Category Archives: Live review

A New York night

Trio da Paz with Maucha Adnet. Photo by Frank Stewart

Trio da Paz with Maucha Adnet. Photo by Frank Stewart

So I finally made it to one of the snazzy no-longer-new Jazz at Lincoln Center venues (which is not located at Lincoln Center, something worth pointing out if you’re taking a cab) — Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The club seats 140, and like it’s sister venue, the roughly 450-seat amphitheater-style Allen Room, has dramatic picture-window views of Columbus Circle and midtown. (The approximately 1,200-seat Rose Theatre offers no street views.) The music was Trio da Paz, the esteemed trio of Brazilian expats Romero Lubambo on guitar, Nilson Matta on bass, and Duduka da Fonseca on drums. These three players — all in-demand session men — have been regulars on the New York scene since moving there in 1985. For their weekend at Dizzy’s, they added tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, vibist Joe Locke, and singer Maucha Adnet — all regular collaborators.

It’s easy to take jazz samba and bossa nova for granted as a loungey ’60s phenomenon — swinging cocktail music. But those who follow Boston’s vibrant Brazilian music scene know otherwise, and Trio da Paz are another example of how compelling this music is when played at such a high level. Part of what makes it work is that within moments of establishing a samba beat, the band moves into jazz territory, with extended harmonies and improvisations that go well beyond the confines of pop-song structure. So Lubambo’s “Bachião” was based on a Bach Prelude, but deploys the northern Brazilian baião rhythm. Even when Lubambo was playing his flashiest runs, he and the band never lost a grasp of the tune’s earthy folkloric dance core. Something Bach might have appreciated.

The jazz connections were reinforced when Locke and Allen came out for da Fonseca’s “Donna Maria” and Locke quoted Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop” in his solo. The presence of the warm-toned Allen was a deliberate allusion to samba-jazz popularizer Stan Getz (the show was titled “The Music of Jobim and Getz”). But — despite the similarities in tone and attack — Allen went his own way. Mauchet closed the circle, as someone who toured as part of Jobim’s band (she also happens to be married to da Fonseca).  She delivered the expected “Waters of March” (“Águas de Março”) and “One Note Samba,” the latter at a breathless tempo.

There were other originals and standards, including Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz,” with its tense central riff. The varied tempos, textures, and instrumentation made for a fast 90-minute set, and so did the band’s easy virtuosity. (Sometimes all it takes to get a savvy crowd whooping is an inventive twist at the top of the chorus — not an unwarranted reaction.)

Trio Da Paz. Photo by Frank Stewart

Trio da Paz. Photo by Frank Stewart

As for Dizzy’s, besides that NYC skyline glamour, there was a full menu of southern-style specialties that were just special enough without being pretentious (very nice shrimp and grits that the kitchen doesn’t inflate with $5 of shaved truffles, and hush puppies that have a nice grainy texture, good oniony-herb flavor, and are not greasy).  The staff was predominantly African-American (also good to see at a jazz club). And when one over-enthusiastic fan’s disruptive shouting earned Lubambo’s ire, he was escorted out. Harsh. But Lubambo had a point: a Bach Prelude shouldn’t be upstaged by someone in the audience.

Satoko Fujii and Kaze at the Lily Pad

Kaze: Natsuki Tamura, Peter Orins, Christian Pruvost, and Satoko Fujii. Photo by Alexander Norclain.

Kaze: Natsuki Tamura, Peter Orins, Christian Pruvost, and Satoko Fujii. Photo by Alexandre Noclain.

