Tag Archives: Regattabar

Dave Douglas and Riverside play Jimmy Giuffre at the Regattabar

Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow, of Riverside

Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow, of Riverside, at the Regattabar on April 17. Photo by Sue Yang.

The scope of the composer and reed player Jimmy Giuffre’s music is so broad that you could approach it from just about any angle and no one would be able to tell you that you’re doing it wrong — chamber jazz, free jazz, bebop, big band (he wrote the Woody Herman anthem “Four Brothers”), or a concerto for soloist and strings. They’re all legitimate approaches to the Giuffre way.

I say Giuffre’s “way,” not his compositions, because that’s the approach that’s being taken by the band Riverside, which comprises trumpeter Dave Douglas (who studied with Giuffre for a semester at New England Conservatory), bassist Steve Swallow (who played with Giuffre at two different points of the reedman’s career along with the pianist Paul Bley), and Canadian brothers Chet (reeds) and Jim (drums) Doxos, who never met Giuffre.

Riverside has a new self-titled album on Douglas’s Greeleaf Music label, on which they play only one piece by Giuffre (“The Train and the River”), and another that he covered (Trummy Young and Johnny Mercer’s “Travelin’ Light”). The other nine tunes on the record are originals by Douglas and Chet Doxas. An album note tells us that it was created in memory of Giuffre and that it draws inspiration from the “many trails” he blazed in “melodic invention, rhythmic subtlety, and true freedom in the practice of improvisation.”

At the Regattabar in Cambridge on Thursday night Riverside showed themselves reflective of the Giuffre way on several fronts. For one, Giuffre’s incorporation of spirituals, blues, folk music, and folk-type tunes into his jazz compositions is of a piece with Douglas’s own recent work, especially his album Be Still (2012), with the singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan. At the Regattabar, Riverside played Douglas’s arrangement of the early 18th century composer Isaac Watts’ “Devotion,” taken from a shape note singing book, and Doxas’s equally spiritual “Old Church, New Paint.”

The Giuffre style also manifested itself in the constant counterpoint between Douglas and Doxas either on tenor or clarinet, often with the ever inventive Swallow creating yet a third line. But, though the interplay was often subtle, and the tunes very shapely indeed, this was not the kind of music that Swallow played in his first outing with Giuffre, on acoustic bass, from 1961 to ‘62. Or the music of Giuffre’s late ’50s career, which was often drummerless.

Giuffre (1921-2008) said of that early period of his music that he was trying to create “jazz with a non-pulsating beat.” In a definitive 1997 Mosaic reissue of Giuffre’s mid-late ’50s output, he’s quoted regarding the beat as being “implicit  . . . acknowledged but unsounded.” He didn’t want “the insistent pounding of the rhythm section” distracting from the sound of the soloists and the melodic line.

The “acknowledged but unsounded” beat was characteristic of Giuffre’s way, but it wasn’t his only way — and it didn’t mean no drummers. And, implied beat or not, Giuffre swung hard — you can see him “acknowledging” the beat with his unrepressed bobbing up and down through the Jimmy Giuffre Three’s performance of “The Train and the River” in the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day — Giuffre on tenor with guitarist Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone.

At the Regattabar, Jim Doxas was subtle and creative throughout the night, and his beat was often indirect, but he also acknowledged it, at times heavily. In the Jimmy Giuffre Three’s hands “The Train and the River” swings hard but undulates softly. In Riverside’s version, it blared like an anthem.

Dave Douglas and Riverside

Riverside: Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow, Chet Doxas, Jim Doxas. At the Regattabar, April 17. Photo by Sue Yang.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it sure is different. There were other felicities in Riverside’s treatment of Giuffre’s music. Giuffre was obsessed with timbre and sonorities, always coming up with inventive combinations, like the reed/guitar/trombone matchup or, in the case of “The Sheepherder,” from 1956, a blend of clarinet, alto clarinet (Buddy Collette) and bass clarinet (Harry Klee). For a time, Giuffre played clarinet exclusively, restricted, he said, by his limited technique to the dark, evocative low, chalumeau register. Here, Doxas excelled, especially in tandem with Douglas on the trumpeter’s minor mode “Front Yard,” over the swish of Jim’s brushes. On the disc version, there’s a wonderful duo passage for clarinet and bass, with just the barest smattering of drums. In moments like these, the band captures the Giuffre ideals of sonority and counterpoint — where even the drums act as another complementary linear voice.

