Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Here is the 10:30pm set list from Steve Tyrell's run at the Blue Note last week. In case you missed it, Tyrell played hits from his past records and 6 from his latest, "Back To Bacharach."

1) It All Depends On You
2) World On A String
3) Can't Get Started
4) Isn't It Romantic
5) Just In Time
6) I Get A Kick Out Of You
7) Nice 'N Easy
8) Concentrate On You
9) Under My Skin
10) Sunny Side
11) Simple Life
12) The Way You Look
13) This Guy's In Love
14) Walk On By
15) The Look Of Love
16) Close To You
17) House Is Not A Home
18) Raindrops
19) I Say A Little Prayer
20) Always On My Mind

Monday, May 19, 2008


Latin Side of Wayne Shorter will be released tomorrow, May 20, on Half Note Records.

The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter
Conrad Herwig | Half Note Records (2008)
By Jeff Stockton

Luis Perdomo is the regular pianist in Conrad Herwig's septet. He delivers a sterling, elegant solo on “Ping Pong,” the opening cut on The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. He anchors the first five songs with such skill that at the end of “This Is for Albert,” Herwig singles him out for the audience's applause. Unfortunately, it's to say goodbye. When salsa legend Eddie Palmieri takes over on piano, the concert is sent into orbit. Perdomo never stood a chance.

”Adam's Apple” may not be Shorter's greatest composition, but Palmieri makes a convincing case with syncopated montuno vamps that drive drummer Robby Ameen's funky backbeat and inspire baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber's sly comments and robust soloing. Palmieri taps into “Masquelero”'s heart of darkness and Herwig's tone on trombone is elusive and introverted, before trumpeter Brian Lynch takes a note-bending solo that slides itself into the piano's rhythms like mortar. Herwig and Lynch's simpatico playing is the highlight of “Footprints,” each of them winding similarly smooth and uncluttered solos around Pedro Martinez' congas.

This is the third installment in Herwig's Latin Side series (following interpretations of Coltrane and Miles) and features silky virtuosic musicianship applied to intricate, intelligent, original compositions. Shorter's tunes are well-known and highly regarded as being flexible enough to suit a variety of instrumental lineups. Since he's gathered his own multi-horn groups in the past, the sound of these arrangements doesn't stray too far from his initial conceptions. But if you know a person who thinks jazz is difficult to get, lacks melody, or you can't dance to it, this is a CD that will change their mind.

Track listing: Ping Pong; Tom Thumb; El Gaucho; Night Dreamer; This Is for Albert; Adam's Apple; Masqualero; Footprints.

Personnel: Conrad Herwig: trombone; Brian Lynch: trumpet; Ronnie Cuber: baritone sax; Eddie Palmieri, Luis Perdomo: piano; Ruben Rodriguez: bass; Robby Ameen: drums; Pedro Martinez: congas.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


This week's blast from the past highlights a drummer whose influence reaches far beyond the members of his bands (who talk about him here in this two-part documentary).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Jazziz writer Larry Blumenfeld profiled Lionel Loueke, who will be playing here through Thursday, in today's Personal Jounral section of the Wall St. Journal.

For One Guitarist, Jazz Is an African Dialect
May 14, 2008; Page D7

If a film were made of guitarist Lionel Loueke's career to date, the master shot sequence would be his 2001 audition for admission into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, then housed at the University of Southern California. "He started playing rhythmic patterns and vocalizing off a tune's melody," recalled trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the program's artistic director, "and we were floored." Pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter were also members of the audition jury. "I turned to Wayne, just as he was turning to me," Mr. Hancock said. "We didn't even have to say it; we just knew: We're going to hear more from this guy."

And we have. By the time Mr. Loueke, who is 35, arrived at Joe's Pub in Manhattan in March to celebrate the release of his new CD, "Karibu" (Blue Note), he'd earned a reputation as one to watch. (He's headlining again in Manhattan, at the Blue Note, tonight and Thursday.) Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Hancock were so enamored with Mr. Loueke at the institute that they both quickly recruited him for their own endeavors. The guitarist recently concluded an impressive six-year stint in Mr. Blanchard's band. He helped create the subtle textures of the Grammy-winning album "The Joni Letters" (Verve) for Mr. Hancock, with whom he regularly tours; he'll perform with Mr. Hancock at Carnegie Hall in a June 23 JVC Jazz Festival concert. And Mr. Loueke is a sought-after collaborator for up-and-coming musicians, including vocalist Gretchen Parlato and drummer Francisco Mela.

Yet at Joe's Pub, the spotlight was squarely on Mr. Loueke's well-developed trio and the duality within his singular style. Singing soft wordless melodies, his tongue clicking out rhythms, his long fingers sketching elegant single-note patterns then stopping to sound unexpected chords, Mr. Loueke had the crowd entranced. Born and raised in the West African country of Benin, he evoked connection to a line of African troubadours, from traditional griots to modern pop stars, weaving narrative from threads of melody and groove. Yet he seemed just as much a jazz bandleader, negotiating tricky harmonic and rhythmic terrain, balancing consistent authority with sensitivity to the moment.

