Tag Archives: duets

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

“HOTTER THAN A FORTY-FIVE!”(PART TWO): CARL SONNY LEYLAND / MARC CAPARONE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 2, 2018)

Two hot poets.  Two brothers at play.  Two bold frolicking explorers.  Choose your metaphor: pianist-singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist / trumpeter-singer Marc Caparone are friends and heroes, so it was an immense pleasure to see and hear them out in the open, joyously rambling all around.  Here is the first part of their duo set performed on July 31, 2018, at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.

And here are four more beauties:

INDIANA BOOGIE WOOGIE:

DUSTY RAG:

MELANCHOLY:

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

I shared WANDERER with scholar-musician Richard Salvucci, whose verdict was “That is the way it is done,” and I concur thoroughly.  Carl and Marc will be reunited for our joy on the April-May 2019 STOMPTIME cruise: details here.

May your happiness increase! 

A DOUBLE ORDER OF EXUBERANCE: MICHAEL HASHIM / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (May 17, 2016)

Michael Hashim, June 2016

Michael Hashim, June 2016.  Photograph by Tara O’Grady.

About three weeks ago, singer Barbara Rosene and pianist Ehud Asherie delighted us with an evening of music at Mezzrow; early on they were joined by the reed wizard Michael Hashim.  I have become used to hear Michael doubling on alto and soprano saxophones — our mutually pleasing acquaintanceship goes back to very late 2004 or early 2005.  But that night, coming from a gig playing for NYU graduation ceremonies, he brought his tenor saxophone along.  If you’ve never met Michael, he is an absolute virtuoso (and someone deeply interested in a scholarly way in many artistic endeavors that don’t have reeds in them).

HASHIM tenor

Ehud Asherie is simply one of the finest pianists of this or any other jazz era, as a soloist or a wonderfully subtle accompanist.  But I think this is the first opportunity I’ve had to observe and record Ehud and Michael as a duo.  And the results, although too brief, are spectacular.

Ehud portrait

A dazzling CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

And a campanologist’s delight, RING DEM BELLS:

Thank you, Michael and Ehud.  Give this duo a gig!  A CD!  A weekly gig . . . !

May your happiness increase!

WARM CONVERSATIONS IN MUSIC: JON DE LUCIA / PUTTER SMITH / TATSUYA SAKURAI at OLIVIER BISTRO (May 9, 2016)

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

I’ve only met the altoist / clarinetist / flautist / composer Jon De Lucia this year, but I have been delighted and astonished by his subtle warm talent.  The first opportunity I had to experience his floating improvisations was his April 15 graduate recital at City College, which you too can experience here (where Jon is joined by Greg Ruggiero, Aidan O’Donnell, Steve Little, and Ray Gallon).

I wanted to hear more, so I asked Jon if I could come video him at a regular Brooklyn gig at Olivier Bistro (469 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, very close to the F train for people who know and respect such things) and he said I could — thus, this quartet of videos from his performances on May 9. On three of them, Jon’s partner in soulful dialogue is the most revered Putter Smith, string bass; on MOHAWK, that blues we know from the late Dizzy and Bird session, they are joined by the youthful guitarist Tatsuya Sakurai, to great effect.  (Ordinarily Jon’s duet partner is the wonderfully lyrical Greg Ruggiero — a duo I hope to capture soon.)

Thinking of Billie, YOU’VE CHANGED:

The question no one asked that night, WHO CARES?:

The aforementioned Bird / Dizzy blues, with Tatsuya along for the fun of the explorations:

And a statement of fidelity, “forsaking all others” in 4 / 4, IT’S YOU OR NO ONE:

What lovely intimate music.

And a non-musical postscript: the food at Olivier Bistro was wonderful, the service likewise (look for kind Annette!): I look forward to returning to enjoy more.

May your happiness increase!

TWO-PART INVENTION: JON-ERIK KELLSO / EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (Dec. 16, 2014)

Two of my great musical heroes, brave playful inventors: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ehud Asherie, piano.  Recorded live at Mezzrow, 163 West Tenth Street, New York City, December 16, 2014.

