Tag Archives: Scullers

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

 

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. Credit: Emma - Lee Photography

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. Credit: Emma – Lee Photography

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque are in the final lap of an August–September tour. If they’re coming anywhere near your town, go see them. Their show at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston last night was explosive.

Bunnett, now 57, has been digging into the music of Cuba for more than 20 years. On her last visit to the island, she met singer and songwriter Daymé Arocena. In short order, Bunnett and Arocena got together with pianist Danae Olano, bassist Celia Jimenez, drummer Yissy Garcia, and percussionist Magdelys Savigne. Maqueque (roughly translated from dialect as “spirit of a young girl”) was born.

The touring band is necessarily more stripped down than on their new self-titled debut CD, but that only makes for more immediacy and punch. Jimenez, Savigne, and Garcia have a mortal lock on those complex Afro-Cuban rhythms. Garcia took several explosive solos, including the finale, and Jimenez provided melodic and harmonic lift as well as rhythmic drive. Savigne moved between congas and bata drums, and took a solo turn on the cajon, matching power with sensitivity. When she played those batas, you realized how important pitch is to the Cuban rhythm sound.

Arocena, who is one of the band’s main songwriters along with Bunnett, has a voice like a canon. Short in stature, she would stand at the mike, dancing, then open her mouth wide, lean back, and pour out a poweful contralto that evoked ancient Cuban son as well as the fluid Afropop of Angelique Kidjo. My only request of Maqueque is that they feature more Arocena. At times she was mixed as part of the ensemble with the other instruments or group vocals. Her feature on an original cha-cha-cha was one of the evening’s standouts, deep and wide.

But this whole band is a star. Olano took a bravura solo that showed off her classical chops, Bunnett was firey and lyrical, especially penetrating with her flute work. In her big solo, Olano’s mix of single-note runs and rhythmic chords at one point synched in with the band’s vamp behind her and created a big sound you could feel in your chest. That’s Maqueque — they turn the audience into a drum.

Kendrick Scott’s Oracle at Scullers

 

Kendrick Scott. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Kendrick Scott. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

Kendrick Scott’s Oracle were a hit before they even played a note on Wednesday night at Scullers. At least in terms of audience. It wasn’t just that they filled the club to near-capacity (165 seats). This was a crowd that crossed generations, gender, and ethnicities — yes, Asian-American guitar students (Oracle’s Mike Moreno was a draw), young African-American couples, Berklee kids of all stripes. The usual greybeard contingent was in attendance (including yours truly), but this was a crowd that skewed young. If anything else were necessary to deem this an “event,” Scott’s sometime boss Terence Blanchard was sitting down front, and Joe Lovano was at the bar.

From the stage, Scott — 33, and a Berklee grad himself — said that the first time he played the club was when Roy Haynes was receiving an award (the first of the awards now named for Haynes, presented by JazzBoston in 2009). “Roy Haynes played my drums,” said Scott. “It freaked me out.” Scott looked sharp: red-and-blue check blazer, peaked white pocket handkerchief, white open-collar shirt.

The music, too, was a mix of stylistic flash and poised, business-like concentration. Besides Moreno, Scott had John Ellis on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Taylor Eigsti on piano, and Matt Penman playing bass (in his first night with the band). The music often proceeded in the form of post-rock rave-ups. As in the first number of the night, “Pendulum” (from the band’s 2013 album Conviction, on Concord), Penman laid down a vamp, guitar and piano played a long-toned, repeating melody line, and then Ellis unfurled a secondary line on tenor. Those melodies repeated behind the soloists, building, with Eigsti pumping the chords in time with his left hand, Scott layering a ferocious mix of tight patterns that covered every corner of the beat.

I’m still getting a fix on Scott’s astounding drumming. The best I can do is say he’s like a hip-hop Elvin Jones. Whereas Jones gathered his beats in long sweeping phrases, Scott builds his in tight club-inflected patterns that nonetheless pack the same kind of carrying-the-band horsepower. And his sense of measured detail is always on the money, whether echoing an end-of-phrase tenor flutter by Ellis with his own chiming cymbal pattern (sticks tapping the edges); playing his snare bare-handed, popping it with his right index finger and slapping it with his left palm; or accenting a solo with a little “zip!” he created by flipping his snare upside down and dragging his stick across it.

