Friday, October 28, 2011

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, October 28-November 3













© Andrea Canter

A weekend that starts with Herbie Hancock’s first solo tour and moves on with a CD release and Halloween reprise from the Atlantis Quartet before finding a John Scofield Quartet gig midweek is no trick. Just a very jazzy set of treats for Twin Cities’ jazz fans.

Highlights
Hard to imagine that in his 50+ years of touring, Herbie Hancock is just getting around to his first solo excursion. Minnesota Orchestra Hall is one of his few stops on the Midwest leg, this Friday night (10/28). If anyone can make this cavernous hall into a jazz venue, it’s the eclectic, timeless Herbie, particularly with his very own Fazioli piano on stage. And some electronic devices as well. Tickets remain. Be there.

Now, for something really different, and just a short walk from Orchestra Hall, check out the young musicians flying under the label of Alicia Steele and The Endeavors, playing in the Late Night slot at the Dakota on Friday (10/28). The band includes some up-and-coming local jazzers--keyboardist Joe Strachan, saxophonist Nelson Devereaux, bassist Ben Kelly and drummer Miguel Hurtado--with leader and hip-hop/R&B artist Alicia Steele making the mix a musical mosaic. I am only familiar with Strachan and Hurtado, but that is enough--these guys are heading a new wave of new music in town.

And don’t miss the celebration of the Atlantis Quartet’s third recording, Lines in the Sand, makings its debut at the Artists Quarter this weekend (10/28-29). Recorded life at the AQ last May, the band reconsiders some earlier favorites as well as introducing a few new compositions from guitarist Zacc Harris and bassist Chris Bates. Saxophonist Brandon Wozniak and drummer Pete Hennig are well represented as well, and all in all, the music underscores the inventive musicianship that has made this band stand out since it first started gigging six years ago. And Atlantis will honor its beloved Halloween tradition with yet another run at an iconic recording, this time taking on Sonny Rollins’s The Bridge in full. Original music and Sonny Rollins! Almost spooky!

John Scofield has crossed nearly all subgenres of jazz since coming onto the jazz scene with Gerry Mulligan, Charles Mingus and of course, Miles Davis. The guitarist, last in town with his delta driven Piety Street Band, brings an acoustic quartet featuring drummer Gregory Hutchinson to the Dakota for one night, two sets, November 1st. I haven’t heard his new album (Moments of Peace) but it is getting raves.

One of the area’s favorite songbirds and jazz educators, Vicky Mountain celebrates a big birthday in big style with a rare gig at the Artists Quarter on Wednesday (11/2). She’s backed by Chris Lomheim, Chris Bates and Kenny Horst with a promise of special guests and of course cake! Earlier in the evening, Cuban dynamo Nachito Herrera presents a workshop at MacPhail, using Rachmaninoff as his point of departure. He’s joined by Minnesota Orchestra principal trumpeter Manny Laurano.

The third annual Zeitgeist New Music Cabaret gets underway at Studio Z on Thursday (11/3), running through Sunday with four hours of music each evening: November 3: 7:30 pm, Artaria String Quartet; 8:30 p., Zeitgeist; 9:30 pm, Illicit Sextet. November 4: 7:30 pm, Renegade Ensemble; 8:30 pm, Zeitgeist; 9:30 pm, Nirmala Rajasekar; 10:30 pm, Ill Chemistry. November 5: 7:30 pm, Mississippi Peace; 8:30 pm, Zeitgeist; 9:30 pm, Douglas Ewart and Quasar. November 6: 7:30 pm, AntiGravity; 8:30 pm, Zeitgeist; 9:30 pm, Julie Johnson and the No-Accounts.

More Jazz!
There’s another gig everywhere you turn. Check out the calendar on the KBEM website.
Some additional recommendations:

Friday, October 28: Sophia Shorai at Hell’s Kitchen; Benoit Delbecq and Merciless Ghost at the Black Dog; Ginger Commodore Quartet at the Dakota; Rhonda Laurie and Robert Bell at the Riverview Wine Bar

Saturday, October 29: Joel Shapira Trio, brunch at Hell’s Kitchen and evening at Loring Pasta Bar; Peter Schimke Trio at Shanghai Bistro (Hudson, WI); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Lee Engele at Nonna Rossa’s

Sunday, October 30: Martha Alkins, CD release at Famous Dave’s/Uptown

Monday, October 31: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; Firebell at the Red Stag; Dave Karr and Brian Grivna at Jazz Central

Tuesday, November 1: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Dorothy Doring and Phil Mattson at The Nicollet; Dean Magraw and Davu Seru at the Black Dog; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s

Wednesday, November 2: Jazz in the Lounge with Connie Evingson, Dave Karr and Tanner Taylor at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis; Steve Kenny and the Bastids, early show at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; John Raymond Trio at the Nomad World Pub

Thursday, November 3: Phil Hey Quartet at the Artists Quarter


Coming Soon!
• November 7, Michael Kaesehammer at the Dakota
• November 9, CD Release, Doug Haining Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• November 10, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail (MacPhail Faculty)
• November 11, Galactic Cowboy Orchestra at the Loring Theater
• November 11-12, Sue Orfield with the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter
• November 12, Insurgent (Pat Moriarty, Ellen Lease, Phil Hey) at Studio Z (Jazz From J to Z)
• November 13, PipJazz Sundays at Landmark Center (TCJS Student Showcase)
• November 16, Al Jarreau at the Pantages Theater
• November 17, REEL Jazz at the Trylon Theater
• November 19, JazzMN Orchestra, Tribute to Miles Davis at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 19, Zacc Harris Quartet at Studio Z
• November 23, Mary Louise Knutson Trio, CD release at the Artists Quarter
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter
• December 1, Christine Rosholt and Kevin Hall, CD Release at The Loring Theater
• December 1, Nova Jazz Orchestra and the Minnetonka High School Jazz Band at Minnetonka HS (Jazz From J to Z)
• December 5, Catherine Russell at the Dakota
• December 16, Todd Clouser’s Love Electric at Studio Z
• December 17, Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many at Studio Z
• December 23, 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• February 15-16, Hugh Masekela at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)



Photos: (top to bottom) Atlantis Quartet; John Scofield; Vicky Mountain; Zeitgeist with Guy Kluvecek (photos by Andrea Canter)




Thursday, October 27, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, October 21-27









© Andrea Canter

What I missed in the past week might have made for a really good week of jazz. What I heard live, however, made for a stellar series worthy of a festival in any city. From a young composer/educator’s homecoming to a veteran titan’s best-yet ensemble to an unheralded but highly inventive ensemble’s local debut to a solo piano outing that might outshine the upcoming Herbie Hancock gig…. It was a showcase of talent and inspiration.

