Sonny Rollins review, Tessa Souter, Aruán Ortiz, Tim Ries
January 1, 1970I got busy yesterday and neglected to send out this past week's newsletter, so what you're getting today represents an eight-day week. It's busier than usual, too, because I've had pieces in the past two Sunday Boston Globes: the Jazz Notes from last week that got bumped to Sunday, a profile of Rolling Stones sideman Tim Ries, and today's review of the new CD from Sonny Rollins, recorded at a highly memorable concert I happened to attend.
This week's Jazz Notes was a profile of a very promising singer, Tessa Souter, and how she made her debut six years ago at age 42. And the Calendar Jazz Pick was of Aruán Ortiz, a transplanted Cuban pianist now based in Boston.
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CD REVIEW: With '9/ 11,' Rollins reminds us of music's power
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | August 28, 2005
Anyone who attended Sonny Rollins's memorable Sept. 15, 2001, concert at the Berklee Performance Center should be delighted to learn it was recorded — and that an abridged CD version is being released on Tuesday, titled "Without a Song: The 9/ 11 Concert."
The enormity of the attacks on New York and Washington four days earlier gave the concert an unusual emotional edginess. In my case, I was there alone because my then-girlfriend — now wife — had traveled to Connecticut to be with her aunt and uncle, who had lost their son in one of the World Trade Center towers. The concert producer, Fenton Hollander, says he nearly broke down onstage while making his opening announcements, a fact noticed only by his wife.
Rollins himself was there because his wife, Lucille, insisted he go on with the show. He had been in the couple's apartment blocks from ground zero when the towers fell, and was so wrung out by the experience he had nearly canceled the trip to Boston.
Instead, Rollins played an exceptionally fine concert, even by his own exacting standards. He opened with what became the album's title track, which he announced he'd first heard sung by Paul Robeson many years before. Alluding to the tune's lyrics about the fundamental, life-affirming force of song, Rollins noted this particular song's heightened relevance that week. "I think everybody feels this way," he said.
With that, Rollins and his band — nephew Clifton Anderson on trombone, Stephen Scott on piano, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass, Perry Wilson on drums, and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion — began a buoyant run through the tune that set the tone for all to follow.
Rollins stated the song's theme straight a time or two and then began working variations on it. Anderson followed with a lengthy solo that was warm, mature, and melodic. Scott came next with an inventive effort that borrowed the leader's habit of quoting other songs, in this case snippets of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning" and the theme from the TV show "Jeopardy." A short Dinizulu solo led back to Rollins's saxophone, with Cranshaw and Wilson keeping the tempo energetic throughout.
The desire to limit the release to a single disc means leaving off half the actual concert. "Global Warming" is the only one of the calypsos played to make the CD, and the only Rollins composition as well. The three other tunes included are all standards: "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," "Why Was I Born?," and "Where or When."
People come to Sonny Rollins concerts hoping for transcendent playing by Rollins himself, and that night he reached inside and delivered it. A gargantuan solo on "Why Was I Born?" displays Rollins's improvisational genius at full throttle, backed by Cranshaw's fluidly propulsive bass line and Wilson's deft drumming.
The music is what matters most, of course. But a few extraneous details included on the CD are curiously affecting, too. The 40-plus seconds of ovations that follow both "Why Was I Born?" and "Where or When" document the palpable release felt by an audience able to engage with art again.
And a pair of spoken announcements by Rollins sum up what he and many in the crowd were feeling that evening.
"We must remember that music is one of the beautiful things of life," Rollins tells the crowd, "so we have to try to keep the music alive some kind of way. And maybe music can help. I don't know. But we have to try something these days, right?"
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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From karaoke bars to Lincoln Center, all she needed was a start
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | August 26, 2005
It took a bit of bullying from her then-boyfriend to turn Tessa Souter into a jazz vocalist.
The London native was living in San Francisco, supporting herself as a freelance writer, when he spotted her singing in a karaoke bar, Souter explains by phone from her apartment in New York. Several months of friendship led to a romance, which in turn led to the boyfriend becoming "very bossy about how I really should be a musician."
"I was singing in the shower and stuff like that," recalls Souter, who performs at the Regattabar on Wednesday, backed by Tony Wolff on guitar, Thomas Hebb on bass, and Kahlil Kwame Bell on percussion. "It's ridiculous, isn't it? I mean, karaoke bar. Please.
