Catching Up With My Favorites

Over the past few years I’ve come across a few artists that have taken places among my favorites.  So this week I’m checking out what’s new with Lake Street Dive, Snarky Puppy and Chris Thile.

In an amazing convergence, Chris Thile performed with Snarky Puppy at a recent live show.  Chris jumps in to play jazz mandolin at about 2:30. You’ll hear Snarky Puppy’s band leader Michael League say, “We got six minutes, Chris Thile you got four-and-a-half!”. Suitable homage from one supremely talented musician to another.

Chris also dropped by the Steven Colbert show where he played his Punch Brothers song “My Oh My” with Jon Batiste & Stay Human. You don’t often get to see Stay Human play a full song, so check out their work including Batiste’s fantastic piano accompaniment. You’ll see why Thile exclaims “This band!”.

Lake Street Dive’s members seem to have taken time over the winter for some side projects.  Listen to Rachel Price tap into her jazz roots with a 1930’s Gershwin Brothers tune, in a duet with Brooklyn-based guitarist/singer Vilray.

And LSD’s base player, song writer, backing singer and all around super talented Bridget Kearney put out her own album “Won’t Let You Down” a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the video from “Wash Up”.

Vibes Master Gary Burton Calls It A Career

A few weeks ago jazz vibes player Gary Burton announced he was staging the final tour of his 50-plus-year career, and this past Friday he played his last show at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis.  Not many artists have devoted themselves to this unusual instrument, and I wonder if anyone will ever again play it with Burton’s virtuosity.

According to a feature by NPR, the first use of the instrument in a jazz recording was by Lionel Hampton in 1930 on “Memories of You” by Louis Armstrong.  Legend has it that shortly before this recording, jazz drummer Hampton had come across the instrument at NBC studios, where it was sometimes used to play the network’s distinctive 3-tone identifier chime.

Thirty years after Hampton introduced the instrument, a 17-year-old Burton began his career recording with guitar virtuoso Hank Garland.  Here’s a track from that era with Burton right up front.  The drummer on this track is Joe Morello, Dave Brubeck’s longtime collaborator.

Here are some pure shots of Burton from 1966 and 2010.  Jaw dropping.

And here’s a duet with frequent collaborator Makoto Ozone from 1995. Burton chose Ozone to accompany him on his farewell tour. And if you haven’t had enough, here’s a link to a post from a couple of years ago featuring Burton and  another frequent collaborator, Chick Corea.

More Jazz – Esperanza Spalding

Been covering a lot of jazz so far this year, but there’s so much good stuff out there!

Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, an unusual feat for a a singing, songwriting, bass-playing jazz artist.  She beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + The Machine that year – gives you a feel for the impression she made to stand out in that decidedly non-jazz company.

Spalding released her fifth album “Emily’s D+Evolution” on March 4th.  It was co-produced by Tony Visconti who also co-produced David Bowie’s “Blackstar” (see our recent post).  The psychedelic visuals for the album’s first track “Good Lava” go with its progressive rock/jazz vibe, and you know you want to see her in concert after watching the live video for the album’s second track “Unconditional Love”.

While the new album shows off her eclectic side, Spalding’s career features plenty of straight jazz sensibility as well, winning her praise from the likes of Gary Burton, Pat Matheny, and Joe Lovano. Here she is playing live at the White House earlier this year, and a couple of years ago with Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing Sting’s “Fragile”

2016 Grammys – Jazz Vocals & More

Last week I covered some fine jazz instrumental winners from the 2016 Grammy Awards, and this week I’ll add the winner for Best Jazz Vocal Album. “For One to Love” is the third album by 26-year-old Cécile McLorin Salvant.  Her second album, “WomanChild” was nominated for the same Grammy in 2014.

Half of the songs on “For One to Love” were composed by McLorin Salvant, and the other half are by a raft of famous composers.  First listen to her composition “Look at Me”. Could this become a jazz standard some day?

One of the more interesting covers on the album is “Wives and Lovers”. The lyrics of this Burt Bacharach / Hal David tune are viewed as a bit sexist these days, but in McLorin Salvant’s hands the song gets a fresh feel that is anything but. And the dance moves of Storyboard P make for a super video. By the way, this song won the 1963 Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance for crooner, Jack Jones. And in the 60’s it was covered by Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Dionne Warwick (of course), as well as Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine and Vic Damone.

If you are not one of the lucky ones to have seen the hit musical “Hamilton” on Broadway, you got a small taste on the Grammy Awards show. The cast performed the opening number via telecast to celebrate the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. To hear a bit more from the show, the a cappella group Range fit in snippets of all 27 of the show’s songs in this 7-minute video. If you’d like to hear more from Range, here is a link to more videos on their website.

2016 Grammys – Instrumental Jazz

As I write, the Grammy results are not all in yet, but winners in a number of jazz categories have been announced. It’s great to know the musical form is still going strong.

Thrilled to report that Snarky Puppy won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “Sylva”. I wrote about the band a bit over a year ago, a few months before the April release of “Sylva”. For this album the group teamed up with Holland’s Metropole Orkest. Enjoy this video performance of the album’s first three tracks. It’s 15 minutes long, but well worth it.

A couple of weeks ago you read about young Joey Alexander, who was nominated for two Grammy awards. Well, he didn’t win either, but no shame in that when we look at the winners (and since he’s just 12, Joey will have plenty more chances).

Bassist Christian McBride won Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Cherokee” from “Live at the Village Vanguard”. It’s hard to find someone in the world of jazz whom McBride hasn’t played with over the years, from Wynton Marsalis to Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock. And he’s played with the likes of Paul McCartney, James Brown and The Roots as well. There is plenty of great soloing by all three musicians on this track by the Christian McBride Trio, but that is some fine base work.

In the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album, young Joey was bested by legendary guitarist John Schofield for his latest release, “Past Present”. Schofield’s jazz resume may be even more amazing than McBride’s, having played with George Duke, Charles Mingus, and Gary Burton, before a long stint with Miles Davis.  For “Past Present” he teams up with saxophonist Joe Lovano, a bandmate from the 80’s.  Here’s “Get Proud”.