Friday, November 25, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review: November 18-24





© Andrea Canter

The week leading up to a major holiday is often hectic, to say the least. Taking time to hear some great music is a good stress reducer. And with the options of the past week, I feel like I’ve been to the jazz spa.

Laura Caviani Trio at the Artists Quarter, November 18. No matter how many trio gigs Laura has in a given year (and it is not nearly enough), she never puts on the same show twice. Sometimes she honors a muse, like Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk or Mary Lou Williams. Sometimes she delves into the repertoire of an under-appreciated composer like Alec Wilder. And this weekend, Laura looked back to her classical training and gave us jazz interpretations of Bach, Chopin, McDowell, Fauré and more. With a very compatible team of bassist Gary Raynor and drummer Jay Epstein, Laura also included some of her favorite jazz artists, particularly Monk, Williams and Wilder, a lovely cover of “The Very Thought of You,” and a couple of her own compositions, including her reinterpretation of Debussy’s “Gollywog’s Cakewalk” (which became “Gollywog’s Boogie Woogie”). Those of us who struggled through childhood piano lessons long enough to mangle McDowell’s “To a Wild Rose” appreciated hearing the theme as intended, and then transformed by Laura’s improvisation.

Zacc Harris Group at Studio Z, November 19. Zacc Harris is not only an outstanding guitarist, composer and bandleader, he’s also a curator of jazz gigs, currently via an MRAC grant to present a monthly jazz event at Studio Z. This month he brought in his own band, and despite the snowy day, drew a few dozen listeners to two sets of mostly original compositions played by five of the area’s most creative artists—Harris, pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Chris Bates and drummer JT Bates, with “special guest” on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Brandon Wozniak. I could have used a bigger dose of that bass clarinet, which Brandon said he had not really played in five years. But it sounded like he had never put it down on the ensemble’s run through Zacc’s “Undercurrent.” Also outstanding on this tune was the collaboration of guitar and keyboard which created an aural sensation of sirens. Zacc’s ode to his late canine companion (“She Was My Best Friend”) showed everyone’s soft side, from JT’s gentle brushwork to Bryan’s exquisite soloing, as well as the composer’s own majestic balladry. While there was some Bad Plus energy in the opening “In Passing,” the ensemble’s additional voices (guitar and sax) more often generated harmonies and rhythms suggestive of Mingus. They closed with their one cover, an abstract take on “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise.”

Mary Louise Knutson Trio at the Artists Quarter, November 23. Proof that trio outings from Mary Louise Knutson are much too infrequent was the standing-room only crowd on hand on Thanksgiving Eve to celebrate her new CD, In the Bubble. While the title refers to an “everything was perfect” vacation, it just as easily describes the interaction among the musicians, on CD and on stage. With masters of nuance, bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Phil Hey, the trio created a perfect storm of music, with lustrous new arrangements of such masterpieces as “Bluesette”, “It Could Happen to You,” “That’s All” and even “You Are My Sunshine,” and “should be classic” new compositions like “Sea of Qi,” “Can You Hear Me Now” and the title track. ML also dipped back into her first recording for the playful “Merl the Pearl” and started the second set solo with her version of “Pennies From Heaven.” And you had to listen fast at times to catch all of the trio’s antics, such as the series of Ellington quotes in Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” and Gordy Johnson’s nod to Stevie Wonder while “In the Bubble.” I know a lot more whizzed by my ears. If you missed this one, or just want more, the trio will hold their Minneapolis release party at the Dakota on November 30th .


Photos: Laura Caviani at the AQ; Zacc Harris and Chris Bates at Studio Z; Mary Louise Knutson at the AQ (all photos by Andrea Canter)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 25-December 1

















© Andrea Canter

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and on my list of gratitudes is the Twin Cities jazz scene. Just this week alone, you can celebrate the release of four diverse recording projects—a creative sax/piano quartet featuring two Minnesota natives, a locally-based piano trio with international potential, a Twin Cities big band release of previously unrecorded Stan Kenton charts, and a trans-Atlantic singer/songwriter pairing bridging the worlds of jazz and pop. Remember, CDs make great holiday gifts!




Highlights This Week
A long-time favorite of Artists Quarter audiences, saxophonist Pat Mallinger (11/25-26) returns to his home town for his nearly annual post-Thanksgiving romp, this time celebrating the release of Home on Richmond. Recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago, the recording also features one of our own international stars, pianist Bill Carrothers. With Bill tied up with performances in Europe, for AQ gig, Pat’s enlisted a worthy alternative, Bryan Nichols, along with bassist Graydon Peterson and drummer Kenny Horst. Mallinger seems to take his music up a notch with each recording, and Home on Richmond is filled with spiky excitement, from Mallinger’s title track and Carrothers’ glorious “Snowbound” to inventive takes on “Smile” and “Nagasaki” and transcendent covers of Charles Lloyd and John Coltrane.

Back at the Dakota for the holidays! The savvy piano/sax duo of Peter Schimke and Irv Williams (11/25) returns for Happy Hour every Friday night. With Schimke’s deft touch and William’s soulful horn, and their telepathic communication on stage, there’s no better way to wind down from a busy week (or busy holiday) than to spend an hour or two with Peter and Irv.

The Loring Pasta Bar’s “Musique Mystique” series continues Monday Night with vocalist Rhonda Laurie and guitarist Robert Bell (11/28). In the past year or so, the pair have performed together via Rhonda’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” project, funded through the Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Regional Public Libraries. But metro residents don’t need to travel to Graceville, MN to hear Rhonda and Robert – just to Dinkytown.

Mary Louise Knutson (11/30) had so much fun at her St Paul CD release last week, she’s taking the show across the river to the Dakota Wednesday night. Better plan to get there early—the AQ release party was standing room only. Celebrating In the Bubble with her core trio of Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey, ML has assembled a collection of new compositions and new arrangements of such standards as “Bluesette” and “It Could Happen to You” that evokes the swinging elegance of the great jazz piano trios of Evans and Jarrett. Even if you were there at the AQ, this music keeps drawing you back.

