Tampa Jazz Calendar: Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea and other heavy hitters ahead

Tampa Bay area performing arts centers and other venues are putting the spotlight on a surprisingly high volume of top-shelf jazz artists this month. When it rains, it pours. On the way:

Thursday, Jan. 11 — Branford Marsalis Quartet, with the acclaimed New Orleans-born saxophonist leading a group including pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner (unless there are subs). Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30. Link

Saturday, Jan. 13 — Chick Corea Akoustic Band, with the brilliant, versatile pianist, who makes his home in Pinellas County, joined by bass great John Patitucci on bass and monster drummer Dave Weckl. Two shows — doors at (approximately) 5 & 8:30 pm. Link 

Saturday, Jan. 13 — Sunshine Music Festival, with another great lineup of blues, rock, funk and more, again headlined by the superb Tedeschi Trucks Band, and including longrunning jazz-jam-avant trio Medeski Martin and Wood (MMW), Phish bassist Mike Gordon’s band, and NOLA funksters Galactic. Also: Hot Tuna, Foundations of Funk (with keyboardist/organist John Medeski from MMW, guitarist Eric Krasno from Soulive, and bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste from the Meters), and the Suffers. Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, 1 pm. (Dang, WHY does this fest have to be the same day as Chick Corea?) Link 

Saturday, Jan. 13 (Do all of these shows HAVE to be on the same day?) — Fast-rising Canadian-born trumpeter Bria Skonberg. Central Park Performing Arts Center, Largo, 8 pm. Link

Also ahead in January and February:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 10 — The Ron Reinhardt Group with guitarist Adam Hawley and saxophonist Kyle Schroeder. Charlie’s Sushi & Japanese Restaurant, Clearwater, 8 pm. Info/Reservations: 727 515-4454.
  • Friday, Jan. 12 — Serotonic album release party, with (opener) Jon Ditty. Dunedin Brewery, 9 pm. Link
  • Friday, Jan. 19 — James Suggs Plays the Music of Lee Morgan, with the popular Tampa Bay area trumpeter joined by pianist Stretch Bruyn, bassist Brandon Robertson and drummer Paul Gavin for a program of soul jazz and more. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 8 pm. Link
  • Sunday, Jan. 21 — Arbor Records artists Nicki Parrott (bass/vocals), Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Ed Metz (drums). Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7 pm. Link
  • Sunday, Jan. 28 — Tampa Jazz Guitar Summit: Dave Stryker Quintet. HCC Ybor Mainstage Theatre, Ybor City, 3 pm. Link
  • Monday, Jan. 29 — Tampa Jazz Guitar Summit: Peter Bernstein, with the USF Faculty Jazz Ensemble. USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm. Link 
  • Wednesday, Feb. 14 — Whitney James‘ Jazz Valentine. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 8 pm. Link
  • Wednesday, Feb. 21 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: Tal Cohen (piano) Trio, with bassist Dion Kerr and drummer David Chiverton. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Thursday, Feb. 22 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: (Saxophonist) Jeff Rupert Quintet with Veronica Swift (vocals), pianist Richard Drexler, bassist Ben Kramer, and drummer Marty Morell. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Friday, Feb. 23 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: B3 Fury with the Shawn Brown Quintet, with guitarist Nate Najar, saxophonist Jeremy Carter, and drummer Anthony Breach. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Saturday, Feb. 24 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with (vocalists) Whitney James & Chuck Wansley. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Sunday, Feb. 25 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: (Pianist) Gabriel Hernandez Trio, with bassist Mauricio Rodriguez and drummer Dimas Sanchez. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link

 

 

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Acme Jazz Garage — Ascending?

I seldom write about my own projects here, but thought I’d throw out a quick note about the CD recently released by my band, Acme Jazz Garage, on my Solar Grooves label.

relix review

Acme Jazz Garage is gaining momentum via national jazz-radio airplay, and good reviews in magazines and newspapers.

