Archive for melvin jones

Jazz Under the Radar – Four Trumpets That You Should Hear

Posted in Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by Curtis Davenport

Keyon HarroldIf you’re familiar with my Twitter Feed, you know that on Mondays (#MusicMonday as it’s known in the Twitterverse), I usually at some point during the day will ask followers to check out the music of a living, working musician that they are unfamiliar with.

I do that because as much as I love the jazz classics, I realize that if this music is to have any hope of a future it will come not at the hands of Miles, Monk and Diz but with the musicians who are out there today, working and creating music that is influenced not only by the past masters but by what is happening out there now. So if by dropping that little reminder each Monday, I can get someone to dig and then support ($) someone new, maybe I will have done a little something.

As I’ve done this, I’ve had people reply with the request that I give them a few suggestions of artists to familiarize themselves with. Those who are playing  and recording great music but have managed to miss the general attention of much of the jazz public.

So even though this is a Wednesday, I’m going to start what I hope to make a Monday tradition – “Jazz Under the Radar”; in which I’ll suggest a few artists who might have missed your attention but are definitely worth checking out.

We’ll start with a few trumpet players and we’ll switch the categories up each week. There will be a video clip and a link to the artist’s website, if any, and to an album or two that you can currently purchase. Here are four, in alphabetical order:

Rebecca Coupe Franks

A protegé of the late tenor giant Joe Henderson, Ms. Franks (or “Coupe” as she is often called) has been on the scene for over 20 years, logging credits with Henderson, Kenny Barron and Herb Ellis among others. She first caught my ear on My Appreciation, a 1991 studio jam session that was released under Bill Cosby’s name. She has released a number of albums over the years, including Suit of Armor, her solid 1992 debut as a leader, which featured Henderson and her most recent, Two Oceans a two disc set on which she is backed by Luis Perdomo, Mimi Green and Rodney Green.

Check out the clip below and “Coupe” might just catch your ear, too.

Keyon Harrold

When have been sought by artists from Jay-Z to Fred Hammond to Maxwell to Charles Tolliver, to perform on their projects, you know that you’ve got it going on.  And Mr. Harrold certainly does. He counts Eddie Henderson and Jimmy Owens as teachers and Wynton Marsalis and Tolliver as mentors, so his knowledge of jazz traditions is excellent but since he’s in his early 30’s hip-hop has also had a strong pull. His technique is very strong, with the power of Morgan and the  swagger of Hubbard. Harrold has one album to his credit as of today, 2009’s Introducing Keyon Harrold on Criss Cross. Rest assured, you will hear more from him.

Melvin Jones

The 2011 Atlanta Jazz Festival had just begun. Vocalist Audrey Shakir was about 15 minutes into her set, when her trumpet player stepped forward to deliver a killer solo on the song that they were playing and then another on the next tune. I had never seen this young man before and his name wasn’t immediately announced so I put out an APB into the Twitterworld: “who is the young cat playing trumpet with Audrey Shakir? He is the real deal!” A few minutes later the answer came – Melvin Jones. At about the same time, Ms. Shakir disappeared from the stage for the rest of the set. We later found out that she had wilted under the blazing Memorial Day weekend sun. Mr. Jones and the band picked up the ball and ran with it. Most of the audience barely noticed the singer’s absence.

Melvin Jones returned with his own set for the 2012 AJF. As you will hear in this clip that I recorded then, the previous year was not a fluke. The Atlanta-based Memphis native has one album out. The title is Pivot. It is worth checking out.

By the way, the saxophonist in the clip is Mace Hibbard, another very good musician who’s under the radar.

Jason Parker

This Seattle-based cat is like Ms. Franks,  a 20+ year veteran of the jazz wars. He’s a fine soloist with a buttery middle tone and an easygoing swing. He writes memorable compositions that tend to stick with you after hearing them just once. He’s also a compelling writer, having written extensively about his musical life in his blog “One Working Musician”.  His recorded work reflects the indie spirit of Mr. Parker’s hometown and it’s refreshingly unconventional. I suggest that you start with the most recent two: No More, No Less, which was a Curt’s Cafe Best of 2009 selection and Five Leaves Left a distinctive Nick Drake tribute from 2011.

