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Chicago Jazz Festival


Sonny Rollins


Zappa Plays Zappa


Lao Tizer


Les DeMerle Band


Dan Thomas Quintet


Darryl White Group

September 2008

Concert reviews


Concert Review

Chicago Jazz Festival celebrates 30 years


By Tom Ineck


CHICAGO, Ill.—Twenty years is a long time between trips to Chicago, and once again it took the Chicago Jazz Festival to get me headed north to the Windy City.


This year’s 30th annual event was Aug. 28-31, with a special opening-night performance by Sonny Rollins and a closing-night finale by Ornette Coleman. Chicago's skyline glows as a crowd gathers at Grant Park for an evening performance. [Photo by Tom Ineck]In between, a typically diverse array of jazz artists took the Petrillo Music Shell stage in Grant Park. Afternoon performances were scheduled at a smaller stage on nearby Jackson Street.


The city-sponsored jazz fest has always prided itself on a schedule that alternates mainstream jazz with the avant-garde. The lineup in 1988 also included Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, in addition to Herbie Hancock, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Charlie Haden and his Liberation Orchestra, native sons—all saxophonists—Clifford Jordan, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman and Ira Sullivan, and native daughter pianist Dorothy Donegan, among many others.


This year, the headliners ranged in age from the young East Indian jazz fusion keyboardist Vijay Iyer to the 90-year-old big band leader Gerald Wilson, whose performance featured a guest appearance by guitarist Kenny Burrell. Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater paid tribute to the late Betty Carter, and the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band stirred up a hot salsa of dance numbers. Trumpeter Dave Douglas paid respectful and aptly adventurous homage to the late Lester Bowie, who moved to Chicago in the mid-1960s and later founded the cutting-edge Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  


One of the most vital and enduring traditions of the jazz fest is its commitment to new compositions. With help from the Chicago Jazz Partnership, the festival this year commissioned original works by four artists, including Saturday night headliners Iyer, Douglas and Wilson. The fourth was the 5 p.m. opening-day “Tribute to Captain Walter Dyett,” in honor of the late educator who served as the mentor for so many of the city’s great jazz artists.


Members of the AACM are (from left) Michael Logan, Roscoe Mitchell, Thurman Barker and Wadada Leo Smith [Photo by Tom Ineck]Having just arrived at my hotel room about the time that performance was in progress, I didn’t arrive at the festival site until 6 p.m., just in time for another tribute. This one recognized the indisputable influence of the AACM and featured saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianist Amina Claudine Myers, bassist Michael Logan and drummer Thurman Barker, who organized the quintet for this special appearance.


The quintet’s style is best summed up in one word—intense. Myers attacked the keyboard with ferocious, percussive phrases. Mitchell, 68, belied his age with long alto sax solos that employ rotary breathing to an amazing degree. AACM pianist Amina Claudine Myers [Photo by Tom Ineck]Trumpeter Smith and saxophonist Mitchell created a formidable front line, often playing in unison on long, through-written pieces, and then alternating lines in classic jazz dialogue.


Logan and Barker seldom played the time-keeping role of the traditional rhythm section. Instead, they wove intricate patterns around the others, defining the essence of group improvisation. Barker also doubled on marimba to great effect, lending an organic element to the overall sound. He combined that instrument, cymbals and drums in a moving piece he wrote for the late AACM drummer Steve McCall (1933-1989). Mitchell, in turn, took up the soprano sax to pay homage to late AACM bassist Malachi Favors (1927-2004).


The AACM tribute band eschewed stage banter, not even introducing the pieces by name, preferring to let the music speak for itself. It did, profoundly.


Pianist Mulgrew Miller interacts with Bridgewater. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Like her mentor Betty Carter (1930-1998), Dee Dee Bridgewater always brings style and drama to her performances, both visually and musically. Possessing a virtuosic vocal range and an irresistible personality, she commands the stage and rivets the audience’s attention. With a program devoted to Carter and a rhythm section comprised of Carter veterans, she delivered a spectacular concert.


Accompanying Bridgewater were pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Winard Harper, all of whom were among the many young Dee Dee Bridgewater wails as drummer Winard Harper adds emphasis. [Photo by Tom Ineck]musicians who Carter famously hand-picked and nurtured during her career. The singer had herself been a close friend and student of Carter’s, giving the tribute concert a sense of authenticity.


