August 31, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
We won't meet until tomorrow or Friday, but I had an opportunity to ask Angelique Kidjo, the great singer from Benin in West Africa, about SING THE TRUTH! .. the three-woman concert coming to WBGO from the Detroit Jazz Festival, Labor Day at noon. You do not want to miss it!
SING THE TRUTH! is Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright with a list of 40 songs that they pare down to about a dozen. They make some of the choices while they're onstage.
"We do it as we go along, as we feel. That’s the beauty, it’s not written in stone. . . there is a variety of ways we pick and choose depending on how we feel.
"I’m thinking about 'Both Sides Now' from Joni Mitchell and '32 Flavors' from Ani di Franco, Tracy Chapman’s song 'All That You Have Is Your Soul,' 'How I Got Over' from Mahalia Jackson about how everybody struggles on a daily basis, Miriam Makeba’s song 'Savuda' from her really important last concert she made in South Africa before she left. She said, 'Jazz is my music but I will sing my ancestor’s song.' 'Saduva' means nobody can kill my spirit, you might try to think I’m not a human but I am, as a human being I deserve respect, nobody’s going to crush me."
Angelique continues, "Women have shown us through the music, writing, craft how hard it is to be a woman in a man’s world, and how you can keep your femininity, your identity ... We are all about love."
Kidjo is more than a singer; she dances! Her mother had a theater group. The performances were sufficiently long that she had to insert an intermission, but "when you put an intermission in Africa, you come back, the public is gone! So she put an African ballet in the middle of [the show], [and to do so] she went and learned the dancing and brought it back. And me, I was six years old, ... I was sitting down there as 'Miss Curious' and I learned everything by heart," including the dances. "Because of my curiosity, there's no dance I can't repeat. I put my own stuff in, it's my way, I cannot move as you move because my body's different than your body."
"One [more] thing, in Africa they don’t call for an encore. [Instead,] they ask you to sing the same song three times back to back. When it comes to playing music, the concept as you know it here is not an African concept. There’s a moment that we need a release, a good time moment, to express a feeling, to remember the good time we spent with a person, the best way is through music. Gather together, dance, sing, and then we part."
© 2011 WBGO
August 30, 2011. Posted by Michael Bourne.
The Litchfield Jazz Festival may be smaller than its cousin in Newport, which is held the same weekend in early August. But this intimate event in upstate New York holds many treats for jazz lovers, and WBGO's Michael Bourne was on hand to taste them all. Along with beautiful photos by Fran Kaufman, Bourne offers us his impressions of Litchfield 2011, which he calls "kaleidoscopically cool." - editors
Raphael himself could not have painted a cooler cherub. Beckett, in his mother's arms, bobbed his head and kicked his little legs to the beat, reaching out with his little arms as if he could feel the music in the air with his fingers. Named for the playwright, Beckett's smile beamed brightly and belied his namesake's dread. All the while, a year older but never quite in the groove like her brother, his sister Lily nonetheless rapturously danced and laughed. Seeing the kids so happily jazzed was worth the trip to Connecticut.
I first came to the school in Kent 40 years ago. I was an actor touring in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and we played in the school's theatre -- looking pretty much as it does today. I remember thinking Connecticut was so beautiful I should retire there.
I came back, still working, to emcee the 2009 Litchfield Jazz Festival. They'd kept the town's name but moved the jazzfest from Litchfield to Kent, and the school grounds might've been ideal if not for so much rain that the field where they wanted a performance tent became a lake. They built a stage instead in the school's industrial-looking hockey rink -- where the sound from the stage was lost in the timbers.
Except for some rain on Saturday, Litchfield 2011 (August 5-6-7) was meteorologicaly and musically much more festive. So much of the festival feeling is like a country fair with booths selling eats and arts, including Chris Osborne's wonderful paintings of famous musicians and actors with cool (and authentic) automobiles.
Thirteen concerts happened with time enough between that the breakdowns and re-sets, including three furniture-like Hammond B-3 organs Ikea'd and re-boxed, became time to eat or look at art, listen to kids from the festival's jazz camp in the Jam Tent or listen to artist-in-residence Matt Wilson have conversations in the Artist Talk Tent.
Matt knows the music, knows the musicians, is insightful and is funny. Vijay Iyer was at once intellectual and charming, which ain't easy, talking about how his music connects with his fascination with mathematics and physics.
Roy Haynes was mostly charming and, listening to his drumming on the Ray Charles "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album, he drummed along on the mic. When the rain came, Roy, Matt, and everyone in the SRO tent listened to the rhythms of the raindrops.
Festival founder and artistic director Vita West Muir presents a musical crazy quilt. The Clayton Brothers opened and were masterful. "Emily" was the highlight with John's arco bass playing the lyrical lead and his son Gerald's piano playing an exquisite etude of a solo.
Trombone Shorty whipped up a NOLA cornucopia from funk to trad, including a breath-taking (literally, circularly, holding one note for an entire chorus, and then longer) trumpet solo. He sang "Sunny Side of the Street" as an homage to Pops and invited up a 14-year-old girl from the jazz camp, a trombonist whose name I didn't catch, to play (shyly but with chops) on a "Saints" encore.
Saturday started at noon with the organ quintet of tenor saxist Albert Rivera playing adventurously while keeping in the pocket. Beck Berger played the B-3 and is one of the newcomers (to me) I look forward to hearing more of. Champian Fulton played songs sweetly with her father Stephen Fulton playing Clark-inspired flugelhorn. The Bronx Horns offered Latinized Silver classics, "Ran Kan Kan" from tenor saxist Mitch Frohman's 25 years with El Rey, and were joined by baritone saxist Gary Smulyan for a lovely "Moody"s Mood" en clave.
