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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

A cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock who formed in 1973 appeared at Disney Hall for their Celebrating The Holidays show. It was more than a typical Christmas show though and the vocal quartet consisting of Carol Maillard, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil and Rochelle Rice (substitute) with Romeir Mendez-acoustic/electric bass and American Sign Language interpreter Shirley Childress performed profound songs dealing with spirituality, politics, race and mankind. Employing the sultry rhythm and textures of “Fever,” gospel song “Come Ye” showcased the artistry of the women as they sang with proud confidence. Ramping things up several notches “We Are” cited human universality, featuring the singers as a group and individually, along with bass soloing. Strictly a capella was the riveting “Ballad of Harry TMoore“ about the political organizer who was killed on Christmas Day. They also injected a bit of doo-wop into soulfully expressive “Let’s All Come Together” and even mentioned Congress unifying while singing super soulfully to blow the audience away. For “Ella’s Song” about a civil rights leader that included an infectious chorus of “we believe in freedom” the audience sang and clapped along.

photo of Sweet Honey in the Rock band
photo of Sweet Honey in the Rock CD cover

In terms of regular Christmas songs the group sang “Wasn’t That a Mighty Day” (When Jesus Christ was Born) and slightly rocking gospel drenched “Jesus is All.” The group also mentioned that many people don’t’ have families and places to go during the holidays and they partnered with the organization, S.O.S. to help and create awareness. Latin tinged chorus-like song “Give Love” related to the cause and their work. After intermission the singers launched into gospel rousing and tambourine/hand clapping fueled “Do What the Spirit Say” and even mentioned Obama to get the crowd going. Prayer was mentioned and afterwards with electric bass one of the singers got into new song “Somebody Prayed for Me” and when the others joined in they took the audience who was clapping and singing to church. “Sojourner's Battle Hymn” and “Rockin' Little Angel” were similar and also had the audience reeling, while “Hush L'il Baby” was a beautiful and enchanting lullaby that mystified the crowd. The singers even stretched out into Zap Mama/world beat-like multi harmonies and rhythms for a song, along with more traditional rhythmic singing for Odetta’s “Children Go Where I Send Thee” and “Feeling Good” popularized by Nina Simone. that even featured the singers scatting to draw an emphatic standing ovation. For the encore they did “IDK, But I'm LOL!” a melding of world and gospel from their new CD #LoveinEvolution that left the audience feeling revved up.

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Photo of Pink Martini band

In recent years the classical, poppy, international and campy Portland-based Pink Martini at Disney Hall for New Year’s Eve has become somewhat of a tradition and to the ensemble’s credit they find creative ways to mix their familiar pieces with the unexpected and unknown.

Leading off Latin-based “Amado Mio” featured co-leader China Forbes singing and a bold trumpet solo. Forbes continued with Russian themed “Dosvedanya Mio Bombino” sung in English and the co-leader’s outrageous counter-part Storm Large sang 30’s siren style “Ich Dich Liebe [Let me love you] in English and German. Large continued with Pink Martini staple “And Then You’re Gone” that melded Schubert’s “Fantasy in F Minor for Piano Four Hands, “ Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” with a setting of Havana in 1952. Also pianist Hunter Noah (USC Grad/Oregon resident) aided pianist/co-leader Thomas Lauderdale for the crazy romp. The response to the tune was NPR’s Ari Shapiro as the irrepressible cad singing ‘30’s styled “Now I’m Back” and putting Large down so he can hang out with the boys.

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Armenian ““Ov Sirun Sirun” from the band’s latest CD with Shapiro and Timothy Nishimoto-percussion serenely singing kept the international musical potpourri going. Also fashion maven Ikram Goldman sang Lebanese “Al Bint Al Shalabiya,” which she also did on the new CD Je dis oui!, along with festive Turkish tune “Aşkim Bahardı.” For Hanukah Cantor Ida Rae Cahana joyfully sang in Hebrew with Shapiro and other members of band. Listed in small print on the program and a surprise to most attending was the appearance of recently turned 85 year old Rita Moreno who sang with Nishimoto and blew the audience away doing West Side Story’s “America” in Spanish. She took things up several levels with a sultry version of “Fever” perfect for a woman her age that inspired the audience to clap along.

