Monthly Archives: January 2013

Ninety Miles at Macky Auditorium, Boulder, CO January 17, 2013 by Geoff Anderson

Ninety-Miles2 300Cuba has long held an allure for jazz musicians. The sounds and particularly the rhythms emanating from that country have influenced jazz nearly from the beginning. From early in the 20th Century, the Latin tinge, as Jelly Roll Morton called it, has seasoned the jazz sound. By the 1940s, through the work of musicians like Mario Bauza, Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie, Afro Cuban Jazz became an important part of jazz music. For nearly a century, American jazz musicians have been incorporating the sound of Cuba into American jazz. The now decades long embargo by the United States on Cuba (what was the goal of that again?) may have only made the country and its rhythms all the more tantalizing; forbidden fruit and all that.

            One of the more recent, successful amalgamations of these two cultures is the Ninety Miles Project. In 2010, vibist Stefon Harris, tenor sax man David Sanchez and trumpeter Christian Scott traveled to Cuba and recorded an album with two different local rhythm sections. The resulting CD was one of 2011’s best releases. (Concord, 2011) On the current tour, Scott has been replaced by Nicholas Payton and the rhythm section has been swapped out too. But the music inspired by the cross-cultural pollination remains.

            Ninety miles is the distance from Cuba to Florida and highlights the irony of two very different cultures separated by such a minimal distance. Despite the various barriers – political, nautical, linguistic – the band melded the Cuban and American jazz cultures in two 60 minute sets. Each set featured only three songs each as the musicians stretched out for extended explorations of the tunes.

            As with many forms of Latin Jazz, of which Afro-Cuban Jazz is a subset, polyrhythms are a hallmark of this sub-genre. Unlike some other forms of Latin Jazz, such as Salsa or Mambo, Ninety Miles’ music Thursday night didn’t grab the audience by the throat and demand moving and shaking on the dance floor. While the music emphasized the rhythm, it was, at the same time, very cerebral, demanding attention from both sides of the brain. In a few extended song intros, the band eschewed any kind of organized beat altogether and on “The Forgotten Ones,” a tone poem, the bulk of the tune was without meter.

            Mostly though, a vibrant pulse propelled the proceedings throughout the evening. The congas, a key ingredient in this type of music, were played by the only actual Cuban in the band, Mauricio Herrera. He took a solo early in the evening. Drum solos can often be on the tedious side, but his was enthralling. Herrera kept the beat throughout while adding captivating flourishes. As a testament to the lofty level of musicianship, pianist Edward Simon was listed in the program as a “sideman.” Simon is a band leader in his own right with five recordings released by his trio over the last few years. Whatever his status in the program, Simon played several solos during the evening that displayed both power and exquisite taste. The other two members of the rhythm section, Ricardo Rodriguez on bass and Henry Cole on drums, played with the virtuosity expected based on the caliber of players on the front line. Each is a veteran of the jazz and Latin Jazz scene with a lengthy list of top-flight associations.

            However talented the sidemen were, it’s the front line that sold the tickets. Harris in particular generates excitement with his playing. A good mallet player is fun to watch just because of the physical moves required. He brought along a set of vibes as well as a marimba and he configured them in an “L” shape which allowed him switch back and forth between the two in a flash, or sometimes play both at once. He would throw in a little body English for further visual effect. Harris is certainly among the top vibes players on the scene today.

            Puerto Rican Sanchez brought many musical influences to the table but remained grounded in jazz. He demonstrated his technical chops by occasionally laying down Coltrane-like sheets of notes, but more often preferred to let his foot off the gas in favor of a more melodic approach. He also wrote two of the songs, “The Forgotten Ones” and the show closing “City Sunrise” which was a true highlight of the evening. The studio version of that song runs a little under seven minutes, but the version Thursday night ran at least three times that. It was one of those that started quietly, but steadily picked up in volume and intensity. The final third of the piece was grounded on a hypnotic yet intense rhythm with the front line all soloing simultaneously.

            Payton is the new member of the group, taking the place of Scott who played on the original recording. The two are known for different styles, with Payton working in a fairly traditional jazz vein and Scott having a tendency, over the last several years, to explore some of the outer reaches of jazz. On the other hand, both trumpeters are from New Orleans so perhaps, on that basis, the substitution has some logic to it, especially since New Orleans was one of the first ports of entry of the “Latin tinge” a hundred years ago. As the new man on the front line, Payton was at times a bit tentative Thursday night and when it came time to trade some licks around the front line, that more often occurred just between Harris and Sanchez. For the most part, however, his ensemble playing was seamless and his solos were intricate and emotional. During his brief turn at the microphone between tunes, Payton acknowledged Colorado’s recent passage of a law allowing recreational use of marijuana. He explained that “Ninety miles is the distance between Boulder and Kingston.”

            A documentary about the Ninety Miles project is underway and a trailer can be seen at the link, below. From the preview, it appears the film will focus not just on the music, but also life in Cuba which looks, in part, like a museum for 1950s American cars due to the trade embargo. Despite the deprivation, it’s obvious from the music that the Cuban spirit continues to thrive.


