January 2012
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Kenny Barron Trio


Tierney Sutton Band


NJO w/ Kerry Strayer


SF Jazz Collective


Doc Severinsen


Chris Washburne & SYOTOS


NJO w/ Kirk Garrison

June 2012

Concert reviews


Concert Review

Kenny Barron Trio dazzles at the 1200 Club


By Tom Ineck 


OMAHA, Neb.—Returning to the Holland Performing Arts Center just two weeks after Tierney Sutton’s dazzling display of vocal skills, this reviewer witnessed an equally dazzling display of piano pyrotechnics from Kenny Barron, who appeared May 18 with his trio. This time, however, the performance took place in the smaller, more intimate 1200 Club, a 300-seat lounge with food and beverage service at small tables under suitably low lighting.


Kenny Barron [Courtesy Photo]At 68, Barron still wields immense swing power at any tempo and is capable of the most exciting pianistics this side of Oscar Peterson. In terms of prodigious technique and two-fisted authority, only one other living pianist immediately comes to mind—Mulgrew Miller. Having honed his skills in his native Philadelphia, Barron has worked with dozens of artists over the years and has more than 40 recordings of his own. He was part of the all-star lineup on the 2011 Jimmy Owens release, “The Monk Project,” and was on one of James Moody’s last recordings, 2010's “4B.” The BMF reviewed both.


For his Omaha appearance, Barron was ably accompanied by bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, son of jazz violinist John Blake. They began with Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Isfahan,” the turned to one of the more obscure Thelonious Monk compositions, “Shuffle Boil,” with Barron using both hands to create an astounding exploration of this bluesy shuffle, which remained unmistakably Monk-like. Kitagawa delivered a transcendent bass solo, and Blake took drum breaks in the style of Art Blakey.


By contrast, Barron next displayed his way with a ballad on “Blue Moon,” introducing the old chestnut with a stunning piano solo. “I Hear a Rhapsody” was taken at a swinging mid-tempo, followed by the appropriately hard-driving Kiyoshi Kitagawa [Courtesy Photo]“New York Attitude,” an original that was the title track of Barron’s 1996 release. Again shifting gears, Barron gave Eubie Blake’s classic “Memories of You” a solo piano rendition that showed the pianist’s obvious affection for the ballad’s beautiful changes.


The trio re-harmonized the standard “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” taking the tune at a brisk tempo. A solo piano medley of less-familiar Duke Ellington compositions married “Lotus Blossom” with “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Melancholia” and “The Star-Crossed Lovers.” In Barron’s hands, they were perfectly compatible. The evening’s closer was the pianist’s bright and happy “Cook’s Bay,” inspired by Barron’s 40th wedding anniversary celebration in Tahiti. His piano work shimmered like the water that is evoked in the title.


Kitagawa's playing was always sensitive to Barron's mainstream style, but the youthful Blake occasionally seemed a bit too aggressive in his attack. Barron even alluded to it after a particularly flamboyant drum solo, saying, "I used to have energy like that." Even so, the Kenny Barron Trio provided another wonderful evening of jazz at the Holland Center.



Concert Review

Tierney Sutton Band has telepathic empathy


By Tom Ineck


OMAHA, Neb.—We were enamored with Tierney Sutton’s dazzling vocal skills and her band’s uncanny compatibility even before we first witnessed her in a live cabaret-style performance at the Brownville Concert Hall in April 2005. (Click here for the review.) Now, with almost 20 years of playing and recording together, the quartet is tighter than ever, as witnessed in concert May 4 at the Holland Performing Arts Center.


The magic of The Tierney Sutton Band—the brilliant pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker—is most evident in the unique The Tierney Sutton Band [Courtesy Photo]group arrangements of familiar material from jazz and other genres. The band’s nine releases—eight on the Telarc label—exemplify this adventurous approach to the repertoire.


Sutton also is a master of gauging her performance to the room and the audience. The evening’s performance progressed along a highly charged arch, beginning with the opener, “Without a Song,” from the 2004 release “Dancing in the Dark.” The tune starkly declaims the essential nature of music in our lives and the despair of living without it. She continued with a Gershwin medley from her latest release, 2011’s “American Road.” Defying convention, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” was given a bluesy backbeat before shifting to a scat-singing sequence and a slow discordant reading of “Summertime” and a bass solo on “My Man’s Gone Now.”


