Thursday, April 28, 2011

Omar Sosa, Afreecanos and the Global Music Congregation















© Andrea Canter

Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet may have played the best worst-attended show of 2011 last night (4/27) at the Dakota. At least I hope there isn’t another gig with such a wide discrepancy between quality of art and quantity of patronage. It wasn’t an empty club, but even with the curtain drawn between bar side and dining room, the room was only half full. If you missed it (probably you did!), you have another chance tonight, and I bet there are tickets left.

This was Sosa’s first appearance since the Dakota was housed at Bandana Square. In the interim, the Cuban-born, Barcelona-based sound magician has furthered his reputation for melding the musics of native cultures (particularly African, Cuban and Latin) with American jazz and roots, and high tech wizardry, creating something that is all of the above and like nothing else. His piano at times suggests Abdullah Ibrahim, Chucho Valdez, Craig Taborn, and Jason Moran (especially with his use of recorded voices), while his electronic keyboards and loops bring in the funk, rock and hip-hop of a new generation, somehow balancing avant garde, montuno, and folkloric meditation. His cohorts add to the mélange, particularly multi-reedist/percussionist Peter Apfelbaum who can blow like Chris Potter on soprano and tenor and suggests Charles Lloyd on flute, while twisting it all out of shape on the melodica and raising eyebrows (and ears) with what looks like a fistful of small horns. Marque Gilmore adds layers of supportive fury on drums, while Childo Tomas lends both voice and pulsating electric bass.

In flowing white robe, Sosa resembles a high priest presiding over his able lieutenants and adulating –if sparse—congregation. His solemn prayers and joyful dances deserve more attention.

Sosa and the Afreecanos Quartet return for two sets at the Dakota tonight, 7 and 9 pm.


Photos: (Top to Bottom) Omar Sosa surrounded by percussion and electric gizmos; Peter Apfelbaum blowing through one valve to multiple bells; Childo Tomas adding hand percussion to his own face; Marque Gilmore flailing at his drum kit (all photos by Andrea Canter at the Dakota, April 27th)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, April 29-May 5















© Andrea Canter

No real hint of it but as the song says, “You Must Believe in Spring.” We’re getting the publicity now for the annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, so summer can’t be far away! Warm up with some great jazz this weekend, from Connie Evingson’s solo debut at the Artists Quarter to the infrequent reunion of Soul Café to the return of live music at Café Maude with the Dean Granros Trio and the really infrequent appearance of Vicky Mountain at the AQ. You must believe in jazz.

Highlights, Last Week
The new and avant garde took my center stage this past week, along with some good ol’ fashioned swing.

Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog (April 22). Once a nearly weekly staple in Lowertown, the Merlins have been busy touring together and separately. With New York cellist Daniel Levin now holding down the midsection, the quartet is as edgy and beautiful and strange as ever (see blog, 4/25).

• Charmin & Shapira, CD Release at the Artists Quarter (April 22). It was a buy night in St. Paul. The crowd was big and happy, like the music. Get Charmin and Joel’s CD—Dawning and Daylight.

Kip Jones CD Release at Studio Z (April 23). Kip filled the temporary risers at Z and enthralled us with a solo set of voice/violin compositions that reflected his global travels, then joined up with Patrick Harrison and James Buckley for some beautiful, fun and swampy trio action. (See blog, 4/25)

John Pizzarelli Quartet at the Dakota (April 25). No one enjoys going to work as much as John. He sings, he swings, he tells stories and always entertains.

Omar Sosa and the Afreecanos Quartet at the Dakota (April 27). I hope the second night crowd is a lot bigger, this amazing pianist/percussionist/composer and his cohorts (including the ferocious Peter Apfelbaum) can cover the diversity of modern and traditional music in one flurry of notes.

Best Bets, This Week
For all of her CD releases, solo gigs around the world and here at home, Connie Evingson has barely touched the Artists Quarter stage and never fronting her own band. So this is a debut of sorts this weekend (4/29-30), and she could not ask for a better supporting group with Tanner Taylor, Graydon Peterson, Mac Santiago and Dave Karr. She’ll give us a taste of her latest project, Summer Samba (due out in late 2011) as well as favorite tunes from her diverse repertoire.

Once a monthly gig through a grant to the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, the trio Soul Café (Laura Caviani, Steve Blons, Brad Holden) performed in tandem with readings of modern poets. Now they perform a few times per year, expanded to a sextet with bassist Jay Young and percussionist Darryl Boudreaux, and the ever expressive voice of Lucia Newell. They’re back at the Hennepin Av Methodist on Sunday night (5/1) to welcome signs of love and spring.

Café Maude used to have live music a couple nights a week. Jazz often appeared on the weekends. Then it all stopped a couple months ago. Music is back on Wednesday nights, earlier (7 pm) and sometimes jazz. Like Wednesday night (5/4) when guitar guru Dean Granros , bassist James Buckley and drummer David Seru squeeze into the little “stage” and play very cool music to accompany the very cool menu.

A wide-ranging double-header at the AQ on Thursday (5/5). The early set (7 pm) features the Dakota Combo, directed by Adam Linz, part of the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Young Artists Series. I write about this ensemble frequently—a new group by audition each fall, the best area high school jazz musicians who participate in an intensive rehearsal and performance program. This year the band studied Mingus and ended up finalists in the annual Mingus Competition in New York in February. So expect a set highlighting some Mingus tunes, maybe some originals and more. And it’s free. Then at 9 pm, a rare AQ appearance by vocalist Vicky Mountain and the Chris Lomheim Trio. That’s a pairing I am eager to hear. These are two artists who can do anything, everything, and with a lot of pizzazz.

