By Ernest Barteldes
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.
By Ernest Barteldes
Dr. John at Summerstage
Dr. John & The Night Trippers
Central Park Summerstage
August 1, 2015
New York, NY
It was a hot Saturday afternoon when Renata and I headed to Rumsey Playfield – I was excited about New Orleans legend Dr. John’s appearance there – I had really enjoyed Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit Of Satch (Concord), his recent tribute to Louis Armstrong released late last year, and was looking forward to hearing the music played live. We arrived a bit too late to catch much of Amy Helm‘s (the daughter of the late Levon Helm) folksy set, but enjoyed the last few songs as we settled on our seats.
The Night Trippers started out with a funk-inflected melody – the four-piece ensemble directed by his backup singer and trombonist Sarah Morrow, an energetic woman who asked the audience if “anyone needed a doctor.” Seconds later, Dr. John emerged on stage and walked to the piano (assisted by a cane) for a spirited rendition of “Iko Iko,” one of the staples of his live sets. He kept the energy level high, pounding the piano with gusto and sometimes semi-rapping through the lyrics.
There was a lot of improvisation throughout the set – Morrow played extended solos, and Dr. John also exercised his great piano skills, stretching some numbers to as much as 10 minutes. He did not really delve into the music from the Armstrong tribute, but did include “What a Wonderful World” and “Mack the Knife” played closely to the arrangement on the disc.
Sarah Morrow, Musical Director for Dr. John
The only part of the set I didn’t really enjoy was when he picked up the guitar – his playing was a bit slow and lacked energy (probably owing to the damage he sustained after a gun accident in the 60s) – but when he returned to the keys for numbers like “Good Night Irene” you could virtually see sparks fly. Most of those in attendance were clearly longtime fans who sang along to many of the tunes (I was not familiar with many of them).
Dr. John is known for playing longer sets, and he did not disappoint – by the time he got to the closer “Such a Night,” almost two hours had passed. It was not easy to be under the sun for such a long time, but it was definitely worth it to catch such a legend on a live format.
by Ernest Barteldes
It really puts a smile on my face when a musician has the ability of not taking himself too seriously while still having the ability to create a wonderful work of art. There are many examples in history – one that comes to mind is how The Beatles were able to call themselves the ones with “the big fat hairy heads” on a British TV show – something that clearly endeared them to their audiences.
You rarely see that in jazz, though. Maybe because of all popular music forms, it is the one in which the artists want most to be respected for their skills and musical ability (sure, all do but you’ll probably never see a jazz singer doing a promo in drag like Queen did in the 80s). But sometimes the magic happens, it’s a wonderful thing when it does.
Which brings us to pianist Ted Kooshian’s incredibly amusing “Clowns Will Be Arriving,” (Summit), a mix of original tunes inspired by old comic strip characters and reinvented takes on classic TV show themes written back in the day when screen and TV composers were getting inspiration from Henry Mancini to write their own themes – all who draw inspiration from jazz in the first place.
The album opens with the theme from “I Dream of Jeannie” – its Latinesque feel allows for lots of improvisation, and you can feel how much fun the musicians were having in the studio. “Get Smart” begins with a Booker T & the MGs feel via the bass and keyboards, and then evolves into a more straight ahead piece featuring the bandleader and saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who steals the spotlight with a soul-intensive tenor solo.
Also notable are the covers of Wayne Shorter’s “Three Clowns,” played here with great sincerity, and the playful take on “Lost In Space,” which includes a Theremin-like keyboard and some electronic sounds inspired by the original recording. Among the originals I enjoyed both the bluesy “Porkypine,” a track that also gave the musicians a lot of space to be creative and the up-tempo “Ignatz,” which features both Lederer and drummer Warren Odze.
This is a really fun album to listen to from the very first track all the way to the heartfelt arrangement to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which Kooshian plays as a solo piece on electric keyboards.
For more information visithttp://kooshmania.com/
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/