Four of the Von Trap great grand children and Rufus Wainright were equally superb hauntingly singing “Kitty Come Home” in honor of his mother Kate McGarrigle with a lush classical backdrop. For amusement Lauderdale and Forbes reprised the first song they wrote together that became an international hit French sung “Sympathique, Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler (I Don’t Want to Work)” with Shapiro helping out. Forbes additionally served up pop funk groove “Hey Eugene” with the audience singing and clapping along and Nishimoto did danceable “Donde Estas, Yolanda” with the band reeling.

For an extra bonus youthful mariachi band Aztlán de Pueblo High School from Tucson, Arizona rocked the house with a jaunting original and on Pink Martini’s “"U Plavu Zoru.” With the beginning of the New Year traditional “Auld Lang Syne” was performed with confetti and balloons. The party continued with “Happy Days Are Here Again” highlighted by Wainright and Moreno’s two-part harmony, and carnival-like “Brasil” finished the wide-ranging program, as the audience clapped and danced with the brass players soaring.

photo of Ray Goren on stage

Some of you may remember seeing guitarist/singer Ray Goren appearing at the Doheny Blues Festival, Simi Valley Blues and Cajun Festival and with B.B. King at the Greek Theatre when he only 11 or 12 years old and barely 4ft. tall. Well, a lot has changed since then, Goren is 17, almost 6ft. tall, has deep voice and is playing and writing pop and rock songs. At Genghis Cohen he played solely with the aid of a sampler for multi tracks and rhythms to showcase soon to be released new songs. Those who came to hear blues were definitely disappointed, but then were won over by the guitarist/singer’s talent and disarming personality. He opened wailing on guitar and passionately singing Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away.” Switching to acoustic guitar he revealed rocking/pop original “Ain’t Here” with the audience singing the chorus. In the same mode he continued with folksy/Delta bluesy “When I’m Gone” and mentioned it was the first time he’s played the song in public, along with sweet sounding and romantic “I Do.”

Photo of Ray Goren playing guitar

On keyboards Goren exhibited boy band soulfulness in his singing for “Yes, No, Maybe So” and got the audience to clap along. He also did a short medley of covers with Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” and John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” to delight the audience. Back on guitar and sampler he sang and played silky funk original “Earned It” and injected a scorching guitar foray. Equally arresting in a different way was techno pop “Manners” that was well suited for the present-day pop scene and also included ripping guitar. From a totally different perspective was folksy and sarcastic “Have a Nice Day” that the audience found very amusing, along with show ending soul rocking “Cash and Gold” that inspired the audience to sing along. It will be interesting to see where Goren will be in another five years and he will return to Genghis Cohen on February 18th. For more info go to: ,

Jazz Banner
photo of John Daversa playing trumpet

Trumpeter/composer-arranger/big band leader John Daversa a former Los Angeles resident and presently Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at University of Miami, Frost School of Music played his latest project Kaleidoscope Eyes: Music of the Beatles in its entirety at Catalina’s. About a week before the special show Daversa received Grammy nominations for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella and Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals. Needless to say there was a lot of excitement regarding the show and BFM Records executive Steven Corn during the introduction described Daversa’s music as “Nelson Riddle meets Frank Zappa or something even more bizarre (trans-progressive).” From there the bandleader with many of LA’s top players such as Bijon Watson-trumpet, Ron King-trumpet, Jerry Watts-bass and John Beasley-keyboards launched into an aggressive Bitches Brew like intro for “Michelle” that slowly unraveled into a wavering and slow burning brass theme that included a wigged out alto sax solo with attacking and resounding brass choruses.

photo of John Daversa jumping on stage

From a lighter and more serene perspective “Here Comes the Sun” featured Daversa on trumpet and EWI, along with soprano and clarinet soloing.