More Jazz, Every Night
For as complete a listing as you’ll find, see Pamela’s blog. Recommended:

Friday, April 29: It’s St Paul Art Crawl weekend, and featured gigs include the Symphonic Transients Orchestra (with Stefan Kac) above the Black Dog in the Northern Warehouse and Nathan Hanson, Peter Leggett and Bryan Nichols in the Black Dog; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Arne Fogel at Ingredients Cafe

Saturday, April 30: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Joel Shapira, solo guitar at Ingredients Café; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen

Sunday, May 1: Patty and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café

Monday, May 2: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); U of M Jazz Ensembles I and II, Salute to the Big Bands at Ted Mann Concert Hall; Sophia Shorai at Barbette

Tuesday, May 3: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood

Wednesday, May 4: Steve Kenny and the Bastids, followed by Rookai at the Artists Quarter; Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon!
It’s not too early to book tickets to Herbie Hancock’s solo gig at Orchestra Hall on October 28th! And think ahead to summer jazz festivals! One of the best smallish festivals in the Midwest takes place every year on the 4th of July weekend in Iowa City, an easy five-hour drive south. Headliners this year are vocalist Carmen Bradford, Kneebody (sort of a plugged in Bad Plus), trombonist Josh Roseman, John Ellis and Doublewide, trumpet upstart Ambrose Akinmisure and the legendary Randy Weston. Watch for details on Jazz Police or check out the festival website. And in our neighborhood:

• May 6-7, Atlantis Quartet at the AQ

• May 10-11, Bobby Lyle at the Dakota

• May 12, Dakota Combo, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail

• May 13-14, Red Planet at the AQ

• May 14-15, John Raymond at the Dakota (Saturday) and AQ (Sunday)

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

• May 15, High School Jazz Piano Competition Finals at the Dakota

• May 16-17, Steve Tyrell at the Dakota

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) 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 22-23, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

• May 24-25, Four Generations of Miles (Stern, Fortune, Williams, Cobb) at the Dakota

• May 26, “A Girl Named Vincent” (Prudence Johnson) at the Dakota

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

• June 24-25, Twin Cities Jazz Festival with Gary Burton, Danilo Perez and more, at Mears Park
• October 28, Herbie Hancock Solo at Orchestra Hall (tickets now on sale!)






Photos: (Top to bottom) Soul Cafe performing at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church; the Dakota Combo; Vicky Mountain (photos by Andrea Canter)






Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jazz Journalists Association and the Best of.....





© Andrea Canter

I know most jazz musicians (maybe most artists of all sorts) are not particularly excited by the various “Best of the Year” or whatever awards listings. For one thing, it’s not like the best batting average or fasted mile run that have objective criteria and measurement. How do you rate something as subjective as art? And too often, it seems to be a matter of visibility—who heard the CD? Who saw the production? I look at the stacks of CDs on my office floor (yeah, on the floor—don’t try to walk in here!), sent by agents, labels and many self-managing artists. Maybe the very best CD of the year is just lying in a pile. And without nagging from publicists or attractive packaging and ads in Downbeat, I might not notice it enough to rip off the shrink wrap.

As a member of the Jazz Journalists Association, and subscriber to Downbeat and Jazz Times, I get a few chances each year to declare my preferences for the best artist, best recording, best pianist, best blog of the year, and it is a fearsome task. First, how can I know all the options? Even if I can create my own initial list of nominees, sooner or later I am presented with a list of finalists, and often there are names, titles that are totally unfamiliar to me. So how can I really vote? I guess like everyone else, I vote within the confines of my knowledge. So for sure, I overlook someone, something that deserves “the best” designation. Sometimes it feels like voting for “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school.

On the plus side, such awards and lists bring some new music, new artists to my attention. Whether or not they end up on top, just seeing the names on a list prompts me to check them out. Would I be aware of the great composer and arranger Darcy James Argue if his Secret Society had not be on such lists last year?

JJA just announced the final list of nominees for 2010 (which is really March 2010-March 2011). Some of my suggestions made this list, like Jason Moran’s Ten and Joe Lovano’s Bird Calls for CD of the year; Nate Chinen for Jazz Journalist of the Year; Craig Taborn for Keyboardist of the Year. Apparently I had lots of company! And much to my surprise, my photo of Esperanza Spalding, from her September gig at the Dakota, made the final list for Photo of the Year. The first round is self-nomination. It’s interesting to see what folks submit. But I have always suspected that visibility of the subject has a lot to do with the final list – so I figured it didn’t hurt to submit a photo of the winner of the Grammy for “best new artist.”

Even if you are not a member of the JJA, you can see the list of nominees in all categories. It’s an education by itself. Visit http://www.jjajazzawards.org/p/2011-nominees.html. You can see each nominated photo, too. I especially like John Watson’s photo Carla Bley. It won’t hurt my feelings if you vote for it.

Photo: Someone asked me to post it. So here it is. Thanks to the publicity folks for Esperanza for giving me more or less free rein to wander around the club with my camera during her Chamber Music Society show in September.

Jazz For Japan: Artists Wanted for Minnesota Fundraiser



© Andrea Canter



My friend Rhonda Laurie is a swinging jazz singer (Sidewalk Café and more), music business instructor and underground promoter. Right now she’s trying to put together a fundraising event to support recovery in Japan, and particularly to help the Japanese jazz community get back on its feet in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami disasters. She’s got a lead on at least one venue and hopes to round up a strong list of jazz artists to perform at a fundraiser early in the summer.

