Tag Archives: Berklee Performance Center

Jason Moran’s Fats Waller mask

Jason Moran in his Fats Waller mask, with singer Meshell Ndegeocello, right. Photo by Robert Torres for the Celebrity Series of Boston.

Jason Moran in his Fats Waller mask, with dancer Pampi and singer Meshell Ndegeocello, far right. Photo by Robert Torres for the Celebrity Series of Boston.

It’s impossible to overstate how powerful masks can be. Here’s Jason Moran in his Fats Waller mask, designed by Didier Civil. “This mask is hot!” Moran said after removing it at about the mid-point of his Friday night Celebrity Series of Boston concert, “Fats Waller Dance Party.” You can read my Boston Globe review here. But I hardly had room to talk about that mask — oversized, expressive, it became the identity of the usually soft-spoken and understated Moran. When that big bobble head Fats Waller turned to look at the audience, you believed it. After removing the mask (he said he’s worn it in about 30 performances, and it’s getting a little ripe), Moran put it back on to finish the show.

By the way, the excellent dancers were recruited locally and asked to improvise through the show — which they did impressively: Pampi, Jenaya Dailey, and Jon Shaw-Mays.

Here’s the set list, via the Celebrity Series:

Ain’t Misbehavin
Lulu’s Back in Town
Yacht Club Swing
Handful of Keys
Ain’t Nobody’s Business
Honeysuckle Rose
Fat Lick – drum and piano duet
Two Sleepy People
Sheik of Araby / Joint is Jumpin’

Encore
Jitterbug Waltz (played slowly, acoustic piano)

Enrico Rava Quintet at Berklee

TRIBE: Gianluca Petrella, Enrico Rava, Giovanni Guidi, Gabriele Evangelista, Fabrizio Sferra. Photo © Luca d'Agostino/ECM Records

TRIBE: Gianluca Petrella, Enrico Rava, Giovanni Guidi, Gabriele Evangelista, Fabrizio Sferra. Photo © Luca d’Agostino/ECM Records

Performances in Boston by the great Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava are rare, so the Tuesday night appearance by his quintet at the Berklee Performance Center was a major event. And there was much attendant hullabaloo. The concert was organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs in conjunction with the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and Umbria Jazz. There were introductory remarks by Jazz Institute managing director Marco Pignataro and faculty member John Patitucci as well as by the Italian general consul. And before the show, many audience members could be heard speaking Italian.

Two warm-up groups of GJI students played, including a quintet that featured both Pignataro on tenor and bassist Patitucci. But the main event was Rava. The 69-year-old trumpeter has long had a reputation as the Miles Davis of Italy, and it’s not hard to hear why — his concise, lyrical soloing, his phrasing, with its dramatic use of space, plus a golden tone that perhaps surpasses the Master’s own vulnerable, rough-hewn sound. He secured his cred with early stints in New York and in collaborations with Americans Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Cecil Taylor, Gil Evans and others.

At Berklee, he was introduced by Patitucci, who joined him for a couple of duo numbers, and Rava made the Miles connection immediately, launching into a sideways take of the melody of “My Funny Valentine.” Here was that spare lyricism — Patitucci easily played many more notes in his fluid accompaniment than did Rava in his solos.

But when Rava’s young band joined him, you could more readily hear what he was about. The band played nearly all originals, easily flowing from tangos and ¾ not-quite waltzes and fast swinging 4/4 to dreamy rubato and roiling free time. But it was those silences and the way they were filled that drove this band from moment to moment. The tension of the quintet’s restraint was made visible in the squirming of Giovanni Guidi on the piano bench.

Rava has spent much of his career on ECM, where the refinement of the production can add another reverby layer of gauze to his natural impressionism. (This quintet’s most recent release is 2011’s Tribe.) But live, the band crackled. The variables of live amplified sound can be bedeviling – so credit the soundman at Berklee, or credit this band for its internal dynamics. At any rate, they certainly sounded different than the student bands. Drummer Fabrizio Sferrra drives his rhythms with tonal clarity in every beat and no live-drum muddiness. Similarly, bassist Gabriele Evangelista somehow played quietly while making every note sound throughout the hall. And he didn’t play nearly as many of them per song as Patitucci. He played in a more blunt, rhythmic style that nonetheless sang as one motive built on the next to create melodic arcs. Guidi, meanwhile, earned his physical mannerisms with his mix of impressionistic chords and angled chromatic lines and blurry clusters. (He is also the author of his own fine new CD on ECM, City of Broken Dreams.) And he cut quite a figure as he leaned this way and that at the keyboard, in a long-sleeved T-shirt of broad black-and-white bands.

