1 September 2014

My bass tutor

The Rufus Reid books (Evolving bassist and Evolving upward) were the main tutor books in my bass life and presumably the lives of many jazz bassists, so to see he was performing at the Chicago Jazz Festival was a moment of great excitement. It’s different from the pages of a book and perhaps more so than a video. Suffice to say I was not disappointed although I was surprised by some aspects of this gig. Rufus is now a bass veteran, firm, confident, in the back row but key, as composer, leader, formidable hard-bop driver and player of front row member when laying down unison lines with the horns or taking his own solos. These charts were sometimes contorted, frequently complex and of odd times. I think I counted Hues of a different blue as 4-5-4-7 but I’m still not sure. The playing all round was great. Solos were passed often between players, so at least the front line tended to all solo of each tune with reasonably short solos. Alto Bobby Watson was the most at home with Rufus, concentration relieved with smiles, but they all looked comfortable even if they were obviously working to read a few of the charts. And they were all reading, even Rufus for several of the more contorted melodies. Great, driving hard-bop with rich arrangements and interesting changes from some expert players. So what’s surprising here? Firstly, Rufus’s playing, which seemed so magisterial and relaxed and which he seemed to do with little left hand movement. I put this down to pedal but mostly to sly use of leading notes, so a rich chromatic take on the bass lines was just a middle finger away. Lovely! This is how the seasoned pros do it. Secondly, how these guys milked so much music from essentially a tonal take on the changes. I first noticed with Bobby Watson, but the other hors did this too. Their sense of melody overlaying the changes was magical and informed with profound comfort with the scales and arpeggios that are the building blocks of all this. The lines just flowed; the changes just passed but the musical themes moved through them with incisiveness and ease. I noticed some dissonance later so it was there, but invention was there without it. I remember John Mackey correcting my hearing of his playing once, that it was essentially tonal. It shows how closely you have to listen. It was just piano played with considerable dissonance and the first time I noticed this, it was in the left hand against a tonal right hand. How interesting and so much to learn. They mostly played originals from Rufus’s recent album/s: Glory (contorted heads and odd resolutions), When she smiles upon your face (medium latin AABA arranged with a march as feature), Ebony, The eloquent one (dedicated to Hank Jones), Hues of a different blue (with that odd time), The drying blues (hard bop F blues with a melodic twist by Eddie Harris). Rufus played with Eddie Harris and a string of others (Stan Getz, Art Farmer, JJ Johnson…) and studied classical bass and is famed as an educator. He deserves the confidence of his senior statesman status and he certainly looks it on stage. Just a great, hard driving performance and classy musicianship.

BTW, a recurring theme of this Chicago JF is Joe Segal and his very longstanding Chicago venue, Jazz Showcase. Early in his career, Rufus Reid was resident bassist at the Showcase, so this was also a return to known turf. And not just for Rufus, but for several other players. Chicago laid claim to 60% of the performers at this festival.

Rufus Reid (bass) led his Sextet with Bobby Watson (alto), JD Allen (tenor), Derrick Gardner (trumpet), Steve Allee (piano) and Winard Harper (drums) at the Chicago Jazz Festival.

