Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pat Martino Trio

The Pat Martino Trio
Scullers Jazz Club
Boston, MA
May 14, 2010

Boston has reason to be in good spirits: The Celtics beat the Cavaliers, summer is just around the corner, and the music scene is still alive and cooking. On Friday, May 14, the Pat Martino Trio featuring Tony Monaco on organ and Jason Brown on drums came out swinging hard to an appreciative, albeit modest sized crowd at Scullers Jazz Club. They played standards and original compositions from the hard bop era. Tony Monaco's fiery lines were as animated as his facial features. Think Jimmy Smith the organist meets Merlin the wizard and you can picture the electrifying notes he conjured up from the organ. Pat Martino sounded very much the polished and well-seasoned veteran player he has come to be known as and Jason Brown swung his ass off. Speaking of swinging, maybe the Red Sox will take charge of the Tigers tonight, then Boston could really rejoice.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gary Burton’s Arrival: Celebrating 50 Years

April 8, 2010
Berklee Performance Center
Boston, MA

When was the last time you saw a concert that featured Gary Burton, Mick Goodrick, Abe Laboriel, Harry Blazer, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Antonio Sanchez, Tiger Okoshi, Jim Odgren, Donny McCaslin, Makoto Ozone, Julian Lage, Vadim Neselovskyi, Luques Curtis, James Williams, and Chick Corea? Unless you were at the Berklee Performance Center on Thursday, August 8, the answer is never.

Billed as “Gary Burton’s Arrival: Celebrating 50 Years,” the sold out performance in Boston featured four groups that Gary has lead throughout his career, as well as a special surprise encore with Chick Corea. Highlights from the evening included Antonio Sanchez’s burning drum solo on the Steve Swallow composition “Como en Vietnam,” Donny McCaslin’s crowd roaring sax solo on the Keith Jarrett/Makoto Ozone medley “Coral/Test of Time,” Julian Lage’s incredibly dynamic and well phrased solo on his own composition entitled “Early,” and both Gary and Chick’s playing on their encore featuring the Chick Corea composition “La Fiesta.” The evening went by way too quickly and it is a testament to Gary’s flawless programming and band leading skills that such an event was pulled off without so much as a minor glitch in the projector screen.

Gary Burton has won 6 Grammy Awards and has produced over 60 records as a leader. In 1985 he became dean of curriculum at Berklee College of Music and served as executive vice present from 1996 – 2004. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of music in 1989. But it is Gary Burton the bandleader who has ultimately influenced thousands of musicians and fans alike. In this respect he stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest bandleaders this genre has known including Art Blakey and Miles Davis. Indeed, many of today’s current top performers have been part of the house that Gary built. Musicians such as Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Larry Coryell, Bob Moses, Keith Jarrett, and Chick Corea have all appeared in some form or another with Gary. Recently a new generation of players including Julian Lage, Vadim Neselovskyi, Luques Curtis, and James Williams have toured and recorded as part of Gary Burtons Next Generation Quintet.

Toward the end of the evening, Gary approached the microphone and announced, “We began rehearsing for this last night and it was like watching my life flash before my eyes.” This truly was a once in a lifetime event that honored a man whose creative output permeates every aspect of his life and those around him. One can only imagine what the next 50 year will produce.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Keith Jarrett Trio, Live at Boston Symphony Hall, Sunday, October 26, 2008

The program notes to the Keith Jarrett trio at Boston Symphony Hall on Sunday, October 26, read more like an encyclopedia entry than a biography. From 1980-1992, Jack DeJohnette was voted “Best Drummer” in the DownBeat Readers Poll Awards for an unprecedented 13 years. In 1989 Keith Jarrett was given the highest honor the French nation can bestow upon an artist when he was elected an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. Never mind how many DownBeat awards he has received (easily over a dozen), in 2003 the King of Sweden awarded Jarrett the Polar Music Prize. As a trio, DeJohnette, Jarrett, and bassist Gary Peacock have been nominated for five Grammies, the Gold Disc Award in 2000 and 2003 from Japan’s Swing Journal, and the Choc des Chocs Award (France’s Jazzman Magazine) from 2000-2003.

