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Rufus Reid and His Big Band Sounds Swing at Jazz Standard

Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project, released in 2014, is the latest offering by premiere bassist Rufus Reid, but there was nothing quiet about The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid as they played selections from this Grammy nominated work.  Quiet Pride is an homage to the work of Black graphic artist, sculptor and activist Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012).  The titles of the six piece suite are all titles of works created by Catlett and Reid’s compositions and arrangements serve to be beautiful accompaniments to what are already visually stunning pieces of art.

At Jazz Standard Rufus Reid’s big band spilled off the stage and into audience. Along with Reid the band included Steve Allee tickling the piano, Vic Juris strumming the guitar, Chris Beck’s pounding the drums, Charenee Wade’ vocal styling and a reed and horn section that included 15 musicians.  Conductor Dennis Mackrel stood in front of the performers to make sure that each of them was on point.  And “on point” would be a feeble colloquialism to describe the robust, wall of sound that echoed from The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid.

They started their set with Recognition, followed by Mother and Child, Tapestry in the Sky, Singing Head and Glory. The music was so plush, so luxurious in texture, so rapturous in harmony.  Reid’s aural reimagining of Catlett’s work is as soulful and magnificent as the work itself.  I was particularly impressed with Charenee Wade; her haunting voice held its own with band and proved that voice is indeed its own instrument.  Chris Beck hit the drums like he was midway through a possession.  His drum solo was ferocious and had me clapping my hands and stomping my feet.

Artists often inspire other artists.  Quiet Pride is sure to spark many imaginations.  I thought The Big Band Sound of Rufus Reid was a beautiful ending to February and Black History Month at Jazz Standard.  One legend recognizing another with the timeless language of music – doesn’t get any better than that.

Photo: rufusreid.com

Ravi Coltrane

A Legacy Supreme, Ravi Coltrane at Jazz Standard

Few jazz artists have the legacy of Ravi Coltrane.  To say jazz is in his blood is an understatement; he is jazz royalty.  His father, John Coltrane, created the quintessential jazz opus with Love Supreme and is actually a saint.  His mother, Alice Coltrane, was a jazz pianist, composer, harpist and organist who led her own band and accompanied her husband.

Extending the legacy given to him by his parents, Ravi is an accomplished post-bop saxophonist.  Since 1998 he has released six albums as a band leader, the last being Spirit Fiction in 2012 on Blue Note along with dozens of appearances as a sideman on various artists’ albums ranging from Steve Coleman to Flying Lotus.  He is also the co-owner of RKM Music.

Although this winter has been one of the harshest in recent history, Coltrane’s appearance at Jazz Standard got February started on a smooth, sublime note.    The Ravi Coltrane Quintet, comprised of Coltrane on tenor sax, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Aaron Parks on piano, Bob Hurst on bass and Jeff “Train” Watts on drums, were featured at Jazz Standard from February 3-8.  The set included five numbers; the first was Ornette Coleman’s Bird Food.  The second was Word Order from Coltrane’s 2000 album From the Round Box.  The third was a piece titled Between Lines.  The set concluded with For Turiya a piece written for Alice Coltrane and Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners with arrangements by Jeff Watts.   The Ravi Coltrane Quintet played the role of shamen.  They enchanted us with soothing, intricate layers of melody.  Hearing Coltrane live with the accompaniment of Parks, Hurst, Alessi and Watts was magical.  Overall it was like a hot toddy on a frosty night – warm, soothing with just the right dose of kick courtesy of Watts’ arrangement of Brilliant Corners.  It swung with a bit of a hip hop beat and would make a perfect sample.  As for Coltrane, he has successfully carried the legacy of his family all while carving a lane for himself.  He has truly earned the moniker “renaissance man.”

Most clubs don’t live up to the illustrious names that their owners bequeath to them.  Jazz Standard is the exception, it is the prototype of what jazz spot should be – intimate, comfortable and filled with melody.  Located at 116 East 27th Street, any jazz buff can walk down a flight of stairs and treat themselves to a plate of barbeque and night of legendary talent and the best new artisans of jazz.

 

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Fifty Years of a Masterpiece – Azar Lawrence Quartet Pays Homage to A Love Supreme At Jazz Standard

“No matter what…it is with God.  He is gracious and merciful.  His way is in love, through which we all are.  It is truly – a love supreme.” – John Coltrane.  On December 9, 1964 the John Coltrane Quartet, consisting of John Coltrane on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums visited the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs to record one of the most influential, brilliant concept albums ever recorded.  That album was A Love Supreme.

A Love Supreme was recorded in a single session and is considered Coltrane’s most seminal work.  It is poetic, a sermon and a testimony translated into a magnificent aural feast that inspires the most rapturous emotions about God, spirituality and enlightenment.   To listen to A Love Supreme can be inspiring and life changing; it’s the type of work most artists strive to achieve, not matter the medium, but are lucky if they get remotely close to.  Coltrane died almost three years after this recording at the age of 40.  He never got to witness how this opus impacted the music world, but I feel safe in saying that Coltrane’s autobiography and legacy was summed up in this piece.  For me it was the musical equivalent to the “Big Bang Theory” – a melodic explosion that created an alternate universe where I was able to explore and gain a deeper understanding of the world in which our bodies reside. In other words, A Love Supreme was an introduction to the metaphysical plane here on Earth.

