Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra: Something New in a Grand Old Tradition

Saxophonist-bandleader Curt Hanrahan ( standing, far right) conducts the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra. Photo by Leiko Napoli

The Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra will perform an album-release concert for Take it All at 6 p.m. Sunday Aug. 21 at the Racine Theater Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave., Racine. For advance tickets, visit: MJO tickets

Is the jazz big band a relic of the swing era? Well, there’s still power in numbers, and wider musical vistas to explore. Despite inherent costliness, the art form has remained vital and evolving with such distinctive ensembles as The Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, The Mingus Big Band, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, John Beasley’s MONK’estra and The Vanguard Orchestra. The Brian Lynch Big Band won a Grammy award in 2020, led by the Milwaukee-raised trumpeter-composer-band leader.

Add the Milwaukee Jazz Orchestra to that list, with their auspicious second album, Take it All. It reveals a full plumbing of orchestral resources with both advanced contemporary aesthetics and catchy grooves aplenty. The MJO hardly emerged out of the blue. For 12 years, orchestra leader Curt Hanrahan led the UW-Milwaukee Jazz Ensemble, and the annual Woody Herman Jazz Festival, before retiring in 2017.

At the core of the new orchestra’s personnel is the synchronistic 30-plus-year-old jazz fusion band OPUS (which will open the Racine concert for the MJO). Between Hanrahan and his brother, drummer/co-bandleader Warren Hanrahan, they’ve performed with numerous big bands of the past, including Arturo Sandoval, Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra Jr., Harry Connick Jr., Lawrence Welk and Woody Herman’s band led by Frank Tiberi.

“I love all big bands and have observed, listened and learned from many of them but my main influence has always been the benevolent Woody Herman,” Hanrahan says. “The Milwaukee native was on the road for close to 50 years with various bands and ‘Herds’ and produced some of the most iconic and legendary jazz musicians, composers/arrangers that this American art form has to offer. Our jazz festivals are modeled after his Woody Herman/Sister Fabian scholarship and educational programs that began in the mid to late sixties.”

Milwaukee-born clarinetist-saxophonist Woody Herman. Courtesy Jazz Journal

Perhaps there’s hometown bias in Hanrahan’s affection for Herman’s “Thundering Herds,” but that big-band leader always forged bridges between swing orchestras and modern jazz. Jazz historian Ted Gioia writes, “Herman’s evolution from sweet music to traditional jazz to modern jazz is almost unprecedented in the history of music. For Woody Herman is best understood…as a catalyst. His talent lay in enabling – spurring those around him to their deepest creative currents, inspiring them, letting them ‘loose’.” Herman’s second Herd debuted the “Four Brothers” band, with a section of three tenor saxophones and one baritone, which provided a template for what would soon be called cool jazz.

Album cover courtesy Spotify 

Accordingly, The MJO projects through a forward-looking lense, with arrangements that facilitate rather than burden soloists and ensemble flair. The title tune “Take It All” opens with short phrases building suspense, then layers into dissonant yet alluring harmonies with a complex series of snapping ensemble accents. Tenor saxophonist Kyle Seifert delivers a measured solo rumination until the second chorus’s rising intensity driven by the big ensemble. Trumpeter David Katz provides deft, warm counterpoint, a la Thad Jones, to a sumptuous climax.

The second tune, “We All Love Eddie Harris,” reflects saxophonist Harris’s penchant for a cool but funky vamp that allows sassy rhythmic licks from Seifert, and quotes liberally from Harris’s swaggering, interval-skipping jazz classic “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

Ensuing material ranges from a tricky Oscar Peterson adaptation of the vintage finger-snapper “Sweet Georgia Brown” to “Covidity,” a Hanrahan piece reflecting the “angst of the pandemic era,” yet inspired by Elvin Jones’s Live at the Lighthouse album, a blazing hallmark of post-Coltrane jazz.

“Souljourner” closes the album with a transporting swirl of woodwinds detouring into a gritty jazz-fusion guitar solo from Steve Lewandowski. The MJO demonstrates how bigger is better when the outcome embraces a panoply of compelling moods and stylistic effects, allowing the listener to “take it all” in.

For information on the MJO, visit: https://www.mjojazz.com/

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This article was previously published in The Shepherd Express: MJO article

Brian Lynch opens his own songbook again, and some frolicking birds flew out, singing a song

The Brian Lynch Quintet will perform at an album release event for Songbook Volume 2, at Bar Centro, 804 E. Center St., 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12. Tickets @milwaukeejazzinstitute.org  

 

A Thumbnail Brian Lynch Primer:

Brian Lynch’s trumpet burns, sings and rings the chimes of freedom, within your musical mind, and body.

He is also among the very best — among a steady but small class of musical culture- forgers. Nope, not forger as in faker.

I use forger, the perhaps nakedly exposed subject noun, because Lynch is forging fresh original musical edifices that dance in the wind, as he honors and plumbs the past. He’s mastered the modern jazz canon and advances the vernacular like nobody’s business.

He now supposes to ask: What about my sense of melody, harmony, and composition? He’s proven his ability’s on Songbook Vol 1, and across his storied career. So this is a typically high-grade Lynch release with studio players of any renown, of his choice.

Spoiler alert: Lynch wrote all the tunes on Songbook Vol. 2: Dance the Way U Want To.

Fear not. This is a typically high-grade Lynch release, with chosen studio musicians of any renown, of his choice, all ace purveyors of Cubano-Latin Jazz.

‘Tis is as much fun as you can have on a Brian Lynch album, even as its musical limbs are plenty meaty enough to step further into the fray of chaos, to make gleaming, spontaneously choreographed, swinging music out of it. He knows how to do that as an composer and arranger, having worked in the highest levels of mainstream jazz, in most of its group forms. (specific review at bottom)

After all he’s a Grammy Award winner for his own big band’s brilliant recording The Omni-American Book Club/ My Journey through Literature in Music. The two-CD session featured Donald Harrison, Regina Carter, Dafnis Prieto, Dave Leibman, and Orlando “Maraca” Valle, and Jim Snidero. Lynch burnishes the modern big band style with literary influences that speak profoundly to the troubles — and defiant potential — of a less-than-humane world, tight-roping their humanity between capitalists and real or neo-authoritarian governments.
His musical ensemble comrises various people he works with often in his Latin American musical travels as a music professor in Florida and through jazz upper circles of influence.

That two-CD aIbum grew from his deep reading of, among other writers, the pioneering African-American sociologist, socialist, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois. The album — featuring Donald Harrison, Dave Liebman, Jim Snidero, and Regina Carter, among others — climaxes a series of concept albums involving tributes to “unsung heroes” among trumpeters, a sequence which included his 2016 album commemorating the work of the great, short-lived post-bop trumpet master Woody Shaw, titled Madera Latino. That two-CD set — which also features fellow trumpeters Dave Douglas, Sean Jones and Philip Dizack — was Grammy-nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album. All of the trumpeter-tribute albums and the big-band recording are on Lynch’s own Hollistic Music Works label.

