An Interview with Anthony Wilson

A Word With
Anthony Wilson
by Fred Jung

Adult ThemesI consider Anthony Wilson to be a friend by virtue of the fact that he is a gentle soul. Anyone who has met the guitarist can vouch to that. But his composer hand is also very strong and he is certain to be a force. All that aside, I can relate to Anthony because I too know what it’s like to be my father’s son, as Anthony is the son of legendary composer/bandleader Gerald Wilson. We spoke from his home in So Cal to talk about his love of Kiss, how winning the Monk Competition changed the course of his life. Also his new release for MAMA Records, “Adult Themes” (which has the catchiest cover of any album this year), all unedited and in his own. – FJ.

JazzUSA: Let’s start from the beginning.

AW: Well, I think I got started by virtue of the fact that I loved music so much when I was a kid, meaning like three years old, four years old. Music was filling my head. I would go around singing songs and kind of like a sponge absorbed a lot of things and then when I was old enough to take an instrument, the first one that came along was guitar. That was when I was about seven years old. That was perfect for me because I wanted to be like, I loved Jimi Hendrix and I loved the Beatles and all these guys, and Kiss. Kiss was my favorite band. So that was the perfect instrument for me to play, so I just sort of took to it and started taking guitar lessons after school and joined the choir. I joined the boy’s choir when I was about eight or nine. Since that time, I’ve been doing it ever since.

JazzUSA: Kiss was your favorite band.

AW: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. I loved those guys, probably more for the theatrics than the music, but I just loved everything about them, Beatles and Bob Dylan and anything rock. I was too young to like jazz.

JazzUSA: So when did you begin to explore jazz?

AW: That would be like towards the end of junior high school, around fourteen or so. Eighth to ninth grade, I started to hear jazz and be able to appreciate it. When I was say seven, eight, nine, I would hear jazz or I’d go to my father’s concerts or hear jazz records around the house, so I at least I had ears that were open enough to not say well this music is terrible, which some kids do. They hear jazz or classical and to them it’s the worst thing in the world. I, at least, was able to appreciate it, thinking that it was good and these guys were good. About fourteen or fifteen, so then when I started to listen to it, I actually started to get something from it. I started to feel something and it was something that I wanted to join in. I liked the spirit of improvisation, that things were always different. I liked to hear a solo go from beginning to end. I thought that was really interesting. About that time, which is maybe the time that a lot of people start to get interested in it, now a days.

JazzUSA: What were you listening to?

AW: A lot of Miles Davis, what else, Dexter Gordon records, I liked the Dexter Gordon things on Blue Note, Eric Dolphy, none of the really old stuff and not much big band, mostly kind of bop. I liked Charlie Parker at that time and Coltrane. Coltrane has a way of really getting into you right away. I liked Coltrane at that time a lot.

JazzUSA: A lot of horn players.

AW: Yeah, I didn’t know really who to listen to on guitar as I was first starting to listen to jazz and it was mostly horn players that I heard, saxophone players mostly. Then my mom told me to listen to Wes Montgomery, so I did. It was about that time that I started to listen to some Wes Montgomery and that was a big eye opener. I didn’t even know you could do that on the guitar. I heard some Larry Coryell, I think I went to hear him live when I was first getting into jazz. He was all I knew about jazz guitar. I didn’t really know about people like Barney Kessel. I knew about Joe Pass but I hadn’t listened to him very much. So that stuff started to filter in as I got more into it to find out who the people were.

JazzUSA: What was so appealing about Wes Montgomery’s playing?

AW: It was just the fluidity. The way that ideas just rolled, one after the other, in a very logical and easy going fashion. It was nothing forced and it’s always swinging. It was a good feeling. It was a nice rhythmic feel and just that easy going effortless thing that he has that there have been hardly any guitar players who have had that certain thing, that effortlessness that he’s got. I don’t hear anybody with that particular thing. It’s just special to him.

JazzUSA: Let’s touch on the impact that winning the Thelonious Monk competition has had on your career (Wilson won the best composition category with his “Karaoke”)?

AW: Before that competition, I had kind of been concentrating on other forms of music. I was playing in a pretty rock band, pretty hard rock band. I wasn’t doing much jazz, just a little bit. My mother in her inevitable way of always looking for opportunities and things for me, saw that that year for the Monk competition, they were having a guitar competition and the composition part of it. She told me about it. She cut out the article. And I kept this thing for months and months, for like eight months. There was a little article thing for when the deadline is and I kept it posted in the bulletin board and did nothing about it. And then about a month before, I thought about doing the guitar part of the thing, but I didn’t like the guidelines. The guidelines were these really strict guidelines about what tunes you had to play and how many choruses and what tempo. It didn’t interest me that much. I also was maybe a little scared. Composition, I knew I had something. I can write good tunes, so I just said, “OK, I’ve got about a month here. I better write something and record it.” So I wrote that piece. I spent every day on it for a couple of weeks, but not that much time you know. I wrote it, sent it in and the great thing about winning the thing was it sort of suddenly hit home for me that I had kind of forgotten about jazz and I wasn’t really doing it that much. Why not? It got me thinking, why am I not doing this? This is something that I have a real talent for and I do it and it’s natural for me and why not do something that’s natural to me. In that sense, it kind of was a wake up. Oh, you forgot about this thing. It got me thinking about what kinds of things would I like to do, maybe start a band. Now, I’ve got some money to live on for a while so maybe start a band and start writing some charts and see what I can do on my own. For that, I probably wouldn’t, what I would be doing now would be a lot different even if that thing hadn’t come along to kind of wake me up and say, “Hey, there’s something to pay attention to.”

JazzUSA: You were in a rock band?

AW: (Laughing) Yeah. Oh, yeah, I was into it, Fred. For several years, I kind of was in like a the lost weekend phase. It’s great to be able to play music that you don’t have to, you don’t really have to know much to be able to play. It’s basic. It’s just loud. And it was fun, but I’m glad that I’m doing what I’m doing now, rather than that. I think there’s a lot more longevity that you can have playing jazz.

Adult ThemesJazzUSA: Let’s talk about your three albums on MAMA Records, your self-titled debut, “Goat Hill Junket,” and lastly your latest installment, “Adult Themes.”

AW: They’re all the same format of band, which is kind of the instrumentation that I settled on during this phase, when I was trying to think what kind of band I would want to have. I thought it would be nice to have a band with a horn section and not exactly a big band, but just have some horns and have that ability to kind of have a nice, full, rich sound, but also have a lot of room for improvisation. I kind of settled on that format and we did all three records with this instrumentation. The first record was my attempt really. I just wrote a lot of tunes for that over a period of about a year. Before I even had a chance to record, I was writing stuff for the band and I would have rehearsals. So it was my kind of getting my feet wet and finding out what kind of things were possible for this instrumentation. How would my guitar fit into something like this? I think in the beginning, I kind of envisioned it as like more of a blues based kind of a band than a real serious jazz composition vehicle, which is what it turned into after I did the first record, I started to see that there were so many possibilities. I got all these players. They double on different instruments. I can have flute. I can have bass clarinet. I can have clarinet, soprano saxophone, flugelhorn, different combinations of things and so after my first record, I began to work more on my compositions, see what other things I could find for the next record, some other novel approaches to writing and did it in New York. So the first record was with my band, here in Los Angeles and then through going to New York several times and putting a band together, I met all these guys and I just didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to be able to record with them. That was a great experience, playing in New York and recording with these guys like Joe Temperley and Jerry Dodgion and Mike Ledonne, Jeff Ballard on drums. That was just another step in trying to explore this instrumentation. I’d say those first records are really just exploratory. Let me just see what’s possible here. So from bebop type of things to real bluesy things, more exploring the feel of different tunes and what’s possible with the instrumentation. And then when I did this album that’s just coming out, “Adult Themes,” I decided that it would be much more about, it would be less about exploring things purely musically and more with trying to delve into what personal feelings I could express through the music. It seems to be more of a dark sounding album. There’s a lot more spooky emotions that I got into. I think I’m exploring more emotional terrain rather than instrumentation and type of feels this band is good at and where my guitar fits in. I’m just sort of, I’m now trying to go inside and see what I can really pull out of myself.

JazzUSA: Do you feel that you have progressed significantly during that period?

AW: I’m definitely growing all the time. I tend to be hard on myself so I always think that I should be growing more and I should be better as a leader. In a way, I always feel that I have not grown enough, but I do know this, that I’ve grown a lot as a person in the last year and I think that that’s effected the music in a way that, even constant practicing can’t do. I’m a little bit more, I’m starting to be more comfortable in my skin as a person and see who I am and not be afraid to show that aspect. That also has a big effect on the music. I think it rubs off.

JazzUSA: I like the cover of “Adult Themes.”

AW: (Laughing) Most guys like it. We wanted to have a lady on the cover. We wanted to evoke something. We didn’t want it to be like a lady who looks all breezy and fun. We wanted it to be almost an evening type of a scene, kind of like some of my friends from college. God, this is so evocative of days that we spent every night in clubs, going out trying to pick up girls. It’s just that kind of almost seedy, but not exactly because she’s pretty. She maybe looks a little tired or something. I thought it would be a good play on the whole title of “Adult Themes.” People probably expect it to have something pornographic about it. So I thought it was nice to have a picture of a scantily clad woman. It was my idea and the guy from the MAMA Foundation and we said let’s do this. It’s an eye catcher.

JazzUSA: I will give you that. She looks like she is on ruffies.

AW: Yeah, yeah. She’s got that heavy eye make-up on and her thick heavy lids. It’s kind of a play because when I called it that, I kind of meant to evoke some other things, but the first thing that people usually think of when you say “adult themes” is sex and sexuality, so even though none of the tunes or their titles are really exactly evocative of that, your mind goes there anyway so why not let it be a part of the whole thing.

JazzUSA: Bennie Wallace is absent from this one.

AW: I miss Bennie anyway because we just don’t have enough chances to play together since he moved back East. It was nice to concentrate on the voices that I have in the band and not distract myself by writing any special features for some other person as an auxiliary to the band. We’ve been working now for like three years, so I’ve got a real good sense of who these people are in the band, Pete Chistlieb and Jack Nimitz and I just tried to really work, it’s a nice feeling to say, “God, I’ve got a full pallet here. I don’t have to add anything to it. Let me try to bring out as many things as possible in this self-contained unit.” In a way it was nice to not be bringing in a strong outside personality like that.

JazzUSA: The majority of the compositions on “Adult Themes” were penned by you, as were most of the tracks on your previous two releases, how have you progressed as a composer?

AW: I definitely see that there is a big development. I’m definitely trying to explore things and I’m less and less afraid to be confined by some kind of idea of what jazz is supposed to sound like or what straight ahead jazz is supposed to sound like. Every record that I’ve done, I can hear myself trying some different things, trying to open up the improvisational areas of the pieces that I write so that it starts to become really integrated with the rhythm sections and they’re seamless things that go on and I can hear that that’s getting much stronger, whereas when I was starting more long form tunes and I really considered them as tunes. Now I consider the whole thing as a composition, the orchestration, how the choruses are voiced, and where the improvisation comes in, where it goes out, who is soloing when, what the instrumentation is on a piece, all of that is part of the composition. I think, before I didn’t realize how essential that stuff was. I think I thought it or I knew it intellectually, but now I’m putting it a little bit more into practice. So that’s a big development.

JazzUSA: Your relationship with MAMA Foundation.

AW: Oh, it’s been great. Who knows how long I will be with MAMA? I may not be there forever, but I will tell you this, Fred, from the stories that I have heard from other people and what they have to go through to be on other labels, to be on major labels, there can be a lot of headaches involved and there can be a lot of people that are trying to tell you what kind of project would suit you at this particular time, usually that’s cause of some kind of marketing concern that they have, so they tell people to do tribute albums or do a Jobim record or do an album of such and such or do an album of this. Verve is a classic example of this. It’s all about theme records, or it was. I think it’s changing a little bit because of the change over, and choice of producer and sometimes artists from the same label get lumped together even though they wouldn’t necessarily be the right people to be playing together because it’s a label thing. MAMA Foundation has really said to me, “Look, OK, each record, make it something that you want to make.” I’ve never even walked into the studio on any of these records having had lengthy, lengthy, lengthy conversations about what songs are going to be on them and how long they’re going to be. I just do my work at home and when it’s time to be ready to do the thing, they’ve been good enough to trust that I have some kind of vision that’s important to me, that they want to support. So that’s very rare actually. I’d say it’s a good relationship and I’m lucky to have it.

JazzUSA: Are you still playing the regular trio gig at that club in Hollywood?

AW: That ended, unfortunately because that place Lucky 7 changed their format. They’re still owned by the same guys, but the guys who owned the place thought that jazz wasn’t doing well there, which is some kind of weird, unexplainable thing, some unexplainable fixation that these guys had that jazz wasn’t working in their club and so they changed it to a jukebox and DJ and just a straight bar. They stopped serving food there. But we do have our trio and we went up north to Yoshi’s in San Francisco this summer and we went down to San Diego and probably over the next year, that trio is going to be playing around the country a little bit.

JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the trio.

AW: Both the other two points in the triangle are on this record that I just did. It’s a Hammond B-3 organ, guitar, and drums trio and Joe Bagg plays the organ and Mark Ferber plays the drums. Mark is working with everybody right now around here. He’s just a great drummer. We started that band in order to play at Lucky 7 every week. That was back in February, I think. We played there for four months. It was just so great because for me, I had been concentrating so much on writing and writing and writing that this was one place I could go and not have to care about that. You could do a gig without having anything written, just play. So playing with Mark and Joe has put me back in touch with my instrument, which is great. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s bad because I see how many things that I have to accomplish on the instrument that I am nowhere near. We’ve got a good relationship, very compact. It’s all about improvising and communication with none of the trappings of that large band, where there are specific arrangements and things go down in a certain way to the written sound and the kind of tunes that we do because I do all of the arrangements. It’s a little more democratic. It’s much more spontaneous in certain ways and I really like that.

JazzUSA: Are you planning on recording the band?

AW: Yeah, I hope so. I hope it’s the next thing I do. That will be just a breathe of fresh air to walk into the studio with just two other people. It will be a breeze. One thing I’ve learned is that to be the leader of nine or ten guys at one time, it can be really intense. It can be pretty intense.

JazzUSA: Tour plans for the new album?

AW: We’ll be playing the USC (University of Southern California) in April. So some various things, in combination with the trio, which also plays music from this album, most of the gigs that I do, people will be able to hear music from my albums.

JazzUSA: When you play at my alma mater, will it be with your large ensemble or trio?

AW: That’s with the big band.

JazzUSA: And the future?

AW: Always writing. I can’t say for sure, but I think that we’re going to have a special gust on that USC gig. I’ll probably write some special things for that. I can’t really say who yet. I’m just going to keep trying to go deeper into this realm that I am in right now of trying to write something that’s personal and develop my own sound, so that when you turn on one of my records, you get the sense that you are finding out about me as a person. I get a little frustrated sometimes when I hear a lot of the new that comes out by younger musicians, not all of them of course, but some of them, you get a sense that no matter how many records you hear by this guy or these guys, that you will never find out anything more about them. It’s frustrating to me because they don’t have their own, it’s not you turn on that record and you say, “That’s that guy and I have a sense of him from his music.” Like my big example would be Wynton Marsalis, who I like and dislike for different reasons. Here’s a guy who has seven album this year out or something and I have heard many sections of all of them and I’ve been hearing him for years and I still don’t feel that he has decided to take the reigns and say, “This is what I am and this is who I am as a person and I feel strong enough to show that to you.” I don’t know anything about him except that he cares about kids, but who is this person? When you listen to Duke Ellington, you really get a sense of a real complex character and a person with different kinds of concerns. The title of his tunes talks about his concerns and the way he writes for the members of his bands talks about his concerns. It’s a very personal thing you get from him or Gil Evans or whoever. I just think that’s missing a little bit in today’s world so that’s something that I want to do and that’s give you a sense of who I am.

JazzUSA: Who do you think are the individual voices?

AW: The whole world of improvised music, jazz is kind of divided. You’ve got the major labels in general that kind of basically promote and record certain kinds of artists, some of whom I think are doing incredible things, like Brad Mehldau does incredible things no matter what the nature of each album that he does. It’s something special. It’s something unique. And it is. He’s one of those guys that does something personal with his playing and I respond to that. Then there’s people like Dave Douglas. He also does it. This is a guy who just loves to explore things, different sounds, different kinds of instrumentations, and he’s kind of fearless in that way. I think he’s great. I love Mark Turner. He’s one of the tenor players that I really like. I think that guy is just a monster. Peter Bernstein is my favorite guitarist around now to listen to of the younger guys. It’s just a great pleasure to hear how his solos evolve and how he gets better every time you hear him on a record. I like Larry Goldings. I love that whole trio, the Larry Goldings Trio. Then there’s people like William Parker, the bass player who plays with Matthew Shipp. That’s a guy who is doing something totally from another angle. Joey Baron or Ellery Eskelin, some of these guys who are on the more downtown New York scene. They do great things. There’s a lot of creative people out there. They may not always be the people that you are hearing about in terms of like major, major label hype.

Be sure to visit the Anthony Wilson home page at MAMA records

Citrus Sun – Another Time, Another Space

Another Time, Another SpaceAnother Time, Another Space
Citrus Sun
(Heads Up – 2001)
by Ray Redmond

Incognito founder Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick focuses on an instrumental jazz sound with the creation of Citrus Sun. Maunick recruited Average White Band guitarist Jim Mullen for the guitarist role along with Incognito members and keyboardist Tim Vine from Simply Red. With a cast of characters like that you expect a smooth, jazzy release with silky vocals, good use of harmony and some jammin solo work…the CD does not disappoint.

The first song Make Me Smile comes in with horns that are reminiscent of the group Chicago, followed immediately by a disctinctly retro guitar line. The sax work on Budapest caught my ear, as did the smoking guitar on the title track. Where the Wind Blows is appropriately named. The horns blow strong on this one, particularrly Glover’s trumpet solos, accompanied by the sweet keyboards…this is a VERY grooving tune.

Somewhere, Nowhere slows things down a bit, with it’s AWB-ish percussion licks, overlaid by smooth Incognito-ish melodies that all come together to sound a little like Chicago on Jazz! Though Maunick calls most of the musical shots for Incognito, he took a more collaborative approach with Citrus Sun, encouraging the band to co-produce, write songs and play live to track. These little things make the tracks on this CD more varied than the Incognito releases were. Although this is a smooth release, I don;t think I’d call it your conventional smooth jazz, rather it’s just good jazz that’s smooth. Try it, you’ll like it.

RealAudio Samples

  • Make Me Smile
  • Another Time, Another Space
  • Somewhere, Nowhere
  • Marcus Miller – Another Side of Me

    Marcus MillerMarcus Miller
    Another Side of Me
    (Import – 2007)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Marcus Miller, winner of the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album of 2001, was born in Brooklyn in 1959 and raised in Jamaica, New York. He came from a musical family and was influenced early on by his father, a church organist and choir director, as well as his musical extended family (which included the extraordinary Wynton Kelly, jazz pianist for Miles Davis during the late fifties and early sixties). He displayed an early affinity for all types of music and by the age of thirteen he was already proficient on the clarinet, piano, bass guitar and had begun composing music. The bass guitar, however, was his love and by the age of fifteen, he was working regularly in New York City with various bands.

    Soon thereafter, he was playing bass and writing music for flutist Bobbi Humphrey and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith. Miller spent the next few years as a top call New York studio musician, working with Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Grover Washington Jr., Bob James and David Sanborn, among others. He has appeared as a bassist on over 400 records including recordings by artists as diverse as Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Joe Sample, McCoy Tyner, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, Bill Withers, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross, and LL Cool J, just to name a few.

    In 1981, he joined his boyhood idol Miles Davis and spent two years on the road with the fabled jazzman. “He didn’t settle for anything mediocre,” Miller recalls. “And this helped me develop my style. I learned from him that you have to be honest about who you are and what you do. If you follow that, you won’t have problems.” Since producing the mega hit titled “Tutu” for Miles Davis, Miller’s star has continuously risen on many musical horizons.

    As a composer of film music, Miller has composed the scores to several hit movies including House Party, Head of State, School Daze, and Boomerang. As a recording artist, acclaimed bassist, bandleader and composer, Marcus Miller is definitely at the top of his game. Silver Rain, released on Koch Records featured such favorites as Macy Gray, Gerald Albright, Bill Withers and Eric Clapton. MARCUS MILLER, ANOTHER SIDE OF ME was released in 2006. It is a Japanese produced special edition with tracks that feature various collaborations between Marcus and such artists as Lalah Hathaway, Macy Gray, Chaka Kahn and Eric Clapton. Miller’s career continues in full swing with something a little familiar and something undiscovered. As Artistic Director of The North Sea Jazz Cruise, he launches a new chapter in his stellar career.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Jeff Kashiwa – Another Door Opens

    Jeff Kashiwa Jeff Kashiwa
    Another Door Opens
    (Native Language – 2000)
    by Raymond Redmond

    You’ve been listening to Jeff Kashiwa for years, wether or not you know it. Smooth Jazz saxaphonist Kashiwa spent ten years (1989-1999) playing with the ever-popular Rippingtons. His sax was the voice on so many of the more popular Rippington tunes, and now he’s on his own with Another Door Opens. Jeff is joined in both the creation and the production chores by smooth jazz legend Jeff lorber, Rippingtons keyboardist Dave Kochanski, bassist Brian Bromberg and veteran drummer Ricky Lawson among others.

    The first single (and first track on the CD) is Hyde Park, and it’s definitely the one they plan to take to the bank. Even if you don’t get the CD you’ll hear this one on the radio, it’s filled with the smooth sax lines and punchy-yet-smooth bass, punctuated by the orchestra hits that is one of today’s formulas for getting smooth jazz air time. Fortunately the cast is good and the performance is good so the song is good. Because of you is another that will be on new-age radio, as will Back To Love. Every now and then is a bouncy, retro jam that sounds like it came from an old Lorber album (lorber co-wrote and plays on it).

    The title track has an airy feel to it, featuring Russell Ferrante on piano and Steve Oliver’s fine guitar work. Dream Within a Dream is all silky smooth sax and flutes from Kashiwa with a short-but-sweet cameo by guitarist Marc Antoine. My favorite is The Power of Midnight, a seductive piece featuring Kashiwa playing the soprano sax. This is driving music. Put the CD in your car stereo and take a little trip… you’ll come back a Jeff Kashiwa fan.

    Molly Johnson – Another Day

    Molly Johnson
    Another Day
    (Narada – 2003)
    by Carmen Miller

    Soulful, sassy and powerful this sister is a strong addition to the current field of jazz divas. No newcomer to the music biz, this formally trained Canadian import paid her dues playing in and then forming her own art/rock band. Eventually developing into one of the country’s best jazz vocalists her style is established and this, her second solo album, showcases it. Her songwriting skills are apparent from the opening title track Another Day; she has just enough grit mixed in to give her music the vivacious, sumptuous feel of the classic jazz songstresses of the 50’s. I particularly like her cover of Gershwin’s classic Summertime, breaking it down with flair and style as the minimalist accompaniment adds to her sultry interpretation (particularly Mike Downes on bass.) Ooh Child/Redemption Song is a pretty duet with pianist Andrew Craig and is imbued with a Jamaican flavor that’s both unmistakable and irresistible, and also features some sweet sax work by Colleen Allen. Sleep In Late and Miss Celie’s Blues are straight out of the Billie Holiday era, showing another aspect of Molly’s interpretive skills. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this northern light.

    Beatle Jazz – Another Bite of the Apple

    Beatle JazzBeatle Jazz
    Another Bite of the Apple
    (Zebra Acoustic – 2001)
    by Phyllis A. Lodge

    I am often fascinated by other musicians’ takes on the Beatles. Of the trio of musicians on this CD, I am most familiar with bassist Charles Fambrough whose powerful, surging approach was a mainstay for McCoy Tyner’s sextet in the 1980’s. Drummer Brian Melvin, who conceived and co-produced this project with Kikoski, is magnificent throughout the CD.

    Dave Kikoski’s piano style is creatively versatile as he dances gracefully through each number, beginning with an Eastern-flavored I’ll Follow the Sun. On Here, There and Everywhere, Kikoski’s piano seems to seems to subtly evoke the feel of a swing-waltz.

    To add to the balanced diet of musical entrees on this CD, the trio transitions into a delightfully moving, reggae-inspired Let It Be. Bassist Charles Fambrough moves center stage early in the piece, enhancing this already full-bodied version with his power-packed, articulate grit. Kikoski’s piano melds with Melvin’s tantalizing rhythms to add a depth that deeply satisfies. The, from the deep earth, the trio takes lightly to the air in Give Me Love.

    The intro for Michelle made me do a double take with it’s heavy, aromatic feel. Applause for Magical Mystery Tour… Kikoski introduces it with a strait as an arrow approach and then changes gears into the alternatly cavernous then dreamy interlude, reminiscent of the great McCoy Tyner. It Won’t Be Long is a muted affirmation in contrast to the original high-spirited version. I truly enjoy Kikoski’s versatile style; he speaks in tribute to many influences, but he commands his own solid voice.

    Blackbird is always a tough call since it has inspired so many great artists to interpret its wistfully forlorn cry… James Taylor, Billy Preston and Bobby McFerrinto name a few. And John Lennon would have been deeply moved by the heavenly treatment of Julia, written in tribute to Lennon’s “Mum”. The Blue Jay Way is also a creative treatment that is done in impeccable “free” style. Drummer Melvin does some fantastic percussion work sounds like a tabla. Tomorrow Never Knows is a haunting, beautiful finishing touch to the CD.

    Although I didn’t experience the first “Apple”, the second bite is certainly a tasteful one. I believe our quartet from Liverpool would be gratified by its artistic sensitivity.

    Lenny White – Anomaly

    Lenny White
    Abstract Logix – 2010

    Following his triumphant worldwide reunion tour with Return To Forever in 2008 and separate trio tours in 2009 with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke and pianist Hiromi with Clarke, drummer Lenny White was primed to put out his own recording, his first as a leader in ten years. With Anomaly, the pioneering jazz-rock drummer returns to his roots, blending powerhouse backbeats and improvisational abandon in a bold, unapologetically aggressive manner that characterized the early 70s fusion movement. On that RTF tour he told sold-out crowds every night: “This is not a boy band, this is a man band. And we need to take back the music as musicians”.

    “And I really meant that,” says White. “We need to restart a revolution so that we can take back the music and stop the fluff. And I’m hoping that this new album is a representation of that.”

    Accompanied by a crew of unsung guitar killers in Nick Moroch (a former member of White’s Astral Pirates), David Gilmore, Tom Guarna and David Bendeth, keyboardists George Colligan, Bernard Wright, Donald Blackman(another Astral Pirate )and Vince Evans and bassists Victor Bailey, Richie Goods, Charles Fambrough and his RTF bandmate Stanley Clarke, White unleashes with Zeppelinesque fury on Anomaly, his tenth overall recording as a leader.

    “I really wanted to rock out on this project,” says White. “Early on, David Bendeth said to me, “No one has made a jazz-rock or fusion record with the sound of a rock record.” So I said, “Let’s do it!” And one of the things for me that was a real boost before we got into recording was reading something that John Bonham had said in a book about the making of several famous Led Zeppelin tracks. Now, I have been a Led Zeppelin fan forever and ‘Black Dog’ had always been my favorite Zeppelin tune. But I actually recently rediscovered ‘In My Time of Dying,’ which became my new favorite Zeppelin tune. So I’m reading through this book and I got to the point where Bonham’s talking about constructing the track ‘In My Time of Dying,’ and he says, “We were kind of rocking a little bit more from a progressive standpoint at this point, and I had been listening to Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and Lenny White.”So that really made my day.”

    Anomaly, it turns out, is an apt description for a record that defies all industry trends with its sheer audaciousness. “I would’ve never been able to make a record like this if I were on a major label today,” says White. “Most record companies are very myopic in how they market things. So they want you to do one particular thing and you’re not supposed to stray outside of the line. I don’t know any musicians who are myopic but when they come under the umbrella of major labels, they suddenly become that way because that’s what is demanded of you when you are part of a stable of artists”. But on this project, White was free to explore his musical vision with a no-holds-barred approach.

    He opens the collection with the riff-driven funk-rock of ‘Drum Boogie,’ a tune he wrote for his Lenny White Group more than 25 years ago. Nick Moroch takes a particularly blistering guitar solo here. “Nick is an undiscovered guitar hero. A lot of people know about him but not enough. He’s really a brilliant musician. He can play any style, any kind of guitar. He’s amazing.”

    The crunchy, grunge-toned ‘We Know’ is decidedly in a Zeppelin vein and features a fleet-fingered piccolo bass solo from Stanley Clarke. Producer David Bendeth also turns in a scorching guitar solo on this aggressive number. “David is one of the top rock-pop producers in the world today,” says White. “He’s produced recordings for platinum acts like Paramour and Breaking Benjamin. And the truth is, he used to play in my band long ago. When I called him to work with me on this project I went by his studio in New Jersey and he told me, “Man, I owe all of this to you because you kicked my butt so bad when I was in your band that I learned a lot and I use everything that you taught me with all these groups. “So it was great to be able to reconnect with him on this project.”

    White’s longtime friend, singer/producer and collaborator Nicki Richards is featured singing on ‘Forever.’ Some liquid lines from Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring coolly shade her soulful vocals. Guitarist David Gilmore brings in his composition ‘Dark Moon,’ which features Bernard Wright on piano and Victor Bailey in a rare turn on upright bass. Gilmore’s fluid solo here is spectacular. “I went to Russia and took David as a part of my group there,” says White. And during that tour, David wrote this song for me. We pulled it out for this session and recorded it, and David sounds fantastic on it.” “Then on another tour we went to Warsaw with Polish pop singer Tatiana Okupnik and opened for the Rolling Stones .

    White offers an intriguing re-imagining of Joe Henderson’s ‘Gazelle,’ a composition that he recorded with the tenor sax great in 1970 on the live Milestone album ‘If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part Of The Problem.’ White turns in an extended drum solo on this fresh remake of the Henderson staple. “That’s always been one of my favorite tunes of Joe’s,” he says. “I just decided to put a different slant on it.”

    Guitarist Tom Guarna contributes the exotic ‘If U Dare,’ which he imbued with his distortion-laced tones and considerable chops. “Tom’s another one of these unsung guitar heroes out here. He’s one of those guys that the public doesn’t know that well. And I really do like to bring the focus on great musicians that people don’t really know about. Tom can really play! And he’s a science fiction fan too, so that worked for me.”

    ‘Election Day’ is a big triumphant-sounding number that pays tribute to the historic election of President Barack Obama. Almost orchestral in scope, it’s a kind of heavy metal ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’ As heavy as James Gang, Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin rolled into one, this aggressive track features a remarkably grungy wah-wah synth solo by Wright and a stinging six-string solo by Moroch. “I wanted to have a rocking track that had strings like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir,'” says White. “And this fit the bill.”

    ‘Coming Down’ is harmonically sophisticated tune in six with a cool distortion guitar solo from Guarna while ‘Anthem’ is George Colligan’s humungous-sounding arena rock number. Guarna erupts on this emotionally-charged power ballad like Tommy Bolin on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum.

    White and his longstanding friend and drumming colleague Mike Clark (from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters) join together for a two-drum jam on ‘Catlett Out of the Bag.’ Opening with a quote from jazz drumming great Sid Catlett’s ‘Mop Mop’ lick, it develops into a funky, organ-fueled groove with punchy horn section and Maceo Parker-styled alto sax work by Danny Walsh, another White regular. “Mike and I go back almost 40 years,” he says of Clark. “We played together a few years ago in a band we started called New Brew. For this track we just went in the studio and jammed with Jerry Z, the organist who plays in Mike’s band. I have no problem playing two drum things because I do it from the perspective of having one guy with eight arms. And then afterwards we overdubbed some horns on there so it would sound like a big jam band.”

    Perhaps the most stirring tune on the collection is ‘Water Changes Everything,’ an exotic African flavored number featuring a vocal choir consisting of Chris Williams, Vanese Thomas, Gregg Clark, Irene James, Michelle Weeks-Reynoso and Nicki Richards. White explains the meaning behind this powerful original. “Basically, I had written this piece of music and after the fact a friend of mine told me about a charity called Water where they build wells in Africa where people don’t have any water and have to travel six hours to get water in some cases, and it’s not really drinkable water. So we put some words together to address this issue and I got some of my great singing friends to sing on it. I wanted it to be like a ‘We Are The World’ kind of thing, where everybody sings a piece of the verse. And I think you get the message.”

    Another thought-provoking number is the hugely orchestral ‘The Wait Has Lifted the Weight,’ White’s spoken word meditation on the Obama Presidency. As he explains: “The actual piece was a part of an opera I’m composing. When Obama’s election happened, I thought about a whole bunch of things and I wrote down what I was thinking about. And I would’ve loved to have gotten Laurence Fishburne or a great voice like James Earl Jones to speak those words. But it didn’t work out, so I decided to go on and do it myself. What I was talking about was that for so long black people in the United States have been waiting to have some sort of major respectability boost. And I think with a black president people are starting to shift their attitudes. And you know, we’ve been waiting a long time. So now that wait, which is time, has lifted this weight.

    Bonus tracks on Anomaly (not available for Stateside release) are White’s ‘Inside Strait,’ a revved-up funk rocker he penned more than 20 years ago, and Colligan’s slamming jazz-rock number ‘Arpanet,’ which features more sizzling six-string work from Guarna and a soaring Mini Moog solo by the composer.

    Largely self-taught on drums, native New Yorker White broke into the jazz world in 1968 with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. The following year he participated in Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, generally regarded as the album that birthed the fusion movement. He subsequently recorded with a Who’s Who in Jazz, including trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonists Joe Henderson, Gato Barbieri and Stan Getz and renowned composer-bandleader Gil Evans, among others. As a member of Return To Forever from 1973 to 1976, White gained a solid reputation as one of the top fusion drummers of the day. “I’m basically a jazz guy, and that’s what I grew up playing,” he says. “But when this new thing happened with jazz-rock through Bitches Brew and bands like Tony Williams Lifetime and Return To Forever, I found myself on the ground floor of a movement. And this musical movement co-existed with other forms of music that came in during the latter part of the 20th century.

    “I was fortunate when I started to make music,” he continues. “I made music at the same time that Igor Stravinksy was making music, at the same time that Jimi Hendrix and James Brown were making music, at the same time that Duke Ellington and Miles Davis and John Coltrane were making music. Led Zeppelin co-existed at the same time that Return To Forever did. All these artists co-existed at the same time and I listened to all that music and was influenced by all of it. So now when I put together an eclectic project I sometimes hear people say, “Oh man, what is he trying to do” “But the truth is, I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just representing the music that I came up listening to.”

    He represents it well on Anomaly.

    Lenny White (Drums); Nick Moroch (Guitar) ; David Gilmore (Guitar); Tom Guarna (Guitar); Jimmy Herring(Guitar); David Bendeth (Guitar); George Colligan (Keyboards); Bernard Wright (Keyboards); Donald Blackman((Keyboards) ); Vince Evans (Keyboards); Victor Bailey (Bass); Richie Goods (Bass); Charles Fambrough (Bass); Stanley Clarke (Bass)

    The Jazz Journalists Association – Announces 2009 Jazz Award Winners

    The Jazz Journalists Association Announces 2009 Jazz Award Winners
    DLMedia – June, 2009

    The Jazz Journalists Association announced winners of 2009 Jazz Awards at the Jazz Standard in New York City Tuesday, June 16, honoring 90 year-old elder statesman Hank Jones and 25 year-old up ‘n’ coming bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, among 40 more musicians, presenters, jazz supporters and jazz journalists for the 13th year. Recipients of the Jazz Awards receive engraved statuettes from the international organization of some 450 writers, broadcasters, photographers and new media producers.

    The three-hour cocktail-barbeque party was attended by 150 jazz movers and shakers, record company executives such as Bruce Lundvall, celebrated during the 70th anniversary year of Blue Note Records which he revived, and George Wein, named “Producer of the Year,” perhaps for announcing plans to sustain the Newport Jazz Festival, which he established in 1954.  Also in attendance: Maria Schneider, Terence Blanchard, Anat Cohen, Roswell Rudd, Frank Wess, Sue Mingus, Michael Cuscuna, Dr. Agnes Varis, and Richard Parsons (for the Jazz Foundation of America).

    Music at the event was provided by the Charles Tolliver Big Band, Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu and Swiss guitarist Andreas �berg, Jane Bunnett’s Spirits of Havana, saxophonist Carol Sudhalter accompanied by pianist Daryl Sherman and the Matt Miller Trio. Boosey and Hawkes, the Jazz Foundation of America, North Coast Brewing Company, Resonance Records, Sunnyside Records and SESAC, Inc. are among some of the sponsors of the 2009 Jazz Awards.

    All recipients of the Awards are listed below. To see all finalists nominees, go to www.JazzJournalists.org or www.Jazzhouse..org. Further information on the Jazz Awards is available from Howard Mandel, jazzmandel@earthlink.net. The Jazz Journalists Association is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.


    Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards 2009

    Lifetime Achievement in Jazz
    Lee Konitz

    Musician of the Year
    Sonny Rollins

    Composer of the Year
    Maria Schneider

    Up & Coming Artist of the Year
    Esperanza Spalding

    Events Producer of the Year
    George Wein, New Festival Productions

    Record of the Year
    Appearing Nightly
    Carla Bley Big Band

    Latin Jazz Album of the Year
    Song for Chico
    Arturo O’Farrill

    Historical Recording/Reissue of the Year
    Road Shows, Vol. 1
    Sonny Rollins

    Historical Recording Boxed Set
    The Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-40

    Record Label of the Year

    Female Singer of the Year
    Cassandra Wilson
    Male Singer of the Year
    Kurt Elling
    Instruments Rare in Jazz
    Richard Galliano, accordion
    Large Ensemble of the Year
    Maria Schneider Orchestra

    Arranger of the Year
    Maria Schneider

    Small Ensemble Group of the Year
    SF Jazz Collective

    Trumpeter of the Year
    Terence Blanchard

    Trombonist of the Year
    Roswell Rudd

    Tenor Saxophonist of the Year
    Sonny Rollins

    Alto Saxophonist of the Year
    Rudresh Mahanthappa

    Flutist of the Year
    Frank Wess

    Baritone Saxophonist of the Year
    Gary Smulyan

    Soprano Saxophonist of the Year
    Branford Marsalis

    Clarinetist of the Year
    Anat Cohen

    Guitarist of the Year
    Bill Frisell

    Pianist of the Year
    Hank Jones

    Organist of the Year
    Dr. Lonnie Smith

    Strings Player of the Year
    Billy Bang

    Bassist of the Year
    William Parker

    Electric Bassist of the Year
    Steve Swallow

    Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year
    Joe Locke

    Percussionist of the Year
    Hamid Drake

    Drummer of the Year
    Brian Blade
    Periodical of the Year

    Website of the Year

    Blog of the Year
    Jazz Beyond Jazz
    By Howard Mandel
    Best Book about Jazz
    A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music
    By George E. Lewis
    (University of Chicago Press)
    Best Photo of the Year
    Hank Jones, Montreal Jazz Festival 2008
    By Kris King

    The Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography
    John Abbott

    The Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Broadcasting
    Ben Young, Director, WKCR
    (Columbia University)

    The Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Review and Feature Writing
    Nate Chinen

    Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism
    Mike Zwerin

    The Jazz Foundation of America and the Jazz Journalists Association Special Career Honors for Words with Music
    Mark Murphy

    2009 “A Team” Awards:

    Herb Alpert
    Musician, Producer, Jazz Supporter

    Dr. Agnes Varis
    Jazz Angel

    Bruce Lundvall
    Record Man

    David N. Baker
    Jazz Educator

    Timuel Black
    Cultural Historian

    Steven Saltzman
    Chicago Jazz Advocate

    Ruth Price
    The Jazz Bakery

    Clarence Acox
    Garfield High School, Jazz Band Leader

    Scott Brown
    Roosevelt High School, Jazz Band Leader

    Peter Levinson
    Author and Publicist

    Richard Sudhalter
    Author, Journalist, Musician

    Emerald Jade – A New Classic

    Emerald Jade
    A New Classic
    (Breeze – 2004)
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    The title says it all. This is one of the smoothest, groovingest CDs I’ve come across this year. As soon as you put it on Vibe Queen hits you and hooks you with old school jazz scat crossed with funky jazz. Emerald Jade has one of those voices that was made for this kind of thing. Delirious is a sexy ballad with Emerald singing the front and the back, and it’s so sweet you could get diabetic from just listening! There’s also some nice guitar work by Troy Reigelman and vocal accompaniment by Craig Monroe, who is also co writer and producer of the CD as well as Emerald Jade’s husband.

    Listen to Shine using RealAudio.

    Did I mention that this is an Indie production? Well, this is one of the best independent productions I have seen in all my years as publisher of JazzUSA. My Man slows it down a bit and overlays the sultry vocals with some timely trumpet lines from Eric Butler. Once again the strength of the track is in the quality of the songwriting and the skill of the delivery. Tippin’ goes a little more uptempo and adds more funk to the bottom to tell a story of betrayal and disappointment.

    You Bring Joy To My Life is dedicated to her husband Craig on the back of the CD, and this is a JAM! The emotion is real. Emerald Jade brings a sassy style and great sense of musical timing to her music. I Found Love and Afternoon at Ricardo’s round out this fantastic collection.

    This is a Must Have for your collection and a shoo-in for top-ten vocal jazz CD of the year in my book. You might be interested to know that Emerald Jade is also the matriarch of the talented family of recording artists Jesse Powell, and Trina & Tamara. For more information visit the Emerald Jade Web Site.

    Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters

    Jazz Update…
    Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters

    by Mark Ruffin

    It was back in 1953 when Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters first stepped into a recording studio. Nearly half a century later, in separate cities, the trio is still very active in the jazz community. Andy is in New York, Salome Bey is in Toronto, and the other Bey sister, Geraldine De Haas, is Executive Director of Jazz Unites, a jazz service organization in Chicago.

    It is Andy, who still gets the national attention, as his new album, “Tuesdays In Chinatown,” continues his amazing comeback into the spotlight. As in the 60’s &70’s, when his voice was one that spoke for an oppressed people, it is the same today. But, now he speaks as a gay person afflicted with AIDS.

    In Chicago, De Haas’s organization continues to develop innovative jazz programming. The organization puts on an annual tribute to Duke Ellington in the spring, and a big summertime jazz festival.

    On December 2nd, Jazz Unites presented their “Jazz Mentorship Project,”in Chicago. The program presented young, undiscovered jazz musicians.

    Then there is the next generation of Beys, in the person of Aisha and Darius De Haas. Aisha has just finished a run in the Broadway hit play, “Rent,” while Darius, also a Broadway fixture, just finished a critically acclaimed one-man performance at New York’s Lincoln Center as legendary composer Billy Strayhorn. Both of them also perform backup with singer Oleta Adams.

    Their aunt, Salome, has been a huge part of the jazz and theatre scene in Montreal and in her adopted hometown of Toronto since 1963. A flattering biography of her is featured in a brand new book on the history of jazz in Canada titled “The Miller Companion to Jazz In Canada.”

    Andy re-captured the spotlight when he recorded, “Ballads, Blues and Bey,” in 1996. It was his first album in 22 years and the success was stunning. Reportedly, it sold over 30,000 copies, well above average for a jazz act. Just name the publication, from Billboard to the New York Times, to just about every jazz or black publication in between, and there was articles on Bey’s comeback.

    That solo piano/vocal record was followed up by a trio set called “Shades of Bey,” in ’98. On the new record, the 63 year-old musician expands further with up-tempo numbers, sophisticated horn charts and classy string arrangements.

    “This is the hardest record that I’ve done,” Bey said by phone from his Manhattan apartment. “I had to focus on playing a little more piano, the varied tempos and I had to learn Portuguese. It was really quite a challenge.”

    After Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters broke up in 1966, Bey’s voice became associated with the Black conscious movement through historic recordings with drummer Max Roach, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonist Gary Bartz. There’s many former Black radical who reminisce about the civil rights era when just thinking about Bey.

    “Even though I was part of that consciousness scene at that time, I wasn’t purposely trying to go in that direction,” Bey remembered. “It was a natural evolution.

    “It was the time, and everything reflected what was going on in civil rights,” he continued. “People were expressing their militancy in their music and I got caught up in that.”

    When the Black power movement subsided, so did recording opportunities for the singer. He also eventually caught the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

    Slowly, Bey became more of a ballad singer. Where his music of the 70’s screamed of the hope, pain and optimism of Black people, his music of today has a soft romanticism and militancy that speaks the same message to people afflicted with that deadly disease.

    “A quiet fire can be even more powerful than that big voice stuff I’ve done in the past,” Bey insisted. “The energy is still there, it just may be softer at times, and I’m much more open.

    “With my lifestyle is what it is, I can express my feminine side as well as my masculine side and it comes out natural. Singing is about who you are and being HIV positive has made me stronger and a little more freer. I’m able to say, ‘this is me, take me or leave me on my own terms.’

    “I don’t care if the world knows if I’m HIV or gay,” he concludes. “Those are just different labels. I’ve come to realize that first I’m me, a human being then an artist. That gives me a sense of freedom and it makes me feel that the sky is the limit.”

    Louis Armstrong – An American Icon

    Louis Armstrong

    An American Icon

    One of the greatest jazz musician who ever lived, Louis Armstrong was a worldwide ambassador of Jazz.

    Hip-O Records has released a beautifully packaged deluxe 3-CD box set with accompanying 50-page booklet that offers a comprehensive survey of “Satchmo’s” finest recordings of the post-World War II era, 1946 to 1968. During this period, Louis Armstrong’s most successful, he scored “Hello Dolly!,” “Mack The Knife,” and, of course, “What A Wonderful World” and appeared on the covers of the national weekly magazines, headlined concerts around the world, as well as being a familiar face in film and television.

    Born in New Orleans in 1901, Louis Armstrong grew up surrounded by the sounds of jazz, then in its formative stages. An accomplished self-taught trumpet player, he joined King Oliver’s band in 1922, and by 1929 had become one of the most recognizable figures in American music. His style of playing and singing utterly revolutionized jazz, taking it from the honky-tonks of New Orleans to the world’s leading stages. He worked with virtually every important popular musical artist of the century – from Sinatra to Elvis – and was himself one of the true immortals. Armstrong died in 1971, earned a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy from NARAS the following year, and in 1990, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a forefather of rock.

    Songs included on Louis Armstrong – An American Icon feature Satchmo in a variety of settings, from the large-scale Sy Oliver or Gordon Jenkins Orchestras to his own classic ensembles, the All-Stars and the Hot Seven (which often featured such legends as trombonist Jack Teagarden and pianist Earl Hines). No matter what the setting, Armstrong’s endearing and enduring style shines through in every performance. The set, culled from the Decca, RCA Victor, Roulette, Verve, Columbia, Kapp, ABC-Paramount, GNP-Crescendo, and Mercury Records archives, includes Armstrong’s most familiar hits, remarkable live recordings of many of his legendary early classics, duets with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and much much more.

    Allen Toussaint – Jazz History Speaks

    Jazz History SpeaksAllen Toussaint

    New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – May 2, 2009
    Matt Robinson

    After a brief introduction by local Jazz writer Bern Sandmel that paled in comparison to its object, multi-hyphened entertainer and devotedly New Orlenian musical sage Allen Toussaint bounced up the stairs to the stage in the pleasantly cool grandstand of the New Orleans horse track that has been home to the city’s world-famous Fest for nearly 40 years.


    Dressed as diversely as his music in a sport coat and wild tie over simple slacks, white socks, and his trademark sandals, the award-festooned multiple hall of fame-r regaled the crowd with otherly-focused stories of his many lives on the road, including his interactions as a “sideman” with the legendary likes of Elvis Costello and the late Robert Palmer (all of whom he sang of more loudly than himself), as well as the team of talented types with whom he collaborate on his latest album, “The Bright Mississippi” (which includes reed master Don Byron, trumpeter Nick Payton, and guitarist Marc Ribot). In between these tales were tones and tunes that ranged from Gospely inspirations to contemporary funk fists and wide-handed “tens” (ten note intervals).


    Saving his voice for the next day’s main stage performance, Toussaint only sang intermittently, but when he did, his smooth, mellifluous voice carried the crowd along on a rhythmic ride they did not want to get off. And as Toussaint hinted at what may yet be, the crowd literally yelled out for more. Not one to leave them unsatisfied, Toussaint seemed to realize that, as he has done so much with so many, every point is as much end as beginning.


    And so, after taking a few questions and some volunteered blessings that left him nearly speechless, Toussaint bid his fans ado until next time.

    Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker – American Dreams

    American Dreams
    Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker
    (Verve – 2002)
    by Shaun Dale

    It’s billed as Charlie Haden and Michael Brecker, but pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Brian Blade are no less important to the success of Haden’s tribute “…the America that could be, that really should be.” Using material drawn from his own pen as well as the books of Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and others, and augmented on eight tracks by a string orchestra, the interplay between these four musicians sounds like anything but a one-off project. If Haden started alternating releases between this quartet and his regular Quartet West, it would be a service to jazz fans everywhere.

    Haden and Brecker do take the lion’s share of solos on the album, though, and probably deserve their joint billing on that basis. The arrangements, though, by Haden, Alan Broadbent, Jeremy Lubbock, and Vince Mendoza, aren’t really structured as vehicles for dramatic improvisation. Haden’s goal is to reflect his theme by drawing on a wide range of American sources and styles, from Coleman’s outside adventures to “America The Beautiful” (and making “America The Beautiful” work as a jazz tune is one of the major achievements of this disc). Of course, it would hardly be a Charlie Haden project without a tip of the hat to Hollywood, provided here by a pair of songs from the soundrack work of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

    Haden’s play is as strong as ever, and the voice of Brecker’s tenor is unerringly true throughout the set. While the lush arrangements and modest tempo’s make this accessible to novice or smooth jazz fans, the underlying structure and virtuosity of the entire quartet will hold the interest of the most seasoned afficianado.