Jazz StandardIt has been 50 years since Coltrane and company recorded A Love Supreme in Englewood, New Jersey, and its relevance is just as potent today as it was back in the 1960s.  In recognition of this important contribution to jazz and American music, Jazz Standard enlisted saxophone virtuoso Azar Lawrence to celebrate the creation and recording of this masterpiece.  The Azar Lawrence Quartet includes Benito Gonzalez on piano, Billy Hart on drums and Reggie Workman, who worked with Coltrane, on bass. The celebration was over two nights, December 9 and 10, and was a fitting tribute to this piece.  Coltrane once said, “God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it… yet, it is our everything.”  It’s evident that the most high was present during the recording of A Love Supreme and the spirit of Coltrane was at Jazz Standard when the Azar Lawrence Quartet performed selections from this work.  These men breathed passion into a work that is already filled with emotion.  They were awe-inspiring.  I fell deeper in love with this work, if it’s possible to do so.  They played the house down and it was one of the best tributes I have been privileged to witness with my own eyes.  The vibrations could be felt in every corner of the room.  I believe we all left feeling connected.  Thank you John Coltrane for creating a work that will last as long as human history exists.  And thank you to Jazz Standard and the Azar Lawrence Quartet for allowing us to rejoice in a work and an artist that used his abilities to uplift humankind.

 

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Sejong Soloists Hits Two High Notes with One Event

This year Sejong Soloists had two very important milestones to celebrate, 2014 marked their 20th anniversary and the 70th birthday for artistic director Hyo Kang.  On October 28, Sejong Soloists took the stage of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for their annual benefit concert. Emmy award-winning journalist Paula Zahn returned for her 12th season as host for the event and joined the string orchestra on stage playing cello as they performed, “Serenade Humoristique a l’ espangnole.”

The Sejong Soloists is the brainchild of Kang conceiving the idea of a conductor-less string orchestra.  In 1994, Kang invited 11 young, gifted musicians from across the globe, all of whom were attending Julliard School, in order to develop and mentor the newly formed ensemble.  Kang himself was a violin faculty member at Julliard at the time and through his mentorship, the young string players and many others, who have taken part in the ensemble during the past two decades, have been able to forge relationships with composers, become rising stars themselves and have entertained hundreds with their sublime musicality and bowing showmanship.

During the gala concert Sejong Soloists performed works from Bach, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, as well as J. Hyun, Carlos Franzetti, Hal Leonard and Pablo de Sarasate. On stage Sejong Soloists were joined by violin virtuosos Gil Shaham, Adele Anthony, Yura Lee, David Chan, Catherine Cho and Chee-Yun to perform various solos throughout the concert, each adding another wonderful layer of depth and fullness to the overall performance.   Those who were in attendance witnessed a spectacular that was as stunning to the eyes as it was to the ears.  The physicality of the performers truly demonstrated the passion that was coming through their instruments.  If this was an Olympic competition, Sejong Soloists would receive nothing but 10s across the board.  Technically they exhibited a tonality that was rich with various levels of sound.  It was amazing to hear how the sound completely filled the stage and the hall itself.  At no point did the music seem sparse; it flowed from the stage in waves and felt larger than the ensemble that had gathered on stage.  The achievement of Sejong Soloists’ big sound can only be attributed to the guidance of Hang as well as their enormous talent.  This string orchestra is certainly one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I’ve had in a while.

Sejong Soloists is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization.  The annual gala concert provides an opportunity for lovers and neophytes of classical music to experience the next luminaries of this genre as well as to honor the tireless effort of those who assist in growing this exceptional artistic organization.   To learn more about Sejong Soloists or to make a donation, please visit, http://www.sejongsoloists.org/.

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Jazz Standard Brings the Heat to Fall with the Terence Blanchard Quintet

Nothing can warm up a cool autumn night in NYC like a plate of barbeque, a glass of wine and the sound of live jazz.  With Jazz Standard, you’re guaranteed a night of good food and good music.  Located at 116 East 27th Street, Jazz Standard is one the nation’s premier jazz clubs.  Each month they offer an array of legendary and new talent in an intimate candlelit setting.   This month they started off with the Terence Blanchard Quintet.  In my book Blanchard’s music is the secret ingredient that takes Spike Lee’s films to another level.  Blanchard’s horn can also be heard in the 2001 movie Original Sin.

TBQ4From October 1-5 the Terence Blanchard Quintet enraptured patrons of Jazz Standard with selections off his latest album Magnetic  as well as other selections composed by members of the quintet and other pieces from past albums.  The quintet is comprised of virtuoso Blanchard on the trumpet, veteran Brice Winston on saxophone and upcoming stars Joshua Crumbly on bass, Fabian Almazan on piano and Justin Brown on drums. I was privileged to be in the audience for Blanchard’s last two sets on Sunday.  Both sets were as electrifying as the name of Blanchard’s latest album starting off with an energetic, toe tapping piece, then following up with a more down tempo, melodic number and ending the set on a beautiful, robust note (pun intended).