In jazz, why shouldn't these roles meld? Mr. Loueke's trio includes drummer Ferenc Nemeth, who was born in Hungary, and bassist Massimo Biolcati, who grew up in Sweden and Italy; together, the three press the issue of jazz's globalization in general. And yet all are, notably, products of the best American institutions devoted to jazz education. Increasingly, musicians who have mastered jazz technique and absorbed its legacy are telling stories that span oceans.

Mr. Loueke's story begins in the city of Cotonou, in Benin, a small nation of roughly six million people tucked between Nigeria and Togo. His father was a mathematics professor; his mother, a high-school teacher. As a child, he soaked in everyday Beninese songs, with vocals accompanied by beats on hand drums and an occasional sanza (thumb-piano made from a gourd and metal strips). At age 17, he began playing a beat-up, borrowed guitar -- a far cry from the Godin electric with built-in synthesizer he now favors, or the hollow-body Yamaha on which he often taps out percussion.

When a friend brought him a George Benson album, he developed an ear for jazz. He left home on a scholarship to attend the National Institute of Art in Ivory Coast, where he learned to read and notate music, and, following that, the American School of Modern Music in Paris, whose jazz-savvy faculty is drawn largely from Boston's Berklee College of Music. Mr. Loueke earned a scholarship to Berklee, where he first encountered his future trio mates, Messrs. Biolcati and Nemeth.

"He came like a lightning bolt into Berklee and shocked everybody," recalled Mr. Nemeth. "The rest of us had learned music mostly the academic way. His path was more creative. He'd taught himself first. I felt like he was showing us the real way to learn." The three musicians auditioned separately for the Monk Institute; all were accepted into the two-year program. While there, they began practicing intensely together -- at first playing standards, then Mr. Loueke's compositions.

As a musician, Mr. Loueke is endlessly challenging, even reinventing, himself. In college, he began favoring the odd meters -- 11 beats, or even 17, to a measure -- that show up in most of the new CD's songs. At the Monk Institute, he studied classical acoustic guitar and, forgoing his pick, decided to play with his fingers. Four years ago, he devised a new tuning scheme for his instrument, yielding improvisational lines that often suggest the kora, a 21-string African harp, and close-set intervals that sound more like a piano than a guitar.

Mr. Loueke's music is unmistakably jazz, in that it is harmonically sophisticated and flexibly swinging, informed by bebop and blues repertoire, and highly adaptive to each player's improvisations. Yet even in odd, extended meters, the music never sounds overly cerebral or complicated. Its rhythms are based on overlapping cycles, as in African music, which turn in easeful fashion. And even Mr. Loueke's furthest-flung solos are staked to simple melodies that float through nearly all his music, recalling, he says, the songs he heard as a child.

Mr. Loueke's previous recording, "Virgin Forest" (Obliqsound), combined trio studio sessions with recordings of percussionists he'd made in Benin. The new CD blends influences more organically. Mr. Loueke set Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" to a Central African groove; he inserted paper beneath his instrument's strings for one section of John Coltrane's "Naima" to mimic a thumb-piano. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Shorter play on two tracks each; one, "Light Dark," demonstrates the guitarist's comfortable role within one of jazz's closest and most productive dialogues. But the album's truest focus is the trio's interplay, especially the connection between Mr. Nemeth's light-touched rhythms and Mr. Loueke's delicately stated lines.

Is it coincidence that all three musicians were born outside the U.S., or is that a key ingredient?

"If you asked me that question years ago, I would have said coincidence," said Mr. Loueke. "But today, I don't believe in coincidences. What brought us here was jazz improvisation and harmony. Yet we didn't forget our backgrounds."

"Maybe the answer is not musical," said Mr. Biolcati, "in that, as foreigners, we all found each other by being outsiders."

"Everyone talks about Lionel in terms of the world-music aspect he brings to jazz," said Mr. Blanchard. "But what really makes him special is that he does something different every night and plays from an honest place."

By now, Mr. Loueke must be considered a jazz insider, extending the music's legacy through his own personal story. "When I was a kid, I was happy just to make a collection of Blue Note albums," he said. "But, a world away, I never imagined I'd be part of the collection one day."

Mr. Blumenfeld, an editor-at-large for Jazziz magazine, writes on jazz for the Journal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


With a stamp of approval from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, both of whom appear on Lionel Loueke's new release for Blue Note Records entitled Karibu, it's safe to say that his career is destined for success.

Monday, May 12, 2008


This summer, the Blue Note will put on a Summer Big Band Festival that features three very different and prominent big bands from June 24 - July 13:

Dizzy Gillespie™ All-Star Big Band (June 24-19) featuring James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Roy Hargrove, Claudio Roditi, Antonio Hart, Greg Gisbert, Steve Davis, Cyrus Chestnut, John Lee, Lewis Nash and vocalist Roberta Gambarini

Duke Ellington Orchestra (July 1-6)

Charles Tolliver Big Band (July 8-13): Half Note Records Live Recording (Tolliver's Big Band was nominated for a Grammy Last year for their Blue Note Records CD "With Love").


