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Experience Hendrix


Bill Watrous/NJO


Bob Dylan


Sutton's Pianorama


George Whitesell and the All Stars


David Lindley/Bruce Katz at the Zoo Bar

January 2009

Concert reviews


Concert Review

Fans experience Hendrix vicariously in tribute


By Tom Ineck


OMAHA, Neb.—Experience Hendrix is not just a clever name for the family-owned corporation that controls the rights to the transcendent music and iconic image of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. It is a traveling tribute to the evolution of the blues and the immense role that Hendrix played in furthering that evolution.


The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1967 [Courtesy Photo]The 2008 Experience Hendrix tour stopped at the venerable Orpheum Theater in Omaha for an Oct. 29 performance featuring such well-known Hendrixian guitar slingers as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, and Eric Johnson, along with more obscure players Eric Gales and Mato Nanji. Blues legends Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin reminded listeners that Hendrix also had his influences—up to a point.


Headlining the event were the two surviving members of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, bassist Billy Cox—best known for his important contribution to the live Band of Gypsys recording of New Year’s Eve 1969—and drummer Mitch Mitchell, who was just 19 when he joined Hendrix and bassist Noel Redding to become perhaps the most influential band in rock history.


"Are You Experienced?" the classic debut record [File Photo]Mitchell was a shadow of his former self during the Omaha show, playing lackluster licks and occasionally mumbling incoherently into the microphone. Sadly, it may have been an omen of things to come. Mitchell, 61, died Nov. 12 in Portland, Ore., shortly after completing the 19-city tour.


In retrospect, the Experience Hendrix tour was also a fitting tribute to Mitchell, whose top billing was a testament to his significance as Hendrix’s timekeeper of choice. In just four years, the Experience turned the rock music world on its ear, and its influence continues to this day. Mitchell was little more than a figurehead during the Omaha appearance, but his legacy was apparent throughout the performance.


The lion’s share of the percussion duties was ably handled by Chris “Whipper” Layton, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s drummer of choice from 1978 until Vaughan’s death in 1990. Layton proved an excellent substitute for Mitchell, moving easily between the blues and blues rock styles that formed the foundation of Hendrix’s sound. His crackling snare technique and effortless fills never got in the way, but were always essential ingredients, tastefully executed.


Eric Gales [Courtesy Photo]It was Gales who unexpectedly set the mood for the night, opening with an aptly outrageous rendition of “Purple Haze,” accompanied by Cox and Layton. A left-handed guitarist, Gales also proved an excellent singer in the soulful tradition of Hendrix. Guitarist Mato Nanji of the group Indigenous joined the trio for “Foxey Lady,” then Cox belted out “Stone Free.” Nanji sang and played lead on the bluesy “Hear My Train a Comin’.”


Eric Johnson was undoubtedly the technical master of the evening, tearing it up on “Love or Confusion.” With Cox on bass and Mitchell added on drums, he did a jazzy take on “Up From the Skies.” Johnson and Gales traded solos on an astounding version of “May This Be Love.” Johnson also performed memorable versions of “Bold as Love” and—the best of all—“Are You Experienced?” Three drummers kept the ominous march time going as Johnson convincingly mimicked the backward-looped guitar sounds that made the original 1967 recording so ground-breaking.


Eric Johnson, coaxing feedback from Marshall speaker [Courtesy Photo]Despite his technical proficiency, Johnson tended to push the tempo, contrary to the laid-back, hesitation beat of the blues or the relaxed pulse of soul that influenced Hendrix. Johnson’s thin, high-pitched voice is also a far cry from the Hendrix model of sexy cool.


Johnny Lang, now 27, released his first recording while still in his mid-teens, but there’s little in his playing to set him apart from dozens of other Hendrix-influenced pickers, and his voice is even more limited that Johnson’s. He did a credible job on “Fire,” with help from Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, a fine guitarist who usually plays second fiddle to Joe Perry. Lang and Whitford also delivered “The Wind Cries Mary,” with Mitchell joining Layton on drums, and “Spanish Castle Magic,” with Layton only. By the way, Scott Nelson did a great job on bass whenever Cox wasn’t on stage.


