Jazz, Blues, and Roots, Oh My! Music: 4.4 – 4.11

April 4, 2012

This week we’ve got some unexpected combinations of musicians, as well as a stellar line-up of Twin Cities artists. Some nights feature a plethora of good choices. We’re lucky.

By the way, Big Thanks to those of you who pledged during my show on KFAI Community Radio. If you missed that opportunity, you can still go to the KFAI website and pledge. Just be sure to mention Rhythm and Grooves as the show you want to receive your pledge.


Wednesday, April 4

Chris Thomson Quartet @ Café Maude, Minneapolis.  7pm. (No cover) The neighborhood bistro that could continues to showcase great jazz. Tonight it’s Chris Thomson, sax; Sean Carey drums; James Buckley, bass; and Patrick Harrison on accordion. If you can find a seat at the bar you can hang there. Otherwise it’s best to get a reservation and ask for a table near the music.

Thursday, April 5

Larry McDonough Quartet DVD Release @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($5) McDonough is a pianist of considerable skill and sensitivity who sometimes takes an “offbeat” approach to his music.  He and his quartet (Richard Terrill, saxes, lyrics; Craig Matarrese, bass; Chaz Draper, drums) have filmed “Live at the Music Connection” for public television. They perform poetry as well as odd-metered jazz based on melodies from children with disabilities, as well as from composers as disparate as Betthoven, Brubeck, and Spinal Tap. BTW, it’s foodie night at the Dakota.  Here’s a preview.

Friday, April 6

Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric and Tim O’Keefe’s Batucada do Norte @ Studio Z, Saint Paul. 8pm ($10) Tim O’Keefe brings a seven piece version of the Brazilian percussion ensemble Batucade do Norte to the Studio to join with Clouser’s electric jazz group. The results should be invigorating, to say the least.

What song was Ophelia singing that shocked her parents so?

Naughty Songs for Nice Girls @ The Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, Minneapolis. 10pm – doors at 9:30pm ($12 – $10 for TCS members) Is this an attention-getting concept or what? Sassy songs, double-entendred and innocent, all expressing female views on femininity and sexuality, as sung by Rhonda Laurie and Bobbi Miller. Expect tunes from the likes of Dinah Washington (the dentist song?), Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, and others.

Friday, Saturday, April 6, 7

Eric Kamau Gravatt & Source Code @ The Artists Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($15) Don’t miss a chance to see this drum master at work. Miles Davis wanted Gravatt, but Gravatt went with Weather Report instead. He’s also played with Joe Henderson, and still tours with McCoy Tyner from time to time. Working with Gravatt is Dave Hagedorn, vibes; Ron Evaniuk, bass, and Gene Rush, piano.

Saturday, April 7

Lila Ammons Trio @ The Red Stag, NE Minneapolis. 10:30pm (No Cover) Chicago-born, Minneapolis-based Ammons has strong roots in jazz and blues. Her grandfather was boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons, and her uncle was the monster sax player Gene Ammons. Since 2008 she’s been touring Europe alot, playing clubs and festivals throughout the continent.  She’s finishing up her debut jazz CD, so expect some previews. If you want to hear what she sounds like, tune in to my show Saturday morning on KFAI, 90.3 and 106.7FM, at 10:30AM.

Sunday, April 8

Charmin & Shapira @ The Red Stag, NE Minneapolis. 9pm (No cover) Cool jazz from Charmin Michelle on vocals and Joel Shapira on guitar. Their CD is delightful.

Monday, April 9

Dave Karr and Dave Shmalenberger @ Jazz Central, Minneapolis. 9pm. (Donation, BYOB) As usual, Jazz Central is featuring a couple of cool cats for its Monday night performance & jam. Karr plays just the right notes, whether he’s on tenor, baritone, or flute. Shamlenberger is a well respected drummer/percussionist who’s played with the JazzMN big band, The Fifth Dimension, Steve Turre, a number of local artists, and a host of others.