Vijay Iyer played some quantum piano with his trio, and most memorable was an intense "Human Nature" to remember Michael Jackson. Davell Crawford played a gumbo tribute to Ray Charles, and his B-3 prelude to "Georgia" came like E. Power Biggs on acid, but his imitation of Ray's blindness and head-waggling bothered (so they told me) some in the audience.
Matt Wilson and I (him better than me) auctioned a golden-bright Zildjian flat ride cymbal autographed by Roy Haynes -- what I called a holy relic -- to benefit scholarships for the Litchfield jazz camp.
Roy's Fountain of Youth band played the mid-fest finale, and one delight for me was watching Roy adjust the height or angle of his cymbals and drums, sometimes only by fractions of an inch. After going on seven decades as a professional, Roy knows his percussive dimensions (and dynamics) intimately.
"Easy to Remember" was a beautiful ballad spotlighting alto saxist Jaleel Shaw, and a deconstructed "Alone Together" featured pianist Martin Bejerano. Roy played a flamenco-ish "Anniversary Waltz" as an encore.
Roy, in his white and gold, satin-luminescent, open-throated shirt and flared pants, it goes without saying, looked definitively sharp.
Three of my personal favorites: Dena DeRose singing and playing piano with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson, opened the Sunday shows delightfully, including a "Detour Ahead" down some rollicking roads.
Lonnie Smith, master of the B-3 nowadays, was a juggernaut of seismic funk, and played "Spring Is Here" as if the breath of an angel. Matt Wilson's show was indeed a show, theatrical and often zany. He added a string quartet to his out-edged jazz quartet, criss-crossing on pieces like "Raga" currents of worldly rhythms with a baroque flourish.
Often whimsical, always swinging, Matt performed a charming Carl Sandberg poem about bubbles and, for a climax, conducted heartily "All You Need Is Love" -- heartily especially for Matt. Still recovering from a superhuman battle with cancer, Matt's wife Felicia was playing violin. And, with her four kids at the gig, was playing beautifully.
After the surreal vaudeville of Matt Wilson, even great as they always are, Joe Lovano's nonet and Jimmy Heath's big band were almost anti-climactic.
Litchfield 2011 was, as I promised at the outset, kaleidoscopically cool.
-- Michael Bourne
© 2011 WBGO
August 25, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
This woman has the big picture and all the details in her head, just like last year and the year before, when WBGO made our first trip to the Detroit Jazz Festival. Now Artistic Director Terri Pontremoli and the rest of us are about to see the vision get real. And it's only a week away.
The first sounds might be thunder, as Artist-in-Residence Jeff Tain Watts gathers his Drum Club. They're Tony Allen (Afrobeat), Susie Ibarra (avant garde), Horacio Hernandez (Cuba) , Joe Locke (vibes), and Pedrito Martinez (Cuba). "I can't believe we have enough drum kits and percussion instruments in Detroit" for this spectacular, says Terri. "It will be creative and spirited." I imagine that the Detroit audience will listen with open ears. That's what they're known for -- their love of the groove and willingness to stretch.
"You have to feel out the audience. But at the end of the day," Tain says in a Q&A with Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press, "people are ready for a lot of stuff. It's about how you present it to them."
"Tain is of the age where he needs to be heralded, asked to do things with a bigger organization," says Terri. And that's why she called him up and asked him to come to Detroit. He has already performed in the city several times this year, building toward these FREE festival shows. Yes, thanks to philanthropist Gretchen Valade, the Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation, and others, it is still free. "It's the most miraculous thing," says Pontremoli.
Saturday, you can zigzag from Warren Wolf to Luciana Souza, have a bite, see Detroit's own Curtis Fuller with Eric Alexander and Mike LeDonne, catch the last half of Sean Jones, then go between two stages for this uninterrupted sequence: Toots Thielemans, Sun Ra Arkestra, Jason Moran & Bandwagon, Dave Holland Octet. Sunday on the Waterfront Stage alone, see Amina Figarova; Paquito D'Rivera; Aaron Diehl, winner of the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship, with Dominick Farinacci, Yasushi Nakamura and Lawrence Leathers; Regina Carter & Reverse Thread (opposite Tain in the Amphitheater!); Vijar Iyer Trio (opposite Joe Lovano's Us Five). Decisions, decisions. Sometimes where you land is dictated by where you can find a seat. Away from Hart Plaza, toward the end of the evening, hike up Woodward Ave to the Chase Stage for Ivan Lins .
"Detroit is known for bebop and small groups," says Terri. "This year we bring in the world. Not so much world music as recognizing and celebrating how our music has influenced people all over the world." One example from the Jazz Talk Tent (check for day and time): WBGO's Bob Porter and Paquito explore "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop - Dizzy Gillspie's Cuban Connection." The Talk Tent runs every day, takes you to school, with some delicious food vendors nearby, I've discovered.
Monday: Helen Sung and, later, Anthony Wilson play on the Waterfront. Gary Burton and, later, Kevin Eubanks play in the Amphitheater. In the evening on the Chase, hiphop artist COMMON and Detroit-born drummer Karriem Riggins create an original set of spoken word and jazz. (Last year at this time and location, I saw Allen Toussaint do a one-man, talk-and-music show. I like the continuity.) With COMMON and Karriem, Terri says the festival is taking a "step out of the box [to] attract a new audience while maintaining the connection to the festival’s artistic core.”
Monday's finale is hard core. The Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra plays new music by Christian McBride (soon to release his big band CD from Mack Avenue) with Ernie Andrews singing. If you came to the WBGO Gala in 2009, you saw Ernie Andrews with an orchestra and it was so swinging, you probably want more, so we'll see you in Detroit!
© 2011 WBGO