But don’t take my word for it, just listen to “Bashert”.  Then try to get that subtly beautiful melody out of your head afterwards.

Well, those are four but there are many more. If you’re familiar with all of them, then count yourself fortunate and look for others. If one of these names is new to you, check them out. Support the music of living, working musicians.

Next week, we’ll feature saxophonists.

Until then, the jazz continues…

Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 3 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by Curtis Davenport

The third and final day of this year’s Atlanta Jazz Fest was the best overall. The slight cloud cover throughout most of the day cooled the temperatures a bit. We were able to get started early enough to be in place in time to hear all Mainstage performances and best of all, the music was consistently strong.

The Mainstage acts kicked off with vocalist Yolanda Rabun, who was making her AJF debut. Ms. Rabun, an actress and attorney, as well as a singer; came to play; giving her all throughout her set. She is blessed with an oustanding vocal instrument and boundless energy. Her set was drawn for the most part, from her debut CD, So Real - a good idea as the album includes some very good original material, such as “The Good Wife”, “Marry You Again” and the outstanding title track. 

Yolanda Rabun, as she kicked off the final day of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

However, Ms. Rabun at times veered dangerously close to allowing her set to become too theatrical; using vocal affectations and tricks that someone with an instrument as good as hers does not need to use, in order to effectively deliver a song.  And her 15 minute plus take on the old Gladys Knight & the Pips tune “Friendship Train”, which included Ms. Rabun leaving the stage to dash among the blankets and chairs shaking hands with the audience; may have been too much of a good thing.

In spite of this minor misstep, Ms. Rabun finished strong with a terrific version of “So Real”. She is a very promising performer, from whom we hope to hear more at future AJFs and around the jazz world, in general.

Next up was trumpeter Russell Gunn, who has taken many musical turns during his almost 20 year career, from hard bop to hip hop to jazz rock. I had wondered aloud on Sunday, which Russell Gunn would we see on Monday.  I got my answer during the sound check before his set as I saw a spate of electronic instruments being arranged on the stage behind Mr. Gunn’s trumpet.  This meant that we were getting Elektrik Butterfly, Mr. Gunn’s more recent aggregation, which celebrates the music of the iconic rock group, Black Sabbath.  I’d heard of, but not actually heard Mr. Gunn in this setting before now, so I didn’t know what to expect. 

Russell Gunn during his opening number at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

Mr. Gunn and group kicked off with a funk-rock Black Sabbath tune that was reminiscent of the type of music we got from Miles in the early seventies. It was hot, funky, edgy and it divided the audience as if it were politics.  As I looked at the  crowd, about half were bopping their heads and beginning to dig the groove. The other half sat there with furrowed brows, as if to say “what the hell is this?”.

Russell Gunn and Elektrik Butterfly performing at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest on Monday 5/28.

 As on Sunday, I missed the middle portion of Gunn’s set, for I hopped a cart ride over to the International Stage again. This time I caught the Melvin Jones Quintet.  Again, the crowd, though larger than Sunday’s, was still, very attentive and enthusiastic and with good reason. Mr. Jones, an Atlanta-based trumpeter and his group, which featured Mace Hibbard on saxes, were on fire; playing some extremely good straight ahead jazz.  I’ve been impressed with Mr. Jones ever since first hearing him at last year’s AJF. He did nothing to change my opinion in 2012.  This was my first time hearing Mr. Hibbard, who performed with his own group at the International Stage on Sunday. He was equally impressive. Here’s a clip what I saw and heard.

And here’s a little more:

In spite of the great music, we dashed back to the Mainstage to catch the remainder of Russell Gunn’s set and to meet with sax prodigy Grace Kelly, prior to hers. By the time we returned, vocalist Julie Dexter had joined Mr. Gunn on stage. More of the crowd was grooving, but there were some who would remain unconverted. No matter. Russell Gunn had done his job. He delivered a well-played set and he got the crowd buzzing. He had even made converts of two tough critics – my wife and son. My wife’s first words to me as I returned were “He is great! Do you have any of this music from him at home?”