Here’s a wondrous example of sustained synergy: Eubie Blake / Noble Sissle’s BANDANA DAYS turning the corner into Morton’s WILD MAN BLUES, nearly twelve minutes of jazz splendor:

We dare not take such beauty for granted.  (Translation: go see and support live jazz, wherever you are.)

May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part Two: June 15, 2014)

Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours.  I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):

BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):

MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):

And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:

and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:

Which they do.  More Divine Music to come.

 May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE INSPIRATION: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO, IN LIVING COLOR (Part One: June 15, 2014)

Have you been? I refer to the hot chamber music sessions created by Maestro Leon Oakley and Professor Craig Ventresco — improvising on classic themes — held at Cafe Divine, 1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California, on the third Sunday of each month.

Here are the first four of a dozen treats — in living color visually as well as musically:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

A SHINE ON YOUR SHOES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

MOONGLOW:

May your happiness increase!

JUST DIVINE, or SOME SWEET DAY WITH DINAH (LEON OAKLEY / CRAIG VENTRESCO: May 18, 2014)

In the middle of last month, on a Sunday evening, I made my way to Cafe Divine on Stockton Street in San Francisco for music that was, in its own way, simply divine: duets by cornetist Leon Oakley and guitarist Craig Ventresco — with a visit from singer Meredith Axelrod. My previous posting about this May 2014 evening can be found here.

By popular demand, I present two more video performances from that night. One is of Tony Jackson’s song, SOME SWEET DAY — an early example of revenge-with-music, a lineage that also included YOU RASCAL YOU, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN, GOODY GOODY, I WANNA BE AROUND . . . and a hundred more. I wonder if there are more revenge songs than gratified-love songs, and what that would say about our collective character if it were true.  That a number of the songs above have connections to Louis Armstrong should not encourage us to label him as personally vindictive, though.  The second selection, DINAH, goes back to the early Twenties, and (in the hands of Louis and others) has often been treated as a jubilant romp. But this version — so reminiscent of Ruby Braff — is sweetly ruminative and completely winning.

SOME SWEET DAY (with the verse!):

DINAH:

Craig and Leon will be at Cafe Divine, barring tectonic shifts, the third Sunday of every month . . . . so don’t miss out!

May your happiness increase!

 

DAN BLOCK AND FRIENDS: “DUALITY” (September 21, 2013)

Dan Block is one of those musicians whom I admire deeply not only for what he creates, but for the expansiveness of his imagination. Whatever horn he picks up, whatever context he finds himself in, whether it’s Pollack or Shostakovich, Dan makes something new and resonant out of the familiar while blending wonderfully into the improvising family around him.

DUALITY Dan Block

Late in 2012, Dan created a rewarding CD called DUALITY — one of those discs I return to often and delight in.  I wrote about it here.

It was another real delight to find Dan and friends at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now reborn as the most exciting Allegheny Jazz Party — do read about it!) inventing dualities on the stage in front of us.  Here are a few of those wondrous leaps into the air.

This duet with Rossano Sportiello explores a song from the 1967 Broadway musical, HALLELUJAH, BABY — a song forever associated with the young Leslie Uggams, MY OWN MORNING:

With Howard Alden, Dan offers his own CHORINO FOR DENNIS, a loving remembrance of the late bassist Dennis Irwin:

With Jon Burr, Dan goes back into the Twenties for the pop song I’M BRINGING A RED, RED ROSE:

And a little early Gershwin, played by Dan, Rossano, Jon, and Pete Siers — I’LL BUILD A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE:

In his inventiveness, his on-the-spot willingness to reshape the familiar into new and pleasing shapes, Dan reminds me exactly of Ruby Braff, for whom a duet or a quartet was never quite a small fixed entity.  DUALITY (the CD) and these videos are beautiful examples of brave, lovely musical investigation.

May your happiness increase!

TATE, MODERN: FRANK TATE and ROSSANO SPORTIELLO at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 22, 2012)

Bassist Frank Tate is a modest sort — at one point in this set, he says that when he and pianist Rossano Sportiello do a concert together, it’s Rossano’s band . . . but we shouldn’t underestimate Mr. Tate, whose lyrical melodies sustain any group — in addition to his beautiful tone, fine choice of notes, harmonic sensitivity, and deep rhythm.