Throughout the night, melody lines passed back and forth, overlapped, fell into unison harmonies, then split apart again. “Backyard” (the companion piece to “Front Yard”), grew free and agitated, then settled into a hard funky beat and went out with the subdued theme and a big chord from Swallow.

There were times, especially in the beginning of the set, where I wished the band showed as much concision as Giuffre and meandered a bit less. But by the end of the night they’d won me over. It was fun to hear Douglas explode over the boppish swing of Doxas’s “Big Shorty” (a tribute to Giuffre’s work with Shorty Rogers) and to hear the hooky riffs of Douglas’s “Handwritten” (also from Riverside). Since the show, it’s been pleasure to return to the Riverside album and to savor anew their poised take on “Travelin’ Light” — based, as Douglas said in concert, on Giuffre’s arrangement, but “we’ve made our own thing out of it.” That’s the Giuffre way, too.

Inevitably, the Riverside show led me back to other Giuffre recordings — the Mosaic set (which you can now find most of on the new budget UK series, Real Gone Jazz, as the 3-CD “Jimmy Giuffre: Seven Classic Albums”), or the 1992 ECM reissue, Jimmy Giuffre 3, 1961, which includes Fusion and Thesis, the two albums that Giuffre recorded with Bley and Swallow (on acoustic bass, before his permanent switch to electric bass guitar) for Verve. Then came the freely improvised Free Fall with Bley and Swallow on Columbia — produced by Teo Macero, and so free that the label immediately dropped him.

Although he continued to perform, Giuffre didn’t release an album for another 10 years after Free Fall. But in June, Elemental Music will release the two-disc Jimmy Giuffre 3&4: New York Concerts, with two performances from 1965 (it’s now available as a pre-order on Amazon). Here is Giuffre in a trio with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers and a quartet with Chambers, pianist Don Friedman, and bassist Barre Phillips. It’s an important addition to the Giuffre story. Playing tenor sax once again, he’s a bit more aggressive with his tone, but melody line and group counterpoint are as crucial as ever. There are tunes, but also a lot of free improvisation. And when he exchanges phrases with Friedman’s Cecil Taylor-like rumblings, you can read him as an equal partner in the creation of the ’60s avant-garde. So it’s easy to agree with Paul Bley’s assessment in the liner notes: “The two most important figures in the early days of the avant-garde were both composers and reed players: Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Giuffre.” In fact, with the trio on the New York album, Giuffre plays Coleman’s “Crossroads” (also known as “The Circle with the Hole in the Middle”).

In later years, Giuffre would reunite with Bley and Swallow (on electric bass this time), and play and record with students and colleagues at New England Conservatory. His is a long story, and it isn’t over yet.

For this piece and more jazz and arts coverage, check out The Arts Fuse.

 

 

 

 

Ran Blake at the Regattabar: “Plays Solo Piano” 50th Anniversary

Cover image from Ran Blake's 1964 ESP-Disk, celebrated the Regattabar.

Cover image from Ran Blake’s 1964 ESP-Disk, celebrated at the Regattabar.

You could have heard Ran Blake’s show Wednesday night at the Regattabar as a concert with autobiographical commentary, or as a memoir with musical illustrations. It was both, really.

Blake was ostensibly celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ESP-Disk Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano. It was his second release after his 1961 RCA debut, The Newest Sound Around, with the singer Jeanne Lee.

Blake’s approach hasn’t changed a whole lot since then. He still mines his obsessions with film noir, jazz standards, and gospel music, and his abiding affection for composers like Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, George Russell, and Gunther Schuller, and for songs and singers. And he still plays with his uncanny ear for harmony, unparalleled touch, and serene focus. Blake’s passages of sharp dynamics shifts, of juxtaposed dissonance and consonance, give his music the heightened contrasts of his beloved film noir. Some improvisers use songs as a starting point — a springboard for their own invention. Blake does that too, but his inventions seem to take him deeper into a song rather than further from it.

At the Regattabar, he played several pieces from Solo Piano, but much else as well, including new pieces. Emerging from back stage with the assistance of walker (he’ll be 79 on April 20), swaddled in shades, black fisherman’s cap, a big scarf, jacket, and his thick grey beard, he greeted the warm applause of the packed house with a smile and a bow, then sat at the piano and dug into four widely spaced, loud chords, using the sustain pedal to let them bleed into each other, and then played the delicate, elegiac melody his “Vanguard,” the first song on Solo Piano, bringing out inner voices as one chord moved on to the next. He followed that with “The Nearness of You,” punctuated by plinking, Monk-ish minor seconds between soft, floating chords and bits of melody.