Grace Kelly is interviewed prior to her set at the 2012 AJF

Grace Kelly walked into the press tent looking even younger than her 20 years, in a dress made partially of soda can tabs. She is as gracious and articulate a young woman as I have met in this business, who speaks with a stunning casualness about playing with legends such as Dave Brubeck, Phil Woods and Herbie Hancock. Yet when she took the stage, she played with the poise and artistry of someone at least twice her age. 

She played jazz classics and some of her newer compositions while engaging the audience in easygoing banter. Many had not heard of Ms. Kelly before her appearance, but by the time she was done, she had clearly acquired quite a few new fans – not the least of which was my son, age 11, who shyly asked me near the end of Grace’s set “Dad… Do you think that she’s attractive?”  Another rite of passage – Jazzy John had his first “Jazz Crush”.

Grace Kelly blowin’ hot during her set at the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

Whereas the closing acts on the first two night of the AJF had been steeped in nostalgia, the final night was decidedly different. As Robert Glasper, one of the hottest performers in jazz today, was the closing artist.  By the time 9 pm rolled around on Memorial Day evening, the crowd, which was slightly smaller than on the previous 2 nights, due in part to the coming work day for many, was also decidedly younger, a by-product of Mr. Glasper’s more youthful fan base.  During his set, I found myself as excited by the music as by the implications of what was happening around me.

Robert Glasper closing the 2012 AJF on Memorial Day

For years the death knell for jazz has been sounded. Much of it by those who complained that  jazz had nothing to offer a younger audience, that could carry it forward into the middle of this century.  But the audience that night was thumbing its collective nose at the naysayers. As the Robert Glasper Experiment played a set of music from his breakthrough new album Black Radio, which has a strong mix of jazz and hip-hop, I saw crowds of twenty somethings dancing and forming pockets of fist-pumping excitement, especially when Glasper and company played “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  They were digging what they heard and they wanted more.  Jazz had offered them something and they were eating it up!  As the night ended, due to curfew restrictions, more than either artist or audience wanting to stop; Jazzy John asked if I could download Black Radio on his iPod…For me that was as good as it got all weekend.  For I know that, at least in my home,  jazz does have a future.

The Robert Glasper Experiment during the 2012 AJF

As we close the books on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, we do so with a lot of fond memories and great anticipation for the 2013 AJF. We will also make a vow to plan to spend at least one full day at the International Stage. 

The festival is free because the City of Atlanta has heard that this is an important cultural outreach. And they’ve heard it from those of you who are area residents.  If you are an Atlanta resident, please do your part to ensure that there is a 2013 AJF and that it remains free of charge, by contacting your local government representative. That’s the best gift that you could give to jazz today.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by Curtis Davenport

There is so much jazz going on at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which begins Saturday in Piedmont Park, that one stage couldn’t hold it all.  Though we’ve been talking about all of the Mainstage Acts (We still have to cover Monday!), there are a lot of terrific albeit lesser-known artists performing on the Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage. Many of these artists are based in the Atlanta area.  These performances will be going on simultaneously with the ones on the Mainstage, so you will have to choose. But either way you’ll win with some great jazz.

Among the International Stage names that caught my eye were trumpeter Melvin Jones, who made a big impression during last years festival as he backed singer Audrey Shakir; Saunders Sermons is a very fine vocalist/trombonist; Ernest “EC3″ Coleman; a hard swinging drummer and Mace Hibbard, a strong saxophonist. Now that I look at the lineup, the International Stage would make for a damn fine festival, all by itself.

I’ve dropped the complete International Stage Schedule and a few video clips below. Check the clips out, then if you’re at the festival this weekend drop by the International Stage and check these artists out. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 26

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

For more info on the individual artists, click on their names to access their websites or Facebook pages, where available.

For more info on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest, visit their website http://atlantafestivals.com

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