April 2009
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Healdsburg Jazz Festival


The Bad Plus


John Riley Trio


Project Omaha


Kendra Shank Quartet




NJO & Christine Hitt


Ray Gehring & Commonwealth


Legends of Jazz


July 2009

Concert reviews


Festival Review

Healdsburg festival features Jobim tribute


By Tom Ineck


HEALDSBURG, Calif.—A community of just 15,000 souls in the heart of Northern California’s wine country—65 miles north of San Francisco—may seem an unlikely place for a world-class jazz festival, but this quaint, 19th century Sonoma County city has established that well-deserved reputation over the last decade.


It was a beautiful day in the park for a tribute to Jobim at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Thanks in large part to the vision and work of artistic director Jessica Felix, the 11th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival built on that reputation with a two-week event featuring an eclectic lineup of artists from near and far. From May 29 through June 7, those who attended heard some of the best live jazz anywhere by such heavyweights as James Moody, Randy Weston, John Handy, Esperanza Spaulding, Julian Lage, Denny Zeitlin, Marlena Shaw and Eddie Marshall. They congregated in cafes and art galleries, theaters and vineyards. On one very special day, hundreds gathered at a recreation park in downtown Healdsburg for a six-hour showcase of Brazilian jazz.


May 31 brought the perfect weather for “Stars of Brazil: A Tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim,” featuring guitarist-composer Toninho Horta, the great Trio da Paz and legendary singer Leny Andrade with the Stephanie Ozer Ensemble. A second stage offered more Brazilian jazz by Samba De Raiz, a popular Bay Area group.


Sonoma County jazz pianist Ozer led a group also comprised of saxophonist-flutist Mary Fettig, bassist Scott Thompson (Fettig’s Leny Andrade sings with Stephanie Ozer Ensemble [Photo by Tom Ineck]son) and drummer Celso Alberti. They performed a wonderful version of Luiz Eca’s “Dolphin,’ a tune Ozer first recorded for her 2004 release devoted to Brazilian jazz.


Though raised in the Bronx, Ozer’s musical inclinations headed south after hearing Andrade perform at a club in Rio de Janeiro. It was fitting that the two shared the stage for a set of tunes that included “One-Note Samba,” on which Andrade teamed up with Thompson on electric bass, with Fettig on flute. Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz” also received a lovely reading by Andrade and Ozer, with Fettig on alto sax. Next, Ozer introduced “Bronx to Brazil,” her loving tribute to Andrade and the South American sound.


Most stunning were Andrade’s own interpretations of two familiar Brazilian jazz anthems, “Rio de Janeiro” and Jobim’s classic “Dindi,” which she introduced as “the most beautiful love song in the samba style.” With such a passionate performance as hers, who could disagree?


Trio da Paz is (from left) Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta and Duduka Da Fonseca. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Formed more than 23 years ago and now based in New York City, the virtuosic trio of guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca may be the best practitioners of Brazilian jazz on the planet. Individually, they are in great demand on recordings by artists looking for the authentic rhythms and technique of samba. Together, they are a force with which to be reckoned.


From their 2002 CD of the same name, they performed “Café,” a relaxed, swinging tune by Egberto Gismonti. A master of the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, Lubambo extracted every ounce of emotion from his instrument. Matta’s “Baden” is a tribute to the late, great Brazilian guitarist and composer Baden Leny Andrade joins Trio da Paz. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Powell. The composer’s authoritative bass line and thunderous solo set the pace for Lubambo’s stinging guitar work and Da Fonseca’s brilliant brushwork. Jobim’s “Look to the Sky” was followed by Da Fonseca’s composition “Dona Maria,” an uptempo tribute to his grandmother, who must have been a very hip woman, indeed.


Their good friend Andrade enthusiastically joined the trio for two familiar Jobim songs, “Felicidade” and “So Danco Samba,” with the singer delivering some spirited scatting. As an encore, Trio da Paz finished their set with another nod to Jobim, the ballad “Corcovado (Quiet Nights).”


Toninho Horta’s “Pica Pau” has long been a favorite of mine, since I heard it as the lead-off track of 1992’s “Once I Loved,” which also features Gary Toninho Horta on acoustic guitar [Photo by Tom Ineck]Peacock on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. The guitarist owes something of his style to fusion icon Pat Metheny, but Horta utilizes more chords and fewer single-note runs, developing a lush, emotional sound all his own.


