Culture Currents best jazz recordings, etc. of 2016

zeitlin cover

Readers will note, in my belated list, a preponderance of piano recordings indicating that, like classical music’s string quartet, the piano trio remains jazz’s most fundamental and vital chamber ensemble form. And my top choice, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s epic 2-CD adventure in tribute to America’s National Parks and beyond, shows how far a chamber-sized jazz group can travel in their evocation, expression and beauty.

At the spectrum’s other end, Darcy James Argue makes his maximalist orchestral approach incisive, dramatic and unsettlingly to the point that presses into our darkest fears about beneath-the-radar politics, especially conspiracy “theorists.”

The improbable sleeper of the year is The State of the Baritone by Madison WI reed player Anders Svanoe, who rewarded producer-saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s faith in him, with an ambitious and conceptually lucid statement about the hulking horn’s ability to float like a butterfly and roar like a buffalo stampede, among other qualities.

And historically speaking, Resonance Records continues to open up windows into the past that we never dreamed existed.

Top Ten Jazz Albums of 2016 (in order of preference)

Wadada Leo Smith – America’s National Parks (Cuneiform)

Denny Zeitlin – Solo Piano: Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions (Sunnyside)

Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto)

Darcy James Argue Secret Society – Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)

Kim Davis – Duopoly (CD/DVD) (Pyroclastic)

Frank Kimbrough – Solstice (Piroet)

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life – Nihil Novi (Blue Note)

Loren Richardson – Shift (Blue Note)

Anders Svanoe – State of the Baritone (Irabaggast Records)

Aziza – Aziza (Redeye)

Anders cover

Best Latin Jazz Album

(tie) Harold Lopez-Nussa – El Viaje (Mack Avenue)

Edward Simon – Latin American Songbook (Sunnyside)

Best Vocal Album

Gregory Porter – Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note)

Best Historic Recordings/Reissues

Larry Young – In Paris: The ORTF Recordings (Resonance)

Bill Evans – Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (Resonance)

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra – All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings at the Village Vanguard (Resonance)

Paul Butterfield Blues Band – Got a Mind to Give Up Living Live 1966 (Real Gone Music)

Best Blues/Roots Album

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By (Deluxe Edition) (Fantasy)

Best World Music

Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road Ensemble – Sing Me Home (Masterworks)

Best Live Performance

Tedeschi Trucks Band/Los Lobos,  White River Park, Indianapolis, July 27
Rick Germanson Trio, Jazz Estate, Milwaukee, Dec. 23


Trucks Los Lobos

A cool aspect of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Wheels of Soul” tour was its communal/interactive value. Here guitarist Derek Trucks (foreground, left) jams with David Hidalgo, lead guitarist-singer with Los Lobos, which preceded the Tedeschi Trucks Band in Indianapolis. The onstage band here includes members of Los Lobos and the TTB horn section, on far right. Photo: Kevin Lynch 


Christmas postscript: The star over Bethlehem burned brilliantly within this piano trio


Pianist Rick Germanson and bassist Peter Dominguez perform Dec. 23rd at the The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee (Photos taken by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise indicated, in a low light without flash.) 

T’wasn’t the night before Christmas, but all through the club all the creatures were swinging, even the mouse. Actually it was two nights before the magical, mystical night in a Bethlehem manger.

The band did play one seasonal song, Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” — as if they’d just dreamed it up in a sugarplum fever. Yet pianist Rick Germanson so deftly veiled it in fresh voicings that it spurred a debate between me and my girlfriend on the song title (I won).

“Merry Christmas, everyone,” the pianist said at the song’s end.

But these three men were home for the holidays. And by that time, in the second set, they’d delivered arms full of gifts, like three wise men from the Orient, casting riches upon our little jazz scene — compared to New York, as humble as the hay-strewn Bethlehem manger.

Sure enough they were all coming far from The East. New York, that is – not “the Orient” (which still exists only as a dated cultural construct).

All the rest of it was quite serious music-making, or I should say serious fun, because it mainly grew out of the loamy soil of hard-bop, which takes the most salient and vibrant aspects of bebop and he gives them a palpably funky and bluesy boost.

Or to mix a merry metaphor, it tasted like eggnog spiked liberally with something that never made Milwaukee famous – modern jazz, on December 23rd at the newly renovated and reopened Jazz Estate on Milwaukee’s East side.

The New York-based Rick Germanson Trio, all Milwaukee-area natives, made their hometown proud, and even gave this veteran jazz observer jolts of surprise, delight and, at times, mystification, as in: How the hell does he do that?


Rick Germanson takes a solo.

I figured that Germanson and his mates would be pretty damn good. But this was nearly off the jazz charts that none of these guys needed. In fact, the pianist, whom I observed closely with a virtual keyboard-side seat, repeatedly played extremely complicated and dynamic passages with intense concentration. Yet his eyes fixed somewhere far beyond the keyboard. That “look-ma-no-look!” effect just hints at the man’s mastery.

“In New York, Rick’s nickname is ‘Brick,'” said his bassist Peter Dominguez after the gig, flexing his right arm into a curl for emphasis, “because he’s so strong! And he takes no prisoners. Either you’re ready for him, or not.”
Consider that New York is, by far, the toughest and most competitive jazz scene in the world, and you begin to sense the mark with Germanson is making far beyond old Brewtown.


On his Jazz Estate gig, Milwaukee native Rick Germanson displayed the musical determination to succeed as a jazz artist, which has earned him the nickname “The Brick” in New York, where he now lives. Photo by Ann K. Peterson.

Yet, he still seems under the national radar, despite his New York bona fides, including extended stints with guitarist Pat Martino and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band featuring Louis Hayes, and work with The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Mingus Dynasty, Tom Harrell, Jeremy Pelt, Brian Lynch among others, and co-leading his last recording with trumpeter Eddie Henderson.

Germanson was nowhere to be found in the latest Down Beat International Critics Poll, which I have contributed to in the past. After listening to his too-few recordings as a leader and on this stunning night, I would place him in the top 10 pianists, perhaps even number seven, right behind Brad Mehldau. And noting the unsurprising poll-winner Kenny Barron, it struck me why Germanson’s dark-horse presence is so well-earned. His overall style compares with Barron’s. Perhaps the elder pianist possesses unsurpassed elegance, offhanded ease and range of repertoire. But Germanson, at 44, is right in his prime, and can do most anything Barron can do, it seems.

