Winard Harper and Jeli Posse, “Coexist” (CD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

CD_Winard-Harper-and-Jeli-Posse_span3Winard Harper and Jeli Posse, “Coexist” (JLP)

The drummer gives the saxophonists some on Coexist, another round of sophisticated truth telling from Winard Harper that demonstrates high standards of musical excellence when it comes to expansive compositions, creative arrangements and choice of able bandmates.

Heading ensembles ranging from sextets to tentets, the leader taps guest saxophonists on five of the disc’s 12 tracks. He also shows off his considerable gifts as a trap-set wizard, percussionist and, on his African-tinged “Ummah” and “Jeli Posse,” a player of the balaphone, a vibraphone-type instrument from West Africa.

One of the most impressive collaborations comes toward the end of the disc, with Frank Wess’ elegant, luxuriant reading of the ballad “Dedicated to You,” his tenor soloing over the laidback rhythms of Harper, pianist Roy Assaf and bassist Stephen Porter, and often juxtaposed with the mellow horn clusters of trumpeter Bruce Harris, tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and trombonist Michael Dease. Wess turns to flute for a similarly lush version of Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” backed by a five-piece group with Tadataka Unno on piano.

Mark Gross leads on alto on the slinky, blues-tinted “Hard Times” and “Jeli Posse,” while alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity gets showcase moments on Billy Taylor’s Latin-to-swing “A Bientot.” Harper takes a detour to church with a soulful “Amazing Grace,” while Latin and African percussion drive the title track and hard-bop colors dominate “Something Special,” “Get Tough” and “Triumph.”

Christian McBride Trio at the Mahaffey Theater (Concert review)

(Recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

(photos by Bridge Burke)

What kind of double bass tone does Christian McBride pursue? It’s the sound of chopping wood, as the then-young bassist described it to me for an interview at the dawn of his career as a solo artist.

Two decades later, McBride, justifiably the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, still boasts that appealing sound on upright, a voice heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter but now uniquely identifiable as his own. His beefy, earthy tone, often jaw-dropping technical abilities, and skills as an improviser, composer and bandleader were well displayed during a Nov. 2 concert at the comfortable, well-appointed Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Christian McBride, backstage at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival

McBride was joined by a pair of strikingly talented young musicians, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions. Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn., native’s early teachers. Owens, 29, originally from Jacksonville, Fla., demonstrated precise, intuitive trap set work, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, sometimes switching to brushes, and at one point playing barehanded.

Unlike some recent electric-jazz ventures, on which McBride has incorporated bass guitar and fretless bass, his new trio emphasizes acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing. Much of the evening’s music was drawn from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces: “Monk’s “I Mean You,” featuring a furious opening unison riff and a trading-fours section; “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”; “My Favorite Things,” limned with cascading piano; Billy Taylor’s aptly titled “Easy Walker,” with Owens’ derring-do on brushes; “I Have Dreamed” (from the musical The King and I), on which McBride bowed the melody; and, on the encore, Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe.”

McBride, too, brought smartly turned originals, including laidback, starting-stopping opener “The Duhty Blues” and “I Guess I’ll Have to Forget,” a ballad (originally recorded for his 2000 Sci-Fi album) on which his solo started slowly, in a melodic, folkish, vein before speeding up for a bluesy feel. The trio also offered a nod to funk and R&B, near the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, alternating robust walking grooves with speedy runs, chords, slides and plucked harmonics clusters, and taking time for friendly chats with the enthusiastic audience. He never disappoints, and his latest band, like its predecessors, is worth seeking out.

Tampa Jazz Notes: Christian McBride Rules at the Mahaffey; Ybor Jazz Fest Continues; Rickie Lee Jones Cancelled

 
Christian McBride
, easily the most recorded and most honored jazz bassist of his generation, brought his trio to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg  Saturday night for two impressive sets’ worth of standards and original compositions.

Much of the music was taken from McBride’s new CD, due early next year on the Mack Avenue label.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that the group, with McBride (Mahaffey photo by Bridge Burke) joined by monster young pianist Christian Sands and similarly talented drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. (photo by Bridge Burke), played the hell out of the material.

Unlike some of his recent ventures, McBride’s current trio is focused on the acoustic bebop, hard bop and swing side of jazz, with a nod to funk and R&B only coming only at the end of the show, courtesy of a version of Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” that also referenced Michael Jackson’s “Gonna Be Starting Something” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Sands, 23, throughout displayed astonishing chops that were sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Oscar Peterson, and he also showed a lighter, more genteel touch, in the vein of the late Billy Taylor, one of the New Haven, Conn. native’s early teachers. Owens demonstrated precise, intuitive playing, throwing unexpected accents and bomb drops into the mix, and sometimes switching to brushes.

McBride, of course, was the show’s star, turning in jaw-dropping runs, chords, slides and harmonic plucks, and offering beefy tone and walking grooves that were heavily influenced by Ray Brown and Ron Carter, while still distinctly his own.

The trio offered standards and familiar pieces — “Monk’s “I Mean You,” “My Favorite Things,” Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” — as well as McBride’s smartly turned originals.

Nice seeing McBride back in the Tampa Bay area so quickly, after bringing his “Kind of Brown” quintet to last year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday; before that, he was last here with Pat Metheny‘s Trio, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, at the Tampa Theatre. McBride more than once told the audience how much he felt at home. So maybe he’ll make it an annual tradition?

