Recent Listening: Tom Harrell

CD: Tom Harrell, Prana Dance (High Note)  The economy, lyricism and ingenuity in Tom Harrell's writing and his trumpet and flugelhorn playing make him one of the most admired musicians in jazz. Not only his contemporaries, but also musicians of younger and older generations are in awe of Harrell's musicianship. When he was a member of Phil Woods' quintet In the 1980s, Woods made the frequently-quoted statement that he had never played with a better musician. With two decades of leadership and … [Read more...]

Armstrong Park Redivivus

As New Orleans makes its slow way back from the devastation of hurricane Katrina and the fumbling federal and state crisis response, there are rays of hope on the cultural front. The jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld, who has become a semi-permanent New Orleans resident, writes about it in The Wall Street Journal. Once alight with bulbs that spelled out "Armstrong," the large steel archway above North Rampart Street, across from the venerable Donna's Bar & Grill, was dark much of the past … [Read more...]

Frishberg Branches Out

Dave Frishberg lives very much in the present but makes no bones about his fascination with the past. After all, his last CD was titled Retromania. So it's no wonder that the producers of a new piece of musical theater sought out Frishberg to write the words and music. Anyone familiar with "I'm Hip," "My Attorney Bernie," "Peel Me a Grape," "Listen Here" or his dozens of other songs knows that he's prepared to capture irony, whimsy and tenderness.  The show, Vitriol & Violets, is about the … [Read more...]

Frishberg Reports On The Show

Not long after I posted the item above, Mr. Frishberg sent this: The show is running smoothly, and the audience seems to love it. It's a small space, 99 seats, no proscenium, so it's like 3/4 in-the-round. Actors play practically in the laps of the audience. There are six musical events in the show, and all are warmly received. The cast is wonderful; the best singers are Dorothy Parker and Heywood Broun. Just piano accompaniment (not by me). Four performances left, including two … [Read more...]

Other Places: A Bud Shank Profile

The current offering on Steve Cerra's Jazz Profiles web log is part one of an extensive examination of the career and music of alto saxophonist Bud Shank. It incorporates most of the contents of the booklet I wrote for the Mosaic Records boxed set The Pacific Jazz Bud Shank Studio Sessions (1956-1961), long out of print. As he always does, Steve includes personal recollections and lots of photographs. Here is a short excerpt from the Mosaic notes, Shank talking about west coast jazz."I don't … [Read more...]

Benny Golson

Benny Golson celebrates his 80th birthday today. At the same time, he releases a new CD with a band in the mold of the Jazztet that he and Art Farmer led beginning in 1960. The Jazztet's success put Golson's composing and arranging abilities into the consciousness of listeners who may have been unaware of his history. He played a key role in the revitalization of Art Blakey's career. At 28, when he was seasoned but mainly known only in the jazz inner circle, Golson took over as music director of … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Why Fight?

By tradition and general agreement in the reviewing trade, it is considered unprofessional and tacky to write about a recording to which one has contributed liner notes. Therefore, I have not written about Rebecca Kilgore's and Dave Frishberg's Why Fight The Feeling?, a collection of songs by Frank Loesser. However, I have no qualms about alerting you to the welcome fact that Carol Sloane has switched on her blog after a month of reticence. She posts a number of items, in one of which she … [Read more...]

David Fathead Newman, 1933-2009

Gentle, soulful David Newman is gone. He died on Monday. "Fathead" was a nickname that became a promotional tag, but those close to him knew him as David. They seemed always to say the name with affection whether they were speaking to or about him. He once told the story of his nickname. I was in band class and I had this music on my music stand but it was upside down ... He [Mr. Miller] knew I could barely read the music right side up. He thumped me on the head and called me 'Fathead.' My … [Read more...]

John Loves Carmen

Rifftides Washington, DC, correspondent John Birchard recently renewed his enthusiasm for a great singer.He checks in with a review. CARMEN MCRAE: AN APPRECIATIONBy John BirchardAccording to Netflix, the DVD Carmen McRae: Live is valued at three stars. Don't believe it. I watched it last night and was transported by the woman's artistry. The Tokyo concert was recorded in 1986 and released by Image Entertainment. Accompanied by a superb rhythm section (Pat Coil, piano; Bob Bowman, bass; Frank … [Read more...]

Poodie James Announcement

The publisher of Poodie James has good news for you, if not for my royalty statements. He has reduced the price. If you have yet to pick up a copy, be advised that the book is available here and here. From a review: I'll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey's snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the … [Read more...]

Compatible Quotes: American Presidents

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by thebondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. - Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural … [Read more...]

Alegria Means Joy

The Gabriel Alegria Sextet enlivened and intrigued the audience at The Seasons Saturday night. The group of five young Peruvians and a South African meld strains from American, Peruvian and African music into a sophisticated hybrid with which they are writing a new chapter in the history of Latin jazz. Since earning an advanced degree in music from the University of Southern California, Alegria has spent several years refining his concept of Afro-Peruvian music. His fluency as a trumpet player … [Read more...]

Guest Column: 1959, A Good Year

Rifftides reader Gary Alexander has some thoughts about what he sees as a watershed year for jazz back when popular culture had not yet been reshaped by rock and roll. Mr. Alexander broadcasts a jazz program Mondays and Fridays 3:00 to 5:30 p.m. PST, from KLOI on Lopez Island, Washington. If you are among the 2,200 (+ -) people who live on that enchanting island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you may know that KLOI is at 102.9 FM. If you are one of the 6-billion-800-million others (+ -), your … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Weather Report

Up here in the interior of the US Pacific Northwest, the floods have receded following the sudden snowmelt of a week ago. In this valley, the snow is gone except for the big piles scooped into the corners of parking lots. We are spared the drastic sub-zero temperatures of the midwest and east. What we have is constant fog and air just enough below freezing to apply frosted decoration to nearly everything outside. Have a good warm weekend. … [Read more...]