Matt Slocum Trio at the Artists Quarter, October 21-23. Slocum sits tall at the drumkit but his music traverses the depths and heights of emotion, from the elegant moods of his compositions to the wide dynamic and rhythmic ranges of the trapset. I’ve heard Minnesota native Slocum and elegant bassist Massimo Biolcati before, on past visits to the Artists Quarter and on Matt’s two fine CDs—the most recent, After the Storm, providing much of set list played Friday night. But I never heard pianist Sam Yahel, known perhaps more as a B-3 and electronic keyboard wizard, but easily on par with the very best acoustic pianists working today. And we were treated not only to Slocum’s melodic excitements like “Catalyst” and “Pete’s Place,” but also to Yahel’s frenzied finesse (“Hometown”) and a few inventive takes on standards, like their particularly engaging “Moonlight in Vermont.” The inspiration did not end with the last set. On Sunday when the AQ is typically dark, Matt and Sam (Massimo had to get to his next gig) held a master class aimed at high school and college level musicians, giving the approximately 20 eager students ninety minutes of critique and tips, and providing everyone a chance to perform in the context of lessons on “listening” (to yourself and bandmates) and improvising.

Joe Lovano and Us Five at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, October 22. I’ve now heard Us Five four times in jazz club, festival and concert contexts, and this night was the best yet. Even without the Grammy’s poster girl for jazz, Esperanza Spalding, this is a formidable band. But this was the first time I’ve heard Spalding with the group, and with the young bassist backing one of the living legends of saxophone, this band soars. Lovano’s frequent acappella solos on tenor and his haunting taragato evoked Parker, Coltrane, Coleman and Lloyd while calling out to the ancient Gods of music; Spalding’s frequent solo introductions confirmed her place among the brightest jazz artists of her generation—a fact often overlooked in the sea of hype about her steep career trajectory and commercial fashion appeal. And the rest of the band easily kept up with their better known cohorts, James Weidman churning up the keyboard on “Yardbird Suite” and “Donna Lee,” the two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) engaging in back-and-forth duels throughout the evening. While the venue lacks the intimacy of a jazz club, the larger stage better separates the two trapsets, allowing the audience to better hear as well as see the impact of the double dose of percussion—which, with this band, is not merely a doubling of sound but an expansion of effects, with sticks and brushes (or mallets or shells) simultaneously at work, interjecting their own counterpoint. Lovano is not only a master composer and performer, but an ingenious bandleader and arranger. Us Five readily instigated a joyful response from us 500.

Dead Cat Bounce at Walker West and Studio Z, October 24. As a former and long-term cat owner, I initially shuddered at the name of this ensemble. The term refers to a sudden rise in a falling stock. Which might evoke thoughts of unexpected turns in a music that has seen its popularity sink in recent decades. Founding saxophonist/composer Matt Steckler has created a sound and a repertoire for four saxophones (and assorted other woodwinds) plus bass and drums, and DCB has been creating thrills and chills for more than a dozen years. Their first visit to the Twin Cities started with a combined performance/Q&A session at Walker West Music Academy, well attended by a mixed age audience of students, musicians and interested bystanders. We learned a bit about the nature of composing for a specific ensemble, about keeping track of all ideas in the composing process, about the use of gestures (like an orchestra conductor) to cue shifts in the music, crucial when working in weird time signatures like 23/4! And we got a preview of the music DCB performed later in the evening at Studio Z.

The concert drew a much smaller audience than the clinic, making it the artistic crime of the week. But there was no lack of enthusiasm on the part of the musicians or the few who came to listen. DCB mostly played music from their new release, Chance Episodes, including the far-flung “Silent Movie—Russia 1995,” “Salon Sound Journal,” and “Far From the Matty Crowd.” Having reviewed the CD, I was familiar with the music, but one needs to see this band to appreciate where the sounds come from. It’s one thing to hear a group of saxophones, another to see how they inspire each other (often going horn to horn) and to recognize the versatility of each musician. On any given tune, the four hornmen will likely each play at least two instruments, pulling as much sound from body language as from reeds and valves. They closed the night with one of their older tunes, “Hepcat Revisited,” a reckless, fast, swinging romp that, like many other works in their repertoire, hints at the old Mingus workshop in energy and harmonies. This is definitely a band deserving wider recognition.

Bryan Nichols, solo piano at Antonello Hall (MacPhail Center for Music), October 26. Bryan Nichols passed up a career in genetics to play with titans in Chicago and with Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program, all a prelude to his climb to the top of the Twin Cities jazz piano stable. Anyone familiar with his compositions and improvisational chops would have anticipated a stellar evening when Bryan scheduled a solo performance as the capstone to his McKnight fellowship. But even loyal fans—at least this one—were a bit unprepared for the level of artistry that he presented over some 70+ minutes in the perfect setting of Antonello Hall. The set included about a half-dozen spontaneous improvisations along with unique interpretations of standards and a couple original compositions from his recent quintet release, Bright Places. And often it was not easy to tell what was “composed” in the moment versus a pre-existing structure undergoing major revision.

Bryan takes a melodic core—one that he invents or one that he excavates—and runs circles around it. The pathway might be lightly paved or treacherously bumpy; the destination more or less visible or thoroughly disguised. A classical feel might conjure Chopin or Bartok; a jaggedy hop-scotching hand-over-hand assault might conjure Monk or Cecil Taylor. And those diverse directions might appear within one piece, one verse, or one line. He might startle with shifts in dynamics or rhythms yet never turns his back on accessibility to his audience. Ultimately it all makes sense.


There was no tune I would not want to hear again (and of course it would be new!), but particularly give me more time with Paul Motian’s “Abacus” with its Eastern scales and hymnal delicacy; the dark and surprisingly swinging, bluesy waltz of Dave King’s “That Isn’t Even Worth Selling” from early Happy Apple days; the unique voicings and continuous right handed, bell-chiming vamp of “A Child Is Born;” and the elongated improvisation that evolved into Strayhorn’s exquisite “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” And then there was the closing from his CD, Bryan’s “Drums You Didn’t Hear” with its constantly shifting time, mood and colors that he tethers together with such maniacal elegance.

Solo piano is no easy gig. There’s equal parts danger in overusing the instrument’s orchestral power or confining the sound to its most delicate melodicism. The most sophisticated composers walk that tightrope without a safety net, without losing their balance. And the most dexterous performers make it look easy. Bryan Nichols succeeds on both levels. And then he goes farther by creating new works –from thin air or from existing repertoire—that at once seem part of the modern jazz tradition and part of jazz yet to come.



Photos: (top to bottom) Matt Slocum with Massimo Biolcati at the Artists Quarter; Joe Lovano (at the Dakota in spring 2011); Dead Cat Bounce at Studio Z; Bryan Nichols solo at MacPhail (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 21, 2011

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


















© Andrea Canter

After a week without jazz, I am in recovery. Fortunately there’s plenty of opportunities to help me get back on track.

Highlights
Young drummer and Twin Cities native Matt Slocum has been making as much of an impression on the national jazz scene as a composer as he has with his trapset. One listen to his second recording, After the Storm, should be ample evidence. With long-time bassist Massimo Biolcati and acclaimed pianist Sam Yahel, Slocum brings his trio into the Artists Quarter for the weekend (10/21-22), sticking around for an ensemble workshop on Sunday (12:30-2 pm) at the AQ, free and open to all, particularly aimed at high school and college ensemble musicians. If you are expecting bombast and high volume, forget it. This is one drummer who, like our own Phil Hey, treats the drum kit as a melodic chamber ensemble partner.

