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The Blue Note 7


Madeleine Peyroux


NJO/Dana Hall


NJO/Mike Tomaro

April 2009

Concert reviews


Concert Review

Blue Note 7 performance a landmark event


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Either because of prohibitive expense or artistic differences, all-star jazz groups seldom record and tour together while still in their prime. Such projects are more frequent among elder statesmen of the music, as though they can be marketed like museum pieces long after their instrumental skills are diminished.


The Blue Note 7 are (from left) Ravi Coltrane, Lewis Nash, Bill Charlap, Peter Bernstein, Nicholas Payton, Peter Washington and Steve Wilson. [Courtesy Photo]That makes The Blue Note 7 phenomenon a landmark event. This septet of living jazz giants has been crisscrossing the country for months behind their January release, “Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records,” recognizing 70 years of legendary recording history. The CD is reviewed elsewhere in this issue of the BMF newsletter.


By the time its ambitious touring itinerary comes to an end with a six-night stand in April at Birdland in New York City, the all-star aggregation will have performed in more than 50 venues, including Omaha and Lincoln.


Anticipation was in the air on the evening of March 26, as the band took the stage at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln. Dramatic lighting set the mood for the casual entrance of trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, alto saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. 


A true jazz cooperative, the seven displayed an egalitarian spirit in every way—sharing the introducing of tunes and solo “spotlight time.” And, nearly all of them took a hand in the arrangements.


The opener, Freddie Hubbard’s “Hub-Tones,” may have seemed an odd choice, since it does not appear on the CD, but it was a fitting tribute to one of the late legends of the Blue Note label and served notice that the band has gone beyond the confines of the eight tracks included on the recording. The tune’s intricate rhythm pattern was no obstacle for soloists Payton, Wilson, Coltrane and Nash, who never ceased to amaze listeners with his complete mastery of the drum kit.


“Party Time,” by Lee Morgan, was given a bluesy treatment in Bernstein’s arrangement and everyone was given solo time. Washington and Nash collaborated on an especially tantalizing interlude that had the drummer also displaying his scat-singing skills. McCoy Tyner’s lovely ballad, “Search for Peace,” was the first tune drawn from the CD. As arranged by Charlap’s wife, The Blue Note 7 in performance [Courtesy Photo]pianist Renee Rosnes, the stately melody was set forth by the brass in beautiful harmony, followed by solos from Wilson on alto and Payton on trumpet.


The intensity returned on “Criss Cross,” a typically angular Thelonious Monk composition arranged by Wilson. The virtuosic Charlap added his own keyboard variations, then Wilson on alto and Coltrane on tenor explored the tune’s inherent harmonic obstacle course. Bernstein and Washington added brief statements, the horns punctuated the tune with a unison interlude and Nash held the whole affair together, maneuvering easily through the quirky rhythmic changes. It was a masterpiece of jazz interpretation and individual expression.


A pulsing Latin beat and stop-time passages gave Charlap’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw” a driving, forward motion that was aided and abetted by Nash’s flawless timekeeping. Wilson turned in a brawny alto solo, and Payton effortlessly flew through the changes with daring octave leaps. Charlap himself created nifty keyboard segues between the solos.


In his arrangement of Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments,” once a bluesy, ballad showcase for the late, great guitarist Grant Green, Bernstein spent considerable time in the spotlight, slowly building on the hesitation rhythm with soulful horn accompaniment and a snaking string solo.


The CD’s title track, Cedar Walton's “Mosaic,” also served as the two-hour concert’s grand finale, a rambunctious tribute to drummer Art Blakey, whose legendary Jazz Messengers first established the tune’s reputation when Walton was the band's pianist. Appropriately, Nash arranged the number, recreating the fury and power of Blakey’s playing while giving everyone a chance to take a lively solo. Nash’s own extended solo was a thorough drum lesson, ranging from sticks to brushes to mallets in a dazzling display of the percussive art.


A standing ovation brought the septet back to the stage for a brief rendition of Dexter Gordon’s “Soy Califa,” highlighted by a stunning Charlap solo.   


The Blue Note 7 CD and its subsequent tour have been so successful that there is talk of a follow-up recording and future performances. Fans of straight-ahead jazz at its finest have good reason to celebrate.



Concert Review

Peyroux features original songs with style 


By Tom Ineck


KANSAS CITY, Mo.—In little more than a decade, and with just four releases to her name, Madeleine Peyroux has established a reputation as one of the Madeleine Peyrouxmost original vocal stylists on the scene. Often compared with Billie Holiday, she possesses a world-weary vocal quality and an ability to slide easily across the harmonic spectrum while remaining true to the melodic line. Her choice of material—from country blues to modern folk to French chanson to traditional swing—has also made her a crossover favorite.


