Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Devil's Music at the Cleveland Play House, 20 February 2013

I’ll make this short and sweet. Go see Miche Braden as Bessie Smith in The Devil’s Music at the Cleveland Play House. I have only hear the real Bessie Smith on scratchy old recordings from the 20’s and 30’s, but if she was nearly as good as Ms. Braden is in this play than she was quite the talent.
The one act 90 minute production  is filled with great versions of old blues tunes like “Dirty No-Gooder Blues,” “Blame it on the Blues,” “Devil Dance Blues,” “‘t Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do,” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” Throughout the show Braden is backed by three talented actors/musicians, George Caldwell on piano, Jim Hankins on bass, and Keith Loftis on sax. The monologues and story telling between songs are wonderful.
The Play House has really hit home runs on their annual musical biographies they have staged over the years, and this is another one. What a great night of musical theater.
The Devil’s Music is running through March 10 downtown at the Play House’s new Allen Theater home. For more information go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chris Potter The Sirens ECM CD: B0017932-02, 2013 release

             Chris Potter has been a major player on the modern jazz scene since the late 80’s, when he was an 18 year old prodigy playing in bebop bands. Since that time he has done it all, playing on Steely Dan releases; backing Dave Holland on the 2002 Grammy winner What Goes Around; and performing with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield.
            The Sirens is his first CD release leading his own ensemble, with Craig Taborn on piano; David Virelles on piano, celeste, and harmonium; Larry Grenadier on bass; and Eric Harland on drums. All talented and respected players.  Potter got the idea for the music from going back and rereading a classic. “I’d re-read The Odyssey after many years and was inspired to write music with that epic, mythic mood in mind.”
            And just like The Odyssey, the CD is filled with music that range over a variety of emotions and moods. Some of it sounds like a soundtrack to a 50’s detective movie, at other times it sounds as romantic as jazz can be. All nine cuts on the CD feature Potter’s distinctive sax sound, smooth with a touch of bop to it at times, and he gives enough room for the members of the band all to shine too.  You don’t have to be a fan of ancient mythology to enjoy the album.
            Chris Potter will be playing selections from The Sirens, as well as from all aspects of his career, this Saturday at the Lakeland Jazz Festival. This years festival also features Cleveland’s own Jamey Haddad and his Trio on Friday night, and the Lakeland Community College and Cleveland State University Jazz Bands on Sunday.

Jackie Ryan at Nighttown 1 February 2013

Steve Frumkin, one of the guys from Cleveland who books a lot of jazz shows around the country, called the other day to talk about the lineup at this year’s Lakeland Jazz Festival. Just before he hung up he said, “By the way, if you got nothing going on tonight you have to check out the woman we have singing at Nighttown tonight.” When Steve recommends someone, I usually try to follow through. And I am very glad I did this time.
Headlining at Nighttown last Friday was San Francisco based vocalist Jackie Ryan, backed by a trio of Cleveland’s best players. She came to town to showcase her new release “Listen Here.” She was very good, and hopefully will become a regular at Nighttown in the years to come.
            She did two sets of about an hour apiece, mostly featuring things from the new CD. She has the type of voice that is perfect for Nighttown, strong yet romantic, sultry but not overly sentimental. She has great stage presence, and her selection of songs really showed off her talents. She covered a few standards by a variety of composers (Gerswhins, Ronny Carter, Henry Mencini), and a few lost ones ( Abbey Lincoln). Both sets featured a song or two sung in Spanish and Brazilian, a nod to her own Latin American heritage. The audience loved all of it.
            She was backed by Dan Meier on piano, Glenn Davis on guitar, and Demetrius Stone on bass, and they clicked with Ryan as if they had been playing with her for years instead for just the evening. On a cold Ohio Friday night it was a great night of jazz and vocals.
            For more about Jackie Ryan and her music go to www.jackieryan.com. For all things Nighttown go to www.nighttowncleveland.com. And, yes, don’t forget about the upcoming Lakeland Jazz Festival February 22-24 at Lakeland Community College, featuring  saxophonist Chris Potter on Saturday night. For more info go to http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/music/jazz_festival.asp.