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Archive for June, 2010

[image by Jos Knaepen on Flickr]

Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients of its Jazz Master Fellowship for 2011.  Among those receiving the nation’s highest honor in jazz are Hubert Laws, David Liebman, Johnny Mandel – and the Marsalis Family, marking the first time a group award has been presented in the program’s 29 years.

I’ll say this:  Wynton’s an accomplished speaker/presenter and performer, but we’re not always on the same page.  I found his record with Willie Nelson, Two Men With the Blues, to be a lively and refreshing entry into the man’s discography.  Others despised it.  More collaborations like this, please.  I’ll take it any day over Blood on the Fields or Portrait of Wynton Marsalis.

Perhaps what’s even more controversial or debatable (to some) is the programming he’s curating just a few hours north of here at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but I’m not gonna go there now…

I did have the opportunity to meet Ellis Marsalis once, and hear him perform solo at the American Jazz Museum’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, perhaps the highlight of the whole event.  An Open Letter to Thelonious is a solid record.

I also dig Branford Marsalis’ Romare Bearden Revealed, which also features brothers Delfeayo and Jason, as it thumps along nicely with tunes like Ellington’s “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue (With the Sole of My Shoe),” “Jungle Blues” and “Carolina Shout.”

Ironically, my favorite cut on the record is the one without Marsalis – or any other musicians: guitarist Doug Wamble’s solo take on “Autumn Lamp,” where he coaxes some of the most earthy, bluesy tones out of a resonator I’ve heard.

Regardless of my mixed reception of the Marsalis’ work, it’s nice to see the whole clan honored.  But they’ll have to split the $25,000 Fellowship Award five ways…but again, people aren’t in the business of jazz for the money, are they?

[see the Marsalis family take on “Struttin’ With Some BBQ” below]

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[image taken from AACM Chicago website]

Fred Anderson, owner/operator of the Velvet Lounge and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), passed away June 24 at age 81.  Thankfully, the tenor saxophonist’s mission of nurturing creativity and his devotion to developing original music will carry on through the work of the countless musicians in Chicago and beyond whom he mentored.

I first learned about Fred through my former colleague, Kansas City-based saxophonist and educator Dennis Winslett, a former ringleader at the Velvet Lounge jam sessions under Anderson’s tutelage.  Earlier this year, I reviewed 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash Live at the Velvet Lounge for popmatters.com (also viewable under ‘Published Work), in which I unleashed my affinity for alliteration when describing Anderson’s playing at his birthday gig.  Whether or not you can stomach long-form improvised pieces in the vein of this release, to quote myself, “to burn as intensely as Anderson is something for all musicians to aspire to—whether they’re 18 or 80.”

Anderson’s life and legacy will be celebrated by many.

A video interview with Fred Anderson is featured in the Chicago Tribune’s excellent tribute.    Video trailers for Fred Anderson’s 21st Century Chase and Timeless are embedded below.  NPR also posted a tribute to Anderson.

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[image swiped from jazztimes.com]

Arguably the best jazz piano couple out there, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnesappropriately married at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2007 – both boast incredible resumes, stellar recordings and a long list of notable collaborators.  While I’ve yet to see Charlap on the stage, his 2007 recording Live at the Village Vanguard was a delightful recording deserving of its Grammy nomination.

Rosnes I’ve seen live, with the SFJAZZ Collective in 2007 on their 4th Annual Concert Tour, performing the music of Thelonious Monk, which included Rosnes’ [for lack of a better word] brilliant arrangement of Monk’s “Brilliant Corners.”

The husband/wife duo’s first joint recording on Blue Note, Double Portrait, was released last week.  Simultaneously shimmering and playful, quiet and haunting, Double Portrait carries a slight air of classical in its nine tracks but also grooves gently with Brazilian rhythms.  Standouts include Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Double Rainbow,” Gerry Mulligan’s “Little Glory” and Rosnes original “The Saros Cycle.”

I’ve yet to find an EPK or video footage of the two performing together, but the couple were featured on NPR last week and on The Checkout on WBGO at the beginning of June.  I’m going to file this next to Alone in San Francisco.  Select tracks are available on Rosnes’ website.  Click on the image below.

EDIT: select tracks also available on Bill Charlap’s website.

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RP favorite Ben Harper unveiled the video this week for “The Word Suicide” off of his excellent 2009 album White Lies for Dark Times with his new band Relentless7.  Shot exclusively on a Flip camera, the occasionally dizzying video shows silhouettes and close-ups of Harper singing lyrics, bits of performance footage and scenic shots from the road, with emphasis on dark, cool colors to match the hazy, swirling tune and Harper’s trademark electrified Weissenborn.