His previous album Brian Lynch Songbook Vol. 1: Bus Stop Serenade, suggested his own street cred, and shows that he long ago found his own voice as a composer, as well as a trumpeter, on previous recordings. Those often involved African-American recording collaborators and mentors like Milwaukee’s Melvin Rhyne and Buddy Montgomery, and saxophonists Harrison, Ralph Moore and Javon Jackson with whom he paired up for the front line of the final edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, perhaps the most legendary hard-bop band in jazz history. He also worked with another iconic hard-bop group, The Horace Silver Quintet, a post-bop quintet with Phil Woods, as well as the ground-breaking Toshikio Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Jazz Orchestra.

Following are a few photographic lights of fire in Brian Lynch’s long legacy. What follows is my review of Songbook: Vol. 2, to be released Aug. 12.  

In Ralph Peterson and the Messenger Legacy, trumpeter Brian Lynch revisits his front-line fellows, Bobby Watson (left) and Billy Pierce (right), from the final edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Photo courtesy jimmysoncongress.com

Brian Lynch’s educational and performance roots: This award-winning Wisconsin Conservatory of Music student jazz ensemble from the early 1980s, included Brian Brian Lynch on trumpet in the center. From left are guitarist John Zaffiro, drummer Mark Davis, bassist Al Anderson, pianist Marcus Robinson. To Lynch’s left are tenor saxophonist Rolla Armstead and trombonist Hary Kozlowski. Overseeing them is jazz program co-director Manty Ellis, at far right. Courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

** ****

REVIEW:

Brian Lynch and Spheres of Influence — Songbook Vol. 2: Dance the Way U Want To (Hollistic MusicWorks)

BY KEVIN LYNCH

Most musicians wouldn’t revisit their own original material, except in concert. But trumpeter Brian Lynch has always probed deeply into many of his artistic forebears, in his “unsung heroes” series and superb Woody Shaw tribute albums, among others. He eventually realized he’d accumulated a deep repertoire of his own originals worthy of reimagining, and owning a label allows this. His self-inquiry remains fruitful on Songbook Vol. 2: Dance the Way U Want To. It’s a way of highlighting his personal “spheres of influence,” which he traces to his early days with Milwaukee’s Latin Jazz band La Chazz. He crafted a style by expanding the bustling crossroads of Latin and modern jazz forms and expression.

Songbook’s subtitle is a key, undercutting any pretense of honorific self-regard, and suggests: “Respond any way you choose.” Some Latin tempos get fast and complex, yet you can “dance” along, literally, or figuratively – “go with it,” by halving the tempo and soaking it up. Yet Lynch invariably takes you by the hand, with his ever-affable lyricism, a rare gift for melody, even in the most heated trumpet improv. A primary “influence sphere” is the great pianist Eddie Palmieri with whom Lynch earned his first Grammy Award on 2006’s Simpatico. The opener “E.P.’s Plan” offers bristling horn harmonies, and Lynch’s solo pushes ideas like a dancer leading a mambo clave with el diablo. By contrast, “Across the Bridge” is a measured theme, seeming to signify a sturdy bridge for Latino and Norte American forms and sensibilities. Pianists Kemuel Roig and Alex Brown especially sustain the tricky Latin rhythms while expanding on sinuous solos, over electric bassist Rodner Padeilla, drummer Hillario Bell and percussionist Murphy Aucamp. 1

Among a wide-ranging wealth of Lynch “dance songs” is a lovely speculative breather, the elegant bolero “Que Seria La Vida” (What Would Life Be Like?). It would be far poorer without the growing Brian Lynch oeuvre.

The Brian Lynch Quintet will perform at an album release event for Songbook Volume 2, at Bar Centro, 804 E. Center St., 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12. Tickets @milwaukeejazzinstitute.org  

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This review was first publised in shorter form in The Shepherd Express: Brian Lynch Songbook review

  1. As with volume 1, Lynch offers Songbook, Vol. 2.as a low-priced two-CD set,  In this instance, for the second disc, he’s recorded or edited shorter “radio versions of all the tunes, except one. Those average about five to six minutes. And smartly Lynch included duration times for everything. So you can take in the songbook in shorter drafts or soak it all the way up, like the Caribbean Sea, released dancing, somewhere down deep in your soul.

In a new biography, hip-hop artist Klassik emerges transcendently talented, but still rooted, a native son of Milwaukee

Book review: The Milwaukeean: A Tale of Tragedy and Triumph by Joey Grihalva

Joey Grihalva will present SONSET — a book reading by the author and solo improv by Klassik — for The Milwaukeean, at a new venue, forMartha, 825 E. Center Street, from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The event will follow the Center Street Daze street festival. Cover is $10, or $25 with book.

Is a thirty-ish hip-hopper with only regional renown worthy of a biography? In his new book about Klassik (Kellen Abston), author Joey Grihalva forges, in effect, a freshly painted, still-mutating portrait of a creative man, of Milwaukee and of contemporary times, with all the urgency and potential for tragedy and agency that all implies. In that sense, Klassik emerges as a comparatively humble embodiment of a Black Milwaukeean, even as he manifests genius that might characterize the city. The painfully enlightened and haunted saga – he watched his father die of bullet wounds at age 11 – bends toward the arc of triumph, if justice remains elusive.

The victory comes, in one sense, because the personal is still political. Klassik is one of many who’ve grown as the art of hip hop has grown – fitfully, defiantly, and dynamically – to where Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. If there’s a connection, Klassik has much more in common with Lamar’s 2015 jazzy masterwork To Pimp a Butterfly than with Lamar’s ensuing album Damn.

It might also be the cultural difference between Compton, California and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Maybe, ultra-hipness vs. a kind of ultra-hopeness? As in “keep hope alive.” As this book reveals, Klassik’s deep troubled history with, and vision of his hometown, sets him apart. It’s partly why he’s watched many Milwaukee area rap artists become bigger names than him.

Standing over his hometown’s skyline, Kellen “Klassik” Abston says he thinks of Milwaukee as a character more than a place. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 

That does not mean they’re better. That’s why, among increasingly aware Midwesterners, Klassik is as essentially Milwaukee as contemporary hip-hop gets. Grihalva captures a nearly lost Midwestern bonhomie, a pan-racial faith in humanity, hidden beneath the grime of post-industrialism and the crime of racism.

Klassik, who studied jazz saxophone with Milwaukee master Berkeley Fudge, was an early musical prodigy. To the degree he manifests his own filtered amalgam of jazz, classic R&B, and hip-hop, I hear and feel how much he makes good on the thoughtful presumption of his name, Klassik. His previous album, American Klassiks, demonstrated how he can reinvent classics of American vernacular musics, and make them present, alive for today and pointing a beacon forward, musically and spiritually. The artist in him won’t do it any other way.