    Amazon Moon

    Amazon Moon
    Guilherme Vergueiro 
    Stoller and Vergueiro met while the latter was headlining a Hollywood club. The two formed a fast friendship, nurtured by their mutual love of Brazilian music. The writer of countless classic pop songs from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Is That All There Is?,” Stoller has long harbored a passion for Brazilian music, finally finding an outlet through his association with Guilherme. The two teamed up to produce Amazon Moon, with Guilherme performing and arranging the songs and assembling a world-class of musicians. The results are enthralling, but not surprising, given Guilherme’s peerless pedigree in Brazilian music.

    Born on Sao Paulo, Guilherme was the grandson of an acclaimed Brazilian classical pianist who early on recognized the lad’s pianistic gift. “He trained me in the classics,” recalls Guilherme, “but my heart took me elsewhere.” Instead, he turned to samba and bossa nova (the music of his homeland) and jazz. As early as 1970, he was leading his own groups in Sao Paulo and Rio, playing with such Brazilian legends as Edison Machado, Agostinho dos Santos, and Leny Andrade.

    In the mid 70’s, Guilherme moved to New York, serving as musical director at Cachca, the city’s only club specializing in Brazilian music. In 1980, he made his solo album debut, and from then on, he became one of the most in-demand arrangers, pianists, touring musicians, and headliners in the genre. Over the years, he has worked with such artists as Djavan, Don Menza, Chico Buarque and Hugh Masekela, and has toured with his own group, featuring as special guests such renowned artists as Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Robertino Silva, and Wallace Rooney. His musical career has taken him to many nations throughout the world including Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and of course the U.S. and Brazil.

    He has continued to record as well, releasing five solo albums here and in Brazil. In 1995, he founded Brazil On Line Publishing, an internet site dedicated to the celebration of Brazilian culture. his own Mangotree Music Productions serves as his home base from which Guilherme oversees his varied musical endeavors.

    I’m a lucky man,” says the artist. “I’ve been all over the world, and everywhere I go, the response to Brazilian music is marvelous. The music never lets me, or my audiences, down.” As for his special relationship with his instrument, his words are echoed in his extraordinary playing. “The piano is so wonderful,” notes Guilherme. “There’s always something new to discover. if you treat her right, the piano always gives something back.”

    As the artistry on Amazon Moon makes evident, one can safely say the same about Guilherme Vergueiro himself.

    Cecelia Tenconi – Amazon Lily

    Cecilia TenconiAmazon Lily
    Cecilia Tenconi
    (CafePercussion – 2001)
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    Cecilia Tenconi’s great debut CD Amazon Lily is a well crafted mix of sultry saxaphone and expressive flute performances (both by Tenconi) and good compositions (most by Tenconi). On Urban Summer (an original track and my favorite), Tenconi comes out Smoking with her sax, riding the simmering waves from the bass, then turning against the piano and surfing all the way back across the hot track. The melody is strong, with keyboardist Dave Kioski contributing a very old-school Lorber-ish solo in the middle.

    As good as Tenconi’s sax is on Urban Summer, she is an even better flautist, having performed as a soloist with the Orchestra of the National Radio in Argentina when she was only 16! Since then she has performed with the likes of Ray Baretto, Chico O’Farrell, Tania Maria, Manhattan Transfer and Herbie Mann, to name a few.

    The airy rendition of Milton Nascimento’s Mountain feels as if it has captured the essence of the Brazilian-Mountain experience, with Tenconi providing the lead vocals and flute. Most of the songs on the CD are originals, and most of the songs on the CD are Smoking. From the classic Malambito to the funky Wife’s Life, the compositions are strong and well performed. Tenconi’s CD is a welcome and talented surprise and should go far.

    Joey Calderazzo – Amanecer

    Joey CalderazzoJoey Calderazzo
    (Marsalis Music – 2007)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Joey Calderazzo’s previous release comprised completely of solo performances titled HAIKU established him as one of jazz’s premier pianists. His equally significant sophomore release titled Amanecer captures his musical growth as a solo artist in addition to capturing his prowess with vocalist Claudia Acuna and guitarist Romero Lubambo. His stellar performances with the vocalist and guitarist can be heard on the title track, “The Lonely Swan,” (which was also included on Marsalis’ exquisite recording titled ETERNAL) “So Many Moons,” and “Lara.” Produced by Branford Marsalis for Marsalis Music/Rounder Records label, Calderazzo’s technique has been a longstanding complement to Marsalis’ brilliant quartet sessions.

    However, Amanecer is Calderazzo’s complete philosophy of perfection in both musical and technical takes in solo, duo and trio settings – all gained from years of touring and the commitment to stand on his own. Included is one of Calderazzo’s most popular compositions – “Midnight Voyage” – which he introduced on Michael Brecker’s 1996 recording TALES FROM THE HUDSON. In further tribute to the late Mr. Brecker, Calderazzo added both “Amanecer” which he originally recorded as “Cat’s Cradle” on Brecker’s 1997 release titled TWO BLOCKS FROM THE EDGE, and “Sea Glass” a tune Calderazzo had performed with Brecker in a trio setting. However, his solo treatments take on an even deeper impact because of the untimely death of Brecker in early 2007.

    Since hearing the pianist in a number of venues – including the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Playboy Jazz Festival, among others, as both a solo pianist and within The Branford Marsalis Quartet, Calderazzo has strengthened his technique and has gone from Joey Calderazzo the pianist to Joey Calderazzo the complete musician, composer and interpreter.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Joey Calderazzo – Amanceer

    Joey CalderazzoJoey Calderazzo
    (Telarc – 2007)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Joey Calderazzo’s previous release comprised completely of solo performances titled HAIKU established him as one of jazz’s premier pianists. His equally significant sophomore release titled AMANCEER captures his musical growth as a solo artist in addition to capturing his prowess with vocalist Claudia Acuna and guitarist Romero Lubambo. His stellar performances with the vocalist and guitarist can be heard on the title track, “The Lonely Swan,” (which was also included on Marsalis’ exquisite recording titled ETERNAL) “So Many Moons,” and “Lara.” Produced by Branford Marsalis for Marsalis Music/Rounder Records label, Calderazzo’s technique has been a longstanding complement to Marsalis’ brilliant quartet sessions.

    However, AMANCEER is Calderazzo’s complete philosophy of perfection in both musical and technical takes in solo, duo and trio settings – all gained from years of touring and the commitment to stand on his own. Included is one of Calderazzo’s most popular compositions – “Midnight Voyage” – which he introduced on Michael Brecker’s 1996 recording TALES FROM THE HUDSON. In further tribute to the late Mr. Brecker, Calderazzo added both “Amanceer” which he originally recorded as “Cat’s Cradle” on Brecker’s 1997 release titled TWO BLOCKS FROM THE EDGE, and “Sea Glass” a tune Calderazzo had performed with Brecker in a trio setting. However, his solo treatments take on an even deeper impact because of the untimely death of Brecker in early 2007.

    Since hearing the pianist in a number of venues – including the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Playboy Jazz Festival, among others, as both a solo pianist and within The Branford Marsalis Quartet, Calderazzo has strengthened his technique and has gone from Joey Calderazzo the pianist to Joey Calderazzo the complete musician, composer and interpreter.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Mala Waldron – Always There

    Always There
    Mala Waldron
    (Soulful Sound – 2006)
    by Ray Redmond

    Although I am new to Mala Waldron, after listening to this CD I must say that I am impressed. Her voice is strong and rich but at the same time very delicate, very moving. Her soulful delivery seems to capture all of the nuances of the 11 tracks, probably all the more so because she wrote and skillfully arranged ten of them.

    Whispers in the Wind starts it off with Mala’s vocals amid the rolling guitars of Steve Salerno, who also has a HOT solo in the very bluesy title track. In addition to singing Ms.Waldron also grooves on the electric piano; check out her solos on Whispers in the Wind and Too Good for Words. Mala even gets in a little scatting on the high-energy samba Ellie which also features a round of solos from the band and a driving drum solo by Michael “T.A.” Thompson.

    The only cover on the entire release is an explosive arrangement of “Light My Fire.” The closer, Maybe It’s Not So, starts slow but soon transforms into this Latin-funky track reminiscent of some old Randy Crawford tunes. This track is held together by the ever-present and jamming bass work of Miriam Sullivan, who carries the bottom throughout this CD with a jazzy combination of zest and funk.

    Mala Waldron has inherited at least some of her composing talent from her jazz pianist/composer dad, Mal Waldron, most well known as Billie Holiday’s last accompanist and for composing Soul Eyes first recorded by John Coltrane.

    After having released two CDs in Japan, Mala Waldron feels as if she’s starting over with “Always There” as her first indie release. We hope that she keeps it up and continues to grow. This is a great CD from a promising, multi-talented young artist.

    Etta Jones – Always in Our Hearts

    Etta Jones
    Always in Our Hearts
    (High Note Records – 2004)
    by D. Kevin McNeir
    There was Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and then … Etta Jones. And once you listen to “Always in Our Hearts: Etta Jones As We Loved Her,” you’ll know why she deserves to be included in this cadre of great jazz female vocalists.

    All of the music was recorded from 1996 to 2002, the year when she succumbed to complications from cancer. Her last CD, “Etta Jones Sings Lady Day,” which would later be nominated for a Grammy, was released the day of her death.

    Thankfully, we have her music and her sultry voice to enjoy forever. Houston Person, her musical partner, producer and often times accompanying tenor saxophone player, assembled the selections on this CD acknowledging that they were “her favorite tracks.”

    It’s a great walk down jazz memory lane, from “All of Me,” “God Bless the Child,” “Mr. Bonjangles,” “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Fine and Mellow,” “I Should Care,” to the always moving Louis Armstrong classic “What A Wonderful World.”

    Jones shows why she continues to be revered as an interpreter of standards, ballads and blues. And while she first began touring at the age of 16, before going on to record for Prestige and RCA, some of her finest work was rendered in the last two decades of her life.

    Need a few moments to “pause for the cause,” or to “take a pill and chill?” Or perhaps you just want to go back in time when Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington were all the rage.

    Then cozy up with a glass of wine or sparkling cider and let Miss Jones entertain you. You won’t be disappointed.

    An Interview with Alphonse Mouzon – Dancing to a Different Drummer

    Alphonse Mouzon Dancing to a Different Drummer
    An Interview with

    Alphonse Mouzon
    by Paula Edelstein

    Alphonse Mouzon is the founding drummer of the great group, Weather Report, the Chairman and CEO of his own label, Tenacious Records, a composer, arranger, master musician and man for all seasons! It just doesn’t get any better than this. As one of the architects of the “smooth jazz” movement, Alphonse was one of the first to record what was previously known as “quiet storm” music back in the 70s. As many of you know, this sound has gone on to become the trademark of many new artists and has come into its own with the likes of Alphonse Mouzon, Dave Koz, Chuck Loeb, and Warren Hill. Whether composing original smooth jazz, straight-ahead, acid jazz or a classic arrangement for one your many favorites, Alphonse Mouzon is all that and more. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s up with one of jazz’s greatest innovators.

    JazzUSA: Hello Alphonse! So nice to speak to you again. We appreciate having you discuss some of your more recent projects with us. There have been many, many projects since you co-founded the band Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. Now as the President and CEO of Tenacious Records, the “Mouzon Sound” is quickly being embraced around the world. What new projects have you been working on?

    AM: I currently have six new CDs in production that I plan to release in 2001. There are three “live” CDs with my quintet featuring Sal Marquez on trumpet, Chuck Manning or Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, David Goldblatt or Mitch Forman on acoustic piano, Dave Enos on acoustic bass, and myself on drums. The other three CDs were recorded in the studio. The first studio CD is a smooth jazz production called SMOOTH AS SILK that features Warren Hill, Chuck Loeb, Paul Taylor, Nelson Rangell, Larry Coryell and many more artists to be added. The second studio CD is a straight ahead jazz production called ANGEL FACE that features myself, along with pianist Cedar Walton, trumpeter Shunzo Ono, and many more artists to be added. The 3rd studio production is a fusion/acid jazz CD called THE SEVENTH HOUSE that features myself, along with Shunzo Ono, Larry Coryell, Jeff Richman, Welton Gite and many more artists to be added.

    JazzUSA: WOW! Which format do they feature and if this is a distinct difference from the usual style/formats you work in, why have you chosen to change?

    AM: The three styles (straight ahead jazz, acid jazz and fusion) are completely different from my past recordings. Even the smooth jazz on SMOOTH AS SILK is much more different than the music I’ve released in the past. I think my fans are going to really love it, while my critics and jazz fans are going to love the three “Live” straight ahead CDs with my quintet.

    JazzUSA: I’m sure we will. Is there a favorite multi-cultural ensemble that you like these days?

    AM: I’ve only been listening to smooth jazz and straight ahead jazz music at home and while I’m driving my car. My 4 1/2 years old daughter Princess Emma Alexandra always make sure that I turn on Radio Disney for her but she also loves jazz and classical music.

    JazzUSA: As a drummer, trumpet, pianist, composer, arranger, which aspect of your career brings you the most fulfillment?

    AM: I enjoy each one equally. I also enjoy producing my own recordings and running my label Tenacious Records. Five months ago, I taught myself how to play the alto sax. It was easy because I had been playing the flute for over 10 years. I will feature my trumpet, flute and alto sax playing on some on my upcoming acid jazz and smooth jazz CDs.

    JazzUSA: Has working as a jazz musician ever been more than you imagined it would be? This means has it been more fun than not?

    AM: Working as a jazz musician has been rewarding and fun for me. It’s more than what I had imagined when I was a kid growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. I love being autonomous and free to record whatever I want.

    JazzUSA: Have you signed any new artists to the Tenacious Records label? If so, whom?

    AM: No. I haven’t yet. I have a few group projects (jazz, acid jazz, dance, smooth jazz and straight ahead jazz) that I will produce next year for my label that will feature myself along with guest artists. Information is posted at my website at http://www.tenaciousrecords.com

    JazzUSA: We’ll be looking forward to it. Alphonse thanks so much for this interview. We appreciate your great sounds and many great achievements. The world could use more innovators such as you. Thanks a lot.

    AM: You’re welcome. Thanks a million Paula!

    Branford Marsalis – A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam – DVD

    Branford MarsalisBranford Marsalis
    A Love Supreme
    Live in Amsterdam

    (Marsalis Music – 2004)

    For Marsalis Music’s second DVD release, label founder Branford Marsalis and his quartet have been captured in a complete performance of John Coltrane’s 1964 masterpiece A Love Supreme. This legendary suite, which tenor saxophonist Marsalis included on his label’s premier release, Footsteps of Our Fathers, was performed at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis during a European tour in March 2003.

    “We felt that we were pretty much done with A Love Supreme when we went to Europe, but my manager wasn’t done with it,” Marsalis recalls wryly. “After hearing us perform the suite at the Bottom Line, she insisted that we had to film it so she approached Pierre about the project and he agreed.” Pierre Lamoureux, a filmmaker known for his expertise in musical subjects, directed the recent Emmy-winning PBS special “Only You in Concert” by Harry Connick, Jr. “Pierre cares about how his films sound as well as how they look,” Branford emphasizes, “and the combination of Pierre and the Bimhuis was too good to pass up.”

    Branford is unsparing in his enthusiasm for the Amsterdam club, which has been a center for jazz in Europe since it opened in 1973. “I only played there once before, with Art Blakey in 1981, and I’ve wanted to bring my own band into the Bimhuis ever since,” he admits. “It’s simply one of the two or three best jazz clubs in the world, because the room is intimate and the focus is on presenting the music instead of selling food and drinks. There is a bar outside of the performance space, and people do go there to hang, but once they walk into the club itself, it’s all about the music.”

    Marsalis’ acclaimed quartet – with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts – was all about the music as well, as they delivered a performance both musically and visually riveting. As a bonus to the live performance, all four members of the quartet, together with Branford’s fellow saxophonists Michael Brecker, Ned Goold, David Sánchez and Miguel Zenón, discuss the inspiration and the challenges presented by Coltrane’s composition. In addition, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane’s widow and the pianist in his last band, is seen in a 30-minute conversation with Branford. An audio-only disc of the Bimhuis performance is also included, and is available only in the DVD package.

    A Love Supreme is considered by many to be the ultimate expression of the classic John Coltrane quartet, and remains Coltrane’s most popular album. Where Coltrane only performed the suite live on one occasion, Marsalis and band had several opportunities to play individual sections of the piece as well as A Love Supreme in its entirety before hooking up with Lamoureux for video documentation. “We definitely grew into the piece as we played it, which is why I’m so pleased that Pierre caught us when we really understood it,” Marsalis reports. “One thing about A Love Supreme, it takes tremendous concentration and focus from every member of the band. The first time we played the whole thing live, all we could do afterward was sit in the dressing room for 20 minutes, totally exhausted. You don’t see this band in that shape too often. By the time we got to the Bimhuis, though, we were up to the challenge.”

    What has resulted – a scintillating live performance, plus informed musical commentary and a rare visit with Alice Coltrane – makes A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam a must for all fans of Coltrane’s and Marsalis’ music.

    A Look Back at 2001

    A Look Back…
    Not really a great year for jazz
    recordings, but it wasn’t all bad.

    by Sidney Bechet-Mandela

    As we settle into a new millennium, a number of trends in jazz seem to be emerging. Yet the new trends in jazz, as it has been for over a hundred years now, are part of the continuing organic living thing that is jazz.

    Some folks define the birth of jazz as the day Buddy Bolden bounced notes off Lake Pontchartrain in the waning days of the 19th century. Since then, like some wandering eternal spirit from an Anne Rice novel out looking for kicks, those notes have touched and transfixed millions, only to splinter and regenerate continuously for decades. The being doesn’t touch as big of a percentage of people in the U.S. as it once did, but the number under it’s spell worldwide continues to grow. So much so, that as jazz continues to break itself into pieces and then borrow from other pieces created a generation or two ago, it has now come back from the England in yet another form as acid jazz and drum n’ bass and what ever the Europeans label it this year.

    And steadily, young Americans are responding to the whatever versions of jazz that infects them with their own take. That is very obvious in the increasing homogenization of jam bands with alternative rock ties, the suddenly growing recordings of 70’s styled fusion bands, and the hip-hoppers who continuously seek out to deliver props to those who came before them, whether in words, samples or spirit.

    Then there’s Diana Krall. Inexplicable, yet self-explanatory.

    Is Steve Tyrell, positive fallout from the Diana Krall phenomenon? Or will television, one of Tyrell’s means of promotion, the future of selling jazz records? Meanwhile, many public jazz stations stay away from them both.

    Smooth jazz radio added stations last year, including a few not owned by Clear Channel, a trend that must continue for the health of the format. Still, as the format grows, major record label execs still only dream of a million selling act like the decidedly mainstream Krall. Record reps have been saying for years that smooth jazz doesn’t sell. The situation is improving as witnessed by the recent tremendous sales of Urban Knights and Dave Koz’ Christmas record.

    Still the top two 2001 contemporary jazz records in terms of sales, according to Billboard Magazine, are St. Germain and Rachelle Ferrell, neither with smooth jazz airplay, but both gold record award winners.Ferrell’s success easily corresponds with what a major record executive just said to me the other day about mainstream jazz, “ain’t nothing selling in jazz right now but women singers.”

    St. Germain, on the other hand is, of course, the shape of things to come. Acid jazz jam bands, 70’s driven jazz/funk bands and alternative rock jam bands are what many young kids are calling jazz today, attesting to the high sales growth that Marcus Miller and Medeski, Martin & Wood achieved last year, without the benefit of hardly any airplay. And the airplay that MM&W did get, that wasn’t college radio, came from so-called Triple A alternative rock stations.

    Those youngsters who are being influenced by smooth jazz are adopting some of the English and European acid jazz/drum n’ bass flair, but many more are spicing their music with hip-hop. Right now, easily, the record label that has the firmest grip on this trend is Hidden Beach Recordings. With Jill Scott, Brenda Russell and saxophonist Mike Phillips already on the label, the company showed it had the pulse on what young people called jazz when they astounded the jazz market with their “Unwrapped,” album. It shot up to number one within days of its release. Chocked with instrumental covers of rap hits, Hidden Beach has once again help to fragment jazz and have a whole new generation begin to regurgitate the music and spit it out for themselves.

    Without question the most positive trend in smooth jazz music is that the musicians are finally, at least seemingly, trying to dictate to the programmers what the music should be, instead of the other way around. With the stagnation of the format, it was only a matter of time before musicians looked for ways to spice up their recordings. . The smooth jazzers are incorporating more of the European stuff too, which to most programmers is something they never heard.

    The most horrid trend in smooth jazz is the premature fade of tunes on major labels. Now that the musicians are starting to create music not made for programmers, they should tell their labels to let radio edit themselves. They know how.

    Sadly, in mainstream jazz, the paradoxical trend of dead masters outselling new jazz artist continues to widen its berth. If Ken Burns “Mark Twain,” series does for the publishing business what his “Jazz” did for the marketing of jazz records, new young writers don’t stand a chance.

    It’s wonderful that Miles Davis and John Coltrane continue to sell at a brisk pace. But it’s frightening that for the past two to three years, artists of their ilk are the only instrumentalists who are selling at the pace of vocalists, (not counting Krall of course.) So why should Columbia or Impulse expand their roster when a new Billie Holiday or Bird compilation could help make budget projections just fine.

    Technology, to some extent, evens things out, in that it is easier for a young jazz artist to have product. And because of that, critics and programmers in mainstream jazz circles are open to hearing almost anybody, Much more so than in smooth jazz.

    One of the funniest trends in jazz that continues is not just the continuing snobbery of mainstream jazz purists, but the growth of the smooth jazz purists. These are people who think of the new Ramsey Lewis Trio as out. If acoustic jazz is on the right and smooth jazz on the left, these are people are Marxists , who like their counterparts on the right, only sully jazz’ growth as an industry. We are all in this together and are part of a living thing that by its very nature factions off its followers. We may not have the same musical views, but we all come from that same wandering gumbo spirit that was born in New Orleans all those many years ago.

    Brian Hughes – Along The Way

    Brian HughesBrian Hughes
    Along The Way
    (Blue Note – 2004)
    by John Thompson

    Wanna see something sort of rare? Here it is: this writer reviewing the smooth jazz style. Guitarist Brian Hughes has released a very nice cd for true 1990’s-2000 era smooth jazz lovers called “Along the Way.” While I do not totally subscribe towards this style, I will say that this is very good smooth jazz that most songs could make radio play lists. All songs are written and arranged by the George Benson-Norman Brown-sounding Hughes, and I am appreciative of the use of “real” vs. synthesized instruments. This music is good. Very good.

    Two popular guests that appear on the disc are Chris Botti (T) and Eric Marienthal (AS), as well as Hb3 player John Nau. Les Portelli (P,synths), Tim Landers (B), Neil Wilkinson (D) and Jason Hann (Perc.) round out the band. Songs in varying flavors, pronounced percussion, well-placed fills and hooks, and the song order are some of the elements that make the music very enjoyable. Hughes makes good on acoustic guitar on two songs, “Omaha Unbound,” and “Endless Road.” While there are no fireworks, the Hughes solos are very fitting, and though no stretching out from band members, the structures are always solid. 4-1/2 smooth stars.

    Doug Munro – Alone But Not Alone

    Doug Munro
    Alone But Not Alone
    Gotmusic – 2009

    Doug Munro’s new solo project Alone But Not Alone is a recording of spiritual songs that was all performed live in the studio with no over dubs. Using a loop station to create the multiple parts helped Munro craft a release that allows the listener to experience the full effect. The.songs on this CD are from the spirit and for the spirit.

    With a 20 year career spent on the edge of the mainstream Munro continues to explore the boundaries of the guitar genre with this latest recording, combining improvisation and technology to create a unique sonic experience. The set includes 7 original compositions and covers of 3 classic spiritual song: people get ready, amazing grace, and down by the riverside.

    Jon Regen – Almost Home

    Jon RegenJon Regen
    Almost Home
    (HiTone – 2004)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Jon Regen expands his musical boundaries with Almost Home, a seven track EP featuring Regen’s mellow vocals, piano and Hammond B3 organ prowess. Joined by Jonathan Sanborn on bass and Eric Addeo on drums, Regen, who is mostly recognized for his brilliant piano accompaniment with the legendary jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott and frequent gigs with Kyle Eastwood – gives his music such a veneer of aestheticism that the listener can actually involve their personal experience through the songs. For the road weary, give “Only My Credit Card Remembers Where I’ve Been,” a listen.

    This humorous take on getting around is fodder for the traveling salesperson, musician or anyone that hit’s the road on a regular basis. With vocals reminiscent of Billy Joel and Sting, Regen does wonders for “Hold Out Your Heart,” and “What Am I Supposed To Do From Here.” Jon Regen is definitely worth the listen and Almost Home is certainly among his best work to date. Don’t miss his upcoming concert dates. Visit him at http://www.jonregen.com for more information.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Tonia Woods – All That Glitters

    Tonia WoodsTonia Woods
    All That Glitters

    (Renata – 2001)
    by Carmen Miller

    Although this CD will probably end up in the R&B bin at the store, I decided to review it anyway because her style should not be categorized like that. Tonia Woods is a soulful, sultry songstress and this CD showcases her vocal and composing talents. If You Let Me, one of the seven original tracks, is a gospel-tinged beauty featuring the sax of Marshall Keyes. Mad Love is an intense, moaning ballad in the Anita Baker or Miki Howard tradition. Go The Distance again features Marshall Keys’ saxaphone and the guitar of Sirdjan Kolaravich in a sexy, sassy jazz track that has you finger-popping and head-nodding.

    Seven Days, Seven Nights is another mood piece where Tonia shows her range, but in a more uptempo groove. Her strong cover of The Lord’s Prayer reaches back to her gospel-music roots, and she takes the Ann Peebles class I can’t stand the Rain and reshapes it. Tonia Woods is an up and coming singer with a lot of talent. I’d like to see her star keep rising. Anita Baker is my girl, but she’s a long time between records. Tonia Woods fills that gap nicely.

    All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 Report

    All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005
    Tons of Fun and Jammin’ Sessions
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr. and Carmen Miller

    The all star smooth jazz cruise got underway with a bang, then another and another! After much travel and consternation the cruise got underway and the jazz is going on!

    Day 1’s concert featured Chicago native own Alan Hewitt who put on a groovin show, highlighted by Rick Braun joining him on stage for a couple of tunes. Following Alan was another Chicago boy and one of my favorite guitarists, Nick Colionne who put on a show that brought down the house.

    Decked out in a shimmering pink suit, Nick delivered a performance for the ages, bringing the crowd to its feet over and over again with uproaring applause. Something new (for me) was seeing Nick sing on his rendition of “Rainy Night in Georgia” his rich voice accented by that sweet guitar was a real treat.

    Nick is also hosting the jam sessions in the evening, more about THAT in a second (stay tuned).

    Day 2’s show featured the youth movement. 22 year old phenom Eric Darius Opened the show with three tracks from his new CD and for those that had never seen him, it was a real treat. This young cat has the chops to maintain a position in the jazz pecking order.

    Following Darius was another Chicago cat and musical prodigy Brian Culbertson. Joined by a great band that includes his father Jim Culbertson, Brian showed a penchant for showmanship while he dazzled the crowd with his keyboard dancing, even jamming a bit on his other favorite instrument, the trombone. When Eric Darius came back out and joined him it was a jam for the ages… and for the future.

    Now for the Hignlight of the day… the all star jam session hosted by Nick Colionne.

    Nick started off with his own band and did an uptempo number, but the evening got better every minute. At one point the ensemble that was playing included Nick Colionne, Rick Braun, Jaared, Michael Lington, Pamela Williams, Gregg Karukas, Ancestor, Chris Miskel, Michael Paulo and many more. Additonally some of the passengers who brought instruments were up on stage jammin’ as well.

    The Jam session was actually the best show so far, and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s jam session will be like. It could be Mindi Abair, Peter White, Marion Meadows… who knows?

    Nelson Rangell – All I Hope For Christmas

    All I Hope For ChristmasNelson Rangell
    All I Hope For Christmas
    (Koch – 2004)
    by Ray Redmond

    A CD filled with sweet and syrupy covers of Christmas classics, a great cover of Oh Christmas Tree and one original tune. All I hope for Christmas, penned by Rangell and keyboardist Alex Nekrasov, is a really nice track and begs the question of why there is so much elevatorish music here.

    Reminiscent of some of Prince’s CDs at the end of his hated Warner contract, this CD seems to be filled with… well… filler. Nice and airy but a little insubstantial. Rangell fans will be satisfied, but considering the fact that most of us only buy a few holiday CDs, and only listen to those for a short time, there’s probably better fare out there.

    Everette Harp – All For You

    All For YouAll For You
    Everette Harp
    (A440 – 2004)
    by Ray Redmond

    Everette Harp is burning up on his new A440 release. The All-star guest list on this release reads like a who’s who in the jazz world… Norman Brown, George Duke, Paul Jackson Jr., Earl Klugh and Rex Rideout just to name a few. Kisses Don’t Lie sets the tempo right away with harp playing soulful sax and funky keyboard, toss in your occasional background vocal and some smackin’ guitar by David Barry and you’ve got a hit.

    Norman Brown adds a lot of flair to Just Like Old Times as he and Harp work side by side with Paul Jackson Jr. keeping the rhythm rolling and Larry Kimple pulling bass duty. Can you Hear Me is a bumping Rex Rideout composition featuring Walt Fowler on trumpet. Howard Hewitt lends his unique vocal sound along with George Duke‘s keyboarding to the aptly named Groove Control which is truly a controlled groove, rising in intensity as it progresses.

    I Remember When also starts slower and grows as it goes. Earl Klugh is the feature performer here and he puts in some strong and timely guitar work, complimenting Harps agressive sax style well. The closer is the Dwight Sills filled In The Blink of an Eye and that’s how fast you’ll get to the end of this great CD… and that’s way too soon. Everette Harp has become a real force in the overcrowded saxophone category since he first hit the scene in 1992 with the self-titled Everette Harp. The class of the material, performers and performances on this CD are a testament to the fact that he has indeed arrived.

    Allan Vaché and Harry Allen – Allan and Allen

    Allan Vaché and Harry Allen
    Allan and Allen

    (Nagel-Heyer – 2001)
    by John Barrett

    If you like the old-fashioned swing, rejoice – these guys agree with you. The less-famous Vaché blows a fine clarinet: grainy, with hints of Woody Herman. He cries the theme to “Lover, Come Back to Me”, driven by a strong piano (Eddie Higgins, a mainstay of ‘Sixties Chicago.) After his turn comes Harry Allen, whose tone is like Lester but whose style is aggressive. (His solo begins like Ammons and ends like Lockjaw.) The two reeds keep trading, and neither relent – it’s a two-course meal, and both are delicious.

    They coast through “Jive at Five”: Allan has a sweet tremble, accented by Higgins’ stride. This time Harry IS Pres – the likeness is uncanny, and gorgeous. “Lake Ponchartrain Blues” will grow on you; the theme and harmonies are subtly sophisticated. Higgins wrote it, and he glistens – Vaché defines “yearning” on his sweet solo. The drums wreak havoc on the title tune; this is Eddie Metz, and his drive is special. (Harry is also good, though his turn is too short.) Allan is peaceful on “What Can I Say (After I Say I’m Sorry)”, followed by Harry’s slow fire. Such music is simple: find the good tunes and let them sing. This they do, and this you’ll love.

    Vaché tries his hand singing on “Straighten Up and Fly Right”: his voice is wrinkled like his brother’s, and just as hip. (It’s charming, but I’d rather hear his clarinet.) Allan cries his solo on “You Go to My Head” (he even does the glissando from “Rhapsody in Blue”!) while both reeds make a race of “Tickle Toe”. Harry sounds gorgeous, with the ferocity of Stitt; Vaché moves into Goodman country, with notes both fast and cool. The bass solo quotes “Topsy”, and Higgins has a solid comp. Harry does a good Webster on “Ben’s Blues”, drawls pretty on “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me”, and joins Vaché for the rollicking “Stealin’ Apples”. This is a record where everyone has a good time … especially the listener.

    Rick Braun – All It Takes

    Rick Braun
    All It Takes
    Artistry Music – 2009
    Sounds of Timeless Jazz

    Rick Braun’s latest CD is an inspired masterwork of contemporary jazz that celebrates the unique relationships he has with band members,  his wonderful wife, and collaborators Philippe Saisse, Jeff Lorber and Marc Antoine. On ALL IT TAKES, the award-winning trumpeter uses the power of his instruments  to transform and take your aural pleasures to another level. This recording has the quality and standards of Braun’s previous award-winning CDs and it keeps the musical possibilities happening and versatile.

    Braun worked with co-producer/co-songwriter Phillipe Saisse on the bulk of the songs including the title track and the sexy, cool, opening tune titled “Tijuana Dance?” “Puerto Allegre Jam” is the kind of descarga that will have you on the dancefloor, but if you’ve lost your groove, then this song will definitely help you get it back! Marc Antoine guests on guitar and the vocals of Vanessa Falabella add the spice of life to this great song. Saisse’s keyboard solo provides just the right cue for Braun to keep this jam going. You’re sure to love this song.  

    Rick Braun changes the tempo and expresses his love in radiant, bold and warm tones and textures and then delivers it all to his lovely wife on the ode “Christiane.” Co-produced by Jeff Lorber this  adept song also features Lorber’s brilliant keyboard playing. “All It Takes” is a beautiful ballad that finds Braun in a pensive mood on muted trumpet delivering lovely phrases and making very profound musical statements. This song is the embodiment of elegance.  Ending the set, Braun is cooler than cool on the flugelhorn as he give major props to Freddie Hubbard on his ode titled “Freddie Was Here.” This song has style, grace and is smooth-as-silk and also reflects the excellence in Braun’s songwriting skills.

    Rick Braun has ALL IT TAKES to make you want to keep listening to 10 great songs that are the perfect vehicles for his great trumpet and flugelhorn chops.

    Reprinted with Permission From

    Al Jarreau at the Star Plaza

    Al Jarreau Al Jarreau
    Star Plaza Theatre, Merrillville, Indiana
    by Sidney Bechet-Mandela

    Mister Smooth, Al Jarreau, came to this beautiful theatre nestled in the Northwest corner of Indiana in good spirits and very aware of where he was as he acknowledged the different colleges in the four state area after his first number. He reminded the audience that he was from just up the road in Milwaukee and that he felt right at home, and that he had a brand new band that he was ready to work out…. And that he did.

    Bolstered further by the overwhelming positive response from the audience when he asked how many owned his new album ,Tomorrow Today, Jarreau performed an exhaustive well-paced 90 minute show in good humor and great voice. Throughout the performance, he chastised the people who didn’t fill the empty seats in nearly half the auditorium. “They’re at home listening to Dr. Dre,” he laughed before launching into a searing version of “So Good.” Afterwards, through the first of many sustained ovations, he very seriously said, “tell them to Dr. Dre that shit.

    He danced, played percussion, scatted and displayed all those appealing qualities his live show has contained for years, but his new band, including his childhood friend Joe Torano, on sax and Verve recording artist Freddie Ravel on keyboards, put an extra charge into the singer seem to be on a higher level than when he toured with Joe Sample, George Duke and David Sanborn last summer.

    Ravel excelled particularly on the Joe Zawinul tune A Remark You Made, which is on the singer’s new album re-titled Something That You Said. On the classic, Since I Fell For You, he brought down his background vocalist, Debbie Davis, who in turn, brought the house down.

    He effectively mixed the new with his chestnuts, like Take Five, Morning, with many of the old tunes spiced with new arrangements, particularly the Grammy winning We’re In This Love Together, that found Jarreau slowing the tempo down and playing hide and seek with the melody throughout, even on the chorus.

    The singer also seems to be returning more to his jazz roots as on a long medley that included Just To Be Loved By You, from the new album, his old hit, I Will Be Her For You, Jarreau added the standards Autumn Leaves, and Summetime. He labeled it “adult music.”

    The band really gelled on the title track from Tomorrow Today, as every member of the seven-piece band also sung background, including the incredible percussionist/vocalist Arno Lucas, who in the 70’s led the great underrated group Crakin’. Lucas really smoked the congas and timbales on this Latin tune which Jarreau said had “lyrics for you mind, and salsa for your behind.”

    And indeed the whole audience was on its feet moving to the groove, and before they could all sit down, Jarreau closed the show with a rousing version of George Duke’s very funky Dukey Stick, a total surprise that revved the dancers to a rock-show like frenzy.

    The audience seemed exhausted at the end of the show, simply wrung by the energy of the youthful looking 60 year-old singer, who looking more fit as the years wear on. Even after the band left the stage, the audience refused to leave and so did Jarreau. It was a love affair after the show, and what a show it was..

    Al Jarreau – Accentuating The Positive – An Interview

    Al JarreauAl Jarreau
    Accentuates the Positive
    by S.H. Watkins Sr.

    Al Jarreau has a new CD, and it’s an all jazz album… the first he’s ever done. Getting ready for the interview, I visited his web site for some insight and information that I might not have. While browsing I ran upon a line where he asks that you email him to ask questions but not about his “zodiac sign or favorite color”. Armed with this warning, I got on the horn and gave him a ring….

    JazzUSA: Hi Al, tell us a little about Accentuate The Positive… After all these years what made you decide to put out an album that is all jazz?

    Al: Ahhh. it’s a promise I made to my audience a long time ago. I’ve been promising this album where I would do things that were really jazzy. There is an album from 1965, in fact it’s called Al Jarreau 1965 that was not an official album that hints in this direction, but nothing else other than these forays I made into the jazz arena, songs like Take Five and A Remark You Made and others, but not really a complete album like this, which I’d have to call a real jazzy album. I had to do this for my audience, and for me and I owe really to this genre.. style… era of music that made me who I am since We Got By. All of that stuff that I’ve been singing in R&B songs… that solo in boogie down (begins to scat a bit)… I do that because I started singing (scats and sings some more) when I was 21 years old, you know, 22 years old singing some Dizzy Gillespie hot licks, you know, from Grooving High.. so I owed it to this stuff that was my classroom, my academy, that made me who I am… and here it is first chapter. First chapter… there’ll be more.

    JazzUSA: Can you give a little bit about the genesis of that 1965 record?

    Al: What was happening is I was a student at the University of Iowa studying rehabilitation, which is work I went on to do about a year or two after I left there and worked in San Francisco… where I met George Duke. I was singing in this club called The Tender Trap owned by a drummer who was an ex-wrestler from the University of Iowa, he was in love with Frank Sinatra so he called it the Tender Trap. David Sanborn played there, a whole list of people who were in that neighborhood, and I went there and started sing on weekends while I was in school at the U. of I. We decided that we would go and record this music, get it down for our own library… my Mom would like to know what I’m doing when I’m not studying. That’s what we did, it was really not, at that time, meant to be released, but it GOT released, and I’m glad because it is part of my history and what I was doing before I came on the scene 15 years later.

    JazzUSA: Let’s go to another night in the early 70’s… what about the night that Columbia records set up the showcase for you in L.A.?

    Al: Oh my goodness! You know about that, do you? How embarrassing… man oh man. Well I had been courting Columbia, playing my music for them for a while, I had some demo tapes and stuff. One of their vice presidents was supposed to come to the Troubadour club in L.A., a brilliant club that’s still going and doing music, where I opened for Les McCann. I’m still waiting for them to show up, they never showed, but who did come was the people from Warner-Reprise and the rest is history… I signed with them and was with them for more than 20 years and most of the albums that people know me for came as a result of those several evenings that they came there and signed me up!

    JazzUSA: So Warner owes it all to Columbia?

    Al: (Laughs) I’m not gonna say that (Still laughing).

    JazzUSA: Are there more jazz records to come?

    Al: That’s what I’m about to say, I feel like this is just the beginning of a new chapter for me and there’ll be other albums like this to come, but of course I need to do that Brazilian album, and the Big Band album that I’ve been promising as long as I was promising to do this jazzy project, so yes… that and other things.

    JazzUSA: Why write a song about Betty Carter?

    Al: Oh… every reason in the world to and not very many reasons NOT to write a song about Betty Carter. She was a force. She doesn’t get the kudos that Ella Fitzgerald gets, that Carmen McRae gets, and certainly not Diana Krall and Norah Jones (laughs). But, (she was) a brilliant singer right out of that improvisational, free floating kind of spirit of the moment is the way she performed and touched me, and thousands, and I just wanted to tip my hat to her and say that her song is still playing in my heart and on my face as raindrops fall… and that’s why I wrote that first line, you know….

    JazzUSA: She’s a wonderful lady…

    Al: Brilliant lady. And thank you for picking up on that because on the pre release it’s only title is Betty but the real title is Betty Be-Bop Song, that’s what will be on the final record jacket.

    JazzUSA: On Cold Duck you mention Eddie Harris by name in the lyric.

    Al: Yes.

    JazzUSA: Is it a tribute?

    Al: Exactly. Exactly it’s a tribute to Eddie Harris. Another one of those guys who didn’t get the awards and the kudos he deserved but who touched my heart and my spirit because he knew you could be a jazzer and still invite people to funk and dance. I want people to listen to my music too, but I don’t want every piece to be something you have to sit and mull over in your mind, I want them to get up and dance! That’s why Boogie Down and others like that I sang. So… yeah Eddie Harris… and it’s not the first time I’ve visited some Eddie Harris… I also did Compared To What.

    JazzUSA: Having grown up in chicago, I recall a long while back on a PBS Chicago show called Soundstage, you and Chick Corea doing a version of Whispering

    Al: Yea yea yea yea! Wow! That’s where it began…

    JazzUSA: That’s where Groovin High came from?

    Al: That’s where it began. I began the lyric then, and just finished it a few months ago. Things take a while.. you know (laughing).

    JazzUSA: 22 years to write the lyrics!

    Al: Right ain’t that something? And Blue and Green took even longer. I did that on the record with Narada Walden called Heaven and Earth… the lyric for Blue and Green took even longer.. I don’t know if anyone discovered that record … yet. I began that lyric in ’63 or ’64 and finished in the middle 90’s and came on this record.

    JazzUSA: Was the Soundstage appearance the first time you and Chick had gotten together?

    Al: oh yeah… that would have been the first time we really played any music together. We knew each other before that and he invited me to come, and that was the beginning of my interest in working on that song which happened some several years later on a project that Jay Graden produced and I went and wrote the Be-Bop lines for an already begun lyric that Artie Marin had begun. I mean he wrote the (begins singing) Yesterday, just a photograph of yesterday and all it’s edged folded and the corners faded sepia brown, and yet it’s all I have our time’s love, a postscript to it’s ending… and then I wrote the Be-Bop lyric, and so things take a little time. One of the beauties of having a career that’s not one song long on top radio is that you get to grow and evolve as an artist (laughing).

    JazzUSA: Did that collaboration lead to Spain?

    Al: Exactly! It led to Spain. It led to my finally doing that song during the Jay Graden period, which lasted for about five albums, and I finally finished that lyric and did the song.

    JazzUSA: On the new CD, the only common name between the performers and the composers is Russell Ferrante. Is that a coincidence? And what’s a Skootchabooty?

    Al: Well the title is just what is says, and you have to listen to the song a couple of times to get the notion that what I’m talking about is ‘Get Your Boogie Down’. Get up and move, it’s time to go, time is wastin’, you can do it if you get your boogie down… Skootchabooty bottom move… Skootchabooty bottom move…

    Well, Russell is one of my heroes for a long, long time. All that work he’s done over the years in various guises, including Yellowjackets. I called him 18 years ago, if it wasn’t 20 years ago, and said “Russell let’s get together and write.” I went to his house with this very piece of music in my head and sang him those opening lines (scats the melody for a moment), then he came up with the bridge (more extended scatting), then I wrote the lyric for it!

    One day we have to do it in the form we did it that afternoon with Russ playing the left hand… bass player get outta’ town! Somewhere on cassette tape I have me singing dummy lyrics, and him playing accompaniment, just two of us, and a left hand to die for, so yes… that song has history too. No coincidence, no coincidence that Russ is there, and I predict that he and I will come together again and do more things.

    JazzUSA: My son, Stephen II is only 27 years old and he said to tell you he LOVES your music, and he’s not the only young person I know that loves your music.

    Al: (Laughing) say that again and keep saying it… I just recorded it (laughing).

    JazzUSA: Many artists and record companies are changing the style of their music releases to reach the younger generation, you don’t do that. That can’t be attributed entirely to your past crossover hits, is that appeal intentional or just because the music is good, and everyone appreciates good music?

    Al: Well, I crossed over but I’m not so sure the kind of music that I did of a crossover sort is relevant today because it’s a whole different kind of rap-n-roll these days, and I’m not sure I can reach a young audience doing exactly that music. What happened is because I’m an R&B singer and Pop singer I’ve done more of that music, still influenced by jazz, as I have jazz music itself. We were talking about those tunes that I’ve done that were really directly out of the jazz book, I’ve reached people. I’ve reached young people and a young audience. You should see my audience in Europe, you’d fall on the floor. In the front row, at outdoor venues in the summer, is kids 15-30, all standing there jumping up and down and dancing, ’cause I want people to dance to my music. Then I give them some Spain. Then I give them Joe Zawinul’s A Remark You Made and their eyes roll back in their head as they hear, in the same context, coming out of the same mouth, with the same musicians that refuse to have borders, they hear this other music that they go and find later. Yeah, they find Chick, and they find Dave Brubeck because… First of all, radio there is so broad you hear me between Beastie Boys and Sting (Laughs). It’s real broad and the kids feel less barriers between music.

    JazzUSA: I hate to use the word idol, but who are your idols?

    Al: I LOVE the word idols, and I got ’em. They are lined up and they run all the way from Johnny Mathis and John Hendricks, who were the greatest influences on me, the balladeer? Johnny Mathis was an extension of Nat King Cole, so Nat King Cole was certainly one of the idols. If John Hendricks is a jazz singer, then he and of Ella Fitzgerald are certainly Idols mine. People who I wanted to be like, tried to sound like (launches into a short segue of Unforgettable)… hey man! Are you kidding me? Idols! If you don’t have idols, I don’t know how you come to pick up an instrument or pick up a mike and try to sing. You want to communicate like that person that touched you so deeply that you can’t help but get up and take the mike when someone hands it to you, or pick up your horn and play Diz licks or Sanborn licks. Oh, idols are so important, the touch us in our heart, change our lives as listeners and push us to do music, write music, bring music to people ourselves as musicians and singers.

    JazzUSA: OK, so speaking of idols from another point of view, what do you think of (R&B singer) KEM?

    Al: I plan to be in touch with his management in the morning (laughs) and tell ’em “Come on let’s do something together”. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but I think it’s something we ought to do. There’s enough there that we are cut from similar cloth and I think we ought to do some work together.

    JazzUSA: Just for general information, what is Al Jarreau’s favorite color?

    Al: Blue and Green. I love them… blue of the sky and green of God’s greenery.

    JazzUSA: Been good talking to you Al.

    Al: Thank you… thank you for letting me Yakety Yak.

    An Interview with Al Jarreau

    Conversation with
    Al Jarreau
    by Mark Ruffin.

    In his long career, the style of singer Al Jarreau has usually defied description. He has scaled the top of the pop charts, been celebrated as an original jazz stylist, and has even won a Grammy in the R&B category.

    “You could add schizophrenic to that,” the singer said with a hearty laugh during a national promtional tour last month. “I’m all that and maybe still some different things tomorrow. I don’t know who I’m going to be.”

    After a period of stagnation, Jarreau does know that his career has a jumpstart thanks to the his red-hot new album, Tomorrow Today. The eleven-song disc is his debut for GRP Records, after 20 years and 15 recordings for Warner Brothers, and it is easily his best album in over a decade.

    While the 60 year-old Milwaukee native is receiving praise for the record from old fans, radio stations and critics he calls ‘the analytical folks,” Jarreau is deflecting the compliments towards his producer, Paul Brown. Through diligent research and a knowledge of modern rhythms, Brown has pushed the right buttons and delivered music that also finds the singer attracting new fans.

    “Paul has an especially sensitive musical acumen and awareness that allows them to do two things very well,” Jarreau explained. “He can find out the detail in his artist that they may not even recognize and see themselves. He then gives them a reflection of it in a little bit different way, so that they can see things with a new pair of eyes and let that effect what they do on the music.

    “He also has his pulse on the finger of the music that is happening today, and knows how to give his artist that contemporary canvas,” the singer continued. “That’s what great sensitive producers do today. they help to make your sound one that is comfortable for a listener who listen to (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs) Puffy. Not that all Puffy people are going to listen to Tomorrow Today and be comfortable, but they’re some people there listening to the hip-hop urban sound of today, who can pick up some pieces on this Jarreau album and go right there and be comfortable. Paul made that happen.”

    Hard core fans of Jarreau will no doubt marvel at how so much of the old classic sound of Jarreau comes through the slick 21st century production on Tomorrow Today. Above all, that seems to be what the producer was aiming for.

    Brown, best known for his work his saxophonist Boney James, who plays on one song with Jarreau, studied the singer’s rich history. Then by experimenting and using gentle persuasion, he was able to extract nuances from Jarreau that other producers have overlooked on his other recent recordings.

    For instance, one day, in his unique a cappella style, Jarreau was explaining to Brown his concept of a vocal version of the Crusaders classic, Put It Where You Want It. But instead of calling in the band, Brown turned on the tape recorder.

    “He said, ‘why don’t you do it just like that. That is so raw and it is so you and the way you perform in a live situation. It’s something you don’t typically do in a studio situation, so let your audience have that moment because it’s so personal.’ And he was so right.”

