• Monterey Jazz 2011: John Santos Sextet

    September 21, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    John Santos leads his sextet at the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: Cole Thompson/Monterey Jazz Festival)

    There's an overtly political edge to John Santos latest recording, Filosofía Caribeña, Vol. 1: It's designed as a commentary on Afro-Latino history. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you could sense it when Santos' sextet performed this material — particularly in the strident, prideful and virtuosically bilingual raps of guest MC Rico Pabón. Jazz's social commentaries are often abstracted into instrumental music; here, it had literal voice.

    But just as often, that aggression transmuted to commanding, original grooves, themselves morphing throughout the course of songs. Santos is a Bay Area mainstay, a musical anchor and outspoken ambassador of an active Latin jazz scene only two hours north of Monterey. And he's put together a tight band that works on both intellectual and physical terms, as they showed an excitable Night Club audience on the first night of the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival.

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  • Evolution Of A Song: 'St. Louis Blues'

    August 10, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Sheet music for W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

    W.C. Handy, known as the "Father of the Blues," didn't exactly invent the blues, as his nickname might imply. Instead, this savvy African-American songwriter and publisher tapped into the soul of his people and took their rustic sound — a combination of work songs, field hollers and spirituals — and shared it with the rest of the world. He popularized The Blues.

    "St. Louis Blues" was his best-known tune. It made Handy millions in royalties, inspired multiple motion pictures and was recorded by America's top jazz artists. Nine decades since its original release, the song continues to be reinvented in every imaginable setting, from classical music orchestras to rock 'n' roll acts. Here are a few "jazzy" versions.

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  • Marcus Strickland Quartet + Eric Harland's Voyager: Live From 92Y Tribeca

    August 9, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Marcus Strickland (left) and Eric Harland, during their bands' performances at 92Y Tribeca. (Image Credit: John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com)

    This installment of The Checkout: Live From 92Y Tribeca features two heavy hitters. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland's upcoming double album Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 1 & 2 is so named because it seeks the weight of substance and integrity. Drummer Eric Harland pounds the skins with heft and finesse alike; now in his mid-30s, he's already played on a lifetime's worth of records.

    Perhaps you know Strickland from the bands of Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas and Jeff "Tain" Watts. Perhaps you know Harland from bands of Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner or Joshua Redman. You get the point: The biggest jazz musicians want these guys for their bands.

    Strickland and Harland are beginning to emerge as bandleaders themselves. Strickland has been working with a quartet; it features the lean muscularity of his horn and is grounded by rapport with his twin brother, drummer E.J. Strickland. Harland has just released his debut CD as a leader in the U.S.: Voyager: Live By Night highlights the polychromatic firestorm of his playing as he drives a crackling young band.

    The Marcus Strickland Quartet and Eric Harland's Voyager quintet performed a live radio broadcast and online video webcast on WBGO's The Checkout: Live From 92Y Tribeca Tuesday, Aug. 9.

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