“In 1960 I moved to New York — a year or two older than I should have been — from the college.”  He was taking us into the first phase of the memoir. Walking up Amsterdam Avenue, into Harlem, the Apollo Theatre, Abbey Lincoln, Don Ellis, Sheila Jordan, George Russell. Then he introduced one of those Harlem tunes, “Sleepy Time Gal,” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” which Blake said he was the fourth person to record. “Ornette thought it was . . . fairly okay,” said Blake of his version.

In Blake’s mini-sets, two or three songs sometimes merged and overlapped. They weren’t medleys, really, more like montage. Blake said he often thinks in images at the piano as he plays through songs, and that made sense here, especially as he extemporized on Dr. Mabuse, the character from the films by Fritz Lang, with a theme by Konrad Elfers. (Blake joked that Mabuse, the “evil psychiatrist,” had been in 1,000 films.)

There were a couple of tunes with Blake collaborator (and former student) Jon Hazilla. Hazilla said that Blake, “always thinks of other people first rather than himself.” To which Blake piped up, “Not always!” Hazilla said that when he auditioned at New England Conservatory (where Blake created the Third Stream department with then NEC president Gunther Schuller), Blake asked him to play “a cold Boston morning.” Blake’s response to Hazilla’s attempt was: “Sounds like rush hour.” Hazilla’s solo tribute — just brushes and snare — was fast, but not rushed, tight, swinging, economical patterns of swishing brushwork.

Blake then introduced his tune “Memphis,” commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, “40 years ago tomorrow.” It was, he said, his imagining of King speaking to a stadium full of people, with Al Green and Willie Mitchell in attendance, and maybe Alfred Hitchcock too. And here Blake created one of his uncanny effects: as the melody from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” moved into the piece, softly, it was as if from offstage, a passing parade. Then there was George Russell’s “Stratusphunk” (also from Solo Piano), with Blake returning again and again to the repeated notes of the opening melody.

Blake often gave capsule biographies of the songwriters and dedicatees. There was “Sister Tee,” for Elisa Carter of Sweet Daddy Grace’s Church in Harlem. “She wanted to learn about Stravinsky and Mingus and I wanted to learn about Mahalia Jackson and the Pentecostal church.” For once, he said, he’d play “a number that’s partly cheerful,” even with its evocation of meddlesome police on 125th street.

Blake is one of the few performer I know who can get away with almost unrelenting slow or rubato performances. He and Hazilla did swing some stride for a bit, but for the most part these were nocturnes. So what held the ear was the drama that unfolded in each song, those shifting textures and harmonies. It never seems adequate to call one of Blake’s chords “dissonance” — he seems to know hundreds of shadings between dissonance and consonance. In each song — no matter how deep the rumbling percussion and brass of his bass register — the melody would surface, just a spare single-note line, but articulated with pure, vocal expression, and you could hear what Blake loves about singers. They’re that light in the darkness, as in his statement of the melody in his “Birmingham, U.S.A.” (for the four girls murdered in the notorious church bombing in that city in September 1963).  Elsewhere, his conjurings were the stuff of dreams and film noir, 4/4 chords that stalked the melody line, as in a suspense film, or the bit of Bernard Hermann dissonance that crept into Blake’s encore of “You Are My Sunshine.”

With Blake’s notions of harmony, wherein it drifts away from tonal centers or simply expands into adjacent keys, and his sudden, stabbing attacks at an astringent interval, I once thought: maybe this is what a young Arnold Schoenberg would have sounded like if he was the hippest lounge pianist around. But that’s not fair, Schoenberg was not an American musician, he was not a jazz musician, and he was no Ran Blake.

 

 

 

Nir Felder at the Regattabar

Nir Felder. Photo by Phil Knott.

Nir Felder. Photo by Phil Knott.

Nir Felder’s Okeh Records debut last month, Golden Age, was a neat split between two types of jazz: one that’s like improvisational instrumental indie rock (think: Brian Blade Fellowship, James Farm, Jeremy Udden’s Plainville) and the other the kind of mixed-meter mind fuck you can hear in one form or another from Kurt Rosenwinkel, Robert Glasper, Gretchen Parlato, Vijay Iyer, and anyone who works with drummers like Kendrick Scott, Marcus Gilmore, Chris Dave, and Mark Colenburg. Felder’s album was a cool mix of those freaky-metered grooves and that mesmerizing flow.

