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Contemporary, Fusion and World Beat Happenings

By Chris J. Walker

title Contemporart Art work of text with band on top of name

For vocal jazz lovers The Summit: Manhattan Transfer & Take 6 at The Valley Performing Arts Center on the Cal State University Northridge campus was a dream come true and a thorough exploration of vocalese.

Coed Manhattan Transfer carries on a linage of vocal trailblazers such as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, The Four Freshmen, The Hi-Lo’s and The Andrew Sisters. Take 6 are more slanted to the Afro-American oriented vocal traditions of gospel, jazz, R&B and doo-wop combining The Mills Brothers, The Golden Gate Quartet, Boyz II Men, and The Drifters characteristics. In performance the multi-award winning groups were like ‘tag teams” with each one doing three song segments. They also interacted at the beginning, midpoint and end of the concert as well.

The Summit: Manhattan Transfer & Take 6 band photo

45 year-old MT working with Yaron Gershovsky-Music Director/piano, Boris Kazlov-bass and Ross Pederson-drums took to flight with late ‘40s Louis Jordan hit “Choo Choo Ch' Boogie” to get the audience fired up. In memory of their founder/former band mate Tim Hauser, who reformed the original rock/pop ‘60s outfit into what it is presently in 1972 the singers served up vintage dynamic ballad “Candy” with their leader’s replacement new singer Trist Cureless-bass. Barely catching their breathes the singers including Alan Paul-tenor, Janis Siegel-alto and Cheryl Bentyne-soprano launched into rapid fire scatting for “Air Mail Special” that featured them individually and trading off with each of the supporting musicians, especially the pianist. MT’s second go round began with them doing a Four Freshmen-like a cappella tribute to Dick Van Dyke with “Like Someone in Love.” Doo-wop “Trickle Trickle” also occurred in honor of their late manager Brian Avnet (also managed Take 6) along with “Boy From New York City.” Their blockbuster hit “Birdland” was saved for the end and nearly caused an explosion of excitement when sung.

Sextet T-6 consisting of Claude V. McKnight-first tenor, Mark Kibble-first tenor, David Thomas-second tenor, Joey Kibble-second tenor, Khristian Dentley-baritone and Alvin Chea-vocal bass also soared, beginning with “Just in Time.” Additionally, they inserted individual vocal acrobatics to further thrill the audience. Getting gospel was “I’ve Got a Life” and “Spread Love” with beat-box vocal breakouts to accentuate things. For amusement and to uplift the attendees the singers included pop hit “Happy” and had many clapping along. Later in the program the sextet beautifully sang Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” with one member playing acoustic guitar and another on piano to spellbind the audience. For their arena moment they had the audience take out their cell phones and like them and MT on Facebook. Returning to music was Ben E. King’s doo-wop classic “Stand By Me” with audience singing and clapping along.

For comic relief the two groups made fun of each other musically and non-musically resulting in a sing-off doing each others tunes such as “Route 66,” gospel “Tell Mary Not to Mourn” and “Operator “ which they all came together for. Additionally, M-T and T-6 remarkably sang “Barkley Square” together to provide an incredible and memorable showcase of harmony. Their final segment was the encore that began with a rocking and good time version of Ray Charles immortal “What I Say” that showcased both singers and the band to receive a roaring standing ovation.



The Bad Plus group

Classical and rock tinged The Bad Plus, who mostly through aggressive drumming is like a muscular version of the Modern Jazz Quartet without vibes performed recently at The Broad Stage. The 20-year-old trio also known for offbeat titles to their compositions sprinkled in selections from their new CD It’s Hard, a collection of rock, pop and jazz covers. Pianist Ethan Iverson started the first selection “Self Serve” striking an A note several times as if his band mates Reid Anderson-bass and David King-drums were a symphony. Afterwards they joined in with Iverson for jaunting jazz with classical tinges that ended as it began. “The Empire Strikes Backwards” seemed to pick up where the previous piece left off but with more intensity. Setting down a bit the trio showcased their relaxed and oft kilter version of Cyndi Lauper’s pop hit “Time After Time” from the new CD to the audience’s delight.