Tuesday April 10

Peña @ Southwest HS, 3414 W. 48th St., Minneapolis. 7pm. ($10/$8/$5) The Twin Cities Jazz Society presents this seven-piece ensemble that led by guitarist Cory J. Wong and cajón specialist Chico Chavez. The group emphasizes the cajón, a box-like percussion instrument that is at the center of Afro-Peruvian music. They will be playing unique song forms such as Festejos and Landos. The SW High Jazz Ensemble, led by music director Keith Liuzzi, will open the show.

McNally Smith X-Tet w/Gary Smulyan @ The Artists Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($8) X-Tet is actually a nisnomer, as Pete Whitman (who is on the faculty at McNally Smith College of Music) has put together a 17 piece jazz band. They’ll be playing with Smulyan, a NYC-based, award winning baritone sax player. Smulyan’s playing is muscular, fluid, and imaginative, as heard on his recent release “Smul’s Paradise,” a B3 organ romp.

For further commentary on Twin Cities jazz check out the blogs Jazz PoliceBebopified, and Jazz Ink.

For a comprehensive listing of Jazz in the Twin Cities, check out the Bebopified Calendar, here.

Blues, Roots, Other

Wednesday, April 4

Rena Haus on KFAI and @ the 331 Club, NE Minneapolis. 5pm on KFAI (90.3 7 106.7 FM) and 7pm at the 331 Club (Tip Jar). Haus may be the only artists that has been heard on both Prairie Home Companion and on Car Talk (for her deliciously risque Mechanic’s tune). She’s got a directness to her blues that keeps many (including me) coming back for more.

Davina & the Vagabonds @ Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis. 9pm Davina and the guys continue to tour around the states, with the occasional European trip. They’ll be performing on the Blues stage at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, where they’ll be exposed to a whole new set of fans. They fill the Dakota on weekends, where there’s little space to dance. These monthly mid-week sojourns take care of that, what with swing dance lessons at 8pm, and a spacious dance floor.

Thursday, April 5

Kari, Lisa, friend, and instruments

Ditch Lilies @ Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis. 6pm. (No Cover) What a nice surprise to see this talented duo appearing at the Kitchen. Lisa and Kari play all sorts of acoustic instruments and blend their voices quite well on originals, Western Swing, and old time tunes. Down home, front porch music for old friends and new ones.

Javier & the Innocent Sons w/guest Hurricane Harold @ Washington Square, White Bear Lake. 8-11pm. (No cover) Javier ramps up his rootsy, swinging music with the addition of harpmaster Harold. Washington Square isn’t particularly big, so you may have to hang at the bar until diners leave. But hey, good choices in all beverage departments.

Friday, April 6

Thomas Dolby @ Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis. 8pm ($25) In the 80s Dolby hit it big with a couple of tunes, including “She Blinded Me With Science,” recently heard on a local TV stations weather segment. But being on top of the charts was nothing compared to his next move – creating a Silicon Valley tech company that built the ringtone synthesizer found in over 3 billion phones around the world. He’s retired, and once again returned to the world of music. His first studio album in 20 years, Floating City, has been launched coincidentally with his transmedia game of the same name. Think web, phones, I-pads all taking part in real time. Anyway, he’s back and should provide an interesting, if not eye-opening experience at the Cedar.

Yodel A Go Go @ Schooner Tavern, Minneapolis. 9pm The Schooner is a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall with a good beer list at 29th St and 27th Avenue South – directly east of Target. Dan Peterson’s little group plays rockabilly and danceable country. with guitarist Clay Williams providing tasteful fills and leads. Jennifer Markey used to sing with the group, and word is she’ll be dropping by for a song or two.

Saturday, April 7

Dough Bros @ Manitou Station, White Bear Lake. 9pm. (No cover) When Paul Mayasich and Andy Dee get out their resonator guitars (also known as Dobros), the results are mesmerizing. Not so mesmerizing that you won’t order another drink, or even dance a little jig, but mesmerizing nonetheless. Hear examples on their MySpace site.

