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Moment's Notice from Gregory James

I was driving across town a few weeks ago, listening to KCSM. An amazing version of Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" came on. The tenor player was modern, but I couldn't quite place him. There was a full orchestra and big band, and it was obviously a live concert recording. The KCSM playlist showed it as Joe Lovano, from the album Symphonica. It was recorded in 2005 at with the Cologne Radio WDR Big Band and Orchestra, and released on Blue Note in 2009. Somehow I had missed it. It's a spectacular record, and Lovano's playing is lush and assured. Most of the tunes are his, spanning a 20 year period. Emperor Jones, Eternal Joy, Alexander the Great, His Dreams, The Dawn of Time, and I'm All for You (the changes to Body and Soul!) The arrangements are by Michael Abene , a long time friend of Joe's, who is the musical director for the WDR Big Band and Orchestra. They both know the entire history of the music, and add to it. Check it out!

As with the passing of Miles Davis, I find it very hard to believe Paco has left us.  But he has left us with a brilliant recording, Cancion Andaluza, worthy of the finest guitarist who ever lived.  Cancion are essentially pop songs, dating back to ancient Andaluza, and achieving their greatest popularity in the 1940s.  So it is the Great Adalusian Song Book, if you will.  Paco adds mandolo, guitaro, and oud to the sound, evoking ancient and modern textures.  He recorded coplas on his very first recording "12 exitos para dos guitarras flamencas", and often spoke of the influence of the cancion singer, Marife de Triana.  Maria de la O, Ojos Verdes, Romance de Valentia, Te je de querer mientras viva, with Estrella Morente, La chiquita piconera, Zambra Gitana, with Parrita, Quiroga por bulerias, and Seniorita, a salsa arrangement with the Cuban singer Oscar de Leon, comprise the recording. If you love music, buy this recording.  If you are a musician, buy all his recordings. 

SF Opera is producing Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat this season.  Based on Edna Ferber's hit 1926 novel, Kern proposed adapting the work to Hammerstein as a Ziegfield production, shrewdly signing on Ferber as a silent partner.  It is the first great, sweeping American musical, and paved the way for future epics.  Porgy and Bess, Carousel, Oaklahoma, South Pacific, West Side Story - all owe a debt to Show Boat.  Ferber was intrigued by the romantic notion of the paddle wheel showboats that steamed up and down the Mississippi from the 1870's to the 1930's, bringing drama and music and vaudeville to isolated river towns.  Ferber's novel has romance, nostalgia, and a very modern and realistic look at the tragic and complex character of post Civil War race relations, which carried over into the musical.  Designed from the beginning as musical, drama, and vaudeville, the current production uses elements of the original 1927 production, and the  1947 revival.  Opera singers are used for the sung parts, and actors, including Bill Irwin, for spoken roles.  With the exception of the unfortunate decision to mic the spoken roles, it is a magnificent production.  Angela Renee Simpson as Queenie, Patricia Racette as Julie, Heidi Stober as Magnolia, and Michael Todd Simpson as Gaylord Ravenal, are all beautifully matched.  But as anticipated, it is Morris Robinson as a majestic Joe that brings the house down.  The director Francesca Zambello writes in the program notes something that I have long said:  our musicals (light opera, as they sometimes were called) need to be incorporated into our opera house repertoires. 

As a child, I was privileged to see a lot of the legendary Broadway performers in their signature roles: John Raitt in Carousel, Yul Brynner in The King and I, Robert Preston in The Music Man, Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, and traveling productions of Show Boat, Porgy and Bess, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific, to name a few.  As most of the standards jazz musicians improvise over comes from this body of work, it was a wonderful foundation for me.       