For added variation the trio’s bassist was featured for a decidedly straightforward and extended rendering of Ornette Coleman’s “Law Years,” while the group’s “Forces” was similar in nature to the opening numbers. “Gold Prisms Incorporated” was alternately hard driven and progressive rock-like and could have easily been enhanced by an electric guitar and/or synthesizer solo. Also upbeat was Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” from the new CD that spotlighted the band working out in madcap fashion and included a thunderous drum solo. “Big Eater” maintained the pace, but with in a less offbeat fashion. However, “Prehensile Dream” was like a Beethoven chamber piece propelled by Iverson’s subtle and moving playing with his fellow players’ crescendo to earn a standing ovation. For the encore they offered a pulsating thematic tune that was intelligent and rocking.

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Orenda Records a fledgling Southern California avant-garde and forward thinking label developed by Daniel Rosenboom and Eron Rauch had its three-year anniversary at The Blue Whale. The celebration highlighted three generations of bands on the roster and trumpeter Rosenboom’s DR. MINT formed in 2007 were the headliners playing in the middle slot.

Besides the trumpeter the bi-coastal group with members on the East and West Coasts consisted of Gavin Templeton-reeds, Alexander Noice-guitar, Sam Minaie-bass and Caleb Dolister-drums. Getting down to business the electro-jazz-rock unit showcased selections from their newest CD Voices in the Void. They began with slow developing abstract and atmospheric textures for the brass and guitar to play over before becoming robust with soaring and raw guitar runs strongly supported by drums. Trumpet and tenor came to the surface at different times from there and wailed away for different interludes. Bass and drums put down a strong and flexing foundation as the lead players raucously interwove. Guitar returned to the forefront ambience and later percussively as the others wound down with trumpet retaking the lead for another crescendo that was equally aggressive and transcended with also jagged guitar and saxophone expressions. The energy shifted down tempo is the later stages of the set as sax played with effects to amaze the audience. Drums and bass started laying down a funky and driving backbeat that set the stage for a final explosive jam to conclude the set and blow the club goers away.

The Orenda Anniversary Orchestra led by Rosenboom followed and included DR. MINT players, along with Christine Tavolacci, Michael Mull, Jonathan Rowden, Andrew Conrad, and Brian Walsh on woodwinds; Ryan Dragon and Stefan Kac brass; Cathlene Pineda and Joshua White on keyboards; Max Kutner-guitar and Trevor Anderies-percussion. Most of them are leaders with their own projects on the label or have with others on its roster. The collective’s set was much more organic than DR. MINT, yet as would be expected much denser. They worked in a traditional big band mode rendering offbeat themes with brass and woodwind choruses, as saxes, trumpets keyboards and guitar soloed. Snow Nerds with Jake Sucher-guitar, Anna Buterss-bass, Ted Taforo-saxophone/keys and Jesse Quebbeman-Turley-drums opened the concert and represented the youth aspect of the label. Unlike the other two ensembles they were much looser, funky and somewhat jam-band oriented. For more info go to:


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Many in Southern California witnessed drummer Willie Jones III growing up and maturing as a musician in the early ‘90s. Back then he studied under legend Tootie Heath to become a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk Drum Competition and co-founded the highly regarded Black Note group who toured internationally and were the opening act for Wynton Marsalis. Afterwards Jones moved on to work with many notable jazz artists, such as Sonny Rollins, Ernestine Anderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Cedar Walton, Frank Wess, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Houston Person, Billy Childs, Ryan Kisor, Eric Alexander, Bill Charlap, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock and Hank Jones. Additionally, in 2000 the drummer released his debut self-produced CD, Vol 1...Straight Swingin' on his own label WJ3 Records.

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At the Moss Theatre as part of The Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast Series Jones played with his Straight Swingin’ Band supported by Eric Reed-piano, Teodross “Teo” Avery-tenor/soprano saxophone, Gilbert Castellanos-trumpet and Mike Gurrola-bass. They got underway with Reed’s “Manhattan Melodies” that was rhapsodic as the brass players were fiercely engaged, while piano and drums especially soloed passionately. The group shifted to Cedar Walton’s “Hindsight” on Jones latest CD Groundwork that was a jazz waltz fueled by cohesive brass work featuring Castellanos and Avery soloing superbly. Reed took flight from there with a bustling Gary Bartz neo-bop piece entitled “Libra” that had all players reeling and soloing away. Taking a break from hard-hitting material the quintet performed Buster William’s ballad “Christina” featuring sweet sounding soprano and muted trumpet bolstered by sparkling piano to truly mesmerize the audience. Somewhat similarly Monk’s classic “Round Midnight” showcased astounding tenor saxophone playing and piano injecting a delightful solo. Not to be left out, bass came to forefront swinging hard for the opening section of a bebop piece. Wrapping up an evening of palatable music Jones spotlighted his high-flying composition “Blues For Dat Taz” with he and band playing powerfully to generate a standing ovation.