Lamont Cranston @ The Narrows Blues Saloon, Navarre. 9pm (No cover) Over in the Western part of the Twin Cities area, Pat Hayes and his band will be delivering butt-rockin’ blues.

What’s Going On? @ The Cabooze, Minneapolis. 9pm. ($15) It’s the annual celebration of the music of Marvin Gaye, and what could be sweeter? Some of the musicians that will be performing include Julius Collins, Jay Bee, Lynval Jackson, Yohannes Tona, and Daryl Boudreaux, among others. As Marvin once sang, “How Sweet It iis.”

1/2 Birthday, Saturday.

Big Fat Love: John Prine’s 1/2 Birthday @ The 331 Club, NE Minneapolis. 9pm (tip jar) Well, 1/2 birthday, or Saturday, do you really need an excuse to celebrate the creativity of Mr. Prine? Tonight’s program is hosted by Mother Banjo and Art Vandalay, with guests Dan Newton, Caitlin Robertson, Jon Rodine and more.

Sunday, April 8

Willie Walker @ Minnesota Music Cafe, Saint Paul. 4pm (No Cover)  Okay, here’s an alternative to a fancy Easter celebration. Willie Walker is a soul singer who can fill your heart and move your feet, not to mention other parts of your body. Plus, you can indulge your need for good bar food.

Zydeco Benefit for Second Harvest Heartland @ The Half Time Rec, Saint Paul. 8pm (Donation) It’s the Faux Playboys, JJ’s Zydeco Paydirt, and Dan Newton Plays Clifton, all for a good cause. You’d have to go to Louisiana to get this kind of music and fun, as folks of all ages will be dancin’ spinnin’ circlin’ and more.

Monday, April 9

Cactus Blossoms @ The Turf Club, Saint Paul. 9pm ($5) Fans of classic country (Hank Williams, Hank Thompson, George Jones) are discovering the brotherly harmonies and and down home appeal of this talented quintet. Their Monday night residency at the Turf is attracting dancers of all stripes, which resulted in about a 1/2 dozen couples waltzing on the Turf’s dance floor. Waltzing. Probably hasn’t happened since the heyday of the Turf as a C&W bar many moons ago.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues and roots, see the calendar of the Minnesota Blues Society.

For a comprehensive listing of Cajun and Zydeco events, see the Krewe de Walleye calendar.

Estoy con la banda, part 3

January 20, 2011

Musical Highlights from Traveling With a Band

The Afro-Peruvian Sextet

I have returned from a ten-day trip with Gabriel Alegría and the Afro-Peruvian Sextet. Alegría, who has a doctorate in jazz studies from USC, started the group in 2005 with a few of the best musicians in Peru. Since then they have recorded two CDs, and performed at over 400 concerts and events. The group fuses traditional Peruvian percussion (which doesn’t include congas) with jazz, exploring the common African ancestry of both, and creating a new form of Latin Jazz in the process. Along the way they’ve gathered a legion of fans, many of who will help out at concerts and in other ways.

After starting the band and beginning to perform quite a bit, Alegría realized that though they were touring a lot, they weren’t touring in Peru very much, a country with a relatively small base of jazz fans. His solution was to create Tour Peru and invite fans to travel to Peru with the band. He arranged for some unique tour experiences, as well as a tour of Machu Picchu, and started the fan/band tours in 2008. One participant in the 2008 tour was so inspired that she opened a restaurant, The Tutuma Social Club, which serves Peruvian dishes and features jazz, including the sextet. You can read a review I wrote of the sextet’s performance at the club here. You can see a video of a performance at the club here.

As anyone who has experienced the reality of returning from a remarkable trip can attest, it takes a while to process everything that occurred. Nevertheless, I do want to acknowledge some of the musical highlights.

