Monday, February 24, 2014

PDX Jazz Festival

The PDX Jazz Festival is well underway. I've been performing a lot in the past week; our area recital at PSU on Tuesday with the Persian Jazz Collective and the Colligan Men's Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, my new steady gig at Jo Bar and Rotisserie with Jon Lakey on Bass and Chris Brown on drums, a sold out show with my group Theoretical Planets at Camellia Lounge, my Quintet at Ivories, and finally the Newmark Theater with Buster Williams featuring Cindy Blackman, Bennie Maupin and Julian Priester. I also did a cool Jazz Conversation with Buster Williams on Saturday afternoon. It's great to play music, but the PDX Jazz  Festival this year is bigger than ever, and there is a lot happening that I won't get to see. However, I was able to check out the Jazz Conversation with Darrell Grant and piano legend Amhad Jamal. I also went down to the Hotel Monaco and checked out the Club Room performance of Nicole Glover, Jon Lakey, and 14 year old drummer Jordan Goldblatt. Not only did I find this young trio to be playing music on a high level, I was impressed with the venue, and wondered why Portland jazz musicians don't try to do jazz events in this location more frequently.

Last night, I was able to get backstage and listen to the Spring Quartet, which featured drummer Jack
Leo Genovese. I think he is a keyboard player.....
DeJohnette, bassist Esperanza Spalding, pianist Leo Genovese, and  tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Although everyone in the group played impressively, I was most impressed with Genovese, who not only played the acoustic piano with fluid and prodigious technique and rhythm, but also did some cool detuned upright piano explorations using the array of various keyboards which surrounded him on the stage. He also plays a decent soprano saxophone ( another surprise was that Spalding, known as a bassist and vocalist, midway through the show pulled out an alto saxophone and played along with Lovano and Genovese!)

For more information on upcoming PDX Jazz festival events, please check out the Portland Jazz Festival website.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"RUSH": Tom Guarna's New CD is a Winner

Guitarist Tom Guarna
If you are looking for some new New York type of jazz, high energy with compelling yet soulful compositions and an all star cast, then look no further. Tom Guarna's latest album, "Rush," is guaranteed to satisfy your inner jazz critic. Guarna is one of a new breed of musicians who has studied the traditions, has skills to burn, but is not afraid to push the envelope and go outside the box. 

I like to call this music New York Jazz, although some might erroneously call it Fusion. It is not fusion in the sense of reminding us of the Jazz Rock of the late 60's and 1970's, although Guarna and company are no doubt familiar with the subgenre. There is a lot of swing, and with the exception of electric guitar and Fender Rhodes on some of the tracks, it's an otherwise acoustic album. If one means fusion in the sense of this is music with many influences fusing to create a
singular sound, then I'll accept that. But this is no Return To Forever ripoff; Guarna has his own vision and "Rush" unmistakeably brings it to life.

From the title and opening track, the SOUND of this recording will grab your attention. It's a big, clear sound, all of the instruments sound warm, and it's full without sounding overly compressed. The song "Rush" is a kind of spinning wheel of energy based on a low register 3/4 guitar riff; from there, Guarna and saxophone monster Joel Fromm join together to play weaving lines while the rhythm section of pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Orlando le Fleming, and drumming master Johnathan Blake drive the engine. Guarna's composition's are heavy, but they don't take themselves too seriously, and there is plenty of space for blowing. On "Shambleau, " a kind of D minor swing which really opens up, Joel Fromm begins his solo with a high degree of harmelodic nastiness which I don't often hear from him. 

Danny Grissett has been in high demand as an accompanist for years; I especially enjoy his floating textures on "Dreamland." I've recorded with Johnathan Blake and used to play with him quite a bit; now, it seems as though every time I turn around and say, "That drummer on the recording is KILLING! Who is it?" -well, 9 times out of 10, it's Johnathan Blake; he's nailing everything Guarna has given him. A tune like "Movement and Repose" is clearly an
Johnathan Blake
obstacle  course of a challenge, and Blake, as well as bassist le Fleming, handle it with ease.