Lila Ammons (11/30) can trace her roots in boogie woogie and blues to grandfather Albert Ammons and uncle Gene Ammons, but she’s established her own career as a vocalist across both styles. Often performing in Europe with boogie-woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger, she’s also launched a quintet of local musicians with a broader jazz palette. The quintet (with pianist Ted Godbout, bassist Zachary Warpinski, drummer Tim Zhorne, and saxophonist Dean Brewington) performs at Honey on Wednesday night.

The Twin Cities Jazz Society (Jazz From J to Z) and KBEM’s Big Band Scene team up to present one of the area’s premiere big bands, the Nova Classic Jazz Orchestra (12/1), celebrating the 100th birthday of Stan Kenton with a release of a recording of unpublished charts. These charts, by one of Kenton’s top arrangers, Bill Mathieu, put the spotlight on a number of Nova’s fine talents, as well as special guest saxophonist Dave Karr. The celebration will take place at Minnetonka High School’s Performing Arts Center, with the exemplary Minnetonka High School jazz band playing an opening set.

It’s been a three-year collaboration, from their first meeting to their final recording session. Local chanteuse Christine Rosholt (12/1) so impressed British songwriter Kevin Hall when a family visit brought him to a gig at the Dakota, he immediately suggested they team up to perform some of his original music. The result is a set of tunes, mostly written for Christine, that bridges her jazz inclinations with Hall’s rock/pop-flavored leanings—a hybrid they dub “Pazz.” And it’s not just Rosholt and Hall who will be at the CD release party at the Dakota Thursday night—they will be joined by nearly every cast member of the recording, including trumpeter Dave Jensen and the rest of the Hornheads, J.D. Steele, Randy Sabien, Lucia Newell, Estaire Godinez and more.

More Jazz This Week
The area’s most comprehensive jazz calendar can be found on the KBEM website. More recommendations:

Friday, November 25: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Maud Hixson with Tim Patrick at the Medina Ballroom

Saturday, November 26: Sophia Shorai at the Nicollet Island Inn; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Arne Fogel at Ingredients Cafe

Sunday, November 27: Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, November 28: Headspace at the Artists Quarter; Sophia Shorai at Barbette; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; Tanner Taylor Trio at Jazz Central

Tuesday, November 29: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Jack Brass Band at the Driftwood; Michael Gold at The Nicollett

Wednesday, November 30: Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by Black Heralds at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble at the Shorewood

Thursday, December 1: Media Addicts at the Artists Quarter; Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon!
• December 2, Chris Botti at Orchestra Hall
• December 2: Nathan Hanson, Brian Roesslear, Ellen Lease and Pat Moriarty at the Black Dog
• December 2-3, What Would Monk Do at the Artists Quarter
• December 4, PipJazz Sunday (Pippi Ardennia with guest Esera Tuaolo) at Landmark Center
• December 5, Catherine Russell at the Dakota
• December 9 & 11, “Jingle Bell Doc” (Severinson) at Orchestra Hall
• December 9-10, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 10, “The Crosby/Clooney Story,” Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• December 10, “White Christmas” with Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Heights Theater
• December 12, One Heartland Benefit at the Dakota with Teri Roiger
• December 13, Box Car (Jeremy Walker, Anthony Cox, JT Bates) at the Dakota
• December 14, José James at the Dakota
• December 16, Todd Clouser’s Love Electric at Studio Z
• December 16-17, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter
• December 17, Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many at Studio Z
• December 18, Peterson Family Christmas at the Dakota
• December 20, Benny Weinbeck, Adam Linz, Todd Clouser at Café Maude
• December 22, Nick Videen Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• December 23, 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 27, Chris Morrissey at Café Maude
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh at the Artists Quarter
• December 30, Rick Germanson Trio at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve Party at the Artists Quarter with Carole Martin & Rick Germanson
• January 15, Bryan Nichols “Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet” at the Artists Quarter
• February 15-16, Hugh Masekela at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)




Photos (top to bottom): Pat Mallinger at the AQ; Peter Schimke and Irv Wiliams, Happy Hour at the Dakota; Lila Ammons; Christine Rosholt with Graydon Peterson (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Lead Sheeet: Twin Cities Jazz, November 18-24







© Andrea Canter

With the cold weather suddenly upon us, there’s only one sane thing to do: Warm up with some hot music. Holiday shows will be popping up soon, but right now, the options include more timeless fare from all walks of jazz.

Top Picks
Laura Caviani (11/18-19) is a busy jazz educator and composer, and her public performances lately have been more often out of town. So it’s a double treat to have two nights with Laura and her trio at the Artists Quarter this weekend. Joining her this time will be bassist Gary Raynor and drummer Jay Epstein, familiar faces and sympathetic partners. As for the music, Laura notes her playlist will include “jazz renditions of classical repertoire from my childhood, including works by Bach, Chopin, Macdowell, and Debussy, to name a few…We'll also include some Alec Wilder and Mary Lou Williams's hits for good measure, and of course the standard fare of Monk, Tin Pan Alley, and an original or two." Can’t miss! (Don Berryman has posted a bunch of videos of Laura’s AQ performances on You Tube.)

Zacc Harris (11/19), via an MRAC grant, is curating a monthly jazz series at Studio Z, and he’s giving his own band a turn Saturday night. The Zacc Harris Group includes his core quartet of Bryan Nichols, Chris and JT Bates, expanded to include exciting saxophonist Brandon Wozniak. Earlier in the day (1 pm), they’ll hold a free and open rehearsal, a great way to gain some insight into the music and the development of group improvisation.

Also Saturday night, at the Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center, it’s another dose of the JazzMN Orchestra (11/19), this time focusing on the music of Miles Davis. No guest trumpeter, this concert instead highlights the talents of the JazzMN horn section (trumpeters Dave Jensen, Steve Strand, Bob Holgrimson and Jeff Gottwig) as they take a trip through Miles’ wide-ranging career.

Like your pizza with thin crust and a side of swing? There’s always both on Monday and Wednesday nights at Fireside Pizza in Richfield where the house band is Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg….unless Charmin is off on a gig in Spain or another venue. Then another local songbird fills in, and when you can get subs like Maud Hixson (11/21) and Rhonda Laurie (11/23), it’s a perfect pizza night. Back from her recent performance at the New York Cabaret Conference, Maud might have a few new things up her sleeve, while Rhonda has been heard most recently swinging with Sidewalk Café, Robert Bell and Phil Mattson. Either night (or better, both nights), when Maud and Rhonda take the mic next to Denny’s accordion, it will be a night of great songs, great lyrics, and great pizza.

