Music is alive (thank the good gods), and now LIVE again, in person, waiting for y’all

Breese Stevens Field in Madison. Courtesy breesestevens.com

Thanks to the swift development, distribution and receiving of Covid vaccines by a majority of adults in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, the dangerous coast is clearing for live music. You remember that — real musicians, breathing and blowing, singing and burning, with inspiration, melody, rhythm and beauty. Audiences responding.

Yes, Summerfest will be back, but not until September. Far before that, one of the most notable big outdoor concert events will be the Madison Jazz Festival, running June 11 to 20, at various locations.

The following link to a festival announcement article provides the details, from Isthmus, the Madison weekly newspaper that hosted and sponsored the event for many years, as the Isthmus Jazz Festival :https://isthmus.com/events/nate-smith-greg-ward/

Madison, however, has a well-organized jazz scene that bucks the tides of pure commercialism to survive and “thrive,” at least by jazz and creative-music terms. The longtime Madison Music Collective remains integral to making this a citywide event, as does a younger organization, the innovative Art + Lit Lab, also hosting and presenting, notably an ongoing Dig Jazz series that, as the pandemic wanes, will go live again. Outdoor concerts will take place in various neighborhoods around Madison.

So your very block, or around the corner, temporarily may become a ‘hood in the best sense — hip, rhythmically alive, and attuned the the lifeblood of urban American musics.

The Madison Jazz Festival’s headline event will feature Grammy-nominated drummer-composer-bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk, along with saxophonist Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade, performing at Breese Stevens Field, 917 E. Mifflin Street, on East Washington Avenue, at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 13. Admission to this concert is $30.

Drummer-composer -bandleader Nate Smith + Kin Folk will headline the Madison Jazz Festival on June 13. Courtesy Peter van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images

Saxophonist Greg Ward leads his Rogue Parade at Breese Stevens Field on June 13. Courtesy comarcalcv.com

Smith owns an impressive resume, having worked with the Dave Holland Quintet, Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, José James, John Patitucci, Ravi Coltrane, and Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), among many others. As a bandleader, his style is surprisingly lyrical and sometimes contemplative — for a drummer — with alluring vocals by Amma Whatt. It’s a natural bill match for alto saxist Ward, whose outfit is a bit more bracing, with a double-guitar front line, but also quite melodic.

Ward’s album Stomping Off from Greenwood was among this critic’s choices for top ten jazz albums in the 2019 NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Smith’s already twice-Grammy-nominated debut album, KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere, should be a poll contender this year.

Other festival performers include the brilliant Chicago trumpeter-composer Marquis Hill, (with The Donna Woodall Group) June 19 at the Wisconsin Union Terrace; vocalist Sarah M. Greer, June 18 in a live-streamed concert at the Stoughton Opera House;  jazz and world-music saxophonist Arun Luthra, June 15 at Robinia Courtyard; and the powerful young Chicago saxophonist-composer Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few, June 12 at Cafe Coda; which will also host the legendary multi-instrumentalist-composer and co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (and former Madison resident), Roscoe Mitchell, on June 20. Also on that bill is the Douglas Ewart Ensemble, like Mitchell a seminal member of Chicago’s internationally-influential AACM. Mitchell is one of the most visionary and innovative musicians of post-1960s creative music.

Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few will play June 12 at Cafe Coda as part of the Madison Jazz Festival

Local favorites will include the Acoplados Latin ProjectMama Digdown’s Brass Band, vocalists Donna Woodall and Gerri DiMaggio, and many more. In addition to concerts, the Festival will feature a public virtual master class by renowned bassist and UW-Madison Jazz Studies Professor Peter Dominguez, a livestreamed presentation by Ricardo Gonzalez and Nick Moran on the Camaguey Jazz project, and more. For more details on the various events, visit this site: https://artlitlab.org/programs/greater-madison-jazz/madison-jazz-festival

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If you don’t get to Madison for the start of the festival (as I won’t, alas) you can still get a fresh dose of live music this Saturday, June 12 in Milwaukee: the fast-rising jazz-hip-hop-soul band KASE, will perform at 7 p.m. live at Saint Kate Arts Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourne, in downtown Milwaukee. The band — which often features acclaimed Milwaukee singer-songwriter-keyboardist-saxophonist Kellen “Klassik” Abston — has a penchant for building intoxicatingly sinuous grooves (what they call “improvised sonic explorations”) with Klassik riding atop, on any manner of vocals or rap, sometimes evoking classic soul singers like Marvin Gaye, thus his name. Both Klassik and Breiwick are skilled musical conceptualizers, so this daring stylistic synthesis can expand to precipitous boundaries while maintaining atmospheric buoyance, afloat even over the edge.

