Seemingly correlated, it twists the mind around trying to decipher the meaning. On the surface, it seems to work. The sound of it is somewhat familiar, yet unusual enough at the same time to remember distinctly. Listen enough and it will create a wonder aural illusion, like a Magic Eye stereogram for the ears. “Oh, it’s a sailboat!” This successfully describes both the term Heatwarmer and the sound of the Seattle-based jazz fusion band.
Led by vocalist and electric bass player Luke Bergman, the group also features a drummer, guitarist and not one, but two synthesizeristas, one who also plays the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and one who can flip his hair and make it look perfect. Every. Single. Time. The songs are eclectic but very listenable, like a blend of Frank Zappa and Stevie Wonder. Well, not exactly, but sorta. Ya know?
No, you can’t know unless you listen to them. I’ll save the clever adjectives and music critic comparisons for something describable. For now, just enjoy:
Their new album is reportedly finished, awaiting the “final touches” as Bergman put it. They played only one song off their first album last night, “Weird Shower.” You know when a band plays there new stuff, and nobody is really into it because they just want to hear the songs they know and love already, even if the new stuff is even better? This did not happen to Heatwarmer. Jaws dropped, cheers were hollered and people danced. “What am I even seeing right now!?” was uttered more than once.
A review of a 2009 performance by Heatwarmer concluded with Gabe Meline waiting for the initial weirdness to settle down to determine if this was “good” or “bad,” and he rightfully concludes that if there’s even a moment of confusion to determine something that simple then it’s automatically in the “good” category.
“When we first heard we were gonna play Yoshi’s,” said Chuck D last night, after “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” opened the set, “we knew it was a historic jazz club. We said, ‘We know we can’t rage against the machine in that motherfucker.’ What do I do, wear my Sam Cooke suit? Do some Sonny Rollins shit?”
It must be a common question for the many who’ve played Yoshi’s since it began regularly hosting hip-hop shows a couple years ago, from names like the Pharcyde and Foreign Legion to Mos Def and De La Soul: how to adapt? Or is it even required, since Yoshi’s seems to be adapting to hip-hop? It only makes sense for the Bay Area’s most famous jazz club to embrace the next great American artform, and the venue works well for it. Yes, the sound system was designed for Steinways and not Serato (Bass: How low can you go? Not very low), but the small stage, standing room and temporary bars on either side of the crowd fit the scene perfectly.
To a totally sold-out, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, Public Enemy played a 90-minute set of every hit one could want to hear. “911 Is a Joke,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic,” “Burn Hollywood Burn”—and yes, most of the songs were over 20 years old. Age coupled with the red-velvet environs gave the night a nostalgic vibe, and on top of two decades already taking the incendiary edge off these songs, they were mitigated further by a general onstage playfulness.
The set featured Kool & the Gang and White Stripes riffs; an ongoing game of “toss the mic”; a James Brownian rule that anyone who messes up has to do 10 pushups; an “invisible studio fader” routine and of course, the ongoing antics of Flavor Flav. “I wanna thank y’all for makin’ Flavor Flav the number-one reality TV star of the decade!” he shouted at one point, during a long monologue about his “second job” on a television show (involving girls defecating on the floor, among other things). And yet it wouldn’t be Public Enemy without him—Chuck D even gave a little “every family has one” defense of Flav, if anyone doubted their closeness.
As for the music? The night was billed as Public Enemy “with a live band,” but as Chuck D pointed out, they’ve been playing with a live band since 1999, inspired by a tour of Japan with the Roots. Chuck D has said in interviews that he wasn’t ever really into jazz, that it was more his dad’s thing, but there was plenty of flash to go around last night. New bassist Davy D at one point let Flav take over for “Welcome to the Terrordome” while the guitarist played solos behind his back; Flav even hopped on the drum set at the end.
And though Chuck D didn’t break out any freestyles (“I’m the least talented member of the group,” he quipped), his between-song improv touched on the importance of the Bay Area, referencing Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Etta James and Johnny Otis right on up to Too Short, DJ Q-Bert and JT the Bigga Figga. “Bay Area independent hip-hop always did the thing,” Chuck D said in homage, “and they just never got support of local radio.”
