Now that Jazz Appreciation Month has passed, I thought it would be nice to share reviews of some of my favorite shows that occurred during the month of April. Again, these are my favorites based on the shows I’ve seen. There were awesome shows throughout the month that I didn’t have an opportunity to see, so those won’t make this list. But what better way to lead into some of the upcoming performances than by reminiscing about the beautiful music that blossomed in April?
Stay tuned for what’s yet to come.
Keiko Matsui- The S&R Foundation benefit performance at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club (4/6/13)
The S&R Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support talented individuals with great potential and high aspirations in the arts and sciences, held a benefit/fundraiser last Saturday at the newly renovated Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club. Though the night’s
goal was to raise money in support of the Foundation’s mission and in support of the artists who rely on the Foundation for support, the evening’s highlight was the entertainment.
Urban Tango, normally/usually a trio performed Saturday night as a duo, displayed the artistry of its members Machiko Ozawa (violin) and Octavio Brunetti (piano). Playing together with such passion and purpose, it wasn’t until Ozawa began to dance that the reference to Tango in their name wasn’t a metaphor used to describe their musical chemistry. Even though the group only performed a short, fifteen-minute set, what they shared was a great representation of the work the Foundation supports and why giving back is more than just a gift to the Foundation.
The evening’s entertainment went from good to epic as famed keyboardist Keiko Matsui aligned her celebration of more than twenty-five years as a professional musician with that of the S&R Foundation’s goals. As a performer, Matsui is the perfect blend of elegance, experience and experimentation. Her approach to the keyboard and piano revealed a musician who was in tune with her instrument and her level of creativity. Her inclusion in the S&R Foundation’s program was more than just one best friend supporting another (Dr. Sachiko Kuno, the S in the S&R Foundation, introduced Matsui as her best friend at the start of her set). It was a demonstration of what’s possible for students of the arts and—for supporters—of why being a supporter matters.
Performing with her quartet, which featured additional contributions from saxophonist Jokiem Joyner, Matsui delighted the audience with her penchant for sweet melodies, natural showmanship, and heart-warming compositions. She performed music that spanned from the earliest part of her career to her most recent—stand-outs included “Light Above the Trees” from her debut album A Drop of Water, “Safari” from her recording Sapphire, “Forever, Forever,” from Full Moon and the Shrine and “The Road…,” from her 2011 recording of the same name—and she did it with the dexterity and youthful energy that endeared her to audiences since she burst onto the scene as a Yamaha Foundation recording artist back in 1987. Whatever she did, the crowd followed her every move. Whenever she spoke, the crowd leaned in a little closer to hear her. Whenever she clapped or smiled, the crowd made its excitement known by responding in kind. She’s a tremendous artist and entertainer, and the evening was a great success because of her.
For more info on the S&R Foundation, go to http://www.sandr.org/
Christian Scott- Bohemian Caverns (4/5/13)
The difference between trumpeter Christian Scott and other jazz musicians is that the words used to describe who he is as a man are probably the same words that would be used to describe who he is as a musician. Crass, emotional, provocative, thoughtful, proud, hot-headed, unapologetic, hood, opinionated, creative, grateful, worldly, loud, human… Scott (aka Christian aTunde Adjuah) gives all of himself—take it or leave it. Whether he’s yelling out obscenities in the middle of his set like “eat a d*ck,” (he did dare a writer to quote him, so…) or whether he’s using his instrument and music to articulate his feelings about a jarring, racially-charged exchange with a police officer who threatened his life one night back in his hometown of New Orleans, Scott is arguably one of the most honest and creatively vulnerable musicians on the jazz scene today. which adds an indescribable element to the music.
Fresh off the successes of his self-titled recording, Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Jazz), and his collaborative project with saxophonists Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III, guitarist Matthew Stevens, pianists/keyboardists Kris Bowers and Gerald Clayton, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Jamire Williams titled Cover Art (Concord Jazz), Scott, along with Louis Fouché (sax), Corey Fonville (drums), Kris Funn (bass), Matthew Stevens (guitar), and Lawrence Fields (piano), gave an engaging performance that surely left the crowd at Bohemian Caverns’s with plenty to talk about.
Like Matsui, Scott performed music from the various stages of his life and career, but, unlike Matsui, the stages Scott shared were equally mired in joy and pain. Illustrations of his time as a youngster growing up in Ninth Ward New Orleans (“New New Orleans”), to the budding musician allowed to perform as part of his uncle’s band (“Christopher, Jr”), to the young, African American man who had an experience that was seemingly crafted to remind Scott that though he may be regarded as a phenom around the world, back home, he’s just another Black man (“Ku Klux Police Department”), to the grown man who’s ready to shape his legacy, were all present in the music that night. He’s as close to brilliant as his generation may ever produce, and that’s telling because his brilliance has a different shine.
