Monthly Archives: January 2017

WHEN BEAUTY IS THE ONLY WAY: ABIGAIL RICCARDS and MICHAEL KANAN

When the soul needs solacing, anti-inflammatories from the bathroom medicine chest just won’t do.  I present two you two deep practitioners of the healing arts: Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the two of them in duet only twice, but each time remains memorable.  Here are two songs from their recitals that are especially soulful: we need such balm.

Even though this performance begins whimsically — Abigail’s impromptu version of NAME THAT TUNE, with Michael as the sole contestant — it quickly becomes an unforgettable expression of quiet longing:

Abigail continues to make music of the most lovely kind in Chicago; Michael is simultaneously in New York and touring the world. Together or singly, they improve our world.

May your happiness increase!

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

“DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND”: MARC CAPARONE and RAY SKJELBRED at SAN DIEGO (November 26, 2016)

One of the pleasures of growing older is the freedom to speak one’s own truth, and not be so worried whether others might agree.  So I will say plainly that the performance that follows is a masterpiece.

dear-old-southland

The performance of DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND (a reworking of the song DEEP RIVER) was the joyous work of Marc Caparone, cornet, and Ray Skjelbred, piano, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, on November 26, 2016.  Their inspiration was the 1930 recording by Louis Armstrong and Buck Washington.  And this performance follows the same overall pattern: a slow rubato exposition of the dark yearning melody, then an shift into swingtime, a piano solo, four four-bar exchanges, a return to the duet, then a close in the original tempo with a long triumphant held note.  But it is by no means a recreation of the recording, which to me is very moving, as if Marc and Ray chose to be themselves in their chosen roles, honoring the ancestral innovators while being personally innovative.

I urge JAZZ LIVES readers and viewers to take this performance to their hearts: it is music that uplifts even while its strains are dark and grieving.  Thank you, Marc and Ray.  And I look forward to more brilliance from these two artists.

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS: “THE DEVILS’ MUSIC”

naomi-cd-2016

This is an irresistible CD.  The first time I put it in the player, after about a half-chorus, I leaned forward and raised the volume.  When I had heard Naomi sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? for the first time, I played it again.  And then again.  And several times over.  And (I know this might seem monotonous) I played the disc again from the start.  That should serve as the JAZZ LIVES Seal of Approval, shouldn’t it?  (Note: the apostrophe in the title is also a hilarious gift to us.)

naomi-portrait

If you visit YouTube and type in “Naomi Uyama,” you will find many videos showing her as a championship swing dancer.  But I first encountered Naomi as a singer, and a fine one — singing a chorus from a Boswell Sisters recording alongside Tamar Korn and Mimi Terris — on a cold night in 2009 outside Banjo Jim’s.  Naomi and her expert friends resurfaced with their first CD, which I reviewed here with great pleasure in August 2014.

Here are several tracks from that CD — to show you that Naomi and her Devils know and knew how to do it.  Lil Johnson’s TAKE IT EASY, GREASY:

Something more polite, the Basie GEORGIANNA:

I know I’m getting carried away here — a wonderfully sweet / swinging performance of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU:

The band on THE DEVILS’ MUSIC is of course, Naomi Uyama, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax / clarinet; Jeremy Noller, drums;
Matt Musselman, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano;
Mike Davis, trumpet, and the sessions took place in Chicago in August 2016.

Naomi and the Devils write, “Our hope was to show the growth we’ve had as a unit since our debut album was released 2 years prior. Our focus: having original arrangements of swinging tunes – some well loved by the dance community and other hidden gems. We also added to our line-up, and over half the songs on this album feature Mike Davis on trumpet, expanding our hot horn harmonies and giving us a new sound. Lastly Naomi wrote the band’s first original composition, track 1 “Little Girl Blues,” putting something out there that you can’t hear from any other swing band. With a vintage ear and expertise from recording engineer Alex Hall we’ve mixed and mastered the whole shebang and can’t wait for the world to hear it. We hope you enjoy “The Devils’ Music”.

Now, some comments from me.  Naomi, as I hope you’ve already heard, is not just someone who sings: she is a singer, with a voice that’s attractive in itself, which she uses to great effect, depending on the material.  She can handle complicated lyrics at a fast tempo; she swings; she has a sure sense of dynamics. She doesn’t copy old records; she doesn’t overdramatize; she understands the songs; she can be rueful, tender, brassy, and she’s always lively.  Her phrasing is playful, and she’s no swing robot — by which I mean she’s loose, not repeating a set of gestures.  And a witty lyricist on LITTLE GIRL BLUES.

I also think that it is so much harder to sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC than a swing number, and on this delicate love song Naomi captivates me.  The same for IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, even when Gerlach’s lyrics defy logic.  Her I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY made my living room rock, and I nearly hurt my neck bobbing my head to SHOO SHOO BABY.  Having heard Louis, Bing, and Billie make imperishable versions of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, I’ve come to dread contemporary versions, but hers is special, with a hilarious scat break.

