Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

“POPS!”: JOE POLICASTRO TRIO (DAVE MILLER, MIKEL AVERY, with guests ANDY BROWN, ANDY PRATT)

I am seriously out of touch with the pop culture of my generation.  Wake me at 4 AM, ask me for ten facts about Lester Young, and I can do it.  But Neil Young? Sorry.  There’s only so much space left on my internal hard drive, and if I choose to devote it to alternate takes of Sally Gooding with Teddy Wilson, go ahead and laugh.

When I received a copy of the fine Chicago bassist Joe Policastro’s new CD, below, I immediately thought that it would be related to Louis Armstrong.

JOE POLICASTRO 2016_pops cover

But once I started to listen, I was happy to have been wrong, since the music here is wonderful, an antidote to crabby narrowness.  Hear for yourself — the trio of Joe, the fine guitarist Dave Miller (whom I’ve admired — alongside Lena Bloch — in a variety of New York City surroundings), and the listening drummer Mikel Avery — working on the Sixties pop classic WIVES AND LOVERS here.  (I had that 45 single — by Jack Jones — in 1963 0r 4.)

Here’s Joe.  The music he creates is not as somber as this portrait:

JOE POLICASTRO

And Joe’s website.

I would like to see this CD in wide circulation, because the improvisations are so delightful.  Many of us have an unshakable fondness for certain songs — whether on their own terms, or because of sentimental associations — and we often want to hear jazz musicians improvise on just those songs.  I won’t enter into the needless argument whether Strayhorn is better than Porter or whether either of them is better than “those kids” Stevie Wonder and Prince.  Truly, once we brush away our associations, a strong melody is appealing, no matter who wrote it or when.  Think of Clark Terry and friends jamming on the FLINTSTONES theme.

So I dream of being in a car with a few Official Jazz Fans whose allegiances are clearly defined — let us say early Basie, 1960 Duke, Norvo-Farlow-Mingus, and so on, and playing this CD without identifying it.  And when the quibbling breaks out from the back, “Hey, Michael, that sounds good!  Who is it?  Let me have the CD sleeve so I can stop listening closely to the music and make judgments based on my reactions to people’s names, players and composers both!  I’ve got a little conceptual box right here!” I could politely say, “Please.  Just listen to the music and tell me what you think.  Life is only a Blindfold Test for people who want to be Blindfolded.”

I think they would come to the consensus that the music was superb, as I already have.  And then we could discuss players.  “That’s Joe Policastro!  What a fine bassist he is — I’ve seen and heard him with Andy Brown and Petra van Nuis.  He sings on his instrument.  And Dave Miller, full of surprise: I admired his work with Lena Bloch some time back.  That drummer Mikel is really swinging and paying attention.  And Andy twice — Brown and Pratt.  Where can I get this disc?”

Of course, some of the imaginary jazz fans in my car might recognize a few of the pop classics.  I know they would admire the gleeful, heartfelt transformations that Joe’s trio creates.

This disc would be an absolute hit with people who knew the pop originals but were ready to say how they didn’t like jazz, couldn’t listen to it, didn’t understand what “those people” were doing up there without any music stands.

For the record, the songs are WIVES AND LOVERS (Bachrach) / HARVEST MOON (Neil Young) / CREEPIN’ (Stevie Wonder) / WAVE OF MUTILATION (The Pixies) / MORE THAN A WOMAN (Bee Gees) / PRINCE MEDLEY: CONDITION OF THE HEART and DIAMONDS AND PEARLS / ME AND MRS. JONES (Billy Paul) / US AND THEM (Pink Floyd) / TAKE IT WITH ME (Tom Waits) / DRIVE (The Cars).

This session isn’t rock-pop played by jazz people in safe ways — for old folks who don’t want to be disturbed (i.e., wedding band music for those with delicate sensibilities).  There’s a good deal of inspired exploration, guitar sounds that made me think of TWIN PEAKS, energetic percussion.  No one would snooze through this disc: it’s not the twenty-first century version of THE HOLLYRIDGE STRINGS PLAY THE BEATLES.

POPS! is engaging inventive music.  And we’ll never have too much of that.

May your happiness increase!