    That song, re-titled Puddit, is one of the songs on the album that go back a number of years with the singer, and was overlooked by his previous producers. Others include a duet with Vanessa Williams called God’s Gift To The World and Something That You Said, a lyric to an old Weather Report tune that Jarreau had been sitting on since 1978.

    Most surprising though is the genesis of the hit single and opening track from the album, “Just To Be Loved By You.”

    “That song came to me more than twelve or thirteen years ago and has been sitting on the back burner waiting for just this moment,” Jarreau explained. With every album I made, I pulled it out and listened to the song with (past producers) Narada Michael Walden, Marcus Miller, and even as far back as Jay Graydon. But it was only Paul who went ‘wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.’

    “It was written all those years ago as a Brazilian samba but I was too close to the song. It took Paul to make it contemporary and it took other people to tell me that it should be the single. The analytical folks tell me that that song sounds real today, but sound as if it could have come from my old days. They say it sounds like an Al Jarreau that we know and recognize and could have come from before.

    “That’s Paul,” the singer concluded, “from really studying me and knowing the varied sides of me, he gave me a glance at that reflected in a mirror that he held and said, ‘look at this Al, and look at this Al, let’s let that shine through.”

    Al Jarreau – Talking about the Future

    Al JarreauTalking about the Future
    Al Jarreau
    by Mark Ruffin

    Just days before five-time Grammy-award winning singer Al Jarreau was scheduled to begin his world tour, he had to have emergency back surgery. The interruption of his musical activities was widely reported, if not somewhat sensationalized, in the national media, but the medical procedure performed is actually quite common, and most of his dates have been reschedule and listed on his website, aljarreau.com..

    On September 12th, the 62 year-old singer went under the knife at the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles to have compression relieved on his spinal cord. Less than a week later, Jarreau was doing telephone interviews and tour planning from his hospital bed promoting his new album All I Got.

    “I had to do that,” Jarreau said, with a laugh, three weeks later in rehab. “There are kids hearing me on the radio who only know me from their mothers and fathers.

    “I have to work even harder to stay current with this new culture of singers like D’Angelo, Boys II Men, Brian McKnight.” he continued. “This is a very important period of time when you have a new record out and it’s not a good time for me to be off my feet.”

    Jarreau’s illness not only temporarily halted his tour in support of his new eleven-song disc, but the singer also had another message to deliver on the road. He is the official spokesman for the national literary campaign sponsored by the telecommunication giant, Verizon.

    So, in addition to singing lyrics from his album on tour, he’ll also be out creating public awareness of the need to increase funding for organizations dedicated to improving the literacy level in America.

    “I’ve always been a great proponent of schools and education and working on scholarship projects. So, when Verizon let it be known that they were looking for somebody to help them to get people reading, writing and communicating with each other in a more literate kind of fashion, I was like a little boy, ‘hey, here, pick me, choose me.’

    “I am about that,” he declared.

    “There are too many people in America who aren’t reading,” he went on, warming to the subject. “It’s creeping up to 50%.of people who can’t follow directions on a prescription bottle and they hide it, who can’t get beyond the headlines of a newspaper. It’s scary and destructive to the very fiber of this country.

    “I spent two weeks in the hospital and 90% of the staff was foreign born,” he ranted. “It’s getting funky and ugly like that because American college graduates are reading at high school levels.”

    The singer sighed in despair as he related that a big part of the problem is rooted in what he called “Center City.” He couldn’t cite specific numbers, but he claimed that the rate of black literacy in urban America is costing more than just the billions of dollars the government spends in public programs, but lack people’s standing in the economic, political and social structure of our country.

    “It will effect the fiber of what we’re going to become,” the former social worker predicted. “I need to stand up as a guy from Center City who share a lot of stuff from Center City, including the color of my skin, and say, ‘come on y’all, let’s stop dancing.'”

    Jarreau, who has a masters degree in psychology from the University of Iowa, admitted to not having as much time to read as he used to, preferring educational videos when he’s touring. He lists his favorite books as The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

    “My role is to encourage everyone to get involved,” Jarreau said. “Whether people become a tutor, read to a child, donate a book or encourage someone to seek help, they can make a difference in other people lives.

    “Verizon just want me to just promote this theme of ‘hey, let’s start reading.'”

    In exchange for his promotional support, the sponsoring corporation is strengthening its public charity, Verizon Reads, which will distribute funds to existing national and local community based literacy programs. They’re also asking customers to donate a dollar a month by checking a box on their phone bills.

    Jarreau’s record company, GRP Records, is also donating some proceeds from the sales of All I Got to the effort.

    “Yeah, they’re giving a big part of it away,” he said laughing, “and it’s not my share, it’s all theirs.”

    Dianne Reeves – A Little Moonlight

    Dianne ReevesDianne Reeves
    A Little Moonlight
    (Blue Note – 2003)
    by John Thompson

    Who is my favorite female singer of all time? I have two: Ella Fitzgerald and Dianne Reeves. Reeves’ latest release, “A Little Moonlight” is equipped with her trademark brightness, clarity, voice control and overall musicianship. The listener will not find finger popping songs catering to smooth jazz, but more towards the Sarah Vaughn sound. Almost all of the songs are familiar to me, with Reeves covering such notable songwriters as Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Carmichael, Monk, and Mercer.

    Backed by a stellar Trio, consisting of Peter Martin (P), Reuben Rogers (B), and Gregory Hutchinson (D), and whether swinging ( “Loads Of Love,” What A Little Moonlight Can Do” ), or displaying ‘touch and feel’ for the ballads (“Reflections,” “Skylark,” and “You Go To My Head,” featuring Nicholas Payton (T). Guitarist Romero Lubambo lends classy support on 3 tracks as well.

    One interesting observation I made was when I first opened the cd to look for the liner notes; there is a picture of Reeves looking as if to say, ” Hurry up. I don’t want to hold this smile.” Maybe it’s just me, but at times the voice does not live up to the standards that are usually gifted to us, not top-notched Dianne Reeves. But I’ll still claim her as one of my two all time favorites. You can either listen to the classy voice and music, or look at the beautiful portrait on the cover of this cd. Both are worth it. 4 stars.

    Alexander Zonjic Interview

    A Conversation With
    Alexander Zonjic
    by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

    Alexander Zonjic is an incredible flautist, and he’s certainly one of the more industrious musicians in the format. He has a great new CD that came out a couple of months ago and he’s recording for Heads Up records.

    Smitty: Hey Alex how are you my man?

    A.Z.: I’m doing wonderful, how come you don’t have like, an applause track when you do that, you know when you introduce me there’s like this tumultuous applause?

    Smitty: (Laughing) You know, you are the second person to ask that question, Steve Cole ask the same thing.

    A.Z: You feel lonely, you introduce me and no one says anything (both laughing).

    Smitty: Believe me, they are cheering man.

    A.Z: Good, good. It is a pleasure to be with you Smitty, thank you.

    Smitty: Same here. You’re doing 100 shows per year, you’re doing a radio show, a great new project, and you’ve collaborated with some of the best in the business. When do you find time to sleep? And I want the name of the vitamins you’re taking.

    A.Z: Hey you left out my new jazz supper club.

    Smitty: Oh man, you’re right, how could I forget that………..

    A.Z: C’mon now.

    Smitty: Yes, “Seldom Blues”.

    A.Z: Right. You know, I’ve always Smitty, had a very, very proactive, extremely diverse career and people have always ask me the same questions that you ask. And my feelings have always been that, the amount of energy that you have and the amount energy that you are capable of having is directly related to whether or not you love all of the things you are doing. There’s essentially nothing that I do that I don’t enjoy. Your capacity to do all of that is directly related to the fact that it’s just all great, fun stuff. Do I get tired sometimes? Of course I do. And do I think sometimes that I’m biting off more than I can chew, that I’m wearing too many hats? Yes definitely, there’s no doubt about it, but for the most part I love every aspect of my career and I’ve been doing this for a long time and doing under a really comfortable level for a long time. Maybe it’s because I’m a flute player, I have no idea.

    Smitty: Maybe that could have something to do with it. Anyone ever tell you that your voice sounds a lot like Howard Stern?

    A.Z: Well we’re both in radio and he makes a lot more money than I do, and I couldn’t get away with anything he says on the radio. You know for a while there we were both with the same company, we were both with CBS and Viacom, and now of course he’s gone off to GREENER pastures for what I understand.

    Smitty: Much greener (laughing).

    A.Z: I guess that’s a compliment?

    Smitty: Ah yea.

    A.Z: Mind you, Howard can’t play the flute worth a darn.

    Smitty: Oh no no, no. You got him on that one that’s for sure (both laughing). Let me ask you, I heard through this little grapevine that you’re quite a guitar player?

    A.Z: I do play guitar and we’ll have to back up here in a while and find out who’s was in the grapevine. I started out Smitty as a rock n roll guitar, so my roots musically, really are rock n roll. And that being the case, obviously a little bit of blues. And I played, I wouldn’t call it jazz guitar necessarily but it was my first love and I started very young. Interestingly enough you bring it up…recently I’m playing guitar on the show again. I actually brought the guitar with me on a jazz cruise last year and got such a kick out of the look on everybody’s face. Whether it was chielli Menucci or Kirk Whalum, when during the middle of one of their solos, I just went grab the guitar. It’s funny because I’m not playing great yet, but I’m on the road back.

    Smitty: Well it’s like riding a bike, you don’t completely lose that. It will come back to you.

    A.Z: I didn’t completely lose it, I do enjoy it. I think the thing that’s so humorous is the fact that when I do play guitar, being a flute player and having this kind of studied career where I went back to the university and graduated and studied classical music….I actually have three classical albums that I’ve recorded as well, people expect that when I pick up the guitar that it’s going to be somewhat of a refined style. But when I pick up the guitar I still play rock n roll, and it’s a totally different personality. So it’s funny you bring that up, and it really is a real passion of mine. And you know my friend Jeff Lorber also plays guitar.

    Smitty: Oh yea, and Jeff’s not bad.

    A.Z: Not bad at all, and it’s very funny because when he first came to Detroit to play with my band as my guest, he said “I’m going to bring my guitar” and he had no idea that I played guitar at all. So we got on a big festival and when he started playing the guitar, I walked off the stage and came back on and played the guitar. (Both laughing) It was really quite a comedy to see the piano player and the flute player both playing rock n roll.

    Smitty: That had to be cool…spiced up the show! So you started playing this rock n roll and of course you grew up in Windsor, Ontario so there’s some British roots there musically…

    A.Z: Yes, I would say so, but for those that don’t know, Windsor’s right across from Detroit. So Detroit was always a huge influence musically speaking, in all of it’s different flavors…Yes, I mean obviously they have an amazing R&B tradition and Motown, and Jazz, and Rock n Roll. If you consider everybody from Kenny Burrell, to Earl Klugh, to Eminem, to Aretha Franklin, to Kid Rock, that’s quite a stretch.

    Smitty: Yes it is.

    A.Z: So Detroit’s a great city. I think Detroit was a big influence, but the early British invasion was an influence for sure.

    Smitty: So there you were, laying down you chops with the guitar, and it’s a funny story as to how you came upon the flute, but please relate the story as to how you were first introduced to the flute.

    A.Z: The flute was a complete and total fluke as opposed to flute. I was playing in a band in Toronto, a band that I thought was relatively successful at the time, I was making a living and I came back to Windsor to visit my parents. By this point I’m twenty years old, and I’m walking down the street and, in much the same way that people walk up to you in Manhattan and in downtown Detroit, or any other big city and try to sell you a watch or a TV or a stereo, some guy literally…who knew by the way, that I was a musician, walked up to me and said…. “Do you want to buy a flute? It kind of took me back and I said “I don’t know, I suppose, how much do you want for it”? He said “Fifty bucks”. I said “I’ve only have nine dollars”. He said “I’ll take it”. And that’s literally how it started. I like the way it looked in the case, I had no real aptitude for it, and just found this amazing desire and passion to not play it. Because it’s not like I had any natural attributes. I did develop this very unnatural at the time; obsession to learning how to play it, and it was all-consuming. I mean I worked a little bit on the guitar, there’s no doubt, but not to the degree that I did on the flute. The flute really, really kind of took over my entire curiosity and I wanted to learn how to play it so badly. And eight months later I auditioned for the University of Windsor music program and somehow was accepted, and that started formal studies on the instrument. And I studied classically for quite a while and continued my studies after I graduated with Ervin Monroe who was the principal flute player in the Detroit Symphony. Ervin and I went on to have a very successful career together where we recorded three classical records and a million recitals together. So it really was a bit of a serendipity there and I always joke that if it wouldn’t of been for that guy with the flute….that he somehow got in the way of an amazingly a lucrative rock n roll career.

    Smitty: Yes he did, little does he know. But you still play the guitar.

    A.Z: When I graduated from the university, which would have been the late 70’s when I started putting little bands together; it started moving into instrumental pop, jazz, I was already being influenced the Herbie Mann’s and in particular, certainly Hubert Laws. I was TOTALLY infatuated with the music of Bob James because of the roots that were in their music. If you listen to those early records, Bob James One and Bob James Two, you heard this wonderful hybrid of jazz and classical, and Hubert Laws of course played on a lot of those CTI records. So it was right around that time and when I got into the early 80’s and I had already recorded my Elegant Evening album, and I had already made a classical album…Again another very fluke thing happen. I was playing at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge which is a very famous jazz club here in Detroit and Bob James was in town performing at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. Somebody convinced him to go down to the Baker’s and hear this flute guy and he came in and only heard a couple of songs. He heard me play a couple of his tunes actually…Where The Wind Blows Free and…

    Smitty: Yea baby!

    A.Z: And Earl Klugh was in the house that night and Earl got up and we did Taxi together, and Bob (James) just came up me and said “Hey I’ve been hearing about you and we’re getting ready to go to Japan and we have a concert coming up at Carnegie Hall, would you be interested in joining the band?” Needless to say, it took me all of five seconds…..it was a huge quantum career leap at the time, and of course we’ve been friends ever since. Bob’s one of my dearest friends and one of my biggest influences, and as frightening as it sounds, we have known one another now for 22 years because it was 1982 when I met him. So you can see the direction that it took. Once I started touring with Bob James Smitty, the guitar took a backseat, because he had people like Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock, and Dean Brown, you know people like that playing guitar. And he hired me to play the flute, that what he wanted in the band. When you really think about what an initiative that was…I’ve explained this, how lucky I was; you know everybody needs a sax player, a guitar player, a bass player, but if you really think about it, he created a position for me. No one needs somebody who plays the solo flute, even in that genre if you really think about it. I took up the space of another band member and it takes someone like Bob with the vision that he had, and what he thought I brought to the table. It’s very flattering when I think back to…why would you spend the money to have this guy who just plays the flute. Because he already had a horn section, when I joined the band, Mark Colby and Mike Lawrence were still in the band. He had a sax player and a trumpet. So it really was a very big break for me and I was very lucky, and that relationship with Bob, it lead to so much for me.

    Smitty: Yes and you as well as many other musicians have a lot to thank Bob for. However, given what you said, it does add credence to the fact that the flute has its unique place in jazz.

    A.Z: There’s no doubt, it has a great tradition. There’s no question, it’s challenged these days. Without getting into all the nuts and bolts…remember I’m someone who is in the radio business, I do the morning show on the smooth jazz radio here. I’m in the concert business; I’m the Artistic Director for seven major festivals in this market. I have a jazz supper club, I make records, I perform live dates. I’m well versed in aspect of this business, and to the point where I’m confused as to why the flute is not a bigger more prominent instrument. I mean no one’s asking anyone to even have a level playing field; where there are as many flute players as there are sax players or guitar players. But it is amazing how in this entire genre at this point, that there is really only a few of us. I mean there is Nestor Torres and myself, Hubert’s not doing a whole lot these days, I haven’t even talk to Dave Valentin in years. I’d love to see the instrument…in the right hands, it’s every bit as powerful and compelling as any other instrument.

    Smitty: Yes it is. And you have a great young lady (Jazz Flautist) in your neck of the woods; Althea Rene’.

    A.Z: She’s great.

    Smitty: Yes, and like you said, there’s some players out there that are capable of making some serious noise, if given the opportunity. Talk about the club man, because I love it when a musician has a club or got some ownership because you know they know how to do it you know.

    A.Z: Well this is a unique partnership because I’m not a food and beverage guy. There used to be a club in Detroit from the 80’s and 90’s called Alexander’s, which was actually named after me. It was a cool club but I never owned it or ran it. But I always had it in the back of my mind that if the right combination of people ever came along, and there’s two very good friends of mind that make Seldom Blues work. Let me explain something, Seldom Blues is a 17,000 square foot, 350 seat five star dinning room that is a stunning architectural place with 130 people on staff. You can’t do that on your own. My one partner is Frank Taylor who has a lot of roots in Texas; he came from San Antonio and ran hotels in the area for years and when he came to the Detroit area we were friends right away. Because he has a great love of music, he’s a very good friend of Kirk Whalum. So we hit it off right away, and I did a lot of shows for him through the years. Our other partner is a just recently retired Detroit Lion; Robert Porcher. Robert loves the city of Detroit and is a major player in this market; he was with the Detroit Lions for 12 years, a pro bowler 3 years in a row, all-time sacks record for the Lions, really an amazing guy. So this is the partnership we have. This is a very exciting project. W e’ve had Kirk Whalum there, Bob’s been there, all kinds of people. It’s not necessarily a 7 day a week national act place because it’s not just the music that drives Seldom Blues. It’s also the amazing food, the amazing views (It’s right on the water) it really is the total package.

    Smitty: Well best of everything man, it’s a beautiful place.

    A.Z: I’m just trying to avoid a real job Smitty (both laughing).

    Smitty: Hey, you’ve got a real job trust me. Let’s talk about this record man, Seldom Blues. Obviously I know where the title came from. But let’s talk about some of the players on this record and the concept of the record.

    A.Z: Well you know, every record is a birth of sorts. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I really enjoy the whole process of making the record. When I think back to some of my earlier project, I really didn’t get the enjoyment of making them that I get now. Back then you made them with a lot of pressure, you always felt this amazing anxiety “I hope it’s going to work”. Whereas now I make records for the pure pleasure of making them, and I make the music that’s on them to basically satisfy #1, me and the artists that are on it, knowing that if I do that, I’m going to satisfy my fan base and my listeners. And that’s a very liberating point to get to in your career where you can really do that. Because in all fairness, I want my records to sell 20 million copies, but I’m happy if it sells 10 because I’ll be happy with the record. That’s an easy thing to say if you are making some sort of living. If you are relying on the record and the record sales, I can see how there is some pressure. This is my second record for Heads Up. I love the relationship with the record company, I think Dave Love and the whole company is really coming from the right place. So for me, it’s rounding up the usual suspects combined with rounding up my newest friends. If you look at the line-up on this record…People that I have worked with for years, Bob James, Kirk Whalum, people who are relatively new but not completely new, like Jeff Lorber, Angela Bofil, I been working with both of them for a number of years. And there are newer friends like James Lloyd and Peter White, and Kem who I think really nailed Bob’s tune. And Earl Klugh, I can’t leave him out, we got back a long way and he’s on the record. So it’s a fun project, a lot of great tunes, by design, a lot more upbeat than any other record I’ve made in a little while. There’s a lot of original material, a lot of stuff that’s great to play live. In fact I’m in rehearsals as we speak these days preparing for a couple of big shows, we got the album release concert on the 28th of November. We’ve got Bob James coming in, Kirk Whalum, Kevin Whalum, and James Lloyd, so we’re going to have a lot of fun.

    Smitty: I love the record Al, great production, and all of the musicians on it.

    A.Z: Thank you. It appears that the first track Leave It With Me is going to be the first single. That’s the one with Earl Klugh on it that James Lloyd wrote.

    Smitty: Well you’ve had all the fun making it and now it’s in other hands.

    A.Z: Cross your fingers (laughing).

    Smitty: The release date is November 23rd.

    A.Z: Yes November 23rd and we have a lot of things planned around it here in town. And as we get into the New Year we’re going to wonder out a little bit. We’ve got a few dates booked, I have a Vegas thing I’m doing in January. And maybe in 2005, I’d like to get out and introduce this different sound to a wider audience.

    Smitty: Cool. We’re always looking for something fresh and new.

    A.Z: Houston’s a great place to come, I’ll have to figure out how to get there.

    Smitty: We’ll have to work something out. We’ll talk about that after this. And you have a website.

    A.Z: Of course, anyone who’s had a mailing list since 1978 has a website…it’s www.zonjic.com and you can go to www.seldomblues.com as well and see some pictures of the restaurant.

    Smitty: Al I can’t say enough about this great record, and certainly appreciate you coming on and talking about your great career, sharing your vibe with us and the world for that matter, and I’m looking forward to catching up to you when you start your tour.

    A.Z: My pleasure, absolutely. I’m going to do my very best to get into Texas. I have great memories of Texas. When ever I think of Houston I think of Kirk Whalum, I think of all of those concerts that we talked about at Rokerfellers, The Arena, The Majesic Theatre in San Antonio, and in Dallas the club that’s gone now, Caravan Of Dreams, those are great memories. That part of the country has always embraced this music; I certainly appreciate it and can’t wait to get back there. And imagine, Houston is where my biggest influence is from; that’s where Hubert Laws is from.

    Smitty: Yes, Hubert and Ronnie, they are Houston natives.

    A.Z: The Houston guys and that whole Crusaders thing that started.

    Smitty: Exactly, Felder, Joe Sample, and that whole group.

    A.Z: Yes you a quite a tradition.

    Smitty: Al, thank you once again for this great time ma man. We’ve been talking with Heads up recording artist Alexander Zonjic with a great new project Seldom Blues, I highly recommend this record, and if you’re in the Detroit stop by his restaurant. Al, all the best with this project and the tour in 2005.

    A.Z: Thank you Smitty and see you in Houston!

    Al DiMeola – Artist Profile

    Artist Profile: Al DiMeola
    by Paula Edelstein

    Uncompromising and unafraid of creating expansive musical hybrids, Al Di Meola remains one of the most prominent forces on the contemporary jazz scene. The guitar virtuoso’s undeniable talents continue to evolve beautifully as evidenced by his ability to escape irrelevance by constantly reinventing his unique aural features, technique and commercially successful compositions. His rare concerts command standing room only audiences around the world and when DiMeola comes to town…everyone knows they’re in for a great show.

    Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on July 22, 1954, Al Di Meola grew up with the music of The Ventures, The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Drums were his first instrument, but by age eight he had switched to guitar. A big influence on his music outlook during his formative years was the burgeoning hybrid of rock and jazz that came to be known as fusion music. Guitarist Larry Coryell, whom Al later dubbed “The Father Of Fusion,” became a particular focus of interest. Following an intensive period of wood shedding between his junior and senior years in high school, in which he practiced the guitar from eight to ten hours a day, Al emerged with impressive chops and a clear idea of how to apply them. In 1971, Al enrolled at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. By the second semester, he was playing in a fusion quartet led by keyboardist Barry Miles. It was in the early part of 1974 that he received a career changing call from Chick Corea. Following a weekend of rehearsals with that band, Return to Forever, Di Meola made his debut with RTF at Carnegie Hall. The next night he played to a crowd of 40,000 in Atlanta. His star quickly ascended.

    After three wildly successful landmark fusion albums with Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums and Di Meola on guitar—Where Have I Known You Before, the Grammy Award winning No Mystery and Romantic Warrior—RTF disbanded in 1976, effectively launching Al’s solo career.

    He debuted in 1976 with Land Of The Midnight Sun, a typically blazing showcase of his frenetic, slashing style, which also featured performances by drummers Lenny White and Steve Gadd, percussionist Mingo Lewis, synth wizards Jan Hammer and Barry Miles, bassists Anthony Jackson and Jaco Pastorius. Over the course of six more albums with Columbia Records—Casino, Elegant Gypsy, Splendido Hotel, Electric Rendezvous, Tour De Force and Scenario—Di Meola firmly established himself as a powerful and influential force in contemporary music. He went on to record a string of highly evocative, pan-global projects for the Manhattan/EMI, Tomato and Mesa/Bluemoon labels before signing with Telarc.

    Di Meola continued to conquer new musical horizons on The Infinite Desire, his 1998 Telarc debut, which featured his most extensive and effective use of midi technology ever. The Infinite Desire has sold more than 100,000 copies to date and logged over 3 months on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart.

    1999 saw the release of Di Meola’s first-ever seasonal recording, Winter Nights, which featured original compositions alongside renditions of traditional carols and contemporary standards like Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” and Paul Simon’s “Scarborough Fair.” Elegant, melodic, and beautifully crafted, Winter Nights also included the extraordinary work of Roman Hrynkiv on bandura, an Ukranian folk instrument with an enchanting sound and texture.

    On The Grande Passion, released in 2000, Di Meola continued to explore melody and rhythmic diversity with the help of his acoustic group, World Sinfonia. His critically acclaimed 2002 album, Flesh On Flesh, put the spotlight back on his outstanding electric guitar work. Al’s fifth Telarc release, Consequence of Chaos, offers a contemporary set of 15 original compositions and guest appearances by pianist Chick Corea, drummer Steve Gadd, keyboardist Barry Miles, and bassist John Patitucci, among others.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Al DiMeola LIve at the Key Club

    Al DiMeola Al DiMeola
    Live at the Key Club
    9039 Sunset Boulevard
    Los Angeles, CA 90069
    November 25, 2000 – 8:00 p.m.
    by Paula Edelstein

    On any given night in Los Angeles, music lovers can go out on the town and hear any music they want. However, tonight the great Al Di Meola was in town at the Key Club on the Sunset Strip and that was the place to be. The lines of people snaked down three, long, city blocks, down the Sunset Strip then up and around the Hollywood Hills. The huge video marquee perched high above the Key Club flashed AL DI MEOLA – ONE NIGHT ONLY, in bright lights as thousands of revelers enjoyed the holiday spirit, cruising down the Sunset Strip in shiny drop tops, limos and SUVs. AL Di Meola inspires devotion.

    The die-hard Di Meola fans that had waited in line since 2:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon were the first admitted. They darted straight for the front row while we took our seats in the upstairs balcony so that we could see the great Al Di Meola, Gumbi Ortiz, Gilad and Mario Parmisano in full surround sound and with a great view. The ambiance of the club and The Plush only added to the excitement in the air. Children, teens, x-gens, baby boomers and elderly chaperones were there and everywhere you looked, their faces were full of love.

    The announcer spoke, the lights dimmed, Al DiMeola took the stage. The ensemble immediately launched into several songs from THE GRANDE PASSION, his latest release on Telarc Jazz. “The Grande Passion” was an impressive work of art with epic sweeps that Di Meola detailed divinely with his guitar picks. Filled with the emotional essence of the master guitarist, this performance provided several of the best moments of the night with his musical literature, poetic power and provocative strumming captivating every person in the room. Playing both acoustic and electric guitars, Di Meola showed why his is still the reigning guitar god and his fusion is melodic, sophisticated and compelling as ever.

    “Misterio” was excellent. The new fusion going down was met with frequent shouts of “yeah,” and the same raw emotion that asserted itself in many of the same rock audiences that had previously flocked to see him. However the ensemble avoided the on-stage recapitulation of his hit records and stayed with the program from THE GRANDE PASSION. With great orchestrations from Mario Parmisano on both acoustic piano and synthesizer, the feel of a symphony orchestra was very much present and set a great mood for “Libertango,” the rousing tango composed by Astor Piazzolla. Played in pure Di Meola style, the crowd centered on his remarkable strumming that still defies gravity and tapped into the song’s encompassing musical structure as they sat on the edges of their seats. Throughout the show, Gumbi Ortiz was on fire on the congas and Gilad provided excellent percussive punctuation. A really great “rhythmic conversation” between Al and Gilad really sparked the crowd to its feet with their rhythmic duet.

    Los Angeles really loves Al Di Meola and with shouts of “bravo,”” more,””more,” standing ovations, high fives, and frenzied emotions (one lady, overcome with emotion, literally came up to me, hugged & kissed me and made the sign of the cross for Al!), Al Di Meola’s star is shining brightly. His music is spirited, romantic, beautiful and sensuous and really affects the senses. He really distinguished himself with his sure instinct for exalted tones and excellent strumming and as evidenced by tonight’s performance his many fans, both new and old, can be assured that the world-class, celebrated guitar player is at the top of his game and has rightfully retained his revered position in guitar history. We love you Al!

    An Interview with Al DiMeola

    Al DiMeola The Grande Passion of
    Al DiMeola
    by Paula Edelstein

    Sit back and relax with the gloriously lush music of Al Di Meola and his acoustic group, World Sinfonia. The guitarist extraordinaire offers an event with the ring of history-in-the-making on THE GRANDE PASSION and it is perfect. Accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fabrizio Festa, Al Di Meola is compelling on nine brilliant songs produced and arranged by the master guitarist. The six originals written by Al Di Meola and three compositions by the late Argentine tango genius, Astor Piazzolla, comprise some of the most beautiful illuminations of Di Meola’s talent in this period of his musical life. He is magnificent, pulling from his guitar everything it is capable of, balancing poetic and dramatic orchestral strings and woodwinds, all the while fully engaging the listener in a multi-hued program of beautiful tone colors, world rhythms and his GRANDE PASSION.

    World Sinfonia, comprised of Hernan Romero on acoustic guitar, Gumbi Ortiz and Gilad on percussion and Mario Parmisano on acoustic piano, provide remarkable agreement for Al Di Meola. Their Argentine, Cuban and Middle Eastern musical influences, inflections of phrasings, and their rhythmic diversity all emerge in a beautiful array of stylistic grace that will enamor your musical senses from the moment you first experience their glow. Their impressive techniques and creative abandon is there and at first listen you’ll understand why Al Di Meola has described them as his “best group by far in my career.” Having said that, we were fortunate to speak to the great Al Di Meola as he prepared for his world tour with World Sinfonia.

    JazzUSA: Congratulations on THE GRANDE PASSION! It is absolutely stunning and provides a thoughtful and comprehensive representation of both your individual guitar genius and compositional integrity in a symphonic setting that defies conventional categories. A few preoccupations came to mind and I’d appreciate if you’d discuss a few of them for your many, many, online fans!

    Al DiMeolaAD: Thank you. Certainly.

    JazzUSA: All musicians worth hearing during and beyond their time keep experimenting and growing as their music deepens its hold on the listener. Did you arrive at most of your compositions for THE GRANDE PASSION through this kind of experimentation and growth as opposed to sudden inspiration?

    AD: It’s a continuation of World Sinfonia type format, where it’s a combination of my own music in an acoustic setting with also my own versions of some Piazzolla work. Since my association with Astor back in the 80s, it added a lot of dimension to my compositional skills and my outlook for music. I think the emotional side of music is more appealing to me now than the technical side was in the 70s. But at the same time, I have to say that both elements are equally as important for an instrumentalist…especially my direction right now. I want to be moved. I want to feel it in the heart as well as I want the music to be intelligent. That’s what I look for when I’m writing.

    JazzUSA: It’s absolutely beautiful. Your career has spanned a wide range of emotions and includes many styles that embody your world travels and influences. The essence of tango comes to mind at once on the WORLD SINFONIA debut and HEART OF THE IMMIGRANTS and now, you’ve continued your appreciation of Astor Piazzola by including three of his songs on THE GRANDE PASSION. Do you feel that using a symphonic approach to the Tango has broadened its appeal around the world?

    AD: Well, I don’t know….As a composer, it’s so much more “deep” to have the symphony re-create the instruments that I originally wrote. When I write, I re-create what the symphony is going to play, before it comes out. Then we re-create it with the symphony later and it definitely added a much deeper layer.

    JazzUSA: Your acceptance as both prolific composer and virtuoso performer continues to be demonstrated by the many prestigious guitar awards you’ve received including holding the distinction of having more awards from Guitar Player Magazine than any other guitarist in the world! Of all the approaches you’ve used, i.e. that is solo, guitar trios, Brazilian rhythms, symphonies, etc., which approach has been the most fulfilling personally?

    AD: I think this approach! I think the acoustic format, playing my own music. Especially at this level right now because I’m thinking more like a composer. There are a lot of elements, color wise in the music, as compared to years ago when we didn’t have that many colors to deal with. And also, to write for the symphony was quite a challenge, it was a dream of mine for a long time. So, in that regard, it’s definitely a new turn.

    JazzUSA: It seems like there’s a trend among many artists of more thoroughly composed songs, and the addition of symphonies as a backdrop, as opposed to the traditional head-solo format. In addition to your work with World Sinfonia, I’m thinking of composers like Vince Mendoza with The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, and Jeff Beal with the Berkeley Symphony, among others. Do you see a pattern here?

    AD: I actually do because, I think a lot of us have exhausted a lot of the sounds that you might get from keyboards, you know, and we’re looking for something deeper, more meaningful to give our music more meaning and depth and the orchestra definitely provides that. Plus, a lot of orchestras are also getting a little bit tired of playing the same classical format and really do look for something new to play. Especially in a “live” situation. And that leads us to what I’ll be doing next year. I’ll be doing a lot of these shows with symphony orchestras. In fact, the first round will happen at the end of October 2000. I have three shows re-creating this music with orchestra and poem. (For exact dates, go to http://www.telarc.com)

    JazzUSA: That’s going to be great! Fantastic!

    AD: Yes, it’s going to be nice.

    JazzUSA: I can imagine it will. You’ve described World Sinfonia 2000 as the “best group by far in your career.” Had you been writing these compositions for THE GRANDE PASSION and Sinfonia in mind even though you were experiencing remarkable success with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin on FRIDAY NIGHT IN SAN FRANCISCO and later with Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke on RITE OF STRINGS in a trio format?

    AD: Well the trio format, I wrote specifically with them in mind. With this music, it’s specifically for Sinfonia. Definitely.

    JazzUSA: Who are some of the contemporary artists you like in the tradition of guitar trio now?

    AD: I like the work of Gismonti, a lot. We are talking about doing something together.

    JazzUSA: That would be great! On THE GRANDE PASSION, you also cover the music of Astor Piazzolla. Please discuss how you chose those three particular songs?

    AD: “Double Concerto,” was a piece that doesn’t really appear on any of his records, except for maybe one. There was “live” recording…a debut recording of that piece in a “live” setting. But, out of all of his records, where you might normally find that piece, it wasn’t part of his repertoire. I wanted to give it a different slant, rhythmically. So we came up with this version and added symphonic parts to it that weren’t originally written. Then you have “Soledad,” which is a very popular piece in his repertoire. It’s just one that I found to be very emotional. I just had to do…had to do my own version of it. “Libertango” is one of his hits in the Tango world and it’s just a fun one to play! In fact, it’s a great opener for the set.

    JazzUSA: Absolutely. How do you feel you’ve improved as a composer for World Sinfonia since your first and second records?

    AD: Well, my vision has gotten a lot wider and deeper with the inclusion of writing for the symphony and with that in mind, I’m thinking more orchestral.

    JazzUSA: “The Grande Passion” has sprung forth. It’s so romantic, sensuous, and beautiful. I can’t describe it. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The magnificent crescendos, the lush sweeping strings underneath.

    AD: Yes, it really has. If the melodies can move you and touch you, it says a lot. But, if what’s underneath all of that, harmonically and rhythmically, is interesting, then you’re saying a lot. A lot of who you’re about. You, know what I mean?

    JazzUSA: Absolutely! Absolutely!

    AD: Music speaks a lot deeper than words can ever speak.

    JazzUSA: It certainly does.

    AD: When you can reach that level, then you have artistic satisfaction to the max!

    JazzUSA: You certainly have reached through because THE GRANDE PASSION is absolutely gorgeous!

    AD: Thank you so much.

    JazzUSA: What’s your last word on practicing, composition and performance? We just want to pass that on to some aspiring children and students that don’t want to do their homework!

    AD: Practicing. I think there’s contentment when you practice. When you can get away from everything and just have your instrument and just experiment, or practice the scales or whatever, I find that to be calming. I love that! I love to get away from everybody and just do that. Composition is the most satisfying thing you can do. To see something grow from a seed and hear in the end, something that somehow resembles your personality or who you really are…if that can come out in that composition, your feelings coming out in that composition, and have other people feel it, then it’s the ultimate satisfaction. Not all of us get there. There’s a process in order to get there too. I’m getting closer to it and this record is definitely a step.

    JazzUSA: Certainly. As far as performing now, do you feel more fulfilled from the ovations received from your audiences now?

    AD: I’m feeling it deeper for sure. It’s definitely more of a “fine arts” type of acceptance (laughs) than the hysteria of the past. The extreme volumes and that kind of pace don’t have the same appeal.

    JazzUSA: I must admit I used to be in those hysterical audiences…but can assure you that we’ve mellowed for sure! I imagine that’s its from the artistic growth and sense of satisfaction that you’ve achieved at a different level. We understand and many of us that have listened to your music throughout the years and watched and listened to you grow and expand, we’re so very appreciative and we certainly appreciate the great, great music and friendship that you’re shared with the world.

    AD: Thanks Paula. I appreciate your support.

    JazzUSA: It is our pleasure. Thank you for the interview and once again, congratulations on THE GRANDE PASSION, one of the most astonishingly beautiful listening experiences ever. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Al Di Meola. For tour and related information on the great Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia, you are invited to visit http://www.telarc.com

    Hal Russell – Albert’s Lullaby

    Albert's LullabyAlbert’s Lullaby
    Hal Russell
    (Southport – 2000)
    by John Barrett

    Hal Russell dates from the first era of Chicago avant-garde, inspired many from the second wave (Ken Vandemark, etc.) and he always kept exploring, right up to his death. In 1991 his bassist booked a studio, and they ran wild: bass and drums crash hard, while Hal moves all directions at once. “Edge of Night” has a tenor that goes berserk; he keeps to the melody (it’s a soap opera theme) for maybe ten seconds. Hal twiddles fast, Michael Staron fiddles with fury; this sounds a lot like Charles Gayle.

    The title tune is Brahms’ Lullaby – sort of. Staron plays the theme in abstract, over and over; Russell flits around, from rusty honks to parodied vibrato. A squall commences, Rick Shandling goes big on vymbals – Staron retains his calm. “Kyrie” is a segment of Catholic liturgy, begun with solemn bells. Staron bows the theme, while a gravel-tone trumpet interjects. Intensity bubbles: Hal grabs a mute, Michael makes a fast twitter, and convention departs – as if it were ever here. Have mercy.

    In five months Hal was back in the studio, this time at behest of Bradley Parker-Sparrow, partner in the facility. Sparrow’s at the piano for “Who’s There?”, batting the strings directly while the trumpet blasts louder than ever. Never an ace at the instrument, Hal does have a firmer tone this time, and he growls with distinction. Staron slaps the bass good, Sparrow hammers the low keys, then makes like Cecil Taylor. Now the tenor comes barking, as an austere rhythm forms – an ordered type of chaos.

    “Aural” moves slower, as classical piano inspires Hal’s best trumpet. Big shouts, then atmospheric echoes, and a cataclysmic finish – worth hearing, though on the long side. Two Staron solo efforts slow the pace down (the best is a vivid take on Ayler’s “Ghosts”) and “To Groove” is a minute of soprano frenzy, wailed amid a sea of rattles. The disc is over, and no boundaries are left standing; Hal Russell was a fighter to the end.

    Ada Rovatti – Airbop

    Ada RovattiAda Rovatti
    (Apria/Kindred Rhythm – 2006)
    by Narvy James

    They say beauty is only skin deep, but after hearing Airbop I’d say that her beauty is more than skin deep… it explodes through the mouth of her saxophone and covers you like morning dew. The first thought that came to mind… “Man, that chick can BLOW!”. Her smooth fingering and style puts her on the top shelf and on track for success without caving in to the ‘smooth jazz’ pressure.

    And as good as she is, you must remember that there are great artists, then there are great combos. Kobi and Shaq, Mike and Scottie, Kirk and Spock. On this release Ada went back to play with legendary horn blower Randy Brecker, and the combination is both powerful and melodic. I hope that she continues to pair with the jazz legend on future releases because this concoction is the stew of the Gods.

    More on Ada Ravatti…

    Born in Pavia Italy, Ada’s love for music started at the age of 4 when she began studying piano under the guidance of her grandmother. With persistent enthusiasm she continued her study of piano for 13 years, well into her first years high school.

    During high school she began to listen to Blues, Jazz and Funk. It was at this time that Ada, drawn to these unique musical genres and already significantly accomplished for her age in piano, decided to pursue the saxophone.

    After high school Ada studied with G. Comeglio and, in the following time, with the “Jazz Company Big Band” and the “Jazz Class Orchestra”. It was during this period that she had the chance to perform with famous soloists such as Phil Woods, Jerry Bergonzi, Randy Brecker, Lee Konitz, Bob Mintzer, Bob Malach, Antonia Bennett, Mike Richmond, Herb Pomeroy and Franco Ambrosetti.

    Ain’t Misbehavin’ – at the Huntington Theater

    Ain't Misbehavin' Ain’t Misbehavin’
    at the Huntington Theater
    (Boston, Spetember 24, 2003)
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    End of the month and you’re a bit short on dough?
    Have a rent party!
    What’s that, you ask?
    Well, if the Huntington Theatre Company’s revival of the Fats Waller musical “Ain’t Misbhavin'” is any indication, it is surely a lot of fun! Set loosely amidst one of these fund-raising social gatherings that were favored during the Harlem Renaissance (especially for the hosts), this staging of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” skirts the line between revue and musical, but most often falls into the former camp. Bookended with the very hummable title song, the show rolls through such popular compositions as “T’aint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” “Keepin Out Of Mischief Now” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and such provocative numbers as the smooth and smokey “Viper’s Drag” and the knowing double entendres of “Black and Blue.” Among the high points (aside from the doobie-ous “Viper’s Drag” of course) were a chipper music lesson in the form of “Handful of Keys,” a dreamy “Two Sleepy People” and a sole-ful version of “Your Feet’s Too Big” that was anything but pedestrian.

    Though some of their harmonies had holes, the cast offered a wide range- from a skinny Zoot Suit hep cat to an operatic Little Richard, with a handful of talented women in the middle. Backing the vocal quintet was a tight but often distant sextet, led by the Waller-esque Ronald Metcalf, who tickled the ivories and the women with equal flair. With all this great music and talented performers, it would be little surprise if other companies tried to copy this show. So will rent parties ever come back? As Waller himself might say, one never knowsŠdo one?

    © 2003, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Will Downing – After Tonight

    Will Downing
    After Tonight
    (Peak – 2007)

    Suffice it to say that after nearly two decades of remarkable recordings and performances around the globe, Will Downing is recognized as the premier male vocalist for the embodiment of his singular, sensuous blend of R&B, jazz and pop. Yet 2007 marks the release of what is unquestionably the most crucial album of his career. It’s not necessarily in reference to the content of the album, which is more of the masterful songs of sensual romance that have become his signature. The crux of After Tonight, Will’s 13th album and first for the Peak Records label, is the commitment in the face of adversity he summoned to complete it – the sheer “force of Will” that inspired the man to see it through to its fruition. When you listen to After Tonight, you are listening to music created and recorded by a man coming to terms with and battling a rare and severely debilitating condition known as Polymyositis.

    Listen To The Will
    Downing Interview

    Polymyositis is a chronic muscle disease – an inflammation of the muscle fibers – the cause of which is not known. It results in weakness that can be severe with equally maddening, random and inexplicable periods of flares and remissions. For an artist of Downing’s stature to make an album under normal circumstances comes with an already grueling set of challenges to make the best music possible. Factor in the frustration of discovering you have suddenly come down with this disease and all of its creativity sapping symptoms and one realizes that only a man of Downing’s spiritual fortitude could pull himself up against all odds to make his latest statement heard. After Tonight is more than just another album for Downing. It became a monumental reason for him to wake up on many a morning – a purpose that only his attention could bring to life. And Downing is determined for it to be far from his last.

    In an intimate letter enclosed within the liner notes of After Tonight, Will humbly discloses to his fans that the disorder “basically took away my ability to function on my own, including the use of my limbs or even walking. The majority of my vocals were cut from my wheelchair at home.” Where the average man would have crumbled in self-pity, Will fortified his faith, leaned on trusted friends and tapped into a reservoir of strength he didn’t even know he had…for he had never had to reach for it until now. In his letter, Will continues, “After a period of depression and `why me’s,’ I rekindled a relationship with God and family like never before. His love for me is getting me through these interesting times. I’ve come to deal with these circumstances but not accept them as I know I will overcome this illness.”

    Reflecting on what was most different about making this album from the twelve he’s done in the past, Will continued, “One thing I’ve really learned about myself is my ability to utilize alternative routes. Singing while sitting was ridiculously hard, so I found myself doing things in increments. Lines 1 thru 4 on a song may have been sung from the wheelchair, while lines 5 thru 9 may have been sung from the hospital bed. However, every line was only done when I was in the emotional mood to sing.”

    Crucial to the seamless completion of After Tonight was the return of Will’s longtime co-producer and friend Rex Rideout, in whom Downing placed his complete trust above and beyond the normal call of duty. Rideout has been working with Downing since his fourth album, Love’s the Place to Be, introduced during a Roy Ayers gig Rex was playing on by singer Audrey Wheeler, who is now Will’s wife. So the work on After Tonight was very much a family affair. “Family and familiarity played a major role,” Downing continues. “Being immobile made me put a lot of my trust in my producers and musician friends. We used technology to its highest heights. We swapped tracks over computer lines when – under normal circumstances – I would sit with each musician going over line by line. But because our musical tastes are so completely in tine, I trust Rex Rideout implicitly.”

    >”I am deeply touched by the trust that Will placed in me,” Rideout shares. “My job was to help make After Tonight the best possible representation of Will’s artistry during this challenging space and time. It was an honor and a heavy responsibility -one that I took very seriously. Will was really counting on me. He couldn’t be with me during all phases, so we did a lot over the internet – me in my west coast studio and he back east in his wheelchair at home or his hospital bed. At one point, I even flew to his house to set up a little studio for him in his room. Knowing how difficult this process was becoming for him, I kept asking ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ He always responded, ‘Man, I got it!’ The most nerve-racking part for me was sending him mixes then waiting for his response. Everybody from Will and I to mixing engineer Ray Bardani was looking at this under a magnifying glass. I did everything in my power to make After Tonight the Will Downing experience that his fans expect. And I am so proud of the job done my man, Will.”

    After Tonight opens with the soulful introduction of “Will’s Groove,” a mood piece that smoothly sets the scene for all that follows. And what you hear in the beginning of it is exactly how the song was conceived. Rideout shares, “Will called me up and said, “I have a bass tine I want to use to open the album. Do you have your computer on?’ I booted up and that’s the groove he gave me.”

    Immediately following is a string of seriously sexy tunes as only Downing can deliver them. “Fantasy (Spending Time With You)” sports a Corvette cool West Coast love man groove featuring Randy Bowland on guitar while “Satisfy You” finds Will playfully interpolating a line from the film Dreamgirls as he croons, “The first time that I saw your face / All I said was oh, my…oh, my…” The reassuring “All I Need Is You” is the album’s jazziest piece musically and most romantically vulnerable lyrically as Will sings about a couple at a moment of insecurity. Kirk Whalum contributes some tastily multi-tracked tenor lines. Meanwhile, Roy Ayers lays down some delicious vibes solos on a second mood piece, “Lover’s Melody,” a classy club jam for cupids who like to move.

    The album’s first single and title track, “After Tonight,” captures Will on par with the sound of today’s younger male soul singers, but with the sentiments of a grown man with long term love on his mind. “My mission tonight is to please you / Baby, we’re gonna take this love and make it do what it do / ‘Cuz after tonight I’m gonna show you how to make love / After tonight I’ll be the only love you’re thinking of.” This particular track was so strong that it is reprised at album’s end with a dreamy remix.

    The first of After Tonight‘s two covers, “No One Can You Love You More,” is from the pen of the incomparable Skip Scarborough, a man also responsible for Quiet Storm classics such as “Can’t Hide Love” by Earth, Wind Et Fire,” “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” by the Emotions and “Love Ballad” by LTD. The song was originally recorded on the self-titled 1977 debut album of dearly departed vocal legend Phyllis Hym n, a woman that Will shared stages with on many a night in the later years of her life. “We had some amazing shows together and shared some great laughs…most of which I can’t share with you,” Will teases. “But the song ‘No One Can Love You More’ was suggested to me by a friend. Honestly, I barely remembered the song but that’s what made it easy for me to interpret in my own way. It’s such a great lyric.” Updating the unforgettable sax work done by Gary Bartz on Phyllis’ original version is Gerald Albright, another old friend of Will’s with whom he cut an entire album in 1998 titled Pleasures of the Night.

    The second cover of After Tonight is far more personal and profound for Downing. “You Just Can’t Smile It Away” is a relatively obscure yet no less galvanizing composition from the peerless Bill Withers who recorded it on his last album to date, Watching You, Watching Me (1985). It is the second Withers song that Will has recorded, followed by “Grandma’s Hands” from his CD All The Man You Need (2000). It speaks plainly yet poetically about problems that demand to be faced, something very much top-of-mind with Will as he struggled to complete his latest work. Downing reflects, “When Bill writes, he paints…and I enjoy a good painting. Bill tells a story of America – sometimes in an urban way, sometimes in a classic way, but always from the heart. Bill tells it like it is and that has always drawn me to record his songs.” Downing’s deep connection to this song did not go unnoticed by co-producer Rideout who found himself quite moved as he watched Will chisel his take into perfection. “In the Withers song – more than any other – I detected a vulnerability from Will that I’ve never heard before,” Rideout states. “He told me he tried different takes during daylight hours with other folks around him. But around midnight, it hit him to sing the song white he was all alone lying in bed. That take is pretty much that you hear on the record. My eyes welled-up the first time I heard it.”