(However, Klassik is not “officially” scheduled to perform with KASE Saturday.)

Jazz-hip-hop ensemble KASE, was formed by trumpeter Jamie Breiwick (L-R, above) with Madison bassist John Christensen, and DJ/turntablist knowsthetime. The band frequently features singer-rapper Klassik (below). KASE will perform live Saturday at Saint Kate Arts Hotel. Courtesy OnMilwaukee.com Above photo by Brian Mir

Klassik. Courtesy J-S Online

Another Milwaukee option for Saturday (June 12) is The Anthony Deutsch Trio at 8 p.m. at Bar Centro, 804 E. Center St. in Riverwest. 

Deutsch who plays piano and sings, joined by Minneapolis bassist Billy Peterson and the superb percussionist Devin Drobka. Deutsch is a quirkily ingenious pianist with lyrical undertones of Fred Hersch, and a warmly cavernous singing voice on jazz standards and mystical-nature folk-jazz originals.

Both KASE and The Deutsch Trio have also performed at the Madison inDIGenous series, now called DIG JAZZ. 

The Anthony Deutsch Trio. Courtesy badgerherald.com

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Father Sky is soulful music to your ears and to the earth

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Singer-composer-pianist Anthony Deutsch on the cover of his debut album. Photo by Danielle Simone Charles

Father Sky – Father Sky (self-released)

A capacity crowd recently at bucolic Villa Terrace for his debut CD-release celebration and Father Sky itself are testament. Young Milwaukee pianist-singer-composer Anthony Deutsch has old-soul wisdom and gifts for speaking to people about matters of the heart, and of the mind/body disconnect that often separates us from our deepest nature and from Nature.

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Milwaukee’s bucolic Villa Terrace overlooking Lake Michigan, was Anthony Deutsch’s choice of location recently to perform his nature-oriented music, “Father Sky.” Photo by Kevin Hansen.

His bluesy melodicism recalls the deceptively spare alt-jazz tunesmithing of The Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, a thread strengthened by Father Sky bassist John Christiansen and drummer Devin Drobka.  But Deutsch loves Nina Simone. His singing follows her forlorn, loamy eloquence – her world-weary persistence and faith. To me, Deutsch’s style also mirrors the exquisite jazz singer-pianist Andy Bey – the naked willingness to reveal male vulnerability.

Still, Deutsch’s folky, Father Sky-meets-Mother Earth sensibility tends to personal ecological vision, like someone picking pieces of grimy dust out of a spider’s web. Deutsch croons artfully but, unlike Bey, he’s a tall, large person, so his spacious baritone sometimes projects like a wolf howling at the moon. He leans a lot on the sustain pedal for sweet wisps, but the piano also pirouettes in sun-lit atmospherics. And “Soon, My Love” has a funky kick Gil Scott-Heron would dig. “Gonna Find Home” yearns for a home that’s everywhere, like the holy land Lakota Black Elk spoke of. There’s musical and spiritual substance here (he shows harmonic chops playing standards live). This beguilingly wayward talent might just take you away, home.

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A slightly shorter version of this review was published by Shepherd Express.

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamland in Blu: Thelonious Monk Music Reimagined at Cloud Altitude

 

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Dreamland’s cloud in Blu, 23-plus stories up.

This brief photo essay interprets the experience of hearing Dreamland, an imaginative and courageous ensemble which has worked hard in recent years to make much of the challenging Thelonious Monk repertoire alive for new listeners, and gratified old Monk fans.

Thelonious-Monk-UPI-Photo-Courtesy-of-the-heirs-of-W.-Eugene-Smith-and-the-Center-for-Creative-Photography-at-the-University-of-Arizona

The band Dreamland is named for an obscure Monk tune rediscovered by trumpeter/bandleader Jamie Breiwick. Monk often seemed to live in his own private dreamland. Photo by Eugene W. Smith, courtesy UPI. 