(Full disclosure: about 17 years ago, Germanson played solo piano at my second wedding’s reception in Madison. But it was an accident of circumstance, as my chosen pianist, Dave Stoler, needed a last-minute substitute. I had little chance to really hear Germanson play that busy day.)

Some close-listening critics might argue that his influences remain a bit too evident. They’re detectable but also myriad. Just sitting through a few tunes, I scribbled down the relevant names: Ahmad Jamal, Cedar Walton, Ramsey Lewis, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Timmons, Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner. But Germanson tosses off these aspects with such alacrity that they ultimately feel integrated into an astonishingly wide mainstream jazz piano vocabulary. Call the dialect “post-hard-bop Germanson.”
There was Evans’ pensive ballad “Very Early,” with his sinuously-kneaded chord changes, and then Bobby Timmons’ groove-twitching “Jive Samba,” a tune Germanson surely played countless times with the Adderley Legacy Band.

Then yet another stylistic shift to the modern Coltrane-esque modalism of Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land,” wherein he carries you to the Promised Land with powerful gusts of crystalline sand and whirling wind. You can imagine how brilliantly he embraced the McCoy Tyner-esque stylistic power strokes Elvin  Jones was accustomed to in his rhythmic cauldrons.

Yet, at times, I wish he’d be a bit more harmonically daring and bullish, dash one flat or second interval hard across the grain, like Monk might. But Rick’s fully sophisticated in the post-bop tradition, so that caveat only seemed like a late-set afterthought. In re-voicing familiar tunes like “Autumn in New York” or “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” he lulls you with a theme-in-the-breeze, like a siren on the shore, rather than simply stating it. That way, he pulls you into his orbit and, with his encyclopedic stylistic resources, you feel set for a long stay.

The strategic success, at least of this live set, took off from a hard-bop pad. So the band often plays like a canny, old-time carnival clown – plenty of deep pockets full of surprises and loads of nimble wit to spur bobbing heads and chuckles of amazed delight. And in a place as intimate as The Jazz Estate, virtually the whole audience palpably feels it all down to their tapping toes. And if there’s a mouse or two lurking (unlikely), they’re surely hipsters, too. 1

At the heart of any great straight-ahead jazz style, as with Germanson, is the creative space facilitated by continual dynamic accents and deep-in-the-groove currents. Here too, he shines, his playing bejeweled with tough rhythmic finger drumming, incredibly tight sustained octave  tremolos,  or cross-punching tiger-paw attacks, or long, crackling-swift arpeggios.

And yet Germanson seems to know when to pull his own reins in and not seem like a show horse. He often offers such a gambit as a discrete jewel setting, with crisp entrances and segues. He almost floats against a pulsing flow of bassist Peter Dominguez and drummer Pete Zimmer. These two possess the power, precision and elasticity of a great neo-bop rhythm section, such as the 1980s Heath Brothers Band with its bounding harmonies and hop-skip-skittering rhythms. (continue reading below)



Bassist Peter Dominguez (above) and drummer Pete Zimmer playing with Rick Germanson at the Jazz Estate.

The second set helped affirm the pianist-composer’s evolving originality, as in “Rick’s Blues,” in which to Dominguez displayed his arco chops on a solo with fine, deeply resonating legato and highly evocative effect. This reveals his study with the great Madison bassist Richard Davis, one of the supreme masters of jazz bass bowing. (Germanson and Dominguez also display superb simpatico, taste and imagination on the Dominguez album How About This, a trio recording with former Herbie Hancock drummer Billy Hart.)

“Daytona” took a muscular McCoy Tyner approach and gives it a Latin twist. Even more distinctive was Germanson’s “Theme for Elliott,” written for his son, which “kind of captures his vibe,” he offered. A deceptively simple one-handed melody, like a boy might pick out on a keyboard, develops into a thoughtful but slightly impetuous exposition, tempered by recesses of shyness, a lyrical but probing creation.
Another personal gesture arose in “Susan’s Waltz,” written for his wife, who stood approvingly a few feet away from the keyboard. It seems almost a gently-traced character sketch, folded between deft chords. Here bassist Dominguez remade the melody like a grizzly bear capturing a butterfly in his paw, and slowly and tenderly letting it fly away.

The trio upped the power quotient in the Tyner mode on Germanson’s “Interloper,” conveying an apt sense of intrigue and drama. The three men from the East absolutely burned through this, with the sort of spiritual power akin to Tyner in his prime. Drummer Zimmer bristled with a swift-yet-sharp tempo and bassist Dominguez unleashed a panther-swift fast-walking pulse. Germanson’s solo set off fireworks, riding a powerful left-hand thunder of chords. And yet his ruthlessly rapid right hand didn’t really mimic Tyner, nobody quite can. Plus, his solo delved into complex harmonic underpinnings reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s impressionistic sorties.

It all ended with a brief encore rendering of Miles Davis’s set-closing standard, “The Theme,” which I hardly recognized with the re-harmonizing that Germanson says he drew from the late Cedar Walton’s approach to it.

Yes, Walton is one of this pianist’s touchstone fathers. But Rick “The Brick” has found himself, proving an old adage, that finally the child is the father to the man, his own man.


1. A few more words about the new-and-improved Jazz Estate. It was a great listening space to begin with, but an excellent move was to re-configure the small back room. Instead of a cluster of tiny tables and chairs, the new owner built connected booth seating along the two walls leading to the back exit. This allows for at least several extra seats, and more lounging comfort through the last set. And the restrooms, previously merely functional, like many jazz clubs, now have “expanded fixtures” and very classy furnishings.


This is No Cold War Joke. It’s President-select Donald Trump Feeding Russia the Punchlines, One at a Time. Who’s Gonna Bomb First?


Courtesy cdn.images. express.

“The word mammoth is derived from the Tartar word mamma meaning the earth :”… From this some mistakenly came to believe that the great beast had always lived underground, burrowing like a big mole. And they were sure it died when it came to the surface and breathed fresh air!” – Roy Chapman Andrews from All About Strange Beasts of the Past (An epigraph to Lorrie Moore’s novel Anagrams)

“Whenever I’m serious, the only vocabulary I can come up with our words that have been spoken in the last 30 seconds. My sentences become anagrams sentences before. (That is an argument about intelligence and sexual fidelity in marriage”) – Lorrie Moore, from “The Nun of That,” from Anagrams

Has anyone been feeling furious lately, like right in the middle of the morning, without knowing why until they happen to check the news on their smart phone or turn on the tube?