    Will Downing has been wowing sophisticated soul fans with his soothing, sensual baritone voice for two decades now. After behind the scenes work ranging from ’80s club production king Arthur Baker to vocal diva Jennifer Holiday, the Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter made his solo debut in 1988 with the self-titled album, Will Downing. It was highlighted by a dance cover of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Deniece Williams’ “Free.” These numbers set Downing up as a sensitive interpreter of classics. Covers became a staple of his CDs and eclectically include Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy,” Angela Bofill’s “I Try,” Thom Bell & Linda Creed’s “Stop,
    Look, Listen (To You Heart),” Janet Jackson’s “Anything,” Ephraim Lewis’ “Drowning In Your Eyes” and Luther Vandross’ arrangement of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar.”

    Will Downing’s winning musical blend has landed him on radio stations across the R&B, smooth jazz and adult contemporary dial. His hits include “Sorry, I,” “Do You Still Love Me,” “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This” (a duet with Rachelle Ferrell), “When You Need Me” (a duet with Chante’ Moore), “Don’t Talk To Me Like That” and “A Million Ways.”
    His engaging live shows have made him a familiar touring presence, performing in Europe and stateside at venues ranging from nightclubs to outdoor festivals and, particularly, all-star packages. Downing has graced stages with cross-pollinating peers such as Gerald Albright, George Duke, Regina Belle, Jonathan Butler, Art Porter, Lee Ritenour and Vesta, just to name a few.

    Beyond the music, Will Downing has proven himself to be an outstanding photographer. His lens work was showcased in a 2004 calendar featuring portraits of singer/musician friends. And in 2006, he self-published (though Will Downing Productions) a coffee table book titled Unveiled, filled with his work as well as that of several other African American graphic artists from Philadelphia’s ArtJaz Gallery scene.

    Will Downing was the official 2005 spokesperson for the American Stroke Association and continues to tend his name and efforts on its behalf. He also supports the Myositis Association.

    The Herculean and purposeful approach that Will Downing undertook to complete After Tonight – for himself, his wife, three children, extended family and fans -cannot be overstated. It is a reflection of determination, faith and character comparable in contemporary soul music to the strength that the great Curtis Mayfield – who was permanently paralyzed at the end of his life – mustered to make his final album, New World Order (1996). But unlike Mayfield’s, Will’s condition will hopefully only be temporary.

    The very source of the fortitude that Downing is leaning upon is addressed in a moving song of faith that Will composed with his wife Audrey Wheeler-Downing (who also harmonizes with her husband on the background vocals) and Noel Goring titled “God is SO Amazing.” Touching on what is perhaps the greatest gift that has come from his challenges with Polymyositis, Will Downing witnesses, “I’ve learned that God plays a bigger role in my existence than I ever realized. This was a difficult project to record, but everytime i felt down – mentally or physically – I looked to him for inspiration.”

    jeffrey michael – after the storm

    Jeffrey Michael
    After the Storm

    (fireheart music – 2004)
    by paula edelstein
    best selling instrumental pianist jeffrey michael has built a reputation for composing memorable melodies and highly-cinematic musical themes. his sixth record, after the storm, continues his visual style with original music that reflects his bold, compassionate melodies, dexterous two-hand counterpoint melodies. here michael’s solo piano thematic choice is shaped by his huntington beach, ca environment and thegraceful, steady, vibrant and powerful movement of the pacific ocean.

    “the storm,” depicts the passion and the fury of the mighty pacific while “after the storm” defines the peace and tranquility that comes after the storm has passed. “the edge of the ocean,” is energetic and passionate and once again his compositional imagery is rich and vibrant. overall, michael’s impressive melodies are sure to endure for generations and you’d be wise to give a closer listen to his creative energy.

    Jeremy Manasia – After Dark

    Jeremy Manasia
    After Dark
    Posi-Tone 2009

    Talented newcomer Jeremy Manasia shines brightly on his debut release “After Dark”.  Joining efforts with Manasia on this piano trio date are bassist Barak Mori and drummer Charles Ruggiero.

    Saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith joins the band on “Soul Eyes” and vocalist extraordinaire Jane Monheit sings on “When you Smile.”

    The session swings and soars and listeners will be delighted to discover just exactly what Jeremy Manasia does “After Dark.”

    Jeremy Manasia – piano
    Barak Mori – bass
    Charles Ruggiero – drums
    Ian Hendrickson-Smith – saxophone
    Jane Monheit – vocals

    Chris Graham Trio – After-Birth of Cool

    Chris Graham Trio
    After-Birth of Cool
    Chris Graham Trio – 2010

    After-Birth of Cool is bursting with texturally rich compositions and technically evocative playing. The Chris Graham Trio has a telekinetic communication underpinning each adventurous track. What is so special about this vibraphone led ensemble, is the technique of Chris Graham in particular. He has created a signature sound that is stylistically not like any other vibraphonist in the marketplace to date. Chris has developed a “Five Finger” technique, where he grips 5 mallets, allowing him to bend melodic notes while still maintaining chord functions. This signature sound is so uniquely original that it brings added layers to Graham’s already well-craftedcompositions.

    The rhythm section of Alex Austin (bass) and Oliver Hunt (drums), is just the right element needed to compliment and propel Chris’ ideas
    to their fullest potential. Lastly, After-Birth of Cool was recorded with no overdubs, furthering the emotive and spontaneous performances contained within this organic and unforced natural sounding CD.

    Chris has worked as a sideman with recording artists such as: Keri Johnsrud on her 2009 album All Blue, with Johathon Bass in 2008 on his album Shapes and Colors, with Section Four in 2007 on a self-titled album called Section Four and with Allan Beeson on First Time Out, in 2005. Chris’s own album, After Birth of Cool will be released in the summer of 2010.

    Chris is a well respected musician in the Chicago region, he has worked at Chicago recording studios such as: Rax Trax, The Vault, Red Brick, and plays jazz venues such as: the Jazz Showcase, the Green Mill, Andy’s and the Double Door. Chris is the only vibraphonist who has mastered what he calls the “Graham” five-mallet grip. Chris is able to hold all five mallets, which allows Chris’s music to have constant chordal function, while painting the melody lines with the added benefit to bend any note at anytime.

    When circumstances call for it, Chris can maintain the five-mallet grip while picking up a cello bow to create an ethereal sound.

    African Festival Chicago 2005

    16th Annual African Festival of the Arts

    by D. Kevin McNeir

    At the recent 16th Annual African Festival of the Arts, a yearly celebration that illuminates the African influence on the world, musical traditions extending from jazz to blues, Latin rhythm to gospel and hip hop to Neo-Soul were all represented in a unique four-day experience.

    If you’ve never been to this gathering that celebrates the contributions of musicians and artists who represent the African Diaspora experience, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. But if you can imagine the aroma of pungent incense drifting in the air, if you can visualize the panorama of colors that are characteristic of the garb from the African continent and can hear the whispering wind as it carries on its wings the conversation of the drum, then you may have a sense of what this writer experienced during his annual trek to the Festival.

    Opening the festival on the main stage was the African-born singer Angelique Kidjo, whose lyrics reflect her belief that no matter how far the children of Africa have been removed from their Mother Land, subtle lines of interconnectedness continue to unite us. She inspired the crowd in a lyrical testament of hope, singing in English and her native tongue, Yoruba with songs from her latest release “Oyaya” (the word for “joy” in Yoruba).

    Other acts of note included jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose lack of exposure may explain why he normally is not considered one of the giants of jazz. Still, when he performs in his favorite setting—the piano trio format—his colleagues in the industry and jazz lovers alike agree that he is not only at his best—but is one of the best.

    Now well into his 70’s, Jamal can still tickle the ivories blending his classical training with the swing of a real jazz pianist. Old timers who attended the concert almost looked misty eyed, perhaps recalling earlier days of jazz when during the late 1950’s, Jamal solidified his Jamal Trio lineup and performed regularly at the old Pershing Hotel attracting local jazz musicians. It was a treat to witness the performance of a man whose reach extended to one of the greatest improvisers in jazz history—Miles Davis.

    Representing the sound of Latin jazz was the family known as Escovedo with father, Pete, joined by his daughter and one-time percussionist for Prince, Sheila E.

    Escovedo is considered one of the leaders of Latin jazz and got his big break when he and his band were asked to open for the Count Basie Orchestra at the Downbeat Club in San Francisco. And while he is comfortable on saxophone or the vibes, he is best known for his skills as a percussionist—something that he clearly passed on to his entire family, including his brother, the late Coke Escovedo and to daughter Sheila E.—one of only a few female percussionists in a tradition that continues to be heavily dominated by men.

    A sort of Family Von Trapp minus the vocals (sorry, I couldn’t help but throw in that shout out to The Sound of Music) the Escovedo family had bongos, congas, cymbals, bells, shells and all kinds of percussion work going on a stage that got hotter by the moment and kept the audience on its feet.

    The Festival closing act was none other than the legendary songstress/pianist, Roberta Flack who never disappoints an audience. She came on later than scheduled, perhaps because she was hampered by a broken foot.

    She started out just a tad flat on “Oasis,” as she fought to find her voice on a humid night. But from that point on it was all classic Roberta.

    Flack is a trained musician and one thing that is always evident—she carefully selects the artists that back her up. Her performance at this year’s festival was another stellar combination of vocals and musicians with a skilled band and the terrific tenor Tony Terry.

    I have had the opportunity to cover Flack several times and have to say that she and Terry sounded most like that classic combination of Flack and Hathaway whose performance on “The Closer I Get to You”—remains one of my all-time favorites. Flack hasn’t released a new recording since a 2003 Christmas release and so it a pleasant surprise to hear several new pieces that she said will be included in a new CD that’s due out before the end of the year.

    From “Feel Like Making Love,” and “Killing Me Softly,” to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Back Together Again,” which featured Terry as the lead vocalist, it was a great close to a fantastic festival.

    But as is the case of most divas, like Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, Flack is at her best when she’s indoors where the acoustics are better and she doesn’t have to fight the elements.

    Africa Fete

    africafete.gif (27704 bytes)AFRICA Fete

    .by Sidney Bechet-Mandela


    The fourth Africa Fete sampler from Island Records is by far the best one of the quartet. The four artists represented are not only getting a big push from a record company, that in most cases is not their own, but the tour is garnering a lot of attention from the press and music lovers, including adventurous jazz listeners.

    Collectively, Africa Fete ’98 are Salif Keita from Mali, Papa Wemba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Maryam Mursal from Somalia and Cheikh Lo from Senegal. They’re touring the continent this month including the two opening nights at the Quebec City Summer Festival of World Music, which runs from July 9-July 19 and will be reviewed by JazzUSA next month.

    As far as we know, none of these artists have histories with any jazz artists, however those who are into rock may recognize the name, Salif Kieta, who has played with some European and American rock stars. It goes without saying that worldwide Keita is the most popular of these four artists. However, in America, they’re all pretty much unknown, which is one of the purposes of teaming the artists up with each contributing two tracks. Keita’s material has the harder rock element while Lo’s two songs have deceptive rhythms and complicated harmonies, not to mention sharp playing and soloing, and should be the most listen-able for jazz lover.

    PAPA WEMBA-Keita may be the most well known of the quartet, but Papa Wemba has the best tracks on the album. As many jazz lovers know, the further south in Africa you go, the more the American influences. That’s why the best jazz and r&b in Africa comes from South Africa. Wemba, who comes from the Congo, (formerly Zaire) has music that has an instant groove-ability to any one who like the strains of funk and slick harmonies. It’ll help beginning listeners of world music that Wemba contributes the only English speaking track on the album, and the hook from “Show Me The Way” is instantly singable. However, world music purists (who shouldn’t be reading our publication anyway) attack Wemba for those very reasons. They mistake his combination of adding his own style and traditional instruments to western recording styles as attempt at commercialism. These are the same sort of people who dump Pat Metheny in the same pile as Kenny G because Pat sells a lot of records. Island would do well to promote “Show Me The Way” to adventurous urban egends and has been written about and studied and even turned into a BBC documentary. In a nutshell, Keita is a member of the royal family of Mali and is a direct descendant of Sundjiata Keita, founder of the Mankinka Empire in the 13th century. Keita was born an albino, which is nearly a sin in Mali. The newborn and his mother was banished until a spiritual leader searched the elder Keita out and predicted immense fame for the infant. What makes it all so interesting is how quick Keita did indeed rise in the music field. He is revered in Africa the way many of us look at Miles Davis, Bob Marley or Stevie Wonder. He had his first hit in the late 70’s and has been a leader of African music all over the world. His track “Abede” is the second of the very strong first four tracks. Dripping in emotion, this anthem-like up-tempo number mixes and weaves the koro with Vernon Reid’s soaring guitar.

    Maryam Mursal- Somalia is one of the purest countries in the world, but has produced one exciting vocalist. Few have a more dramatic tale to tell than Mursal. Before her stunning voice could be heard in the west, she was forced to spend seven months walking across the Horn of Africa with her five children as she fled the atrocious Somalia civil war. She walked out of Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, across Kenya, through Ethiopia, recrossing Somalia again and eventually arriving in Djibouti where she was given asylum by the Danish embassy.

    In an incredible coincidence, she ran into free-lance photographer Soren Jensen. Jensen, was in Somalia in 1986 and heard a woman singing to hundreds of refugees. In Denmark, he worked as an arranger and heard Musal and boosted her career after he realized she was the same woman. After achieving some fame, of course she attacked the Somalian government in song, and found herself banned from her homeland.

    If you’ve heard about the new Islamic pop music that’s so hot in Paris and Northern Africa, you’ll hear that in Mursal, especially on the track “Somalia, Don’t Shame Yourself,” which opens the album. Her tracks are by far the most pop-oriented and should be the least interesting to a jazz audience. Her second track “The Big City” is strictly a dance number, and that’s dance as in disco, not ceremonial.


    Chris McGregor – The Blue Notes & the Brotherhood of Breath

    Chris McGregor - The Blue Notes & the Brotherhood of BreathChris McGregor
    The Blue Notes & the Brotherhood of Breath

    by Tony McGregor

    Chris McGregor was born on December 24, 1936, in Somerset West, Western Cape, where his father, Murray McGregor was teaching at Hottentots’ Holland High School. Both his father and his mother, Marjorie, were graduates of the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he would later study music. Two years later the McGregor family moved to the Transkei, a move which profoundly influenced Chris’ musical development. After schooling in the Transkei Chris, who had already at the age of five begun music lessons, went to UCT to read for a B. Mus degree. It was while at UCT that the sounds he had heard in the Transkei came alive in a new way for him as he was exposed to the music of the Cape townships.

    Very soon he was paying more attention to the likes of “Chris Columbus” Mra Ngcukana, “Cup and Saucer” Nkanuka and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) on the local scene, while listening to Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington on records. While at UCT Chris started to put together groups to play jazz concerts at UCT, as well as jamming in local clubs, like the Ambassador’s, the Vortex, and others. Other names on these sessions with Chris were reed man Morris Goldberg and trombonist Dave Galloway.

    In 1962 Chris took a group from Cape Town to the Castle Lager Jazz Festival at Moroka-Jabavu Stadium in Soweto, where the group came second in the small group section. More importantly, the festival brought together, although in different groups, Dudu Pukwana, Louis Tebugo Moholo, and Mongezi Feza. It was a meeting with long-range consequences and great meaning for South African music.

    In 1963, having moved permanently to Johannesburg, Chris obtained sponsorship from a brewery company to put together a big band which, while it only lasted for three weeks, produced an album which is a classic of South African music called Jazz: The African Sound.

    In 1964 the organisers of the Antibes Jazz Festival in France heard a tape of the group Chris had formed after the success of the big band and invited the group, by then known as the Blue Notes, to the festival in August of that year. After a nation-wide tour to raise the funds necessary for the trip to France, the Blue Notes left via Mocambique. Their distinctive sound was never heard live again in South Africa. Their 20-minute blow at Antibes was well received by both the listeners and the critics, even Down Beat gave them very positive mention in its October 1964 report on the festival.

    After the festival the Blue Notes worked for some time in Zurich before moving to Britain in late 1965 where they shook up the rather staid British jazz scene in a major way. Gigs at Ronnie Scott’s and other places kept the group together but soon other influences and forces were at work which made the individuals in the group go their own ways and form their own alliances with other musicians. This led to a rich web of contacts and musical experiences with the individual Blue Notes meeting and playing with leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

    In this way the blending of South African musical traditions with what was going on in the improvised music of the United States and Europe, which had begun back home, was given extra impetus and depth. A kind of critical mass was achieved and the Blue Notes were at the forefront of a whole new musical experience which continues to make waves 30 years later.

    In this creative ferment Chris was hearing musicians who excited him and with whom he could work and his constant dream of a big band to put his ideas into practice began to be realised.An exciting gig at Ronnie Scott’s brought together “Chris McGregor and Friends”, a big band mixing South African and British musicians. With this band Chris was at last able to explore and put into practice the many ideas he had as a result of the many different experiences he had been exposed to.

    This gig was greeted with rave reviews and Chris looked for ways to keep the band going. In 1969 he formed the Brotherhood of Breath, using members of the big band formed around the South African rhythm section of himself, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums.

    This band got its first recording break in 1970 with RCA using it for the launch of their new Neon label. This was followed in 1971 with a second RCA album entitled “Brotherhood.”

    In 1973 Chris and his family moved to the south west of France in search of sunshine and space. They purchased an old mill house, the Moulin de Madone in the commune of St Pierre de Caubel, departement Monclar D’Agennaise. Here the family lived in rural peace and made a sound base for Chris to return to after the rigours of the road with the band.

    In the late 70s the Brotherhood faded from the scene for a while and Chris did a lot of solo and small group work with musicians he liked.

    In the early 80s the Brotherhood got a new lease of life through the Angouleme Music Festival which put up the money for the band to practice for a few weeks around the festival.

    By the late 80s the band was well-established on the festival and concert circuits and made thousands of new fans all over Europe, playing a lively music that had strengthened its ties to its African roots without shedding the lessons it had learned along the way. This was an exciting band with great soloists adding excitement to the incredibly disciplined and tight ensemble work.

    A tour with Archie Shepp in 1989 started to open doors for Chris and the band, and by early 1990 a US tour was on the cards. It was while working on arrangements for this tour that Chris became very ill and cancer was diagnosed. On 26 May 1990 he died after an intense and pain-filled battle with the disease. The Brotherhood was at the time on tour in Europe and continued the tour as a memorial of Chris.
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    Fela Anikulapo Kuti – From the Foot of the Shrine

    Fela Anikulapo Kuti
    From the Foot of the Shrine

    By Struan Douglas
    Photos: Bailey’s African Archives

    Amongst the infectious, feverish heat of the Nigerian coastal capital – Lagos, a funky, vigorous beat plays with hypnotic effect. The women vibrate, dancing erotically, passionately entangled in trances, cages – half naked. The audiences are massive – celebrities, countrymen – all politicised, amongst their hero, their leader – Fela Kuti – and their music – afrobeat.

    These were the visions Drum publisher Jim Bailey used to tell me of the evenings he had spent in Lagos during the 70’s, at the seminal African night-club – Fela Kuti’s night-club – the Shrine. He talked of the arrival of great stars that visited the venue, Paul McCartney ( who swore Jim and his journalists to silence), Roy Ayers and Cream’s fabled drummer, Ginger Baker (both recorded with Fela) and Hugh Masekela who gained inspiration there. He talked of Fela’s political antics, the support at the venue, the passion, the unique fire and the mission of re-Africanising the people, re-Africanising them through music.

    There was such excitement, love and vibrance poised on the continual edge of danger, the desire to bring about change. The Shrine was not only a politicised venue to showcase Fela’s new edge of music – Afrobeat, but it was also a Shrine at the feat of a great man- a brave African evangelist and supremely influential musician who suffered for all he stood for and eventually died by the vicious hand he had lived by.

    A little bit of James Brown, a touch of Bob Marley – but a completely unique style – Fela Anikulapo Kuti

    Out with Western Imperialism, the American pop. Out with the old fashioned traditional Nigerian dance music, High-Life and in with something new, something rooted in Africa, something free and expressive. Late in the 60’s and already a popular trumpeter and leader of the band Koola Lobitos – Fela decided it was time for change and a radical change at that. “Right from my youth, I have had a special love for jazz,” says Fela (bibliography 4) “During my student days, I spent hours listening to good jazz music on records.” He says in reference to Parker, Coltrane, Gillespie and Davis who were big in America that time. “I was determined to play only good jazz music, but the Nigerians did not want jazz. A few jazz addicts came to our shows, but we were not reaching the wider public who wanted nothing but High-Life. I did not want to waste my time splitting hairs over definitions. What I was trying to do was evolve a unique and authentic style.”

    No quintet. jazz trio or traditional dancing – he needed something bigger, stronger – so he settled on 20 instrumentalists and 27 singers and dancers. A big band and an ambitious journey into the hearts and minds of the African people. The seminal group ‘Africa 70’ was thus borne. Fela was original, dynamic, insightful, charismatic and brilliant. To African music he was what Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were to jazz, with the same inventive wickedness, the same impassioned hysteria, a destructive / creative edge and serious awareness – politically and culturally.

    He wanted the public to hear the music and get to know the band, so for a long while he played without gate fees. Him, his musicians, dancers, wives and eventually his audiences and fans were living only for the music and the vision. It took only the one compromise – from jazz to afrobeat – and four years of tough musical toil, but from there, Fela was a star and he never compromised again.

    As hot and sweaty as Lagos can be in summer, as intoxicating as the famous palm wine of these shores can be – by all accounts Africa 70 at the Shrine was more. It was freestyle within a tight polyrythmic, hypnotic structure. The music went on for hours, political, expressive, angsty, intense, trance-like and sexual.

    Furiously sexual. I once caught a video of Fela’s on TV. He was dressed only in a tight pare of brightly coloured hot-pants. He bounced around the stage in the heat and the sweat, furiously singing passionate political messages in his pigeon English, with a joint half hanging between his teeth. Strong empowering words and chants, crazy rolling jazz riffs, and a troupe of sexy female dancers, dancing around him, vibrating in a trance like sexuality, inspired by the speedy, busy rhythms, inspired by the words, the passion, the music.

    At a ceremony in 1978, wearing only his typical stage gear – the hot-pants – Fela married 27 women. “Women. I’ve been very lucky with women. Girls admire me when I am on the stage. Naturally I am happy about it and it is only natural that I should return admiration for admiration.” he said in a quote from Drum (Dec. 1963- bibliography 3) written on a young Fela when he had only one wife and two children.

    Even though he divorced all these women, he maintained a throng of admirers until he passed away in 1997 at the age of 58 from HIV / Aids. Saint or sinner, sexist or romantic? Who says, but it was his energy, his attitude – a liberal, negritudinal and anarchist flare – that compounded itself in his truest expressions, sex and political distaste. Fela’s music was his muse – it expressed everything about him.

    ‘Coffin for Head of State.’ Music is poetry an expression of your strongest convictions and faiths.

    Shey our leaders dem like us or dem like themselves?”
    I get my own answer for you”
    Dem be original criminals,” he sang

    Africa post-independence was generally a very corrupt place – and Nigeria was no different. And with the guise of corruption, comes its military protection – and Fela was on the wrong side of this – often.. “Oooooooooooooooooh, I was beaten by police! So much… How can a human being stand so much beating with clubs and not die?” (bibliography 1- ) tells Fela about the first attack by the police on the Shrine. There were repeated attacks – the musicians were jailed, brutalised and maimed, but the venue continued – almost irresponsibly. Until three years later, 1977 when the military junta in Lagos sent a thousand soldiers to burn, kill and brutalise where they could.

    When Fela’s mother, a noted nationalist, died at the hands of the military-police in one of these raids, very symbolically, Fela and his entourage of wives and girlfriends went to the ruling junta’s Obasanjo headquarters and placed the coffin on the steps.

    Like with banning a song on the radio, these raids and murders only confirmed the power of Fela Kuti. As with Steve Biko and Che Cuevara the victims were raised to the status of martyrs, whilst Fela became a myth. The brutality, his reactions, his survival and his continuing to perform were his personal victories – the victory of personal liberty and freedom over gross power and political futility.

    After military rule ended in 1979, he established his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People), in the early ’80s responding to the rise of conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. However his rise never materialised as in 1984 he was sentenced to five years in prison on what Amnesty International later called “spurious” charges. (bibliography 2).

    ‘Shey police wey go protect people dey burn burn things
    Shey army wey suppose protect us na dem dey burn burn so
    Why dem like to burn the things wey cost money’

    He never quit, he never compromised. Not even on his death bed when he refused to quit smoking marijuana. But, that is who Fela was: Very stubborn, but hugely committed to the passion he lived for, a passion that created a beautiful and evangelical music, and his weapon to fight for the emancipation of Africa.

    A basic Discography:

    Finding an old Fela Kuti 78 is like finding gold -every DJ I know is desperately searching for that. Throughout his lifetime, Kuti’s albums were poorly distributed and promoted, particularly outside Africa. Black President, arguably his greatest release, is now out of print, as are other classics such as Teacher Don’t Teach Me No Nonsense. Universal has just released a double compilation album of his greatest works entitled ‘Black President’ after the seminal release. His son Femi Kuti has recently released ‘Shoki Shoki’ – a fantastic album and continuation of the big band afrobeat his father created.

    In fact, Fela recorded more than 50 albums. He played a key role in the spread of African pop music around the world. Like James Brown is the godfather of funk, Fela is the godfather of modern African music.


    . Fela: The Life & Times of controversial Afrobeat superstar by Chido Nwangwu
    . A Legend And His Life, By Osofisan
    . Drum Magazine December 1963: Fela’s fabulous Highlife. Journalist un-named
    . Drum Magazine October 1971: Fela’s Afro-revolution by Olu Akarangun
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    Pittsburgh Bretheren To Play In Ghana

    Pittsburgh Bretheren  To Play In Ghana Pittsburgh Bretheren To Play In Ghana
    by Paula Edelstein

    It’s not everyday that something like this happens in Ghana. Saturday, December 16th, 2000, a great jazz concert will happen in Ghana, and it’s causing quite a wave of excitement among jazz lovers in town. The last time Ghana had a visiting great jazz artist was in 1998 when the legendary George Howard played there. This time, however, it will not be just one great musician but a number of them. And it is all so exciting.

    Dubbed Jazz at the National Theatre, this special event features The University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar All Stars, with none other than saxophonist Nathan Davis as director. Nathan Davis, is a member of the prestigious International Jazz Hall of Fame, and the creator of the International Jazz Archives Journal. He founded the Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert in 1970. Having performed and toured with some of the era’s jazz all-stars including the Kenny Clarke Jazz Quintet, Donald Byrd, and the Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Davis’ commitment to jazz and education has kept him organizing the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, keeping it alive for the past 30 years! Other performers, all accomplished in their own righr, who will be on the bill including Donald Byrd on trumpet, George Cables on piano, Melton Mustafa; trumpet, Idris Muhammad on drums, Robert Magnusson; bass, and Ghana’s ‘Prof’ Komla Amoako, Executive Director of the National Theatre of Ghana, on percussion! This is the first time this group is performing in Africa. And they have chosen Ghana as their first point of call to the motherland, and are themselves looking forward to visiting the country.

    From their varied fields’, and era that they are coming from, the ‘All Stars’ concert promises to bring a myriad of experience to bear for Ghanaian musicians, and a fascinating and thrilling show for the audience.

    Presented by the National Theatre of Ghana, the International Centre for African Music and Dance in cooperation with the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy, Jazz at the National Theatre is on at the National Theatre on Saturday December 16, at 8pm. Also in attendance will be the National Theatre of Ghana’s Vision Band. Tickets for this event cost C10,000, and are on sale in advance at the Asafo Gallery; National Theatre, and at the gate.

    We’d like to thank Paula for sitting in this month.
    Struan will be back in January with his next installment from the South Africa Jazz music beat. – Ed.

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    Afribeat – The Attack of Beauty

    Afribeat - The Attack of BeautyAfribeat – The Attack of Beauty

    There was this ancient fellow wearing slightly faded yet dashing robes and giant sunglasses. He was playing the harp like instrument of the ancient tradition of the griot, the kora, simultaneously explaining in an operatic voice that the hole in the instrument was designed specifically for the placement of dollar notes. The receptionists, the barman, Douglas and the ladies were his only audience in the foyeur of the magnificent Senegalese hotel, the Lagon 11 when the phone rang. Ah, ‘ tu te bang,’ this bristling Portuguese voice came over the raucus sounds of a Brazilian streat carnival and the beaps of an internatinal call box. There was the sound of trumpets and girls screaming and then more Portuguese speaking. ‘Dancino com Adiaspora’ were the only words decipharable before the phone lines failed.

    It was certainly an important message from Harris. A taxi arrived with a jolly feather in pointed shoes driving and raced me to the old baobab bar above the majestic square de independace of Dakar. There was a Cuban band playing with a bald fellow on the violin and a couple of tanies dancing. I don’t know how they recognised me but they were suprised, and sat me next to the old bird man with his yellow hair and hen picked teeth and a cage of hundreds and hundreds of sparrows. Douglas placed a clean 100000CFA on the table, freed a bird and bought his wisdom. katman nagadef fouley lekker nidagada lutman, he muttered in a soft voice.

    … roughly translated as follows: “You cannot sit on someone else’s ‘under’ (an urn shaped for burning herbs and incense) because you will find it is already taken. You must sit on your own ‘under’.”

    The words were as illuminating as the musical Hair.

    ‘African music is not so much an art and aesthetic as it is the essence and beauty of life – dancing with sound, subtlety and fury, striding rhythmically through the ceremonial spirits of the African people, across the disparate landscapes and fragmented history – from birth, initiation and marriage, to death.’.

    Back at the seaside Hotel a telex awaited…

    ‘let us venture into the hinterland. let us take the path less travelled at least by naff whitey liberal left wing pacifist paff south africans, and head off to peru, to other parts of south america, take in the world of the aztecs and their contemporaties, and be blown away by cultures long gone who were far more advanced than our pitifull excuse for one. let us go to brazil and live the good life with fine looking ladies. let’s peruse eastern europe, the mystique of turkey, greece and even onto furhter eastern bound places such as the phillipines, thailand, china, japan, wherever. world domination pinkie, world domination, let’s be bohemian. let fine collaboration come out of fine collaborative experience. waddya say fred? good indeed splendid times being had.
    consultant to the deities….’

    It was Harris in a good mood and the ball was rolling…Douglas replied by letter and here we capture pieces of what we believe initially to have be a thesis on culture and industry, society and sustainability. He had enitled it ‘in pursuit of beauty.’ when your good you good replied sylvester with a tone of disconcilliance bringing a smile to his arrogant jestors tea-tree.

    ‘2.) As the canterloop pops, yes jack travel boy travel. where, when, what and how, the east? the west? wherever is the least and the best, the most yeast and the least zest. out of the west and awaken the beast, lest it test the treats. here we have the two most important tenants of what I regard as the future, and indeed I would like you to consider my master plan and see what we can do with regards such gratification.

    make money, get involved with art, and live the high life in the house of opulence and extravagance. remember a market in turmoil is the most exciting market there is. and a beautiful country in turmoil. yes. we can make a change with our no-nonsense guide to the universal loving manner of hugging and kissing your neighbour even if it is a ridiculously supple sting ray. here end the summer.’

    Douglas was in a good mood too and Dancing with the diaspora was the new move, it was no longer a glamorous romance of meaningless pursuit, it had become an attack. By reailsing this need to free the compositions from Africa and gather the musical giants, ‘dancing with the diaspora,’ became subversive, immoderate, beautiful and transcendent.

    Back in Cape Town city at the palace, and afribeat.com had to be registered under a debacle involving Roberta Flack and Frank Zappa. Corporate spy Mbiko, uncovered this mystery and allowed these men to take the name under the production disguise of harris & douglas, and they were back in business for the first time since their famous jazz professor impressions at the robus kitch ‘n sync epilogues out at the piano lounge on loop street.

    Back then it was the manifesto of groove. Eat, dance, laugh and make love. And the music was great. “Less is more, more or less,” demanded the compical compadre Shaun Phillips at one of these now legendary sessions. It was the slow and gainful change manifesto and the first sign for the vision that began to unroll on that particular April fools day of 2000.

    The internet proved an expansive medium for world domination, “because the entire world has gone online,” said the generous Professor Milton who had decided to sell his saling boat in the Carribeans to finance his visit to the launch. And then the North Sea moved into the city for a giant jazz festival in Cape Town’s Good Hope centre. That day Harris, Douglas and Milton steared afribeat.com live to a beying worldwide audience and a Pan African cyber publication as a front and robust army in it’s wings had formed.

    That night at the tiny toe of Africa, it appeared as a vast continent and passion was a dangerous thing. And the adventure was entrenched. Pounding speed, quaintly dishevelled, bent Stetson, bloody coup. All across the African Diaspora, the vision of the people, the streets, the diversity and abundance. The soft trombones over the floating bolero melodies fuelled the red star, the impulsive, intoxicating vibrance, the desire for equality. Music is the context. The pumpkin, the cacophony, the intensity and belief.

    Douglas certainly couldn’t have realised how tight money was on that day, yet this struggle seemed merely a pre-meditation for the first class flight to Abidjan he was issued. Harris was awaiting on the runway with some officious ladies, the dancing girls and a tight schedule of festivaliering and shopping on the riviera.

    To smile is to have style, the continent was united. What was all this coup de fuss? Taking a leap of faith on that point, society can be seen as a purposed by-product of the music. Music dictates society. And that’s the story of the African Diaspora – it’s about the racing expressive, the melting of diversity, the music from slavery, that torn history that moved so many people, moved so many music styles and created others. A story about expression, pride and hope. A story about learning, understanding and forever a story that battles to balance its integrity and pride above the pain, the suffering, the soul destroying patronisation.

    afribeat with respect…

    These stories are stories that can be read in the bath and finsihed before your toes grow cold. These are stories that can be researched for a lifetime, documented, dissected, consulted and argued. These are the stories of individuals within communities and commuinties within indivulges. Stories of great victories that build hope. Dancing with the diaspora could not be a dance of self indulgence or a voyeuritsic pursuit. It was grand and it was beautiful. Time passed, the north sea jazz festival walked by and even the palace cupboards grew barren. To be grand is to have an opinion and nothing would indicate the future. High fashion grew tough and style was political. It was merely cultural, but it fealt like some kind of war going on.

    In fact it fealt like Paris drinking bordeaux that night on the great Congo River, only the fashion was a whole lot tighter and the evening a little sweatier. The president danced that night and all the ladies giggled. It was in the Congo that afribeat took on it’s colours – red, green, black and yellow. And it was in Cape Town that we started exercising these in blues and purple.

    wondergigs.com and the musical emergence of a city…

    It’s a formula for success and the next stop is Maputo…
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    Damian Marley – Righteousness Overcome

    Damian Marley
    Righteousness Overcome

    By Derek Beres

    There is no irony, perhaps, that doctrine is defined as a “principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group,” and it’s societal employment, indoctrination, can be found as “teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically.” When you factor in an alternate meaning of the first word, “A statement of official government policy, especially in foreign affairs and military strategy,” and weigh in the religious concerns of followers of doctrines such as the Bible and Koran, a very hygienic, prescribed notion of spirituality arises.

    That is, the misinterpretation of original teachings in what existed before the indoctrination process, the pages without letters, those written through experience not typography. When Bob Marley said, “Experience teacheth wisdom, but there’s a natural mystic flowing through the air,” he was grasping the heart of Rastafarian belief, one of the only “religions” existent today yet to see doctrine, propelling the idea of a hands-on life rather than one intellectualized through words and numbers.

    “We as Rastas don’t really consider Rastafari a religion, it’s more a way of life,” says Damian Marley, the youngest son of the legendary reggae prophet. “You have the people who read who don’t know Rastafari, know what I mean, because every man can start reading, even as a psalm was written in the book of life. The book of life that we’re speaking of is not really written words but is in the soul of man, you understand. Yes, so you know, every man has his own relationship with God, so there can really be no outline that every man has to follow, understand.”

    The young Rasta, already years into a prosperous reggae career at 23, was bred into a spirituality – and music – that remains pure. Evidence of this can readily be noticed on Halfway Tree, his first release on Motown, an exquisite amalgam of dancehall, hip-hop, and roots reggae. Spread over the album’s 16 tracks are serious lessons on unity and love, hardship, and most importantly, the righteousness to overcome.

    “Reggae is on the verge, is on the research, know what I mean,” continues Marley. “If you listen to even to some of Timberland’s beats, they’re very close to dancehall beats, what’s recorded in Jamaica. You can listen to Foxy Brown and the dancehall influence on her new album. Gwen Stefani, she loves the dancehall thing too.

    “A few years ago Jamaica got cable. I know that’s opened up the minds of the youth, being exposed to pop music, know what I mean. Hip-hop artists in general have been showing an interest in Jamaica over the last couple of years. The music comes from the same elements, and if you check the background of hip-hop, it really emerged out of Jamaican culture. The music is really the same as it is with the street youths, it is a real music, music of the people.”

    Named after the geographic intersection of Jamaica where the privileged and the poor convene, Halfway Tree is a very mature, patient album, addictive and danceable, laden with modern psalms. It is medicine, the type of healing elements existent in the realm of the invisible world of sound, and Marley, coming from a lineage of shamans, teachers, and the thousand other names, continues along that worn but eternal path.

    “With our music we always draw people closer to the most high, know what I mean, about the strive for perfection, yes, so you know, that goes in all areas of life, whether it be the relationship you have with your fellow brethren, or the relationship with God I, whatever it be, that’s really what the message is all about.”

    And messages like that are even so much more the necessary today, in the wake of the war that phonetically doubles as the exploitation of natural resources by western governments. When his father reinterpreted Haile Selassie’s speech that became “War,” he sang “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war,” a doctrine without doctrine, he was speaking the truth American culture is just now awakening to.

    “The main changes I see is that people are more alert now, know what I mean, and more conscious of what’s going on with international relations,” Marley says. “But two wrongs don’t make a right. Everything works hand in hand. Most expect America to retaliate, but then you really start evaluating why do people hate America in the first place. We as righteous musicians realize certain things because we’ve been singing righteous songs for years. And then all of a sudden a big tragedy happens and you see all kinds of artists coming together and doing these songs that we’ve been doing for years. You don’t really want to give the real righteousness a push, know what I mean, they always wait until something happens and then you see, you know, they try to push this unity thing and what have you, the soul of Rastafari. They didn’t listen, so, you know what I mean.”

    If you don’t know, check out Halfway Tree. Tracks like “It Was Written” and “Educated Fools” will show you while you dance along. Updated interpretations of “Slavedriver” via “Catch A Fire” and “Could You Be Loved” by way of “And Be Loved,” along with appearances by Bunny Wailer, Eve, Treach, and Stephen Marley, all add strong flavor to this exquisite curry. This all comes as no surprise, as recent political events only push our artists and musicians further into themselves and, subsequently, ourselves, as is the role of the soothsayer, to produce doctrines without paper, molded wax and plastic that carry the sounds of eternity into the modernity of today’s stereo.

    “What’s going on is affecting the music industry, it affects everything, it affects record sales, it affects the message in the music,” Damian continues. “A lot of people weren’t really dealing with righteous music before, you hear them coming out with a few righteous songs now, it’s everybody’s life therefore it will affect everything. When we perform, you can see how we experience the music. There’s the energy and the essence, and so you experience it because it is life, you understand.”

    (get underneath global mediocrity, visit Derek’s website www.cyniscurity.com)

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    Kora Awards 2001

    If there was a defining moment at this year’s Kora awards it was when Coumba Gowlo raised her kora award above her shoulders and sang in her textured, high pitched, soaring and elegant voice – ‘Senegal, Senegal – oh Senegal.” A moving moment for nationalism, Pan-Africanism and beauty – and that surely is what the kora All African music awards ought to be about?

    If there was a fabulous moment it was when South Africa’s fragile celebrity Brenda Fassie ran up onto stage dressed in pigtails and a grey and particularly revealing schoolgirls dress, grabbed her award, did the splits, blew a kiss to the favoured guests Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, and sang the words – ‘I stay like this’. And that’s what Brenda is all about – that crazy streak, that incredible flare, attitude and individuality. And that’s what the Kora All African music awards really ought to be about – exposing our celebrities and their dynamite.

    If there was a vulgar moment it was when South African R&B newcomer Ernie Smith was crowned ‘Most promising male artist on the continent.’ I have no doubt that Ernie Smith will sell and sell well all over the world – but that’s because he’s playing derivative and commercial R&B. He sounds more American than the ball clutching duo KC and Jojo – and he probably wants to as well. All over this continent we see beautiful bands and performers that just exude music, pride and integrity. All over this continent we hear the vivid strains of expressive and original music. And surely that is what the Kora awards ought to be about?

    And if that wasn’t enough American R&B singer – Bebe Weiner – left with a kora too. Where in Africa is this guy from? ‘Detroit Michigan’, he answered. Oh the African Diaspora! Sure music may have originated from Africa and affected all the strains and strands in the rest of the world, but surely this big ego platinum pop is again diluting the musicality on this continent?

    I hope I am not sounding too precious. I recognise Africa needs to establish itself in a global context, Africa needs to enjoy and benefit from international influences and I recognise the desire in sucking up to the dollar as much as possible – but I think we need to be doing it on our own terms. And our own terms are not by promoting the wannabee cock-pop, or even the cock-pop itself. Our own terms is our own voice – that soft and subtle sound that you wont catch on prime time television.

    While I am here I might as well labour the point. American R&B is one thing at an All African music award ceremony, but sportsman is another altogether. Yannick Noah may be a little better looking then the South African rugby boys – but he doesn’t sing any better and Senegal’s racing car driver Demba Dia is merely an imitation of the Ferari’s he would like to drive. And there were other crazy decisions. Can you see any comparison between Werrason and Miriam Makeba? Of course not – there are none except the Kora has them up against each other for best arrangement? You could never compare the musicality in Pata Pata to the mindless bum-groove Congolese zouk. But, you could compare Pata Pata to some of the original music on this continent. And you could compare Pata Pata to the incredible musicality of Rokia Traore. These are our musicians.

    “I don’t think we have made any incredible progress from the last edition. I think there will be incredible changes next year. You will see much more of the continent, much more categories. This year is largely about pop music and that is not what Africa is all about,” said chairman of the judging committee Wally Badarou.

    The Kora is bouncing rather uncertainly between these two camps – the big balls and budget pop music and the real and beautiful music. There are a variety of reasons for this, financial insecurity, the fear of collaboration, fearfully close relations with big labels and the definite xenophobia of the South African recording industry. And these may never change, however the kora has shown some direction. And that is exciting.

    Last year the event was politicised and boring – this year the event was a hoot – it was entertaining, organised, invigorating and it did have those momentary flashes of beauty. And that is where the longevity of this event lies.

    Please send us all your opinions and any suggestions for next year.

    Read An Interview with St Michael Zulu, Zambia’s first nominee and winner. He was voted by audience vote best African artist for 2001.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Dancing with the Diaspora: A journey to West Africa

    Dancing with the Diaspora:  A journey to West AfricaA journey to West Africa
    Dancing with the Diaspora
    by Struan Douglas

    Introduction to the concept and series:

    As Baaba Maal says, “I want people to see Africa in new eyes, to have a very positive interest of Africa, to know that it is not dead, it is always alive and people can give confidence to Africa. We have a lot of strong people who really want to do something, who really want to participate in the universal development, but deeply to help Africa to give the place that Africa needs to have.”

    And that’s what Dancing with the Diaspora is about – facilitating cultural exchange and the freeflow of music across the diaspora to explore its diverse and eclectic tradition, experience its rhythm and reconnect Africa with itself through music.

    African music is not so much an art or aesthetic, it is the essence and beauty of life – dancing with sound, subtlety and fury and striding rhythmically through the ceremonial spirits of the African people, across the disparate landscapes and fragmented history – from birth, initiation and marriage, to death.

    And through exciting travel across the diverse and descriptive landscapes, dancing with the diapsora is about – hanging with the musicians, learning about the politics, experiencing the difficulties, witnessing the struggle and sharing the information – all in the image of Africa.

    An afribeat.com initiative, the first part of Dancing with the Diaspora travelled the vibrant West of Africa a region with such an economic disparity and cultural opulence, regions known more for what they don’t have then what they do.

    From Dakar to Bamako

    A train line lies between two of West Africa’s greatest capitals, the filthy, fast, fickle and fantastical capital of Senegal, Dakar and the dusty, proud and stately capital of Mali, Bamako. It is a journey in excess of 1500 miles and 50 hours – dogged by the continual possibility of serious delay and theft and infected by the strenuous and soaring temperatures of the desert. But, it is an adventure across intriguing landscapes of vast distances, unmoving baobabs and antique villages with dignified inhabitants – and an adventure that through the contrasts, belies the fabulous cities that were my destinations.

    As the train rocked, hovered, rattled, broke down, rose and made its way to Bamako and as the hustle, beat and bustle of the city life of Dakar slowly began to fade into a landscape of exceptional austerity, my mind drifted back to that crazy city: the fresh and placid ocean, the wonderful tropical belt, the glorious French architecture, the city that sees no rest or respite.

    Panel beaten black and yellow taxis and marvellously conspicuous community busses congest the city centre hooting and hustling, whilst virtually incapacitated cripples and polio victims line some street corners like vultures relying on scraps as their only survival and traders prowl the others selling fruit, socks or bootleg cassettes as their only means. The desperation of the city hunches over the landscape – pointed, emaciated, unmoving, ominous and expecting.

    Amongst this economic underdevelopment and this visibly disturbing imagery however, there exists an elegant and beautiful underbelly, a sincere religious and moral development, a proud political democracy and a vivid and vibrant cultural development. As with any great beauty – the beauty of Senegal lies somewhat concealed, but when found – glorious.

    Up ahead the train tracks were broken and the train came to a stop somewhere near the border. Time passed slowly and constantly so I walked across to a nearby village. A few aged men dressed in the traditional flowing robes, dirtied from the dust and faded from the years of wear, sat smoking, staring. A man whistled quietly to himself, engaging occasionally in amiable interactions and then retreating into his world where only the melodic sound of his whistle was important.

    Music is everywhere: from the radios, taxis and street corners, to the modest homes and rural villages – the thick African atmosphere of tradition, and pride in culture is inherent – all in the image of the region.

    The crying, guttural and soaring voices of the Senegalese stars Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo, Omar Pene, reverberate across the impenetrable heat and harsh landscape, whilst the discordant circular rhythms reflect the raw and vivid expressions of the pain, tragedies and triumphs. Powerful drum beats encapsulate the strength and desire of the region and the delicate and intricate kora (traditional harp like instrument) echoes the breathtaking tradition and wonderful cultural beauty of this country – Senegal.

    For many hours and more miles we may have travelled through the scorched anguish of the blue skies, the repressive prevalence of the desert sands, amongst the grubby sweat of excessive temperatures and the painfully meditative chatter of the train – through regions of neither a sign of life nor a sign that life could exist, until unexpectedly a sand coloured kingly palace of rough and intricate Sudanese design rose out of the desert sands, like a baobab that had been growing there for thousands of years.

    Where the baobab had survived the draught, this building had survived the colonialism, communism and dictatorship that had paraded for many years before it. The incredible colour of culture and tradition has never faded and the people are still strong and hopeful. Life may be difficult, the region may be poor, but they are still full of cheer and pride – there is music and culture. This journey is part of Dancing with the Diaspora – an afribeat.com initiative – facilitating cultural exchange across Africa. With the greatest thanks to South African Airways.

    Our next column gets close and personal to Youssou N’Dour, Senegal’s most famous man, but a rather controversial one at that.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.


    Ethiopia’s Soaring Voice
    of Musical Regeneration

    Heruy Arefe-Aine writes from Addis Ababa on the voice that Ethiopians have called “Gift of God”, a voice that is inspiring Ethiopian musicians to new musical possibilities, and audiences to a new musical affinity.

    Before proceeding further, I should perhaps disclose that Gigi is a good friend of mine so I may be somewhat biased. Having said that, after discussing the album during recording / production with her, I expected a

    Click below for sound samples and a CD review

    different album than I received. After a brief initial disappointment, I was swiftly won over.

    The cause of my initial disappointment was because I was expecting a far more jazzy/’experimental’ sound as opposed to the (to me) very ‘Ethiopian’-sounding album I heard. However, after a slight readjustment, I found the album to be rich and rewarding on multiple levels.

    Some historical background may be necessary. Something people should know is that music in Ethiopia was crushed during the Derg regime. Curfews were imposed, driving most bands out of work as the clubs they played at were destroyed. Many musicians were imprisoned and many others either became unemployed or took up other professions. Live music died in Ethiopia for 20 years as the only available employment was in hotel bars and lounges, leading to a domination of Ethiopian music by synths & drum machines.

    What Gigi has done on her new album is bring back horn-sections, live bands, and a sense of experimentation that began during the era documented on the Ethiopiques CD-series, what I refer to as (if you’ll allow the phrase) “classic modern Ethiopian music.” By that I’m referring to Ethiopian music from the mid-60’s thru mid -70’s that kept an Ethiopian sensibility while incorporating stuff from a lot of different sources.

    When Gigi’s album was released here a few months ago, I fought with people who felt it was too ‘un-Ethiopian’ (pretty much everyone.) The usual comment was ‘alfanalech,’ which literally means ‘she’s passed us.’ While people didn’t hate the album, they just didn’t feel connected to it. Now, as I sit here, I hear Gigi spilling out of the bar across the street from me while the new Aster Aweke album (released a few weeks ago) is being compared by cabbies, bartenders, and waitresses to Gigi’s and found severely lacking.

    The most heartening thing to me is that every musician in Addis I’ve spoken to loves her album. Gigi has reawakened musicians here to the potentials inherent in our form of music and mutant recombinations thereof.

    Gigi currently carries a major burden. Many see her as the person who can change the current direction of Ethiopian music by taking it back to live instrumentation and experimentation. She is doing that at present, but it is a heavy burden to bear for one person. Most Ethiopian singers have no involvement in the album other than singing; and Gigi sings, writes, arranges and is pretty involved in production; because of that, fair or not, people expect more of her.