It’s knowledge like that which separates Public Enemy from the rest. By the end of the set, Chuck D was wearing a “Justice for Oscar Grant” shirt and Flavor Flav was railing against racism and separatism. In the shadow of a chilling live version of “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” and the shooting there last week, it was clear that the progress Public Enemy fought for twenty years ago is still elusive. While everyone in the place threw hopeful peace signs in the air, set closer “Fight the Power” felt more like a party than a war, but there’s still a lot of bite in Public Enemy. Relevant bite, at that. Even in a jazz club. Thank goodness.
EXTRA POINTS: I dunno if it was P.E.’s doing or what, but playing the great Funky Riddims compilation Bay Area Funk before the show was a nice touch. (“Foxy Girls in Oakland.” Listen to it!)
CELEBRITY SIGHTING: Those eyes didn’t deceive you—Aesop Rock was in the crowd.
Photos by Liz Seward.
More Photos Below.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is back. And so is Jessica Felix.
After the outpouring of support for Felix, the current Board of Directors of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has voted unanimously to reinstate Jessica Felix to the Board and to elect her Chairperson. All five members of the current Board are resigning, effective immediately. Felix will book a jazz festival in 2011, and will form a new Board.
This isn’t just great news—it’s incredible news. How rare is it that an entire Board of Directors resigns over public outcry? Over a small little town’s jazz festival?
I called Felix, who’d just returned from signing papers and putting her name back on the bank account. “I’m so glad,” she told me. “I’m just overwhelmed by all the support. It’s been heartwarming to know how much people care.”
As reported earlier, Felix was fired five weeks ago from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, which she founded in 1999, and the Festival Board announced a hiatus for the 2011 season. Multiple media outlets covered the actions taken by the Board, including this one, and comments protesting the decision piled up at the festival’s website. The Board bluntly erased them all, apparently oblivious to Google cache; this only prompted more online comments from fans and musicians alike, including George Cables, David Weiss, Charlie Musselwhite, Bennett Friedman, Adam Theis and many more.
Key among the responses were those from Kathy Martin of Santa Rosa Systems, pledging to cancel her annual $25,000 sponsorship, and Babatunde Lea, who vowed without Felix not to participate in the Operation Jazz Band program in area schools, the only activity the Board had planned for 2011.
Felix said she heard the news by email.
“We have a victory—we’ve got a festival back with a tremendous debt,” she laughed. “It was a fight for jazz, and jazz won, and we haven’t won the battle yet, but jazz really won out here.”
Winning the economic battle means erasing the $30,000 debt that the festival faces, and to that end, Felix is planning the 2011 Festival as a benefit. She also says she’ll increase her outreach to area restaurants and wineries. “Now people realize finally that this festival cannot be taken for granted, and that it meant something,” she said. “That’s what shocked me. How much it meant to people.”
In a shocking, upsetting announcement, the Board of Directors for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announced today that there will be no Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2011.
What’s more, festival founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix has been voted out by the Board, and will no longer be a part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival she started 12 years ago.
Citing the poor economy, the Board says they’ll focus instead on their music education program which for 10 years has brought jazz to area schools. “There also seems to be a more limited audience for pure jazz in the community as evidenced by lower ticket sales,” Board president Pat Templin says. “There may be an opportunity to broaden the offering in the future. We need to find a winning model that will interest more people and businesses in the community to get involved, provide financial support and to attend a revised music festival.”
A “revised music festival.” A “limited audience for pure jazz.” An “opportunity to broaden the offering.” These are not good harbingers of things to come.
I called Felix to find out what happened. She said she couldn’t comment until she spoke with a lawyer, a bad sign. “I was totally surprised,” she said.
Reached by phone, Board president Pat Templin told me that there are “no plans” to reinstate Jessica Felix in 2012, adding that it was decision not made lightly, and one borne of finances instead of artistic vision (the festival, she stresses, will not move in a smooth jazz direction).
