GroundUP Fest, Round Two: Snarky Puppy + Charlie Hunter, Robert Glasper, Joshua Redman, the Wood Brothers, Flecktones Trio, Lionel Loueke + more

It’s hard to recall attending a small-ish music bash with as much eclectic musical firepower as last February’s GroundUP Music Festival, anchored by oversized jazz+ ensemble Snarky Puppy (pictured), and headed up by that band’s bassist-writer Michael League and the GroundUP label folks.

GroundUP was held in and around the North Beach Bandshell Amphitheater on Miami Beach,  and limited to 1,500 attendees. Meaning: It never felt overcrowded. (Others in this category? The now-defunct Bear Creek in Live Oak comes to mind, but, musically, it was a different beast).

The well-organized three days’ worth of high-end performances drew from jazz, rock, pop, world music, fusion, folk and more, with loads of daytime shows followed by some amazing late-night concerts at the venerable Deauville, the host hotel (now closed for renovations, but expected to be available for the fest). And it all took place during a spectacular time of year to enjoy an outdoor event in South Florida — sunny days, low  humidity, and cool breezes at night.

A measure of the musical-communing vibe of GroundUP: Last year, the artists, even high-profile performers like David Crosby and Terence Blanchard, roamed around, checking out bands and chatting with listeners.

The lineup for the second edition, Feb. 9-11 at the same location, was just announced. Another long list of great artists will engage in various modes of magical music making, with a heavy dose of deep grooves, improvisations, rhythms from all over the globe, and songcraft.

Ahead: Snarky Puppy shows each night, plus The Wood Brothers; The Flecktones Trio (Bela, Vic and Futureman); Robert Glasper; Charlie Hunter & Silvana Estrada; artist-at-large Lionel Loueke; Joshua Redman; Michael League & Larnell Lewis; Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club); Kitailo feat. Buika; JoJo Mayer/Nerve; Knower; Mark Guiliana’s BEAT Music; Under One Sun; Weedie Braimah & the Hands of Time; Paris Monster; C4 Trio; Harold López-Nussa Trio; Banda Magda; Becca Stevens; FORQ; Roosevelt Collier; Breastfist; Sirintip; and Alina Engibaryan.  

snarky puppyHere’s hoping that League’s great new world music/blues outfit Bokante, who made their impressive US debut at the 2017 fest, will be added to the lineup for 2018.

I had a blast at last year’s GroundUP — here’s my review for JazzTimes mag. For all the details on round two, click here


Disc of the Day: Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure”

plucky strum

Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure” (Whaling City Sound)

Harvie S first came into my view in the mid-’80s, when he was releasing albums as a leader on Gramavision, and had already built an impressive resume of performances and recordings with practically every major jazz artist you could name.  I was fortunate enough to catch him twice in Greenwich Village — with a group at the old Seventh Avenue South, and in a duo performance with singer Sheila Jordan at the Public Theater. That week, we chatted for a feature I wrote for DownBeat magazine.

The artist formerly known as Harvie Swartz hasn’t slowed down. In recent years, he put together Plucky Strum, a duo with well-traveled guitarist (and Berklee College prof) Sheryl Bailey. For their first, self-titled 2015 release, Bailey stuck to acoustic guitar. This time, she adds electric guitar, sometimes with effects and overdubs, to the mix.

The results are uniformly appealing, and it’s a pleasure hearing the two in a stripped-down sonic setting, each instrument projected with great clarity, with great wood-and-strings aural intimacy.

The program is characterized by intuitive interplay and fluent improvisations, starting with the tricky bebop-esque unison and harmony head of opener “Sublime,” one of three tunes here penned by Harvie. His “Now I Know” is a lush, laidback ballad, with a pretty melody sounded by bass, and “Good Ole Days” is a mid-tempo ditty built on steady walking bass.

Bailey’s “Old and Young Blues” is reminiscent of the kind of folkish pieces Charlie Haden wrote, with the two taking turns leading the theme, and the bassist turning in a typically probing, searching solo, followed by Bailey’s relaxed but rangy improvisation. Bailey also contributes the Latin-flavored, slowly shifting “Sabado Con Mi Amor”; the starting-stopping riff tune “What She Said,” which hints at Wes Montgomery and offers another stunning workout by Harvie;  the bluesy “Cranshaw,” built on a slow-grooving bass line and topped with overdriven, wah-edged guitar; and poignant ballad “Alone,” the disc’s closer.

