March 6th, 2016
On Friday, February 26, at the Seattle Art Museum, Earshot jazz presented Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band.
Seventeen years into its existence, drummer Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band possesses full assurance as it explores a quietly edgy style of jazz.
Tuneful, stylish, and imaginative, the unit takes its lead from one of the most solid percussionists in the business, and one who is keenly attentive both to what his bandmates are doing, and to what his compositions call for.
A spirit of collective undertaking establishes the “fellowship” of the band’s name. Pianist Jon Cowherd, Myron Walden on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor saxophones, and Chris Thomas, on bass, all respond in kind, and the result is a stylistic cohesion that makes for riveting listening.
That quality was evident on the band’s 2014, Grammy-nominated release, Landmarks, which was its fourth, and a return to the Blue Note label which had issued the Fellowship Band’s self-titled 1998 debut as well as Perceptual, in 2000.
In a review of Landmarks in JazzTimes, Geoffrey Himes suggested that Blade’s evident humility – “you don’t even hear his drums until more than two minutes into the second track, and they don’t take the foreground until the beginning of the sixth track” – is in keeping with his long tenure in the band of a similarly self-effacing leader, Wayne Shorter.
It was, Heim wrote, “a testament to Blade’s leadership that his fellow musicians rein in their considerable technical facility” to boost the emotional depth of the band’s pieces. “This is not,” Heim wrote, “an album of young musicians trying to prove how many notes and changes they can play within eight bars; this is a session devoted to milking all the emotion lurking in the hymn-like melodies and wistful tempos.”
The music of Landmarks was a special instance of the harmony of the Fellowship Band’s repertoire: as the album’s name suggested, the project took inspiration from a sense of place, Shreveport, Louisiana, where Blade grew up, and the album was recorded. Blade told DownBeat that he deployed a mix of through-composition, poetic short pieces, and long “landscapes” to create a sense of travel about a location. “I like the journey aspect of Landmarks” – the “trip” that the tunes created.
He also emphasized his pleasure in taking that trip with such able bandmates: “I try to write what I have discovered and realized with as much clarity as possible, while thinking of the band. When they play it, all this rhythm, melody, and harmony becomes alive, and other ideas reveal themselves.”
On Landmarks, the sojourning was marked by the forms of music that have resonated during the history of the region around Shreveport, where the drummer was born, in 1970 – rich vernaculars of jazz, gospel, blues, and rhythm-and-blues that have generated rich, fresh vernaculars distinctive to the region.
February 29th, 2016
A true legend of modern jazz, seldom seen outside of his work with Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock returned to Seattle with his sparkling trio of Marc Copland, piano, and the great Joey Baron on drums on Feb 20th to the Seattle Art Museum in an Earshot jazz presentation.
The senior statesman Peacock has traveled far and wide in the realms of jazz, playing key roles in some of the art form’s most meditative as well as the most daring explorations. Early on he played with West Coast stars like Art Pepper, then accompanied Miles Davis, but also found his way into the soaring, sometimes torrid experimentation of Albert Ayler. He also worked with great innovators like Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, George Russell, Tony Williams, and Paul Bley.
Peacock has always been known as a player of rare ability in the most heady of jazz, but also the most heartfelt. He expanded his abilities not only technically but aesthetically, hearing his way on the bandstands and off into idiosyncratic resonances. In Japan, he studied eastern religions and medicine; in Seattle, in the early 1970s, he studied biology at the University of Washington. By then, he was ready to begin his long association with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette; it occurred on Peacock’s ECM debut Tales of Another, in 1977. Peacock then spent four years in Seattle teaching at Cornish College of the Arts until 1983 when ECM guru Manfred Eicher asked Jarrett, DeJohnette, and Peacock to come together formally as the Standards Trio, which for 25 years would transcendentally define the jazz trio.
Since 2000, in the Standards Trio’s last decade, Peacock began a string of other stellar associations – with Bley, drummer Paul Motian, pianist Marilyn Crispell, saxophonist Lee Konitz, guitarist Bill Frisell, and others – and then formed in 2015 the Gary Peacock Trio that performs this month in Seattle. It sees him join forces with two earlier colleagues: drummer Joey Baron, with whom he, Konitz, and Frisell recorded Enfants Terribles: Live at the Blue Note, in 2012; and pianist Marc Copland, whom he has often accompanied in recent times.