(I’m writing a more detailed review of the fest for a jazz mag; I’ll link to it in this space when it’s published)

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If the Mahaffey audience felt like a hometown crowd to McBride, maybe that owed in part to the number of locally based jazz musicians and jazz aficionados in attendance for what felt like a must-see on this year’s jazz calendar. We ran into pianists Kenny Drew, Jr. and Stan Hunter, drummers Ian Goodman, Mark Feinman and Steve Bucholtz (my old rhythm-section mate from the University of Florida jazz band), and bassist Alejandro Arenas, as well as Bob Seymour, the longtime jazz director for WUSF, 89.7 FM. Several musicians, and students, had a chance to attend a Q&A with McBride during sound check on Saturday afternoon.

That “just like home” feeling probably stemmed, too, from the fact that some McBride family members were in the audience, including a cousin, Faith Walston. McBride took a few minutes to give a shout-out to Walston’s recent book, “All Paws In: Lessons Learned From Loving My Rescue Dogs.”

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Many of the above-mentioned locally based musicians are on the bill for the third annual Ybor Jazz Festival, which continues through Sunday at the HCC Performing Arts Building in Ybor City. Drew plays tonight, with Latin supergroup Guisando Caliente. Sunday, the trio Jazztek will be followed by Rayzilla’s Dreamboats. Admission is $15 daily. For more information, click here.

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As mentioned on my Facebook page, I was REALLY looking forward to hearing Rickie Lee Jones, next Sunday (Nov. 11) at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. Jones’ voice, jazz-pop songs and arrangements and great bands first impressed me back in the summer of ’79, when Chuck E.’s in Love” was part of the soundtrack of my teenage life (and background for an early romance). She had me at hello.

Unfortunately, the show was suddenly cancelled this week. I’ve not made any official inquiries as to why it’s no longer happening. On a whim, I contacted Rickie Lee through her Twitter account, and this is what she wrote in response: “Cancelled by promoter and manager. Come to the other date n florida.”

She’s also playing Nov 7 in Little Torch Key, Nov. 9 in Ponte Vedra, and Nov. 10 in Orlando. For more info, visit her site.

Remembering David Via, Jazz Drummer

One way of thinking about this: The famous jazzers are a dime a dozen. You know their names. I know their names. Everyone knows their names.

Then there are the guys like David Via, the great Tampa Bay area drummer and drum teacher who passed away Monday after a long illness.

Dave, who loved Tony Williams and Elvin Jones almost as much as he loved the New York Yankees, committed heart and soul to the music, fully lived in the music on stage, and shared his love for the music with everyone he met. He never sought fame, and never got it, really.

But he gained a reputation as a musician’s musician, a guy whose touch was so sure, whose feel for the drums was so sensitive, that few who played with him, or came under his tutelage, or merely heard him play, will ever forget it.

That, at least, is how I remember Dave, with whom I played dozens of trio shows over several years beginning in the mid-’90s, with LaRue Nickelson on guitar, under the name Greenwich Blue. We gigged everywhere from the old Dish restaurant in Ybor City to Borders Books & Music on Dale Mabry in Tampa to a couple of places in St. Petersburg. Dave and I and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman played a private party for the Indianapolis Colts, the third time the Superbowl came to Tampa, in 2001. We “opened” for Jay Leno, the evening’s headlining act, and I recall that big-time rock drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) was in the crowd. When we played, Aronoff kept his eyes on Dave.

Dave’s playing, on uptempo swing tunes, bossa novas, ballads, and practically everything else, was always supportive, creative, and highly interactive. And his brushes playing was a work of art — crisp, clean, artful, precise, and sometimes cooking so intensely yet so quietly that my rock-damaged ears had a hard time hearing all the intricacies he routinely and with no fanfare unfurled.

Now, for the facts. Dave had just turned 59 when he died, reportedly following a major heart attack. He had been out of commission for several months, following an earlier heart attack in August.

Dave most recently taught drums at Jeff Berlin‘s Players School of Music, and Musicology, in Clearwater, and prior to that he taught at the University of South Florida in Tampa for eight years.

A native of Mayodan, N.C., with the twang in his voice to prove it, Dave studied  with , and Lynn Glassock. “Many many thanks to Otis Brown for selling me my first set of Gretsch drums,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Dave performed with a long list of name artists, including Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie (right), Pat LaBarbera, Slide Hampton, Carol Sloane, David Baker, Al Grey, Buddy Tate, Nick Brignola, Jimmy Heath, Claudio Roditi, David Murray, Joe Lovano, Billy Taylor, Kenny Werner, Ira Sullivan, John Abercrombie, Jeff Berlin, Rufus Reid, Sheila Jordan, Ted Rosenthal, Larry Coryell, Frank Kimbrough and Conrad Herwig.

His discography includes saxophonist (and USF jazz studies head) Jack WilkinsArtwork (Koch, 1995); pianist Paul Tardif’s Points of Departure (Koch, 1995);  pianist Ed Paolantonio‘s Dedications; and Minas, Blue Azul (1999)

More info from Dave’s MySpace page: “David has toured extensively with Jon Metzger as part of the USIA Arts America Program in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These tours involved a rigorous performing schedule as well as teaching numerous clinics. In the States, David has performed in numerous Jazz festivals in Washington DC, Spoleto in Charleston, S.C., Indiana, Kentucky and Clearwater. He also performs with the Billy Siegenfield Jump Rhythm Jazz Project of New York City.”

Dave, we’ll miss you, your spirit, your humor, and your great playing.