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Dazzle Jazz Turns 15

Dazzle Jazz celebrates its’ 15th anniversary this week, no small feat for any restaurant or entertainment venue. Owner Donald Rossa has been at the helm for 12 years; his lifetime career in the restaurant industry prepared him well for the nuts and bolts of running the business, but it’s his passion for community that has made Dazzle so successful. He relates a story of visiting his mother’s relatives in rural Slovenia and seeing people coming together around music and food. Rossa says, “It was the richest thing I’ve ever seen or experienced. I wanted to re-create that in my community”.  And so, the restaurant became a jazz club, a place to “celebrate the musician and the music”.

Rossa is very quick to give credit to others for his jazz music education. First would be Miles Snyder, Dazzle’s original owner and Rossa’s partner for the first few years he was in the business. Described by Donald as a huge jazz fan with an enormous music collection, Miles was recording discs from his record collection and playing them in the restaurant. From this sprang the idea, “Let’s be a jazz club.”

And then he talks about his musical directors over the years:  Ryan Estes, Tyler Gilmore, Steve Denny and Kevin Lee. It’s not by accident that he’s hired musicians to fill the role of music director.  “When they interact with our performers, it’s musician to musician. They speak the same language”.  And, Rossa adds, “These are four talented musicians, each with a passion for the music. They each did their job, but they also had to be willing to teach me.”  

Apparently, the education was successful. Dazzle was awarded Westword’s Best Jazz Club in 2003, and every year between 2005 and 2011. DownBeat magazine has named Dazzle one of the best 100 jazz clubs in the world. The appeal lies, of course, in the musicians who display their talents so passionately. But there’s also the draw of this urban club with a diverse clientele coming together over those very factors that so entranced Donald Rossa during his visit to Slovenia: music and food.

What does the future hold for Donald Rossa and Dazzle? He says,”I hate rumors”, acknowledging that there are plenty of them around about Dazzle and its’ future. In the end, he’ll just say “We’ll continue to do the best we can in the environment we have to work in. I hope to continue to support the people, the culture and the music”.

The celebration party is Tuesday, January 15 from 6:30pm-10:30pm; it’s a benefit for the Gift of Jazz, supporting the past, present, and future of Jazz in the Rocky Mountain Region. Bob Montgomery, the first jazzman to play Dazzle, will be in the house with The Bob Montgomery / Pete Olstad Big Band and a Dazzle Recordings Session with The Funky Fresh Trio and guests. Fine jazz photography unveiling by Susan Gatschet Reese. Food will presented by Chefs Duncan Smith and Benjamin Erickson, dessert display by Karen Storck, beer by Trumer Pils and wine by Barefoot Wine. 

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Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue at the Ogden Theater

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
December 29, 2012
Ogden Theater, Denver
Review by Geoffrey AndersonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Supafunkrock.” That’s the word Trombone Shorty coined to describe the music he and his band Orleans Avenue play. The term captures only part of the ingredients the band mixes into its musical mélange. Besides funk and rock, the band adds generous helpings of soul, blues, hip-hop and jazz. Mostly, however, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue set out to create one big party. And it’s no wonder; they’re from New Orleans after all.

Friday night, Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, brought his New Orleans party to the sold-out Ogden Theater in Denver. TSOA matched the broad range of styles with an equally wide time span from which they drew their material. The single largest source of tunes was from the band’s 2010 album Backatown and the follow-up, 2011’s For True. Most of those are band originals with the exception of Alan Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down.” The band paid homage to their New Orleans roots (and Louis Armstrong) with Dixieland classics like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “St. James Infirmary” and “Down by the Riverside.” Drawing from somewhere in between, chronologically, the band covered Al Green’s “Let’s Get It On.” And of course, any band heavily into the funk that also features three horns had to tip its hat to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The combination yielded a cross-generational appeal. Audience members Friday night ranged in age from several kids around 12 years old to a number of folks well into their 70s.

Ironically, Trombone Shorty played trumpet as much as he played trombone. That’s certainly no complaint because the different registers of the two instruments added variety to the band’s sound. Despite his nickname, Andrews wielded the trumpet just as confidently and forcefully as he did the trombone. The band has obviously been playing together for some time and was tighter than Mitt Romney’s boxer shorts. The horn lines weren’t always played strictly in unison. The arrangements used punchy countermelodies that often hinted at a Dixieland sound. When grafted to a funky bass and drum line and a scratchy, syncopated guitar, the result was a big chunk of Bourbon Street landing right in the middle of downtown Denver.

Throughout the two hour show, Andrews proved his showmanship as well as his musicianship. Not surprisingly (for a show like this), he frequently solicited audience participation with call and response sequences, sometimes even requiring the crowd to sing a syncopated riff. The Trombone Shorty audience delivered. Toward the end of the show, Andrews plunged into the throng down front with his wireless mic and an extremely nervous security guard close behind. (He emerged unscathed! A victory for the security guard!) At another point in the show, Andrews organized a dance contest for the band members. (The drummer got a pass; the beat must go on!) And to further the personal connection with the fans, Andrews sang about half the songs. Although not his strongest point, his vocals were more than adequate. If Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were strictly an instrumental act, their popularity would suffer. People like to sing along, after all.

At age 27, Andrews has assimilated a wide variety of American music and come up with a sound not quite like anything before. The exciting new sound, the exuberance, the virtuosity and an ambitious touring schedule are making TSOA a force on the live music scene.

The Band
Troy Andrews, trombone, trumpet, vocals
Mike Ballard, bass
Pete Murano, guitar
Joey Peebles, drums
Dan Oestreicher, bari sax
Tim McFatter, tenor sax

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