Sunday, January 31, 2010

Parris takes the music south

No matter that there was another Arctic blast of winter in New England, singer Rebecca Parris packed in a full house at Chan's in Woonsocket RI Saturday evening with a heated set that had us feeling like we were in Rio.

The Boston-based singer, always a huge draw at Chan's, was joined by saxophonist Dan Moretti, pianist Tim Ray, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Steve Langone for a heart-warming and solid evening.

They took a blend of American Songboook and jazz standards - and performed them with a variety of Brazilian rhythms. Parris was in her element, a master of working the beat with her uncanny phrasing and sense of time.

The first set explored "Speak Low," "Darn That Dream," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and quite appropriately Tom Jobim's classic "Dindi" - with a Parris storytelling twist - and "Chega de Saudade" (No More Blues).

Parris has taken a hit with health issues over the last few years, but it hasn't affected her singing. Hallelujah.

Friday, January 29, 2010

CDs of Note…

Roberto Magris & The Europlane Orchestra, Current Views (Soul Note)
Italian pianist Roberto Magris keeps rolling out great recordings that should afford him much more recognition in the United States as well as abroad. And this is no exception. Current Views features Magris with his Europlane Orchestra, a small big band whose size varies from sextet to septet to octet as the robust sound requires. The gems here include “The Storyteller” (an extended piece that features a guest appearance by guitarist Philip Catherine), his uptempo”React!,” the high-energy, Latin-tinged “Hombres,” “Steady Mood” and “For Naima,” which Magris wrote for his daughter. The mood-setting writing and the musicianship here are very fine indeed.

Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband, Ceremony (Otá)
Every Omar Sosa performance swings deeply and is imbued with mystical/spiritual elements that are ingrained in his being and his music. Ceremony explores 10 of the pianist’s original compositions – pieces in which the music is also in service to the Orishas, the Yoruban gods of his native Cuba who are his guideposts and sometimes his inspiration. Sosa, in his brief notes, refers to music as “the voice of my soul.” Germany’s excellent NDR Bigband tapped into the expressive elements at work here, adding even more depth to Sosa’s pieces, with arrangements by cellist Jaques Morelenbaum. My favorites: “Yemaya En Egua Larga” (on which Sosa plays piano and marimba), “Cha Con Marimba” (with a fiery trombone solo by Dan Gottschall), the Thelonious-inspired “Monkurú” and one of his new works, “Salida Con Elegba.”
This is a February 9, 2010 release.

RG Royal Sound Orchestra, Impact (RG Records)
Here’s a genre-bending, genre blending salute to a dozen of the most enduring pop melodies of the past 50 years or so – from “As Time Goes By” to “My Way” and “Hotel California.” The treatment is most unusual, in which it takes the jazz and Afro-Cuban big band format, and adds a strong dollop of flamenco. The Miami-based orchestra, assembled by Recaredo Gutiérrez, is enhanced by the strong soloing of tenor saxophonist Ed Calle and trumpeter Adalberto Lara (“Trompetica”). “Macarena” was included as an enduring pop melody – perhaps inescapable is a better term. It’s treatment might have been interesting if they had resisted the temptation to add vocals. This is a February 10, 2010 release.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Overdue honor at Grammys

Amid all of the deserved, but lingering, attention that will be heaped upon the Michael Jackson legacy at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards on January 31, there will be some attention paid to JAZZ.

Trumpeter Clark Terry, 89, will receive the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award. Other lifetime honorees this year are Leonard Cohen, Bobby Darin, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Michael Jackson, Loretta Lynn and André Previn.

They will be feted at a special ceremony the night before the Grammys 'main event, but will be acknowledged in the telecast. You can bet Jackson will get far more attention than the others - or any of winners in the competitive categories. That's just the way it is.

The Terry honor is richly deserved for a life's work spanning more than 60 years of creativity on trumpet and fluegelhorn, as well as composing, bandleading, great sense of humor and mumbling - his zany and charming "Mumbles" twist on scatting that became a highlight when he was a resident member of NBC's "Tonight Show" band - where he helped break the network's musician color barrier.

Among his many prior honors , the Black World History Museum in his hometown of St. Louis features a life-sized wax figure.

In the heyday of big bands, Terry passed through or was a fixture in many of them - including the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Barnet, Doc Severinsen, Lionel Hampton and much later, his own big band on occasion.

So here come the Grammys, a great way to jump start Clark Terry's 90th birthday year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A mouse, a museum and music

The three M’s headlined above are the prime ingredients in an exhibition that’s making its only North American appearance through March 14 in New Orleans.

The Walt Disney Animation Research Library and New Orleans Museum of Art teamed up on "Dreams Come True: Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio." The Crescent City is the ideal location for the exhibition. It coincides with the release of Disney's animated feature, "The Princess and the Frog," which is set in New Orleans during the 1920s Jazz Age.

Jazz at Lincoln Center is involved in the project by adding a live music series, a professional training session and donating Jazz for Young People curriculum sets, thanks to The Brian J. Ratner Philanthropic Fund.

The exhibit showcases original artwork from legendary Disney animated films including "Snow White," "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" and celebrates Disney's connections with jazz and the Crescent City.

New Orleans native and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member Victor Goines is programming a live-music series at NOMA featuring New Orleans-based musicians. The performances, free to the public, began today with Don Vappie and The Creole Jazz Serenaders. The music series runs through March 14.