All of those qualities were in ample evidence during an appearance March 20 at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Mo. She and her quartet of top-notch sidemen delivered a captivating, 90-minute set that never lagged. It was a masterful, well-disciplined performance that, nevertheless, seemed intimately informal.


Understandably, the emphasis was on her new CD, “Bare Bones,” released just 10 days before her KC visit. It represents a major step forward, as it is her first release of all-original material. On most of the 11 tunes, she shares credits with other songsmiths, including producer Larry Klein, Julian Coryell and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. As always, it is Peyroux’s idiosyncratic style that makes the songs completely hers.


"Bare Bones," the latest by Madeleine PeyrouxFor the Folly show, her versatile bandmates included the great Larry Goldings, switching off on acoustic piano, electronic keys and Hammond B-3 organ; Jon Herrington on acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin; Barak Mori on acoustic and electric basses; and Darren Beckett on drums and assorted percussion. Peyroux also contributed some nice acoustic guitar work. The instrumental diversity kept things fresh all evening.


Before introducing the new songs, Peyroux began with her definitive version of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” with Goldings taking a swinging piano solo and Herrington chiming in on guitar. The new CD’s title track had Goldings on sultry organ accompaniment, as Peyroux referred to her Southern heritage—“They preached the gospel down in Metarie, they preached it in school. It never made much sense to me, wonder if it was supposed to.”  


On “Don’t Wait Too Long,” from the 2004 release “Careless Love,” the singer displayed her astounding technique of sliding up and down the scale as she caressed the lyric, creating a beguiling eroticism. The ballad “River of Tears” featured some wonderful slide guitar work and a subtle organ solo.


Madeleine Peyroux [Courtesy Photo]Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” also received a unique Peyroux treatment, with Beckett utilizing soft mallets in rubato and Goldings on piano. “Damn the Circumstances” is a heart-rending original about dashed dreams and skeletons in the family closet. Peyroux attempted to lighten the mood with “I’m All Right,” introducing the tune as a “happy break-up song.” “A Little Bit” followed in a rollicking, rocking style. The last two are both from “Half the Perfect World,” Peyroux’s 2006 release.


For a brief, two-tune set, the band “unplugged” to recreate Peyroux’s stint as a Paris street busker. With Herrington on mandolin, Goldings on melodica, Mori on acoustic bass and Beckett using brushes on a pasteboard box, they launched into “La Javanaise” and “Don’t Cry Baby,” a Count Basie classic.


In rapid succession, Peyroux and company ran down six more songs from the new release—the moody “Love and Treachery,” the bluesy “You Can’t Do Me,” the haunting “The Lady of Pigalle,” the wonderful song of love and loss, “I Must Be Saved,” the easy-swinging, feel-good tune, “Instead,” and, as an encore, Peyroux’s tribute to Barack Obama called “Somethin’ Grand.”    


The lavish rococo décor of the former burlesque house was an ideal setting for Peyroux’s throwback appeal. But as a songwriter, she demonstrated a timeless talent and a sure sense of poetry in every lyric.


Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Poltz opened with a 30-minute set of quirky originals, including “Brief History of My Life,” which referred comically to his Catholic upbringing, “Everything About You,” from the “Notting Hill” soundtrack, and a whacky, dramatic parody of “Edward Scissorhands” called “Sewing Machine,” featuring a recording of friend A. J. Croce on piano accompaniment. He also displayed some fine finger-picking technique on “Silver Lining” and the instrumental “Chinese Checkers.”



Concert Review

Dana Hall steers NJO through challenging set


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—A degree in aerospace engineering was only the beginning for Dana Hall, who went on to garner diplomas in music, music composition and music arranging Dana Hall with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra [Photo by Tom Ineck]and is completing his doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago.


“It’s Not Rocket Science…” was the ideal title for Hall’s March 24 guest appearance with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra at the Cornhusker Marriott. The versatile percussionist steered the big band through a set of challenging and frequently high-flying performances for the NJO’s final concert of the season.


The legendary Woody Herman flag-waver “Four Brothers” kicked things off with a front-line saxophone barrage led by Matt Wallace on tenor sax and Scott Vicroy on baritone. Hall first demonstrated his drum skills on “Synergy,” a tune by guest music director Eric Richards, sitting in for Ed Love, who is traveling in Italy with a group of young musicians.