“This is the problem with Kellen’s stuff – it’s too smart,” says his friend Jordan Lee, a DJ, and a former station director at 88/Nine Radio Milwaukee, who’s also a member of the jazz-hip-hop trio KASE, with whom Klassik as recorded and collaborated. 1 “It was never going to work at the beat battle,” referring to a competitive hip-hop event Lee produced from 2005 to 2015, known as the Miltown Beatdown, which brought together produces rappers, and hip-hop heads from all over the city.

Rather than always “on the beat,” that can be as delimiting as it is compulsively attractive, Klassik’s music unfolds with an almost Midwestern shapeliness, as if informed by the Kettle Moraine as much as by the staccato pulses of the urban environment. As a primal Klassik source, I’ve always heard the soul-praying-to-the-moon existential angst of Marvin Gaye, whom he shouts out on “Black-Spangled Banner,” on American Klassiks, recorded live late one night in Bay View’s Cactus Club.

Klassik’s expressive power dates back to, among other things, Marvin Gaye and the hauntings of his childhood. Courtesy IAMKLASSIK.com.

He’s also decidedly more improvisational than most hip-hop or pop. “Maybe it’s the jazz purist in me,” he muses to Grihalva. “When you think about live music and playing an instrument, even the most rehearsed and refined part has its own idiosyncrasies or little inflections that make it human. I’m making something, I’m adding layers and depth.” 2

Klassik performs at Pianofest, at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, a few years ago. Singer Adekola Adedapo recalls, at age 10, Kellen played “Over the Rainbow,” on saxophone at a Heath Brothers jazz workshop at the Wisconsin Conservatory, one of the first discoveries of his talent. Photo courtesy JGCA

The book, a prime example of “new journalism,” is also the author’s own story, about his relationship to his subject and their shared hometown, “an eternal tie that binds.” Abston and Grihalva are virtual contemporaries and Grihalva teaches at Milwaukee’s High School of the Arts, which is Abston’s alma mater.

Part of Abston’s burden is that he feels he could have done more than simply freeze up, to possibly save his father from dying, and that, 20 years past, Robin Abston’s murder remains unsolved. That’s plenty to drive a young man to drink and drugs – a large part of his struggle, aside from his often-exquisite peculiarity as a young, gifted, and black man, within our race-obsessed culture. And yet he won’t leave Milwaukee, as partly a spiritual detective still on a homicide case grown cold for most others. His relationship with police is deep ambivalence, hardly hatred. But he’s also doing close investigation of his own identity, which messes with him, with ghosts of what he’s been, shouldn’t be, won’t be, and can be.

Klassik’s bling always includes the dog tags of his father, veteran Robin Abston, who was murdered 20 years ago, in a crime that remains unsolved. Courtesy Milwaukee Magazine

Ultimately the redemption and triumph of the story is the hard-earned wisdom that arises from it, in the experiences and voices of both author and subject, as well as a choir of street-sage homies. The way that choral mosaic enlightens the story, like a vast stain glass window, is Grihalva’s achievement, his crafting of a sense of authenticity by finding common cause with your roots. One of Klassik’s defining ventures into communal creativity was his key role, in the summer of 2016, in Milwaukee’s Strange Fruit Festival, named for the searing anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” popularized by Billie Holiday. The festival was spurred in response to two police killings of unarmed black men on back-to-back days: Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile, killed in his car in St. Paul Minnesota.

“That was one of the first times where I felt pulled artistically, in terms of feeling a responsibility with my platform,” Kellen explained. “It heightened this desire to wield it, almost like a weapon, for good.” Kellen’s profile was rising, as he was performing in New York City during the first two nights of Strange Fruit. Kellen flew back to Milwaukee for the final night of the festival.

Then, that weekend’s Saturday afternoon, Milwaukee police shot and killed Sylville Smith in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The incident sparked riots that culminated in the burning of a gas station, a bank, and a beauty supply store, images seen on international news the next morning.

As for the festival, Kellen said, “Everybody was on their A-game…It was such an amazing event. You could tell everybody was there for the betterment of the community in whatever small or large way they could. And was just crazy timing that we had this festival amid the madness that ensued.” The event played again the next two years, and Abston wrote a manifesto for a potential relaunch of the festival, though it never got off the ground.

Much chaos and transformation has come down since then, the era of Trump and George Floyd, and Klassik has achieved a kind of personal-is-political triumph of textured passion on his last album QUIET, with assists from Milwaukee artists who’ve gone to greater renown, SistaStrings, the multi-talented singers-string-players, and folk-rock artist Marielle Alschwang, among others.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about protest in the form of joy, specifically Black joy,” Abston says. “With the new stuff I’m working on, there is this element of defiance in being happy and free. That’s like the most powerful thing you can do as a minority in this country.”

The power, he understands, also derives from accepting himself as a Milwaukeean, “The Milwaukeean.” He’s lucky to have a biographer as attuned as this one, who can tell his story so tenderly and beautifully. Abston reflects on the notion of faith: “If I hit a good note or I’m writing a good melody or these chords have a certain color or have the ability to stir up emotion from thin air, that’s magic. That’s God. It’s all those things. It’s being connected to something greater than ourselves.”

Almost two years ago to this day, he meets with Grihalva at Kilbourn Reservoir Park, which overlooks downtown where North Avenue curves into Riverwest. It’s one of his favorite places in the city. “I would go up to that hill over there when I was super-fucking depressed. I would just sit and cry, let it out and wipe them tears off. Then this warmth would come over me, especially at night. Something about the lights. It’s weird because it’s not a spectacular skyline. But it’s mine, you know?” He continues, “In all my videos, I’ve always thought of Milwaukee as a character, not a location.”

That idea of making a city a living, breathing character – a father figure? – seems to speak volumes about Klassik’s genius, as an archetypal son of a quintessential American city, in all its grit and glory, it’s patriarchal sorrow and shame, its defiant brotherhood and sisterhood.

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  1. Klassik’s most recent appearance on a recording is his largely wordless vocalizing on KASE + Klassik: Live at the Opera House, on B-Side Recordings.
  2. Grihalva’s previous book was Milwaukee Jazz, a photo history from Arcadia publishing’s Images of America series.

Trane and Tyner add up to a helping of spiritual protein

Friends and readers,

I don’t have a specific reason for revisiting this image as my blog header. I’d seen enough of my nifty little self-caricature, which is clearly dated.

This image, a photo by Joe Alper, is dated, too, probably 1963-64, but it’s timeless. John Coltrane consulting with McCoy Tyner, a collusion of two titanic talents and spirits. So It’s a “go to” when I need some spiritual protein.