30 August 2014

First up

There’s a pavilion at this festival named after Von Freeman. Von is held in high regard here in Chicago, but he’s just one of a family, including son Chico (who I’d seen at an Adelaide Festival in the ‘70s) and brothers drummer Eldridge “Buzz” and guitarist George. So it was with much warmth that the crowd welcomed George playing with the Mike Allemana trio. This was very much a mainstream, straight-ahead set. The trio was Mike on guitar with organ and drums. The grooves were swung, the feel was blues-rich and considerably dirty at times. The tunes were pretty much blowing charts. Firstly, a 32-bar with elaborations on rhythm-changes, a blues, a ballad, a funky dotted quarter-note groove, a 6-feel with cycle changes and an final up-tempo bop blues. George is now 87 so more the slowhand (his history ranges from Louis to playing with Bird, Diz, Roy Eldridge, Sonny Stitt, Ben Webster and a list of names) and he plays the dirty effect to the max, with strummed chromatic chords and occasional cross-neck lines. It’s in marked contrast to young gun Mike Allemana with his clear tone, staccato attack, long eighth note lines, occasional side-stepping and substitutions and switches to 16th notes. This is an organ trio. The left hand bass line was prominent over such a massive PA and the tone of Hammond with Leslie was sweet and changing. Organise Dan Trudell played similar improvisations of tonality with occasional substitutions. Drummer Mike Schlick held steady swings with a light touch and all kept eyes and ears open for the veteran George. In some way this set was a family outing for jazz in Chicago with the respected veteran uncle in the corner and a pair of conservative mainstream Gibsons holding the stage even if George’s detune solo harked back to a funky soulful youth. Good swinging mainstream with a reminder of provocative youth.

George Freeman (guitar) performed with Mike Allemana (guitar), Dan Trudell (organ) and Mike Schlick (drums) at the Chicago Jazz Festival.

28 August 2014

Buskers et al.

It’s not all the time I stop for buskers, but there are some doozies in NYC. Here are a few I noted.

Spank were a male vocal quartet singing ‘60s pop, rich in harmonies and with an immensely welcoming stage presence. We heard them waiting to board the Staten Island Ferry (a quintessential tourist experience and the only free ferry around). There are accompanied by a bassist who knew the jazz scene, but name not known. The band was teasingly called Spank and was very well received.

Changing in Subway Station Lexington Av / 53rd St, we heard this excellent duo blowing. Nick Biello (alto) was a force of nature, blowing with Bird-like fluency (although a newer take on bop). He was performing the entire Charlie Parker with Strings album with the Highline Chamber Ensemble the following week but I wasn’t in town to hear it. He’s been a finalist in the International Sax Competition. He was playing with Matt Davis (guitar). I only caught them in passing and no solos from Matt. We were on our way to Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem where they had mates playing in the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest.

Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem was also the location for a Drum circle. I guess this is regular; I know it’s loud. Earlier on, it was just a few players; by evening dozens, with a flautist and occasional dancers within the ring, a few feature drummers playing embellishments and an incessant, droning, fairly stable rhythm. It mutated as I listened but I wasn’t around to hear it change significantly. The pic is from early evening after several hours (it was around the corner from the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest). Loud.

27 August 2014

Shedding time

I had an hour or so to pass near West Village. First stop was Fat Cat. Not jazz this evening, but a female vocal trio singing R&B-cum-gospel in the Motown style. Nice voices, great harmonies, a scream or doo-whop every now and then. Backed by a guitar trio. Going down well and much danceable pleasure. The band was Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens of Brooklyn. I guess it that’s Naomi in the middle in the pic.

Still a few minutes, so I took a peek into the Garage (not to be mistaken with Jazz Garage; this one is an eating establishment with a bar and largely background jazz). The band was led by Michika Fukumon (piano) with Eden McDonald (bass) and Bob Francis (drums). I just heard a fast take on I feel pretty and the ballad Somewhere (both from West Side Story). Nice playing and I particularly enjoyed Eden’s tasteful, lyrical bass solo.