Thanks to a discrepancy between the listing in my own Boston Globe piece (correct) a couple of weeks ago and the listing at the Lily Pad Web site (incorrect), I arrived late for the set by the Japanese-French quartet Kaze. Too bad for me, but there’s something to be said for arriving to a performance in media res. In this case, in front of a crowd of 25 or so (the Lily Pad doesn’t hold much more than that), the band was creating near-silence.  Trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost stood with their instruments at their lips, yet nothing could be heard but the quiet swoosh of blown air. Pianist Satoko Fujii was standing at the keyboard, bent over, her arms extended into the instrument’s strings. One began to hear a soft rubbing sound, then the scrape of drummer Peter Orins’s stick against cymbals. “Wooosh!” went that eerie, airy sound, louder and then quieter as Pruvost,lips pressed to mouthpiece, pivoted his horn from side to side. Fujii plucked some spare harp notes on her strings, and after five minutes or so the trumpeters began to blow fully sounded notes. Then Taumra and Pruvost fell into a sweet, mysterious unison melody of long tones, Fujii accompanying them with spare chords. The flow of the trumpet line slowly fractured, the rhythmic rattles on the drums increased, and we moved out of the quiet world of Morton Feldman minimalism and into a full candence and a stop. Pruvost broke for an a cappella solo — a short, repeated arpeggiated phrase, accelerating and declerrating, ending with a long held tone and a wide, soft vibrato.  He played a bluesy phrase before Tamura joined him with soft flutters and Pruvost answered with some hard riffs. There was a break for a drum solo, Orins now leaving his rattles and scrapes behind for additive phrases with snare, sticks on rims, and resonant tom-tom, playing a kind of call-and-response with his bass drum — 1,2! 1,2,3! 1,2,3,4! 1,2,3,4,5! Fujii came in with some sweeping chromatic phrases and then the band found a kind of unison theme and hard 4/4, but not swinging. The long unison trumpet line came back, and the band stopped cold. It had been about 25 minutes since I’d entered the club.

Kaze (pronounced Kah-ZEH, meaning “wind”) takes jazz abstraction to a sublime limit. And it does sound like the process of abstract painting — everything is about balance, the relationship of mark to ground, the shape of lines, with vague reference to a tonal center of fixed time-keeping. The band favors what the Art Ensemble of Chicago used to call “little instruments” — bird calls and rattles, toy noisemakers, temple bells and zen bowls. At one point, Pruvost created a squealing effect by blowing through a black rubber balloon into his mouthpiece, the distended bladder suggesting that he might be about to create a balloon animal. But from this beautifully calibrated randomness will emerge one of those austere unison trumpet lines or a grand, pummeling piano rhapsody. There is suspense, virtuosity, mystery, calm. When Fujii introduced what she said would be the last tune, some in the audience responded with a disappointed sigh. “Don’t worry,” said Fujii, “it’s long!” In fact, only about 10 minutes or so. But longer would have been fine.

All the pieces played at the show are on the band’s new CD, Tornado, on Circum-Libra Records.

Jason Palmer plays Minnie Riperton at Scullers

Jason Palmer and Colleen Palmer at Scullers

Jason Palmer and Colleen Palmer at Scullers. Photo by Don Carlson/JazzBoston

The pop vocalist Minnie Riperton died of cancer at the age of 31 in 1979 –  the year Jason Palmer was born. And though she was a striking phenomenon at the time — with a range of more than five octaves, and collaborators and champions like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder — her music, with its almost unfailingly sunny lyrics, is decidedly of that era. But, the pop music world being what it is, Palmer discovered her work as a teenager — a snippet of her song “Inside My Love” sampled on hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest’s “Lyrics To Go.” Now Palmer has a new album (his fourth), Take a Little Trip, dedicated to the music of Riperton, the basis of a show at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston on August 28.

Palmer is a focused player, with a burnished tone that takes on a beautiful dark glow in his mid-range. What’s more, his solos, while punctuated with spontaneous leaps to the high end and explosive runs of fast notes, are shaped for narrative effect. Playing chord changes, he’s always aware of overall melodic shape. Every note, while not fussy, is delivered with clear intent.