Well, let’s try to focus that fury a bit into some something concentrated and somewhat analytic.

Let’s pay a little closer attention and start at a microscopic linguistic level. How might Trump morph into an American Putin? Is it any more than a coincidence that their two surnames are very pugnacious utterances when spoken aloud? Then notice how close they are to anagrams of each other. Try some letter juggling with Trump: “Pmurt.” Or “putrm.” Knock the second curve off the m, and you have “putrn.” Chop the curve off the “r” & pin it on top and you have Putin!

(Add the r to “putin” and turn the p upside down & you have “putrid.” How mellifluous.

A bit more seriously in a literary manner.  now certainly have perhaps the two strangest presidents to ever lead the two most openly antagonist superpowers in the globe. Trump and Putrid, I mean, Putin and Stump.

They are both mammoths, whose power is almost totally circular and inward-feeding from the energy and resources of the great nations they seem to be leading as elected presidents.


See The Donald Mammoth roar.

It’s a bit like a woolly mammoth, say, from rising up from a prehistoric grave like a Neanderthal man wearing a woolly mammoth coat and headdress. Everybody flees in horror and they try to blow down any courageous challengers who might be a lingering. The working class or the lumpen proletariat seem to like some of the outrageous racist utterances from Trump’s mouth: Mexican rapists, radical Islamists (so let’s get rid of all his Islam Americans, even though the vast majority of domestic terrorism in America since the war and terror began has been committed by domestic right-wing offensive proto-Nazi mass killers).

But when people go to his rallies or get all their information from social media things like the truth are easily filtered out and Trump fans love the huff and the puff.

Let’s imagine a little showdown between Trump and Putin in which they’re both stripped-down to shirtless and face off, with Trump’s southward-sloping profile his belly curves tantalizingly close to Putin’s chest, being quite a bit taller and fatter.


Vladimir Putin. courtesy

Although we’ve never seen Putin exhaling a big huff and puff, we’ve just seen the very posed photo op of him topless on a horse. But he seems to be in considerably better shape than Trump.

But the eyebrow-raising “bromance” between the two proceeds apace, to where we can only guess. We know that Trump admires Putin and probably wishes he was that smart and autocratic. Putin is possibly the richest man in the world because he has contrived to funnel a great percentage of his own nations GDP into his own bank account and is worth reportedly $86 billion.

As for Trump’s worth, who knows because he still hides behind a supposed audit to refuse to release his tax returns. We are aware of course that he lost something like $91 million a number of years back which may have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes for 15 years.

The Russian hacking of the U.S. election “was an attack on America, less lethal than a missile but still profoundly damaging to our system. It’s not that Trump and Putin were colluding to steal an election. But if the C.I.A. is right, Russia apparently was trying to elect a president who would be not a puppet exactly but perhaps something of a lap dog — a Russian poodle.”  – Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

Is this a cruel, unfair metaphor? We know that Mr. Kristof, despite his Pulitzer Prizes, is one of those highly specious “liberals.” Consider, as per the Times’ Maureen Dowd, who seems to hate Hillary Clinton more than any other politician if you consider her journalistic track record. So she’s going to give her opponent a fair shake, no?

She wrote of the last debate: “Talking about Putin, Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party’s wary stance toward the Evil Empire, subjugating his party’s ideology to his own ego: ‘He said nice things about me.’’’

It seems the most disarming thing that any raging mammoth can do to this orange paper sabre-toothed tiger is not to stomp on him like Hillary Clinton did with mighty psychological glee especially in the last presidential debate, in which he finally responded with a devastatingly policy-dismantling riposte: ”Such a nasty woman.”

No, all a smart person like Vladimir has to do is ”say nice things” about him. The Donald seems to have an Pavlovian response to niceness when it is directed at him. This is the height of quasi-erotic banality, something that perhaps the French filmmaker Luis Bunuel might have worked into one of his satires of the empty lives of the bourgeoisie, laced with odd sado-masochism (think of Belle de Jour).

Of course, Trump is the bourgeoisie bloated into the upper 1%, his wealth is the whole buttressing of his self-esteem and ego. He seems to have no firm principles or values other than accumulating money and its attendant shiny object sheen and “prestige.”

So “saying nice things” to him, to disarm him seems a reasonable equivalent to petting a lapdog poodle. The little creature, with the funny red sweep of fur over his brow, and and involuntarily begins to wag his tail. He quivers and emits a tiny shuddering yelp of pleasure.

Is the tail wagging the dog? It certainly seems to be. Let’s remember that Pavlov was a great Russian psychologist and the best leaders of that nation have employed such manipulative powers, including Joseph Stalin. Look at Pavlov.


This is a man who knows what he want, and needs to do, to extract the desired effect in his object of experimentation which, by now, is well-accepted scientific psychological truth.


Add “NICE POODLE” (in soothing tones with steady strokes), to the left column of this chart. Then another “SALIVATION”.

Because the tail is being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, like a hypnotist whispering to the alert tail, “You are getting verrry sleepy.” The tail begins following the Russian’s swaying vest clock… The poodle himself is virtually oblivious of this behind-the-butt love waltz.

You might also take one of those cute red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball caps and put it on the head of Putin’s poodle, and his perky ears hold it in place neatly.

Such a “nice” image. Of course, that is nice mainly if we focus on the poodle’s perky, pretty posterior. If we look up front, prettiness, um, needs a napkin, or three.



Now, this image of a “Pavlov’s dog” is not nearly as pretty as a lap poodle would be. But let’s imagine it starting as a Neanderthal in mighty-woolly-mammoth drag, morphing slowly into a fast-shedding shaggy dog, morphing into finally, a manicured lap poodle.

So  then one of his aides would read the whole column to him. You know what comes next .A detailed policy speech on culture intelligence strategies for responding to Russian hacking? Well, no. Maybe something more like, you know, what all (make America) great presidents do when challenged. He tweets. Eg.:

31 Dec 2016

This nasty blogger and people like Hillary are just jealous because Putin says nice things about me, and not them! Ha Ha!

OK, he’s eloquent. So let’s give our Trumpoodle a break, especially with the “optics.”

Ah, butt Larry King seems to have the right idea here:


“Good Trump, good Trump.” celebalite.c

Okay, Okay, Trump fans who have, or are capable of, reading this far. I’ve tried to include lots of pictures. (I wonder, would The Donald read this far? Sure, if he scrolls down and sees his own face. So he’ll probably start reading around here. Sensing this possibility, I am striving for a bit of a Pavlov angle here 🙂

I am certainly willing to wait to see how the “president-select” (see the Electoral College fiasco) Trump “performs” once he puts his paw on the Bible and takes that solemn oath with a few muffled “ruffs”.