Cal Performances once again hosted the Ojai North Music Festival.  It always succeeds in presenting new and challenging music.  The Saturday matinee began with The Knights, a new music classical orchestra, performing Charles Ives' Three Places in New England.  Always fresh and bracing, Ives' career as a successful insurance executive should forever quell the amateur/professional debate.  (He's not a real musician because he has a day job).  He was a giant of 20th century music, albeit largely ignored in his lifetime.  Next the pianist Timo Andres joined The Knights for his recomposition of the Mozart Coronation Suite.  Andres at only 29 has amazing technical command.  As the left hand in the Suite is largely omitted from the original score, there is lots of room for inventing new passsages.  I keep thinking true improvisation will return someday to classical musicians.  My dear friend Butch Morris worked to that end with his conduction pieces with symphonies.  Andres' re-imaginings, while pleasant,  sounded a bit like George Gershwin or Dave Brubeck faking their way through the score.  After intermission came two short pieces by Morton Friedman and Karlheinz Stockhausen, both quite lyrical.  And then, Storm Large and a vocal quartet Hudson Shad joined The Knights for the Kurt Weill ballet chante' The Seven Deadly Sins.  With a huge vocal range and perfect pitch, Storm is a force of nature.  Whether opening for Nina Hagen, fronting her own rock bands, or crooning standards, Storm is always electrifying.  While the vocal quartet were over-miked scenery chewers, Storm was perfection as Anna, who leaves her home in Louisiana to earn enough money to build a house for her family.  Weill and Brecht's last collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins has humor, pathos and satire.  Storm's vocal and acting skills make her the perfect interpreter. 

Since it was my dear Barbara's birthday week, and the last time she had seen him was with Blind Faith in Helsinki, Ginger Baker this last Saturday at Yoshi's was a must see.  With Pee Wee Ellis (James Brown/Van Morrison/CTI Records) on sax, Alec Dankworth (yes, Johnny and Cleo Lane's son!) on acoustic and electric bass, and master Ghanian drummer Abass Dodoo, the group's lack of a western chord instrument left plenty of room for Ginger and Abass to explore African polyrhythms as melody and harmony.  Originally becoming known playing for the Graham Bond Organisation (along with Jack Bruce and John McLaughlin) he became famous for his participation in Cream and the short-lived Blind Faith.  Influenced by Gene Krupa and Louie Bellson (the first to use double bass drums) Baker used to fly to New York during his Cream days to study with Elvin Jones at every opportunity.  I realized Saturday that it is his complete command of traditional drum rudiments, a western military tradition, coupled with his love of African rhythms, that gives him such a unique style.  A style more influential to rock than jazz, but this group transcends categorization.  His work with Fela is a must have.  And with this group, Ginger, who jokes openely from the stage about still being alive, has come home.  To the jazz of his fifties' youth (they opened with Footprints, which I often open with) to his 70's experimentations with Fela and Ghana High Life.  Always inspirational to see a mature artist keep pushing it.   

Sublime.  Last night Charles Lloyd performed in duet with Jason Moran as part of Moran's four night residency at SF Jazz.  There is a tradition in jazz of older musicians playing with, and championing, younger players.  Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, recorded in 1963, comes to mind.  Moran has been a regular member of Lloyd's New Quartet since 2007, and is 39 years old to Lloyd's 76.  Yet they play as equals, although it is unlikely Moran will achieve the cultural and artistic significance of Lloyd.  "Play it Brother"  Lloyd would whisper to Moran  throughout the set.  Featuring material  from their 2013 duo recording Hagar's Farm, the played primarily ballads.  Mood Indigo, Bess You Is My Woman Now, You've Changed, and the Brian Wilson penned, God Only Knows.  Moran plays with restraint, which lets Lloyd, and his almost supernatural command of technique, soar.  Among the handful of the world's greatest musicians, in any genre, Lloyd encompasses the entire history of the music, and of many other cultures as well.  Born in Memphis in 1938, Lloyd listened to Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young.  Moving to LA to study at USC, he played with Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Charlie Hayden, Eric Dolphy, and many other members of the West Coast scene.  In 1960 he became music director of Chico Hamilton's group, with whom I had the privilege of playing with many years later.  Charles Lloyd is probably my biggest musical influence.  Forest Flower, recorded live in 1966 at the Monterey Jazz Festival when I was 14, and already a jazz fan, took the music to a whole new level.  His young, unknown pianist, Keith Jarret, had a unique harmonic pallete that for some reason I immediately identified with.  And the rythym section of Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee, were revolutionary.  I got to see them at Fillmore West.  In the early parts of the concert last evening, the audience was quiet after solos, not wanting to break the spell.  "Georgeous!", a guy behind me whispered.  But from the middle of the show onward there was applause after each brilliant solo, both Jason's and Charle's, as they flew to ever greater heights.  Sublime indeed.     