Kenny Wayne Shepherd played the role of rock “guitar god,” striking flamboyant stage poses for dramatic effect on “Come On,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Outstanding singer Noah Hunt added a professional sheen to the Shepherd set, despite an occasional lapse into hyper-blues pretentiousness.


Guitarists David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos fame seemed out of place amid the blues-rock pyrotechnics of the other string virtuosi, but they delivered soulful versions of “Can You See Me,” “Little Wing,” with Mitchell and Cox added, and “Them Changes,” which was dedicated to the late Buddy Miles, the tune’s composer and Omaha’s native son. Mato Nanji joined the group for a solo on the last tune.


Brad Whitford, Buddy Guy, Ric Hall and Billy Cox [Courtesy Photo]Oddly, the show ended with the evening’s weakest set. Rather than begin chronologically with the blues and track the evolution to Hendrix’s jazzy, audacious rethinking of the blues, the program’s order was reversed.


It came to a close with 76-year-old Hubert Sumlin hobbling on stage to perform “You Should Have Quit Me,” followed by Buddy Guy and “The Best Damn Fool You Ever Saw.” Guy’s a fine guitar player, but he also possesses a huge ego, making it difficult for him to share the stage with others. That was apparent on “Red House,” where he was joined by Brad Whitford, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, and on “Hey Joe,” with Hidalgo and Rosas. Among the under-recognized standout players were guitarist Ric Hall, keyboardist Marty Sammon, and drummer Tim Austin.


Everyone played with obvious respect, even adoration, for the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix. But even after three hours of familiar riffs delivered with mind-boggling technique, the listener was left with a feeling of inadequacy. None of these skilled performers could match the musical audacity, the revolutionary guitar style, the lyrical experimentation, the soulful intensity or the cosmic humor of the original. That’s what makes Hendrix so great, and so greatly missed.



Concert Review

Watrous in spotlight with challenging program


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra opened its 2008-2009 season with a zinger Nov. 7 at The Cornhusker, putting legendary trombonist Bill Watrous squarely in the spotlight in a program of tunes that continually challenged the big band throughout the evening.


Trombonist Bill Watrous solos. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Justifiably billed as an “L.A. Legend,” Watrous claimed his fame more than 30 years ago with a pair of classic jazz recordings on Columbia, 1974’s “Manhattan Wildlife Refuge” and 1975’s “The Tiger of San Pedro.”


As a West Coast studio musician and guest artist on dozens of recordings, he has maintained his standing among the greats on his instrument, a standing he confirmed with his latest NJO appearance. His association with the NJO actually goes back 30 years, to a 1978 concert with the band, then known as the Neoclassic Jazz Orchestra.


The band kicked things off with the provocatively titled “I’ve Got the #@4++$?% Blues,” by Rex Cadwallader, a longtime contributor to the NJO songbook.


Watrous joined them for a clever up-tempo reworking of “After You’ve Gone” called “Before You Left,” composed by Tom Kubis, an obvious favorite of the trombonist’s. The sax section got its first of many workouts, with Ed Love on Watrous with the NJO [Photo by Tom Ineck]soprano and Paul Haar taking a brawny solo on tenor. Watrous displayed his gorgeous honey tone and faultless facility during his solo statement.


Perfectly at ease in the role of master of ceremonies, Watrous told the story of his minor league baseball career being cut short by a draft notice from the Selective Service System. He then surprised the audience of 300 by displaying a versatile voice on a Kubis arrangement of “When You’re Smiling.” After singing the refrain, he dove into a horn solo of leaping octaves and intricately articulated lines.


An easy-swinging Kubis arrangement of “Who Can I Turn To?” had the sax section playing a beautiful group solo before turning it over to Haar and Darren Pettit for individual tenor sax solos and a series of four-bar trades. Watrous settled into the familiar changes with lilting trombone phrases and a lush tone.