"And then it just sort of went from there," she continues. "He'd say, 'Oh, let's go to this jam,' and he would make me sit in. ... And then when I moved to New York [following the boyfriend, who was beginning doctoral studies in musicology at Columbia], I found this open mike, and I started off doing it there. People would say, 'Where can we come and hear you sing?' 'Well, nowhere.'"
"And then," says Souter, "I just got a gig, and boom." She laughs. "All you need is to just start, I think."
That first gig was at the Cafe San Marco in Greenwich Village in 1999. Souter was 42. The romance that led to her professional debut has since faded back to friendship, but Souter's late-blooming singing career continues to flourish.
Souter performs monthly at the 55 Bar in the Village, headlines at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Sept. 18, and has a six-night run at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London lined up for November. Critics have been gushing about her live performances and her self-produced debut CD, "Listen Love."
She's accomplished all this with minimal formal training. Souter tried the Manhattan School of Music but dropped out after one semester. She did manage to study with a couple of top vocalists, however, working with Mark Murphy on and off for four years and with Sheila Jordan for six months.
"She's a very giving person," says Jordan, "and that's what she does with her music — she gives it. I think she's a very special talent. She has no fear. She's sure of who she is."
Souter focuses primarily on material outside the Great American Songbook. She contributed one original to her CD, a pretty tune with a Middle Eastern feel called "You Don't Have to Believe," and she wrote lyrics for two favorite instrumental pieces: Pat Martino's "Willow" and Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." Other jazz compositions she's supplied lyrics for include Joe Henderson's "Recordame," John Coltrane's "Wise One" and "Equinox," and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower."
"I started really by writing lyrics to tunes that I liked," Souter explains, "because that meant that I could perform tunes that weren't really being sung. And also I was listening to a lot of instrumentalists, because I didn't want to be derivative of other singers, so I avoided listening to singers for quite a while."
When she sings lyrics written by others, her choices also tend to come from outside the familiar jazz canon. Her CD includes covers of Sting's "Fragile," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Insensatez," and the title tune by Jon Lucien.
"I just choose material that kind of resonates with who I am or what I'm feeling," Souter says. "I cannot sing a song that I don't feel."
Souter hasn't completely set aside her journalism. Her first book, "Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better," is due out from Random House UK in January. It was inspired, she says, by an hourlong phone conversation she had with a Dell computer saleswoman who wanted to become a journalist.
"There are these really definite things that people can do" to break into desired professions, says Souter, who became a journalist in her 30s. "They just don't know how to begin. So this book is like 'Bridget Jones's Diary' meets 'The Artist's Way.' It's how I became a journalist and then how I became a singer, but also other people's experiences about how they got into their creative professions — artists and painters and sculptors, writers, actors."
Souter delivered the manuscript to her publisher about a month ago. "Now I can go back to what I really love," she says, "which is the music."
Tessa Souter performs at the Regattabar on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. $12. 617-395-7757, www.regattabarjazz.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Aruán Ortiz Trio
Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 p.m. $15, $55 with dinner.
Aruán Ortiz studied classical viola and piano in his native Cuba, earning assorted awards as a violist and playing as a soloist with the Santiago Symphony Orchestra before giving up the instrument at 20 to concentrate on piano. A pair of early albums led to scholarships abroad, including one to study jazz piano at the Berklee College of Music with Joanne Brackeen and Danilo Pérez. Jazz sideman work followed in Barcelona and Paris, and in 2002 Ortiz returned to Boston, where he reunited with fellow Berklee assistant professor and Cuban expatriate Francisco Mela. Ortiz and drummer/ percussionist Mela, joined by Berklee grad Peter Slavov on bass, began playing regularly at Wally's Jazz Café in October 2003, and two months later recorded their first album, "Aruán Ortiz Trio, Vol. 1," at WGBH Studio 1. That album, newly released in the United Statees (it came out last year in Europe and Japan), reveals the trio to be practitioners of what Eddie Palmieri calls "jazz Latin." Jazz gets precedence, in other words, as you might expect from a band that cites Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Herbie Hancock, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes as key influences. But the accompanying Cuban-accented rhythms and lyricism make the music fresh.
Wed 8-31 Tessa Souter Quartet Vocalist Souter has earned rave reviews from top critics on both coasts for infusing jazz with flamenco, Middle Eastern, and Brazilian influences. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $12.
