimensions. The earlier installations were based on music composed for single musicians, and included bits of narration about the history of the surrounding Swede Hollow community, which for years was anchored by the Hamms’ Brewery, now a collection of artists’ studio spaces.


For House of Mirrors IV, Millikan brought together six musicians who had been the individual foci of previous segments, now functioning as two trios. It’s not your usual music space. Aside from the open ductwork, the “stage” was set up with various stations of apparatus, as easily identified as a huge bass drum to hanging gongs to odd Rube Goldberg contraptions. Ann explained that by placing modified microphones around these props, new sounds could be created as the musicians passed by. Her “sound boxes” were filled with empty plastic CD cases, ripe for crackling additions when tossed about by passing feet. With the stage set, the first trio entered—vocalist Maria Jette, violinist Kathryn Bennett and bass clarinetist Pat O’Keefe. For the next 25 minutes or so, the musicians wandered around the stage, engaging the microphones as collaborators atop their own sound creations, prompted minimally by the composer’s suggestions. After an intermission, the second, all brass trio provided a structurally similar, sonically very different, equally spontaneous and interactive work, with trumpeter Geoffrey West Senn, tenor saxophonist Scott Fultz and tubist Stefan Kac. This second act was more percussive, darker, more dangerous, a perfect soundtrack to a sci fi or horror film. Even the overhead vent system seemed to blow on and off as if intentionally joining the fray.


I lamented recently about the dismally small turnout (9) for a concert of new experimental music. House of Mirrors IV drew at least 50 to a far more remote venue. Maybe some were there because it was in fact based in their community. The man seated beside me confessed that he came hoping to learn more about Swede Hollow. He was a retired worker at the brewery and was curious about the use of the space. He was not expecting new music or free improvisation or gerry-rigged microphones. But he listened through both sets and admitted that he even liked some of it.

That’s what’s fun about new music. It’s new. It’s filled with surprise. And you might like some of it.


Photos: None during the performances noted, but, top to bottom, Michael Israelievitch, SPCO marimba master (photo from MPR website); Judi Donaghy at McNally Smith (photo by Andrea Canter); House of Mirrors, installation III with Thelma Stone, Ann Millikan, Geoffrey Senn and Stefan Kac, with scores on the wall (photo from House of Mirrors blog)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, March 25-31





© Andrea Canter

If you can’t find something you like this week….you aren’t listening.

Highlights, Last Week
Milo Fine, Two Trios at Studio Z (March 20). Only nine of us in the audience, but there was plenty of interaction on stage as pianist/percussionist Milo Fine joined creative forces with the tuba, played by Stefan Kac, and brought on first John O’Neill on cornet/flugelhorn and then Scott Newell on tenor sax, vocals and spoken word to form two trios. Each half of the program consisted of a spontaneous work. This is not scary music, but sometimes melodic, sometimes probing, always interesting.

Jane Monheit at the Dakota (March 22). Maybe it’s motherhood, maybe just artistic maturation, maybe the freedom of driving her own career. Whatever, Jane Monheit is taking long strides as a jazz singer and this was her most adventurous local gig yet. Last year she apologized for indulging in some scat, noting it was not going to be like Ella. This year she apologized for not improvising on one tune, wanting to draw attention to the lyric. And the voice is still perfect.

• Mingus at MacPhail: Meditations and Revelations IV at Antonello Hall (March 24). The piece that perhaps summed up all that's Mingus to close this landmark series, "Meditations on Integration" (aka "Meditation for a Pair of Wire Cutters") offered a 30-minute workout for seven of the most effective improvisers in town, but there were many other peak moments, from the opening "Reincarnation of a Love Bird" with the horns from the Dakota Combo to the Combo rhythm section churning through "Remember Rockefeller at Attica" with the horns of Dave Graf, Mike Lewis, Greg Lewis and Chris Thomson to the utterly beautiful "Noon Night."

Highlights, This Week
One of the mainstays of the Artists Quarter, the Tuesday Night Band (aka B-3 Organ Night) has owned Tuesdays for years. But now and then they branch out, and this Friday night (3/25) they welcome the weekend crowd at the AQ. Swinging bebop and soul-infused excitement makes this a not-to-be-missed gig for fans of mainstream jazz and the distinctive sound of the Hammond B-3. Featuring Downtown Bill Brown, Billy Franze and Kenny Horst. And come back the next night (3/26) for a quartet that swings with a cutting edge—Brian Grivna, Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates and Kenny Horst.

Remember the great songs of films from the 50s and 60s? Arne Fogel closes this three-show series of Hollywood Cabaret in Bloomington’s Black Box Theater with three performances this weekend (March 26-27). Joining the popular crooner are two Connies—Evingson and Olson. The first two Cabarets were sell-outs and this one is no exception—tickets only remained for the added Saturday matinee, and probably won’t last. More great voices—Monday (3/28), decide between Nichola Miller at Loring Pasta Bar’s Musique Mystique or Charmin Michelle with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza, while Maud Hixson takes over the mic at Fireside on Wednesday (3/30); Sophia Shorai will shine at Barbette on Thursday (3/31).

Monday night (3/28) is the overdue Dakota debut of one of the giants of the 30-something generation of jazz pianists, Robert Glasper. His fusion of hiphop elements into an acoustic jazz already fully flavored with bebop and gospel will be enhanced by bassist Derrick Hodge. Take in the early set and then head over to Jazz Central where Dave Graf makes one of his first public appearances since his collision with ice dams back in December.