Humorously giving fair warning to musicians and audience alike, Watrous introduced the tricky Gordon Goodwin tune “I Got the ZZZ’s” by saying “Gordon’s charts are the great sobriety tests of all time.” The devilishly difficult changes again had the saxes playing in unison, followed by a pairing-off of Haar on tenor and Love on soprano.


After the break, the band returned with Duke Ellington’s “Blues for New Orleans,” arranged by NJO alumnus Dave Sharp.


Peter Bouffard takes a solo. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Tom Kubis’ “Space Available” was a snappy, up-tempo swinger, but Haar stayed on top of it with a scintillating tenor solo. Watrous again showed his prowess with a brilliantly articulated solo.


Guitarist Peter Bouffard delivered an imaginative solo on the Basie-style bluesy swinger “It’ll Count If it Goes,” also by Goodwin. The entire brass section got a workout on this one. “Exactly Like This,” a Tom Kubis take on “Exactly Like You,” featured Brad Obbink on a Harmon-muted trumpet solo and Love on a fluid flute statement.


But the crowning glory of the evening was the driving, funky “Mama Llama Samba,” with snaking modulations and infectious rhythms boiling underneath as soloists Pettit, Bouffard and Watrous negotiated intricate solos.



Concert Review

Dylan returns home for historic Nov. 4 concert


By Tanner Gruba

BMF Minnesota Correspondent


MINNEAPOLIS—On the eve of a historic presidential election, the be-all and end-all, Bob Dylan, returned to his native Minnesota to put on nothing short of an epic show. Dylan and his band played at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium to a near-packed house of roughly 4,000 long-time fans, students, and everyone in between.


Bob Dylan [Courtesy Photo]The Nov. 4 show consisted of a diverse collection of his songs, from albums old and new. The majority were drastically altered from their original sound, with altered styles, time signatures, and tempos. As many would have expected, the concert had a politically centered theme.


Dylan kicked off the show with his now-common, steel guitar-driven opener “Cat’s in the Well,” something of a lesser-known song from his 1990 album “Under the Red Sky.” He moved into a not instantly-recognizable “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The crowd’s roar reached a peak during each refrain of the Dylan classic.


He brought the crowd back to various earlier albums with songs like “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” “Masters of War” was played as a brooding, dark ballad, a contrast with the original acoustic recording. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” on the other hand, was turned completely upside down, recognizable only by its masterful lyrics. 


Dylan played primarily keyboard for the entire evening, a consistent practice of his in recent shows. His band was tight, with Tony Garnier providing sonorous and driving bass lines. Stu Kimball provided solid rhythm guitar, and Denny Freeman played the lead guitar parts. George Recile held down the tempo with precision on drums, and Donnie Heron displayed multiple talents in violin, viola, banjo, and steel guitar.


As the 17-song set list continued into the night, Bob played more songs from his new album, “Modern Times.” He also included the touching “Shooting Star” from “Oh Mercy,” in which halfway through, he strapped on an electric guitar for the only time during the show. For the rest, Dylan stuck to keyboard, which was quite prominent in the mix. He even soloed a couple times on the organ-voiced keys.


Dylan played the somber “Ain’t Talkin’” before leaving the stage. While the crowd was cheering for an encore, many people were eagerly checking their phones for election data. Bob finally returned to the stage for the inevitable “Like a Rolling Stone.” Before his final song, he had a few words to say regarding the special circumstances of the evening.


“I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I’ve been living in a world of darkness ever since, but it looks like things are going to change now.” The song “Blowin’ in the Wind” then filled the auditorium, a perfectly appropriate end to an incredible show.


As the audience proceeded out of the auditorium into the entrance hall, a titanic TV was projecting the results of the presidential election. The hall erupted into a euphoric cavalcade. There were people crying, couples embracing, and a wave of incessant noise. A massive congregation soon followed outside the hall in the middle of the campus square to conclude the concert aftermath.