The pop outlines of Riperton’s music are a natural fit for Palmer, providing rich melodic material. His arrangements take liberties — sometime extreme — with Riperton’s material. He reharmonizes the melodies and sets them to odd time signatures and mixed meters. There are some pleasantly abstract moments in the music — such as the trumpet-bass duo on the album’s “Adventures in Paradise” (which Riperton co-wrote with Joe Sample) or the dreamy rubato and exploratory guitar work by Greg Duncan on “Inside My Love.” But all of this is contained by the rhythmic and melodic immediacy of hard bop.

The album was recorded in October 2011, and since then the band has been taking it on the road. At Scullers, Luke Marantz replaced the album’s Jake Sherman on Fender Rhodes, and Michael Thomas joined on alto (Edward Perez is the band’s bassist, and Lee Fish the drummer). If anything the music had a bit more edge and drive, the solos venturing further afield (the band played only six songs in their 90-minute set). But the music still hewed to that focused narrative arc. Palmer introduced three of the tunes with extended a cappella trumpet, which might have been too much of a good thing, but you couldn’t fault the shapeliness of his lines, the dramatic contrasts of tone and texture. The solos by Thomas and Duncan often began as slow simmers that came to a full boil. Marantz helped amp the tension both rhythmically and harmonically, countering the solo lines with odd staccato accents and the rising tension of unstable chords.

Colleen Palmer (Jason’s wife), who is not on the album, sang three songs and wisely avoided mimicking Riperton’s pyrotechnics or tone. Instead, she deployed her formidable technique and musical-theater finesse and clarity. The highlight of the evening might have been the closer, “Loving You,” Riperton’s biggest hit. Here Palmer chopped up the tune’s melodic parts into overlapping vocal and instrumental counterpoint. And here he also provided strong rhythmic contrasts as well, his complex steeplechase of mixed meters on the theme (different in every bar) released into a flow of Duncan playing solo over 4/4 swing before returning to the head.  It was a satisfying coda for an evening that showed yet again how pop (even “modern” pop) can serve as nourishment for new jazz.

For this and other articles on jazz, check out The Arts Fuse.

Newport Jazz Festival opening night

Natalie Cole was the headliner for the opening night of the 59th Newport Jazz Festival tonight at the Newport Casino, but for my money (speaking figuratively—my tickets were free), it was her Uncle Freddy who stole the show.

Freddy Cole, now 81, appeared as a special guest with openers the Bill Charlap Trio (with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington). Cole walked out on stage slightly bent in posture, and his vocals at first seemed insecure. But he soon took flight. He sang some of the less familiar classics from the Great American Songbook with a warm, grainy tone and flawless phrasing, creating intimate, conversational music that made every lyric feel lived in:

“Once in a while…. would you try to give a thought to me.”
. . . .
“If I cried a little bit when first I learned the truth/don’t blame it on my heart/blame it on my it on my youth.”
. . . .
“So when one of us is gone/and one of us is left/to carry on/our memories will see us through.” 

At one point, Cole took over from Charlap at the piano in mid-song and continued his set, playing and singing. He finished with a “toe-tapper,” the Billy Eckstine blues “Jelly Jelly,” as raunchy as it needed to be.

Natalie began her set by following in the same vein of American songbook standards — often associated with her father, Nat “King” Cole, one of the greatest of American popular singers. So we got very respectable versions of “The Very Thought of You,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” (for Nat’s friend, “Uncle Frank” Sinatra), “Lush Life,” “Smile.” There was the obligatory video duet with her father of “Unforgettable,” and a warm ovation from the crowd. But next to the plummy sound of her father in his prime,  Natalie’s voice sounded tart and thin. Her band helped her lift the tempo (and the mood) with cuts from her current Spanish-language hit album, Natalie Cole en Espanol. But it was when she went back to her 1975 pop hit “This Will Be” that Natalie sounded most convincing, most herself, punching out the high notes with extra loft from her two backup singers.