All that, plus breezy, creative takes on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Joni Mitchell‘s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” the latter complete with acid-washed six-string. Here’s to more from Plucky Strum.

(New) Dawn of the Living Dregs!

Best jazz-fusion news of the year: The Dixie Dregs are reuniting for a series of shows in 2018.

The original lineup — with guitarist Steve Morse, violinist Allen Sloan, keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Davidowski, bassist Andy West and drummer Rod Morgenstein — is scheduled to launch their tour in February. Four shows — in Orlando, Boston, Atlanta and NYC — are on the books for March.

Back in the day, I remember being bowled over by the band’s entrancing, chops-heavy, Southern-fried fusion. Last time I saw Morse was at one of his own band’s shows in Orlando, circa ’91 or so. Forty years later after they started, do they still have it?

“Our shared history goes way back in time (for some of us, as far back as high school), to the early 70s,” West wrote on the band’s web site. “So the synergy of this group has a particular feeling to it that we knew would be worth revisiting.

“Everybody is excited about the idea of our digging into our deep, shared Dregs roots. Who knows what the musical future will bring for the Dregs? But right now, we are looking forward to playing live again, and thrilled to be talking to you about it here.”


Macca is Back — Paul McCartney at the Amalie Arena (Tampa)

Paul McCartneyNope, this isn’t about “groove music.” But on my Facebook page, I posted some quick thoughts about Paul McCartney‘s show Monday night at the Amalie Arena. Folks seemed to enjoy reading what I wrote. It’s certainly not a formal or comprehensive review along the lines of what I once wrote on deadline for the (now-defunct) Tampa Tribune and, later, the St. Petersburg Times (now called the Tampa Bay Times), but here it is …


About the McCartney show: To be brutally honest, Paul’s voice was quite ragged on many songs. Still, the combo of his warm and engaging personality, his identity/legacy as a Beatle, sturdy arrangements and a strong performance by a typically polished backing band made for a memorable 3-hour show.

Paul played most of the expected Beatles/Wings hits, as well as a few deep album cuts and an oddity or two, including “In Spite of All the Danger,” the pre-Beatles first song he recorded with John and George (as the Quarrymen) and “FourFiveSeconds,” his 2015 hit diddy with Rihanna and Kanye.

He saluted George with “Something,” which opened with Paul playing unaccompanied on a ukelele given to him by Harrison, and did a shout-out to John with “Here Today,” written in the wake of Lennon’s death.

McCartney also offered a bluesy, hard-rocking version of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the Lennon-McCartney tune that became an early hit for the Rolling Stones. He talked about the hyped rivalry between the two bands, quipping that it was “fake news.”

Wings hit “Live and Let Die” was accompanied by jolt-worthy blasts of flames and fireworks.

Macca played piano on several tunes, including a nice version of the lovely, retro jazz-tinted “My Valentine,” written for his wife Nancy. Some of the other recently written material, though, was forgettable.

Abe Laboriel Jr. was band MVP with his powerhouse drumming, animated body language, and dead-on backup vocals, sometimes in unison with McCartney.

At 75, Paul is still rocking the house and attracting sell-out crowds, including a surprising number of fans born long after he stopped making chart hits. Kudos.

One of the most affecting moments: Paul brought Kacia Howell, a Lakeland veterinarian (decked out in a Sgt Pepper’s”-style uniform) and her teenage son, Noah Horowitz, onstage to dance and — gulp! — share the mic on “Get Back.”

Overall, a nostalgic good time was had by all.

Side note: I was in the nosebleed section, so I essentially experienced the show via a video screen. I think I’ve decided (again) that if I can’t afford to sit reasonably close to the stage for any given enormodome show, I’ll pass on attending.

Montreal Jazz Fest — Wishing I was there

I’ve had some incredible experiences hearing great performances and soaking up the other jazz happenings at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not to mention getting a chance to enjoy the cosmopolitan culture of one of North America’s most beautiful and most historic cities.


Last summer’s festival was again jam-packed with great music, some of which I wrote about for JazzTimes, and in several posts on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t make it for the 38th edition of the fest, which runs June 28-July 8.