That was even more evident in his Healdsburg set, which began with the title track of that 1992 CD. Santi Debriano and Billy Hart capably handled the bass and drum chores while adding their own distinctive flavor to the mix. Debriano contributed a nice Arco bass solo. Jobim’s “Meditation” was humming along smoothly until a pickup malfunction sidelined the acoustic guitar. Horta continued on electric guitar on his composition “From Ton to Tom,” a heartfelt tribute to Jobim recorded by Horta in 1998 for a CD of the same name.


Pianist Marcos Silva joined the group for Horta’s “Bons Amigos (Good Friends),” an appropriate tune considering that Silva was the composer’s Marcos Silva, piano; Santi Debriano, bass; Toninho Horta, electric guitar; and Billy Hart, drums [Photo by Tom Ineck]keyboardist for 20 years. The innovative percussionist Airto Moreira then took the stage, accompanying the group before taking over for an inspired solo involving tambourine and free vocalise in an astounding tour de force of the improvisational art, even to the extent of demonstrating the throat-singing technique of Tuva. Airto also joined Horta’s band on the trap set, giving Hart a breather.


Billy Hart, drums; and Airto, percussion and vocals [Photo by Tom Ineck]Hart was back for Jobim’s “Zingaro” with Airto on assorted percussion, Silva on piano and Debriano on bass. Horta reeled out some high-energy guitar chords for an original he introduced as “Check This Out,” which proved a showcase for Hart’s idiosyncratic drum style.


Two nights later, the scene was the Palette Art Café for a performance by the Billy Higgins Legacy Band, a stirring tribute to the late drummer, who was an essential ingredient in the ground-breaking Ornette Coleman quartet that rocked the jazz world in the late 1950s. Higgins died in 2001, at age 64, but his spirit was unmistakable in the daring, free-wheeling interplay, intensified by the razor-sharp saxophones of Azar Lawrence and special unannounced guest, Craig Handy.


The rest of the band consisted of pianist Kito Gamble, bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin and drummer Myron Cohen. All were friends of Higgins.


With Lawrence on soprano sax and Handy on tenor, the band turned “Softly, as in a MorninAzar Larwrence, Henry Franklin, Craig Handy and Myron Cohen at Palette Art Cafe [Photo by Tom Ineck]g Sunrise,” into a tour de force with Lawrence eventually switching to tenor for an extended Coltrane-inspired solo, including a stunning interlude involving circular breathing. He capped the tune with an electrifying soprano cadenza.


Turning to a charging Coltrane composition, Lawrence and Handy went head-to-head on tenors and displayed their contrasting styles, Lawrence wailing with powerful, cascading lines and Handy employing more melodic finesse. On “Afro Blue,” again it was Lawrence on soprano and Handy on tenor for a soulful rendition of the familiar melody.


Drummer Billy Hart was called from the audience to sit in on a 15-minute version of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Lawrence and Handy, both on tenor saxes, each took a solo before trading fours with Hart. The drummer stretched out in an inspired solo before turning it over to the saxes for a climax of dazzling, interweaving lines.


With Cohen back at the drum kit, the two tenors dug into Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” which also featured a fine piano solo by Gamble. After a short set by a group of young musicians, including drummer Lorca Hart (Billy’s son), the groups finished with “My Favorite Things.”   


Surprisingly, drummer Myron Cohen met the daunting challenge of doing justice to the master Billy Higgins, despite an occasional tendency to overplay.



Concert Review

The Bad Plus alternately thrill and bewilder


By Tom Ineck


OMAHA, Neb.—After more than six years of recording and touring to worldwide critical acclaim and occasional bewilderment, The Bad Plus remain endlessly imaginative and frequently thrilling in a dare-to-be-different approach that freely crosses the usual stylistic boundaries. The result is a listening experience that forces a reevaluation of all musical pigeon holes.


So it was when the Twin Cities-based trio brought its road show to the 1200 Club in the Holland Center for Performing Arts on April 24. The current tour is in support of the band’s recent release, “For All I Care,” the first to feature a The Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis [Courtesy Photo]singer. Wendy Lewis joined The Bad Plus for the second half of the concert, a typically untypical set of cover tunes.


Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King warmed to the audience of some 400 fans with a mix of old and new, including some especially provocative original compositions. Stravinsky's “Variation d’Apollon,” one of the few instrumentals on the new release, set convention on its ear by combining the classical with King’s thundering drum interludes. Iverson’s “Who’s He?” was a full-bore rocker with a dramatic drum solo, and Iverson’s “Bill Hickman at Home” continues The Bad Plus penchant for themes based on sports figures, in this case a stunt driver. Anderson contributed a soulful bass solo.


