Posts Tagged ‘Esperanza Spalding’

2009 montreal jazz fest – day one

July 5, 2009
MIles from India, released 2008

MIles from India, released 2008

Destination: Montreal

Objective: Miles From India, playing tonight at the 30th annual Jazz Festival

Made it here, beautiful drive with intermittent rain and sun breaking through towering white cumulus. Never fail to be a little surprised to see how fast the landscape flattens out after crossing the border. Within a mile or two of the entry port, northern Vermont’s rolling green hills iron out into corn-rowed farmlands that remind me so much of home, growing up at the edge of Colorado’s eastern plains.

A couple of years I visited the Montreal Jazz Festival to enjoy whatever the experience had to offer. Turned out, it offered a LOT: Ravi Coltrane’s incredible 3+ hour concert; a memorable outdoor show on one of the free stages with Esperanza Spalding (who has since, as we know, fully emerged from her prodigy chrysalis to headline at festivals around the world); Bruce Nauman’s delightfully subversive exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum; and a happy unexpected encounter with participants in a Caribbean Pride Parade on the last morning in town. Special memories. 2009-July4-MontrealJazzFest4

This time around, the reason for coming to the Festival was more focused. Around a year ago I picked up a recording of Miles Davis tunes, played by a group made up of around 15 former bandmates (Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Gary Bartz, etc.) and 15 top-flight Indian musicians. The group – and their remarkably refreshing recording – is Miles From India. It’s remarkable for concentrating so much talent in a single studio recording effort and for the artistic result, which succeeds in concept and most especially in execution.

Tonight’s live Miles From India concert was no less inspring: three drum kits(!), two keyboardists, two sax players, electric bass, a trumpeter, and seven Indian musicians played everything from sitar and tabla to mandolin, wooden flutes, and they dazzled the audience with the characteristic rapid-fire rhythmic singing style that echoes the tabla’s own melodic punctuation. All Blues, So What, and Blue in Green were all in there, the latter enjoying some particularly striking lighting effects with static white wedges of light beaming down at assymetric angles to eerily fragment the stage. So was a touching Michael Jackson tribute – think about that one for a minute. This is a Miles Davis tribute ensemble, including seven traditional Indian musicians, in a musical nod to Michael J. It was heartfelt. And it worked.

2009-July4-MontrealJazzFest2What didn’t work as well was some of the technical aspects at the Theatre Maisonneuve. I can’t tell you what was happening behind the scenes, I wasn’t there. But from my seat in the fifth row center, I can tell you that missed (and mistimed) lighting and sound cues and numerous other repeated sound anomalies unnecessarily shifted the attention at times from the musicians to the process of making live music. Note to crew, from me to you: when you see a musician walking to the mic, that’s a cue THEY’RE GETTING READY TO PLAY, and it’s time to turn up the mic. Some extra light wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks. (If there were behind-the-scenes issues you know about and want to mention, please feel free to leave a comment here and I promise I’ll share it with everyone. I’m not trying to be unfair, I can only tell you what I experienced in the audience. And it was consistently a disappointingly unprofessional production.)

Back to the positive: Rudresh Mahanthappa, the alto sax man and (appointed, he said in a self-deprecating disclaimer) band leader. He was as comfortable drilling out deep, searing solo work as trading bars in more cooperative exchanges with bandmates. I ran into a friend at the show and he mentioned having seen Mahanthappa here around six years ago as an emerging artist on the scene. My friend commented at the transformation Mahanthappa’s made from sideman into the commanding artist he is now. That’s the word: commanding. Appointed or not, he has the charisma, artistry and professional skills to be a leader and take his career as far as he wants to.

I could cite everyone in the group individually for the success and cohesion of tonight’s concert, and they all deserve it. But I believe I do their mission a greater honor in saying that they came together as a group, and as that group they played with a single creative vision that exceeded most expectations. They could have used a little more prep time together to lock down the ‘flow’ of each tune’s architecture (weaving between the multitude of solos and ensemble parts), and the sitar voice was somewhat absentee throughout, owing to the sound difficulties mentioned earlier. But overall a very positive experience thanks to the supreme musicianship.

I’ll leave with those thoughts tonight, and know that if I left the Festival tomorrow the trip here would have already been worth the effort to get here and see Miles From India. I recommend checking out the recording if you get a chance.

No special plans for tomorrow in Montreal. If past experience bears out, that’s going to be the best way to experience as much as possible!

BDJ Festival, day 1: the double header

June 6, 2009


Esperanza Spalding and Anat Cohen. Esperanza AND Anat.

I remember thinking that at the Discover Jazz Festival back in April, when the full lineup was rolled out for this year’s event. Really? Both of them, in the same show? Yes. At least, sort of. It was actually two very different but complementary shows last night on the Flynn Main Stage as the festival got off to a big bang start.

