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Tiny Rager with Questlove, Christian McBride and Gary Bartz. SO HAPPY!!!

Tiny Rager with Questlove, Christian McBride and Gary Bartz. SO HAPPY!!!

Questlove Presents Mo’ Meta Blues I ft. Booker T, Eric Krasno, Gary Bartz, Charistian McBride & Nigel Hall @ The Blue Note (06.21.11)

Questlove – Drums
Eric Kranso – Guitar
Booker T. Jones – Organ
Gary Bartz – Saxophone
Christian McBride – Bass

Surprise Guest:
Dee Dee Bridgewater – Vocals
Nigel Hall – Vocals

The Blue Note Venue Front

The Blue Note Venue Front

The Blue Note is a venue name that is known around the world for housing some of the world’s most famous jazz musicians in it’s various Milan, Tokyo, NYC and Nagoya locations.  For true NY music goers, we aren’t always fond of this venue but no one can deny that some of our city’s greatest music is made inside that sardine-packed tourist trap.

For 30 years, The Blue Note has brought us some of the most phenomenal music played by phenomenal collections of musicians.  This year, to celebrate their 30 years dedicated to music, The Blue Note, along with Jill Newman Productions, has put together a month long calendar of music around the city, creating the inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival.

Over the past month The Festival has featured numerous high-profile acts within the walls of the Blue Note  such as Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Nancy Wilson, Bobby McFerrin, Roberta Flack, Brian Wilson, Medeski Martin & Wood, El Gran Combo, McCoy Tyner, Bill Frisell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Madeleine Peyroux, Chaka Khan, and many more. As well, numerous acts have been held around the city’s various outdoor spaces such as Parks and other music venues.

Questlove @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Questlove @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

For two nights, famed drummer Questlove hosted Mo’ Meta Blues 1  featuring a collection of amazing jazz virtuoso musicians to include guitarist Eric Kranso and bassist Christian McBride.  The group was completed with legendary saxophonist Gary Bartz and Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer organist Booker T. Jones (Booker T and the MG’s).

I was terribly excited for a performance mixing the old school with the new school.  It is performances like these were I wish there were more youth in the audience. More young musicians who have deliberately sought out the best in the scene; sitting in the audience watching how it’s done.  Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder how in a city like NYC, there were not more musical savvy teenagers. Where is the disconnect? Is it because our music isn’t on the radio? Just something I always ponder while sitting waiting for shows to begin.

Booker T Jones latest Cd: The Road From Memphis

Booker T Jones latest Cd: The Road From Memphis

Tonight’s musicians would be performing a selection of songs from Booker T’s new album, The Road From Memphis, a wonderful collection of songs with collaborations with Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, Sharon Jones and Lou Reed and The National’s Matt Berninger.  Produced by Jones with The Roots’ ?uestlove and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith), Memphis was recorded by Daptone Records mastermind Gabriel Roth with backing by The Roots.  Enjoy Booker T’s video for his cover of Lauryn Hill‘s “Everything is Everything.”

The new school rhythm section alone could have kept my attention for both sets. Questlove has been drumming since he was a little boy on tour with his famous 50’s doo wop father, Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & the HeartsQuestlove is best known as the drummer for the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots, which is now the in-house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Christian McBride, Questlove‘s high school homie, is considered a virtuoso bass player and is one of the most recorded bassists of the last 20 years. He has performed and recorded with a massive number of artists, jazz legends and ensembles including Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Wynton Marsalis, Hank Jones, Joshua Redman, as well as with hip-hop, pop, soul, and classical musicians like The Roots, Kathleen Battle, Carly Simon, Sting, Bruce Hornsby, and James Brown. His sound is liberating and intoxicating.

“Half the fun up here is the fun music trivia we all have and finding the fun in referencing it in the music we play up here.  I am just warning you all now, there will be a lot of inside musical jokes on this stage.” ~ Questlove

Booker T Jones @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Booker T Jones @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Then you had Booker T. Jones from Booker T and the MGs.  Booker T. & the MG’s were the house band for the famous Memphis Soul music label Stax Records.  They recorded with all the Stax Records artists, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, but they also recorded their own material between sessions.  The song they are most famous for is Green Onions, a song they played every set during this run. My favorite and earliest memory of hearing this song can be seen right here:

All the Blue Note sets had the same set lists, in varying order:

