Diana Krall Live in Paris

diana-krall-live-in-parisDiana Krall has drawn a lot of attention since she arrived on the scene years ago – and “a lot” might be an understatement in modern jazz terms. All of her albums have a tendency to sell particularly well, again, as far as jazz albums sell these days, and her concert ticket sales follow suit.

Personally, I don’t go crazy when I hear Diana Krall sing. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy her, because I do. But I don’t really get hyped up when she gets played on the radio, and I only own one of her CD’s in my extensive jazz collection.

The album I do own is her 2002 release Live in Paris. Certainly a case can be made quite often that artists bring more energy and life to the table in a live performance than they do when they offer a studio recording. In this case, I would die for Diana Krall to bring the life and energy she brought to The Paris Olympia for those four nights in late 2001 to her studio sessions.

She demonstrates all of her talents in this live recording that she does in her studio recordings, but you just get the feeling that the crowd brought an additional spirit to her. Her up tempo tunes are exciting and lively, and it sound like she is having fun, which is an impression you may not always get on her other albums.

We see and hear this kind of fun, life, and energy in the opening track, I Love Being Here with You (see video):

Between the opening number and the encore, Krall shows off a variety of talents and techniques, but it is the encore number in my mind that steals the show. Her version of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You is maybe the most haunting and emotional song that I have ever heard her sing (see video):

Also notable from this recording of Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, with great work from Christian McBride and Michael Brecker.

The entire album showcases the kind of emotion and feeling that Diana Krall is truly capable of, and is a must have for your collection. Not just a must have because I believe its her best, but a must have because it truly showcases so much of what Diana Krall is ultimately capable of. Again, while her studio albums are wonderful, I would love to see her bring this kind of energy and life into the recording studios.

Concert Review: Kenny Garrett Quartet 1/13/08

kenny-garrettI needed to get out. It had been way too long since I had made time for a concert, and truthfully my decision to head to Seattle’s Jazz Alley on Tuesday to see Kenny Garrett was a last-minute decision. Quite often hosting a radio program that airs from midnight until 4 AM can throw a wrench in what can loosely be described as a social life (although I wouldn’t give it up for anything).  That being said, sneaking out to a show on a Tuesday night can typically be out of the question.

But I needed to get out, and I’m glad I did.

I want to say that its been eight or so years since I’ve seen Kenny Garrett live, and eight years ago I still found little appreciation for anyone that wasn’t either a trumpet player or Michael Brecker. As I’ve “matured”, at least musically, one of the things that has become important to me when hearling a modern day jazz musician perform live is that they offer a nice blend of creativity, talent, and something I will refer to as a hypnotic build of intensity.  That doesn’t mean that the music has to be “in-your-face”, or even intense in the general meaning of the word. I just mean that if you are going to tell me a story, have that story build to a point that it is so interesting that I lose track of what else is going on around me.

That is exactly what alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett brought Tuesday night to the Alley. While many jazz musicians feel that they can get away with playing six songs at fifteen minutes each in a ninety minute set, featuring themselves for 85 of those minutes, it often leads to a certain repetitiveness. It’s as if they end up telling the same story over and over, and leaves listeners squirming in their seat forty minutes into the show.

The story was quite contrary on Tuesday. Garrett did indeed fill his set with long songs, but he kept each song so interesting that the set didn’t even warrant the listeners a bathroom break. Each song, no matter how it started, would build…and build…and build…where you felt that if you were to get up at any time, you would certainly be missing the most interesting part of the story.

What made it more interesting was that Garrett’s solos would begin rather intense, making you wonder where he might go from there. But not only did he manage to build off of where he started, but it was as if he wasn’t even trying, which made it more impressive. Its no wonder why Garrett has to rank in the top three living alto players. His band (consisting of Kona Khasu (bass) Corey Henry (organ) and Justin Brown (drums)) not only had no issues keeping up with Garrett, but truly completed the concert. They were totally in sync, with Brown on drums especially impressive.

I needed to get out, and I’m glad I did. I need to do it more often, and I need to buy a new Kenny Garrett CD.

Watch a video below of Kenny Garrett live in Paris with Miles Davis:

Big Screen, Great Jazz – movie review by Abe Beeson

Since the success of biographical musician films like Ray (Ray Charles) and Walk the Line (Johnny Cash), I’ve been longing to see on film the fascinating lives of jazz musicians like Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and others, only to be disappointed. So, (as the song goes) until the real thing comes along, I’m going to be watching and re-watching some of the jazz films that have already been made. I hope to continue this online series of reviews, hoping to spark the interest of, at least, movie goers to the wealth of fascinating jazz lives that have made great films.


Kansas City (dir. by Robert Altman, 1996)

Robert Altman’s Kansas City, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a young woman who kidnaps the wife (Miranda Richardson) of a Kansas City political bigwig with the hopes of getting help to free her small-time hood husband (Dermot Mulroney) from the clutches of K.C.’s biggest crook, Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte). The treat for jazz fans comes in the soundtrack, recorded “live at the Hey Hey Club” with some of today’s brightest stars playing the loose, swinging jazz of the 30’s.

This was a time, during the Great Depression, when Kansas City was the center of the jazz world. As the hub for dozens of Territory Bands who’d travel through the hinterlands playing the hits of the day, the greatest musicians of the swing era spent a good deal of time in Kansas City. Charlie Parker himself grew up in Kansas City around this time and a young actor plays a bit part as a young “Yardbird” hanging out at the club and silently marveling at his heroes, alto sax slung around his neck.