If sublime drumming isn’t enough to keep you awake on a Friday night, you can really rev your motor with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue at First Avenue. On both trombone and trumpet, there are few artists who can excite a crowd quite like Shorty (Troy Andrews).

Saturday night (10/22) brings Joe Lovano and his Us Five band back to the Twin Cities for the third time in about 18 months. With pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and two drummers (Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III), the quintet headlined the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and returned (sans Spalding) to the Dakota last spring. Spalding is expected on this tour which lands at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. From festival stage to jazz club and now in a concert hall, there’s no finer ensemble working today. Lovano alone is worth the ticket, as one of the most inventive, always-listenable interpreters of Parker and beyond, as well as a formidable composer. But add in the rest and you’ve got magic.

Unfortunate competition on Saturday night, but that just creates that Big Apple feeling: Zacc Harris’s series, Jazz at Studio Z, continues with Seven Steps to Havana, Doug Little’s septet that puts Cuban flavors in a postbop mélange. They start out early afternoon with an open rehearsal/workshop (free at Z), leading into the evening performance.

It might sound like an odd pairing but Butch Thompson and Spider John Koerner have done it before, just not recently or at the Artists Quarter. Sunday night, with cameras rolling for a segment of “St. Paul Live,” the two duke it out to everyone’s delight.

Come Monday night (10/24) at Studio Z, you have to be intrigued by a band dubbed Dead Cat Bounce! Before cat lovers get riled up, the name comes from a Wall Street term for a sudden rise in a falling stock. In other words, expect the unexpected in a good way. DCB was founded by saxophonist/composer Matt Steckler with pals at the New England Conservatory in Boston about 15 years ago, and they have been making merry mayhem ever since, with a frontline of four saxophones buoyed by bass and drums. Sort of a World Saxophone Quartet with rhythm. The original repertoire (from Steckler) suggests the larger ensembles of Mingus, the most experimental works of Ellington, the harmonic excitement of Schneider, all encased in unexpected suggestions from Latin and Eastern cultures. A free preview will be provided at 4:30 pm at Walker West Music Academy. (There’s an amusing interview with Matt Steckler on JazzINK.)

Charmin Michelle comes back to the Dakota on Tuesday night (10/25) in the fine company of pianist Phil Mattson, bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Dave Schmalenberger. Plus it’s a “Foodie Night”—spend $25 on dinner and no cover. You can also catch Charmin in her usual Wednesday night haunt, Fireside Pizza, with Denny Malmberg on accordion (10/26).

Wednesday (10/26) brings a rare solo performance from pianist Bryan Nichols, one of the brightest lights on the otherwise bright Twin Cities jazz scene. Performing in the beautiful Antonello Hall of MacPhail, Bryan will offer his interpretations of standards as well as original compositions and “a few surprises.” As one who generally uses surprise elements in his arrangements, Bryan could be up to just about anything. This concert starts early (7 pm), which means it would be pretty easy to take in Bryan before heading across town to hear one of the infrequent shows of the Illicit Sextet at the Artists Quarter. One of the premiere jazz bands of the late 80s-mid 90s, the band reunited a couple years ago and discovered they still have the chops and the audience to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Or if you really want more Bryan, head to the Nomad World Pub for the late night jazz series, tonight featuring Gang Font with Dave King, Erik Fratzke, Greg Norton… and Bryan Nichols.

Thursday (10/27) features another live recording for St. Paul Live, this time with the Pete Whitman X-Tet at the Artists Quarter. The band plays nearly monthly, featuring ten of the best of the metro headed of course by veteran saxman/bandleader Pete Whitman. It’s our hometown little big band with the sound of New York’s best. Let ‘em keep the Vanguard Orchestra and Mingus Dynasty. We have the X-Tet.

More Jazz!
So much more this week, take your pick, your ears will win. See a pretty complete schedule on the KBEM website.

Friday, October 21: Todd Harper’s Full Moon Rabbit at the Black Dog; Patty Peterson and Friends at School II Bistro; Nachito Herrera at the Dakota

Saturday, October 22: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota

Sunday, October 23: Milo Fine’s L'Editions Lagnaippe at Homewood Studios (with Paul Metzger and Elaine Evans); James Wallace at the Red Stag

Monday, October 24: Maryann Sullivan and Joel Shapira at Fireside Pizza; Nichola Miller and Rick Carlson at the Loring Pasta Bar’s Musique Mystique; Dennis Spears at the Dakota; Clay Pufahl at Jazz Central

Tuesday, October 25: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Big Band Tuesdays with the Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at the Shorewood; Graydon Peterson Quartet at Jazz Central; John Penny and Rey Rivera at The Nicollet; Jack Brass at the Driftwood

Wednesday, October 26: Steve Kenny and the Bastids, early set at the Artists Quarter; Todd Clouser, Dean Magraw and Jay Epstein at Café Maude

Thursday, October 27: Gypsy Mania at Hell’s Kitchen; Jana Nyberg Group at Aux1 (The Republic)

Coming Soon!
• October 28, Herbie Hancock Solo Piano at Orchestra Hall
. October 28-29, Atlantis Quartet CD Release and Halloween Party at the Artists Quarter

• November 1, John Scofield Quartet at the Dakota
• November 3-6, Zeitgeist New Music Festival at Studio Z
• November 7, Michael Kaesehammer at the Dakota
• November 9, CD Release, Doug Haining Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• November 10, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail (MacPhail Faculty)
• November 11-12, Sue Orfield with the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter
• November 12, Insurgent (Pat Moriarty, Ellen Lease, Phil Hey) at Studio Z (Jazz From J to Z)
• November 13, PipJazz Sundays at Landmark Center (TCJS Student Showcase)
• November 16, Al Jarreau at the Pantages Theater
• November 17, REEL Jazz at the Trylon Theater
• November 19, JazzMN Orchestra, Tribute to Miles Davis at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 19, Zacc Harris Quartet at Studio Z
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter
• December 1, Christine Rosholt and Kevin Hall, CD Release at The Loring Theater
• December 1, Nova Jazz Orchestra and the Minnetonka High School Jazz Band at Minnetonka HS (Jazz From J to Z)
• December 16, Todd Clouser’s Love Electric at Studio Z
• December 17, Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many at Studio Z
• December 23, 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)






Photos: (top to bottom) Matt Slocum; Joe Lovano; Charmin Michelle; Bryan Nichols (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Show I Didn't Miss Last Week: The Wallace Roney Sextet






















© Andrea Canter

I love my annual treks to northern California but it always seems to coincide with something special, jazz speaking, back home in the Twin Cities. In the past week, I missed the too-infrequent appearance of Patricia Barber (at the Dakota). I heard positive comments about the show. I missed the first performance of the quartet Good Life (Brandon Wozniak, Peter Schimke, Billy Peterson, Kenny Horst) at the Artists Quarter. I heard positive comments about the show. I missed a rare pairing of Nichola Miller and Maud Hixson (at the Dakota). Maud thought it was a blast. I missed a performance/Q&A by the Denver-based Aakash Mittal Quartet at Walker West. The quartet and folks at Walker West were pleased with the turnout and sounds like everyone had a great evening.