I regret not catching Harper + R7’s appearance in Baltimore earlier this year.  They’ll be in Europe the remainder of the summer.  The two Harper concerts I saw in Kansas City (with the Innocent Criminals) were some of the best I’ve seen.  And mysteriously, about 1/2 of both concerts were played in the rain, same venue.  That’s another story…

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Derek Trucks is best heard live.  Live at Georgia Theatre never left my car in 2004 when it was released.  I was hooked on Trucks’ phenomenal slide playing and his band’s ability to seamlessly slip between rock, boogie, blues, jazz, Indian music, soul and funk.  While they contain impressive playing and sound production, the group’s studio recordings just don’t deliver the same punch.

Roadsongs, the group’s second live effort, showcases a band that’s tighter and even more powerful than the one heard on record six years ago.  The musicianship here is top-notch.  Mike Mattison’s smoky vocals provide a strong counterpoint to Trucks’ playing, and the arrangements are tightly constructed – yet also bust open at the seams at the right spots to unleash Trucks’ stinging guitar, punchy horns, sharp organ fills and groovy percussion.

The “crunchy clarity” of Trucks’ slide work, as I like to call it, is the kind of guitar playing that hits you right in the gut.  From the funky horns and organ of opener “I’ll Find My Way” and the hard-hitting soul of “Days is Almost Gone” to the 14-minute take on John Coltrane’s “Afro Blue” and the deep blues of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” Roadsongs, to steal a phrase from another Trucks album title, makes a joyful noise.

I just hope it’s not the last we hear from the Derek Trucks Band “proper.”  The bandleader has joined forces with his wife Susan Tedeschi (a top-notch guitarist/vocalist in her own right) to create a new group, retaining some of the DTB members – although I can’t imagine they’ll sound like the group heard here.  But if it is, it’s one hell of a way to go out.

Now I’m trying to decide if I’m willing to make the four-hour trip to Roanoke, VA for the Down by the River Festival, the closest gig Trucks is playing to my current location.  There’s a band called Bebop Hoedown on the bill.  Who’s not intrigued as to what that sounds like?

Stream Roadsongs in its entirety at derektrucks.com.  Roadsongs EPK + video for “Down Don’t Bother Me” included below.

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An alternative weekly (if you can really call it that) from my hometown of Kansas City, INK, reported that Kansas City hip-hop artist Tech N9ne was arrested yesterday in Lee’s Summit.  Full details on the arrest can be found via the link below.  Apparently the charge was failure to appear to face charges for hanging posters in unauthorized areas of Blue Springs.  He was picked up riding in a friend’s new Ferrari while testing its 0-to-70 abilities.

I’ll hand it to him – Tech N9ne has one of the most effective street teams out there,  even thought it may be annoying to see his face omnipresent on the streets when he’s got a new album coming out.  I remember driving around Kansas City last year and seeing posters for his then-to-be-released album, Killer, plastered on every corner – and I mean every corner.  And to take the outdoor advertising a step further – there’s nothing like driving down I-35 outside of downtown Kansas City and seeing this splashed up on a billboard.

So as not to put my toes in my teeth like my last post about Tech N9ne, I ask, what other artists in Kansas City have gone to this length to promote a new record?  Has anyone been arrested for hanging posters before?

Oh – and the way the story ends reminds me of another reason why I love my original stomping grounds in the Midwest: Culver’s ButterBurgers.  Nothing takes your mind off of an arrest like a gooey cheeseburger and custard. Read about Tech N9ne’s arrest here.

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I’m intrigued by the new release from David Karsten Daniels and Fight the Big Bull.  It’s arty and ambitious, layered and complex – but I’m drawn to the jarring arrangements and sudden detours.

Largely conceived through web correspondence and a week’s worth of in-studio rehearsal and recording, I Mean to Live Here Still sounds like a weird collision of  folk-pop in the vein of Mason Jennings and Ryan Adams with a nine-piece big band, where a muted trumpet gurgles over a roots-rock groove and a woody-toned clarinet cuts in and out of the mix.

Accessible songs like the “The Funeral Bell” and “Though All the Fates,” a gentle country shuffle peppered with New Orleans-style horns, are offset with atonal passages and strange drones woven throughout the ten tracks.

Needless to say, this disc is packed with a lot of ideas, and is bound to please some and completely baffle others.  It’s an approach worthy of further exploration.  I just hope the results are far more pleasing to the ears than Fight the Big Bull’s website is to the eyes.

Give it a listen – select tracks available now at MySpace.