Here are Frank and Rossano onstage at Jazz at Chautauqua — bringing serene swing to that glorious weekend:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY:

RHYTHM CHANGES:

YOUNG AND FOOLISH:

JUST AS THOUGH YOU WERE THERE:

IDAHO:

What a band!

May your happiness increase.

DAN BLOCK’S NEW WORLDS: “DUALITY”

As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others.  But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010).  Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.

The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.

On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).

The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich.  Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor.  The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.

Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves.  “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band?  OK, I’ll put on that hat.  Back a torch singer?  Can do.  It’s atonal time?  Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.”  Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.

DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us.  Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play.  The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits.  There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.

I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here.  Buy this.  Put everything else down and listen.”  But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified.  Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop.  A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.

You can hear excerpts and purchas DUALITY here and here — and visit Dan’s own site here.

May your happiness increase. 

BRIGHT SHADOWS: SPIKE AND MIKE at SMALLS (April 19, 2012)

“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy.  It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike.  I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.

I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet.  To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague.  And they are friends, which comes through.  When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!”  And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth.  As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.

The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn.  You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous.  But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):

SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):

FLAMINGO:

Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):

A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :

and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

MOON MIST:

THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):

Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:

As Mike says, “It’s a waltz.  It’s our biggest hit!”  What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:

Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:

May your happiness increase.

SMILING WITH GOOD REASON: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE in DUET at SMALLS (April 5, 2012)

Musicians onstage at Smalls jazz club (183 West Tenth Street, Greenwich Village, New York City) perform in front of a large poster of Louis Armstrong, smiling, fashionably decked out in his new London togs, circa 1932.

It wasn’t my imagination — you can see for yourself — Louis was smiling even more blindingly for the first two sets of April 5, 2012, when trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Ehud Asherie — deep musical friends — created one delightful improvisation after another.  (Echoes of Louis and Earl Hines!)  And seated near me was portrait photographer Lorna Sass, who has generously shared two portraits with JAZZ LIVES.

Jon-Erik and Louis. Photograph by Lorna Sass. Copyright 2012

Here’s the first set.

The Rodgers and Hart THOU SWELL — for Bix or just for fun:

Something very sweet and heartfelt, by Sissle and Blake — LOVE WILL FIND A WAY:

Did you see a bunny?  It’s our pal COTTON TAIL:

THANKS A MILLION (for Louis — and only Jon-Erik plays the sweet verse):

More Sissle and Blake!  A romping I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY:

James P. asks one of the few questions really worth asking: AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?

Ehud Asherie -- both of him -- at the piano. Photograph by Lorna Sass. Copyright 2012

Second set:

Something for and from Tom Waller: UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE:

Did you go shopping?  I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Another delicacy from Louis — IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

Let’s swing a while with SWEET SUE:

You knew CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.  But I’ll bet your fourth-grade history teacher never taught that C.C. “used the rhythm as a compass”:

I was smiling broadly, too.  You can see and hear why, can’t you?

May your happiness increase.

ROLLICKING! WHIT SMITH and MATT MUNISTERI: “HELL AMONG THE HEDGEHOGS”

The new CD by Whit Smith, Matt Munisteri, and Tim Luntzel,  HELL AMONG THE HEDGEHOGS is a delight, so varied and lively, that I have found myself playing it twice in a row, enjoying it more each time.

I know that you can’t listen to the cover, but even the wry drawing (the cover of an imagined hip children’s book) by Ariella Huff says something about the CD’s witty, swinging sensibility:

Some of you will be ready to order it right now — so why should I burden you with details?  You can accomplish that goal right here or (if you feel Amazonian) here — or if you like all things Baby, then here.

I always think that the absolute best way, should you want a tangible disc, is to buy it from the artist at a gig — doubling your pleasure and the artist’s — but I know that isn’t convenient for everyone.

Whit and Matt, peerless guitarists, romp on “two old Gibson electric guitars,” with their distinctive sound — and are joined by the fine string bassist Tim Luntzel.  The sessions were recorded in 2010, and they sound real, with no studio trickery or tension.  The final track comes from a live session at Barbes in Brooklyn — and has some impromptu crowd support, as is appropriate.