But it’s the jazz pros providing the soundtrack that got my attention in the first place. Though they weren’t given any lines, the professional musicians at the Hey Hey Club stole every scene they had. There’s David “Fathead” Newman taking a rare turn on alto sax, Geri Allen showing her boogie woogie piano chops, joyous trumpet work from Nicholas Payton & Olu Dara, and Kevin Mahogany sings a bit of blues from behind the bar (as a female patron lounges beside the pints and highballs). Early in their careers, the cool guitar work featured both Mark Whitfield and Russell Malone, and I spotted Lewis Nash and bass giants Ron Carter and Christian McBride almost fading into the background at the back of the bandstand.

A few of the musicians played the parts of real-life legends, though again without any lines. A very young James Carter nails his short solos in the role of the great tenor Ben Webster, and the musical highlight is the tenor sax battle between Joshua Redman (as Lester Young) and Craig Handy (as Coleman Hawkins). As their fellow musicians do, they play energetically in the swing style of the day, but they don’t strictly imitate the giants they portray. Director Altman says he told the band to feel the looseness and energy of this exciting time when the great soloists began to break out of the collaborative sound of the big bands.

Sadly, excepting the two minutes of tenor battle, the music segments are rather short. As a jazz nerd, I still found it fascinating to see the big names of today playing in the context of the legends that came before them.

The film itself is called by Altman one of his personal favorites, and the DVD commentary track features some interesting insights into the director’s childhood in 1930’s Kansas City. However, I found the story too thin to support the hard work of a talented cast. Harry Belafonte’s Seldom Seen monologues are an interesting insight into race relations of the time, but the message gets through in half the time taken. The sets are impressive, Altman spent much of the budget refurbishing a section of his beloved Kansas City train station, the acting is sharp, particularly the drug-addled politician’s wife played by Miranda Richardson, but my heart belonged to the live jazz scenes.

Altman famously recorded the band live while they filmed and the sound track is well worth picking up, with much more detailed info on the technical difficulties of recording the music while making the film. I’ll give this movie 3 stars out of 5, an extra star if you’re a big fan of the director, but I prefer his films The Player and Gosford Park. Jazz geeks like me will thrill to the music and a look at today’s big jazz stars just cutting their teeth.

Click Here to listen to Yeah Man! from the Kansas City original motion picture soundtrack.

UPDATE: listener Kandie (in comments) also recommends Altman’s “Jazz ’34” Rememberances of Kansas City Swing from Rhapsody Films (including complete versions of the jazz snippets in the film) and 3 related CDs: Kansas City: Orig. Motion Picture Soundtrack (noted in the above review), Kansas City Band: More Music from Robert Altman’s Kansas City, and The Real Kansas City of the 20’s 30’s and 40’s. thanks, Kandie!!

Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere”

Eva Cassidy finds herself in a league of her own when it comes to heart-tugging, tear-jerking stories. Upon her passing from cancer in 1996, she was not a Grammy winner or a legend. In fact, you were fortunate if you had ever heard of her, unless you lived in the Washington D.C. area. It had nothing to do with a lack of talent, because the talent was coming out of her ears, and most everyone who heard her sing agreed on this. Unfortunately, recording companies struggled to figure out how to market her, as her repertoire consisted of everything from jazz to blues to rock to gospel to Irish folk music; a repertoire so broad that they simply chose not to market her at all. Apparently being incredibly diverse had its downside – she couldn’t be defined, so the powers that be decided to not try and define her at all. Grammy awards and record albums sales can be difficult to come by when no one has the guts to distribute your work.

The fortunate side to this sad story is that the right guy got his hands on one of her recordings and helped get her music on the airwaves, even if it was after her death. A British radio DJ came across her Live at Blues Alley release and began broadcasting Eva’s version of Somewhere over the Rainbow in the early 2000’s. That exposure led to topping the British album charts, and album sales topping one million.

Subsequent albums and exposure led Eva Cassidy’s popularity west, where by 2006 she became the number five selling artist on Amazon.com. Her numbers on ITunes are comparable now, if not better. Most of her albums have now earned gold or platinum status posthumously. It appears after all, that diversity, matched with an epic voice (a voice I would be surprised if anyone disliked), doesn’t need clever marketing and a huge recording contract. Her following is huge and no longer can be described as a cult following. And while her story most certainly tugs at the heart, her huge sales since her death can not only be credited to an unfortunate story that chokes us up, but to an amazing talent that appeals to a large and diverse audience of listeners. And while it might be a bold statement for me to make, it is an honest one, as Eva Cassidy’s recording of Who Knows Where the Time Goes remains my all time favorite recording by a female vocalist.

Eva Cassidy’s latest album Somewhere, has now been released by Blix Street Records, a Gig Harbor based recording company. For those who know and love Eva’s music, this album will treat you quite nicely. This is far from an album that features leftover studio and live recordings that were thrown together just to create another release. It features a nice collection of down tempo tunes throughout, showing off Cassidy’s fantastic ability to remind listeners that a well sung ballad really should draw and display emotion. Showcased in the middle of the album are a series of bluesy songs including Chain of Fools, Walkin’ After Midnight, and Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad that remind us that to be versatile in music means not only the ability to sing different styles of music, but the ability to sing different styles of music well.

The album closes as if her fans were asked what they would like to hear Eva sing to close out an album. We hear a wonderful version of Gershwin’s Summertime, and finish with the title track, a tune co-written by Eva and Chris Biondo, Eva’s former boyfriend.

It is rare that you can listen to an Eva Cassidy recording and at the very least not say “wow”. The new album Somewhere offers no exception to that rule.

Below is a video of Eva Cassidy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at Blues Alley, as well as her recording of “Chain of Fools” from her new album “Somewhere”, and my all-time favorite Eva recording, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”.

Click here to listen to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

Click here to listen to “Chain of Fools”