However, seriously speaking, what is scaring me is his cabinet appointing. If approved, it will be the most radically right-wing one in American history.

Trump media relations will be based on a propoganda mode; a daily misinformation campaign. Note his recent comment on the Russian hacking of the Democratic party files: “In the computer age, nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

Media critic and professor of journalism Jay Rosen comments: “Journalism that tries to find its public through ‘inside’ coverage of the political class is vulnerable to rejection by portions of the public that are busy rejecting that class.  This is a hard problem, to which “listening” sounds like a soft, warm and fuzzy solution. It isn’t.”

The media needs to find fresh ways of actually listening to the public, especially that which completely distrusts the press, following Trump’ cues fervently.

Rosen extensively quotes Andrew Haeg, CEO of the journalism start-up Groundsource, who has a smart approach in mind.

“Haeg recently tried to sketch what a ‘listening’ model looks like. I found inspiring his imaginary description of a two-person listening team:

Emboldened by election postmortems urging better listening, inspired by (the movie) Spotlight, trained in new tools and techniques, and stoked to pioneer new forms of listening-first investigative journalism, the duo works deep into the night, tipped over Chinese takeout, bleary-eyed, adrenaline-fueled, writing as they go a new playbook comprised of equal parts data journalism, community outreach, crowdsourcing, and investigative journalism.

They print and post handmade signs in grocery stores and truck stops: “What should we know?” with a phone number to text or call. They FOIA 311 data, download 211 data from the United Way, use Splunk and IFTTT and other tools to trigger alerts when key community datasets are updated. They hold town hall forums, set open office hours at local coffee shops and diners, and form key partnerships with community organizations to invite underserved communities into the conversation. They build a community of hundreds who ask questions and vote on which ones get answered, get texts with updates on the newsgathering progress and ongoing opportunities to share their concerns and stories. The community feed that develops is rich, authentic, and often shockingly prescient.


A new strategy by the press in the interest of factual truth for every citizen to use, no matter how they voted, is crucial to the new American surreality that Trump toys with daily.  Or is it Putin doing the reality-manipulating daily, via his lap dog, right here in our very own virtual back yard?

Isn’t Trump’s possibly impeachment-worthy complicity with Putin your answer?

Jazz Gallery music and anthology celebration bring it all back home


Here I sign copies of “my back pages,” beside current Jazz Gallery manager Mark Lawson (left) who apparently still hasn’t turned in one of his blue books. See Mark sheepishly reporting to his old English professor amid the congenial crowd at the concert and book-signing for the newly-revised anthology “Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.” Photo: Ann Peterson.

Some of my best memories of an extraordinary place rekindled Friday night. The space once occupied by the now-legendary Milwaukee Jazz Gallery had a warm energy, passion and intelligence similar to the older place when I covered it for The Milwaukee Journal as documented by the book we were also celebrating: Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.

What an honor to remember this place and know I’d played a part in getting the word out about it’s very special role in our community. So I’m grateful so many musicians and friends showed up, also because it seems this community is on the rise again.
In fact, Center Street seems to be a bit of a jazz alley lately. Besides the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, here at 926 East, right up the street, Company Brewing continued its ambitious jazz booking Friday with New York-based trumpeter John Raymond and his trio. Then there’s the newly-revived Jazz Estate on Murray St. across the nearby Milwaukee River.
Competition, of course, is quintessentially American, but so is jazz.

The current incarnation of the Jazz Gallery as a center for the arts always leaves it a step behind, like the Packer defensive backfield, given that, unlike the other two nearby jazz venues, it lacks a bar, the traditional financial backbone of such places. As an all-volunteer-run nonprofit entity, it needs all the help we can give it and, one hopes sooner than later, a genuine jazz angel or two.

So it’s always extra-special when people show up there, and you know that it’s for the music.
Only this time it was also for appreciating the history of the original Gallery and being able to relive it, in effect, by perusing the many articles and reviews written (under deadline) and documented in the anthology I humbly signed my name to.

Yep, as a pre-emptive reminder, all of those reviews got filed either in a late-evening scurry by Milwaukee Sentinel reviewers (like Jim Higgins or Rich Mangelsdorff, sometimes by phone), or into the early morning hours, for Milwaukee Journal reviewers, like Bill Milkowski or myself, writing for the afternoon deadline.
Yet, I was always writing in something of a jazz buzz, and yes, I was so much younger then so, even at say, two-thirty, it never made me too hurty.

But last night, I felt younger than that now, thanks to the music, the memories, and the spirit.

To me, as classic a form as it now is, jazz is always a youthful music, perpetually running in the moment. I’ve rarely had more stimulus for writing is a journalist as I did those years covering the Jazz Gallery, with its quiet fire and extraordinary mix of local, regional and national artists, under the watchful, pipe smoke-filled eye of club owner and visionary hipster Chuck LaPaglia.

BTW, I don’t gave a damn about too many Dylan allusions, just as Dylan wouldn’t. (Bad jokes? Well, it’s my blog!) I know this dedicated acoustic space is just the sort of Greenwich Village place that the artist formerly known as Zimmerman haunted as he recounted in his autobiographical book Chronicles Vol. 1.
Jazz, folk, rock, blues, it’s all part of the American mosaic to me, and guys like Dylan love the whole glorious pattern (for proof, listen to his radio show, if it’s still on).

Friday night reflected a replenished musical spirit, although the scheduled artist with maybe the biggest national renown ended up calling in sick. It’s no knock on sidelined bassist Billy Johnson, but it was really somethin’ – to see octogenarian guitarist Manty Ellis playing right on time, like a grandfather-clock pendulum that never stops swinging in its own sweet, eccentric way. And drummer Victor Campbell plays like all those clock parts exploding into the Twilight Zone, so somehow it all fits together.


Guitarist Manty Ellis and the Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, perform at a book-signing event to celebrate the second edition of the anthology “Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984.” From left to right, Victor Campbell, Clay Schaub, Ellis, Eric Schoor. Photo by Ann K. Peterson 

As for me, I directly thank all of the friends, neighbors, jazz lovers and players who showed, including Howard Austin,
Milwaukee’s pre-eminent drive-time jazz disk jockey on 88.9 WYMS, before it was “88.9,” during the Gallery glory years. And thanks to musicians like Mark Davis, Frank Stemper, Steve Tilton, Rick Ollman and guitar-god-in-his-p-j’s John Kurzawa, who might just need to stick to golf.

