“We were butcherin’ up the Sonoma Country Club today,” said Branford Marsalis, before his band had played a note at the Napa Valley Opera House. “We were playing so bad we decided to let some girls play though so they wouldn’t have to look at us. So we invited them to the show tonight… and there they are, sitting right there!”
It was a warm, welcoming way to start the show—Marsalis shouted out, by first name, a long list of friends in the audience, “and all you people we don’t know, we’re glad you’re here too,” he continued. “This is just a hang. A big hang.”
And then the band catapulted into “The Mighty Sword,” and man, all hell broke loose. Marsalis led a solid seven-minute block of quick-paced, rapid-fire jazz, churning and whirring over the angular bass of Eric Revis and the interwoven lines of pianist Joey Caldarazzo, and thwomped the whole thing to a sudden stop. I tilted my head back and laughed in awe.
Yes, awe. The unbridled propulsion with which the quartet is playing these days comes from young drummer extraordinaire Justin Faulkner, who Marsalis hired away from his previous job at Benihana wielding ginsu knives. Or at least it seems that way. Faulkner is a dizzying presence at the kit, sounding like two drummers at once. He tackles the entire drumset, beating toms and cymbals and stands and whatever’s handy, and has a polyrhythmic thrust that calls to mind Elvin Jones. Did I mention he’s only 21 years old? Get used to the name, folks: Justin Faulkner.
Older track “In the Crease” that was the set’s highlight, with Caldarazzo’s solo building to such a climax that he leapt off the bench. This was followed by Faulkner’s shining moment, a blistering solo that was just plain unexplainable—except to say that contrary to popular belief, dropping a pile of drum sticks on the stage can be a percussive moment.
All through these moments, Marsalis himself was fine with sitting out behind the band to let them shine. That’s the right thing to do with this band; they’re remarkably tight, and even with Faulkner, who’s relatively new, they listen intently to each other. The Marsalis quartet has an album coming out next month, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, and based on the songs played tonight, it’ll be excellent. “Teo,” the Thelonious Monk composition, magnified the playfulness of Monk’s melodic conception; “Maestra” was a nice, plaintive ballad.
A set-closing “Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” caused calls for an encore, and suitable “52nd Street Theme” was a fun, frivolous, lively closer. It’s a thrill to have jazz of this caliber played in the small confines of the Napa Valley Opera House, and I doubt many who were there will forget it anytime soon.
Talk has been swirling for weeks, and now, it’s been made official: After 33 years, there will be no Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa in 2012.
The full announcement from Harmony Festival CEO Howard “Bo” Sapper is below, and it looks like the decision wasn’t made lightly. Harmony Festival organizers “spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options” to keep the festival alive, Sapper writes, but to no apparent avail. “We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large,” Sapper writes. “We share your feelings of disappointment.”
So far, this is only a postponement—the festival is not necessarily permanently cancelled. In an egalatarian move worthy of the festival’s aims, organizers have set up a website, www.harmonyfestivalonline.com, to collect ideas about the future of the festival from the fans and extended community. “We are looking ahead to the annual Harmony Festival in 2013,” it reads.
Obviously, this is sad news for many. Official announcement below.
Dear Harmony Festival Family,
On behalf of the Harmony Festival Board of Directors and management team, we sincerely thank you for your continued support and encouragement as we grew and evolved the Harmony Festival from a grassroots community event in 1978, into the nationally renown music, arts and cultural festival—that you’ve come to expect year after year.
It is with a deep sense of regret that we announce that after 33 years we will not be producing a Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, CA in June 2012. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult announcement for us to make. We appreciate your patience as we took the necessary time to prepare a thoughtful message to inform the greater Harmony community of our decision, which is now effective immediately.
You might ask why we made this decision. Please trust that we have spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options in the hopes that we could keep this magical event alive this year. We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large, and we share your feelings of disappointment. We ask that we work together to move beyond this stage, toward hope and optimism for future Harmony Festivals.
We are working on plans to reorganize the company and the possibility of creating Harmony Festivals in the future. We are counting on engaging YOUR support and participation going forward as we re-envision a sustainable future for the festival. We also ask that you assist in communicating this message within your own community, in the most positive light possible.
We welcome your comments and feedback via our new blog www.harmonyfestivalonline.com and look forward to the possibility of rekindling the Harmony Festival flame so it shines even more brightly again in the future.
Howard “Bo” Sapper, CEO Harmony Festival, Inc.
We’ve already reported that Roy Haynes, Vijay Iyer and Sheila Jordan will be at this year’s Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but today’s announcement of the full festival lineup brings in another big name in jazz: Kenny Burrell.
Burrell’s a towering figure in jazz guitar whose bio is too extensive to do justice here. His Blue Lights albums for Blue Note are iconic (love that Andy Warhol cover!). His album with John Coltrane, impeccable. Even local blues guitarist Volker Strifler once asked be to track down a copy of his Bluesin’ Around record, citing it as a major influence. And my personal favorite Kenny Burrell album is Asphalt Canyon Suite, a sublime masterpiece.