Rhonda makes a strong point about the connection between Japanese and American jazz. She quotes from the New York Times’ interview with Blue Note producer Michael Cuscana, who noted that in the late 70s when American jazz was in a deep slump, “Japan almost single handedly kep the jazz record business going….” Further she notes that the new Diskunion JazzTokyo “boasts some 100,000 new and used jazz CDs and LPs and is one of the world’s largest jazz record shops, attracking music enthusiasts from around the world since its opening in November last year.” And several local musicians have told me at one time or another that they sell more CDs in Japan than in the U.S.


Says Rhonda, “We can come together as a jazz community and give back to help jazz in Japan. By donating your much valued talent, we can raise money to make a difference. That is why I have decided, with the help of my music business students at Minnesota School of Business, to create this fundraiser concert.”


If you are a jazz artist interested in learning how you can help support this effort and keep jazz alive and well in Japan, contact Rhonda to learn more about the fundraiser. And if you or your business want a good cause to support at a critical time, consider helping to sponsor this event (e.g., venue rental, promotion). Contact Rhonda at rlsmith@msbcollege.edu.



Monday, April 25, 2011

Lowertown's New Music









© Andrea Canter

If the Twin Cities is a fertile playground for experimental and improvised music, then St. Paul’s Lowertown is one of its hottest incubators, and particularly that short path between the Black Dog Café and Studio Z. Studio Z has been home to the Zeitgeist ensemble, sitting somewhere between modern classical, avant garde jazz and free-wheeling “improvised” soundscapes, but the venue supports a wide range of artists and mini-festivals in its warehouse space. The Black Dog has at least weekly series of experimental music, performance home to the Fantastic Merlins and series curated by composers Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler. This weekend, both venues offered some of the best examples of innovative, hard-to-classify music.

Fantastic Merlins (April 22)
Just the name conjures magical entertainment. Sax, cello, bass and drums inventing new sounds, melodic and percussive across all voices. The original Merlins included saxophonist Nathan Hanson, bassist Brian Roessler and cellist Jacqueline Ultan, in what started out as a gig at the now musically defunct Clown Lounge in 2004. With additions and personnel changes over the years, the Merlins today are a quartet, with Hanson and Roessler sharing honors with New York cellist Daniel Levin and Atlantis Quartet drummer Pete Hennig. They’ve been performing in Europe and New York lately, and getting the band together for one evening is a challenge. They made the most of it Friday, starting with a public master class that drew a good number of area musicians and observers, later filling the tiny concert space and then some for a 2-set concert.

The Black Dog is a challenging venue, not only due to the small area set aside for music, but also due to the sonic competition that comes when you mix cellos and saxes with espresso machines and telephones. Yet, somehow, the accidental auditory stimuli manage to fit right into the freedom of the intentional music. Even a Frisbee flying outside the café window seemed strangely assimilated into the whole experience. Levin, who has played with such luminaries as Billy Bang, Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Mark Dresser, Joe McPhee, William Parker and Ken Vandermark, adds layers of excitement to an already exciting ensemble with long-bow glides, pizzicato static, and clever harmonization, particularly with Roessler’s bass. Hanson can cover a lot of territory on both tenor and soprano, often working in extended tandem with Hennig, who alone can muster much of an orchestra. And Roessler coaxes warm melodic tones from his big ax, suggesting, at times, another cello. You never know where the music is going. But somehow, it gets there.

Kip Jones (April 23)
Once I saw him Saturday night, I remembered Kip Jones. Some years ago, he played with the Parisota Hot Club and Connie Evingson at the Burnsville Art and All That Jazz Festival. So I associated him with gypsy swing. Which is not really an error but suggests boundaries that do not exist in his music and overlooks a broad repertoire of original and interpreted compositions from diverse cultures, from South Korea to South America. Jones held a two-night CD release celebration at Studio Z, with a full house (at least on Saturday), complete with temporary risers to accommodate more chairs. Anyone coming in to hear some Django Reinhardt would have been startled, hopefully in a good way, as Jones’s music is simultaneously innovative and accessible, beautiful and engaging, strange and familiar.

An agile violinist, Kip Jones also has a pleasing tenor voice. And in his solo set, he accompanied himself on original compositions, mostly drawn from his year in South America, his two “instruments” blending in stunning harmony, at times classical, folkloric, liturgical, Middle Eastern, East European, Latin. He conjured Andean bluegrass, River Dance, Kol Nidre, Aaron Copland. The vocals were Korean, Spanish, maybe Jones. The second set, a trio with accordionist Patrick Harrison and bassist James Buckley, was more Americana than the solo set, but bringing in global influences as well-- a new “fake Finnish folksong” (as per Kip), a Macedonian gypsy whirl, a swarthy tango with slithering bowed bass, a rip-roaring jamming finale with Harrison and Jones adding vocal accents. It’s new world music with Old World echoes.

More to Come
The Black Dog Café has a relatively new weekly series of experimental music, “Community Pool.” Check the website for specific performances. Zeitgeist will hold open rehearsals during the upcoming St. Paul Art Crawl (April 29-30) and will join forces with avant garde accordionist Guy Klucevsek May 12-14 at Studio Z. And Z has been tapped as a new venue for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (June 24-25), expanding the range of TCJF to more fully encompass free jazz. So just hang out in Lowertown. There’s lots of cool experiments going on!


