Jon Batiste & Stay Human at Celebrate Brooklyn

Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes

 

Jon Batiste & Stay Human

Celebrate Brooklyn

Prospect Park Bandshell

Friday, July 22nd 2016

 

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Jon Baptiste

After two opening acts that included a brilliant saxophone trio formed by three very young musicians aged from 12 to 16 years of age, bandleader and evening curator Jon Batiste took to the stage on the melodica backed by an 8-piece band of multi-instrumentalists, kicking off the show with a marching band-style take on  the Christmas standard “My Favorite Things”  that was blended with  “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” He then went to the piano for an instrumental version of blues standard “St. James’ Infirmary” where he showcased his dexterity on the piano.

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Jon Baptiste

Stay Human have great chemistry together, responding to the bandleader’s grooves with expertise, even when he went off with some improvised moment – I guess that tightness comes from performing on a nightly basis on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS (I compare with the last time I saw the band at The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival two or three years ago).

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Young Sax Trio

Batiste is open to many genres – at one moment, he is playing a boogie take on the “Star Spangled Banner” and the next going into a full rock mode and then drifting into a personal take on “Pour Elise,” which featured a bass solo. The set included covers of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” with the bassline played on the tuba, which preceded included a tuba battle and a full French Quarter-style marching band tune in which the ensemble walked into the audience.

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Stay Human

It was a great opportunity to see Batiste outside of the constraints of a TV studio setting, where he stretched the music and improvised freely – I heard some folks in the audience hoping Colbert would make an appearance (considering his recent vocal performances) but that did not happen – instead, the audience was taken to an amazing musical journey under the direction of an amazingly talented bandleader who we all hope to hear again – on stage – soon.

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Album Review: Hiromi/Spark

By Ernest Barteldes

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I have been following Hiromi’s career for quite a while – I have always been in awe not only of her unique approach to jazz piano but also her fiery performances  either as a bandleader or a side player with Stanley Clarke, which I was fortunate enough to hear not once but twice – at the Blue Note (with Lenny White on drums) and later that year at Central Park Summerstage.

When playing live, she becomes almost one with the music, using her entire body to deliver the music. She has incredible speed and her tunes mix more traditional contemporary jazz with electronic elements.  When performing with her band, the sound is incredibly tight, and their chemistry is palpable.

On Spark (Telarc/Concord), Hiromi reunites with the trio project from 2010’s “Move” (Telarc/Concord), which is rounded out by Anthony Jackson (electric bass) and Simon Phillips (drums).  The disc opens with the title track, a nine-minute tour-de-force that begins with a mellow, classically inflected piano solo that evolves into a progressive piece in which the bandleader exercises her creativity with a solid backbeat from the rhythm section.

“In a Trance” is a fast-paced in which Phillips doubles the entire piano’s notes with the drums – everything is played with incredible speed that it takes a few hearings to fully grasp everything, but just as you adjust the song changes pace into a Brazilian-like, laid-back feel before it goes back to the original melody.  Things don’t quite slow down until “Wake Up and Dream,” a mellifluous solo piano ballad reminiscent of 2009’s “Place to Be,” her only solo piano album to date. “Spark” closes with “All’s Well,” a straight-ahead, bluesy tune that allows the band to stretch and showcase a more playful side.

With “Spark,” Hiromi has not veered from her path of musical exploration, and the tunes have welcome twists that surprise even fans familiar with her previous works.

Hiromi

Spark

Telarc/Concord

2016

Album Review: Craig Greenberg’s “Grand Loss & Legacy”

By Ernest Barteldes

I first met Craig Greenberg about three years ago at a rehearsal studio in Brooklyn.  We were both part of the backing band for Roger Greenawalt’s “Beatles Live on Ukulele” at The Brooklyn Bowl – an event I participated in for three years. At the time, I was pretty oblivious of the New York independent music scene since I’d spent most of my time covering jazz and world acts (to a degree that is still true – even today, more West Coast musicians reach out to me for coverage than folks closer to my own ZIP code – but I digress) and had a vague idea of who was taking part of it. As far as I could tell, these were some musically gifted Beatles enthusiasts who were willing to be part of a charitable event.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized that Greenberg was actually an accomplished singer-songwriter with great piano and guitar chops (I’ve seen posts about his ukulele, but I haven’t heard him playing that one yet). In fact, one of my proudest moments from the three Beatles events I participated in is a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in which I contributed bass and supporting vocals with Greenberg on lead vocals, Jeremiah Birnbaum on co-lead guitar and Greenawalt on uke – a the song came out great in spite of the fact that we only rehearsed it a couple of times.

