Multi-instrumentalist and educator Steve Wilson is busier than ever these days. He’s got his own group and has appeared on more than 150 recordings from duets to big bands. In addition to being a much-in-demand clinician, Wilson teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, the City College of New York and the Juilliard School. His most recent release as a leader was Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions (Random Act), and his next vinyl-only release Sit Back, Relax, & Unwind (J.M.I.) is due out later this year. We carved out some focused listening time at the Watergate Hotel prior to Maria Schneider’s Orchestra sound check at the Kennedy Center.
“Bounce Parts I & II” from Kinfolk: Postcards From Everywhere (Waterbaby Music). Smith, drums; Kris Bowers, keyboard; Fima Ephron, electric bass; Jeremy Most, guitar; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 2014.
Lisa Fischer has long been considered a singer’s singer. She won her first Grammy in 1991 for her hit “How Can I Ease the Pain,” but in years since, she’s become a go-to, first-call backing vocalist, sharing the stage with many of the biggest names in business, including The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Sting and more than two decades with the late Luther Vandross. The 2013 Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom reminded audiences of her prodigious vocal skills and helped revitalize her career as a solo artist. We caught up with Ms. Fischer on the last day of her sold-out weekend at Blues Alley. Her perceptive comments were offered with insider’s insights punctuated by joyous laughter.
Gregory Porter & Common
“Running” (from Refugee Song, LLC). Curated and Produced by Keyon Harrold and Andrea Pizzicone; Lyrics by Andrea Pizzicone, Keyon Harrold, Common; Music by Keyon Harrold and Jasson Harrold. Recorded in 2016.
Before: I feel transported, like I’m traveling through space. I might get the feeling of being lost but there’s something about this voice makes me feel safe. Continue reading →
2015 was a banner year for Dianne Reeves, winning a Grammy for Beautiful Life and receiving her honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School. She spent a good part of the past 12 months working on her follow-up Concord disc and touring both stateside and abroad. We met for this session during her summer stop at the Alfa Jazz Festival in Lviv. Eager to hear her thoughts on a handful of recent releases, we also served up collaborations between Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington, her cousin George Duke with Kamasi Washington, Portland-based singer Nancy King with bassist Glen Moore, and an oddly awkward Carmen McRae curiosity with Ben Webster from 1958.
Juggling schedules and a last minute window of opportunity, we caught up with saxophonist, composer and road warrior Chris Potter at a hotel in Bethesda, MD just after the start of an extensive touring season with Pat Metheny’s Quintet. When he returns home in the fall, he’ll focus on his next ECM CD, the follow-up to his Odyssey-inspired 2013 release The Sirens. For this B&A, Chris preferred to listen to each song in its entirety before commenting.
1. Joe Henderson
“Mamacita” (from The Kicker, Milestone). Henderson, tenor saxophone; Mike Lawrence, trumpet; Grachan Moncur III, trombone; Kenny Barron, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded in 1967.
Maybe it’s Joe? That’s some classic, down the middle, mid-60s Blue Note even-8ths blues. It’s a very good example of a certain kind of jazz. Everybody sounds good, within a style but also creative. For a minute I thought it might be Junior Cook, who had a similar sound to Joe, but then he did some little rhythmic thing that was so hip and intelligent and musical that I knew it wasn’t somebody who sounds like Joe. That’s Joe. It feels good. There’s a lot of music I like to listen to, all sorts of stuff. And they all put me in a different space. But hearing this takes me back to home base, which is really nice. It’s not hard to understand and it’s not shallow. It’s the real thing.
After living in New York for the past 18 years, pianist Jacky Terrasson is puzzled and somewhat frustrated that the jazz world thinks he’s still based in Paris. Terrasson spent his formative years studying at Berklee and working with Art Taylor and Betty Carter. He gained international attention by winning the 1993 Monk Piano Competition and signing with Blue Note records. Since then he’s traveled the world, usually working with his highly regarded trio.
1. Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani
“All The Things You Are” (from Conference de Presse, Dreyfus Jazz). Louiss, organ; Petrucciani, piano. Recorded in 1994.