I'm hoping that "Rush" will be the album that will push Tom Guarna into the conversation which includes Kurt Rosenwinkle, Johnathan Kreisberg, and Gilad Hekselman; Guarna is easily in that category, in fact, this recording proves he is in his own category.

"Rush"(Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) will be available for download on Itunes on February 25th. Also, check out the BJUR site, as well as Tom Guarna's site. Also, here are Tom Guarna's tour dates:

Feb 23
Tom Guarna Quintet
CD Release Show
55 Bar
Jon Cowherd - fender rhodes
Orlando le Fleming - bass
Chris Cheek - saxophone
E.J. Strickland - drum
9pm to 12am

March 1
Manuel Valera's New Cuban Express
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center
Houston TX

April 16th
Tom Guarna Quartet
The Blue Whale
Los Angeles CA
CD Release Show 8pm to 12am
Mark Ferber - drums
Dave Robaire - bass
Miro Sprague - piano

April 17th
Tom Guarna Quartet
CD Release Show
8pm to 11:30pm
San Diego CA
Joshua White - piano
Mark Ferber - drums
Bass - TBA

April 18th
Tom Guarna Trio
8pm to 12am
Los Angeles CA

April 21
Tom Guarna Masterclass
Portland State University
Portland OR

April 22
George Colligan Group
Jimmy Mak's
Portland OR
Damian Erskine - bass
Reinhart Melz - drums
George Colligan - piano/keys
8pm to 12am

April 23
George Colligan Organ Trio
Jo Bar
Portland Or
8pm to 12am

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TONIGHT! My New Steady Wednesday Gig at Jo Bar And Rotisserie 5-8

When I began my piano career in Baltimore and Washington D.C. back in 1988ish, there was a plethora of what we refer to as the "Steady Gig." Indeed, I basically learned how to play jazz piano because I lucked into a Friday and Saturday gig at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Baltimore. Even when that gig ended (because another group came in and undercut us), I still managed to have a bunch of regularly occurring gigs in the area. (I even had a 6 night a week gig at the Watergate Hotel with the late vocalist Pam Bricker.) Although freelancing in any field has it's severe financial ups and downs, having the steady gig makes looking at the upcoming calendar a whole lot easier. Alas, when I moved to New York, I was never able to secure any sort of weekly gig in the Tri-State area; I was only able to make a living by touring Europe and Japan with bands such as Cassandra Wilson, Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, and Don Byron. ( Yes, what a drag!) Ok, I jest; it can be great to go on the road, but there's nothing like a steady gig to call home.

If you ever talk to older jazz cats, you might hear more about gigs that went on for years, or even 7 sets a night! 7 sets! That's a lot of music. (I wonder if some of my students, given the tunes they know, could get through ONE set, let alone 7!) I keep saying that the best place to learn jazz is on the bandstand; unfortunately there are very few "bandstands" left in the world, especially ones where you can meet once a week, let alone 6 nights a week for 6 months.
tours where they would play one club for 6 months at a time. This is why these bands sounded so amazing; they were playing ALL THE TIME! How can you not get better? Many of these gigs were longer than today's gigs; there's some poster someone showed me where it said something like "Joe Henderson/Woody Show 7-2AM." Can you imagine? Pianist and Philadelphia native Billy Colucci told me when he played in Atlantic City in the 60's, they played 7 nights a week 

Well, good NEWS, everyone; out of the blue, a young man named Michael Gibbons emailed me and asked me if I would be interested in a regular Wednesday gig. Gibbons is the owner of Jo Bar and Rotisserie, one of the best restaurants in Portland and a successful business for 20 years. I was flattered , and I decided to meet with Gibbons. After enticing me with green tea and sorbet, I had to agree to an engagement. We decided that Wednesdays 5-8 would be a great time to give it a try.