And speaking of stylistic fusions, the March 29th installment of Live at 5 at McNally Smith features an original program of music from Judi Donaghy with the catchy title, “Songs of Life, Love, Questions (and Cows).” Long-time head of Vocal Music at McNally-Smith College in St. Paul , Judi has found new challenges as the new Assistant to the Dean of Academic Affairs at McNally as well as a born-again songwriter. It’s been a long while since Judi has really focused on her own music, as she notes that “...exploring the songwriting world again… It’s been on the back burner too long, so I ‘m really excited to be getting into it, writing melodies and lyrics, and utilizing some of the faculty here who are really outstanding musicians.” For this show, Judi brought in talented local arrangers including Laura Caviani and Adi Yeshaya, and has cast a talented array of performers, including Lori Dokken, Dave Schmalenberger, Pete Whitman, Rachel Holder, Laura Caviani and more.

The fourth and final installation of “House of Mirrors” should intrigue all lovers of new and experimental music on Tuesday (3/29), taking place at the old Hamm’s Brewery in St Paul’s Swede Hollow. Composer Ann Millikan creates a soundscape with musicians from the worlds of jazz, free jazz, and classical “new music,” along with stories from Swede Hollow residents. This finale features two ensembles, one with vocalist Maria Jette, bass clarinetist Pat O’Keefe and violinist Kathryn Bennett; the second with trumpeter Geoffrey West Senn, saxophonist Scott Fultz and tuba player Stefan Kac.

And you can slide into the weekend with the nearly monthly gig of the Pete Whitman X-Tet at the AQ on Thursday (3/31). It’s one of the few times you’ll see musicians replace tables at the AQ, so come early and grab what’s left, and enjoy one of the region’s most consistently inventive “little big bands” with ten of the hottest jazzers around. It’s always serious fun.

More Jazz This Week
For the metro’s most complete jazz listing, see Pamela’s blog. Some additional recommendations:
Friday, March 25: Dean Magraw and David Seru at the Black Dog; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); James Allen and Tom Pieper at First Course Bistro; Jana Nyberg Group at Honey; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Firebell (Park Evans, Graydon Peterson and Jay Esptein) at the Aster Cafe'.

Saturday, March 26: Charmin & Shapira do brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Funk and Brueske return to the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Nachito returns to the Dakota.

Sunday, March 27: Brunch options include the Jana Nyberg Group at Hell’s Kitchen; Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café; Three Keys Quartet at Trygs. Later, it’s the Macalester Spring Jazz and Pop Concert in the Alexander Hill Ballroom at Mac.

Monday, March 28: Headspace at the Artists Quarter

Tuesday, March 29: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ

Wednesday, March 30: The Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the River Falls Cultural Project at the AQ

Thursday, March 31: East Side at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon
• April 1-2, Dave King Trucking Company at the AQ
• April 1-2, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• April 2, Joann Funk Trio, CD Release at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)
• April 2, Dick Hyman at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• April 3, French 75 and Maud Hixson at the AQ (TCJS J From J to Z)
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 7, Irv Williams Retirement Party/CD Release at the Dakota
• April 8-9, Michel LeGrand at the Dakota
• April 9, JazzMN Orchestra with Andy Martin at the Hopkins HS Performing Arts Center
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 14-17, String Theory Music Festival
• April 17-18, Lee Rittenour at the Dakota
• April 19-20, Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota
• April 24-25, John Pizzarelli at the Dakota
• April 21-May 22, I Wish You Love (Nat King Cole) at Penumbra Theater
• April 22, Charmin & Shapira CD Release at the AQ
• April 22, Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog
• April 22, Bobby McFerrin at Orchestra Hall
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota
• April 29-30, Connie Evingson at the Artists Quarter
• May 6-7, Atlantis Quartet at the AQ
• May 12, Dakota Combo, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail
• May 14, Brubeck Brothers at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Stravinsky Project) at the Loring Theater
• May 20-21, Bryan Nichols CD Release at the AQ
• May 22, Maceo Parker and Christian McBride at Orchestra Hall
• May 22, Paula Lammers CD release at the AQ


Photos: Kenny Horst (with two bands this weekend at the AQ); Judi Donaghy at McNally Smith; Pete Whitman leads the X-Tet at the AQ (photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Music That Needs to be Heard: Is Anyone Out There?