  1. Down In Memphis ( Booker T on vocal, #5 on disc)
  2. Rent Party (#7 on disc)
  3. Walking Papers (#1 on disc)
  4. Everything is Everything (#6 on disc)
  5. Hip Hugger (Old Booker T Song)
  6. Gentle Smiles (Gary Bartz Tune)
  7. Born Under A Bad Sign (William Bell cover)
  8. Can’t Find Love
  9. Green Onions
  10. Melting Pot
Look at Those Happy Faces @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Look at Those Happy Faces @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Both nights, Questlove was the first to enter on stage.  He sat at his drum kit and announced each artist individually as they waited patiently at the top of the stairs. Questlove‘s sense of humor came out immediately.  “Please welcome Mr. Eric Kras-NOW,” as he emphasized the last part with a huge smile. “Please welcome Mr. Gary “Blow Your Horn” Bartz!” And so it continued till each member was on stage and the show could begin.

Down In Memphis ( Booker T on vocal, #5 on disc)
Rent Party (#7 on disc)

They stated the set with Down In Memphis with Booker T. on vocals.   His signature plunking Organ keys sounding just like I remembered.  Rent Party followed with Eric Kranso taking the lead on the solo. During the song, Kranso took the guitar licks and changed them up slightly, causing a jubilant stir from Booker T. and QuestloveBooker T. could be caught glancing at Kranso with looks of interest and obvious delight as Kranso took the song to level Booker T. probably wished was on his new cd.

Eric Krasno @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Eric Krasno @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Walking Papers (#1 on disc)

“The next song selection and what not is…You know we gotta be classy, this is the Blue Note after all!  The next song selection and shit …..” ~ Questlove as the venue erupted in laughter. Probably the one and only time I will hear cursing on the stage of the Blue Note from time to come.

The third selection was Walking Papers. Questlove described the song titles as “the papers that your angry wife gives you.” The song broke into a funky beat and my friend and I all complained about being forced to sit through this danceable set.

Whole Group @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Whole Group @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Everything is Everything (#6 on disc)

Booker T.‘s cover of Lauryn Hill‘s Everything is Everything followed. This song should have been sung by Nigel Hall who was waiting in the rafters during the first set while this song played but was sitting at our table for the second.  However, Booker T. played the vocals on his organ. No words. Personally, I feel that it is the words of this song that make it powerful and I loved how this elder artist was playing the younger tunes but it was general consensus around my table that it should be sung, not played.  Watching Gary Bartz, I wondered when he learned the song and how long it took him to learn it.  Did he really like it?  On the new cd, Booker T. also covers Gnarls Barkley‘s Crazy.

Hip Hugger (Old Booker T Song)

The best thing about being on this stage the past few days has been our ability to vicariously feel like we are in each others bands. We all have so much respect for each others bands and projects. This next tune will make us honorary MGs”  ~ Questlove introducing HipHugger.

As they segued into HipHugger, Christian McBride took the lead.  He shot out the gate with his solos on this song each set. His smile infectious, his playing addicting.

Gary Bartz @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Gary Bartz @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Gentle Smiles (Gary Bartz Tune)

At this point I should tell yall a little something about the magnificent Gary Bartz as he was the reason this show was even taking place!! When Jill Newman approached Questlove with the list of musicians that might want to take part in this project, Gary Bartz‘s name was what stopped him.

Gary Bartz is a Grammy winning alto saxophone player who first touched down on ears in the mid 60’s.  He played with epic jazz musicians like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Charles Mingus’ Workshop and McCoy Tyner before even reaching the 70’s.  His music became influential amongst many genres and soon Gary’s music hit Questlove‘s ears as he followed the rise of hip-hop.

If you were a fan of hip-hop in 1991 then you might have known of a song called Gentle Smiles but might not have known it was a Bartz original.  A Tribe Called Quest famously used this sample for their song Butter on the “The Low End Theory” 1991 album. Everyone knows that album, or rather they should. Questlove dropped some serious licks while playing this song, probably having played it in his head over and over for years coming up in the scene.  It was a slow, downright sexy rage.

Gary Bartz’s Gentle Smiles:

A Tribe Called Quest’s Butter, sampling the song:

Nigel Hall @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Nigel Hall @ The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

“And now I’d like to introduce you to the last member of our clan. A person who has his graduate degree in soul walking and Jamesology.  I’ve given him new monikers each set. I need help giving him one for this set,” said Questlove as he looked at the rest of his band. Nigel Hall was introduced by Questlove last night as Nigel Baptiste, Nigel Cosby was his name for tonight’s first set and Norman Huckstable Hall was thrown out this time by Christian McBride.

This was Nigel Hall‘s first paid performance at the Blue Note. As we stood at the top of the stairs and chatted he was wringing his hands and seemed slightly nervous.  So endearing.