Now 80, Burrell plays both solo and in a trio on Saturday, June 9, at the Raven Theater.
Other festival highlights include Calvin Keys Organ Quartet, a quartet led by Freddy Cole (that’s Nat “King” Cole’s brother to you), a concert on the plaza featuring Azesu with Orestes Vilato and Maria Marquez, the Michele Rosewoman Trio, the Lorca Hart Trio, Healdsburg wunderkind Kai Devitt-Lee, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet and many, many more. See the full schedule here.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have this great YouTube series where they drive around California in their van, playing classic cover songs. So far, they’ve done tunes like “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt, “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, and long before she died, “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. (Songs by the Beatles, the Dead and the Allman Brothers all show up too.) The whole project has such a pure and spontaneous feel, calling to mind Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty album—parts of which were recorded in motels, in backstage rooms, and on a tour bus.
Today, Nicki Bluhm posted “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall & Oates, and it’s just fantastic:
Here’s the fun fact: Even Hall & Oates themselves took quick notice, and reposted it.
Locally, Nicki Bluhm’s singing with a Haggard-Owens-Parsons-style country tribute band, Brokedown in Bakersfield, at Hopmonk Tavern on April 7, but she and the Gramblers play May 18 at the Mystic Theatre. Judging from the swift popularity of the video above, I don’t see how the audience is going to let them off stage without playing this song.
Tonight, Los Tigres del Norte played a two-and-a-half hour set in Santa Rosa. If that sounds like a long time, consider that most of their concerts are 3 or 4 hours long; once, in 2009, the band played for seven hours straight.
But the band, who attracted a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, wisely maximized those two and a half hours. They played all of their biggest hits, projected clips from throughout their career on a giant screen, had the crowd on their feet and, at concert’s end, took dozens of photos with excited fans at the edge of the stage while still playing and not missing a note.
Another thing: I’d heard that in concert, Los Tigres del Norte compose their setlists on the spot, dictated by scraps of paper handed to the band by audience members. Each scrap of paper contains a song request, and the band generally gets around to playing nearly all of them.
Sure enough, that was the case tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, where a constant stream of requests were handed to the band members, often in mid-song. I lost count of how many of these requests came flooding to the stage. Between songs, the band members read from the scraps of paper, not only song titles but special dedications, birthday wishes, stories of people’s homeland and more. Call it an analog version of live-Tweeting. It definitely connected the crowd.
And then, the songs. “Golpes en el Corazon” brought a giant sing-along before the band even had a chance to start the first verse; the heartbreaking “La Jaula de Oro” caused an eruption at the first three notes on the accordion. “Somos Mas Americanos,” “Contraband y Tración,” “La Puerta Negra”—they just kept coming and coming. By the end, while the crowd clustered the stage for a veritable love-fest, it was hard to imagine that they wouldn’t return to Santa Rosa, sometime, for another marathon set.
Green Music Center Announces Inaugural Season: Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss, Lang Lang, Wynton Marsalis, More
The Setting: The Green Music Center at SSU, Friday afternoon.
The Man on Stage: Sandy Weill, donor to and namesake of the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall.
The Announcement: Artists performing at the Green Music Center in 2012-2013 include Lang Lang (Sept. 29), Alison Krauss (Sept. 30), John Adams with Jeffrey Kahane (Oct. 27), Chucho Valdés (Nov. 11), the Tallis Scholars (Dec. 8), Yo-Yo Ma (Jan. 26), Barbara Cook (Feb. 16), Anne-Sophie Mutter (March 2), Wynton Marsalis (March 21), Lila Downs (Apr. 18), and those are just the names that everybody recognizes. As already announced, Michael Tilson Thomas hosts four concerts, and the Santa Rosa Symphony moves in. There’s plenty more, here.
The Story: After former Citigroup CEO and chairman Weill and his wife moved to Sonoma County in 2010, his neighbors mentioned the Green Music Center. “I knew we had horses, lambs, sheep, and a lot of land,” he said, “but nothing about a music center.” Weill’s talents had laid not in music but in making a bundle on Wall Street—his musical background was limited to playing bass drum in a military band. But his curiosity was piqued.
“It really looked like a gem,” he said. “I spoke to Lang Lang, and said, ‘You gotta do me a favor.'”
That’s how, a few months ago, Lang Lang came to the Green Music Center to test its acoustics. He arrived in the dead of night, silently, at midnight. Six people from SSU were there to let him in the building, and he played the piano on stage in the hall until 1:30am.
Talk about a solo recital.