© Andrea Canter [Full disclosure. I am the Vice President of the Twin Cities Jazz Society.] The Twin Cities Jazz Society sponsors a series of concerts every year, dubbed Jazz From J to Z. The series title is intended to describe the wide range of music that falls under the jazz label, from trad to swing to big band to bebop to Latin to… even to avant garde and “free” music. But the performance on Sunday night by local free legend Milo Fine was, as far as I can tell, the most “free” ever scheduled by TCJS. The venue was not chosen lightly, and the decision to hold this event at Studio Z seemed logical, given that this space has been home to the area’s quintessential experimental music ensemble, Zeitgeist, and over the years has hosted many of the area’s most creative artists. It’s a fairly small space, maybe if you squeeze you can fit in 70-80. It seemed like the perfect venue for Milo Fine and two new trios playing new music. There was no expectation of a large crowd, and even Milo himself noted before the concert that he is not doing this to attract a big audience, to make money, but because he loves the opportunity to play with like-minded musicians, because he loves to make this music. But to quote my friend Pamela, “this is music that needs to be heard.” But to be heard, it has to fall on human ears. With only nine in the audience, that’s a mere 18 ears. Where was the new music audience, which surely numbers far more than nine on any given night? After all, beyond Zeitgeist, this is a community that sports the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Engine 408 series of new music (revived for the coming season), the Community Pool series at the Black Dog (serving a similar function as the past Fantastic Fridays series), the varied programming of the Walker Art Center (leading it to inclusion on Downbeat’s “Top 100 Jazz Clubs” list), and improvising musicians like Stefan Kac, Adam Linz, Brian Roessler, Mike Lewis, Nathan Hanson, the Fantastic Merlins, and of course, Milo Fine. Yet it is also a community that has seen an erosion in venues that support new music—notably the demise of programming at the Clown Lounge and Café Maude in the past few months. Why only 9 people at Studio Z Sunday night? An early Sunday evening, innocuous weather, free parking across the street, a $10 cover. No competing Super Bowl or Academy Awards. Three of the ten were from TCJS, one was mom to one of the musicians. That leaves only five who had no apparent obligation to attend. Was it a bad night for jazz generally? Across town at the Dakota, inventive vocalist Rachelle Ferrell played to a full house. Chances are slim that the majority of her audience were fans of free improvisation despite Ferrell’s highly creative style. And it was Sunday night, not a lot going on at other venues. Milo Fine plays a lot, a small venues like Homewood Studios and the West Bank School of Music. He has his own following, not droves, but a lot more than nine. Was it a drawback to present an artist at a new venue—would the usual audience pass on yet another gig? But Fine had organized two new ensembles playing new music. This was not a repeat. Was there too little promotion? Milo had announced the gig on his website well in advance. TCJS announced the concert back in September, covered it in detail in its March issue of its monthly newsletter, the Strib carried the announcement, Studio Z promoted the show among the most likely audience, its own. As for the music, the nine of us in the audience Sunday night were treated to the diverse sounds and forms that have always marked Milo Fine’s music. We witnessed the act of artistic creation as Fine (on percussion and piano), tuba master Stefan Kac, and, in turn, cornet/flugelhorn player John O’Neill and saxophonist/vocalist Scott Newell took off on a range of musical ideas, some dispatched quickly, some slowly woven, always fitting Whitney Baillett’s definition of jazz—“the sound of surprise.” It is indeed a sound that needs to be heard. Programmers from the TCJS to the Walker to jazz clubs and concert halls, as keepers and promoters of American culture, need to ensure that this music is accessible. And when it is, we as curious listeners, need to find it, and go hear it. And be surprised. Milo Fine plays in various configurations about every month, between his Homewood Studios and West Bank School of Music series. There’s often something cooking at Studio Z, be it Zeitgeist or guest artists; and the old Hamm’s Brewery is hosting the innovative series of compositions from Ann Millikan, House of Mirrors (last installment on March 29th). The Black Dog Café in St. Paul’s Lowertown hosts free improvising musicians through its Community Pool series, most Friday nights (Dean Magraw and David Seru this Friday night, March 25th).


Photos: (Top to bottom), Milo Fine bowing a cymbal; Fine between drum kit and piano; Stefan Kac (all at Studio Z on March 20, 2011, photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Lead Sheet; Twin Cities Jazz, March 18-24








©Andrea Canter

Now it really feels like spring! We got by the hockey tournament without a blizzard so green grass can’t be far behind! And jazz around town should put us into an upbeat mood—Patty Peterson, Bobby and Ginger Commodore, Laura Caviani and Pete Whitman, Milo Fine, Jane Monheit, the music of Mingus…. Every jazz fan can find something familiar and something new.

Highlights, Last Week
Mike Stern with the JazzMN Orchestra
(3/12, Hopkins High School). It’s great to see a middle aged guy bounce around the stage like a teenager on caffeine. Stern puts everything into his performance, including a good dose of glee. And fronting a big band, especially one with the talent of JazzMN, seemed like a perfect fit. Debbie Duncan rocked the house herself with an unforgettable “Hard Hearted Hannah.”

Aakash Mittal Quartet (3/12, The Dakota Jazz Club). Colorado-based Indo-American saxophonist Mittal made his third Twin Cities visit in three years—let the annual gigs continue! See blog, March 14th.

Miguel Hurtado and Friends (3/17, Artists Quarter). Seems just a short time ago that this young drummer was playing with middle school pals, but now, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, Miguel Hurtado is making his mark on the local jazz scene. And with such friends as ace guitarist Zacc Harris, rising star bassist Jeremy Boettcher, and another young lion, pianist Joe Strachan, he’s proving he’s ready for prime time. The band proved versatile and assertive on its covers of Monk, Shorter and a particularly sophisticated take on “My Ideal.”

Highlights, This Week
The one gig I really want to hear is 1200 miles away in Manhattan. Former Twin Cities resident Nancy Harms is making her way in the Big Apple, and this weekend appears as guest vocalist with the Wycliffe Gordon Quartet at The Kitano. It’s a very cozy space in a Japanese hotel that caters to serious music (and sushi). If you are in the NYC area this weekend (3/18-19), check it out.

Here at home, you can never go wrong with Patty Peterson and Friends, and they will be in full force at the Artists Quarter (3/18-19). Actually this is the first time the full band has been together at the AQ—Bobby Vandell, Peter Schimke, Billy Franze, Paul Peterson, Jason Peterson DeLaire. Patty can handle anything from the Great American Songbook to the contemporary pop songbook or a gem off the R&B charts, and this band has energy to burn. And a big fan club so get there early! Covering a somewhat similar route with more blues and gospel infusion, Bobby and Ginger Commodore celebrate their respective birthdays with their long-standing band at the Dakota (3/18-19). This annual bash features pianist Lee Blaske, bassist Mark Weissburg and saxwoman Kathy Jensen, along with surprise guests.

Although they perform together in many configurations, it is rare to catch pianist Laura Caviani and saxophonist Pete Whitman alone together. On Saturday night (3/19) as part of the Jazz @ St. Barney’s series (at St. Barnabas Church in Plymouth), the duo will perform standards and original works, as well as music from tours of South America. This is an opportunity to hear two of the area’s most accomplished performers and composers pared down to just their own voices.

