Category: Kirk Silsbee

Blue Whale turns over its Wednesdays to L.A. Jazz Collective

January 9, 2012 |  4:18 pm

Blue Whale

These days, jazz club residencies are like hen’s teeth. The jazz business is tough and the audience turnover helps to keep a club’s doors open.  That’s one reason why this month’s Wednesday nights at the Blue Whale are special.  The other is that each week the evening is given over to the music of three composer/instrumentalists in the Los Angeles Jazz Collective.

The dozen or so members are strong musical personalities who’ve thrown in together to provide playing opportunities for each other.  They’re supportive of the musics of the others yet they still retain their individual tonal identities.  (Membership is open but is settled by the members on a vote of a representative recording by prospective joiners.)

Last week’s offering was guitarist Anthony Wilson’s trio, the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet (tenor saxophonist Chuck Manning, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Mark Ferber) and the leaderless grouping of tenor saxophonist Matt Otto, Wilson, pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer  Mark Ferber.

It would be dangerous (and just plain wrong) to try to herd all of the LAJC composers into the same tent.  Some pieces floated with no discernible meter, while others swung hard.  Some musical structures were simple and allowed for improvisational shaping others were quite specific.  

Veteran reedman Gary Foster attended last week with his colleague, bassist Putter Smith.  He was on the phone first thing the next morning, raving about the gig. “On the way home,” he said, “Putter and I said that now we know what the Dixieland guys felt like when they first heard bebop.  That group with Chuck Manning, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles and Mark Ferber—that’s magic.”  In a follow-up email, Foster was more succinct: "Where do I go to surrender?"

This Wednesday, the lineup is the Leonard Thompson/Matt Otto Duo, the Ariel Alexander Group and the Matt Otto Quintet.

-- Kirk Silsbee

Los Angeles Jazz Collective: Blue Whale, 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St., Los Angeles, (213) 620-0908. Wednesdays.   

Image: The Blue Whale poster for the Los Angeles Jazz Collective.



Jazz review: Woody Allen's New Orleans band at Royce Hall

December 30, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Woody Allen
A little bit of Gotham came west Thursday night, as Woody Allen’s New Orleans band played at UCLA.  Though the music wasn’t as momentous as the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts of the 1940s, you’d never know it from the audience. Three generous encores and you’d think it was Woodstock and they’d just seen Hendrix.

Were they discerning jazz fans?  Likely not, though one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers pursuing his hobby is apparently enough to nearly fill Royce Hall.  Allen’s brief and humble remarks made it clear that the music was the star. This outfit, which plays weekly at New York's Cafe Carlyle, has a good time while playing well, and transmits its enthusiasm.  College students, revved up on an 80-year-old jazz style, just might investigate it further.

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Tuneful tidings: The best new holiday albums

December 16, 2011 |  6:00 am

The economy and the state of the nation wax and wane, but through it all, Americans still find meaning in the December holidays. That includes reconnecting with our favorite music and looking for new musical expressions of Christmas and Hanukkah. For recording artists, the Holy Grail is a Christmas release that the public will return to in coming years. There may not be a new “White Christmas” this season, but the 2011 season gives us some fine new jazz and vocal albums.

****‘A Child Is Born,’ Geri Allen, Motema

This well-considered program brilliantly stitches together familiar traditional Christmas and gospel songs, primarily played by pianist Geri Allen. She interprets from the heart (Thad Jones’ title cut, “Amazing Grace”) and arranges with her head in a quietly masterful display of artistic conception.

**‘Christmas Time is Here (and Chanukah and the Solstice)’ Lisa B, Piece of Pie

Pop singer Lisa Bernstein’s slightly nasal voice is something of an acquired taste on these well-toasted chestnuts. Her lower register serves her best on “Hine Ma Tov,” with a shimmering, layered orchestration by co-producer Jim Gardiner. Her own tunes aren’t likely to become standards, though “Holiday in Oakland” funks along easily.

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Jazz review: Stars celebrate Kenny Burrell's birthday at UCLA

November 13, 2011 | 12:45 pm

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King and Kenny Burrell
When jazz guitarist and educator Kenny Burrell throws a party at UCLA, it’s bound to be a marathon of varied musical offerings.  Saturday was no exception, as the founder and pilot of the school’s jazz department celebrated his 80th birthday at Royce Hall.  Musical cameos came from many directions and in many forms to perform with and honor the renowned figure. Inevitably, the results were diverse.

Composer Lalo Schifrin’s piano trio outing was harmonically rich, yet unsteady in time and congested in phrasing. A student vocal ensemble sang Burrell’s “We Must Find a Way to Help Us Love Again,” proving that as a lyricist, he’s a great guitarist.  B.B. King and his eight-piece band were bracing for their professionalism and blues authenticity. When the two guitarists conversed on the blues, Burrell looked his happiest. The addition of singers Stevie Wonder and Dee Dee Bridgewater on improvised blues repartee made the concert an event. 

