Sunday, April 22, 2012

Paul Simon with the Wynton Marsalis and the JALC orchestra at the Rose Theater Friday April 20, 2012

Paul Simon photo credit Kevin Mazur 

Friday evening was the last evening of a three-night event held at the Frederick P. Rose Theater for the benefit of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The event was in honor of J.A.L.C. Board Chairman, Lisa Schiff, for her years of dedicated service and celebrated her receipt of The Ed Bradley Award for leadership in jazz. The master songwriter Paul Simon and his band was joined by Wynton Marsalis and the JALC orchestra for this special event, with Simon’s incredibly durable and diverse songbook the basis of the performance.

 I have always enjoyed Mr. Simon’s music, from his early days of folk with former collaborator Art Garfunkel, through his imaginative and ever expanding solo career. Simon’s music has been amazingly fresh and arguably timeless. Always a lyricist with something to say, it has been his eclectic musical progression that has been so extraordinary. Throughout his career he has employed an amazing variation of musical elements into his work including folk, rock, jazz, zydeco, reggae, a cappella, Tex-Mex and Afro-Brazilian as well as various regional African musical influences including mbaqanga, baticuda, bikutsi and iscathamiya.

On this evening of celebration, Mr. Simon was joined by his own band, as well as Mr. Marsalis and the accomplished JALC orchestra. The performance started with “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” From Mr. Simon’s 1986 Graceland album and arranged by JALC bassist Carlos Henriquez. The vocal harmonies between Simon and his fellow guitarists Mark Stewart and Vincent Nuigini were multi-timbred and mellifluous. Mr. Nuigini’s Cameroonian guitar riffs kept the infectious rhythm floating.

Paul Simon and the JALC orchestra photo credit Frank Stewart for JALC

Mr. Simon’s voice is surprisingly sonorous for a man now approaching his seventy-second year, a man who is remarkably comfortable in his own skin. Simon was casually dressed in a open collared, un-tucked shirt loosely flowing under an unbuttoned jacket. Throughout the evening there was no doubt that Simon was in total command of the proceedings.

 Mr. Marsalis, for his part, played a deliberately low-keyed role. Inconspicuously seated with the trumpet section of his marvelously competent JALC orchestra, he was for the most part just another member of his orchestra, occasionally providing a rousing muted or open trumpet solo. The combination of Mr. Simon’s band and Mr. Marsalis’ Orchestra was rhythmically resplendent featuring up to four percussionists including JALC’s drummer Ali Jackson, Simon drummer Jim Oblon and percussionist Jamey Haddad on Congas and occasionally Mick Rossi on Timbales.

 The program continued with “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” from Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years  from 1975. The song was arranged by JALC trumpeter Marcus Printup and featured some great trombone solos Vincent Gardner and Chris Crenshaw.

“Slip Sliding Away” was an easy, familiar swinger deftly arranged by Mr. Marsalis. Beaming in the back row, you could see he was enjoying the way his orchestration was sounding as he bopped his head to the music when he wasn’t busy playing his trumpet.

JALC drummer Ali Jackson arranged “Further to Fly” from Simon’s The Rhytmn of the Saints from 1973. The song featured an inspired flute solo by Ted Nash and a growling, plunger-muted solo by Mr. Marsalis on this Serengeti evoking musical journey. Mr. Simon looked on obviously pleased.

"Crazy Love", another song from Simon’s marvelous Graceland album, was arranged by JALC’s talented multi-reed player Ted Nash. Simon’s saxophonist Andy Snitzer was featured on a soprano saxophone solo.

 The New Orlean’s singer Aaron Neville came on stage for the next three numbers. Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” featured Simon and Neville trading lines in matching falsettos. Neville was featured solo on Huey Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues” the only song on the entire program not written by Simon.

The classic “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” from Simon’s 1970 album of the same name was left for Neville to sing. While certainly an accomplished performer,I am personally not a fan of Neville’s quivering falsetto and I was disappointed at the extent to which he embellished the lyrics with his vocal acrobatics. The audience apparently disagreed as he was given a standing ovation.
Paul Simon  and Wynton Marsalis photo credit Kevin Mazur

After Mr.Neville’s departure, Mr.Marsalis used the lull in the proceedings to speak directly to the audience. He spoke of the mutual respect and camaraderie that he and his orchestra had for Mr.Simon and his band. The two groups had only three days of rehearsal to prepare for this event and it was obvious that both men respected the professionalism and as Mr. Marsalis intimated the “cool” of each other’s musicians. In a moment of genuine and unrestrained of high praise, Marsalis likened his experience with Mr.Simon to his previous experience with the late Miles Davis, two men completely comfortable with their own musical identities and inextricably woven into the fabric of the American songbook. Mr. Simon, obviously moved, deflected the attention with humor, quipping that he wrote the Davis speech for Mr. Marsalis.

A poignant duo of Mr. Simon on vocal and acoustic guitar and Mr. Marsalis on trumpet was featured on the iconic “Sounds of Silence.” The somber tone was quickly transformed by saxophonist Sherman Irby’s arrangement of Simon’s jumpin' "Kodachrome" from the 1973 album There Goes Rhymn’ Simon. The diminutive Mr.Simon is a subtle but effective showman, raising his arms to the music and play-acting the part of the rabble-rousing gospel preacher as he bellows “Momma don’t take my Kodachrome away.” A stirring trumpet solo by Marcus Printup was the icing on the cake.