Switch gears, an unusual night at The Cedar (3/19) features creative guitarist Marc Ribot, opening with a solo set before accompanying his own score for the Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid. Ribot premiered the music in January at the New York Guitar Festival.

Switch gears again with a pair of trios headed by the innovative explorer, Milo Fine, in a Twin Cities Jazz Society “Jazz From J to Z” concert at Studio Z in Lowertown St Paul (3/20). This is likely the most “outside” offering from TCJS in its series history. Each trio features Fine on piano and percussion, and Stefan Kac on tuba. Then you can toss in John O’Brien on cornet and flugelhorn for one set, and Scott Newell on sax and vocals for the second set. One thing for sure, no one knows exactly what will happen from one moment to the next, but it will be intriguing no matter where they go.

Switch gears yet again – Monday and Tuesday nights (3/21-22) find Jane Monheit back to the Dakota. Her latest release, Home, is her first as producer, and finally we hear the music Jane wants to sing, the way she wants to sing it. Home is much closer to her live shows than any previous recording, which means it has more spontaneity, more warmth, more risks, and the result is arguably her best CD yet. The music will swing and tug at the heart, and I am confident we will hear Jane’s recent foray into scatting on at least one tune or two. Last time here, she mentioned she had resisted scatting because she knew she would not sound like Ella. True. And Ella never sounded like Jane Monheit.

Monday (3/21) brings a rare gig from master saxophonist Dave Milne, performing in a small ensemble setting at Jazz Central (4th Street and Central NE), the underground performance space that relies on word of mouth and private invitation. Consider yourself invited, by me.

The final installment of the Mingus Series at MacPhail (3/24), “Meditations on Integration” features a septet of local wizards led by bassist Adam Linz—Mike Lewis and Chris Thomson on saxes, Greg Lewis on trumpet, Scott Agster on trombone, Bryan Nichols on piano and JT Bates on drums. And there will be a special segment featuring the young Mingus students of the Dakota Combo, hot off their award-winning performance at the Charles Mingus High School Festival and Competition in New York. Learn more about the music at the 7 pm pre-concert talk, and then settle into the acoustic-friendly space of Antonello Hall for an night of the music that sparked the Mingus large ensemble tour of Europe in 1964. It’s music that could have been written yesterday. Or tomorrow.

More Jazz, All Week
See Pamela’s live jazz calendar for more gigs. Some recommendations:
Friday, March 18: Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Community Pool/Deep End Music Series at the Black Dog with Todd Harper

Saturday, March 19: Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira, noon at the Midtown Global Market; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Dorothy Doring and Curtis Marlaat at Roman Anthony’s (White Bear)

Sunday, March 20: Patty and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café; Rachelle Ferrell at the Dakota

Monday, March 21: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira, Musique Mystique at the Loring Pasta Bar; James Buckley Trio at the Red Stag; Lori Dokken's Singer Showcase at Camp Bar (a revival of Lori's gig at the Times, with some of the area's hottest new talents)

Tuesday, March 22: Maria Jette and Kathryn Bennett (voice, violin) in the first installment of House of Mirrors, project from experimental/improvised music composer Ann Millikan at the Hamm’s Brewery; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

Wednesday, March 23: Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Kenny and the Bastids, followed by the Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter

Thursday, March 24: Joann Funk Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Joe Smith Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Patty Peterson at School II Bistro

Coming Soon
• March 28, Robert Glasper at the Dakota
• March 29, Judi Donaghy, Live at Five at McNally Smith
• April 1-2, Dave King Trucking Company at the AQ
• April 1-2, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• April 2, Joann Funk Trio, CD Release at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)
• April 2, Dick Hyman at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• April 3, French 75 and Maud Hixson at the AQ (TCJS J From J to Z)
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 8-9, Michel LeGrand at the Dakota
• April 9, JazzMN Orchestra with Andy Martin at the Hopkins HS Performing Arts Center
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 14-17, String Theory Music Festival
• April 17-18, Lee Rittenour at the Dakota
• April 19-20, Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota
• April 21-May 22, I Wish You Love (Nat King Cole) at Penumbra Theater
• April 22, Charmin & Shapira CD Release at the AQ
• April 22, Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog
• April 22, Bobby McFerrin at Orchestra Hall
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota
• April 29-30, Connie Evingson at the Artists Quarter


Photos: (Top to bottom) Ginger Commodore; Pete Whitman; Mingus III ensemble at MacPhail (Chris Thomson, Mike Lewis, Greg Lewis with JT Bates in the background) (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, March 14, 2011

West Meets East, Meets Aakash Mittal





© Andrea Canter

I first became acquainted with the stirring music of Aakash Mittal when he contacted me about reviewing his 2009 debut recording, Possible Beginnings. Listening to a few samples, I didn’t need much persuading. The young Colorado-based saxophonist had a sound somewhere between Coltrane and Rudresh, which made perfect sense given his American/East Indian heritage. He brought his quartet to a Late Night gig at the Dakota two years ago, returned last summer on the Sixth Street stage of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and last Saturday night again brought some excitement to the Dakota’s Late Night series as part of a Midwest tour, now highlighting music from his second (2010) release, Videsh.

Much happened between the two recording sessions, notably at least two trips to India where Aakash studied with some traditional masters and the band performed with native musicians. The sights and sounds of his encounters in his father’s homeland pervade Videsh and many of the compositions that filled the late night air at the Dakota. But we also enjoyed the inventive reconstructions of American standards and hints of a current project involving ace trumpeter Ron Miles, one that Aakash hopes to shape into the next recording. He has no intention of shaking off his Indian roots, but he also intends to push his music forward as he explores a wider range of postbop possibilities. Still in his 20s, Aakash Mittal hears a world in his saxophone – or flute and clarinet, the latter of which was a stunning addition to his late set.