The recognition is due to the fact that the players in this trio (currently on their 25th Anniversary tour) have altered the history of jazz by influencing many generations to come. Sunday night it was Jarrett’s masterful melodic conception, Peacock’s ability to marry rhythm and harmony, and DeJohnette’s intrepid and linear sense of time that evoked 3 encores. Yes, the audience demanded the players back onstage for a 4th encore. Yes, Jarrett yelled at fans not respecting his policy on pictures. Yes, Jarrett walked off abruptly and probably alienated himself from first time concertgoers. The fact remains however, that this highly decorated trio is one of the most important groups in jazz.

Speaking directly to the audience, Jarrett began the concert Sunday evening by sincerely thanking them for their support over the years. At one point he even told a funny story about the longevity of their set list. Here he made reference to a tune he had been meaning to call for the past 25 years. Addressing the audience again he remarked, “Its just a song, right? Not really.” With this intense focus to each song, the trio allows the music to shape itself into a new story every time. This is why they have continued to play standards for over a quarter century. The concert began with “On Green Dolphin Street.” Jarrett’s piano introduction bared little resemblance to the evocative introduction on the 1994 ECM, “At The Blue Note: The Complete Recordings” version. This version felt tame by comparison.

Ballads in particular showcase the trio’s sensitivity. “When I Fall In Love ” is a favorite that appeared Sunday night as the first in a series of 3 encores. It was recorded on the 1999 ECM live album, “Whisper Not,” and the opening notes were met with enthusiastic applause. For the 3rd and ultimately final encore, a burning rendition of “Straight No Chaser” afforded DeJonette a long solo opportunity where he proved once again how melodic the drums can be.

In 2005 the British producer/director Mike Dibb released Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation. The DVD offers a candid glimpse into Jarrett’s reclusive world. There is also an extended interview with DeJohnette and Peacock where they offer insight to the music making process. Says DeJonette, “What we do as a trio is we have a canvas in front of us and you know intuitively…this goes in. The thought process and the intuitive process all happen in that one action.” Expanding on this concept Peacock remarks, “First the music enters us…the music’s telling us what to play.” Referring to their first encounter as a trio Jarrett says, “What struck me was the youthfulness of the playing, and we’re not that young! What I was hearing in the playing was this bypassing that whole truth.” Sunday night the players could be seen smiling and laughing as though this was their first encounter together.

Says Jarrett, “Music is a result of a process the musician’s going through, especially if he’s creating it on the spot.” For the Keith Jarrett trio it is the infinite combination of playing experience, emotion, and life that form the kindling to their unique improvisational flare and every performance reveals yet another truth to the process.

Check out the trio playing "My Funny Valentine," recorded live in Tokyo on March 30, 1996

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You are wrong Billy!

The November 2008 issue of JazzTimes features drummer Billy Cobham in the "Before & After" column. While I fully respect Mr. Cobham's prolific output and contribution to modern music, he made a comment that will no doubt fuel great discussion and opinion. Let me be the first to rant.

In an effort to accurately frame the comment, I will make sure readers understand its context. Mr. Cobham was played "Abracadabra" by Cindy Blackman. Upon learning who was playing, Mr. Cobham replied, "She should know better than that. But Tony's days are long gone. That was his Achilles heel. He did not play listening to people, he played louder and louder. He had a record called Ego, and that was his big problem, not listening...When he was with Miles it was about, hey, we've got a 17-year-old brat here playing drums and he's got this new idea. At every other station was an extremely disciplined musician. And along comes this brash young person that could be marketed and they put him in the limelight, when, in fact, he had great ideas but he hadn't been able to really mold them yet." I want to focus this entry on the part about a young Tony Williams not listening to people and not being able to mold great ideas.

The first time I heard Tony Williams was on the track "Seven Steps to Heaven," from the 1963 Columbia recording of the same name. Tony was 17 at this time. Let me ask Mr. Cobham a rhetorical question: "Mr. Cobham, have you heard this recording?" Tony's playing on this particular track immediately rejects your comment that Tony "had great ideas but he hadn't been able to really mold them yet." On the contrary. His timekeeping behind Miles is amazing for someone 17, not to mention most recordings up to this time period. Miles takes 4 choruses. Check out what Tony does just before going into the bridge of chorus 1. He perfectly compliments Miles' quarter-note, quarter-note, eight-note, eight-note, tied eight-note phrasing in classic call and response fashion. How about Tony's set up into the top of chorus 4? His snare chatter fits evenly between Miles' notes just before climaxing to a big downbeat at the top of the form. How can he play these idea's if he is not 100% tuned into what Miles is playing?