But most of all, thanks to Mark Lawson and Elizabeth Vogt of the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and everyone in the Riverwest Artists Association for putting on this event.


Mark Lawson lets me clear my throat before I hand over souvenir Jazz Gallery anthologies to the musicians who made the music live Friday, as in the days I used to write about. Photo: Frank Stemper

Because Manty Ellis is so impeccably reliable, the jewels-under-the-lumpy-rug surprise for me was tenor saxophonist Eric Schoor, even though I’ve heard him a number of times. He’s one of those brilliant young musicians who seem capable of anything his fingers might conjure.

In this case, it was the ghost of Stan Getz, especially, as you might imagine, on the ballads. There, beyond your closed eyes,  that limpid, pearly tone lapped softly, dissolving over the melody like a burble of sea brine. Here, my memory-peddling prompts me to indulge (again, cuz it’s my blog) in a poem that I wrote for Stan Getz years ago, and leave my thank yous at that, because I’ll have only apologies left after this.

Some will recall, or read in the anthology, that Getz also played the storied Jazz Gallery, though the venue was the Performing Arts Center on the night in question.

Bossa Not So Nova

Fattening and fifty-seven, Stan Getz

sweats out a melody, red-faced.

The sax sings effortlessly.

“Hey thanks for the article,
I gotta walk to the Hyatt,
can you carry my horn?” he croaks.
The sax sings light blue.
Young and tan, and tall and lovely
the girl deep in knee socks comes walking.
And Stan stops, signs, walks and goes,

But it ain’t so much an elder appraising sweet youth.

Or it’s that too, with a clear trace of chagrin.

“I’m beat,” his cigarette breath bellows softly. “Just go slow.
Hey can you find a doctor?
My bass player needs one.”
His bass player?

We walk along the Milwaukee River
at 10 PM Sunday.
Is there a doctor in the river?
They’re all on-call, sleepin’ or smokin’
in a big, green, long-and-cold halllll.

Stan wonders about Mader’s, do I know?
His belly rumbles like southern volcanos.
The sax sings effortlessly, but just not really at me,

no, right from its case like the wind,

in her hair, in her long and lust-erous hair .

Tall and tan and young and handsome,
the boyish man from Ipanema is wheezin’

while a woman somewhere dreams…
to the old scratchy side that goes, Ahhh.

The sax singing ever so softly

as in a morning sunrise,

on a tide-swept beach full of guys.

(tenor sax solo to fade-out)

– Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular), 1988







Special jazz show and book-signing for the newly revised Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology


By Kevin Lynch (Kevernacular)

Milwaukee’s jazz history and jazz present converge on Friday night, Dec. 2, at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E.Center St. Milwaukee. The featured band, Manty Ellis and the Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, includes two musicians – esteemed guitarist Ellis and bassist Billy Johnson – who were among the many local, regional and national musicians who made the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery one of the nation’s great jazz venues from 1978 to 1984.

The current center for the arts, in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, occupies a modified version of the same space occupied by the original Jazz Gallery.


The Mike Pauers Quartet with trumpeter Kaye Berigan performed recently at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, which is the site of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Elizabeth Vogt.

Ellis is a Milwaukee legend and mentor to many great players. He co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music that gained national recognition during the era of the original jazz Gallery where it’s most luminous students developed into striking young stars, including Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch; pianists David Hazeltine and Lynn Arriale; bassists Johnson, Gerald Cannon, and Jeff Chambers; and drummers Carl Allen, and Johnson’s brother Mark Johnson. Manty Ellis, to this day, is an earthy and dynamic player,  an original stylist influenced by Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane.

A Milwaukee native, bassist Johnson is now based in New Jersey, and has played with numerous nationally-known artists. The band, performing from 7 to 10 p.m., also includes the superb drummer Victor Campbell and Eric Schoor, faculty saxophonist for the Jazz Institute at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and a member of the Conservatory’s faculty jazz ensemble, We Six.

This is also a great opportunity to gain historical insight on the jazz gallery’s great legacy from primary-source journalistic sources. That’s because the event will celebrate the publication of the second edition of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery Anthology, which includes most of the actual journalistic coverage of the club during its hey-day.

Among the national jazz and blues performers whose Milwaukee performances are reviewed in the book are Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Art Pepper, Betty Carter, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Koko Tayor, Sunnyland Slim, Max Roach, Jimmy Smith, Jack DeJohnette, Milt Jackson, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers with the Marsalis brothers, among others.


Jazz vibes giant Milt Jackson performing at the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery. Photo by Tom Kaveny

Organized chronologically, the 244-page, 8.5 x 11-inch anthology also includes musician interviews, news and features, as well as many of the venue’s monthly event calendars, which tell its story in a different way. The book was assembled by Milwaukee Jazz Gallery original owner Chuck LaPaglia. Now based in Oakland, LaPaglia can’t make the event.

However, this writer will be on hand to sign copies of the anthology. I wrote an introduction to the new edition, and much of the journalistic coverage reproduced in the book is my own, primarily from when I was writing for The Milwaukee Journal. The anthology also includes Jazz Gallery coverage by noted jazz critic and author Bill Milkowski (Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius), and current Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel book editor and feature writer Jim Higgins, among others.

chuck-at-jgChuck LaPaglia, the founder and owner of the original Milwaukee Jazz Gallery, in his club during its run as a major jazz venue from 1978 to 1984, documented in a newly revised anthology of the club’s extensive press coverage. Courtesy Milwaukee Jazz Vision

Those years were extraordinary, exciting and unforgettable times, and Friday’s live music and this revised and improved anthology help to bring it all back into sharp focus. Back then you could hear and feel – in the intimate, pulsing confines of the Gallery – the fire in the belly of these great players, the passions borne of modern jazz and the struggles for civil rights and social justice, as well as the pure joy of such creative music-making. Some of those historic names are gone, or remain somewhat underheard, what I call “voices in the river” in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

That book is about jazz, creative writing and the democratic process, and includes several memoir sections of my recollections of life and covering the Milwaukee jazz scene during the years of the Milwaukee Jazz Gallery.

The Milwaukee Jazz Foundation, formed by Manty Ellis, is an organization sponsored by by The Jazz Foundation of America, to aid and support jazz musicians in the Milwaukee area.

