Feb 042014

Kiran Ahluwalia
Kiran Ahluwalia sings what are known as ghazals, Indian poems and songs. She adds her own touch, however, and composes some of her own pieces as well. She performed on Friday, January 24, at the Clifton Center, with a band that included her husband, jazz guitarist Rez Abassi, accordion player Will Holshouser, and a tabla player, Nitin Mitta. Ahluwalia’s voice swooped and soared, and she used her hands and arms expressively, adding emphasis to the emotional delivery. Abassi’s playing in the context of his wife’s singing was less jazz oriented, as befitted the music. Her final piece was introduced with a long tabla solo. More next month on Abassi’s new album.

Jan 122014

I profiled guitarist Brandon Coleman, in LEO (http://leoweekly.com/music/b-sides-135), and reviewed his album Decisions there (http://leoweekly.com/music/reviews/decisions). He and his friend and fellow University of Louisville School of music alumnus, trumpeter Craig Tweddell, profiled at http://leoweekly.com/music/b-sides-140, brought their bands to the Willis Music Performing Arts Auditorium, at 1850 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy #128, for a CD release show; a review of Tweddell’s Away With Words is scheduled to be published in LEO as well. Tweddell opened, with bandmates Jacob Duncan on alto, Todd Hildreth on electric piano, Jose Areta on bass, and Zack Kennedy on drums. “Grin. And Barret” was old school Blue Note style, with propulsive solos and a hint of “Fly Me to the Moon.” “Slumber” was aptly titled, beginning with a gentle piano solo before the band came in. Tweddell employed his mute for the upbeat “Walkin’ wit Shell” (for his dog), featuring a walking bass line. A highlight was the ballad “Thank You Jonathan Larson,” for the late creator of the musical Rent. It was a slow waltz, with Tweddell again employing his mute to good effect. “Killing Two Birds With One’s Tone” featured incisive soloing by Duncan, who then riffed behind Kennedy’s drum solo. The group closed with “Blueisville,” dedicated to keeping Louisville weird, based on a Monk-ish head, and bringing up Coleman as guest soloist.

Coleman’s quartet, with Diego Lyra on keyboards, Areta returning for bass duties, and Jeff Mellott on drums, opened with “Rewind,” which had a Brazilian feel. “New Blues” was up next, more of a ballad than a straight blues, with the soloists each building in intensity before handing off the lead to the next. “Vast” was more of a mood-creating piece, emphasizing textures over soloing. Three more from the album, “Deimos and Phobos,” a moody piece representing shapes of the moon, “Geometry,” with exploratory guitar over a funky beat, and the title track, “Decisions,” followed. Special props to Areta, who was filling in for a bassist who was ill, and was learning a great deal on the fly. This music is thoughtfully composed, not simple blues licks, and Areta delivered. They closed with a Coleman arrangement of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here.” The following night, the bands showcased their work at Cincinnati’s Comet, and they have each released their Comet performances for purchase.

Jan 112014

Bill Frisell returned to Louisville’s Clifton Center with his Big Sur ensemble, on Wednesday, December 4. (My interview of Frisell for this performance was in LEO, at http://leoweekly.com/music/good-chemistry-bill-frisell). This time, he performed with his Big Sur Quintet, consisting of featuring Eyvind Kang, viola; Hank Roberts, cello; Rudy Royston, drums; and Jenny Scheinman, violin, for two hours of music that ranged from dreamy to rock’n’roll surf. Most of the material was from his latest release, Big Sur, a suite commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival. The musicians used scores, but stretched and shaped the music far beyond what was on the written pages. Song titles were not announced, but themes from the album were heard throughout. The second piece was a long waltz, featuring a pizzicato viola solo with only subtle loops from Frisell underneath, which somehow meandered into a funky piece. The next piece may have been the album opener, “The Music of Glen Deven Ranch;” it had a hint of reggae and at one point sounded like an echo of the “eternity blue”refrain from the Grateful Dead’s “Blues for Allah.” which led to some heavy whammy bar playing. After a short intermission, the musicians returned with a slow blues, with emotional viola and guitar solos. Next up was a fast, riff-driven piece, followed by a pretty ballad with touches of folk and Celtic music. And then, this “string quarter + drummer” launched into outright, Ventures territory surf music; the double encore of the Beach Boys’ In My Room” and the Astronauts’ “Baja” neatly tied up the California coastline concepts. Frisell never ceases to explore music, with new projects and ensembles. Here’s hoping he comes back through with his next one.