“Late in the Evening” was arranged by bassist Henriquez and had a tropical, Copacabana sway. A high register Sandoval-like trumpet solo from Marcus Printup gave way to a stirring conga solo by percussionist Jamey Haddad and had the audience grooving.

The finale was one of Simon’s earliest and most recognizable compositions “The Boxer” from his 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The entire band and many of the audience singing the refrain
“Li La Li” in unison that demonstrated just how much Simon’s music has permanently touched a generation. The audience gave the troubadour and the accompanying musicians a well deserved and rousing standing ovation. The evening was a easily one of this year's musical highlights that will not long be forgotten by those who were lucky enough to attend. A musical coup for Mr. Marsalis and the JALC.

In preparing for this article I was surprised by the eclectic depth, the quality and the durability of Mr. Simon’s canon of work. If you really consider some the greatest songwriters of the last forty years- Lennon & McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stevie Wonder to name a few- Paul Simon certainly deserves to be considered in this top tier. In fact he alone has expanded his musical palette by introducing more disparate musical genres into his work than any of his peers. In this he has no equal.


Paul Simon Band: Paul Simon, guitars/vocals; Mark Stewart, guitars, cello,vocals; Andrew Snitzer, saxophones, vocals; Mick Rossi, keyboards, accordion; Jim Oblon,drums;  Vincent Nguuini, guitars, vocals; Bakithi Kumalo, bass, guitars, vocals; Jamey Haddad, congas,percussion; Anthony Cedras,accordion,
trumpet, keyboards, vibes.

Special Guest Vocalist :Aaron Neville

Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra: Wynton Marsalis, trumpet and musical director; Ryan Kisor, trumpet;
Kenny Rampton, trumpet; Marcus Printup, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Chris Crenshaw, trombone;Elliot Mason, trombone;Sherman Irby, Alto Saxophone; Ted Nash Alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piccolo; Victor Goines, tenor and soprano saxophone and clarinet; Walter Blanding,
tenor and barritone saxophones; Joe Temperly, baritone and tenor saxophones; Dan Nimmer, piano;
Carrlos Henriquez, bass; Ali Jackson, drums.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Two ladies of song offer two different paths to great jazz. Kathy Kosins “To the Ladies of Cool” and Sabrina Lastman “The Candombe Jazz Sessions”

There seems to be at least one cd in my mailbox each week that features yet another female jazz singer. Some have stellar back-up bands or top quality arrangers.
Few leave lasting impressions.Here are two that do.

Singer Kathy Kosins, a name previously unfamiliar to me, has released an album of songs from four singers who are from what is called the “cool” school of jazz. Chris Connor, Anita O’Day and June Christy, were all at one time lead singers in the Kenton band during its heyday, eventually breaking into reasonably successful solo careers of their own. The beautiful Julie London was a WWII pin-up, an actress and torch singer whose most famous song “Cry Me A River” featured her signature smoky, sensual voice. Kosins and her musical director/pianist Tamir Hendelman unearth some rarely heard gems from their repertoire.

It didn’t take long for me to become a convert to the fittingly laid-back delivery and chilled sense of time that Kosins so adeptly captures here on her latest release to the Ladies of Cool. She not only toasts the hip ness of these wonderful ladies of song, she authentically recreates a lost genre of female jazz singing, where serious artists could enjoy being both pop stars and respected jazz musicians.

Kosins, like the women she pays homage to, possesses a warm, sensuous voice with an naturally easy sense of time. Her words flow as effortlessly as maple syrup over hot pancakes. Her choice of material is surprisingly fresh. With “Learnin’the Blues,” a tune attributed as much to Frank Sinatra as to Julie London, Kosins show a deft sense of time and an inherent sense of swing. A smoking piano solo by the under appreciated Hendelman adds icing to this delicious cake. If this one doesn’t immediately convert you to a Kosins fan nothing will.

“Night Bird,” a song written by saxophonist Al Cohn and sung by the unheralded Connor, features Kosins voice floating the lyrics of the song over Hendelman’s ostinato piano line. The words drift along like wispy clouds over a blue horizon. A melodic tenor solo by Steve Wilkerson follows Gilbert Castellanos warm toned flugelhorn solo. A beautifully haunting version of Connor’s “Don’t Wait Up for Me” begins with a muted trumpet solo by Castellanos. Kosins’ burnished voice drips with pathos and Hendleman’s emotional piano solo is equally moving. Castellanos’s trumpet is reminiscent of Uan Rasey’s classic work on the theme to Chinatown. Kosins completes her Chris Connor set with the upbeat “All I Need is You,” originally recorded on Connor’s Atlantic album from 1956 “A Jazz Date with Chris Connor”. Kosins voice is warmer, less smoky than the Connor original. Her voice more fine cognac to Connor’s single malt Scotch.

Henry Mancini’s perky “Free and Easy” has an airy, lighthearted feel to it, accentuated by a lilting guitar solo by Graham Dechter.