Metric playfulness is always apparent in The Bad Plus approach. “Metal” was delivered in something like 6/8 time. Ornette Coleman’s “Song X” paid homage to the composer’s so-called “harmolodic” concept. “Semi-Simple Variations,” another classical piece from the new CD, was a rhythmically challenging take on Milton Babbitt.


From the 2003 breakthrough debut “These are the Vistas” came King’s “1972 Bronze Medalist,” about Jacque, somewhat of a celebrity in the south of France, and Anderson’s “Big Eater.” The bassist also penned “Prehensile,” an unusual tune with a stately, Bach-like counterpoint.


After a break, Lewis entered as she does on the recording, with Kurt Cobain’s spooky anthem “Lithium.” Her Wendy Lewis with The Bad Plus [Courtesy Photo]ragged voice conveys the perfect world-weariness for such a song, but she is equally effective on classics of progressive rock (“Long Distance Runaround” by Yes), lounge music (the dark ballad “Blue Velvet”), and Irish rock (“New Year’s Day” by U2, on which her intense wail nearly matched Bono’s).


“How Deep is Your Love?” from the Bee Gees songbook, is one of those long-forgotten songs that is redefined in the hands, minds and voice of The Bad Plus and Lewis. Anderson’s solo bass intro warned of something different and a voice-bass discord later confirmed The Bad Plus refusal to conform.


Heart’s “Barracuda” was one of the most aggressive interpretations of the evening, and Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was an unexpected encore, with Lewis and Anderson singing harmony vocals.



Concert Review

John Riley Trio is no ordinary jazz organ trio


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Fans of the traditional rhythm & blues-oriented Hammond organ trio found little common ground with the style of the John Riley Trio during the final 2009 Jazz in June concert. What the crowd of some 8,000 did find is a new frontier of “organizing” and of jazz interplay.


Since Jimmy Smith revolutionized the instrument more than 50 years ago, few Hammond B-3 artists have ventured beyond the blues-laden jazz formula that John Riley Trio at Jazz in June [Photo by Tom Ineck]he created. Only Larry Young in the 1960s and Sam Yahel, Larry Goldings and a few others in more recent years have attempted to break the mold. Add Gary Versace to that illustrious list.


More than leader John Riley on drums or veteran multi-instrumentalist Dick Oatts on saxophones and flute, it was Versace who seemed to lift the music to a higher realm at the June 30 performance. He persistently urged the others to venture beyond predictable phrasing, predictable harmonies and predictable rhythmic patterns. It comes as no surprise that Versace has become the favorite sideman of such iconoclasts as guitarist John Scofield and John Abercrombie, saxophonists Lee Konitz and Seamus Blake, and big-band leader Maria Schneider.


Gary Versace, organ; Dick Oatts, alto sax; John Riley, drums [Photo by Tom Ineck]As though to alert listeners that they were in for something different, the trio began with a high-octane, modern version of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” with Oatts wailing on the alto sax and Versace taking off on his initial organ flight, full of percussive phrasing and a vocal-like tonal quality. The tune also introduced the trio’s sublimely conversational interplay, as the three sensitively listened to each other and freely responded.


Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” was given the proper exotic ballad treatment, but Versace again expanded on that theme with the use of dense chords and tonal experiments. At times, the lush keyboard and Leslie amplification seemed near to feedback mode, adding to the edginess. Oatts’ composition “On Dominant” was an uptempo burner with complex changes. Again, the three-way interplay was synchronous and magical. During a brief drum break, Riley masterfully subdivided the beats.


Drummer John Riley [Photo by Tom Ineck]Oatts switched to soprano sax for a moody, soulful tune by Versace called “Now as Then.” The mutual awareness among the players was apparent, and it helped to create a powerful emotional effect. Displaying a more celebrative mood, the trio finished the set with “Gumbo,” Oatts’ tribute to New Orleans. The alto sax mixed with Riley’s Crescent City street-marching beat for a genuine rave-up, but again it was Versace who defied convention with unusual phrasing and tone. The tune had the angularity of a Monk idea, and a saxophone-organ exchange heightened the sense of celebration.


