By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in June

jazz
PRISM Quartet | photo by Jon Rohrer

While it’s certainly not a new trend, it was particularly evident seeing May’s musical offerings in Philly that the lines between what’s considered jazz and classical or new music have never been blurrier. The highlight of last month’s calendar was Bowerbird’s landmark Julius Eastman retrospective; a last-minute program change on the final night led to the reprise of Eastman’s “Thruway” in a version that sounded radically different from its earlier performance and thus revealing the amount of spontaneity and chance in the piece. More explicitly, the first iteration followed Eastman’s instruction that a jazz band play from offstage, leading to scraps of Monk seeping into the music’s quieter portions like a neighbor’s stereo through an open window. Then there was the two-night Ars Nova run that featured Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley playing a long-form piece inspired by John Cage, followed by John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet playing short compositions that were often complexly through-composed.

Continue reading →

By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in May

jazz
The Kimmel Center Jazz Residency | photo by Creative Outlet

A trio of dueling (or harmoniously co-existing, depending on who you ask) festivals means that May begins with a bit of a Jazz Appreciation Month hangover. Local fans won’t have too long to recover, though, as pianist Glenn Zaleski brings his fine trio – featuring bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Craig Weinrib, the only time the in-demand trio that recorded Zaleski’s new CD Fellowship will reconvene on his current run – to Chris’ Jazz Café on Wednesday, May 3rd, kicking off a run of worthwhile shows that continues the next night at Matt Yaple’s invite-only (shoot him an email) listening-room series @exuberance with Tel Aviv-born pianist Tamir Hendelman and on Friday with the Kennedy Center’s all-star tribute to vocal great Abbey Lincoln at the Merriam, spearheaded by Teri Lyne Carrington and featuring powerhouse singers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding.

Continue reading →

By

Drummer Bobby Z remembers Prince ahead of The Revolution doubleheader at The TLA

revolution
Prince and The Revolution | photo by Larry Williams

The news of Prince’s death just over a year ago came as a shock to nearly everyone who heard it, with music fans in mourning around the world. But it hit particularly hard for those select few who knew and worked with the famously reclusive icon.

“I saw the words ‘Prince Dead’ on TV, and those two words just didn’t make sense,” recalls drummer Bobby Z, a member of Prince’s band from 1979 to 1986, the years from his breakthrough to the recording of Purple Rain and beyond. “It was incomprehensible that for some reason he was gone.”

Bobby Z and the other members of the classic line-up of The Revolution – guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardist Lisa Coleman, bassist Brown Mark and keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink – have reunited to pay tribute to His Purple Badness, stopping in Philly for two nights at the TLA this weekend. According to Z, the concerts provide a degree of catharsis for musicians and audience alike.

Continue reading →

By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in April

jazz
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra | photo courtesy of the artist

Jazz Appreciation Month got off to an early start on Monday, as Mayor Jim Kenney presented the inaugural Benny Golson Award to Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste under the gaze of portraits of his predecessors at City Hall. Overlapping with Women’s History Month, the morning event also paid tribute to local legends Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott and living legend Monnette Sudler (whose name proved an unfortunate challenge to the administration’s speakers). The month that follows will be bookended with a buffet of festivals as it draws to a close.

The entire final week, from the 23rd to the 30th, will mark the inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Festival, spearheaded by South’s Bynum Brothers and the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy. The fest will sprawl across a number of venues, including the Bynums’ South, Warmdaddy’s and RELISH along with Chris’ Jazz Café, World Café Live and the Ardmore Music Hall, among others. The fest will bring home several favorite sons, including trumpeter Randy Brecker, organ great Joey DeFrancesco, and longtime South regulars Gerald Veasley and Orrin Evans. Other headliners include pianist ELEW, 93-year-old singer/pianist (and voice of Schoolhouse Rock) Bob Dorough, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and a tribute to the legendary jam sessions at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus.

Continue reading →

By

Josh Lawrence says farewell to Philadelphia with Color Theory shows at South

josh lawrence
Josh Lawrence | photo courtesy of the artist

In some ways, Josh Lawrence’s new album Color Theory serves as a farewell to Philadelphia. At the same time that the trumpet player was in the studio last summer, he was making arrangements to move to New York City, that essential proving ground for rising stars in the jazz world.

At the same time, the album, which Lawrence will celebrate this weekend at South, shows off the simmering chemistry of a largely Philly-based band and a sound steeped in the raucous, burning hard-bop style so rooted in this city – suggesting that Lawrence may not be so eager to leave his adopted hometown behind.

“I feel rooted here,” Lawrence said over coffee last month at La Colombe, with City Hall looming in the background. “I’ve lived in Philly longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, and people here consider me as being from Philly. This is where I’m rooted musically, too – the record sounds like a Philly record to me.”

Continue reading →

By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in March

jazz
Wadada Leo Smith | photo courtesy of the artist

The rug-pulling near-win that La La Land suffered at last weekend’s Oscars means that a good bit of the controversy facing Damien Chazelle’s musical will die down since it now won’t be burdened with defeating the far more cinematically deserving and politically relevant Moonlight. Within the jazz community, though, the film continues to stoke an argument that has been ongoing for much of the music’s history. The debate between paying homage to tradition and forging new paths burns with the unquenchable inevitability of Centralia’s eternal flames, while Ryan Gosling’s song-and-dance jazz purity simply offers a new frame for the tug-of-war.