“She’s an amazing person, she’s done an amazing thing, and we’re trying to build on her legacy,” Templin says. “We’re committed to jazz, and to maintaining that reputation. And we’re also interested in some of what the community has told us, that there might be other genres that support the kind of jazz we do.” What other genres might those be? “One is blues,” Templin says.
If Felix can’t comment, then I will: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we know it is committing artistic suicide.
As a journalist, I’ve butted heads with Felix a couple times, but one thing I’ve never, ever questioned is her top-quality booking for the festival. I assume this so-called “limited audience for pure jazz” wasn’t part of the sold-out crowd this year for Ravi Coltrane and Charlie Haden, the sold-out crowd for Esperanza Spalding, or the full crowd for Jason Moran and Bill Frisell.
And that’s just in the last year alone. Previous festivals have hosted, to great acclaim, Joshua Redman, Billy Higgins, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan and Dave Brubeck. Look at those names—and then find me another jazz festival booker in a town with a population of only 10,000 who can attract such stature.
The community needs the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but in particular it needs the festival as booked by someone well-connected, passionate and knowledgeable about jazz. That someone is and always has been Jessica Felix. She’s taken creative risks that have paid off—such as two sold-out shows with the decidedly avant-garde Trio 3 last year—and that’s because over the last 12 years she’s cultivated an audience for jazz in Sonoma County. She’s even saved the festival money by putting up musicians in her home, and finding other local hospitable jazz fans to do the same.
As for ticket sales? The slump isn’t just in Healdsburg—concert ticket sales have been down significantly nationwide; Templin admits she’s aware of this too. So sure, a scaling back on the festival makes sense. A focus on music education is good for attracting new sponsors. A one-year hiatus in 2011, painful as it may be, may be necessary.
But in reorganizing, there’s one thing the Board shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the respect Felix has earned from the artists and fans in the jazz world. Every musician playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival who I’ve interviewed for the Bohemian in the last six years has praised Felix’s devotion, without my asking. The national reputation of the festival speaks to her great work.
If she wants to continue booking the festival she founded—and it seems like she does—I can’t think of any reason to stop her from doing so.
[UPDATE: The Board of Directors have removed all public comments from their website. I've reposted them here.]
[UPDATE: It worked! Jessica's back and so is the festival. Read here.]
On Friday, May 21, Crosby Stills & Nash (anyone see their seemingly unrehearsed tour kickoff at the Wells Fargo Center two years ago?) headline the Sonoma Jazz Festival, or the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival, or, as it seems to be called now, SonomJaZZ+! Opening the show will be it’s-funny-that-we-need-to-point-out-that-she’s-a jazz singer Lizz Wright, who appeared with Herbie Hancock in Sonoma in 2008.
On Saturday, May 22, Earth, Wind and Fire will headline in the giant 3,800-capacity tent (will they play “Come on Feet” from Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song?), with the openers being “a Latin Jazz supergroup—we can’t give you their name yet.” (Malo? El Chicano? Azteca? War? Tierra? The Fania Allstars?)
As the Santa Rosa City Schools wrestle with budget cuts in music programs, maybe it’s time for them to think about hosting a quasi-jazz festival too—the Sonoma festival has so far raised $460,000 for Sonoma Valley schools in its first five years. (Come on, Mark Wardlaw! Book Rick Springfield and Joan Baez! Call it jazz, baby!)
Tickets to CS&N go on sale to the general public this Friday, Feb. 19, with a special locals-only deal on Thursday for those with a Sonoma mailing address. For more info, hit up the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival site.
Larry Young – Contrasts
One of those breathtaking releases from the purgatory between soul jazz and free fusion in 1967. Young wears a paisley shirt on the cover; the entire band’s astrological signs are proffered in the liner notes. Makes the jazz organ a punk rock instrument. This burns hard.
Sunny Murray – Hommage to Africa
I loved the Big Chief reissue this year, and his appearance at Yoshi’s was utterly memorable—if not fully illuminating of his vast talent. The A-side is 18 perfect minutes of rich African roots-jazz with Alan Silva, Lester Bowie, Archie Shepp and Roscoe Mitchell.
