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Moment's Notice from Gregory James

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at SF Jazz. With Bill Cantos on piano, Hussain Jiffry on bass, and the ubiquitous Michael Shapiro on drums, they were the world class backing band I had expected. Funky, with a mastery of all idioms and a particular flair for Bossa Nova. Musicians (including Miles Davis,) have long known that Mr. Alpert is far hipper than his original Tijuana Brass pop hits would indicate. Even as a young musician 40 years ago, I recognized there was something in his tone and phrasing that was unique and timeless. His 1979 hit Rise preshadows Miles' TuTu. Sunday's show was long on standards, a brief medley of all the hits (I was hoping for all of Rise, but it was a 30 second or so interlude) and memorable duets with Lani Hall, who in power and tone reminded me of Streisand. A Cole Porter medley went from Herb playing Begin the Beguine, to a duet with Lani on I've Got You (Under My Skin). Musician, painter, businessman, philanthropist, at 83 Alpert and Hall seem many years younger, and still very much in love. Perhaps the reason he is so hip, is that he plays exactly what he wants, without trying to be avant. He loves the American Song Book, and has a unique way of re-stating and phrasing a well known melody. Nice work if you can get it...
I was so busy last month I didn't get around to writing about Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming at SF Jazz. With Ron Miles on trumpet, Brian Blade on drums, and Scott Colley on bass, the band's name is a tribute to Old and New Dreams, the 70's group with Joshua's dad Dewey Redman, Charlie Hayden, Ed Blackwell, and Don Cherry. Still Dreaming played selections from the older group, and also new, and very challenging originals. "Believe it or not, that was a blues" Joshua said after one tune, and indeed even I wouldn't have known. I was about to proclaim Still Dreaming as the most important band in jazz (supplanting Wayne Shorter) until I heard the Wayne Shorter Quartet at SF Jazz Thursday night. They are still number one. With Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Terri Lyne Carrington sitting in for Brian Blade on drums, the 83 year old Shorter seemed even more energetic than last year. And more forward. It is a very rare artist, in any discipline, that continues to constantly move forward. Even Miles got talked into revisiting the Gil Evans arrangements the month before he died by Quincy. (And it was a lovely performance. As much as I love late Miles, there wasn't a lot of innovation the last couple of years.) But Wayne not only has the best and most important group in jazz, it's also the most forward. Joshua will take over the mantle, but we are so lucky to have Wayne.
Last night I saw one of the most extraordinary performances I have ever seen, in any genre, at the Z Gallery in SF. Soledad Barrio, whom I have long called a genius, along with her choreographer husband, Matin Santangelo, and their troop, Noche Flamenco performed Antigona, based on the tragedy by Sophocles. It was the first dramatic work in history with a female lead. Santangelo turned the text into flamenco lyrics (letras) and began work with Soledad in 2010. With its theme of a strong woman confronting a totaltarian state and patriarchy, it is timeless, and particularly timely. Eugenio Iglesias and Salva de Maria on guitars were brilliant, Hamed Traore on bass and electric guitar added exotic color and modernism, and Manuel Gago, Pepe "El Bocadillo" and Emilio Florido sang with passion and duende. Our own local Marina Elana was part of the wonderful dance troop. Many attempt to modernize or expand flamenco (sweatshirts and jeans were popular a few years ago in Spain) but the fusion of Greek tragedy and flamenco is seamless in the hands of Santangelo and Barrio.
Mariza played SF Jazz again for four nights at the end of October. More than the best fado singer, I believe she is the most commanding performer in the world today. With Jose Manuel Neto on Portuguese guitar, Pedro Joia on classical guitar, Fernando Araujo on bass, and Hugo Marques on percussion, she has had the same band for several years, and they are seamless. Unlike most fado guitarists, Joia employs a lot of flamenco techniques, which gives a more percussive edge to many of the tunes. Neto is magical. They all have individual careers, and their affection for Mariza is palpable. The first time I saw her, an SF Jazz show years ago at the Henry Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland, Tom Waits, not known for sentimentality, was weeping a few seats away from me. She always makes me cry; just walking on stage. I know what is coming. Each note goes right through my heart. She always sing Primavera; associated with the great Amalia Rodrigues. She sings it for herself. Walking in the rain afterwards, I am wondering why she affects me so much. And then a flash - I am part Sephardic Jew. Mendes, Soares, Perriea - Spanish and Portuguese names. It is literally in my DNA.