I got back in time to catch two sets with the Wallace Roney Sextet at the Artists Quarter (October 19). Billed initially as a quintet, Roney brought along a second saxophonist (paired with his brother Antoine), and the addition of young Arnold Lee on alto was icing on the cake. This is a tight, but not too tight, ensemble that teeters on the edge of edginess without losing its accessibility and melodicism; Roney is a leader who doesn’t need to continually shine the light on his own talent but, rather, gives each of his cohorts a lot of space. There were times when he returned to center stage for only a short break, quickly backing away as the musical leadership was tossed back and forth.

In his early career, Roney was often criticized for too closely following his mentor, Miles Davis. There is still a lot of Miles in his horn but there’s pieces of Coltrane and Coleman, and mostly Roney himself. He often wears a modal mantel, blazing through climbing scales in a dizzying exhibition, but was perhaps most effective when backing off into lyrical balladry, as on his interpretation of “I Love You” near the end of the first set. For the most part, it seemed, the band ran through original compositions—or reinventions that became original compositions? No matter, each set unfolded as multi-part suites, each segment stretched out and played with little pause in between. But there was plenty of joyful blowing, energetic, often dazzling interactions, and ecstatic soloing.

Antoine Roney (on tenor) was as much the center of attention as brother Wallace, calling up Coltrane in spirit without imitation. The younger guys gave plenty of reason for optimism in considering the future of jazz: Pianist Aruán Ortiz offered articulate inventions at warp speed and on thoughtful downshifts; bassist Rashaan Carter provided funk and groove one minute, serious depth charges the next; drummer Kush Abadey served notice that he can rattle, roll, and splatter with the best of his generation. And then there was that sixth man, Arnold Lee, blowing like a veteran and sharing the hornline conversations with the Roneys as comfortably as if shooting hoops with his pals on the playground.

The Artists Quarter has increasingly played host to visiting national artists, offering tickets at bargain prices (Roney was one of the most expensive of late at a mere $22), ensuring a younger audience as well as long-term jazz aficionados have access to some of the best in modern music.

Support our local “jazz and only jazz” club. It will feed your own ears.

Photos: (top to bottom) Wallace Roney; Antoine Roney; Aruán Ortiz; Kush Abadey; the sextet (all at the Artists Quarter, October 19, by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jazz: Just Hard to Find at "Jazz Clubs?"





© Andrea Canter

A few years ago, Minnesota Monthly irked more than a few jazz fans by proclaiming that jazz was too hard to find and too hard to understand. Or words to that effect. Apparently the editors at MM have found a way to resolve that dilemma, by finding jazz at an area theater and nonjazz at the area’s most renowned jazz club. The November issue’s “Best Of” selections include two that might intrigue or confuse local music audiences. But perhaps these selections best highlight what is really going on locally, and nationally, in live jazz.

Named “Best Jazz Venue” was the Capri Theater on Minneapolis’s northside. The Capri has been presenting primarily vocal jazz over the past few seasons, bringing such great voices as Debbie Duncan, Dennis Spears, Greta Oglesby, Regina Marie Williams, Charmin Michelle and more to the stage, often as part of the Capri’s noteworthy Legends Series in tribute to the greats of the genre, from Billie Holiday to Ella to Sarah and beyond. The Twin Cities Jazz Society brought Dave Milne’s Lester Young salute to the Capri in 2009 as well as the first-run of a new show from Arne Fogel, “Blue.” Of course the Capri hosts other music and other performing arts, but mainline jazz has been at the core of its recent seasons.

On the same page, MM anointed the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant as its “Best Club to Hear Singer-Songwriters.” And neither the editors, nor the Dakota, would claim that this title refers to jazz singer/songwriters like Rondi Charleston, Rene Marie or Tierney Sutton. No, this category includes those singers and songwriters like Judy Collins, Maria Muldauer and a younger generation out of the folk, blues and pop traditions. Lowell Pickett initiated his American Songwriters series quite a while ago, and to some degree it seems to have tapered off lately as the club has increasingly booked major blues, rock and pop artists, songwriters or not. MM notes the Dakota now books about “a quarter” of the lineup from non-jazz genres. Among national artists, I suspect that is closer to 70% of late. And it’s not a Dakota thing--this trend is apparent coast to coast at most major jazz clubs save the hard core clubs of Manhattan. (Just check the schedules at Yoshi’s in San Francisco or Oakland.) The best of popular music, broadly defined, now comes to clubs that formerly booked jazz artists, new and legendary. How do we compare the drawing power of Joe Lovano to Little Anthony and the Imperials? And should we?

There’s an upside to this, at least locally. The Capri Theater is not the only venue to add jazz to its roster on a regular basis. If we are seeing far fewer club gigs for jazz artists, we are seeing far more jazz at theater venues. The Loring Theater (formerly Music Box) near downtown Minneapolis has brought in the likes of The Bad Plus, Marco Benevento, Matthew Shipp and KBEM’s summer Jazz Party. St. Barnabas Church in Plymouth has been running its monthly Jazz@St Barney’s series for several years. Studio Z in St. Paul’s Lowertown district has often booked avant garde and experimental jazz artists and now, thanks to a grant to Zacc Harris, has a monthly Jazz at Studio Z series through spring 2012. MacPhail Center for Music continues its Jazz Thursdays concerts and occasionally books other jazz artists for master classes and performances. Walker Art Center, in 2010-2011, boasted perhaps the most exciting series of jazz concerts in town, with Brad Mehldau and Dave Douglas highlighting the New Music series. Then there's the little underground performance space, Jazz Central, run by musicians Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago to provide a place for musicians to do their own thing without concern for the bottom line. Every Monday night, there's one or more invited artists jamming and inventing and collaborating, creating some of the most exciting music in town.


Both the Bloomington Center for the Arts and Hopkins Center for the Arts include jazz on their season schedules, with Butch Miles, the Peterson Family, Joan Griffith and Sam Miltich, and more in Bloomington, while Joe Lovano’s Us Five, Connie Evingson, Evan Christopher and more will appear in Hopkins. The JazzMN Orchestra season, held at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center, schedules four concerts each season, often with a major visiting star (this season, including John Clayton and Terell Stafford). The Twin Cities Jazz Society brings 7-10 concerts to multiple venues around the metro each season, some as a cosponsor with other presenters, some on its own-- this season including cosponsoring Joe Lovano in Hopkins and local artists at Studio Z, the Artists Quarter and area high school auditoriums. And Orchestra Hall, which has long presented some jazz every season, now has its own Artistic Director for Jazz (Irvin Mayfield) and the increasingly interesting Piper Jaffray Jazz Series. This season, visiting artists include the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s solo piano concert, Kurt Elling and Lizz Wright, and Mayfield. And oh yes, the Capri Theater’s Legend series continues this season.