“Mel’s Minor” is a classic blues shuffle by Oatts, dedicated to a former employer, the late drummer Mel Lewis. It was medium-tempo cool with Versace taking the only solo of the evening that somewhat resembled the soul-jazz organ of the past. Versace displayed his formidable technique while cruising easily through the changes on his tune “Soon Enough” as Oatts added brilliant statements on alto sax. The trio deconstructed Bob Haggart’s standard “What’s New?” and, indeed, created something new and beautiful with Oatts stating the melody, Versace riffing, and Riley insinuating a subtle, funky back beat. He began playing with his hands, shifted to sticks for a shuffle beat and back to hands.


John Riley Trio plays to large crowd at Jazz in June. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Clare Fischer’s bossa nova “Pensativa,” most famous for its appearance on Art Blakey’s 1964 release, “Free for All,” was taken at a subdued tempo, with Oatts on flute. But, lest the audience get too comfortable, Versace turned up the heat with another breath-taking solo. Unmistakably intense was the finale, “King Henry,” penned by Oatts for his son. Riley kept the run-away tempo under control with ease as Oatts delivered a great alto sax lead melody and variations.


Because the John Riley Trio was somewhat of an unknown quantity, even to those of us who were familiar with the players’ individual work, the final concert of the Jazz in June season was perhaps the most surprising as well.


Here’s something to look forward to. As in 2009, there are five Tuesdays in June 2010, promising another windfall of great jazz for Lincoln fans.



Concert Review

Project Omaha amply rewards jazz devotees


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The highly anticipated reunion of Project Omaha, a year after the initial two-night stand that resulted in the sextet’s live recording, more than met everyone’s expectations.


Project Omaha at 2009 Jazz in June [Photo by Tom Ineck]With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees by early evening on June 23, the Jazz in June audience was reduced from the usual crowd of 7,000 or 8,000 to about half that number, but those who braved the elements were abundantly rewarded with the most exciting and virtuosic jazz display this city has witnessed in a long time. Despite the miles that separate them—guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Victor Lewis traveled from New York City, keyboardist Tony Gulizia from Vail, Colo., percussionist Joey Gulizia and bassist Mark Luebbe from Omaha and Dave Stryker, Mark  Luebbe, Victor Lewis and Bill Wimmer [Photo by Tom Ineck]saxophonist Bill Wimmer from Lincoln—the six musicians repeatedly locked into irresistible grooves that had listeners shouting their approval.


Like the CD, the opener was Dexter Gordon’s Latin swinger “Soy Califa,” a great vehicle for Wimmer’s bold tenor sax excursions. The sax, guitar and keys announced the theme in unison, setting up a series of solos and allowing Lewis and Joey Gulizia plenty of space for breezy, polyrhythmic interplay. Stryker’s inventive solo revealed his debt to Wes Montgomery as he deftly added texture with octave runs.


The bluesy “Cherry Red” was a showcase for Tony Gulizia’s organ playing and versatile vocal style, digging deep into the Kansas City jazz tradition in Tony Gulizia plays and sings [Photo by Tom Ineck]homage to Big Joe Turner and Jay “Hootie” McShann. As he applied the proper “grease,” Gulizia called out Stryker to take a solo, a blazing blues statement. Wimmer followed with a soulful alto sax interlude. Tony Williams’ rarely recorded or covered composition “Geo Rose” was a brooding, 10-minute masterpiece. The melody was stated in unison by Stryker and Wimmer on soprano sax. Styker’s solo explored all the possible variations, as Joey Gulizia added a haunting counterpoint on steel drum.


One of the highlight’s of the evening was Stryker’s new composition “One for Reedus,” written in memory of drummer Tony Reedus, who spent several years in Stryker’s band and died in November at age 49. It has a funky undercurrent, an infectious rhythmic drive and a stop-time motif that set up the Project Omaha responds to standing ovation [Photo by Tom Ineck]solos, including some smoking fretwork that seemed to express all of the sense of loss and celebration of life that inspired the tune. A longtime friend and mentor of Reedus, Victor Lewis also played with verve and inspiration.


“Gypsy Blue” kicked off the second half of the concert with more Latin lilt, as Wimmer’s alto sax joined with Stryker’s guitar at a steady medium tempo. Again, a Stryker solo gradually increased in intensity, doubling the tempo for effect and leading to a set of rousing four-bar breaks with Lewis. Stryker’s “Carnaval,” the CD’s sole original tune, kept the mood light and celebrative. With Joey Gulizia on steel drums and Lewis ranging freely over the trap set, it captured all the carefree joy of a Caribbean street parade, with Wimmer soaring high above on soprano sax.