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The great Tomatito played Herbst Theater last night as part of the Omni Foundation concert series. With José del Tomate on second guitar; Clapping/Vocals: Kiki Cortiñas & David Maldonado; Percussion: Israel Suárez “Piraña”; Baile (dancer): José Maya, the group was spectacular. Tomatito opened with a solo rondena, as Paco often did. Then his son Jose joined him for the Michael Camillo tune "Two". The other non original tune of the evening, also in the jazz idiom, was Charlie Hayden's "Our Spanish Love Song" While many flamenco guitarists listen to and love jazz, Tomatito alone understands the phrasing and can improvise conviningly. As the late Andre Bush said to me of Paco's playing: "Every note goes right through your heart". Jose Maya brought the house down with his dance to a bulerias. Whether soloing, or accompanying cante, or dance, Tomatito was magnificent. An added treat was sitting in the same row with my dear friends, the fantastically talented Yaelisa and Jason McGuire.
Last Friday Christian McBride brought his New Jawn Quartet to SF Jazz as part of his residency. With Marcus Strickland on saxophones, Josh Evans on trumpet, and Nasheet Waits on drums, the bassist was free from any other chordal instrument to limit the harmonic explorations. One of the most gifted bassists of his generation (along with Charnett Moffett) like all greats he evokes the entire history of the music. From New Orleans to Ellington to hard bop (which is perhaps the closest genre most of the pieces referenced) it was also entirely modern and fresh. One piece was from Herbie's Mwandishi period (also one of my favorite Herbie bands) and another evoked Bitches Brew rhythms. Yet another was in some esoteric time, I think 17 1/2, but swung like mad. We have been without Miles for long enough now, that Josh Evans channeling him was refreshing and a fitting tribute. As Christian said of Bobby Hutchinson, people leave their bodies, but the music lives on. Marcus Strickland was a revelation, huge tone and and unending imagination. And Nasheet Waits blew my mind; not since Tony Williams (who was obviously a huge influence) have I been so knocked out by a drummer's time and imagination. Along with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, one of the most important groups today.
Saturday was a members only SF Jazz Show with Dr. John and The Nite Trippers. Now that Allen Toussaint has passed, Dr John is one of the last living links of the post war New Orleans sound. A mixture of blues, R&B, boogie woogie, rock n' roll, Mardi Gras Indian chants, and, Dr. John's genius addition, deep funk to the traditional New Orleans 2nd line rhythms, one is instantly transported to a club (perhaps a private Mardi Gras Indian club) in New Orleans. Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) played piano and guitar on recordings by Professor Longhair and Art Neville while still a teenager. He exploded on the national scene with the 1973 hit "Right Place Wrong Time". His current band has the fabulous Sarah Morrow on trombone and vocals, Jaime Kime on guitar (think Bluesbreakers Eric) Brian Braziel on drums, and the incredibly funky Roland Gurin on bass. As the best bar band in the world (sorry Stones) one tune flows into the next with no pause or let up. This is party till you drop music. With his trademark raspy voice, there is a spiritual depth (he has long been rumored to be a voodoo priest) and worldliness in every note. A plastic skull and other voodoo talismans adorn the piano. He is truly a magician.
Last Friday my dear friend Kim Nalley played SF Jazz. With Greg Skaff on guitar (playing a Byrdland, one of my fave guitars!), Tammy Hall on piano, Michael Risman on bass, Kent Bryson on drums, and guest star Bryan Dyer on vocals, Kim delivered two inspired and inspiring sets of music. Kim has managed to do what few in the modern jazz world have accomplished; keep a steadily working band together. Especially for vocalists, in the "post boom" jazz world, the luxury of playing for years with the same artists, at the same artistic level, who can tap into a collective intuitive empathy and trust, is rare. I believe Tammy Hall, who has been with Kim for many years, is the best vocal accompanist in all of American music. With deep roots in gospel, jazz, and the American songbook, she is that rarity virtuoso that is always fresh, challenging, and supportive. One senses that Ms. Nalley feels free to experiment and push boundaries, knowing her back is always covered. Kent Bryson is the perfect drummer for a vocalist, like Steve Gadd he builds excitement without ever being flashy. Greg Skaff never overplays (perhaps even underplays, as do I) and is always perfect. The duets with Bryan Dyer were thrilling, and his solo (suggested by Kim) We Shall Overcome, was a poignant reminder that we still haven't. And her version of Dylan's I Shall Be Released (written for George Jackson, and which I used to play in the early 70's) brought tears to our eyes. Singer, songwriter, band leader, wife, mother, scholar. Bravo Kim Nalley!
Last week the Brian Blade Fellowship Band played SF Jazz. Brian first formed the Fellowship with Loyola classmate John Cowherd in 1997, and between stints with Joshua Redman, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan, and Wayne Shorter, he has managed to keep the group together and have four Blue Note recordings to date. With Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor, Myron Walden on alto and bass clarinet (one of my favorite instruments!) and Chris Thomas on bass, the group is one of the most soulful, and creative, in jazz. Many of the tunes are written by Cowherd, whose style is an evocative blend of Evans, Corea, and Hancock. They horns often play in fourths and fifths, which give ambiguous major/minor possibilities for soloing (which I also love). They also have a very Celtic character (Coltrane reportedly practiced through Irish harp books). One is reminded that our Great American Music is a blend of African, Celtic, and European musics and folk tunes. Blade, as always, is explosive, exciting, abstract, but always groovy. Bravo!
Sunday June 12 was such a sad and tragic day. I am always truck by the irony that we live in a world full of hate and suffering, and love and beauty. And so I went to see Ravi Coltrane and his new sextette The Void at SF Jazz Sunday night, knowing that I would be uplifted and inspired. With Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Glenn Zalesky on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Kush Abadey on drums, the sextette was fresh and new, but also firmly rooted in the tradition. Ravi seems to have relaxed over the years, matured as a soloist, and accepted his rightful place in one of the most celebrated families in music. Eubanks is a marvelous soloist, and the compositions took full advantage of all the timbers and textures the instruments allowed. Abadey's drumming was abstract and funky and groovy all at the same time; a young Jack DeJohnette. Zalensky had marvelous touch, and conjured Herbie and Bill Evans with his command of space. Six musicians, white and black, together listening to each other at the highest level of musical expression. What a fitting antidote to hatred. Later, at the Zuni Cafe, I saw the LGTBQ Rainbow Community marching down Market Street, peacefully holding candles. Love will always conquer hate.

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