Of course, the cigar didn’t help Coltrane’s heath. He died at 40, of liver failure. But we can hardly feel superior in 2022, unless we stoop to such small conquering.

But that’s just me, in a mood. How are you doing?

Kevernacular

Madison’s 40th annual Atwood Fest had plenty to fill up the senses, the mind, and the spirit

 

Lead singer Jeff Taylor and The Altered Five Blues Band were among the big crowd-pleasers at the 40th Annual Atwood Fest on Madison’s east side last weekend. All photos by Kevin Lynch

I had a fabulous sun-soaked weekend at the 40th annual Atwood Fest, on Madison’s east side. This is the best street festival I have attended in some time. For starters, Madison lived up to its colorful and left-leaning reputation, something you could see, hear and smell — in the steady scent of burning cannabis drifting into our nostrils among a group of people gathered under some shade trees listening to Steely Dane, on Sunday.

However I didn’t quite see everything I might have, to get the full experience.

I had my head down and was wearing my broad-brimmed sun hat as I riffled through used CDs at the WORT radio station booth. I heard my girlfriend Ann say, “Kevin, you just missed a topless woman, who walked right by.”

That did get me to look up, long enough to catch what is called “the philosopher’s view” of a striking woman (which Ann assured me she was), receding into the distance. But from 20 feet away I saw her liberally tattooed back, and attached to her (covered) derrière was a sign that read “MY BODY, MY CHOICE.”

She was clearly and boldly making a protest statement about the recent Supreme Court overturning of Roe versus Wade which had guaranteed women legal abortions since the mid-1970s. It was a vivid bit of symbolism, signifying her gender and sexuality and the inherent motherhood of the female bosom. (Of course me, the inveterate music album browser, had to miss the full impact). Still I give the woman credit and for her courage and commitment to, um, raising consciousness, as well as eyebrows.

Elsewhere, less, provocatively, we saw several senior women walking around with blue hair. One younger woman had several piercings adorning every facial orifice, and created a few new orifices. It’s really something to see women of a several feminist generations in full force. And of course, tattoos advertised individuality (or now-dated trendiness?) galore, artfully bespeckling both genders

There was also plenty of delicious food, but I’m here to offer you a photo essay on the music. I was drawn back to the city I worked and lived in for nearly 20 years after marvelous day at the Madison Jazz Festival, on the Wisconsin Union Terrace beside Lake Mendota, earlier this summer.

For us, the music started relatively low-key with Inside Pocket, a jazz quartet leaning toward contemporary and post-bop styles with several shapely compositions by guitarist composer Pat Metheny, even though there’s no guitarist in this group. However the group’s tenor saxophonist Bob Kerwin pulled us into a fine afternoon mood with, slightly brooding yet lyrical playing somewhat reminiscent of the cool-to-bop school of Lester Young and Dexter Gordon.

Tenor saxophonist Bob Kerwin of the jazz quartet Inside Pocket eased us into the stimulating atmosphere of Atwood Fest Saturday afternoon. 

The next group we heard was actually playing their debut gig. Called with droll, non-P.C. panache, Lawnmower, it’s led my a fascinating and accomplished guitarist-singer-songwriter Louka Patenaude. A UW Madison music department lecturer, Patenaude has performed globally in a wide array of world music and American vernacular styles and contexts, including playing on recordings by Metheny and The Grateful Dead. Patenaude has played with most of the region’s top jazz musicians, including the award-winning Tony Castaneda’s Latin Jazz Sextet. I ran into Tony as he took in this sun-drenched set. Louka’s eclecticism is a tribute to both musicians’ open-minded voraciousness, given that what Tony, the master Latino conga-player, was listening to was something like bluegrass music. This group didn’t even have a percussionist.

Guitarist-singer-songwriter Louka Patenaude leads his new progressive bluegrass group Lawnmower (above L-R: Shauncey Ali, fiddle; Patenaude, guitar, Dave Havas, bass; Aaron Nolan guitar; and Isaac DeBroux-Slone, mandolin) and (below) takes a solo accompanied by bassist Havas.

Louka’s band had the peculiar soulfulness of bluegrass mixed with sophisticated string-playing interplay, by turns lilting and rhythmically charged. As Castaneda said to me, “call it progressive bluegrass.” Fair enough. They performed mostly original songs by Patenaude, who’s worth checking out on his most recent album of mostly originals under his own name, titled Testing Your Patience.  However, he did end the set with an exemplary version of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” The album includes Louka doing a sardonically laconic rendition of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Annotator Joy Dragland calls the album Louka’s “fever dream.”

Tony Castaneda split to check out the New Orleans band Sam Price and The True Believers at another stage, understandably because, he said the group’s percussionist was borrowing Tony’s conga drum. Price’s band was next on my list of “must hear” bands and they hardly disappointed. This was the most collectively high-energy group I saw that weekend with a swampy, funk style reminiscent of Little Feat, replete with slickly woozy organ playing, and a vibe both jittery and jumping. It also included a feisty, bouncy female singer and Price, a leather-lunged singer and bassist. They spilled over the whole street of Atwood with an infectiously greasy, gumbo boil.

Now we be dancing despite ourselves, lubed a bit, in my case, by a sudsy glass of Oktoberfest beer.

Sam Price, and The True Believers, straight from New Orleans, rock and boogie the Heritage Stage at the top of Atwood Fest, in it’s 40th year.

We then moved to the Clyde Stubblefield Stage to catch The Altered Five Blues Band, from Milwaukee. the band sure plays like it’s altered, in the best sense, probably with some of “Milwaukee’s finest.” Lead guitarist Jeff Schroedl was ripping off a searing solo just as we walked up, as the whole band doled out heaping helpings of steamy electric Chicago-style blues, interspersed with the hard rock edge that blues-style helped infuse the venerable vernacular with.

Lead singer Jeff Taylor rides the power as Brew City’s Altered Five Blues Band fills it up with contemporary Chicago-style blues, with a full Milwaukee head. 

Rotund but rollin’ and tumblin’ lead singer Jeff Taylor may be “a heart attack waiting to happen” as retired NP Ann commented. But on this waning afternoon, he belted out the good gooey blue stuff with gusto, and a stentorian vocal heartiness recalling B.B. King. You can see and hear why this band as won awards, including current nominations from The Blues Foundation, for best contemporary blues album, Holler If You Hear Me, and the title song for “best song.”

But this afternoon, with beer in hand, I felt like the good-time strut of the band’s “Great Minds Drink Alike” :

After this set, gal pal Ann was running out of gas a bit, and my cup was drained, so we exited despite more good music to be had.

We planned to be back right when everything kicked off on Sunday with Steely Dane.