Scott Vicroy on baritone sax [Photo by Tom Ineck]A highlight of the evening was the Thad Jones composition “Us,” a funky number featuring intricate, bluesy lines and bright brass ensemble work. Maria Schneider’s “Wrygly” had Wallace wailing with soulful intensity on tenor and Peter Bouffard soaring on an inspired rock-style guitar solo.


The band returned to Earth for an exquisite reading of John Coltrane’s stately ballad “Central Park West” and a flawless version of Don Grolnick’s devilishly difficult “Nothing Personal,” with masterful playing by Wallace on tenor, Bob Krueger on flugelhorn and Hall on drums.


“Fingers,” a Thad Jones tune based on the changes of “I Got Rhythm,” was driven by Hall’s fast shuffle beat, which drew excellent solos from several players. Mark Benson delivered a rousing soprano sax statement, while other notable solos came from Bouffard on guitar, Krueger on trumpet, Tom Harvill on piano and Andy Hall on bass.


Matt Wallace on tenor with guitarist Peter Bouffard and bassist Andy Hall [Photo by Tom Ineck]The audience of 355 also showed enthusiastic support for the opening set by the Omaha Westside High School Concert Jazz Band, joined by Hall on an Eric Richards arrangement of “Black Orpheus.” Directed by Roger Groth, the youthful ensemble also turned in a fine rendition of the Sammy Nestico-penned Basie standard “Wind Machine.” Several of the young players showed promise, but the real standout was drummer Grant McMullen, who exhibited ample technique and self-assurance, even when sharing the stage with Hall manning a second drum kit during “Orpheus.”


During the intermission, longtime NJO sponsor John Tavlin of Midwest Diamond gave a rambling, impromptu “state of the NJO” address, pleading for support for the financially strapped band, which was founded in 1975. A trumpeter and former band member, Tavlin shared his intimate knowledge of NJO history as he made a persuasive case for the survival of this musical treasure.



Concert Review

Woodwind virtuoso leaves listeners awestruck


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Woodwind virtuoso Mike Tomaro put two generations of local jazz artists through the paces as featured guest artist for the 2009 “Learning from the Master” concert Jan. 22 at the Cornhusker Marriott.


Once a year, the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra brings in an established musician to front the professional band and to mentor the area’s latest crop of musical youth, also known as the Young Lions All-Star Band. Tomaro, who teaches at Mike Tomaro with the NJO [Photo by Tom Ineck]Duquesne University, left both ensembles awestruck at his considerable instrumental prowess.


After a short set with the younger ensemble, the NJO primed the pump with a rousing rendition of “Writer’s Block,” a bluesy tune featuring trumpeter Bob Krueger, tenor saxophonist Paul Haar and some nice unison playing by the brass section. Tomaro then joined the NJO for “You and the Night and the Music.” His up-tempo take and astounding tenor playing served notice that he is a force to be reckoned with. His extended solo drew from a deep well of ideas.


Switching to alto sax for Billy Strayhorn’s lush and lovely “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” Tomaro set the mood by reading the lyrics before playing the romantic ballad. His arrangement of “Bluesette” transformed the tune into a Mike Tomaro on tenor sax with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra [Photo by Tom Ineck]samba, with Tomaro on soprano sax and trombonist Todd Thatcher and Haar on tenor contributing solos.


In another unexpected interpretation, the NJO played Tomaro’s version of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament.” Usually performed as a ballad, it emerged as a mid-tempo waltz that also proved a perfect vehicle for the arranger’s octave leaps and high-register foray on the tenor sax.


From the extensive pop songbook of Stevie Wonder came “Send One Your Love,” first recorded on Wonder’s largely instrumental LP of 1979 entitled “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” This lesser-known tune featured Tomaro on flute and the sax section in a unison interlude.


For his own “Del Corazon,” Tomaro turned to the Electronic Wind Instrument Tomaro on soprano sax [Photo by Tom Ineck](EWI) in a stylistic nod to the music of guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Lyle Mays. The breezy fusion tune had pianist Tom Harvill, drummer Greg Ahl and bassist George Bryan bravely keeping the driving beat.


The band closed with the flag-waver, “Dodo’s Dance,” a tune by pianist Dodo Marmarosa based on the standard “Cherokee.” Tomaro took it at a blazing tempo and improvised with ease over the whole range of the tenor sax, giving the rest of the outfit a chance to burn and inspiring a standing ovation from the crowd of 250.




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