Tuesday is another great night for song. The Nicollet presents Vicky Mountain (11/21) and cohorts from the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota (Maggie Diebel, Teresa Manzella and Karen Quiroz) giving Autumn a musical farewell. Not far down the street at the Dakota, New York-based Minnesota native Vanessa Trouble (11/21) returns for a night of sultry song with that Big Apple sheen.

If you missed the CD release earlier this month at the Artists Quarter, on Wednesday you have another opportunity to hear the Doug Haining Quintet (11/23) at Jazz Central. With trombonist Scott Agster ably filling in for Dave Graf, the rest of the band on Last Man Swinging will be on hand, and all will vie to be that last man—Rick Carlson, Steve Pikal and Dick Bortolussi joining Haining and Agster. And there is another CD release party at the AQ tonight, as Mary Louise Knutson (11/23) celebrates In the Bubble with Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey, who both figure prominently on the recording. There’s a long list of new compositions from ML and her inventive arrangements of “It Could Happen to You,” “Bluesette,” “That’s All,” “Bernie’s Tune” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” A night with this trio and you will at least know what jazz is!

More Jazz!
Keep up with local jazz via KBEM—the jazz calendar online and Maryann Sullivan’s Local Corner (Thursdays) and Corner Jazz on Sundays, along with all the other great interviews, jazz and related programming. Some more recommended gigs for the week:

Friday, November 18: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Pat O'Keefe, Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler and Ta Cumba Aiken at the Black Dog


Saturday, November 19: Nichola Miller and Tanner Taylor at Hell’s Kitchen; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske with Nathan Norman at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Emily Green at the Eagle’s Aerie Club


Sunday, November 20: Regina Marie Williams as Nina Simone at the Capri Theater (Legends Series); Kavanessence (Vanessa Dembo and Mark Bloom) at the Sabes Jewish Community Center; Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar

Monday, November 21: Headspace at the Artists Quarter


Tuesday, November 22: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Frankhouse at Hell’s Kitchen; Jack Brass Band at the Driftwood; Still Black Still Proud (Peewee Ellis, Maceo Parker and more) tribute to James Brown at the Ordway


Wednesday, November 23, Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon!
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• November 30, Mary Louise Knutson Trio, CD Release at the Dakota
• December 1, Christine Rosholt and Kevin Hall, CD Release at the Dakota
• December 1, Nova Jazz Orchestra and the Minnetonka High School Jazz Band at Minnetonka HS (Jazz From J to Z)
• December 4, PipJazz Sunday (Pippi Ardennia with guest Esera Tualo) at Landmark Center
• December 5, Catherine Russell at the Dakota
• December 9 & 11, “Jingle Bell Doc” (Severinson) at Orchestra Hall
• December 9-10, Red Planet at the Artists Quarter
• December 10, “The Crosby/Clooney Story,” Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• December 13, Box Car (Jeremy Walker, Anthony Cox, JT Bates) at the Dakota
• December 14, José James at the Dakota
• December 16, Todd Clouser’s Love Electric at Studio Z
• December 1-17, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter
• December 17, Bryan Nichols’ We Are Many at Studio Z
• December 18, Peterson Family Christmas at the Dakota
• December 22, Nick Videen Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• December 23, 25-26, The Bad Plus at the Dakota
• December 29, Dave Hagedorn and Dan Cavanagh at the Artists Quarter
• December 30, Rick Germanson Trio at the Artists Quarter
• December 31, New Year’s Eve Party at the Artists Quarter with Carole Martin and Rick Germanson
• February 15-16, Hugh Masekela at the Dakota
• March 1-2, Vijay Iyer at the Walker Art Center (McGuire Theater)

Photos (top to bottom): Laura Caviani; Zacc Harris; Vanessa Trouble; Doug Haining (photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, November 11-17









© Andrea Canter

The diversity of Twin Cities jazz, on any given week, is a marvel. Just within a couple days you can hear it all, from free improvisation to ballroom foxtrot. Throw in some savvy swing, sizzling bebop and a preview of local jazz yet to come….

John Jorgenson Quintet with Connie Evingson at the Dakota, November 11. Connie’s appearance with swinging guitarist/clarinetist John Jorgenson was added rather last minute, but her association with him has been growing, with a recent concert at the Hopkins Center for the Arts and a recording date this past week. I missed John’s bouzouki in the first set, but his guitar and clarinet were on fire later in the evening on some hot club standards; his violinist Jason Anick would have made Grappelli smile, and Connie was in full swing mode, every note where it belonged. Get me in line for that new CD.

Insurgent at Studio Z, November 12. The usually conservative offerings of the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s “Jazz From J to Z” expand at least once per year beyond post-bop. And there is no finer group traveling “beyond” than the trio Insurgent, with pianist Ellen Lease, alto saxophonist Pat Moriarty and drummer Phil Hey. Pat and Phil have a long history of free jazz conversations, and adding an inventive pianist like Ellen ups the options for melody and harmony, both prevalent despite the usual connotations of “free jazz.” This is mayhem you can almost sing, even while Ellen reaches “under the hood” with little mallets, even while Pat blows whispers or honks of dead air into his mouthpiece, even while Phil scrapes the edge of a cymbal like fingernails on a blackboard. Saturday night, they gave us two sets of curiously sustainable sounds, new messages that seemed intended as much for us in the audience as for each other. This free jazz was not free of meaning.

Sue Orfield and the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter, November 12. Until she brought her steamy quartet to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival last June, it had been a good five years since I heard tenor saxophonist Sue Orfield. She plays in the environs of Eau Claire and rarely gigs in the metro area. Hopefully that is about to change. A strong guest soloist can bring out the best in an already-topnotch band, and perhaps that has never been more obvious than Sue’s gig with the Tuesday Night Band (B-3 monster “Downtown” Bill Brown, guitarist Billy Franze, drummer Kenny Horst) this past weekend. I caught the second set Saturday night (after Insurgent) and found new meaning in the phrase “blown away.” There’s Sue herself, blowing fast and hard and soulfully on Charlie Parker’s “Segment” and “Mr. PC,” with sweet passion on “In a Sentimental Mood,” and wailing from deep in the swamp on an interesting take on “Ode to Billie Jo.” But even more uplifting was the interaction among the four musicians, summed with gusto on the closing “Sister Sadie” and evident in every grin on and off stage. From the crowd to the musicians themselves, no one doubts this combination should percolate for years to come.