Bill Wimmer, Mark Luebbe, Victor Lewis and Dave Stryker at The Nebraska Club [Photo by Tom Ineck]Venturing again from the confines of the CD, Tony Gulizia returned to an old favorite of his, “Just the Two of Us,” the classic Bill Withers song that provides a wonderful setting for Gulizia’s warm vocals and expert keyboard accompaniment. Wimmer’s alto sax solo was followed by a Stryker guitar solo that slyly quoted “Eleanor Rigby.”


With about a dozen Stryker recordings in my collection and having heard him live at least eight times over the last 20 years, it seems to my ears that the 52-year-old guitarist just keeps getting better. He wisely balances a formidable technique with tasteful restraint and the knowledge that sometimes less is more. He also knows how to have fun and excite an audience by occasionally turning up the heat.


Dave Stryker bears down on guitar solo. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Neither of the Gulizias was on hand for the so-called New York Jazz Summit three nights earlier, when Wimmer, Stryker, Lewis and Luebbe delivered a powerful, two-hour performance for an exclusive audience of just 40 devoted jazz fans at the Nebraska Club, on the 20th floor of the U.S. Bank building in downtown Lincoln. A benefit for KZUM Community Radio, it was a delightful contrast to the heat, crowded conditions and distractions of the outdoor Jazz in June venue.


It also allowed the quartet to try some new tunes and delve deeper into solo statements. Beginning with the familiar “Soy Califa,” the band moved into new territory with Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You,” which Stryker and Lewis infused with a New Orleans street beat. Wimmer, on tenor sax, harmonized nicely with Stryker’s fat tone. Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” began with an imaginative solo-guitar intro, leading to the melody played by Wimmer on alto sax, followed by solos from Wimmer, Luebbe, and Stryker, with Lewis tastefully switching to mallets.


Stryker’s “One for Reedus” picked up the tempo and set up a series of solos that tested the improvisational skills on a tune that was still new to most of the band. They carried if off beautifully, with fire and feeling. The rumba rhythm of “Gypsy Blue” joined alto sax and guitar in a unison melody line, and the rambunctious “Carnaval” was another great opportunity for Lewis’ stunning percussion work. In this intimate setting, the full force of his world-class technique was apparent, despite a drum kit that was less than world-class.


Lewis’ own “It’s Been a Long Time,” with Wimmer on tenor sax, summed up the evening with a sense of the rarity of such high-quality jazz performances in Lincoln. Here’s hoping that the wait for another such performance is not as long.



Concert Review

Shank Quartet digs deep into varied repertoire


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—The Kendra Shank Quartet’s third appearance at the Jazz in June concert series was ostensibly a showcase for her recent release, “Mosaic,” but the June 16 performance also provided an opportunity for the longtime musical collaborators to dig deep into their extensive repertoire.


The Kendra Shank Quartet (from left) is Frank Kimbrough, Dean Johnson, Kendra Shank and Tony Moreno. [Photo by Tom Ineck]With temperatures in the upper 80s at show time, Shank was dressed in a black, loose-fitting dress, but she and the rest of the band still generated considerable heat as they worked their way through two sets of highly inspired, give-and-take interplay. Whether interpreting jazz standards or introducing more obscure tunes, Shank and her comrades—pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson and drummer Tony Moreno—eschew conventional changes, preferring to delve into long improvisational interludes that challenge the listener and heighten the sense of surprise.


For example, Shank’s take on Cole Porter’s chestnut “All of You” was to faithfully render the familiar melody only briefly before creating free variations Kendra Shank improvises vocal [Photo by Tom Ineck]on the theme. Her bandmates were right there with her, exploring alternate chords as fellow-travelers on another jazz adventure. From their 2007 release, a tribute to the songs of Abbey Lincoln called “A Spirit Free,” the quartet revisited “Throw It Away,” with Moreno playing the drums with his hands and Kimbrough plucking the piano strings as Shank introduced the tune with her improvised “Incantation.”


“Laughing at Life,” from the new CD, began with a very loose melodic intro before moving into uptempo solos on piano and bass and an energetic drum solo that furthered the sense of inherent joy that the title prescribes. “Reflections in Blue” featured another bold Shank vocal improvisation, which segued neatly to Irving Berlin’s familiar “Blue Skies.” As on the CD, one of the highlights of the concert was Shank’s reading of Carole King’s pop classic “So Far Away,” a sentiment that the singer obviously takes to heart. Utilizing her bell-like tone, she proceeded to wring great emotion from the story of long-distance love. In his imaginative solo, Kimbrough also found new ways to enhance an old tune.