The next time an opportunity presents itself to hear Scott perform, take it. Just leave the kids at home.
Ninety Miles featuring David Sanchez, Nicholas Payton, and Stefon Harris- Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland College Park (4/26/13)
Ladies and gentlemen, hailing from the city of Albany, New York, please show your appreciation for the great, Mr. Stefon Harris!
Anyone as talented as Harris deserves an enthusiastic introduction every time he graces the stage, even if he is from Albany!
On Friday, April 26, 2013, Harris did grace the stage as a member of Afro-Cuban jazz group Ninety Miles. Serving as a co-leader along with David Sanchez (saxophone) and Nicholas Payton (trumpet), the 2013 Jazz Journalists Association Mallets Player of the Year winner returned to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center following a successful visit this past October with the SFJazz Collective.
Ninety Miles, whose name references the distance between the United States and Cuba, isn’t a trio as much as it is a septet with three bandleaders—Mauricio Herrera (percussion/vocals), Ricardo Rodriguez (bass), Henry Cole (drums), and Edward Simon (piano) round out the group. Though their names and work aren’t as well-known as those of the group’s co-leaders, it must be said that Ninety Miles would pack far less of a punch without them. For, with the exception of Sanchez who hails from Puerto Rico, they are the Caribbean/Cuban component of Ninety Miles’s Afro-Caribbean/Afro-Cuban sound. Not only that, they just seemed to fit—they were fully engaged in what Ninety Miles stands for, because Ninety Miles is a reflection of them. There’s no way these musicians wouldn’t deliver the goods musically in support of that.
But don’t misunderstand. Harris, Sanchez, and Payton were definitely the night’s draw and they really delivered.
Performing music from the group’s 2011 debut release (which featured Christian Scott on trumpet) in addition to one of Payton’s original compositions, the men of Ninety Miles displayed the three musical c’s—musical command, camaraderie, and commitment—which made the universality of their music very real during their ninety minutes onstage. The jazz world is full of musicians who have a technical command of their instruments. But the sound of technique rooted in purpose is not something every musician can pull off. Harris, Sanchez, and Payton did things with their instruments that left some in the audience to have holy-ghost shouting experiences right in their seats.
Highlights of the evening included performances of “Black Action Figure,” “The Forgotten Ones,” “The Backward Step,” and “E’cha.”
For more information about the Ninety Miles Project go to www.ninetymilesproject.com.
Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival- University of the District of Columbia (4/29/13)
Anyone who, in 2013, dares say that jazz is dead should probably plan to attend next year’s Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival. This past Monday, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) held its 27th annual festival named in honor of the late composer, bandleader, and Director of UDC’s Jazz Studies program. The Festival also happened to coincide with the birthday of DC’s best-known son, Mr. Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. What a day to celebrate jazz in DC!
College freshman, graduate students, and more “seasoned” players interacted on the bandstand as members of Howard University, the University of Maryland, and, of course, UDC’s respective jazz ensembles and produced performances that were akin to the evolution of sound. The blending of experiences challenged and re-focused listening with each solo as the musicians shared their version of passion within their own skillset. Hearing novice interact with experience is nothing new to jazz. Nevertheless, during the Calvin Jones Big Band Festival, it was especially beautiful to see.
The Howard University Ensemble started things off by highlighting solos from more freshman than the other two Ensembles with special acknowledgement going to tenor saxophonist Kenneth Nunn for his “Alice in Wonderland” solo. Though each of Nunn’s colleague’s who’d soloed before him were equally fantastic, the crowd seemed to let out a collective gasp as Ensemble Director Fred Irby III announced that Nunn was a freshman from Silver Spring. Not to be outdone, the University of Maryland seemed to rely on girl power to get the crowd involved as drummer Isabelle De Leon’s talent had members of the audience cheering her on. Ensemble Director Chris Vadala made a point of interrupting the performance start time, by requesting that the audience show equal appreciation for the group’s other female musician, bass trombonist Susan Goodwin. During the UDC Jazz Ensemble’s performance, when the elder of the bunch (percussionist James Robinson) performed, he clearly had a light in his eyes and a pep in his step as he jammed with musicians who were quite possibly young enough to be his grandchildren; the audience loved it. He paid close attention to every solo, nodding in approval sometimes and standing with his maracas or cowbells and playing along at other times. He never lost a beat and his contribution to the rhythm section definitely seemed to push his fellow musicians to give their best.
The night was not just about the jazz ensembles. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Jazz Journalists Association, respectively honored Dr. John Edward Hasse, the man behind Jazz Appreciation Month, and jazz writer/ festival producer/ broadcaster, Willard Jenkins, for the tireless work they’ve done over the years to help the music thrive. I’ve come to consider Willard Jenkins to be a mentor and a friend, so I was especially proud to witness him receiving such a well-deserved award. Congrats, Willard “Mr. J” Jenkins, and thank you for all that you do!