Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival 2010

Taking note of newcomers, up-and-comers
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s annual jazz festival in bucolic Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is many different things to the thousands of attendees, some of whom seem to be there every single year.

It’s a chance for summer weekend reunions of families, extended families and groups of friends - who roll in with coolers, lawn chairs, tarps and tents each day and their own branded signage during the last weekend in June.

It’s a chance to experience a village fair-like musical smorgasbord: catch a bit of music (generally jazz, blues, R&B and a bit of world music), on the main stage, bask in the sun or duck for cover during a gentle shower, catch a bit of the afternoon series on the smaller stage up the hill, and wander through the huge arts and crafts tent. Or groove to the drum circle one group of attendees sets up under one of the balcony ramps every year - performing between main stage sets.

George Duke, Al Jarreau ...>

For two days, it feels like a community unto itself. For more mainstream tastes, SPAC’s main stage amphitheatre offers the bigger names, the household names for the most part - Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, Ann Hampton Callaway, Taj Mahal, Al Jarreau and George Duke, the contemporary sax team of Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum, and the weekend closer, Gladys Knight.
Ann Hampton Callaway... >

The Gazebo stage up the hill has evolved through the years to be the up close and personal showcase for fresh talent and newer bands. It’s where you get the energizing, affirmation that jazz will be in good hands for many years to come.

There were several personal highlights among this year’s showcase opportunities at the festival’s 33rd edition:

Trio of Oz - This festival marked the North American debut of this stunning new band with drummer Omar Hakim, pianist Rachel Z and bassist Maeve Royce. You’ll hear an original dropped in here and there, and something by Nicolazzo’s old boss Wayne Shorter, but this is principally a chance to put a terrific jazz twist on rock music that has touched the players deeply – with a songbook that stretches from Alice in Chains to Coldplay, Depeche Mode, Dungen, Police and Stone Temple Pilots. The way they stretched
“King of Pain” and “Angry Chair” was fascinating. Royce’s powerful and rock-solid bass notes are the glue for Hakim and Z to dig deeper into the music.

Trumpeter Mario Abney, > who calls New Orleans and Chicago his home bases. His hard bop-rooted sextet bubbled with hip-hip energy and enthusiasm, the three-man horn line working the crowd second-line-style twice to close the Saturday Gazebo schedule - once on “Rollin” and on the encore, “When the Saints Go Marchin In” - in a set that went 20 minutes over schedule. People loved it. One woman even jumped atop a picnic table under a nearby tree to grove to the musical energy - with her hula hoop.

Hailey Niswanger, this 20-year-old saxophonist, who hails from Portland, Oregon, is the latest wunderkind to emerge from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her sound is anything but derivative. She lets her melodies breathe and is judicious in the notes she opts to play, particularly on soprano. Niswanger >> (pronounced NICE-wonger) does kick her intensity up a bit on alto. She offered her takes on Coltrane, Monk, Ornette Coleman, Ellis Marsalis and three originals. Keep your eyes and ears open. This young adventurer has also been working for the past year in the Boston-based Either/Orchestra big band.

Saxophonist JD Allen’s trio with Gregg August on bass and Rodney Green on drums. This is a rising talent with a great sound, and Saratoga offered him an upstate showcase - outside the New York club scene.

Other Gazebo treats: a chance to hear live the talented young bassist Linda Oh’s trio and Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s quartet.

On the main stage: clarinetist Evan Christopher provided a beautiful 21st century update to some historic New Orleans fare, including Tommy Ladnier’s “Mojo Blues” from 1929. Taj Mahal presented a long set of global blues and guitarist Al DiMeola added to the world music feel with his New World Sinfonia.
Evan Christopher ... >

Singer Ann Hampton Callaway put a strong jazz twist on her American Songbookfare on Chick Corea’s exotic “Spain” (lyrics by Al Jarreau) and “At Last.” Ramsey Lewis’s longstanding trio celebrated the core of his gospel and Chicago blues grounded sound.

And Juan de Marcos Gonzalez >> presented his 13-piece Afro-Cuban All Stars in a 70-minute energetic set that had many in the crowd up dancing at their seats – or in the aisles.

Monday, June 21, 2010

CDs of Note...

Art Pepper, Unreleased Art, Vol. 5: Stuttgart (Widow’s Taste)
This latest in Laurie Pepper’s series of previously unreleased Art Pepper recordings was compiled from concert material on May 25, 1981. Pepper’s quartet played Stuttgart, Germany on the 14th night of a grueling 18-city, three-week tour of Europe and the U.K. This tight and adventurous band included Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. There is nothing new here because the tour focused on Pepper’s favored material, but since it was live jazz, everything was fresh.

The highlight of this two-CD set is the band’s stunning, Pepper-dominated 11-minute version of the beautiful “Yours is My Heart Alone.” Other terrific tracks include a 23-minute exploration of Pepper’s own “Make a List (Make a Wish)” and his shift from alto to clarinet on the chestnut “Avalon.” It sounds like Pepper knew his time was running out. Every note came from the heart - and meant something, just as it should. Thirteen months after this strong musical evening, Pepper died of complications from a stroke. In addition to the great music, the CD is accompanied by Laurie Pepper’s poignant and vivid reflections on the triumphs and challenges of those three weeks on the road in Europe.