So there you have it. Our first gig is this evening. I want to feature different rhythm sections every week for a while; this week bassist Miranda Williams and drummer Jon Huteson will be joining me on the "bandstand." Come down and listen; if you are a musician, and you have your axe, I might let you sit in, if you bring me a Valentine's Day gift! See you at 715 NW 23rd Avenue (503 222-0048).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch
Sometimes I'm just late to the party; I recently discovered a wonderful musician from England named Soweto Kinch, who is equal parts alto saxophonist and rapper. Kinch's vision is very fresh to me; when I hear music like this, it makes me want to stop talking about learning standards and tradition and so forth and start talking about going forward. Kinch has combined a rock solid gift for jazz alto saxophone with a very distinct and engaging lyrical flow that is truly a revelation. Soweto Kinch has been out there for about a decade, but I guess I've been preoccupied with Facebook or something.

I used to be very sensitive about the notion that Jazz in Europe is becoming more innovative while
many American musicians cling too strongly to the past. Well, musicians like Soweto Kinch sort make me want to eat my contrary words; Kinch blends hip hop and jazz so well, it's almost a perfect fusion.  Kinch's alto sound reminds me of Kenny Garrett, Steve Wilson and Vincent Herring; the tone has the crying hard edge I love, and he has a very fluid sense of melody and rhythm. On 2010's "The New Emancipation," the tune called "A People With No Past" jumps out with a swinging soaring sequential melody nicely countered by guitarist Femi Temowo. Kinch the jazz musician is without a doubt an expert navigator of chord changes. " Trying to Be A Star" shows off Kinch's lyrical expertise; at times, it's almost more like spoken word, but then also has a Busta Rhymes sort of behind the beat feel. (I think it's refreshing that Kinch makes no effort to hide his British accent.)

The sonic palette of 2009's "War In a Rack" is euphoric, symphonic. "Can't Hold Me Down" alternates many voices with Kinch spitting rhymes with overwhelming intensity. Contrast this with another EP from 2008, " London Sessions, " a live date which is somewhat more spacious: a blend of acoustic jazz/groove with lyrics, Kinch's flow is no less impressive. The opening track, "Ridez" is a bottomless pit of creativity. "Adrian's Ballad," which begins rather conventionally, leads into a very dramatic lyric. The final track, "Freestyle," is a funny interaction with the audience trying to find a word with which to flow spontaneously. It's mind boggling how comfortable Kinch is with rhyming off the top of his head.(Perhaps his studies of Modern History at Oxford helped with that.)

Soweto Kinch's latest is "The Legend Of Mike Smith," a concept album about a young rapper trying
to get into the business, dealing with phony music executives. (I get the feeling that this would be what you might get if Miguel Zenon and Wu Tang Clan somehow made a record together.) The double album follows a narrative but never leaves the music behind. " The Dream" is Shakespeare with a hip hop groove; it's sophisticated English poetry with rather wild orchestrations accompanying. The whole album feels like a Hip/hop Opera. It's a magnum opus from an artist who I hope has many years of creative output ahead of him.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Farnell Newton's Jam Of The Week

Farnell Newton
It's amazing how much Facebook has changed our lives: some for the better and some for the worse. It is a great way to stay in touch with old friends across the world, as well as a way to make new friends. Musicians can promote their music and increase their fan base. Indeed, this blog right here would be much less relevant without Facebook. However, it can also be a huge distraction; we get caught up inflame wars and humble brags that we would otherwise ignore. Someone you think is your friend starts posting horrible things about world politics which you disagree with, so you de-friend them in a huff( I guess that's one of the worst things you could do to someone in cyberspace.). Now, many of us are trying to either get off of Facebook and get on with our ACTUAL lives instead of getting caught up in the news items of people we barely know. (I'm constantly amazed with the wide spectrum of content on the news feed. From "What's up, my peeps?" to "Did you know Monsanto is killing our planet every day?" from " I just ate a cheeseburger and it was good!" to " Krishnamurti says that we are all one with each other and that oneness brings light into our hearts, yada yada yada.") Some people have said that Facebook will, sooner rather than later, be damned to the realm currently occupied by that other great but now almost forgotten MySpace.( Hey, maybe I'll log in to MySpace. Whoops, can't even remember my password. Oh well.)