    Some biographical information
    Gigi grew up singing and loving music. However, singing is not a respected profession in Ethiopia, and so she ran away at age 18 to Kenya where she sang for a few years before returning to Addis. After a couple of years back home she toured Europe, where she did some songs on a French compilation of Ethiopian love songs, and then moved to the US, releasing her second album in ’99 (immediately being dubbed “Gift from God” in Addis Ababa.) She then did a couple of tracks on the Endurance soundtrack (one haunting a cappella piece there,) and after time was signed to Palm Pictures and hooked up with legendary producer/musician Bill Laswell. Which brings us up till now.

    So, the new album; I think it sounds gorgeous. I do love the album musically and don’t want to make it sound interesting for purely abstract reasons. There is a reason that Ethiopians gave her the name ‘Gift from God’; she has a beautiful voice. The album itself has great horns, funky arrangements, and of course some big names on the album. It includes jazz legends Herbie Hancock, Pharaoh Sanders, and Wayne Shorter; avant-jazz composer/musician/arranger Henry Threadgill; Karsh Kale a New York-based electronic musician who is linked to the Talvin Singh crew, and many others. Gigi is still not overpowered by this incredible list of musicians, which in itself, I think, makes a convincing argument about her inherent talent and strengths.

    It is an album of love songs. Songs that speak of her love for Ethiopia, and songs that explore various sentiments and stages in relationships. Passion infuses the album. The music is impeccably played and it is clear that a lot of time and effort went spent on production. My (relatively minor) quibbles are that on some songs the tendency in the rhythm tracks is to move towards too bland a global-fusion sound. I also wish that a wider range of instruments had been utilized, there is still too much of an emphasis on electronics for my taste. Iain Harris of afribeat had commented to me that he’d

    “…like to hear her voice soaring amongst more complex instrumentation, I find that Laswell’s production is tight but feel that there could be so much more texture. Her voice as an instrument is let down by the dreamy backdrop, she needs more punch behind her voice, more interplay between music and voice.”

    I agree with that assessment, and I love his choice of ‘texture’ to describe the sound. The album is very smooth, and I would have liked a slightly more rough or coarse effect to contrast and complement Gigi’s voice. I wanted to hear more, for lack of a better word, organic instruments. I loved the use of the accordion, (once a relatively common instrument in Ethiopian bands) and Karsh Kale’s tabla additions to the album, and I wanted more of that experimentation. I wanted to hear Mongo Santamaria, or Babatunde Olatunji style percussion, or explorations of the Malian/Ethiopian musical connections. I wanted… but then, I listen to the album and find myself being swept away by the melodies, by the funky horns, by Gigi’s voice, I find it hard to take the disc out of my CD player, and keep being reminded that, without a doubt, this is the best, and most important, Ethiopian album in decades. Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    So What Is Jazz?

    So What Is Jazz?So What Is Jazz?
    by Struan Douglas

    In a few years as a jazz journalist I have heard many different definitions of what exactly jazz is, and throughout I have always found the colloquial definitions the most interesting as music is best heard and not described and colloquialisms get the closest to that.

    ‘There was once an old blues guitarist who played every day on the streets of New York these beautiful riffs and melodies.’ When somebody asked him what he was playing, he said in his drawl, ‘it’s juss music.’ And this was mis-interpreted as jazz music, thus referring to the spontaneity, freedom, and experimentation that jazz embodies.

    ‘To jazz means to have sex with someone’ another musician once said. And again the term was coined, suggesting the incredible intimacy and communication that passes between the musicians on stage.

    Another musician from Cape Town in the 50’s once said that jazz began when early one morning, a women, let out a wild and loud wail. And it was from this point that the music evolved into jazz. Hence the expression, the impulsive sentiment and surprise in the music.

    I think jazz is all of this and I believe it started when some women, somewhere was talking with some guy somewhere who was playing some instrument. She started singing, he carried on playing and together they began to share such a wonderful space of personal intimacy through this fresh music that they had created that they just carried on jamming, letting out all their expressions and emotions. They never took their clothes off, they didn’t need to, this communication was better than sex. So they called it jazz.

    And from there this musically expressive form of sex – jazz evolved through different societal impressions and impersonations to create a vivid sound based on its very evolution.

    Change, surprise, expression and spontaneity are the most important constants in jazz. And as a result, we have a variety of different styles, expressions and identities that have developed out of it. And most of all we have the incredible pleasure that jazz gives us through the communication it inspires.

    What then is South African Jazz?

    Click here for a full historical perspective of what South African jazz rose out of the environment, the circumstances, the musical influences and the ideology.

    All such influences are central to exactly how jazz develops, however in a country like South Africa with a vast diversity of indigenous music?s, all those genres somehow get incorporated. A quick run-down of a few styles that have all effected jazz in this country.

    South African three-chord township music of the 1930s-1960s. Through the influences of particularly American jazz this evolved into “African Jazz”.

    South African pennywhistle music, it is light, fun and repetitive.

    A South African term for popular music. The music is best recognised by its structured dance format.

    A music first developed by the Zulu?s in Natal, this music is all about the repetitive rhythms and the use of voice as an instrument over it.

    Traditional Zulu call-and-response a cappella choral music.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Louis Moholo – Avant-garde drum pioneer

    Louis Moholo
    Avant-garde drum pioneer

    By Struan Douglas

    A pioneer of avant-garde, a soldier of expression and still a fighter for freedom. Great South African drummer – Louis Moholo – returned to Langa for a brief holiday break. Struan Douglas caught up with him.

    I had never met Louis Moholo, but only heard those vivid Brotherhood of Breath recordings, seen the expressive anger in the seminal photographs Basil Breakey caught in Athlone and listened to the countless European musicians gushing about his performances. He?s always been something of an icon, but a rather enigmatic icon as he was forced into self-imposed exile and has thus found it to difficult to return.

    “It’s fantastic, I really have a good time. People like me hear, my friends are hear. This is my beginning, this is my end. This is my home here,” he said, sitting in the doorway of his Langa home wearing a large green veldt Stetson and black waist-coat (the type a photographer would wear). His silk shirt hung unbuttoned to his belly button, whilst around his neck on a piece of leather hung a long animal tooth – probably of a hippo. He placed a CD in the player – and left it to play. At first only silence. Somehow it didn’t even need to play to know what it was about. To know Louis Moholo is to know his music. I didn’t know him, however to see him, to intuit his strength, his motivation indicated the intensity of his sound.

    Out of the silence, a dramatic frenetic series of cymbal thrashes broke, before the calming sanctity of a piano riff rose. More silence, a guitar – scratching, strumming, grinding over a drum beat that knows no time, a drum beat that seems beyond time. I can?t hear the melody, I hear the rhythm I feel… “feel my heart beating,” Says Louis. “This kicks my ass – this is what keeps me going.? The music builds and falls, never soothing, never relaxing, its chaotic. “I am a soldier by nature – I like to put up a fight. That’s where the music took me – to fight to be on top, to stay on top.” The music continues to play, with the bass storming up and down the scales in a bebop fashion and the saxophone screeching, breathing, stopping and playing again as if warming up. As if saying something really intelligent, but very important.

    The Berlin Wall, Apartheid, civil rights, the list of oppressive structures could go on and that?s what these musicians were reacting to, shouting out against with serious and expressive jazz. Even though there were parallel streams of avant-garde jazz in the America’s at the same time Louis Moholo was one of the pioneering musicians of avant-garde jazz music – an expressive movement building on the desperate need for a world-wide assertion of freedom and the right to live beyond rules.

    “We were fighting on all cylinders. Everyone was changing to the avant-garde all over the place. It was a whole bunch of new stuff starting to bloom up. It was fashionable and intellectual. Oh yes sir and we enjoyed it. We break all the rules,” tells Louis. “We are not considering anymore to be conventional. We drop that and play what the heart says and we are quite a brotherhood of breath in what we are doing. It is a whole kind of heavenly music – it is so beautiful.”

    The Brotherhood of Breath was where this avant-garde started for Louis. After an extended tour of Argentina with bassist Johnny Dyani, they returned to England. Chris Macgregor had been playing with the existing members of the Blue Notes, Mongezi Feza and Dudu Pukwana. Louis and Johnny immediately joined them and, “it started to make sense,” tells Louis. “We were hot then. We were not messing around man. We were kicking and it hit – the people loved it. Yeah. Chris started to write – then I started to tell Chris you better be serious because this music is out bra, and he said ‘Louis, just thinking the same thing,’ so we formed the band straight away.”

    Since then all the other core members of South Africa’s greatest musical outfit in exile have past away, but Louis is continuing the expression, the power, the aggression of the avant-garde music. He is heading up a 23 piece big band called the Dedication Orchestra, playing rearranged classics from the Brotherhood of Breath and featuring a variety of famous European musicians.

    Liatening to some of these recordings I have become overwhelmed at how avant-garde the music music has become. Whilst the vocals flirt up and down the scale like a drunk opera singer, the piano bashes out a few notes and the drums go mad in incoherence. Is that true spontaneity?

    It sounds pretty spontaneous to me, however it does remind me of my old philosophy tutor. He used to take reasonable quantities of drugs on campus and then jump around doing rather peculiar manoeuvres all in the interest of proving to himself that he had the ability to act freely and spontaneously. It doesn’t take a philosophy graduate to notice the blatant irony in that. However is that where avant-garde music of the day is? Contrived. Is it still relevant and an expression that didn’t fall with the great wall?

    Louis is convinced that the form is still real, still relevant. “There’s a fight still burning inside. Lets face it the world is not right at the moment,” he says citing a variety of tragedies, wars and epidemics happening across the globe as the music dances and daints with a furious unpredictability. “As I am, I am a rebel – it hurts me. All these tragedies are an influence to us – it hurts. We apply this in a music form because that is all we know. Some like it hot, some like it cold – its one of the same thing.”

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Euro-Crash: A city fit for kittens

    Euro-Crash: A city fit for kittensA city fit for kittens
    by Struan Douglas

    ‘Why does the chicken cross the road?’ we used to joke as irritating children. But, why indeed does the Copenhagen cross the road I thought as a bevy of patently exact people huddled with silent irritation on a deserted road. No car for ten miles, perhaps a car never crossed that road, however they dare not walk. Surely not. There focus is not on destination, it is on process and instruction. They cross the road because the green robot tells them so!

    As instructive a society Copenhagen is, it is astoundingly beautiful, boasting one of the few architectural landscapes never destroyed in the war, surrounded by a delightfully clear canal. Jobs are good, money is abundant, virtues are solid and the suicide rate is the highest in the world.

    And that has got nothing to do with the jazz tradition in Copenhagen. In fact for a place so developed, culture has not suffered – jazz music is everywhere. It is not really an authentic culture, but a tradition developed from the great American players of the Sixties, like Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster who took refuge in Copenhagen and created that environment. And their souls live on through a lot of the people.

    Jazz clubs and tents scatter the tiny city, massive collections of bicycles mark the spot and bars bloat with an abundance of beer on tap. Bebop, straight ahead and avant-garde: there may not be much dancing, but there’s a lot of head-nodding. Cycling between events, collecting friends, watching mid-day heat disappear into late night sun, drinking beer, socialising generously, hugging, listening to jazz and drinking beer to the morbid arrival of the morning sun – the Copenhagen jazz festival is a lot of fun and festivity: slightly more sophisticated than a university piss-up, and a little less than a clubbers’ debauchery – and that’s where the music sits as well, rather precious and too precise.

    “In Copenhagen we have excellent session musicians, but beyond that there is very little,” said one of the top Danish musicians to me in honest but derogatory private. The standard of jazz is extraordinary – the guys are playing – some are really building on what they have learnt, pushing the sound in a vivid avant-garde and Nordic direction, like Jacob Dineson, Jonas Johannsen and Hans Ulrik. But generally it is all too clever, all to forced, a little self-indulged and quite bland.

    This is partly to do with Copenhagen’s broadband equality and the states generous involvement in uplifting the music scene, distorting that baseline ambition that drives jazz – but I believe it is mainly to do with the real educative approach to jazz music. They all go to college, they all master their instrument. “And some people don’t get beyond that,” says songstress Susi Hyldgaard, “leave the tradition and get their own sound”, as Jacob Dineson says, “they just get very good at the skill of playing.”

    I began to feel quite numbed by this restrictive world, so the next morning I risked everything and took a walk into the centre of town. I marched past Copenhagen’s dangerously touristy Disneyland called Tivoli, I jay-walked despite ceaseless abuse from fellow pedestrians and taxi-drivers. I waved at Copenhagen’s most authentic tradition – hot-dog stands, I talked briefly to the cities greatest tourist attraction – a homeless man with a drum and I arrived at a little book store where outside a mannequins legs stuck vertically from a pile of books.

    It was ten in the morning and a suitably peculiar site to make an entrance on. The owner was a marvellously charismatic looking fellow – with those wild Carlo Mombelli-ish good looks – and in a rough, rasping, Danish and descriptive voice he asked, “is it too early for a beer?” Having quit only a few hours before I duly accepted and we began to talk.

    “I don’t listen to European jazz, when I do, I find it boring so I just forget about it,” he said as he pointed out his unique collection of books all titled by the letters of the alphabet. His name was Lars Rassmussan – a man, who lived and laughed by the philosophy of life – “there are two things in life – beers and books.”

    “It all started with Abdullah Ibrahim in 1972,” he continued. “I went to a concert here at the old Jazzhouse. They played so well – there is such a tension, such an anger in the music. I am not really into jazz, but I was fascinated.”

    So fascinated was he that he published two books on South African Jazz – on Abdullah and Sathima Bea Benjamin – and has launched a series, commencing around Christmas with a book on Johnny Dyani.

    “The youth should know where their music comes from, it shouldn’t be like here where they think Michael Jackson invented music. And that is the story about South African jazz music,” he says. “It hasn’t been written yet.”

    As we listened to some classic unreleased South African jazz recordings that Lars had, and chuckled at his immersion and dedication to a music scene he had hardly visited – I began to realise the striking contrast this rough and vivid sound created against the perfectly enjoyable European experience that had just passed before me, something Lars had been so exposed to and had realised many years before.

    for helping make this Afribeat.com ‘Euro-crash’ initiative possible.
    Check out the site for those great contemporary Danish recordings spoken about or Lars’s books.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Cheikh Lô

    Cheikh LôThe New Voice of Senegal
    Cheikh Lô
    by Struan Douglas

    “Me, I want to play every music. I want to travel, I want to discover every type of music… All this rhythm is Africa – it is the change of the name. I can feel the rhythm. I feel the rhythm. I know the rhythm is Africa. Today the rhythm is universal,” says Cheikh Lo in the charismatic expression that marks his music.

    It was a typically dusty, dirty and insipidly hot day in Dakar and I had taken a cab out into the suburbs where Cheikh Lo lived. As was accustomed, our directions were poor and we relied again on street knowledge for our survival. After much pointing, animated explaining and sandy U-turns we arrived at his home.

    “Me, I want to play every music. I want to travel, I want to discover every type of music.”

    A picture of his tiny son poised behind a massive drum kit hung on the faded back wall of the lounge, another of the prophet Cheikh Ibra Fall, of the Baye Fall, hung adoringly framed on the opposite wall. Cheikh was in and amongst all of this, frenetically co-ordinating tours, talking on the ‘phone and shouting over the traditional Senegalese music blaring out of the sound system which sat in the corner of the room in a small oak cabinet, like a shrine surrounded by a few freshly picked flowers and a fascinating collection of disks.

    “Me, I want to play every music. I want to travel, I want to discover every type of music. If you do that, you build one music, you create one music – because you can take here, take here, take here,” he says.

    His music is just like that – a little bit of everything, Latin, Cuban, African and mbalax – but it comes together in a sound that is fresh, funky, vibrant. Beating tama-tamas thrash out the chaotic mbalax rhythm, funky basslines, Zairean Rumba and Cuban grooves together with that West African meets reggae back-beat to create an infinitely fashionable dance step, whilst his soaring voice conquers the frenzied emotions of his region. His mix is a unique and beautiful world music mix – a true African voice.

    “Musicians must listen to other musicians to learn what to do and gain influences. Latin music influenced me as a little boy. Latin music is from Africa. My buzz musically is mbalax, but I listen to all music because I am curious – French music, American music, Cuban music, English music. Every music is Africa.”

    Cheikh Lo expresses this “every music” with an intimate spirituality, so much a part of Senegal. Walking down the crazy hustle of Dakar’s streets, you are faced with the daily spirituality of the Muslim presence. During Friday lunch hours the streets are lined with people in beautiful flowing African robes – bent over in prayer. There is a small sect of people who hang outside a dingy yet tasty Lebanese take-away called Ado’s. They dance about with long dreads and Rastafarian iconography, very happy, very relaxed and tolerant – begging for their money. Occasionally, I gave them a little, occasionally I ignored them, but they were always friendly. They are the black Muslims, a small group in Senegal called the Baye Fall.

    “I’m a Baye Fall – the first disciple of Cheikh Amadou Bab,” says Cheikh.

    “He is the founder of the big temple in Tuba – he put the dreadlocks. If the Rastas came one day to Africa they will know their grandfather is a Baye Fall, because you are the same, the looks in Senegal and Jamaica.”

    It is not that easy standing out in a conservative country. Lo lost his job playing in the house band at a local hotel for his dreads, and more than a few questions were raised amongst the locals about his ways. Happily, Senegal is very tolerant – people may not agree with his ways, but his intentions are good and that is the main thing.

    “The conflict between all people aren’t Baye Fall. Today if you see the Arabic it is war war war. Everyday on the TV I see Arafat with the military, every year – how many years he do the war – he don’t stop the war. Mohammed is spiritual – he tells everybody – Arabian love – love your brother. The Bible say not war, love. The Q’uran say not war, love. Everywhere in the world say the same: not war, peace and love. Yes,” he sighs in an exaggerated pleasure of the basic simplicity of where religions meet. This is what Cheikh is about – telling the reality, honestly. Fighting the good cause sincerely.

    As a result of this drive, he has made it to the top, and has become one of the West African artists to watch out for. He sits at the foot of a career poised to make a massive impression on the music market.

    After trying to cut it in France and playing as a session musician for many years, Youssou N’Dour recognised Lo’s talent and immediately made a cassette with him – “Doxandeme”, which won him Dakar’s Nouveau Talent Award. His first full length album was recorded five years later at Youssou’s extravagant Xippi Studio in Dakar: “Ne La Thiass”.

    In 1997 he won Best Newcomer at the Kora All Africa Music Awards, and in 1999 he received the prestigious Ordre National de Merit de Leon from the President of Senegal.

    Now, Lo has a new release, “Bambay Gueej”, a beautiful hybrid from all over the world – essentially African and rooted in Senegal, the place he gains his inspiration from and the home he is loyal to.

    “Everybody has this problem to live somewhere. I never want to go to live in Paris, England or anywhere. I want to live in Senegal because I know if you have peace, you have good in Senegal. The system is not closed – you are free.” “In Europe you can’t bring some money for the poor town. One moment you are there, then it is two years, three years you can’t come back. You are nothing. You drink alcohol,” he repeats with disgusted animation, “you have old women – what life do you have. Go home, go in your home man, there is a lot of jobs to do there, to build here in Africa.”
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    Bonga Kwenda

    Check out Bonga’s latest release Mulemba Xangola…

    Bonga Kwenda

    A national icon, an international star, and a performer whose energy, warmth and respect for both audience and fellow musicians is entirely compelling. Watching Bonga perform creates a real sense of affinity to the man, his music and the nation he sings about with such raw pain and immense joy.

    Born Barceló de Carvalho in 1942, Bonga has phased through many areas of stardom and struggle to become one of Africa’s powerful voices of consciousness. Music, sport and politics were always inextricably linked for the young Bonga. It was in the ’60s that Bonga’s musical career began with the group Kissueia, winning popularity amongst the student community for challenging lyrics addressing the country’s critical social issues. As a young star athlete, he set a ten year long world-class 400 meter record and later became a major football icon as part of the great Benfica (Lisbon) football team of the 1960s. His sporting stardom afforded him movement between Europe and Angola that were not afforded regular citizens at the time, and he used to carry messages between exiled freedom fighters and compatriots still in Angola. It also provided him the opportunity to use his music as a further means of opposing the colonial powers, an activity that eventually forced him into exile as the independence movement intensified and he came to prominence as the face behind key pro-independence songs.

    Since the ’70s, Bonga has been the Angolan ambassador to the world of Afropop. In 1972, he left Lisbon to protest the colonial war in Angola, settling in Rotterdam where he recorded his first album, Angola 72. His subversive lyrics earned him an arrest warrant and a nomadic lifestyle that bounced him between Belgium, Germany and France until independence was declared in 1975.

    Bonga’s voice has been a true voice of revolution – a voice against the tyranny of both the Portuguese colonisers, and, post-independence, the warring MPLA and UNITA parties that continue to fight for control of the country.

    Even though he remains based between Paris and Lisbon, infrequently returning home for peace concerts, his voice is one of the most popular and acclaimed in Angola. Alongside Paulo Flores and others, Bonga is an icon for peace and for music excellence, constantly reinventing and refreshing himself. His samba, semba and kizomba inspired music has unusually broad appeal, listened to by all age groups and danced to at parties at home and in all the clubs.
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    North Sea Jazz Festival

    North Sea Jazz FestivalWith Jesus singing and God on the drums,
    How Can You Go Wrong?
    by Struan Douglas

    ‘With Jesus singing and God on the drums, how can you go wrong?’ asked a friend of latin music geniuses Cubanismo.

    As good as Jesus Alemany (lead trumpeter and singer of the band) is, if God was a singer, surely he would be Buena Vista social club lead Ibrahim Ferrer? What if he was a piano player? Ruben Gonzales perhaps or McCoy Tyner. If God had great fingers he would be Pat Metheny and if he sang the Blues, B.B. King. If the godfather was a funkster he would of course be Maceo Parker, and if he was a smooth cat, Al Jarreau or George Benson. Then there is the ghetto god, DeAngelo and the more than angelic powers of trumpeters Wanton Marsalis and Roy Hargroves.

    These are only a few of the many deities of jazz related music, male or female, mortal, immortal, living or dead who have graced the North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haige (Holland) over the last twenty five years. It’s the greatest meeting place for the greatest names in music to not only catch up on a cultural level but socially and commercially as well.

    And when the popes are hanging, jamming and preaching – the groupies, the fans, the believers and the curious have got to be there – and they were. In fact a capacity crowd of 70,000 over the three days, squashed, pushed and squeezed their way into the massive monolith of a congress building, housing the 16 stages of the worlds largest jazz festival. It was just as well that Mary gave birth in Bethlehem, because if she was in Den Haige over the period of the NSJ, there would have been absolutely no room in any inn, hotel or brothel – and then where would have Jesus been singing?

    And as a result, the festival becomes a bunfight, often becoming as nebulous as Sunday afternoons trainspotting. The friendly, relaxed and compassionate atmosphere a festival is meant to inspire is replaced by the driving and frenetic hustle of those ticking of names in their birdbook, names that they may have little affinity to other than years of media indigestion.

    Everybody in the audience would have heard of Tony Bennett and Al Jarreau. B.B. King needs no introduction. Diana Krall gets shoved down there throats all day on TV, whilst Buena Vista Social Club has moved into just about every white suburban CD player. And that’s what the NSJ brings you – the names that will bring the biggest crowds, together over a short period of time, little hassle, little fuss – bring your car and park it, it is the perfect place for you to shop.

    How would a hungry child react if you popped a dollop of mustard in its baby-food? I am not completely sure, nor I am advocating the activity, but risk, pushing boundaries and surprise are essential elements of jazz music – elements that the festival largely ignored. (There was a stage dedicated to unknown Dutch acts and another for the IAJE development bands – but they were unfortunately hidden and the major focus remained on the major acts).

    Of the South African guys, Moses Molelekwa and Jimmy Dludlu were superb (contravening popular belief), that local music is no more inferior than those big international names. Both played to full houses, standing ovations and fabulous responses. But for the rest of Africa it was Youssou N’Dour again. Perhaps because of international success through high-calibre collaborations and a more universal and poppier sound he remains the one West African act out of a massive sea of extraordinary talent who is continually booked!

    All said, it can not be denied that the festival is a hugely positive event for Holland and the world in that it exposes people of a variety of ages to a variety of music forms. It brings stars into the country and injects interest into the music industry, but for the Dutch musicians, I remain unsure on the effect it is having, whether it is inspiring or throttling growth, whether it is showcasing European talent on the same stage as America talent or whether the local musicians are being sold out to something of a jazz cultural imperialism?

    And the answer to this, we can never know and we probably never need know, as these things seem to work in a cycle. A little like the Grahamstown festival has taken 25 years to wax from genuine artistic expression to straight commercialism and wane to pretty unpopular – perhaps the fact that the NSJ is loosing a little integrity and exceeding its audience is opening the space for another grass-roots festival and expression to begin. And perhaps South Africa’s own version of it, with its own integrity is the future.

    for flying Struan Douglas to the festival.

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    Miriam Makeba – Reflections

    Miriam MakebaMiriam Makeba
    (Heads Up – 2004)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Reflections blends the style, rhythmic charisma and individuality of the great Miriam Makeba on thirteen classic tracks. Included here is her highly successful “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song” in addition to several songs sung in many other languages including her native Xhosa, French, and Portuguese! Joined by some of South Africa’s most stellar artists, Ms. Makeba sings with the passion and fervor of her youth. Most notable is “African Convention,” an upbeat Afro-groove written by ex-husband Hugh Makela, and “Love Tastes Like Strawberries” a pensive ballad from the 60s.

    Her expressive bending of pitches (often heard in modern jazz as a hybrid of the so-called “blue note”) has been retained here and the tonal system of African music can be appreciated further especially since the tonal quality and melodic style of African singing ultimately had some impact on jazz, whether sung or played. Memories of her years in exile surface on “I Shall Sing,” and you can literally feel her pain on “Quit It” a song with an anti-drug message which was composed by her late daughter. Miriam Makeba is back on solid ground and sounding better than ever. Reflections is just in time to celebrate the historic ten-year anniversary of the end of apartheid.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Moses Khumalo

    Moses KhumaloAn Interview With
    Moses Khumalo
    by Iain Harris

    Moses is the brilliant young sax player whose flair and voice made him a fixture in the late Moses Molelekwa’s band. I first met Moses when he was fifteen. The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism was hosting an innovative radio documentary course, and had invited Finnish Radio’s Harry Huhtamaki to lead it. It was a course essentially on making audio films, and a whole bunch of musicians had been invited to work with a team of directors and technicians to score what would be a one hour documentary. Saxophonist McCoy Mrubatha (Sheer Sound artist with two albums) was in the mix, so was bassist Concord Nkabinde (Family Factory and regular session muso with, amongst others, Paul Hanmer and Ernie Smith). Moses was still at school and studying music at FUBA.

    Already at fifteen he had a sound that perked the ears of McCoy, at that point a quickly rising star on the scene. It’s a massive statement on his skill that as a very young and completely unknown professional on the competitive scene Moses was invited to play in Moses Molelewa’s band, one that would become one of the most popular, progressive and brilliantly innovative groups in the country.

    Since the death of Moses Molelekwa, Moses has quickly forged an innovative identity as an artist in his own right, lighting the Joburg scene with his energy and commitment to expression and exploration. He’s due to record an album with Sheer Sound next year. Look out for all the information and updates here on afribeat. And see below for a recent interview with Moses.

    An interview with Moses Khumalo, Melville, September 2001

    Growing up…

    “I was born in Meadowlands. My family is a singing family. We sang church songs. When I was 8 I started checking the piano, but there were too many people playing piano so I switched to saxophone.”

    Making a break…

    “I heard a lot of jazz. I joined the ‘Soweto Jazz orchestra’, which toured locally and internationally and we even did a gig in West Africa. But when that disbanded I started jamming at a club next door to our school. Whilst I was at school I met Moses (Molelekwa) at Kippies and we jammed Mannenberg. He phoned me that week for a gig and I started playing with him regularly.”

    Moses Molelekwa…

    “Moses believed in every type of music. All his songs were different. They were never the same. We have to be versatile. I am still questioning about his death. He was a very spiritual person. He had a free and gentle spirit. I am really crying for his beautiful soul. I spend some sad times and ask why, what went wrong? It is still a shock to me, I really wish I was there. He was at the peak of his life. He had just opened up a company for the artists.”

    The difficulties of the industry…

    “It is frustrating in this industry. Promoters can really sadden your heart. Critics can really sadden your heart. People don’t appreciate what the next person is doing. We are not together. No proper unions. We need to better the whole industry. People don’t get happy in the community when you succeed. They look at you as the person you are not. And the media only concedes a person once they are dead. If someone has a project we should all push it. There are so many musos out there who don’t have jobs. The jam sessions are there for them. It is about the community, we are developing something for the community. When I turn on the radio could I hear at least 50% of our own music?”

    Jazz for today?…

    “I am seeing development in our music to a certain style that can accommodate youth. It’s getting to a point where everyone is enjoying jazz. I just see people trying to express themselves, to explain what they feel. Jazz is food for life it sells forever. We are still listening to stuff that was composed 100 years ago. Kwaito is gone in one month. This is something that must change. People should start respecting and realising the importance of the music. Our history is very important. I try and check out the history of our people.”

    A new era, with or without distraction?…

    “I really practice a lot, music is my career. I refrain from those things and spend time on the music. And it is for me to pass that information onto the youngsters. And I must make them feel important. We have to care and be one and try and better this industry. Assist each other, like in the olden days. It is about time for us as young artists to change the whole industry. Building the persons spirit – not destroying it by criticising. Respect.”
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    Ubuyile – Jazz comes home

    Jazz comes home

    By Gwen Ansell

    “Jazz music will never die,” affirms trumpeter Johnny Mekoa, “because it’s the people’s music and you can’t keep it down.”

    Perhaps only in the US and South Africa has jazz ever had that popular character. It was one of the common strands inspiring the 8-part radio series “Ubuyile/Jazz Coming Home”, that ABC Ulwazi commissioned me to script and produce.

    ABC Ulwazi trains community radio broadcasters and produces a wide variety of educational and developmental radio programmes, which it distributes to community radio stations. As part of this programme it is building up a Living History sound archive of the diverse memories and experiences of the older generation of South Africans. It had long wanted to add a history of South African jazz, with its musical memories, to the Archive. The Ford Foundation was particularly interested in exploring the cultural common ground between New World jazz and the music of Africa.”

    So the project came together: a hundred years of musical and social history, starting with the arrival of African music on American shores in the slave ships and ending with the fall of apartheid. It was to run in eight 20-miute episodes and be distributed on CD for the stations to flight.

    At that stage, back in March, I and interviewer/ narrator colleague Peter Makurube, didn’t realise what a huge mouthful we’d bitten off. Our first programme, for example, covered the tail-end of the Nineteenth Century. Where was our live audio to come from? That programme went through three versions as we moved from academic description to voiced excerpts from the historical record, laced with traditional music from Burkina Faso and Mali. We knew, even before the ethnomusicologists told us, that we could never re-create the authentic sounds of New Orleans’ Congo Square; we settled, rather, for painting a sound-mood that reflected what the historical record described. And the imagination of some of our interviewees produced other inspired re-creations. Hugh Masekela, for example, crediting Louis Armstrong the cultural moderniser. “Hey, I’ll always say if it wasn’t for Satch we’d still be walking round in powdered wigs and stuff, talking like ‘I say theah old chap’!”

    Serendipity was a great force in the programme. Entrepreneur Lucky Michaels reminisced about the political role his Pelican Nightclub had played as a meeting place during the Soweto uprising. In separate interview three months later, saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu revealed that he’d been rehearsing in that very club on the afternoon of June 16 and had had to drive family members across town in the wake of the terrible shootings. Such detail wasn’t in the published biographies of these figures, but time and again it provided our sound links.

    But making the programme had its sad moments too. The jazz life is hard: many older-generation musicians we’d have loved to talk to were already dead. One, Mike Makhalemele, passed away the week before we were scheduled to interview him. And those who’d lived through the harsh years of apartheid when their talent was exploited and their cultural identity suppressed often found the interview process painful, as old memories boiled to the surface. It reminded us, too, of how a fickle public quickly forgets its artists. General Duze, the best guitarist of his generation, now sits in an old people’s home in Soweto with, as he wryly reflects “nothing to do but watch the birds fly and the ants getting ready for winter.”

    For me, the biggest historical discovery was of how direct the link was between today’s South African jazz renaissance and the period of the Cultural Boycott against apartheid declared in 1982. Artist after artist – even those who had disagreed with the politics of the boycott – told us: it wasn’t comfortable, but it made us look inwards at the music we had here and treasure it. Most credited their own current originality to that introspection.

    In the end, we talked to 57 artists and other cultural figures. We had our programmes – but we also realised how many other narratives our eight episodes had not told. In particular, the rich stories of the jazz centres outside Johannesburg: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and the great “little jazz city” of Queenstown, needed far more time than our broad outline survey could provide. So there will be more research and – we hope – more programmes. And we hope that other researchers will use the sound archive. Not only for what it has to say about music, for it also reflects on fashion, movies and a whole range of other cultural concerns.

    For us, the nicest surprise is the interest the series has sparked outside community radio. Almost everyone who’s encountered it has said they’d like to own a copy. That holds out the hope that broader publication could fund expanded work on the cultural aspects of the Living History project. That’s still in the future. For today, we have 160 minutes of sound that honour the part jazz artists played in building our new society – and introduce listeners to some damn fine music along the way.

    To find out more about Ubuyile – Jazz coming home, email Gwen Ansell sisgwen@iafrica.com

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    Andy Narell – Live in South Africa

    Live in South Africa
    Andy Narell
    by John Barrett

    Andy Narell was amazed he had a huge following in South Africa, a country where he had never set foot. (In Soweto, there’s even a jazz club named in his honor.) When he had the chance to tour there, he assembled a group of African musicians, and played before crowds who sang along as he played. You expect that with rock stars, not steel drummers. Then again, this is far from your typical fare.

    Andy doesn’t “clobber” his instrument – the notes come softly, with the ring of a vibraphone. On many tunes he sits back, allowing the guitars and keyboards to speak up. Andile Yenana has a strong piano, driving firm notes on “Play One for Keith” – Andy glimmers behind, in a charming effect. The slightly Brazilian theme of “Kalinda” is stated calmly, while guitars comment from each speaker. (Louis Mhlanga is joyous, with a good springy tone.) “Jenny’s Room” is furnished with a big bass (Danny Lalouette) and a tiny bit of steel; “Hannibal’s Revenge” is more aggressive, descending with a strength that grows on you. After three minutes Andy drops out, and the other drummers converse – it’s earthy, and the heat keeps rising. If you need a vacation, this is it.

    The crowd here is large, reacting loudly to every solo, clearly familiar with Andy’s music. (If only we had such crowds in America!) Narell sounds like an organ as he purrs through “Sugar Street”; Mhlanga is especially sweet on his solo. Catch the lengthy quote of “The Peanut Vendor” near the end. “Chakalaka” (from Andy’s last album Fire in the Engine Room) features Yenana on the Fender Rhodes, and a nice stretch of calypso. The crowd eats it up … and they sit still for “Heads or Tails”, a nervy theme unlike what we’ve heard so far. With a 6/4 meter, Narell states a skeletal theme, and Mhlanga does the rest. The encore, “Oxamu”, finds Andy bopping between two notes (even chording in places) and a guitar swinging behind him. It slowly fades like the coals from a fire – but the heat remains, and it’s infectious.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

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    South African jazz history

    Dolly Rathebe

    Bebop and beyond the blues
    South African jazz history

    By Iain Harris and Struan Douglas

    “Jazz is a music which has its roots in a life of insecurity, in which a single moment of self-realisation, of love, light and movement, is extraordinarily more important than a whole lifetime. From a situation in which violence is endemic, where a man escapes a police bullet only to be cut down by a knife-happy African thug, has come an ebullient sound more intuitive than any outside the US of what jazz is supposed to celebrate – the moment of love, lust, bravery, incense, fruition, and all those vivid dancing good times of the body when the now is maybe all there is.”

    Lewis Nkosi, journalist, in Jazz in Exile, 1966

    “Sophiatown was a very beautiful place. There was music everywhere, flowing out of every house, from every corner and every shebeen. Rhythm was the unsaid word. There was mbaqanga, marabi, kwela jive, and on Sundays the gospel choirs marched down Toby street singing, and we always joined them. And then there was jazz at night. We used to go to `Sis Petty’s shebeen and watch the Jazz Maniacs and listen to recorded American jazzmen. Inside it was packed, you wouldn’t be able to move. But when the jazz came on, those bodies made space. Nobody would be standing still. Outside, `Sis Petty’s kids would be watching for the police, but the jazz was so good they would keep on coming inside. `Sis Petty would have to chase them out, and the men would carry on drinking as much as they could as quickly as they could, just in case the police arrived. Everybody used to meet there, musicians, artists, intellectuals, writers, politicians and boozers. And all of us, the young aspirants, were growing up in this cultural explosion, even Felicia [Mabuza Suttle]!”

    And where there was black urban culture, there was jazz.

    Singing icon Thandi Klassens’ story is one of many from the racy, vibrant and seemingly indestructible Sophiatown of the early fifties. Along with Langa, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Sophiatown was a place where black urban culture was erupting. And where there was black urban culture, there was jazz. And everybody wanted a piece of it.

    All over the country, people tuned into Voice of America to hear what was hip. For a while, it was the big band sounds of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. But when bebop came, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were all over the radio, everywhere. The white musicians who’d been to America spread the sound, magazines talked about it, and you could by it from the avant-garde record stores or American sailors who often docked on our shores. Pianist ‘Dollar’ Brand (who later changed his name to Abdullah Ibrahim) got his nickname because he always had a dollar in his pocket in case he came across one of these jazz records. City life was very impressed by bebop and its hip style and happening jazzmen. Twotone shoes, Stetsons, Buicks, Chevys and suits were the image, and the gents were impeccably dressed and smoothly mannered, for the chicks, the bebop and the fun of it.

    And in the blazen path set by the American cats, South African jazz developed, emerging out of a similar socio-cultural oppression, as a healing and transformative tool. Uniting the two suppressive streams into a form of music that had the expression of its roots, but with a unique African flavour.

    Twotone shoes, Stetsons, Buicks, Chevys and suits were the image… for the chicks, the bebop and the fun of it.

    One of the great pioneers was Cape Town’s Chris Macgregor. He was studying at the University of Cape Town, but his interest was in what the black musicians were doing. He was energetic and enthusiastic, always practicing and composing, and defying ‘illegal gathering’ laws in order to meet and play with the musicians he wanted to. And that’s how the Blue Notes came together. Chris often went to The Vortex jazz club in Long Street, a popular venue where musicians jammed together. Dudu Pukwana was the regular pianist, he’d rehearse during the day, perform at nights and sleep in the basement. Chris and him talked about getting a band together, but they were both piano
    players. Dudu, however, had always wanted to play sax, so they hired one and the Blue Notes took off.

    The Jazz Epistles – Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi.

    At the same time, the Jo’berg scene was being set alight by Kippie Moeketsi, who modelled himself on the erratic, hip and stylish Charlie Parker, innovating and improvising on the saxophone with similar brilliance. He joined young trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa and arrangement genius Abdullah Ibrahim to form The Jazz Epistles. As much as Kippie was the energy and virtuoso of the group, Abdullah was the composer and leader, intense and passionate. Long time friend, Vince Colbe, describes him as ‘a deadly serious bloke’. “He used to lock himself in his room with only bread and milk and compose. I remember going to his house and listening to one of his tracks, Eclipse at Dawn. I teased him you know. `Dollar, play something dancy!’ `You’re a prostitute!’ he replied. `You’re prostituting the art, you must speak the truth.’ That’s how intense he was. That’s why there was an edge to his sound, a hauntingness, almost a howl in the wilderness.”

    The Jazz Epistles were the first black South African group to record an album…

    The Jazz Epistles were the first black South African group to record an album but broke up only six months after forming. Other than Abdullah, the band joined the all African opera, King Kong. “It was a ground-breaking musical, very powerful.” says Hugh Masekela. “Jonas and I were the copiests and Kippie was one of the arrangers. It was like an assembly line, with the arrangers in one room, and us in another. They would churn out the arrangements and bring the orchestration to me and Jonas and we’d do the parts, and then rehearse it with a cast of seventy. It was star studded,
    with some of the prettiest women I’ve seen in my life. A wonderful experience!”

    King Kong was South Africa’s first jazz export and a major achievement in escaping political parochialism and taking our unique sounds to the West End. It also started the exodus of musicians to foreign and free pastures, where they could explore themselves and their art. Abdullah went to
    Switzerland, Hugh to New York to study, and Jonas his own way. The Blue Notes hung around until ’63, touring the country and then playing the Cold Castle Jazz festival in Jo’berg. With the politics becoming impossible and his feet itching for departure, Chris put together a 17 piece band featuring
    some of the best musicians across the country as a symbolic climax to the end of a rich period of jazz. It was a last minute affair. Chris composed furiously, whilst his wife arranged financing and facilities. Even though there was no time for rehearsing, the individual skill of the players saw
    the band to victory and a recording.

    The Sharpeville massacre had ripped the heart out of the nation and the situation was deteriorating. Apartheid was serious about destroying this vibrant era, and no exceptions would be made for jazz.

    On this high note, the Blue Notes joined the other musicians in exile. Kippie tried to keep the memories alive, but he never got over the departure of the other jazz players, and became overwhelmed by the political frustrations. The Sharpeville massacre had ripped the heart out of the
    nation and the situation was deteriorating. Apartheid was serious about destroying this vibrant era, and no exceptions would be made for jazz. It was an expressive force seeking musical and social equality, and apartheid hated that.

    Radio restrictions, big police clampdowns, violence and the destruction of vibrant communities ensued, leaving a big void for those who stayed behind in the ‘Verwoerd to Vorster’ years. Musicians went back to 9-5 jobs. `Cups `n Saucers’ Ngcukana, for example, Cold Castle musician of the year in ’62, was forced to work in a shoe store and never played again. Jazz lost a lot of its great talents and a lot of its identity, explains his son Ezra. “Things were wild, restrictive and so unneccesary then. I remember suggesting the name ‘Amoeboid Movement’ for a song, and just because of the political perceptions of the word `movement’, it was never given airplay.”

    Abdullah returned in the mid-70s to record two albums, one with Kippie and the other with Cape Town musos Robbie Jansen and the late Basil `Manenberg’ Coetzee. With them he reworked a ’50s jazz mbaqanga melody into the quintessential Cape Town anthem, `Manenberg’.

    But it was Saxophonist Winston Mankunku who anchored the scene, particularly in the late sixties, occasionally playing behind curtains under the alias ‘Winston Man’ to conceal his race, or performing out in Swaziland. His music was very avant-garde, an expression of society’s desperation for freedom. Wild and freeform, no restrictions for that. In ’68 he recorded the classic ‘Yakhal Nkomo’ (Bellowing Bull), “a scream for equality and freedom, a shout for recognition of the pain we were feeling,” explains Winston.

    `Cups `n Saucers’ Ngcukana, for example, Cold Castle musician of the year in ’62, was forced to work in a shoe store and never played again.

    Now, many years later, the voice that was lost has been rediscovered and reinvented in many ways, by both the returned pioneers and new musicians. Hugh’s 1997 album ‘Black to the Future’ shows a sensitivity to the music of youth culture, mixing up the old and the new, mbaqanga, jazz and kwaito. Winston’s latest album ‘Molo Africa’ recently won the SAMA award for best traditional album. And Jonas’ 1999 A Temporary Inconvenience proves that he’s still playing with the touch that made the Jazz Epistles pioneers and legends.

    Of the newer names, multi-instrumentalist Zim Ngqawana is playing wild and adventurous jazz in the mold of the Blue Notes and the Jazz Epistles. And `young lions’ like McCoy Mrubata, Paul Hanmer, Moses Molelekwa and Marcus Wyatt are igniting the scene with always fresh and often funky interpretations of old styles with new sounds, acknowledging the past and experimenting with the cutting edge, “in a conscious attempt to find ourselves,” says Moses. “As a country we are finally back in touch with ourselves and the rest of the world,” says Hugh Masekela. “It’s great to be South African and its great to have the music and we are exploring this freedom and discovering new and beautiful things.”

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Abdullah Ibrahim

    Cape Town Revisited
    Abdullah Ibrahim
    by John Barrett

    When Abdullah Ibrahim returned home to South Africa, his music became reflective, and a bit more emotional. On this 1977 live date from Cape Town, the music is a river, with almost no pause between numbers. “Damara Blue” is an impressionist hue: light chords, big echo, and little else. When George Gray turns to the cymbals, it becomes an urbane waltz, swirling in its worry. After some Monkish phrases, the calm returns – and the rhythm changes. Gray presses hard on the snares, while Abdullah works a heavy left hand; this is the “Someday Soon Sweet Samba”. (The tune reminds me of “Besame Mucho” … and “Under Paris Skies”!) On Marcus McLaurine’s bass solo, Ibrahim dabs in tiny fast bleeps – a nice contrast to the cello-like swoops.

    Next is “Cape Town to Congo Square”, a three-part suite: it begins with quiet blues, played over Gray’s second-line. McLaurine’s solo is rich and buoyant; the second movement is tougher, with lots of left hand. “Too-Kah” has a warm gospel feel, garnished with cymbals – the whole work is short, but it’s “suite”.

    “Tintinyana” was first heard on the album, in a forceful trio. This time, after Abdullah works the big bassline, we hear the tart trumpet of Feya Faku. He’s got the tone of Clark Terry, and the wistful mood of Miles – now there’s a combination. Feya flutters high on the blues “Tsakwe” (how Gray runs on this one) and plays “Soweto” with a friendly rasp. He’s a great performer, and I wish we heard more of him.

    The trio looks east on the delicate “Tuang Guru”: it sounds like George is playing with his fingertips. After a quiet two minutes Gray turns to the cymbals; the piano turns turbulent, and everyone goes fast. “Water from an Ancient Well” starts solo – exquisite stillness, stopped only by a cough in the audience. When the others arrive, it becomes a church-blues, and McLaurine gets funky. (Playing open, Faku has his sweetest solo.) “The Wedding” is soft and formal – the piano is understated, but grand at the same time. And “Barakaat” evolves in stages: a three-note theme, a bass slowly stretching out, and a piano that sneaks up on you. Pleading at first, Abdullah explodes in a burst of shimmering sound. The crowd erupts, as they have heard something special. I’m sure you will agree.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    An Interview with Miriam Makeba

    Miriam Makeba A Conversation With
    Miriam Makeba
    by Struan Douglas

    This month one of the great women, songstresses and mothers of Africa – Miriam Makeba releases her first album in many years – Homelands.

    Like a snake evoking the passion of the ancestors, like a spiritual guru possessed with the beauty of her own voice – the launch begins with the dramatic and rhythmical breathing ‘ha ha haa – shhh ha’ – those subtle sounds that portray such a vivid expression to the depth and meaning of African culture, those wild sounds that represent the anger and beauty of Mama Africa in the seventies.

    HomelandBut, time has moved on and so too has Miriam. Where Homelands may have lost that raw and emotive imagery, or that fresh African articulation, it has gained a universal sound – a sound that Miriam through a life of change learning and experience has incorporated, and a sound that may appeal to a far greater audience.

    “You find a strand of love in this album – love for ones country in Masekane, love for ones country in Homeland – how I miss my home how happy I am to be back,” she sings. “Love for ones continent for the song Africa is where it lies, love for ones great grandson in the song Lindelani and in the song In Time – I feel like I am talking about myself. “In time you get older, in time you get married, I never once change my mind about the things I wanted in my life. I’ve been through changes like everybody else – my heart has been broken, but now the light shines on, the wounded heart will heal in time – god always answers ones prayer no matter how hard you will fall,” she sings in a beautifully sincere and quietly expressive tone. A tone that takes her mind rushing back into the nostalgia of a life lived fast, free and courageously – a life that suffered all the frustrations and heartbreaks and took on much responsibility, importance and influence in raising awareness for what was essentially right.

    Miriam Makeba In 1958 Miriam contributed two songs to the anti-apartheid film ‘Come Back Africa’. Later that decade she travelled abroad with the famous and fabulous King Kong opera and then to the awards ceremony at the Venice film festival. When she arrived at the airport to come back home, her citizenship had been revoked, and she had become an exile.

    What was a major disappointment and inconvenience quickly turned into the formative years of her career – as she landed amongst many amazing and influential people. In ’62 she performed at JFK’s birthday on the same bill as Marilyn Monroe, in ’65 she won a Grammy Award for ‘An evening with Harry Belafonte’ and in ’67 Pata Pata became a top 10 world-wide hit.

    Yet, throughout this blossoming fame and fortune – it wasn’t who Miriam Makeba was – as she writes in her autobiography – “my life, my career, every song I sing and every appearance I make, are bound up with my people.”

    In ’63 she approached the UN suggesting they impose heavy sanctions on Pretoria, she approached them again in ’70 and again in the eighties but to no immediate avail, instead her records were heavily banned in South Africa. And as a result the music developed a strong symbolism and through underground means like Radio Freedom and record sales they found a strong audience. Caught listening to this or caught listening to any such music was a jail sentence and hence even more people were united in the struggle merely through listening to these records.

    Miriam Makeba After her marriage to American Black Panther Stokey Carmichael in the mid-sixties, America presented a very racist side too – so they left and went to Guinea where Miriam enjoyed honouree citizenship from president Sekou Toure, and continued a very active life of performing all over the world.

    “There was one leader that told me – you should never refuse to go any where in Africa because when you sing your song, you sing to people all people and maybe you can change a lot of peoples way of thinking – just by your song. When you are invited, go and sing. So I have been to many many different countries – in fact there are only six countries I have never been to.”

