Tag Archives: Downbeat

Rudresh Mahanthappa – For the Love of ‘Bird’

Talin, the two-year-old son of award-winning alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, is surprisingly aware of his dad’s job. “If he sees me leaving for work,” Mahanthappa said recently over a lunch of pastrami and corned beef, “Talin will say, ‘Daddy working? Saxophone? Toot-toot?’” His DownBeat Critics Poll-winning “Jazz Album of the Year,” Bird Calls, is based on snippets of tunes by Charlie Parker, his major inspiration.  This past weekend, Mahanthappa played his butt off at Newport, as a guest soloist with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Here’s my profile of him from the August 2015 DownBeat.

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Filed under Charlie Parker, Downbeat, Music Writing and Clips, Rudresh Mahanthappa

Jazz at Lincoln Center, Sony Launch “Blue Engine” Label (DownBeat)

Wynton at the launch party, chatting with trumpeter Bria Skonberg. On the left is legendary bari saxophonist Joe Temperley; on the right is pianist Monty Alexander.

Wynton Marsalis at the Blue Engine Records launch party chatting with trumpeter Bria Skonberg. On the left is legendary bari saxophonist Joe Temperley; on the right, pianist Monty Alexander. (photo: Frank Stewart, JALC)

Here’s my report in DownBeat on the launch of Jazz@Lincoln Center’s new record label, Blue Engine. The first release will be the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra w/Wynton Marsalis – Live in Cuba, coming in August.

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Filed under Blue Engine Records, Bria Skonberg, Downbeat, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Temperley, Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis

Singer Chris McNulty’s Exquisite, Heartbreaking CD, “Eternal”

Chris McNulty - Eternal1

(expanded version of CD review in the June 2015 DownBeat)

Chris McNulty


Palmetto PM 2176


The heartbreak of losing one’s child is almost unfathomable. Singer Chris McNulty lost her son Sam McNulty – a.k.a. Chap One, a promising, jazz-influenced hip-hop artist – suddenly and tragically in 2011 at age 30. McNulty has put all she has learned over half a lifetime of jazz singing and songwriting into this exquisite chamber jazz CD, mining her pain, purifying its essence, and transforming it into an expression of haunted devotion.

The Australian-born, New York City-based jazz singer, well-known in her native country and a veteran performer on the international jazz scene, has an unaccountably low profile in the States. She has many gifts as a performer: a rich warm tone, an adventurous spirit, and a direct channel to the emotional core of a lyric. But, beyond the poignant subject matter, what makes this CD a milestone in her  recording career is the combination of McNulty’s talents with those of two expert collaborators: pianist/arranger John Di Martino and her fellow Australian, orchestrator Steve Newcomb, who leads an excellent chamber ensemble in sensitive, imaginative arrangements dotted with excellent solos by bassoonist Ben Wendel, flugelhorn player Matthew Jodrell, and McNulty’s husband John Bollenback on guitar. Di Martino’s occasional well thought-out piano solos are just about perfect.

The lyrics here are intensely personal, but the songs McNulty selected for this tribute album, after culling through hundreds of candidates, are not all dark. They include rarities like Steve Kuhn’s “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers,” striking arrangements of more familiar tunes like Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” and “Nature Boy,” and a finely wrought version of Bob Dorough’s “Love Came On Stealthy Fingers.” They illuminate the grief, but also the joyful memories of a special child. Yet the very essence of the album is best expressed in McNulty’s one original, the intensely moving “You Are There” (not to be confused with Dave Frishberg’s song of the same name), which includes the lines, “Wherever I go, you are there / The scent of your soul, it will always be there.”  On this CD, McNulty bares her soul, and one doesn’t dare look away.

Eternal: The Saga Of Harrison Crabfeathers; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life; Where Is Love; You Are There; Star Dust; Nature Boy; Yesterday I Heard The Rain; Love Came On Stealthy Fingers; On A Clear Day; With Every Breath I Take; Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Personnel: Chris McNulty, vocals; John Di Martino, piano, trio arrangements; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums; Paul Bollenback, guitar (1, 10); Mazz Swift, Josh Henderson, Amanda Lo, violins; Trevor New, viola; Meaghan Burke, Marika Hughes, cellos; Jodie Rottle, flue, alto flute; Ivan Barenboim, clarinet, bass clarinet; John Morgan-Bush, French horn; Ben Wendel, bassoon; Matthew Jodrell, flugelhorn (3, 9).

Ordering info: chrismcnulty.com

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Filed under Chris McNulty, Downbeat

Gilberto Gil Salutes João Gilberto at New York’s Town Hall

Gilberto Gil at Town Hall in New York City on April 23 (Photo: ©Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos)

The sell-out crowd on April 23 was there for a heady dose of saudade for Brazil, and Gil, accompanying himself on guitar, delivered. My concert review in DownBeat

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Downbeat, Gilberto Gil, Joao Gilberto

Fusion Unplugged

Rez Abbasi

Rez Abbasi

Jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, whose family came to Southern California from Pakistan when he was 4, grew up playing in bands that worshiped Van Halen, Rush, and other prog rockers. When he discovered Charlie Parker at age 16, he lost interest in rock in favor of bebop – acoustic music that swung.  As a result, Abbasi never listened to jazz fusion artists like Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Weather Report – until now.

Abbasi’s new album Intents and Purposes (Enja) explores classics of the fusion era with a twist – everything is played on acoustic instruments by the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, including Bill Ware (vibraphone), Stephan Crump (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums).  The results are beautiful and amazing. Even if you don’t like fusion, perhaps especially if you don’t like it, this album is a must-hear. My profile of Rez from the March 2015 DownBeat is here. You can hear a few samples from the album and view a “making of” video here.

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Filed under Downbeat, Music Writing and Clips, Rez Abbasi

Chick Corea: The Music Defies Words (DownBeat, Dec. 2014)

Chick Corea – NEA Jazz Master, DownBeat Hall of Fame member and 20-time Grammy winner – remains one of the most versatile, productive and recorded pianist-composers in jazz, nearly 50 years after he recorded his first solo album at age 25 (that was 1966, to be exact). He just won the DownBeat Artist of the Year award in this year’s Readers Poll, and I had the joy of interviewing him about his life and career.  It’s in the December issue of DownBeat, or here.

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Filed under Chick Corea, Downbeat

Bob Dorough, 90, Is Still Hip

Bob Dorough at Jazz@Kitano, August 2014One goes to hear a 90-year-old jazz artist willing to make a few allowances. In the case of bebop singer/pianist/songwriter Bob Dorough, however, no allowances are necessary, as he proved in his Aug. 16 engagement at Jazz at Kitano. You can read my rave here.

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Filed under Bob Dorough, Downbeat