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This newsletter itself has been dormant since I gave up covering jazz regularly for the Boston Globe in fall 2006. It made more sense having it when I was sending out stories every week. Maybe one of these days I'll start it up again. My apologies to anyone who has been wondering what had become of it in the meantime. — Bill Beuttler


David Bond; Hancock, Moran reviews; Vardan Ovsepian

February 26, 2005

Two concert reviews this week, so four short jazz pieces in all. The reviews were of Directions in Music with Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, and Roy Hargrove at Symphony Hall last Sunday, and of Jason Moran & The Bandwagon on Wednesday. The week's Friday column was a profile of saxophonist-composer David Bond, who traces his decision to become a professional jazzman to hearing a couple of Coltrane albums while a senior in college. The Calendar pick of the week is talented composer-pianist Vardan Ovsepian, whom I profiled in the column last year sometime.

The Moran set, incidentally, was crowded with local jazz folks. I sat at a table with Bob Young of the Herald, publicist Dawn Singh, and Gene Arnould of the Marblehead Jazz Festival. My Globe predeccesor Bob Blumenthal and Steve Charbonneau of WGBH sat nearby.

I had a chance to talk to Moran a bit after the set, and he told me he'd talked to his cousin the day before, who told him I was planning a trip to Los Angeles — you may recall from last week's newsletter that the cousin and I are old friends from our Chicago days.

Anyway, on with the stories themselves ...

* * * * *

Moran mixes it up in blues-drenched style

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent  |  February 25, 2005

Jason Moran & the Bandwagon were missing their new guitarist for two sets at Scullers Wednesday night, but that didn't prevent them from performing a highly impressive set of blues-drenched music drawn mostly from their new CD, "Same Mother."

Marvin Sewell has been touring with the group of late, but a previous commitment caused him to miss the band's Boston stop. And while it would be untrue to say Sewell's absence went unnoticed (especially his Chicago-style electric guitar work on the tunes "Jump Up" and "I'll Play the Blues for You"), Moran and his other longtime cohorts — bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits — made even the bluesiest pieces sound thoroughly credible without him.

Moran, in a dark pinstripe suit and a cream bowler, began the gig (as he did the last time he played Scullers) with a taped male voice announcing the group as if it were a rap act. But this time the tape segued into the opening cut from the new disc, "Gangsterism on the Rise," a highly percussive original whose theme has a way of locking itself into a listener's brain.

The tune set the tone for all that would follow. Moran is a big one for shifting gears, both in a tune's dynamics and in the way he taps into the history of jazz piano styles.

Like his late mentor Jaki Byard, Moran is a great assimilationist, and at times he can sound like Cecil Taylor channeling Earl Hines. But for all of Moran's sudden changes in style, volume, or rhythm, Mateen and Waits stayed right beside him and goaded him on.

Stride piano was emphasized on the set's second tune, James P. Johnson's "You've Got to Be Modernistic," Moran leading off the number alone before the others jumped in behind him. Then it was back to something from the new disc, the quietly reflective "Aubade," written by Moran in collaboration with another mentor, Andrew Hill. On "Two Mothers," Moran plays the tune as a duet with Sewell on acoustic guitar; at Scullers, Mateen played lovely, sedate accompaniment on his "acoustic-electric" bass while Waits supplied subtle brushwork on drums.

The earthy, up-tempo blues original "Jump Up" came next, Moran taking the romping rhythm far outside with a frenzied solo that may have contained as many notes as Pinetop Perkins plays in a year.

After Moran had his way with a couple of jazz standards — one involved his draping Rodgers and Hart's "Lover" over sequenced African drums — the Bandwagon played its most straight-ahead blues: the Albert King classic "I'll Play the Blues for You," which had a cutting-edge jazz feel to it.

As an encore, the group played a medley of "G Suit Saltation" from the new disc and Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six," which eventually bled into a final tape sequence: a woman reading Chinese stock market quotations.