The band was subdued initially and surging to the forefront with the background singers’ choruses and a string quartet. Hallmark Beatles tune “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” started with piano solely in a somewhat classical mode as guitar and rhythm players joined in before the brass injected a jazzy chorus with piano closing as it began. In the vein of Riddle there was a subtle, yet also dynamic arrangement for “Do You Want to Know a Secret” featuring vocalist Renee Olstead who’s also a regular band member along with sweet ballad “And I Love Her” without the singer featuring the bandleader. Olstead also sang “Good Day Sunshine” with the big band working out and soloing in a more sensational manner. In regards of the most extreme arrangement “I Saw Her Standing There” took the prize melding James Brown, Mel Lewis/Thad Jones, hip hop rapping from the bandleader, vocal chorus and a raucous funk fused section to garner a standing ovation. For the encore an celebratory and polka rhythm version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” spotlighting drums was rendered with backup singers and band doing the chorus with touches of “I Am the Walrus” to blow the audience away.

Photo of Mike Stern and Mike Stern on stage

Guitarist Mike Stern and drummer Mike Stern have been performing and recording together for nearly 30 years and recently decided to call themselves the Mike Stern/Dave Weckl Band. At Catalina’s the duo worked with Bob Franceschini-sax and Tom Kennedy-bass. In June 2016 the guitarist tripped while running to catch a cab and took a disastrous fall, essentially breaking both his arms. After numerous surgeries and grueling therapy he’s back playing stronger than ever and with the band got into “Nothing Personal” a funky Weckl jam that featured him soloing vibrantly and extensively, along with the other players.

Stern’s slow grooving “Avenue B” followed with him doing a wrangly solo intro and featured Kennedy soloing before getting into the body of tune that also spotlighted Franceschini and himself firing away to delight the audience. Exhibiting bassist/vocalist friend Richard Bona’s influence Sterns sweetly scatted in harmony with his guitar and band for a South African flavored tune while also inserting tasty guitar and sax solos. For more diversity Weckl and the guitarist adroitly jammed away exclusively to further amaze the crowd. For the remaining moments of the show Stern’s slow developing “Chromazone” was highlighted. It was a lengthy bass and drums tandem initially before shifting to a rocking funk tinged tune with full band blazing away to leave a lasting impression on the audience, and they responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

logo of text Special Mention

Corkey Hale is multi-talented and plays piano, harp, flute and sings. Over the years since the ’50 she has worked in supporting roles with a myriad of artists, such as Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Elkie Brooks, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Harry James, Peggy Lee, James Brown, Spike Jones and George Michael. As part of the Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast series she performed at the Moss Theatre with her trio consisting of Lyman Madeiros-bass and Chris Johnson-drums (Jennifer Lopez’ drummer) and highlighted her new CD Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas.

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Additionally, Hale has been married to Mike Stoller of the famed Lieber and Stoller songwriting team, has had many different enterprises and is a political activist. Because of all that Hale always has plenty of stories to tell and music would eventually happen. After mentioning that she might have pneumonia and laryngitis she introduced her daughter-in-law Tricha Tahara as the person singing for the evening and got into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that was sung resoundingly with the other players flowing along. Changing up from Christmas faire was Billie Holiday’s “I Love My Man” that was sassy and bold when rendered by Tahara, along with torrid “Never Let Me Go.”

Returning to Xmas music was “Silver Bells” with the audience singing the choruses and a spry version of “Jingle Bells” featuring the trio. In regards to Liberace who Hale had a long working relation with “I’ll Be Seeing You” was performed solely. For added holiday spice Byron Motley, Halle’s “adopted son” elegantly sang “The Christmas Song” sitting on the piano bench with his mom. Tahara also got into the spirit soaring as Hale soloed profoundly for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” after they figured out what song was being performed. The multi-talented artist also stretched out with trio for “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was” and swung intensely and coolly for “White Christmas” with the audience singing along. To conclude the fun outing the group did the immortal “God Bless the Child” with Tahara singing robustly to generate a standing ovation.