Dylan played a fantastic and charged set that evening, making it a concert like no other. The fact that he had returned to his old college on such an important occasion made the show memorable beyond mortal dream.



Concert Review

"Sutton's Pianorama" lives up to its billing


By Dan DeMuth

BMF Colorado Correspondent


DENVER—The weekend of Oct. 18-19 in Denver provided beautiful weather and music as Sunnie Sutton hosted the 9th annual Rocky Mountain Jazz Party at the downtown Denver Marriott Center.


Dick Hyman [Photo by Mike Wilson]This series actually dates to 1989 at the Jerome Hotel in Aspen, with Sunnie and her now deceased husband Ralph taking over the baton in 2000. This year’s party, dubbed “Sutton’s Pianorama,” lived up to its billing with Dick Hyman and Derek Smith, sharing the stage with two pianists perhaps not so well known in the states as in Europe, Rossano Sportiello and Louis Mazetier.


Chuck Berghofer, Jay Leonhart, Frank Capp, Jake Hanna, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Allred, Ken Peplowski, Houston Person, Warren Vache—all names that individually and certainly collectively wouldn’t ordinarily be considered supporting players occasionally filled that role as the pianists put on a memorable performance. With seating limited to 250, these parties lend an intimacy to the musician’s relationship with the approving audience, much as a club setting allows. Alternating from solo performances through duets, trios and on up to the full-blown monte, we jazz aficionados were treated to one of those events permanently encoded in our grey matter.


Rossano Sportiello and Louis Mazetier [Photo by Mike Wilson]Hyman is a master of virtually all keyboard styles and able to play imperturbably while doing so. He simply makes everything look too easy. Smith counters with a display of great enthusiasm which doesn’t detract from his equally great versatility. And, even after coming to the states over 50 years ago he still speaks with that beautiful British accent. Sportiello and Mazetier, generally recognized as being the best in their craft in perhaps all of Europe, are now spreading the word here in the U.S. Simply as a matter of comparison, their techniques fall somewhere between Hyman and Smith.


The multitude of piano performances ranged from ballads to boogie, with such tunes as “Exactly Like You,” “Can’t We Be Friends,” “Just You, Just Me,” “After You’ve Gone,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Drop Me Off In Harlem,” and “Diga Diga Doo” as a sampling. For me, the high points involved the four pianists playing simultaneously on two facing concert grand pianos (I’ll do the math, that’s eight hands or forty fingers) while rotating one at a time to the next bench without missing a beat. I must add they were able to do this on everything from a Gershwin ballad to a raucous 10-minute improvised version of something they called “Eight-Hand Boogie Woogie.”


Dick Hyman and Derek Smith [Photo by Mike Wilson]I asked Dick Hyman his opinion of these two young lions and he responded saying they were more than ready to take over and assume any mantle he and Smith might eventually leave behind. The respect these four pianists had for each other would have been obvious to anyone who could hear, sight not being a requirement.


There were the usual mixed pairings in virtually every possible configuration throughout, and while some of these artists seem to have been on the scene forever their talent has not waned. Bucky ripped off some amazing guitar runs both as a soloist and providing rhythm. And he still has that great smile. While cornetist Warren Vache doesn’t dote on making happy faces, the occasional impish grin sneaks out, belying the fact he enjoys playing the curmudgeon role. With a career that now spans about 35 years, listening to him play in the high altitude of Denver and requiring the assistance of a cane because of hip issues that force him to play sitting down, he still has the beautiful, clear forceful tones. He told me he is able to do this simply because one doesn’t play his horn with his face; it’s all in controlling the breathing.


Louis Mazetier [Photo by Mike Wilson]Jay Leonhart—great bassist, fertile mind. Over the years a virtual who’s who of more than 80 artists has appeared at these parties without any vocalists, unless one includes the inimitable Jay. He had just penned and performed a new composition about the failure of Dutch tulips in the securities markets, a takeoff on our financial fiascos. You’d have to hear it to understand and then walk away shaking your head.


