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Bobby McFerrin in Central Park, Tuesday August 20th 2013

24 Aug

This week in Central Park, Bobby McFerrin gave a breathtaking performance. He was with his daughter Madison. The artist has been singing and beatboxing for several decades and he still composes new tunes. On Tuesday night, the space in front of the stage, and on the sides, was filled with countless fans.  McFerrin’s simplicity, creativity and peacefulness certainly appeal to his audience’s taste.


© Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos

McFerrin improvised and sang folklike songs; he also reminded his audience that what we leave to our children matters. The singer, just like Angelique Kidjo usually does, walked down the stage to sing amidst his fans.


© Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos


The Birdland Jazz Party, with Dee Daniels

15 Jul

2013-07-14 19.38.03

Last night at Birdland, and like every Sunday night, the Birdland quartet performed with Jon Davis on piano, John Hart on guitar, Paul Gill on acoustic bass, Carmen Intorre on drums and Dee Daniels, who had not performed at the club for a long time, as a guest vocalist.

The band performed several tunes by Dee Daniels, such as ‘Midlife Crisis’ or ‘Autumn Leaves.’ Dee Daniels also quoted famed Carmen McRae by reminding her audience that ‘a night is not a night without at least a little bit of blues’ and went ahead and sang a blues song while accompanying herself on the piano. Daniels’ ability to strike very low notes was coupled with her impressively high notes.

After her blues, she continued with one of her compositions, entitled ‘Choose me.’ ‘Choose me’ told about her desire to ‘be chosen’ by someone as she was by herself in a hotel room in Germany, without being able to understand any of the TV programs. Maybe that is Germany’s way of inspiring foreigners to write love songs?

Dee Daniels did not sing all the songs, which allowed the quartet to also play a wonderful interpretation of ‘Monk’s Dream,’ for which Jon Davis played a delightful solo.

As Carmen Intorre explained after the show, as a jazz musician, “you have to surrender yourself to the music so that there are no distractions in order for the most optimal music to take place.” Last night, the audience certainly surrendered to Dee Daniels’ wonderful raspy voice, echoed by some amazing solos by pianist Jon Davis and guitar player John Hart.

Richard Galliano and Christian Howes at Dizzy’s, April 16th 2013

26 Apr


Last week at Dizzy’s, 63-year-old French accordeonist Richard Galliano performed along the likes of violonist Christian Howes, pianist Jos Nelson, bass player Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. I should actually say that Christian Howes performed with Richard Galliano, but I have been in love with Richard Galliano’s music for a very long time so I could not help that introductory statement. The band celebrated the release of their latest album, Southern Exposure Christian Howes (

Richard Galliano is not only a most gifted instrumentalist technically (when one watches him play, one cannot help but think that he can do absolutely whatever he wants!), but he is also most lyrical. That he is interested in Argentine tango music only helps, too: it adds to his versatility, it characterizes his musicality and colors his music. Artentine tango music is a huge part of Galliano’s vocabulary.

The band performed several originals, such as Christian Howes’ composition “Tango Doblado,” and Galliano’s composition entitled “Spleen.” “Oblivion” was also part of the setlist, and those three titles are part of the band’s latest album.

Hiromi at the Blue Note, Sunday April 21st 2013

25 Apr

Last week Hiromi Uehara performed at the Blue Note with the Trio Project, featuring Anthony Jackson on bass and Simon Phillips on drums.

Hiromi’s energy is most unique and her versatility most powerful. I attended her 8pm set last Sunday night. She played tunes from her last album, Voice (recorded with the trio and containing nine songs altogether), which mixes classical influences (with a Bach like playfulness at times) with the blues, and Asian colors. Hiromi explores deep emotions and is constantly telling a story. The concert seemed to be an exercise in technicality and agility altogether. As well as resilience. And her mastery or rhythm is astounding. She is inhabited by rhythm, and melodies.

At times Hiromi seems to be convoking spirits with her left hand – she is almost communicating with a soul above.

Hiromi displays the playfulness and daringness of childhood while obviously proving to be a most inspired artist. Over the last few years, each show I have attended by Hiromi has been a real adventure. She is a free and inspired performer, quite original, constantly paying tribute to the tradition (classical, jazz) while creating her own music, her own sound, her own melodies.

And last week’s show was just another testimony to Hiromi’s brilliancy.

Freddy Cole Quartet at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, March 16

17 Mar

Tonight at the classy Brooklyn Performing Arts Center, distinguished, brilliant and humorous Freddy Cole ( performed with his quartet comprised of guitarist Randy Napoleon, drummer Curtis Boyd and bassist Elias Bailey. The concert mixed standards – most of them romantic songs – with bluesy tunes. Cole alternated singing while playing the piano at the same time and standing in front of the band to sing without using the piano.