Maya Azucena has just returned from East/South Asian tour that included stops in China, Singapore, Myanmar/Burma, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. A "foot cam" below reveals the interaction between the audience in Shenyang.


At 77, Jamal Sounds Younger Than Ever
By WILL FRIEDWALD | May 9, 2008

If you think of a jazz performance as a meal, it makes you wonder why most musicians serve dessert before the entrĂ©e. Considering that most listeners enjoy hearing the melody more than any other part of a particular song, why does the tune so often rush by at the very beginning, like an afterthought — or, more precisely, a before-thought?

The pianist Ahmad Jamal, who is appearing this week at the Blue Note, and whose new album, “It’s Magic” (Dreyfus), will be released next month, has some interesting answers. If the melody is the dessert, then he chooses not to serve it in a distinctly defined course, but rather in small, tempting bites throughout the meal. Here’s some steak for you, and wait, just a taste of ice cream.

That’s the way Mr. Jamal, a 77-year-old Pittsburgh native, played “Wild Is the Wind” at the late show on Tuesday night (as on the new album). First, he begins with polyrhythmic background — part rhumba, part calypso — reinforced by the percussionist Manolo Badrena, who is armed with a Pan-American-African percussion kit that I’m glad I don’t have to get through customs. Mr. Jamal plays a bit of piano improvisation, then lays a little taste of the tune on us, then a brief bit of Idris Muhammad’s drums, then more melody, then some bass from James Cammack, and so on. As they play, the leader stands up and turns away from his piano, as if to project his star power onto his colleagues for their moments in the spotlight.

When he plays a standard, Mr. Jamal is brilliant at the old trick of delaying recognition of the melody, a simple enough move to heighten the drama. Before we’re certain that we’re hearing “Wild Is the Wind,” he takes a side trip through the “Sesame Street” theme song, rendering it in a way that would scare the feathers off of Big Bird. He goes to an even further extreme with “The Way You Look Tonight,” not allowing us to explicitly hear the melody until the coda — thus dishing out the dessert at the end of the dinner, where it belongs.

Mr. Jamal is such a crowd-pleaser — the critic Martin Williams once famously accused him of “playing the audience” rather than the piano — that it’s hard to imagine he spent the early part of his career known only to other musicians. Although he recorded as early as 1951 (tracks now available on “The Legendary Okeh & Epic Sessions”), his ideas were widely disseminated by Miles Davis long before Mr. Jamal was well-known outside of Chicago. Born Frederick Jones in 1930, Mr. Jamal was one of a legion of heavyweight jazz pianists to rise out of Pittsburgh. He assumed the name Ahmad Jamal (which means “highly praised beauty” in Arabic) as part of his conversion to Islam in the early 1950s.

Mr. Jamal’s ideas regarding the use of melody — his contrast between a simple, clearly delineated tune and complex, modern jazz chords, as well as between sound and silence, rhythm, and even repertoire — were the major influence on Davis’s classic quintet with John Coltrane in the late ’50s. The trumpeter not only employed Mr. Jamal’s concepts, but borrowed arrangements outright; “I Don’t Want To Be Kissed” and the pianist’s original “New Rhumba,” from Mr. Jamal’s “Chamber Music of the New Jazz,” were essentially transcribed into big-band format for “Miles Ahead” (1955).

Yet, ironically, by the time Mr. Jamal finally landed his breakthrough hit, “Poinciana,” in 1958, Davis was already on his way to something new, something cool, and something kind of blue. Coltrane also first heard “Pavanne” on one of Mr. Jamal’s albums, which inspired him to transmute that Morton Gould tune into his own classic composition “Impressions.”

But 50 years later, Mr. Jamal no longer sounds like he did on his recordings of that era; rather, he is a much more assertive player today. His dynamics, much like Count Basie’s, are wondrous to behold, making his Steinway live up to its full formal name, a pianoforte. He shows it’s possible to swing and bop with considerable energy without drowning the listener in a torrent of notes; his ballads, mostly rendered only with Mr. Cammack, are models of economy, particularly Arthur Schwartz’s “Then I’ll Be Tired of You.” Mr. Jamal establishes a serene mood, then disrupts his own tranquility with big, fortissimo distortions.

At the Blue Note, most of the faster numbers utilized Island-centric beats, whereas most of the slower tunes were classic ballads. Some of Mr. Jamal’s own tunes, such as the clave-driven “Fitnah” which closed the late set on Tuesday (as well as the album), are pure rhythm and special effects without much of a tune, but he can also write a gorgeous melody. “Whisperings” is lightly reminiscent of Jimmy Rowles’s “The Peacocks” (and opens with a quote from “Lucky To Be Me”), but is a strong original melody that was heard with a worthy lyric on the 2003 album “In Search Of.” If he hadn’t introduced it as an original, one might have mistaken it for a work by one of the Old Masters.

Mr. Jamal is such a vital and contemporary player that, even at 77, he seems to have come after, rather than before, nearly everyone playing the piano today.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


This week's blast from the past is appropriate - the man in the video below is here all week with his trio. He looks almost as young today as he did in 1959. Not much more to say - just enjoy it!