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Moment's Notice from Gregory James

The legendary pianist Mitsuko Uchida played Hertz Hall for the first time in 10 years Tuesday.  The first part of the program was Schubert's Sonata in G Major Opus 78.  Alternating between gentle pastoral motifs and fortissimo power chords, Uchida is a virtuoso of the highest order.  The music breathes through her; she becomes one with the composer.  The second work was Beethoven's Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli.  Again the dynamic contrast was extremely dramatic, from whispers to heroic explosions.  From satire to pathos to patriotic hymns to sublime reflection.  Angleic in Matsudo silk pants and cape, Uchida has an amazing vitality and energy for such a mature artist.  I was reminded of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. 

Last week was a beautiful one for music.  The great Tomatito played the Palace of Fine Arts on Wednesday.  Presented by the Omni Foundation and Eddie Diaz's Flamenco Society of San Jose, the tour was dedicated to the memory of Paco de Lucia.  With his son Jose del Tomate on guitar, El Cristi on guitar, Moises Santiago on percussion, Kiki Cortinas and Simon Roman on vocals, and the stunning dancer Paloma Fantova, Tomatito led a sublime evening of flamenco.  Ten years younger than Paco, Tomatito was Camaron's guitarist for the last 18 years of the great singer's life.  Building on the entire history of the music, and Paco's revolutionary innovations, Tomatito has ensured that flamenco guitar will continue to grow and evolve.  Perhaps the "jazziest" of modern flamenco guitarists, he has recorded with George Benson and Chick Corea, and understands bebop phrasing.  And yet his rodenas and mineras invoke the ancient. Fantova elicited gasps from the audience striking her first pose, steeped in the tradtion, and yet incredibly fresh and modern.  And in the one falsetta he was allowed in the encore, Tomate unsured that there will be brilliant guitarists for the future.  A greta and noble artist, Tomatito has a lovely gentleness and calm about him as well.  

It's taken me a few days to write about Paco.  Like many flamencos, he lived a hard and full life.  And so I am shocked but not suprised that he left us in the prime of life.  And in truth, playing with one's children on a tropical beach is a fitting way to leave this mortal vale.  There is wonderful early footage of Paco in a bathrobe, cigarette in mouth, and whiskey nearby, playing an amazing rondena.  He was one of the very few artists of any genre, where each recording was eagerly awaited, for not only the music, but the overall philosophical direction it might point to.  Like Picasso and Miles, Paco changed the way his fellow practioners thought about their art.  As Andre Bush once said to me, every single note goes right through your heart.  A majestic technique allowed no seperation between thought and emotion, and execution.  His picado the result of being locked in his room by his father while still a child for hours on end, so the legend has it.  And for all his genius, a humble man.  For the truly great ones know that the music merely flows through the vessel of the player.  I had the privilege of seeing him many times.  Once, a few nights in a row to see if I could figure out how much was improvised.  The set list was identical, to be sure.  And I realized that his concentration was so intense, each note so perfectly and uniquely attacked, that one couldn't tell what was improvised or rehearsed - it was all so fresh and real.  I think of Paco the way he almost always started a concert.  Alone, in deep concentration, usually with a rodena, or minera, or taranta.  Following the piece through to its individual, logical conclusion.  So lost in the music that he didn't usually recognize applause until the end of a performance.  Solo Quiero Caminar and Siroco being for me recordings which expanded my entire idea of what flamenco could encompass.  And so now it is left to his heirs to carry on.  Manolo, and Pepe, and Vicente, and Tomatito, Canizares, Diego del Morao, Chuscales, Jason McGuire, El Vejin -so many great guitarists Paco has influenced that I couldn't possibly name all of them.  Ole Paco!

Cult of Beauty Review image

A review in Modern Drummer of Cult of Beauty by Robin Tolleson.  You can click to enlarge! 

Robben Ford is one of the musicians I try to see whenever I can.  With Wes Little on drums, Brian Allen on bass, Stephen Baxter on trombone, and Larry Goldings on organ, it was one of the most cohesive bands he has toured with, and belied the fact that they had just formed.  Robben was playing a 60's Tele and 60's Epiphone Riviera through a blonde Dumble.  Most of the music was from his recent cd Bringing it Back Home, which has a slinky, New Orleans vibe, much of it propelled by the trombone.  Robben's tone was mellow, and it was the first time I'd been able to see him in years without using ear plugs.  He has always said that he needs a certain volume to get his marvelous tone, and that he really doesn't adjust for room size, or indoor/outdoor.  Perhaps because of the instrumentation, he definitely was playing a little softer, and his vocals were much more relaxed.  His phrasing is legendary; simple blues licks become revelatory, and his use of space is magic.  I first saw him 40 years ago at a guitar summit at the Berkeley Community, on a bill with T Bone Walker, Shugie Otis, and Herb Ellis with Joe Pass.  He brought down the house with Little Red Rooster, and scared me to death.  He looked about 15, I didn't realize for some time that he was actually a year older than me.  I'm also enjoying a dvd of Robben and Larry Carlton "unplugged" in Paris.  They actually are plugged in, but Larry is playing a Santa Cruz acoustic steel string, and Robben a nylon string jazz archtop made by Toru Nittono.  Highly recommended.     

