Catching Up, the Music Edition

Man, did I miss writing about music lately. In part because at the moment I’m stuck on an Amtrak train heading home (long story, approx. three more hours to go), and in another part because I am genuinely very busy, I had to pause on all my writing for a while. For an author, no guilt is worse than suddenly being forced to not write.

But, all my current work upheavals aside, there has been music. Lots and lots of it, which I’ll present in no particular order.

Spyro Gyra at the Blue Note, July 2012

You and I, dear readers, both know this: if Spyro is at the Note, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m in the front-row seat, and in this case too, as it were. This time, though, it was without my camera; not that I’m complaining, sometimes I like to not shoot and just immerse myself in a show. And moreover, I wanted to see what the new drummer was like; that is to say, Lee Pearson. Bonny B has not traveled with the band for a while.

For those of you who do not know the back story to this, last year in May, Bonny B had a stroke. This shocked the hell out of me, because only in 2010, I was hanging with him and Scott Ambush at the CapJazz SuperCruise. This was jarring, to say the least. He did the Spirit Cruises in 2010, but I’ve not heard from him since, and in November, I found out that he could no longer travel.


The good news to it is, last of what a friend let me know, Bonny B has relocated and is recovering in a rather beautiful island environment. So I’m only happy to hear it.

So when Spyro was coming to the Note some weeks ago, I didn’t want to pass it up. That and I wanted to see what Lee Pearson could do.

First things first, Spyro Gyra has done it again; there’s a new CD to check out. A Foreign Affairthe latest addition to Jay Beckenstein’s already impressive discography, sought to embody all the locations that the band had visited  over their touring history. And man, did they do it. Jay and the guys changed their usual playlist, and Caribe (which you may’ve heard on Pandora or through your favorite means of getting jazz) is a straightforward introduction to the flavor facet presented in the album. And of course, Jay playing both his alto and soprano saxes simultaneously never fails to shock the crowd.

Lee Pearson, however, stole the show. Right now, writing this, my brain still boggles at how he’s able to keep playing without breaking rhythm when he crossed his arms behind his back. Because seriously, that blows even Bonny B’s impersonation-station out of the water.

Warren Hill, Maysa, Jonathan Butler, and Spirit Cruises overall 

Ah yes, Spirit. The annual Wednesday series of boat rides on the Hudson with a side helping of jazz have returned, and instrumentalist-loving me was a little surprised at the lack of the Rippingtons (whom I generally only ever see on Spirit!), but delighted, I tell you, at the sudden arrival of Warren Hill and Euge, on separate sailings.

Those two… Every time I see them play, anywhere, I immediately flash back to Jammin’ in Jamaica. I’ve written about it at the time that I started the blog, thereabout; the trip was in 2009 and, hands down, had to have been the best adventure I could’ve asked for. Some segment of my heart is still buried in that private strip of beach at the Ritz Montego Bay, and Euge’s Sunday Morning accompanies a mai-tai.

But Euge on Spirit is no Sunday morning and a mai-tai, ladies and gents, and S7ven Large is nothing short of tear-it-up funk. Tower of Power is alive and well in this one, and never mind the storm earlier that day. Choppy surf on the Hudson was not the reason the boat was rocking. Euge knows how to rouse a crowd, and he knows how to rouse a New York crowd. He dominated the stage, the floor, played his way into the audience – nothing

In a separate sailing, Warren shared the stage with Maysa and Jonathan Butler. Gotta love a three-fer.

You know, I don’t see Maysa often. I’m hardly a vocalist fan, but when I saw her on CapJazz in 2010 the first time, I got comfortable and listened in. Her groove is a little old-school, a lot of great R&B/funk, and you may well know her with Incognito. I needn’t say much past Incognito, do I?

Didn’t think so. And I always love Deep Waters.

But Warren…well, Warren is something else. That horn can scream, and Warren has no “hold back” setting on any of what he plays. He takes you into a salsa-style something, slows it down, then gets a blues attack that hits an octave that you wouldn’t think that an alto sax can reach. There is no telling what Warren Hill can do, and that’s one of the best aspects of his shows. Play It Like You Mean It is a classic example, and it’s all Warren: raucous, loud, and energetic.

And of course, where would I be without Norman & Gerald? Officially, this has been one of the best ways to close out Spirit – there is a Regina Belle sailing this week, which I will not be attending, unfortunately – for this season. With a new project out, entitled 24/7, the majority of the set has focused on highlighting the new tracks from that CD (which I recommend, a lot). Norman’s easygoing guitar flow, Gerald’s sharp bite on the horn, August breezes on the water… this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love this music, these sailings, and these people.

Dave Koz at the Paramount

Right now, without hesitation, let me give massive props to Mikey Cohen and Smooth Jazz Live. If you don’t know about SJL, please check them out. It’s a kickass family affair by Mikey and Jack Cohen, and you cannot deny serious visual talent on those guys.

So one fine day, two or so weeks ago, Mikey gives me a call and says, “Dave Koz is at the Paramount.”

Me: “Do you have to ask?”

Because seriously, when does Dave Koz come to NYC anymore? I’m lucky if I see him annually, and think it a treat more than once. So to the LIRR I go, and to Huntington I hightail, to discover a wonderful thing.

The Paramount of right now…is the IMAC of three years ago. And when I realized that, I cannot tell you how I felt. Surprise, joy, something in between; it was all there. The reason being is that the IMAC, for decades, was a musical stronghold for jazz in the Long Island area. It was a damn near iconic location, and my first – and last – show was a double-header by my two favorite bands: Special EFX and Acoustic Alchemy. But shortly after that, the theatre shut down.

Not anymore. It has been turned over to new management and ownership, who had promptly gutted it and built it up anew, and what it has become is an upgraded version of the very same haven that the IMAC had been once known to be. To have Dave there is not just fitting; it’s Long Island’s own definition of giving jazz music, specifically contemporary jazz, a hearty “welcome home” at where it had flourished once before.

With big thanks to Mikey, I assembled my camera, heeded the warning to shoot only for the first three songs (this meant no shots of BeBe Winans…pity…but them be the breaks), and it. was. on.

The thing about Dave, though, is that no matter what your age is, no matter whether or not you’ve heard his music before, he will make you feel something. When he plays Anything Is Possible, off his latest disc (Hello Tomorrow, strongly recommended), he and his rocker of a guitarist, Randy Jacobs, will make you feel that anything is possible. Together Again, no matter how many times I will hear it, will always make my skin go prickly with goosebumps. And there is no person in the world who won’t crack up at Dave’s theatrics on stage. On a prior show, he gave Andre Berry a kick. Or he’d hand Randy his hat after Randy would dominate his solo…on his back…spinning. He is a consummate showman and doesn’t waste a single move, or a single note.

And yes, he had a mullet in the 80s. I don’t care if I was a zygote then, Dave, album covers live forever, and your odds of living that down…eh, they’re a little low.

Album from these pics can be found at this link.

Part 2 of the grand music recap will come at a later point…too much music, not enough time! Plus, my life is continuing to change very rapidly, and I’m finding it a bit difficult to keep a level head. But worry not; this music is what keeps me steady, day in and day out.