The band, conceived and led by trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, performed Friday night at Blu, the nightclub located on the 23rd floor of the Pfister Hotel,  with stunning views of the downtown Milwaukee lakefront.
I began taking a few photographs with no agenda. Gradually it seemed that the band’s ambition in reaching high to master and re-imagine Monk’s technically vexing yet uncannily charming and intriguing music — in such an atmospheric noir setting — was worth a visual treatment, or a dream sequence.

Such stimulating variables may be partly why they’re one of my favorite music groups. So, though a longtime arts and jazz writer, and because this concerns the architecture of Monk and of Milwaukee, I am in letting the dreamland images speak for themselves (for the most part), mindful of a famous Monk quote: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

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Dreamland warms up the Blu night club audience shortly before dusk (L-R, pianist Mark Davis, bassist Clay Schaub, trumpeter Jamie Breiwick, drummer Devin Drobka).

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From Blu’s windows, you see the counterpoint of classic and modern Milwaukee architecture, looking south toward the Hoan Bridge. 

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At least one couple seems transported by Dreamland.

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The still-rising Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance tower is illuminated by many stories of its construction lights on the right tower portion. At, right, the blue flame atop the iconic Milwaukee Gaslight Building forecasts the weather.

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Blu is the rhythm of drums deep in the night.

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Dreamland begins heating up as darkness as falls on Milwaukee. 

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From Blu we see the end of the I-94 expressway in the foreground, curving into the southbound Hoan Bridge harbor overpass. Many years ago, when the I-94 ramp remained an unfinished precipice high over the ground level, it was used as “the expressway to nowhere” in the precariously climactic closing car chase scene in the film “The Blues Brothers.”

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Trumpeter Breiwick uses his hand over his bell to bend a mournful note on a Monk ballad.

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Even the carpeting in Blu has a dancing, dreamlike quality.

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Jamie Breiwick performing, and radiating, “Light Blue.”

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Just maybe, this is how Thelonious Monk – a genius of dancing, songful abstraction – might have viewed Milwaukee’s south shoreline along the Hoan Bridge.

P.S. Well, I’m fudging a bit on my promise to let the photos do all the heavy lifting, such as it is. But I’ll add a few more comments about Dreamland, whom I profiled previously here:

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick “dreams” of Thelonious Monk’s music

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Now the band sounds like they are making Monk’s music their own. It’s in the increasing ease of articulation of the vital and sometimes profound ideas contained in often-hazardous chord changes and rhythmic trip wires.
Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick continues to pursue his Miles Davis-cum-Don Cherry influences, often pushing plummy accents into a slippery swing and, like a master baker, he consistently kneads the thematic material into whole, rounded melodic ideas. As the bandleader, he’s also imaginative and intrepid in delving into the mysterioso depths of the Monk book. Breiwick has an assurance and dedication to the material that I think would’ve made Monk proud, even though he was known as an often-exacting bandleader.

And for my ears, Devin Drobka is an ideal drummer for this music. As a Berklee-trained musician and vibist, he understands the implications of the harmonic changes better than most drummers, which helps keep the music bubbling and percolating with the right aroma and savor. And on some tunes, like “Light Blue,” his drum solo built directly from the harmonic and melodic charms of the melody itself.

Here’s the band stretching out on “Light Blue” from a previous live date:

 

On a longer previous solo, drummer Drobka dazzled in quirky wavelengths. I declare that Thelonious Monk himself would’ve danced around his piano (a not-infrequent Monk behavior) in response to Drobka’s solo — bristling, sashaying, hiccuping, all amid a push-pull tempo tension. Then he’ll fling out a few fractured march rhythms. But few fractured marchers can also dance, like Drobka’s Monk march can.

Pianist Mark Davis is a somewhat more supple and fluent phraser than Monk himself typically was. And yet Davis’ playing leaps and lopes at times, which brings to mind to the magisterially buoyant hard-bop pianist Sonny Clark doing a Monk take. And Davis rarely misses a chance to insert an acerbic Monk accent — often a buzzingly discordant second interval.

Bassist Clay Schaub is relatively new to the band, as a replacement for John Price. But he’s an extremely capable and musical player in negotiating the often-tricky changes.

I see Dreamland staking out their own high ground in the crowded strata of Monk interpretation. Their intelligence, fearlessness, youth and fire will keep this dreamland afloat, growing and prospering in ways yet to be imagined.

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All photos by Kevin Lynch, except as noted.