    She left Guinea in ’86 after the death of her daughter. That same year she was awarded the Dag Hammarskild peace prize and the following year participated in the controversial Graceland Tour and published her autobiography – Makeba: My Story. Then in 1991 after 31 years abroad she, with the other exiles, returned.

    “I had mixed feelings – I was happy I was sad, I didn’t know what to expect. I usually sleep on the plane but I never slept – I was scared – it was a long time. But, as soon as I got out of the airport and saw all of the people who were there, all the artists and my family – I felt quite at home. I just jumped into the rhythm right there. It was like I never left.”

    “I always say I was away physically but mentally and otherwise I have always been home. I never forgot the languages – I could just still picture home the whole time.”

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Raise Your Spirit Higher

    Ladysmith Black MambazoLadysmith Black Mambazo
    Raise Your Spirit Higher
    (Heads Up – 2003)

    Black Mambazo’s first release since the Grammy nominated Live at Royal Albert Hall in 1999 and their first release of new material since Heavenly in 1997 Honors the Historic Ten Year Anniversary of the End of Apartheid.

    Throughout history, hardship and adversity have often been a driving force behind the creative process. Individuals stricken by tragedy tap into internal strengths and become better and stronger human beings in the process. Nations and cultures that struggle under oppression ultimately rise up and reinvent their destinies.

    Joseph Shabalala and his compatriots in the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo know these truths all too well. Against a daunting backdrop of political upheaval, social unrest and personal tragedy, the 10-member group has spent the past three decades fusing the disparate but spiritually resonant traditions of Zulu music and Christian gospel music. Along the way, they have learned to harness the healing and unifying power of music as a means to transcend the dark places and raise their spirits higher.

    Heads Up International announces the release of Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela (HUCD 3083) and (HUSA 3083), the new Hybrid SACD in 5.1 Surround Sound from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on January 27, 2004. In English, the word Wenyukela means “raise your spirit higher,” but the language of Shabalala’s stirring and richly layered vocal compositions is universal. Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela is Black Mambazo’s message of hope and unity to a troubled world.

    The thirteen tracks on Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela reiterate the message that has transcended Black Mambazo’s music since the group’s earliest days. Survivors of the apartheid movement that divided South Africa for generations, the group widens their scope on this record and addresses many of the same kinds of struggles and cultural clashes that persist around the world.

    “The group is as strong as they’ve ever been – full of optimism for the future of their country and for the world, regardless of recent world events,” says one of their managers. “South Africa has been through horrible times. They’ve been through clashes – people disagreeing, people fighting, people killing each other – and Black Mambazo has seen their country come together and work as one people. This is the philosophy that they bring out in their singing and in their performances. This is their message for the world.”

    And while the music is clearly rooted in African musical traditions, the message speaks to all people whose ears and hearts are open, says Shabalala, a native of South Africa’s Zulu people who converted to Christianity around the time of his musical awakening in the late 1950s and early ’60s. “Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,” he says. “It invokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually.”

    Shabalala’s own spirituality underwent the supreme test during the making of this record. In the spring of 2002, his wife of thirty years was murdered in a church parking lot by a masked gunman. To date, no conviction has been made. But despite the overwhelming grief and rage that inevitably follows such a profound loss, Shabalala chose the spiritual high road and has remained on it since. He keeps Nellie’s memory and spirit alive in his heart and in his music, and his faith remains unshaken.

    “At the time that this happened, I tried to take my mind deep into the spirit, because I know the truth is there,” he says. “In my flesh, I might be angry, I might cry, I might suspect somebody. But when I took my mind into the spirit, the spirit told me to be calm and not to worry. Bad things happen, and the only thing to do is to raise your spirit higher.”

    He had help from his teenage grandsons, who express their love and support in “Tribute,” a short but moving hip-hop track that closes out Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela. On the track, they urge their grandfather to be strong and not worry, because their grandmother is in a better and happier place.

    Eternally optimistic, Shabalala is confident that his perseverance in the face of personal tragedy can be a powerful sign for the world to heed: “When the world looks at you and finds the tears in your eyes, but you smile in spite of the tears, then they discover that, ‘Oh, he’s right when he says you must be strong, because many things have happened to him, and he still carries on with the spirit of the music.'”

    Angelique Kidjo

    Angelique Kidjo
    Black Ivory Soul and More

    This is an exciting new release from Angelique Kidjo, exploring Brazilian connections and allowing her voice to find a new, more sensitive space. There is a selection of thoughtless cheese on the album, like her collaboration with Dave Matthews, but there’s enough delight and new energy to hold the whole thing together. Brazil’s superb percussionist and composer Carlinhos Brown is in the mix, so is the subtle guitar of Vinicius Cantuaria and Gilberto Gil’s beautiful Refavela. It’s a rich album, with kora, guitars, acoustic bass, fender rhodes, organ, a string section and wonderful vocal arrangements – and the production by Bill Laswell melds the elements together into a symphony of brooding, sensitive, intelligent pop. He’s worked on a variety of African projects recently, most notably Gigi’s debut international album (on Palm Pictures), which is brilliant. The opening track, Bahia, is stunning, there’s a lovely version of Serge Gainsbourg’s Ces Petits Rien, which reveals a lovely, lilting vocal contrast to the consonant filled, quite gutteral intonation of her first language lyrics. Born in Benin, Angelique Kidjo’s first performing experience was as a six year old actor-dancer in her mother’s theatre troupe. From that point on, music became her sole passion. As a teenager, Kidjo was inspired to write songs by the sounds of Hendrix, Santana, Miriam Makeba, James Brown, Fela Kuti, the Beatles, and Aretha Franklin; before her twentieth birthday she was one of Benin’s few professional female vocalists.

    Difficulties with the political environment in her homeland prompted Kidjo to relocate to Paris. Thriving in the city’s African music underground, she progressed from singer of Jasper Van Hof’s fusion band Pili Pili, to leader of her own band within five years. Established as one of Paris’s top live acts, Kidjo was quickly discovered by Chris Blackwell and signed to Mango.

    Today, Angelique Kidjo is a bonafide phenomenon whose performances are always legendary events.

    My style of music varies from afro-funk, reggae, samba, salsa, gospel, jazz, zairean rumba, souk and makossa which combined together creates her soulful unique sound of music. In all the years since I first began singing, I’ve never performed a song that I didn’t love. Each one feels like a baby of mine; it has its fragility and its strength, and I will never forget it because it’s a part of me. But as with everything you truly love, you have to let it out into the wild!

    Singing, and especially signing for an audience, has been such an ecstatic and intense pleasure for me. it’s my hope that you’ll share this deep experience while listening to these tracks. EAch one of them brings back memories from very different parts of my life. Malaika, for instance, reminds me of my first concerts in Benin, and my passion for Miriam Makeba, who was my role model.

    A lot of these songs take me back to the places and the circumstances of their writing, and to the people who believed in me, especially my family in Africa, for whom, along with my soulmate Jean, music has always been a “family thing.” And I will never forget the fans everywhere in the world who came to the shows, and the producers and many musicians who shared their good advice and played so masterfully.

    Most of all, this music makes me feel closer to wht has been my main influence: the traditional music from my country Benin and its regoin. Music is not only emotion and groove, it’s something that speaks for a culture and its people. I hope that when you listen to this very diverse material, where the influence of many styles and other artists can be found, that you will hear a voice of the continent that I am so proud to come from: AFRICA.”

    -Angelique Kidjo

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Africa Beats – May 2000

      May 2000

    JazzUSA has teamed up with Afribeat to bring you a new monthly feature called Africa Beats. Each month the folks at Afribeat will be providing our readers with new, interesting information on the thriving jazz scene across the waters.
    We begin this new series with an editorial from Afribeat’s Editor, Struan Douglas and a piece on the North Sea Jazz Festival – Ed.

    From the racy and vibrant frenzy of Johannesburg’s golden urban buzz to the green dreamy communities of the Eastern Cape – there is African jazz. From the eclectic and thrilling diversity of culture, colour and romance of the harbour city – Cape Town – to the fragmented rural communities of the North and the make-shift shacks of the townships, African jazz is heard, loved and played. In a land of vast differences and partiality, a land of immense disturbances and change, jazz has become the great leveller, weaving its magical thread throughout the country, memories and inequities, through all the sensations, stories and emotions – to create a wonderful and powerful expression.

    African jazz. It is all about Africa, the driving rhythm, the creative impulse, the diverse influences, the consciousness born out of frustration. A vibrant world of contrasts, spontaneity, impulsivity, compassion, fragmented heritage and sensations – that roars with anger, screams in frustration, growls in warning, moans with compassion and laughs with ebullience.

    It is truly free and transcendental – music of the people – the soul of the continent and the jump in the nations stride.

    Street corners, shebeens and drinking spots teem with the slow driving, beating rhythm of the blues. The growl, scat, bebop and big band sounds out all over on the wireless. The South African sound brings all these influences together – Africa, Brazil and America – with its own individuality, its own style, its own invention. One foot in the roots and the other in the fashion, the passion – creating this raw, fresh and innovative sound of African jazz.

    From the hip and erratic jazzmen, the great old characters to the ebullient gig-scene, the passionate sounds and stories to the style and panache which makes Africa jazz so beautiful. – ‘Africa Beats’ will take you into the world of African Music.

    – Struan Douglas


    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    North Sea Jazz Festival
    youssou-n'dour Big acts, small acts, progressive, retro and introspective, world, kwaito, hip-hop, bebop, funk, and free – last months North Sea Jazz festival in Cape Town was one great jazz bash. From Youssou N’dour to Herbie Hancock, Tania Marie and Courtney Pine, an overwhelming variety of names, wonderful musicians, profound performances and thrilling showmanship came together on four stages over two nights.

    What ever your style, what ever your pleasure, this festival was the bomb because there was constantly music – African Brazilian, American or European – evolving, transforming and uniting styles, genres, grooves and rhythms.

    The large and vacuous Good Hope Centre (usually home to benign gatherings and sterile symposiums) was transformed into a wonderful and vibrant refuge for the simultaneous and bewildering bombardment of the greatest jazz music in the world. Like the Monty Python team dreamed up the perfect death of being chased by thousands of naked women, the perfect excess and aural indulgence for many was this festival. If jazz music was your tonic – pleasure would have been your fate.

    The festival became a marvellous collective harmony as beautiful music continued to rise whimsically from each and every stage and people drifted around sharing passing chords and riffs with these acts, enjoying as many as they could juggle on the same night.

    bongo-maffin Downstairs in the basement that funky break-beat big band – Dutch Big band New Cool Collective had a thousand people jiving, some loving the moment, some waiting in anticipation of local Kwaito stars Bongo Maffin’s big beats. Meanwhile the main stage at the Good Hope was thriving to the liberating afro-retrospective grooves of the old duo Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, warming themselves up for the arrival of the big act at the festival – Youssou N’Dour. The intimate stage was overflowing in focused content of local pianist Bheki Mseleku’s African spiritualism and saxophonist Zim Ngqawana’ wild afro-avant-garde. And there was still an outside stage which was concurrently enjoying the extremely jazzy, very tight and propulsive virtuosos from one of the great trumpeters – Roy Hargroves. There was also Hugh Masekela’s explosive showmanship, young pianist – Moses Molelekwa’s astounding progressive interpretations of Africa rhythms, Herbie Hancock’s dramatic and cohesive jaunts into Gershwin’s classics, bass player supreme Carlo Mombelli’s subtle and reflexive minimalism and Courtney Pine’s jazz / hip-hop. Carlo Mombelli

    The vacuum that had previously plagued the South African live music scene quickly dissipated and was forgotten as an enormous variety and disparity of people came together and got their groove back, and their groove down. And what’s more – above all the fun, the exhilaration – the jazz audience got a profound and important education in jazz quality.

    Having some of the most famous and skilful international acts on the stage together with a collection of South Africa’s wisest, finest and freshest was a wonderful opportunity to take note and realise that the local guys are just as hot as the international artists. BraHugh is as vivid and cohesive as any Kenny Garrett performance, traditional songstress Busi Mhlongo is as passionate as anything Tania Marie can give, Carlo Mombelli is just as subtly supreme as Herbie Hancock whilst Jimmy Dludlu gets your hips gyrating anything like Ronny Jordan.

    Music is not about jazz, kwaito, hip-hop or bebop – it transcends all of that. It comes down to whether it’s good music or bad music and that is what we as audiences should demand.

    No longer need we compare ourselves to the international waters. No longer need we spend years making it in New York or London to be accepted as good and no longer need we sell out our original and traditional musical flavours – for it is obvious; some of the greatest artists in the world are from South Africa. We have the stars, the talent and the ability.

    Together with these superb musicians and the solid and collective audience, the North Sea Jazz festival (which is going to become an annual event in Cape Town) is a positively exciting indication that South Africa is ready to reclaim its position as leaders in the international jazz arena. And when the industry and the infrastructure joins in to support this – wow – watch out.

    Winston Mankunku

    Winston MankunkuWinston Mankunku

    Winston Mankunku

    Jazz has worn many hats: big-band – swing enjoyed straw-hats, be-bop went for afro-berets and cool-jazz for stetsons. The style, the music all comes from the same core, the expression.

    And if one South African artist can be remembered by his hat – it’s Winston Mankunku with that funky Nike peak. Not a traditional hat, nor a jazz convention, but a hat that indicates Mankunku’s style – Afro-American jazz, the expression of the black diaspora.

    Mankunku identified and empathised with America’s parallel stream of socio-cultural suppression, the shouts and screams from the free jazz of Coltrane and Coleman. Avant-garde and free-form could best express the frustrations, the hardships and the rigid, oppressive and destructive laws of the period.

    His signature tune, ‘Yakhal Nkomo’ (Raging Bull) became famous locally and abroad quickly entering the soul of the struggle and he became the anchoring jazz-man on the local scene.

    Whilst vibrant communities were destroyed and inter-racial interaction banned. Mankunku skirted restrictions and hid his race by playing behind curtains at gigs under the alias Winston Man. But, when he received barely any financial reward from the successes of Yakhal Nkomo, Winston quit the scene, disillusioned, cynical and broken by this exploitation.

    It was only until the late ’70s that he was inspired to play again, going on to record Jika and Dudula with Mike Perry.

    His latest album, ‘Molo Africa’ (Hello Africa), is a beautiful blend of the traditional African rhythms of mbaqanga, and spacious yet bustling sax-improvisation. It is the quintessential South African jazz album, and a victorious tribute to a great musician. His excellence was finally recognised in 1999, where he won the South African Music Association (SAMA) award for best traditional jazz.
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Oliver Mtukudzi

    Oliver Mtukudzi
    20 years of best-sellers

    A strong driving rhythm, big vocals, conscious lyrics and a delicate rhythm – Zimbabwean Oliver Mtukudzi is one of Southern Africa’s greatest stars.

    Oliver Mtukudzi’s career has spanned twenty years and 38 original albums (nearly all of them best-sellers), but it is his dedication to the live music scene in Zimbabwe – playing to enthusiastic audiences in even the remotest parts of the country – that has earned him the place in people’s hearts that he holds today.

    Mtukudzi was initiated into the world of professional music in 1977 when he joined the legendary Wagon Wheels which also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Quite a leap from performing in the churches in Highfield. Success came early to them – the first single they recorded, Dzandimomotera, rapidly went gold, and this was followed by Mtukudzi’s first album on four track which was also a smash hit. It was with a number of the musicians in the Wagon Wheels line-up that Mtukudzi formed Black Spirits, the band who have backed him throughout his career.

    With Zimbabwean independence in 1980, Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits produced Africa, one of the most important albums of its time, and with the two hits it spawned (Zimbabwe & Mazongonyedze) the fledgling country found one of its first great voices. Since independence, Oliver has released two albums every year, establishing himself as a producer, an arranger, a prolific song-writer and, with his famous big voice, a formidable lead singer. He speaks both Shona and Ndebele, and often writes songs in English and would play ‘a reasonable number’ of them to an English speaking audience because ‘the issues are not only happening in Zimbabwe’.

    That strong driving rhythm, big deep vocals and conscious lyrics in a foreign language (Shona) is what makes Oliver Mtukudzi a fine African musician. But what makes him a great African musician is that he has assembled these attributes into a style that is wholly unique and what has been called ‘Tuku’ music. The repetitive cyclical advances of the mbira rhythms combine clinically with the strong South African mbaqanga style whilst dipping occasionally into soulful traditional Shona trance rhythms.

    Yet apart from the individuality of his music Mtukudzi’s enduring popularity has largely resulted from his powers as a lyricist. Most of his songs focus on the social and economic issues that govern people’s lives and, with an infectious sense of humour and optimism that prevails through all his music, his appeal extends to young and old alike.

    As the oldest of six children, Oliver developed a sense of social and economic responsibility early in life due to the premature death of his father. It was thanks to this, and to a desire to bring his message to a large audience, that Mtukudzi ventured into the world of film and Drama. Although he participated in several documentaries on Zimbabwean music in the 80’s, it was not until 1990 that he found film success playing the lead role in the Zimbabwean film JIT, which was also released in Denmark, France, and the UK.

    Mtukudzi followed the success of JIT with the role of Neria’s brother in Zimbabwe’s second feature film, Neria, for which he also wrote and arranged the soundtrack. This project addressed the issue of women’s rights in a chauvinist world. From film, Mtukudzi turned his attention to drama, writing and directing the live musical production ‘Was my Child’. A project highlighting the plight of Zimbabwe’s street children. For this he was honoured by the Zimbabwe writers union.

    Oliver has continued to perform regularly in Zimbabwe, but has, however, never confined himself to his home country and has performed at various international events. Appearing, in October 1993, at the Natal Performing Arts Festival ; in February 1994 on a six week tour of Austria and Switzerland ; and in December 1994. In October 1995, Mtukudzi was selected to represent Zimbabwe at the SADC Music Festival staged in Harare. MASA Festival in Abidjan, a performance for the World Health Organisation as a result of his AIDS awareness song ‘Stay with one Woman’ , Berlin, Holland, all over the UK, the Images of Africa’ festival in Denmark and the Out of Afrika Festival in Munich in November 1997 with a collaboration of Southern African Musicians called MAHUBE. One of the classic South African albums. He is also the only local Zimbabwean musician to have recorded a live album.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Hugh Masekela

    A Galaxy cooking session with

    by Struan Douglas

    Hugh MasekelaStruan Douglas and Iain Harris exchange tones with Hugh Masekela, and discover that apart from people, life, the world and women, music is in fact all about sushi.

    Hugh Masekela “I love sushi,” says a cool-grooving charismatic Hugh. “You can eat it at midnight and not get nightmares. When I came out of rehab I had a major appetite. I had a major appetite before, so now I’m working on just eating nutritional food. Japanese food is expensive, but there isn’t a sliver of fat anywhere, and I think we must shift ourselves in that direction. When I left this country, people used to walk a lot, they were much more slender and much healthier looking, but now people don’t walk and there’s so much fast food takeaways. I know that Bimbos are going to hate me for this but…”

    So a utopian South Africa for Hugh would be one inundated with inexpensive Japanese sushi bars, keeping the nation trim and high on wasabi? Perhaps an odd vision for a man revelling more than ever before in being South African and playing to South African audiences, regardless of their culinary habits.

    “Yeah, I love South Africa, I’m a pig in mud. I was very homesick for 32 years, and I’m just knocked out to be home. ” And the Jazz Africa festival in December proved that not only is he knocked out to be home, but the audiences are knocked out to have him. “The music relates to who the people really are, to the audiences, they enjoy it because we’re a country in search of itself. We’re obsessed with letting people have the confidence for it to be okay to be South African, ’cause it’s great to be South African. We enjoy playing for people and we’re very appreciative of the fact that we’re South Africans and we got the music.”

    The people, he says, are his main inspiration. And the world, being alive. But it’s really about the ordinary people. And that’s reflected in the band. “We’re sort of a plebby group, but we’re slowly roping in the Marie Antoinettes. They’re also finding out that they are victims of the isolation. We have basically the same reaction everywhere we go, and as a good group of musicians, I think that is what happens, we have a great chemistry, and we all sing together, we like each other, we’re a silly brotherhood. I think we’re a pleasant group not a showbizzy group.”

    Showbizzy they might not be, but cutting edge they certainly are. “We’re obssessed with bringing back the past with a now vibe,” which means incorporating new sounds like kwaito. “Yeah, yeah kwaito. When we did mbaqanga in the ’50s they said the same thing about it, `aagghh township music, it’s for drunkards, and loose people who drink and take drugs, the chicks are loose, fucken rubbernecks’, and people said `don’t be a muso because you’ll become a drunk’, and when Brenda Fassie and Chico and them came out they were condemned the same way, `aagghh it’s bubble gum’. But 5 years from now kwaito will be like our daily bread, ’cause it’s culture from the townships, the majority of the population of this country are the youth, and that’s their music.”

    With the energy and enthusiasm of a youth, where exactly is Hugh headed?

    “I think of myself as just playing music. You know I grew up in school choirs, in church, I went to a classical conservatory, there’s nothing I haven’t played, so I think that it’s bullshit about people being jazz, and kwaito and this and that. It’s like when you see a pretty girl you don’t say she’s Indian, you just say `whoa what a pretty babe’, what a fox, you know what I mean. Music is either good or bad, the rest is bullshit.”

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Smooth Africa II – Exploring The Soul

    Smooth Africa IISmooth Africa II
    Exploring The Soul
    (Heads Up – 2003)

    Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul is a sophisticated follow-up to the internationally recognized Smooth Africa album of 2000. Some of Southern Africa’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists, along with contemporary jazz icons from America, have come together on this ambitious collaboration. Under the guidance of Heads Up President Dave Love, Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul features such all-stars as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jimmy Dludlu, Spyro Gyra, Andy Narell, Prince Kupi, Gloria Bosman, Joe McBride, and 2003 South African Music Award winners; Shaluza Max and Moses Khumalo.

    A visit to South Africa in 1998 with keyboardist McBride (the first American to ever perform at Cape Town’s annual Jazzathon) provided Love with the initial inspiration to debut Smooth Africa. “I had fallen in love with the entire country, its people, its culture,” says Love. “But mostly I was amazed by the talented local musicians who played with Joe, and felt they needed to be heard outside of South Africa.”

    The twelve selections on Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul are as varied and exciting as the performers. The upbeat opener, “Walk of Life,” featuring the Soweto String Quartet spotlights the acclaimed guitarist Jimmy Dludlu, whom the legendary Hugh Masekela once compared to Charlie Christian or Django Reinhardt. The world’s best-known African group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, tackles “Uniting Nations Together.” Remixed by D’Influence, Joseph Shabala’s composition is based on a traditional Zulu song about national unity.

    Up-and-coming guitarist Allou April (who performed with McBride at Jazzathon) sings his local Cape Town hit “Bringing Joy.” Shaluza Max, the recent winner of a the SAMA for Best Zulu Album, is a spirited performer whose vocals are well served by the driving rhythms of “Mangase.” The guitarist, vocalist and composer Oliver Mtukudzi, is one of Southern Africa’s greatest stars, contributes “Neria,” from his soundtrack written for the internationally acclaimed feature film from Zimbabwe of the same name.

    Elsewhere the program runs from guitarist Prince Kupi’s arrangement of the traditional folk song “Botsotsi,” through contemporary jazz legend’s Spyro Gyra’s “Cape Town Love” and steel pan master Andy Narell’s “Punch,” to saxophonist Moses Khumalo’s gospel-influenced “Hymn for Taiwa” and vocalist Gloria Bosman’s lilting “Umuntu Wakho.” Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul ends with “Aderley Street” and “Yebo,” a pair of Joe McBride compositions featuring South Africans Gerald Stockton on bass and Mike Drake on drums.

    “I’m extremely pleased with how this project turned out,” says Love. “Traveling often to South Africa has been such a positive experience for me. Even after nine visits, I’m still looking forward to exploring more music. With this new album I hope to highlight more top-notch players, and bring new audiences to their unique sounds.”

    This collection conveys the spirit of African music as a living tradition, and the artists manage to be versatile without losing their own identity. With its contemporary spirit nudging the music out of a purely African box, Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul is a must for pop and jazz fans, as well as aficionados of world music.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Mac McKenzie and the penthouse goema suits

    Mac McKenzie and the penthouse goema suitsThe ‘Genuine” Mac McKenzie
    by Iain Harris

    Mac Mckenzie (above) at the Cape Town Festival 2002 and Hilton Schilder, also at the Cape Town Festival 2002

    I wasn’t around during the time of the Genuines and I never saw Namaqua perform. So up until meeting Mac McKenzie this year, my knowledge of him and these two bands was compiled from other people’s takes on him. As a young music journalist exploring Cape music I’d heard a lot about Mac, but always in fragments – and always in suspicious tones.

    From the fragments I got I conjured this image in my head of a short, round 50 something malletjie – a goema Danny Devito, all fast talking and manic with a sly eye. The image was partly right, I discovered when I worked with him to produce the performance of the New Orlean’s Male Choir for the Cape Town festival in March. He’s far from short and round: in fact he’s lean and tall and even though he is fifty something, he looks like he could be in his thirties. But he’s fast talking and manic alright, and there’s definitely a sly on-the-make look in his eye.

    I come from a frontier township,” he shouts with with a mock-defensive laugh and a mouthful of black tea. In the background shouts of `conundrum’ come from that Jeremy Mansfield hosted word-game show on TV. “Bridgetown was one of the first townships on the flats. It was like a coloured wild west here. There was violence everywhere. While my parents were fighting, the people in the house behind us were killing each other, the people next door were taking each other apart, around the corner an ambulance was fetching another couple. We faced violence in every shape and everywhere we turned. Our nerves were always fried. I’d visit friends in Grassy Park where the `uppity’ mobile coloureds lived, and it’d be birds singing and tea with milk and cake at a diningroom table. I thought I was in heaven!”

    Ja, and music was part of that violence,” Mrs McKenzie picks up. “There was music everywhere in Bridgetown back then, but as much as you loved it, you could never be a musician. My husband’s first wife was music. He worked during the day and played music by night. But you couldn’t be a man and be a musician. The system didn’t allow for it. Work was life, music came second and wives were way down the line.”

    So when Mac told his father – who is considered one of the most extraordindary guitar and banjo players this country’s ever had – that there was no way he was going to be a labourer, that music was his fulltime calling, his response was violent. “You want to be a musician!?” Mr Mac exhorted. “I`m not going to have a musician living in my house!” And Mac was kicked out of the house into a world where to survive as a musician you had to be mad and dangerous.

    Looking at pictures of a young Mac, he certainly looked dangerous. “People saw me as a bit of a Mohamed Ali,” he half-brags. “I was in with the gangsters because I was big strong and could pack a punch, and I lived hard. “And the girls went mad for him,” Mac’s first wife Beryl tells me. “He had this great body, this mysterious and manic energy, and girls wouldn’t leave him alone.”

    With Hilton Schilder, that manic energy and hard living turned their band The Genuines into a cult outfit, reminiscent of the Sex Pistols with their anarchist attitude to everything possible. Part musical brilliance, part theatrical indulgence. “We just did exactly what we wanted,” Mac relishes. “And people loved it, both here and in Europe.” Just read old Cape Times and Argus stories – as well as clippings from Dutch newspapers – and you get a picture of the impact the Genuines had, and the energy of innovation they brought to the music scene.

    After the Genuines came Namaqua, with Mac switching from bass to guitar. I remember one of the first times I heard Mac’s name, was in reference to his Namaqua album, when Cape Town historian Vince Kolbe said `If I ever have to hear Stella By Starlight again I’ll strangle Mac!”. The Namaqua album featured a variety of cheesy classics like Stella on guitar, with some originals thrown into the mix. But the magic in the Namaqua concept wasn’t the album, it was the touring band which featured Ready D on decks scratching up old goema vinyl, and BVK’s Mr Fat as MC. It brought a vital new edge to both goema and hip hop.

    Mac’s been silent for quite a long time now, focusing on being a solo guitarist. He’s recorded independently a solo guitar album called Cybergriot which is brooding and sibillant – no sign of chaos or madness. He’s also been working – like his father did – in the Malay choir world, performing with the New Orleans Male Choir and bringing an inspired new edge of musicality to a world that is musically stagnant.

    And now with Hilton, he’s reconstructing an evolved form of Namaqua, featuring trumpeter Alex van Heerden and DJ Hamma, and as guests Liz Brockhart and Valmont Layne. It’s going to be more subtle than the original Namaqua outfit, more layered and complex he tells me, playing both old Namaqua compositions as well as new material.
    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Carlo Mombelli

    Carlo Mombelli Carlo Mombelli
    by Struan Douglas

    I applied for a teaching post at the Richard-Strauss conservatoire of music in Munich. The audition was very strange. You had to walk in play and teach this student for half an hour in front of a panel. The guy before me was the bass player for Passport – quite a famous band and the guy after me could play ‘Giant Steps’ double speed. Hot, hot guys.

    I landed up talking to the student for about half an hour about silence – how to bring your voice out in your sound. I spoke about art and silence. And then I had to play, so I pulled out this emotional ballad, called ‘My friends and I’ – just the simplest piece of music,” tells South African fretless bass player Carlo Mombelli.

    No papers and no teaching experience, Carlo got the job, because that is exactly what he is about – a passion to share, to learn and an intensity in discovering that artistic expression that is completely personal.

    In the beginnings of his career he practiced so intensely (fourteen hours a day) that his right hand seized up. As a result of the pain and the ensuing operation, he experimented and learnt new means of playing with the left hand using hammer-ons and lift-offs. Bass player Magazine once suggested that he might have been playing backwards. It may be pretty extraordinary playing, but he’s certainly playing forwards.

    He learnt classical piano as a child, moved to the bass where he played wild and free jazz with Johnny Fourie in the 80’s. Throttled by the difficulties in South Africa he moved to Germany and experienced a variety of expressions, witnessed a diversity of directions, and played with some great players. From the Brazilian rhythms of Riaz de Pedra and Egberto Gismonti to performances and recordings with Charlie Mariano, Mick Goodrick and Lee Konitz. All these ideas are reflected in his work through the lens of his rare vision, voice and emotion.

    In 1993 he was invited to compose and record a piece for the tribute CD “Basstorius” (Hot Wire Records) to the late great bassist Jaco Pastorius. In 1995 Carlo joined the Brazilian band “Raiz De Pedra”, performing at the European festivals as well as touring Brazil. Carlo has performed solo bass concerts (The art of slow motion) and ‘Bats’ – a live recording in Munich – was his fifth.

    His music influences have been so many and varied and his passion to share so huge that his return is of great benefit to the local industry, where we the audiences may absorb the huge variety of influences that have shared in the development of his style and his unique voice.

    After 11 years of exploring music in Germany, Carlo has returned to his hometown, Johannesburg with his first release in South Africa (fifth in all) – ‘Bats in the Belfry,’ and a local band ‘Prisoners of Strange’, featuring the master of subtlety, Johnny Fourie on guitar and trumpet talent Marcus Wyatt.

    The music is about silence, subtlety, understanding – arousing a powerful contrast for the sound to resonate within. The deep and sensual of the jazz, the dark and disjointed of the breathing avant-garde, and the haunting self-analysis of the beautiful passages of minimalism, echoes the intensity, the density and the sparsity of a great artist, Carlo Mombelli.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Music walks the political and cultural tightrope

    Music walks the political and cultural tightropeMusic walks the political and cultural tightrope.
    by Struan Douglas

    Iisiginci siyakha’ ilizwe – a guitar builds a nation.

    Brenda Fassie

    “1963, the peoples president was taken away by security men, all dressed in a uniform of brutality.”
    “We miss you Manelo, Where are you?”
    “You’re casting your spell on my soul, why don’t you leave me alone?”
    “Sit dit af. Sit dit af..”

    Amandla – ngawethu: Chicco, Brenda, Juluka, Harari, Johannes Kerkorrel. These were some of the stars far-flung South Africa jived with. The stars of protest and popular music that came together and gave the people inspiration, courage, and comfort. Siyaya phambili – we are going forward.

    Campuses danced, whistled, communities marched, cheered and stadiums were alive with the shouts, screams and songs of freedom. Radical, satirical, jazz or pop – music by its nature was politicised. It was about society, about freedom, fashioning an honest culture and building a democratic nation. Musicians spearheaded the cultural revolution to seize power from the oppressors and conscientise people to the struggle for liberation.

    One monster, many musicians, and a desire for triumph through common expression.

    Liberation from the monster, the single monster that destroyed vibrant communities, segregated people, forced hundreds of talented writers and artists into exile and isolated the rest in a land where those that milked the cow got no honey. Yet, like Madiba used the time he had on Robben Island for reflection, good came out of South Africa’s time home alone too. One monster, many musicians, anda desire for triumph through common expression.

    Isiginci asakh’umuzi – a guitar doesn’t build a homestead goes the age-old Zulu prophecy, but in such circumstances- isiginci siyakha’ ilizwe – a guitar builds a nation.

    Through the two dark decades of Apartheid’s desperate repression musicians scattered. Some stayedin the country compromising their ethics, abilities and earnings. Chris Macgregor wore a cap to hide his blonde locks. Winston Mankunku played behind a curtain, Basil Coetzee quit the scene to work in a shoe factory and Kippie Moeketsi died a very frustrated man. Abdullah Ibrahim couldn’t take the humiliation. He left. So too with the King Kong musical and The Blue Notes. And the rich vernacular of South African culture had been sucked dry exposing a desolate musical vacuum.

    Ray Phiri (R)

    By the sixties, black America had wrestled civil rights, post-war economics had improved and the whole world was dancing to a new consciousness – peace, universal love and flower power. Even BraHugh Masekela became a hippie. Against this back-drop of ‘peace’ and ‘tolerance’, the PAC (Pan African Congress) split from the ANC, giving birth to the Black Consciousness movement and stimulating another purposeful arm for the struggle and a sense of belonging for musicians abroad.

    Black South Africans were challenging, building confidence and redefining who they were. Through milestone recordings like ‘Union of South Africa’ and Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Mannenberg’ in the 70’s, artists were cementing and celebrating the culture of their oppressed homeland. It was an outpouring of African culture and self-validation, on still a small and distant scale, but the liberation movement was evolving and striving to a point of full confidence.

    “There is a train …,” sang Masekela in ‘Stimela’. “Sixteen hours of work a day for almost no pay. Deep, deep down in the belly of the earth, where they are digging and drilling for that mighty evasive stone. They’re dished up mishmash food on their iron plates with an iron shovel or when they sit in their stinky, funky, filthy flea-ridden barracks, they think about the loved ones they’ll never see again because they have been forcibly removed… Think about their lands and their herds taken away from them with the gun and the bomb and the teargas and the cannon.”

    “Music is our strength, our mobilizer. Music makes our people very strong when they are together…”

    Music sang of the fears, dreams, hardships and joy of the communities. Music brought hope where there was despair and a strong message to gather our routes, explore our expression and wrestle civil rights from the authority. Musicians were entertainers, oral historians and social commentators. They made a massive contribution to where we are now.

    “Music is our strength, our mobilizer. Music makes our people very strong when they are together, it enables people to keep on struggling under terrible conditions, ” said Don Ngubeni – director of Radio Freedom.

    As part of the ANC’s cultural wing, Amandla, Radio Freedom provided the only alternative to the strongly censored South African Broadcasting Corporation. It merged political content and news with popular music of many banned artists here, in exile and internationally. From Miriam Makeba’s banned records to Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Struggling Man’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Blackman Redemption’. Aspirations suddenly found expression in the media and gave the ANC the possibility of being in constant and dynamic contact with the people – building the protest platform and shifting the consciousness of the people to a restlessness and a defiance of apartheid. ‘Freedom or death.’

    ‘Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.’ The late seventies was slowly freeing itself from cultural imperialism. Young people were defying cultural and racial intolerance all over the world, freeing themselves from repression and getting on down to the simple reggae messages of liberation and equality. The birth of the eighties was a period of revival.

    Philip Tabane (Malombo)

    “In a time of intense repression where people didn’t meet – young people of all colours and cultures could come together to jol [party],” says Steve Gordon of Making Music. “And this attracted the interest of the police and made those ordinary jol activities a focus of petty repression and police brutality, whether it be teargas or cracking people over the heads. They would then become politicised. This stimulated a consciousness and desire for us in South Africa to have our own expression forms and to assert, platform and develop them in a gut and soulful way.”

    The audience, the artists, the communities were all hungry for expression and the emergence of the activism and organised resistance of the UDF provided this catalyst inside the country. The UDF created a political platform for musicians to come out of hibernation and play and be heard through rallies, festivals and community concerts.

    Basil Coetzee left the shoe factory, guys like Robbie Jansen could get out of the funk and pop of
    the club scene. Local bands came together with a greater mission than just jamming. They had to balance in the treacherous world of South Africa, with that chilling chip of local politics weighing down the one shoulder. They looked to the roots, the pride of the Africanist music perspective for the counterbalance.

    Musicians chose commitment over aesthetics. Poetry and art wasn’t about flowers or sun-sets – it was about what was happening – the suffering, inequities and brutality. Sakhile, Malombo, Sankomoto, Stimela, Bayete and Harari symbolised the cultural orientation of black consciousness – bringing a voice of courage, protest, comfort and inspiration to a disenfranchised nation. ‘It takes time’, warned Sipho Mabuse, ‘What’s going on? Trouble in the land of plenty.’ exclaimed Ray Phiri whilst Sankomoto’s Sekunjalo called for justice, pride and celebration of South Africa’s heritage and tradition

    “Coming back home, man it was like John Glen coming back from space,” said Hugh Masekela.

    And when the necessary evil of the cultural boycott arrived in full force in the mid-eighties our culture was further entrenched. It was a hugely disguised luck – a little like a hunger strike. Artists were prevented from performing to segregated audiences, meaning the lucrative international arm and influences were lost which clearly slowed our musical growth and development. But, through isolation local artists were forced to look at themselves and do the best with what they had. Psychologically it
    was crucial in gaining solidarity abroad, giving South Africans the sense that there was a world out there and they were with us, which strengthened things internally. It was the beginnings of a cultural revolution, are-unification, and a realisation of South Africa’s artistic ability.

    Attenborough’s ‘Cry Freedom,’ and Mandela’s massive birthday at Wembley Stadium (the third biggest media event ever – more than a billion people watched it live) made a huge international impact, and began closing the gap on apartheid, speeding up the economic embargoes.

    ‘The Info song’ – a ‘We are the world’ type propaganda song featuring ‘sell-out’ black musicians Zane Adams and Steve Kekana tried to slow the inevitable, but was a massive failure. Young white South Africans were also gradually becoming  conscientised. ECC (End Conscription Campaign) was mobilised and had a significant cultural profile and white musicians joined for the passionate and impulsive ‘Voel vry’ tour of suburbia and the campuses.

    Eighties music became the reflection of the blossoming of years of mass struggle: Celebrating cultural heritage and identity; representing the shifting perceptions of community, empowerment, identity and gender relations; and projecting the birth pangs of a new world of change.

    Johnny Clegg

    One human – one vote, many races – one people. Salvation, liberation and unity across racial and cultural barriers was becoming a popular ideology. And when Paul Simon and the Graceland tour controversially broke the boycottwith local acts like Ladysmith Black Mambaso, Ray Phiri and Savuka on a hugely spectacular local and international platform, the face of South African music was being exposed and the multi-cultural base solidified.

    “Coming back home, man it was like John Glen coming back from space,” said Hugh Masekela. The exiles returned and Madiba was freed. The euphoria had begun, South Africa was emerging from the belly of imperialism, divide and reaction.

    And now, the posters of protest, the colour of hope and the vibrant performance energy lace our world with nostalgia. We may remember those that died on the road, Johnny Dyani,
    Steve Bantu Biko, Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pukwana, Nat Nakasa to name but a few. We may celebrate the good, those that never faltered from the path of Africanist intentions and we
    may draw survivalist lessons from the horrors that paved their way.

    A generation suffered and struggled and they are the true African renaissance people. It is through their pain that we, the youth, may grow together. “Go on, go on my son, take over,” said Tsepo Tshola, and don’t forget your heritage, it’s what they struggled for and its what we have.

    The artists who have been before are all unique and authentic. The African Renaissance is an African thing, for Africa, by Africans. And that’s the doctrine youth culture can benefit from explains Valmont Layne, “it needs to touch base with what’s been before, a sense of cultural heritage – the local touch that gives our culture its uniqueness.”

    “We have to look at the wealth that is here,” agrees Steve Gordon “and slowly build content on that. Otherwise this African Renaissance is just a package of zebra skins and marimba music in elevators.”

    Vulindlele. What was a stream yesterday is now a river. The world, the market, the media and the industry have changed. It is a digital age, a global market and music video culture. The previously fragmented youth market is slowly merging and young artists are endowed with many more opportunities to record, gig, be recognised and sell albums. Musicians are asserting their identity with a lot more freedom, scope and confidence to express themselves multi-lingually and multi-culturally in an environment that encourages sharing and development. And that is liberating. Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    An Interview with Moses Molelekwa

    An Interview with Moses Molelekwa Moses Molelekwa – An Interview
    by Struan Douglas

    South African music is hot. It’s always been hot. And yet where are the compilation albums that capture the passion and depth of contemporary South african sounds in an honest, authentic and representative way? Right now there is a wealth of brilliant South African music avilable. And afribeat.com has put together an album, focusing on jazz, acousti c and world music styles, that captures the intensity, diversity and power of this creative pulse.

    Moses Molelekwa is one of South Africa’s most innovative and progressive jazz musicians, a visionary who’s revitalising the genre, mixing in the old with the new, respecting the traditional sounds, yet taking risks and pushing jazz into a contemporary and refreshing space. As with any great and passionate musician, he composes furiously and prolifically, dynamic and reflexive in an ever changing society, developing his sound into something that is retrospective and progressive, eclectic and representative, rhythmical and harmonic, sensitive and tolerant – a step in the direction of a universal sound.

    Moses has recorded two albums on the Melt label and has taken his beautiful sounds to numerous national and international festivals. Rosskilder with TKZee and most recently the North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haige.

    “It was one of the best festivals I’ve ever played at, it was like a new beginning. I grew up listening to and playing Herbie Hancok’s music – he is one of my greatest inspirations. When we hooked up, we didn’t swap chords or talk music, we ended up meditating for an hour. It was just an amazing beautiful connection.”

    A meeting of heightened awareness and harmony between two musical greats, combining various movements of jazz – past, present and progressive – into a spiritual connection of sharing and developing. Their vision is musical – eclectic, diverse and unselfish- revelling in the unity of sound and rhythm. “I love all music, and all the similarities. I think there’s just something special about music, and you got to appreciate that.” And its this passion for the inclusivity of sound and commitment to expanding his music, combined with his instinctive desire for discovering the voice of harmony, that has fine-tuned his ear to the little details, the beauty of jazz and its great embrace.

    His latest album transcends the jazz idiom. He mixes in straight ahead jazz, beautiful piano melodies and reggae or contemporary drum and base beats, into an album that is a visual journey through the landscape of his youth, the colour and diversity of his influences and his deep spirituality.

    Interview with Moses Molelekwa
    North Sea Jazz festival Den Haige
    16 July 2000, shortly after midnight – Moses is relaxed and sociable after a fabulous performance the night before and a day at the festival catching some of the big acts, we drink a couple of beers together high up in his hotel room.

    SD: Playing at the North Sea Jazz festival amongst a line up of the greatest of stars, how do you feel?

    MM: It is inspiring and exciting because South Africa is another world. Though jazz is loved there, the North Sea Cape Town earlier this year was the first of its kind to attract so many people, so to come to the North Sea here and see that every year you have serious jazz appreciators is great. The jazz market in Europe is so huge – it is inspiring to be among such great musicians. It gives me time and space to reflect on what I’m going to do next, and encouragement that I am definitely on the right track.

    SD: There’s a lot of variety, funk, r&b, hip-hop. Do you find it is pulling you in different directions?

    MM: I’m naturally like that – I listen to everything. That is sort of manifested in the way I play as well – all those different styles. It’s exciting to see a jazz festival with so much variety, which shows that jazz is so huge. One’s role in this is to confirm South African jazz to this market.

    SD: Being an ambassador for South African music, there are only three African acts at this festival – how do you feel you guys can go about showing these people that there is a wealth of music in Africa?

    MM: By our performances, the feeling we put in our music – that is what it is at the end of the day. It is an eye opener as well watching American musicians. There is a certain culture that already exists. The South African market is still taking baby steps compared to the States who are way ahead of us in terms of the structuring of the music business. Watching them represent their musical heritage inspires us as well to want to do more. We represent South African music and the now generation of music. We have all these different influences from the South African music scene and we bring out each and every one of them.

    SD: Having recently travelled West Africa, I feel that African music has a lot more to say than international music – do you feel that African music is richer in expression?

    MM: Not really, everywhere in the world there are those musicians who will express at a certain level – especially when you are doing something original. The music you play is also a medium in which you can express yourself best – like a language that is developed and that is growing and changing. So each artist when they start composing there own music and they play it – the way they feel it and it is real to them and then they can touch other people and perform it with a real spirit. In South Africa now it is an exciting time and also a testing time where we are reconfirming the root we have chosen. The richness comes from within and also opening your ears to other peoples music. And that’s why it is always changing. We (South Africans) are new and bringing in other musical elements, styles and feelings into the feelings of the world, but it happens everywhere with all musicians. Music is the most powerful force in providing the thing that will unite the world. It is a connecting force that can come from every country.

    SD: Talking about all these influences and similarities, having collaborated with kwaito group Tkzee and recently classical pianist Johanne Mcgregor, where are you going now with your sound?

    MM: It was exciting working with TKZee, it was a great experience and even today we are still continuing to collaborate. I have been in the studio with Tokolo on his album. There are things that I hear in kwaito and there are things that I have written that bring out the African element and the jazzy element more stronger in kwaito. As far as my musical career is concerned, at the moment I see a lot of possibilities. I think that for the next album it is going to be big. I can feel it because now I am aware of the importance of being global. I have always had those influences and that kind of perception but now I have experienced it and seen how it happens and how it can affect. I see possibilities of doing concerts with orchestras, I would like to develop my band. It can almost be like a school but also a band which allows young people to come and grow in it and be free to leave when they need to move on – a constantly developing ensemble. But at the end of the day, my next album will be all these influences put together, to present a new style, a new approach to music which is my personal approach. I have been listening to a lot of music – there is a lot of great music in the world which is not being heard as often as it should be – but in bringing all those elements together, I will be able to do that. Now it is a period of reflections and I like what I see so far, but I can see where it can go as well. I need time to put it together and take it into the world.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Africa Straight Ahead

    Africa Straight AheadAfrica Straight Ahead
    A Collection of Africa’s Finest

    (Heads Up – 2003)
    by Sidney Bechet-Mandela

    Scheduled to coincide with the historic ten year anniversary of the end of apartheid, Africa Straight Ahead spotlights some of South Africa’s leading jazz musicians playing their own compositions. This is the latest recording in the Heads Up Africa series and it continues to expand on the theme. Combining hard bop, swing and soul with the essence of Africa, this CD includes some of Africa’s most noted jazz musicians jammin’ like the sun was about to come up!

    The players: Darius Brubeck & Afro Cool Concept, Hotep Idris Galeta, Paul Hanmer, Moses Khumalo, McCoy Mrubata, Bheki Mseleku, Andy Narell, Zim Ngqawana, The Sheer All Stars, Voice and Marcus Wyatt.

    The result: One hell of an album. Straight out of the nightclub and into your room, this is sweet jazz at it’s free-grooving best.

    “These artists have been through so much since the dark days of apartheid, but their music is full of beauty and joy,” says Dave Love, president of Heads Up and creator of the Heads Up Africa series. Kudos to Love for having the vision and daring to bring us this remarkable series. The cover art features an African illustration by Frank Morrison.

    Orchestra Baobab – Sexier than the Buena Vista Social Club

    Orchestra Baobab
    Sexier than the Buena Vista Social Club

    By Struan Douglas

    Senegal is a country of many baobab trees and an incredible music tradition. And when they merge – that is the longevity, the pride and strength of the baobab tree with the beauty and passionate groove of the music – something quite wonderful is created.

    On my first evening in Dakar (the capital of Senegal) I walked to the historical and majestic Independence Square in the centre of the city. As I stood there in the repressive heat, I could hear music. Just across from the square there was this club. And inside people danced, slowly, sensuously and passionately to this glorious slow groove – creating a heavy atmosphere of attraction – about tradition, music and melody. The venue, the clothing, the people and the vibe all spoke in a wonderfully romantic tone. There was a sense of security and maturity in the music which talked of the country, of the influences and all the beauty that had been before. And you could certainly feel this.

    An old bald man played the violin evocatively, whilst a younger man sang in a typically high and melodic voice, the base was slow and the percussion gentle. The band was playing Cuban music better than the Cubans. It had all the romance of the Buena Vista Social Club, all the style of Cuba, but it was entirely African and entirely expressive.

    The band I was watching was not the famous band from Senegal’s 70’s – Orchestra Baobab. Orchestra Baobab had disbanded many years before, however they had left a wake of beauty behind them. And this band was one of the many in Senegal keeping that sensual tradition – where the love for the music proudly parades itself – alive.

    Orchestra Baobab was formed in Dakar when a group of government ministers decided to create an intimate club where they could meet with their friends. They took over premises in a basement just off Independence Square, and fashioned its walls and ceilings to resemble the Baobab tree. They called it the ‘Baobab Club’, and decided to open it with a wonderful music event. Musicians from all about town converged and when the band was joined by singing star and griot (the West African tradition of healing through music) Laye Mboup, Orchestra Baobab was born to open this wonderful club.