Kosins easily adapts her voice to the feeling of the songs. Witness her treatment of Johnny Mandel’s “Hershey’s Kisses,” originally done wordlessly by Anita O’Day, where Kosins briefly scats in a playful banter with saxophonist Wilkerson.

“Lullaby in Rhythm” comes from the June Christy playbook and Kosins freely scats to the swinging sway of this melody. Guitarist Dechter offers a solo in the spirit of guitarist Mundell Lowe.

Perhaps my favorite ballad of the album is the seldom heard “November Twilight," a nod to Julie London. Kosins just kills it in this most sensuous of renderings. Hendelman’s piano and arrangement are evocative of a film noir soundtrack. Pretty arco work by bassist Kevin Axt ends this pouting piece.

The flittering “Kissing Bug” allows Kosins a chance to reveal that she has a greater range then she usually employs. She easily inflects her voice evoking the necessary emotion that these songs embody. Her controlled delivery is always pitch perfect.

The closing piece “Where Are You” has a slight Brazilian feel. Kosins’ deliberate voicing is distinctively cool in phrasing and tone. In some kind of trip back in time you can envision her singing to a group of hipsters grooving on a Malibu beach at dusk.

Kosins to the Ladies of Cool is one of those rare recordings that create a new reality. In looking back to an era when female jazz singers were treasured as both pop stars and creative artists, Kosins offers something contemporary that may be even better than the memory of the original.

Katy Kosins,vocals;Tamir Hendelman, piano/ arrangements; Kevin Axt bass (tracks 1,5,7,8 & 10);
Paul Keller bass ( tracks 2,3,4,6,9); Graham Dechter, guitar; Bob Leatherbarrow, drums, vibes; Steve Wilkerson, woodwinds; Gilbert Castellanos, trumpet and flugelhorn.

Uruguayan born singer/composer Sabrina Lastman possesses an exceptional voice and a fearless sense of daring. The combination is a compelling amalgam that is on showcase on her latest release The Candombe Jazz Sessions. Candombe is a genre of music that has its roots in the African Bantu tradition and is widely practice in Uruguay. Candombe dance is arguably one of the precursors to the Argentinean Tango.

The infectious Candombe inspired “Axis" opens this album with Lastman exercising her formidable voice as instrument in an awesome display of vocal acrobatics. Meg Okura incorporates a robust, slightly Middle Eastern sound to the mix with her violin, blurring the origins of the music, as the two women skillfully trace each other’s notes on voice and violin.

“Circular” is another Lastman composition, this one sung in Portuguese, that begins as a serene lament with some colorful percussion provided by drummer David Silliman. It soon transforms into a more upbeat piece with a stirring solos by Emilio Solla on piano and a sensitive arco solo by Pablo Aslan on double bass. Lastman’s soprano is pitch perfect throughout despite the rapid-fire twists and turns she puts it through.

The beautiful “Color De Arena” (Color of Sand) uses a poem by Uruguayan poet Washington Benavides for its lyrics and even though I don’t speak Spanish the sentiment is never lost. The song features a string section that includes Okura and Ernesto Villalobos on violins and Dave Eggar on cello. This sensitive ballad becomes a vehicle for Lastman to show what a truly beautiful and emotive singer she can be.

The perky “Tengo Un Candombe Par Gardel” features the traditional three sized drums or Tamboriles of the Candombe played by Arturo Prendez, Manuel Silva and Fabricio Teodoro. Lastman weaves her magic in an unending display of her vocal prowess including some effective overdubbing of her own voice.

“Brisca Fresca” (Cool Breeze) is another Lastman composition, sung in Spanish and vocalese where she creates sounds that she uses to tell her musical story in a playful duet with drummer Silliman.

“Aqua E Vinho” (Water and Wine) is a composition by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti that Lastman sings so compellingly in Portuguese. Accompanied sparingly by Solla’s sensitive piano and featuring Aslan’s emotionally charged arco bass, this one is simply gorgeous.

Lastman is an accomplished composer with most of the songs on the album her originals.“A Los Legos” is a case in point. Lastman spent some time in Israel studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance before moving to New York where she now lives. The Middle Eastern influence she absorbed there are evident on this track. Some nice interplay with Lastman and trumpeter Alexander Norris is especially tasty, as is Norris’s searing solo as the tune turns into a contemporary jazz piece for a spell.

“Zea Mais” is a folk inspired composition that finds Lastman once again singing in harmony with her own overdubbed voice. This world music-sounding piece features a recorder solo by Daphna Mor.

The album ends with Lastman’s warm “Deep Inside” and her acappella singing of a poem by Alfonso Romano de Sant’Anna “Cilada Verbal.”


Sabrina Lastman, vocals; Emilio Solla, piano ;
Pablo Aslan, double bass, David Silliman, Alexander Norris, trumpet on 7; Meg Okura, violin on 1,3; Dave Eggar, cello on 3, 6; Ernesto Villalobos, violin on 3, Daphna Mor recorder on 8; Arturo Prendez on Candombe piano drum on 4, Manuel Silvaon Candombe repique drum.