An extended improvisation on the traditional “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” brought the first set to a stunning climax, despite a brief sound-system malfunction that left the voice aKimbrough, Johnson and Shank working together [Photo by Tom Ineck]nd piano unamplified. As sound returned, Kimbrough ranged over the keyboard with rolling fists and discordant notes that provoked Shank to a creative response of percussive vocalizing.


The leaping, calypso-style mood of Abbey Lincoln’s “Wholly Earth” got the second half off to a joyful start, reinforced by Kimbrough’s dancing solo. A special treat was Shank’s venture into the Thelonious Monk songbook with her interpretation of “Blue Monk,” known in this version as “Monkery’s the Blues,” with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln. Shank returned to the new release with “I’m Movin’ On,” a relatively unknown composition by Kirk Nurock with lyrics by Judy Niemack that caution against living in the past. Moreno’s brushwork subtly added to the urgency of that message.

“Beautiful Love” received another opening improvisation from Shank, based on the words of mystic poet Rumi and entitled “Water from Your Spring.” With Kimbrough again plucking the strings, Johnson bowing the bass and Moreno using soft mallets, the familiar melody of the Victor Young standard began to emerge amid Shank’s lilting, cascading vocals and skillful octave leaps.


Frank Kimbrough solos [Photo by Tom Ineck]Kimbrough’s ballad “For Duke” received a splendid interpretation by Shank, who introduced the tune as a composition by her favorite piano player, with lyrics by Kimbrough’s wife, poet Maryanne De Prophetis. Finally, the quartet pulled out all the stops for a spirited version of “Life’s Mosaic,” combining the Cedar Walton melody with lyrics by John and Paula Hackett. Everyone had a chance to solo on the uptempo bopper.   


The audience of several thousand, many of whom were familiar with Shank from previous Jazz in June performances in 2004 and 2007, showed their appreciation with ample applause throughout the evening. About 50 of them also lined up to buy CDs and have them autographed by the always-gracious Kendra Shank Quartet.



Concert Review

ZARO brings funky good time to Jazz in June


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—A fair-weather capacity crowd of several thousand were in for a raucous and funky good time when the Fort Collins, Colo., quartet ZARO ZARO (from left) is Roger Barnhart, bass; Andrew Vogt, reeds; Oscar Dezoto, drums; and Zac Rothenbuehler, guitar. [Photo by Tom Ineck]took the outdoor stage for the second of five 2009 Jazz in June concerts.


The June 9 performance was exuberant and high-volume, in both senses of the word, as the well-rehearsed band reeled off nearly 20 tunes in two 60-minute sets at a decibel level that took some getting used to, especially for those of us sitting up front. Once the ears had adjusted, however, it was pure listening pleasure.


For front man and Lincoln native Andrew Vogt, a versatile reed virtuoso, it seemed a pure pleasure to be playing for a hometown crowd, and he took every opportunity to show his appreciation, giving a shout-out to fellow alumni Guitarist Zac Rothenbuehler takes a solo [Photo by Tom Ineck]of Lincoln East High School and Pyrtle Elementary School and ending the concert with a “God bless Nebraska.”


Spurred on by Vogt, the rest of the foursome—guitarist Zac Rothenbuehler, bassist Roger Barnhart, drummer Oscar Dezoto—responded with equal enthusiasm. They floated on top of the rhythmic drive created by Vogt’s David Sanbornish alto sax on the Pat Martino composition “Mac Tough.” Vogt’s own “Action Plan” was followed by a funky, witty take on “Fables of Faubus,” the Charles Mingus attack on Arkansas segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus. With Vogt on tenor sax, the tune began in mid-tempo, accelerated and returned before opening up to solos by Vogt and Rothenbuehler.


Andrew Vogt on tenor sax [Photo by Tom Ineck]The guitarist was prominently featured on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s fast blues shuffle “Stang’s Swang,” with another exemplary solo by Vogt on tenor and a series of imaginative drum breaks by Dezoto, who sounded great despite a hand injury he sustained just before show time.


Switching to clarinet, Vogt dedicated a bossa reading of the jazz standard “Pure Imagination” to the late Butch Berman, who had taken the young saxophonist under his wing, introducing him to a wide range of music and encouraging his own musical explorations. On a lighter note, the band leaped into the familiar “Sanford and Son” TV theme with glee, as the listening audience responded with instant recognition. Rather than belabor the obvious, Vogt hilariously followed the performance by shouting, in a perfect Red Foxx impersonation, “Lamont, ya big dummy!”  


