|FIVE RECENT PERFORMANCES
One of the top jazz singers around today but not yet a poll winner, Tessa Souter performed at the Musicians Institute in a concert sponsored by
Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery. Joined by tenor-saxophonist Don Braden (doubling on flute), guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Hamilton Price
and drummer Aaron McClelland, Ms. Souter started the night with a quiet but passionate version of “Eleanor Rigby,” really digging into the
loneliness of the lyrics. Throughout her well-rounded set, she sang some classical melodies for which she had written lyrics, a few fresh
originals, and such standards as “I’m Old Fashioned,” “The Look Of Love” (taken as a duet with Koonse), and a witty rendition of “Baubles,
Bangles & Beads.” Her strong voice was perfectly controlled and she was expert at expressing a wide range of emotions, from mournful to
celebratory. In addition, her very intelligent and inventive lyrics always held one’s interest. With Braden and Koonse making the most of their
solo space and blending in very well with Souter’s beautiful voice, and expert support provided by Price and McClelland, the result was a
memorable night of music that was filled with subtle surprises.
At Vitello’s, Peter Marshall (most famous for hosting The Hollywood Squares), Denise Donatelli and Carol Welsman performed a show titled
“And Then She Wrote” that featured their singing of songs composed or co-written by women. The performances were often funny (Marshall is
quite humorous) but very loose at times, with the singers sometimes excitedly talking over each other. The performances were generally quite
short since Marshall is not a jazz singer, with most of the songs only being given one or, at the most, two choruses. Dorothy Fields, Carolyn
Leigh and Betty Comden were among the many writers who received tributes and ,while the facts stated by the singers were not always
completely accurate, it was certainly a well-intentioned show with alert accompaniment by pianist John Rodby and bassist Dave Robaire.
During much of the second half, Carol Welsman sat in on piano. She did an expert imitation of Blossom Dearie on “I’m Hip” and her version of
“La Vie En Rose” and Denise Donatelli on “Some Other Time” were among the highpoints. But before this show is taken too seriously, the
performances will need to be tightened. Also, it would be nice if Peter Marshall would allow the other singers to stretch out a bit.
Banjoist Bela Fleck and pianist Marcus Roberts come from two different musical worlds, but the unusual combination worked very well at
Catalina’s. Joined by bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis, Fleck and Roberts brought out the very best in each other. Fleck,
who originally came from bluegrass, has always been open to other idioms as he has shown with his Flecktones and in his recorded duets with
Chick Corea. He is virtually the only modern banjoist active in music today, and he makes his instrument relevant. Roberts, a stride pianist at
heart who is versatile enough to play in more modern styles, was clearly inspired by Fleck’s sound and ideas. On such numbers as “That Old
Thing,” (which alternates eight bars of swinging with eight bars of freer playing), Roberts’ post bop original “The Sunshine Of The Moonlight,”
the country blues feel of Roberts’ “Serving The People,” a flamenco-inspired piece for Fleck’s unaccompanied banjo, and other numbers, the
quartet blurred styles and played continually inventive and colorful music. There was even a banjo-drums duet at one point that took the
music outside a la Coltrane.
What is a trumpeter supposed to do when his chops are just not there? Roy Hargrove brought his quintet to Catalina’s and drew packed houses,
but he was not at his best, and he knew it. Hargrove wisely kept on smiling, avoided trying to hit any notes above his middle register, kept his
improvisations brief, sometimes used a mute or switched to fluegelhorn, and featured his sidemen at greater length than usual. He went
through his usual show and even played encores (most in the audience did not notice his shortcomings), making few mistakes while avoiding
stretching himself further than he could go. He also took vocals on “Never Let Me Go,” “September In The Rain” and a closing sing-along on a
funk number. He survived the week!
The Manhattan Transfer put on a fine holiday show at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, a beautiful venue that should book more jazz
groups. They mixed together such favorites as their hit “Birdland,” “Route 66,” “Airmail Special,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “A-Tisket, A-
Tasket “ with such seasonal songs as “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (which had Alan Paul singing vocalese to a Paul Desmond solo), “White
Christmas” (interpreted as if it were sung in Brazil), “Sleigh Bells” (given New Orleans parade rhythms) and Johnny Mandel’s “All I Want For
Christmas Is You.” Even after 40 years together, Tim Hauser, Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne are remarkable. See them whenever
you have a chance.