But it was the front line of the grey-maned Rava and trombonist Gianluca Petrella who ultimately defined the band’s sound.  In Petrella, Rava has found a partner who recalls his association with Rudd — a stylist who plays in big broad strokes, whinnies and elephant cries, but also with subtle, beautiful swing. He’s the perfect complement to Rava’s more liquid tone. The two often played in counterpoint, or Petrella would offer short punchy responses to Rava’s long-lined, lyrical phrases.

The band played for more than an hour, and for at least the first half of the show they played without pause as they segued from one song to the next. It was almost too much of a good thing (Rava didn’t announce song titles or introduce band members until the end of the show). And for all the ensemble cohesion, I would have liked to have heard at least one extended solo — Rava or Guidi or Petralla burning over some hard, fast swing. But that’s just a quibble. This unique band is entitled to its every eccentricity, and for the listener the rewards are many.

(A version of this review has been posted at The Arts Fuse, which is another good source for writing about jazz.)

Fado is as fado does

 Ana MouraAna Moura

Ana Moura at Berklee Performance Center

Defining fado – the song style that emerged in Lisbon in the early 19th century – is as tricky as defining the blues (which is usually 12 bars, but can be 16 or 8, and is usually three chords, but can also be a one-chord drone). Fado is like that, too. It was once tied to strict poetic forms, but now it can encompass all manner of form and expression. Like blues, it can be happy or sad, fast or slow. In fact, it’s sometimes called “Portuguese blues.” And, like jazz, you sort of know what it is when you hear it. Also like jazz, you can define fado as what fado singers sing.

At Berklee on Saturday night, one of the best of the latter generation of fado singers, Ana Moura, all but conceded as much about the slipperiness of genre distinctions when she announced after a couple of songs that she’d be singing “traditional fado,” as well as fado from the north of Portugal, and “jazz.” By the last, she meant Joni Mitchell. Hey, fine by me: Joni played with Jaco and collaborated with Mingus, right?

The latest Moura album, Desfado (Decca) presents a kind of crossover. It’s produced by Mitchell’s former producer (and former husband) Larry Klein and includes her “A Case of You.” Herbie Hancock plays Fender Rhodes on one track. But the core fado sound is there: in Moura’s soulful contralto and in the central instrumentation of acoustic guitars and Portuguese guitar. The latter looks a little like a big, round-bodied mandolin, and it sounds like one too.

At Berklee, Moura’s band included keyboards (piano or organ) and drums, but the instrumental sound was defined by that Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass guitar. The music was least compelling on a couple of occasions when it sounded like no more than middle-of-the-road folk-pop sung in Portuguese. But the basic fado sound was revealed when the keyboardist and drummer left the stage and Moura sang over gentle folkloric dance rhythms to the sound of those strings. Key here were the obligatos of Portuguese guitar player Angelo Freire, who unleashed one virtuoso flourish after another. On faster phrases, his shimmering terminal vibrato gave him a touch of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz.

There was maybe bit of gypsy in Moura’s presentation too.  Wearing a long off-the-shoulder black gown, she moved slowly, extended her arms and long-fingered hands, turning her palm in or out to underline a dramatic point. Sometimes she gestured with the fringes of her (traditional) black shawl clutched in her fingers. During one of othe numbers with the trio, she walked slowly over to Freire with her hand held out and then, with each verse, made a small quarter turn toward the audience until she was facing us again. She knew how to profile, how to use her long mane of unevenly cut raven hair for dramatic effect, how to shift her shoulder subtly on a two-beat. And all along, that deep contralto, sometimes husky, poured out of her, sometimes widening with a bit of vibrato. She provoked shouts from the audience, especially on the more traditional numbers.

Mid-show, there was one extended instrumental number, there were fast and slow waltzes, one that approached polka rhythm, and sometimes keyboardist João Gomes suggested an accordion (more gypsy). There were songs about love triangles and one from the new album, “Thank You,” by songwriter David Poe, that she sang in English, but still sounded fado (“Thank you for telling lies/thank you for making me cry”). And there was Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Which is maybe jazz, maybe folk, but for Moura clearly fado.