Guitarists will want this disc immediately: it is a casual, playful series of tumbling conversations between two players who swing intuitively, whose epigrammatic phrases and long lines ring in the mind.  The brief comments on the back of the paper sleeve distinguish Whit and Matt for those not immediately familiar with the sound of each player: “Whit’s sound is more compact and warm; Matt has more treble and gloss; Whit is tighter and dry; Matt is slithery and wet.  Whit is hedgehog, Matt is muskrat.”

Now we can move on, having cleared that up.

The sound of the three string instruments suggests — at turns — shirt-sleeved daredevils on the shady porch, creating new paths through familiar melodies, taking their time.  At times a ringing phrase suggests Bix or Louis, George Barnes or Chet Atkins — or the local train meandering through the history of intimate swing playing of the last ninety years.  You’ll hear a barn dance and a Harlem jam session of 1941.  Nothing drags or races; everyone explores the open vistas of rocking Medium Tempos in light-hearted ways.

Whit sings ALONG THE NAVAJO TRAIL; Matt offers SINGIN’ THE BLUES with the never-heard verse.  Those two selections will indicate the wide range of the nine songs: from obscure pop songs to hokum to jazz classics to one by Eldon Shamblin and Tiny Moore, YOU JUST TAKE HER.  The songs show a deep immersion in the jazz tradition — MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEEP HENDERSON, a Coleman Hawkins line, TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING; a Sidney Bechet tune, OKEY DOKE.  But don’t think that this CD is jazz archaeology, dusty jazz idolatries.  Certainly not.  The classic lines are used as foundations for energetic, joyous playing.  The title track — an original by Whit — is a left-handed consideration of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (to my ears) full of surprises.  And no CD that ends with YOU’RE BOUND TO LOOK LIKE A MONKEY WHEN YOU GROW OLD (one of those tough truths no one wants to hear) can be overly serious, can it?

I never cared much for muskrats and hedgehogs before this, but I’ve changed my mind.  You will, too.

MUSINGS IN RHYTHM: HARRY ALLEN and KEITH INGHAM at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 17, 2011)

I think my description is accurate: two deep players united by mutual admiration and a love for melody and where it might go — performing leisurely duets at Jazz at Chautauqua on some less-familiar songs.  Close your eyes and go deeply inside this lovely music!

BAUBLES, BANGLES, AND BEADS (from the musical KISMET — based on the music of Borodin, if I recall correctly) seguing into THE DRIFTERS:

A lovely song I’d never heard before — written by Percy Faith — MAYBE SEPTEMBER:

And to close, music by Irving Berlin for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, CHANGE PARTNERS:

By the way, Harry often tours Europe and the UK.  I know that Keith would be delighted to visit his homeland for a playing tour.  Any UK bookers reading JAZZ LIVES?  They should be!

INSPIRED DIALOGUES: LENA BLOCH and EVGENY SIVTSOV (CAFFE VIVALDI, May 8, 2011)

I have thought tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch a remarkable player in the too-few times I have seen and heard her.

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day 2011) I finally had an opportunity to experience her in a most intriguing duo with pianist Evgeny Sivtsov, appearing at Caffe Vivaldi (32 Jones Street in West Greenwich Village, New York City).

Duet playing is a fascinating balancing act.  As in any other relationship where two people have strong personalities and solidly established selves, the paradox emerges immediately that each one must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to switch roles.

And it’s much more subtle than Leader and Follower — in this case, Lena and Evgeny didn’t always follow the typical patterns, but they engage in playful, often dramatic dialogues.  At times I thought of Steve Lacy, other moments reminded me of Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles, of Ted Brown and Michael Kanan — all fine echoes and resonances.

At first, Evgeny impressed me as a powerful, imposing player (although he is tall and thin), making great clusters of sound — more THE GREAT GATES OF KIEV than FIFTY-SECOND STREET THEME, but beneath his apparent ferocity was a playful self that emerged later in the set, where I heard prancing echoes of Erroll Garner, or Johnny Guarneri.

Lena has her own sound and conceptions.  She has a beautiful tone (even when she chooses to make it dry for a moment) and she understands melodic playing.  She is no rhapsodist, but an explorer, not afraid of venturing outside the contours of the expected melody.  But she never uses her tenor saxophone to make sounds that might assault us.