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Orenda Records logo

After recording and releasing the CD Discoveries in 2011 pianist/arranger/composer Josh Nelson decided to incorporate a multi-media show including projected images and footage with an art installation. Its purpose was to meld with the music and he called the unique show The Discovery Project whereby the theme was science fiction. Subsequently in 2015 the pianist continued with the theme Exploring Mars and utilized stunning NASA/JPL Martian video footage with the CD receiving critical acclaim. For 2017 at The Blue Whale the subject is The Sky Remains: Exploring the Past, Present and Future of Los Angeles and Nelson enlisted an outstanding group. They were Anthony Wilson-guitar, Alex Boneham-bass, Dan Schnelle-drums, Brian Walsh-clarinet, Josh Johnson-saxophone, and Chris Lawrence-trumpet, with Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengpiehl-vocals. Furthermore, Historian Robert Peterson (Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast creator) provided narration about Los Angeles history, and Travis Flournoy created the live video projection.

In performance Nelson’s endeavor was much like watching a documentary/pictorial with exceptional soundscapes that were divided into sections with introductions from Peterson. Some of them were “Tunnels and Bridges,” “Griffith Park” features Grace’s distinct vocals, “Stairways “ with amazing brass forays and “Water” with footage from the film China Town with Lawrence’s trumpet and Nelson. Also there was “LA Floods” with haunting piano and chaotic band play, “Creative Spirit” with Nelson reading from John Fontaine’s Ask The Dust and Sengpiehl singing operatically with Wilson’s guitar solo and “Los Angeles’ Dark Side” with Grace’s country tinged singing supported with acoustic guitar from Wilson. Unfortunately, the CD won’t be out until Fall 20117, but NPR did tape a snippet for its Jazz Night in America show:

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Every Tuesday night at Leimert Park’s World Stage singer/pianist/songwriter Howlett Smith, vocally speaking, whips his students into shape and gives them confidence to sing in front of audiences and possibly pursue a professional career. Some of the students have never sung before, some years ago and some are there to fine-tune their chops. Maryanne Reall is very dedicated and attends regularly, while occasionally doing concerts around LA. She also is a bit of an entrepreneur and started her own Jazz Salon series to showcase fellow vocalists at the school, Smith and herself. Recently she had her fourth and the first one for 2017 at her home that she shares with her husband. Smith and bassist Richard Simon supported the singers after Reall briefly introduced them and they each performed four songs.

Soprano Arienne Battiste who’s had previous training shined singing Howlett’s “Los Angeles at Dawn” one of his many tunes about this city, “There Will Never be Another You/It All Belongs to You,” the songwriter’s bluesy ballad “Sad Eyes” and his “Yes We Can” inspired by President Obama to impress the audience. Contrarily, Yuka Akai just started singing two years ago after leaving Japan and charmed the listeners with Smith’s ballad “Perhaps I Try to Hard, “ swinging “That Old Devil Moon,” classic “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Howlett’s “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” that was a hit for Nancy Wilson in the ‘60s. Described as a “bolero songstress” Puerto Rican native Mayita Dinos a graduate of Smith’s program performed Smith’s “At Last It’s Morning,” “When The Time is Right,” remorseful “We Tried” and soul swinging “Rita’s Rif” to rouse the attendees. Not to be forgotten was hostess Reall doing Smith’s Bob Dorough styled “It’s True White Girls Get The Blues Too,” standards “But Beautiful” and “I Love Being Here With You” that swung featuring the musicians soloing and Smith’s “It’s The Last Day of Summer.” Closing out the fun evening was none other than Smith singing his humorous “Chitlin’s in the Whitehouse” that he wrote in 1984 when Jessie Jackson ran for president. For more info go to: : /

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New York-based pianist Emmet Cohen a winner of the American Jazz Pianists Competition in 2014, the Phillips Piano Competition at the University of West Florida and a finalist in the American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship and Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 2011 recently played at The Blue Whale. Joining him for the engagement were Russell Hall-bass a member of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s band and Kyle Poole-drums who toured with Wynton Marsalis. These players were also on the pianist’s new CD Masters Legacy Series Vol.1 featuring icon drummer Jimmy Cobb. That association reveals that Cohen is an “old soul” with a strong reverence for many jazz legends and icons.