Celestial Blues (Gary Bartz Tune)

As Nigel Hall began his next song he spoke of the Maine State Slogan being “They Way Life Should Be” and how the song he was about to sing is more tactical version of that statement.  “so meditate and contemplate”  Gary Bartz raged thru his solo.  Gary Bartz is the reason Questlove went after this gig.  When Jill Newman,  the lady who helped fund the Blue Note Jazz Festival, read Questlove the list of musicians who were interested in the super jam…this is the name that solidified the deal.

Whole Group raging The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Whole Group raging The Blue Note (Photo by Dino Perrucci)

Born Under A Bad Sign (William Bell cover)

There was more banter and The Temptations Get Ready was teased by the rhythm section, another inside musical joke. Nigel Hall went on to sing Born Under A Bad SignNigel went off in the song, getting lost in his own voice. We got lost as well.  Having been part of The Warren Haynes Band for a few months, Nigel Hall has fused this song to his blood line.  And as always, I heard people asking “who was this guy,” questioning with the biggest smiles possible!!!   The night before, I was unlucky enough to miss Dee Dee Bridgewater, who came out in the second set to join Nigel on this song.  Amazing.

“Let’s give fun a round of applause ~ Questlove

Got To Get Some > Cant’ Find Love

As they began to play the next tune Got To Get Some, Questlove stopped and I think might have broken something as he said “well, they are gonna charge me five bucks for that! ” Nigel responds, “Sounds alright.  So long as its tight, its alright.” Nigel sang soulfully through Got To Get Some and Cant’ Find Love.

Whole Group w/ Nigel @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Whole Group w/ Nigel @ Blue Note (Photo by TinyRager)

Green Onions & Melting Pot (Booker T Covers)

Nigel Hall bounced off the stage as the remaining group broke into Green Onions.  Christian McBride is such an amazing bassist as he kicked his bass so deep during this song.  Seeing this song performed live was truly special.  With these musicians, who were having so much fun on stage, they brought the song to life and I have to admit that it was one of my fav parts of the set. Just hearing the opening immediately made me smile. It’s impossible not to love this song.

The super group ended their exciting set with Booker T’s Melting Pot from his 1971 studio album.  Here is the studio version of the song. There were certainly to many restrictions on picture and video taking at The Blue Not like always.

When super groups like this gather, it’s always a shame to miss the magic. I hope this brought you into the moment, if only a little bit!

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Central Park's Summer Stage: Check it out!

Central Park's Summer Stage: Check it out!

When I first found out that Stanley Clarke would be performing for FREE in Central Park’s Summer Stage, I immediately thought two things.  One, I must get into that show.  Two, I knew exactly who would be my plus one.

McCoy Tyner (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

McCoy Tyner (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Working for the Parks Department, our partnership with the Central Park Conservancy allows for some really nice perks regarding Summer Stage performances.  So long as they are not benefits, I am able to plop onto the guest list of any show and bring a friend.  The cost of these perks are priceless to me.  (After this article I am moving onto the New York Philharmonic in Central Park….god, I love my job!)

Once I got on the list, I immediately invited my good friend, Nigel Hall.  Nigel’s first concert as a little boy was to see Stanley Clarke with his father.  My past connections to Stanley was strictly through my love for Fusion, which Nigel also shares.  Tonight was a lovely extension of  memories for both of us.  Those kind of moments are magical and it’s lovely to build on them.

The venue was set up with chairs in the front and blocked off sections for the “VIPs.”  I was rather early and I still didn’t have the ability to snag two seats. I only got one for myself and I hoped I could grab one later for Nigel.  The commotion over people Bogarting the seats and saving 10 seats at a time for people who hadn’t showed up was rather annoying.  If I had needed a seat immediately for a friend, I would have been in that commotion. Luckily, I was alone and accommodated haha.

Return to Forever

Return to Forever

I have never hidden the fact that I have a passionate connection to Fusion Jazz.  I have mentioned it numerous times in past articles.  Specifically, the group Return To Forever.  A group that defined Fusion and showcased some of the genre’s greatest talent.  Stanley Clarke is the bass player from that group.  Having seen Chick Corea at the Blue Note a few weeks earlier and having Al di Meola in town a few days later, the players of Return To Forever were spread out all over Manhattan and I was soaking it all up little by little.

On this semi-humid, sunny evening in Central Park, the Stanley Clarke Trio, featuring Hiromi, melted my brains.  However, not before McCoy Tyner Quarter, featuring Ravi Coltrane & Esperanza Spalding, geared us up!  OH MAN!!!