Small area music clubs may come and go, and the presentation of jazz waxes and wanes, but there seems to be a growing commitment to presenting (if no supporting) local jazz artists, from the new Tuesday night series at The Nicollet to the edgy bookings each Wednesday night at the Nomad World Pub to the ongoing schedules at the Black Dog, Café Maude, Loring Pasta Bar, Fireside Pizza, Hell’s Kitchen and out in the burbs as well. (Catch Big Band Tuesdays at the Shorewood in Fridley!) Even my neighborhood diner/bar, The Driftwood, has Jack Brass Band every Tuesday night.

But what about Best Jazz Club? That category was not really part of MM’s list. So it will have to be on my list. Locally, the Artists Quarter remains the only fulltime presenter of jazz, supporting local musicians from bebop to well beyond, vocalists on a slowly growing basis, student musicians via performance opportunities and low cover charges, and the serious jazz audience via a listening environment. And more and more, Kenny Horst is finding ways to bring in national artists, from the established talents of Eddie Gomez, Christian Howes, Eric Alexander, Wallace Roney and even Roy Haynes to the rising stars of tomorrow like Matt Slocum and Koplant No.

I’m glad Minnesota Monthly has discovered that there’s great jazz in a local theater. Now, maybe next year they can find it at a jazz club. Or two.



Photos: (top to bottom) Judy Collins, one of the most famed singer/songwriters to perform at the Dakota, in May 2011; Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail, here featuring the MacPhail faculty's Mingus ensemble in fall 2010; Charmin Michelle and Joel Shapira, CD release at the Artists Quarter in fall 2010. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Jazz Face: Irv Williams, Still Feisty After All These Years



© Andrea Canter

What will I be doing if and when I get to 92? Surely not playing the saxophone since I never have… But will I be working as I am today? With enough motivation and energy to sustain my activities at an admirable level? Although every year he hints at retirement, and with every CD release (nearly annually) he suggests it will be his last, saxman Irv Williams keeps chugging along. His gigs are fewer, his late nights earlier, but put Irv on stage, give him a chair which he might not use, and he still blows the sweetest sounds with the utmost conviction. His recent guest appearance with vocalist Pippi Ardennia on her PipJazz Sundays concert series was classic Irv. The plan was for him to perform three songs during the first set. He played marvelous versions of “Misty” and “Moon River” with the band, and was to next play a duet with Pippi on “Here’s to Life.” But Pippi was so enthralled with his “Moon River,” she begged him to do it again so she could join in. And then came that stunning duet on “Here’s to Life.” Irv was having too much fun to leave, staying on stage through the first set.


Here’s to Irv, an amazing model for getting the most out of life.


Photo: Irv blowing ever so sweet on "Here's to Life" (photo by Andrea Canter, 10/2/11)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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




















© Andrea Canter

I’ll miss most of the music in town this week. My loss! Some cool things are happening.

Highlights
Can’t think of a better horn to put in front of Peter Schimke, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst than saxman Brandon Wozniak. He’s been tearing up one ensemble after another since relocating to the Twin Cities about five years ago. Now a veteran of the Atlantis Quartet and Monk in Motian bands, he’s been heard a lot lately with Bryan Nichols and Dave King—and he can be judged by the company he keeps. With the feisty trio of Schimke, Peterson and Horst, that’s “Good Company” on the Artists Quarter bandstand this weekend (10/14-15).

If you anywhere near Staples, MN this weekend, check out Connie Evingson at the Centennial Auditorium Friday night (10/14) as she reprises her Peggy Lee revue, “Fever.” Connie is a Peggy Lee scholar as well as interpreter, and she fills her show with informative tidbits as well as engaging song. Back in the Twin Cities area on Saturday (10/15), you can also enjoy a more diverse set of Connie’s music at the monthly Jazz at St. Barney’s show at St. Barnabas Church in Plymouth. Connie is joined by monster pianist Tanner Taylor.

Sunday afternoon (10/16) there’s a special screening of “In My Mind,” Jason Moran’s Thelonious Monk project in which he explores and recreates Monk’s famed Town Hall Concert. It’s part of the otherwise always interesting Sound Unseen festival, this viewing at the Trylon Theater.

And it’s time for Soul Café’s semi-annual gig at their old stomping grounds, the gallery at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church off Loring Park. For years, this trio of Steve Blons, Laura Caviani and Brad Holden held monthly gatherings of jazz and poetry readings. Now with their reduced schedule they have also expanded to a sextet, adding bass (Jay Young), percussion (Darryl Boudreaux) and vocals (Lucia Newell). There’s always a theme to the music and selected poems, this time “Resilience.” A unique ensemble that we now hear way too infrequently, perfect for a Sunday evening (10/16).

For some soul-bending fun, can’t beat the beats of the Crusaders, and particularly when the original core of the 60s hit band is back on tour—Joe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder. They’re at the Dakota Monday and Tuesday (10/17-18). About a year ago, the band toured without Felder, who was ailing, but he’s back on the bandstand ensuring a revival of the original sound.

A couple weeks ago, Chris Lomheim backed wife, vocalist Emily Green at The Nicollet, drawing a large crowd to enjoy some swinging music. Chris comes back now on Tuesday (10/18) to support one of Emily’s mentors, Vicky Mountain, and “swinging music” will again define the evening. The setting is casual, the coffee outstanding, and the pizzas sure looked good!

Also on Tuesday, a rare opportunity to enjoy one of the most inventive bands you may have never heard of, the Aakash Mittal Quartet, playing (free!) an early evening of music and discussion at Walker West Music Academy. Saxophonist Aakash and cohorts, based in Denver, are quickly developing a very personal sound that takes from bebop and postbop and the music of modern India, yielding a global jazz mélange that is exciting and beautiful. The quartet performed at the Dakota on the Late Night series and at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Speaking of rare, the Wallace Roney Quintet comes into the Artists Quarter for one night (2 sets) on Wednesday (10/19). Roney was last at in town about 4 years ago. One of the most exciting trumpeters on the national and international scene, Roney is also a savvy bandleader with such sidemen as brother Antoine (sax) and Araun Ortiz (piano). Across the river at the Dakota (10/19), there’s also some exciting collaboration, with Bryan Nichols, Cody McKinney and Greg Schutte supporting cool vocalist Sophia Shorai.