Among the early highlights was a very fast rendition of “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and a scat-singing interlude during “There Is No Greater Love” in which Bridgewater mimicked a muted trumpet solo with unfettered glee. A resident of France for many years, she sang the standard “The Good Life (La Dolce Vita)” with the original French lyrics using Carter’s arrangement. “Cherokee” had Bridgewater and Miller trading phrases in dazzling style. The band slowed to a ballad tempo for a rendition of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.”


Bridgewater and bassist Ira Coleman [Photo by Tom Ineck]Bridgewater related her final phone conversation with Carter and her efforts to win the rights for the only “authorized” tribute show to her mentor. That served as an introduction to her take on Carter’s most idiosyncratic and devilishly difficult number, the stop-and-start, elastic “Tight.” After a couple of miscues, she sailed into the heart of the song, with the band admirably keeping pace, and confidently added the sequel, “Mr. Gentleman.”


Finally, Bridgewater turned her attention to another gifted singer and iconoclast, Nina Simone (1933-2003). Her powerful rendition of Simone’s classic “Four Women” led to a call to all women of color—“Yes, we can change!”—and a plea to vote for Barack Obama. It would not be the last time during the festival that an artist would endorse the Democratic candidate for president.


But there were no overt political messages in the infectious music of the The Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band, with saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig [Photo by Tom Ineck]evening’s closing act, the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band. Holding court from the piano bench, Palmieri displayed a perpetual glowing smile, evidence of his great love for this music and for Chicago.


Palmieri’s current octet boasts the stellar front line of trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Donald Harrison and trombonist Conrad Herwig, plus Luques Curtis on bass, Jose Claussell on timbales, Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas and Orlando Vega on bongos and cowbell. The mood was light and the playing was top-notch as they whipped through an hour-long set of rhythmic Eddie Palmieri sings as bassist Luques Curtis plays. [Photo by Tom Ineck]dance tunes and ballads, ending with the smoking, crowd-pleasing favorite, “Azucar,” with somewhat unsteady vocals by the 71-year-old Palmieri.


Hoping to catch legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell fronting a rhythm section of Chicago’s finest at the Jazz on Jackson stage, I hustled over to the festival grounds around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, only to find that Burrell had been replaced by trumpeter Brian Lynch. But, after witnessing his playing prowess with Palmieri the previous night, I was delighted to see him in a different format, with excellent accompaniment from pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Joel Spencer. After a half-hour in the sun-baked street, snapping photos in 90-degree heat, I fled for a cooling respite to the nearby banks of Lake Michigan, a welcome change of scenery for weary festival-goers.


The 5 p.m. performance at Trumpeter Pharez Whitted is  joined by pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Dennis Carroll, drummer Kobie Watkins and guitarist Bobby Broom. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Petrillo Music Shell was the sextet of trumpeter Pharez Whitted, a native of Columbus, Ohio, who now directs the jazz studies program at Chicago State University. He was joined by Edwin Bayard on tenor sax, Bobby Broom on guitar, Ron Perrillo on piano, Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums. The group will release its debut CD next year, good news for those of us who think Whitted is deserving of more recognition. His style is akin to Freddie Hubbard’s. Indeed, the trumpeter performed two Hubbard tunes, the funky “Mr. Clean” and the uptempo “Birdlike.”


Pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire [Photo by Tom Ineck]Commissioned to write a piece for the festival, pianist Vijay Iyer delivered “Far From Over,” a seven-part suite inspired by the police shooting of Sean Bell in New York City and devoted to the potential change promised by a Barack Obama presidency. The title, Iyer noted, acknowledges that much work lies ahead in improving the lives of Americans at home and the status of the United States abroad.


Guitarist Prasanna [Photo by Tom Ineck]The performance also marked the debut appearance of Iyer’s formidable quintet, which prominently featured guitarist Prasanna, whose style draws on the keening tone and leaping scales of the sitar. The band also includes trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who won the 2007 Thelonious Monk Competition, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of legendary bop drummer Roy Haynes.


Melding many musical influences, Iyer and company performed the movements of the suite—“Far From Over,” “Optimism,” “Out of the Tunnel,” “Passage,” “Actions Speak…,” “Helix,” and “Good on the Ground”—with assurance and technical proficiency, displaying stylistic elements of rock, jazz, folk and world music in a rhythmically complex tapestry of sound.


Douglas and his Brass Ecstasy ensemble contributed “Chicago Calling: Bowie, Barack and Brass,” another outspoken, political call to action. Of Trumpeter Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstasy [Photo by Tom Ineck]course, the band’s name is a reference to Bowie’s ground-breaking, mid-‘80s outfit, Brass Fantasy. Douglas carries on—and extends—that tradition with help from Vincent Chancey on french horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Ben Perowsky on drums.


