Monthly Archives: April 2010

A Native Son Lifts the First City of Jazz



Last September, while New Orleans native and award-winning jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard was out touring in support of his latest album Choices, he and his group stopped by for a visit to the  Tavis Smiley Show. They played two selections from the album: the title track and “A New World,” a performance you can catch further on in this post.

This wasn’t just another promotional talk show appearance in support of a musician’s latest album.  Blanchard is one our greatest proponents of jazz.  He’s both a link to tradition and a vital teacher and leader by example for up-and-coming players as jazz moves towards its future.   Blanchard often uses his music to make important statements on the issues of the day.   Tavis Smiley has always been a strong promoter of jazz and jazz musicians and is known to use the art of the interview as a tool for social enlightenment.   This segment gives us a glimpse at how jazz can invigorate social commentary and how the infusion of social commentary into jazz music can drive jazz long into the future.

Smiley’s  interview with Blanchard takes us from Blanchard’s New Orleans upbringing through his personal and professional reactions to hurricane Katrina and into his latest album Choices, where he uses the spontaneous spoken words of Dr. Cornel West to inspire his music and inform his audience.  West implores us to lead lives of courage, compassion, and service, and now his message has a novel way of reaching an audience — through Blanchard’s recordings and performances.

Choices is just the latest in a long line of Blanchard’s socially-conscious endeavors, many centered on his home town of New Orleans.   He placed his sorrow, rage, beautiful score and performances into long-time collaborator Spike Lee’s documentary on New Orleans after Katrina,  When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts. Blanchard has scored all of Lee’s films since 1991.

He’s also the artistic director of and teaches master classes for the  Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which recently moved from its first home at the University of Southern California to Loyola University in New Orleans.  The Institute is a big part of New Orleans’ ongoing rebirth and resurrection post-Katrina.

As a jazz fan, I’m really excited to see and hear Blanchard teaching, hiring, and inspiring the next generations of jazz musicians.   And I’m thrilled to see him collaborating with Dr. Cornel West as well as Spike Lee, because merging jazz and social commentary might well serve to revitalize the music and keep it healthy.

Watch and listen to Terence Blanchard and just four of the musicians he’s hired and inspired down the years as they perform “Choices” and “A New World.”

Terence Blanchard Group
Fabian Almazan piano
Brice Winston tenor sax
Michael Olatuja bass
Kendrick Scott drums

The Tavis Smiley Show
4 September 2009
“Choices” and “A New World” 10:04


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Filed under LIVE, PBS, trumpet, video

Jeremy Pelt’s Men of Honor Light Up Duc des Lombards

Men of Honor

Men of Honor

Give Jeremy Pelt credit for calling his cadre of super-talented young jazz men exactly what they are — men of honor.   As young as he is, Pelt’s been known for a decade as one of the best we have on trumpet, and he keeps great company.  Just last week his quintet made themselves at home at Duc des Lombards in Paris.  We’re fortunate to have a brief glimpse of that evening, the club’s video mashup of “From a Life of the Same Name” and “Us/Them,” both from Pelt’s latest album Men of Honor.

Pelt’s new-traditional vision is supported by drummer Gerald Cleaver, bassist Dwayne Burno, tenor man JD Allen, and pianist Xavier Davis (in place of the album’s Danny Grissett).  This is clearly a seasoned, together band.  It’s a pleasure to listen to the quintet move gently through the opening of “From a Life of the Same Name” with Pelt and Allen harmonizing over Davis’ quiet explorations.

For the neo-bop burner “Us/Them” Pelt replaces his flugelhorn with his trumpet.  Listen as Davis dialogues with Allen and Pelt before they launch fully into their respective solos, and Davis steps up to ride Burno and Cleaver’s pulse all the way out.

It’s a genuine privilege to hear and view these men of honor putting their stamp on some of the best of jazz tradition.

Jeremy Pelt Quintet
Duc des Lombards, Paris
5 April 2010
“From a Life of the Same Name” & “Us/Them” 9:35

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Filed under Blip, bop, LIVE, trumpet, video

Christian Scott Exhales Beauty In Berlin

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow

Back in February Christian Scott and his quintet were on tour in support of his groundbreaking new jazz album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow.  This video catches the band in Berlin performing “Isadora.”

It’s a mesmerizing performance.  “Isadora” is a slow sensual waltz held  rhythmically together by Kristopher Funn’s bass and Jamire Wilson’s cymbals.  His brushed snare swirls,  an extension of Scott’s  warm, muted, breathy tone.  Pianist Milton Fletcher and guitarist Matt Stevens repeat a descending figure that keeps “Isadora” from drifting away completely, as Scott breathes the melody directly into our hearts.