At the Regattabar Tuesday night, Felder’s drummer was Nate Smith, no slouch in the new post-hip-hop freak-beat drum faction. And, true to the album, Felder -— who is 31 and studied at Berklee about a decade ago — mixed up his indie-rock and sick-jazz numbers. But the indie-rock stuff this time was less mesmerizing than inert. For the first three numbers, the band (with Smith, bassist Orlando le Fleming, and pianist Frank LoCrasto) worked repetitive rock chord progressions, pretty melodies, and dynamic contrasts. Everything was very songful, but it wasn’t enough. I kept waiting for the singer to show up.

The fourth tune of the set (one of two new, untitled songs) opened up for slightly more guitar action from Felder, and LoCrasto had some nice moments too. But they weren’t really solos, more like interludes, way stations in the drift of rising and falling dynamics and of dramatic shifts from slow to fast in the song form.

Finally, about 25 minutes into the show, Felder dug into one of his fucked-up jazz pieces, “Ernest/Protector,” an imaginary character study, he later told the audience, about someone with a rich inner life and awkward social skills — a “daydream comic book superhero fantasy.” Indeed. The piece hurtled through a tricky mixed meter form, and Felder and LoCrasto’s solos hurtled along with them. In fact, this was the first piece in which the R-bar crowd observed the jazz-audience convention of applauding after solos. Like Felder’s other pieces, this was a real tune, with a bridge, but it exploded. The form had a nice little breakdown section — I’d guess two bars of half notes — played in unison by bass and drums, that slowed everything down to an almost comic drawl.

“Code” was, as on the album, again slow and subdued (“about things under the surface, beneath the everyday,” said Felder), but “Sketch 2” was way more powerful than its album version — a kind of rave-up for Smith, who played fast, tight club-beat patterns throughout, with plenty of kick-drum oomph, while the rest of the band played slow, hazy chord sequences on top. “Before the Tsars” (also from the album) was built on an insinuating, descending piano line, that again played with form and a rock-like 6/8. A final, unnamed, tune featured a nifty unison line for piano and guitar. It left LoCrasto and Felder some nice solo room, and also played with mixed meters and funk, with a thunking breakdown section.

One thing did occur to me during the more subdued, early part of the set: Felder’s band could be well served by being heard LOUD at a big venue like the mainstage at the Newport Jazz Festival. Those big dynamic contrasts and gleaming rock-guitar cadences could hold a crowd, and they’d sound great in the open air.

Jazz picks this week

Ambrose Akinmusire plays the Regattabar on March 12.

Ambrose Akinmusire plays the Regattabar on March 12.

Here are some highlights of live jazz for the coming week. These and other picks for theater, dance, classical, and pop music can be found at The Arts Fuse.

 

Four Generations of Miles Davis
March 7-8, 7:30 p.m. + 10 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge, MA.

Four outstanding players — saxophonist Sonny Fortune, guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Jimmy Cobb — are pooling their combined experience from different eras of working with Miles Davis.

Nando Michelin’s “Juana de America”
March 8, 8 p.m.; March 10, 8 p.m.
Amazing Things Arts Center, Framingham, MA [March 8] + Longy School of Music, Cambridge, MA. [March 10]

The terrific Uruguayan-born jazz pianist Nando Michelin has long been a mainstay of Boston’s jazz and Latin-jazz scenes (his “Duende” trio with drummer Richie Barshay and a pre-famous Esperanza Spalding is semi-legendary). This month, Michelin premieres a new work in a series of metro-Boston venues. The piece, “Juana de America,” is a suite of songs set to the verse of Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou (1892-1979). Argentine singer Katie Viqueira joins Michelin’s trio, with Robert Taylor on bass and Tiago Michelin (Nando’s son) on drums, and the Four Corners string quartet. The show travels from the Amazing Things Arts Center (March 8) and the Longy School (March 10) to the Acton Jazz Café, Acton (March 14), and Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge (March 19).

New World Jazz Composers Octet
March 10, 8.p.m.
Berklee Performance Center, Boston, MA.

This octet, led by saxophonist and composer Daniel Ian Smith, digs deep into the mainstream tradition to create new work that is both elegant and fiery. The band also includes pianist Tim Ray, saxophonist Felipe Salles, trumpeters Walter Platt and Tony D’Aveni, percussionist Ernesto Diaz, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa, and drummer Mark Walker.

Nir Felder
March 11, 7:30 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge, MA.