In fact, the pianist currently a Harlem resident paid homage to the landmark location playing 1919 stride number “Dardanella” akin to Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith, first solely and then with his trio for cool vintage swinging. Johnson’s “Charleston” followed and stayed in the same mode. Transitioning into more modern music Cohen deftly played “Round Midnight” with gentle and lightly swinging accompaniment, while also injecting a Caribbean/Amad Jamal inspired section. Another changeup was the bassist doing a rhythmic solo intro for Ellington’s “Black And Tan Fantasy” that featured his nimble playing with the bandleader and trio joining in. Afterwards they launched into a medley of artists from that era that touched on ragtime, blues, ‘30s jazz and Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” including a lengthy drum solo. Classic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” featured Cohen playing solely and creatively initially as his band mates eased in for a refined rendition with energetic variations. Seamlessly the pianist closed out the set with a driving melding of styles and rhythms to thoroughly entertain and amaze the audience. For more info go to: .

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Leading up to Grammy Awards just about very category of music is some shape or form has special events and celebrations. Jazz is no exception with The Jazz Bakery Goes to The Grammys at The Moss Theatre. The show featured some 2017 Grammy nominees such as headliner Joey Alexander (Best Improvised Solo), legendary drummer Peter Erskine and The Trio (Best Jazz Instrumental Album), and Yellowjackets saxophone player Bob Mintzer (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album). Additionally, guest vocalist Carmen Lundy and Grammy winning pianist Patrice Rushen showcased songs from Lundy’s new recording Code Noir released on February 17th. Hosting the function was comedian/producer/actor Jeff Garlin, co-star of The Goldbergs, and Executive Producer and co-star of Curb Your Enthusiasm who had an introductory discussion (he did most of the talking) with Jazz Bakery Founder and Artistic Director Ruth Price.

Erskine’s Trio (not the Grammy nominated one) with Terry Trotter-piano and Chuck Berghofer-bass started the music with an easy swinging version of “How Deep is the Ocean” bolstered by each of the musicians soloing. Mintzer joined the trio for a spirited take on “When I Fall in Love” and wailed away with flowing support. Breaking away from the traditional faire the trio and saxophonist served up a jazzy and relaxed version of the Violent Femmes “Blister in Sun” featuring solos from all that was well received. Lundy and Rushen appeared next performing their spin on “Green Dolphin Street” with majestic singing/scatting and elevated piano playing, along with original new ballads “So Beautiful” and “Whatever it Takes” from an earlier recording. Lundy concluded with her version including new lyrics of “Happy New Year.” For the final half hour Alexander came out playing whirlwind solo improvisation melding jazz, classical and touches of stride that he jokingly called “From Here and Now.” Getting into an actual tune he played Monk’s eccentric “Bemsha Swing” with amazing creativity to astonish the audience. The young pianist wrapped up the show coming together with Berghofer and Erskine for a fascinating version of Monk’s “Epistrophy” featuring solos by all to receive a fervent standing ovation.

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One of the more interesting and intriguing jazz groupings, Branford Marsalis Quartet and Kurt Elling performed at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Vocalist Elling led his own group for many years, but hasn’t spent much time working outside of that framework and Marsalis’ unit has been solid with hardy any interaction with singers. The results have been to audiences’ delight with new CD Upward Spiral and accompanying tours under their belts. With Joey Calderazzo-piano, Eric Revis-bass and Justin Faulkner the band started out with dynamic instrumental “The Mighty Sword” with all the musicians going full-bore. They shifted to cool grooving “There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York “upon the vocalist’s arrival with him scatting rapid fire and adding some jive talk to amuse the concert attendees. Marsalis flew high on soprano too with Caderazzo also soloing. Taking a respite from the hot beginning ballad “Blue Gardenia” was rendered with melodious singing and an expressive tenor saxophone solo. The leaders afterwards had fun talking about their insulting texts resulting from a disagreement that had subtle and humorous political references/overtones to crack the audience up.