That band!  I’ve met and admired six of the players in person (to me, their names are an assurance of swing).  I bow to them.  I’ve not met Jeremy Noller, but he is another Worthy — a rocking Worthy at that. Catch his tom-tom work on ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE.  And although the Devils sit so comfortably in a Basie / Lunceford / small-group Ellington groove, there’s a delicious c. 1929 A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, completely convincing.  (The band likes to riff, with about half of the tracks arranged by Naomi or Jake: nice uncluttered charts, expertly rehearsed but never stiff.)  Naomi lays out on PERDIDO (a good thing, considering the thin lyrics), BLUES WITH A BEAT (a Forties-sounding romp), DELTA BOUND (a pleasure at any tempo), and a grooving THESE FOOLISH THINGS.

This is a long expression of praise, but you will notice I haven’t listed all the delightful moments on the CD; were I to do so, the post would be three times longer.

You can download the CD here ($13) or see how to buy a physical disc on the same page . . . AND . . . you can hear all the tracks on the disc.  “If that don’t get it, well,  forget it right now,” to quote Jack Teagarden, more or less, on the 1947 SAY IT SIMPLE.  For more first-hand information, here is the band’s Facebook page, and here is Naomi’s page.

It’s all quite devilishly wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

JELLY ROLL MARTIN: LITTON PLAYS MORTON at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

litton

I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much Morton, especially when it’s played as expertly as this — and from some unusual corners of the canon.  Here are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Robert Fowler, reeds; Martin Litton, piano, transcriptions, arrangements; Martin Wheatley, banjo, guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nick Ball, drums, at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 4, 2016. “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” is at the foundation — these performances never rush or shout — but there is a good deal of rollicking energy here.  No doubt.

TRY ME OUT:

DEEP CREEK:

GAMBLING JACK:

ELITE SYNCOPATIONS:

May your happiness increase!

LANGHAM’S LIZARDS, MASTERS OF THE ART: SPATS LANGHAM, RICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, JOEP LUMEIJ, NICK WARD (Nov. 19, 2016, Sassenheim)

Sassenheim Hoofdstraat 197 01

Thanks to the Classic Jazz Concert Club of Sassenheim, we can immerse ourselves in wonderful music created by Thomas “Spats” Langham and Friends. I do not think of Mister Langham as a Lizard, although if he chose the alliterative title, I will bow low respectfully. Rather, I think of Mister Langham (vocal, banjo, guitar, repartee) as a Master of the Art — that wonderful art of surprising and reassuring us simultaneously, making us remember that joy is possible and Things aren’t So Bad.  Here he is joined by string bassist Joep Lumeij (whom I know — through video and recordings), trumpeter  and vocalist Enrico Tomasso, clarinetist / saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, and percussionist Nick Ward — all of them legendary regal figures, and I do not exaggerate.  That we live in a time where such things are possible is uplifting.

TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE (with thoughts of Ethel Waters, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and Billie Holiday):

SMOOTH SAILING (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen):

THE GYPSY (Spats and his Masters in full Thirties ballad mode — think Bill Kenny and Al Bowlly — with all deference to Louis and Bird.  Pay special attention to the gorgeous Langham / Tomasso duet later in the performance):

SWANEE RIVER (which begins with a trumpet fanfare that I last heard in BACH GOES TO TOWN):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (Mister Berlin, with echoes of Bing and the Whiteman Orchestra):

and finally, a bit of theatre — Spats’ divine reading of NIGHT OWL (beloved of Cliff Edwards) in the dark, with an explication of bass-drum heads:

I do not know if these performances happened in this order, so I hope I will be forgiven by archivists of all kinds.  However, I thank the CJCC for putting on this concert and offering us videos, with rather pleasing multi-camera work and fine sound as well.

May your happiness increase!

FANTASY, IMPROMPTU: ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, LAURA WYMAN (January 21, 2017)

jon-erik-kellso-photo-by-aidan-grant

Jon-Erik by Aidan Grant

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

James Dapogny

James Dapogny

Here’s one of mine that did and does, in the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the night of January 21, 2017, during the after-party for the River Raisin Ragtime Review: Erin Morris dances while Jon-Erik Kellso and James Dapogny play.  And Laura Wyman recorded it on her hand-held camera.

Erin by Jerry Almonte

Erin by Jerry Almonte

I bless the four of them.

Three souls in harmony, reflecting motion and sound,  each telling Don Redman’s tale: James, seated; Jon-Erik, standing; Erin, mobile.  Individuals in community, coming together to create something that enthralls and cheers.

Watch and listen a few more times and go deep in to the splendors.  There’s a famous anecdote of Earl Hines at the Chicago Musicians’ Union in 1924, fooling around at the piano with a new pop tune by Isham Jones, THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — and a chubby young man formerly of New Orleans comes up, unpacks his cornet, and joins in.  No one who wasn’t in that room ever heard that music — although a few intrepid heartfelt souls have made their own variations on that duet.  And as far as I know, no one danced.

I wasn’t there, either, but I think this impromptu trio is at the same level: it gives me chills and then a rush of gratitude.  Thank you, Erin, James, Jon-Erik, Laura.

Laura and her magic camera

Laura and her magic camera

(An alternate take:  here you can see the video produced by William Pemberton, director of the RRRR, same time, same place.)

The skies are dark this afternoon, but we live amidst marvels.

May your happiness increase!