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It's only rock 'n' roll, but he loves it
Versatile jazz saxophonist Tim Ries releases a CD of Rolling Stones covers
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | August 21, 2005
Tim Ries may not be a household name, but the 45-year-old saxophonist has a slew of household names as sidemen on his new CD of Rolling Stones covers.
"The Rolling Stones Project" will feature folks who know the band's catalog quite well. Keith Richards, Ron Wood (who also contributed the cover art), Charlie Watts, and Darryl Jones make appearances, as does Sheryl Crow. A little more surprising are brand-name jazzers such as Bill Charlap, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Larry Goldings, Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Ben Monder, and Luciana Souza.
And that's not to mention Norah Jones, who delivers a gorgeous version of "Wild Horses," backed primarily by Frisell's lush, languid guitar work and the leader's soprano sax.
"Thank God she did it," says Ries by phone from Toronto, where last week the Stones were in the final stages of rehearsing for the tour that kicks off in Boston today. It'll be Ries's third tour with the group. "The arrangement changes keys three times, and she generally doesn't like to do that. Everyone basically that night just started reading it for the first time. I said, 'Do you want to play piano?' And she said, 'Sure, I'll do both.' So she played piano and sang simultaneously, and that was the first take. She nailed it. Beautifully. She's an incredibly gifted musician."
Aside from one Ries original ("Belleli," named for his twin daughters, Isabella and Eliana), the tunes throughout the CD are as well known as the musicians covering them. "Honky Tonk Women" gets two versions, the first put in motion by Richards's unmistakable guitar chords and the second, a swinging organ-trio take with Ries on tenor, Goldings on Hammond B3, and Watts on drums. Charlap and Patitucci are among those having at "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Gimme Shelter, and "Paint It Black." Frisell weighs in elsewhere on "Waiting on a Friend" and "Ruby Tuesday," as well as "Belleli."
"Street Fighting Man" gets the hardest-to-recognize arrangement. Ries recast it with a Brazilian feel after watching the Stones do their hornless version of it on tour, and had Souza provide the vocals.
"One night I was backstage," Ries recalls, "and I was hearing the melody — 'do dee do dee do dee do dee' — and as it happened, I was thinking the pandeiro [a tambourine-like percussion instrument]. I went back to the room that night and sat at the piano, and I immediately went to these chord changes that were totally different. And I put it in a different key, and it just flowed out."
Ries figures he's earned the right to breathe some jazz into the Stones repertoire. He was a veteran session man with several albums of his own to his credit when trombonist Michael Davis and trumpeter Kent Smith called him in 1999 about joining them in the Stones' four-piece backing horn section, along with longtime Stones sax sideman Bobby Keyes. Sunday's Fenway Park concert opens Ries's third tour with the Stones.
His first jazz cover of a Stones tune, "Moonlight Mile," came on his previous CD, "Alternate Side." But making a CD of jazz covers of recent pop music was something Ries had been thinking about for a long time.
"I always wanted to do a record of popular music," he explains, "but for many, many years what I didn't want to do was a smooth-jazz version of a tune. I didn't want to be that guy who did a three-minute version of a tune and became successful, because then you actually have to show up and play it that way."
What made "The Rolling Stones Project" different was its openness to improvisation — "so it's still a jazz record," says Ries — and Ries's authentic connection to the music he was covering.
"I had the gig with the Stones," he says, "[so] it just seemed like, "OK, this is the right time, this is the right music, and being that I'm in the band makes it feel genuine to me."
To Frisell, too. "He loves those guys, and he loves that music," says the guitarist, who was in town this weekend to play Scullers. "It's not like a jazz guy slumming around with some rock guys or whatever. . . . There are other reasons for doing these things that are genuine, and I think his motives are really in a good place."
Folks here will be able to get their first live look at Ries's spin on Stones standards when he brings guitarist Ben Monder, bassist James Genus, drummer Clarence Penn, and a vocalist to be announced to the Regattabar Sept. 20, during a week off from the Stones tour. So far audiences in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Japan, and Sweden have liked what they've seen.
"It's been a really good response," Ries reports. "And especially from Stones fans, which I was really nervous about."
Next up for Ries will be material taped in May with Frisell, Goldings, Genus, and Jack DeJohnette. The CD will be mostly Ries originals, but there'll be yet another Stones cover on it, too.
"It's mostly my stuff," says Ries, "except we did 'You Can't Always Get What You Want,' an arrangement of that. And when we did it, Jack said, 'Oh, I think Mick's gonna like that.'"
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company