Booker Ervin – The Blues Book
Somehow years of listening to Mingus left me without discovering Ervin’s own records. Everything good about “Live at Antibes” is compacted into this wonderful outing, a post-bop masterpiece. Must find the others in the “Book” series.
Raccoo-oo-oon – S/T
Often thrown in the noise camp, this Iowa City collective played a house party in Santa Rosa a couple years ago, all blaring clarinets and saxophones along with a tape recorder. Finally picked up this LP and Behold Secret Kingdom, and they’re both on another plane.
Johnny Mathis – Open Fire, Two Guitars
Yeah, I know. Is it jazz? Since interviewing Johnny Mathis earlier this year, his records have occupied a lot of time on the turntable. I would be a purist and pick his first LP, with Milt Jackson and Connie Kay. But this one sets a mood that’s sublime and irresistible.
Dewey Redman – Coincide
I fell in love with Tarik, but then found this one, which is the entire versatile range of jazz on one record, almost. Imagine being Joshua Redman and growing up around this huge variety of influence. A life of study and wisdom in seven parts.
Jaga Jazzist – The Stix
Electronics in jazz has until recently been mostly confined to Eddie Harris’ electric saxophone and the occasional pedal effect. What about a meeting of electronic(a) and free-form playing? The Bad Plus is nice, but this feels more like the actual future of jazz.
Gil Melle – Tome VI
Which reminds me: this strange little record, billed as “the first album of electronic jazz,” was an early experiment to mesh jazz and electronic instruments with names like the “Electar” and the “Doomsday Machine.” Results sometimes scary. Worth picking up.
Lucy Ann Polk – With the Dave Pell Octet
Lucky Lucy Ann on Mode is still her best, but I was fortunate enough to find this 10″, a session of mostly standards arranged in part by Shorty Rogers. Is there any sound more breezy than Polk’s voice? An exhaustive biography of Polk has been thanklessly compiled here, if you’re interested.
Jerri Adams – It’s Cool Inside
Just a nice, smoky album from this “tall, dark and comely” singer from Cincinnati. She would be 79 by now. Frankie Laine discovered her and signed her to Columbia, but she’s got a voice that’s the opposite of his excited yip, thank heavens.
Squarepusher – Music is Rotted One Note
Unlike anything else in the Squarepusher catalog. Basically a meticulous tribute to fusion-era Miles. It works, if imitatively.
The Tony Williams Lifetime – Emergency!
When this got reissued on CD, there was a note from the engineer that said, in essence, “Don’t blame me – they requested this album to be recorded so it sounded like shit.” It’s in the red, beginning to end. With John McLaughlin and the aforementioned Larry Young.
Solidarity Unit, Inc. – Red, Black and Green
St. Louis in 1970. Oliver Lake and crew. Recorded on the day that Jimi Hendrix died. Nice and messy in a lo-fi way.
Shirati Luo Voice Jazz Band – Kenyafrica!
Longer, deeper and more meditative than most highlife stuff. I think about what band practices must have been like. Vocal arrangements by serendipity and chance. I’d love to personally hand-craft a trophy for the bass player.
Jeri Southern – Southern Breeze
Marty Paich was just so wonderful as an arranger, especially for female singers. This record is like vocal morphine for California beach parties. That languid, relaxed sound for after you’ve listened to the Tony Williams album too many times.
Reflections in the Sea of Nurnene – S/T
I have no idea who this is, except it’s on Tribe, it was recorded in San Francisco the year I was born and it belongs to another world.
Bill Evans – Quintessence
Interplay gets a lot of credit for presenting Evans in a larger-then-trio setting, but this album, with Kenny Burrell and Harold Land on guitar and sax, respectively, is just plain better. Ray Brown and Everybody Digs Philly Joe Jones hold down the rhythm. Really excellent stuff from 1977.
Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble – Drum Dance to the Motherland
Philadelphia in 1972. Dogtown. Songs titles like “Cosmic Echoes,” “Breath of Life,” and “Inner Peace.” Self-released, of course. Further proof that free-jazz guys in Philly were the progenitors to ’80s DIY indie labels.