Just Some pics

26 August 2014

Let’s hear it again for Bird

“If it doesn’t have dissonance, it’s got to have swing” So said Jo at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Harlem. It’s a free festival on the last weekend of August, running Saturday and Sunday afternoons. I could get the most of the Saturday session (although not thee Sunday session with Kenny Barron, Cindy Blackmore Santana and others). It was in Marcus Garvey Park. Jo is of Italian descent, Brooklyn born, lives in Queens. I was taken aback when he mentioned Norman Connors (his album Love form the Sun is one of my formative albums; it’s not well known, not even available on CD when I looked). I was in awe of his access to jazz but otherwise we shared much. Jo’s comment was in the context of Lionel Loueke playing a form of world music, fingerpicked, sounding plucky like classical guitar, strangely out of place in this lineup. Certainly a long way and possibly unrelated to Bird. He was playing with an Italian mandolin bassist (fast and funky playing, but lacking any complexity in tone) and a drummer (Henry Cole?).. A bit later, following an exciting drum solo, he said “this is more like it” and I concurred. The Wallace Rooney Orchestra was coming up last, but I couldn’t stay. The first acts had been Kris Bowers (piano) quartet with guest Chris Turner (vocals). Nice piano solos and a powerful, punchy solo from Tyshawn Sorey (drums). It was a day for drums. The next band was the Crash Trio led by 25-yo Chilean Melissa Aldana (tenor), last year’s winner of the Thelonious Monk competition. This was a modern trio set, reminiscent of the sixties (she mentioned Sonny Rollins) although playing her original compositions. Competent soloing, fast and with nice clean tone, if a little heavy on scales and practice routines. Her offsiders were Pablo Menares (bass) and Francisco Mela (drums). Again, lots of drum solos but more softly spoken than the other two drummers. This was an outing for listeners and musos alike. Nice to see a (French) horn player arriving with his wife. Apparently this is an outing for musos and their families in Harlem.

Lionel Loueke (guitar) led his trio. Melissa Aldana’s Crash Trio had Pablo Menares (bass) and Francisco Mela (drums). The Chris Bowers (piano) Quartet performed with guest Chris Turner (vocals). The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival was staged free in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.

25 August 2014

Museums update


CJ loves museums (obvious enough if you read these pages). The Met in NYC is one of my all time great experiences. No change after our recent return visit although I didn’t feel the sheer overwhelming pleasure of our first visit. But the pieces are all so impressive and the breadth so wide that my breath is still taken away. Visit a room of numerous Rembrandts and you have the idea.

This time we visited the American Museum of Natural History and I was distinctly underwhelmed. We saw an incredible special video display in the Planetarium on dark matter / dark energy. It’s AV but impressive. Gems / minerals was good (some incredible crystal and gem samples and the Star of India sapphire); paleontology was informative (and my eye doesn’t identify casts from real skulls); the dinosaur skeletons were impressive. Otherwise, I got the feeling this was mostly AV and models which is mostly available on the Net. And it felt strangely out-of-time with models of peoples of different cultures, but (did I miss them?) no Euros. We visited the Guggenheim Museum. It’s famous for its snail-like design by Frank Lloyd Wright and I understand its core collection is of the French impressionists. We saw a selection of this era, most spectacularly Picasso's Woman Ironing. The main space was given over to an exhibit of Italian Futurists and that’s a movement I’ve wondered about; interesting. We also visited the Frick Collection. Frick was another art-collecting industrialist who donated his house and collection to the city. Not a big museum, but a gem. One room particularly stood out (the Living Hall), but all had impressive or stunning works. Lots of recognised images here. Apart from furniture, the Living Hall displays Bellini’s St Francis in the Desert, Holbein’s pair of St Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, El Greco’s St Jerome and a pair by Titian, Pietro Aretino and Portrait of a man in a red cap. That’s just the paintings. Otherwise, Piero della Francesca, Goya, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, including another self portrait, Renoir, Vermeer, Turner, Whistler. I was particularly taken by a Fontana Workshop Majolica dish of the judgement of Paris, a small enamel plaque by Limousin, thought to be of Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, and a wonderful table described as “Italian or French, Long Center Table with Columnar Supports and Animal Masks, 16th and 19th century”. There’s more but you get the drift. A stunning collection, nicely accessible and a short visit.

My take at this stage of NYC museums visiting: Met, unmissible; MOMA and Frick, do it; Pierpont-Morgan, impressive; Guggenheim, for lovers of Impressionism; Natural History, especially for the kids. The pics are a mix from the Met and Natural History Museum, except Giovanni Bellini, St Francis in Ecstasy, 1480-85, from http://collections.frick.org/Obj360$369 via WikiCommons.