More Jazz

Friday, October 14: Lee Engele and Reynold Philipsek at Pardon My French; Rhonda Laurie and Robert Bell, Grand Kabaret at the Grand in New Ulm

Saturday, October 15: Jelloslave at Hosmer Library; Patty Peterson and Friends at the Dakota; Sophia Shorai solo at The Nicollet Island Inn; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel)

Sunday, October 16: Jimmi-apolis with Jimmie Wallace at the Red Stage

Monday, October 17: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Rick Carlson at the Loring Pasta Bar; Dave Graf at Jazz Central

Tuesday, October 18: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Acme Jazz Company with Arne Fogel at the Shorewood; Jack Brass at the Driftwood

Wednesday, October 19: Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; Anthony Cox at the Nomad World Pub

Thursday, October 20: REEL Jazz (films of Bob Flores) at the Trylon Theater; Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• October 21-22, Matt Slocum Trio at the Artists Quarter
• October 22, Joe Lovano and Us Five at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• October 22, Seven Steps to Havana at Studio Z
• October 24, Dead Cat Bounce at Studio Z
• October 26, Bryan Nichols at Antonello Hall, MacPhail Center for Music
• October 26, Illicit Sextet at the Artists Quarter
• October 28, Herbie Hancock Solo Piano at Orchestra Hall
• November 1, John Scofield Quartet at the Dakota
• November 9, CD Release, Doug Haining Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• November 10, Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail (MacPhail Faculty)
• November 12, Insurgent (Pat Moriarty, Ellen Lease, Phil Hey) at Studio Z (Jazz From J to Z)
• November 13, PipJazz Sundays at Landmark Center (TCJS Student Showcase)
• November 16, Al Jarreau at the Pantages Theater
• November 17, REEL Jazz at the Trylon Theater
• November 19, JazzMN Orchestra, Tribute to Miles Davis at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 19, Zacc Harris Quartet at Studio Z
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter
• December 1, Christine Rosholt and Kevin Hall, CD Release at The Loring Theater
• December 1, Nova Jazz Orchestra and the Minnetonka High School Jazz Band at Minnetonka HS (Jazz From J to Z)
• December 16, Todd Clouser’s Love Electric at Studio Z
• December 17, Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many at Studio Z
• December 23, 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)


Photos: (Top to bottom) Connie Evingson; Brandon Wozniak; Wayne Henderson of the Crusaders; Aakash Mittal; Wallace Roney (all photos by Andrea Canter)


Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, October 7-13





© Andrea Canter

No, I do not get out every night, and some weeks I don’t get out much at all—especially when I am in that frenzy before leaving town. So for me, it was a short jazz week in town, but a very satisfying one. I missed a lot—Red Planet at the Artists Quarter over the weekend, some great local voices coming up (Charmin Michelle, Maud Hixson and Nichola Miller at the Dakota, Lucia Newell at the AQ) and the great Patricia Barber at the Dakota.

But I did hear two very satisfying gigs, one of local veterans, one of a relative newcomer on the national jazz circuit.

Pippi Ardennia and Irv Williams, PipJazz Sundays at Landmark Center (October 9). Hard to imagine a more entertaining evening than our Chicago transplant, sings-it-all Pippi on stage with tenacious 91-year-old sax legend Irv Williams. Pippi is always a ball of energy, whether letting it all out on her own “Love So Good” or with controlled passion on “Here’s to Life.” And Irv—he seemed to lose years with each note as if Pippi’s energy was piped into his horn, spinning with the band on “Misty” and “Moon River” before Pippi returned to the stage, insisting that they needed to repeat the latter so she could join in. Her duet with Irv on “Here’s to Life” readily recalled Shirley Horn. Irv was having so much fun, he hung out on the rest of the first set. Pippi and her house band (Peter Schimke, Billy Peterson, Jimi Behringer and Glenn Swanson) kept the energy high on the second set, but the opening voice and drums duo on “What the World Needs Now” was most enticing. Pippi and cohort Glenn continue the series in November with a focus on three young artists, covering middle school through college level.

Rondi Charleston at the Dakota (October 10). You have to admire personal transformations, those inner mandates that push one to follow a muse that just won’t be silent. Rondi Charleston was no stranger to jazz or vocal music throughout childhood, ultimately earning a degree from Juilliard in classical voice and singing opera…but it wasn’t “it.” So she turned around, got a degree in journalism and became an award-winning investigative reporter for ABC. Still… that wasn’t “it.” The pull of jazz and song was too strong. Yet the instinct to search to find the story remained. Today Rondi is building a career as a jazz singer, a musical storyteller, a songwriter and lyricist. All her past comes into the present when she takes the stage. As a singer, she is still growing, and growing quickly as her show at the Dakota amply demonstrated. Over the past few years, Rondi’s voice has evolved a more rounded, more confident sound, her phrasing and timing a more personalized feel, her ever-present gift of storytelling more spell-binding. Always, she gathers a band that could easily sell out clubs and top charts on its own power—the poetic powerhouse, Lynne Arriale, on piano; music director, nimble-fingered Dave Stryker on guitar; mellow Ed Howard on bass; wide-ranging and deft Anthony Pinciotti on drums; and high-energy Mayra Casales on congas/percussion.

From the opening sunshine of “Wave” to the second set closer, “Baby Don’t Quit Now,” with her own “Telescope,” “Your Spirit Lingers” and “Land of Gallilee” in between, this was a night of nonstop delights. Casales was perhaps the surprise package; and if anyone doubted the significance of a talented percussionist in a vocalist’s ensemble, “Land of Gallilee” should have ended speculation. Arriale and Stryker were commanding as soloists throughout, both particularly on “Telescope” and Arriale leading the way on the instrumental rendition of Blondie’s “Call Me.” But arguably, the most arresting moments came from the voice/guitar duet from South Pacific, “This Nearly Was Mine.” This night, really, was Rondi’s.


Photos: (top to bottom) Irv Williams and Pippi Ardennia sail on "Moon River;" Rondi Charleston at the Dakota (photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, October 7, 2011

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
















© Andrea Canter

My own jazz week is short as I leave town Wednesday for California wine country. And probably no jazz. So I’ll have to cram in some good music this weekend and drool just a bit over what I’m going to miss.

Highlights This Week

Anytime we hear Red Planet, it’s going to be fun and serious. Dean Magraw, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein have been orbiting Planet Jazz for about a decade, and the music just gets more interesting. Check out their CD Space Dust for a good sampling of their interpretations and inventions. A little Coltrane, a little Ornette, a lot of cosmic magic at the Artists Quarter this weekend (10/7-8).

At 91 (or is it 92?), you’d think saxophonist Irv Williams would just take the easy gigs. But on Sunday (10/9), Irv performs on a concert hall stage as guest artist of singer Pippi Ardennia and her PipJazz house band at Landmark Center, the October installment of the PipJazz concert series. Ever see Irv in a concert halls setting? Me either. The master of tasteful bebop and balladry, Irv makes it all seem easy. And lovely. And the rest of the show will be well worth it as well, with Pippi on stage to entertain with her original music and multi-mood covers.

Rondi Charleston heard jazz as a youngster, gravitated to theater and classical voice at Juilliard, and ended up an award-winning investigative reporter for ABC Prime Time Live. No wonder her new career as a jazz singer is based on her ability to find and then tell a story (often with original lyrics) with the intimacy of a small club no matter where she performs. Monday night (10/10), she comes back to the Dakota with a band that would be the envy of any singer—Lynne Arriale on piano, Dave Stryker on guitar, Ed Howard on bass, Anthony Pinciotti on drums.