A few updates:

RADIO :

  • Our CD is in its fifth week of airplay on jazz stations across the US (check its progress on the JazzWeek chart).
  • It has aired on Tampa’s WUSF and WMNF; WFCF in St. Augustine, FL; KEWU in Cheney/Spokane, WA; WCLK in Atlanta, Ga.; WAER in Syracuse, NY; KSDS in San Diego, CA; Jazz From Gallery 41 in Berkeley, CA; WTJU in Charlottesville, Va.; WSHA in Raleigh, NC; WWSP in Stephens Point, WI; KRTU in San Antonio, TX; KCCK in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and KRFC in Fort Collins, CO, among other stations.

PRESS:

  •   Relix magazine critic Wayan Zoey calls the CD “a solid collection of revivalist funk and swing … influences are rooted in ’70s fusion, and the various contemporary pop styles that surrounded it … a much more enjoyable experience than your average ‘trad jazz’ album … a capable excursion through one of the most playful eras of America’s cultural history.”
  • Creative Loafing/Tampa just gave us a four-star review: “The 10-track set is not only fun but a rather excellent demonstration of what four vet musicians can accomplish with some quality time in the studio and a little help from their friends.”
  • Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association and a contributor to NPR, says the CD “mixes the best bits of the Meters, Santana, Robben Ford, Grover Washington, Anita O’Day, Joe Sample, Roy Ayers and Marcus Miller into a refreshingly breezy sound.”
  • “Some funky R&B, and straight-ahead jazz, and it coule be one of the outstanding local releases of 2016,” says Randy Wind, program director at WMNF in Tampa.
  • ” ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan,” says Louis Maistros, New Orleans singer/songwriter and acclaimed novelist. “And (I hear) hints of the Crusaders. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

Acme Jazz Garage, the band’s debut full-length set of original compositions, features an eclectic mix of original jazz compositions played by the core quartet (Matt Swenson, guitar; Bryan Lewis, keys; Tim Diehl, drums; me on bass) plus special guests.

We were joined by conga master Gumbi Ortiz; who tours with Al Di Meola; singer Whitney James; saxophonists Jeremy Powell (Arturo O’Farrell Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra), Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey; vibraphonist Sam Koppelman; and trumpeter Ron Wilder. The music was recorded and engineered by John Stephan at his Springs Theatre studio in Tampa, and mixed in L.A. by Ruairi O’Flaherty.

The tracks:

^  “Mongo Strut” (Booth) — Latin-edged funk spiked with congas

^ “Resonance” (Lewis) — multipart contemporary fusion (some folks hear Steely Dan)

^ “Sandprints” (Booth) — a 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter, featuring Powell on soprano sax

^  “Last Call” (Booth) — a retro vocal tune (Manhattan-romance theme) with vocals, trumpet and vibes

^  “Acmefied” (Booth) — straight-up jazz funk

^  “Zag” (Booth) — straightahead, swinging jazz with two tenor saxes (Vickrey and Runion) and vibraphone

^  “Mr. G.P.” (Booth) — New Orleans-style R&B named for Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., with a tpt-tenor-bari horn section

^  “Rubberman” (Booth) — jammy-leaning jazz with flute (Vickrey) and tenor (Runion)

^ A bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” (arr. by Lewis) — think Ray Charles; perfect for airplay on the July 4 weekend.

To get your very own copy of the CD, as a physical disc or download, click here

For more information on the band, visit us on Facebook; go to our web site; or stop by Solar Grooves. Twitter: @acmejazzgarage

 

 

What the Critics Are Saying About Acme Jazz Garage

Acme Jazz Garage (Solar Grooves SG-001) is available here.

“Without a doubt, Acme Jazz Garage is the Tampa Bay area’s most adventurous jazz band. Its debut recording project finds the 5-year-old quartet in a jam-band groove, dipping its collective toes into straight-ahead jazz, Latin-tinged funk, R&B and a more modern jazz/fusion sound.

Bassist Philip Booth, drummer Tim Diehl, keyboard ace Bryan Lewis and guitarist Matt Swenson comprise the core band on this eponymous session, with a little help on various tracks from a variety of musical friends with whom the players have worked over the years. Lewis’s keyboard work, particularly on Hammond B-3, and Swenson’s melodic, often searing, guitar, dominate the group sound, layered over an infectious groove set by Booth and Diehl.