Singing love songs for the most part, Cole paid tribute to his brother (who would have had his birthday tomorrow). He used Nat King Cole’s repertoire while at the same time reminding the audience (and probably himself), humorously, that he is not his brother, creating the chorus “I’m not my brother, I’m just me.”

The first part of the concert was slow-paced and wonderful. The lighting was appropriate and the venue complemented the band’s style and spirit. Among many other songs, the band performed “Tender is the night,” “A Cottage for Sale” and “Smile.”

The second part of the evening featured a lot of excerpts of famous songs such as “Nature Boy,” “L.O.V.E,” “A Lovely Day” and “Unforgettable” and despite their agile transitions between the tunes, the band seemed to rush through that potpourri of selected titles. Perhaps they wanted to make sure everybody would have their gist of known songs, but Freddy Cole on stage is sufficient: His presence impacts jazz and the blues and his spirit is profound and charming. I would have enjoyed that second part better had the band chosen fewer titles and taken their time to play each in full, as for the first part. After all, Freddy Cole is enabling the tradition of jazz singing to continue, and why wouldn’t that be crucial enough?

Cole also declared that he sings the blues and did indeed sing the blues towards the end of the concert, which was invigorating and a perfect contrast to some of the ballads. Debonair Cole really entertains his audience, and his entire band convincingly espouses his delightful sense of swing.

Fabian Almazan’s trio at the Village Vanguard, March 2013

13 Mar

This week at the Village Vanguard, Fabian Almazan ( is performing with his trio, bass player Linda Oh ( and drummer Henry Cole (, whose playing is sharp, precise, powerful.

Tonight, or rather last night (Tuesday March 12th), the band’s synergy made for a lovely set (I attended the 11pm set). Almazan’s musical vocabulary is sophisticated, complex and rich. The band ended the evening with “Tres Lindas Cubanas,” one of my favorite songs, which is on Almazan’s album Personalities. And the band opened the set with the tune “Personalities,” which, naturally, gave its name to the album.

At times Almazan’s playing is so elaborate and of such high level that a non jazz listener’s attention may drift, but the pianist always knows how to revitalize the room and recapture his public. Almazan’s sound is most generous and his creative spirit astounding. I was particularly taken by several melodies and very amused by the tune the band played right before the last one: it is “Duck T9,” in reference to what Almazan described as his generation, the T9-keyboard generation. T9 is about predictive text on phones, but nothing is predictive about Almazan, except perhaps his sense of humor and clarity of sound.

Oh’s playing added to the quality of the trio with her subtle melodic lines and brilliant solo. The band just recorded Almazan’s second album….which should be released around June. Stay tuned!

Antonio Sanchez at the Jazz Standard, 3/8/2013

9 Mar

This week drummer Antonio Sanchez is releasing New Life. his third album as a leader. He is performing at the Jazz Standard for the occasion. Thana Alex, his fiancée, on on vocals; David Binney, who is one of Sanchez’s “favorite composers and players,” is on alto and soprano saxophones; Donny McCaslin, whom Sanchez has “played with tons,” is on tenor saxophone; Orlando Le Fleming, who, as Sanchez explained, “played with David Sanchez’s band,” is on bass and John Escreet is on piano.

Overall, the musical ideas of the evening (Friday March 8th) were most original and having two saxophone players was quite a treat – especially since the two musicians created dynamic dialogues and played what sounded like complicated, abstract music at times. For the first set, the first tune the band played  was nervous, serious and fast. Overall, the band went from what sounded like free jazz to atonal music to funky moments. The pianist created colors and a sort of occasional roaring, which took the musicians to another place altogether.

Donny McCaslin’s sound is clear and open, but also wild at times – which is probably why, in other setups, he and Jason Lindner can be such a great musical match.

During tonight’s first set, it was sometimes difficult to know when tunes would end or start since transitions between them were beautiful and effortless: the band would playfully and unexpectedly jump from one musical idea to the next. I was reminded of the intelligence and creativity Rubalcaba always displays when performing. The musicians on stage tonight created a delightful and thought-provoking conversation.

Singers usually add a great touch to sets, but the voice of alluring Thana Alex was not on par with the other musicians’ musical energy. The idea of her scatting with the band is excellent, but the execution needs improvement. Among those brilliant musicians, she is exactly where she needs to be to hone her skills and be mentored with excellency. Sanchez’s brio is indisputable.