Getting back to music Elling sang Jobim’s bossa flavored “Só Tinha de Ser Com Você” in Portuguese and easy flowing “One Island to Another.” Both were jaunting and sophisticated supported with solos from Marsalis and Calderazzo for further enrichment. For more variety the saxophonist generated a frenetic wall of sound to lead to the singer’s off kilter word jazz selection “Mama Said” as the band accented the phrases in madcap fashion. Oscar Brown’s urban poetic “As Long as You’re Living” provided soulful flavoring with Elling singing fast and rhythmically propelled by the band’s fiery playing including a hard-driving drum solo. From a somber perspective ballad “Practical Arrangement” was incorporated and boosted by Marsalis and Calderazzo’s graceful solos, along with the title track of the new CD that included a celebratory closing section to draw strong audience reaction. Wrapping up the enjoyable concert was Sinatra’s mournful ballad “I’m a Fool to Want You” and New Orleans classic “St. James Infirmary” featuring Elling emulating a trumpet by way of a glass and not singing. The crowd didn’t seem to mind and gave the quartet plus Elling an energetic standing ovation.

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Paul "HR" Hudson is the subject of documentary Finding Joseph created by Director and filmmaker James Lathos and Executive Producer (and actor) Jay Mohr. HR founded the legendary hard-edged punk/reggae Bad Brains, considered a leading influence of punk and reggae bands since the mid-‘70s. The well-crafted film tells the story of a charismatic and spiritual, but also elusive and unstable HR and his “Positive Mental Attitude.” There is plenty of footage of HR speaking, performing and even freaking out, which unfortunately is the driving source of his plight leading to him being homeless and constantly on the move. He basically became undependable due to schizophrenia that went undiagnosed for many years until his wife convinced him to see a doctor. All the while through the late ‘70s to present times fans, his group and the musical community patiently waited for his returns that typically were short-lived. Nonetheless, his impact on the music is so strong that many have accepted him any shape, which is often disastrous and potentially dangerous. Lathos painstaking inquires about HR and shot many of his musical associates to get to the truth. Some of them are Earl Hudson (Bad Brains/HR's brother), Ras Michael (The Sons of Negus), Anthony Countey (Bad Brains' Manager), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and members of Sublime, Deftones, Fishbone, Cro-Mags, Murphy's Law, The Wailers and Living Colour from Hawaii to London. They candidly talk about being both influenced and frustrated with HR, while expressing much love and respect for him. The film principals did Q&A after the screening at Raleigh Studios covering the impetus, logistics and legal aspects. Finding Joseph has received rave reviews at several film festivals and a release date for the general public is currently in the works. For more information go to: .


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Jose Montserrate Feliciano Garcia – better known as Jose Feliciano –will bring his unique blend of Latin American music to the Carpenter Center stage, on the campus of Cal State University Long Beach. The Puerto Rican-born singer/songwriter best known for his Christmas anthem “Feliz Navidad,” and rendition of the Doors classic “Light My Fire,” has crafted an international presence that continues to influence popular music, as it has for more than two generations, bridging musical styles in a way un-equaled. Jose Feliciano is recognized as the first Latin artist to cross over into the English music market, opening the doors for other artists who now play an important role in the American music industry.

Referred to as “The Picasso of his Realm,” Feliciano has been awarded over 45 Gold and Platinum records, earned 19 Grammy nominations and 9 Grammy Awards (including the LARAS Award for Lifetime Achievement), and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. New York City honored him by re-naming Public School 155 in East Harlem the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. Guitar Player Magazine has awarded him Best Pop Guitarist, placing him in their Gallery of the Greats, and he’s been voted both Best Jazz and Best Rock Guitarist in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll, as well. In 1996, Jose was selected to receive Billboard Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Jose Feliciano
March 4
8 p.m.
Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 E Atherton Street, Long Beach, CA 90815
(562) 985-7000

Santa Barbara Blues Society’s 40th Birthday show!

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The show will feature the Delgado Brothers band, a highly popular Southern California band for over three decades. They won the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge (IBC) in January 2016, besting over 150 other bands from all over the world, and Joey Delgado won the Albert King Award as best guitarist of the IBC. The ensemble will be joined by special guest, Blues -Music –Award-winning guitarist Kid Ramos, formerly with the James Harman Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. In addition, there will be multiple surprise guest musicians, free BBQ snacks, a large dance floor and a birthday cake! Discounts are available for SBBS members and others.

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Santa Barbara Blues Society’s 40th Birthday show
March 11
7 PM Doors and Music at 7:30 PM
Carrillo Recreation Center
100 E. Carrillo St.
Downtown Santa Barbara
(805) 722-8155

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