***

It was 12 noon when some folks are still in church, but the crowd gathered at the Clyde Stubblefield Stage ended up attending their own revival meeting. The resurrection is the music of Steely Dan. I’m normally not inclined to indulge much in cover bands. But I’d heard Steely Dane live previously and, frankly, they’re a gas. This band’s nominal wordplay conveys that it’s band members all reside in Dane County, the surrounding region of the one-of-a-kind capital city that is sometimes referred to as “sixty-four square miles surrounded by reality.” The way this world is right now, I was hungry for the hip escapism of those 64 squares, as epitomized by Steely Dane.

It’s a 13 to 15 member band, with four horn players, three female backup singers, and two keyboard players along with two guitarists, bass, percussion, and drums. Three members share lead vocals, striving to approximate Donald Fagen’s raring, chameleon-cobra singing. That fulsome force provides the pulsing flexibility of extremely dynamic musical muscles, which makes Steely Dan’s music so intoxicating and almost good buddy-like in it’s catchiness.

Steely Dane horn section (top): (L-R) Al Falaschi, Jim Doherty and Courtney Larsen, with keyboardist-musical director Dave Stoler. Another SD personnel segment (above) includes (L-R) guitarist-vocalist Jay Moran, bassist Phil Lyons, singer-keyboardist-co-leader Dave Adler, and background singers Megan Moran and Lo Marie.

So the effect was that this big joyous big crowd were SD true believers who knew many of the lyrics they sang along with, not unlike biblical verses duly memorized. Except wafting herb, as mentioned, is the substitute for incense. And Steely Dan is as secular as music gets. Steely Dan’s resident genius Donald Fagen crafted songs about love, loss and “the royal scam,” with a variety of intriguingly romantic, roguish and eccentric characters, and even sweeps us back to high school days without seeming corny or trite.

Steely Dane’s frontman Dave Adler’s evident Donald Fagen wannabe-ism has morphed, with diligent practice and zeal, into a Fagen might-as-well-be-ism. As gal pal Ann Peterson commented during the band’s exuberant 90-minute (without a break) set, “If you close your eyes, you can easily imagine that it’s Steely Dan.”

If that sounds like a perfectly ingenuous critical comment, it’s also spot on. This band has taken in, mastered and absorbed what sounds like most of Steely Dan’s repertoire, and they’ve got it down cold, that is to say, cool, but also quite hot, and utterly convincing.

The co-founder of the band, along with Adler, is the accomplished and respected Madison jazz pianist Dave Stoler.  And what a contrast in stage presences. Dave Adler bounces around, flailing limbs like Gumby on steroids. He sings with a kind of please-love-me-to-death ardency. You get the feeling he’d perform ’till he woke up the moon and, remember, this was noon.

By contrast, band co-founder Dave Stoler, studious and nearly immobile, is a Buddha with dancing fingers, yet absorbed in awareness of the musical whole, given that he does the arranging for this big ensemble. He’s previously fronted a full jazz orchestra project. To intro one song, Stoler also delivered an cappella piano solo brimming with extended chords and slowly spiraling substitutions.  

Guitarist Jay Moran does his best to muster the bite of Walter Becker’s guitar and ably handles some of the vocals. None of the lead singers quite matches Fagen’s elastic, gut-to-the tongue sass.

But the Dane ensemble is so strong, supple and committed to this material, and with gospel-like call and responses, it plunges into the memory and heart, and mainlines Steely Dan’s “when-Josie-comes-home” nostalgia amid sardonic philosophizing.

Here’s saxophonist-vocalist Al Falaschi, Adler and Moran highlighted in a goes-down-so-easy version of “Do It Again,” recorded at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.

Similarly, In this band’s hands, “Aja” still unfolds as a gorgeous little suite, that breathes and arches its back like a big ol’ tiger. The “up on the hill” refrain has strong spiritual overtones, but mainly about social acceptance, and consolidation. “When all my dime dancing is through, I’ll run to you.”

. Tenor saxophonist Falaschi did a reasonable, though hardly imitative, Wayne Shorter solo. And drummer Joey Banks rippled through the long, polyrhythmic “Aja” outro made famous by “Bad” Steve Gadd.

By contrast, “Reeling in the Years” allowed listeners to dance way out on the memory line, with all the euphoria that caught everybody’s ear when Dan first hit the charts. The Dan-by-way-of-Dane waves of slithering funk is too delicious to deny, and you sense this is as good as it’ll get – especially given that the real Steely Dan rarely toured live, being largely a recording studio creature, as gleamingly brilliant and contagious as those got with hip, R&B-jazzy song jammin’. 1

During a short stint in the 1970s, I worked at the North Shore Milwaukee audio store Sound Stage, and SD’s masterpiece album Aja, was our favorite demo record, to show off the equipment. You see, the album’s production level, with Victor Feldman’s souped-up marimbas like tolling redwoods, is about as high as the music can get you. It felt about that way Sunday, as high noon unfolded into the after’s Mary Jane-filled glow.

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  1. Steely Dane has recently won “best cover band” awards from both Madison Area Music Awards and Madison Magazine.

 

 

Supreme Court’s public respect plummets with Dobbs decision, and here’s why, IMO

 

The outrage of marchers is evident in signage at this protest of the Dobbs V. Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade decision, in New York, June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Approval of the Supreme Court has traditionally been high, as it is the branch of government seen as most above the taint of politics. However, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the court’s public approval rating has plummeted, from 54% in March to 44% in May to a new low of 38% in July, according to a new national poll by Marquette University.

“The obvious cause is the June 24 decision known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a ruling opposed by almost two-thirds of Americans who have an opinion on it.  The decline in the court’s approval has come entirely from people who disagree with that ruling undoing a constitutional right to abortion.” 1

I’ve read most of the decision and here’s why I think it went far astray from righteousness. The Court’s written majority opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade works hard to delegitimize the varied aspects of the inherent rights of women contained in a variety of established laws and precedents, and Constitutional amendments.

However, Justice Samuel Alito’s written effort is almost completely engaged in the abstract of legal theory and argument, and ultimately funnels all subsequent decisions on actual abortion in America into “a state’s assertion of powers” – which the majority opinion elevates to the status of a secular godliness.

Alito now brings to mind Pontius Pilate washing his hands (symbolically of Christ’s blood) after sentencing him to a public crucifixion. This decision will lead to the unnecessary deaths of countless women, mainly those disenfranchised women (typically of color) with little resources, who will be forced into “back-alley” abortions or self-abortions, or who will die in childbirth — a statistically far more dangerous situation than legal abortion from a qualified doctor.

How smart (and noble?) do the choice opponents think they are in their attempt to reduce abortions? This misogynistic ruling might work about as well as the institutionally racist “war on drugs.” An article in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books details how the now-reversed abortion bans in Ireland did nothing to reduce abortions. 2

Whatever happened to the rights of the individual Americans, under the premise that “all (persons) are created equal,” and due the same rights, as the Declaration of Independence declared? This is a very serious question, which must be answered.