This session found Lena and Evgeny inventing inspired dialogues — a set of improvisations on standard songs that made the familiar fresh, with Lena’s tenor lines often riding the currents of Evgeny’s piano — a little boat in powerful currents, able to ride them without ever going under.  Exultant music — serious, playful, unpredictable.

And from behind my video camera, I found the faces and bodies of the two players visually fascinating, their artless movements and expressions compelling proof of how music moves us.  Watch Evgeny as he bravely makes his way through the thickets — unknown territory! — bobbing and weaving like the truly impassioned man he is.  And observe the wonderful way Lena’s face, while she was listening and leaning, reflects every note and nuance she heard on the piano.

Great, playful art.

Cole Porter’s I LOVE YOU:

I’LL REMEMBER APRIL.  (And I’ll smile):

I HEAR A RHAPSODY (an accurate title):

EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME (with its serious, grieving air):

YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

Frank Loesser’s jaunty IVE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:

OUR IDEAL: MICHAEL KANAN and PETER BERNSTEIN at SMALLS (March 31, 2011)

Pianist Michael Kanan and guitarist Peter Bernstein created great beauty at Smalls (183 Tenth Street) last Thursday night. 

They are both intuitively gracious players, so the two chordal instruments (each its own orchestra) never collided, never seemed to overpower each other.  It was a sweet dance, a conversation, rather than a cutting contest — with lovely sonorities.  Michael and Peter decided at the start of the night to alternate song choices: one of them would begin a song and the other would fall in — a delightfully playful collaboration.   

The music they made was harmonically and emotionally deep yet it felt translucent, open. 

Hear MY IDEAL or the second set’s BALLAD MEDLEY.  Brad Linde, sitting next to me for a few numbers before going off to his own gig with Ted Brown, thought of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.  I thought of the Pablo duet of Jimmy Rowles and Joe Pass, CHECKMATE, of Tatum and Debussy, of a reverence for melody and harmony.  But to burden this music with words would be wrong.  Listen!

THE NEARNESS OF YOU:

YESTERDAYS:

MY IDEAL:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

PANNONICA:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

NOBODY ELSE BUT ME:

BALLADS (Gone With The Wind, Too Late Now, Moonlight in Vermont):

DEWEY SQUARE:

An honor, a privilege to hear this music!

ALISA’S PARTY: JEFF HAMILTON and CLINT BAKER (May 18, 2010)

Veteran radio broadcaster and jazz lover Alisa Clancy teaches a jazz course called JAZZ FROM THE HILL at San Mateo Community College that ends with a music party — as a reward for the students, perhaps, so they now know how much they know!  Alisa is the Operations Director at KCSM (91.1 FM) and host of “A Morning Cup Of Jazz,” four hours of well-chosen jazz every weekday morning to soothe the nerves of people caught in traffic. 

This year (as in the past) the tireless Rae Ann Berry brought her camera.  I was far away when the party was in full swing, but now we can see and hear the delightful duets between Jeff Hamilton and Clint Baker.  (There are still more on YouTube — visit “SFRaeAnn” to lose yourself in a day’s worth of hot jazz.)

Most people know Jeff Hamilton as a wonderfully swinging drummer (there are two J.H.’s who play the drums: this one’s my favorite) but he’s also a splendid pianist.  He has two CDs out under his own name where he’s featured, beautifully, on that instrument — combining classical training with a great down-home rock.  He can rhapsodize or dig into the deep blues of people like Tut Soper and Cassino Simpson. 

And my audience (and Rae Ann’s) knows Clint as a polymorphous jazz multi-tasker, which is to say he plays many instruments very very well.  Here he emphasizes his cornet playing (with a splendidly evocative assortment of mutes), sits in on the drums, and plays an unusual and rare clarinet as well.  (It’s an Albert system one with an upturned bell — I believe it once belonged to West Coast legend Tom Sharpsteen.)  Clint does it all with great expertise and the kind of nonchalance that makes it seem easy.  Which it isn’t.  I thought of Jim Goodwin; I thought of Sidney Catlett; of the great New Orleans clarinet tradition. 