24 August 2014

On Broadway


One of the concerts noted by the New York Times (jazz listings on Fridays) was the Aaron Parks trio. He was recently returned from some time in Europe, and played two nights at Jazz Gallery with different sidemen. This was Friday night with Larry Grenadier and RJ Miller. I caught the second set in a very hot, sweaty space. This was a standards/jazz tunes outing with just one original, a gentle 3/4 called Bijou that fitted neatly with the other charts. Think Sunny side of the street, Here’s that rainy day, When in Rome, Lee Morgan and Jackie Byard’s To my wife. Larry’s speed and busyness and tone reminded me of Scott Lafaro. I happened to sit with South Korean bassist Joonsam Lee who agreed but noted Larry’s better intonation. Jazz Gallery is a non-profit and obviously replete with local musos, but more on that later. Aaron was soft of touch and fluent and inventive and I was thinking Bill Evans. He mentioned seeing Bill Evans in performance on one tune he played. The adventurousness was there, the sense of moving phrasing over time and playing with harmony and the deep concentration (Aaron rocks back and forth on the piano stool). But the lesson I will take away from this concert is their awareness of the melodic flow and essence of a tune. Despite their considerable fluency and exploration, and Aaron’s dissonance and reharmonisation, I could always hear the melody of the tune lurking. The boppers played the changes, often unheeding of the melody. It’s the discussion vertical / horizontal improvisation, but with a keen awareness of the tune being played. Or melody as central with accompanying chords: a singer’s approach. Thinking back, RJ played with a similar reference to the tune. I also noticed a wonderful sense of accenting lines in Aaron’s playing and I imagine this also gives this sense of a tune with its internal dynamics. So, an inventive, conversational and essentially tuneful concert.

The Jazz Gallery has moved since I last visited it. It’s now on the fifth floor, up a rickety lift / elevator (licensed for 12 but with an informal limit of 5; we managed 6). JG is a non-profit venture; memberships are valued and value; non-nonsense around drinks (honour system for wine and water); portable chairs but impressive PA and decent stage and grand piano. They are about to close for a few weeks to refurbish but it’s obvious where they put their money. Only at Small’s have I seen such density of instrument cases. JG was recommended to me before my previous trip. Nice to see its still going strong.

Aaron Parks (piano) led a trio with Larry Grenadier (bass) and RJ Miller (drums) at Jazz Gallery on Broadway (cnr 27th St). Niels Vincentz (tenor) sat in for the final tune.

23 August 2014

After hours

After Blue Note, to a true jazz dive. Smalls is different. Small, lax, informal, cheap, downstairs, full of local musos searching for contacts and a hip audience that feels like the beat generation must have been in the fifties. (And a few snappily dressed characters with references to other eras. It’s interesting how themes re-emerge. We talk now of hipsters. The original hipsters – or hepcats - were from ~1940 and led to the beat generation.) This is a place of informality although there’s a seriousness and passion here; it’s just expressed easily. We heard two bands then the start of a jam session that would presumably go for the night. Frank Lacey (trombone) led a driving hard-bop Smalls Legacy Band with Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Stacy Dillard (tenor), Theo Hill (piano), Russell Hall (bass) and Kush Abadey (drums). Plenty of hard driving swing from Bobby Watson, Freddie Hubbard and the like. Russell Hall stayed on to play with a trio of Kyle Poole (drums) and Emmet Cohen (piano). They played a short contemporary set with close interaction, open eyes and lots of smiles before opening up for a Next Generation (read, jam) session. We heard a few trumpets, a few guitars, a tenor, replacement pianists and bass before we set off, but it was going strong. Smalls is obviously a community as well as a venue and we were just visitors but it remains a special place on my jazz map. Just some pics.