Cole had an impressive band, filled out with guitar, synth keyboards, acoustic piano, and percussion (from her son, Robbie Yancy). And she was a charming, assured performer. By the end of the night, the air had grown cool. Cole put on a jacket and urged the audience to dance to her pop hits and the Latin grooves. The air felt moist, but overhead above the grounds of the Newport Casino, the sky was mostly clear, and the stars were shining. Later this morning, the Newport Jazz Festival Presented by Natixis Global Asset management will continue at Fort Adams State Park. See you there.  And look for the rest of my report in Monday’s Boston Globe.






Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio at the Regattabar


Ron Carter played an early role in jazz’s cutting edge, from recordings with Eric Dolphy to his work with the pathbreaking mid-’60s Miles Davis Quintet. Claiming to have worked on more than 2,500 recordings, Carter has helped define the sound of jazz bass and the modern jazz rhythm section. His Golden Striker Trio, which played the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA last night and will be there again tonight, is about jazz classicism. The name of the band itself comes from a tune by the most “classical” of all jazz bands, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Besides the band’s tightly defined sound, the show also reasserted the qualities that remain essential in Carter’s playing.

The band’s deportment was certainly classical — they came out in dark suits and matching red ties (the leader wore a multi-colored pocket handkerchief) and took a group bow before playing. The ovation was extremely warm in the crowded house for the 76-year-old Carter. The opening, uptempo “Cedar Tree” by guitarist Russell Malone, showed off all of Carter’s technique — his long, nimble fingers working through a fast, tricky vamp, a variety of strums and double-stops, and resonant walking figures. But the technique was always in service to the tune and the band, whose imperative is the interplay among Carter, Malone, and pianist Donald Vega. This came through in the counterpoint of simultaneoulsy unfolding, equally weighted melodic lines as well as in the more conventional back-and-forth of jazz performance: the trading of four- and eight-bar phrases, or simple call-and-response patterns.

This is a low-key band — no drummer, after all. But they swung hard, and those transparent textures allowed you to hear every detail, and allowed Malone to bring his solo feature on “Candle Light” (a tribute to Carter’s duo partner over the years, Jim Hall) down to a hush. But there were uptempo features, like the closing Fletcher Henderson number, “Soft Winds,” where the shift to double-time for Vega’s solo brought screams. And then there was Carter, an orchestra to himself, playing multiple lines, quoting a Bach suite (in his solo feature, “You Are My Sunshine”), and always maintaining a supple, singing line. Classic indeed.

Fuse Jazz Concert Review: Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Quartet at the Regattabar

By Jon GarelickMr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Quartet at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA.

For some of us, the very idea of Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica seems like a bad hangover from the early ’90 “lounge music” revival. Here was yet another take on the “exotica” tiki lounge music of the ’50s and ’60s — the small-group South Pacific mélange created by the likes of Martin Denny and Cal Tjader. It was intentionally inauthentic world music, before there was such a thing as world music, the kind of stuff created for a tiny-umbrella lounge of the mind. It was perfect for ’90s irony, and simple enough that untrained rock musicians could put it over. It was cheese on top of cheese.

But Mr. Ho’s Brian O’Neill had another idea. What if he took the very inauthenticity of the original music as a motive for putting together things that were never meant to go together originally? Like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue with a Balkan beat? And then find some musicians who could really play Bach and odd-meter Balkan dance music? In other words, use the exotica idea — light and fun and sort of pop — to create real music.

Well, that’s my own interpretation of O’Neill’s intentions. As alter-ego Mr. Ho, O’Neill now has two albums, the vibes quartet record Third River Rangoon and the 23-piece orchestra disc The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, both on his own Tiki Label and part of his “Exoctic Sounds for Modern Living” series. At the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA on Friday night, he brought the quartet, all in matching white, collared lounge shirts with a multi-colored pattern on one side. O’Neill — a well-schooled polymath percussionist on Boston’s world and jazz music scenes — presented the music with humor, calling the original exotica movement “a white man’s idea of exotic music,” and conceding that the Orchestrotica was just another white man’s take — his. In this case, the music would take in various world and classical-music influences that were never part of the original tiki sound. The band’s playing, meanwhile, is deadly serious.