Here’s a medium-tempo MEMORIES OF YOU (with the rarely-heard verse) as Clint plays quietly effective, simple drums alongside him (on the simplest drum set one could imagine):

The well-worn SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, played as if it hadn’t gotten its paint rubbed off over the years:

ISLE OF CAPRI, complete with verse and a tango interlude.  Why should Wingy Manone have had all the fun?  I’d call the rideout chorus here “hot Chicago jazz,” even though the session took place in San Mateo, California:

A soulful reading of MY IDEAL:

ROSETTA, energetically:

And (to close things off on the right note) a rendition of SQUEEZE ME which made me think of its origins as THE BOY IN THE BOAT, a naughty anatomical ditty.

What I recall of the lyrics is something like this: “Oh, the boy, the boy in the boat.  He don’t wear no hat or no coat.  He don’t have no house.  He don’t have no shoes.  He don’t care nothing ’bout those weary blues.”  Full text and subtext gratefully accepted, even though this is a family blog. 

Jeff’s idiosyncratic mixture of Hines, Sullivan, and Hamilton is truly wonderful:

Thanks, Alisa, for throwing this little bash — how very gracious of you!

CLINT BAKER + CRAIG VENTRESCO = IDEAL JAZZ TRIO

See for yourself in these two December 2008 performances recorded by Rae Ann Berry, where Clint triples on trumpet, guitar, and vocal, and Craig doubles on banjo and guitar. 

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS comes from Clint and Alisa Clancy’s jazz class / end of the year party:

IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) was captured at the less quiet Cafe Divine, but it a marvel nonetheless:

Craig doesn’t terribly much like to be called a “jazz” player, and he has little enthusiasm for modern guitarists who rely on Django reinhardt licks, but these two performances remind me — so delightfully — of the sides Django made in 1939 with the Ellingtonians Rex Stewart, BArney Bigard, and Billy Taylor.  Sweet, intense, heartfelt yet casual music. 

Incidentally, both Clint and Craig have their own websites (on my blogroll) where you can not only see video clips but find out where they are playing next.

DOGGIN’ AROUND, or SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza.  It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:

Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time.  He is one talented virtuoso!  (Craig’s not so bad either.  We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.)  I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin.  The brand is Fraulini.  Dog is Mr. Woofles.  Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”

I see a future for this trio!

SMALL CLUB, BIG JAZZ

Flip and I went to see Ehud Asherie last night at Smalls, where his duet partner was the Russian-born altoist Dmitry Baevsky, someone you should know.  I’ve heard Dmitry shining through Joe Cohn’s RESTLESS (Arbors), but was even more impressed by him in person.  The interplay between the two musicians — they’re long-term friends — should surprise no one who’s been reading this blog.  Ehud, modest about his own playing, listens deeply, thoughtfully commenting, answering, anticipating, smoothing the way.

Here’s the duo on Bud Powell’s STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.

Dmitry is a special pleasure.  Many alto players born in the last sixty or so years have fallen under the great avian enchantment of Charlie Parker.  Even if they don’t adopt his familiar repertoire, they work towards his brilliant tone and great facility — which translates into rapid flurries of notes aimed at the listener.  More recent altoists, perhaps falling under Coltrane’s and Ornette’s spells, have chosen to break out of bebop’s conventions — often with a harsh tone, a nearly aggressive approach to their material.

Dmitry is well aware of what has taken place in jazz, and he’s no reactionary, tied to ancient points of view.  But he loves the sound of his instrument, and he enjoys its singing possibilities without falling into sticky-sweetness.  In his playing, I hear the bounce of Pete Brown in some turns of phrase, the pensive quality of a Paul Desmond — but mostly I hear Dmitry, which is a wonderful thing indeed.  That tone!

And both of these players know how to convey deep feeling through their instruments.  Here they approach POOR BUTTERFLY with tenderness, even reverence.

Smalls is reminiscent of someone’s suburban basement or “rec room” in the Seventies — but the casual intimacy of the place inspires the musicians who play there, as you can hear.  I couldn’t stay on for long after Ehud’s duet set, but he was followed by Tardo Hammer, then by Sacha Perry and Ari Roland — a cornucopia of world-class jazz for a $20 cover.