In the course of the evening, she paired off with each of her bandmates to better showcase their talents. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” from the 2005 release “I’m With the Band,” was Brinker’s chance to shine, as he deftly navigated a fast stop-time tempo using brushes. “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” was taken at a middle tempo and featured a loping bass line. The tempo increased again for “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”


Tierney and Jacob teamed up for the pianist’s outstanding arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” followed by a Grammy-nominated group arrangement of “On Broadway,” which featured another imaginative piano solo. Brinker excelled on brushes in a lovely version of Johnny Mandel’s ballad “Emily.” Sutton easily scatted her way to the grand climax of “Devil May Care.” One of the many highlights of the evening was Sutton’s reading of “Haunted Heart,” with Brinker providing the “beating heart” of the arrangement on brushes.


Jacob sat out a very sensuous version of “Fever” with Axt providing a bass intro and Brinker laying down a funky backbeat. From Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” came the very cool medley “Something’s Coming / Cool.” Always conscious of the audience’s mood, Sutton returned for a stunning encore rendition of Bill Evans’ “We Will Meet Again,” even introducing the tune with the story of Evans writing the piece after the death of his brother.


Again, Tierney Sutton proved herself the consummate professional with a long-time band of like-minded artists. Bravo!



Concert Review

Nebraska native Strayer returns with NJO


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—After 30 years in Kansas City, Nebraska native Kerry Strayer returned to his home state for a concert April 10 with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, and he brought along a program of “KC Swing” featuring his brawny baritone sax. Powered by pinch-hitting drummer Todd Smith, the big band responded with bluesy gusto.


Baritone saxophonist Kerry Strayer [Courtesy Photo]Before Strayer took the state, the NJO led off with “For K.D.,” a hard-bop tune by young Austin, Texas, composer Michael Sailors dedicated to legendary bop trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The fast-paced swinger was a showcase for the sax section and solos by Ed Love on soprano sax and Bob Krueger on trumpet. The 2012 Young Jazz Artist John Kosch showed his versatility at the piano keyboard on Stanley Turrentine’s challenging up-tempo “Sugar,” the Benny Carter ballad “Souvenir” and Quincy Jones’ bright and snappy “Hard Sock Dance.” The accomplished Andrew Janak composition “6:45 to 3:45” completed the first set.


Strayer kicked things off with his jump blues arrangement of Mercer Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” taking the first solo, then passing it on to Brad Obbink on trumpet, Peter Madsen on trombone and Andy Hall, who was playing a new, warmly resonant upright bass. Strayer went toe-to-toe with NJO baritone saxophonist Scott Vicroy, interweaving lines on “The A&J Express.” A mid-tempo Latin swing rendition of “It Might As Well Be Spring” was spiced with flutes and another bass solo.


The tempo slowed for the nocturnal melancholy off Gerry Mulligan’s “Night Lights,” a ballad arranged by Strayer with lush brass voicings. Bobby Watson’s brilliant tune “Wheel Within a Wheel” was taken at a furiously fleet tempo with a waltz-like feel, driven by Smith’s powerful percussion. Soloists included Love on alto sax, Madsen on trombone and Krueger on trumpet, followed by a nice interlude featuring baritone sax and bass before returning in tempo for a final polyphony of baritone, alto, trombone and trumpet.


Mulligan’s “Out Back off the Barn” was a veritable barn-burner pitting Strayer’s more reserved baritone sax with the unrestrained tenor sax of Darren Pettit, who leaped octaves in wild abandon. Strayer’s arrangement and lovely rendition of “Amazing Grace” was a fitting finale and a touching memorial to a Kansas City friend who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 49. It was aided further by Tom Harvill’s contributions on piano.


An enthusiastic audience of about 275 people brought the band back for an encore, a swinging KC-style blues number with Kosch back at the piano one last time.



Concert Review

SF Jazz Collective celebrates Stevie Wonder


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The SF Jazz Collective lived up to its name in a March 13 performance at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.


SF Jazz Collective [Courtesy Photo]In a concert largely devoted to the music of legendary Motown songwriter Stevie Wonder, the eight-piece, all-star ensemble proved it’s a democratic union with shared improvisational freedom and shared responsibility for the diverse arrangements and for disciplined group interplay. There were no prima donnas, just plenty of creativity and lots of exciting music.