Joe Henderson – Power to the People
I used to talk mad shit about 1970s jazz, but looking down this list so far, I guess I’m getting into it. I’ve always said that one of the greatest things about being alive is the ability to change one’s mind.
Carmell Jones – The Remarkable
A trumpet player from Kansas City who shines here with Harold Land and Gary Peacock. He made another album later on with Gerald Wilson that’s about as good a trumpet/big-band record can be. He disappeared, it seems.
The Malcolm X Jazz and Arts Festival is a sprawling celebration of the life and teachings of Malcolm X, spread out over a large field and four tennis courts at San Antonio Park in an area of East Oakland known more for the nightly news than for daytime festivals. Sunday’s celebration marked the ninth year of honoring Malcolm X’s life and message, and the positive vibe throughout the park was one of community empowerment and self-esteem. The lineup, too, was outstanding, with two of the finest living tenor players in the world today, David Murray and Howard Wiley.
Around the perimeter, numerous booths and soapbox stages broadcast the message of self-determination. A banner with a cleverly modified BART ticket paid respects to Oscar Grant. The food court adjoined a popular hip-hop stage with mostly younger dancers, bands and MCs. A skateboarding and graffiti court was filled with murals, some painted on cardboard, some painted on car hoods. A large memorial for Richard Masato Aoki stood between the park stages, where festival co-founder Marcel Diallo’s collective group Black New World alternated on the flatbed truck stage with headlining acts.
With all this activity, it pays to get there early. We arrived at San Antonio Park with a good four hours left of the day’s festivities, but would find we’d already missed David Murray and Howard Wiley. Murray I’ve seen before in New York, but Wiley lives up to his sly surname; I interviewed the brawny tenor player five years ago, but I’m 0-for-3 on seeing him live.
Little did we know what was in store—a welcome surprise in the form of Abraham Burton.
Burton introduced himself to the mid-afternoon scene with a subtle and wordless introduction that exploded into fire and grace with his trio. Playing both intensely and thoughtfully, his explorations cast an upper-register Coltrane-like quality with an even more abstract edge—imagine if Coltrane had recorded for ESP-Disk. After soundchecking with the instantly recognizable first four notes of A Love Supreme, he dropped both “Naima” and another Coltrane original into the set, segueing through “A Night in Tunisia” and a handful of others.
Burton, who’s recorded with a veritable who’s-who of talented underdogs including Louis Hayes, Horace Tapscott and the fantastic Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, said few words to the crowd—verbally, that is. His playing nonetheless spoke volumes on its own and his trio, with childhood blood brother Nasheet Waits on drums, washed over the congregation on the lawn. The backdrop of an empty lot, an abandoned church and the distant ocean slowly turned pasty and bright as the sun hung low. Laying in the grass, eyes closed, you’d swear you were at Newport in 1965.
More Photos Below.
In last week’s Bohemian, I raved about Christette Michele’s new album, Epiphany, and the surprisingly rewarding low-and-inside swing it takes at commercial success. Chalk one up for the 26-year-old batter: Epiphany was released this week, and swiftly hit #1 on the Billboard 200.
The funny thing about all this is that Michele is so obviously skilled as a jazz singer. But does jazz sell? Could Michele have tried to make a stab at Norah Jones-ness? Is Norah Jones-ness dead? Is “Love Is You” just a crappy Corrine Bailey Rae knockoff?
So: Into the studio with more rappers, into the makeup department with a new hairstyle, and into the computer with more music editing software. Maybe she’ll make that small-combo album someday, but once the beast starts giving, it’s hard to let go of the leash. Epiphany only sold 88,000 copies in its first week, the lowest sales ever for a #1 album in the SoundScan era, but I’m guessing that unlike the industry, Michele’s pretty happy with her figure.
Last night, the City of San Francisco belonged to Adam Theis.
At 8:06pm, the lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts was full, over a hundred people, with two lines for will call and another line for ticket purchases. Inside the theatre, all seats were occupied; standing-room overflow lined the aisles. Onstage, the orchestra had already begun playing, trying to fit as much music as possible into the tiny time frame allowed.