The unusual format of four brass instruments and drums created beautiful harmonies and dynamics running the full range from Douglas’ astounding trumpet flights to the lower regions of Rojas’ tuba. Perowsky broadened his own palette by employing tuned bells and a second bass drum set up behind him, in addition to a standard drum kit. For emphasis, he would occasionally take up a mallet and pound the bass drum, creating a thunderous effect when combined with tuba.


The brass-heavy nature of the ensemble also allowed Brass Drummer Ben Perowsky drives Brass Ecstasy. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Ecstasy to approximate the polyphony of traditional New Orleans bands without sounding stodgy or old-fashioned. The trumpet soared, the trombone growled and the drums marched, but, as always, Douglas maintained an imaginative, progressive approach to the music.


In case anyone failed to get the political message of the suite, Douglas announced that it was dedicated to Nov. 4 (Election Day) and shouted “Yes, we can!” a sentiment echoed by many in the audience.


Finally, Douglas offered a tune specifically dedicated to Bowie that he wrote before the commissioned suite. Entitled “Glad to Meet You,” it was performed as a soulful, slow-drag that had Douglas exhibiting some of the lip effects and breathing for which Bowie and Louis Armstrong are known.


The evening’s closer was a joyous affair by the age-defying, nonagenarian big The Gerald Wilson Orchestra [Photo by Tom Ineck]band leader Gerald Wilson. His commissioned piece was a long, somewhat disjointed suite called “Chicago Is.” Again and again, it praised Chicago as “a beautiful place to be,” citing its windy reputation, its history as a transportation hub, its blues roots and its many sports venues and sports fans.


Noting his tenure with Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie, Wilson began with a tune he wrote for Basie in the late 1940s. An animated conductor, Wilson Guitarist Kenny Burrell and violinist Yvette Devereaux [Photo by Tom Ineck]energetically led the band through the swinger, which included excellent solos by Winston Byrd on trumpet, Yvette Devereaux on violin, and Louie Spears on bass.


On several tunes, his 18-piece, Los Angeles-based orchestra was augmented by legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell. He made his entrance on “Theme for Monterey: Romance,” part of a suite commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1997. Wilson humorously dedicated it to lovers of all kinds, proceeding to number all the possible combinations. Burrell also was featured on “Viva Tirado,” an bluesy Latin tune from the recent collaboration between Wilson and the guitarist. Sans Burrell, the band followed up with “Triple Chase,” an old flag-waving favorite.


Kenny Burrell and 90-year-old bandleader Gerald Wilson [Photo by Tom Ineck]Pianist Brian O’Rourke, who has been with Wilson for 15 years, performed the introduction to “Chicago Is.” Burrell returned to deliver the very romantic melody, accompanied by powerful brass voicing, and an outstanding guitar solo. “Blues Triangle” and “Blowing in the Windy City” brought the suite to its conclusion, after which festival officials wheeled a giant cake to the stage’s edge and sang “Happy Birthday” to the grateful bandleader, who was born Sept. 4, 1918. A few days early, it was nevertheless a fitting end to an amazing day of music.


In keeping with the festival’s pledge to celebrate jazz in all its diverse forms, the final evening was arguably the most adventurous of all, beginning with the iconoclastic Instant The Instant Composers Pool Orchestra [Photo by Tom Ineck]Composers Pool Orchestra, a Dutch outfit with roots in the early 1960s, when pianist Misha Mengelberg coined the term “instant composition,” as opposed to the much-maligned concept of “free improvisation.”


Like Chicago’s AACM, the ICP has had rotating personnel but still includes Mengelberg and original drummer Han Bennink. The current 10-piece ensemble also includes Ab Baars, Tobias Delius and Michael Moore on clarinets and saxophones, Thomas Heberer on trumpet, Wolter Wierbos on trombone and a string sections comprised of Mary Oliver on violin and viola, Tristan Honsinger on cello and Ernst Glerum on bass. Together, they create a very unique sound, often beginning with cacophonous interplay that somehow evolves into a familiar jazz standard. Indeed, in its 35-year recording history, the ICP has covered many tunes by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, but never in a way that could be considered conventional or predictable. Viva le difference!


A musical mainstay in Chicago since 1985, the loose-knit 8 Bold Souls has 8 Bold Souls, led by Ed Wilkerson Jr. [Photo by Tom Ineck]never received the recognition they deserve for their genre-leaping compositions and extraordinary group interplay. With only four recordings in the last 20 years—most recently in 2000—it was a rare treat to hear them in action.