Saturday night, unsuspecting ears, including mine, might have missed the core melodies of the opening selections—including a thoroughly deconstructed “All the Things You Are” and a raga-touched sax vamp on “Take the Coltrane.” Jean-Luc Davis (bass) and Matt Fuller (guitar) soloed with assertive grace on “Things,” while Fuller and Mittal’s harmonies on “Coltrane” suggested a horn duet. Aakash continuously returned to one motif, from many angles. I did catch the thread of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Fuller suggesting a sitar through his use of loops and Davis enhancing the mournful theme through his exquisite solo. The guitar/sax harmony became an elegantly out-of-register merger on Aakash’s bustling “A Cumin Seed in the Mouth of a Camel,” one of a handful of tunes from Videsh that often featured the emotive drumming of Josh Moore. About a half interval apart, sax and guitar led the way through “The Street,” Mittal’s homage to the raging traffic of India’s urban roadways, fluttering and chaotic. The quartet closed with a stunning “October,” a new composition recently presented in Denver with Ron Miles, a preview of what lies ahead.

Aakash Mittal has found friends and fans in the Twin Cities, fueling his desire to return. He’s due now for a prime time gig.

Photos: (Top to Bottom) Aakash Mittal; Aakash and Jean Luc Davis; the Aakash Mittal Quartet (all photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, March 12, 2011)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

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




© Andrea Canter

From seasoned veterans to some of our newest jazz artists, the coming week, like the last one, gives us a sense of jazz history and jazz ahead.

Highlights, Last Week
Jazz (and related music) in the past week covered generations and styles, all vibrant and timely.

• Zeitgeist at Studio Z (3/5). I caught the third night of Zeitgeist’s “Unveiled,” a wide-ranging concert of new works, including world and local premieres. With a core of percussion, piano and reeds, Zeitgeist better fits “experimental modern music” than “jazz” or “classical,” and really, who cares? From a percussion duet to ensemble with vibes, marimba, strings and percussion and other configurations, from a tinkling mallet lullabye (“Windchimes”) to the theatrical, music-supported reading of “The Last of James Fenimore Cooper” (by a real Mohican), this was a modern music lovers’ playground.

Minnesota Youth Jazz Band at Famous Dave’s (3/6). Band director David Mitchell has a knack for drawing the best from his high school all-stars. This big band ensemble gave us Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus, Gordin Goodwin and more, with outstanding solos and playful arrangements. And they are heading to Europe in July.


Patti Austin at the Dakota (3/9). Part Ella Fitzgerald and part Kathy Griffin? An unlikely combination but Patti Austin, even at 70, still has incredible jazz chops and (to me) a surprising affinity for stand-up comedy. We got plenty of both, from her saucy, sultry scatting and wistful balladry to her hysterical monologue on marriage.
. Simone at the Dakota (3/10). She covered soul, R&B and jazz styles but it's definitely her own style, not mama Nina's. She honored a bevy of muses from (of course) Nina to Oscar Brown to Eva Cassiday, and her take on Eva's "Autumn Leaves" surpasses any version I've heard to date.

Highlights, This Week
Saturday night (3/12) brings some explosive music to town: Guitarist extraordinaire Mike Stern guest stars with the JazzMN Orchestra at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center (one of the area’s best venues for big band jazz!). A six-time Grammy nominee, the jazz-fusion giant cuts his teeth with Blood, Sweat and Tears, and then with the Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius bands of the 1980s. Steps Ahead, David Sanborn, and Michael Brecker collaborations followed, and now he is among the elite of Downbeat Magazine’s all-time Top 75 Jazz Guitarists. The gig also features our own answer to Patti Austin, the fabulous Debbie Duncan, as well as the finest collection of jazz artists in the Midwest, the JazzMN Orchestra.

If a smaller ensemble has more appeal yet you are still seeking out some great guitar, East Side is the answer to your quest, Saturday night at the Aster Café, a perfect setting for some old world –influenced, modern tinged music. With Reynold Philipsek on guitar, Clint Hoover on harmonica, Matt Senjem on bass and Michael Bissonnette on all sorts of percussion, East Side offers original, accessible, intriguing music.

Fortunately, both East Side and JazzMN should be over before Late Night at the Dakota gets underway, and this Saturday night brings the welcome return of the Colorado-based Aakash Mittal Quartet. Mittal is a young saxophonist who has effectively melded his East Indian heritage and post bop inclinations into a sound that suggests Rudresh Mahanthappa, John Coltrane, Joe Lovano, Charles Lloyd and…. Aakash Mittal… raga meets renegade. His quartet (guitar, bass and drums) forms a cohesive unit equally capable of creating a near-sacred incantation or delightful cacophony. Mittal debuted locally at the Dakota two years ago and returned for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival last summer. He likes it here.

Sunday evening (3/13) at the Dakota marks a rare appearance of Moore By Four. With each of the vocalists immersed in solo careers, it’s not often that we can see Dennis Spears, Yolande Bruce, Ginger Commodore and Connie Evingson on the same stage. More energy than Manhattan Transfer and every bit as swinging, MB4 is the quintessential vocal quartet.