Photos: (Top to bottom) Daniel Levin, Brian Roessler at the Black Dog with the Merlins on April 22nd; Kip Jones --an oldie from the 2005 Burnsville Art and All That Jazz Festival with the Parisota Hot Club. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, April 22-28

















© Andrea Canter

Some favorites return, and we celebrate another local CD release. Not a bad way to spend a holiday weekend and hopefully a more spring-like week.

Highlights, Last Week
Jazz Is Now, Nownet at the Loring Theater (April 15)
. Jeremy Walker’s swan song as music director of his nonprofit Jazz Is Now was an artistic blowout if not a sellout. With special guests Wessell (Warmdaddy) Anderson on alto and sopranino sax and Marcus Printup on trumpet, the Nownet blazed through two sets of mostly Walker compositions (and one gem from former Nownet saxman Scott Fultz). Fear not, Bryan Nichols will be taking over the artistic direction for Jazz Is Now, and we can expect a new ensemble, soon. The NickelNet?

Snowblind at Jazz Central (April 19). Underground jazz is growing across the country and one of the best undiscovered venues is right here at Jazz Central. Google to find the website and get on the mailing list! The weekly Monday night performances have expanded into Tuesday, and this week we heard the brass quintet Snowblind. They don’t get together often enough, but it’s pure brass ecstasy when they do. They played a number of originals from saxman Shilad Sen and drummer Reid Kennedy, as well as a twisted arrangement of “Night and Day.” Day or night, they’re brasstastic.

Arturo Sandoval at the Dakota (April 20). The virtuosic trumpeter seemed a bit cranky (antagonized by a loud party on the mezzanine) but it did not affect his horn or his piano. Mostly the piano was handled by the marvelous Manuel Valera, and Sandoval introduced his newest horn, a double-bell contraption that the angels would envy, on the opening acapella “My Foolish Heart.”

Highly Recommended, This Week
The long-awaited second recording from Charmin and Shapira will be celebrated at the Artists Quarter, Friday night (4/22). Dawning and Daylight is another collection of mostly standards, melding the satiny voice of Charmin Michelle and the masterful fingerwork of guitarist Joel Shapira, backed again by Paul Harper (sax), Tom Lewis (bass) and Nathan Norman (drums). It will swing and sway and generally put you in a mellow mood. What more for a Friday night? (Review here)

And another long-awaited gig, the return of the Fantastic Merlins also takes place Friday night (4/22), starting off with a master class at 5:30 followed by the performance at 8 pm at the Black Dog. All are welcome to the master class, which is free, and to the performance, which is a “pay-what-you-can” affair. The Merlins have undergone some personnel changes over their 7 year run, but saxophonist Nathan Hanson and bassist Brian Roessler are still in the mix, along with cellist Daniel Levin and drummer Pete Hennig, the group the appears on the acclaimed 2010 recording, How the Light Gets In. Among improvising bands that defy classification, the Fantastic Merlins have been one of the most popular locally, and the Black Dog has been their home base. But this will be their first performance here in months. So remember, the Black Dog is a pretty small venue—come early.

And while you might not readily classify this as a jazz event, anyone who loves improvisation and the human voice would be hard pressed to find a more exciting talent than Bobby McFerrin, who returns to Orchestra Hall Friday night (4/22). Yes, too many options for one night! But if you have never heard McFerrin, now’s the time.

Saturday night (4/23), How Birds Work flies in for a rare weekend gig at the Artists Quarter. An almost monthly (weeknight) booking over the past 7 years, this night we’ll hear the original band, with Dean Granros, Peter Schimke, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst. HBW has its own book of tunes and re-arrangements of favorite jazz works from the likes of Coltrane and Shorter, taking the music to the edge without falling off.

There are few musicians that perform with the joy of singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli (at the Dakota, 4/24-25). Son of famed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, John has been performing since his early teens and could be the poster boy for “Music Makes You Happy” campaigns. And he loves telling stories almost as much as singing and picking, so you know an evening with John will be grand entertainment. And his band is worth the ticket as well—brother Martin on bass, Larry Fuller on piano and Tony Tedesco on drums. Their latest recordings saluted the songs of Rogers and Hart, and Duke Ellington.

Another long-awaited return, pianist/percussionist Omar Sosa brings his Afreecanos Quartet to the Dakota (4/27-28). Winner of a Smithsonian Institution Lifetime Achievement Award for promoting Latin American music in the U.S., Sosa fuses his Afro-Cuban roots with global music and electronica. In other words, traditional meets modern technology. It’s glorious and it’s fun.

Also glorious and fun, and sometimes off the deep end, Ann Millikan reprises her recent House of Mirrors installation with one last blast on April 28th in the Hamm’s Brewery space in St. Paul’s Swede Hollow. For the finale, Ann brings in Geoffrey West Senn (trumpet), Pat O’Keefe (bass clarinet), Scott Fultz (saxophone) and Stefan Kac (tuba). This series of concerts grew from a McKnight grant, and Millikan created a multi-media installation, complete with large-scale musical scores and a performance space filled with “stations” of sound-producing objects that the musicians use to augment their own instruments. The result is a collage of sounds that is ever evolving. More about the music and composer here. Hard to classify but just call it wild improvised music.

They play just above every month and usually on the last Thursday, but don’t let that frequency keep you from coming out to hear Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the Artists Quarter (4/28). Where else can you find ten of the area’s top jazz artists on one stage? Well, OK, they don’t even fit on the stage at the AQ, spilling into the first row table area. Arrive early, since seating is more limited for the X-Tet than for most other shows!