In recent times, Voyageur Press (www.voyageurpress.com) has published two books that will be of strong interest to jazz collectors. Jazz: Body
And Soul is a collection of photographs and reminiscences by the late Bob Willoughby. Willoughby (1927-2009) is best known for his
photographs of Hollywood stars during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. However he started his career taking pictures of jazz artists on the West Coast
in the early 1950s. Body And Soul has many of his finest jazz photographs, some famous and many much lesser known. Willoughby had almost
completed the book by the time he passed away so his stories about the artists and his experiences are found throughout the book. There is also
an insightful foreword by Dave Brubeck, but it is the many photos that make this an essential book. From Billie Holiday and Miles Davis to Big
Jay McNeely at a particularly wild concert, from Louis Armstrong to Gerry Mulligan, Willoughby really covered the scene of the time. In
addition from his Hollywood years are the photos that he took of the musicians from the Benny Goodman Story and High Society. The book
concludes with photos taken from the 1992 and 1994 Jazz Gipfel festivals in Stuttgart, Germany, ending with Wynton Marsalis.
There have been many books on Miles Davis, but The Complete Illustrated History is something special. The commentary by Garth Cartwright
is fresh and open-minded and there are essays from 17 different writers and musicians including Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, George Wein,
Francis Davis, Dave Liebman and Nate Chinen about different aspects of Davis’ career. While the eight chapters each cover a specific period,
this is not a conventional biography in strict chronological order. In addition to the expected praise about most of Davis’ music, there are
criticisms and assessments that are not always favorable. An essay on “Miles And Women” by Nalini Jones is particularly intriguing. Miles
Davis is not portrayed throughout as a saint but as a very significant musician. But, words aside, the real reason to pick up this 224-page book
is for the photos (many of which are not common), not just of Davis but of albums, tickets and memorabilia. One could spend hours with this
coffee table book and never get bored.
TWO VERY DIFFERENT GUITARISTS ON DVD
Pat Metheny’s contributions to jazz are vast and grow each year. He has always had an original sound and style, whether leading the Pat
Metheny Group with keyboardist Lyle Mays, jamming with Ornette Coleman and being heard with all-star groups. Even for Metheny, The
Orchestrion Project was quite a challenge. Always fascinated by player pianos, Metheny commissioned several inventors to build instruments
that he could trigger and play through his guitar. On the first DVD of the two-DVD release The Orchestrion Project (available from www.
eaglerockent.com) features Metheny playing a lengthy “The Orchestraion Suite”and eight briefer pieces in the church where the instruments
were being stored. It is fascinating watching Metheny interact with piano, marimba, vibes, basses, and all types of percussion instruments
(including blown bottles). It is as if the other instruments have lives of their own and are reacting to Metheny even though the guitarist
actually set up their patterns.
The second DVD, in addition to a couple of other selections, mostly finds Metheny talking about the work that went behind the project which
was enormous. Unfortunately he never really shows how he triggers the other instruments or he sets up the exact patterns although it is
obvious that he pushes buttons with his feet. Five minutes of him explaining how he does that would perhaps strip away some of the mystery
but would have been illuminating. But other than that minor fault, The Orchestrion Project is utterly fascinating.
Marty Grosz, one of the last of the great swing acoustic guitarists, is showcased throughout producer Jay Brodersen’s film Rhythm Is My
Business (available from www.martygrosz.com). Clocking in around 90 minutes, most of the film features Grosz on guitar and Fats Waller-
inspired vocalizing leading a quartet with Scott Robinson (cornet, clarinet and saxophones), Dan Block (clarinet, soprano, tenor and baritone)
and Vince Giordano (mostly on string bass but also seen on bass sax and tuba) at a concert. Best among the ten performances is a medley of “If
We Never Meet Again” and “Jubilee.” There is some unnecessary commentary by guests over parts of the first two songs but fortunately the
other eight pieces are left undisturbed. Some of Grosz’s humor comes through in spots although I wish that some of his classic monologues were
included since he can be hilarious. However the hot swing music is enjoyable and it is great that Marty Grosz has been documented a bit. There
is no one else around like him today.