Marc Ribot had a four night residency at SF Jazz last week.  I chose to see Ceramic Dog, his "no wave" trio with Shahzad Ismailly (Yoko Ono/Lou Reed/Laurie Anderson) on bass and Ches Smith (Mr. Bungle/Mary Halvorson) on drums.  I had the privilege of having Ches play with my group some years ago before he left the Bay Area for New York.  He is an incredibly inventive and original drummer, able to mimic machine sounds and samples with his drum kit.  With Ceramic Dog he also triggered samples and synth lines, ala Brain with our own Valence Project.  I'm fond of saying that Ribot is the real Bill Frisell; a genuine deep knowledge of American roots music, combined with a ruthless determination to turn out something new.  He's also way more technically proficient than Frisell.  Ribot has stated that this is his first rock band.  There has always been a subversive element in improvised music, from Jelly Roll Morton to Ornette Coleman to Sonny Sharrock.  (A lot of Ceramic Dog conjures up Sonny Sharrock and Blood Ulmer, particularly their cover of Take Five).  There was even a Serge Gainsbourg ballad.  Bravo Cermaic Dog!

I've just come from the matinee performance of the Herbie Hancock Quintet at SF Jazz.  With Marcus Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, Lionel Loueke, and Zakir Hussein!  Herbie and Marcus of course are alumni of Miles.  Herbie started the Headhunters just after playing with Miles, and Marcus was the producer/arranger for Miles during the last great part of Miles' career.  And this band could rightly be called the Headhunters.  Marcus and Vinnie lay down incredible grooves, with Zakir adding further propulsion.   Herbie and Zakir played on some of the Bill Laswell Material recordings. I've always said a good imrovisor can play the same tunes, or set, and have them sound fresh every night.  Watermelon Man (with a few bars of 17, courtesey of Lionel) received a deep funk treatment, as did Canteloupe Island, Rockit, and, for the encore, Chameleon.  A Lionel solo spot, with harmonics, Benin Fulfulde vocal clicks, and thumb slaps ala Marcus, was extraordinary.  Followed by a duet with Zakir (in which Zakir also vocalized) that was truly a world fusion.  Like Ellington, Herbie has always been able to go from penthouse to rent party in a single phrase.  His mastery of time, phrasing, harmony, and meldic invention are staggering.   He's always looked about 20 years younger than his actual age, and keyboard strapped around his neck, ended the show with a jump any guitar god would envy.  From acoustic to electric, Herbie is a treasure.   

 Roseanne Cash has her father's jaw.  And her father's conviction.  She is a living national treasure.  This week at SF Jazz she is performing her newest recording, The River and The Thread, in it's entirety, in sequence.  Revisiting the birthplace and subsequent roamings of her father, the album is a deep meditative concept album that conjures up William Faulkner, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Stephen Foster, and of course, Johnny Cash.  Her husband and songwriting partner, the superb guitarist John Leventhall, leads a crack band: Kevin Barry on guitar and lap steel, Glenn Patcha on keys, Zev Katz on bass, and the very creative Dan Rieser on drums.

Every note is perfect.  These are veteran country musicians of the highest caliber, who don't hit a superfluous note.

Amazingly, after a full hour of The River and The Thread, she returned for a full second set of earlier material.  Two and a half hours of beauty, and sorrow, and joy, and perfection.  Brava!


What an amazing couple of weeks for music in the Bay Area.  Last night the Wayne Shorter Quartet opened a four night residency at SF Jazz.  I often write about the inter-connectedness of music and musicians, and lineage.  I am so fortunate to know and play with musicians who have played with Charlie Parker (Eddie Duran), Miles Davis and Santana (Benny Rietveld) and John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter (Kai Eckhardt).  Wayne Shorter has been at the forefront of improvised music for over 50 years.  From Art Blakey, to Miles Davis (the "Second Great Quintet") to founding Weather Report, to studio work with Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, to a solo career that started in the fifties and has now returned him to the Blue Note label - each one of these credits would be a life's work for any musician.  His current quartet, with Brian Blade, John Petitucci and Danilo Perez, has been together for 14 years, and fittingly for the composer of E.S.P., they have a telepathic level of communication.  As with his time with Miles (Herbie called it "controlled freedom") and Weather Report, a motif might signal a move to a different part of the composition, leaving perhaps 90% or so of the music improvised.  Patitucci and Blade have monster grooves - not only poly-rhythmic but multi-cultural.  Bossa funk bebop. Straight ahead salsa.  Shorter has always had an oblique, zen understatement to his playing and writing, and Perez and Patitucci and Blade have mastered his language, and propel him to great heights.  Randall Klein is correct that this is the finest working group in jazz, and Wayne is it's supreme living master.  To be fresh and challenging at the edge of the music, at age 80, is a unique and beautiful accomplishment.        


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