In other words, the majority’s approach epitomizes the “above it all,” and “holier than thou” posture of those who would conceptually separate any potential child from their mother, even as it presumes to save the fetus’s life. ( As a male, I won’t even begin to do justice to such a posture forsaking the mother, the giver, and sustainer, of life). Both mother and child are forgotten, after birth, in this arid moral universe. Yet, a child is born to live a meaningful life, not merely born for the sake of being born. A healthy, nurturing mother is crucial to the baby’s survival, and subsequent growth and development, into a life of hopefully honest citizenship.

The peculiar nature of this doctrinaire separation of child and mother (by prioritizing rights of a fetus) and from their ensuing lives, characterizes the conceptual flaw of such a purity, indeed a Puritan, attitude, with its fixation on the moment of conception. It is profound inconsideration of real life. It is as if to say, there is a pure way to decide upon, and live life when, in fact, life is a complex weave of relative purities and distinct impurities, some which strengthen the corpus by the fortification of layered harmonies, just as a scar naturally strengthens a skin from further defilement or penetration.

Returning to religious terms that I hope some choice opponents might hear, there’s a difference between purity and holiness. Christ noted that “we are all sinners,” thus human purity is an oxymoron, if not an impossibility. We are blessed by God’s grace so that we may be forgiven our sins, or failings. Even the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” does not specify. Have we not all killed a living creature, in some sense, to consume for nutritional purposes? A mother must make the hard decision to bear  another child or not, so she may properly manage the burden of children she has already. Even a childless woman may not be ready for motherhood, for good reasons only she and her doctor know in reality. This is all part of the proverbial Cycle of Life, an often-harsh reality duly blessed by its Creator, to believers, but surely Darwinian to some degree.

Further, if we value the nuclear family, as conservatives typically purport to, how can that be formed or sustained properly when a woman is raped, or a victim of incest?

I will concede this, that an abortion should occur before the point of fetal “viability” or, if later, only if the mother’s life is otherwise seriously threatened by birth.

To another large point, imagine the consequences of widespread abortion bans in this vastly overpopulated world, a profound reason for the overconsumption of fossil fuels and overdevelopment bringing us the climate change threatening the planet. This gargantuan reality single-minded anti-abortionists seemingly ignore as well, with astonishing hubris.

By contrast, the dissenting Supreme Court opinion (from Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) delves directly and profoundly into the personal realities of pregnancy, in all its threatening uncertainties. This is the real life that any woman or legal child, regardless of how she is impregnated, must face and endure. Regardless of what opponents of choice may think, she must face these realities, because the saving of a would-be child can, and ought, to be a blessing.

But that is always accompanied by the realities and hardships, psychological as well as physical, that the human body, even at its most empowered and exalted, struggles to transcend. This brings us again to her naturally endowed rights, to be able to live a humane life.

Read this from the court’s minority dissent:

“Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens. Yesterday, the Constitution guaranteed that a woman confronted with an unplanned pregnancy could (within reasonable limits) make her own decision about whether to bear a child, with all the life-transforming consequences that act involves. And in thus safeguarding each woman’s reproductive freedom, the Constitution also protected “[t]he ability of women to participate equally in [this Nation’s] economic and social life.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 856. But no longer. As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions.

“A State can thus transform what, when freely undertaken, is a wonder into what, when forced, may be a nightmare. Some women, especially women of means, will find ways around the State’s assertion of power. Others—those without money or childcare or the ability to take time off from work—will not be so fortunate. Maybe they will try an unsafe method of abortion, and come to physical harm, or even die. Maybe they will undergo pregnancy and have a child, but at significant personal or familial cost. At the least, they will incur the cost of losing control of their lives. The Constitution will, today’s majority holds, provide no shield, despite its guarantees of liberty and equality for all.” 3

***

Finally, and so sadly, we now have the disgraceful revelation of actual behavior of the majority’s principal author, Samuel Alito. We get a good sense of the man behind this atrocious decision. Alito showed some of his true colors in a recent public speech by mocking foreign leaders who condemned the decision, in manner dripping with condescension, because they have no right to an honorable opinion on “American law.”

Mother Jones magazine pulls no punches in reportorial response (below). But judge for yourself, in the video clip. Why is this man playing for laughs, about this matter?

Even more, he implicitly derides Macron, Johnson and others for being mere politicians. Yet what has Alito, Thomas and the three Trump appointees become, beneath their august robes, with such radical judicial activism, defying the opinion of the American majority, and of legal precedent?

Of Course Samuel Alito Is Bragging About It

 

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  1. Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/analysis/2022/07/21/supreme-court-approval-plummets-after-overturning-roe-v-wade-marquette-poll/10090372002/
  2. Fintan O’Toole, “The New York Review of Books, August, 18, 2022. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2022/08/18/the-irish-lesson-fintan-otoole/
  3. Dobbs v. Jackson “dissent opinion” https://mcusercontent.com/9bf6688d862fa3f207663b22d/files/e86e5e71-e7d5-4c6b-16e3-ac3cbdd0ed95/Dobbs_v._Jackson_Full_Report.pdf?utm_source=General+Interest&utm_campaign=fc993a020e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_01_08_08_56_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_43aff8a587-fc993a020e-235388005&mc_cid=fc993a020e&mc_eid=c5ebe83bc4

 

 

 

Marquis Hill becomes a true believer in his all-star band’s collective powers on “New Gospel Revisited”

Album cover courtesy Marquis Hill – Bandcamp

Marquis Hill – New Gospel Revisited (Edition)

This stunning album amounts to an artist replanting in a profoundly fertile motherlode of his evolution, by reinterpreting the material of his very first album. The harvest is a quantum artistic leap. Chicago-native Hill is already established as one of the most talented and resourceful trumpeter-composers in jazz. Here he assembles a group of band leaders (several Blue Note label artists) and the quality quotient spikes. And it’s virtually all performed live in concert, a testament to the high art of the improviser (A  series of studio-recorded a cappella solo pieces allows each of the sextet’s sidemen to to stand up and speak his peace.).

The floating, portentous “Intro” arrests our attention, and the ensuing “Law & Order” unfurls waves a of witness, drama and testament. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III enters a quietly enchanting storyteller but inevitably lifts us to cathartic cries of betrayal of justice, of true law and order. Vibist Joel Ross and pianist James Francies suggest, in their heavily populated lines, the bustle of the hoi polloi, and the pianist especially conveys a boiling tension in his hurtling momentum surges. If you haven’t heard him, Francies is a revelation, perhaps even if you have. To me, his linear speed doesn’t feel gratuitous or showy, rather it is breathtaking – burning with purpose, like a meteor striving for an explosive destiny. At other times, it’s as if his profuse ideas are spilling out over the edges of a sentence. This is music you feel in your bones, your whole being, such is its insinuating power.