The trio’s Now This appeared last summer, timed to the bassist’s 80th birthday, with Peacock compositions old and new as well as pieces by Baron, Copland, and Peacock’s fellow bass giant and late Bill Evans accompanist, Scott LaFaro. All the pieces, Thomas Conrad wrote in making the album an Editor’s Pick in JazzTimes, are like Peacock’s solos: “spare, self-contained figures of mysterious expectancy. In his haunting high bass lines, melodies linger, resolve, and disappear.”
Conrad had high praise for Copland, calling him “the right pianist for an album about atmosphere and mood. But his quietude is deceptive. His scattered fragments and his counterintuitive chords create continuous subtle diversions. Baron is also subtle and provocative, and essential as a colorist.”
November 20th, 2015
The best for last. The final concert to this year’s Earshot Jazz Festival was legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, an innovator in the world music and jazz scene who continues to tour the globe as a performer, composer, singer, producer, and activist, enjoying world renown for almost 50 years after rising to prominence as a voice of opposition to apartheid rule in his homeland.
This iconic artist is best known for his Grammy-nominated hit single, “Grazing in the Grass,” which sold over four million copies in 1968 and made him an international star. He later played an integral role in Paul Simon’s tour behind the classic album Graceland, which was one of the first pop records to introduce African music to a broader public.
Born in the Witbank, South Africa, in 1939, Masekela received his first trumpet at the age of 14, from Father Trevor Huddleston, the deeply respected advocator of equal rights in his country. Soon after, the Huddleston Jazz Band was formed. Masekela began to hone his now signature Afro-Jazz sound in the late 1950s during a period of intense creative collaboration, before moving to New York in 1960 and enrolling in the Manhattan School of Music.
There, the young Masekela immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where nightly he watched greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, and Max Roach. Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Hugh was encouraged to develop his own unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences – his debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine.
His subsequent solo career has spanned five decades, during which time he has released over 40 albums (and been featured on countless more) and has worked with such diverse artists as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and the late Miriam Makeba.
November 20th, 2015
Seattle-born jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek has established herself as one of today’s great musical storytellers. Dan Bilawsky of All About Jazz says, “Gazarek balances fancy free notions, effervescence, carefree whims, fragile emotions, precocious pondering and humor in her work.” She effortlessly blends jazz influence with soft, contemporary stylings, appealing to wide audiences.
Los Angeles-based guitar trio New West Guitar Group is made up of John Storie, Will Brahm, and Perry Smith.DownBeat’s Bill Milkowski says their collaboration involves “shimmering arpeggios, collectively strummed chords…tight cracking interplay and complementary playing.” Their juxtaposition of through composed and improvised sections, electric and acoustic guitars, and beautiful simplicity and virtuosic display keeps their style fresh and their audiences guessing.
These two acts come together to perform work from NWGG’s newest release, titled Send One Your Love. The album features five of today’s most impressive jazz vocalists, one of which is Gazarek. On the album, Gazarek gives a “hauntingly gorgeous performance” of the classic ballad “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “a moving rendition” of James Taylor’s “Secret o’ Life.” The project’s goal is to tell “a story about the highs and lows of love through the timeless tradition of guitar and voice.”
November 20th, 2015
Saxophonist Chris Potter – on his way to becoming a living legend – lights up our closing week in a burning trio with Drew Gress (bass) and Adam Cruz (drums).
Potter’s name has already been cemented in the legacies of jazz as one of the key faces of his generation. His vocabulary is fluent and deep in both old school and new school. He has performed or recorded with many of the leading names in jazz, such as Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, John Scofield, the Mingus Big Band, Jim Hall, Paul Motian, Dave Douglas, Ray Brown, and many others. He’s led bands with many other contemporary masters.
