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Eric Reed Quartet, Pan African People's Arkestra and Pharoah Sanders / Joey DeFrancesco Tribute Band

Eric Reed Quartet, Pan African People's Arkestra and Pharoah Sanders / Joey DeFrancesco Tribute Band

Courtesy Chuck Koton


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Eric Reed Quartet
Sam First
Los Angeles, CA
June 9, 2023

This spring's weather was unseasonably cool, but the jazz scene has been hot in California! In June, master pianist Eric Reed brought his quartet, including tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Reggie Quinerly to Sam First, a cozy jazz club just east of Los Angeles International Airport.  The band opened with a composition of Moore's titled "623 C Street," which, according to Mr Reed, refers to a rather infamous address in Washington D.C. among those in the know.  Moore took the first solo, his tenor building slowly from a warm glow to a searing flame.

Professor Reed (he has been teaching at the University of Tennessee for the last few years), followed with a dynamic solo featuring his powerful left hand coming down so hard it would have brought a smile to the late McCoy Tyner's face. Quinerly drove the band's energy with insistent rhythms and Gurrola, who seems to be playing everywhere in Southern California, kept the band grounded. This medium tempo, hard bop tune was a perfect choice to kick off the set as it signaled the audience to settle in for a night of hard-swinging jazz. Reed, one of today's great interpreters of the music of Thelonious Monk, closed the set with the eponymous Monk tune, "Thelonious." Following Reed's unaccompanied lead, the band captured Monk's signature angularity, unexpected changes in direction and joy the way interpreters should.

Sam First opened 5 years ago when successful developer, Paul Soloman, decided he wanted to devote some of his real estate to indulge his love of jazz. So Soloman created this intimate space within walking distance of the airport. Jazz lovers now have a club that presents jazz 6 nights a week where they can grab a drink from a well-stocked bar and, if the timing is right, can even catch a set or two of modern jazz in between flights. Soloman deserves praise and respect for his commitment to the music and for enduring the unprecedented challenges of COVID.

Pan African People's Arkestra
The World Stage
Los Angeles, CA
June 15, 2023

Celebrating Juneteenth weekend, The World Stage presented the Pan African People's Arkestra(PAPA), the band created by the iconic pianist and composer,

Horace Tapscott, whose uncompromising vision of music by and for the Black community in Los Angeles' Leimert Park, has been sustained by love for over sixty years. In a hyper-commercialized and corrupted society like the United States, most people take for granted that fame and fortune are the just rewards of hard work and talent and that failure to achieve these materialistic measures reflects the inadequacy of one's efforts.

Through such jaundiced eyes, the quarter of a billion dollar fortune of a Taylor Swift seems the natural result of her individual ability rising above the other "vocalists" out there. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it's Taylor Swift or any other mega successful pop star, the package, from the music, to the choreography, to the "look," to the "merch," is all grossly over produced by the music industry's tech wizards and sleight of hand experts to overwhelm the average listening audience in order to guarantee a "swift" financial pay off. Look no further than L.A.'s SoFi stadium where, in August, Ms Swift will entertain tens of thousands of people willing to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of watching her on giant screens.

In stark contrast to these pop behemoths, the Ark, in spite of the limited financial reward, stands proudly proclaiming their decades-long commitment to the African cultural rhythmic roots in the drums and in dance. PAPA balances, sometimes precariously, the intergenerational energy and creative tension of decades-long veterans with youthful, relative newcomers. The Ark's present iteration is led by dynamic drummer, Mekala Session, who took on the band's leadership from his father, alto saxophonist Michael Session, who took over after Tapscott's passing in 1999.

One of the favorite compositions from the Ark's book, "The Ballad of Deadwood Dick," was a highlight of the evening! Drummer Session kicked it off with a humorous, equine clippity-clop rhythm before the musicians roared into high gear. High energy solos followed from veteran saxophone masters Fuasi Abdul-Khaliq on tenor and fiery alto saxophonist Michael Session. Randal Fisher, a rising star on the tenor sax, followed with passionate and inventive blowing. Other memorable moments included the stirring flute playing and vocal stylings of Ark veteran, Maia, a brassy exchange between long time Ark member Fundi LeJohn on French horn and relative newcomer, Tatiana Tate, on trumpet.

These are exciting times for the Pan African People's Arkestra as this particular appearance at The World Stage heralded the vinyl release of a compilation of several originals entitled Sixty Years by Village Records. The Ark was also the subject of a recent documentary aired on public television and a performance in Brooklyn very favorably reviewed in the New York Times.

Despite the formidable barriers erected against the organic cultural creativity of this country's African American communities, Horace Tapscott's historic efforts continue to thrive and escape Corporate America's domination. From his collection of poetry, The Language of Saxophones, come the defiant words of globally renowned poet, community activist and long time Ark collaborator, Kamau Daaood, " I am Horace Tapscott and I am not for sale."

Pharoah Sanders / Joey DeFrancesco Tribute Band
Healdsberg Jazz Festival
Healdsberg, CA
June 23, 2023

The month concluded with performances presented by the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in Northern California, which celebrated its 25th anniversary with the theme of "past, present and future." The highlight was a concert in tribute to a pair of fallen giants, the legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders who passed in September 2022 and the master of the B-3 organ, Joey DeFrancesco, who died in August 2022. The band featured two saxophone giants Azar Lawrence on tenor and soprano saxophones and alto saxophonist, Gary Bartz, whom the NEA anointed a Jazz Master for 2024. A son of Mr Sanders, Tomoki Sanders, who not only has been carving out his own musical path but who has also embraced his father's legacy with an uncanny interpretation of Sanders' musical voice as well as his inimitable way of introducing his band mates, joined the two veterans on the front line. The band also featured the recently named musical director of Healdsburg Jazz, the brilliant bassist and big band leader, Marcus Shelby, organist Brian Ho and the relentless rhythm masters, percussionist Munyungo Jackson and the incomparable veteran of the drums, Billy Hart.

The saxophones roared and the rhythms drove the band and the audience to its feet as they performed several of Sanders' compositions, including a compelling interpretation of "You've Got to Have Freedom." With listeners swaying side to side while sipping Chardonnay and Cabernet, the band closed, appropriately, with Sanders' most well known song, "The Creator Has a Master Plan."

The evening concluded by, literally and figuratively, giving Healdsburg Jazz founder, Jessica Felix, her flowers. Felix, her staff and the wine country community have managed to avoid the financial temptations that have turned most so-called jazz festivals into a mockery of a musical genre that, despite some of its own controversy, still, for most people designates the only original art form created by American society. For her past commitment and devotion to the music, Felix is to be commended. And, with bassist Shelby taking the reins, a bright future for Healdsburg Jazz is assured.



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