As much as I am trying to limit my Facebook time, I find myself being drawn back in by a new page
from trumpeter and Portland resident Farnell Newton. Mr. Newton, who has been touring the world with Bootsy Collins and Jill Scott, has created a Facebook page called Jam Of The Week. This is a forum where a jazz tune is suggested, and anyone can upload one chorus of an improvised solo over the chord changes. It's a cool idea, especially for students because they can upload something to
share, but also see what others are doing. It's also cool because it seems as thought the protocol is that you upload a video of yourself WITH NO ACCOMPANIMENT. This is really important for students as well as professionals because if one goal is to be able to play the changes well enough so that they are clear WITH NO ACCOMPANIMENT, and another goal is to keep time on our own WITH NO ACCOMPANIMENT, then this reveals all.

It seems like it's really catching on; merely in it's third week, hundreds of folks are uploading one chorus solos on the chosen tunes. The first week was a blues, the second was Just Friends, and this week was All The Things You Are. I uploaded videos for the latter two songs. I enjoyed the process; this forum motivates to to present one "perfect or at least respectable chorus to the world. I'm noticing that most of the comments(feedback) say things like,"Sounds great, buddy!" or "Man you are killing!" Again, this is the nature of the medium; no one wants to start a flame war about someone's solo that they maybe don't like. But that's cool for now. I'm really curious to see how long this will last and how it's going to develop. Maybe this will really inspire folks to get their playing up to speed.
David Goldblatt
Indeed, I felt good about my chorus on "Just Friends" until I heard pianist and Portland resident
 David Goldblatt's chorus. Wow! That guy has some chops.

As I have said, the virtual world is great and in some ways convenient. However, I say this, and yet I also think about the fact that last year, Portland had a Monday night jam session, a Tuesday night Jam session, a Wednesday Night Jam, and A Thursday Night Jam, and all of those jams have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. So, kudos to Mr. Newton and I anticipate next week's selection for Jam Of The Week. Check it out if you have a chance. On another tip, let's not forget that things like this are only PART of the equation; music can be made with other people and heard by people LIVE!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Joe Manis Masterclass And My New Hammond SK1

Joe Manis
We are continuing to have some great Jazz masterclasses at PSU. So far this year, we have had saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, drummer Scott Cutshall, and saxophonist Joe Manis. Originally from Eugene, a graduate of the University of Oregon and New England Conservatory, Joe Manis plays the tenor saxophone in a no holds barred, unapologetic manner. We recorded his sophomore CD, "North By Northwest" two summers ago, and it's been getting some great attention. Manis' clinic was equal parts performance; he's been using organ trio quite a bit, so he decided to hire me on organ and drumming wizard Todd Strait. We've worked this configuration a bunch during 2013, and it's always been a ton of fun. In between songs, Manis and Strait answered questions and talked about why they got into the music. I'm hoping we can have more informative presentations like this in the weeks and months to come.

I was happy to get the chance to play great music with great musicians, but I was really happy about
Hammond SK1
getting another chance to try my brand spanking new Hammond SK1. This is a keyboard which the industry refers to as a "clonewheel," or an "organ clone". It's not exactly brand new, but it's new to me( it was half the normal street price at Guitar Center, so I couldn't pass it up!)I've used various keyboards which try to emulate the wonder of the Hammond B3, and I've met with various levels of satisfaction. However, the SK1 has a number of great things going for it. One, it's only 15 pounds! Secondly, it has REAL drawbars, which give it the real feel of the B3. The action is also remarkable B3-like. Furthermore, the sound of the "percussion" is really authentic to me. In terms of sound, I question whether the layman would notice the difference, but if you have ever played an actual B3 and then played an organ "patch" on a keyboard, you know that there is a huge difference. For the moment, I'm very satisfied with my SK1. To be totally honest, I was thinking about phasing out the organ stuff from my duties; this keyboard is actually making me think about finding MORE opportunities to play organ gigs!

I leave you with some footage from our clinic, and you can judge the music and my keyboard for yourself!