Formed in 2004 and based in San Francisco, the band draws its evolving personnel from all over the country to pay tribute to a different jazz great every year and also contribute original material. The Wonder material resulted in a three-disc live recording last year, and the Lied audience of about 700 heard a good sampling, beginning with “Race Babbling,” a medley of tunes from Wonder’s “Secret Life of Plants,” arranged by trombonist Robin Eubanks. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris, no stranger to Lincoln, arranged “Visions,” which had trumpeter Avishai Cohen plugging in a wah-wah pedal to send notes into the stratosphere.


In his meditative tune “Eminence,” the formidable drummer Eric Harland generously showcased tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and added subtle percussion. Turner took advantage of the opportunity in a splendid, wide-ranging display of his talent. Turner’s arrangement of the Wonder ballad “Blame It on the Sun” had Harris stating the melody and Harland shifting tempos and power-drumming Art Blakey-style.


Pianist Ed Simon’s composition “Young and Playful” was as breezy as its title, and Eubanks used some echo effects on “Metronome.” Other highlights of the evening included bassist Matt Penman’s imaginative arrangement of “Creepin’” and Cohen’s stylistically complex take on “Sir Duke,” which included everything from funk to big band polyphony. “Superstition” was a funky and crowd-pleasing encore. It was arranged by regular alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, who was replaced in the lineup by the excellent Antonio Hart.



Concert Review

Doc Severinsen's lip still delivers at age 84


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Contrary to some advance publicity, Doc Severinsen’s appearance Feb. 27 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts was not a program of classical Spanish, movie music of gypsy jazz.


Doc Severinsen [Courtesy Photo]As expected from the 84-year-old trumpeter and his 16-piece big band, the “Once More with Feeling” tour—his first in five years—is firmly grounded in the grand Swing Era tradition.


Severinsen’s band no longer is comprised largely of “Tonight Show” veterans, but he did have one ace up his sequined sleeve. Longtime band member and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts was the go-to guy on many occasions during the two-hour concert, attended by 1,600. He was brought to the microphone on the swinging opener and seldom sat down long enough to warm his seat.


Featured singer Vanessa Thomas exhibited impressive pipes on “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Smile,” “When You’re Smiling,” “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “Mood Indigo,” and young drummer Stockton Helbing did an admirable job on the classic rave-up “Sing, Sing, Sing.”


But it was the big band that delivered the goods on such swingers as “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “Flying Home,” “Caravan,” “One O’Clock Jump,” and “Sax Tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts (center) with the Doc Severinsen band [Courtesy Photo]Alley,” a furious tenor sax blowing contest between Watts and Chip McNeill.


Amazingly, Severinsen proved that he still has the lip and the technique to play with power, precision and stamina, frequently stating the melodies and hitting the high notes on trumpet. He used a plunger-muted horn on “St. Louis Blues,” too the lead on “Georgia on My Mind,” and inserted some well-controlled trumpet blasts on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” which he announced as Johnny Carson’s favorite tune.


Severinsen’s playing and bandleading certainly quashed any doubts that at 84 he might have lost some of his famous panache.



Concert Review

Chris Washburne & SYOTOS bring excitement


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The pulsing salsa rhythms and fiery brass of Chris Washburne and SYOTOS echoed resoundingly through the ornately resplendent, but underutilized Rococo Theatre on the evening of Feb. 10, making it even more apparent that this former movie house makes an ideal concert hall that deserves better management and a more aggressive booking policy.


Trombonist Chris Washburne and SYOTOS [Courtesy Photo]Presented by the Interdisciplinary Arts Symposium, the seven-piece SYOTOS (an acronym for See You On The Other Side) delivered a thoroughly enjoyable performance largely consisting of original tunes and drawing on world music traditions as diverse as those from South America, the Caribbean, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and South Central Los Angeles, all re-focused through the lens of progressive jazz, funk and even modern classical music. One critic aptly described the band’s sound as “Tito Puente meets James Brown meets Charles Ives.”