Sometimes the titles were self-explanatory — “Would You like Bongos with that Fugue?” was the previously mentioned Bach/Balkan mash-up. There were a couple of Tjader tunes but in updated arrangements with expanded harmonies. O’Neill, with flutist Geni Skendo, bassist Jason Davis, and percussionist Shane Shanahan negotiated fiendishly tricky 9/8 and 11/8 rhythms. Occasionally there were more familiar Brazilian and flamenco rhythms (and Tjader’s “Colorado Waltz”), and there were familiar tunes, like Manuel de Falla’s “Fire Dance” music.

But as the evening moved on, the music became more and more its own thing, a kind of classical chamber music. Skendo played mostly bass flute, with its dark sonorities, as well as shakuhachi. (Skendo sort of embodies the state of world music today: an Albanian living in Boston who makes a specialty of that end-blown Japanese instrument.) Shanahan moved among a vast array of hand percussion — frame drums, dumbek, bongos. O’Neill stuck mostly to vibes, despite one Brazilian percussion rave-up between him and Shanahan. Jason Davis, meanwhile, stayed with bass, with beautiful tone and time and one very lovely high-lying bowed solo. Tev Stevig sat in for a couple of numbers on oud and tanbur.

The “classical” element emerged in the arrangements – often multi-section pieces rather than “tunes” played through with solos. Think of it as if the BSO Chamber Players could swing. By the end of the set, the band had offered elements of Shostakovich as well as an arrangement of Gershwin’s four piano Preludes. Although there was a lot of tinkering, one of those Preludes was played “straight,” as written. But on the whole, O’Neill was creating something new from his multiple interests. He described himself and Shanahan and Stevig not merely as collectors of instruments, but collectors of sounds. That’s not a bad place for a serious composer to start. A new album is due from the Orchestrotica Quartet in November.

This review ran in the Arts Fuse: Fuse Jazz Concert Review: Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica Quartet at the Regattabar.

Miss Tess at the Regattabar: Happy Return

Miss Tess and the Talkbacks. Photo by Brian Geltner.

Miss Tess and the Talkbacks. Photo by Brian Geltner.

It’s always good to catch up with Miss Tess when she returns to Boston. The Maryland-raised singer-songwriter spent a good chunk of the ’00s in Boston, going to Berklee, getting a band together. When she started leading her band the Bon Ton Parade, she was calling her sound “modern vintage” (the name of one of her half-dozen full-length albums). That was a mix of blues and swing jazz with a touch of country. But she’s revised her sound and the band over time. She jettisoned the horn section she had for a while, and pretty much any pretension to jazz. At the Regattabar Wednesday night, she was fronting her current quartet, the Talkbacks, a lean guitar band. There’s still plenty of swing in the music, but these days it leans decidedly country — with flavors of Texas swing and rockabilly, and some standards that can go either way.

The opener, “Everybody’s Darling,” signaled everything that’s fresh about the band. It was one of Tess’s increasingly authoritative originals, about life on the road (“but no one’s sweetheart” is the followup to the title phrase), fast and sassy, something that could have come out of the Bob Wills book but with an outspoken young woman singing on the front line. There were sweet vocal harmonies (as there were all night) as well as harmonized lead guitar lines between Will Graefe’s big baby-blue Epiphone and Tess’s vintage Weymann electric.  When called for, drummer Matt Meyer and bassist Larry Cook delivered that classic slap-back rockabilly rhythm.

The band offers Tess plenty of flexibility so that it can contain a good variety of music. Alongside the Texas swing and rockabilly, she could sing Willie Nelson’s own road song, “Night Life” (“the night life/ain’t no good life/but it’s my life”), and some Bonnie Raitt and Randy Newman. One of the highlights of the night was the Ink Spots’ “Don’t Want To Set the World on Fire,” sung with just bass and Graefe’s guitar. The lower volume allowed Tess’s vocals to shine — lyrics and music delivered with a mix of confidence and vulnerability.