Bassist Roger Barnhart [Photo by Tom Ineck]“Tipitina’s,” by fusion guitarist Mike Stern, contained a little bit of New Orleans funk and fire and a sly quote from the “Mission: Impossible” theme by Vogt on tenor sax. Bob Marley’s “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” was recast from a straight reggae beat to a funk fusion rhythm, this time with Vogt on soprano.


ZARO once again had the audience playing “What’s that ‘70s TV Theme Song?” with a dead-on version of “The Rockford Files.” Pat Metheny’s tender ballad “Change of Heart” was the setting for a lilting guitar feature, with Vogt on soprano sax. The energy level rose again for Vogt’s “The Derailer,” with the composer on tenor. Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” contains some difficult-to-negotiate rhythm changes, but ZARO pulled it off with exhilarating, unison alto sax/guitar/bass statements and a great guitar solo.


From out of nowhere came “Red Car,” a bluesy Art Pepper workout from the mid-1970s. Warming to the soulful changes, Rothenbuehler took an unconventional solo, followed by Vogt’s alto sax homage to the composer, with an edgy tone and a series of dazzling staccato bursts of imaginative improvisation. As an appropriate encore, ZARO reached even further back for a funky rendition of Lou Donaldson’s “The Midnight Creeper.” 



Concert Review

NJO and Hitt deliver well-paced series opener


By Bill Wimmer


LINCOLN, Neb.—Sheldon Museum of Art’s Jazz in June series kicked off June 2 with the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra featuring Christine Hitt.


Beginning with Sammy Nestico’s “Front Burner,” the NJO really came out blazing. Brisk solos from all sections followed. The band sounded good and the sound crew did a nice job all night.


Next up was Horace Silver’s “Gregory Is Here,” an arrangement by former NJO NJO at 2007 Jazz in June [File Photo]saxman Dave Sharp. Bob Krueger played the flugelhorn, and Ed Love had a nice solo on this Latin arrangement.


Christine Hitt, pianist and vocalist from Bellevue, who teaches at Iowa Western College, was the guest artist for the evening. The band featured her singing on “I Love Being Here with You.” She was in fine form, with a nice voice, relaxed phrasing and good intonation.


Christine Hitt [Courtesy Photo]Next up was an arrangement of “Here, There and Everywhere” featuring Hitt on vocals and piano with just the rhythm section of guitarist Pete Bouffard, bassist George Bryan and drummer Greg Ahl. Bouffard had a tasteful solo on this one.


A Karrin Allyson arrangement of Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’,” showcasing Tom Harvill on piano, followed. This arrangement features a sax soli where the vocalist doubles the lines of the saxophone to great effect.


On Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’,” Scott Vicroy led the charge on bari sax, a rare feature in any big band (except maybe Gerry Mulligan’s). Vicroy also soloed tastefully on this great arrangement with Ed Love also taking a ride.


After a short break, the band returned with Toshiko Akiyoshi’s “Tuning Up,” always a cute set opener that begins with the band basically tuning its instruments and segueing into a blues. Opening the solos was Cully Joyce on a very intense tenor saxophone. Gully is musical director for the Notables, the Air Force jazz group out of Bellevue. He plays a lot of saxophone, and I hope to hear him play again with the NJO. Pete Madsen on trombone, saxophonist Ed Love and trumpeter Dean Haist all took turns, leading to an especially nice solo from Paul Haar, the other tenor.


Hitt returned with “I Cried for You,” with just the rhythm section and a guitar solo from Bouffard. The whole band returned, without the vocalist, for a really fine arrangement by Eric Richards of Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Beginning with a rubato opening, the bridge transitioned into a ¾ double-time feel for the solo section. Paul Haar stood out again on this wonderful treatment of a classic.


The vocalist joined the group again for the finale, “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” with a rare, swinging solo from Brad Obbink on flugelhorn. This was an appropriate ending to a well-paced set of music by the NJO and another successful Jazz in June concert. The Sheldon is off to another fine Jazz in June series, doing a nice job of organizing a big event, and with the help of good sponsors like the Berman Music Foundation, the music should continue here for a long time.



Concert Review

Guitarist Ray Gehring makes Zoo Bar debut


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Ray Gehring returned to his hometown May 22 to make his Zoo Bar debut, exactly 20 years after the guitarist last performed in the city, leading a jazz fusion trio at Duffy’s.