Proceeds for sales of The Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, will go to the Riverwest Artists Association, the nonprofit organization which runs the current Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and which published the anthology.



Sharon Jones (1956-2016): From a prison guard singing to inmates to her own kind of glory




Soul singer Sharon Jones. May 4, 1956 – November, 18, 2016. Courtesy

Due to large looming deadlines, this appreciation must be brief but I can’t let the passing of the wondrous Sharon Jones pass without notice. Jones, a Hillary Clinton supporter, had reportedly suffered a stroke while watching the 2016 election returns. But she had long struggled with pancreatic cancer.

Sharon Jones, 61, exemplified what a woman can do, despite all the glass ceilings she had to fight through in this still male-chauvinistic American life. To that point, witness the latest election, in which a historically white male-centric-contrived system, The Electoral College, has allowed a seemingly misogynistic and race-bating candidate to be named “president-elect,” despite the American people having voted to elect Hillary Clinton, by a still-widening popular vote victory.

But just as Clinton was born to be a public servant, this woman was born to serve the public soul, as an anecdote from a New York Times unpublished interview indicates:

“Before she was discovered, she worked as an armoured car attendant and a prison guard at Rikers Island in New York City, often singing Whitney Houston ballads to lonely inmates.” 1

Part of Jones’ challenge was that she decided to become a professional soul singer at middle-age and without having the proper singer-diva physical package (think, Whitney Houston…) being a short, pudgy, ordinary looking African-American woman. After she formed a band, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings,  music industry executives and marketers rebuffed her repeatedly.

So she finally went her own independent way and her persistence, fortitude and talent won out, with a fairly successful if all-too-short career. Like many others, I recall the immense feeling of first hearing her music, which rekindled the fire, passion and love of life in all its peculiar colors, in the tradition of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s rhythm-and-blues soul singing.

Her singing carried deep grit but also a phrasing instinct that almost invariably curved upwards toward an impervious radiance and joy that no disease or social affliction or oppression could suppress. That was Sharon’s gift to us, to show that a black everywoman could drink deeply from the the fountain of creative youth and glory, and share the light with us, even in seemingly dark times.

It’s a style without the over-the-top glamour-posturing and glitz that seems de rigeur for most pop singing these days.

Neo-soul music is generally enjoying a resurgence but Jones was one of the very few women driving that wave and riding its crest. And she was fast embraced by her peers as this wonderful video indicates:


Thanks to Harvey Taylor for alerting me to this video.

The duet appearance with Susan Tedeschi in 2015 occured shortly before Sharon Jones’ group joined the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s tour this last summer. Both singers draw deeply from the R&B tradition, as is evident from their delicious renderings of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me.” and Etta James’ “Tell Mama.”

If you have troubles or the blues these days, you can tell this soul mama, even though her body has passed on, by turning on one of her records and letting her commiserate and lift you back up. For the holidays, she also has a bracingly lovely rendition of “Silent Night” following the two Tedeschi duets on Youtube.

But don’t just youtube her. If you haven’t yet, buy her records, for the sake of her band and legacy, for an investment in what her music means to be sustained, rather than freely exploited.



Remembering Sharon Jones: An Unpublished Interview




The Cubs fan waved the ball, defiantly chanting “Tinker to Evers to Chance…” in The Twilight Zone


There’s a signpost up ahead. You’ve just entered…

It all began when I encountered this door — in this window — in the photo below, the day before the seventh game of the 2016 World Series…Perceptions, and perhaps reality itself, shifted ever so slightly and nothing was the same again.


“You unlock this door with the key of imagination…” 

Rod Serling: “And then, the Cubs wake up to a wild pitch and, like a steel ball sucked to a mighty magnet, it bounces into the mitt of a fan in the first row. He steals the ball, waving it over his head, defiantly chanting “Tinker to Evers to Chance!” as he dissolves into the crowd.

“Shortstop Joe Tinker, to second baseman Johnny Evers to first baseman Frank Chance was the 1908 Cubs’ deadly double-play combination, immortalized by a 1910 baseball poem by Franklin Pierce Adams.

“Two Indians score on the wild pitch and fan interference. The Cubs lose, again. It seems the fan was a descendant of the mythologized — but quite real — first baseman Frank Chance, and this Cubs loyalist didn’t want his ancestor’s glory relegated to the dustbin of history.

“Frankly, in The Twilight Zone, these Cubs never had a Chance.”


(L-R) Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance, 1908 Chicago Cubs


Rod Serling-and-the-door photo by Kevin Lynch



Voter’s guide overview: Trump “The Stump,” “Crooked” Hillary and the despised media


“It’s Trump the Stump!”, graphite and pastel, 2015. By Kevin Lynch  1

Note to readers: This voter’s aide is adapted from one of my most well-received blogs of recent times, which still applies. So I decided to re-post a revised version now that we’re getting down to election 2016 crunch time. Those who read this the first time might want to re-read it but may also skip, if they prefer, to two specific additions. They are marked “Press and Media Addendum” and “Hillary Addendum.”

Thanks, and remember to VOTE on November 8th, or before!

Drum-roll please. Brassy bugle fanfare.

The conservative online news site World Net Daily, whose columnists include scourge-of-the-right-wing Ann Coulter and and ex-metal-rocker-pundit Ted Nugent, has declared Donald Trump “Man of the Year”!

Trump, who needs no introduction, has persevered till now against all Republican presidential candidates and beyond virtually everyone’s expectations of his seemingly Charmin-thick bloviation as a politician of substance, a potential statesman.

Soon it’ll be finally time vote – to decide if he’s a dangerous, un-American racist, sexist demagogue, or a guy who can somehow magically make American great again, as if it ever stopped being. (Sorry the buglers lips fumbled their cue here, thrown off by their own clucking and head-shaking at the notion of a Trump presidency.)

We all know he’s a master performer, for at least an adoring 35 per cent of the angry, mostly white-male Republican base. Their frustrated fury – precipitated in economic fact largely by the Republican legislature’s stultifying obstructionist politics-as-usual – after the GOP-sponsored Great Recession, is understandable. But it’s also misdirected and rides on “magical thinking,” as Joan Didion called her own extended self-delusion. Trump understands them too, like a snake oil salesman understands a vulnerable, needy family whose house he’s slithered into and fully sized-up for the kill.

