Tampa Jazz Notes: Nate Najar, Whitney James, Al Di Meola; reflections on Pat Metheny, Dr. John & Sunshine Music Fest

These days, there’s no shortage of worthwhile jazz (and beyond) concerts, by national and local artists alike, at Tampa Bay area venues. Too much music, not enough time, or, in the case of the too often overpriced arena and theater events, not enough expendable dough.

At any rate … happy to report that I’ve been able to catch several good shows in the last few weeks (see below), and there are plenty ahead.

Fusion-guitar heads will explode about this just-announced show: John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring, with their respective bands, are playing a double bill Nov. 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

And, speaking of notable guitarists, the Tampa Bay area’s own Nate Najar is celebrating the release of his new album, “This is Nate Najar,” on the Candid label, with a show Thursday night in St. Petersburg (details below). Check out Sharon Kennedy’s feature, in the Tampa Bay Times. Najar tours nationally. His new CD is the eighth most added recording on this week’s JazzWeek radio-play chart.

On the way (a selective list):

nate

Nate Najar with trumpeter James Suggs, bassist John Lamb and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 9, The Studio@620, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm

Whitney James’ Jazz Valentine, with guitarist LaRue Nickelson and La Lucha guys John O’ Leary on piano, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman — Feb. 10, Palladium Side Door, St. Petersburg, 8 pm

Al Di Meola “Elegant Gypsy 40th Anniversary (Al’s band includes Tampa Bay area talent — percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, bassist Elias Tona and drummer Luis Alicea) — Feb. 13, Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, 7:30 pm

Richard Thompson & Blind Boys of Alabama — Feb. 14, Capitol Theater, 8 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz FestivalRobotman (Feb. 22), Martin Bejerano Trio (Feb. 23), Joshua Breakstone (Feb. 24), Jason Lee Bruns (Feb. 26) — Palladium Side Door, 7:30 pm

St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: The Helios Jazz Orchestra with Whitney James & Fred Johnson — Feb. 25, Palladium Hough Hall, 7:30 pm

Frank Greene (trumpet) & Danny Gottlieb (drums) with USF Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chuck Owen — Feb. 27, USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm

Tony Bennett — March 2, Mahaffey Theater, 7:30 pm

Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp: Bob Seeley, Dr. Billy C. Wirtz, Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues, Rob Rio — March 4, Palladium Hough Hall, 8 pm

Whitney James with guitarist LaRue Nickelson, organist/pianist Chris Rottmayer and drummer Dave Rudolph — March 5, HCC Ybor Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre, 3 pm

Norah Jones — March 7, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm

Taj Mahal (solo acoustic) — March 8, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Rickie Lee Jones & Madeleine Peyroux — March 11, Capitol Theatre, 8 pm

Gasparilla Music Festival: The New Mastersounds, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, Ryan Adams, Ghostface Killah, Have Gun, Will Travel, Curtis Hixon Park, Tampa, March 11-12

“The Sound: The Music of Stan Getz” (Jeff Rupert, Veronica Smith, others), Palladium Side Door, March 12, 6 pm

Tampa Bay Blues Fest (Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Coco Montoya, Stephen Stills, more), Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, April 7-9.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension & Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip — Nov. 25, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 8 pm.

***************

LOOKING BACK

dr-john

I caught Dr. John, with my friend Roland Guerin on bass, at Clearwater’s beautifully renovated Capitol Theater on Jan. 17. The tickets were a Christmas present from me to my wife Callie — good seats and no reviewing duties. The band,with trumpeter Leon Brown, guitarist Eric Struthers and drummer Doug Belote, was in fine form. As usual, it was a treat hearing Dr. John sing and play some of the most memorable tunes from his repertoire, including “Iko Iko” and, of course, “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

But I’d be lying if I didn’t note that Mac seems to have lost some of his performance power. His vocals, and his piano playing, that unique mix of jazz, blues and New Orleans R&B descended from a long line of NOLA’s piano professors, including Professor Longhair, simply aren’t as robust as even a few years ago, when he played with his previous band at the Sunshine Music Festival. Some of that decline, of course, is understandable — he’s 76, and, as documented in his readable and entertaining autobiography “Under a Hoodoo Moon,” he lived a hard life in his hometown and in Los Angeles before moving to New York and adopting a more mellow lifestyle in later years.

Nevertheless, Dr. John remains a total original, and I was thrilled to hear him again. And I couldn’t help but wonder — who, aside from the likes of Jon Cleary and maybe Marcia Ball, will be exponents of that infectious, rolling rumba-boogie style of piano playing after Dr. John is gone? I’m sure there are others carrying on that tradition, particularly in New Orleans. Somebody hip me to ’em, please.