Matthias Bublath, Dan Gaarder and Ray Gehring at the Zoo Bar [Photo by Tom Ineck]Lots of friends, family and a few Zoo Bar regulars made him feel welcome as he roared through two sets drawing heavily from his new release, a tribute to the pop music of the 1970s called “Radio Trails.” The CD is dedicated to Butch Berman and the Berman Music Foundation.


Gehring was ably accompanied by members of his band Commonwealth, in this case keyboardist Matthias Bublath and drummer Joey Van Phillips, with vocals featuring Dan Gaarder. The band also made appearances May 20 in Minneapolis and May 21 at the Saddle Creek Bar in Omaha.


Gehring, Bublath and drummer Joey Van Phillips [Photo by Tom Ineck]“Take the Long Way Home,” Supertramp’s 1979 super-hit, received a rocking instrumental reading with Gehring delivering a biting guitar attack that fully utilized the fat, resonant tone of his hollow-bodied axe. Gaarder took the stage for a rocking version of Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures,” and Gram Parsons’ “She,” which had Bublath displaying his versatility and imagination on keys.


Originals included Gehring’s bluesy “Stay Awhile” and the collaborative “That Was the Story.” Bublath added percussive, staccato jabs on the latter, which Luke Polipnick and Ray Gehring [Photo by Tom Ineck]Gaarder sang with his understated, reedy quality. Aptly for the venerable blues club, the band finished the opening set with a blues shuffle.


On Neil Diamond’s “Shiloh,” Gehring’s guitar reached near-feedback level as Gaarder read from a lyric sheet, somewhat dampening the song’s effect. The second set’s highlight was a guest appearance by guitarist Luke Polipnick, whose band Volcano Insurance also includes drummer Joey Van Phillips. Among the tunes that Gehring and Polipnick mutually explored was the Willie Nelson standard “Funny How Time Slips Away.”



Colorado Correspondent

Jazz legends bring 250 years of experience


By Dan DeMuth


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—Colorado Springs, which has been privy to great jazz performances for several decades, notched another winner May 9.


Amy and George Whitesell of A Music Company Inc. (amusiccompanyinc.com will get you to their website) were primarily responsible in arranging this Legends of Jazz (from left) Larry Vuckovich, Julian Priester, John Heard, Hadley Caliman and Eddie Marshall [Photo by Dan DeMuth]concert on short notice, albeit with some help from local media persons of prominence. The setting was the plush, but affordable Cheyenne Mountain Retreat, enhanced by an able and appreciative staff. I may be somewhat prejudiced, but when the doorman singled me out from others—while checking in—with the observation, "Here comes a man to listen to jazz," it does start the day off rather nicely.


Hadley Caliman [Photo by Dan DeMuth]The ballroom was filled with jazz aficionados who were treated to some straight-ahead jazz from Legends of Jazz, a quintet whose members have been jazzin' in one form or the other for a combined total of more than 250 years. Anyone reading this can simply Google the artists by name, but I will tell you in advance it’s akin to reading a Who's Who of jazz perusing their careers, both as leaders and in associations with premier jazz artists.


I would change the tour name to Legendary Gentlemen of Jazz, as they are gentlemen all, respecting an audience that highly appreciated them. The players are Hadley Caliman on tenor, bassist John Heard, Eddie Marshall drumming, Julian Priester on trombone and pianist Larry Vuckovich.


Larry Vuckovich [Photo by Dan DeMuth]They opened with the Jerome Kern composition “All the Things You Are” and changed pace with the much recorded but seldom heard “Red Top.” We were treated to some Ellingtonia throughout both sets with the likes of “Lush Life,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Take the A Train,” “Mood Indigo” (with Eddie Marshall switching to the rarely heard recorder) and “Isfahan,” with John Heard contributing some great bass licks on the latter Strayhorn piece. A soulful version of the aptly titled Miles Davis piece “All Blues” was a crowd-pleaser, as was Todd Dameron's lyrical ode to John Coltrane “Soul Train,” which featured the artistry of pianist Vuckovich. Closing with “Savoy” left us all if not stompin' still chompin' for more.


A special bonus for moi' occurred when my wife and I were invited to join Julian, the promoters and Hadley and his wife in the lounge after the show. As the round(s) of choice was Knob Creek Manhattans, and the conversation went into the wee hours of the morning, no notes were taken but I have greatly added some jazz lore to what’s left of the memory bank.




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