Jazz Standard Beats Out Winter with Kendrick Scott Oracle

With the final days of winter creeping to a close, Jazz Standard ushers in spring with sounds of Kendrick Scott Oracle.  The quintet is comprised of Mike Moreno on guitar, John Ellis on sax,  Matt Penman on bass, Taylor Eigsti on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums.  The two sets featured selections his 2013 CD titled Conviction, released on his World Culture Music label.  The first set was extremely melodic providing soothing, danceable grooves that one might hear at Club Shelter on Sunday in the early afternoon.  The second set was up-tempo, lively and was propelled by Scott’s driving percussion.  Although some of the music performed was composed by other members in Oracle, all of it showcased the superb backbeat of master drummer Kendrick Scott.  Ancients looked to oracles to predict the future, music in so many ways show where we are and where we are heading.  With Kendrick Scott Oracle the prediction is passionate playing equals good music.

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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

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.

 

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.

 

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 .

Masters at Work, The Ailey-Ellington Connection

When producers Kenny “Dope” Gonzales and Louie Vega formed Masters at Work in 1990, they proceeded to create a catalog that contains some of house music’s most recognizable classics.  Such is the case when two great creative minds come together to collaborate.  It seemed that from the time Alvin Ailey hit the streets of The Big Apple in 1954, he and Duke Ellington’s paths were destined to meet.  Both he and Ellington were born in different areas of the country but had come to New York City to pursue their art, although by the time young Ailey had arrived, Ellington had already cemented his legacy as a jazz virtuoso.  However, it didn’t take long for Ailey to begin to carve a name for himself in the world of dance.  With pieces like “Revelations” and “Blues Suite”, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which was formed in 1958, quickly became a sensation in the modern dance scene.  Like Ellington, Ailey was known for a unique style infusing ballet, Horton, jazz and African dance  techniques.  Also like Ellington, Ailey lifted his art above the grouping of race which allowed his work to be recognized as an American art form the world over.

AAADT's Demetia Hopkins in Alvin Ailey's The River.  Photo by Paul KolnikIn 1970, Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington’s paths finally met.  American Ballet Theater commissioned Ailey to create “The River”.  The ballet was the first collaboration between Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington.  Ailey would again refer to Ellington’s music when he created “Night Creature” in 1974 and “Pas de Duke” in 1976.  For the 2013 season, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater paid homage to these late geniuses and their collaborations by premiering new productions of “The River” and “Pas de Duke” at the New York City Center.  Along with the first season’s performance of “Night Creature” and Ailey’s most seminal work, “Revelations”, the debut of these works was an evening of remembrance, revelry and appreciation for beauty, physicality and style in motion.

AAADT weaves athleticism and artistry so seamlessly that it takes the medium of dance to another level.  Visually stunning and always breathtaking to behold, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater never fail to provide its audience with the most soul-stirring shows they will ever see.  It is where perfection and performance meet.  This sentiment simply radiates through “The River”, a work that utilizes the entire company and is as moving, fierce and romantic as its namesake.   With the accompaniment of Duke Ellington’s score driving this piece forward, the love Ailey had for dance is truly exhibited.  The way in which he carefully blended classical ballet elements together with modern techniques is nothing short of masterful.    “The River” is energetic; it rolls and sweeps the audience in its majesty.  It is a living example of the brilliance of these two men.

AAADT's Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's Pas de Duke.  Photo by Paul Kolnik“Pas de Duke” was first created for Ailey’s muse Judith Jamison and ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov. Black and white, modern versus ballet, Eve and Adam, “Pas de Duke” is witty, flirtatious, sophisticated and utterly charming.  Ailey must of thought of the song “Anything You Can Do” when he choreographed this piece.

Alvin_Ailey_American_Dance_Theater_in_Alvin_Ailey_s_Night_Creature._Photo_by_Krautbauer_2_As one of the children of the night, I have always had a fondness for those who skulk down sidewalks, saunter into nightclubs and compete with colored spotlights for the glory of a night filled with sweat and velocity. On many occasions, I have been one of them creating new realities on the dance floor.  Ellington said, “Night creatures, unlike stars, do not come out at night, they come on.”  I would say they come out to be alive, alive in a way they can’t be when the sun is shining.  Alvin Ailey’s “Night Creature” is overflowing with life.  The company slinks, leaps and struts with authority.  It defines the sumptuous nightlife that New York City is known for.