Despite budget woes and arts cutbacks, the Minneapolis Public Schools has nevertheless managed to hold on to some of the area’s finest music educators and student artists, and two events this week offer proof: On Monday night (3/14), the Achieve Minneapolis/Minneapolis Schools present the annual Viva City showcase of student talent, this time focused on jazz, on the Ted Mann Concert Hall Stage. This is a free event, with a variety of school music and dance ensembles, hosted by T. Mychal Rambo. Washburn High School alum Charmin Michelle joins her school band. On Thursday night (3/17), Minneapolis South (and Manhattan School of Music) grad Miguel Hurtado brings a band of “friends” to prime time at the Artists Quarter. The drummer first came to attention locally with teen band The Eggz while still in middle school, and has since been heard around town with Javier Santiago, Chris Smith, John Raymond and more. Now he’s back in town and building his own career, and this gig at the AQ is a good place to start, and particularly with a line up that includes guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist Jeremy Boettcher and rising star pianist Joe Strachan.

Always a popular act, vocalist/entertainer Christine Rosholt brings her always-stellar band to the Dakota Monday night (3/14), this time with special guest, guitarist Randy Napoleon, who of late has been touring with the great Freddy Cole. And it’s double bass night at the Dakota on Tuesday (3/15) as two of the giants of electric bass offer back-to-back sets: Stanley Clarke, most recently seen here as an acoustic bass virtuoso with Chick Corea and Hiromi, reminds us that it is the electric ax that brought him international acclaim (Return to Forever). Counterpart Victor Wooten rose to star status with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. This is a rare opportunity to hear both Clarke and Wooten on the same stage, same night.

More Jazz, All Week
Just a reminder, I am listing some recommendations but a more complete local jazz calendar is available on Pamela’s blog!

Friday, March 11: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen (Chambers Hotel), Community Pool/Deep End Music Series at the Black Dog, tonight with Kip Jones, Marc Anderson and Brian Roessler; Patty Peterson and Friends at School II Bistro; Maurice Jacox at the Artists Quarter

Saturday, March 12: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Lee Engele and Joel Shapira at Pardon My French; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Maurice Jacox at the Artists Quarter

Sunday, March 13: Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café; Dave Ziffer (new guitarist about town!) at the Coffee Grounds (Falcon Heights); Arne Fogel and Jennifer Eckes at Honey; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Patty Peterson and Mark Bloom at the Sabes JCC

Monday, March 14: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Rhonda Laurie and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Preservation Hall Jazz Band at The Guthrie; Milo Fine at Homewood Studios; Doug Haining at Jazz Central

Tuesday, March 15: Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood; Corey Wong Quartet followed by The Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

Wednesday, March 16: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Kenny and the Bastsids followed by the Media Addicts at the Artists Quarter

Thursday, March 17: Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon!
• March 18, Bobby and Ginger Commodore, Birthday Party at the Dakota
• March 18-19, Patty Peterson & Friends at the Artists Quarter
• 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
• April 1-2, Dave King Trucking Company at the AQ
• April 1-2, Bruce Henry at the Dakota
• April 2, Joann Funk Trio, CD Release at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)
• April 3, French 75 and Maud Hixson at the AQ (TCJS J From J to Z)
• April 4-5, Joe Lovano’s Us Five at the Dakota
• April 8-9, Michel LeGrand at the Dakota
• April 10, Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota
• April 11-12, Kevin Eubanks at the Dakota
• April 17-18, Lee Rittenour at the Dakota
• April 19-20, Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota
• April 22, Charmin & Shapira CD Release at the AQ
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

Photos: (Top to Bottom) Aakash Mittal; East Side; Miguel Hurtado (photos by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Foodie Jazz -- Manhattan Sound Bites


© Andrea Canter

Every time I go to New York, friends roll their eyes and say something about the high prices for dining and lodging. My experience—there’s not much difference between finding good jazz and good food in New York. It’s everywhere you turn, often cheap, and often the best you’ve ever experienced. Even by accident.

From my recent five-day excursion:

Dizzy’s Prelude: Call it a late lunch. Looking for something light, knowing I’d get dinner to fulfill my $20 minimum at Dizzy’s, I stumbled on Planet Sushi, about 78th and Amsterdam. Lunch special for $9 sounded light enough, “three rolls” with soup and salad. Soup and salad were fairly substantial, but the three rolls were generously cut into 18 pieces of sushi. The waiter was disturbed that I left half of it. Who knew it was lunch for at least two?

Between Mingus and Mingus: A quick snack seemed in order when we returns for a mere 30 minutes between the opening day of workshops at the Mingus High School Band Festival/Competition and the festival’s special Mingus Orchestra concert at St. Bart’s. Down the block from the hotel, at 77th and Amsterdam, The Cottage promised Chinese bites. A small order of dumplings would hold me over til our late post-concert dinner. But like Mingus, there’s more to it than the notes. That $5 order of Szechwan seafood dumplings turned into a large bowl of a dozen pillows of seafood bliss in a pungent broth. Maybe “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress” but red was the color of my lips and my taste buds really sang, “Meditations” on shrimp and scallions.

Pappadam, From Mingus to India: After the Mingus Orchestra, where do you take 20 Minnesotans for a late dinner, especially seven hungry teenage musicians? Is there a spot on the Upper West Side that has room for 20? Our concierge found an Indian restaurant at 75th and Columbus (Mughlai) that was not intimidated by our party. It helped that it was well after 9 pm. For the sake of self preservation but also adding much to our enjoyment, the host suggested a multicourse family style dinner. It was all good if mostly toned down to the lowest common denominator in terms of heat but then there were those pappadams that started things off with more zing than I ever imagined could be baked into those wafer-thin flatbreads. Order pappadams most places, you get rather bland cruch. Here, your sinuses were delightfully opened, your taste buds awakened with a jolt. Add some of the bright green chutney and all that is so good in Indian cuisine crackles on your tongue. Spice, jolt, bright colors, perfect harmony—it was Mingus in India.