But if I WERE headed to Montreal at the end of this month, I’d do my best to catch the following jazz, blues and pop/rock artists (some of whom are playing in bands with others on the list):

Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, The Bad Plus, Ben Street, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Buddy Guy, Carla Bley, Charles Bradley, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Lundy, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Diana Krall, Donny McCaslin, E.J. Strickland, Eric Harland, Essiet Essiet, George Cables, Gerald Clayton, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jacob Collier, Jane Bunnett, Jeremy Pelt, Jesse Cook, John Hollenbeck, John Medeski, John Pizzarelli, John Scofield, Joshua Redman, Joss Stone, King Crimson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Michael Blake, Nicholas Payton, Reuben Rogers, Robert Glasper, Robin Eubanks, Scott Colley, Stanley Clarke, UZEB, and Wallace Roney.

Headed to Montreal? Let me know your thoughts on what you hear.

As for me — better luck next year.



Disc of the Day: “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band”

“Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band: Recorded Live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 2010” (Impulse!/Verve)

It’s probably not a stretch to suggest that Charlie Watts‘ role in his occasional jazz forays — remember “From One Charlie,” his 1991 Charlie Parker tribute? — is essentially the same as that of his day job. Nearly always eschewing solos or showy displays, the Rolling Stones’ drummer ably provides a solid rhythmic foundation, driving his ensemble of the moment with style intact and a minimum of fuss and flash.

And so it goes with “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band,” recorded for a live broadcast in 2010 and essentially hearkening back to a period in Denmark during the early ’60s, before the Stones exploded, when Watts played with various jazz and blues bands around Copenhagen.

Watts salutes one of his jazz heroes, Elvin Jones, with a two-part suite co-written by fellow journeyman rock drummer Jim Keltner. “Part 1” is a beautiful ballad offering solo space for double bassist David Green, a longtime Watts musical associate, along with the Danish group’s Peter Jensen on trombone and Steen Rasmussen on Fender Rhodes, and the drums-intensive “Part 2” opens with a rowdy romp by tenor saxophonist Uffe Markussen. Like all but one of these seven tracks, those two opening tracks benefit from the lush arrangements of Gerard Presencer, who also turns in several dynamic flugelhorn solos.

Watts’ appealing program includes a smoldering version of a standard, “I Should Care,” and three rethinks of Stones tunes. “(Satis) Faction” thrives on a light funk groove, while “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” makes like a brass choir before shifting into old-school R&B, and a relaxed “Paint It Black,” topped with Per Gade’s guitar and Presencer’s flugel, is impressively atmospheric.

The group uses Woody Herman’s original chart for “Molasses,” the organ-injected steamrolling blues shuffle that closes the disc. A double rhythm section — Watts and Green plus drummer Soren Frost and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt from the Danish band — drives the disc’s high-intensity closer. No revelations here, but it all makes for a mighty pleasant outing from a star rocker who indeed swings in all the right places.


Disc of the Day: Greg Abate, “Road to Forever”

Greg Abate with the Tim Ray Trio, “Road to Forever” (Whaling City Sound)

Greg Abate, a reliably inspired if underappreciated saxophonist with a varied resume (Ray Charles, revived Artie Shaw Orchestra), returns with another appealing collection of originals drawing from post-bop as well as electric jazz.

Alto sax is Abate’s forte, and his gorgeous tone and buoyant improvs on that instrument — and gifts as a composer — are well displayed on “Farewell Phil Woods,” a ballad honoring his late friend, mentor and collaborator. The same goes for “City of 2-5s”; the lovely waltz “The Dancing Panda,” written for Abate’s life partner, Kerry Tracey; “Take the Crowell Train,” for sax-playing pal Ken Crowell, and based on the changes of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”; and the quick-swiveling “Mr. Parker,” inspired by Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and dedicated to that tune’s composer.

The Rhode Island-based musician offers twin-soprano harmonies on the title track; shows off his tenor chops on the funk-driven “Whaling City Sound,” named for his label home, and “Red Fish Boulevard,” built on the “Green Dolphin Street” changes; and leads with flute on the pretty ballad “Seasons.” Throughout, he’s ably supported by regular bandmates Tim Ray on piano, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Mark Walker.