As usual these days with younger players, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more soloing over walking-bass swing, but there was plentiful musical meat here, and plenty of variety — ballads with brushes, varied meters. In what has become a welcome trend, the band threw in a left-field cover — Sufjan Stevens’s “Too Much.” On the album, Alan Hampton sings, but here the band made a case for the song as compelling instrumental jazz, using the mantra-like repetition of the melody as a springboard. (A young African-American jazz musician covering white indie-rock is another story for another day.)

The set ended with Conviction’s title track — a round robin of short solos from Eigsti, Moreno, and Ellis that ratcheted up the tension on every turn and had the audience screaming (especially for Eigsti’s impassioned extended lines). It closed the set perfectly — the big finish that not all jazz musicians have in their repertoire. Like “Pendulum,” “Too Much,” and Scott’s “Liberty or Death,” it also displayed another occasional quality of Scott’s music: a brooding intensity that can turn explosive, even ecstatic. An encore of the Duke Pearson ballad “You Know I Care” was lagniappe that provided another kind of closure — emotionally and historically. Still stylish, still serious, still taking care of business.

 

 

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.

Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz at Scullers

Despite what instrumentalists and singers say about wanting to “tell a story” with their music, the fact is that very few of them do. Instead, they simply cycle through a form, wringing whatever musical flourishes they can with each pass. Even though singers have an advantage — the built-in “stories” of lyrics — the effect is often the same: wash, rinse, repeat.

Kate McGarry is something else again. The 51-year-old singer and songwriter, appearing with her husband, guitarist Keith Ganz, 41, at Scullers on Thursday night, had a story to tell with each song. And, in fact, the evening as a whole had the pacing of a shaped narrative.

McGarry and Ganz are working their new duo album, Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside), and they drew freely from it as well as other material. Though McGarry is nominally a jazz singer, she likes to mix up her genres. At Scullers, there were a few contemporary folk songs mixed in with the jazz standards, as well as a couple of folk originals

They began with Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” McGarry’s phrasing playing into the lyrics without overselling them (the rest in the title phrase: “That was my prelude . . . to a kiss”), and ending on a breathtaking high note. On his acoustic guitar, Ganz provided the detail and delicacy of touch of a latter day Bucky Pizzarelli.

But it was on the second tune, the McGarry original “Climbing Down,” where the narrative really took shape. She said the song was about climbing the family tree of “my potato famine ancestors.” It was essentially a blues — about family, the Church, drink, and all manner of tangled branches. And in the final verse it turned into a softly sung traditional Celtic ballad, “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” haunting, ghostly. Ganz, meanwhile, had moved from blues vamp to “extended” techniques — scraping harmonics from his strings, tapping the guitar percussively. The effect was cinematic and left the room in a hush.

McGarry created a similar structural collage in her “Ten Little Indians.” It’s an elegy for her parents, who died a year apart in 2009 and 2010. The title refers to her and her nine siblings (McGarry is from Hyannis, MA.). The folk song takes in the lives of her parents (“He built a house upon his back; she grew a garden in each room”) and their deaths (“These scenes that life does not rehearse”). And then, in the final verse, it drifts into the melody, and slightly revised lyrics, of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” At Scullers, this again left the room in a hush, followed by a huge ovation.

The narrative turns of McGarry’s performances are not always a matter of radical structural shifts. Most of the time her effects are created entirely musically, working within the given song. It’s not unusual for a singer to follow an instrumental solo by coming in on the bridge, but Ganz’s guitar work was so evocative and varied — tone, timbre, swinging eighth-note runs alternating with folky vamps — that when McGarry returned to sing the final verse of, say, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “We Kiss in a Shadow” or James Taylor’s “Line ‘em Up,” it was startling. Yes, the same familiar melody and words, but something had happened, and the song was in a different place now. The experience of the song had changed it. Even McGarry’s wordless vocals, or the occasional jazz scatting, were never mere embellishment — they were an extension of the emotions of the songs, a different way to feel them.

It’s probably this artistic focus — and McGarry and Ganz’s ability to cross jazz and folk techniques — that made the show all of a piece, even as the two went from Taylor to Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke’s “Pennies from Heaven,” or from the devastating “Ten Little Indians” to Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Close to You.”

Despite the weather, McGarry had a good house, and she joked about the snow and the benefits of a “home court advantage” (she guessed that “eight or nine” of her siblings were in the audience). And her wit offered comic relief without pandering or trivializing the material. (“Can’t Help Loving That Man” didn’t prove that love is blind, but “rather nearsighted.”)