Robert Griffin and Ed Wilkerson Jr., festival artist-in-residence [Photo by Tom Ineck] The octet is led by multi-reed specialist Edward Wilkerson Jr., the festival’s 2008 Artist-in-Residence, and boasts some of the Windy City’s most talented and innovative players—Mwata Bowden on reeds, Robert Griffin on trumpet, Isaiah Jackson on trombone, Aaron Dodd on tuba, Naomi Millender on cello, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Dushun Mosley on drums. The festival appearance also featured special guest vocalist Dee Alexander, herself an area favorite.


Wilkerson speculated that the “definable Chicago sound” is perhaps due to the city’s wind, the cold weather or the smell of the stockyards. 8 Bold Souls Dee Alexander [Photo by Tom Ineck]undoubtedly are linked to Chicago’s blues roots, but not in any conventional, 12-bar sense. The tune “Autumn of the Patriarch” sounded like a modified tango.


Flaunting their versatility, Wilkerson moved easily from tenor sax to alto sax so clarinet to soprano sax, while Griffin took up both trumpet and flugelhorn, first alternating the two, then playing both simultaneously. Bowden doubled on baritone sax and clarinet.


Alexander joined the band for the gospel-tinged “I Can Fly,” and deftly scatted her way through the boppish “What the Heck,” displaying a broad range, both vocally and stylistically. A swaggering funk tune completed the set with Wilkerson on tenor. The four-horn front line, with additional heft from the tuba, created a brawny sound.


High anticipation notwithstanding, the average listener could not have been Ornette Coleman and his "Sound Grammar' quartet [Photo by Tom Ineck]adequately prepared for Ornette Coleman’s festival-closing set. The 78-year-old, free-jazz icon did not disappoint those who expected the unexpected. It began when Coleman’s announced entrance was delayed by several minutes while the rest of his quartet stood waiting on stage. It soon became apparent that the band leader had misplaced his horn. Stage hands scurried until it was found and taken to him.


Coleman’s most recent release, “Sound Grammar,” was his first in a decade and, as though in recognition that his music still is relevant, it won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and inspired a tour by the “Sound Grammar” quartet, consisting of Coleman along with acoustic bassist Tony Falaga, electric bassist Al MacDowell and drummer Denardo Coleman, the leader’s son and longtime percussionist.


Ornette doubles on trumpet and alto sax. [Photo by Tom Ineck]Never one for idle chit-chat, Coleman remained silent throughout the set, without a word of introduction for the tunes. He switched, seemingly at random, from alto sax to trumpet to violin, as the others followed his every whim. MacDowell was especially effective as he played his four-string Fender in the upper register, creating a dynamic contrast with Falanga’s groaning upright bass.


On a bluesy tune, the acoustic bass and drums kept things grounded as Coleman pitted his alto sax against the electric bass in counterpoint. The basses then joined in unison as an introduction to Coleman’s solo statement. Falaga began another tune with bowed bass in a baroque style, while Coleman moved from violin to trumpet to alto sax against the classical pattern. Yet another tune was a folk ballad with a gorgeous bowed-bass melody that was abruptly interrupted by Coleman trumpet squeaks and blats and alto sax squawks.


As the set came to an end, fireworks went off over Lake Michigan, not for the festival but for a nearby ball game. Even so, it seemed a fitting end to a sonically explosive and stylistically kaleidoscopic festival.



Concert Review

Rollins, 78, shares wisdom through his horn


By Jesse Starita


CHICAGO, Ill.—On a tranquil late-August evening, 13,000 people gathered to hear an oracle proffer his wisdom. This offering—channeled through the soul and spirit of a jazz elder’s saxophone—was intimate and engaging, rollicking and sincere. Perched below the city’s imposing skyline, Sonny Rollins commenced the 2008 Chicago Jazz Festival with sustained swing, clarity and grace.


Emerging with a delicate walk, Rollins turned his back to the crowd to converse with his personnel. A quick order then ensued. Kobie Watkins gave Sonny Rollins performs opening-night concert. [Photo by Jesse Starita]a few whacks to his drum kit. Bobby Broom answered with animated licks on the guitar. Bob Cranshaw unfurled a slow and steady line on bass. And trombonist Clifton Anderson joined Sonny for the opening chorus of “Sonny, Please.” The title track from his latest album turned out to be a lengthy jam, even for live jazz standards. Throughout it all, Rollins’ tenor pierced through the surface, accompanied by his six decades of perspicacity and wisdom.