Jason Moran & the Bandwagon
At: Scullers, first set, Wednesday night 

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
* * * * *

Bond sticks to melody, spirituality

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent  |  February 25, 2005

David Bond's career in jazz was inspired by stumbling onto a pair of John Coltrane albums while a senior at Bradley University in the mid-1970s.

"I originally was in political science in college, but I had always played the saxophone," explains Bond from his Back Bay apartment. "And then I heard Coltrane's 'Kulu Se Mama' and 'Transition' recordings when I was in college. I was kind of floundering for what I was going to do for a job or a career, and I heard those two things, and I said, 'That's it.'"

Bond, now in his early 50s, has been writing, performing, and recording music heavy on melody and spirituality ever since. He'll perform with his current sextet at the Regattabar Wednesday. The lineup includes: Bond on alto and soprano saxes; Stan Strickland on tenor and soprano saxes; Bill Lowe, trombone; Pierre Hurel, piano; Wes Brown, bass; and Luther Gray on drums.

In retrospect, Bond says it was the spiritual side of those Coltrane albums — made in the mid-'60s, as the saxophone great was moving from the more familiar realms of bebop and modal jazz to cacophonous free-jazz explorations — that captivated him.

"It just struck a chord in the sense that it was so open and strong and honest and positive," he recalls. "I'm sure at the time, I didn't really think of it as spiritual, but I do now."

Bond's music has a spiritual feel to it, too. His only CD still in print, a quartet date released early last year, is titled "The Spirit Speaks," and that side of the music has grown even more pronounced since his group has been reconfigured with the two extra horns.

"What I'm trying to do is have different melodies happening at the same time," Bond says. "So even if I'm playing a lead melody the other horns have a chance to play countermelodies or interweave improvising around that."

At times, the group achieves a choral effect. "The music is open enough and expressive enough where we reach certain peaks . . . kind of in this zone where we've soared above the music," Bond says. "It's like we're all singing and rejoicing at the same time."

Still, there's a gentleness and tranquility to Bond's music not generally associated with free jazz. Those qualities, and Bond's emphasis on melody and group interplay, remind some of Charles Lloyd's groundbreaking work of the mid-'60s.

Bond's love of melody drew him to his mentors — Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef in Western Massachusetts, Dewey Redman and Lee Kontiz later on in New York — and continues to guide his composing and improvising today.

"I consider myself a melodist," he says. "I'm much more interested in melody and exploring that approach, to either standard compositions or original compositions, and go at it from that point of view more than a harmonic approach. Which is why I gravitated toward these players [as teachers], because all four are melodists."

And these teachers all had a philosophical lesson to impart.

"The common link," Bond says, "is that the sound is the most important thing: your personal voice and your personal sound. All of them are very consistent and strong believers in that being primary, and everything else will follow. Because having all the chops in the world doesn't mean anything if it's not coming from your own voice and your own sound."

Whatever spirituality there is in Bond's music comes from him heeding that advice.

"It all comes from the spirit somehow," he says. "Music can be called a religion or whatever, but I'm not really approaching it that way. I'm just trying to be open and honest, and coming from my own voice and soul and spirit and heart.

"And I'm fortunate enough to be connected with these other players that seem to be coming from the same place and respond to that and add to it."

The David Bond Group will perform at the Regattabar Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. $12. Call 617-395-7757.

Artist in residence: Another Boston-based saxophone veteran, Charlie Kohlhase, kicks off a two-month Wednesday-night residency at Artists-at-Large Gallery in Hyde Park next week. Kohlhase will introduce two new ensembles over the course of his stay. The five Wednesdays in March will feature Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club, a quintet rounded out by Matt Langley on tenor and soprano saxes, Eric Hofbauer on guitar, Jef Charland on bass, and drummer Bill Carbone. The four Wednesdays in April will be given over to Charlie Kohlhase's Saxophone Support Group, an all-sax sextet consisting of Kohlhase, Langley, Sean Berry, Jared Sims, Josh Sinton, and Chris Veilleux. 

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

* * * * *

Calendar Jazz Picks

Sun 2-27

Vardan Ovsepian Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 7 p.m. $10.