A dance troupe portraying slavery and emancipation in El Carmen, Peru

The first was an outdoor concert in the square at El Carmen, a small town that was hit by the earthquake of 2007. The stage was located in front of a beautiful little church. The opening act was a dance troupe that portrayed the bondage and emancipation of African slaves that were brought to Peru. The closing act was a dance/acrobat troupe called Milenio. They evoked Stomp!, The Blue Man Group, and other highly percussive dance companies. They did a pantomime of a soccer game that was hilarious, complete with over the head kicks, fights, and more.  In between the Afro-Peruvian Jazz Sextet did a 45-minute set that had the audience clapping and singing along, and yelling for more as their set ended.

Another highlight was a performance by a panpipe band in Cusco, the “belly button of the world” according to Incan lore. Mauk’Allalta is a four piece band using two different kinds of flutes, a guitar, a 10-string charango, a large, cow skin covered drum, percussion, and three different sizes of pan pipes, the largest of which was about four feet long. Two members of the band are Incan shamans, and they explained the relationship of their music to the Incan belief system. Consequently, a song that evoked thunder, wind, and rain had more context knowing that Incans believe in living in harmony with mother earth. The next day during a tour of Machu Picchu, we heard more about the Incan belief system and their relationship to the world. I don’t have the space to go into the details, though I can say that the belief system, and its relationship to the music of panpipers, is much more complex than you might imagine from hearing this music on the streets of your city, or in new age gift shops.

As the healing ceremony began, the sound of the ram's horn wafted down the valley to Cusco.

The day after we went to Machu Picchu, the shamans of Mauk’Allalta invited us to their house for cleansing and healing ceremonies. The ceremonies took place in a low ceilinged room that contained vintage stereo consoles and radios, as well as a small table for preparing herbs, flowers, and other accoutrements for the ceremonies. Members of the sextet and about eight of the sixteen fans went through the ceremonies while the music of the Incans was being played. The sextet and the fans all came from a variety of belief systems – Hebrew, Catholic, Protestants, agnostic. Nevertheless, we all agreed that the ceremonies, combined with the music, made for a moving experience. Afterwards, we all shared chicha, a fermented corn liquor. This was definitely not a stop on a usual guided tour.

We had three different drum sessions, in which the sextet’s Peruvian drummer, Hugo Alcázar, taught us about the cajón. The lessons allowed us to learn about the Peruvian national instrument, and what it takes to create its one of a kind rhythms. The cajón was created out of necessity, when plantation owners would not allow any Africans to own instruments. So the African slaves picked up drawers or crates and began pounding out rhythms. A half dozen of the tour participants even played cajón during the last song of the sextet’s performance one evening. The sound was thunderous and the results joyous. It is more than ironic that the cajón once a symbol of oppression, is now a national symbol for Peru.

We also had zapateo lessons from the sextet’s percussionist, Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón. Zapateo is a form of percussive dancing done to accompany the rest of the band. Lobatón, a master of Afro-Peruvian percussion, is also a three time national Peruvian zapateo dancing champion. While only a few people mastered the basic steps he was teaching, we all gained further insight into Afro-Peruvian music.

We heard the band do eight sets over the course of a week or so. Familiar songs took new turns each time out, but the audience always responded enthusiastically, clapping in syncopation to the rhythms, and singing along. By the time of the last song for the last set at The Jazz Zone in Lima, the band had three drummers on stage, along with Huevito on cajón, and Tonio Beeches doing zapeteo dancing.

Finally, we went to two additional peñas besides the one at Don Porfirio. One was held at Don Pepe de Villalobos, in the La Victoria section of town. In my previous post I wrote about the afternoon session full of warmth, incredible singing, good food and drink. The final day, some of us were able to go to a private event, where literally dozens of musicians and singers hung out. It was an event for a group of students from NYU who are documenting Afro-Peruvian music. Alegría, who is Associate Director for jazz studies at the school, arranged the event, so we were invited along. It was a perfect ending to a highly unique, musical vacation.