Anat first: strong, versatile, and commanding on both of her chosen instruments, clarinet and tenor sax. I always wait to hear what the very first notes of the festival will sound like, thinking of them as the defining moment in setting the tone for the whole event. Anat delivered the opening salvo with a fast downbeat and an immediate launch into her own lilting, grooving arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (found on her recent collection, Notes from the Village).


Anat Cohen (photo by the Discover Jazz Festival)

So what does it say about this year’s festival that it began with the clarinet, a surprisingly rare instrument in jazz today? And not only that, but the clarinet in the hands of the first woman reeds player to ever headline at the hallowed Village Vanguard, playing her own fresh, hip new version of such a jazz classic? Everything, I think. This festival is about translating the best elements of the jazz tradition into the language and sensibilities of today. (Esperanza’s performance furthered that thought – more on that in a minute.)

Cohen’s quartet is equally solid, with Jason Lindner at the piano (you may have seen him here last year with his own trio), basisst Vicente Archer, and the very fine percussionist Daniel Freedman. I’m tempted to add ‘percussion’ to Lindner’s name here too because of his tendency to reach inside the piano, holding down the strings, while playing the keys with his left hand. The effect is pecussive,  sounding something like a marimba or tuned drum. Great texture, and used well especially at start of the set-closing “Washington Park Square”, the colorful tune Cohen wrote about her neighborhood in New York and the cultural diversity of people the Park attracts.

No matter what future festivals may hold, this will go down as one of my favorite festival performances ever.

Esperanza’s set started spunky (no surprise), with her scatting introduction of the band, along with a scatting disclaimer about why the scatting the audience was about to hear in her performance wasn’t the traditional “shoo-be-doo-be-ska-be-bop” kind. That’s a fact. Not much about her style is expected.

If you saw her here in 2007 (in the downstairs Flynn Space), you may remember that her show generated some serious buzz: everything from impressed excitement to some doubt that she could sustain that level of energy as she matured. There was criticism about her light, airy, singing style, her less-than-substantial music choices, and some expressed desire that she’d pick up a bow and take some time to explore that important side of the upright bass tradition.

Esperanza Spalding (photo by the Discover Jazz Festival)

Esperanza Spalding (photo by the Discover Jazz Festival)

Well, she has. Developed her singing style, expanded her musical range, and found a whole new dimension of expression with the bowed bass, which she employed to beautiful effect on Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind”. It was the standout moment in her show, starting with the dark, stirring bowing and evolving slowly like a love affair into the nearly out-of-control passionate love song it is. Powerful. Spalding’s energy and natural charm flow out from some bottomless inner wellspring, it’s not an act that will burn out. It’s who she is. To critics: next?

The ensemble included drummer Otis Brown; pianist Leo Genovese (he was here last time with her, too) and guitarist Ricardo Vogt. Each had some solo time to shine, and each did. A couple of thoughts on the overall experience: a lovely Brazilian duet could have used better mic balance, as Vogt’s delicate vocals were a bit overwhelmed by everything else. (At least, from where I was sitting about six rows back orchestra left.) Esperanza’s vocals were also indistinct at times but that’s less a mechanical issue than an effect of the fast, breathless singing style she’s creating. That same approach, with a little more control in shaping the individual words and the phrasing, could be the single nuance that would transform this from a high-beam performance into one with laser focus and effect.

Today: an outdoor organ recital at 3:30 (not related to the festival); jazz on the marketplace; an evening dance recital; and then live music somewhere around town tonight.

I’ll have a few more pictures to share today than I did from yesterday’s adventures (it was dark, I was tired.) Stay tuned for more about the music around town!