TBQ3Along with the Terence Blanchard Quintet, Jazz Standard’s features for October include Steve Wilson Quintet, James Carter’s “Django Unchained,” and Edmar Castaneda World Ensemble.  Every Monday belongs to the music of Charles Mingus.  Billed “Mingus Monday,” the regular series presents the genius innovations that made Charles Mingus one of jazz most prolific bassists and composers.  It doesn’t matter whether your jazz exposure has been Kenny G or if you’re lifetime member to WBGO, you’ll be thoroughly entertained at Jazz Standard.  The mix of artists proves why jazz is one of the last true art forms to come out of America and why this music must be preserved and continued for future generations.

To learn more about Jazz Standard, click www.jazzstandard.com.

To learn more about the Terence Blanchard Quintet and view more photos and purchase music, click http://www.terenceblanchard.com/, https://www.facebook.com/TerenceBlanchardJazz .

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F.A.M.E NYC Remembers Lou Reed

My earliest memory of Lou Reed was hearing his music and saying, “I wanna write like that.” His voice…his poetry – it’s artistic perfection.  When I heard of Lou Reed’s passing, I was devastated.  We want our artistic heroes to be immortal but our flesh doesn’t work that way.  It wrinkles, it ages, it fades and dies.  Thankfully we have his music, brimming with energy and moments accompanied by sound. I would like to share some of my favorite Lou Reed songs.  After all his music tells his story better than I ever could.  RIP Lou Reed!

Photo: Getty

 

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Crossroads Comes To NYC

A tidal is wave is coming, filled with rock and roll and blues.  This swell has some of the greatest guitar players of all time and it’s due to hit today.  This weekend Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 will fill Madison Square Garden with 30 legendary guitarists.  The lineup includes BB King, Allman Brothers, Los Lobos, Jeff Beck, Keith Urban, Buddy Guy, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Jimmie Vaughn, Vince Gill, John Mayer, Eric Clapton and more.

This is a guitar lover’s dream, but you don’t have to dream to envision these awesome groups of guitarists playing side by side tickets are still available.  Proceeds go to The Crossroads Centre, Antigua.  Clapton founded the 32-bed center in 1977.  Located on the island of Antigua, The Crossroads Centre was created to provide quality, affordable treatment for alcohol and other drug dependencies. 

To purchase tickets, http://www.crossroadsguitarfestival.com/.

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Nicki Minaj Premieres “High School” On MTV

Hate her or love her, Nicki Minaj certainly has the right to crown herself the “Queen of hip hop”.  She has completed feats that no female rap artist ever has and the 30-year-old “Starships” rapstress is only two albums in the game.  Personally, I like to refer to her as the Joan of Arc of hip hop.  But I digress, yesterday she premiered her new video for “High School” on MTV and I don’t know about you FAMERS, but this ain’t like the high school I went to.  The video also featured some racy scenes between Minaj and Lil Wayne.

So without further ado….

Photo: Young Money

Video:  YouTube.com

12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief Top Event for 2012

Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi

December 12, 2012 was an auspicious occasion for myriad reasons.  One of them being the 12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief in Madison Square Garden and it ranks as the top event that occurred in NYC in 2012.  The enormities of Superstorm Sandy were catastrophic to say the least.  The beloved Jersey shore…Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island and its residents will feel the effects for years to come, but for one night the tri-state area stood defiant and proud, armed with the knowledge that not even Mother Nature could hold us down – we are too resilient.

The celebrities that donated their time for this event was mindboggling, between the legends that manned the phones and performed on stage The 12/12/12 Concert for Sandy Relief boasted more star power than those hovering in the Milky Way.  Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen showed the world just what it means to be “Jersey Strong”, Alycia Keys and Billy Joel represented The Big Apple with timeless musical gems and Adam Sandler represented us all with a big “Screw ya” to Sandy.  Pair that with the likes of The Who, Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney, Chris Martin, Michael Stipe and Led Zepplin and you have one concert for the ages, The Garden has hosted many legendary nights, but 12/12/12 was an evening that  rocked the roof off the theater and will be a hard event to top.

Billions are needed to restore these neighborhoods to what they once were; the families affected by Superstorm Sandy still need our assistance.  To donate please visit, http://www.robinhood.org/rhsandy, http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy .

Photo: AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca

 

 

 

 

Alycia Keys Top Artist for 2012

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Ms. Keys (or should I say Mrs. Swizz Beatz) career has been sizzling ever since she dropped her first studio album, Songs in A Minor, in 2001.  Eleven years later, her blaze still smolders and now she is declaring that the girl is on fire, literally.  On November 27, 2012 Keys released her fifth studio album Girl on Fire.  The Hell’s Kitchen native is always in an “Empire State of Mind” and is NYC through and through.  Her songs are a source of inspiration for many.  There could’ve been no better choice to close the 12/12/12 concert at The Garden than Alycia Keys.  Philanthropist, mother, wife, actor, composer, musician, ravishing beauty…looks like her star will continue to burn bright in 2013.  Flame on!

Photo: Michelangelo Di Battista