Too many musicians to list, gathering and playing for a peña

Estoy con la Banda

January 10, 2011

The sextet performing at Peña Don Porfirio. Photo by Polly Whitehorn

I am currently on a tour of Peru with Gabriel Alegría and the Afro-Peruvian Jazz Sextet. The tour, organized by Tour Peru, includes concerts and performances, as well as some typical and not so typical tourist activities. One of the not-so-typical activities was a visit to Peña Don Porfirio, which not coincidentally, included a performance by the band. Here are my impressions of the evening.

Many jazz artists, at some time in their career, explore some of the traditional music of their native country.  For Gabriel Alegría, and the Afro-Peruvian Sextet, it is more than a simple exploration. It’s a calling. The Peruvian trumpeter and his group use the rhythms of coastal Peru to underpin all of their music, whether it’s an original, or standards such as My Favorite Things.

These rhythms, in 3/4, 6/8, and 12/8 time, and the percussion instruments that support them, date back centuries, to when black slaves were brought to Peru to work on plantations. The slaves were denied the use of their own instruments, and so would use drawers, boxes, or whatever they could find, to make music, creating cajóns, cajítas, and other unique percussion instruments. Now, Alegría and his sextet use those instruments to create a polyrhythmic sound that is both traditional and new.

On Friday, January 6th, Gabriel and his group performed at Peña Don Porfirio, located in Lima on a side street of the Barranco neighborhood. Like many social halls, tables are arranged in rows, encouraging interaction among all. The room is decorated with balloons and streamers. A large sepia-toned photo of a quintet is on one wall. Portrait photos of other performers are on another. It’s a family run affair. A minimal menu is available, with lomo saltado (a delicious plate of beef, tomatoes, and potatoes) being the specialty. The beers are cheap, the food is good, and conviviality is in abundance.

Dancing at Don Porfirio

Historically, peñas were gatherings of musicians, often friends and family members, who would play for their own enjoyment and dancing. Over time, they have become somewhat commercialized, though there is still a loose, familial feel to them. The musicians are close-knit, and there is a strong emphasis on tradition. And though there are exhibitions of traditional dances, the emphasis is on dancing by customers. That is why it is so surprising that Alegría and Afro-Peruvian Sextet are welcome to play at Don Porfirio’s, albeit in a relatively short, thirty minute set.

The evening started with the house band playing and a gentleman with a rich baritone singing as customers grabbed partners and danced to the complex rhythms. Whether in their 70s or 20s, couples smoothly moved their hips and their feet in time to the music. The resulting dance was modest, yet seductive in manner.

A couple dancing the Marinera. Photo by Polly Whitehorn

After a few songs, a couple of exhibition dancers delighted the customers with very traditional dances including two versions of the Marinera, in which the man and woman both twirl handkerchiefs, with the object of the male encircling the female.

After some more dancing by the customers, the band took a break and Alegría and the sextet took to the stage. They opened with” Taita Guaranguito,” from Pucusana, their second album on Saponegro Records. It is performed in 12/8 time – a Landó – goosed along by the rhythms of percussionist Freddy “Huevito” Lobatón on cajón and cajíta, and’ Hugo Alcázar on drumset and cajon as well. Soon everyone in the room was clapping along in syncopation and shouting encouragement. Next up was “Puerto Pimental,” a slower number featuring lyrical contributions from Alegría, saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguía, and acoustic guitarist Yuri Juárez.  Finally, the band performed “Piso 19,” alternating between 12/8 and swing time, with supple support from New York bassist Maeve Royce and Lobatón, leaving the stage to cheering and enthusiastic applause.

Alegría and his band have received well-deserved accolades from The New York Times, Downbeat, and a number of Latin Jazz periodicals. Judging by the response of the audience at Don Porfirio’s, the band’s approach to Afro-Peruvian rhythms is gaining new fans among tradition-loving Peruvians as well. Stay tuned.

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