Monday, April 14, 2014

Take Five: Studio Vibes, Jazzin Mandolin, 2 Drums, 7 Psalms, and Desert Island Picks

A Tale of Two Drummers: Matt Slocum and Phil Hey at Landmark Center

© Andrea Canter
The Star Tribune has a good idea -- every Sunday you can read about recent arts happenings from two perspectives, dubbed Pick Six. Two writers -- usually a Strib staffer and an invited guest--each select three highpoints in their arts week. Once in a while, a jazz event makes the cut. Not often enough. So I decided if the Strib can "Pick Six," surely I can "Take Five" of my favorite jazz-related events of the past week. So here's my picks:

Good Vibes Trio
  • April 6, Creation Audio "Parlor" Music, Chris Bates' Good Vibes Trio. In what will hopefully be the first of many such "parlor concerts," Steve Wiese opened the studio at Creation Audio to a small audience to hear a preview of the Good Vibes Trio's debut, self-titled recording. The music was actually recorded at Terrarium Studios but no matter, the studio with real sound engineers managing the acoustics was an ideal setting for such glorious music, from Mingus to Coltrane to Bates, Hagedorn and Hey.
Brad Mehldau
  • April 8, McGuire Theater (Walker Art Center), Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile. Mehldau alone or with his trio (who performed the next night) is a major force in American jazz, but who knew his most formidable partner yet would be a bluegrass mandolinist? Thile seems to have the chops to be a major force in anything he attempts, and with Mehldau he proved to be a perfect fit to the sounds of jazz, country, folk, classical and of course bluegrass, all of which melded together beautifully in this unexpected duo format. But the highlight of the evening was an even more unexpected, breathtaking vocal performance by Thile on "I Cover the Waterfront."
Matt Slocum
  • April 9-10, Landmark Center's Weyerhaeuser Auditorium, Matt Slocum and Friends. Former area resident and now acclaimed drummer Matt Slocum finished a short CD release tour back home, setting up his drumkit for two nights at Landmark Center and inviting some friends to play additional sets. I caught night two, featuring a stunning solo set from Bryan Nichols, the centerpiece trio set from Slocum (with Sam Yahel on piano and Massimo Biolcati on bass), a two-drum duo with former mentor Phil Hey, and the closing set from the Dave Karr Quartet with Hey on drums. (The Phil Hey Quartet with second drummer was featured on the previous night.) Each set had its own agenda, overlapping influences and personnel giving the full show some cohesion.  Favorite moments-- the friendly fire of the two-drum interaction; the friendly exchange between Hey and Karr in the closing quartet.
Jeremy Walker and Jason Harms
  • April 11, Bethel College Benson Great Hall, Jeremy Walker's 7 Psalms CD Release.  A year ago, Jeremy Walker premiered his concert-length suite, 7 Psalms. A few tweaks to the score and a new choir later, Walker recorded in a St. Paul church and released the result in a St Paul college hall. The texts were simply taken verbatim from seven of Jeremy's favorite psalms; the music bears the imprint of Walker's muse Duke Ellington, as well as other influences from classical and jazz idioms. Vocal soloist Jason Harms and the 17-voice 7 Psalms Chamber Choir added some soulful energy to an already-soaring score; saxman Brandon Wozniak played High Priest, honoring Coltrane.
Connie Evingson
  • April 13, Jungle Theater, Connie Evingson and Jon Weber's "Desert Island Picks."  Sharing the stage on a Prairie Home Companion cruise, Connie and Jon started listing the music they would hope to have in hand if stranded on a desert island.  Soon they had the ingredients for a Jazz at the Jungle show, adding bassist Gordy Johnson. Their choices included Peggy Lee, Lerner and Lowe, Dave Frishberg, the Beatles, and more, with special turns by both Weber and Johnson on solo vocals and a smirk-inducing "My Attorney Bernie" by Connie.