The day before (Jan. 14), we had a great experience at the fourth annual Sunshine Music Festival, formerly known as the Sunshine Blues Festival; it was my third time attending, having missed last year’s edition. The fest, held on waterside Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg, offered good-to-terrific sets by the blues-rocking Tedeschi Trucks Band (the “host” artists), soul/R&B legend Mavis Staples, jamgrass guys Railroad Earth, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Dave Mason and the North Mississippi Allstars. My review will appear in the March print edition of Relix magazine.

And just last Wednesday (Feb. 1), for the umpteenth time I had the pleasure of catching a Pat Metheny concert, this one at the Mahaffey Theater, almost exactly three years after his last performance at the same venue. For his latest tour, he’s joined by longtime musical associate Antonio Sanchez on drums, rising-star upright bassist Linda Oh, and a newcomer (to me), young Brit-born pianist Gwilym Simcock. The quartet touched on seemingly every phase of the guitarist’s long career; as usual, he made a joyful sound on his several guitars.

I ran into several area jazz folks at the show, including Bob Seymour and Mike Cornette, the former and current jazz directors at WUSF, and singer Whitney James, who happens to be a part-time announcer at the station (I also did some announcing there, briefly, in the late ’90s). I also connected with Jim Leonard, a Metheny aficionado/expert who deserves a shout-out for his invaluable help with song titles. My review of the show, for JazzTimes mag, is posted here.

 

Jazz at the Grammys; and props to Lifetime Achievement winner Clark Terry

The Grammy Awards — particularly as demonstrated by its biggest categories — remains the music industry’s overblown high-school prom, a chance for the year’s most popular and/or most attractive rock, dance, hip-hop and country artists to toast each other’s success on the charts and in the media spotlight.

Last night’s ceremony, in that respect, was mostly the same: Does anyone believe that, 20 years from now, anyone will be singing the songs of, or caring much about the likes of Lady Gaga, who opened with a two-piano extravaganza with Sir Elton John (his earliest songs have become classics), or Pink, who did a skin-baring Cirque du Soleil-style act?

Jazz, as usual, got short shrift (yes, there was Herbie Hancock’s big win last year, but that was a fluke).

Lifetime achievement winner Clark Terry (right), the great and gracious trumpeter, and good-humored “mumble”/scat singer, got onstage recognition from director Quentin Tarantino (huh?) and the camera caught Terry, 89, in the audience. Then it was on to a really annoying, profanity-laced performance by Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Drake and drummer Travis  Barker. No, thanks.

Best musical moment: Jeff Beck‘s performance of “How High the Moon,” with singer Imelda May, in a too-short salute to Les Paul, introduced by actor Jeff Bridges (huh?) Beck played a sunburst Les Paul guitar for the occasion.

This year’s jazz nominees, for the most part, were musically solid. Several of the recordings that appeared on my Top 10 list — discs by singer Roberta Gambarini, pianist Allen Toussaint, and bassist John Patitucci — grabbed nominations, but not wins.

Nice to see New Orleans artists take home trophies in two categories — trumpeter Terence Blanchard for best improvised jazz solo, and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield‘s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for best large jazz ensemble album — although it’s a bit of a shock that the latter category didn’t include nominations for first-rate recordings by Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

The Jazz Surge’s CD, The Comet’s Tail: Performing the Compositions of Michael Brecker, did get attention in the category of best instrumental arrangement. Talented veteran arranger Bill Cunliffe won, for “West Side Story Medley” from the Resonance Big Band’s tribute to Oscar Peterson. Note: Mendoza was nominated twice in this category, so that may have hurt his chances for a win.

And it ought to be noted that neither acclaimed pianist Vijay Iyer, nor his trio’s Historicity, which topped this year’s Village Voice Jazz Critic Poll (I voted), were to be found among the nominees. UPDATE: Vijay let me know that Historicity “was released two weeks too late to qualify for the awards.” Here’s hoping that NARAS will honor the CD next year.

Kurt Elling won in the jazz vocal category for another impressive recording, but I wonder if the superb discs by Robert Gambarini (my pick for ’09’s best jazz vocal CD) and Tierney Sutton resulted in a vote split leading to the Elling win.

It was satisfying to see several veterans pick up wins, including late Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul, for the final CD from his Zawinul Syndicate band, and pianist Chick Corea and guitarist John McLaughlin, for a live recording from their Five Peace Band.

Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark, picked up another Album Notes Grammy, his eighth, for his contributions to The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946).

Finally, how many father-and-son recordings have won Grammy awards? In the Latin jazz category, the great Cuban-born pianist Bebo Valdes and his son, pianist Chucho Valdes, won for Juntos Para Siempre.

The jazz winners and nominees….