Marquis Hill live. Courtesy mobile twitter.com

On “The Believer” everyone steps out hot and gives it up, as believers in, if nothing else, their extraordinary collective power which, by compounding exponentially, suggests a pipeline to some higher power. New Gospel, indeed. The tune exemplifies Hill’s compositional gifts, crafting edge-of-the-precipice pathways for improvs, suspended by oddly beguiling melodies. He won jazz’s greatest performance honor, The Thelonious Monk International Competition in 2014, underscoring his promise, now fully realized. 1

He’s admittedly out of the hard-bop blues tradition of Lee Morgan but deepened by expressive textures suggesting the influence of fellow Chicago brass avant-avatar Wadada Leo Smith, and aspects of many great trumpeters between. One can easily drink deeply from this album purely on the artistic virtuosity – throughout drummer Kendrick Scott bristles and flares like a string of artfully controlled fireworks. Yet there’s a cumulative demonstration of a spiritual mine, which has only strengthened in repose, replenished to fuel the powers of endurance, defiance, and resolution in a world seemingly out to get the already-disenfranchised American everyman, and woman.

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This review was originally published in slightly shorter form in The Shepherd Express, here:  rhttps://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/new-gospel-revisited-edition-by-marquis-hill/

  1. Hill performed with his working group, The Blacktet, at the Madison Jazz Festival in 2021 and at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in 2012.

Guitarist Andrew Trim reaches for the moon on “Retroreflector”

Album cover courtesy bandcamp.com

Review: Andrew Trim Retroreflector (Float Free)

Andrew Trim will perform at an album release event, at 7 p.m. July 27, Anodyne Coffee Roasters, 224 West Bruce Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204. 

With his somewhat curious album title, Retroreflector, one wonders what guitarist Andrew Trim is reflecting on retrospectively. The slyly infectious groove his quartet lays down on the title tune leads you Pied Piper-like behind textural footsteps sketched out with deftly articulated power chords.

To me, this backwards-glancing album title lands upon Hendrix, as in “slight return,” a la “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” the coda to his masterpiece Electric Ladyland. Yet Trim is not leaning too heavily on the Hendrix mystique; rather he’s beginning to carve out his own space inhabited by both pugnacious power chording and poetry.

Speaking of poetry, the second tune, “Swirl,” evoked for me one of my favorite poems, Herman Melville’s “Shiloh,” a politically-pointed reflection on a graveyard of perpetually sleeping Civil War soldiers. Trim endows his more ambiguous subject matter with a certain grace, even if that poem was never specifically associated. A tentative melancholy is buoyed by lyrical wonder. “Shiloh” the poem almost sneaks up on its tragedy with the tender attentiveness: skimming lightly, wheeling still/ the swallows fly low/space over the field and clouded days, the force field of Shiloh –/ over the field were April rain/ Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain…” Melville deftly evokes the men on death’s doorstep. Trim’s theme seems to melt in the air as it picks out atmospheric spots, as if circling bird paths. Then guest guitarist Dave Miller injects a rough counterpoint, evoking the dire conflict contained in each stolen life six feet under – “… Through the pause of night/ that followed the Sunday fight/ around the church of Shiloh –/ the church so lone, the log-built one, / that echoed to many a parting groan…” The poem quickly inserts a painfully poignant statement about the politics of the war between brethren.

I hope other listeners find enough in Trim’s artistry to pursue this, if not other poetic or artistic analogues. This veteran Milwaukee guitarist as developed into one of the most original instrumental voices in Milwaukee, one deeply infused with a latter-day, anti-sainthood of psychedelia.

Guitarist-composer Andrew Trim. Courtesy bandcamp.com

And throughout, I detect a wide range of possible other influences, perhaps most striking Bill Frisell’s haunted pastoral jazz style, on “Lullabye.” The limpid, arcane melody sounds like a question sung out loud, in pure sound. On “Eclipse Plans” I sense some of Jeff Beck’s exquisitely executed guitar distortion. Elsewhere, consider Pat Metheny’s bright-beaming electronica or, by contrast, the driven Black-rock of the guitar-led trio Harriet Tubman. Such associations reflect the impressive range of Trim’s sonic vocabulary.

Also, in ensemble, Retroreflector is sustained superbly by Trim’s bandmates: Dan Pierson on keyboards and synthesizers, Barry Paul Clark on bass, and Nick Lang on drums.

Ultimately Trim’s exploratory work, for its tough harmonic brio, also reaches for his own brand of beauty, that which dwells in the deep cavern between raw, unmined sound and sunlit silhouettes.

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This review was originally published in slightly shorter form, in The Shepherd Express, here: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/retroreflector-by-andrew-trim/

Andrew Trim recently posted a meme on Facebook (below) which aptly characterizes his venture on Retroreflector: “Reach for the moon: A door opens into a smaller room.”

I suspect something extraordinary, perhaps even sacred, may dwell in that enclosure. Such are the revelations of committed creativity.Image

African Womanhood rises like a great savanna tree in Akindele John’s paintings

Akindele John, “Beautiful Comforter,”  Photos, courtesy Woodland Pattern

Review: And She Was Love, Akindele John, paintings, Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust Street, through Aug. 14.

Lest we forget, or never really knew, the ebony majesty of the African woman stands tall against the sky, as a great tree on the savanna, its tangled branches dancing and beckoning. That, of course, is the crowning Yoruba beauty of obinrin, of mama, of her mane’s unfettered play in air, the web and shadow of her hair. The observer’s eye then descends, from forehead and cheeks to neck, the sculpted shining beauty.

There is no mistaking the analog in Akindele John’s painting exhibit, And She Was Love, a visual paeon to African womanhood at the Woodland Pattern Book Center,  through Aug. 14. The many-limbed supplication to the sun thrives in what John strives to capture, the “nappturality” of “Black women who have chosen to exclusively wear their hair in a natural, Afro-textured state.”

John knows of what he paints, born in Ogun State, Nigeria and living currently in Lagos, the cultural, economic and entertainment capital of Africa. And as one of the continent’s largest and busiest seaports, Lagos carries plenty of logos (in Jungian terms) as a means of disseminating African cultural Diaspora.

This is an exhibit of six large portraits, each mirroring the other in deceptively simple posture of elegance, perhaps too easy to whisk through, yet calling distantly, like a horizon’s lioness roar, for attentive patience, for a measure of meditative honor. Who has been more typically overlooked, derided, and forsaken as surely as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, if not the woman of the world’s motherlode continent, and most notoriously, her countless offspring in America? Will one not discover in the amazing grace of these eyes, memories that even myth cannot erase, those of the signifying tree and a “poor wretch like me?”

This show’s officially marketed image, “Beautiful Comforter,” a woman holding a fluttering dove, is nothing overstated and yet fulsome in its slightly contained expressivity.