More Jazz, Every Night
How can you find out what’s going on? Check out Pamela’s calendar. Some recommendations:

Friday, April 22: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Kip Jones CD release at Studio Z

Saturday, April 23: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota; Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s percussionist) at the Cedar ; Gregg Marquardt at the Hat Trick Lounge; Kip Jones, CD Release at Studio Z

Sunday, April 24: Easter Brunch—Three Keys Quartet at Tryg’s, Firebell at Hell’s Kitchen, Patty and the Buttons at the Aster Café; later—Minneapolis Free Music Society’s monthly gig at the Acadia Café

Monday, April 25: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfied); Headspace at the Artists Quarter; U of M Jazz Combos at Lloyd Ultan Hall

Tuesday, April 26: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

Wednesday, April 27: Steve Kenny and the Bastids, followed by the Gary Berg Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Maud Hixson with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)

Thursday, April 28: Twin Cities Seven at Hell’s Kitchen; Sophia Shorai at the Red Stag; Patty Peterson and Mary Louise Knutson at the School of the Wise II (Chanhassan)

Coming Soon!


. April 21-May 22, Dennis Spears as Nat King Cole in I Wish You Love at Penumbra Theater




• 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 10-11, Bobby Lyle at the Dakota

• May 12, Dakota Combo, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail

• May 13-14, Red Planet at the AQ

• May 14-15, John Raymond at the Dakota (Saturday) and AQ (Sunday)

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

• May 15, High School Jazz Piano Competition Finals at the Dakota

• May 16-17, Steve Tyrell at the Dakota

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) 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 22-23, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

• May 24-25, Four Generations of Miles (Stern, Fortune, Williams, Cobb) at the Dakota

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

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









Photos: Charmin (Michelle) and (Joel) Shapira, ready to release a new CD (composite photo); Brian Roessler of the Fantastic Merlins; John Pizzarelli at his last Dakota gig (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Music Matters















© Andrea Canter

And in case we forget that music matters, there’s an annual reminder staged by the MacPhail Center for Music in the form of their Music Matters Luncheon fundraiser.

One of the nation’s largest community music schools, serving well over 8,000 students from infants to centenarians, MacPhail is also one of the Twin Cities’ oldest arts institutions, serving the community for 104 years. That’s a lot of piano lessons, chamber ensemble rehearsals, faculty and student recitals, jazz camps, music therapy sessions and master classes. And it’s all there because music matters—to our quality of life, to our intellectual and emotional development, to our relationships with others.

At the Music Matters Luncheon each year, we hear just how music matters to individual students, families, and communities. Today we heard from a student with significant disabilities for whom music offered both pleasure and normalization; we met an elderly woman who had been shut off from much of the world by illness, only to reconnect through the music of young children at a combined early childhood/adult care center. And through modern techno-wizardry, we watched and listened here in Minneapolis, in real time, to an 8-year-old pianist in a San Francisco studio as he played (with amazing speed and dexterity) on a disklavier, a piano that can remotely replicate the precise touch and sound as played thousands of miles away.

MacPhail takes a unique approach to fundraising – they invite us to lunch. A free lunch, thanks to corporate sponsors. We don’t buy a ticket. There’s no strings attached (except for those played so joyfully by MacPhail’s Suzuki violins and guitars). We’re entertained by a variety of MacPhail ensembles, which this year included the Dakota Combo jazz band directed by Adam Linz and the youth choir directed by J.D. Steele. The Suzuki ensembles greeted over 1000 in the lobby of the Convention Center, and a vibes ensemble bid us farewell. In between, we learn about the programs at MacPhail, hear personal stories from students, parents and teachers. And we heard a strong invitation to help support MacPhail’s programs, this year delivered with humor and personal tales from composer Libby Larsen. We receive pledge materials and donation envelopes. We can turn in a donation or mull it over. And we leave inspired to spend more time listening to music, maybe even playing some music ourselves.

There will be one—only one-- follow-up to further encourage donations. Next year, we’ll get a postcard to “save the date” for the 2012 Music Matters Luncheon. And next year, we’ll go, and most of us will donate. In sum, we’ll donate enough to support scholarships for about half of students who enroll at MacPhail.


Because music matters, and MacPhail matters to music in our community.

Upcoming at MacPhail: Spotlight Series Concert, April 29th (“Musical Folklore” in three segments, including Jacqueline Ultan, Adam Linz, JT Bates, Peter Ostroushko); Jazz Thursdays on May 12 with the Dakota Combo. See http://www.macphail.org/ for listing of all recitals, concerts and summer music camps.



Photos: Young violinist in the Suzuki ensemble; Danny Hupp of the Dakota Combo; young guitar student; J.D. Steele leads the MacPhail Choir (all photos by Andrea Canter at the 2011 Music Matters Luncheon)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, April 15-21




© Andrea Canter

Some interesting options especially this weekend, with a “swan song” for Jeremy Walker’s Nownet and a triple bill at the AQ as part of the eclectic String Theory Music Festival.


Highlights, Last Week

Michel Legrand Trio at the Dakota (April 8). It was no surprise that the set list was filled with wonderful songs from Legrand’s vast book of compositions—“You Must Believe in Spring,” “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” etc. But his virtuosity as a pianist has not diminished a bit (including his ability to play in the style of a long list of heroes, from Tatum to Peterson), his vocals were charming enough, and his sidemen were impeccable—John Pattitucci and Willie Jones III.