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My first exposure to Robert Randolph & the Family Band came in 2002 with Live at the Wetlands. Being a guitarist myself, I was instantly hooked on Randolph’s astonishing work on the pedal steel.  Whether playing clean and soulful or dirty and bluesy,  his lightning speed on the instrument on uptempo numbers like “The March” and slow blues-burners like “Pressing My Way” was instantly gratifying, and on repeated listens, delicate nuances in Randolph’s phrasing revealed a player whose work went beyond playing high-speed scales.

I caught them live in 2005 at the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City.  Randolph pleased the guitar freaks with his frenetic fretwork, tastefully straddled the worlds of gospel, blues and flat out Hendrix-style rock, and even drove the ladies wild when he called them onstage to, well, shake their hips during “Shake Your Hips.”  Even more impressive was the band’s own take on “musical chairs” during an extended jam when each member rotated to another instrument for each chorus.

The band’s latest, We Walk This Road, comes out today.  Ben Harper guests on “If I Had My Way.”  The band also dropped by NPR’s Studio 4A on Sunday.  I really hope the reporter was joking when asking Randolph if he knew anything about Bo Diddley prior to portraying the R&B/rock ‘n roll legend in the 2008 film Who Do You Love?

Videos for “If I Had My Way” and the making of We Walk This Road are embedded below.  Stream it here.

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[image swiped from the interwebs]

I had the opportunity to catch the Pat Martino Trio at Blues Alley this month.  It was my second time seeing the master guitarist; the first was at the Blue Room in Kansas City several years ago.  I also had the good fortune to speak with Martino again prior to the show; in our first encounter, he encouraged me to keep up my guitar chops and autographed my copy of Live at Yoshi’s I offered to him; this time, he fondly recalled the Kansas City gig and thanked me for coming out to catch his set down in Georgetown, D.C.

Down to earth, always smiling and maintaining strong eye contact, Martino is a true gentleman, courteous and clean-cut, cordial and charming.  As is standard for Martino, his stage speak between songs was touching and inspirational as he expressed deep gratitude and appreciation for the audience, their attentiveness and friendly pre-show banter.  Oh – and he can play the guitar pretty well too.

He burned slow-n-low on “Round Midnight” with a tone as deep and rich as the jambalaya I devoured during the set.  “Mac Tough” barreled off the burgundy brick interior of the club at a breakneck pace, with Tony Monaco – one of the most animated musicians I’ve seen in a long time – blazing through wild B3 licks that elicited an equally fiery response from the club’s patrons.

Martino performs standing with a quiet intensity, only slightly shifting his weight back and forth while his hands gracefully sweep up and down the neck of his honey-blonde Benedetto.   As the warm tone of the instrument’s spruce and mahogany ripples out into the air, he gives simple nods to his bandmates for cues to solo and to come together for the reprise.

As the 8:00pm set ended, the audience simply wouldn’t let Martino quietly ascend to his break room upstairs; clapping of the palm-stinging variety erupted as chairs squeaked and skidded out from tables – this is the sound of a standing ovation and a plea for an encore.

Humble, reserved and appreciative for such an enthusiastic reception, he indulged and returned to the stage for one final number, paying homage to Jimmy Smith’s 1960 Blue Note LP Midnight Special with “On the Midnight Special,” a sensational soul-blues sizzler.  Under the leadership of Pat Martino, the jazz trio has never sounded better.

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*Symphony Space Live is streaming a Martino set from 2006.  While not entirely indicative of the D.C. set, it’s a clean live recording featuring a few Wes Montgomery numbers and fascinating anecdotes from the guitarist, particularly those about how he re-learned the guitar by listening to his own recordings after suffering memory loss from a brain aneurysm several decades ago.

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Those of you who know me somewhat well know that my musical tastes don’t often lean towards the hip-hop variety.  But when my older brother tipped me off to new video for “O.G.” from Kansas City-based hip-hop artist Tech N9ne, I couldn’t resist posting it here.  Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think that Gates Bar-B-Q would even get a shout-out in a track, let alone the inspiration for the title and, well, serving as the set for a video.

I beamed when I heard the lyrical nods to M-I-Z / Z-O-U and K-STATE – the former, not because of the school, but for having lived on the east side of State Line Road for a considerable amount of time, and the latter for being my alma mater and a cornerstone of family tradition. [video embedded below.]

Owner and proprietor Ollie Gates will probably be dancing like the Gates Man (what animation!) when the registers at all of the half-dozen locations in Kansas City will be as stuffed as the countless BBQ lovers and patrons’ bellies who come to chow on a Mixed Plate, a Beef-and-a-Half, or some spicy, smoky burnt ends.  This is good stuff right here.

P.S. Whaddya think, Plastic Sax?  Can Kansas City’s jazz artists answer back?

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