Far worse is most of the press fawning over “The Donald,” forced by the pressures of ever-changing e-media ratings and poll-numbers — virtually Trump’s whole game. In the most recent and self-important fawning, WND characterized his rise and 2015 man-of-the-year “triumph” thusly:

“At the start, Trump was savagely attacked by leftist activist groups and journalists after referring to some illegal immigrants as ‘rapists’ during his presidential announcement speech.

In normal times, Trump’s campaign would have been killed, skinned, hung and deydrating into dried fruit, many times over by now, because it rarely had more substance than sweet and excessively fresh  fruit – invigorating as it can be, at first – that soon turned over-ripe, usually as soon as he tweeted about it. Pardon the unvarnished Heartland metaphor, but it seems apt.

Trump flag

“Trump the Stump,” supposedly on the campaign stump, but actually pretending the flag is a woman.

But while most other politicians would have apologized, Trump responded with what has become his characteristic tactic – doubling down. Trump re-framed the debate on immigration to focus on crimes committed by illegals. The arrest of a previously deported illegal immigrant for the murder of Kate Steinle in the sanctuary city of San Francisco gave Trump’s charges new weight.” 2`

And that seems the essence of Trump’s substance, and sleazy appeal to the lowest common denominator in the American psyche.

Press and media addendum: Again, I don’t think of the average Trump supporter as dumb, though plenty of them surely are. But from their comments to the press they do seem quite misinformed or under-informed and you’ve got to depend on the maligned mainstream media – not left-wing or right-wing media – to get the truth. The mainstream still provides democracy its crucial freedom-of-the-press service pretty damn well – despite their previously critiqued guilt in copious free Trump exposure and excessive personality-politics and rumor-riding, especially the TV media. I’m not talking about talk radio, which only feeds meat to its respective base, as they say, although I will concede that for, Chicago’s WPTC progressive talk station, “facts (do seem to) matter.”

For me, the worthy mainstream is MSCNBC, CNN, PBS Newshour, TIME Magazine, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post and yes, The New York Times and Washington Post.  Yes, most of their working reporters are liberals, but they know how to, and exercise, fair journalism by and large, given their biases. And there’s plenty of of good independent media reporting, such as the progressive Laura Flanders Show.

I’d include The Wall Street Journal, The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel – a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner in recent times – and The Chicago Tribune in the list of reliable mainstream, even though clearly they lean to the right editorially.

Even Fox News has a few good moments, like when Charles Krauthammer opines, despite his stuffiness. And yes, I’m a liberal, but historically-informed Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, on MSNBC, is one of my very favorite commentators. He’d make a hell of a good candidate in the comparatively noble Grand Old Party of Lincoln-to-Eisenhower.

As a career print and radio-media professional, I’m clearly not voting for Trump (as the satirical drawing above I drew of him would suggest) and in my blog I admit bias as its a opinion forum and cultural features-and-criticism site, and in reporting I always strive for fairness.

Back to Trump. In a nation where everyone is constitutionally innocent until proven guilty, the arrest of a single previously-reported illegal immigrant and alleged murderer, is the new wobbly top-stone of his “gravitas,” the the WND editors judge.  Time and again, Trump sows xenophobia, irrational fear and racism in the public consciousness, with Trumped-up rhetoric and demagoguery.

Yet, we now know that statistically twice as many Americans have been killed by domestic terrorist attacks by right-wing zealots than by jihadists since 9/11, according to the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington and in New York.

According to TIME Magazine’s National Security blog site: “In their June study, the foundation decided to examine groups ‘engaged in violent extremist activity’ and found that white extremists were by far the most dangerous. They pointed to the recent Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the 2012 attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, as well as many lesser-known attacks on Jewish institutions and on police. They found that 48 people were killed by white terrorists, while 26 were killed by radical Islamists, since Sept. 11.”

The study also found that the criminal justice system judged jihadists more harshly than their non-Muslim counterparts, indicting them more frequently than non-jihadists and handing down longer sentences.” 3

See a full breakdown of the numbers here.

Yet facts, and illustrative, rationally meaningful statistics — which Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders showed a surpassing command of — mean virtually nothing for Donald in Wonderland.

Hillary Addendum: And a word about Hillary for all the on the fence-sitters or Trump-leaners who are obviously not racists: Yes, both she and the amazing effective and beneficial Clinton Foundation have taken full advantage of the fund-raising liberties that the truly deplorable Citizens United Supreme Court decision have allowed. That’s because she and Bill Clinton are supremely smart politicians (given their weaknesses and blind spots). And she needs to completely dis-associate herself from the foundation on Day 1 of a Clinton presidency.

Nevertheless, the charges of corruption are based mainly on a matter of perception or as the media says these days, “optics.” Over these many years, nothing has been proven regarding Hillary pay-for-play influence, even though we can assume some of that big money has certainly influenced her point of view.

But if such money had truly corrupted her, we would have evidence of it in her senatorial policy-making and Secretary of State decisions which, despite Benghazi’s tragedy and horrible optics and her e-mail-server misjudgement, mostly have been upstanding, moderately liberal. And, if she governs like she talks these days, she will be as progressive as she almost always has been on her own terms on social matters. I also believe she’s somewhat chastened on her hawkishness.

Those who continually conflate her with her husband or even with Barack Obama’s administrative policies – as Secretary of State she had very little to do with domestic social policy – betray evidence of sexist bias, if not prejudice.No surprise, it’s baked into institutional American convention and the male American historical make-up. Every male, including self-proclaimed male feminists, must be vigilant to overcome this deep and subtle force from within (very similar to racial bias). That remains Hillary’s biggest challenge, I believe, at least as much as her own weaknesses.

Back to Trump: So if Trump is given credit for a certain intelligence, in manipulating the public and the press, but beyond that really, what is there? Where’s the policy meat, beyond the thick layers of baloney? These questions prompted the image that I created recently.

It is not a purely illustrative drawing, because I’ve spent my career as a print journalist although my background is as an artist. So — as Trump is mainly his rhetoric — it also incorporates quotes from him, and a couple of comments from the peanut gallery of Nature, which surely observes Trump with the great curiosity and perhaps to dread. He seems sanguine at best about global warming and the need to address it, like virtually all the Republican candidates.

After the drum-roll and the bugle fanfare die down, what do we have? As Shakespeare wrote, in Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 

Perhaps “the walking (and talking and talking) shadow” behind Trump does signify, well, Trump, a blend of 19th-century carnival barker and confidence man, 20th-century billionaire skyscraper builder/fantasy show-and-beauty pageant producer, and quintessential 21st-century media narcissist, obsessively referring to himself in third person, with almost salacious admiration.