In 2014 I heard Greenberg do his own music for the first time at his debut appearance at Joe’s Pub, which I reviewed for All About Jazz a few months ago – so it was natural that I wanted to listen to The Grand Loss and Legacy as soon as it came out – and let me tell you that his new tunes confirmed my initial good impression of his work as a songwriter.

I read reviews from other writers, and many make obvious comparisons between him and Billy Joel, which I completely disagree with. It’s too easy to pigeonhole a piano-playing rocker from New York to Joel, and I feel that even though Greenberg might have been influenced by him, he goes way farther than that.  What I like about him is his sense of humor towards the music and his jazz-like approach to his main instrument.

One of the highlight from the disc is “That Girl Is Wrong For You,” fast-tempo tune in which the narrator urges a friend to see that he is in a doomed relationship.  The friend spells it right out without any metaphors, making it clear that the woman will destroy his friend’s spirit and advising him to end it “before it’s too late.”  He makes a political statement on “Death on The Liberty Line” that makes a reference to the provisions of the Patriot Act (without mentioning it directly), warning of the dangers of giving up certain freedoms for the sake of fear. I enjoyed how guitarist Patrick Brennan contributed a Brian May-inspired guitar line that accompanies the vocal line and also the ominous-sounding solo towards the end of the track.

Another great moment comes with the uptempo “Weekend Holiday,” a story about a girl who dreams of stardom and once she makes to the top, she seems not to have achieved all of her dreams even though she has everyone at her feet – a cautionary tale about wanting a material life but lacking spiritual achievement.

Greenberg did a great job with this collection – the arrangements were carefully done (although I would have liked the guitars to stand out a little more) and the songs seem carefully crafted.  This is a guy ripe for discovery by a bigger audience – so catch him before he’s playing venues you can’t afford.

Listen to “That Girl Is Wrong For You” 

Visit his website http://craiggreenbergmusic.com/grandloss/

Disc Review: “Descargas for Monk” by Alex Conde

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By Ernest Barteldes

On this tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk, Bay-area pianist Alex Conde brings the music of the late composer into the world of flamenco.  He doesn’t, however, simply Latinize the music (like many have done before him to various degrees of success) but instead takes the music to a different place on a brilliant album that was partly financed by crowdsourcing.

“Played Twice” begins with flamenco percussion followed by Conde’s fluid, syncopated piano lines. The highly uptempo arrangement is quite simple, featuring just the bandleader, percussionist John Santos and bassist Jeff Chambers. The tune gives Conde ample opportunity to improvise and interact with the percussion in an incredible manner. The music is complemented by foot stomps and handclaps by Amparo Conde and Carmen Carrasco, who fill a lot of the song’s open spaces. “Think of One” is played with an accomplished Latin feel at first, but then evolves into more of a contemporary jazz direction, with the rhythm section formed by Chambers and drummer Jon Arkin with a brilliant solo piano middle section.

Though I have heard countless takes on “Round Midnight” (one of my all-time favorites being Bobby McFerrin’s recording for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name). On his version, he begins with a classically-inspired solo intro and then continues solo, playing with a flamenco tempo on his left hand while taking some improvised notes around the melody after playing the head. I also enjoyed “Evidence,” here given an Afro-Cuban feel with the full quartet.

It is sad (at least for me) that most of his upcoming gigs are in the West Coast – would love to hear this in a live format. I think I will start planning a trip out west sometime soon – there is plenty of interesting music going on out there these days.

Check Alex Conde at http://www.alexconde.com/