Monthly Archives: May 2012

Brad Mehldau Trio, May 11, 2012, Newman Center, Denver

Brad Mehldau Trio

Newman Center, Denver

May 11, 2012

 By Geoff Anderson

            Brad Mehldau takes jazz seriously. He named one of his early albums The Art of the Trio. But wait, he didn’t use that name for just one album, he released five albums under that name; The Art of the Trio, Volumes 1 to 5. Those albums came out from 1996 to 2001 and have recently been reissued in a box set. Since that time, he’s worked in some other contexts and with other instrumentation, including, notably, Pat Metheny which resulted in two CDs and a tour. He’s also collaborated with Joshua Redman, Michael Brecker and John Scofield, among others and recorded some solo piano albums. But his heart lies with the trio format. It’s where he continues to return. Friday night, he brought his current trio to Denver with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums.

            Mehldau is a prolific writer and his CDs and performances feature many of his own compositions. However, he’s also known for covering others’ material including pop and rock tunes. Friday night, he started the show with “Hey Joe,” a hit for Jimi Hendrix from his first album. Certainly, Mehldau is not one to photocopy the hit version. (Lack of a guitar is only one issue.) After establishing the theme, Mehldau took off on one improvisational flight after another. It was a bit like watching a mountain drifting in and out from behind a cloud. You knew it was there, but you could only see it occasionally. 

            Most touring artists draw their material for their live shows from their latest album. This is most likely due to their interest in playing something new and not rehashing the same old thing. Also, their record companies probably suggest playing the new stuff as a way to promote the new album. The Brad Mehldau Trio has a new CD, a 2012 release on Nonesuch called Ode, an album of all original compositions. Friday night, the trio didn’t play a single tune from that disc. Most of the selections were Mehldau’s compositions with a few covers. They generally ran 15 minutes or so allowing the band ample room to explore a theme, turn it inside out a few times, run it through the permanent press cycle, throw it in the dryer, fold it and sometimes even put it back where it belonged.

            Mehldau has obviously spent time in classical studies as well as examining jazz and blues. These influences pervade much of his playing. Often, his solos sounded like Mozart meets the Mississippi Delta. More than once, he executed a particularly bluesy flourish that tasted like a Sweetart puckering your mouth.

            Bassist Larry Grenadier has been with the Brad Mehldau Trio since its inception in the mid ‘90s. Friday night he stood in the center of the stage with Mehldau to the left and Ballard to the right. Grenadier had a sharp attack on the strings giving his bass playing a somewhat percussive sound. He swayed back and forth with his upright bass making it look like his dance partner. Ballard has been with the trio since 2005, replacing original Trio drummer Jorge Rossy. Ballard had an understated approach to the drums. Throughout the evening he was quietly solid, like the gentle purr of a luxury car. 

            Although most of the evening was on the serious side, Mehldau concluded with an energetic one chord vamp that was nevertheless soulful, bluesy and uplifting. On this one, Mehldau sounded a bit like the late Gene Harris. It was a great closing piece and sent the audience out of the auditorium with smiles on their faces. River Man


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Tierney Sutton Band

Tierney Sutton Band

Dazzle, Denver

May 6, 2012

By Geoff Anderson

Most attractive female singers with long blonde hair simply market themselves under their own name. Not so Tierney Sutton. She’s not a solo act. She’s part of the Tierney Sutton Band. Sure she’s the focal point on stage (a long blonde mane will do that), but the band is a true collaboration, having been together for about 20 years now. Besides performing together, they collectively create their own arrangements of jazz standards. Sunday night at Dazzle, Sutton estimated they have about 150 to 170 songs in their book that they’ve arranged together. As a result, no two shows by the Tierney Sutton Band are the same.

Sutton, herself, is in the upper tier of female jazz vocalists, but it’s her band and her approach to the songs she sings that set her apart from the pack. Certainly each band member is a virtuoso. Sunday night, Christian Jacob on the piano switched from tasteful accompaniment to fiery solo in an instant. The rhythm section of Kevin Axt on bass and Ray Brinker on drums solidly swung in the background, but each player also stepped up for dynamic solos. However, no matter how technically accomplished the players might be, there is simply no substitute for playing together for decades. That experience was evident throughout the set. The drum fills, the bass filigrees and the piano flourishes were musical accoutrements simply not heard with a pick-up band.