“ON THE CORNER OF WESS AND ASHBY”: DESTINY MUHAMMAD HONORS DOROTHY ASHBY AND FRANK WESS (June 21, 2014)

ON THE CORNER OF WESS AND ASHBY

Photo by Joey Brite, 2014

Jazz harpist, sound sculptress, and singer Destiny Muhammad has been inspired by the music of harpist Dorothy Ashby and reed master Frank Wess for a long time — and last Saturday, at Oakland’s Musically Minded Academy (where she teaches) she paid tribute to these improvisers in her own way — with a trio of Leon Joyce, Jr., drums; Ken Noriyuki Okada, string bass; Melvin Butts, flute.

Here is the evocative and spirited music Destiny and friends performed that evening, remembering the Ancestors and expressing themselves simultaneously.

BACK TALK and JOLLITY:

Oscar Pettiford’s BOHEMIA AFTER DARK:

RASCALITY:

LITTLE SUNFLOWER:

Destiny’s solo turn on IF IT’S MAGIC:

SPICY and TOMORROW WILL COME:

Musically Minded Academy is located at 5776 Broadway, Oakland, California — a beautiful place offering musical instruction as well as inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

TODD LONDAGIN’S EXTRAORDINARY RANGE: “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”

I met and admired the trombonist and singer Todd Londagin several times in 2005 and onwards; he was one of the crew of cheerful individualists who played gleeful or dark music with the drummer Kevin Dorn.  A fine trombonist (with a seamless reach from New Orleans to this century) and an engaging singer, Todd is someone I have faith in musically.  But when I received his second CD, LOOK OUT FOR LOVE, I hardly expected it to be as remarkable as it is.

TODD LONDAGIN cover

On it, Todd sings and plays (occasionally doing both simultaneously, through an Avakian-like graceful use of multi-tracking . . . even sounding like Jay and Kai here and there), with a splendid small band: Pete Smith, guitar; Matt Ray, piano, Jennifer Vincent, string bass; David Berger, drums.  Singer Toby Williams joins in on BRAZIL.  The presentation is neither self-consciously sparse or overproduced. With all due respect to Todd, the foursome of Pete, Matt, Jennifer, and David could easily sustain their own CD or gig. I had only met Matt (unpredictable) and Jennifer (a swing heartbeat) in person, but this “rhythm section” is a wonderful — and quirky — democratic conversation of singular voices, each one of them a powerful yet gracious rhythm orchestra.

But I keep returning to Todd.  And his “extraordinary range” doesn’t refer to the notes he can hit on trombone or sing.  It’s really a matter of a deep emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who can equal him here. (That’s no stage joke.)

Consider these songs: LOOK OUT FOR LOVE / BYE BYE BABY / SOME OF THESE DAYS / BRAZIL / I CONCENTRATE ON YOU / LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / YOU GO TO MY HEAD / I CAN’T HELP IT / BUST YOUR WINDOWS.  The first two songs show off Todd’s sly, ingratiating self — witty and wily on the first (with a neo-Basie rock) and endearing on the second. Those who have to think of Echoes might hear Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., a young Bob Dorough, or Dave Frishberg. I thought on the first playing and continue to think that if there were aesthetic justice in the world, the first two songs would be coming out of every car radio for miles.  (Todd would also be starring on every enlightened late-night television show, or do I dream?)

The pop classics that follow are always served with a twist — a slightly different tempo, a different rhythmic angle, a beautiful seriousness (I’ve never heard CONCENTRATE interpreted so well).

Maybe Todd is understandably afraid of being pigeonholed as Another Interpreter of The Great American Songbook — with all the attendant reverence and dismissal that comes with that assessment — so the closing songs are “more modern.”  I think he does Stevie Wonder’s I CAN’T HELP IT justice in his own light-hearted, sincere, swinging way.

I am not attuned to contemporary pop culture, except to cringe when I hear loud music coming from the car next to mine, so I had no historical awareness with which to approach BUST YOUR WINDOWS.

In fact, I thought the title would herald some exuberant love song, “My love for you is so strong, it’s going to bust your windows,” or something equally cheerful.

Thus I was horrified to hear Todd sing, “I had to bust the windows out your car,” and all my literate-snobbish-overeducated revulsion came to the surface, as I called upon the shades of Leo Robin and Yip Harburg to watch over me.