    They played the groove orientated Cuban inspired music of Senegal, illustrating the meeting point of all the wonderful music diversities that had touched on the port of Dakar. Latin music had been popular in Senegal since the 1940s through visiting sailors from Cuba and later during independence through political links. And as in the African manner it was reinvented with the music of the region, mixing in the West African flavour of mbalax music. The music of the West African griot. That form of music Youssou N’Dour made famous – the percussive intensity of the talking drum mixed with the soaring, preaching vocals.

    And when these roots of Senegal fused with the Latin, salsa and cha cha cha an intriguingly attractive blend that somehow captured the essence of beauty was created. To be in proximity to the music, to sense the enjoyment of the musicians is an expression and style all of its own and as a result the band enjoye d a wonderful career. They played at the glittering wedding reception of Pierre Cardin’s daughter in Paris, they played on the Casamance Express passenger boat and of course at the famous Baobab club.

    However unfortunately their fame could never escape the envy that follows it. Lead singer, Laye Mboup was killed in a car accident at the age of 27. Rumours concerning a jealous husband surrounded his death, however were never proved. The band continued without him and in the mid 70’s released five cassettes which like many African albums were awfully produced, poorly distributed, and pirated all through West Africa and Europe. They earned the distinction of being one of the most pirated bands.

    And this together with the vibrancy, maturity and beauty of the band gave rise to the recording – not ironically called ‘Pirates Choice’, recorded in the early eighties. Even though it was the end of the bands career it does capture the ebullience for style and the social, relaxed atmosphere of everything the music is about. Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    St Michael Zulu

    We chatted before the ceremony and St Michael was very pleased to be carrying the flag of Zambia – in fact the first nominee from that country.

    And little did he know at that stage – the first winner.

    “The musicians of Zambia are the hardest working, but Zambian music has never been explored, it is unknown. You really struggle as an artist to make contact and get to know artists across borders.”

    What about the involvement of this American R&B music at the kora’s – is this necessary?

    “As much as it is diluting the focus – it is emphasising the point that the core of the earth is Africa.”

    And the core of your musical background?

    “I come from Zambia which is a landlocked country and a musically landlocked country too. My music has to be social commentary.”

    “My country says I am one of the most controversial because I don’t mince my words – I wont call a spade a big spoon – I call it a spade. It is very important for artists to be a reflection of society because most of the media is government controlled. Personally I don’t find myself controversial. I do have a song called the presidents daughter talking about corruption. Sometimes I have had guns pointed at me, I’ve been threatened, but it should be an example to other artists. There’s a lot more that needs to be put on the table. For example in Zambia there is some of the best copper but now we are 80% below the poverty line.”

    “It is the policy makers – in my country there is no ministry that looks at music. They don’t recognise music. The only time a musician is important in Zambia is election time. Like now. Thereafter you are back in the backyard.”

    And where does the solution lie?

    “It took 400 years, the reversal takes time.”

    St Michael is a rastafarian – we chatted briefly about Mutaburuka’s rasta re-patronisation plan and the value of the religion to this continent:

    “They call Zambia a Christian nation but look at the churches – there is a lot of aids and divorce. At the end of the day every African is a Rastafarian they may not know it. Like the Chinese have their gods, a Rastafarian is a reflection of Africa and it sets an example of what an African should be.”

    Okay, he’s playing reggae, he’s talking Rasta – but what makes him Zambian and what is Zambian?

    “First of all my nature makes me Zambian. I have a lot of Zambian influence – this acoustic kind of sound. Some danceable rhythm, which is exclusive to us. It is called Kaludoula.”

    “We have had various influences since time immemorial – everyone has gone through Zambia – the Arabs, the missionaries. Zambia has been a focal point as well as a distribution point. There is no particular Zambian culture – there is a mixture of world cultures. But within that you will always notice Zambian music.”

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    For Africans by Africans

    For Africans by Africans For Africans by Africans
    by Struan Douglas

    The music industry in South Africa is crazy. We are infused with this incredible inferiority complex, where local is not cool or clever, it is ‘lekker’. So what, so is ice-cream, bubble-gum and Eskimo pie. Local music has hardly been endowed with any integrity or value, largely as a result of the media and record industry. Why should EMI bother with local music, when all they have to do is sell 2pac? Gallo concentrates on all those silly little singing blonde girls radio 5 loves so much and no fault of Sheer sound but they sell more of those cheesy international dance compilations than their jazz albums. The industry runs on the simple unimaginative economic conundrum of profit maximization – getting the product out to the most people with the least cost and risk.

    But, there is an African city with an African reality and an African music business, making a more vivid and still a lucrative economic statement, illustrating that an authentic and cultured musical palette is not only infinitely desirable and important but successful too. And that is the fantastic city of Dakar in Senegal.

    “This music belongs much more to the people than anyone else – because it comes from there culture, it is part of them,” said Baaba Maal, whilst on tour raising awareness for a young polio victim in the tiny way out village of Mboro in the North.

    And when the village was thrust into darkness to run sufficient power for the sound on stage – nothing more than a collection of high jump mats and hundred gallon drums on a random tract of desert – and when the gig only got underway after 3am on that cold desert morning, the importance of culture became absolutely lucid.

    The entire village was there, the young, the old, the conservative and the outgoing – dancing in the desert dust and loving. And that is what Senegal is about – culture is their national pride. And the industry is supporting not exploiting this.

    Almost every musician who has made it, is resisting the desires to immigrate, building an infrastructure and trying to make a difference in their country. And the musicians are working closely with the youth, instilling hope and pushing the music business in a direction that will know many many more stars in the future. “The youth here have great talent, but they don’t have the opportunity to do anything – we must help the youth to do something and be known world wide,” says Coumba Gowlo, who recently went Platinum doing a Senegalese version of Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata.’ She has created a label (Sabar) and a night-club (the Jpessie nights) to fulfil this ambition and the vision of creating an infrastructure now for tomorrow.

    “Everybody knows the media industry is not yet a money making industry,” says Youssou N’Dour who has famously developed a massive music and media business infrastructure, including the recording studio (Xippi), record label (Jololi), cassette plant, equipment rental company, night-club (Thiossane), radio station (7FM), newspaper (L’Info 7) and over 50 employers.

    “It is an enterprise that will be for tomorrow,” he says. “I am a builder, like if computers become what they are today it is because Bill Gates believed in it. I vote for information on culture because this can get out the tyranny of the politics. Information about culture interests the public.”

    And with four daily newspapers and a variety of radio stations, all dedicated to local content, the music of the region sings out everywhere. The small, dim and ebullient late-night hangouts dance to the chaotic mbalax rhythms, whilst sensual rumba goes down at the flash jazz den. On the back streets there’s a strong culture of hip hop, the main-streets are congested with panelbeaten black and yellow taxis bulging to the sounds of local music and bootleg cassette traders hunch over every street corner grooving to the greatest selection of Senegalese sounds.

    It is an African culture with great pride, borne out of a sincere depth of tradition. A little like the Italians love their food. An Italian writer in disgusted response to the advent of a Macdonalds in Rome wrote ‘the slow food manifesto.’ A book defending the right for pleasure, the importance of preserving local foods and recipes and cultivating an environment that allows us a better quality of life. Eat less, but eat better.

    And this is the same metaphor for the ‘fast music’ being served to us by the industry. It is offensive – it is about business, not art. Senegal is a much smaller country than ours, but their industry doesn’t patronise them, it feeds them properly, and we the South African public should demand the same, and then perhaps the industry will take notice.

    This journey to Senegal makes up part of Dancing with the Diaspora – an afribeat.com initiative to reconnect Africa with itself through music.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    Patricia Barber – A Fortnight In France

    Patricia BarberPatricia Barber
    A Fortnight In France
    (Blue Note/EMI – 2004)
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    Proving that the French are not completely stupid, Chicago-bred chanteuse Patricia Barber continues the proud but perhaps odd tradition started by the likes of Josephine Baker by garnering rave reviews in France than she does at home. Fortunately, this new live CD demonstrates why she deserves such raves and will hopefully help bring them back across the ocean.

    Combining South side drive with Francophile panache and the traditional quartet swing of “Witchcraft” with the funk band agitation of “Crash,” Barber shows a command and a cool that others could only get perhaps from their new husbands. And though other standards such as Johnny Mercer¹s “Laura” may languish a bit too much, the gender-flip of “Norwegian Wood” and the propulsive original “Whiteworld” refresh and keep the quartet of audiences involved and appreciative.

    © 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Incognito – Adventures in Black Sunshine

    PublicAdventures in Black Sunshine
    (Narada Jazz – 2004)
    by Ray Redmond

    After listening to the last Incognito release (Who Needs Love) I was worried that Bluey and the gang were slipping a bit. The CD was good, but lacked something. Turns out they were missing a vocalist; and with the return of Maysa Leak this album regains the vivacity you expect from our across-the-water cousins.

    Her presence is felt from the very first track Don’t Turn My Love Away, a slick piece that is sure to get plenty of air play. Everything Your Heart Desires is classic Incognito with their harmonies and jazzy interludes. Their housed-up cover of the Doobie Brothers’ classic Listen To The Music is one of my favorites, with Maysa’s soulful voice shining through. Fences & Barriers is another one to watch out for, Maysa pours her soul into it.

    The 25th Chapter comes on like a spy movie opening and then goes pure acid on you. Mr. Jones again shows how much they need Maysa’s warm vocalese … this song would not be the same with any other vocalist. In fact Incognito is better for her presence throughout this great CD, and you should enjoy it while she’s back.

    Pieces of a Dream – Acquainted with the Night

    Acquainted With
    The Night

    Pieces of a Dream
    by Ray Redmond

    It’s hard to imagine that Pieces of a Dream is celebrating their 25th anniversary in the music business, but they are. Teen prodigies James Lloyd and Curtis Harmon have matured into ‘thirty-something’ jazz veterans. After all those years of playing together, they have grown better rather than growing stale, like some of the hangers-on from that era.

    Featuring the likes of Gerald Albright, Ronny Jordan, Maysa Leak and Kenny Blake “Acquainted With The Night” brings on the fire and smoke that you expect from a group that helped pioneer smooth jazz. And let me give a nod to Heads Up Records for signing yet another fine group to their label and letting them create the kind of music they are known for, rather than trying to ‘mold’ them into some vision…

    The remake of “Theme from Mahogany” is great, but “Upside Down” is a little flat in my opinion. That’s the only down side to the CD. The rest is a festival of smooth rhythms, funky licks and soaring melodies. Smooth Jazz has come to have a somewhat commercial connotation to it recently, and then along comes Pieces of a Dream to remind us why Smooth Jazz got so popular in the first place. All you Smooth Jazz clones Take Note...this is the straight juice, not watered down and pumped out in an afternoon between tours. I expect it will get a lot of airplay.

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti – A Coney Island of the Mind

    Lawrence FerlinghettiLawrence Ferlinghetti
    A Coney Island of the Mind
    (Rykodisc – 1999)
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    Though many cars of this distant train of thought were written at once “under the influence of Eros, Pan [and] red wine” and originally intended to be accompanied by live jazz as “oral messages” rather than print-gagged poems, the continuity of the delivery is often barely as consistent as the messages expressed through it. Though there are some common themes amongst Ferlinghetti’s, even they are random and inconsistent. As the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, the West Coast Beat mentions his hometown repeatedly, sometimes within the same “oral message” or even the same line.

    Similarly repetitive name-droppings of Christ and other craftsmen (not to mention the infamous Johnny Nolan), sunbathers, elephants and sexual organs and functions do not an East Coast carnival scene paint. In many cases, the aged poet’s sibilant voice and shaky pacing and his occasional trasncript editions make him sound more like a reminiscent storyteller than a contemporary truth-teller. Even so, the portrait of the poet as an old man is a picture of a lo-fi guy having fun in a high-fi studio, complete with all the sound and mic effects he never had as a boy. Despite the generational gap, the time on your dirty ol’ grandpa’s lap is not often boring. And even when it is, sax-man Dana Colley (of Morphine fame) makes the untimely timing more on-time and keeps the mental midway rides rolling. As poetry, Ferlinghetti’s word play and prognostication are insightful and provocative. It just may be too late to go back to Coney Island.

    © 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Stefon Harris – A cloud of red dust

    A Cloud of Red Dust
    Stefon Harris
    by Fred Jung

    At first glance, this 25-year-old vibraphonist looks like he would be more at home in a GAP commercial and not on stage with Joe Henderson, but Stefon Harris is not one to be taken lightly. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, the New York native has raised eyebrows touring with Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre, Steve Coleman, Cassandra Wilson, and Greg Osby. Harris is the standout on Henderson’s Porgy and Bess release and single handily carries Charlie Hunter’s latest Return of the Candyman. With the aid of pianists Mulgrew Miller and Jason Moran, bassist Dwayne Burno, drummer Alvester Garnett, saxophonist Steve Wilson and the before mentioned Turre and Osby, Harris unveils his Blue Note debut A Cloud of Red Dust.

    “Sophistry” is an uptempo cooker that has an abundance of energy and spark. The camaraderie between Osby and the young Harris, prodded on by Garnett and Burno makes for attractive possibilities. Wilson’s probing soprano lines and Turre’s melancholy trombone gives weight to the polished ballad “In the Garden of Thought.” Harris’s vibraphone creativity lets the story slowly unfold for vocalist June Gardner, a glamorous songbird. Harris’s inspired level of playing does not decline for the title track “A Cloud of Red Dust.” The vibist receives enthusiastic support from Miller, Osby, and company, but it is his intellectual, grand themes and his impassioned playing that win the listener over.

    Harris knows the musical terrain and the people he has surrounded himself with are pointing him in all the right directions. A Cloud of Red Dust is the first installment of what will certainly be a brilliant career.

    Visit the Stefon Harris Website

    Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas

    A Charlie Brown Christmas
    Vince Guaraldi
    (Fantasy – 2006)

    For anyone who grew up during (and since) the ’60s, the music from the beloved animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas resonates with deep sentimental meaning. That swinging soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is as much a part of our musical upbringing as the early Beatles, Stones and Dylan albums and has continued to register with successive generations in rebroadcasts every year since its 1965 premiere.

    Memorable melodies like the cheerful “Linus And Lucy,” the whimsically swinging “Skating,” the bittersweet “Christmastime Is Here” and the groovy boogaloo “Christmas is Coming” have become ingrained in our collective consciousness. Like those Beatles, Stones and Dylan records, Guaraldi’s jazzy score has endured. Now, 41 years after its initial airing and 30 years after the pianist-composer himself passed away from a heart attack in 1976 at age 47, Fantasy is releasing a new Expanded Edition of this holiday favorite.

    Remixed in stereo using 24-bit remastering from the original tapes and featuring the original cover art reinstated with the approval of United Media and the Estate of Charles Schultz, A Charlie Brown Christmas includes four previously unissued bonus tracks by the Vince Guaraldi Trio (featuring Fred Marshall on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums).

    As Shawn Haney wrote in the Ail Music Guide to Jazz: “Guaraldi strings together elegant, enticing arrangements that reflect the spirit and mood of Schulz’s work and introduce contemporary jazz to youngsters with grace, charm and creativity. (His) penetrating improvisational phrases paint pictures of the first winter snowfall, myriads of glistening trees and powdery white landscapes.

    Revisit childhood memories and experience new holiday warmth with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

    A Celebration of Jazz and Joyce – Live 2007

    A Celebration of Jazz and Joyce
    Symphony Hall, Boston
    September 28, 2007
    by Matthew Robinson

    Over the past few years, the Beantown Jazz Festival has grown from a solid grassroots effort to a major venue for student and professional players and fans. Now with the combined blessing of the Berklee College of Music and Festival Productions founder George Wein, the Festival took Jazz to the next level, assembling a dream team of legendary and contemporary artists the likes of which have probably never been seen on the same stage at the same show.

    While the main reason behind the show (i.e., the passing of Wein’s beloved wife Joyce) was unfortunate, the master of musical mixture was able to put a positive spin on even this most tragic impetus by having proceeds from the sold-out (and THEN some!) show go to a new scholarship that has been created in Joyce’s name (www.berklee.edu). The list of participants was impressive to say the least – A gathering that only George could assemble.

    From long-time family friends like octogenarian percussionist Roy Haynes and thunder throwing pianist Michele Camilo to some former band mates of Miles Davis named Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Cobb, the concert featured combinations of names and sounds that would make any Jazz fan drool. Representing the home school were pianist Toshiko Ayikoshi, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and sax master Joe Lovano (whose duet with Branford Marsalis included a fun game of “Can you out-squonk this?”), as well as scores of students who hooted and hollered for every impressive interval.

    From an appropriate offering of Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You” by far-reaching trumpeter Jon Faddis and guitarist Howard Alden to Lew Tabackin’s fluted two-step take on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” to Camilo’s blinding breeze through “Caribe” that brought the house down and the crowd to their feet, the show contained many of Wein’s faves, but every song wowed the crowd as the superstars pushed each other to take it to the next level.

    By the time the entire squad assembled for Wein’s personal appreciations, the audience was stuck standing, awed by the magical and meaningful display they had just witnessed.


    ©2007 Matthew S. Robinson

    Al Jarreau – Accentuate The Positive

    Al JarreauAl Jarreau
    Accentuate The Positive
    (GRP – 2004)
    by Carmen Miller

    Al says that this CD “is quite different than any other that I have recorded.” After listening to Accentuate the Positive I think that you’ll agree that this is a fresh CD by the old vocal master. All of the songs were recorded in the studio (live) with a quartet. There are no string arrangements, no background arrangements, background vocals or overdue. There were “only two solo’s by harmonica and tenor sax were added after the original sessions where

    Listen to Cold Duck using RealAudio.

    I sang along with the quartet.” With Accentuate The Positive Jarreau has mixed some classic standards, some jazz standards and added two original pieces to create an simple but effective CD.

    You’ll hear the effort on tracks like the snazzy Cold Duck. Dedicated to the memory and music of the late Eddie Harris, Jarreau took the famous instrumental and added lyrics… and some WICKED guitar work by Anthony Wilson, son of jazz pioneer Gerald Wilson. The title track is light and full of humor, much like Johnny Mercer, the writer. Betty is delivered in a soft and gentle vein, testament to jazz diva Betty Carter. Groovin’ High starts out with the trademark Jarreau scatting with the percussion … Dizzy would jump to hear it. Scootcha-Booty is another gem, full of Jarreau style and piano riffing, and there’s an interesting background behind the name. Check back next issue and see our Al Jarreau interview to hear the story.

    For more information visit the Al Jarreau Web Site.

    Steve Rochinski – A Bird in Hand

    A Bird In The Hand Steve Rochinski
    A Bird in Hand
    John Barrett

    Tiny notes in soft focus. On a stark background strings creep, thoughtful and light – Bill Evans with a guitar, sort of. You hear this on “Beautiful Love”, a tune Evans did: phrases exchanged with Scott Lee, who sounds like a second guitar. The interplay deepens, it slowly gets louder, and lastly the theme –more dream than song, and a sweet one. There’s more where that came from: floating sound and quiet moods. Elusive as a bird, and – sometimes – it soars.

    “Monk’s Dream” picks up the pace, with some Monk chords from Steve! (Lee’s there too; he’s good and snaky.) Andy Summers tried this on his GREEN CHIMNEYS album; Steve does it better. Some tracks add piano, which muddies the water. (It’s hard to hear Lee, and that’s a bad thing.) The best quartet is “Tina”, with an icy-cool line (written by Tal Farlow, a teacher of Steve.) Here he turns active: a liquid tone with nifty sliding. The dancing is fine and Bruce Thomas’ comps are a joy. “Bird in the Hand” goes dub-crazy, and we get three Steves (one plays “Billie’s Bounce”!) A different sound, if a bit cluttered. By and large, the trios are best: they dig deep, and that’s where Steve excels.

    “Get Out of Town” is literal; Steve goes to Brazil! As the samba ticks by, he carries on like Wes, then plucks high for echoing chimes. Thomas is nice, and Lee goes Spanish on his turn. “They Didn’t Believe” swings easy – friendly notes, with a little snap. The best trio, and some needed sunshine. “Stardust” twinkles: Steve is alone, and the sound is delicate. Lee joins in; it becomes “Body and Soul” — a seamless transition, with warm sparkles. And now it gets real soft: “Powder Your Face”, written by his grandfather 55 years ago, wrapped in springy chords. The tenderness here fits the quietude elsewhere; the warmth in some tunes balances the angularity of other. A gentler guitar than most, but at his best (“Believe”, “Stardust”) this bird sings!

    Songs: Beautiful Love; Monk’s Dream; House Party Starting; A Bird in the Hand; ‘Round Midnight; Tina; Go Little Boat; Get Out of Town; They Didn’t Believe Me; Hassan’s Dream; Stardust/Body & Soul; Powder Your Face With Sunshine.

    Musicians: Steve Rochinski (guitar); Bruce Thomas (piano); Scott Lee (bass); Joe Hunt (drums); Catherine Birrer (percussion on “Get Out of Town”).

    For more info, contact: Jardis Music

    Andrew Hill – A Beautiful Day

    A Beautiful Day
    Andrew Hill
    (Palmetto – 2002)
    by Ricky Miller

    Sixty two year old pianist Andrew Hill hadn’t recorded for almost a decade prior to releasing Dusk in 2000, which went on to be Down Beat’s “Jazz Album of the Year”. Since then Hill has written over 40 more original works, eight of which are featured here. The hugely successful musical journey Hill began with Dusk continues, enhanced by the addition of 11 new players. The big surprise is that A Beautiful Day is a live recording! Including members of Dusk’s Point of Departure Sextet the music was recorded live during a three-night stand at New York’s famed Birdland in January 2002. The CD is very improvisational, the themes ranging from the disjointed cacaphony on the wonderful Faded Beauty to the almost choral sections of 5 Mo.

    Andrew Hill’s style of music is unstructured and free, retaining some elements of traditional jazz while often flitting loose of those bonds and crossing boundaries, only to return later (or not, sometime). The music here is imaginative and sweeping, filled with nuances of tonality and texture. Wonderful and wonderous this is mind expanding fare, definitely not for the faint of heart or the smooth jazz addicts out there.

    The Mark Kleinhaut Trio – A Balance Of Light

    The Mark Kleinhaut Trio
    A Balance Of Light
    (Invisible Music – 2003)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Guitarist/composer Mark Kleinhaut composed eight new songs for A BALANCE OF LIGHT and as the story goes, Kleinhaut was inspired to write these songs for his upcoming session with alto-saxophonist Bobby Watson while residing on the coastal barrier island of Cape Hatteras. Kleinhaut offers his listeners a solid, jazz performance that you’ll appreciate from start to finish. “Ferdinand and Isabelle” opens the set with prominent solos from Watson. There is a joyful vibe to the music which may (or may not) be a reference to the Spanish royalty that financed many a conquistador’s expedition to the colonies along the Atlantic coast. The versatility of this recording is astounding! “Erikita” is a breathy, romantic ballad that oozes with sensuality while “Start It Up” finds Watson in the hard-bop mode that many of his fans have come to associate him with as a result of his many collaborations with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Horizon, Curtis Lundy and George Coleman. Mark Kleinhaut’s compositional integrity is clearly apparent while his highly evolved musical vocabulary on the guitar is the perfect foil for Watson’s saxophonics. His tones are clean and his phrasings are melodic and beautiful. A BALANCE OF LIGHT is a near perfect program of jazz compositions offering essential jazz elements, colors, forms and in-the-moment improvisations that feed the energy between Kleinhaut, Watson, Jim Lyden on bass and Les Harris, Jr. on drums.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Aaron Neville – Live at the Berklee Performance Center

    Live at the Berklee Performance Center
    Aaron Neville
    (Boston – October 8, 2006)
    by Matthew Robinson

    Not content to jump on the contemporary-artists-singing-old-time-classics bandwagon, Aaron Neville celebrated the release of his latest hit-filled album, Bring It On Home… The Soul Classics (Burgundy) with a soulful set of the songs that he grew up with, that sustained him (especially in recent dark times) and that he still sings like nobody else. From a dark and deep “Rainy Night in Georgia” to a sunny Ray tribute “What I Say” to an air guitared take on Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” Aaron and his tight troupe went from song to song to song for over two hours with nary a break.

    And when Aaron did take a break, Brother Charles led the band with his hot sax through such instrumental crowd-pleasers as a sultry syncopated samba of “Besame Mucho” and a groovy “Ode to Billie Joe.” Losing some of his signature shivery syllables in a humming mic and dropping off the set list for a mumbly “Gypsy Woman,” Neville indeed brought it all back home with his fraternal hit “Yellow Moon.” Though he made no mention of his recently abandoned home, Aaron’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana” was especially heartfelt and touching and his signature song “Tell it Like it Is” did just that.

    Among the lighter moments were a fluid medley from the self-proclaimed graduate of the “University of Doo-wop-ology” that included “Sincerely,” “Daddy’s Home” and the gospel soul of “Send Me Someone to Love” and an encore-closing spelling of the “Mickey Mouse March.” With so many hits and so many ovations, all we can hope is that we M-I-C Aaron again real soon, because this was a truly special night of timeless songs performed by one who truly knew and loves them. ©2006 M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Arturo Sandoval – A Time for Love

    Arturo Sandoval
    A Time for Love
    Concord – 2010
    Sounds of Timeless Jazz

    A Time for Love is certainly one of the more beautiful recordings released by Arturo Sandoval. The world-renowned GRAMMY winning trumpeter who is best known for his swinging Afro-Cuban jazz (CUBOP) and high registers brings out his romantic side via lovely ballads from the Great American Songbook and classical composers Ravel, Feure and Piazolla. Sandoval shares the spotlight with such great musicians as vocalist Monica Mancini, trumpeter Chris Botti, The Shelly Berg Trio and the great pianist Kenny Baron – all accompanied by an orchestra. 


    All of the compositions are exquisite however, Ravel’s “Pavane For A Dead Princess,” his collaboration with trumpeter Chris Botti, is particularly beautiful and well-stylized. Monica Mancini also brings her inspired tranquility and finesse to the project not to mention her memorable vocals on “Oblivion,” Astor Piazolla’s masterful work. Sandoval is proficient and commanding throughout this project but when he sings “Estate” in Portuguese, and “Smile” in English, the versatility, passion and sincerity heard in his singing voice  is also rendered in his  trumpeting voice. “I Love You Porgy,” receives a successful update and this special rendition should persuade novices to strive for the same great  sonority that Sandoval relays in this song.


    This melding of classical repertoire with jazz standards from the Great American Songbook is sure to please both classical and jazz aficionados. Kenny Baron’s pianism is not only delicate and dramatic when necessary, his underscoring of Sandoval’s trumpeting is exclusively Baron. He is The Baron. The pleasures of harmony, melody and lush orchestration all come together beautifully in A TIME FOR LOVE making it timeless and one of the best ballad recordings by a trumpeter since Roy Hargrove’s MOMENT TO MOMENT.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    L’Tanya Mari’ – A Teardrop of Sun

    L’Tanya Mari’
    A Teardrop of Sun
    L’Tanya Mari’ Music – 2009
    Carmen Miller

    With a clear and vibrant tone that ranges from the lilting falsetto to the huskiness of a Sarah Vaughn, Philadelphia-bred L’Tanya Mari’ displays a vocal prowess that is not seen very often. To call her a diva would be premature, but not unwarranted. To call her a songbird is a bit hackneyed, but it fits. To call her fabulous hits the mark.

    Her debut CD A Teardrop of Sun, is the first step in a career that should carry her into the annals of vocal jazz history. Her daring and difficult rendition of Bill Evans “Very Early” is the first track on the release and shows her vocal range and abilities right from the start. Crystal Silence is a somber and beautiful lament of love lost.

    That Old Black Magic is well known and oft used, but she squeezes a bit of jazzy new life into it. I Gotta Right To Sing the Blues is a smooth give and take with guitarist Paul Wingo. The vocal abilities of L’Tanya shine on all of the tracks including the lovely The  more I see. Get a copy and own the beginning of a legacy.

    Irene and Her Latin Jazz Band – A Song of You

    Irene and Her Latin Jazz Band
    A Song of You
    Irene and Her Latin Jazz Band – 2009
    C.W.Ross – Indie Music Stop

    Simply known as Irene she’s a rising jazz artist who was already performing on stage by the age of three. Irene started formal piano lessons when she was eight years old, along with taking dance lessons (ballet, modern jazz and tap).

    Her early influences included classical music, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and The Beatles as well as the Latin sounds of Sergio Mendes & his Brasil Bands and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

    The listeners of radio station KLAC located in Los Angeles chose Irene as a “Fabulous Find”. She was also nominated for “Female Vocalist of the Year – Latin” for the 17th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards.

    All of her training and hard work paid off when in October of 2003 she performed at a guest talent show at the Club Med in Tahiti and was offered a three week gig on the spot singing at the resort. Since that time she returns several times a year to that resort along with other Club Med locations to perform.

    Irene & Her Latin Jazz Band’s latest release, A Song of You, is a collection of 14 songs that combine smooth jazz with a traditional Latin sound.

    Besides Irene on the vocals you’ll also find talented musicians, Marco Tulio (acoustic guitar), Daniel Groisman (bass), Cristiano Novelli (percussion), Frank Zottoli (piano), Rique Pantoja (one of Brazil’s top pianists/keyboardists), and Scott Martin (flute & saxophone).

    The songs found on A Song of You are a mixture of classic Latin songs (Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste” and “Quite Nights of Quiet Stars,” and Joao Gilberto’s “Bim Bom”); along with well know American standards (George & Ira Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” and Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot”). Irene also includes two pop songs (“Change The World” made famous by Eric Clapton, and Sting’s “Fragililidad”) re-arranged with a Latin Jazz vibe.

    Irene also co-wrote three of the songs found on this release, two with guest saxophonist and flutist Scott Martin, and one with guest keyboardist Alex Varden. Both musicians also worked with Irene on her debut album, Summer Samba.

    The multi-lingual Irene can sing in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, though most of the songs found on this release are done in English.

    Irene is a one person working machine, besides being the vocalist, Irene selected all of the music, the musicians, produced the album, and did both the initial arrangements by herself and the final arrangements with the band, even doing all of the mixing for this release.

    When asked about her musical style Irene said, “We call it So Cal-Brazilian music,” she continues, “because we all live in Southern California, which of course has its own Latin culture, but most of the band originally came from Brazil. ”

    For the most part the songs are smooth, gentle, and flow freely like a nice summer breeze. Dealing a lot with the subject of love in the songs Irene says that, “My theory is that the world can never have too many love songs. But what would be the point if we don’t do them differently than they have been done before” So each tune is in our own style featuring a Latin jazz arrangement with a Brazilian beat, but also filtered through a Southern California lifestyle,”

    While a majority of the songs have that laid back smooth jazz feel, there’s also several songs like, “South Seas Samba/Samba de Bora, Bora,” that will get your blood pumping and your feet wanting to dance along to its beats.

    One of the highlights tracks “Change the World,” is where Irene puts her own spin on the well-known pop song from Eric Clapton. At first it seems a little bit odd, being so use to hearing the original version, but as the song progresses along it grew on me.

    The release wraps up with, “La Foule,” a song that has transpired from a Russian folk tune to a Spanish love song, then to a big band waltz, and now Irene puts her own spin on the song.

    If you like your jazz smooth with a nice heaping topping of Latin music then Irene & Her Latin Jazz Band’s, A Song of You, is the perfect album for you

    Marcus Miller – A Night in Monte Carlo

    Marcus Miller
    A Night in Monte Carlo
    2011 – Concord Jazz

    Bassist, producer, composer, and all-around musician Marcus Miller has been a student and a leader, a creator and an interpreter, a master and a mentor in the art form of music – from his teen years to the present – with many more miles to go before he sleeps…a profound past paving the way to an as yet unfathomable future. Marcus continues this legacy with A Night in Monte-Carlo, a live audio document of an amazing concert he was commissioned to perform on November 29, 2008 in the “rich man’s playground” of Monaco – a performance of music of his choice, much of it from his pen, featuring his arrangements for symphony orchestra. It features Marcus leading both his quartet and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, with special guests: trumpeter Roy Hargrove as well as singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Mid�n. “I was invited by Jean-Ren� Palacio, the Artistic Director for the principality of Monaco to present some of my music with the orchestra on the French Riviera,” Marcus recalls. No stranger to the area, as he has performed there many times AND played there on his downtime as a race car buff during the Grand Prix, Marcus relished the opportunity of sharing his music in the breathtaking and intimate 600-seat Monte-Carlo Opera House.

    “The ceiling and every wall beneath is adorned with the most unbelievable murals,” Marcus marvels. “The setting was gorgeous.” More amazing were the fabulous musicians of the symphony. “The Monte-Carlo Orchestra was very hip. They were enthusiastic about my music and understood right away the sound I was trying to get,” Marcus enthuses. “After the first day of rehearsal, they all lined up to shake my hand! That put me totally at ease and made this the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had with a symphony. My band and the orchestra became good friends over those three days of rehearsal.

    A Night in Monte-Carlo closes with two very special pieces. The first is Marcus’ reverent yet contemporary interpolation of the spiritual “Amazing Grace” which he calls “Your Amazing Grace” that features him on an instrument that has fast become his most singular voice, the bass clarinet. That is followed by an inspired 11th hour addition, “Strange Fruit,” recorded in his Los Angeles recording studio. The chilling portrait of racial hatred that Billie Holiday first performed in 1939 on the stage of Caf� Society, the title metaphorically conjures the bodies of black men, women and child lynch victims hanging from trees in the American south in the not so distant past. It is an image and meditation that Miller brings to highly emotive recall in his musical history lesson for orchestra, crying its blues through his mournful bass clarinet accompanied by the piano of his frequent friend and collaborator Herbie Hancock.

    Reflecting on the Monte Carlo concert, Marcus states, “I loved that the audience was full of so many people who had never experienced anything like this. Some were jazz lovers who’d never been to a symphony or vice versa, or young people seeing their first jazz concert. Personally, I was very inspired by the collaboration with the orchestra…so much so that the sound lingered in my mind long afterward. When I returned to my studio in Los Angeles, I arranged and recorded “Strange Fruit” and added it as a bonus track to the Monte Carlo CD as a reflection of the impression this experience has left on me.”

    Since this recording was made in 2008, Marcus has presented A Night In Monte-Carlo with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic featuring Lalah Hathaway and Raul Mid�n for the 50th Anniversary of Jazz a Juan in the summer of 2010, and more recently at the Tokyo Jazz Festival with the NHK Symphony Orchestra featuring Roberta Flack and young trumpeter, Christian Scott. He has tailored each program to include his special guests and plans to continue to do so with various artists for upcoming shows.


    Phil Woods – A Life In E Flat – DVD

    Phil Woods
    A Life In E Flat – DVD
    JazzedMedia – 2005
    Ricky Miller

    Phil Woods amazing career has spanned over 50 years, during which he has established himself as one of the leading jazz alto saxophone players in the bebop music idiom. Joined by his “Little Big Band” (Brian Lynch, Bill Charlap, Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin) Woods is shown in the studio recording several songs for the CD “This is How I Feel About Quincy”. 

    Produced in 2005, this 86 minute includes extensive interviews with the man who tells his story from the beginning in a way that reveals anonther side of his talented personality… the storyteller. Between the storyline and the shots and scenes of Woods at work we are offered an amazing opportunity to see Phil’s incredible artistry up close, the creative process of making a jazz recording at work before our eyes.

    Phil Woods joined the jazz music scene in New York during the late 1940’s when bebop was gaining popularity as the new direction of American jazz. After graduating from Juilliard Music School Phil quickly gained fame by joining the Birdland All Stars Tour of 1956, and then the Dizzy Gillespie State Department Tour throughout the Middle East. During the late 1950’s Phil worked with jazz luminaries including Quincy Jones and Thelonious Monk. Phil’s partnership with Gene Quill in the late 1950’s established Phil as a major jazz star and led to many exciting recordings during the 1960’s. After moving to Europe in 1968 Phil formed the “European Rhythm Machine” which kept Phil busy during the challenging period for jazz in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Phil returned to the United States in the early 1970’s and had one of the first major “crossover” hits in the popular field by recording the now legendary solo in Billy Joel’s top selling song “Just the Way You Are”. Phil received several Grammy nominations and awards during the 1970’s and formed a 30 year working relationship with Quintet members Bill Goodwin and Steve Gilmore. Phil currently resides in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and tours the world sharing his gifted interpretations of the Great American Songbook, while continuing to carry the torch of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the bebop music idiom.
    – Graham Carter, Producer

    DVD includes: tunes from the recording session, interviews with the musicians and Phil, and historic photos of Phil’s career.

    Bonus material includes: additional interviews with Phil and a Phil Woods CD-ROM Discography (viewable on your computer) courtesy of JAZZ IMPROV MAGAZINE.

    Documentary 64:24
    Additional Interviews 22:17

    Russell Malone – Playground

    Russell MaloneRussell Malone
    (MaxJazz – 2004)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Russell Malone, the internationally renowned guitarist / composer / arranger / producer, has the honor of launching the Strings Series for MaxJazz Records. Playground is a stylistic collection of original compositions, jazz and pop standards that evoke Malone’s artistic sensibilities on a variety of levels. Accompanied by his working group of Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Joe Locke on vibes, E.J. Strickland on drums, Tassili Bond on bass and Martin Bejarano on piano, Malone transforms his musical rhetoric and string power on such songs as “You Should Know Better,” “Blues For Mulgrew,” “Playground,” and “Mandela.” Malone collects any preconceived smooth jazz notions and tosses them aside. Here, he’s playing straight-ahead jazz, groove and regulates his string virtuosity with soft ballads such as the lovely “Something To Live For,” and his beautiful solo effort titled “Remind Me.”

    Malone is both spicy and sweet on “Sugar Buzz,” which features his dynamic guitar riffs and a sensational solo by vibist Joe Locke. However, most notable is the amazing departure from his previous musical direction and the new one he has taken with “Mandela.” With the spiritual impact and strengthening of emotional expression from alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, this song has an astounding effect on the listener and is certain to raise the bar on the true compositional integrity of Malone. Overall, the success of this recording lies in Malone’s seemingly effortless playing and the creative impulses derived and executed by his accompanists. Excellent repertoire here, be it the musically altered pop standard “We’ve Only Just Begun” or the revived “You’ve Got A Friend,” the nature of Russell Malone’s guitar has a flow of rhapsodic eloquence and the spirit of his music is unmistakable.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Louis Armstrong – Love Songs

    Louis Armstrong

    Love Songs
    Louis Armstrong
    (Sony – 2000)
    by Matt Robinson

    The first thing to notice about this lovingly-crafted collection is its clarity. So much so, that listeners might be send fumbling for th eliner notes to see that these tracks originally appeared not in the digital era, but deep in th eanalog and pre-analog days. Though some of these sides date back to the Depression, even the victrola-mono tunes seem more charmingly retro than archaic. Next is that tone- both on the horn and on the mike. If he did not invent it, Armstrong brought “scat” to the masses and, combining this luyrical nonsense with his brassy horn and rusty golden vocal chords, revolutionized the ways of instrumental and vocal jazz, earning him at least a place on the “artist of the century” podium.

    Though the female vocalists who accompany and parry with King Louis pale greatly in comparison with Satrchmo and the women who might have been available at the time, Armstrong’s own range shines on this compilation, from the trademark gravelly rasp of “I’m Crazy ŒBout My Baby” to the surprisingly open matinee croon of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Louis throws ina bit of Jolson-esque mugging as well on Hoagy Carmichael’s “My Sweet.” In addition to the contemporary cleanness noticible on this disc are moments of very modern tecording technology, including a two-track self harmonization on Thomas “Fats” Waller’s “I’ve Got A Felling I’m Falling” (taken from the seminal recording Satch Plays Fats).

    Live cuts from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and a concert in Milan and a previosuly unreleased version of “Ko Ko Mo” make this set all the sweeter. From the dixieland sources to the original interpretations, Love Songs draws from Columbia’s vast Armstrong archives and wraps up a brilliant career in a tidy package with love.

    ©2003, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Dave Brubeck – Love Songs

    Dave Brubeck

    Love Songs
    Dave Brubeck
    (Columbia/Legacy – 2000)
    by Matt Robinson

    For over 50 years, Dave Brubeck has been sitting quietly behind the keys making some of the biggest sounds in jazz. He’s worked with Davis and Evans and played the music of Porter, Gillespie and even Disney. However, much if not most of his best work was with his trusted quartet, backed by the rhythms of drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright and balanced by the signature sax lines of Paul Desmond. On this collection, some of Brubeck’s most romantic and lovingly-delivered offerings are brought together for a career retrospective with a special angle. Handing “My Romance” over to Desmond after a solo introduction and development, Brubeck takes his own sweet time with “In Your Own Sweet Way,” sharing the lead with Desmond’s flugled horn for a west side trip through Sondheim and Bernstein’s “Somewhere.”

    The Brubeck-Desmond original “Audrey” invites the noir-y rhythmic talents of Bob Bates and Joe Dodge and a previously unreleased session of “You Go To My Head” lets Desmond take five while clarinetist Bill Smith sits-in. Though “Like Someone in Love” may be a bit peppy to relax by the fire to, Desmond’s smooth delivery and a glass of wine make it all right.

    ©2002, M. S. Robinson, ARR


    Norman Connors – Eternity

    Norman Conners
    (Right Stuff – 2000)
    by Stephen H. Watkins, Sr.

    I’m a Norman Connors fan from way-back, and producer/drummer Connors has not had an album since his 1996 ‘Easy Livin’, so it was with some excitement that I put this CD on. Happily, this is a strong comeback featuring an all-star cast including Peabo Bryson, Angela Bofill, Gerald Albright, Norman Brown, Bobby Lyle, Ray Parker, Jr., Paul Jackson, Jr., Michael Henderson, Gary Bartz, Marion Meadows and Lisa Fischer. Whew… an all star cast indeed!.

    Norman has always tread back and forth across the R&B/Jazz line, often trampling it down entirely and this time is no different. There are a couple of R&B remakes, the Delfonics “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”, Connors’ own “You are my Starship” and the Donny Hathaway Classic “We’re Stil Friends”. “Didn’t I” is slated to be the first single released, and rightly so!. It is beautifully done with Fischer’s strong vocals carrying the tune. “Still Friends” is as emotional as ever, with newcomer Donald Tavie standing in for Donny with strength and feeling, backed by the guitar solos of Paul Jackson, Jr.

    “Starship” is pretty (anything Peabo sings usually is) but it did not touch me like the first version. Connors states that he “couldn’t think of anyone else who could sing it”, before he chose Peabo. No offense Norman, but why not have Michael do it again? Be that as it may, this is a great Jazz/R&B release. I also would like to give special mention to “Can’t Say No” which features the vocals of newcomer Denise Stewart, a classic ballad in the Norman Connors tradition.

    He may have fallen a little short on his remake of “Starship”, but the new tunes on this CD are to today what Starship was to those days. I thoroughly enjoyed the CD and recommend it to anyone that is a fan of any of the artists named above.

  • Be sure to check out the Norman Connors Interview from last month’s JazzUSA.
  • Coming Up for Air – starring Stan Strickland

    Coming Up for Airstarring Stan Strickland
    @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge, MA
    Matt Robinson

    Ringed by instruments from all over the world on an otherwise bare stage, award-winning singer/songwriter/sax man Stan Strickland tells the story of a musical life almost cut short before the hero can hit “the chaaats.” Struggling under the waves off Hawaii, the director of Express Yourself (expressyourselfinc.org) looks back on a career that has included teaching at Berklee and Longy School of Music and playing with Sonny (Rollins) and Shirley (Horn), Miles (Davis) and even (Bob) Moses. And though this was apparently not Strickland’s first near-death experience, the story is still captivating and well written, filled with self-referential road signs that keep the story breathing circularly and poetic descriptions that, along with subtle shades of light (compliments of lighting designer Eric Levenson), fill the bare stage with musical color.


    Instead of struggling with the undertow, Strickland looks for the light and eventually grabs it. Along the way, Strickland introduces us to such memorable characters as his belt-snapping father (source of Strickland’s first musical memory), his pie-baking, life-saving grandmother, his beloved Isis and her whacked-out, stringless bass-playing brother, and Chief, a percussive mentor who pushes Strickland to new levels of music, but also to the edge of the precipice from which he falls, only to be reborn again through a meditative journey that teaches him the importance of breathing and finding the spaces between “yes” and “no.” 


    In addition to his father’s renditions of “Lucky Ol’ Sun,” Strickland’s musical journey is punctuated with flute solos that range from lyrical to aggressive and sax shots that go from whisper to wail to warped weapon, as well as impressive performances of Coltrane’s “Wise One,” an improvisational dance around the instrument-strewn stage, and an audience-encompassing encore of “Amen” that allows all who enter to truly share in the spirit of this remarkable musician and man.


    “Coming Up for Air” will be performed at the Central Square Theater (www.centralsquaretheater.org) until August 9, after which it will head to Scotland for a run at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival.




    – Matt Robinson

    Wayne Wallace – �Bien Bien!

    Wayne Wallace
    �Bien Bien!
    Patois Records – 2009

    �Bien Bien!, is Wallace’s fifth production on his label, Patois Records.  Sparkling with the same signature energy that infuses all his work, Wallace’s masterful compositions and arrangements always give the all-star cast he surrounds himself with a chance to cook. 

    His performances offer a fascinating collection of originals, standards and Latin classics that explore the intersection of many threads of music from all ends of the globe.  Wayne Wallace and Rhythm & Rhyme’s enduring love of Afro-Cuban music and jazz will no doubt bring joy to your hearts and the unmistakable urge to dance to your feet. 

    iBiEN BiENl

    opens with the title track, a head-bopping tune by Wallace that features his signature tight horn writing, featuring Wallace with fellow trombonists Julian Preister and Bay Area favorite Dave Martell. Before he takes his own blazing solo, Wallace gives the floor to pianist Murray Low, who ably demonstrates why he is one of the most trusted names in Latin Jazz. This tune is also a shining vehicle for drummer Paul van Wageningen, another veteran of the Latin scene whose stunning virtuosity as a soloist is icing on the cake; his grooves are always rock-solid, and his break out moments are truly exhilarating.

    Wallace’s arrangement of Freedom Jazz Dance (Baffle De Libertad) is a phenomenal transformation of this famous Eddie Harris tune, which is here treated as a Puerto Rican Bomba featuring two vocalists, Orlando Torriente and KennyWashington. Torriente opens with a rousing incantation before Washington delivers a sure-fire, virtuosic statement of this tricky head, with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson. Adding to the temperature is a rollicking backup chorus of only six singers that make enough sound to be mistaken for sixty. On the amiable Wallace original Mojito Caf�, Wallace displays incredibly nimble chops

    Building Bridges

    is a tune by the Colombian Afro-Cuban drummer Memo Acevedo that features more of Wallace’s deliciously intricate horn writing, again covered by Wallace, Priester, and Martell, who all take excellent solo turns. In his ever-informative liner notes, Wallace explains that this tune celebrates the cities of San Juan, New York City, and Havana, which have all at one point been “… at the nexus of blending modern music styles and propelling them forward.”

    Doc Powell – 97th & Columbus

    Doc Powell

    97th & Columbus
    Doc Powell
    (Heads Up – 2003)
    by Carmen Miller

    Powell’s newest offering reads like a who’s of of Jazz… George Duke, Patrice Rushen, Harvey Mason and Marcus Miller, with guest appearances by the likes of Benny Maupin and even R&B crooner Luther Vandross. The Flavour is an original, latin-tinged track where Doc plays both the guitar and keyboards. Made famous by G. Benson, Powell’s rendition of Breezin’ is a little more stately and well accented by Patrice’s keyboarding. The title track is smooth and features Sax man Ron Brown. Sun Goddess, written by EW&F’s Maurice White and introduced on the Ramsey Lewis album of the same name, is smooth and true to the original while inheriting something from Doc’s own style.

    The appropriately named Let’s Jam again features the sweet keyboarding or Patrice Rushen and some Clarinet and Sax contributions from Benny Maupin. Ode to Chet slows it down a bit, and features a different cast of players like bassist Sekou Bunch, Drummer Lavell Bell and percussionist Erik Zobler. The closer What’s Going On shows how to cover a great, over-played song and keep it interesting. Doc’s fingering and timing are marvelous here. Since signing with Heads Up records, Doc Powell seems to be on the quality track and I’m liking it a lot.

    G.F. Mlely – 88 Keys and Counting

    G.F. Mlely88 Keys and Counting
    G.F. Mlely
    (JazCraft – 2002)
    by Ricky Miller

    G. F. Mlely performs solo piano with a two-pronged attack… Left hand and Right hand. The sound is clear and crisp, the delivery is powerful and moving. His interpretation of Gershwin’s Our Love is Here to Stay is filled with flamboyant runs and staccato romps. The take on Cole Porter’s Love for Sale is slow and blues infested while retaining that quality of ‘lightness’ that Mlely ingrains into his work; a marvelous rendering. Other covers include Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo another Porter tune’ Night and Day‘ and a sweetly played version of Johnny Mercer’s Come Rain or Come Shine.

    There are also four Mlely originals, most notable of which is Rio – all motion and interplay with a moment here and there for some jouncy rhythm. I also liked the Spirit Inside; a well developed song that delivers a sense of pride and majesty, showing Mlely’s ability not only to play with both hands, but to write for them as well. Mlely plays and writes with a style that is uniquely his and very recognizable, much like another solo-piano pioneer, George Winston. Very enjoyable.

    The CD is available Right Now at JazCraft

    Joe Zawinul – 75

    Joe Zawinul
    Heads Up – 2009

    Keyboardist and composer Joe Zawinul, who succumbed to cancer September 11, 2007 at age 75, left behind a half-century legacy of brilliant music that will last for generations. Born in Austria and originally trained in classical music, Zawinul embraced the jazz tradition at a young age and eventually pushed the art form to unprecedented limits via his two most innovative projects, Weather Report and later the Zawinul Syndicate.

    Despite the medical and physical challenges of his final months, Zawinul’s regimen of composing and performing never let up. Indeed, one of his final performances proved to be one of his best.