As “one of the most studied (and copied) saxophonists on the planet” (DownBeat), he’s done just about everything you can do as a jazz musician. Yet Potter is never satisfied. There is always room to explore, learn, and grow. And for a saxophone, it’s hard to open things up for the uncharted more than the sax, bass, and drum trio setting.
Potter, as accomplished and experienced as he is, will be playing right alongside bandmates that are equally so. They’re every bit of the word “prolific” and are highly sought after. Since immersing himself in jazz as a teenager, Gress has worked alongside the likes of Cab Calloway and Buddy Hackett, as well as contemporaries including Tim Berne and Tom Rainey. Though best known for his work with Danilo Pérez, Cruz has also performed, toured, and recorded with artists including Charlie Hunter, Chick Corea, Steve Wilson, and the Mingus Big Band. His debut album as a leader, 2011’sMilestone, received critical praise from DownBeat and JazzTimes.
November 19th, 2015
On Saturaya night at the Triple Door, the 2015 Earshot Jazz Festival presented the Scott Amendola Band.What a wonderful show and music.
It was written long ago in the now-defunct San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly, but the wisdom still stands: “If Scott Amendola didn’t exist, the San Francisco music scene would have to invent him.”
Certainly it’s true that virtually every notable Bay Area creative musician has crossed paths with drummer and composer extraordinaire Amendola, but that quote could now be comfortably extended to include not just the West Coast, but the entire US. Amendola is justifiably revered coast to coast for his relaxed and funky groove, and for a broad conceptual base of poly-genre freedom anchored by prodigious chops that never overshadow the feel and stylistic integrity of whatever music he’s driving on a particular night.
Just as comfortable providing sensitive support for a singer-songwriter as he is bashing a rock wall of avant-noise, Amendola’s sideman credits are staggering, and include such luminaries as Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Mike Patton, Wadada Leo Smith, Madeleine Peyroux, John Scofield, and Rodney Crowell.
Fresh off recent tours with Regina Carter and his long-running duo with guitarist/groove machine Charlie Hunter (with whom Amendola first started attracting serious notice in the ‘90s Bay Area jazz and funk scenes), Amendola has also built an impressive resume as a bandleader and composer. Starting in 1999 with Scott Amendola Band, he has released a string of creative and eclectic solo albums with shifting bands of collaborators, including the unit he will bring to the Earshot Jazz Festival. It’s a powerhouse ensemble of long-time associates, who have been playing together off and on since 1998: the contrasting yet complementary guitar titans Nels Cline and Jeff Parker, in-demand violinist Jenny Scheinman and the formidable Bay Area bass wizard John Shifflett. The breadth of firepower and stylistic flexibility in this group will make for a riveting and groove-intensive evening of music for adventurous listeners, a party with a purpose.
November 19th, 2015
Last weekend for the Earshot Jazz Festival, the always-in-demand New York pianist who “swings like a beast” returned to Seattle, where from 1988 to 1993 he was Ernestine Anderson’s music director. He excels in the hard-driving traditions of mainstream jazz, as he demonstrated with legendary bassist Ray Brown’s Trio, and John Pizzarelli.
Raised in Toledo, Ohio, Larry Fuller began his musical studies at age 11, immediately showing a talent for jazz. At 13, Floyd “Candy” Johnson, a veteran of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras, took Fuller under his wing, hiring him for regular paying gig. In his early years, Fuller became a regular on the Midwest jazz circuit, performing frequently in Detroit and Ann Arbor.
Fuller has performed with Harry “Sweets” Edison, Stanley Turrentine, Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Herb Ellis, Marlena Shaw, Kevin Mahogany, John Clayton, John Heard, Bennie Golson, Emily Remler, Jimmy Witherspoon, Eddie Harris, Anita O’Day, Steve Allen, Regina Carter, Nicholas Payton, and John Legend.
Today, Fuller performs as bandleader. His self-titled album dropped last year, and received consistent, exceptional praise.All About Jazz says: “Chops, class, and in-the-pocket ensemble playing are all on full display. There’s plenty to marvel at.”