Brad Mehldau Trio at the Dakota (April 10). Mehldau has always frustrated me—technically brilliant, artistically innovative, but at times prone to tedious introspection. But I loved his epic Highway Rider at the Walker last fall (and on CD) and his opening set at the Dakota last weekend was nearly perfect, maybe because he concentrated on reinventions of jazz tunes, from Jobim to Miles to Coltrane. And reinvention is what Mehldau does best. Bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard were as sympathetic as ever.


Highlights, This Week

The Loring Theater (the Music Box in a former life) has been presenting some of the most exciting jazz in town lately. Friday night (4/15), it will be the scene of a final concert by the Nownet, the ever-evolving ensemble of the Jazz Is Now organization. Headed by Jeremy Walker, composer/pianist/bandleader, the Nownet has performed a few times each year, but with Walker’s move to New York, gigs have been seldom. Jeremy gathers his band (Chris Thomson, Jeff Brueske, JT Bates) for one “Last Dance,” adding special guests Wessell Anderson and Marcus Printup. But fear not, Bryan Nichols, an equally innovative composer, pianist and bandleader, will be assuming duties as Artistic Director for Jazz Is Now, and a new ensemble can’t be far behind.

The annual String Theory Music Festival returns, celebrating all things musical with strings (4/13-17 at various venues). At the Artists Quarter Friday night (4/15), three ensembles play back to back to back—the Tanner Taylor Trio at 9, followed by the Orange Mighty Trio with Zack Kline on violin, Nick Gaudette on bass and Mike Vasich on piano and finishing the evening with a midnight set from Felix, with Michelle Kinney, pianist Eric Mayson, tabla master Gary Waryan, and multi-reedman/electronics wizard Chris Thomson. (For Thomson, it might mean a mad dash from Minneapolis after his Nownet gig!) Taylor might look like the straight man in this context, but his monster piano chops will no doubt create their own string theories!

Later in the week (4/19-20), Arturo Sandoval returns to the Dakota with his special brand of Latin post bop. Protégé of the great Dizzy Gillespie, cofounder of the great Cuban ensemble Ikare and four-time Grammy winner, Sandoval is as much an entertainer as virtuosic trumpeter (and pretty fair pianist as well). Expect a wide range of percussion as well as some soaring top notes… and probably a sell-out.


More Jazz All Week

See Pamela’s blog for the most complete area listing of jazz and related events. Some recommendations:

Friday, April 15: Scott Miller and Nathan Hanson at the Black Dog

Saturday, April 16: Nichola Miller at Hell’s Kitchen; JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); New Standards at the Dakota ; Dean Magraw and Debbie Duncan at the Riverview Wine Bar

Sunday, April 17: Clint Hoover’s Going Away Party at the Eagles Aerie Club; Lee Rittenour at the Dakota; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar; Milo Fine’s Assemblage at Homewood Studios

Monday, April 18: Lori Dokken’s Singer Showcase at Camp Bar; Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Lee Rittenour at the Dakota; Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson in La Chambre Rouge at the Loring Pasta Bar; Doug Little at Jazz Central

Tuesday, April 19: Cory Wong followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Snowblind at Jazz Central; Arne Fogel with the Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood

Wednesday, April 20: Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by Phil Aaron, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Arne Fogel with the Wolverines at Hell's Kitchen

Thursday, April 21: Opening night for I Wish You Love,” Nat King Cole show at Penumbra Theater (through May 22); McNally Smith Ensembles at the Artists Quarter


Coming Soon

• 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 14-15, John Raymond at the Dakota (Saturday) and AQ (Sunday)

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

• May 16-17, Steve Tyrell at the Dakota

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) 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 22-23, Candy Dulfer at the Dakota

• May 24-25, Four Generations of Miles (Stern, Fortune, Williams, Cobb) at the Dakota

• June 20-21, Hiromi with Steve Smith at the Dakota

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


Photos: (Top to bottom) Jeremy Walker; Tanner Taylor; Chris Thomson (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Accessible Brad Mehldau: Live at the Dakota


© Andrea Canter

The temptation to compare Brad Mehldau to Keith Jarrett can be irresistible. For better or worse, usually better. Both seemed to materialize fully formed, highly praised, with their first recordings. And unlike some who have been lauded early and then forgotten (or at least, ignored), both Jarrett and Mehldau maintained and surpassed their first successes with each new release, each new project. Both pianists are acclaimed as much for their skills as composers as performers, as soloists as well as trio leaders. And both show amazing longevity—prolific in recordings, consistent in their bandmates, although of course Jarrett has maybe two additional generations of work behind him.

And there are striking similarities in their approach to composition and improvisation—brilliant development of voicings, an uncanny ability to slide from delicate balladry to rollicking blues in the blink of an ear, and a not-infrequent tendency to fall into ruminative constructions that can be either tedious or serene. Jarrett has recorded classical works, while Mehldau has recorded duets with classical vocalists. Mehldau just released a double CD of solo performances, Live in Marciac, and undoubtedly there will be critical comparsions to Jarrett’s famed live solo recordings. Thankfully, Mehldau does not engage in audible counterpoint, a Jarrett trademark. He also seems more at ease with an audience—he doesn’t allow photography but he does take the mic and introduce tunes and cohorts. As a composer, he’s also branched out into orchestration with his recent Highway Rider project.