Lucia Newell tells her stories in three languages, singing this Wednesday (10/12) at the Artists Quarter. Lucia can swing, she can samba, she can collaborate with her bandmates on improvisations that would challenge many instrumentalists.






Just added! A special night of double trouble, double fun at the Dakota! Wedneseday (10/12), hear Nichola Miller and Maud Hixson, together! Two of the area's most popular voices, Nichola known for her stinging swing and Maud for her cooly intimate storytelling, join together with favorite accompanist Rick Carlson. Hard to predict the outcome, except it will be very musical and very entertaining.

A storyteller with a totally different perspective and voice, Patricia Barber returns to the Dakota on Thursday (10/13), bringing along her often dark, often witty, always clever songbook. She’s tackled Ovid and Cole Porter recently, but the best is from her own imagination. Also on Thursday, if your tastes run to more bebop and less dark humor, the U of M Jazz Ensembles present their annual fall concert at Ted Mann Concert Hall, cosponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society (“Jazz From J to Z”), honoring the music of Art Blakey with special guest, drummer Phil Hey. You won’t find better free music this week!

More Jazz!
The most complete Twin Cities jazz calendar is just a click away on the KBEM website. More recommendations:

Friday, October 7: Community Pool: Deep End at the Black Dog Café with Nathan Hanson, Douglas Ewart and Pete Hennig; the Graydon Peterson Quartet at Shanghai Bistro; JazzZen at the Riverview Wine Bar; Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble at the West Bank School of Music

Saturday, October 8: Sidewalk Cafe at Midtown Global Market (12:30 pm); Free workshop for high school /college rhythm players with Butch Miles at Jazz Central (1 pm); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Reynold Philipsek with Matt Senjem at Mendoberri Café; Charmin and Shapira and the 318 Café; Five by Design at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center

Sunday, October 9: Wolverines Big Band with Butch Miles and Judi Donaghy at the Bloomington Center for the Arts

Monday, October 10: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Madeleine Peyroux and Nellie McKay at the Guthrie Theater; Zach Lozier at Jazz Central

Tuesday, October 11: Big Band Tuesdays at the Shorewood with the Acme Jazz Company and Arne Fogel; Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Jack Brass Band at the Driftwood; Dorothy Doring, Roxy Cruz and Ann Marie Michel at Jazz Central ; Charmin Michelle with Phil Mattson at the Dakota

Wednesday, October 12: Steve Kenny and the Bastids, early show at the Artists Quarter; Firebell at Café Maude; James Buckley Trio at the Nomad; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza

Thursday, October 13: Gary Berg Quartet at the Artists Quarter; Jana Nyberg Group at Aux (Republic); Sophia Shorai at Barbette

Coming Soon!
• October 14-15, Good Life at the Artists Quarter
• October 16, Soul Café at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church
• October 17-18, Jazz Crusaders at the Dakota
• October 19, Wallace Roney Quintet at the Artists Quarter
• October 20, REEL Jazz at the Trylon Cinema, films by Bob DeFlores
• October 21-22, Matt Slocum Trio at the Artists Quarter
• October 22, Joe Lovano and Us Five at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
• October 22, Seven Steps to Havana at Studio Z
• October 24, Dead Cat Bounce at Studio Z
• October 26, Bryan Nichols at Antonello Hall, MacPhail Center for Music
• October 28, Herbie Hancock Solo Piano at Orchestra Hall
• November 1, John Scofield Quartet at the Dakota
• November 12, Insurgent (Pat Moriarty, Ellen Lease, Phil Hey) at Studio Z
• November 16, Al Jarreau at the Pantages Theater
• November 19, JazzMN Orchestra, Tribute to Miles Davis at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
• November 19, Zacc Harris Quartet at Studio Z
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger at the Artists Quarter
• December 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)








Photos: (top to bottom ) Dean Magraw of Red Planet; Pippi Ardennia (PipJazz); Irv Williams; Rondi Charleston (all photos by Andrea Canter)








Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, September 30-October 6







© Andrea Canter

Three nights in a row I heard “Mood Indigo,” and no two were even closely similar. Nancy Harms sang an edgy arrangement by pianist Bryan Nichols; the JazzMN and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestras provided more straight instrumental readings, JALCO probably closest to Ellington’s own. That was just the weekend. Dave Brittain, Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey brightened the one-year anniversary of Jazz Central and a quartet of young upstarts burned up the stage at the Artists Quarter. And some big ones got away from me, particularly Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society at O’Shaughnessy and Rhonda Laurie paired with Phil Mattson at The Nicollet.

Nancy Harms at the Artists Quarter, September 30th. No matter how talented a young artist is, it is not easy to get that break that sends a career into orbit. Nancy Harms is the exception, not only because hers is an exceptional talent, but because she has really worked to get the breaks. Like sitting in everywhere as soon as she arrived in New York a year ago. Wycliffe Gordon heard her, and now she is gigging with the great trombonist and appears on a few tracks of his new release. She sings with him at a festival in France and then at Dizzy’s at the end of the month. But she had a gig near her Minnesota hometown last weekend and squeezed in a show at the Artists Quarter with a guitar ensemble headed by Zacc Harris. Many of the tunes of the evening appear on her 2009 recording, In the Indigo. But that was then, and this is now, and Nancy has only stretched her skills as storyteller and improviser. “Bye Bye Blackbird” with its voice/bass duet intro remains one of best calling cards, but like everything else she does, it’s morphing into something even more personal with each presentation. Something in her voice is just a bit more mellow, more confident, wiser.

JazzMN Orchestra with John Clayton, at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center, October 1. We are really lucky in Minnesota to have such a top-notch jazz big band. With prime soloists in every section, it really is not essential to bring in a renowned guest artist. But it does add to the fun and gives the stars an earful of the best of Midwest. Bassist/composer/arranger/bandleader John Clayton did the honors Saturday night, mostly as animated conductor and arranger. Judi Donaghy sang the familiar “Bluesette” and the much less often sung “Whisper Not” during the local first set, Clayton coming on to direct the second set on his own arrangements of works by Horace Silver, Johnny Hodges, even every piano student’s “Heart and Soul.” A bluesy two-bass duet pairing Clayton with house bassist Terry Burns was perhaps the highlight of the night, and while some thought Clayton’s ten-minute solo was too much bass, I think there is no such thing in the hands of a master musician.

Jazz at Lincoln Center at Orchestra Hall, October 2. The audience sang “happy birthday” to Wynton Marsalis, celebrating his 50th on his current tour. In return, we got perhaps the most animated, soulful performance I’ve heard yet from this star-studded band. Even Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of Jazz for Orchestra Hall, put in a comical as well as musical appearance, popping out at the start of the second set, trumpet in hand, and quipping “Oops, wrong concert.” The only dull step was oddly on the opening Monk tune, “Evidence;” otherwise it was an evening of superb soloing from all, particularly the gold-plated trumpet section of Kelly Rampton, Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup, and, of course, Wynton.