November 14th, 2015
Last night at Town Hall, Earshot Jazz presented Brad Mehldau, one of the greatest of modern jazz pianists, prodigiously inventive, equally riveting whether exploring formal structures or improvising with abandon, has for more than two decades excelled in trio performance, since 2005 with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums.
Over the last two decades, pianist Brad Mehldau has forged a unique path which embodies the essence of jazz exploration, classical romanticism, and pop allure. His unquestionable leadership across domains has grown quietly as he has transformed the paradigm of jazz and classical performance. In recent years, Mehldau has expanded his international exposure in genre-crossing commissions and notable collaborations with Pat Metheny, Anne Sofie von Otter, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Renée Fleming, Britten Sinfonia, Kevin Hays, Jeremy Denk, Chris Thile, and Joshua Redman. With his rigorous intellect feeding an inspired range of expression and intensity, Mehldau leads one of the world’s top jazz trios.
Bassist Larry Grenadier attended Stanford University, where he received a degree in English Literature. After moving to the East Coast, he played in the Gary Burton Band, touring the US and Europe. He moved to New York City and played with Joe Henderson, Betty Carter, Pat Metheny, and the John Scofield Group. When not touring and recording with the Brad Mehldau Trio, Grenadier tours and records with the Pat Metheny Trio.
Drummer Jeff Ballard grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He toured with Ray Charles from 1988 to 1990, moved to New York in 1990, and since has played and recorded with Lou Donaldson, Danilo Pérez, Chick Corea, and Joshua Redman, to name a few. Currently, as well as being a member of the Melhdau Trio, he is co-leader of the collective group FLY, featuring Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier, and Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band.
November 14th, 2015
Thursday night was the the third of three events marking Wayne Horvitz’s 60th birthday and his considerable contributions to Seattle jazz culture.
In a fascinating triple bill, the renowned keyboardist/composer plays in three settings: solo piano with electronics; his Snowghost trio, where Eric Eagle, a drummer adept in many genres, and Geoff Harper, who is among the region’s most cherished bassists, complement Horvitz’s processed piano and synthesizer with results he says have surprised even him; and a new Seattle sextet in which he, Eagle, and Harper appear with three expansive innovators: trumpeter Ray Larsenand saxophonists Ivan Arteaga and Greg Sinibaldi.
Horvitz says Snowghost, and then its sextet extension, stem from a recording trip he, Eagle, and Harper made to Whitefish, Montana, last year. Months later, while listening to the tape, he realized it ended with a recording of a live gig they had done after the studio session, a sort of house concert. “And it was pretty bad-ass,” says Horvitz. “Piano trio but the piano is processed and amplified and I also play synthesizer. Sounded beautiful. I was frankly sort of taken aback.”
November 11th, 2015
Last night at Cornish Earshot Jazz Festival presented once again Anat Cohen. Conversant with modern and traditional jazz, classical music, Brazilian choro, and Argentine tango, the Israeli clarinetist has established herself as a leading voice in jazz moving forward. And with it, she “reaches a state of musical ecstasy…as her clarinet moans, sighs, soars and wails with passion and emotion,” wrote All About Jazz.
Nat Hentoff observed that Anat Cohen “tells stories from her own experiences that are so deeply felt that they are very likely to connect listeners to their own dreams, desires, and longings.”
With her touring quartet – keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tal Mashiach, drummer Daniel Freedman – she demonstrated this year on Luminosa, her seventh album, why DownBeat would call her “a woodwind revelation of dark tones and delicious lyricism, but also a dynamic bandleader.”
The Tel Aviv-born US transplant began clarinet studies at 12, also plays tenor saxophone, and studied at Berklee College. In New York, she joined Brazilian ensembles like Duduka Da Fonseca’s Samba Jazz Quintet, and performed the music of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, and their pan-American contemporaries. Her reputation spread as one of the most engaging of modern jazz musicians, and one of a group of Israelis spicing the New York scene.
Recognized with nine consecutive Jazz Journalists Association awards for clarinetist of the year and multiple DownBeatcritics and readers polls honors, she achieves a rare accomplishment in jazz: seamlessly merging early and recent styles, and geographically diverse forms, into personal expression.
Co-presented with Cornish Presents.