Jan 102014

Jeff Sherman brought his friends Hunt Butler on tenor and flute, Bruce Morrow on drums, and Mark McCulloch on bass to the Rudyard Kipling on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, November 10, for the latest in the monthly concert series presented by the Louisville Jazz Society, on whose Board I serve [disclaimer]. “C & H Sugar,” by Carol Kaye and Hampton Hawes, was mellow Latin funk, followed by a Pat Metheny piece whose name I didn’t catch, but which was fun and tricky. Sal Salvador’s “Loose Walk,” a/k/a “Blues Walk,” was classic uptempo bop, followed by the well-known Adagio from “Concierto de Aranjuez.” Sam Jones’ fast-paced blues “Bittersweet” closed out the first set. The second set was bookended by Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple from the Apple” and Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road, Jack,” with a highlight being “You Can’t Go Home Again” a Don Sebesky composition based on Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. Sherman is a past master of modern mainstream guitar, playing with verve and taste throughout, and his colleagues added to the delightful performance.

Nov 072013

Pianist Laurence Hobgood and his friend, saxophonist Ernie Watts , returned to Kentucky Country Day on October 8 for an evening of sophisticated modern jazz, with Louisville’s own Liberation Prophecy opening. The ensemble also includes Marquis Hill – trumpet, Jared Schonig – drums, and Clark Sommers – bass. Liberation Prophecy combines jazz talents with sophisticated songwriting to create a sound which cannot be pigeonholed. Most of their set was comprised of songs from their current album, Invisible House. A highlight was the ballad “The Lazy Mist.” After a brief intermission, Hobgood, Watts and company took the stage. A rumbling piano introduction led to a hard bop flavored “The Gilded Cage,” one of several new pieces by Hobgood. Another was next, “Rip Van Winkle,” which had more of a straight four than swing feel. Hobgood began “O Wakare” (“Farewell”) with a fittingly Japanese-sounding solo, before the rest of the musicians joined in and the tempo increased, with Watts adding emotion by holding long, high notes. Hobgood offered a spoken tribute to several recently departed pianists, then offering his composition “Cedaresque” in homage to the late Cedar Walton. Watts’ sole original offering of the evening was another homage, “For Michael,” a waltz dedicated to Michael Brecker. A heartfelt saxophone solo led to a Hobgood solo which, in turn, gave way to the sole bass solo of the evening, but worth the wait. Watts returned to spar with Hill, with each horn cline complementing the other. The final selection of the night was “Septitude,” (“attitude in 7,” quipped Hobgood). A musically trained friend and I exchanged notes after the concert, and while neither of us could count the 7, we both enjoyed the swirling piece. Although the quintet only played six pieces, the group played a full hour and a half. Hobgood continues to forge a strong identity of his own as both writer and player, stepping away from the tag of “Kurt Elling’s pianist.”

Nov 062013

Amjad Ali Khan
Sarod master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, in celebration of 50 years of American tours, came to the Bomhard Theater on October 4, performing with his two sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan, also sarod players, and two tabla players, Salar Nader and Vineet Vyas. [“Khan” below refers to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan unless otherwise noted.] For background, you can read my interview for LEO at http://leoweekly.com/music/amjad-ali-khan-one-world-music. The ensemble began the concert with two selections from “Remembering Mahatma Gandhi.” Khan then filed his fingernails, explaining that this was necessary because he used them rather than his fingertips to play his instrument, demonstrating the difference in the sound of each style. He then introduced “Raga Zila Kafi,” noting that it is a Holi song associated with the spring Festival of Colors, played in a rhythmic cycle of 14×3. [Note: some of the titles following may be misspelled; I apologize if that is the case.] Next came “Raga Bahar” from the Sufi tradition, a short, fast intense piece. A song from the Bengal tradition followed, with a theme of beauty and ecology. The father turned the next portion of the concert over to his sons, who performed “Raga Barishvi,” with times changing from rupak (7) to tintal (16), with climax after climax following the slow introductory section known as the alap. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan returned for “Raga Balishiri,” and “Raga Kirwani,” challenging each son in turn in a call-and-response interplay that was exciting, fun, and most of all, musical. At a reception following the concert, I was overwhelmed with the warmth and kindness of the Khan family. Those who might be interested in hearing some of the recordings by this master musician should know that there are lots of recordings available, primarily of Indian classical music, many on the Navras label, www.navrasrecords.com. A recent release which should appeal to folk and AAA fans is Everything Is Everywhere, a collaboration with singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer.