Lang Lang liked the acoustics and gave the hall his blessing, calling it “extraordinry” and “beautiful.” Yo-Yo Ma, also, came to the hall for a hush-hush test drive with Jeffrey Kahane, and “fell in love with this place.” Somewhere in the midst of all this, Weill—who with his wife owns the most expensive home sold to date in Sonoma County—donated $12 million to the center.
Surely, Weill’s ties to Carnegie Hall helped dot the schedule with top-name talent. But it was Robert Cole, formerly of UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances, who assembled the full, impressive lineup—one that undoubtedly had all other performing arts centers in the Bay Area turning a deep, envious emerald. SSU president Ruben Armiñana, taking the stage after Cole, thanked him for “the quality that needs to be there, not just at the beginning, but on an ongoing basis.”
Armiñana, for his part, openly acknowledged that the Green Music Center was “a crazy idea.” He related a story about the university vice-president cautioning him, “We don’t even have enough money to buy toilet paper.” He admitted not all stories in the media had been kind, alluding indirectly to the many reports over the years on rising costs of the center, the related alarming debt burden of SSU, the resulting hikes in tuition and fees, the criticism of Weill’s background on Wall Street and more.
Mainly, though, he implied that critics of the center hadn’t had faith. “People have lots of issues when they cannot touch, kick, feel something,” Armiñana said.
“You have to understand and accept rejection,” Weill added.
And like Weill, Armiñana had a modest musical background. “I have to admit, I was kicked out of my single class in violin,” he said. “Since I could not do that, this was a second choice.”
The Highlight of the Afternoon: Soprano Esther Rayo, taking the stage and singing “Cancion de Cuna Para Dormir a un Negrito,” by Xavier Montsalvatge. The performance stopped time in its tracks.
The Tickets: Individual tickets go on sale in July. On March 25, series and subscription tickets go on sale. There are a lot of options, and the possibilities are complex. Also, Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma are “Special Events” that are available only with a series purchase, and require an extra ticket purchase. That sounds kind of insidious on the surface, but there are ways to do it that make sense.
Let’s say you only want to see Lang Lang, and don’t want to sit out on the lawn, and want to do it as cheaply as possible. On March 25, you’d buy “Choral Circle” stage seating for the minimum four “Price Level B” shows from the Choose-Your-Own-Series at $18 each, totaling $72. Then you’d have to add an extra ticket to Lang Lang, starting at $55 for either side balcony or stage seating.
That’s a $127 total to see Lang Lang, but it also means you get stage seating for—and these would be my picks—John Adams, Chucho Valdez, Wynton Marsalis, and Lila Downs. Divided by five, that’s only $25 per show.
There’s no word yet on what service charges will look like, but tickets are not sold through Ticketmaster, which is a good sign. SSU’s own in-house ticketing system will handle all orders; find out more here.
About Stage Seating: I’m telling you, it’s the way to go. It’s the cheapest ticket, it’s close to the performer, it provides a view of the audience, and with the acoustics in the Green Music Center being what they are, it still sounds great. I’ve sat in the stage seats at Davies Symphony Hall, and the only reason I’ve never done it again is because they’re always sold out.
Will the Santa Rosa Symphony Change Their Name?: No, they won’t. Though it may seem appropriate for the Santa Rosa Symphony to become the “Rohnert Park Symphony,” that’s not going to happen. Sara Obuchowski, Director of Marketing for the Santa Rosa Symphony, tells me they took the matter very seriously and discussed it at length, even hiring an outside consultant to analyze the pros and cons of a name change. In the end, “Santa Rosa Symphony” won. Though I’m sad to see the Santa Rosa Symphony leave Santa Rosa proper, calling them the “Rohnert Park Symphony” just wouldn’t feel right.
For more info., see the Green Music Center site.
When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?
On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.
He played dubstep.
Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?
Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.
The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.
At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.
The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.
DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.
(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)
The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, Jason Moran listens intently, forming long, resonant chords. By the time Chris Potter starts blowing, the tone has been set.
This is Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet, a pleasant surprise to those expecting anything close to the jazz giant’s past glories. Though Holland played bass on Bitches Brew, and led the avant-garde hallmark Conference of the Birds, his Overtone Quartet is a different creature entirely—it balances on intuition and interplay, bordering on ESP.
A better cast for this particular approach would be hard to imagine. In front of a sold-out SFJAZZ audience at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday night, Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet exhibited a collective mastery of the art of listening to one another in jazz. In fact, the set’s first two selections, “The Outsiders” and “Walkin’ the Walk,” nearly focused more on input than output.
Then, during Harland’s tune “Treachery,” a thundering Jason Moran solo opened the floodgates. With his arms bouncing off the keys, Moran’s vivacious invention took center stage, and Potter came back in clearly energized.