Akindele John, Girl with a Rose

She conveys a sage serenity. The brushstrokes, playful yet like a hand’s hollow, allow the work to breathe and hover in its own space. Two mirroring portraits, “Girl with a Rose” and “Girl with a White Cup,” apparently of the same woman, both boast Afros as unfettered as a black starburst, celebrating that hairstyle as a sort of spiritual assertion set against a sunlit halo, as all these heads are. John postures them admittedly saintlike in his celebration, yet vividly human. Her womanly femininity, the grace of her hand, adorned with yellow rose, all contrast to that burst, but remain of a piece, as self-defined power, and vibrant maternal fecundity.

Another, titled “The Blue Story,” depicts a woman holding an open book (Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye?). Here, as most everywhere, literacy is power, and font of expressed  wisdom. And is this perhaps an essential signifier of this grandly eccentric book center itself, even a candidate for its permanent collection?

Throughout these works the artist’s painterly arabesques – here loose, there tight – which enclose and define the forms, also articulate a gestural freedom that seems to reflect their worldly engagement, and the sensate essence of each woman’s presence.

Akindele John, “We are Here and Now” 

However, one of these paintings, which all blend and contrast oil and acrylic paint, is not a single portrait. And it’s the most compelling in the show, taking the liberty of slightly melding two women’s images, almost as Siamese twins. “We are Here and Now,” presents two figures embodying the sisterhood of “we”; one gazes to the left, and the other downward, forthright in awareness and reflection and, perhaps most vividly, each woman’s neck is a study in swan-like repose. Yet, in another of a sequence of finely-wrought contrasts, the bouquets in each woman hands are an expressionistic hive of power and possibility.

Finally, this is the one painting that superimposes, behind the two women’s heads, a rectangle over the sun circle, a cohering formal device, for sure. Nevertheless, the balance of all these portraits’ details, their accumulative contrasting dynamics, seem to whisper depths in their beauty, a yin-yang, see-saw type of tale, of her all-too-often tortured journey, from Middle Passage to chattel degradation, to Emancipation Proclamation and far beyond, what she has endured and conquered, and what she promises to be, with the sureness of sunrise.

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This review was first published in slightly shorter for in The Shepherd Express, here: https://shepherdexpress.com/culture/visual-art/woodland-patterns-visual-love-poem-to-african-women/

1 The exhibit was facilitated in partnership with Genre: Urban Arts, with crucial assistance from that organization’s creative director and owner Nakeysha Roberts Washington, a Woodland Pattern board member

Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust Street. Courtesy unbanmilwaukee.com

Dave Bayles leads us down the road not taken

The musicians tip jar, accompanied by The Dave Bayles Trio, at The Uptowner Bar. All photos by Kevin Lynch

THE DAVE BAYLES TRIO AT THE UPTOWNER BAR, EVERY TUESDAY

THE DAVE BAYLES QUARTET AT RIVERWEST PIZZA, FRIDAY, JULY 8

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“I took the one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.”

 

Dave Bayles is something of a poet of the drums. Since the drums are the most fundamental of instruments in jazz, and in most African-American vernacular musics, that sort of makes him a poet of musical essences. You can hear and feel the magnetic power of his verse-like cadences in the propulsive swing he generates with other musicians.

This skill is so well established that he’s arguably Wisconsin’s premiere straight-ahead jazz drummer. He’s best-known as the long-time drummer of the all-star sextet We Six. That band comprises faculty of the Milwaukee Jazz Institute, where Bayles is principal percussion instructor. For many years, Bayles has also driven the engine of The Dave Stoler Trio, led by the powerhouse Madison pianist. He’s also backed up many big jazz names, including Peter Bernstein, Rick Germanson, Benny Golson, Slide Hampton, Brian Lynch, Brother Jack McDuff, Charles McPherson, Melvin Rhyne, and Phil Woods. Bayles is also now drumming for the resurrected Toty Ramos Latin Jazz Sextet, which played at Riverwest Pizza last week.

 

Drummer-bandleader Dave Bayles at The Uptowner

However, all that implies a well-trod path, gilded with justifiable esteem, along which the heartbeat of modern mainstream jazz strides. Fair enough.

And yet, quiet as it’s kept, the drummer-bandleader has led THE DAVE BAYLES TRIO, an intimate and compulsively exploratory trio gig through the backroads of the pandemic to the present – every Tuesday night at The Uptowner Bar, on the corner of Humboldt Boulevard and Center Street in Milwaukee.

The Dave Bayles Trio, (L-R) Russ Johnson, trumpet; Dave Bayles, drums; Clay Schaub, Bass.

“It is a delightful, creative group that I thoroughly enjoy,” Bayles muses modestly. Yet the trio has built much intrepid synchronicity along the road not taken. They plan on releasing a live album recorded at The Uptowner. 

The regular trio includes the redoubtable and elastically adaptable bassist Clay Schaub. Out front is Russ Johnson, IMO the Midwest’s most powerfully creative and masterful trumpeter – north of Chicago’s Wadada Leo Smith and Marquis Hill, who now actually spend most of their time on the East Coast.(p.s. This Tuesday, July 12, Johnson and Schaub will be out of town. They will be replaced for this week by alto saxophonist Clay Lyons and bassist Doug Hayes.)

Russ Johnson at The Uptowner

So, if you stop by on a Tuesday night, you’ll begin to sense the phenomenon of talent and creative verve that sustains Johnson’s pre-eminence, which he reasserted recently in Madison in an all-star jam session led by the brilliant pianist-composer Johannes Wallmann, to celebrate the retirement of two veteran and beloved Madison jazz radio programmers. That night, Johnson’s trumpet blistered through the firewall of wonder when the music called out for it, and sang seductively at other times.

The informal vibe of The Uptowner is conductive to experimentation and unfettered daring, to venturing a few huge steps beyond.

So, if you want a taste of what the great jazz writer Whitney Balliett once called “the sound of surprise,” stop on by.

The venerable building that houses The Uptowner recently had its roof replaced, and Bayles relates that “someone said that one night we blew the roof off the joint.” Hyperbole? It may not be so improbable. This ship is full-steam ahead. Bayles asserts, “The gig will be going on until the building falls down.”

Here are a few photos of the group at The Uptowner, “workin’ and steamin’ ” into a stratosphere that’s a free ride for all patrons.

Ah, but don’t forget the musicians tip jar.

 

 

THE DAVE BAYLES QUARTET AT RIVERWEST PIZZA: And yet, now that summer is high, Bayles is about to debut a new quartet outdoors, on the beguiling terrace of Riverwest Pizza, 932 E. Wright Street, from 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday, July 8. This quartet features singer Pamela York, saxophonist Chris Medsen, and bassist Jeff Hamann. Bayles hopes to continue this gig, though at intervals less frequent than his trio at The Uptowner.

Regardless, this quartet promises to be a breath of fresh air, in the best sense.

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