PipJazz Sunday’s Student Night at Landmark Center, November 13. It’s no easy feat to produce a concert-length jazz program every month. Chicago’s best kept secret is now ours, ever since vocalist Pippi Ardennia moved here two years ago. With drummer/producer Glenn Swanson, Pippi has directed a monthly family-oriented jazz concert in the Weyerhauser Auditorium of Landmark Center, featuring a first-class guest artist along with a dream house band and Pippi herself. Now Pippi and Glenn have enlisted support from the Twin Cities Jazz Society and Walker West Music Academy to identify area student musicians to join the monthly program. This Sunday was the student kickoff and the concert featured three outstanding young artists from 13 – 17, each playing with the house band on a selected tune, and then returning for more interactive excitement. Eighth grader Jordan Anderson made his big stage debut with Lee Morgan’s “Ceora,” followed by 16-year old trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson killing on “Billie’s Bounce” and 17-year-old UW-Eau Claire student Quentin Tschofen bobbing and weaving through Mingus’ “Peggy’s Blue Skylight.” Not your typical high school band fare. Quentin and DeCarlo teamed up on “My Funny Valentine,” with Pippi providing the impassioned vocals; Jordan switched to electric keyboard for “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and everyone had a run at “All of Me.” Seriously good young artists often find public performance opportunities with their own ensembles or school bands; sharing the stage and the musical exchange with seasoned pros is a rare learning experience. Watch for the PipJazz closing 2011 concert December 4th with high school violinist Zosha Warpeha, and, starting in March, a monthly student guest throughout the 2012 season.

Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra With Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom, November 13. It was a little odd to find myself facing a swing band in a ballroom. Asked to take photos of band for a forthcoming CD, I found myself –two left feet and all—tapping my toes as I moved around the floor dodging a diverse but enthused group of ballroom enthusiasts who gather most Sundays at Cinema Ballroom in St. Paul. I barely remember Arthur Murray’s Dance Party but if the music was this good, it must have been a hit show. O’Hagan himself is a fine clarinetist in the tradition of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, and the guys in the 14-piece band are quite accomplished practitioners of swing, bop and Latin stylings, from the swinging pace of “That Old Black Magic” to the south-of the-border sway of “Takes Two to Tango” to the heated instrumental of Jerry’s own “Dante’s Garden.” If you are accustomed to the intimacy of Charmin Michelle at Fireside Pizza or the Dakota, it’s a treat to hear her front a big band, proving you don’t need Ethel Merman pipes to prompt a multi-generational roomful of dancers to take flight. If you’re pining for the good old days of swing bands and dance floors, check the schedule as Jerry and Charmin and company preside nearly every Sunday night. And watch for the upcoming release of Dance Party Volume 1.

Graydon Peterson Group at The Nicollet, November 15.
It’s good to see this little coffee and music joint thriving. On the corner of Franklin and Nicollet, maybe the vibe of the old Acadia (now on the West Bank) is blessing both the coffee and the music. Tuesday nights, Maryann Sullivan and Rhonda Laurie are booking a diverse range of jazz, often new bands and bands that don’t get much visibility. Yet. One of the metro’s most active and eclectic bassists, Graydon Peterson has seldom been heard in the role of leader, but hopefully that is about to change. With guitarist Vinnie Rose, trumpeter Adam Meckler and drummer Adrian Suarez, this quartet brought new music to The Nicollet in a vein that might have been unexpected by the coffeehouse regulars and swing dancers. But even new music has a beat, and before night’s end, a pair of dancers found their feet adapting to post-bop inventions. A growing number of area musicians drop in on Tuesday nights to check out the scene, giving the Nicollet a downtown, Big Apple, little loft feel. With better coffee.


Al Jarreau, Pantages Theater, November 16. He used to come more often, but it has been a while since the master of anything with a human voice returned to his old haunt. Now in his 70s and hobbling a bit, Jarreau was nevertheless in fine form on a "greatest hits" songlist, if sometimes overpowered by the ultra-amplification at Pantages. Things equalized better in the second set when we could much better hear the lyrics and the nuances that have made Al an inspiration to many, including his young bassist Chris Walker who nearly stole the show when given the chance to show off his elastic soul voice. Listening to an aging John Hendricks on the way home, I was struck by the similarities, Jarreau's voice far more supple at this point but the lineage is apparent. And I would love to hear a duet with Bobby McFerrin.


Photos (top to bottom): John Jorgenson Quintet with Connie Evingson; Ellen Lease attacking the strings at Studio Z; students Quentin Tschofen (piano) and DeCarlo Jackson (trumpet) on stage with Pippi Ardennia and the PipJazz band; Charmin Michelle and the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jazz Face: Sue Orfield



© Andrea Canter

She was once known as “Seattle’s Best Horn,” but tenor saxophonist Sue Orfield, now based in Eau Claire, WI, should have recognition far beyond either locale. Playing this past weekend at the Artists Quarter with an organ trio already known for its playful, zesty firepower—the Tuesday Night Band—Orfield turned up the heat beyond boil. The TNB+1 didn’t sizzle, they nearly vaporized. If there was a grin meter to measure artist satisfaction, then B-3 man Bill Brown, guitarist Billy Franze and drummer Kenny Horst were off the chart. Why has it taken so long to put this jazz-holy union in place? Orfield keeps busy with diverse projects from blues to sax quartet to her own soulful jazz ensemble in western Wisconsin, but it’s only a couple hours to the Twin Cities. Sue brought her own band to town last June for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and tongues are still wagging, ears still (happily) ringing. And now, with these two nights of relentless artistic combustion, we have to expect a long-standing collaboration is in the making. Orfield is one of the most powerful, most songful, most spirited tenor players I’ve heard. And her art, and her joy, went viral at the AQ. Let it spread far and wide.