Although the quintet deserved much of the credit for its sound, the venue helped propel the moment’s gravity. Thoughtfully, the organizers sought a change in location for such a marquee artist and occasion (the festival was celebrating its 30th anniversary). Jay Pritzker Pavilion, located in Millennium Park, is a stunning if slightly odd structure. The bandshell is surrounded by massive steel platelets that zig-zag and jut out from the center, giving the stage an other-worldly feel. A giant steel trellis envelopes the audience from above and beams a rich, uniform sound to the audience below. And as the Chicago sun began to dim, Sonny’s exhales merged wonderfully with the pavilion’s structural grace.


Approaching the halfway point, Rollins delved into “Someday I’ll Find You.” A silky ballad, Rollins played it while patrolling the stage, showcasing subtle restraint, stylistically and in tone. At 78, he is still capable of fleet and forceful soloing, but is best somewhere in between ballad and burly. Perhaps it’s where Rollins is most comfortable now. After a wild life filled with heroin addiction (which he kicked in Chicago in 1955) and stints in jail, a musical equilibrium can have some real value. Friends also help, and when the grey-haired Rollins took frequent pauses to conserve energy, his sidemen stepped in fluidly.


Of particular import was Rollins’ nephew, trombonist Clifton Anderson. After a quarter-century accompanying the tenor titan, Anderson’s adroitness was evident and on full display. His range was most notable—from casual slides and slurs on ballad numbers to a blSonny Rollins with guitarist Bobby Broom and bassist Bob Cranshaw [Courtesy Chicago Tribune]istering authority and swing on everything else. Inspired by his uncle, who bought him his first trombone at age 7, Anderson seemed to be the most uplifted by the voluminous and vocal crowd.


As the evening receded, the lights of Chicago intensified and a slight breeze blew in off Lake Michigan. I must take one more chorus to repeat: what a stunning place to see a jazz legend! Seeking to end the night on a high note, Rollins entered into a final comfort zone—calypso. Merging jazz sensibilities with Caribbean melodies, Sonny and company ventured south, playing with equatorial heat and fire. Empowered by the rhythm, thousands got up to dance and cajole. A few moments later, Sonny strolled carefully up to the microphone to thank his bandmates and the host city. They walked off stage, escorted by an echo of cheers and claps, only to reappear moments later at the crowd’s bidding. Another calypso conversation began.


Six decades after he first picked up the saxophone, Rollins continues to ignite his playing, his personnel and crowds with novelty and vigor. The music really does keep you young.



Concert Review

"Tour de Frank" wows Omaha audience


By Tom Ineck


OMAHA, Neb.—Dweezil Zappa’s deep respect for his father’s vast musical oeuvre is immediately apparent in the younger Zappa’s devotion to the music’s integrity in performance. That devotion was on display June 7, when the so-called “Tour de Frank” made a stop at Witherspoon Hall.


"Zappa Plays Zappa," 2008 tour poster [Courtesy Photo]The road show, better known as “Zappa Plays Zappa,” has been touring for a couple of years now and has developed an incredibly diverse cross-section of Frank’s often-difficult music to a very high degree of execution. The process began with Dweezil spending more than three years studying his father’s compositions and honing his own guitar technique to a point where he could do justice to the classic, idiosyncratic Zappa sound. It came to fruition with the selection of bandmates who could recreate the music with the right mix of technical proficiency and humor.


In addition to Dweezil on guitar, the band consists of Aaron Arntz on keyboards and trumpet; Scheila Gonzalez on saxophone, flute and keyboards; Pete Griffin on bass; Billy Hulting on marimba and percussion; Jamie Kime on guitar; and Joe Travers on drums, who is also the Zappa family archivist, a handy resource when assembling a truly representative program for each concert. The latest addition to the ensemble is vocalist and guitarist Ray White, who performed and recorded with Zappa senior and who adds another element of authenticity.


With a setlist of more than 20 tunes—many of which segued from one to another—it is difficult to name them all. Needless to say, there was little banter from the stage during the concert, which lasted nearly two and a half hours.


Dweezil Zappa [Photo by Michael Mesker]Among the highlights was “City of Tiny Lites,” from 1979’s “Sheik Yerbouti,” one of the recordings on which White appeared. Dweezil delivered one of the evening’s many dazzling guitar solos on this one, showing that he has mastered his dad’s stinging wah-wah style to perfection.


From 1981’s “You Are What You Is,” came “I’m a Beautiful Guy” and “Beauty Knows No Pain.” Returning to “Sheik Yerbouti,” the band turned in a great rendition of “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes,” with Arntz doubling on keys and trumpet and Dweezil switching to his Fender Stratocaster for a solo.