And who, you ask, stopped by to have a bit of fun on this session? Singer Whitney James is featured on Booth’s Manhattan romance- and-bebop-inspired “Last Call.” Veteran Al Di Meola percussionist Gumbi Ortiz spices up “Mongo Strut” and “Mongo Jam.” Jeremy Powell, now making his mark on the New York jazz scene in a variety of top-flight bands, is featured on soprano sax on “Sandprints,” a clever 5/4 piece inspired by Wayne Shorter’s best-known jazz classic “Footprints.”

Saxophonists Rick Runion and Austin Vickrey, vibes player Sam Koppelman and trumpeter Ron Wilder also bulk up the band on a variety of tracks, most notably “Zag,” “”Rubberman” and “Mr. G.P.,” the latter a N’awlins groove tribute to The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr.

From start to finish, Acme Jazz Garage and friends make it clear that the Tampa area is blessed with great jazz talent.

–KEN FRANCKLING, author/photographer, “Jazz in the Key of Light”; Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes; contributor, JazzTimes, Hot House, allaboutjazz.com

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“Have you ever had a CD get stuck in your player? Not physically, but because it is so darn good you need to hear it over and over again?

That’s what happened when I popped the new recording from Acme Jazz Garage into the player. I’ve seen these guys in different settings, from purely straight ahead to all-out funk, but I simply wasn’t prepared for a disc this superb, start to finish.

They come out swinging straight out of the starting gate with “Mongo Strut,” a reworking of a tune by bassist Philip Booth. This jazz/funk outing features guest percussionist Gumbo Ortiz, long a Tampa Bay area star and Al Di Meola bandmate. Bryan Lewis gives his clavinet a workout, and Ortiz and drummer Tim Diehl are in perfect sync, powered by Booth’s electric bass.

The next track, “Resonance,” still blows me away, and that’s after more than a dozen times through the disc. Composer Lewis opens with electric piano, and then Matt Swenson gets to work. His playing throughout is nothing short of spectacular. This tune goes through a variety of changes, and he nails every one. Booth and Diehl are a monster rhythm section. Lewis takes a great solo as well.

“Sandprints” is Booth’s homage to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” magnificently rendered with Jeremy Powell on soprano saxophone. Powell is another Tampa Bay area jewel who moved to New York. (Jeremy and NYC trumpeter brother Jonathan played with Booth in Ghetto Love Sugar). Rick Runion, a fine tenor player from Lakeland, plays harmony with Jeremy here. The track begins with Booth’s beautiful double bass tones, then Jeremy and the band join in.

Booth adds a vocal tune to the mix with “Last Call,” his impressions of New York City during his time there and historically as well. Whitney James is the singer here, and her voice perfectly accents Booth’s lyrics. The tune also features vibraphonist Sam Koppelman, a truly impressive player whose contributions here and on “Zag” are first-rate. Ron Wilder plays trumpet… and he was Booth’s jazz instructor back in the day!

“Zag” is a gorgeous tune Booth used to play with Trio Vibe. Koppelman is perfect here, and Austin Vickrey and Runion join in on tenors, with a solo from Vickrey. This song swings so hard, driven by Booth on bass. Beautiful acoustic piano from Lewis adds to the sheer delight of this track.

Booth next honors George Porter, Jr., the king of New Orleans bass players and a member of the legendary Meters, with “Mr. G.P.” (a reference to Coltrane’s tune “Mr. P.C.”). If you’re going to do NOLA, you’re gonna need a horn section: Wilder, Runion, and Vickrey (this time on baritone sax). Swenson takes another blistering guitar turn while Booth and Diehl channel that second-line rhythm.

Badass bass launches “Rubberman,” the oldest tune in Acme Jazz Garage’s repertoire. Vickrey plays gorgeous flute here with Runion on tenor. Lewis stands out on Hammond B3 organ, funk dripping from every note. Diehl nails this one, and Swenson delivers a beautiful solo invoking so many great jazz guitarists. Booth gets an extended feature as well.