Photo: Sue Orfield at the Artists Quarter, November 12, 2011 (photo by Andrea Canter)

Friday, November 11, 2011

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









© Andrea Canter

An exceptional weekend coming our way in Twin Cities jazzland! What better way to commemorate 11/11/11? And of course more into the week.

Highlights
The longest-running gig at the Artists Quarter, the Tuesday Night Band, occasionally appears on the weekend. But this weekend (11/11-12) is extra special because the best organ trio in the upper Midwest is augmented by one of the region’s most explosive, swinging saxophonists, Sue Orfield. Based in the Eau Claire area, Orfield spent some time in the Pacific Northwest where she repeatedly won honors as top blues saxophonist. Now heading her own band and performing with the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and more, Orfield is also one of the most eclectic reed players around. She blew the top off the Sixth Street Stage at the 2011 Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

It’s not exactly a jazz event but then it is not exactly an event that fits into any genre: Billed as “A Once-in-a-Century Interstellar Blacklight Puppet Jam Party,” the eclectic “art rock” Galactic Cowboy Orchestra performs at the Ritz Theater Friday night (11/11), with blues-jammer Trent Romens and a special appearance by Z Puppets Rosenschnoz. I first heard this quartet of fiddle, guitar, bass and drums at the Dakota StreetFest last summer and they are totally fun (and skilled). So throw in blacklight puppetry, blues and comedy and it should be an unforgettable evening. Details on the band site.

Friday (11/11) at the Dakota, the gypsy swing quintet headed by guitarist John Jorgenson returns, and a last minute scheduling adds our own gypsy princess Connie Evingson to the bill. She’s performed with Jorgenson before, and it’s a partnership that was made in Django heaven. If your toes are still tapping come Saturday (11/12), head over to the Bloomington KC Hall for a swing dance sponsored by Big Band Scene (KBEM) featuring the many talents of the Acme Jazz Company fronted by our resident crooner, Arne Fogel.

Probably nothing could be farther from Django and a swing dance than Insurgent, a trio of free improvisers who will challenge each other as much as the audience, and it’s all for the good. Saxophonist Pat Moriarty, pianist Ellen Lease and drummer Phil Hey have established their individual and collective reputations for quick thinking and thoughtful playing in a world without rules, without restrictions. It’s the opportunity to watch and listen to the birth of new music. They’re performing Saturday night (11/12) at the home of experimental music, Studio Z in St. Paul, sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society. And they should be done early enough to get you back across town to hear a too-infrequent appearance by expat Twin Citian Jeremy Walker, heading his Small City Trio in the Dakota Late Night slot. Composer and bandleader Walker, now based in New York, fortunately returns “home” now and then to give a progress report on his career as jazz pianist. (Small City Trio also plays the Red Stage on Wednesday, 11/16).

You can also watch and listen to the birth of new music careers when the PipJazz Sunday concert series continues at Landmark Center on Sunday (11/13). Usually it’s vocalist Pippi Ardennia, a terrific house band and a well-chosen guest artist. But the “guest artist” this month is a trio of student jazz musicians, each playing one or two tunes with the house band. And from this point on, each PipJazz Sunday concert will include one student guest artist, thanks to a partnership among PipJazz, the Twin Cities Jazz Society and Walker West Music Academy. This first student offering includes UW-Eau Claire pianist Quentin Tschofen and two students studying at Walker West, 16-year-old trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson and 13-year-old pianist Jordan Anderson.

It might seem an unlikely jazz venue but the music continues to flow at The Nicollet, a funky coffee house off Franklin and Nicollet. Curated by KBEM’s Maryann Sullivan, the Tuesday night series has offered a wide range of jazz from swinging vocals to cosmic instrumental ensembles. This Tuesday (11/15), catch new Graydon Peterson Group, headed by one of the metro’s most versatile bassists. No booze but great coffees, pastries and other goodies, and a cozy listening environment sometimes punctuated by swing dancers who seem quite adaptable to any jazz idiom. And no cover.

One of the legendary jazz/R&B singers working today, Al Jarreau makes a rare Twin Cities appearance on Wednesday (11/16) at Pantages. So how often does a jazz artist get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?


KBEM’s great film series, REEL Jazz, continues Thursday (11/17, screenings at 7 & 9 pm) at the Trylon Theater with much heralded “1959: The Year That Changed Jazz.” In this one year, four iconic recordings were released, including Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Brubeck’s Time Out, Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, and Ornette’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. And it seemed the world was at a crossroads as well, with school integration conflicts, the Vietnam war and Cuban Missile Crisis looming. The BBC documentary features interviews with Brubeck, Coleman, Lou Reed and Herbie Hancock. A second show at 9 pm was recently added and you might be able to get a ticket yet for this one—check KBEM online.


More Jazz!
You can get a pretty complete listing of jazz events for every day of the week online at KBEM. Some additional recommendations:


Friday, November 11: Dean Magraw and Michael Bissonette at the 318 in Wayzata; Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchen; Nathan Hanson/Brian Roesslear/Pat O’Keefe at the Black Dog; Patty Peterson & Friends at the Crooked Pint Ale (Patty’s birthday party)
Saturday, November 12: Charmin & Shapira at Midtown Global Market (noon); Sophia Shorai at the Nicollet Island Inn; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); Patty Peterson & Friends at the Crooked Pint Ale (Patty’s Birthday Party)
Sunday, November 13: Charmin Michelle and the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra at Cinema Ballroom
Monday, November 14: Lucia Newell and Dean Magraw at the Loring Pasta Bar (Musique Mystique); Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; free improv with Milo Fine at Homewood Studios; Gypsy Mania at Barbette; something special at Jazz Central
Tuesday, November 15: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen, Jack Brass Band at the Driftwood
Wednesday, November 16: Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen; Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza; Steve Kenny and the Bastids followed by the Gary Berg Quartet at the Artists Quarter; James Buckley Trio at the Nomad World Pub
Thursday, November 17: Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the Artists Quarter; Jana Nyberg Group at Hell’s Kitchen