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Influences: Bass player Charlie Haden

August 31, 2011 | 10:00 am

Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary quartet stood the jazz world on its head at the end of 1959. His vigorous and intense music was in continual motion: melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. With no piano providing a chordal roadmap, Charlie Haden’s bass was the freewheeling bottom rooted in low, earthly tones.

Haden, 74, comes from a background quite unlikely for his role as musical insurgent. He debuted at 22 months in the Haden Family Band on its radio show in Springfield, Mo. The Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers were contemporaries; Mother Maybelle Carter used to hold the toddler Charlie on her lap.

The stringent textures and rhythmic complexity of Coleman's music alienated quite a few listeners and musicians. But Coleman was a Texan with a deep blues background. His melodies always had a folksy quality, which made Haden a perfect fit for the music. “Ornette always loved the fact that my background was in country music,” Haden points out.

An abiding love of well-written standard songs has always been an important ingredient in Haden's music. He’s had mutually beneficial collaborations with pianists Hampton Hawes and Keith Jarrett, trumpeter Chet Baker, and composer-arranger Carla Bley, among others. Haden began the jazz program at Cal Arts 27 years ago and a love of what he calls “deep” songs is something he tries to impart to students.

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Jazz review: Steve Tyrell in Newport Beach Summer Concert Series

August 21, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Steve Tryell

 Steve Tyrell has one of the most gratifying Cinderella stories in present-day popular music.  A recording industry veteran (in promotion and production), he sang privately for years. Then, a lone song placed in the 1991 film "Father of the Bride" garnered enough interest that he was given three more on the sequel. Subsequent interest from Atlantic Records resulted in a well-received debut. 

Nine albums later, Tyrell is one of the main contemporary purveyors of standards on the pop landscape.  When Bill Clinton dances with his daughter, Chelsea, at her wedding to your recording of “The Way You Look Tonight,” you know you’re doing something right.

Tyrell headlined Friday night at the Hyatt Regency’s Infiniti Summer Concert Series in Newport Beach. In the gently sloping outdoor bowl with the darkened sky for a cover, the setting could hardly have been more conducive to the season and to romance. The sound was excellent; Tyrell and the band had presence throughout the area (the outdoors can devour sound) without being overly loud.

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Jazz review: Jim Hall Quartet 80th Birthday Celebration

March 27, 2011 |  5:55 pm

Ruth Price has presented concerts at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood several times as part of her floating “Moveable Feast” series. Saturday night’s Jim Hall Quartet 80th Birthday Celebration appeared to be her best-attended event so far, with as many students present as her core demographic of older listeners. All were treated to a masterful display of instrumental virtuosity and group interaction.
Though a giant on his guitar, Hall is a thoughtful, quiet man.

Hall His group — consisting of alto saxophonist Greg Osby, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Joey Baron — utilized a chamber aesthetic of quiet exchange, yet often challenged the limitations of that format. Bar lines were sometimes trampled by soloists, free-time excursions occurred, and Osby’s alto felt like it might bust out of the confined dynamic range of the group. Though his influence is pervasive and he’s been recognized as a major stylist for  more than 50 years, Hall emerged a creator — still creatively searching and avoiding clichés.

Two blues pieces had elaborate harmonic structures imposed on their simple chord structures. While Hall is a master of clean tone, chord placement and imaginative accompaniment, Osby quickly showed a choice for rhythmic filigree. His sound was vibratoless yet hard-shelled, and his loquacious lines spun and somersaulted around the rhythm section; not a single quotation was heard from him all night.
LaSpina took the lead on a Brazilian tune, and aside from his lyricism, was a far more prolix player than Hall. Baron was thoughtful throughout, paying special attention to the sounds and tones of his drum kit. That might mean swapping melodic epigrams with Hall or tapping the beat with his hands on Sonny Rollins’ island evergreen “St. Thomas.” The last saw Hall alter his tone to approximate a steel drum. It was a surprise in a night of surprises, all of them pleasant.

-- Kirk Silsbee

Photo: Jim Hall Credit:


Jazz review: Dave Liebman with his quartet at Vitello's

September 27, 2010 |  7:51 am

Though he’s worked in Los Angeles since 1972, when he played on drummer Elvin Jones’ “Live at the Lighthouse” album, saxophonist Dave Liebman doesn’t visit often. Friday, his first of two nights at Vitello’s in Studio City, was an object lesson in instrumental virtuosity and adventurous band leading. The evening was a reminder that attendance at every Liebman appearance is mandatory.

He may revert to the tenor sax on occasion, but Liebman has concentrated so intently on the soprano saxophone that he’s one of the few truly individual stylists on that difficult instrument. The National Endowment For the Arts recently named him a Jazz Master award recipient for 2011. The recognition is exceptional; most recipients are past their best performing days. Liebman not only performs regularly, he shows no sign of peaking.

The Liebman Quartet has been together for 20 years; its junior member, the exuberant drummer Marko Marcinko, has been onboard for 10. It’s a band with a probing, pan-stylistic approach to material. Liebman’s originals cover a wide range of forms, and when the band occasionally essays a standard, it does so in a novel way. The group always seems to have another musical card to play.

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