playlist #73 (6/1/2009)-Festival previews, jazz poetry, new world music

June 2, 2009
World of Music
Pgm #73 – 6/1/09 – Previews of the Discover Jazz and Waterfront Festivals; classic jazz poetry, and new world music.
Listen online Mondays 3-5pm EDT at The Radiator
Nas with Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling) / Open Remix / / (download) – (USA / SENEGAL)
Jack Kerouac: History of Bop / Readings on the Beat Generation / WordBeat 90044 – (USA)
Will Bernard w/Andy Hess, John Medeski & Stanton Moore: Gonzo / Blue Plate Special / Palmetto 2008 – (USA) * At the Discover Jazz Festival on Tue. 6/9, 10pm: * … ernard.php *
The Funkees: Akula Owu Onyeara (Don’t Beat the Madman) / Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues, 1970-1976 / Sound Way 9 – (NIGERIA)
Utia: Danza Ritual / Eterno Navegar / World Village 498024 – (BRAZIL)
Kronos Quartet: Tanburi Cemil Bey / Floodplain / Nonesuch 518349 – (SAN FRANCISCO/TURKEY) *NEW*
Buddy Guy featuring Eric Clapton: Every Time I Sing The Blues / Skindeep / Silvertone 734316 – (USA) * At the Burlington Waterfront Festival w/Bettye Lavette on Thu. 7/9: *
Langston Hughes: The Story of the Blues / The Voice of Langston Hughes / Smithsonian Folkways 47001 – (USA)
Tiris: El Leil, El Leil (The night, the night) / Sandtracks / Sandblast 1 – (MALI)
Anat Cohen & The Anzic Orchestra: Cry Me A River / Noir / Anzic 1201 – (USA/ISRAEL) * Opening the Discover Jazz Festival this Friday night w/Esperanza Spalding: … alding.php *
Esperanza Spalding: Ponta de Areia / Esperanza / Heads Up Int’l 3140 – (USA/BRAZIL)
Blue Asia: La Yeu Cua Tung Yeu-Samba de Janeiro / Hotel Vietnam / King Record Co. 961 – (JAPAN)
Sarazino: Ecos de Radio Iguana / Ya Foy! / Cumbancha Discovery / (N/A) – (ALGERIA/MONTREAL) * NEW – preview: to be released in August *
The Baileys: Rocky Road to Dublin / A Song For Ireland / Toucan Cove 1105 – (IRELAND) *NEW*
Alicia Villareal: Insensible A Ti / Orgullo de Mujer / Universal B0006605 – (MEXICO)
Oreka Tx with Mongolian musicians: Lauhazka / Nomadak Tx / World Village 469085 – (SPAIN/MONGOLIA/MOROCCO) *NEW*
Pato Banton & The Mystic Roots Band: Stay Positive / Positive Vibrations / PB 2007 – (UK/JAMAICA) * At the Discover Jazz Festival World Music Tent on Sat. June 13th @ 5: … ulture.php *
Anat Cohen: J Blues / Notes From the Village / Anzic 1302 – (USA/ISRAEL) / * Opening the Discover Jazz Festival this Friday night w/Esperanza Spalding: … alding.php *
Hayden Carruth: “Sure” Said Benny Goodman / Hayden Carruth, A Listener’s Guide / Copper Canyon Press 3 – (USA)
The Russ Spiegel Orchestra: Number One / Transplants / Ruzztone Music 1001 – (USA) *NEW*
Johnny Mercer: Strip Polka / Those Were Our Songs / Capitol 535774 – (USA)
Sandra Sandia: La Marisol / Sandra Sandia / 2008 – (USA)
Kimi Djabaté: Fatu / Karam / Cumbancha Discovery – (GUINEA-BISSAU) * NEW – preview: to be released in July *
Constance Amiot: L’étourderie / Fairytale / Tôt Ou Tard 2007 – (FRANCE)
Al Young: Lester Leaps In / In Their Own Voices / WordBeat 72408 – (USA)
Grace Kelly: I’ll Remember April / Mood Changes / PAZZ 16 – (USA) * At the Discover Jazz Festival on Tue. 6/9, at 8:30pm: … ekelly.php *

news from discover jazz fest

April 15, 2009
4/15/09-Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss showing off the new Smithsonian National Jazz Month poster

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss showing off the new Smithsonian poster for National Jazz Month

If the downbeat to summertime in Vermont is the annual Discover Jazz Festival (and, it is) then the official downbeat for spring is the annual press conference where the full Discover Jazz schedule is revealed.

That happened today in Burlington.

Geeda Searfoorce, the Festival’s Associate Director, had it just right in her introduction when she said “you can feel the music in the air”. The gallery (home of the annual conference) buzzed with many of the area’s top music media folks from radio and TV, members of the Festival advisory board and reps from the many Fest sponsors. A few steps inside the door and everyone was tearing into the press kit, leafing through page after page of artist listings for this year’s event. If not music itself (come to think of it why wasn’t there background music?) there was a lot of talk about music in the air today.

The headliners have been public for a while now (Diana Krall, Branford Marsalis, and Pink Martini, in case you’ve missed the first big splash) but the rest – and often the most interesting part of the lineup – was kept under wraps until today.

Highlights? You bet. Lots of them: starting with the opening night, this is definitely one of the ‘don’t miss’ shows of the Festival: Esperanza Spalding (bass, vocals, charm by the bucketful) and Anat Cohen (clarinet, sax + innovation like you wouldn’t believe). Mark that one down. In fact, just get your ticket now so you’re not sad when (when) it sells out.

Also very much looking forward to the Luis Perdomo Trio (6/8), the Grace Kelly Quintet (6/9), Yusef Lateef & Adam Rudolph (6/10), the Waterfront Funk Tent (6/11)-featuring one of my N’awlins favorites, Russell Batiste ….and that’s just the first week.

Check out the schedule. You’ll have your own favorites, and, best of all will be those great moments you won’t find until you get there: artists performing in local venues, all the way up and down Church street, and everywhere around town.

Make a plan, get tickets for the shows, and give yourself the time to explore and be surprised.

Guess that’s why they call it Discover Jazz.


P.S. – Just in case you think the schedule alone would be enough to get a bunch of light-deprived media folks inside on such a beautiful day (though, with this crowd it actually would be) – one of the Festival’s sponsors is Lake Champlain Chocolates. The ice cream and chocolate truffles didn’t hurt…I’m just sayin’… Thanks, Lake Champlain!

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