Best Contemporary Jazz Album

*Winner: 75 Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

[Heads Up International]

Urbanus Stefon Harris & Blackout [Concord Jazz]

Sounding Point Julian Lage [Emarcy/Decca]

At World’s Edge Philippe Saisse [E1 Music]

Big Neighborhood Mike Stern [Heads Up International]

———-

Best Jazz Vocal Album

*Winner: Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane And Hartman Kurt Elling [Concord Jazz]

No Regrets Randy Crawford (& Joe Sample) [PRA Records]

So In Love Roberta Gambarini [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

Tide Luciana Souza [Verve]

Desire Tierney Sutton (Band) [Telarc Jazz]

———-

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

*Winner: Dancin’ 4 Chicken Terence Blanchard, soloist Track from: Watts (Jeff “Tain” Watts) [Dark Key Music]

All Of You Gerald Clayton, soloist Track from: Two-Shade [ArtistShare]

Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey Roy Hargrove, soloist Track from: Emergence [Groovin’ High/Emarcy]

On Green Dolphin Street Martial Solal, soloist Track from: Live At The Village Vanguard [CamJazz]

Villa Palmeras Miguel Zenón, soloist Track from: Esta Plena [Marsalis Music]

———-

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group

*Winner: Five Peace Band – Live Chick Corea & John McLaughlin Five Peace Band [Concord Records]

Quartet Live Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez [Concord Jazz]

Brother To Brother Clayton Brothers [ArtistShare]

Remembrance John Patitucci Trio [Concord Jazz]

The Bright Mississippi Allen Toussaint [Nonesuch]

———-

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

*Winner: Book One New Orleans Jazz Orchestra [World Village]

Legendary Bob Florence Limited Edition [MAMA Records]

Eternal Interlude John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble [Sunnyside]

Fun Time Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band [Hänssler Classic]

Lab 2009 University Of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band [North Texas Jazz]

———-

Best Latin Jazz Album

*Winner: Juntos Para Siempre Bebo Valdés And Chucho Valdés [Sony Music/Calle 54]

Things I Wanted To Do Chembo Corniel [Chemboro Records]

Áurea Geoffrey Keezer [ArtistShare]

Brazilliance X 4 Claudio Roditi [Resonance Records]

Esta Plena Miguel Zenón [Marsalis Music]

Best Jazz CDs of 2008? Down Beat Looks Back

Down Beat’s official critics poll, which isn’t hinged to the calendar year, won’t arrive until August.

But the January issue of the magazine (to which I’m a longtime contributor) offers a list of the jazz CDs that notched the best reviews – highest star ratings – in 2008.

The five-star releases, although all deserving of high praise, may or may not deserve to be called “New Masterpieces”; a decade from now, will these recordings still resonate? Still, I was particularly impressed by the Caine, Haden, and McLaughlin discs. Here’s the list:

  • Gunther Schuller, Journey Into Jazz (BMOP Sound)
  • Uri Caine Ensemble, The Othello Syndrome (Winter & Winter)Uri Caine - The Othello Syndrome
  • Otis Taylor, Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc)
  • John McLaughlin, Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
  • Charlie Haden Family and Friends, Rambling Boy (Decca)

A step down are the 4.5-star releases, including several of my ’08 favorites – Clark, Corea/Burton, Herwig, and Frisell.

Here’s that list:

  • Anthony Braxton, Trio (Victoriaville)
  • Mike Clark, Blueprints of Jazz Volume 1 (Talking House)
  • Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord)
  • Marilyn Crispell, Vignettes (ECM)
  • Prieto Dafnis Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison Music)
  • Die Enttauschung, Die Enttauschung (Intakt)
  • Bill Frisell, History, Mystery (Nonesuch)
  • Mike Garson, Conversations With My Family (Resonance)
  • Jon Gordon, Within Words (ArtistShare)
  • Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)Chick Corea & Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence
  • Grace Kelly and Lee Konitz, GRACEfulLee (Pazz)
  • Moss, Moss (Sunnyside)
  • Rosa Passos, Romance (Telarc)
  • Mario Pavone, Trio Arc (Playscape)
  • Herb Robertson and the NY Downtown Allstars, Real Aberration (Clean Feed)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet, Tabligh (Cueniform)
  • Gebhard Ullmann, New Basement Research (Soul Note)
  • Norma Winstone, Distances (ECM)

It’s interesting to note that the music deemed among the best jazz of the year is spread out on nearly as many labels as there are releases. The exceptions – two are on ECM, and two are on Telarc.

The next level down, the four-star CDs, features 124 releases, including several, below, that struck me as particularly outstanding (and in some cases, deserving of higher star ratings):

  • Brian Blade, Season of Changes (Verve)
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans (TimeLife)
  • Anat Cohen, Notes From the Village (Anzic)
  • John Ellis and Double-Wide, Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow (Hyena)
  • Drew Gress, The Irrational Numbers (Premonition)
  • Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
  • Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch)Pat Metheny, Day Trip
  • Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO) – not jazz, I know, but how could this CD NOT be on anyone’s best-of list?
  • Josh Roseman, New Constellations (Accurate)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
  • Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up)
  • Susan Tedeschi, Back to the River (Verve Forecast)

Yes, I’ll be getting around to submitting my Top 10 CD list(s) to one or more publications. But not quite yet.