Last Saturday the Kronos Quartet celebrated their 40th anniversary at Zellerbach as part of Cal Performances.  With numerous suprise guests, they opened with a new piece by Terry Riley (who was seated in front of me) Another Secret eQuation.  Using childrens' choirs, it was almost harmelodic in it's explorations.  Jherek Bischoff followed with A Semiperfect Number on electric bass.  Philip Glass's Orian, with Wu Man on pipa was lovely.  A Malian love song, with The Trio Da Kali, proved that music is universal, and no translation of the lyrics was necessary.  Guitarist Bryce Desner rocked out on power chords.  After the intermission the sole piece was George Crumb's Black Angels.  Inspired by the Vietnam War, it was the first piece the Kronos commissioned.  Bowed and struck gongs, and bowed water glasses and spoken word descibe the screech and horror of war, and the eerie silence of death.  Founder David Harrington, with John Sherba, and Hank Dutt, were brilliant to found Kronosprofit.  They have accomplished the impossible: survived as a conduit for new music for 40 years, and commissioned 800 compositions.  I think all of us long time fans will always miss Joan Jenrenaud, and the cello chair has revolved a bit the last few years. The latest, Sunny Yang, is a worthy addition.  Brava Kronos Quartet, long may you run. 

I certainly have a lot of great music to be thankful for this year.  Sunday night, the last night of his SF Jazz residency, Jason Moran played a solo set, and then introduced the duo of Randy Weston and Billy Harper.  A 2010 MacArthur fellow, the 37 year old Moran is at the forefront of modern music, and is perhaps the most gifted pianist of his generation.  Paying homage to Monk and Ellington and Weston, he has forged his own style at once modern (he plays along with pre-recorded samples on some songs - delta blues to Pigmeat Markham!) while demonstrating a remarkable depth of knowledge of the many branches of jazz piano, from bebop to stride. 

Randy Weston, an NEA 2001 Jazz Master, has combined a love of Monk and modern music with a profound love and curiosity of African culture.  Billy Harper has been my (and Baron Shul's) favorite tenor player since we first heard his Black Saint recording in 1975.  Weston and Harper together are powerful, spiritual, lyrical, and breathtaking. Like Ellington, they can go from penthouse blues to rent party inside of one phrase.


My Valence Project band mates Brain and Melissa Reese suggested we check out the Steve Gadd Band at Yoshi's last night.  I've had the privilege of seeing Steve many times; with Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and most recently at SF Jazz with David Sanborn and Bob James.  He's always super tasteful and groovy.  From being part of the house band at CTI Records, often with Ron Carter on bass and revolving leaders including Jim Hall, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker and Hubert Laws, to Stuff (the Live at Montreux dvd is a must have) Gadd can play any style of music with conviction and taste.  For his own band he had Larry Goldings on B3 (I believe I first saw Larry with John McLaughlin many years ago) Larry Johnson (James Taylor/ Allan Holdsworth) on bass, Walter Fowler on trumpet and fluglehorn, and Michael Landau on guitar.  The music ranged from funk to New Orleans second line, to blues to a lovely straight-ahead version of Bye Bye Blackbird. So inspirational!


Berkeley welcomed her native son Joshua Redman home to Zellerbach Auditorium Saturday night.  Joshua has become the preeminent tenor saxophonist of his generation, and the sold out crowd was wildly enthusiastic.  The son of the legendary saxman Dewey Redman and the dancer Renee Shedroff, he grew up listening to the music of his father, and also to John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cannonball Adderley, as well as The Beatles, Motown, Led Zep, and The Police.  While he played in the Berkley High School Jazz Ensemble until his graduation in 1986, he never intended to be a professional musician, and graduated from Harvard summa cum laude with a degree in social studies.  Taking a year off before law school, he fell into the New York jazz scene, and won the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition.  Voila, a career was born.  He began to tour and record with his father, and Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Elvin Jones, Pat Metheny, and Paul Motian, among many others.  This quartet has performed together off and on since 1998, and is beautifully locked in and intuitive. Pianist Aaron Golberg also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with degrees in science and history.  As with Joshua, music won out, and he began touring with Tom Harrell and Freddie Hubbard.  Reuben Rogers is a marvelous electric and acoustic bassist, with influences from jazz to calypso from his native Virgin Islands, to reggae and gospel.  Like all great bass players he both propels the group rhythmically, while tying the soloists melodic flights harmonically, and making sure everything makes sense.  Drummer Gregory Hutchinson (along with my own dear Deszon Claiborne) is one of the finest straight ahead drummers of his generation, and can swing from post bop to funk and back in a few bars while maintaining monster grooves.  A supposed music business heavy assured me years ago that improvisation was dead, and that young people were not going to be interested in listening to musicians "winging it".  I knew he was wrong, and that that there will ALWAYS be an audience for the excitement and mystery of spontaneous creation.  A modern quartet that also channels the tradition, the encore was Star Dust.    



Wednesday October 30 the great Mariza played at Zellerbach Auditorium.  I have seen her many times over the years since she first played the Henry Kaiser Auditorium as part of SF Jazz.  And I saw her in March in the intimate Robert N. Miner Auditorium.  In truth, I was considering not attending this show just because I had seen her very recently.  But Mariza is one of a hanful of artists, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Ravi Shankar, Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, that I will literally see as often as I can, indeed every night, if I could.  And my response at her first notes are always the same - I weep.  Yes, she is very beautiful, and dramatic, and has the stage presence of Sinatra.  But it is the voice, the emotion, that always overcomes me.  Truly universal, and completely fado.  With Jose Neto on guitarra, Pedro Joia on guitar, Nando Araujo on bass guitar, and Vicky Marques (a boy) on drums, the arrangements vary from a capella to the orchestral.  Even American and Brazillian pop tunes become true fado in her hands.  She teaches the audience some Portuguese to sing along with her.  Before the encores, she walks through the audience singing, and then sings off mic.  I have some sephardic Spanish and Portuguese blood.  Is that why she affects me so?     


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