Vincent Herring, “Hard Times” — my CD review for JazzTimes

Vincent Herring“Is this disc’s title an apropos description of the current era, with its semi-permanent malaise, and anger seemingly just below the surface of all public discourse? Maybe,” I wrote, in my review for JazzTimes.Vincent Herring’s response: Gather like-minded musicians and make a joyful noise with a set of muscular blues-tinted jazz.”

Read the complete review here.

Fun fact: Back in 2000, I played the Nat Adderley memorial concert at Florida Southern College’s Branscomb Auditorium, in Lakeland, my hometown. Nat lived there for many decades after relocating from New Jersey; at FSC, he was artist-in-residence, and, with FSC music prof Larry Burke, he launched the (now-defunct) Child of the Sun Jazz Festival.

How’d I wind up playing that show, alongside former Adderley musical associates and friends, including drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianists Larry Willis and Rob Bargad, saxophonists Vincent Herring and Antonio Hart, and trumpeter Longineau Parsons, among others?

Here’s how it happened: Burke had asked me to lend my upright bass to Walter Booker for the performance, which I was happy to do. I’d previously let another NYC bassist, Santi Debriano, borrow my bass when he played one of the editions of the Child of the Sun fest. About three hours before the show was slated to start, Burke called me, told me that Bookie was ailing (an asthma attack) and unable to play, and asked if I’d fill in.

I couldn’t ever have actually properly filled in for Booker, who died in 2006, but I had a (slightly nervous) blast playing the gig — won’t ever forget that performance.

I’d had a chance to get to know Nat a little bit some years early, when I interviewed him for an extended feature in one of the first issues of Jazziz magazine; I was a part of that mag from the start, beginning with exploratory meetings at the condo of Michael Fagien, who was then a med student (or a resident?) at UF. I recall discussing what the mag should be named — I wasn’t in favor of “Jazziz.” What did  I know? 🙂

And that’s … almost the rest of the story 🙂

BTW — had a chance on Saturday to talk with Debriano after one of his sets at Smalls in NYC. He was leading a great quartet with Craig Handy on tenor, Bill O’Connell on piano, and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun.

Debriano said he hopes to soon record with that group.

Gene Bertoncini & Roni Ben-Hur: Good Music, Great Cause

“Jazz Therapy” is the name given to a new series of recordings by major artists who are donating their talent and time to a great cause: All the proceeds from sales of the CDs go to support the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund of the Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey.

The fund is affiliated with the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization on the front lines of providing help to needy jazz and blues musicians. The foundation enables free medical care, prevents homelessness and eviction by paying rents and mortgages, and organizes gigs to help musicians earn money from their art; since Hurricane Katrina, the foundation reportedly has helped more than 4,000 musicians and created gigs for another 1,000.

So, it’s a great cause.

And if Smile, the just-released first volume in the series,  is any indication , the music is offering its own brand of healing.

The project, a collaboration between veteran guitarist Gene Bertoncini and younger established six-stringer Roni Ben-Hur, is a joyful outing, with the two turning in imaginative renditions of a half-dozen standards and pop tunes, plus two originals by each musician.

Bertoncini, on nylon-string acoustic, and Ben-Hur, on electric, trade melodies, counterlines, comping, and solos, turning in sublime acoustic-electric textures, sans rhythm section. It comes off as a mutual-admiration society that sounds like … more is in order.

“Smile,” written by Charlie Chaplin (and recorded by Nat Cole), has always struck me as a gorgeous song that ought to be included in the repertoire of more jazz artists. Here it’s rendered beautifully, with the two variously bringing out the poignancy of the melody and trading solos.

The two achieve a similarly sense of melancholy on a creative redesign of Roberta Flack hit “Killing Me Softly,” which opens with a tricky prelude — all tightly clustered chords, major/minor tonalities, and long descending lines –before getting into the song proper.

“Besame Mucho” is done in a slow, languid, tropical-sunset  style, replete with bossa nova rhythms, while the Gershwins’ “I Concentrate on You” is similarly gorgeous.

The originals are impressive, too. Bertoncini’s “You Are a Story” is a quite pretty ballad, while his “Set Blue” is a take-off on jazz familiarity “Bluesette,” albeit built on alternate blues changes and capped with a counterpoint section and extended vamping. Ben-Hur contributes the charming tristeza “Anna’s Dance” (title track from his 2001 album) and bluesy bop piece “Sofia’s Butterfly.”

Smile, as promised, makes for great therapy; here’s to new sessions with the same musical physicians.

Side note: I had the opportunity to hear Ben-Hur when our paths crossed in 2007 during the 20th and final edition (what a shame) of the Child of the Sun Jazz Festival at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla. – yes, my hometown. He led a  group that also included trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and bassist Santi Debriano. Debriano, a great New York player best known for his work on Latin jazz projects, wound up using my upright bass – a century-old Edmund Paulus, from Austria, I think – on the gig.