Ken Peplowski continues to be the clarinetist with the mostest on the jazz circuits and also blows a pretty sax, as well as displaying the “let’s have a good time up here” mindset. Tenor man Houston Person performed mainly with rhythm backing, which is obvious given his style, except for the finale, which we’ll get to shortly. He told me that despite the breathy tones he is so well noted for, he was influenced as a youth by some of the honkers such as Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston and Earl Bostic.


Trombonist John Allred plays comfortably in any style and left a few wet eyes with a solo rendition of Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” dedicated to the attending family of the recently deceased Tom Dorsey (Tommy’s son), a longtime Denver resident and faithful attendee at these jazz Jay Leonhart, Frank Capp and Chuck Berghofer [Photo by Mike Wilson]parties. This was my first exposure and good fortune to hear bassist Chuck Berghofer, who started with bandleader Skinnay Ennis and has among his many credits touring and recording with Sinatra.


Drummers Frankie Capp and Jake Hanna are ageless. Neither is prone to bombastic solos, content in the rhythm backup role or occasionally driving the assemblage when required. In a lighter moment, when asked to solo, Capp did a very short interlude with tom toms in no particular meter and said “that’s what I think about drum solos.” Artie Shaw would have loved it. 


The final set of the last night started with a tongue-in-cheek performance by the four pianists, with everyone else on stage except, unaccountably, Bucky. It was allegedly “O Sole Mio,” which quickly segued into some stride and boogie woogie and then was transmuted into a no-holds-barred version of “The Saints.” This again had the four pianists doing their rotation, Berghofer and Leonhart sharing the bass and Capp and Hanna sharing drums. And yes, here was the cool Houston Person blowing on one of the oldest tunes in the book in a front line that also featured Peplowski on clarinet along with Allred and Vache.


As Butch Berman used to say, “Life is a gas. You just have to inhale once in awhile.”



Concert Review

Whitesell and All Stars have the joint jumpin'


By Dan DeMuth

BMF Colorado Correspondent


BOULDER, Colo.—Oct. 25 found us in Boulder, catching up with the hottest jump blues band this side of the North Pole. Yes, jump blues, as epitomized by such artists as Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Johnny Otis, Joe Liggins, Roy Brown and Omaha’s own Wynonie Harris.


George Whitesell [Photo by Dan DeMuth]George Whitesell’s All Stars is a Colorado Springs-based group that has been playing selected gigs up and down the Front Range for about two years. Members are comprised of musicians who often front their own groups, both blues and jazz, a true all-star group with George providing the guitar licks, male vocals and occasionally blowing some alto sax.


This type of music requires a sax section supremo, and they don’t disappoint. Brad Eastin, whose resume’ includes such diverse names as Frankie Laine, Cab Calloway, Rosie Clooney and the USAF Falconaires arranges for the band and holds court on tenor, much as he does in several local jazz groups. Relative newcomer Marty Sarlette, another graduate of the USAF bands, also blows a mean tenor and has added some, shall we say, "choreography" to the reed section circa the Louis Jordan era, which adds to the authenticity and general good feeling this band exudes.


George Whitesell and the All Stars [Photo by Dan DeMuth]Providing a contrast to the tenors, while proving a baritone can also honk, is Chris Wojtecki. His folio also includes working with such luminaries as Lesley Gore and Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs and playing with many excellent local groups. Drummer Dave Deason gives a 3D performance without too much panache–a noble trait. The same can be said of bassist Santi Guarnera and keyboardist Tim Zahn–drivin’ the bus and makin’ no fuss.


Ah, but they haven’t forgotten the great female artists during this late ‘40s and early '50s era. Talented Jill Watkins, who has fronted her own group, as well as The All Stars horn section [Photo by Dan DeMuth]performing with others, handles this end with all of the embodiment and embellishment one would expect with this group. Jill has a voice that can nail the shingles to the roof or coax the fuzz off a peach. Whether providing countenance to the likes of Ruth Brown, Etta James, Camille Howard or LaVern Baker in the "mean mamas" mode, or enticing the aforementioned peach fuzz in the manner of Sylvia Robinson of the Mickey and Sylvia duo on the classic “Love Is Strange” (Reviewer's note: George, you need to get this in your repertoire!), Jill brings talent along with personality.


