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It's that time of year and Gotham has a storehouse of goodies for visitors desiring some good jazz to relieve the pressure of holiday shopping. Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola continues its prescient Monday night series featuring young musicians. Among the most exciting performances in the series is that of the Manhattan School of Music Concert Jazz Band under the direction of Justin Di Cioccio. Last year we reported on the group's celebration of composer George Handy's music. This time around Di Cioccio has taken on the task of reprising the legendary collaborations of Gil Evans and Miles Davis which include Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess and Miles Ahead. The band will eventually record up-to-date arrangements of these sessions but Dizzy's patrons (including students from my Jazz class at Pace University) were treated to a live presentation on 11/19. The band performed the Porgy and Bess material with featured soloist Dave Liebman and, once again, the famed harmonic colors of Gil Evans's pen came to life. The balance and shadings of the young players was delightful and Liebman's improvisations showed that the music can work with any soloist. Listeners have long recognized that it is the writing of Evans and not just the playing of Davis that truly makes these sessions immortal.
Mondays at Dizzy's will continue to present such adventurous productions and visitors should note that admission charges are greatly reduced for these shows.
Over at Birdland Stacey Kent greeted holiday visitors with tunes from her impressive new CD on Blue Note. Breakfast On The Morning Tram is a collection of pop covers ("So Many Stars", "What A Wonderful World") French love songs ("Ces Petits Riens", "La Saison Des Pluies") and originals from her husband/saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and author Kazuo Ishiguro ("I Wish I Could go Travelling Again", "The Ice Hotel" and the title tune). These latter compositions are particularly delightful and help to establish the CD as a breakout of sorts for the New York-born, London-based chanteuse. With the expanded repertoire of this outing Kent will, I'm sure, gain appeal with cabaret, folk and funk audiences as well as jazzers.
On the new tour Kent and Tomlinson revamped their group bringing aboard pianist Graham Harvey, bassist Dave Chamberlain, drummer Matt Skelton and guitarist John Parricelli. These musicians contributed to a cohesion and conceptuality that held the Birdland audience spellbound. Kent's successful understated imprimatur gains new impetus with these players (particularly Harvey) and, if anything, her tranquil deliberations acquire new dimensions. For those who can't make it to the live performances Breakfast On The Morning Tram will provided substantial listening pleasure on your new holiday iPods.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.