I found myself drawn into this piece the way one might be lean in closer to someone when they lower their voice to tell you something special.  Christian Scott has important stories to tell on Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, and this performance of  “Isadora” is a wonderful invitation to listen closely.

I really like  this video, which was shot from one rock-solid stable position. I’m able to look at the entire band from an audience member’s vantage point.  Sometimes simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Christian Scott Quintet live in Berlin
18 February 2010
“Isadora” 7:45


Filed under Blip, LIVE, trumpet, video

The Underground Gets Down In Stuttgart



This is tenor sax jazz juggernaut Chris Potter’s thing, this live version of “The Wheel,” a funky turn from Potter’s 2006 release Underground.

But last July he was on stage in some mighty fine company — the rest of his current Underground lineup: guitarist Adam Rogers; ultra-versatile Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes; and mighty mighty Nate Smith behind the drums — and yeah, it seems there are times when Chris Potter just likes to stand back  and be thrilled along with the rest of us.

Craig Taborn on the Fender Rhodes, his crunchy left hand part of the reason nobody misses the missing bass.  Prowling low with that left, burning with his right, trading breaks with Rogers whose  supple lines goose things along with a quiet intensity.  The guitar and Rhodes on top of and inside that solid truncated funk Nate Smith is ringing out.

Smith’s right foot is the engine.  Taborn’s locked in with Smith, eye to eye and beat for beat.  It’s all the more tight, all the more funky because it only takes two.  When Smith steps out for his own muscular break he heats things up even more, and when Potter finally returns, ready to break loose,  the stage is set for a truly fine finish.

Chris Potter’s Underground
Jazz Open Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
24 July 2009
“The Wheel” 10:55


Filed under Adam Rogers, Blip, Chris Potter, Craig Taborn, drums, funk, guitar, LIVE, Nate Smith, piano, tenor sax

Brad Mehldau’s Groove Sizzles in San Sebastian

Metheny Mehldau Quartet

Metheny Mehldau Quartet

Three months after the release of their Quartet album, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jeff Ballard lit up the stage in San Sebastian, Spain with the album’s opener, “A Night Away.”

When Mehldau solos he steals the moment, exchanging ideas with Grenadier, moving and shaping the pulse of the laid-back groove, and extending his feel-good vibe into the appreciative crowd.

Mehldau’s erstwhile band mate, sax man Joshua Redman, recently had this to say about the pianist:

His music just grooves. I mean, for all the complexity and all the harmonic rigor and all the technical prowess and all the lyricism, beneath it all is this incredible groove. His feel is unassailable.   He has the best groove on the planet.

Take in this live version of “A Night Away” and let the groove move you.

Pat Metheny Brad Mehldau Quartet LIVE
Jazzaldia Festival, San Sebastian, Spain
28 July 2007
“A Night Away” 10:36

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Filed under Blip, groove, guitar, LIVE, piano, video

Vertical Voices | The Music of Maria Schneider

Vertical Voices

Vertical Voices

Vocalists Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh dreamed big when they conceived their new album. They had this idea: to record a collection of composer/bandleader Maria Schneider’s best known pieces, replacing all brass and woodwind solo and ensemble parts with their multi-tracked vocals.

“When they came up with this idea to do my music, I thought they were absolutely insane,” Schneider said, “and then they sent me a little MP3, just a sample that they just whipped up of this piece of mine, ‘Journey Home,’ with them singing every single orchestrated part.”  She listened. Then she gave her full support to their ArtistShare project.

Marsh and Dollison are husband and wife long-time musical collaborators. Their close cooperation is evident on the opening “The Pretty Road,” Schneider’s homage to her childhood landscapes. Dollison and Marsh create a lush, full orchestral sound with surprisingly varied textures.   Their vocal instruments carry emotional weight, adding intensity and giving new meaning to these compositions.  Maria Schneider’s touring rhythm section, including her long-time pianist Frank Kimbrough, provides support.

As beautiful as they sound in ensemble form, Dollison and Marsh also solo inventively. Hear them complete each other’s thoughts on the album’s final cut, “Hang Gliding.”

Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh give us a breathtaking new way to appreciate some well-loved music with their new album “Vertical Voices | The Music of Maria Schneider.” Listen to this comparison of Dollison and Marsh’s versions of Maria  Schneider compositions compared with her original recordings:

Vertical Voices | The Music of Maria Schneider: The Pretty Road; Journey Home; Danca Illusoria; Sky Blue; Hang Gliding.(52:23)


Julia Dollison – vocals  (trumpet, flugelhorn and high woodwind parts)
Kerry Marsh – vocals  (trombone, low woodwind parts)
Frank Kimbrough – piano
Ben Monder – guitar
Jay Anderson – bass
Clarence Penn – drums

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Filed under Albums, Reviews