On his Okeh Records debut, Golden Age (released in January), young guitar wizard Nir Felder mixes dreamy indie-rock instrumentals with the kind of busy, sharp-angled uptempo pieces that progressive jazz fans love. The latter showed off his amazing chops — spiky patterns so unpredictable and fresh that it was hard to imagine how he was thinking so fast. It will be interesting to see how he mixes things up at the Regattabar with two players from the album, pianist Aaron Parks and drummer Nate Smith, along with bassist Orlando le Flemming.

Ambrose Akinmusire
March 12, 7:30 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge, MA.

The adventurous young trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire (2007 winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition) releases his second Blue Note CD, the imagined savior is far easier to paint, on March 11, then celebrates with a show at the Regattabar. Joining Akinmusire is his working quartet: saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Justin Brown.

Bill Banfield’s Jazz Urbane
March 12, 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club

Guitarist and Berklee professor Bill Banfield fronts his pop fusion outfit Jazz Urbane with the formidable young alto saxophonist Tia Fuller as special guest.

The Trio
March 13, 7:30 p.m. + 10 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge, MA.

Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Billy Cobham released their first album as the Trio in 2004, mixing exploratory variations on New Orleans funk with post-bop swing.

… and coming up

Vijay Iyer Trio/Robert Pinsky
March 14, 8 p.m.
Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA.

Pianist, composer, and MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer joins former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinksy for one of Pinsky’s PoemJazz duo sets and then takes the stage with his formidable trio mates, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, in this Celebrity Series concert.

Myra Melford
March 14, 8 p.m.
Lily Pad, Cambridge, MA.

Pianist and composer Myra Melford’s exquisite chops, tact, and imagination have served her well with any number of jazz’s great experimenters, from Henry Threadgill, Joseph Jarman, and Leroy Jenkins to Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, and Matt Wilson. She plays a solo gig in support of her solo-piano CD, Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12) at the intimate Lily Pad.

Snarky Puppy
March 14, 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center, Boston, MA.

From the next generation of jazz-rock-funk fusion, Snarky Puppy have signaled their arrival with a 2014 Grammy win for Best R&B Performance and a booking at the upcoming Newport Jazz Festival. You’ll hear R&B, but also the familiar sound of proggy ’70s-’80s fusion, updated with nifty horn charts and distinctive post-rock twists and turns. Dallas funk-fusion band Funky Knuckles opens.

Upcoming jazz events

Danilo Pérez plays Scullers February 15 and 16 . Photo by Luke Severn.

Danilo Pérez plays Scullers February 15 and 16 . Photo by Luke Severn.

Plenty of good stuff happening in Boston-area jazz this week. You can find these and other choice arts picks at The Arts Fuse.

Pat Donaher
February 8, 4 p.m.
Lily Pad, Cambridge MA

Alto saxophonist Pat Donaher’s beguiling Who We Are Together lives in that world where jazz crosses over into a kind of classical chamber music.  Or maybe the other way around. With his alternating duo partners, pianists Hwaen Ch’uqi and Camille Barile, Donaher favors spontaneous improvisations, with attractive folk-like melodies and ambiguous harmonies. A Quincy, MA, native, Donaher attended the Eastman School of Music before returning home to complete a master’s degree at New England Conservatory. At the Lily Pad he’ll be joined by fellow Eastman graduate Hwaen Ch’uqi.

Ampersand Concert Series
February 13,  8 p.m.
MIT Bartos Theatre, Cambridge MA

The MIT List Visual Arts Center and WMBR Radio present the seventh in their performance series, this time with the Boston/Amherst jazz group Outnumbered and New Haven bassist and electronic improviser Carl Testa. The Outnumbered features some of the best players in the area: alto saxophonist Jason Robinson, multi-sax guy Charlie Kohlhase, pianist Josh Rosen, bassist Bruno Råberg, and drummer Curt Newton.

Dave Holland’s Prism
February 13-14, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Regattabar, Cambridge MA

Bassist and composer Dave Holland’s always compelling blend of grooving mixed meters and controlled contrapuntal mayhem this time falls into the hands of a new quartet with a homonymous new album on ECM. The players are guitarist Kevin Eubanks (a longtime Holland foil before jumping to direct the Tonight Show band), pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Eric Harland. As usual with Holland’s outfits, everyone contributes original tunes, which makes for an especially alert crew.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz
February 13, 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston

Kate McGarry has long been mixing jazz with a variety of American pop and folk. Tonight she and her husband, the guitarist Keith Ganz, step out of their usual band format to play as the title alter-ego duo from their new album, Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside), somehow making Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” Todd Rundgen’s “Pretending To Care,” and Iriving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” all part of the same sound world. You can also expect a couple of McGarry and Ganz’s well-turned originals.