“Acmefied” opens with a nifty drum roll into the tune, another fine funky jazz piece. Swenson again channels the masters beautifully, and Diehl’s work on the kit is of special note. Lewis comps underneath with great electric piano.

Lewis arranged a very bluesy version of “America the Beautiful” which was released in time for Independence Day. His gospel-tinged Hammond B3 provides a very different reading of this, reminiscent perhaps of Ray Charles.

The disc closes with a percussion workout with Diehl and Ortiz, “Mongo Jam,” a logical extension of the opening tune.

This wonderful recording was enhanced by the remarkable production job done at the Springs Theatre, where local Tampa musicians have been producing music of the highest quality.

–SCOTT HOPKINS, “Colors of Jazz” announcer, WMNF, 88.5 FM; TieYourShoesReviews.com; editor-in-chief, musicfestnews.com

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“The influences felt scattered (which is good), but the song ‘Resonance’ immediately made me think of Steely Dan. That, too, is a good thing. Oh, and (I hear) hints of the Crusaders now and again. The rest felt like its own thing. This is really a hot little combo. Mission accomplished. It’s a damn fine record. Bravo!”

LOUIS MAISTROS, New Orleans singer/songwriter and writer, author of acclaimed novel “The Sound of Building Coffins,” and former jazz record store owner

The Act of Creation

In recent years, I’ve become more involved in writing music, thanks in part to the fact that I co-lead a band, Acme Jazz Garage, that plays frequently and is quick to learn new originals (and often helps with arrangements).

So I’ve given more thought to a)what it takes to create a tune that appeals to audiences (still don’t have a clue) and b)the process behind creating something from nothing.

I have a background as a journalist, and I’ve studied creative writing, and written a few short stories, only one of which has been published (in the journal Florida English). That story, probably not coincidentally, had something of a music-oriented theme, as it’s titled “The Night Frank Sinatra Saved Pop’s Life.”

I’ve been thinking about the similarity between the two arts, in terms of the task of — again — taking a blank page, and putting words or music together that add up to something more than the sum of their parts.

In both cases (journalism/creative writing & composing), what I write has been deeply influenced by what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, respectively.

For Acme Jazz Garage’s first “major” collection of original compositions, all penned by me (so far), there are two tunes that were directly inspired/influenced by others: “Sandprints” takes some cues from Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” while “Mr. G.P.” is named for bassist George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and inspired by that band’s swampy, funky old-school R&B, although the Acme twist on that sound also features a horn section (flugelhorn, bari sax and tenor sax). The title of the latter tune is a play on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” itself named for bassist Paul Chambers,

For me, a song can start with a riff I hear in my head — once, I heard a tune in a dream — or something that I come up with while noodling on bass, piano or guitar. “Last Call,” the most jazz-oriented of the tunes we’re recording, actually is rooted in a little guitar progression I first messed around with 30 years ago or so.

The point of all of this, I guess: The act of creation is a mystery.

And there’s also that head-space conundrum to deal with, at least for me: Why would anyone care about something I write?

What I do know, for sure, is that the more I do it, the easier it gets for me to achieve the desired result — the more proficient I get at translating my ideas into stories or songs. Something similar happens when playing an instrument. When it comes to music, I’d be even better equipped if I had a stronger understanding of theory and harmony.

Will the end result of our creativity and hard work, a full-length recording, have an impact beyond our local fans, friends and family? Are the tunes any good?

Stay tuned.

Gasparilla Music Festival (concert review)

(recently published at jambands.com/Relix; direct link)

George and Page 1Eclecticism for its own sake seems to be the guiding principle of the Gasparilla Music Festival, a daylong affair March 9 at scenic waterside Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. The festival’s second annual edition, featuring about 30 acts spread across four stages, offered a mix of bubbling-up national rock and indie-oriented artists with other bands drawn from diverse genres.

New Orleans music emerged as one theme of the event with headliners the Meter Men, whose bassist, George Porter, Jr, and drummer , Zigaboo Modeliste, still constitute one of the world’s most dangerous Southern-fried funk rhythm sections.