Aruan Ortiz, Alameda (Fresh Sound/New Talent)

Cuban-born pianist Aruan Ortiz newest CD is a beauty. Currently a member of trumpeter Wallace Roney’s quintet, Ortiz is featured here on seven originals plus a jazzy new take on Chopin’s “Etude No. 6, Op.10” with his own quintet. The band includes saxophonists Antoine Roney and Abraham Burton, bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Eric McPherson. My favorites: “Liz’s Flower,” “Slow Motion” and “Green City,” which features a spirited musical conversation between Roney and Burton. Ortiz shifts to Fender Rhodes for his surrealistic “Landscape of a Dry Watermelon.”

Phil Wilson and Makoto Ozone, Live!! (Capri)
It is rare when you find a duo recording that ranks as truly exceptional. This one is exceptional for its instrumentation - piano and trombone, and because it was pretty much a career-maker. Twenty-eight years after its recording and LP release, Live!! at the Berklee Performance Center has been issued as a CD. Wilson, a longtime Berklee College of Music faculty member with an adventurous musical spirit, teamed up with then-student Ozone. The pianist shows right from the get-go on this recording that he was a fully formed, highly imaginative musician even at age 21. Savor every one of its six amazing tracks, for it really introduced him to the world. Sensitivity, imagination, rambunctiousness, swing, empathy. They’re all here in large doses - from both musical partners. If you missed it the first time, you have a chance to make up for that aural transgression.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 JJA Awards kudos

Congratulations to all of this year's winners at the 14th annual Jazz Journalists Association's Jazz Awards, which many consider the jazz industry's version of the Grammys, Oscars and Tonys.

It is a wonderful jazz hang as well as a tribute. Sadly, this is one of those years when the day job kept me from attending this splendid event (Monday, June 14) in the Big Apple.

I want to spotlight the many associates - fellow scribes, photographers and publications (with whom I have had the privilege of working or contributing over the past 25+ years).

You'll find the full list of winners, starting with musicians and event producers, here.

Below are those from the journalism categories:

Periodical of the Year

Web site of the Year

Blog of the Year
Rifftides, Doug Ramsey

Best Book about Jazz
"Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original," Robin D.G. Kelley, Free Press

Best Liner Notes
The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946), by Dan Morgenstern

Photo of the Year
Tom Harrell at the Moscow International Performance Arts Center by Lena Adasheva

The Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Review and Feature Writing
Nate Chinen: The New York Times; JazzTimes

The Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting
Josh Jackson, Host of “The Checkout," “Live at the Village Vanguard," WBGO.org, Newark

The Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography
Mitchell Seidel: Hot House, JazzTimes, Down Beat, Jazz Journal International, Swing Journal, Musica Jazz; album covers.

Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism
Don Heckman: The International Review of Music, Notes from the Left Coast; the Los Angeles Times, JazzTimes; The New York Times, Village Voice, Down Beat, Metronome, the Jazz Review, liner notes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The heft of Miles

How much musical weight do you give to trumpeter Miles Davis’s 30 years of recordings for Columbia?

Everyone may have a different answer, depending on the stylistic preferences of the listener, since Davis was always a groundbreaker in pushing style and sound.

While it clearly doesn’t include everything he recorded for the label, Columbia/Legacy this fall (September 24 at last word) will release a hefty package that is likely to appeal to the compleatists among us. Even though most of those compleatists likely have many of the individual components - and much more.

It’s called The Genius of Miles Davis, a 43-CD limited-edition box set. The packaging is designed as a trumpet case, which will house all eight of the eight deluxe multi-CD box sets that have been part of the Miles Davis Series of reissues over the past 15 years. Plus an exact replica of the “Gustat” Heim 2 model mouthpiece used by Miles. Plus a previously unavailable fine art lithograph chosen by the Miles Davis Estate. Plus a boutique-quality T-shirt manufactured for this package by Trunk Ltd.

Seven of the eight deluxe CD sets will be included in their distinctive gilt-edged metal spine packaging. The eighth, The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions, was never issued with the metal spine.

The others are:

Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings

Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68: The Complete Columbia Studio RecordingsThe Complete Bitches Brew Sessions

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961

The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions

Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis 1963-1964

● The Complete On The Corner Sessions

It’s curious that Davis’s classic Plugged Nickel session is not represented. Perhaps there was no room for more in the case. This new compilation may appeal to elitist compleatists. Time will tell. While it’s not available until September 24, it can be pre-ordered at MilesDavis.com or here.

The price: $1,999.99. It’s great to see they’re keeping the price under two grand. Such a deal. Hopefully, shipping is included. Oh, and back to the weight question. The package weighs 21 pounds.

Does Columbia/Legacy have the forklifts ready? Will it need them?