Best of all, Mehldau performs in jazz clubs, where there is always a risk of clinking glasses and silverware, a chatty table, a passing waitron. But Mehldau is thus accessible to a broader audience and, usually, so is his music. And particularly so last night at the Dakota, with an opening set that relied more on the established jazz canon than on wholly original material. Not that Mehldau gives any composition “established” treatment, as his reinventions always bring forth new ideas, creating a new songbook with each performance. His most introspective moments –though short-lived--came on the first tune, a reconsideration of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” A soft balladic introduction morphed into a swinging blues, Mehldau gradually extending his voicings and intervals, opening wide spaces for drummer Jeff Ballard to fill with thumpy delight.


The trio’s renditions of Jobim’s “How Insensitive” and Newell Chase’s less familiar “My Ideal” confirm opinions that this ensemble is among the best of modern balladeers. Jobim was translated with a delicate touch on keys, sturdy but supportive basslines, and a wide range of percussive effects as Ballard switched seamlessly among brushes and sticks, skins and rims. Mehldau added layers of harmony as he moved along, the Brazilian tint graduating to a more American blues feel, trading the melodic lead from right hand to left. “My Ideal” is a gorgeous tune that should be covered more often. With bassist Larry Grenadier hanging a bit behind the beat, Mehldau was simply enchanting, moving elegant voicings (particularly in the left hand) to a rhapsodic closing verse with an extended solo followed by Grenadier’s arco bass and Ballard’s almost brooding mallets that glided into the next tune—probably a Mehldau original with hints of Highway Rider. Mehldau’s chime-like sequences were supported by Ballard’s soft-hitting mallets and Grenadier’s alternating fluttery and percussive strokes, ultimately evolving into a more adventurous journey, Mehldau forging ahead with a chunky vamp in his right hand.


Prolonged applause earned an encore, the most up-tempo piece of the set, John Coltrane’s “Countdown.” Ballard’s solo took him through the full drumkit and every bit of his dynamic range, Mehldau’s shifting rhythms and harmonies suggesting more Cecil Taylor than Keith Jarrett. Comparisons to Jarrett have not diminished Brad Mehldau. And comparisons to Mehldau won’t diminish the new generation of jazz pianists now finding their own way.


Photo: The Brad Mehldau Trio (press photo by Michael Wilson)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, April 8-14





© Andrea Canter


Another big weekend for Twin Cities Jazz fans, with three generations of pianists in town. Highlights, Last Week My biggest regret is missing Irv Williams’ CD release and “retirement” party at the Dakota. I hear it was a sell-out. Hopefully it was just a trial run at retirement. But I did hit a few stellar gigs:

Dave King Trucking Company at the Artists Quarter (April 2). This band gets tighter and more exciting at each gig. No wonder they have dates in New York for fall and a debut CD on the way. Dave does his thing, and gives everyone room to do his thing—Brandon Wozniak, Adam Linz, Erik Fratzke.


Maud Hixson and French 75 at the Artists Quarter (April 3). This one courtesy of the Twin Cities Jazz Society, what could be better than a Sunday afternoon with the full swing of Tony Balluf and cohorts, supporting the bilingual storytelling of songbird Maud Hixson? Her French is so clear, I can almost remember what I learned in high school. “La Vie en Rose” still haunts me.


Joe Lovano and Us Five at the Dakota (April 4-5). Maybe the best show that should have been a sellout I’ve seen in a long while. No one surpasses Lovano on tenor or soprano; he goes from acrobatic bebop to free spirals within a few notes, and the two-drum format allows for a wide range of moods and rhythms without overpowering. See blog (April 5) and full review on Jazz Police.

Highlights, This Week

In a rare club night and Twin Cities debut, legendary composer of film scores Michel Legrand comes in for two nights at the Dakota this weekend (4/8-9) heading a piano trio. And what a trio—living legend bassist John Pattitucci (most recently touring with Wayne Shorter) and legend-in-the-making drummer Willie Jones III would be worth the price of admission even if Legrand stayed on the sidelines.

Across the river, veteran New York pianist David Hazeltine makes his almost annual pilgrimage to the Artists Quarter (4/8-9). Known for his swinging and inventive straight-ahead, Dave is one of those out-of-towners who considers the AQ a home away from home. For fans of mainstream keyboard magic, the AQ is the place to be this weekend. And out in the west end, the JazzMN Orchestra closes another successful season Saturday night in Hopkins with "Sizzling T-Bone Entree" -- the T-bone provided by LA-based master Andy Martin, and some additional sizzle provided by local vocal star Arne Fogel.

Also in town for just one night at the Dakota (4/10), much-heralded pianist Brad Mehldau returns to the Twin Cities with his long-standing trio of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. Their last visit was at the Walker with Joshua Redman and SPCO as they performed the live premiere of Mehldau’s epic Highway Rider. Given Mehldau’s new double CD release (Live in Marciac), we might expect a few solo pieces as well as inventive covers and originals from one of the finest trios performing today.

Sunday (4/10) also marks the opening of a second Jazz at the Jungle (Theater) season, a series of shows featuring Connie Evingson. This time she’s got “No More Blues,” and to help keep those blues away, she’s singing with special guest, Minnesota Orchestra trumpeter Charles Lazarus—no stranger to jazz. They’ll do two shows (4 and 7:30 pm).

If you want a weekend get-away without getting away from music, consider the 44th annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival this weekend (4/7-10), with headliners Bobby Sanabria and Eric Marienthal as well as lots of local music and clinics. Full schedule online.

