Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jazz in Denver this Weekend

By Geoff Anderson

The coming weekend will be a good one for Denver jazz fans. Kenny Garrett and his band are scheduled for two shows at the Soiled Dove Underground on Thursday May 3 and Friday May 4. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6, the Tierney Sutton Band plays two shows each night at Dazzle.

The last couple times Kenny Garrett came through Denver, he was playing with Chick Corea. In June 2010, he was part of the Freedom Band with Corea, Christian McBride and the then 85-year-old Roy Haynes. See review of that show here:

Before that, Garrett came through town as part of the 5 Peace Band featuring Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta. See a review of that show from March 2009 here:

This weekend will be the Tierney Sutton Band’s second visit to Denver, the first being in December 2010. See a review of that show here:


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The Birth of Bebop Recorded

A few weeks ago, at a record fair, I picked up an album I’d never seen before. It was simply marked as Jazz Immortals: Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk [sic]. Those were the only words on the cover, and that was enough to convince me to buy the record then and there.

I didn’t realize how significant this album is until I got home, put the record on the turntable, and read the full credits. Though liner note author Leonard Feather hardly mentions Monk (not using his name until the final ten lines of the roughly 200-line notes, and even then, misspelling it), this album is very important for featuring the earliest captured recordings of Thelonious Monk, according to Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (New York: Free Press, 2009). In addition to capturing the young Mr. Monk, this recording also may be the very finest documentation of the true inception of bebop.

It was recorded in1941 at Minton’s Playhouse Monroe’s Uptown House by Jerry Newman, a young Columbia student with portable recording equipment who recorded the house bands at these two clubs as often as he could in the early 40s. While it is amazing to have the archival recordings of these innovative, explorative jam sessions, Newman’s recordings are not without controversy. Newman recorded these musicians (who were ecstatic to hear their music played back) with no intention of ever sharing any profits. When the recordings were issued originally on the Vox and Esoteric labels, no musician saw a dime (Kelley, 71).

Despite its shady origins, the music presented here is priceless, both for historical value and for sheer entertainment. The chromaticism, uneven rhythmic lines, playfulness, and individuality Monk was known for are evident even at this young age. Additionally, Monk shines with some virtuosic runs, the kind of showing off he had lost interest in by the 1950s. And Dizzy, at just 19 years old, sounds as fresh and exciting as ever. His thirst for new sounds comes out in full force with the unexpected scales he chooses over certain harmonies. Dizzy also shows his deep knowledge of the tradition, playing melodies that are steeped in history and exploring new ground all at once.

And, of course, I cannot underplay the import of Charlie Christian, the man with top billing here. Charlie Christian was perhaps the most influential guitarist in jazz of all time. He turned the guitar into a member of the lead line, not just a rhythmic element. But, outside of the world of guitarists, Christian also was a major influence on bebop soloists on any instrument. His solos were always filled with new, impressive runs and harmonic experiments.

One very curious element of the recording is the presence of a tune named “Kerouac.” While Jack Kerouac’s significance in jazz is well-known, it did not come about until the mid-1950s. This album was recording in 1941, when Jack Kerouac was still playing football at Columbia. I’ve yet to discover the meaning behind this title.

While it is also a futile effort to define the moment of inception of a new genre or school or thought, Minton’s and Monroe’s in 1940 and 1941 are widely considered the beginning of this thing called bebop, the precursor to all of modern jazz. But even these recordings don’t capture everything. The opening track even begins in the middle of a chorus. Even though it’s just a brief glimpse into another time, that night in Minton’s and Monroe’s were amazing and any glimpse should be greatly appreciated.

The album has since been remastered and issued on CD by the Essential Media Group (with Monk’s name spelled correctly!). It can be found here:

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Curtis Fuller and Keith Oxman at Dazzle

This past weekend (4/13 and 4/14) I had the pleasure of seeing the Curtis Fuller and Keith Oxman sextet at Dazzle Jazz here in Denver. Having played trombone in groups led by John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Benny Golsam, and Art Blakey, Fuller has been a permanent fixture in the jazz scene since the late 1950s, and at 77 years of age, he is still going strong. He still has that graceful, articulate sound he’s come to be known for. Denver-based co-leader, tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, while a bit younger than Fuller, is a great, widely known name as well with his sound that shows his respect for the classic sax players of the bop and post-bop movements as well as an ear for innovation. The rhythm section of Ken Walker on bass, drummer Todd Reid, and pianist Chip Stephens are frequent collaborators with Oxman, and Denver trumpeter Al Hood rounded out the sextet. This same group can be heard on Curtis Fuller’s 2010 I Will Tell Her and their upcoming album due this summer. Their chemistry as a group is remarkable. Hood’s bright tone perfectly complement Fuller’s mellifluous sound, and Oxman fully rounds out the horn section’s character, while the rhythm section has learned how to function seamlessly as one and accompany the soloists flawlessly.