Tess announced that the band are working on a new album in Brooklyn, due in the fall. Meanwhile, she and the Talkbacks have a busy weekend: tonight at the Press Room in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, tomorrow night at Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough, and Saturday at the big Green River Festival in Greenfield, Mass. Catch them if you can.

Tiger Lillies get tunefully macabre at Oberon

The full review ran in the July 17 Boston Globe.

CAMBRIDGE — We’re all used to post-punk Brechtian cabaret by now (thanks, Amanda Palmer and Dresden Dolls!), but the Tiger Lillies, who played Oberon on Monday night, are another matter. This trio, formed in London in 1989, have been performing their songs and theatrical works over the course of more than 30 albums and in shows at clubs, theaters, and, in one instance, an abandoned prison. They’ve written song cycles based on “Hamlet,” “Woyzeck,” stories by Edward Gorey, and their own macabre tales, replete with pimps, prostitutes, murder, mayhem, and ghosts.

The focus of these events is singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques, who performs, outfitted in bowler derby, his face swathed in grease paint. Singing alternately in a high countertenor or a deep Tom Waits growl, he’s a combination of Mack the Knife and a Pagliacci from hell….

To read more, click here.

Ravi Coltrane’s band goes with the flow

(The full review ran in the Boston Globe on June 23)

The 47-year-old saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (yes, son of jazz legend John) is a wonderful player, but for the first couple of tunes in the first of two sets at Scullers on Thursday night, it wasn’t his horn that held the room so much as his music — the combined effort of his band. Coltrane has been changing up his live show regularly since disbanding his longstanding quintet following the release of last year’s “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note). At Scullers he brought in guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist Dezron Douglas, and the all-important Ralph Peterson on drums. It was the way these players locked into the tunes and one another that ultimately made for a ferocious juggernaut….

To read more, click here.

Cuban duo makes Boston debut

Friday night marked the long-anticipated Boston debut of Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa and his brother, drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa. I say “long-anticipated” not because these are hoary veterans. The brothers are still in their 20s. Rather, prominent Boston agent Ted Kurland first tried to bring them here two years ago, but visa problems scotched the deal.(Pianist Harold López-Nussa. Photo: Pascal Thiebaut)

Harold is one of those prodigies regularly popped out by the rigorous Cuban conservatories. He has toured with Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuando and was featured as a player and composer on the 2011 US-Cuban fusion release Ninety Miles (with Christian Scott, Stefon Harris, and Davíd Sanchez).

At the Regattabar, it was easy to hear what all the excitement was about. Harold has the chops and sensibility to encompass a wide range of styles and technique to spare. One tune, written by his uncle, Hernan López-Nussa, began with the melody of a Chopin etude before segueing into a classic Havana ballroom danzón. It was all of a piece, fluid and lyrical. It was also one of the more relaxed tunes of the evening, along with an undulating take on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” The rest of the 80-minute set was kinetic, explosive even.

Part of this was due to the bravura percussion by brother Ruy Adrián, who commanded a modified trap set that also included a conga. He also occasionally filled in a harmony or bass figure with a keyboard, hitting the drums with the stick in his left hand, playing chords or rhythm patterns with his right.

Even without Ruy Adrián’s help, though, there probably were few in the audience who missed a bass player. That’s because Harold’s left hand was a rhythm section of its own, pounding out ferocious ostinatos and occasionally playing parallel melodies. The absence of a bass player gave him room to roam, and, with all that drumming, the bottom was amply covered.

The overall emphasis of the night was chordal and rhythmic, with occasional flashes of extended, melodic right-hand lines. I would have liked to have heard more of those. And maybe some of the more subtle, quiet explorations that grew out of the Chopin. (A lilting country-style guajira was also effective.) But there’s no denying the excitement these two can create. At one point, Ruy Adrián took a cajon (the box-like percussion instrument that the player sits on), came from behind his kit, and proceeded to tear the place up. Rhythm isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Look for Harold’s new CD in the fall.

(This ran on the Arts Fuse on June 23.)