Jazz at Lincoln Center will also hold a workshop at NOMA for New Orleans area music teachers and educators to learn how to introduce jazz in their classrooms. JALC will distribute a number of its Jazz for Young People curriculum to various New Orleans schools.

In addition, children and parents who visit the exhibition will receive a copy of the "The Princess and the Frog" Curriculum, created in partnership by Disney, Scholastic and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For more information on "Dreams Come True: Art of the Classic Fairy Tales from the Walt Disney Studio," go to the museum's Web site.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CDs of Note... (revised release date)

The David Leonhardt Trio, Bach to the Blues (Big Bang)
If you love jazz and classical - and have ears that are open improvisation on some of the great classical works, this one’s for you. Pianist David Leonhardt, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Alvester Garnett have done an excellent job of building the musical bridge here. The swing and rhythmic openness of their jazz and blues approach brings out new facets in the pieces. Even some clavẽ finds its way into the mix to spice up their take on Bach’s “Prelude in G Minor.” Other favorites: Erick Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1,” Beethoven’s “Adagio from Pathetique” and a turtle’s pace reworking of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” that gives the work a meditative feel.

Ori Dagan, S’Cat Got My Tongue (Scatcat)

A good amount of scat, a pinch of vocalese and some straight-ahead vocals fill this debut CD by Toronto-based singer Ori Dagan. Thank God for the mix, for an outing with nothing but scat would have been a bit tiresome. Dagan, his band and four vocal duet partners roll through a blend of jazz classics, show tunes and originals. My favorites: his duet with Heather Bambrick on “Swing’s the Thing” and his rendition of “Here’s That Rainy Day.”

Monica Mancini, I’ve Loved These Days (Concord)

There are standards, generally pulled from the first few decades of Tin Pan Alley. And there are relatively new standards, or standards-in-the-making. That’s where Monica Mancini is focusing on this fifth CD. Musical chops are in the genes as late, great composer Henry Mancini’s daughter pleasantly covered music by Jackson Browne, Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, The Rascals, The Beatles, Bill Joel, Janis Ian and Paul Simon. She actually explores two Simon works - “American Tune” and Something So Right.” Browne, Wonder, Wilson and The Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere also participate either vocally and/or instrumentally on their respective tracks. This is a stunning update of classic 1960s songs, bookended by her takes on 1959’s “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” from Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf, and Joel’s 1976 hit, “I’ve Loved These Days.” This is a March 30, 2010 release.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bridging the musical waters

One of the most poignant moments at the Rock & R0ll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert (night one, October 29) when Art Garfunkel joined old musical partner Paul Simon on stage at Madison Square Garden to sing several of their hits. There's no need to wonder if more reunions might happen anytime soon.

There is one such event set for the remainder of 2010. Further blurring the lines between jazz events and other musical genres, it will be an opening weekend performance, April 24 to be exact, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" analogy will be everywhere - and it is most appropriate, given how music has helped galvanize New Orleans, its residents and the city's appreciators in their drive to rebuild post-Katrina.

It is also appropriate because that work is far from over.

Kudos to festival producer Quint Davis for making the connection happen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The pulse of New Orleans

Larry Blumenfeld’s “Cultural Conversation” with TV producer David Simon in today’s Wall Street Journal is a highly recommended read. Simon, producer of HBO’s acclaimed series “The Wire,” is now focusing on a new jazz-tinged program that will debut on HBO in April.

Tinged is not a strong enough word. Jazz is the undercurrent, and the heartbeat, of the program, scheduled for 10 episodes in Season One.

“Treme” is the series… and it is named for Tremé, a hotbed of jazz that is considered one of America’s oldest black neighborhoods.

Simon is using New Orleans as his new focus on why the American city matters. In Blumenfeld’s view: “With any success, he can achieve something mightier too - an understanding of the essential role musicians play in New Orleans’s social order and recovery, as well as the embattled position they often find themselves in.”

Several actors (Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters to name two) who had prominent roles in “The Wire” are cast in the new series as musicians. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins will appear regularly in the series - as himself.

This is shaping up as a series that will keep many of us with HBO glued to our TVs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Royal honors

The reigning queen of jazz piano, honored through the years with numerous musical and broadcast-related awards, has another biggie – from her queen, no less.

Pianist and NPR’s “Piano Jazz” host, Marian McPartland was named an "Officer of the Order of the British Empire" by Queen Elizabeth II in her majesty’s 2010 New Year Honors, which were announced on January 1.

The Order of the British Empire recognizes distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds. In this case, British-born McPartland was cited for her services to jazz and for aspiring young musicians in the United States.

"I am thrilled and proud to have received this great honor bestowed on me by Queen Elizabeth," McPartland said in a news release. "I am truly grateful."

Sir Alan Collins, British Consul-General in New York, said the award acknowledges McPartland’s significant contributions to the arts and for her role “in strengthening the U.K.-U.S. relationship."

McPartland, 91, continues to host her George Foster Peabody Award-winning NPR program, which recently marked its 30th anniversary.

She also has been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the Gracie Allen Award given by American Women in Radio and Television, the National Music Council's American Eagle Award, and a Grammy Trustee's Award for lifetime achievement. McPartland has received honorary degrees from Hamilton, Union and Bates Colleges, Bowling Green University and the University of South Carolina.

Congratulations are in order for this talented, genteel lady. Her musicality and sense of swing remain amazing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Year's treat...

As promised, here's a link to the January 2010 issue of HotHouse, which includes my interview-profile of pianist Harold Mabern.

All the best to you and your families in 2010.