Space doesn’t allow me to list the roster of songs they put into the too-short two hours on stage, but I want to list just a Jill Watkins and George Whitesell [Photo by Dan DeMuth]few. George handled the vocals on Berry’s "You Never Can Tell," Little Richard’s "Baby," Joe Turner’s "Oke She Moke She Pop," and Cleanhead Vinson’s "Kidney Stew," while Jill ably took care of Etta’s "At Last" and "Tell Mama." Her renditions of "I need A Young Man" and "Dr. Feelgood" had all of the ladies feeling good about whatever it is the good doctor does. Intersperse all of this with some great instrumentals by a band really digging what they’re doing, and it’s a great revue. A short clip of the band is at http://www.myspace.com/georgewhitesel



Concert Review

Lindley and Katz continue grand Zoo tradition


By Tom Ineck 


LINCOLN, Neb.—I am frequently reminded how precious a homegrown, hometown live-music club can be, especially one with an eclectic booking policy and a loyal clientele. Such is the Zoo Bar, Lincoln’s most intimate and—for the adventurous music fan—most consistently satisfying venue since it opened its doors in 1973.


David Lindley at the Zoo Bar [Photo by Reynold Peterson]Two recent visits perfectly illustrate the reasons for the Zoo’s excellent reputation and my continued patronage. Multi-instrumentalist and storyteller par excellence David Lindley returned for a Sept. 21 solo performance, and on Oct. 24 jazz and blues organist and piano player Bruce Katz brought his band back to the Zoo for a spectacular show.


Lindley, perhaps best known for his many years playing guitar and recording with Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne, has hammered out a solo career over many arduous years of one-night stands at small clubs just like the Zoo. Already on the road for six weeks before his Lincoln appearance, the 64-year-old road veteran seemed a little weary, but neither his musicianship nor his sense of humor seemed to suffer.


Utilizing at least seven acoustic, stringed instruments over the course of the evening, Lindley performed Zevon’s “Seminole Bingo,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge” and Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” in addition to the traditional gospel tune “What is the Soul of a Man?” and the Eastern exotica “Tasin,” on which he demonstrated improvised scales on the oud. In describing the challenges of the fretless instrument, he said, “You gotta play it like an ant.”


Reprising his popular novelty “Backstage Food,” Lindley added a new chapter to the continuing saga about the often-unappetizing meals served to traveling musicians who are at the mercy of their employers. While strumming a slide guitar on his lap, he told of “driving 600 miles for a 45-minute show,” then related a story from bassist Leland Sklar about a cooking trip to China, where he was offered a burlap bag full of human feet, “gray with yellow toenails.”


The Bruce Katz Band at the Zoo Bar [Photo by Tom Ineck]“Disgusting!” you may say, but the way Lindley tells a story, it was also delightful fun, like a roomful of kids having a “gross out” contest.


The Bruce Katz Band, on the other hand, was all business. Katz earned his stripes playing with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, as well as early stints with Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Witherspoon. At 56, he has half a dozen recordings under his own name and a touring band that always tears it up.


Katz was cooking that night at the Zoo, switching easily from funky jazz organ to boogie-woogie piano to bluesy accompaniment for an equally versatile guitarist. Among the many favorites performed were blistering renditions of “Hep-ology,” “Norton’s Boogie,” Mississippi Moan,” “Jackalope Bar-B-Q,” “Elmore’s Glue,” and the classic cover version of “Compared to What.” 


It’s a testament to the Zoo Bar’s staying power that both of these shows were very well attended. Here’s hoping that the Zoo continues to stake its reputation on musical diversity and the relatively small, but very hip fan base that has nurtured it for so many years.   




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