At the front was the man of the hour, Adam Theis, conducting this impossibly huge ensemble after a year of nonstop writing. San Francisco’s own Theis—of the Jazz Mafia, the Realistic Orchestra, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet and an upbringing in Santa Rosa—stood casually in sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt, overseeing the premiere of his magnum opus and life’s work thus far.
This is no local-boy-makes-good story. After the incredible composition unveiled last night, it’s time to stop with the hometown platitudes and officially herald Adam Theis as a major talent.
Brass, Bows & Beats is a work on par with Miles Davis & Gil Evans’ Live at Carnegie Hall or Charles Mingus’ Epitaph—visionary in scope, staggering in depth. Rarely have I heard live music of greater variety without the variety itself taking center stage. If there is a dominant theme to the work, it is that we are all one, and it makes its case with dizzying arrangements, evocative poetry and an impossible-to-resist urge to get down.
In the great jazz tradition, Adam Theis has spent ten years playing virtually nonstop in San Francisco’s small nightclubs. Sometimes he’ll play a whole set of loose, free-form funk songs. Sometimes he’ll stick to strictly jazz. Lately he’s been showcasing special sets of instrumentals sampled by De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, bringing attention back to the sources of classic hip-hop songs. Beats, Bows and Brass combines all of this activity with cerebral aplomb and an unerring personality that widely circumvents the rudimentary hokum of early jazz/hip-hop hybrids like Jazzmatazz or Hand on the Torch.
Theis conducted his 48-piece orchestra, played trombone and bass, spoke humbly between segments and animatedly tossed his charts to the stage floor throughout the performance. He allowed his players, and particularly his vocalists, to take the limelight. He stepped aside when violinists Anthony Blea and Mads Tolling went head-to-head in the dual jazz improvisation “Blea vs. Tolling”; when rappers Lyrics Born, Aima, Dublin, Seneca and Karyn Paige evoked the Mission District in “Community 2.0”; and when DJ Aspect McCarthy scratched along to beatbox breakdowns while the brass section swelled and ebbed dramatically.
On the surface, Brass, Bows & Beats is akin to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in that it brings a genre associated with black music into the symphonic realm. Theis does the same for hip-hop with Brass, Bows and Beats, but a closer cousin is Gordon Jenkins’ 1949 vignette Manhattan Tower, in which a great city is realized through a work of music that feels as alive as the city itself. Without a doubt, Brass, Bows & Beats is the sound of San Francisco in 2009; intelligent, soulful and diverse.
Once the official symphony was over, a second, looser set opened with an Astor Piazzolla song featuring Colin Hogan on the accordion. Joe Bagale brought the house down with his soul cry “Love Song,” and Jon Monahan conducted Eric Garland’s “Arc Line.” Those awaiting a party-rocking amalgam—in line with the Jazz Mafia’s many nights at Bruno’s—were rewarded near the end when the intensity level was raised markedly by Lyrics Born, who had been a small accessory to the first set.
Working the front of the stage, Lyrics Born brought the entire Palace of Fine Arts to its feet with full-orchestra versions of his own album tracks. A slow, sultry “Over You” and the hands-in-the-air “Hott 2 Deff” balanced the serious nature of the first set; the veteran Bay Area rapper then joined a full-frontal freestyle by all six vocalists for a television crime drama “Streets of San Francisco / Theme from S.W.A.T.” medley, arranged by Jeanne Geiger, that thrillingly increased in tempo toward the euphoric finish of a great night.
Attention, rest of the world outside the Bay Area! Adam Theis and the Jazz Mafia: Recognize!
My friend Jeff over at Waxidermy has just posted some clips from a record made by the Sonoma Valley Jazz Band in 1974, and man, it’s worth a listen. There’s some seriously crazy drums on “Spinning Wheel,” and the arrangements are out of this world for a high school band. Who knew this stuff was happening in Sonoma in 1974?
In related news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its lineup for 2009. Count the jazz artists.