But then I calmed down and reminded myself just how much fun the preceding nine tracks had been, and that I would be very surprised if Todd — bowing to whatever notion of modernity — had gone entirely off the rails. And I listened to BUST YOUR WINDOWS again. And again. For those who don’t know the song, it was an immense hit for one Jazmine Sullivan in 2008, and there’s a YouTube video of her doing it. The premise is that the singer finds her lover has been untrue with another (not a new idea) but (s)he then takes a crowbar to her lover’s car so that her lover will know what faithlessness does to others. Tough love, indeed.  I researched Sullivan’s music video — where she is threatening to unzip herself to a tango / rhythm and blues beat — and disliked it.

But I had no patience for her rendition of her own song because I had been struck so powerfully by Todd’s — almost a stifled scream of brokenhearted passion worthy of a great opera’s finish before the grieving one, betrayed, commits suicide. Todd’s performance has no tango beat, no intrusive orchestration: he merely presents the lyrics and melody as if he is showing us his bleeding heart . . . as if he has used the crowbar on himself.  It is a performance both bone-dry and powerful, understated and unforgettable. I can’t forget it, just as I keep on wanting to replay LOOK OUT FOR LOVE.

You can find out more about Todd here, and after you’ve heard the three samples, I hope you will chase down a copy of this CD. It is wildly rewarding and beautifully-textured music, and it will stay with you when other CDs by more “famous” players and singers have grown tedious. I don’t like “best” or “favorite,” but this CD is magnificently musical in so many ways that it will astonish.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD NEWS FROM THAT OTHER COAST

Hello, Michael – – –

Jazz Lives on the Left Coast, too.
I have no idea how many of your subscribers live in Southern California and hereabouts; I can only humbly ask that you consider sending out a notice (attached) about an upcoming event sponsored by JazzAmerica.  We’re  a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation co-founded by Los Angeles by jazz legend Buddy Collette. Since our inception in 1994, we have provided continuous jazz instruction to hundreds of middle- and high-school students, and it’s always tuition-free.from the early teens. 

On November 23 – sandwiched between nights of the Pharoah Sanders Quartet – we will take over LA’s top jazz venue, Catalina Bar & Grill, for a jazz brunch.  We’ll open with the Fairfax high school Young Lions, a fledgling jazz band comprised mostly of members of that school’s marching band. The Fairfax Lions marched their way to top honors in statewide competition last year.  We’re sharing with them information, recordings and charts that reflect the transition between marching music and early jazz. In that vein, their opening number is a Victor Goines arrangement of “Second Line,” a traditional sound from New Orleans.  Then they’ll play W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues,” James P. Johnson’s “Victory Stride,” and make their way through the big band era, early Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.
Following the Young Lions will be String Fever, a new ensemble consisting of classically-trained cellists, violinists and violists.  We’re exploring the sophisticated harmonic subtleties of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,”   some Ellingtonia (“It Don’t Mean a Thing…” and “Caravan,”) plus some original material provided by the eclectic Turtle Island String Quartet.
Closing the show will be some traditional/swing performers based in Sacramento, CA: vocalist Brady McKay,pianist/vibist John Cocuzzi, reedman Otis Mourning and drummer Daryl von Druff.
Why should your readers know about this, especially if they aren’t local?  Maybe it will spawn some interest in generating jazz instruction for youngsters where it doesn’t already exist.
Before we knew the outcome of the recent election, we took a chance and billed the event as “A November to Remember.”  With the sea change of last Tuesday, there’s an added gravitas to the banner.   Candidate Obama was asked what appealed to him so much about playing basketball. He compared it to the improvisational essence and collaborative excitement of jazz.  Imagine the possibilities of inspired young people turning to music to experience that same adrenaline rush.  At JazzAmerica, we think it’s a slam-dunk.
Fraternally,
Richard Simon
Program Director
www.JazzAmerica.org

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P.S. from the East Coast “Jazz Lives” person: When I first read this letter, I was enthusiastic about the enterprise.  Anything that helps children become jazz musicians or even exposes them to jazz is, no question, valid and valuable.  Then I remembered that Richard Simon is an ace jazz bassist himself, who played splendidly on Eddie Erickson’s CD, IT’S A GREAT FEELING.  Any friend of Eddie Erickson is a friend of mine! 

richard-simon-jpeg