Coming Soon
• 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 22, Vanessa Trouble at the Dakota
• November 23, Mary Louise Knutson Trio, CD release at the Artists Quarter
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger CD Release at the Artists Quarter
• December 1, Christine Rosholt and Kevin Hall, CD Release at the Dakota
• 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 10, “The Crosby/Clooney Story,” Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• December 14, José James 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) Insurgent (Ellen Lease, Pat Moriarty and Phil Hey); student performs for PipJazz Sunday (Quentin Tscofen, DeCarlo Jackson, Jordan Anderson); string players with the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra; Sue Orfield; Arne Fogel (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review: November 4-10







© Andrea Canter

I was in Iowa City all weekend so missed some good music, I’m sure. But I also caught the Johnson County Landmark in Iowa City, surely one of the country’s best college big bands, directed by esteemed composer/arranger John Rapson. Part of the program was devoted to music from the Radiohead Jazz Project, established a year ago by James Miley and Fred Sturm with an international team of arrangers. Universities throughout the U.S. are performing this music, and the Johnson County Landmark gave us well-executed and thoroughly enjoyable renditions of “Idioteque,” “Everything in Its Right Place,” and “Bodysnatchers.” The program also included a very swinging “In a Mellow Tone” and some works by Ken Scahphorst.

Here at home, I caught a couple terrific CD celebrations reflecting our region’s range of repertoire and experience, and a night showcasing the depth of artistry on the MacPhail faculty:

John Raymond Project CD Preview at Jazz Central, November 8. I remember a cold November night maybe six or seven years ago when four of us came to a late evening show at Bryant Lake Bowl for the debut of the John Raymond Project. John’s mom and I were the ones over 20. John was this skinny 19-year-old trumpeter trying out some new music with pals from UW-Eau Claire. Since that night, John has been reeling in much larger audiences, the JRP evolving across the years at Eau Claire and now in New York, John racking up accolades and awards as composer and performer, earning his Master’s Degree from SUNY-Purchase, and now ready to release a new recording produced by his mentor Jon Faddis. Officially, Strength & Song will be released in spring 2012, but John is raising funds for CD distribution with a series of preview gigs here and in nearby Wisconsin haunts, using a band of mostly former UWEC jazzers (guitarist Vinnie Rose, bassist Jeremy Boettcher, keyboardist Scott Currier) plus recent Manhattan grad and rising local drum star Miguel Hurtado. The recording includes former Twin Citian Javier Santiago on piano and hot New York-based guitarist Gilad Hekselman, with guest appearances from pianist Gerald Clayton and saxophonist Tim Greene.

The audience Monday night at Jazz Central was treated to the music of the CD plus a few more. This may not be the same band as the recording, but you wouldn’t know it—the arrangements allowed a lot of stretching out, not just for the leader. Most of the compositions were John’s and took us tumbling through ideas on one, settling back to feel the colors wash over our ears on the next; the band also proved skillful at rearranging standards, giving us a playful run at “Straight No Chaser.” It’s a long way from Bryant Lake Bowl. And I bet it is a long way from where John is heading next. It will be an incredible ride. You can keep up with John and learn more about the recording project on his website.

Doug Haining Quintet CD Release at the Artists Quarter, November 9. Haining fits his CD title perfectly, Last Man Swinging, although he might have to fight his bandmates for the crown, with such swingers as Rick Carlson, Dave Graf, Steve Pikal and Dick Bortolussi on board. Over careers now spanning at least three decades each, this is a band that can probably make anything from a nursery rhyme to a Bach Cantata swing with joy and logic. Thus the tunes they recorded and played at the AQ were sonic putty, from the swaying opener, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” to the reconfigured “Two Funky People” where two clarinets became a clarinet and trombone (hmm, talk about two funky people—Haining and Graf!) to the ultimate delight of “Jitterbug Waltz.” What you can’t readily grasp from the CD alone is how much fun these guys are having, and of course that joie de swing is highly contagious.

Jazz Thursdays at MacPhail, November 10. Two of the jazz gems in the Twin Cities are the beautiful performance space of Antonello Hall at MacPhail and MacPhail’s Jazz Thursdays concert series, which fortunately occur together 4-5 times each year. The new Jazz Thursdays season launched tonight with a whirlwind faculty extravaganza, featuring some of the area’s most talented artists taking turns in varying combinations from duos (cellist Jacqueline Ultan and bassist Adam Linz finding the classical foundation of Andrew Hill’s “Golden Sunset”; a bass/sax duel between Linz and altoist Greg Keel on Parker’s “Now’s the Time”; a delicate string duet among Linz and guitarist James Allen on Esbert’s “Frevo”) and trios (pianist Bryan Nichols, Linz and drummer Phil Hey covering Dewey Redman; Linz with pianist Tom Pletscher and trumpeter Brad Shermock covering Gary Peacock) to a quartet with Shermock, Ultan, Hey and vocalist Vicky Mountain on her original “Leaving” and a sextet with Mountain, Nichols, Allen, Shermock, Ultan and Hey going into dark corners on “Lady Madonna.”

But the most fun was the finale, all nine musicians including two pianos swapping tales on Ornette Coleman’s “Friends and Neighbors.” There’s easily enough talent on the MacPhail jazz faculty for another night of such hip exchanges without repeating any of the cast. “Jazz Thursdays” could easily last all week.




Photos: (top to bottom) The John Raymond Project at Jazz Central; Doug Haining and Dave Graf swing at the Artists Quarter; Greg Keel and Adam Linz duke it out at MacPhail (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jazz Face: Craig Taborn, Jazz's "Avenging Angel"

© Andrea Canter

High on my list for jazz CD of the year is Craig Taborn’s long-awaited solo set of improvisations, Avenging Angel. Released midyear on ECM, the recording has drawn praise far and wide, but perhaps nothing father or wider than its inclusion in the recent listing of “cultural artifacts” of the new millennium posted by online magazine Slate. Slate’s editors posed the question to their contributors, “Which cultural artifacts since 2000 will speak to future eras? What are the timeless expressions being forged in our noisy moment? Even more important: What are we overlooking that will one day be seen as an essential document of our time?”

Jazz critic Seth Colter Walls nominated one recording of the past decade, Taborn’s Avenging Angel, noting that “Anyone who wonders why their ‘indie’ music has become so familiar as to be arguably equated with ‘adult contemporary’ should take a tour of Taborn's sound-world: a place where echoes of Debussy, ’70s AACM-school jazz, and minimal techno collide with a force that could easily preclude intelligibility. In Taborn’s hands, that radical chorus really sings.”