McGarry doesn’t have one of those huge, operatic jazz voices (she’s not Sarah Vaughan or Cécile McLorin Salvant). But the voice is instantly recognizable — strong, muscular, with an appealing butterscotch middle register. Her technique (breath, pitch, phrasing) is just about flawless, and it’s all of a piece with her artistry — personal and peerless. McGarry has her own stories to tell.

(Photo of Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz by Frank Zipperer. Read my Boston Globe feature interview with Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz here.)

Nicholas Payton brings his trio to Scullers September 12

Nicholas Payton. Photo by Michael Wilson.

Nicholas Payton. Photo by Michael Wilson.

Last spring I talked to Nicholas Payton for New Orleans’ OffBeat magazine. He had stated his own record label, BMF, and released a live CD recorded at Washington DC’s storied Bohemian Caverns. Payton was as provocative as ever, talking about his notorious blog entry, “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore,” which included the line, “Jazz died in 1959.” And the live album was provocative too — heavy grooves, with Lenny White on drums, Payton’s longtime bassist Vicente Archer, and Payton himself playing both trumpet and Fender Rhodes, sometimes simultaneously.

On September 24, Payton will release a live concert performance of his interpretation of the Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration Sketches of Spain, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Sinfonieorchester Basel. They’re joined by Archer on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and Daniel Sadownick on percussion. And this Thursday, September 12, Payton brings his trio to Scullers in Boston for an 8 pm show.

“Music is inherently empty,” Payton told me in the OffBeat interview. “It takes a life lived to imbue a note or a set of chords or a rhythm with a feeling.” You can read the rest of the interview here. See you at Scullers!

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.

Nicky Schrire at Scullers: Beyond Words

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Nicky Schrire is a 27-year-old South African, now living in New York, who is one of the new breed of jazz singer. She clearly identifies as jazz, but her book is not standards-driven. Covers tend to come from the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright, and even Florence Welch of indie-rock darlings Florence and the Machine. And, unlike jazz singers of yore, she writes a lot of her own material. Though her approach has earned her comparisons to Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens, the similarities are superficial. Like Parlato, she’s an assured technician with a whole bag of impressive tricks. Like Stevens and, for that matter, Esperanza Spalding, she has an affinity for folk. But, as she shows on her only disc, Freedom Flight, and as she showed at Scullers on Thursday night with her quartet, she’s got her own thing, and it’s very much worth listening to.

At Scullers, she started with an original, “Together,” which began with a single interval repeated in the piano, then rhythm on hand percussion, and then a wordless major-key melody. Schrire does a lot of wordless singing. Her lyrics are simple, homespun, skirting sentimentality even when their purpose is straightforward affirmation (“We will cross this land together”). Her “jazz” is in her chords and in those wordless melodies and the improvisations they inspire. This isn’t “scat” singing — none of the note-stuffed runs of bebop syllables, but more of a simple ooh-ahh, om-bah-yay approach, with lots of long held notes sketching the arc of a melody.

On “Together” she worked the song into high held tones that seemed to take the band with her into more agitated rhythms and then catapulted them into their own series of solos. She sings with little or no vibrato, which also helps account for the unaffected directness of her approach. Songs sometime climax with her improvising in a pure tone way up in her top register, like a bird darting on an updraft. And there’s a logic to Schrire’s  wordless passages — sometimes they’re introductory, as if she’s gradually finding her way to the lyrics that fit her memories or emotions, and sometimes they take off from the lyrics as if to feelings that words can not express.

Schrire’s band members weren’t just improvising on chord changes, but playing the songs (during the night she took duo turns with each). Pianist Glenn Zaleski and bassist Sam Anning always kept the melodies in close sight, often just paraphrasing them outright. Drummer Jake Goldbas not only had a strong arsenal of rhythms, but a great touch, never overwhelming the singer even when he was playing hard.

Schrire does sing some standards, of course. (Her book includes “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.”). At Scullers she didn’t offer any Great American Songbook fare, but she sang the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” (relishing the opportunity to land on and play with the repetition of “sun, sun, sun, here it comes”). The humor in Loudon Wainwright’s “The Swimming Song” made for tickling improvisatory extremes. And an a cappella encore of the Bobby McFerrin arrangement of “Blackbird” gave her a chance to show off her technique, melding improvisations on the melody with her own hocketing rhythmic accompaniment.

Schrire’s new album, Space and Time, is due at the end of August. If we’re lucky, that will mean another visit to Boston soon.