In a group filled with outstanding players, the biggest surprise of the night was Chip Stephens, who stole the show both evenings with his ambidextrous runs, impeccable sense of syncopated rhythm, and sheer creativity in improvisation. He incorporated classical technique with avant-garde musical ideas, emphasizing beauty and dissonance with a combination of both open-voiced chords and tone clusters. From the first tune of Friday night’s 9pm set, “The Clan,” which closed the show Saturday, Stephens proved himself to be an unbelievably fabulous listener when comping by tastefully responding to and echoing phrases from each and every soloist, pushing them forward without stealing their spotlight. Stephens also shone in his composition “Chip’s Blues,” which came second Saturday and closed the show Friday, crafting a solo with unexpected twists and turns, covering the entire length of the keyboard wonderfully, featuring a nice little quotation from Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light” on Saturday. On Friday, Stephens also led a rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” delightfully emphasizing the flatted fifths and chromatic harmonic movement.

Other great tunes played include the syrupy ballad “Sweetness,” which did not appear in the 9pm set Saturday. “Sweetness” showcased the sweet, smooth trombone tone that Fuller has spent the years perfecting. Hood also sound great on this tune, hitting crisp clear high notes through a Harmon mute (stem removed a la Miles Davis). The centerpiece of each night was the amazing “The Maze” [Fuller’s pun, not mine]. This piece featured Oxman, who exploited the entire range of his saxophone and fluidly maneuvered through different keys, channeling his inner John Coltrane. Between Oxman’s sax presence, Reid’s rolling around his toms with mallets (recreating Elvin’s Jones’s timpani), Stephens’s strong left hand chord voicings, and Walker’s walking bass acting as the bedrock, the audience at Dazzle felt what the audience at Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes must have felt on July 26, 1965, when the John Coltrane quartet played the seminal A Love Supreme live.

Throughout the night, the simplicity and sophistication of Walker’s bass work was noteworthy; he knew exactly the right note to choose at any given moment and showed incredible clarity with impressive runs during his solos. And, while Reid took a back seat most of the evening, he let loose during his solo on “The Clan,” with some crisp cymbal patterns and wildly fast drumming. For anyone who missed this show, I highly recommend going out to purchase their next album as soon as it is available, to capture some of the magic that happened on stage at Dazzle last weekend.

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Chuchito Valdes at KUVO 4/1/12

Chuchito Valdes Trio plus One, Sunday April 1, 2012

Reviewed by Christopher Dennison

This past Sunday, April 1st, KUVO listeners were treated to a very special edition of Salsa Con Jazz, hosted by Jimmy Trujillo. The great Cuban jazz pianist Chuchito Valdes and his trio of bassist Steve Sachse and drummer Rafael Monteagudo, with special guest Denver’s own Jose Espino on congas, donated their time to KUVO’s Spring Membership Drive with a live performance in the Phyllis A. Greer Performance Studio on their way back to DIA following a couple nights performing in Aspen.

Valdes comes from a bit of a musical dynasty back in Cuba (to borrow a phrase KUVO CEO Alfredo Cruz used to describe him on air); his father, Chucho Valdes, is a great Latin jazz pianist and his grandfather is influential pianist/bandleader Bebo Valdes. He incorporates his background and knowledge of the jazz tradition into the innovative music he creates. He also spoke very briefly between numbers about the importance of both preserving the jazz tradition that arose from the cotton fields in the southern United States around the turn of the 20th Century and elevating this music into the highly respected world-class genre it is today, as Alfredo translated. In addition to exploring the dichotomy of preservation and pioneering progression, Valdes’s music engages both North American styles and styles originating in his island home, continuing to cover new ground in a conversation between Latin music and jazz that has been going on since the 1910s with Jelly Roll Morton’s incorporation of the ubiquitous “Spanish tinge” in his jazz.

From the very start, Valdes captured and held the room’s attention.
The sheer physicality of his playing was the first thing most audience members noticed. The excitement of watching him kept the audience enthralled for the entire set. The group’s first piece was based on a simple mambo bass figure and chord progression that allowed Valdes a lot of room to move around the piano and truly shine. Valdes’s percussive approach to the piano is notable, showcased when he spent a few bars playing polyrhythms on a single note – proving his understanding of the piano as a member of the percussion family first and foremost. He also exhibited some impressive runs, somewhat reminiscent of Art Tatum. The following piece maintained the Latin rhythmic feel, this time with a more subdued attitude, which inspired Valdes to show the softer side of his touch. He ended this piece with a short unaccompanied piano section, featuring delicate, fluttering runs. Another highlight was Sachse’s expressive bass solo in this second number.

The third selection was a swinging twelve-bar blues, with began with some explosive crashes from Monteagudo, who was also featured trading fours with Valdes. Valdes showed his versatility during his solo, utilizing both heavy, syncopated phrases at times and a touch as light as a kitten running down the uppermost octaves of the piano at other times. The group closed their set with their exuberant, bouncy rendition of Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington classic “Take the A Train,” in which Valdes used rolling crescendos to transform his piano into the train itself, barreling uptown into 125th Street Station in Harlem.

Overall, the group confirmed for that audience that they are doing what they do for the right reason: to have a great time, making great music. Despite their having had a tremendous week of performances and travel with very little time to rest, one could tell the musicians were really enjoying themselves and glad to be helping out KUVO. And when the band has as much fun as the Chuchito Valdes Quartet did Sunday afternoon, the audience always does, too.

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