From that point forward, the band clearly came together. Moran opened “Blue Blocks,” the opening track from his most recent album Ten, with a pensive melody; the full band hopped in and fluidly turned it into an earthy, swinging spiritual. “Trail of Tears,” a Holland composition, opened with a lovely bass solo, then reimagined the spirit of Henry Mancini’s “Charade” as a noir-esque spectre. Chris Potter, who ranges from lilting soprano saxophone to sheets-of-sound tenor, was a weak link on Friday night, but shined here, blowing breathy, low-register Ben Webster notes.
But it was Holland’s “Patterns” that brought the night’s highpoint. As Moran and Potter settled into a cyclical, repeating figure, with Moran on a Fender Rhodes, Harland worked his magic. First, he jumped schizophrenically from one quiet hip-hop pattern to the next, playing out of rhythm, like a needle being dropped at various places on a record. But he slowly increased the volume and pace, aiming at the sides of his drums, his hi-hat stand and his mounted tambourine. He built to such a point that his cowbell fell off its stand and onto the floor, and by the end of the passage, Harland was exploding all over the kit, the pieces of the previous eight minutes’ soloing pouring forth ferociously.
Because of moments like this, it’s no wonder the sold-out crowd moaned their disappointment when Holland announced the last song, “Ask Me Why.” Naturally, the group was cajoled out again for an encore, and the standing ovation that followed brought the close to a memorable night of jazz played by the best.
The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, the WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU KIDDING.
A bright light flashes next to me, a goddamn phone camera. The guy sitting next to me is taking a picture on his goddamn phone. With a flash. The kind of cheap flash that stays lit for two seconds, invading everyone’s view, currently ruining the opening moments of this concert. Jesus.
Did he not hear the announcer, mere minutes before, say “turn off your phones”? Did he not notice the multiple signs posted reading “No photography of any kind”?
No, he did not. He did not give a shit. He is that guy.
After the bright flash, I figure he’s utterly embarrassed and will put his phone away for good. I figure wrong, of course. Two songs later, while the place is quiet and polite and still, he pulls out his phone again and starts clicking away. The display screen raised high, in everybody’s vision, multiple tries to get the shot just right even though he’s too far away and the stage is poorly lit and the picture is destined to look like shit.
Then he opens Facebook on his phone. No joke, he is posting this crappy picture to Facebook, brightly, vividly, right in the middle of the show, while a dream band of jazz legends is playing. Does he even know what the band is called? No! That’s why he picks up the program and leafs through it to find the name of the group. “Dave Holland Overtone Quartet,” he types into a status update. He tags his girlfriend. He tags the Palace of Fine Arts. He posts the photo.
Fine, you’ve posted it, I think. Now put the phone away. But no, he starts scrolling through his feed, stroking the screen rhythmically with his thumb. With his other arm, he reaches over and places his hand on his girlfriend’s thigh, just to, like, you know, let her know that he cares about her as much as his phone. He is caressing his phone and his girlfriend at the same time as he is reading Facebook, his face alight with that blue phone glow so unmistakable in a dark theater.
After a while, he closes Facebook. He opens Twitter. For fuckin’ real? Yes, for real. He goes through the whole ritual again: type tweet, mention girlfriend and venue, upload photo, online look like a cool guy who does fun interesting cultural stuff but in real life be an irritating guy who doesn’t care about the fun interesting cultural stuff as much as he cares about appearing like the guy who does, even at the expense of all the people around him who do actually care about said fun interesting cultural stuff, etc. Then he scans through Twitter for a while, implementing the same pathetic hand-on-my-girlfriend’s-thigh maneuver while staring into his phone, and not at the stage, where incredible things are happening.
Without a doubt, everyone around me has noticed this guy, because he is impossible not to notice. But I’m probably the only one who went home, searched for “Dave Holland” on Twitter and found his cruddy photo, and, by extension, his name. So congratulations, Matt Jessell of San Francisco, you are the Annoying Facebook Photo-Posting Person of the Night. Why am I not surprised to learn that you’re in marketing? Hope this award strengthens your “personal brand.”
Just got back from the Shuteye Unison show, where the band gave an entirely new veneer to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But why stop there? Here are some nominations for Shuteye Unison’s resolute wayback machine.
“Sailing“: Originally by Christopher Cross, there’s no reason Shuteye Unison couldn’t crank up the triple delay effect and make it their own.
“I Wanna Know What Love Is“: Too majestic, you say? Nothing’s too majestic. Give this Foreigner hit a double drumset solo and a whispered chorus.
“Lawyers in Love“: The Jackson Browne track, anchored by a single guitar arpeggio repeating for five minutes straight, over and over.
“Magic“: Could be that this AM staple by one-hit-wonder Pilot is too peppy—that’s why Shuteye Unison would transpose it into a minor key and sing it backwards.
“Alone Again (Naturally)“: Performed entirely by synthesizer and light show.
Shuteye Unison’s album ‘Our Future Selves‘ is stellar, and does not sound like Gilbert O’Sullivan.