Trombonist Washburne leads the outfit with democratic generosity, freely sharing the spotlight with his colleagues—trumpeter John Walsh, saxophonist Ole Mathisen, pianist Yeissonn Villamar, bassist Leonard Traversa, drummer Vince Cherico and conguero Christian Rivera.


Walsh contributed “Methane Mambo,” from the 2001 release “The Other Side: El Oltro Lado,” which featured a Hancock-inspired piano solo by Villamar. “Arkan / Siretsi Yares Daran,” a traditional tune with Ukrainian and Armenian influences, was transformed into a slow, moody East European blues, emphasized by Mathisen’s imaginative and unique tenor sax work and Washburne’s lower-register trombone slurs. The leader humorously dedicated the tune to “the stalkers in the house.” He introduced his own composition “Pink” by describing it as a meeting of James Brown, Chucho Valdes and Arnold Schoenberg. Bassist Traversa turned in a melodic solo on the five-string electric.


The band in action [Courtesy Photo]“Snow” was a snappy salsa dance number that had audience members taking to the floor or simply tapping their feet at the tables. Washburne’s “She’s Dirty as a Boy” featured another brilliant sax solo by Mathisen that had a percussive, irresistible momentum. The Pedro Flores bolero “Obsession” had the slow, romantic mood that makes the song form so potent. The iconic Latin pop song “The Peanut Vendor” got a seriously respectful reading with muted trumpet, a exhibition of circular breathing by Mathisen on tenor sax and a conga solo. Chano Pozo’s “Manteca” brought the concert to an end with a nod to the grand Afro-Cuban tradition first championed by Dizzy Gillespie.


The SYOTOS back-story makes its music even more urgent and profound. Washburne founded the New York City-based group in 1992, after he was diagnosed with severe nerve cancer and was told he had an even chance of surviving an operation and no chance of ever playing his horn again. Before entering surgery, he told his bandmates “see you on the other side.” He not only survived, but after two years of therapy he recovered his ability to play, despite nerve loss and damage to one side of his face. They have released five recordings since 1999. It’s an inspirational story that heightens the intensity of every tune played by SYOTOS.



Concert Review

Trumpeter returns home as NJO guest soloist

Trumpeter Kirk Garrison fronts the NJO as guest soloist. [Photo by Tom Ineck]
Trumpeter Kirk Garrison fronts the NJO as guest soloist. Photo by Tom Ineck.


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The return of trumpeter Kirk Garrison as guest soloist with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra was a homecoming of sorts. A professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Garrison is a former Omaha resident who has performed with many of the NJO veterans in other groups over the years. His Feb. 1 appearance with the big band at the Cornhusker Marriott spotlighted not only his bravura technique but his talent as an arranger.


Clifford Brown’s classic “Joy Spring” might have seemed out of season on a typical February evening, but the mild weather made it sound apt. A lilting arrangement by Thomas Matta gave Garrison a chance to warm up his horn with some opening flourishes, followed by the familiar melody line and solo trumpet statements with the rest of the horn section answering.


“The Messenger,” a Paul McKee tune dedicated to legendary trumpeter Woody Shaw, was given an exciting, uptempo performance by Garrison, with inspired solos by Paul Haar on soprano saxophone and Tom Harvill on piano. Garrison’s trumpet cadenza and final high note were riveting.


Garrison’s arrangement of the ballad “Nature Boy” emphasized the tune’s exotic roots, combining Scott Vicroy’s bass clarinet with two flutes and two clarinets. The bluesy shuffle “What’s the Meaning of This?” featured soulful contributions by Eric Richards on trombone, Haar on tenor sax and Peter Bouffard on guitar, capped by Garrison’s trumpet solo over a walking bass line by Andy Hall. Hall was prominently featured in Garrison’s arrangement of “Blue Daniel,” a Frank Rosolino standard in waltz time.


Using elements of a Bouffard arrangement of the same tune, Garrison’s chart for “Bernie’s Tune” began with saxophones in unison. In his extended solo, the trumpeter adhered to the snappy tempo while firing off a string of bright, bravura blasts. His Latin arrangement of Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” served as an apt encore, with a rousing brass finale in the upper registers.


The Young Lions All-Star Band opened for the audience of 300 with “Perdido,” “Soul Sauce” and “Front Burner,” from the classic songbooks of Ellington, Gillespie and Basie, respectively.




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