Francisco Mela (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Francisco Mela (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

The McCoy Tyner Quartet featured:

McCoy Tyner – Piano
Esperanza Spalding – Stand Up bass
Francisco Mela – Drums
Ravi Coltrane – Saxophone

Seriously, the McCoy’s set could and SHOULD be an article all it’s own.  However, I just wanted to sit back and relax for McCoy’s set.  I knew I would be all over the place mentally when Stanley came on stage.  So, I sat back, relaxed, didn’t take notes and just absorbed what was taking place on stage. I actually am seated directly behind the female taking the below video!

Esperanza Spalding (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Esperanza Spalding (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

The talent that was mind-blowing and the sounds were so eclectic and wonderfully brought together.  You had Afro-Cuban jazz composer and drummer Francisco Mela who was superb, locking down his drum solos each and every time and providing a wonderful session of beats for this insane jazz performance to groove too.  I can’t begin to describe his energy and talent.

I had never seen Esperanza Spalding before and I just wanted to BECOME her.  Commanding the center of the stage with all these great male musicians surrounding her, with this giant upright bass between her legs, biting her lower lip as she flew over the strings…IT WAS HOT!!  And it was almost impossible for me to not focus on her completely.  At 26 years old, her fingers move with the grace of an old soul and her sound parallels that. I mean come on…

Then we had Ravi Coltrane, son of John Coltrane, ripping apart the saxophone when his time came.  And this was just the opener…

Ravi Coltrane and Esperanza Spalding (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Ravi Coltrane and Esperanza Spalding (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

The opening band consisted of the second son of luminaries John and Alice Coltrane on saxophone, a bass player hand-picked by President Barack Obama to play in Oslo Hall at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, a drummer hailed as “one of the most important Cuban drummers in jazz” by Jazz Times, and the bluesy stylings of McCoy Tyner.  UNREAL!!!!  I am almost always a hater on opening bands.  But this was a real treat.  This was talent opening for talent and this is the kind of music and performance I prefer to see.  HOT DAMN!!!

INTERMISSION

And then, after all that energy had been put into us, preparing us for the INSANITY that was about to take place…we were put on hold.  There was now a change of plans.  The show had attracted such enormous response that the outside of the venue had been swarmed with people.  A gentleman got on stage and said:

“I have good news and better news. ”  The good news is that there are hundreds of people at the bottom of the hill who want to be part of this lovely evening of music.  The better news is that we are going to stop for about 20 minutes and ask that you utilize the space around you so that we can provide entrance to more viewers.”

Stanley Clarke (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Stanley Clarke (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

The venue was not even closed to being packed and I was in a chair so I wasn’t to worried.  At this point, Nigel was still in transit.  He had spent the day performing on free pianos all over the city.  Sadly, he missed one hell of a opener but his performances were well worth his delay getting to the show and you should check it out by clicking the link above.

Nigel arrived in plenty of time for Stanley’s set.  Perfect timing.  Two lovely gentlemen were sitting behind us wearing their Return To Forever shirts.  Nigel took their pictures on his phone!  We spoke of the coming Al Di Meola show at Highline Ballroom the following night and they already had their tickets.  Unfortunately, I was giving free tickets away through the Tiny Rager site but was unable to make it as I was heading to Phish that weekend.

After about half an hour delay, the stage started to buzz again and we were handed 2 1/2 hours of pure Jazz.  HELLZ YEAH!!!

The Stanley Clarke Trio:

Stanley Clarke – Bass
Ruslan Sirota – Keyboards
Ronald Bruner Jr. – Drums
Featuring: Hiromi Uehara – Piano

Hiromi (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Hiromi (Photo by: Dino Perrucci)

Stanley started the show off with Lopsy Lou.  Hitting us right in the face with the slaps of his bass and the snare drum tapping off the beat.  A great showcase of the bass and immediately I learned who the hell this Hiromi character was and what she was all about.  Some could say rager and some ragers might say showboat. Personally, I just have my jaw on the ground.

The words I want to use to describe her actions are as plain as SHE FREAKS THE F#@K OUT!!! Her entire body was involved, her entire mind was probably in outer space or in the keys…inside the piano…it is clearly an out of body experience for her when she plays.  There are no words strong enough to describe the insanity that is Hiromi when she plays for us.  Just take a look…and this doesn’t even scratch the surface of her raging…

At only 23 year old, Ronald Bruner Jr. blows my mind.  Beginning his professional career at the age of 15 at the Theolonius Monk Institute of Jazz, he has already played with huge Jazz legends.    His diverse drumming styles could be heard throughout the performance.