AAADT_in_Alvin_Ailey_s_Revelations._Photo_by_Christopher_DugganThere can be no better end to an evening with AAADT than “Revelations”.  It is the work that Alvin Ailey is most known for and definitely on the top my list. Seeing Alvin Ailey’s choreography paired with Duke Ellington’s music gave me a few revelations of my own.  There is no debate why the majority of their works are regarded as masterpieces.  I would liken the Ailey-Ellington collaborations to an artistic atom bomb – an explosion of epic scale whose far reaching effects have spanned over generations.

Photos: Paul Kolnik, Christopher Duggan, Gert Krautbauer

Lady Day Illuminates The Little Shubert Theatre

I always knew that Broadway was haunted. Apparitions of playwrights, producers, actors and famous characters skulk around theaters and are as eternal as the neon lights that electrify the Great White Way.  Each season we are revisited with the ghosts of productions past, but this fall two New York City theaters are being visited by the spirits of iconic vocalists past.  On Broadway, Janis Joplin and her musical influences rock The Lyceum Theatre from floor to roof, and Off-Broadway the music of one of her influences is receiving its day.   Lady Day, the musical about Billie Holiday, provides its audience with a stunning visual and aural lesson in tragedy and triumph.

hc-billie-holiday-20131023Anyone who has seen or read Lady Sings the Blues knows the calamitous story of Billie Holiday’s life.  Overflowing with agonizing memories, abusive men and addiction, the pain Holiday experienced habitually showed in various aspects of her life – most often in her music.  Her sound carried listeners through the valleys of the blues transforming agony into musical ecstasy.  You don’t just hear Billie Holliday…you feel Billie Holiday, and that essence is fabulously represented in this production.

Lady Day is an overwhelming emotional tribute to the legacy of Billie Holiday.  The musical takes place at a theater in London.  Billie Holiday and her band are playing the final leg of her European tour.  The first act consists of the rehearsal and the second act is the show.  Woven between 25 of Holliday’s most famous songs is the recounting of her troubled life.  Through music Billie tries to fight the demons haunting her in rehearsal, but winds up still fighting them during the show – something I suspect that happened repeatedly during her brief life.  As Billie exposes her scars, the audience bears witness to an unflinching portrait of pain, but it is how her hurt is translated into song that makes this production shine – each song helps to build the story.  Like Billie Holiday’s music, this production burrows underneath the skin and lingers in the pit of your gut.

lady_dayThe success of this musical is largely due to the performance of Grammy-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater.  She plays the role of Billie Holiday as if she is possessed and her voice is spot-on.  I have never heard anyone capture the timbre of Lady Day as she has.  Bridgewater is simply amazing; you won’t be able take your eyes off of her.  And you won’t soon forget Lady Day the musical.  All artists are tasked with the frightening aspect of revealing their souls to the scrutiny of the masses, but there is something in the way a jazz musician does it that is undeniably raw and palpable.  Billie Holiday’s voice was an instrument that could rival the bent notes and artistry of any of the jazz greats.  She was the voice of her time.  Her influence can still be heard in singers today.

A good story and good music will always yield promising results.  It is as simple as saying one plus one equals two.  At The Little Shubert Theatre, the life of Billie Holiday (which includes her music) and the brilliant showcasing of Holliday’s work (courtesy of Dee Bridgewater) make for compelling theater and two good reasons to see this show.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

59E59 Theaters Gets Jazzy with The Anderson Twins

59E59 Theaters is known for bringing downtown theatre to the upper East side.  Sometimes provocative, but always inventive, productions playing at 59E59 never cease to showcase the unbridled potential of Off-Broadway theater.  Future jazz maestros The Anderson Twins are no strangers to 59E59 Theaters, once headlining every Thursday evening at the theaters’ bar.  And this fall they are starring in their own production recreating the music of The Dorsey Brothers in The Anderson Twins Play The Fabulous Dorseys!

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were jazz musicians and fronted their own band, The Dorsey Brothers, until they fell out in 1935, disbanding their group and pursuing their own musical endeavors.  The brothers reunited the band in 1945, made a biopic about their lives and had their own TV series.  During the late 1920s and early 1930s, The Dorsey Brothers were among the most sought-after musicians in New York City.   Tommy Dorsey died in 1956, with Jimmy Dorsey passing away in 1957.  The Dorsey Brothers are still considered two of the most influential jazz artists and band leaders of the Big Band and Swing era.