Other Places: Jazz And Civil Rights

The eve of next Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of The United States is also the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Monday, January 19, there will be a celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, observing both occasions. The veteran journalist Nat Hentoff uses this conjunction of historic events as a point of departure to discuss the role of jazz in giving impetus to the civil rights struggle that made possible the election of a black president. Here is … [Read more...]

New Picks

After a prolonged holiday delay, the Rifftides staff has posted new recommendations in three categories. Please see Doug's Picks in the center column. … [Read more...]

CD: Mike Holober

Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra, Quake (Sunnyside). Pianist-composer-arranger Holober chooses not to call his large congregation a big band. His scoring justifies the term orchestra. Balancing lushness with motion in and through the horn and rhythm sections, he evokes nature; the rustling of aspens in "Quake," bird song in "Thrushes." He is equally creative in his own pieces and in reinventions of songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Holober's soloists, including himself, … [Read more...]

CD: Gene Perla, Elvin Jones

Gene Perla, Bill''s Waltz (PM). Drummer Elvin Jones should get equal billing with Perla. The two laid down basic electric piano-and-drums tracks in 1986. Following Jones' death in 2004, Perla wrote orchetrations for the pieces. With Jones digitally present, he recorded them in 2007 with the NDR Big Band in Germany and added his own bass track in 2008. Jones drives the band, and it reacts as if he were in the studio with them. The NDR has a great day. The NDR seem to always have a great day. … [Read more...]

CD: Brooklyn Undergrounders

Various, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, Volume 3 (BJU). If you have heard that Brooklyn is a hotbed of young jazz artists but haven't the foggiest idea what they are about, this compilation will give you a summary. Twenty-eight musicians in combinations from a duo to a sextet stretch your ears and the definition--if there is one--of jazz. The diversity of approaches includes a viola-bass clarinet duet that sounds like French impressionism and a fine "Body and Soul" by tenor saxophonist Jerome … [Read more...]

DVD: Roland Kirk

Rahsaan Roland Kirk Live in '63 & '67 (Jazz Icons). One of eight DVDs in the impressive Jazz Icons third release, this finds Kirk touring Europe with his arsenal of horns. It is fascinating to watch him manage tenor sax, manzello, stritch, clarinet, siren and nose whistle. The forthright music he makes is even more gripping. Pianist George Gruntz, bassist Niels Henning Ørsted-Pederson and drummer Daniel Humair are among his accompanists in Belgium, Holland and Norway. Kirk's fourteen … [Read more...]

Book: Willa Cather

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics). Cather is in a class with A.B. Guthrie, Jr. and Bernard DeVoto in her feeling for the expanse and expansiveness of early America. This tale of two French priests carving their church territory out of a resistant New Mexico is an unsurpassed collection of word pictures by one of the greatest American painters-with-language. This isn't a book about jazz? Good catch. In the credo at the top of the page, see the part about other … [Read more...]

The Blue Note 7: And They’re Off

In the second concert of their 50-stop national tour, the Blue Note 7 drew a full house Friday night at The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima, Washington. From the opener, Horace Silver's "The Outlaw," to the encore, Bud Powell's "Dance of the Infidels," the all-star band dipped into the vast repertoire of compositions by artists who have recorded for Blue Note Records in its 70-years.  Although the Blue Note 7 have recorded one album, the little time they have spent as a unit is out of … [Read more...]

Monk At Town Hall–Fifty Years Later

The unforgettable 1959 Thelonious Monk Orchestra concert at Town Hall will have a 50th anniversary recreation next month at the scene of the event in New York City. Preserved on a famous Riverside album and performed by jazz repertory orchestras everywhere, Monk's compositions in orchestrations by Hall Overton are perennially fresh, full of ensemble performance challenges and of opportunities for soloists. Reissued every few years on LP, then on CD, the recording is a basic repertoire item, as … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Two Young Pianists

Rifftides reader Peter Myers writes: In your liner notes from the great Christmas present CD I received, The Art and Soul of Houston Person, you mentioned a gifted 19-year-old jazz musician who plays few standards. I wondered if you were talking about Eldar. I was looking forward to seeing him at the Clearwater, FL Jazz Holiday back in October. I came away disappointed for the same reason. He played mostly his own compositions. Brilliant though he may be, his choice of music almost boredered on … [Read more...]

Those Missing Pictures

Because of a digital malfunction the nature of which I am unequipped to explain, some of the pictures in the recent Rifftides archives have disappeared and been replaced by empty boxes. The technical hierarchy assures me that the gremlins have been found and summarily executed, but their mischief remains until the Rifftides staff can repair it. That is a matter of one photo being restored at a time. The staff has plenty to do and will undertake restoration as time allows. If you … [Read more...]

Our Friend Dizzy

As readers of Rifftides know by now, The Wall Street Journal provides more than financial news and market reports. The newspaper has a Leisure And Arts section with extensive, varied, informed cultural coverage. It includes writing about music by several contributors. I am happy to be one on occasion. In today's WSJ, Nat Hentoff brings together his friendship with Dizzy Gillespie and the need to care for sick or injured musicians with little or no health insurance.  ...dying of pancreatic … [Read more...]