After a slow August (well, slow for live jazz, less so for life in general, but let’s not get into that), September makes up for lost time with a hectic schedule overlapped by competing festivals – both Fringe and Opera Philly’s calendars have plenty of venturesome programming sure to entice the same crowds (modestly speaking) who haunt the city’s jazz venues. This month’s picks feature a feast for jazz guitar fanatics, exciting shows by both veterans and innovators, and is bookended by very different approaches to celebrating the Brazilian influence in jazz. Continue reading →
I hate to lead off a Philly-focused column by touting an event in New York, but last month’s very special Ornette Coleman celebration at Lincoln Center had some definite local ties. The culminating event, a reunion of the late sax icon’s eclectic and electric Prime Time band, of course featured the many Philly greats who served such vital roles in that incomparable ensemble – namely, the off-kilter avant-funk rhythm section of Jamaaladeen Tacuma and G. Calvin Weston, and Charles Ellerbe, a guitarist who always plays on his own wavelength. Sadly absent was Ellerbe’s counterpart, Bern Nix, who passed away in May and to whom the evening was dedicated. Continue reading →
Summer is festival season in the jazz world, and with the city having hosted its few contributions back in April that leaves a pretty sparse calendar for anyone not heading down the shore. There are quite a few standout shows this month, though – and one festival, albeit one with a more local focus. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.