Early in the week (4/11-12), a musically rejuvenated Kevin Eubanks comes to the Dakota with his quintet, hot off the release of Zen Food (Mack Avenue). A member of the Tonight Show Band for 18 years (the last 15 as director), the guitarist decided it was time to get back to his promising performing and recording career, taking with him keyboardist Gerry Etkin and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. With bassist Rene Camacho and saxophonist Bill Pierce, this band is capable of bebop one minute, funk the next, with ambient gentility in-between.

Jazz Central, open by invitation only (but consider this an invitation), is building its schedule, adding to the regular Monday night gigs a monthly Tuesday night jam with the Atlantis Quartet. and more music on Tuesdays. Monday (4/11) it’s everyone’s favorite multi-reedman, Dave Karr, with the Aaron Hedenstrom Quartet coming in on Tuesday (4/12). No cover, donations appreciated, bring your own whatever.


More Jazz This Week!

See Pamela’s blog for the most complete local jazz listing. Some suggestions:

Friday, April 8: Frankhouse at Hell’s Kitchen; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Brian Roessler, Kip Jones and Patrick Harrison at the Black Dog Café; Sophia Shorai Quartet at Honey

Saturday, April 9: Greta Oglesby solo at the Capri; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)

Sunday, April 10: Atlantis Quartet, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen; Patty and the Buttons, brunch at the Aster Café; Greta Oglesby (solo), matinee at the Capri; Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar; Milo Fine Assemblage (Horn Chorale) at Homewood Studios

Monday, April 11: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Connie Olson with Mary Louise Knutson in La Chambre Rouge, this week's "Musique Mystique" offering at the Loring Pasta Bar.

Tuesday, April 12: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter

Wednesday, April 13: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield); Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by Marv Dahlgren at the Artists Quarter

Thursday, April 14: Butch Thompson at McNally Smith (free but reservations required); Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter


Coming Soon

Just a quick look ahead—Café Maude will be presenting music again, on Wednesday nights starting in May, with the Dean Granros Trio (5/4), Zacc Harris Quartet (5/11), Dean Magraw (5/25) and more. So stay tuned. And go. Show Maude live music weekly is very good for business. Also note that the Loring Theater (old Music Box) has tickets on sale for the April 15th final performance by Jeremy Walker’s Nownet (but fear not, Bryan Nichols is taking over Jazz Is Now! and more music is sure to follow) and for the May 20-21 Stravinsky extravaganza with the Bad Plus (their new interpretation of the Rite of Spring). Also coming up this spring:

• April 15, Jazz Is Now Nownet, Final Gig (with Wess Anderson and Marcus Printup) 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 14-15, John Raymond at the Dakota (Saturday) and AQ (Sunday)

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

• May 16-17, Steve Tyrell at the Dakota

• May 20-21, The Bad Plus (Rite of Spring) 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) Michel Legrand, Brad Mehldau, Charles Lazarus, Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg (Legrand press photo; others by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lovano Flies High! (Flock to the Dakota Tonight)




© Andrea Canter


It’s been two years since Joe Lovano launched his firecracker quintet, Us Five, releasing one of the top CDs of the year, Folk Art. Initial appeals of the ensemble were the unusual 2-drum format and the presence of soon-to-be-Grammy-upstart Esperanza Spalding on bass. Although she rejoins Us Five in the recording studio and some tour stops, bass duties have pretty much been reassigned to young Peter Slavov. And on the current tour, Francisco Mela has yielded one trapset to veteran Steve Williams, leaving pianist James Weidman and drummer Otis Brown III as Lovano’s original partners. It’s a testament to Lovano’s art and leadership that Us Five soars in all combinations of these musicians. The band’s second recording, Bird Songs, was released earlier this year, a tribute of sorts to the genius of Charlie Parker, and in fact, documentation of the genius of Joe Lovano. (See review on Jazz Police)


Us Five generated plenty of enthusiasm at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, making the relatively light turnout for the band’s Dakota debut last night disappointing. Maybe even hard core jazz fans got caught up in the NCAA Final Four. If so, redemption is but a few hours away as Us Five plays two more sets at the Dakota tonight. And can there be any better redemption than Charlie Parker and Joe Lovano? The late set crowd last night was treated to Joe’s radiating tenor solo, then 2-drum trio opening on “Folk Art,” soon morphing into a medley of Parker melodies that seemed to materialize on the spot, Joe later recounting “Ko Ko,” “Confirmation,” “Moose the Mooche” and “Passport.” But I suspect we also caught subliminal snatches of others (including a quote of “Rhythm-a-ning”) as the band proceeded at full tilt, dancing a fine and moving line between rich bebop and serpentine 21st century postbop abstraction. The closing “Barbados” began as a two-drum duel, a call and response between Brown and Williams that at times tossed single beats back and forth like a pingpong ball. Slavov’s solo here was vibrant and vibrating. But it wasn’t all Parker; on taragato and soprano sax, Joe generated a haunting series of solos on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”


The canon of Charlie Parker is so well known, and so widely performed, that it might seem unlikely that we can still hear anything new in the “Birdyard” – but Joe Lovano, like Charlie Parker, can turn any familiar phrase into a new composition. As on Bird Songs, in live performance the audience is treated not only to virtuosic soloing and tight ensemble interaction, but to the transformation of classic works into new music. Lovano is not content to respect Charlie Parker’s legacy—he reinvents it. Which in itself is the ultimate tribute to Bird.


If you missed it last night, you have another chance tonight. If you were there last night, you have another chance tonight. And you know what I mean.


Photos: Three views of Joe Lovano, all from opening night's late set at the Dakota, April 4th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)