Newport Jazz Festival: NOW 60
February 13, 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center, Boston MA

This promotional anniversary tour for the granddaddy of jazz festivals looks on the face of it like a grab-bag of supremely talented, medium-profile all-stars, but the tour producers and bandleader Anat Cohen have declared a specific agenda: to focus not only on music from Newport’s storied history, but also original compositions and arrangements from everyone in the band. And it is a formidable crew. Saxophonist and clarinetist Cohen will be joined by multi-lingual singer Karrin Allyson, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn. This second night of a 21-date tour (a Celebrity Series of Boston event) should be crackling.
Read my Boston Globe piece about the tour here.

“Third Stream Headwaters”
February 13, 7 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston MA

Rare offerings at New England Conservatory tonight. The Contemporary Improvisation department goes deep into Third Stream — the term coined by composer and former NEC president Gunther Schuller to describe a blending of classical and jazz musical procedures (and also the original name of the CI department).  Topping the bill are Charles Mingus’s “Half-Mast Inhibition,” the great bassist-composer’s earliest orchestral work (originally recorded in 1960) and the premiere of Schuller’s “From Here to There,” commissioned by NEC. Also on the bill are Darius Milhaud’s “La Création du Monde,” Milton Babbit’s “All Set,” and Frank Zappa’s “Dog Breath Variations.” Charles Peltz conducts

Catherine Russell
February 14, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston MA

No less an authority than Nat Hentoff has called singer Catherine Russell “the real thing.” With a strong pedigree (daughter of Louis Armstrong orchestra music director Luis Russell and guitarist Carline Ray, of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm), Russell made her early career singing high-profile back-up gigs (Paul Simon, David Bowie, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Rosanne Cash) before going solo about 10 years ago and delivering one beautifully assured album after another, focusing on vintage swing and blues, with the occasional oddball and apt contemporary choice (the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedyway Boogie”). She has the kind of voice and diction that lend every song a conversational directness and literate clarity even when she’s hitting the high notes and swinging her hardest. Her latest, Bring It Back (Jazz Village), comes out this Tuesday and it’s another well-designed collection, guided by her own taste and by the skill of music director/guitarist Matt Munisteri.

Danilo Pérez’s “Panama 500”
February 15 [8 p.m. and 10 p.m.] and 16 [4 p.m. and 7 p.m.]
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston MA

The 47-year-old pianist and composer’slatest CD, Panama 500 (Mack Avenue), is his most ambitious achievement yet. Looking again at his native Panama, he offers a portrait that mixes folkloric percussion, chants of the indigenous Guna people, modern-chamber music string writing, and, of course, fleet jazz-piano trio sections. At times, all these languages are layered so that history emerges as a living memory. Pérez brings an ensemble from the album to Scullers: violinist Alex Hargreaves, percussionist Roman Díaz, and his longtime trio mates, bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz.
Read my Boston Globe review of the CD here.

Music Diary: Women of the World

Women of the World

Women of the World

The 10-member Women of the World entered the Regattabar Thursday night as a processional, intoning “Om,” matching the pitch drawn from a temple bowl with a wooden pestle by one of their four lead singers. Taking their place in a line facing the audience, the group continued to sing “Om mani padme hum.” Then the band’s instrumentalists took their place and the vocalists took turns on the second tune, one of whose lines was “I am the Light.”

At this point, you’d be excused if you reached for your adult beverage, but this after all was United Nations Day and the group’s show was in part an event for the United Nations Association of Greater Boston. There was a full house.

And there was no arguing with the ensemble’s impeccable musicianship — their tricky arrangements for those four voices, the perfectly executed harmonies, the engaging minimal bits of choreography (a group arm wave or side-step), the singers’ individual charisma. The group was brought together by Berklee alumnus Ayumi Ueda in 2008 to represent international culture and “create music for peace.” At the Regattabar, the women were dressed elegantly to their own taste or nationality (Annette Philip wore a lovely sari), and the music as well ranged in style and format. They sang a cappella and with their backup players. They sang a Japanese folk song followed by an Italian folk song. They sang in Turkish (with approval from Turkish audience members). Violinist Sue Buzzard played a Celtic fiddle tune. They ended with a Miriam Makeba song. There were a couple of sing-alongs with the audience. So yes, you could be cynical for a while. But when the group asked a schoolgirl to come up and read her own tribute to Malala Yousafzai, resistance was futile.

Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio at the Regattabar

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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.