    The aptly titled 75, was recorded in concert at a festival date in Lugano, Switzerland, on July 7, 2007 – the last birthday Zawinul would celebrate before his death two months later. The two-disc set is a final snapshot of this brilliant and dedicated road warrior of jazz, surrounded by his revered Zawinul Syndicate, a collection of stellar collaborators hailing from every corner of the globe. In addition to the Switzerland performance, 75 also includes a track recorded on a Hungary stage, where Zawinul is joined by legendary saxophonist and Weather Report co-founder Wayne Shorter.

    “For me, this recording is both sad and joyful at the same time,” says filmmaker Anthony Zawinul, Joe’s son who has recorded many of the senior Zawinul’s performances. “He was so full of life, so full of amazing musical ideas. He knew his illness was terminal, so maybe all the creative channels were open and operating at full capacity, and he was just expressing what he felt by doing what he did best – playing and improvising. I look at the recording as a kind of extension to what he was feeling in those last weeks and months.”

    Disc one of 75 gets under way with “Orient Express,” a song first heard on Zawinul’s 1996 masterpiece, My People. The track opens with a highly atmospheric and otherworldly introduction built upon the Middle Eastern riffs of Moroccan vocalist Aziz Sahmaoui. The intro quickly catapults into a driving, high-energy track – ten minutes in all – that resembles the legendary train from which it takes its name.

    The exotic “Madagascar” (from Weather Report’s 1980 recording, Night Passage) gets its groove from Mauritius-born bassist Linley Marthe doubling Zawinul’s familiar synth line before settling into a Jaco-esque walking line, while drummer Paco Sery slams with authority and uncanny precision underneath. “Dig Joe’s funky, facile electric piano solo in the middle,” says veteran jazz critic Bill Milkowski in his liner notes. “Clearly, this cat was not about to give up. The gift of music burned brightly inside him, always.”

    The buoyant, African-flavored “Zansa II” (from the 1998 live recording, World Tour) features some marvelous kalimba work by Sery and some marimba-sounding synth accompaniment from Zawinul, while “Caf� Andalusia” (from Faces & Places, 2002) highlights the dramatic intensity of vocalist Sabine Kabongo, the Belgian singing sensation from the ranks of Zap Mama.

    The second disc opens with an invigorating medley of “Fast City” and “Two Lines” (from Night Passage and World Tour, respectively). The tempo and energy here are mind-boggling, thanks in large part to Marthe’s phenomenal bass work.

    Zawinul then reaches all the way back to the early and mid ’70s with the back-to-back Weather Report compositions, “Badia” and “Boogie Woogie Waltz” (from Tale Spinnin’ in 1975 and Sweetnighter in 1973). These are followed by a lighthearted moment wherein Kabongo leads the Swiss audience through a heartwarming chorus of “Happy Birthday” to the maestro.

    Fittingly, the concert closes with the gentle “Hymn,” performed by Zawinul on church-like organ with accompaniment from percussionist Jorge Bezzera.

    As an added treat, this collection contains a rare and beautiful moment from an August 2, 2007, concert in Veszprem, Hungary, the second to last show Zawinul ever played. He is joined onstage for an emotional reunion with his longtime musical partner and Weather Report co-founder Wayne Shorter for a moving sax-synth duet on Zawinul’s anthemic “In a Silent Way,” a piece the two recorded together on Miles Davis’ landmark 1969 album of the same name. The two musicians’ telepathic exchanges and empathetic playing over the course of the 14-minute track is pure magic.

    “My dad raised the bar in the music world as a true artist to his profession,” says Anthony Zawinul. “He never compromised his art. You either liked it or you didn’t. One thing is for sure though, you always knew it was Joe Zawinul. As a bandleader, he was able to pull out performances from his bandmates and take them to heights they never knew existed.”

    Seventy-five years from now, the legacy will still be very much alive.

    John E. Magnan – 50-50

    John E. Magnan
    (Southport – 2001)
    by John Barrett

    The mix here is half vocal and half instrumental, half rhythm … and always relentless. There’s a rippling wave of congas, a big-sounding horn section (from one sax and one trumpet!) and the voice of Joanie Pallatto, dripping heat. “You say you’ll never leave me and you’ll always want to see me/ And your words are so untrue.” This is the “Goodbye Mambo”, a most poignant kiss-off. “Sunny Summer Sundae” has a silly lyric but a gorgeous bed of rhythm – Magnan’s bass plays up high, like a guitar, atop a thousand wood blocks. With its slow reggae horns, “Short Lament” makes its tuneful complaint: Magnan sings gently, and the organ wails a little. (It’s not long enough, but it’s great while it lasts.)

    The Latin touch works well on John Mellencamp’s “Not Running Anymore”, with Mark Olsen triumphant on trumpet. This is good, but “Janet” is better: a love spoken by distant piano, John’s fragile voice, and acres of bells. When the keys turn aggressive, everything shakes: a storm of percussion, raining on a fast merry-go-round. Thanks to arranger Bob Long, and composer Alejo Poveda. You will certainly want to meet “Janet”.

    Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening” is played close to the original, with stronger clave and something of a comedy vocal. (Magnan’s voice is an acquired taste; I think he tries too hard to be funny.) Desperation seeps through “Blake”, with anguished sax and dirty organ. The best of the compositions, the mood is like a ’70s cop show – melodramatic, and arresting. “Trude’s Garden” is a folk tune with gongs; other instruments appear, but they are as transient as the fog. And the final tune drips with late-night loneliness: “But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do/ I’m on the verge, the verge of loving you.” The organ whistles, the trumpet yelps, and the smoke rises. I would say this band is almost there: some of the songwriting is weak but the musicianship is superb. There are some good moments; I bet their next album will have even more.



    4-sight.jpg (7700 bytes)Webster defines the term “Foresight” as both “the act of looking forward” :and a “provision for the future.” Both apply perfectly to the progressive, contemporary approach the members of 4-Sight take to jazz on the quartet’s self titled debut for N2K Encoded Music. Each member of the visionary ensemble — saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Gregory Hutchinson — is an accomplished young musician steeped in the grand traditions of the genre. They first realized the chemistry they had as a unit while touring with young jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove in 1994. Yet, jazz is merely the focus, the jumping off point for them; the music they make as 4-Sight combines those traditions with a hip, groove-intensive, modern sensibility.

    The decidedly swinging, urban elements that drive their sound — heard most decidedly on high strutting retro funk gems like MarUn’s “Parabola” and “In The Flow;” Hutchinson and Martin’s “En Jai lad” — can be attributed to both geography and the pop music culture of the ’70s that played a large part in 4-Sight’s individual upbringings. All grew up or settled in places where the groove in one form or another was king — Blake in St. Thomas, Martin in St. Louis before moving to his current home of New Orleans, Whitaker in Detroit and Hutchinson in New York. Island percussion and the pop/funk of Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone were as much a part of their experiences as jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

    “The concept for 4-Sight is based in straight-ahead jazz, but with the opportunity to also reflect the music of the time we are living in,” says Ron Blake, who at 32 is the band’s eldest member. “Whether exploring tempos that were fast, slow or medium, we’d work the kind of grooves we grew up listening to. Our goal is to present acoustic music on a high level, but with rhythms that are popular and familiar to younger audiences.”

    4site2.jpg (6782 bytes)Gregory Hutchinson, 27, who with Rodney Whitaker provides the rhythmic foundation for the band’s powerful melodies and improvisations, feels that as young jazz players, it’s their responsibility to look to the future of the art form. As he says, “The band’s name speaks of our attitude, where we’re trying to take the music and contribute to its evolution. We’ve all played with great musicians on our own, yet together it’s something different and special. We want the jazz we play to be here and now, not stuck in the past. You’ve got to reach people on a level they can understand, not sacrificing the tradition but meeting halfway at a place that’s not overly complicated.”

    Peter Martin, 27, and Rodney Whitaker, 30, believe the chemistry that fuels 4-Sight’s visions is a direct outgrowth of the kind of organic music that comes only from complete trust and understanding. Martin explains, “From very basic melodic sketches, we can build the excitement of fully realized compositions. We put the song ‘Visions of the Past’ in the middle of the album because it reflected the simplicity of our ‘roll the tape and see what happens’ approach. Each of us brings a certain musical intelligence to the table and offers input at the appropriate time naturally, with freedom and without much analysis. Without words sometimes, we simply agree on what makes musical sense.”

    Whitaker adds. “We all bring in something unique and trust our judgements and sense of adventure. Underlying it all is a certain respect and various personal friendships we share with one another. The trust we have, this playing off of each other’s feelings at any given time, is what propels the music and allows it to transcend style limitations.”

    Playing with Hargrove in the studio and on European and Japanese tours in 1994, the quartet realized the sound they created behind the trumpeter was worth pursuing apart from that situation. Blake stayed on with Hargrove while the others moved on to different sideman gigs Yet they kept in touch, and each sat in or subbed with the others at a few scattered gigs over the intervening years. Finally, Whitaker and Hutchinson were working with Teodross Avery under the supervision of producer Carl Griffin, who would soon become the Vice President of A&rR for N2K Encoded Music. A few rough studio tapes and months later, the ensemble that would become 4-Sight put on a showcase for the label in the fall of 1997. The natural flow of the music and the overwhelming response to the performance fed to the formal signing of the band.

    Next on the agenda was finding a comfortable place to record their first album, a locale that might provide a relaxed atmosphere conducive to four old pals committing the musical reflection of their longtime friendship to disc. They found what they were looking for at producer Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio in Martin’s adopted home of New Orleans.

    Kingsway is an unconventional place to record, literally a ten-bedroom mansion where bands can stay while they record their projects. There are five recording rooms that are more like living rooms than formal studios. They stayed there for a week and all agree that the laid-back vibe of the place played an integral part in the album’s creation, enabling the band to capture the majority of the basic tunes in one or two takes. “Most studios make you feel like you have to rush to beat the hefty costs,” says Hutchinson. “But here, we blocked off a week, got up when we wanted, slept when we wanted, and just took our time. That tease is reflected in the music.”

    While Martin first ran into Hutchinson when he moved to New York in the late ’80s, and the Hargrove tour was the flashpoint of 4-Sight’s existence, each of the members brings to the band years of accolades and experience with some of jazz’s biggest names.

    Ron Blake achieved success in classical music before committing to a full time jazz career. His resume includes festival performances worldwide with Wilbur Campbell’s Chicago All-Stars, Louis Bellson/Clark Terry Big Band, Nancy Wilson, Gary Bartz, Roy Hargrove, Bobby Hutcherson, and the slide Hampton lazz~Orchestra. His appearances as a sideman includes work with Von Freeman, Art Farmer, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Marc Cary, and Stephen Scott. He also led his own trio, working regularly in the Chicago area before receiving an appointment as Assistant Professor of jazz Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Recording dates include three Art Farmer cds, three Roy Hargrove cds, and Dianne Reeves’ Quiet After The Storm. He has lived in New York since 1992.

    Raised in St. Louis, Peter Martin attended lulliard and Florida State University. He’s toured Japan, Europe, the Phillippines, Israel and the U.S. and toured with a veritable who’s who of jazz: Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves, Mark Whitfield, Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton. He’s also written big band arrangements for the Harry Connick, Ir. Orchestra and contributed to an ABC-TV score.

    Rodney Whitaker has played extensively in his hometown of Detroit with musical veterans Marcus Belgrave, Donald Waldon, Kenneth Cox, Francisco Mora, Alma Smith, Barry Harris, Tommy Flannigan and many others. On a more global scale, his resume includes dates with Wynton Marsalis, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Branford Marsalis, Johnny Griffin, foe Henderson, Joshua Redman, Stanley Turrentine, Antonio Hart, Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard and Betty Carter. He’s also appeared on “The Tonight Show with lay Leno” and performed on the soundtracks for Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. Whitaker is also a professor at Michigan State University.

    Ever since his professional debut with late trumpeter Red Rodney, Gregory Hutchinson has followed in the footsteps of the jazz drumming tradition. Born in Brooklyn, he’s played, like several of his 4-Sight cohorts, with Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove, as well as foe Henderson (on the acclaimed Lush Life), Christian McBride, Joshua Redman and pianist Eric Reed. Currently a member of the Ray Brown Trio, Hutchinson has contributed to five of Brown’s recordings on Telarc razz. He lives in South Pasadena, CA.

    Four individuals with unique musical sensibilities. Four distinctive professional musical pedigrees that have long intersected. Four visions for the hope of jazz in the new millenium. They all come together to carry on the glorious traditions in 4-Sight. To quote Hutchinson, “It’s not always easy to define how the magic works. The songs are open and swing, but they swing our own way.

    Welcome to the future of jazz.

    For more information about 4-Sight, see their website.

    Coleman/Stert/Cobb/Carter – 4 Generations of Miles

    4 Generations of Miles
    (Chesky – 2002)
    by Ricky Miller

    Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. 4 Generations of Miles is a good CD. I expected a slam-bam super great CD, so I was a little disappointed, but if you go into it neutral, you’ll come out pleased. In an effort to emulate the great Mr. Davis, George Coleman relegates some of his natural performing strengths to the background becoming a shadow of Miles, rather than an interpreter. Likewise the fiery, agressive style of guitarist Mike Stern is toned down to better integrate into the overall theme.

    Bassist Ron Carter holds the bottom together well throught the CD, as does drummer Jimmy Cobb, although Cobb seems to disappear sometime. The CD is meant to be a tribute album, and in that respect it succeeds, delivering an assortment of Davis’ tunes and tying them together. All the performers played with Miles at one time or another, Jimmy Cobb on Kind of Blue, Carter as part of the 60s quintet, Coleman on Four and more-live at lincoln center and Mike Stern as a member of Miles fusion bands in the later years. I’d have preferred that this quartet of jazz greats had taken ownership of the tracks and pumped out the jammin CD it could have been, but it’s good listening music for a while.

    Jing Chi – 3D

    Jing ChiJing Chi
    (Shrapnel – 2004)
    by John Thompson

    It starts out sounding like a rock cd, and that’s ok because it ends up sounding like a really nice fusion cd. The outstanding members of the band, producer Jimmy Haslip (B), Robben Ford (G) and big time basher Vinnie Colaiuta (D), are joined by two well-knows Larry Goldings (organ) and bluesman Robert Cray (G, vocals on It’s nobody’s fault …). The chefs are cooking at times, but let’s get Move on out of the kitchen. It doesn’t belong here.

    I love Chi Town for its challenging rhythms and Colaiuta’s drum fills and lessons. Hidden Treasure brings to mind fusion group Brand X, and although he does very little, the organ sound adds a nice touch. With a funky beat and a mean bass solo, plus varying tempo changes, Mahavishnu’s The Dance of Maya from 1973 is resurrected on Time is a Magazine. Don’t get lost in the rhythm or Ford’s solo when listening to the tricky Mezzanine Blues. Thanks to Ford’s use of wah wah and Calaiuta feeling Cobham-ish, true 70’s jazz-rock comes to life on Tangled Up.

    This is great fusion that only lacks an active keyboard. Robben Ford can do it. My suggestion: David Sancious. 4 ½ stars.

    Steve Oliver – 3D

    Steve OliverSteve Oliver
    (Koch – 2004)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Steve Oliver’s latest offering, 3-D, is ripe with the intriguing challenges that spotlight his mastery of the acoustic and electric guitars listeners first heard on Positive Energy and First View. Eleven songs attest to the fun, imagination and virtuosity that went into the making of this excellent recording and the vibe and satisfaction Oliver has at this point in his musical career. Accompanied by the likes of Harvey Mason on drums, Tom Schuman on keyboards, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, Will Donato on sax and Larry Antonino on bass.

    The multi-dimensional set offers an array of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic experiences including three compelling and soulful lead vocal cuts. On “Magic World,” Oliver’s vocalese conveys the melody while his fingers do the talking up and down the neck of his classic acoustic guitar. He switches to the electric guitar on “In the Shade of the Cool,” and offers a bluesy edge to this upbeat song. With his contemporary jazz radio hit “Chips and Salsa,” we get the full-on Latin flavor and the infectious spice of Steve’s positive groove.

    Of the many approaches Steve Oliver uses to excite his fans, his focus on playing out of position to use chord shapes as a visual and kinesthetic anchor, chord progressions to add color and texture, and playing up the neck and at the bottom of the neck are by far some of his most rewarding. The beautiful musical ideas heard on “Imagine,” will charm and delight you. By using more than one octave, and varying the chord progressions, he really adds to his melodic guitar solo. Oliver closes with “See You Soon,” a beautiful ballad that truly spotlights his soulful vocals and genuine love of what he feels and enjoys doing.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Jimmy Sommers – 360 Urban Groove

    360 Urban Groove360 Urban Groove
    Jimmy Sommers
    (Higher Octave – 2001)
    by Ray Redmond

    360 Urban groove, obviously aimed at the Urban Adult Contemporary crowd, combines Sommers’ smoking sax with vocals from some recognized R&B artists. When you see names like Les Nubians and Eric Benêt don’t just write this off as ‘acid jazz’… LISTEN! The music is (mostly) JAZZ, using different vocalists than the jazz world is used to, creating a new mix. The original tune Falling For You, featuring co-writer Gerry Johnson on guitar, is as sweet a song as any that ever found airtime on the Smooth Jazz circuit.

    Labelmates Les Nubians are part of the Mênagea Trois that starts things off. Norman Brown jumps in with his guitar and vocals on the hot title track 360 Groove. The Boz Scaggs hit Lowdown is a familiar bit in the mix, and I had to listen twice to notice where Coolio actually sang on the song (he’s in the background). Cruisin’, features Raphael Saadiq contributing some down-home guitar and shows some of Sommers’ Chicago-Blues roots. Eric Benet does a very smooth vocalese thing on the sax-y ballad Stay a While.

    A mixture of Smooth-jazz and R&B, 360 Urban Groove is a good example of where a large part of todays younger Jazz audience resides… in a land where Jazz, R&B and World music collide to bring something that’s 360 degrees from the old school.

    Randy Brecker – 34th N Lex

    Randy BreckerRandy Brecker
    34th N Lex
    (Esc – 2003)
    by John Thompson

    This CD cooks!! “34th N Lex” is a bad mother “Shut your mouth!” Randy Brecker(t) got skillz. Gotta tell you how the music on this CD relates to my last Saturday evening.

    Imagine going to a cookout and seeing teens through 40’s in perfect harmony, playing dominos, eating BBQ ribs, chicken, potato salad, and groovin’ to some serious mature tunes(R&B,70’s soul, blues, funk, smooth & rough jazz). Not one single teen or 20 something complained about the music, because there was enough for everyone. Which brings me back to Brecker’s 34 N Lex.

    16 musicians play throughout the 11 tracks, including brother Michael(ts)Ronnie Cuber(bsax), David Sanborn(ts), and former Horny Horns-JB’s great, Fred Wesley(tb).Smokin’ funky stuff, finger popin’ and some more. Randy has made his mark in the mentioned musical categories for about 30 years, from James Brown-George Clinton to Billy Cobham-Herbie Hancock, and continues to convey these influences with these chosen tracks.

    All of these tunes are sound with strong musicianship in all aspects: Cuber’s funky solo on the title tune (Homer Simpson’s daughter Lisa would be proud), Adam Rogers'(g) nice work on the Les McCann “Compared to What” like “Shanghigh”, Tower Of Power feeling “Let It Go,” the two classic style Jazz pieces, “Forgone Conclusion” and my favorite, the Bop-styled “Tokyo Freddie” ( Randy kickin’ much butt, and Chris Minh Doky really layin’ the foundation down), and my second favorite, which is waaay to damn funky for smooth jazz stations, “Give it up,” with Gary Haase(b) funkin’ up the joint and Wesley adding his grease.

    My only wish for this CD would be the elimination of programming instead of real instruments, but still, I’ll say this: 5 well planned, funky and groove-filled stars.

    Warren Vaché and Bill Charlan – 2Gether

    Warren Vaché and Bill Charlap

    (Nagel-Heyer – 2001)
    by John Barrett

    It starts with a wonderful idea: a garrulous trumpeter backed by a subtle, quiet pianist. If the expectation is good, at once the players defy it – and that makes it even better. For “If I Should Lose You”, the flamboyant Warren Vaché takes a mute and whispers like Miles. Reacting to this, Bill Charlap plays a broad stride, full of noisy figures … you will love the contrast. Warren’s solo is precise, fast, and loud only on the important notes; Bill’s turn is sneaky, and ends like Basie.

    There’s a bop tempo to “You and the Night and the Music”, with Charlap dreaming the chords. Now the mute sounds like Dizzy, and now the exchanges are fevered. (Hear Bill take a big breath at the start of his solo – like he’s steeling himself for the battle ahead!) Warren wields a flugelhorn for “What’ll I Do”, and gives each note a yearning glow. Bill’s part is more involved, but just as sincere; this could be a lullaby. The horn then goes breathy on “Easy Living”, beside some barroom stride … and then the pianist gets elegant, honoring Chopin with the Charlap composition “Nip-Hoc Waltz”. This tune is romantic, lushly performed, and drenched in echo. Warren doesn’t play here, and doesn’t need to. This is where Bill Charlap blows his own horn.

    “Etude #2” is a solo trumpet piece, with strong fanfares and sad dignity. Warren floats his notes, loading them with vibrato; it’s virtuosic, in every sense of the word. Charlap is lively for “Dancing on the Ceiling”, where Warren rasps his notes in a delightful whisper. His solo is rather inventive, and inspires a neat effort from Bill. “Prelude to a Kiss” begins in a concert hall (Charlap plays a lot of stuff, including Dizzy’s into to “‘Round Midnight”) and ends in the gutter, with Vaché yawning the theme. Bill’s solo covers a half-dozen styles … and you’ll love them all. And “St. Louis Blues” ambles off into the night, with the spirit of Monk and the agility of Vaché. This pairing is a natural, resulting in an album that’s a natural winner.

    Yellowjackets – 25

    (Heads Up – 2002)
    by Carmen Miller

    After 25 years of touring and CD’s, Yellowjackets is still going strong. Dedicated to pushing the boundaries of jazz with a deceptively intense sound incorporating elements of bebop, funk, R&B and rock, the Yellowjackets have been pleasing us for a quarter decade now with no sign of slowing.

    Rather than releasing another ‘best of’ Heads Up has delivered a CD/DVD combo that addresses some of the Yellowjackets history but focuses on providing a rich listener/viewer experience. This release follows the ubiquitous group during their 2005 European tour. The CD features new arrangements of classic tunes like Jacketown, Free Day and My Old School. The DVD contains a complete concert in 5.1 surround sound, 3.5 hours of footage and more; and the concert is NOT all the same material as the CD, adding tunes line Matinee Idol and Imperial Strut to the mix.

    The extramaterial on the DVD is wonderful! The series of DVD performances portrays the groups from now back to then, getting younger and more raw with each performance. To hear the new Yellowjackets playing some of the old stuff is simply wonderful.

    The verdict? As usual, Bassist Jimmy Haslip, keyboardist Russ Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer Marcus Baylor are definitely worth the price of admission.

    Chad Rager – 21st Century Groove

    Chad Rager
    21st Century Groove
    (Strokeland Records – 2006)
    by Donald Eichelberger

    Chad Rager takes some fairly standard/mainstream material , gives it to a small big band/large combo, mixes-in large doses of creativity, and serves-up an entertaining live performance. The first selection, “Sing, Sing, Sing”, kicks off the CD with a solid, traditional big band sound. Chad Rage’s drumming entices you and makes you curious to hear what else he’s going to offer.

    The arranger, Chris Young, mixes a variety of moods, introducing the whole band along the way: soloists, sections, and of course Chad Rager’s driving drums. Everybody gets a chance to shine: a sweet trombone solo, nice horn section work, especially the differing textures that are used to support each of the soloists, each texture matched to the provide each soloist with a background that is best suits that instruments characteristics. This allows each soloist an opportunity to showcase that instrument, as well as allowing each soloist a solid platform upon which to provide an improvisational gem. Mike Kamuf’s trumpet solo is a fine example of this marriage of soloist floating on custom-designed cushion of harmonies and rhythms. The horn section often uses lines that are richer and more jazzy versions of Tower of Power horns.

    “Pyramid of Pachyderms” is a hard swinging number that sometimes moves away from the big band sound and drops-down to almost a combo feel. Fans of big band and barry sax will love this cut! Even when the full band resurfaces, the overall feel remains intimate, but solid—not skimping on fullness in the sound

    This is a lighter version of “Straight No Chaser”. It’s almost un-Monkish. This time the horn sections are sparsely used, once more, giving a small combo sound/feel. Brooke Hopkins’s arrangement accomplishes this by carefully alternating between melodic sections and harmonic sections of the piece, using the full band on the harmonic sections, and using only the essential elements of the band during the melodic sections. A nice touch.

    On the CD, several cuts begin with a drum solo, of varying lengths. This cut, “St Bernard”, begins with a full-blown solo that demonstrates Chad Ranger’s solid skills and ability to weave an interesting percussive display. He drives, he floats, and like preacher, he delivers his “sermon” and then sets the stage for the choir to “take you home”. The arrangement has an ultra-modern, hip, sophisticated moodiness that is established by the drums in the introduction. Somehow, Chad Ranger manages to maintain an intense tempo intense, without heavy-handed drumming.

    “Zamba Samba” evokes the appropriate tropical mood. Complex and varied horn section lines are juxtaposed against the piano, almost like a pas de deux. And once again, good section work renders both a big band feel and a combo feel. The composition is has an interesting harmonic structure that works well within the context of a traditional samba song form. Compared to the preceding cuts, “Chicklets” is an unusual arrangement. At first, it’s difficult to tell when the intro ends and the song begins. This piece isn’t your usual song-form; it’s more like a series of vignettes. However, once the band settles into what turns out to be a rather serious groove, the piece moves sinuously and smoothly like a fish gliding through water. Then, the song ends as it began. Only now, what at first seemed ethereal and elusive, has now been clearly identified and solidly nailed-down.

    The big band feel is recaptured on “Smile”. It’s a traditional arrangement for a standard song, but this arrangement has a bit more zip and zest than one might normally associate with this song. In fact, this version of “Smile” is downright giddy. If you like dancing to swing, this cut will get you out of your chair, grabbing your baby, and trying not to bump into the furniture too much because you’re going to try to use the whole room on this one. Makes you wanna get expansive, emotive and extravagant. If you’re by yourself, you’ll probably do a rather energetic soft-shoe. “The Heat’s On”: I recognized this song without actually recognizing it, if you know what I mean. What I mean is, Rager and friends have reintroduced me to an old friend, only all spruced-up. Familiar, but new. Loved for its familiarity but appreciated in its new incarnation. It ‘s always nice to be shown something—something that you thought you knew—with a fresh and perspective that makes you fall in love all over again.

    “Whipping Post” is a nice cut to end on. It showcases everyone, both individually and the sections, but the ethereal beauty blooms when Rager doe s his solo. A truly impressive performance. Some excellent snare work! Rager’s solo is a well-formed structure that gives him the freedom to explore his creative percussive heat, raw flames and sullen molten lava. And this song even has a surprise ending. I didn’t think it was gonna go there! Glad it did, though. A fitting climax! Chad Rager has the ability to be present without being pushy. He’s there when you need to hear him, but he knows how to set-up and support his mates without getting in their way. He never detracts or distracts. He’s almost invisible at times, but you know that if he wasn’t there, there’d be one huge hole. This man fills the hole, just right. Like a good meal, satisfying, especially if you don’t overeat. Rager’s like that, just enough drums to satisfy, without filling you up.

    I know that this was a live recording, but I was happy that I was spared having to listen the songs being introduced to the audience! If you enjoy most of the styles that jazz can take, Rager offers several “flavors” to choose from, and you won’t be disappointed.

    Jazz Aspen Snowmass – 20th Anniversary June Festival

    Jazz Aspen Snowmass
    20th Anniversary June Festival
    June 24 – July 3, 2010

    Harry Connick, Jr. and Natalie Cole are among the headliner for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass  June Festival which kicks off their 20th Anniversary season with some of the biggest names in jazz, pop and world music.  Making his first ever JAS appearance jazz pianist/vocalist Harry Connick, Jr. and Orchestra have been added to the June Festival lineup appearing at the Benedict Music Tent (pictured at right) on Friday, June 25. 

    Over the past two decades Connick has taken a very hands-on approach to his recording career, calling the shots at the numerous phases of his albums projects.  Whether performing the American Songbook or in the jazz, blues or funk idiom, the process has yielded consistent success, not to mention worldwide sales of over 25 million discs.  In Connick’s latest release, Your Songs, he has expanded his vision to encompass 14 classic popular songs; his instrumental pallet through a striking integration of a string orchestra and his swinging Big Band; and his basic approach to recording, with his interpretation of such classics as Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Elton John’s “Your Song,” and Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”


    On Saturday, June 26 at the Benedict Tent JAS will present JAS @ 20!, a special evening of performances in a Grammy-like format of multiple guests artists backed by a crack Big Band.  Directed by JAS Distinguished Artist in Residence Christian McBride, the show will also feature jazz legends Dianne Reeves, Patti Austin, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Terence Blanchard, John Clayton and more. 

    Pink Martini will perform at the Benedict Music Tent on Sunday, June 27.  Comprised of twelve musicians, Pink Martini’s repertoire is wildly diverse.  Says bandleader/pianist Thomas Lauderdale, “at one moment you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment, you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or palazzo in Napoli.  It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue.”

    The closing night of the JAS 20th June Festival will take place on Saturday, July 3 featuring Natalie Cole with Big Band and Musicians from the AMFS.  Cole, who had to cancel an appearance with JAS last July due to a kidney transplant last May, is already back on stage feeling “healthy, whole and 100% again.”  Her last release, Still Unforgettable, earned her two Grammy Awards in 2009, including Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.  Cole was also the recipient of the NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist in 2009.

    The JAS Academy Summer Sessions, again with Christian McBride, will be in residence June 24-July 3.  JAS’ flagship music education program, the Academy is the nation’s only all-scholarship jazz residency program, uniting the finest young jazz artists with the world’s “jazz legends.”  JAS has contributed $5 million dollars to music education since 1996.
    Additional special concerts and events will take place throughout the June 24-July 3 Festival including free performances at the Cooper Mall Stage, Jazz performances downstairs at the Little Nell, special events featuring students from the JAS Academy and JAS After Dark shows.  

    June Festival tickets are on-sale Friday, Feb. 12.  Tickets will be available at 866-JAS-TIXX (527-8499) or www.jazzaspen.org.  For information on Patron (VIP) tickets call the JAS office at 970-920-4996.  Ticket and lodging packages are also available at 800-SNOWMASS or www.snowmasstourism.com.   

    Look for more announcements surrounding the JAS 20th Anniversary season soon, including line-up information for the Labor Day Festival taking place Sept. 3-5 and other special events.  For more information please visit www.jazzaspen.org or become a fan on Facebook.




    2001 Christmas Jazz Roundup

    Holiday Jazz Roundup
    ‘Tis the season…
    by Mark Ruffin

    This holiday season, jazz musicians are giving the gift of Christmas music in abundance. Not in recent memory has there been so much new recorded Christmas music. Saxophonist Dave Koz may have the best new smooth jazz Christmas disc, “A Smooth Jazz Christmas“, but the honor for best overall new Christmas album this season has to go to “A Nancy Wilson Christmas“. Miss Wilson created a little buzz in the Chicago area jazz community about six weeks ago when she blew into town for a few days to record her next album. The buzz centered around the upcoming release with pianist Ramsey Lewis, and her new Christmas album, which arrived to the media about the same time.Miss Wilson’s Christmas record features many inventive and imaginative arrangements of holiday chestnuts, including some gorgeous Brazilian rhythms. Miss Wilson is not only a fine voice, but is joined by a number of very fine guest stars including the underrated New York Voices, pianist Monty Alexander, legendary flute player Herbie Mann and others.

    Two other new straight ahead Christmas album this year include an incredible compilation of old favorites and a new re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.” A group calling itself the Classical Jazz Quartet, featuring arrangements by Bob Belden, performs the Tchaikovsky’s work with the care and technique of the group they’re patterned after, the Modern Jazz Quartet They consists of Stefon Harris on vibes, veterans Ron Cater and Kenny Barron on bass and piano respectively, and Lewis Nash on drums.

    “The Very Best of Christmas Jazz,” is a knock-out new 14 song compilation featuring John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Count Basie and others. What makes the collection priceless is the inclusion of Louis Armstrong’s very funny “Zat You, Santa Claus?” It’s also noteworthy because a couple of gems are mined from the historic Chicago Chess Records vaults, including early recordings by Ramsey Lewis and Kenny Burrell.

    The two best Latin jazz Christmas albums also includes a group recording and a compilation of a variety of artists. “Playboy’s Latin Jazz Christmas,” has contemporary recordings from Shelia E, Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, and other Latin jazz stars, A more traditional Latin jazz Christmas is celebrated on the brilliant “Noel Caliente,” by the group Saudade.

    Smooth jazz lovers really reaped a bounty of holiday musical cheer with new releases. In addition to Koz and Friends, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and vocalist Melba Moore each have new Christmas music out. Then there are three varied compilations that can play well at any festive seasonal gathering.

    “Groovin’ Jazz Christmas” features Jeff Lorber, Doc Powell, Michael Lington and others. “Making Spirits Bright,” is a new collection, partially produced by guitarist Lee Ritenour and featuring his friends Will Downing, Gerald Albright, Marc Antoine, Al Jarreau, Joyce Cooling, David Benoit and many others.

    Benoit is also on “Jazzy Christmas,” a disc that straddles the line between straight-ahead and smooth jazz. There are five different groups, each playing two tunes, including a trio co-led by Patrice Rushen and Stanley Clarke, and one featuring former Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson.

    There are more new Christmas jazz disc, but these are unquestionably the cream of the crop. Happy Holidays and enjoy the Christmas music.

    Jeff Kaiser – 17 Themes For Ockodektet

    17 Themes For Ockodektet
    Jeff Kaiser
    (PfMentum – 2002)
    by John Barrett

    The avant-garde big band is a fascinating concept … and an elusive one. How do you get a united sound in a genre requiring individuality? Can a roomful of players blow freely, without it dissolving in chaos? On his 40th birthday, trumpeter Jeff Kaiser led 17 instruments through two vivid suites, where colors are many and emotions change fast.

    Opening to thick applause, “Dirge” pairs a drunk bass clarinet with a lazy tuba, walking in sad slithers. This sounds traditional and modern at once – shades of Albert Ayler. Throaty at first, the reed becomes bolder, fiercer; a hum starts in the brass section, and percussion creeps in like radio static. With encouragement from the crowd, the whole band enters … like a New Orleans parade gone mad. Suddenly they’re all twittering, and we start the second movement, “Clad Like Birds”.

    A tenor hits long, wavering notes; these are answered by Kaiser, blowing in a soft transparent tone. This is more of a dirge than the first number, and the horns scream a finale, stark and powerful. From here we move to gentler things: “Amplifying Their Moods” is a study for organ (Wayne Peet), steel drums (Brad Dutz), and an earthy, Rahsaan-like flute. The musicians react in astonishing fashion: a phrase by Jeff is continued on oboe, concluded by soprano sax … or it could be the same instrument played two different ways! At the end are crackling woodwinds, a loud series of oom-pahs (!) and Peet’s organ, which starts in a churchyard and ends in a haunted house. This music can change instantaneously – a good match for the genre and those who play in it.

    You won’t find this instrumentation any place else: the group includes two basses, two guitars, three percussionists, one trombone (on a valve model, yet) and some very talented reeds. The most famous among them are Peet and West Coast icon Vinny Golia (Kaiser plays in the Golia Large Ensemble, another avant-garde big band.) “Even with Diagrams” finds the brass on parade, a slow walk leading into shrill clusters. Unrelated to jazz, this piece feels like the classical music written in the ‘Sixties. The solemn texture is upset by a cantankerous baritone sax (probably Golia); after this, all goes wild. Jeff’s fluttering solo is nice, along with the drums behind him.

    “One Absolute Material” is a feature for the drummers; Peet helps out with some flying-saucer noises. There is a loud whisper on “Figure of This In-Between” – muted horns, covered by a windy synthesizer. From there you get frantic saxwork, a chorus of chirping reeds, and, on “Figure with Wings”, a pair of giddy flutes, chasing each other in glee. An ominous tuba (Mark Weaver) glowers in the background, drums surge and then fade – the flutes stay the same, but their mood is altered by the things around them. Flamboyant horns close the suite with a blare that rivals “Ascension”. It’s uneven, and unfocused at times, but also shows talent, strength, and ingenuity – as I said, a fascinating concept.

    The second suite, more formal in structure, reminds me of the composer Toru Takemitsu in its use of open space. Following a pompous fanfare, “Coincidentia Oppositorium” is a workout for Ernesto Diaz-Infante, twanging the strings in a rusty jangle. The fanfare sounds again, and we’re now in a jungle of flutes and bells. This gives way to brass, wailing a lament on “Where His Third Eye Could Be”. The basses take their only solo (one bowed, one plucked) over steel drums and electronic squiggles. The highlight here is the baritone, slithering like a gator through the swamp. A heady stomp comes next, then a meditation for soprano, followed by exotica on “There Is No Profit from Dreams”. Woody phrases emanate from the alto flute, while muted horns buzz like mosquitoes. This piece is the softest, the most accessible … the best in the collection. (Check out the weird noises at the end; sounds like a melting guitar!)

    “Into That Nothing-Between” is our sendoff, blending soap-opera organ, smoldering bongos, a horn riff based on “The Theme”, and a raft of electronics. It sounds like the dial has stopped between stations – noisy, but pleasant. The closing cacophonous rush is worthy of “A Day in the Life”, and ends on a similar Big Chord. The resulting work is expansive, expressive, and surprising in a number of ways. Worth hearing if you seek the unusual.

    Kermit Ruffins – 1533 St. Philip Street

    kermit ruffins
    1533 st. philip street

    (basin street – 2001)
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    especially in these times of national anxiety and its stronger foil, patriotic pride, it is both comforting and encouraging to be able to hear the sound of great, upbeat all-american music such as is found on this latest release from kermit ruffins. named for the rebirth brass band founder’s new jazz club in the heart of new orleans, ruffins’ album tips a wide-brimmed hat to a number of the crescent city’s older favorite sons, both native and adopted.

    combining the gruff growl and golden blare of louis armstrong with the humorous arrangement talents of louis jordan, ruffins lets loose with a brass-covered smile on the jordan favorite “t-i-l-l-i-e” and sammy cahn and julie styne’s “i still get jealous.” originals like “drop me off in new orleans” and “meet me at the second line” combine traditional french quarter fare with contemporary catches (“drop me off” refers to red beans and greens but also includes the term “home boy” and its familiar derivative “homey”).

    ruffins’ band is also a gumbo of old and new which includes trombonist corey henry and clarinestist dr. michael white along with harry connick jr’s rhythmic drummer arthur latin and bassist neal caine. so, to quote kermit, “when you’re feeling down and out and you feel there’s no way out / get dropped off in new orleans.” and if you can’t visit kermit at 1533 st. philip, this album should do the trick.

    c. 2001, M. S. Robinson, arr

    Kenny Burrell – 12.15.78

    Kenny Burrell
    32 Jazz
    Released 1979; Re-released 1999

    John Barrett

    “I’ve enjoyed working at his club once or twice a year for over twenty years…It’s one of my favorite clubs in the whole world.” That is the Village Vanguard, and this is Kenny Burrell. The tapes were rolling, and the group is a trio, meaning more space for the guitar. The results are light and festive, fitting the holiday they were about to celebrate. The notes say “Man — he’s damn good!” and there’s another reason to celebrate.

    The applause is loud, and all is stilled when the music starts. He crawls into the “Second Balcony”, chording with a touch of fuzz. The solo is clean and slow; wait for Larry Gales to walk high, going over Burrell! It’s an understated jump — the highlight is delicate cymbalwork. The fuzz is gone on “Willow”: it’s a fluid bounce, and the brushes are gorgeous. He turns his volume down, and you’ll want to turn yours up — if you were at the club, you’d lean forward. The second chorus is full of chords, a simple technique but very effective. He limbers up for a solo “Work Song”: loud slashes give way to fretboard scampers. The theme comes in steps, but you know right away — Kenny works hard!

    “Woody ‘n You” takes it fast, with deep fuzz and busy fingers. Maybe too busy; at times it sounds cluttered. (Ferguson’s solo is nice, as is Kenny’s return.) “Still of the Night” has a wonderful intro: thick strum from Gales, subtle toms, and chords like a whisper — or a kiss. The guitar picks it up, smooth lines, sweet flourishes on top; a lovely night, and far from still. The Ellington medley starts solo (tape hiss is a major distraction) and gets happy for “Love You Madly” — strong octaves and shimmering cymbals. And “It’s Getting Dark” (a ’62 track from BLUESY BURRELL) leaves us in a mellow mood, peaked by a marvelous bass. Applaud with the crowd, and don’t leave your seat yet.

    The balance of the set was later issued as KENNY BURRELL IN NEW YORK. The notes say “If you enjoyed the first part … you need to prolong the thrill — it gets better!” Very true; most of the mellow tunes are here, and this is where Kenny excels. But not yet: first up a fast samba, with twittering notes. This becomes a two-finger pattern, and then “Pent-Up House”, chords ending the phrase. A little distortion is used with taste; fans of his “clean” sound will not be turned off. Ferguson’s solo is POTENT; very tuneful, and his best of the lot. “But Beautiful” defines that word: everyone’s there but you only hear Kenny. The style of his ‘Fifties ballads, with the tone as well; you can’t do better. The crowd agrees.

    The title says “Makin’ Whoopee” but it’s all manner of things. The theme dispatched quickly, we get seven slow minutes of “Billie’s Bounce”, warm chords, and a big ol’ bass. The ending is truly special. “Come Rain or Come Shine” meditates quietly, so light he seems to play an acoustic. Again the theme is mostly hinted; again his tenderness makes that irrelevant. You’re hearing the sound, not the song, and that is enough. And fall under the “Magic Spell”: and opening like “Still of the Night”, and a mood that embraces. Hear how he speaks Latin — that solo could fit on “Besame Mucho”. And don’t forget Ferguson; the cymbals roll in like the fog. The last thing you hear is a mournful bow, and fans having their say. My say is: get this. You’ll like it if you like Burrell.

    Rating: *** 3/4. You might want to play Disc Two first; most of the top ballads are there. A minor quibble — some people prefer Kenny without distortion; I’m one of those. Here he uses it well, and many tracks leave off the fuzz entirely. Try “Work Song”, “Still of the Night”, Pent-Up House”, “But Beautiful”, “Makin’ Whoopee”, and “Magic Spell”. Man, he’s damn good.

    Songs: Second Balcony Jump; Willow Weep for Me; Work Song; Woody ‘n You?; Introduction of Kenny Burrell by Max Gordon; In the Still of the Night; Medley: Don’t You Know I Care?/Love You Madly; It’s Getting Dark; Pent-Up House; But Beautiful; Bags’ Groove; Makin’ Whoopee; Come Rain or Come Shine; Love, Your Magic Spell is Everywhere.

    Musicians: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Larry Gales (bass); Sherman Ferguson (drums).

    For more info, contact: 32 Jazz

    10 Fingers, One Voice

    Billy TaylorBilly Taylor
    Ten Fingers – One Voice
    by Raymond Redmond

    On Taylor’s newest album he goes it alone, tackling eight jazz standards and three originals with his trade-mark finesse.

    “This recording is another jazz surprise – an exhilarating one. Liberated from all constraints so that he can be entirely himself, Billy plays with a joy of self-discovery on swingers that is infectious… In mobile space that is all his own, he swings with more ease, liveliness, and resilience than ever before. For this listener, the Billy Taylor that emerges here was a surprise – a daring risk-taker who has absorbed the entire jazz tradition but now breaks through as an immediately identifiable personal force…with this solo set, the springtime of Billy Taylor has begun.”

    says Nat Hentoff in the album’s liner notes.

    Taylor has synthesized the history of jazz piano into a style all his own. Combining the joyful elegance of swing-era pianists like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson with  the bebop innovations of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker, Taylor gives us tracks such as “Easy Like,” with its infectious stride rhythms and lush harmonic invention, and “Early Bird,’ a headlong romp through a twisting bebop maze (which Taylor wrote for Parker and played with him at Birdland).

    In one of the album’s highlights, he puts Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” through its paces, coming up with a seemingly endless variety of left-hand accents and shapely melodies. His version of “Tea for Two,” based on an Art Tatum interpretation that Taylor admires, is similarly free-wheeling.

    At the age of 77, Taylor may be an old hand at the piano, but his youthful enthusiasm makes this one of the freshest and liveliest solo piano outings in recent memory..

    100 Years of Latin Love Songs

    Andy Statman

    100 Years of Latin Love Songs
    Paquito D’Rivera

    Take a collection of the best Latin love songs of the last 10 decades, add the talents of one of the jazz world’s most respected reed players, a Grammy Award winning producer and a lot of strings and you come up with one very outstanding result. Paquito D’Rivera’s new release “100 Years of Latin Love Songs” uses this blend to lend a fresh perspective to 100 years of sensual ballads and romantic dance tunes from nine different Hispanic countries by such notable artists as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alejandro Sanz and actor/singer Ruben Blades.  

    Recorded under the guidance of producer/arranger Bob Belden, this work revisits such globally popular tunes as “Ay Ay Ay” and “Acercate Mas” (first introduced to U.S. music fans via Nat King Cole’s rendition titled “Come Closer To Me”). Historical background on each of the disc’s ten songs, plus a brief “tour” of Latin America via maps and fascinating facts about each nation represented (including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela) are also included on the enhanced portion of the new CD.

    As its full title suggests, Paquito D’Rivera with Strings — 100 Years of Latin Love Songs was recorded with a full string orchestra and features D’Rivera taking turns on clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone. Other musicians lending their talents to the sessions include pianist Dario Eskenazi, bassist Oscar Stagnaro, guitarist Fareed Haque, drummer Mark Walker and percussionist Luis Conte. The diverse instrumentation also includes Aquiles Baez on the cuatro (a Venezuelan guitar) and Roberto Perera on Paraguayan harp.

    An icon in the world of Latin jazz, Paquito D’Rivera has recorded more than two dozen albums, including the 1997 Grammy Award-winning “Portraits of Cuba.” Born in Havana, he was one of the most prominent musicians to defect from his homeland following Castro’s rise to power. In recent years, in addition to his work with the Caribbean Jazz Project (with Dave Samuels and Andy Narell), D’Rivera has helmed his own Havana-New York Quintet and Dizzy Gillespie’s famed United Nation Orchestra.

    . For more information visit the Heads Up Records Website

    Victor Wooten – The Music Lesson Soundtrack

    The companion album to Grammy-winning bassist Victor Wooten’s music philosophy book The Music Lesson – the story of a struggling young musician who wanted music to be his life, and who wanted his life to be great. Includes over 60 minutes of Victor’s virtuosic and genre-defying bass playing as he follows the story of the protagonist student and his mysterious teacher.

    Featuring: Howard Levy, Bela Fleck, Eric Struthers, Federico Pena, Michael Kott, Steve Bailey, Joseph Wooten, Regi Wooten, Roy Wooten, and Alash.

    Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society

    Centuries ago, long before the advent of radio or recording technology, chamber music was the music for the masses – the music in which people from nearly every segment of society could find meaning and relevance. A decade into the 21st century, Esperanza Spalding – the bassist, vocalist and composer who first appeared on the jazz scene in 2008 – takes a contemporary approach to this once universal form of entertainment with Chamber Music Society.

    Backed by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Leo Genovese – and inspired by the classical training of her younger years – Esperanza creates a modern chamber music group that combines the spontaneity and intrigue of improvisation with sweet and angular string trio arrangements. The result is a sound that weaves the innovative elements of jazz, folk and world music into the enduring foundations of classical music.

    “So much of my early musical experience was spent playing chamber music on the violin, and it’s a form of music that I’ve always loved,” says Esperanza. “I was very inspired by a lot of classical music, and chamber music in particular. I’m intrigued by the concept of intimate works that can be played and experienced among friends in an intimate setting. So I decided to create my version of contemporary chamber music, and add one more voice to that rich history.”

    Chamber Music Society is a place where connoisseurs of classical music and jazz devotees – and fans of other musics as well – can find common ground. The recording offers a chamber music for modern times – one that brings together people of different perspectives and broadens their cultural experience, just as it did in an earlier age.

    Esperanza first took the world by storm in 2008 with her self-titled Heads Up debut recording that spent more than 70 weeks on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. Two years later, she continues to push the boundaries of jazz and explore the places where it intersects with other genres. Co-produced by Esperanza and Gil Goldstein, Chamber Music Societysurrounds Esperanza with a diverse assembly of musicians. At the core are pianist Leo Genovese, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and percussionist Quintino Cinalli. The string trio is comprised of violinist Entcho Todorov, violist Lois Martin, cellist David Eggar and Gretchen Parlato on voice. The great Milton Nascimento also makes a guest appearance on one track.

    “Gil is really a master at integrating a sound that caters to string instruments,” says Esperanza. “I’ve learned so much from working with him, and I’ve gained confidence in my abilities as an arranger and producer as well.”

    But this is no dream. It is the work of a brilliant young musical talent who isn’t afraid to challenge the limits of jazz and its relationship to other forms of musical expression. Chamber Music Society is the first of two current Esperanza projects.Radio Music Society, set for release in the spring of 2011, features an exciting new repertoire of funk, hip-hop, and rock elements fused into songs that are free from genre.

    “I’m confident that this music will touch people,” she says ofChamber Music Society. “We all want to hear sincerity and originality in music, and anyone can recognize and appreciate when love and truth are transmitted through art. No matter what else has or hasn’t been achieved on this recording, those things are definitely a part of this music. Those are the things I really want to deliver.”