Gelato in Motian: Friday night, we finished our entrees at a very tight, but very good and reasonable Indian spot (Sagwat) and headed over to Grom for my second helping of the best chocolate fix I can remember, anywhere, in any form. This is a little gelato haven (76th and Broadway, the first American outlet of an Italian chain), “cioccolato extranoir” the signature chocoholics’ scoop. It’s the same color as my Subura Forester –you think it’s black til you see the sunlight hit it and realize it is the darkest brown this side of black. As the name implies, Extranoir is the darkest, richest creamy chocolate ice imaginable. Only the percussive antics of Paul Motian (at Cornelia Street) could make you momentarily forget that feeling of nirvana that comes when you taste something so decadent that you know what the last sensation should be when you take your last breath. Or at least your last bite.

Big Band Mango: I credit vocalist Kendra Shank for taking me to one of the best Vietnamese spots I’ve visited (L’Annam), and I come from a metro area with over 100 Vietnamese restaurants and delis. But I’ve never had shrimp with green mango. A bit like a Thai green curry but not as rich, it was simply a perfect, slightly sweet and sour sensation, the flavors blending much like the following performance of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (about a ten-minute walk from L’Annam to the Vanguard), familiar and new, swinging and soaring, some bite, much joy.

When I was 16, I visited New York for the first time as part of a high school spring break tour. We were allotted one afternoon on our own (probably something no public school would allow in 2011) and I opted to take myself to Grand Central Station and splurge on lunch in the Oyster Bar. I ordered boullibaise, mostly because it was something I was sure was not on any menu in the state of Iowa, and in part because I thought my French teacher would be impressed. I really didn't know what it was. I still remember the sensation of that sweet/salty broth and the tender fish, scallops and lobster chunks swimming beneath. Maybe that's why I come to New York expecting to be surprised by new tastes.

I spent what at the time was a whopping $6 on my bowl of boullibaise circa 1967. In 2011, I spent less on that bowl of dumplings, feeling that same surprise and satisfaction. Much like hearing Tepfer and Motian at Cornelia Street.


Photo: Grom, gelato at all hours, in all flavors (photo found online)



Friday, March 4, 2011

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







© Andrea Canter

Big voices on small stages rule this coming week, with the Dakota hosting Patti Austin and Simone, Orchestra Hall featuring Michael Feinstein, and local songbirds Maud Hixson, Lucia Newell, Rhonda Laurie, Charmin Michele, Vicky Mountain and more in the clubs.

Highlights, Last Week
The Dakota Combo at the Dakota (2/27). Hot off their “Mingus Spirit” performance in New York, the Combo proved adept at off-the-cuff standards, swinging with Irv Williams and Ginger Commodore at the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education fundraiser.

Branford Marsalis Quartet and the Terence Blanchard Quintet at Orchestra Hall (2/27): Finally, Orchestra Hall seems to have overcome the sonic demons that so often have plagued jazz events there. And Marsalis and Blanchard found no obstacles at all as they gave us two soaring sets and showed off some of the hottest young talents around, particularly drummer Justin Faulkner and Kendrick Scott.

Highlights, This Week
Traditional African rhythms meld with modern jazz grooves at the Artists Quarter this weekend (3/4-5) with the return of the Loba African Jazz Trio, featuring Côte d’Ivoire natives Loba and Serge Akou along with Stokely Williams. Guitarist Loba has been compared to Hendrix and Beck.

Over at Studio Z, lovers of experimental music and particularly the inventions of Zeitgeist will find new works to ponder and celebrate this weekend (3/4-5). These four innovators of percussion, woodwinds and piano will present new chamber works by Ben Broening (founder of the Third Practice Festival), Justin Merritt (St. Olaf Professor of Composition), and Harvey Sollberger, plus works by local composers Brent Michael Davids and Ann Millikan.

And speaking of innovators, on Saturday afternoon (3/5, 4-6 pm) you can enjoy the multiple talents of AACM stalwart Douglas Ewart. His visual artistry (“Visual Chants”) is on display at the Center for Cultural Wellness in south Minneapolis, augmented by his music performances (on multiple, often home-made reeds and percussion objects), accompanied by saxophonist Donald Washington (another treat, he does few public performances here), laptop specialist Stephen Goldstein, and special guests.

If you have spent even a few minutes in the Artists Quarter, you have undoubtedly met Davis Wilson, “the man at the door.” Davis sells tickets but his stories, rants and critiques are free, and his introductions of musicians (“The Artists Quarter is pleased and flipped…”) are legendary. Sunday night (3/6) you can turn the tables on Davis as we celebrate his 75th birthday with a club party.

Chanteuse Maud Hixson and hubby/pianist Rick Carlson—surely one of the most endearing musical teams in town—return to Erté in northeast Minneapolis (3/4). It’s perhaps an odd little space for music but the eclectic menu is music-worthy and, in any space, Maud and Rick elevate standards to fine art. Maud returns the next night (3/5) for another sublime evening, this time with swinging accordionist Denny Malmberg.