Vardan Ovsepian (above) is among the most promising young talents on the local jazz scene, having moved here eight years ago from his native Armenia to study music at Berklee. The pianist-composer has put out three CDs to date on Barcelona's Fresh Sound — New Talent label. His solo-piano debut disc, "Abandoned Wheel," was followed by "Sketch Book" and last year's "Akunc"; the latter two feature Ovsepian in quartet moder, with help from bassist Joshua Davis, drummer, Take Toriyama, and vocalist Monica Yngvesson. All three CDs demonstrate Ovsepian's fondness for bringing European classical and other outside influences to jazz improvisation to create music both elegant and uniquely his own. Brad Mehldau has singled out Ovsepian's work, as have George Garzone and Frank Carlberg. "He is a singular musician that is developing a highly personal and sophisticated expression," says New England Conservatory professor and pianist-composer Carlberg, "and is one of the few musicians of his generation that will help define the future course of jazz." On Sunday, Ovsepian sets his quartet aside for a solo show.

Fri 2/ 25 Ken Clark Trio. If you're looking for music more funky and danceable, you'll find it tonight with Ken Clark's organ trio. Ryles, 212 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-9330. 9 p.m. $10.


* * * * *

Free-form Directions hits high notes

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent  |  February 22, 2005

Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, and Roy Hargrove brought their reassembled Directions in Music quintet to Symphony Hall Sunday night, where their two-hour set revealed more of the improvisational genius that earned them a couple of Grammy Awards when they last toured together in late 2001.

Joined by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the three headliners steered the music determinedly toward free jazz — so much so that some in the audience might have occasionally wished for a map.

This was especially true of Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," a radically rearranged version of which opened the set. Hancock walked onstage feigning a conversation on his cellphone, and worked the shtick into the electronic garble he coaxed from a synthesizer to begin the piece.

The two horns — Hargrove on trumpet and Brecker on tenor saxophone — mostly sat out the first tune, but when they walked out to solo, they made the most of it. Hargrove, backed by dazzling piano accompaniment from Hancock, ended his free-form turn in the middle of a furious run. Brecker came out afterward and blew Coltrane-like sheets of sound, Carrington dropping bombs on her cymbals behind him, and ended his solo with screaming high notes that drew a huge round of applause.

Mostly, though, the half-hour-long opener proved an extended display of Hancock's harmonic wizardry, the horns onstage only for brief, albeit brilliant, cameos. That changed on the second tune, Hargrove's "Brown," on which he, Brecker, and Hancock each took a short, tightly focused solo, with Colley and Carrington pushing each other particularly hard when Hancock took his turn.

Next up was another new composition, Brecker's "Loose Threads," this one's melody rendered comically quirky by its numerous, oddly timed rests. On this tune the headliners took longer solos, with Brecker's again especially transcendent. Hargrove's "The Poet," from the group's Grammy-winning CD, followed, with a Hancock solo that emphasized his lyrical side. Then everyone but Brecker exited so that he could play an intro to Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" on an electronic gizmo he called an EWI (electronic wind instrument).

Brecker used the device to layer a variety of sampled sounds — an otherworldly drone, wood flute, accordion, a woman's voice, etc. — building eventually to a full-scale funk combo so loud it seemed to frighten him. The rest of the band trooped back out as Brecker's EWI demo ended, and after a little more fooling around with synthesized sound effects, everyone reverted to acoustic instruments for a sharp exploration of the Shorter classic.

The set's highlight was the final tune, Hargrove's "Trouble." It opened with Carrington's lone drum solo of the night. Hargrove followed with a resplendent effort that ended with him pointing his trumpet toward the ceiling for a long, climactic run of high notes that inspired fiercely energetic accompaniment from Hancock. Brecker inspired more of the same from the pianist with another terrific solo, and Hancock kept up the pace with his own solo. Colley calmed things down with a well-crafted bass solo that led to a restatement of the tune's theme.

Directions in Music
With Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, and Roy Hargrove
At: Symphony Hall, Sunday night 

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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