 Arturo Sandoval playing trumpet

Highly regarded trumpeter and 10-time Grammy Winner Arturo Sandoval appeared with his 21-person big band of LA’s top players that included actor Andy Garcia on bongos at Disney Hall for a special his Swinging Christmas show. Wasting no time Sandoval conjured up Sinatra’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” featuring himself soloing somberly. After introducing his band he served up impeccably played “The Man I Love” and then loosed up with lively, crowd appealing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” A funny discussion/demonstration of bebop citing icons and his mentors Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry with amusing musical and scatting examples followed. Afterwards the bandleader launched into Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” after joking about his English skills then soloed profoundly and also featured hot tenor sax and trombone interludes.

Gordon Goodwin standing

For a little variety pianist/arranger/composer/saxophonist Gordon Goodwin joined the ensemble and expressed his gratitude to Sandoval for appearing on his Phat Band debut CD and helping launch the ensemble. Afterwards the musicians performed several selections from the Phat Band’s Christmas CD Wrap This starting with Goodwin’s arrangement of “Carol of Bells” exquisitely highlighted by Sandoval. John William’s thematic “Somewhere in My Memory” from the film Home Alone and hip swinging “Santa Baby” were also showcased with the big band working out. Returning to his regular program including a few jokes Sandoval showed his devotion to Gillespie by performing, actually singing and playing the ballad title track of Dear Diz, Everyday I Think of You. In sharp contrast the band shifted hard to an up-tempo Latin composition that featured the rhythm players including the bandleader on timbales. He also played piano for “The Christmas Song” with only light drum support and sang “Smile” after telling everyone to stop watching all the depressing news on their televisions. Closing out the entertaining and engaging show was a jolting Latin piece that had many up dancing.

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Jane Monheit’s singing

The Moss Theatre one of The Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast series’ newer venues generally has pretty good attendance and for Jane Monheit’s show it was sold out. The under 40 singer is basically an “old soul” who loves standards and classic material. With Larry Goldings-piano, Dave Robaire-bass, Jamie Tate-percussion and Rick Montalbano-drums/husband she spotlighted songs from her newest CD Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald Tribute. “Where or When” got the show going and swung coolly with Monheit delightfully soaring and backing quartet flowing along. Afterwards she casually mentioned that she had just moved to LA and that it was her first appearance as a “resident.” Another first for Monheit was her new CD produced by Nicholas Payton was done on her own, since none of the labels wanted her to do it. Getting back to the songs was “All Too Soon” that was a bit more relaxed than the opener musically while the singer still sang strongly.

Between songs Monheit mentioned that she grew up in Long Island listening to jazz with her grandfather and when she started singing professionally he would have lists of songs for her to do. Unfortunately, she never got to do any of them while he was alive. In his memory she has included many on the new CD, such as “I Used to be Colorblind,” which she wasn’t familiar with previously. To the rhythm of Amad Jamal’s “Poinciana” the singer and band rendered “All of You” with Goldings turning in a pulsating solo. Afterward Monheit and the pianist did rollicking “They Can’t That Away From Me” (not on the new CD and tinder ballad “Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye” as duets. Reunited with her full band Monheit was flying high with bustling “Something's Gotta Give” and a soulful version of “I Got You Under My Skin.” Additionally, the singer mixed in several other songs not on the new CD like upbeat “Cheek to Cheek,” lightly bustling “It’s Alright” featured tantalizing singing and the band stretching out, Jobim’s “Quiet Nights” and “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues”. Finishing up the show was “From This Moment On” and Golding’s “It’s Only Smoke” as an encore with an enthusiastic standing ovation following. Without a doubt, Monheit seems to be adjusting to LA pretty well.