22 August 2014

Latin as a language


We went early for Blue Note for the Lain side of Horace Silver led by Conrad Herwig with guest Michel Camilo to get decent seats at the bar and we got the two best. There was some waiting outside, but people watching is interesting in this busy entertainment area. The band came on very casually and played a string of tunes by recently deceased Horace Silver. The playing was exemplary and the tunes were memorable. Conrad chatted with the audience, but the crowd didn’t catch his discrete humour and his references for the au courant. This was great playing but something was missing. The crowd sat as in a concert; the band stood and read. At one stage saxist Craig Handy turned a little and bopped along. I was thinking this, but the arrival of Michel Camilo for the last few tunes just confirmed it. Suddenly the place was alive. Fast, earthy, fleshy. The music showed it, alive with clave forming the beat and the flailing keys on piano and the dense polyrhythms from the congas. This is not at all a comment on musicianship. All the band was impressive and I was blown out by solos before and after Michel’s arrival and alternate pianist Bill O’Connell’s solos were intelligent and played with intriguing dissonance. This is about culture and the difficulty of visiting someone else’s. Michel just had it in his blood and the groove exploded in his hands. The band lifted immensely and immediately, pushed and cajoled and seduced, as were audience, and we were south of the border and it was warm and the music was irresistible. But what of the tunes? There were seven in a set of about 80 minutes. The band played the first one unannounced then Filthy McNasty, Peace and Doodlin’. Michel replaced Bill for Gods of the Aruba, Song for my father and Nutville. The arrangements were great, with those three horns out front. The rhythm section did its latin duty and I was particularly taken by Ritchie Flores on congas for some blow-out solos of enthralling rhythmic complexity. Solos from the horns were stunning. Conrad’s trombone playing was diatonic and to die for, hugely fluent and perfectly phrased and intoned. Alex Sipiagin on trumpet spoke well with Conrad on the heads. I was taken by saxist Craig Handy and his broad palette and inventive soloing. Michel was just volcanic. He introduced his first tune with an unexpectedly gentle passage of piano and trombone duo, but then it was all flailing fingers and hammering hands and floods of notes. The life of Latin. We went happy into the night.

Conrad Herwig (trombone, arrangements) led his Latin side of Horace Silver at Blue Note. The band comprised Conrad with Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Craig Handy (saxes), Bill O’Connell (piano, arrangements), Ruben Rodriguez (electric bass), Richie Flores (congas) and Robby Ameen (drums). Guest Michel Camilo (piano) replaced Bill O’Connell for the final tunes.

21 August 2014

Do as Harlem does


First Corinthians Baptist was the church we ended up in for a Harlem Gospel service. It was an experience but suffice to say I am not converted. There was a strange level of control for tourist visitors, but probably this is required. I did notice some visitors sneaking in videos when they were asked not to, but pics with no flash was OK. The hall was a tiered theatre with decorated roof, boxes, stalls and gallery, and complete with steep stairway to the tourists’ gallery. There was a stark white stage with Proscenium arch and timber floor, a six-piece band (2xkeys, piano, bass, drums, perc. Amusingly the drummer was housed in a booth and the bassist played a very pretty Ken Smith 5-string), eight dancers, eight singers, a preacher. The sermon was long, on depression / suicide using quotations from Job, in the light of the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams. This was interesting, a lesson in rhetoric and firm voice, with four rallying emotional peaks, laying hands on a grieving parishioner, denouement with soft piano, hands raised by parishioners in approval. I fear such emotional control but this was in good service and the parishioners really were impressive, joyous, open after the event. I found the occasional disrespect from tourists more troublesome. The music and singing were decent and nicely unassuming. The sound was problematic in such a large and reverberant space. The accents were sometimes difficult to catch. I wondered if, as a tourist outing, this is a little disrespectful, but it’s a common one on the NYC visit and at least we could leave a donation and act with dignity when we were there. I wonder just how it goes down for the community but they allow and manage it, so not all bad. And I was impressed by the themes of Social Media / Social Justice Sunday which included discussion of decent pay and even (a current-day heresy) the rights to form workers’ unions. Not thrilling or successfully evangelising of this recalcitrant but informative.