Not that those two approaches are mutually exclusive, of course, which renders the whole battle largely moot despite its persistence. Take this month’s Philly jazz calendar, which is full of tributes and hat-tips while also rich with boundary-stretching reinventions.

Continue reading →

By

Norman David and the Eleventet will celebrate 100 shows, two new records at Plays & Players

eleventet
Norman David and the Eleventet | photo via Facebook

Near the beginning of a performance by his Eleventet earlier this month at the band’s longtime home base upstairs at Plays and Players, Norman David made a (mostly) solemn pledge. “Whether there’s two or 2,000 of you,” he proclaimed, “we’ll blow your faces off.”

At the moment that David made that vow, the audience was closer in number (maybe even spot on) to the lower limit of that estimate, but David was as good as his word while his band outnumbered the crowd five-to-one and as the room filled in over the course of the evening’s two sets. The Eleventet has faced varying situations over its seven-year tenure at Plays and Players, but David insists that the run has provided an invaluable opportunity to hear his music realized on a regular basis by some of the city’s most talented players.

“The ups and downs are worth it,” he says, “and most often it’s ups.”

Expect the room to be packed on Monday, February 27th, which will be a celebration for David and The Eleventet for several reasons. It will be the 100th performance for the band in its third-floor headquarters, and will mark the release of two new CDs – the studio recording Please Call and the live album Crazy in Philly! – only the second and third releases in the ensembles 35-plus year history.

Continue reading →

By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in February

jazz
Uri Caine | photo courtesy of the artist

I know, I know – you’d like to click one link, read one piece about something, anything, that doesn’t mention Donald Trump. I understand completely. So I’ll make it short, because let’s face it, less than two weeks into his presidency and after an exhausting –what, eighteen months, two years? Eternity? – his administration has been the lens through which everything has to be viewed right now. As I write this, it’s been 24 hours since a crowd of 5,000 gave the President and his party a proper Philadelphia welcome, pressed up against the on-the-nose symbolism of garbage truck barriers blocking out the masses. Given Trump’s mantra of a return to lost greatness and the mood of fear/hope for to be found in that crowd and in the general response lately, thoughts of revisiting the past and reimagining the future are inevitable, and jazz is an ideal medium for that. Outside of that political context, plenty of shows this month that look simultaneously backwards and forwards.

Philly native Uri Caine has long done just that. Throughout a wide-ranging career that started out with bebop gigs with Bootsie Barnes in local clubs and grew to embrace every style of jazz from straightahead to the far edges of the avant-garde, the pianist is still best known for his inventive and eclectic transformations of classical repertoire. As part of his residency at Swarthmore College, on February 4th Caine will perform his genre-leaping interpretations of music by Mozart and Mahler, and invite equally all-embracing vocalist Theo Bleckmann to join him for songs by either Schubert or Schumann. More information here.

Continue reading →

By

Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live jazz around town in January

Sumi Tonooka | photo courtesy of the artist
Sumi Tonooka | photo courtesy of the artist

Sure, a calendar year is just an arbitrarily designated indicator spanning a single trip around the sun, but 2016 nonetheless felt like a series of kicks to the gut with evil intent. Even the holiday season, which should have been a time for putting political rancor to (at least temporary) rest, enjoying friends, family and food, and recalibrating for the next orbit, pulled the rug out with the mother-daughter departure of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Good riddance, 2016.

Now, if music is indeed, as the late great Albert Ayler would have it, the healing force of the universe, the sounds of 2017 carry a pretty heavy burden on their shoulders. January’s local jazz offerings provide several occasions to celebrate the congregating of like-minded artists to heal, create, and hopefully make a fresh start. Continue reading →

By

Elizabeth Huston presents an interactive exploration of classical compositions with 10 Synchronisms

10 synchronisms
Church of the Holy Apostles and the Mediator, venue for 10 Synchronisms | photo courtesy of Elizabeth Huston

Two years ago, harpist Elizabeth Huston invited audiences to wander through a musical performance rather than to just sit and watch one. Presenting Luciano Berio’s 14 Sequenzas – a career-spanning set of pieces for solo instruments or voice – Huston decided to mount each Sequenza in discrete spaces through the First Unitarian Church, presenting each one in a contextually appropriate, immersive setting from a circus scene to a 1960s bedroom.

Arriving in Philadelphia from her native Seattle a few years ago, Huston quickly became intrigued by the city’s diverse arts scene – and disappointed that the kinds of imaginative staging and performance that she saw in the Fringe Festival didn’t seem to translate into the classical music world.

“Seattle isn’t quite as culturally active as Philadelphia,” she says. “So the Fringe Festival completely changed the way I saw the idea of performance. I saw dance pieces that were site-specific and theater pieces where there was a lot of audience interaction, and I was really curious why I’d never seen that in music. It’s odd that all the other art forms are very interested in how they can innovate in the way they frame a piece, so I started thinking about how you could do that in music.”

Continue reading →