Another great example of Tony's listening and ability to mold what he is hearing is his interplay with Herbie Hancock. Their hookup at the end of Wayne Shorter's first chorus is priceless. It is completely subtle and appropriate. By the end of Shoter's 3rd and final chorus, Tony and Herbie sound more like one being operating 2 instruments simultaneously. Again, superb listening is at work.

In Michelle Mercer's, Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter describes Tony's playing with the Miles Davis Quintet when he says, "Tony could sound like Max Roach or Art Blakey or Philly Joe Jones in any given second. Freedom was when any one of these five people in the group could immediately identify that and jump to that page in their book. That's freedom for me, to have that kind of musical awareness, where the ego is not part of the music."

It is that kind of musical awareness that made Tony so successful at a remarkably young age. Forgive me if I have offended or misinterpreted you in anyway Mr. Cobham. That was not my intention. Instead, I have tried to make a concise and intelligent response aimed at forcing readers to investigate and interpret for themselves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Roy Hargrove Quintet Live at Scullers

Friday October 3, 2008
Scullers, Boston

Roy Hargrove's focus for his latest album and Emarcy debut, Earfood, is "to have a recording that is steeped in tradition and sophistication, while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity.” On Friday night the nod to tradition was obvious. Hargroves playing style was reminiscent of Clifford Brown. Combined with the Cannonball inspired solos of Justin Robinson, the quintet sounded like a modern version of the classic Max Roach/Clifford Brown recordings of the 1950's. On Friday night, the band included Hargrove on trumpet, Justin Robinson on alto, Alan Palmer on piano, Danton Boller on bass, and Montez Coleman on drums.

The first set featured a mix of originals from Earfood as well as the usual standards including "Blues by 5." For this tune, Boston trombonist Andre Haywood shared the stage and had the audience cheering. On Hargrove's ballad composition "Rouge," the musicians showed great sensitivity and dynamics.

Says Hargrove, "People are turning a deaf ear to jazz. Some of that is the fault of jazz musicians trying too hard to appear to be cerebral. They aren't having fun playing the music and that's why people aren't coming to hear it live anymore." During the first set it was obvious that the musicians were having fun.

With a solid set, standing ovation, and an eager audience cheering for more, the musicians left the stage on a high note. Sadly, they managed to leave with the energy as well. Set 2 was far less polished. While it was unique to hear Hargrove sing the Livingston/Evans standard "Never Let Me Go," gone was the hardbop tradition and excitement of each tune from the first set. Montez Coleman's extended drum solo on Monk's classic "Rhythmaning" was, however, a redeeming highlight.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Beantown Jazz Festival went down the drain

Saturday, September 27th, 2008 was scheduled to be the 8th annual "Beantown Jazz Festival." The Berklee College of Music sponsored event included Javon Jackson, Walter Beasley, Kurt Elling, James Carter, and Ralph Peterson, among others. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side. At the last minute, I checked the festival's website to confirm the performance schedule when I saw a banner across the top of the site explaining that all events for Saturday had been canceled. Will next year be billed as the 9th annual Beantown Jazz Festival or will it still be the 8th?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Dave Holland Sextet, Live at the Regattabar, Boston

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Dave Holland Sextet recently performed for 3 nights at the Regattabar. The first set drew a strong crowd who had come to see the bassist perform music from his new CD, "Pass it On." The group featured alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and drummer Eric Harland. (On the new recording, pianist Mulgrew Miller replaces Steve Nelson).

Opening up the set was the composition, "Eb and Flow," which featured straight-eighth note playing and well executed horn arrangements. This was followed by "Lazy Snake," a slow blues tune in which Alex Sipiagin dazzled the crowed with impressive chops.

Antonio Hart brought the room to elation on Hollands tune, "Rivers Run." This freely inspired composition was dedicated to Sam Rivers, with whom Holland had often played with in the 70's. Drummer Eric Harland took an extended solo as well, which had both audience members as well as band mates cheering.

The Dave Holland Sextet is scheduled to finish the month of September in San Francisco and Oakland before returning to New York's Birdland in October.