Phil Hey, Dave Brattain and friends at Jazz Central’s Birthday Bash, October 3. The Twin Cities best kept jazz secret celebrated a year of at least weekly performances and jam sessions in the lower level studio space run by Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago. Tanner handled the keys, and Phil Hey gave Mac the night off, aided by Gordy Johnson and starring a hard-blowing Dave Brattain on tenor sax. Shorter, Silver and more were given high flying readings from some of the most energetic post bop I’ve heard around here. Brattain needs a wider following and more gigs to establish the reputation among listeners that he clearly has heard among fellow musicians.

Tyler Anderson and the Coriolis Effect at the Artists Quarter, October 6. Six or seven nights per year, the Twin Cities Jazz Society presents its Young Artists Series at the Artists Quarter, featuring a high school or college level ensemble. Maybe the most savvy student band yet was the quartet from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, led by saxophonist Tyler Anderson under the name Coriolis Effect. I have no idea what this effect is. But the effect of the music was undeniable—relentlessly inventive. Each member of the band (Anderson, pianist Cody Peterson, bassist Jordan Jenkins, drummer Mike Malone) contributed original compositions, and the set was paced as well as any pro outfit, a mixture of beautiful balladry and powerhouse knock-downs. And Tyler has already figured out how to engage the audience from the microphone. The lone covers came at the end, a better than average rendition of “All the Things You Are” featuring UW-EC saxophone professor Doug O’Connor duking it out with Anderson, and the encore “Bring It On Home to Me,” showing off the young guys’ gospel-blues chops. The band just recorded an EP with five of these tunes which will serve as a sonic business card for future gigs. And they will have plenty.


Photos: (top to bottom) Nancy Harms, homecoming at the Artists Quarter; Dave Brattain with Tanner Taylor at Jazz Central; The Coriolis Effect at the Artists Quarter (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jazz Face: Mary Louise Knutson

© Andrea Canter

Ten years ago, Minneapolis-based pianist Mary Louise Knutson released her first recording (Call Me When You Get There), about equal parts original compositions and new arrangements of standards. The reviews were raves, the airplay was off the charts. We wanted more. But we had to wait a decade. In the interim, Mary Louise kept busy, touring the Midwest with her trio, Italy with Debbie Duncan, becoming one of the very first call accompanists for area singers and holding down the rhythm section for the JazzMN Big Band (now Orchestra). Trio gigs became few and far between. But now she’s back, fresh out of the studio at Creation Audio with a new set following a similar formula. Dubbed In the Bubble to describe the “everything is going right” feeling of a vacation in Costa Rica as well as the chemistry in the recording studio, Mary Louise is back where she most belongs, heading a trio of elegant collaborators (bassist Gordy Johnson and drummers Phil Hey, Greg Schutte and Craig Hara) and taking listeners through a lovely soundscape of original fare and clever rearrangements of standards. The CD is getting airplay on KBEM and elsewhere. Now we just need a CD release party to bring it fully to life. Jazz Times called the first recording “piano trio finery,” which must make In the Bubble “piano trio majesty.”

Full review to be posted on JazzINK and Jazz Police.

Photo: Mary Louise “in the bubble” at Creation Audio in June 2009. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

J is For Jazz and Other Obsolete Volumes





© Andrea Canter

I know, this is really a jazz blog. Not a blog about recycling. Maybe improvising is really recycling music?

Here’s my dilemma: I can not figure out what to do with my 1981 set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I can’t remember the last time I used it. Probably shortly after I got it in about 1987 as a “discard” at a library book sale. Soon after, I began to rely on the internet for quick references and more in-depth means of satisfying my curiosity about whatever. The internet was constantly updated and required no storage. At least none on my end. I did buy one of those CD-ROM versions of the Brittanica. I never used it. Why load an encyclopedia when you can look up any term and find a long list of sites with far more information than could be stored on a CD? Simply, even before the 21st century, encyclopedias were obsolete.

So what do we do with our old World Books and Brittanicas? Turns out there’s no market for them at all. Good Will, Salvation Army, similar thrift and charity agencies won’t take them. Books for Africa won’t ship them. Schools, hospitals, churches—no one wants them any more than I do. They are big, bulky and impossible to keep updated. They are even less useful than pennies and 8-track tapes.

So the next thing is recycling, right? Not so fast. Recycling companies will take paper. Not book bindings. You can’t just take a set of encyclopedias to the county recycling center or leave the set in your green recycling bin for city pick-up. Not without first removing the bindings. There are companies that specialize in removing those bindings, for a fee. Heck, why can’t I just do that myself? Armed with my exacto knife, I figured I could do a couple volumes each night and have a few bags of recycle-able paper by the weekend.

I pulled out volume “C-Ch.” In pretty good shape for 1981. Oh yeah, I have not really opened this volume in nearly 30 years. Did you know that the Japanese Bobtail Cat has been a symbol of good luck in Japan? I didn’t know a female cat was referred to as a “queen.” I thought that was just bees. I didn’t know that the whiskers on a catfish have a name, barbels. Or that there are over 2,000 species of catfish. I just like them fried in cornmeal. (That’s in volume Ci-Cz.)

OK, so what about volume “J”? Naturally I have to check out “jazz.” I learned something on the first page. There was in early jazz band in Indianapolis headed by a guy named Frank Clay. I’ve of course heard of Bessie Smith but I didn’t know about Mamie Smith, who was the first nationally successful black Blues singer. The next few pages are filled with vintage black and white photos of Bix, Basie, Bird, Duke, Herbie and more. What about the section “Jazz Today?” Of course it isn’t “today” now… but it was “today” in 1981. It’s a good summary up to 1981. That would have been more than enough for Ken Burns.

So it seems there is still plenty for me to learn right here in my 1981 World Book. After all, most of the history of Planet Earth and mankind came before 1981. And in 2011, is there really no value in literally putting your hands on this cubic yard of text and graphics, thumbing through it just to find out what you can find out? I remember doing just that as a kid, pulling out a book, spending an hour or more just sifting through all those facts, finding something new and obscure. Sure, I could still do that online. But there's something about touching the paper, print.

Two weeks ago, I took a few boxes of old Downbeat and Jazz Times magazines, some dating back about 15 years, to the MacPhail Center for Music and invited the seven new students of the Dakota Combo to help themselves. I know that teenagers don’t generally think about hard-copy magazines—they can read all this and much more online, often for free. But put this archaic paper resource center in front of them, and watch what happens. We used to call it “browsing” before that word became a synonym for “surfing,” back when “surfing” referred to something cool guys did on the beach. But even high tech-oriented kids in 2011 quickly recognize the glory of hands-on encounters with words and pictures.

So I don’t really want to start gutting my World Books. Somewhere there is a kid, a family, a budding scholar, even a future jazz musician who would enjoy a similar encounter with volume J. Or C-Ch. Or the whole damn alphabet. Even from 1981. After all, you can always look up 1982+ online.