Trump’s no idiot. It’s just so often he talks and behaves like one, and almost nobody calls him on it directly. Otherwise, he’ll strike back with a low-as-he-can-reach savagery, which the WNT does not comment on.

One hopes that the vast fictional paranoia fantasy Trump is orchestrating does not end as tragically for America as Macbeth’s. Will he be heard no more, after his very distended and bloated hour upon the stage?

Upon these questions, I offer you this drawing titled “It’s Trump the Stump!” *


  • For those who can’t read the little flags in the big Trump stump – all Trump quotes or paraphrases – or the worm’s comment on the bottom, save as a word document or download the image and then magnify it.
  • 1 The original Trump drawing (above) is currently on display at The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 932 E. Center St., Milwaukee. Thanks to Mark Lawson.

Cuban keyboard whiz Harold Lopez-Nussa will get you up and at ’em


Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa. Courtesy

The Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. 7:30 PM Thursday, October 20 Admission $25. To order: visit this link

Quick Currents: It’s time to wake up –- as I just did – to an extraordinary keyboard talent coming to Milwaukee. The Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio feels like a jolt of high-grade java from somewhere in ripe Southern climes. Is there Cuban coffee this powerful?

You don’t really need that if you get a taste of Harold Lopez-Nussa. This promotional video shows his trio percolating to the very rim of your cup. It’s got some fun and silly surrealism going on. At one point, you see the pianist’s bodily detached right-hand.

Baby boomers might respond to the ensuing keyboard flourish by saying “Thank You, Thing!” in remembrance of the mischievously deft right hand -– sans body – that worked as a servant for The Addams Family, in the original, wonderfully mordant TV show with Lurch, Uncle Fester and the gang.

But this is serious musicianship and overflowing creativity as much as it is vibrant, quirky fun.

As Down Beat‘s Howard Mandel writes in his review of Lopez-Nussa’s latest album El Viaje, the pianist’s “single-note grace is akin to Herbie Hancock’s, and his two-fisted attacks are as joyous as Chick Corea’s. What distinguishes him, though, is his warm buoyancy…”
And that’s superbly sustained and stoked by the pianist’s younger brother Ruy Adrian on drums and bass virtuoso Alune Wade.

The brothers’ father is also an master drummer, and the family has been called a Cuban version of the Marsalis family of jazz. I’m not sure if that’s a shot of hype. But from what I’ve heard, it’s in the ballpark, and this music is a scorching line drive off the left field wall.  There’s some very special bloodlines at work here, on their very own terms.

And what I like is that, for all his clear virtuosity, the keyboardist (expect some electronics) is never really about showboating. The music takes you where it wants to, pretty damn far, and I don’t think you’ll regret where you end up.

The trio will play at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22, as part of a long American tour.


Thanks to attorney-pianist Steve Tilton, whose law firm Tilton & Tilton is co-sponsoring this event with the Conservatory.





Wherever we’ve wandered the globe, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble calls us all home


Sing Me Home — Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble (Masterworks)

Hear how world music connects to basic human experience. Silk Road Ensemble’s best-yet cultural convergence is a companion album to Music of Strangers, a documentary of Ma’s pan-cultural troubadours by Oscar and Emmy-winning director Morgan Neville. This trip includes Bill Frisell, Rhiannon Giddens, Jeffrey Porter, Toumani Diabate, Sarah Jarosz, Abigail Washburn and a few Americana classics amid far-flung ethnomusicological riches.

Among the bejeweled highlights: “Ichicila,” with Diabate’s spangled kora and Balla Koutate’s warmer balafon; the vocals and sitar of Shujaat Khan improvising on the strangely blissful raga melody of “Madhoushi.” Giddens and Romani gypsy musicians re-casting the abject yet artful blues of “St. James Infirmary.” For all the globe-trotting, it’s all ultimately about the difference and commonality of home, as Washburn proves stunningly on Bohemian Antonin Dvorak’s beloved adaptation of the black spiritual “Goin’ Home,” intermingled with Chinese lyrics by Washburn’s vocal partner here, Keith Lipson, with Wu Tong.

Perhaps the most deeply celebratory piece is Kinan Azmeh’s “Wedding.” See SRE at the Global Musicians Workshop perform the tune live at The Tanglewood Festival. Take the ride on this video sequence of impassioned solos by trombone, shakuhachi flute, bagpipes, clarinet and sheng (wind) player Wu Tong’s vocals — unearthly yet yearning for the home a wedding strives to create. The playing is as hot and fiery as any jazz or improv piece I’ve heard in a long while. And the ensemble’s chemistry and dynamics fuel it.

The recorded version of ‘Wedding” is shorter and not as far-reaching. But the in-concert expansion of “Wedding” brings me to a key point about this group. When I saw them perform a while back, I discovered what I trust most do who see this group live – how vividly they embody the shared potential of the global human experience, which is intensifying with startling urgency, more and more every day throughout the world.

That’s also evident in Yo-Yo Ma’s curatorial role – his genius here is in his musical vision and remarkable humility given he’s among the world’s greatest cellists. On Call Me Home, one of the few times he allows his exquisite playing some space, is on “Cabalino,” a work song from Spain’s Galia region. With Taiko on drums, it’s a probing incantation that expresses the laborer’s dependency on a strong but vulnerable work horse.  Along with Davide Salvado’s mournful vocals, Ma’s cello beautifully conveys the symbiotic passion of the man and his creature.

“The Shingashi Song” is a fisherman chanty that describes the harsh life on the northern tip of Japan — “historically, a new frontier attracting pioneers in pursuit of their dreams,” writes Haruka Fujii, who arranged it.
He continues: “just as a rivers bend, in turn, ‘The Shingashi Song’ took on many forms before arriving at this arrangement for the ensemble.” They help the music “sail in the open ocean. Though the songs referenced are considered important cultural assets of Japan, many folk arts are struggling to survive as villages across the country face depopulation.”

Accordingly the music of cello and taiko drum contrasts the playfulness of a child’s game at home to the out-on-the-edge struggle of such fishermen.

You hear and envision how culture remains the lifeblood of indigenous peoples in their homes and work, even in the most inhospitable of places and circumstances. Our shared cultures can be powerful bridges as we all face as thousands of refugees continuing to flee what was once their homes in this tragic era of political strife and environmental catastrophe.

This album is as moving and comforting as it is soul-searching and transporting.