Porter, Modeliste and original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli were joined by current tour mate Page McConnell (left), and the four successfully augmented the trio’s NOLA R&B grooves with the Phish keyboardist’s jammier leanings. The fan favorites were abundant, as the sprawling set included “Look-Ka Py Py,” “Cissy Strut,” “Fire on the Bayou,” and “Hey, Pocky Way.” McConnell fit right in, delivering the goods alternately on piano and B3 organ.

New Orleans was also represented by durable roots rock and Tex-Mex band the Iguanas (Rod Hodges, far right). They got the crowd moving, with the help of familiar gems Iguana - Rod Hodges “Boom Boom Boom,” “Oye, Isabel,” “Lupita,” “Para Donde Vas” and a rollicking take on Professor Longhair’s “In the Night.” So, too, did the Distinguished Men of Brass, a Tampa-based brass band making an encore appearance at the event – they made semi-regular jaunts across the fest grounds.

Corey Harris (left), while not a Louisiana native, specializes in the kind of music associated with the region. For GMF, he led a quartet – Harris on guitar plus bass, sax and drums — on a set of convincing blues, R&B and funk occasionally tinged with reggae grooves. He toasted a fest Corey Harris 2hometown hero with Tampa Red’s “Singing and Crying Blues,” and at one point played lap steel, unaccompanied.

Also drawing attention were irresistible Los Angeles Latin-funk-rock groove makers Ozomatli and Austin’s Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (right).Black Joe Lewis 1

The latter thrived on the leader’s raw vocals and a Hendrix-style guitar attack, not to mention a hard-driving horn section and primitive-feeling, grinding one-chord blues stomps.

Several acts were on the less rootsy side of the spectrum. SoCal folk-pop-rock outfit Lord Huron’s big, textured sound was driven by multiple acoustic and electric guitars. Dr. Dog, from Philadelphia, playing their first show since November, brought ambitious pop-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, loaded with vocal harmonies and occasional jam-out finishes via “That Old Black Hole,” “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” “Do the Trick,” and “Shadow People,” among other crowd pleasers.

Several Tampa Bay area acts, too, generated enthusiastic responses, including the punky wild-man blues of Nervous Turkey, led by irrepressible singer, harmonica player and guitarist Ernie Betty Fox 2Locke (right); the ferocious blues belting of singer Betty Fox (left); and the energetic, bluegrass-influenced acoustic stomp of The Wholetones.Nervous Turkey Ernie 3

“Treme” Third Season Finale Loaded With Tons O’ Great Players

Has there EVER been a television drama that has given as much respect to musicians as HBO’s “Treme,” in terms of screen time, playing time, and genuine appreciation for musical art, not to mention insights into the day-to-day reality of working musicians?

I think not.

Sunday’s third-season finale, a prelude to the truncated Season “3.5,” wrapped up — or pointed in the direction of wrapping up — a ton of story strands.

In one, fiddle player and singer Annie (Lucia Micareli) sees her band’s debut CD released and enjoys a rather too speedy rocket ride to a national stage, with her manager planning a launch party in New York City. The script even works in a reference to New Orleans’ long-running music monthly: “This ain’t about Offbeat, darling,” he says. “It’s about Rolling Stone and the New York Times.”

At the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, site of a benefit concert, and elsewhere, Tons of great NOLA players play and/or get speaking lines, including trumpeters Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, and Shamarr Allen; funk/R&B bass master George Porter Jr. (the Meters), keyboardist Ivan Neville, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Little Freddie King and, in an intimate duo, singer John Boutte and pianist Tom McDermott.

At one point. four-trombone band Bonerama and series mainstay Antoine Batiste  (Wendell Pierce), a trombonist, are joined by TroyTrombone Shorty” Andrews and Big Sam. “Trombones rule the world,” Antoine says. Indeed. For extra measure, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule (Not from NOLA) joins the low-brass confab for “When My Ship Comes In.”

For fans of New Orleans music & culture “Treme,” while imperfect, is the ship that finally came in, an antidote to other TV series set in the Crescent City. I’ll be sad to see its voyage come to an end.