Sutton explained that the highly creative arrangements are all group efforts. The extensive remodeling of jazz standards is a hallmark of the band. Familiar songs turn into new adventures and experiences with this band. A prime example Sunday night was “Wayfaring Stranger” from the band’s latest album American Road which came out last year. That song began life as a 19th Century folk song and was later used as a theme song by Burl Ives in the 1940s. Not exactly your typical raw material for a jazz tune. In the hands of this band, the old folk song found new life as a haunting trance-inducing ballad. Burl Ives was never like this.

Obviously interested in contrast and irony, the band played “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Amazing Grace” back to back. Sutton introduced this pair as two different views of spirituality; one cynical and the other reverent. Upon finishing the second of the two, Sutton explained that the whole band has been struggling to decide which view makes the most sense. She didn’t have an answer. Later in the set, the band played their percussive arrangement of “On Broadway,” a tune for which the band received a Grammy nomination for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal last year. American Road picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Set List

My Favorite Things

Glad to Be Unhappy

Wayfaring Stranger

Cheek to Cheek

Beautiful Love

Eagle and Me

It Ain’t Necessarily So

Amazing Grace

I Get a Kick


On Broadway

Something Cool

The Band

Tierney Sutton – Vocals

Christian Jacob – Piano

Kevin Axt – Bass

Ray Brinker – Drums (Route 66)

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Kenny Garrett Quartet

Kenny Garrett Quartet

Soiled Dove Underground, Denver

May 4, 2012

By Geoff Anderson

            The last couple times Kenny Garrett came through Denver, he was a sideman. In 2010 he toured with Chick Corea’s Freedom Band that also featured Christian McBride on bass and 85-year-old Roy Haynes on drums. The year before, Garrett was a member of the 5 Peace Band which also featured Corea and McBride along with John McLaughlin and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. His role in both bands was to play the head or theme of the tune with the rest of the band, then lay out until his turn came to solo. Often, his blistering alto sax solos were highlights of the song, but his role was like a relief pitcher, called on for just a few minutes for a specialized job.

            Of course, like most jazzers, Garrett started off as a sideman, in his case with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (led at the time by Mercer Ellington) and later with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis, among others. But Garrett has also been leading his own bands for a couple of decades. He’s now back to the front and center of the bandstand and touring in support of his latest CD, Seeds From the Underground. As the leader, besides being the focal point on stage, he also gets to write all the songs. His compositional theme for the album was to pay homage to those who have influenced his music over the years. The title track, for instance, evokes all his mentors that planted musical seeds that continue to sprout and thrive through Garrett’s music.

            Friday night’s set at the Soiled Dove Underground consisted exclusively of tunes from the new album except for the title track from Garrett’s 2002 album, Happy People to close the show. One thing Garrett picked up during his time collaborating with McLaughlin was an interest in different time signatures. Seeds From the Underground features several tunes outside the typical jazz 4/4 paradigm and Garrett played a couple of those Friday night. A particular highlight was the title track written in 7/4 time and also features a dark, brooding feel, tailor made for Garrett’s searching, pleading solos. He added quotes from “Work Song” and “Chameleon.” Normally, that might not be worth mentioning, but “Work Song” and “Chameleon” in 7/4 time? Now we’re having some fun.

            Another outside-the-box (or outside-the-standard-meter) was “Wiggins,” a tribute to his high school music teacher. This one was all over the place, time-wise. The main theme seemed to have two 7/4 measures followed by two 3/4 measures followed by something else, or perhaps not. The constant shifting of the foundation coupled with the frantic soloing of Garrett and Vernell Brown on piano created playoff-level tension and excitement. “Detroit,” on the other hand, offered a respite from the intensity of most of the rest of the program. That was an acknowledgement of trumpeter and mentor Marcus Belgrave and features a relaxed two chord structure. The album version includes some pops and crackles like a well used record.

            Drummer McClenty Hunter was a particular highlight laying down poly-rhythms all night. No mere time-keeper, McClenty seemed to be constantly soloing which added to the urgency of the band’s sound. Corcoran Holt’s bass provided a solid foundation next to the fury of McClenty’s drumming (except when the time signature was bucking like a 9.5 magnitude earthquake). 

            Garrett broke the intensity that was a hallmark of most of the evening with “Happy People.” That album, in contrast to the current disc, is much more accessible, some may even say bordering on jazz-smoothness. Garrett is no smooth jazz player, however, so even when the rhythm section started to sound more like something you’d hear on the radio, Garrett’s alto sax never lost its edge; searching, imploring and ultimately biting in an emotional catharsis.


Set List

Boogety Boogety

Seeds From the Underground

J Mac

Welcome Earth Song



Happy People 

The Band

Kenny Garrett – Saxophone

Vernell Brown – Piano

Corcoran Holt – Bass

McClenty Hunter – Drums


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