Slate’s listing only included one other piece of music, Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” But Taborn is in very interesting, diverse company with the likes of television’s The Wire, the Ugg boot, tennis star Roger Federer, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One, and the iPod. Taborn, who has doggedly avoided the limelight throughout his career and invests no ego in the legions of “best of” lists, probably had a Woody Allen moment when he saw the Slate’s slate. But it couldn’t happen to a better representative of the merger of inspirations, technologies and artistic energies that will propel jazz through the 21st century. And the sound world of Craig Taborn surely will outlast the iPod.

See the full roster of nominees from the Slate


Photo: Craig Taborn at the 2009 Iowa City Jazz Festival with the Chris Potter Underground. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

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









© Andrea Canter

Hints of the holidays are getting stronger every day, but there’s also a festive air throughout the area music venues. Jazz is no exception.

Highlights This Week
Studio Z holds its annual New Music Cabaret, hosted by the experimental music ensemble Zeitgeist and covering a wide range of new music over four nights, November 3-6. Not all falls under a modern jazz umbrella but each band considers improvisation a basic staple. Zeitgeist performs each night, along with the Ataria Quartet and Illicit Sextet on Thursday (11/3), Renegade Ensemble, Nirmala Rajasekar and Ill Chemistry on Friday (11/4), Mississippi Peace and Douglas Ewart & Quasar on Saturday (11/5), and Anti-Gravity and Julie Johnson & the No Accounts on Sunday (11/6).

It’s not exactly a listening room, but the ambience of the Aster Café along Main Street seems perfect for nights of chamber jazz and sultry song. Having performed there with the swing trio Sidewalk Café, vocalist Rhonda Laurie now returns for a more intimate duo evening with pianist Rick Carlson to kick off the weekend on Friday night (11/4).

I hope this is more than coincidence, but it seems Lucia Newell has become a monthly gig at the Artists Quarter, which until now has not boasted a vocalist in regular rotation. Lucia returns for a weekend (11/4-5) with the dream trio of Phil Aaron, Adam Linz and Kenny Horst. Lucia promises favorites and new songs, and on Saturday night, Larry Englund will be on hand for the taping of a St. Paul live segment with KBEM radio.

Another of our top songbirds, Connie Evingson continues her Jazz at the Jungle series on Sunday (11/6, 4 and 7:30 pm) with a look at jazz across three, or maybe four generations. Dubbed Jazz 3G, this should have wider appeal than Verizon 4G, with a band that includes saxman Dave Karr, bassist Gordy Johnson, pianist Tanner Taylor, and drummer Trevor Haining—that’s a range from 81 to 23! And bringing a taste of the next generation, the Dakota Combo will perform a song or two at each show. So we really are talking about an age range of 15-81! Music that has inspired artists across generations will be the heart of the show, while the Combo will perform a tune written by high school senior/trumpeter Joe Suihkonen.

Monday (11/7) at the Dakota will be my personal introduction to pianist/vocalist Michael Kaeshammer, but just reading about him has me drooling. Sometimes compared to Harry Connick (and he does inject some Crescent City beats into his music), the German born, Canadian schooled Kaeshammer has won awards and fans around the globe, and garnered a bunch more on his last visit to the Dakota.

Two CD celebrations this week: On Tuesday (11/8), trumpter John Raymond, who recently completed his master’s degree at SUNY-Purchase, is back for a visit in his home town and doing some fund raising to support the promotion of his new recording, to be officially released in early 2012. It’s a very special project, produced by John’s mentor Jon Faddis and recorded at the famed (and now departed) Bennett Studios, featuring Twin Cities native pianist Javier Santiago and acclaimed Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman. This preview gig will be held at Jazz Central, and anyone attending will get their own pre-release copy of the CD. Given John’s successes with previous projects, I anticipate a really fine recording. Joining him in Minnesota (and in Wisconsin) will be cohorts from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, plus young lion drummer Miguel Hurtado. Then on Wednesday (11/9) at the Artists Quarter, veteran saxophonist Doug Haining celebrates his new quintet release, Last Man Swinging. With long-time cohorts Dave Graf, Rick Carlson, Steve Pikal and Dick Bortolussi, and tunes from Gershwin, Mancini, Hefti, Ellington, Waller, Berlin and more, the CD simply swings from the rafters. Expect even more in live performance.

One of the bargain jazz series in the metro, MacPhail’s Jazz Thursdays returns for a new season (11/10), this opening concert in Antonello Hall featuring varying combinations of MacPhail jazz faculty in duo and trio settings, as well as a larger ensemble that ties it all together. Directed by bassist Adam Linz, the MacPhail jazz program boasts such artists as pianists Bryan Nichols and Greg Thiesen, saxophonists Chris Thomson and Greg Keel, trumpeter Adam Rossmiller, drummer JT Bates, vocalist Vicky Mountain and more.

More Jazz!
KBEM radio’s website posts the area’s most complete listing of jazz events. A few more recommendations:

Friday, November 4. Brian Rosselear and Nathan Hanson with painter Stephane Catteneo at the Black Dog; Estaire Godinez at the Dakota
Saturday, November 5: Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar (St Paul Hotel); JazZen at The Nicollet; Lee Ritenour at the Hopkins Center for the Arts; Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro
Sunday, November 6: Century Jazz Ensemble Fall Fling at Century College
Monday, November 7: Charmin Michelle and Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (Richfield)
Tuesday, November 8: Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists Quarter; Charmin Michelle at the Dakota; Phil Mattson Singers at The Nicollet; Jack Brass Band at the Driftwood
Wednesday, November 9: Paul Renz Quartet at the Dakota; Steve Kenny and the Bastids, early show at the Artists Quarter; Merciless Ghost at the Black Dog and later at Nomad World Pub; Leisure Valley at Café Maude
Thursday, November 10: Dave Karr Quartet at the Artists Quarter

Coming Soon!
• 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 22, Vanessa Trouble at the Dakota
• November 23, Mary Louise Knutson Trio, CD release at the Artists Quarter
• November 25-26, Pat Mallinger CD Release 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 10, The Crosby/Clooney Story, Arne Fogel and Maud Hixson at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• 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) Rhonda Laurie at the Aster Cafe; the Dakota Combo; John Raymond; Doug Haining (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Twin Cities Jazz Week in Review, October 28 - November 3







© Andrea Canter

Sometimes it’s the artists who fly below the radar who give us the most exciting music. And sometimes it’s the veteran performer who comes back time and again with something new. There was some of both in the past week at Twin Cities’ jazz venues.