Before: Piano and organ? I’m thinking about Eddy Louiss and Michel Petrucciani. There are not many duos like this. Yeah, this is Michel. He really likes that style out of bebop, the Oscar Peterson influence with very volatile right hand. He plays those long phrases. The challenge with playing two keyboards is that both players need to be strong rhythmically and make sure that the tempo doesn’t slip away. At the same time you don’t want to always play bass lines with the left hand. It’s got to be implied sometime. In the beginning, I thought they had a little difficulty getting into it, but now they’re on track. I like this.
After: I think they made two records together. I remember their version of “Autumn Leaves.” Eddy Louiss is a great player but totally unknown here. He had a good trio with J.F. Jenny-Clark and Daniel Humair. I like his lines but I don’t really look out for organ players. Maybe it’s because I had to play the organ at one point. In Boston it was my main gig, at Wally’s. I came to like it though, playing the Hammond B-3. Continue reading →
Jamaican-born pianist and bandleader Monty Alexander is an old-school road warrior who still loves to rock the house with hard swing and deep island grooves. Though he has good ears and strong opinions, Alexander avoids theoretical analysis when listening to music, concentrating instead on feelings, emotions and experiences. While setting up, we talked about his growing up with mento music and American popular song in Kingston, his love for Louis Armstrong, Lord Kitchener and New Orleans R&B, and his big break in Miami, where he was discovered by Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo. In recent years, Alexander has led his well-traveled jazz trio, as well as a reggae band. His latest release is Calypso Blues: The Songs of Nat King Cole (Chesky).
1. Nat “King” Cole
“Calypso Blues” (from The Nat King Cole Story, Capitol). Cole, vocal; Jack Costanzo, conga. Recorded in 1949.
[chuckles]. Nat. I’ve heard this so many times, and I knew Jack Costanzo very well. The timing of that recording came close to the time that Harry Belafonte did his calypso album. Nat was not a stranger to seeking popularity. He was somebody who could do anything he wanted. He was a natural. He loved music and he loved rhythms from the island. Who on earth would record a song with just a man beating on a conga, especially someone like Nat who was such a swinging musician? And he played so much piano, so that tells you about Nat’s daring, as well as his talent. I knew all these songs, what we called mento songs, and he was a beloved voice in our home. When I was 10 years old I walked down the street and imitated him because of the girl I had a crush on [sings Too Young]. Louis Armstrong also recorded a calypso around that time called “High Society.” So they were my ultimate heroes, Louis Armstrong and Nat Cole. I saw them in Kingston when I was about 11 years old. Incredible. They were artists as well as entertainers. They had that thing, that show biz thing. So you just played a man who’s everything to me. He went for the brass ring, and he got it because everybody loved him.
Along with Beyoncé Knowles, Robert Glasper and Jason Moran, pianist Helen Sung is among the celebrated alumni of Houston, Texas’ High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. After preparing for a classical concert career, Sung fell in love with jazz, graduated from the Thelonious Monk Institute and went on to work with Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Regina Carter and T.S. Monk while also touring internationally with her own groups. We met for this midnight listening session following her quintet performance at the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in May. Sung’s new recording as a leader, Anthem for a New Day, is her first for Concord Jazz.
1. Kenny Barron
“Triste” (from #Kenny Barron & The Brazilian Knights#, Sunnyside). Barron, piano; Lula Galvão, guitar. Recorded in 2012. Continue reading →
Moscow-born Arkady Shilkloper is one of the leading horn players in jazz. In the 1970s and 80s, he played French horn in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and the Moscow Philharmonic Symphony. Since then, he’s collaborated with folk, fusion and progressive rock ensembles, and is perhaps best known in improvised jazz circles for his work with the Moscow Art Trio, Elvin Jones, Lew Soloff, Pierre Favre and the Vienna Art Orchestra. While I’d known Shilkloper’s recordings, I finally got to see him perform in the summer of 2012 at the Alfa Jazz Festival in Lviv, Ukraine. Two days later we met for this session. [Photo by Larry Appelbaum]
Tenor saxophonist, bandleader and entrepreneur Igor Butman occupies a unique place in Russian jazz circles for his considerable musical skills, media visibility and savvy political connections. The St. Petersburg-born Berklee graduate is not only recognized as the most famous Russian jazz musician in the world today, he also runs a successful record label, operates two jazz clubs and provides artistic direction for a jazz festival.
Saxophonist Bobby Watson may be best known for his four years with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, but his distinguished career also includes work with Max Roach, Wynton Marsalis, Betty Carter, Carlos Santana, Horizon and the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. He is currently Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.