Nov 052013

Dave Douglas Quintet By Mike Tracy
The Dave Douglas Quintet, featuring Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), the same lineup featured on Douglas’ last two albums, Be Still and Time Travel, played its first Kentucky concert at the Clifton Center on Sunday, September 29. The group opened with a track from Time Travel, “Little Feet,” introduced by Douglas with the comment that it was based on a children’s song. Douglas took the first solo, starting slowly but steadily, then building in intensity, a pattern followed by Irabagon (who snuck in a quote from “I Got Rhythm”) and Mitchell. “This Is My father’s World,” a hymn from Be Still, was next, with a lovely a cappella trumpet coda. Indeed, most of the songs throughout both sets were from these two albums. One notable exception came near the end of the second set, a moving rendition of the spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” a thematic fit to the songs on Be Still. Douglas and company played this slowly and emotionally, with a touch of New Orleans. Douglas eschewed the customary mute, instead cupping his upraised bell with his hand, even dropping to one knee before the song’s conclusion. The band closed with “Garden State,” from Time Travel, which featured a tight drums-and-bass duet. As Douglas told me in my interview for LEO [http://leoweekly.com/music/dave-douglas-older-dog-newer-tricks], “. . . the band that I’m coming with is the most identifiably jazz group of the things that I’m doing right now.” Indeed, between the classic quintet formulation and the handing off of solos from one musician to the next, this was mainstream modern jazz at its finest.

Oct 042013

Dave Holland Prism
Dave Holland
Prism (Dare2 Records, www.daveholland.com)

Dave Holland has gathered a monster group for his latest project, with Kevin Eubanks on guitar, Craig Taborn on piano and Fender Rhodes (specifically), and Eric Harland on drums. In many ways, this outing is reminiscent of Holland’s days with Miles Davis, featuring blistering guitar work and a classic fusion sound. All the musicians contribute tunes, which creates variety within the overall group sound. For example, Eubanks’ opening “The Watcher” is edgy, with soloing over a fast and funky drum line. Taborn’s “Spirals” leans more toward the abstract. The leader’s “The Empty Chair (for Clare)” builds on a slow blues line, with a bass solo leading into a guitar solo which moves the piece to a climax before returning to the groove. Taborn’s acoustic piano work comes to the fore in Holland’s “A New Day,” notwithstanding the rock feel and Eubanks very electric playing. Prism presents original music with topnotch players sounding like they are having too much fun.

Swallow Quintet
The Swallow Quintet
Into the Woodwork (XtraWATT/13, ECM, www.ecmrecords.com)

Electric bassist and composer Steve Swallow, together with his music and life partner Carla Bley (here heard on organ) have created a recording which takes the listener on a journey through subtle textures and evocative writing without abandoning the trademark humor found in much of their work. They are joined by Steve Cardenas on guitar, Chris Cheek on tenor sax, and Jorge Rossy on drums. Many of the pieces flow into one another like movements of a suite. The album opens with the quiet, subtle “Sad Old Candle,” which morphs into the title track, a lovely midtempo waltz, which, in turn, leads into “From Whom It May Concern (for Paul Haines [librettist for Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill], a ballad featuring warm saxophone work, and which rounds the corner into “Back in Action,” an uptempo, fun piece. “Grisly Business” is aptly titled, calling to mind some of Cab Calloway’s playful spookiness. Throughout, the players blend well, with subtlety and grace. This album bears repeated listening, revealing more each time around.

Oct 032013

WorldFest 2013, held Labor Day Weekend on Louisville’s waterfront Belvedere, featured music, food, crafts and more from around the world. I was able to catch some of the jazz and jazz-related presentations, beginning with Red Baraat on Friday, August 30. The Indian-infused dance rhythms coupled with the New Orleans brass got much of the audience up and moving. Next for me was Ut Gret on Saturday, August 31. The sun was high and the audience a bit sparse for their set; nonetheless, the band played well, with its trademark blend of jazz, prog, and world music, with a particularly engaging take on Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia.” The Afrophysicists , with some personnel from Ut Gret, played a hot set with an emphasis on songs from the great Fela Kuti, including his “Zombie.” On Sunday, Squeeze Bot did a rollicking set, with repertoire ranging from the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” to Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba.” The world’s best accordion-tuba-banjo-tiny drums band did it again, with leader Todd Hildreth demonstrating more rock star moves than any other squeezebox player around. Vibraphonist (and talking drummer) Dick Sisto brought bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Kenny Phelps down from Bloomington and Indianapolis, respectively, for a set of originals and classics. Boobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” was dedicated to Sisto’s grandchildren, and he later performed Ornette Coleman’s blues “Turnaround” as well as a Latin-style “Giant Steps,” the Coltrane classic. Liberation Prophecy was up next, with a blistering set of originals from their recently released album, Invisible House. All these artists deserve more coverage than I can provide, and I urge you to support them.

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