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Carmen Lundy CD cover

Prior to performing at Zipper Hall for the Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feast series its President/Founder Ruth Price recalled that the first time Carmen Lundy performed at the old Jazz Bakery she was like a panther. Over 20 years later the singer’s intensity remains the same as she highlighted songs from her upcoming CD Code Noir. It’s a mixture of jazz, blues, Brazilian samba and pop with overtones of the actual Code Noir, King Louis XIV of France’s first law to disallow and make illegal the integration of the African race into white European society. Supporting her for the show was Kendrick Scott-drums, Victor Gould-piano, Andrew Renfroe-guitar and Ben Williams-bass who except for Gould and Renfroe are all on the recording. "Live Out Loud" opened the show with Lundy proudly affirming her life choices as the musicians coolly accompanied her. They continued with relaxing ballad “You Came Into My Life” accentuated by a guitar solo and piano textures. The singer commented that it was the first time they played the new music live and LA was the perfect place to showcase the new music. The energy shifted up-tempo for “Afterglow” with Lundy singing and scatting rapid fire as the band swung hard with guitar and piano soloing. The singer got a bit soulful for easy flowing ballad “Whatever It Takes” and contemporary oriented “I Got Your Number.”

photo of Carmen Lundy with mic

With energetic touches of Brazil and the Caribbean from the band Lundy lusciously sang “The Island, The Sea and You” reflecting her being in Hawaii with her true love. “Second Sight” was powerfully engaging with Lundy singing intensely and the band fiercely working out to blow the audience away. Going deeper into her feelings of love was poetic and airy "I Keep Falling." For something a little different bassist Williams did a long solo intro for another hard-driving piece. Along the same lines with political overtones was “Black And Blues” featuring the bandleader laying it down profoundly. She downshifted for beautifully sung ballad “Another Chance” with the band injecting atmospheric touches and Brazilian tinged “Have a Little Faith” featured her zealous scatting. Wrapping up the stimulating evening was “Kumbaya” a song for humanity to garner a standing ovation. For the encore the singer was reflective with a hopeful ballad for the New Year to draw another standing ovation. For more info go to: www. .

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Morgan Spurlock
photo of W. Kamau Bell

Filmmaker and satirist Morgan Spurlock known for his film Super Size Me and CNN series Morgan Spurlock Inside Man, and sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell host of CNN docu-series United Shades of America and critically acclaimed FX comedy series Totally Biased appeared together at the Grammy Museum. Spurlock and Bell recently completed a TV comedy special for Showtime, W. Kamau Bell: Semi-Prominent Negro. With emcee Scott Goldman, Vice President of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares Spurlock discussed for about 20 minutes the creation of the comedy special that was filmed in Brooklyn, Bell and the absurdity of the 2016 Presidential Election that drew approving hoots from the left leaning audience.

W. Kamau Bell standing

Bell afterwards took the stage solely and basically did his comedy routine that was the steroid version of Goldman and Spurlock’s conversation. He began comparing the day after the election to apocalyptic Mad Max movies. Continually, he said the ensuing times will be like the ‘60s and music will be great and then went into a tirade about Colin Kaepernick’s the San Francisco 49’ers second string quarterback’s national anthem protest and his large afro. Settling down Bell observed that people who live in LA, the SF Bay Area and New York think the rest of world is like where they live and its not. He made a few references such as being in Kansas at small college cafeteria and getting an attendant riled up when it looked like he was going to put brown sugar in his coffee. That had the audience busting up. They were laughing even more when he recalled how President Obama received the country in bad shape and couldn’t get any help from the branches of government and only Michele Obama “had his back.” In fact, he thought she should stay on just to show disdain for Trump’s antics.

Bell lamented about Obama and compared him to the B-student who should have been pushed to get an A in terms of aggressiveness and militancy. Contrary, Trump constantly declared the President was leftist socialist Muslim and the comedian commented sarcastically, “I wish.” He imagined what it would have been like if Obama was more radical than Malcom X and Stokely Carmichael and possibly be someone even black people would be afraid of. In a totally impromptu moment a woman in the audience came up and hugged the comedian to inject a bit of relief briefly. Returning to Trump he joked that white people are responsible for and didn’t take him seriously, calling him “White Cosby” and he was able to run rampant. On a positive note he asserted that now more than ever people have to take a stand and not let even minor transgression go. Wrapping things up Spurlock and Goldman joined Bell to talk about how they came together and did Q&A with the audience, including the comedian and filmmaker’s process, creative evolution, how mediums and formats affect their process, and do they optimistic about America,

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