And then you had Stanley Clarke. The man of the hour.  If you closed your eyes, you felt as if you were listening to Stanley Clarke from 20 years ago.  He still has it.  Boy, does he still have it.  With his electric bass in hand, the group performed Charles Mingus‘s jazz standard, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Hiromi once again let loose and RIPPED OPEN her solo with the power and ferocity of an attack dog.  Check it out…

Stanley moved to the stand up has for a Return To Forever song called No Mystery.  I believe this song was originally written by Chick Corea so Hiromi started off the song with her plinking keys.  Initially, there was no bass.  During this song, Stanley had some technical difficulties.  You heard people in the audience shouting that we couldn’t hear the bass.  Nigel and I picked up on it immediately and just watched Stanley handle it in his smooth nature. He sat there looking a bit frustrated but sitting calmly, smoothly, smiling at us, letting Hiromi fill in his blanks.

Stanley Clarke - Bass!

Stanley Clarke - Bass!

After some commotion on stage, Stanley throws his hands up and then we heard it.  The bass was fixed and Stanley was projected out to us once again.   Ronald Jr. wiped his face as Stanley thanked the Tech and proceeds to take his solo.  And man did he make up for those lost minutes.

While no one else was shouting or jumping out of their chair, Nigel and I proceeded to be moved by the music numerous times bringing us out of our seats and hollering like wild kids at the stage.  Sure, this was a jazz show.  We were surrounded by people who would have preferred silence and a nice seated audience but that is NOT what was going to be happening with us tonight.  This was powerful shit.  This is the stuff that made us move and you can forget the manners and civility that is supposed to come with these shows.  After the third time jumping up out of our seats Nigel shouts: “Go head Stanley.”  Man, this was such a change of pace from the FUNK.

Roland Jr

Ronald Bruner Jr. - Drums

The drums held it down while mic was changed on Stanley’s bass. Hiromi continued to rage the keys.  Nigel and I bickered over the antics Hiromi threw at us while playing.  The way that girl raged, she would most certainly  knock over that wine on the Temperpedic commercials. Nigel is from the old school of playing the keys and feel that those kind of shenanigans while playing are not necessary.  On the other hand, I felt that her playing was modern, new, fresh and would entice and energize the younger parts of the crowd who might be sitting there bored because their parents drug them to this show.

Ruslan

Ruslan Sirota - Keyboards

The next song was fast jazz with a Broadway bounce. Our real first taste of Ruslan on his Yamaha Motif.   He raged some insane fusion keyboards for a few min and Stanley cooly crushed it in the backdrop.  Such an unusual sound.

Nigel loved Ruslan so much more thne Hiromi but Ruslan truly didn’t bring the heat that Hiromi did and we both verbally voiced that wish.  We were  both out of our seats for part of his solo while the whole placed sat quietly.

Hiromi's kicks...

Hiromi's kicks...

Stanley felt it and we felt it in him.  So many faces while Stanley raged slap acoustic bass and then Ruslan FINALLY brought the heat but not moving even half as much as Hiromi.  There was absolutely no flair with this guy but he was clearly talented and GREAT!

Stanley switched to using a bow on the bass for Paradigm Shift.  A nice slow, slow start to the song.  A shifty song that bounced back and forth between chaos and sanity.  Pleasent vs wild.  Nigel points out: “He’s had that same part in his hair for 30 yrs.”  Ruslan’s legs shook so hard and Stanley plucked the bass so deep. I loved this song.  Ronald was fast and chaotic.

This song made me think of lights.  I imagined the lift show if there was one. Oh Stanley. As we watched him pluck those strings soooo very fast, we joked about how we bet his wife loves the way he plucks those strings.  The slow inclinations were impeccable.

Set list…Lopsy Lou, Goodbye Park, No Mystery, Black Narcisuss, Good Bye Pork Pie, Paradigm Shift

Our View of Stage!

Our View of Stage!

The Stanley Clarke Trio performance featuring Hiromi might just have to be one of my top 5 performances of 2010.  It is a style of music that resonates with me harder then Funk, harder then anything.  I was watching the show with someone who I knew was appreciating every single drop of sound that was coming from the stage and I loved that.  The weather had turned cool and lovely.  It was just lovely.  At the end of the performance Nigel and I just stared at each other and smiled.  What a perfect night of music.

City Parks Foundation’s Summer Stage

CareFusion Jazz Series

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