Playing at venues such as The Blue Note and Lincoln Center, twins Pete and Will Anderson have already cemented a name for themselves in the jazz scene.  Just like The Dorsey Brothers, The Anderson Twins have been playing since they were small children.  And as leaders of their own sextet, they are the perfect candidates to bring story of The Dorsey Brothers to a stage.

The Anderson Twins Play The Fabulous Dorseys!  is an exciting mixture of mixed media, showcasing the best and worst of The Dorsey Brothers.  The Anderson Twins provide dialogue and the soundtrack as snippets of the film The Fabulous Dorseys tell the story of The Dorsey Brothers musical beginnings, rise as musicians and band leaders as well as how sibling rivalry kept them at odds since they were kids and ultimately led to the disbanding of the group at the height of their fame.   The true star of this production is the music, which are not only jazz classics, but American standards.  The theater is set up like a club complete with tables and patrons are allowed to bring in their drinks.  Even if one was unfamiliar with the music of that era, they will still appreciate the wonderful live show of The Anderson Twins Sextet.  Whether you are a jazz buff or novice, anyone that loves to hear music from real musicians will enjoy this production.  I found it to be extremely entertaining.

Photos:  Lynn Redmile

The Best of Cy Coleman on Display on Off-Broadway

The word legend is almost too small of a term to describe Cy Coleman and his epic talent.  By the time he turned six, the Bronx native, born Seymour Kaufman, was considered a prodigy and had graced the stages of Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall.  The Cy Coleman Trio was an extremely popular club attraction and completed numerous recordings.  Cy could have become a maestro in either the classical or jazz scenes, but it was popular music and Broadway that reaped the benefits of his genius.  Never one to be put in box, Cy collaborated with some of the best lyricists in the history of American music to create classics that were featured in Hollywood, The Great White Way and the small screen and garnered Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards.   Cy was a vital creative force in the theatre world and was not one to let grass grow under his feet.  When Cy passed away at age 75 in 2004 from cardiac arrest, he was preparing for an engagement at a Manhattan club.

Six years after his death, the eastside welcomes a phenomenal piece of musical theatre that pays homage to a phenomenal man.  The Best Is Yet to Come: the Music of CY Coleman is currently playing at 59E59 Theatres and consists of standards, musical numbers and previously unreleased material from this extraordinary musician.  One the best elements of a musical is the music and lyrics; The Best Is Yet To Come showcases great music without the potential of boiler plate dialogue and trite choreography.  The show features well known songs like “Witchcraft,” “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” as well as music that the audience may not have known was part of Cy’s catalog. 

The cast is comprised of David Burnham, Sally Mayes, Howard McGillin, Billy Stritch (who is also the musical director and pianist), Lillias White and Rachel York, all of whom are Broadway veterans.  The band encompasses a brass, woodwind and percussion section along with a bass and piano.  The set is reminiscent of Saturday night at The Copa in its heyday – all that is missing are the huge clouds of cigarette smoke and drinks.  I have always loved a cabaret; this production superbly exceeded all of my expectations.  Although there was no dialogue or set changes, The Best Is Yet To Come followed the blueprint of a jukebox musical.  The numbers blend one into the other very well and tell the story of love, loss, desire and hope. The vocal arrangements are exquisite.  Together the performers form a jazz super group, sort of like Manhattan Transfer on steroids.  Separately the vocalists illuminate the stage.  Ladies will not just be swooning from David Burnham’s good looks, but from his golden voice.   “The Doodling Song” is one of my favorite Cy Coleman songs and York delivers it with oodles of pizzazz.  I could listen to her doodle anytime. Howard McGillin will always be the Phantom to me.  His voice is classic Broadway – rich, velvety with a wonderful timbre.  Sally Mayes is the perfect personification of a cabaret singer – sassy, sultry and full of energy.  Lillias White is a New York City treasure.  Every solo she sang became my new instant favorite.  White has a way of contorting chords until they become new notes on the musical scale.  Her voice is a true instrument.

When you are not singing along to the tunes you know, you will be toe-tapping and hip twisting to the rest.   For a man who was as versatile as he was gifted, I believe Coleman would be pleased with The Best Is Yet To Come.  Out of the tree of musical theatre it is a ripe, juicy plum.   The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman ends it limited engagement on July 3.  Before it closes get down to the eastside, buy a ticket and fasten your seatbelts; you are in for a swinging good time, man!

Photos:  Carol Rosegg