The centerpiece of the concert was a full treatment of the instrumental “King Kong,” a Mothers of Invention classic dating to 1967 but first immortalized two years later on “Uncle Meat.” The tune featured outstanding solos on vibes, keys, bass, alto sax and drums. From Zappa’s more scatological period of the mid-1970s came “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”


Ray White [Photo by Michael Mesker]An unexpected treat came at the request of an audience member, as the band tore into a rocking version of the Juan Tizol swinger “Caravan,’ with White breaking into some smooth vocalise. That seemed like an apt lead-in to several excerpts from “Joe’s Garage,” including “Wet T-Shirt Night,” “Outside Now,” “He Used to Cut My Grass,” and “Packard Goose.”


The evening would not have been complete without a take on “Cosmik Debris,” and the band delivered in spades. Singer Ray White took a bluesy guitar solo, followed by another guitar solo by Kime and a third solo by Dweezil. Returning for an encore, the band dipped into 1971’s “200 Motels” with “Magic Fingers.”


The audience of 600 seemed largely comprised of fanatic, male Zappa devotees who knew every lick and every lyric from the songbook. Age-wise, the crowd ranged from teenagers to 60-somethings, testimony to the lasting impact of Zappa’s music, as least among a cultish minority of discriminating listeners.


Zappa fans may want to check out the live, two-disc “Zappa Plays Zappa” DVD, which features guest appearances by guitarist Steve Vai, singer Napoleon Murphy Brock and drummer Terry Bozzio. A single live CD also is available.



Concert Review

Lao Tizer band brings breath of fresh air


By Jesse Starita


LINCOLN, Neb.—The weather, the Sheldon Art Gallery and the people of Lincoln kept oscillating on June 24. Sunny or rainy? Indoors or outdoors? To go or to not to go? After much debate, the final concert of Jazz in June’s 17th season remained external, rain-free and with a substantial crowd of several thousand. And to conclude an equivocal day, the Lao Tizer band submitted an unequivocal statement of their preferred atmosphere—smooth.


This was a welcome change of pace, both from the day’s uncertainties and from the past few weeks of traditional, straightforward jazz. Tizer, a keyboardist with improvisational flair and deft touch, led his quintet through a fusion of Latin-tinged, George Bensonesque cookers with the occasional ballad for good measure. Their first set drew largely from Tizer’s (pronouncedLao Tizer [Photo by Dao Pham] Ty-zer) acclaimed 2006 release “Diversify.” The band instantly locked into a groove on “A Night in the City,” which featured Tizer lightly sprinkling notes during his keyboard solo, evoking a Ray Manzarek “Riders on the Storm” quality.   


The band shifted gears for the title track from “Diversify.” Steve Nieves, the quintet’s renaissance man, played saxophone, congas and sang on this lengthy fusion piece. However, the band seemed to bite off more than they could chew and the resulting sound felt forced and contrived. Then, Tizer threw a change-up as he and guitarist Jeff Kollmann collaborated on “Ella’s First Light,” a gorgeous duet with Kollmann on the upright, classical guitar. The change in guitars—from electric to classical—was subtle on the surface but indicated the group’s affinity for melding rhythms, cultures and styles. 


After a halftime spent signing CDs and toweling off from the muggy conditions, Tizer emerged with a pair of rather simple and straightforward Latin jams. But the crowd received a well-needed injection of dynamism during “What It Is” as bassist Andre Manga pounded, pulled, slapped and popped his instrument on an exhilarating three-minute solo. In fact, many patrons stood up to applaud the solo, which, in Jazz in June terms, meant he hit all the right notes. Tizer then took a moment to re-introduce the band. Currently based in Los Angeles, Tizer revealed he was born and raised in Boulder, Colo., and joked that “I don’t want to get started talking about football rivalries.” 


As the sun began to set and the daylight waned, the quintet embarked on a gentle Tizer original called “A Hui Hou,” or “Till We Meet Again,” in Hawaiian.


The group displayed some excellent chemistry, but this was occasionally undercut by the distracting and unnecessary vocals from Nieves. Regardless, when the band concluded their set with “West Side Highway,” the crowd immediately answered with a passionate applause and call for more. Tizer obliged with the Brazilian-based “Blue Bossa” a nice change and fitting conclusion for this worldly, smooth jazz collective.