More vocal finery this week: Michael Feinstein brings his Sinatra Project to Orchestra Hall (3/5-6); Lucia Newell and Dean Magraw make a fine pairing on the Musique Mystique series at the Loring Pasta Bar (3/7), and another dose of Lucia awaits at the Artists Quarter on Thursday with her own quartet featuring Phil Aaron on keys. At the Dakota, Patti Austin brings years atop smooth jazz and R&B charts to the intimate club setting (3/8-9), while the legacy of Nina Simone—daughter known simply as “Simone”—debuts on Thursday (3/10). And Rhonda Laurie returns to the Aster Café (3/10), in the midst of her statewide tour of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Guitarist Todd Clouser rounded up some local pals (and special guests) to form A Love Electric, previewing the band’s debut recording at the Dakota last fall. He’s on tour with the band now, stopping in at the Artists Quarter on Wednesday night (3/9) with Bryan Nichols, Adam Meckler, Chris Bates and Greg Schutte.

More Jazz All Week!
For the area’s most complete jazz calendar, visit Pamela’s blog. Recommended gigs:

Friday, March 4: Tyondai Braxton’s Wordless Music Orchestra at the Walker; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen (Chambers Hotel); Jazz Collective with Debbie Duncan and Cynthia Johnson at the Dakota.

Saturday, March 5: George Maurer Group public television taping at the Dakota at 4:30 pm (and sold out for his 8 pm show at the Dakota); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); U of M Jazz Ensemble with guest Michael Nelson at Ted Mann, capping off the U of M Jazz Festival; Vicky Mountain with James Allen at First Course Bistro.

Sunday, March 6: Minnesota Youth Jazz Band at Famous Dave's (Calhoun Square); The Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Jon Cleary at the Dakota; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar.

Monday, March 7: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Pete Whitman at Jazz Central

Tuesday, March 8: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Frankhouse at Hell’s Kitchen

Wednesday, March 9: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Kenny and the Bastids opening for Todd Clouser at the AQ.

Coming Soon!

• March 12, Mike Stern with the JazzMN Orchestra at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
. March 12, Aakash Mittal Quartet at the Dakota Late Night
• 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
• April 2, Joann Funk Trio, CD Release at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)
. April 3, French 75 with Maud Hixson at the Artists Quarter (TCJS, Jazz From J to Z)
• 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 19-20, Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota
. April 22, Charmin & Shapira CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• April 27-28, Omar Sosa at the Dakota

Photos: (Top to bottom) Douglas Ewart plays a home-made rainstick; Davis Wilson rants at the Artists Quarter; Rhonda Laurie (with Matt Senjem) at her Aster Cafe CD release in fall 2010; Todd Clouser (with Adam Meckler) at his Dakota preview in fall 2010 (photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jazz Around Town





© Andrea Canter

A few recent gigs in the Twin Towns not only keep the jazz flame alive, but remind us that one of the genre’s historically significant artifacts—gathering and reinterpreting sounds—is its insurance of a vibrant future. Some would not define Lizz Wright as a “jazz singer” despite her use of improvisation and roots in the blues. Hers is a voice with no boundaries, deep and soulful, with stunning intonation. Her respect for lyrics and the underlying story came through on every note at the Dakota last week (2/23), be it a country ballad like “Hey Man,” a gospel hymn like “Walk With Me, Lord” or the folk/rock Neil Simon classic, “Old Man.” Take her background in gospel, jazz and blues, throw in some R&B and Soul vibes, a penchant for songwriting as well as song performing, and at a mere 30 years, you have a talent with assured longevity and a wide open universe for continued innovation. Wright joins Kurt Elling at Orchestra Hall next season (February 2012), in what might at first glance seem an odd pairing, but all signs point to fascinating partnership.

Speaking of Orchestra Hall and partnerships, I would have to list the recent Branford Marsalis/Terence Blanchard concert (2/27) as one of the top jazz performances I’ve heard in a hall that too often mangles chamber jazz. Each band brought its own sound crew and tamed the space. (Which meant, not only could we hear every nuance of the music, we could also too clearly hear the drunk in the upper balcony shouting his ill-timed approval throughout the evening.) Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) and Blanchard (on trumpet) are not only consummate performers and composers, but skillful bandleaders who find the ensemble talents that propel their music to the heights of modern jazz. Playing the first set, the Marsalis Quartet (with pianist Joey Caldarazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and relative newcomer, 20-year-old drummer Justin Faulkner) offered compositions too new to have titles, like Caldarazzo’s abstract, octave- spanning opener and Marsalis’s own folkloric ballad with his lyrical soprano in full bloom. Faulkner exploded through Monk’s “52nd Street Themes” while the set closed with Blanchard joining in, dueling Marsalis on the high-energy “Return of the Jitney Man” by Branford’s former drummer, Jeff “Tain” Watts.

There was no let-down after intermission, with Blanchard’s Quintet running through largely original compositions from the Katrina-inspired Tale of God’s Will and most recent Choices. Blanchard surrounds himself with top young players, Cuban rising star Fabian Almazan on piano, 19-year-old Joshua Crumbly on bass, under-the-radar titan Brice Winston on tenor sax, and one of his generation’s most sizzling drummers, Kendrick Scott. Two-sided conversations were prevalent, often a debate between Blanchard and Scott; Winston had significant air time, reaching the levels of the most lauded saxophonists on today’s scene; Scott has the tactics to rival any contemporary drummer and proved able to switch gears in a millisecond. The finale, Derrick Hodge’s “New World,” featured the much-anticipated Blanchard/Marsalis pairing that became a three-way, crowd-igniting hornfest.

Many in the audience (including Dakota owner Lowell Pickett) made the short walk down the Mall to the Dakota Jazz Club for the late set with youngest Marsalis, Jason, and his vibes quartet, settling in for two nights. A thoughtful composer with a romantic approach to the vibraphone, the music was almost too mellow after the volcanic activity at Orchestra Hall. But it was a beautiful recession.


Photos (top to bottom): Lizz Wright at the Dakota; Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival; Jason Marsalis at the Dakota (photos by Andrea Canter)