Herbie Hancock at Orchestra Hall, October 28. Certainly this was the most talked-about and most anticipated jazz event of the week—or month, but was it the most enjoyable? Depends who you ask. Fans of Herbie’s acoustic jazz piano, which is impeccable by any definition, likely were happy with the first part of the program (one very long set). I enjoyed his arrangement of “Footprints,” his orchestral tour through his own “Dolphin Dance,” his reharmonization of “Embraceable You.” And up until that point it was a solo acoustic piano set. But Herbie was not alone on stage; he was surrounded by various electronic gear so it was inevitable that he would move into funky fusion territory, starting off with “Canteloupe Island” and then “Chameleon.” Fans of Herbie’s electronic grooves were probably getting what they came for. I could have left at that point. Herbie smiling and strutting with his portable synth was more theater than music, proving it is very difficult to be a one-man electronic band. Even if you’re Herbie Hancock.

Atlantis Quartet at the Artists Quarter, October 28-29. Every Halloween weekend for the past four years, the Atlantis Quartet (Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates, Pete Hennig) picks an iconic recording, from jazz or beyond, and reinterprets it in full. This year, the guys performed Sonny Rollins’s The Bridge as their second set, following a set drawn largely from their three recordings, and particularly from their brand new Lines in the Sand. Both sets were immensely satisfying and provided ample evidence of the wide range of this ensemble. Original music like “Immersion is the Condition” (Hennig), “The Hidden Place” (Bates), “Isle of the Flightless Birds” (Harris) and “Ballad for Ray” (Wozniak) moved the spotlight around among the quartet, drawing applause for Zacc’s intricate, often horn-like lines, Brandon’s airborne spirals of Coltranish fire, Chris’s often playful counterpoints, Pete’s rhythmic experiments that never overpowered the rest. Yet perhaps it was the Rollins set that was most telling, taking legendary arrangements of familiar songs and casting them in a 21st century light—“Without a Song,” “God Bless the Child,” “You Do Something to Me”… Atlantis, you do something to me. Keep on doing it.

Martha Alkins, CD Release at Famous Dave’s, October 30. You can’t fly more under the radar than a new vocalist launching her first EP. I never heard of Martha Alkins before Connie Olson contacted me to do some photos for the CD cover for one of her students. And it was one of those stories about youthful aspirations sidetracked by real life. Martha Alkins was set on becoming a singer through her teens but somehow got derailed and only came back to her first love thirty years later. She’s been studying with local vocal sensation Connie, and apparently she learned her lessons well. Bringing a six-song CD (Lost and Found) to a celebration at Famous Dave’s (Uptown), Martha surrounded herself with a crackerjack band—Brian Ziemniak on keys, Karl Koopman on guitar, Haralds Bondaris on drums and the internationally acclaimed Anthony Cox on bass, the ensemble that appears on the recording. But most of the glory belongs to Martha herself, who brings a fine storyteller’s passion and solid voice to her songs. Her second set included a pair from the recording (“Midnight Sun” and “Beginning to See the Light”), along with a sultry reading of “Peel Me a Grape.” I think we’ll be hearing more of Martha Alkins. I hope so.

John Scofield Quartet at the Dakota, November 1. I’ve always appreciated the guitar and composition skills of John Scofield, but never as much as on this visit to the Dakota. The long first set covered the breadth of Scofield, from hard driving bops through Gillespie (“Woody ‘n You”) and Monk (“Hackensack”) to the wide range of his own compositions like the elegant “Simply Put,” dreamy “Still Warm,” tartly grooving “Slinky” and funkfest “Green Tea.” But the highlight for me was the quartet’s take on “My Foolish Heart,” introduced acapella by Scofield, as if the original was written for guitar and specifically for John. Pianist Mike Eckroth was sizzling, and maniacal powerhouse drummer Greg Hutchinson took it down to soft swaying support on brushes. Bassist Ben Street was an assertive companion throughout.

Vicky Mountain, Birthday Bash at the Artists Quarter, November 2. Vicky knows how to throw a birthday party. Celebrating her six decades (and four decades in music), she gathered a sympathetic trio with Chris Lomheim, Jim Chenoweth and Kenny Horst and served cake with a side of bop and 70s funk. Her own “Too Bad” and original lyrics to Gary Brunotte’s “I Say Goodbye” were standouts, as was her opening, uniquely phrased “No Moon at All” and a very dark, but stunning “Lady Madonna.” Lady Vicky, you rock!




Photos: (top to bottom) The Atlantis Quartet at the AQ; Martha Alkins at Famous Dave's in Uptown; John Scofield at the Dakota (all photos by Andrea Canter)

Jazz Face: Happy Birthday, Chick Corea!



© Andrea Canter

One of the icons of 60s and 70s music who has never lost his forward drive, pianist Chick Corea turns 70 this month. And for much of November, he is celebrating at the famed Blue Note in Manhattan with an all-star round-up of past and present collaborators, from duet mates Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock to his pioneering fusion band Return to Forever, his famed Elektric Orchestra, his recent gathering of giants in the Five Peace Band and more. I last saw Chick on the Dakota stage in late 2009 with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, a short while after hearing him with the reunion of Return to Forever, and with the same trio at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival, where this photo was taken. I’ve long been a fan of Chick’s duet projects, seeing him live for the first time at the old Guthrie Theater with Gary Burton, and maybe two decades later when their reunion tour came to the Dakota. His duo recording with Hiromi (Duet) was sublime, but his new pairing with Italian star Stefano Bollani (Orvieto) sets a new standard for dueling jazz pianos. It’s a great birthday gift—from Chick to the listening world.


Photo: Chick Corea at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival (photo by Andrea Canter)