Equal parts funk, groove, soul and smooth, the Lao Tizer band gave Jazz in June a breath of fresh air and a freewheeling atmosphere just when it was most needed. The crowd’s only regret: that rare air and atmosphere will vanish for the next 12 months.



Concert Review

DeMerle band performed as Butch vowed


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Soon after awakening from a six-day, induced coma last October, Butch Berman was visited in the hospital by his wife, Grace, who brought to his bedside a CD entitled “Cookin’ at the Corner, Volume Two,” by The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band. Butch was so moved by the music that he credited it, in part, for his initial recovery.


The Les DeMerle Band at Jazz in June [Photo by Tom Ineck]Butch wrote a rave review of the CD and vowed to bring the band to the 2008 Jazz in June concert series, though as time passed he must have known that his chances of surviving that long were slim. Indeed, he died nearly five months before Les DeMerle and his band took the stage for the June 17 concert. It was left to the rest of us at the Berman Music Foundation to welcome them to Lincoln and introduce them on stage.


Les DeMerle at the drums [Photo by Tom Ineck]After being wined and dined the previous night, band leader Les DeMerle, along with his wife, singer Bonnie Eisele, pianist Mike Levine and bassist Jamie Ousley were in good spirits as they took the stage, kicking off with the title track, “Cookin’ at the Corner.” A fine drummer who followed Buddy Rich in the Harry James band and who once kept time for Manhattan Transfer and Eddie Jefferson, DeMerle gave a Latin groove to his rendition of “It Might as Well Be Spring.”


Proving themselves to be family-friendly, they performed the humorous Jefferson showcase “Bennie’s From Heaven,” followed by a scat-singing primer in which DeMerle invited two girls from the audience to join him on stage for a sing-along of “All Night Long.” The popular standards continued with “This Can’t Be Love” and a Vegas-style medley of “Satin Doll” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”  


Les DeMerle coaches girls in scat-singing technique [Photo by Tom Ineck]Stylistically, the performance ranged from Jobim’s samba “Agua de Beber” to the evergreen romantic ballad “At Last,” with a bluesy piano solo by Levine. “The More I See You” was a vocal duet between DeMerle and Eisele with Les scatting in the Louis Armstrong mode. The flashiest drum solo of the evening came in an uptempo Latin rendition of “What a Difference a Day Makes.” “Red Top” served as the break song.


The second half also had its share of familiar, popular tunes, including Ellington’s “In a Mellotone,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” and the ballad “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?"


The June 17 appearance by the Dynamic Les DeMerle Band featuring Bonnie Eisele gave everyone connected with Jazz in June yet another chance to express their appreciation for many years of financial support from the BMF. We hope that collaboration continues for many years to come.



Concert Review

Thomas quintet delivers moving performance


By Tom Ineck 


LINCOLN, Neb.—Emotions ran high as the Dan Thomas Quintet took the stage for a June 10 performance at Jazz in June. Although the Kansas City-based band had never performed at the popular outdoor summer event, its talented members had been friends of the Berman Music Foundation for several years. 


Dan Thomas band at Jazz in June with Roger Wilder at left [Photo by Tom Ineck]Before his death in January, BMF founder Butch Berman ensured that the quintet would have sufficient sponsorship to make it a part of this year’s concert series, though he would be unable to attend.


In that spirit, Thomas and his ensemble delivered a moving program of largely original tunes by the saxophonist, keyboard master Roger Wilder and young drummer Brandon Draper, who had appeared a week earlier with trumpeter Darryl White’s group. Together with his longtime bandmates, trumpeter Joe Parisi and bassist Bram Wijnands, Thomas confidently led off with his composition “Green Card,” a reference to his Canadian citizenship and his move to the states. 


Wilder’s “The Dodger Says” was an uptempo tune featuring solid solo by Thomas on alto sax, the composer on keys and Draper, whose cliché-free style was a breath of fresh air. Another Wilder tune followed, with Parisi deftly Thomas band with drummer Brandon Draper at right [Photo by Tom Ineck]switching from flugelhorn to trumpet. Throughout the evening, he revealed his uncanny ability to play powerful bop runs on the larger horn. 


“Shock and Awe” yielded an unforeseen shock when a gust of wind suddenly blew Wilder’s sheet music to the stage during a solo, but he recovered with aplomb. Draper’s dazzling drum solo had an Eastern flair to it. The drummer’s ballad “Looking Up” had Parisi on flugelhorn and Thomas on alto stating the melody. The saxophonist took a gorgeous solo. The uptempo “Blues for BLT,” from the group’s 2005 release, “Musical Sanctuary,” was another showcase for Parisi’s flugelhorn work, but everyone got ample solo space.  


