L.A. Jazz Scene 2008: Alive and Swingin'
On the standard, Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation," Fortune's flute play delivered an emotional explosion that stunned the listeners into rapt silence. Franklin, who has released two swinging CDs in the last year and a half, effortlessly summoned forth full, rich tones from the bass.
The second set offered those Angelenos "fortune-ate" enough to be in the audience a real treat. Who happened to be in the audience, horn in hand, but Azar Lawrence, a former band mate of Fortune from the 1970s, when both men were playing with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis. Although three decades had passed since they'd seen each other, Lawrence came up on stage and joined the band in a burning interpretation of "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise." Fortune, Lawrence and McCurdy traded riffs, and the time melted away. A serious blowing session reminiscent of the good old days.
On Friday night, Fortune and the band turned up the heat. On John Coltrane's "Impressions," Fortune's alto nearly levitated the audience out of its seats. Roy McCurdy, locked and loaded, provided the muscle and precision on the drums needed to power this hi-octane music. After a frenzied 15 minutes, Fortune calmly set down his alto and played a beautiful, breathy interpretation of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Fortune then closed out his engagement with a torrid "You and the Night and the Music," the title track of his 2007 CD, which for months remained among the year's top-selling recordings.
Incredibly, more than forty years have passed since Fortune followed his mentor and fellow Philly neighbor, John Coltrane, to New York and onto the peak of the jazz world. After witnessing eight shows, it's clear to this reviewer that there's no slowing down Sonny Fortune.
Homage to Herbie
John Beasley Quartet
Culver City, California
December 4-6, 2008
John Beasley may not have been a familiar name in jazz households until recently, but after the release of his 2008 CD,Letter to Herbie, he will be on every jazz lover's radar. The Louisiana native, born in Shreveport, not New Orleans, has continued the musical tradition begun by his grandfather who, "back in the day," played Dixieland and toured in a "territory band" in the Southwest, eventually making it all the way to Santa Monica. His father, also a musician and music educator, was always bringing home great music like Jimmy Smith's Midnight Special, and young John just "caught the [jazz] bug." Beasley's father was also responsible for his exposure to Herbie Hancock. He brought home Maiden Voyage, and then Headhunters, and it was time for John to get a Fender Rhodes.
Fast forward a few years, and Beasley has since toured with a wide spectrum of the greatest artists, including: James Brown, Chick Corea, Queen Latifah and Miles Davis, among many others. Then one day, Beasley's manager suggested he do a recording of Hancock's compositions and music inspired by the piano legend. Beasley admitted he was a bit "afraid to do the record at first," but once he felt the magic happen, he embraced the project wholeheartedly. He was fooling around with the music one day and discovered a nice fit with "Maiden Voyage" and "Tell Me a Bedtime Story." After that, the recording came together.
For the gig at the Jazz Bakery, Beasley had Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, Bennie Maupin (tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet) and bassist Buster Williams. Although Maupin and Williams did not appear on the recording, this group had a chance to get acquainted during a recent week-long engagement at Ronnie Scott's club in London. Maupin and Williams, of course, were original members of Hancock's groundbreaking fusion bands of the early '70s, making their presence for this project especially poignant.
Bennie Maupin and Buster Williams
The band opened with Hancock's "4 A.M.," a driving, up-tempo composition that captured the restless energy of a late, late New York night. Watts took a propulsive solo that kept everyone's feet tapping out a frantic rhythm. After an astral mood shift generated by Beasley's explorations on the electric keyboard, Maupin stepped up to the microphone, blowing his tenor with a power and authority that resonated with decades of saxophone mastery.
Later, a pensive piano intro, eventually revealing itself as "Tell Me a Bedtime Story," melded seamlessly into the instantly recognizable opening notes of Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." It was easy to see how this creation gave Beasley the confidence to complete this recording. Maupin's soprano sax, the navigator on this ethereal journey, brought the same excitement that the Mwandishi band generated decades earlier.