Dan Thomas and Bram Wijnands [Photo by Tom Ineck]“What is This Thing Called Love” was one of only two standards on the evening’s program. Parisi again got the spotlight treatment with a flugelhorn solo, but bassist Wijnands was the main attraction, taking a bass solo while singing in unison in his trademark vocalise. Draper’s tune “Tiles” was funky number with a melody that combined Thomas on alto sax with Parisi on trumpet. Wilder took an excellent piano solo, followed by Parisi, while the composer exhibited his sure sense of time as he improvised a rhythmic backdrop. 


Two of a perfect pair, Thomas and Parisi again stated the melody on “Leading the Blind,” a pretty tune that offered solo space for Thomas on also, Wilder on piano, Parisi on flugelhorn and Wijnands on bass. Up next was the title track from “Musical Sanctuary,” an obvious expression of Thomas’ philosophy that music is a saving grace capable of healing and providing shelter from the storms of life. 


For the last tune, Thomas lovingly introduced “The Eternal Triangle,” a bop classic by the underappreciated alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt. As an encore, the band played a lilting “Bye Bye Blackbird.” It was a fitting farewell both to the very appreciative Jazz in June audience and to Butch Berman, the band’s longtime friend and benefactor.



Concert Review

Trumpeter impresses with diversity, technique


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Trumpeter Darryl White has increasingly impressed this reviewer with his ability to find musicians who are not only compatible but also challenge each other to new creative heights. Such was the case June 3, when the Darryl White Group opened the 2008 Jazz in June concert series with a diverse repertoire and an often-spellbinding performance.


The Darryl White Group at Jazz in June [Photo by Tom Ineck]There are several performances with which to compare White’s most recent. The Berman Music Foundation was there for the trumpeter’s 2003 Jazz in June gig, featuring Kansas City saxophonists Bobby Watson and Gerald Dunn. We also were at the Blue Room in KC’s famed 18th and Vine Historic District in July 2004, when he performed again with Watson and Dunn at his side. White also made an impressive showing at last year’s Jazz in June, as guest soloist with Kansas City singer Angela Hagenbach and the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra.


But this was the best yet, as he fronted a stellar group also consisting of saxophonist Dave Pietro, Darryl White and Dave Pietro [Photo by Tom Ineck]keyboardist extraordinaire Jeff Jenkins, bassist Craig Akin, drummer Brandon Draper and percussionist Michael Pujado, a native of Chile. Hailing from New York City, Denver, Kansas City and Omaha, they played with a unity that belied their geographical differences. 


The six-piece ensemble operated at the top of its game, and its choice of material was unusual and inspired, from the opening gem, “Get Up,” written by local musician Paul Krueger, one of White’s most promising young trumpet students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was a mature piece of work that showed both imagination and the urge to swing, which the band did with verve. White put on his best Freddie Hubbard style, playing with powerful assurance and a bright, bell-like tone.


Drummer Brandon Draper [Photo by Tom Ineck]A set of tunes by saxophonists began with Joe Henderson’s “Mamacita,” which churned with hot Latin rhythms and a bluesy feel. Pujado set the mood on congas for a succession of solos by White, Jenkins and the formidable percussion duo of Draper and Pujado. Jenkins’ solo was especially notable for its unique blend of drive and dissonance. Kenny Garrett’s “2 Step,” on the other hand, had Jenkins switching to electronic keyboards and White switching to flugelhorn for a funky rendition of the 1992 tune. “St. Thomas,” the classic calypso by Sonny Rollins, was a perfect vehicle for the percussionists, especially Draper’s unconventional and unusually melodic approach to the drum kit. 


Pietro and Pujado left the stage for a quartet performance of the ballad “Dulce” by pianist Kenny Werner. With White on flugelhorn, Jenkins, Akin and Draper accompanied with great sensitivity. Akin, Jenkins and White took solos that enhanced the lovely nature of the tune.


Michael Pujado [Photo by Tom Ineck]Pietro’s composing skills were on display on his mid-tempo samba “Never Nothing,” from 2004’s "Embrace: Impressions of Brazil.” After the composer stated the lilting melody on alto sax, Jenkins offered an equally lyrical solo before turning it over to the rest of the band for a group percussion interlude.


Never too far from his gospel roots, White delivered an exquisite trumpet introduction to “Amazing Grace,” which then went uptempo with the whole band. For an encore, they dove into a splendidly celebratory rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” sending home the crowd of several thousand with satisfied smiles.




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