Tag Archives: ums

Jake Shimabukuro in Ann Arbor on 11.19.14

A heads-up on another interesting show coming to Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium. Ukulele sensation Jake Shimabukuro will, like Bob James last week, make his UMS debut Wednesday evening.

Jake has been recording and touring since the late 90s. While it seems as though the music industry has reached peak ukulele saturation over the last few years (e.g., Eddie Vedder and Dave Matthews catching up with Paul McCartney), Shimabukuro was well ahead of that curve. His fame was initially limited to Hawaii and Japan, but the pan-stylist broke through US media in 2006 by becoming one of YouTube’s first viral stars via his compelling solo rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” (13M views and counting…) Curiously, It’s interesting that Jake first broke through to the mainstream by covering a song by Harrison, whose ukulele now tours with McCartney.

If you’re new to Shimabukuro and even the slightest bit interested in the man or the music, I suggest the 2012 documentary Life On Four Strings (which is available via Netflix, among other outlets). It not only covers his biography but also offers a glimpse into the touring musician’s solitary life on the road. Here is a trailer:

His music has something for everyone: musicians can enjoy the virtuosity, connoisseurs will appreciate the content and arrangements, and his accessibility will draw in the everyday listener of all stripes. This cocktail promises to make Wednesday evening at Hill Auditorium a treat for all who attend.

See him Wednesday evening at 8:00 PM. Ticket info here.

MTH-V: Bob James Live | UMS Debut on 11.15.14

This post is also a plug for a show happening in Ann Arbor this Saturday. Legendary keyboardist Bob James will be returning to his alma mater for a night of music in a quintet setting. This performance caps off his recently being awarded the 2014 School of Music Theater & Dance Hall of Fame Alumni Award.

Some readers may consider James to be an odd choice for this blog, but there is a related thread that’s run through a few posts here. I do have a soft spot for so-called “smoother” styles. For example: an early video post featured David Sanborn, Marcus Miller has had a couple posts, a recent post extolled the virtues of Steely Dan, and Tom Scott & The L.A. Express have also been highlighted. And, coming down the pike, I intend to throw more Sanborn, some blue-eyed soul and more yacht rock, and even a dash of Candy Dulfer into the mix. What does this have to do with Bob James? Well, though I was completely unconscious of it at the time, his “Angela” was the first tune to get that sound in my head while I regularly watched Taxi reruns as a small boy. And I remember the first time I knowingly heard the full studio cut of “Angela” in the wild (on the radio), and having a name to associate with the tune, was while night-driving solo through Seattle in my early twenties. (I had heard Fourplay and other groups of his, but didn’t really put the pieces together to know it was him.) I remember thinking that after so many years of hearing short clips of his music, I was very impressed – stunned, even, – by just how hard it grooved. And, coming full circle, the aforementioned “smooth” figures and their associates, many of whom have been featured on this site in some capacity, round out the Bob James milieu of the late 70s, having been in his orbit in one way or another. 1978’s Touchdown is a good example of this.

Here’s a somewhat recent live clip of James performing in Seoul, South Korea with bassist Nathan East and guitarist Jack Lee. It’s nice to hear him performing it on piano:

I mentioned at the outset that this is also a plug for his upcoming show at University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium Saturday night as part of this season’s UMS series. (UMS has provided great memories for me over the years as well as some good content for this blog, particularly regarding Einstein on the Beach – one of this site’s through lines – and Charles Lloyd.) In fact, it will be the alumnus’s UMS debut. He talks a little about his music, background, and upcoming show here:

I particularly enjoy (and agree with) this quote: “You gotta make people dance first. If [the audience] are not pattin’ their foot, there’s something wrong with what we’re doing: we’re not in the pocket.” Piggybacking on that, UofM’s Professor and Chair of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation sums it up nicely:
“There are these straight-ahead jazz artists and their aficionados who can sometimes become snobbish and talk about categories – they can be snobbish in their tastes and look down their noses at music with wide appeal. But every time I put on one of Bob’s ‘smooth jazz albums’ or other albums, I’m constantly noticing the hip chord progressions, the slick arrangements, the fantastic rhythm section playing, and the wonderful improvising.”

Catch Bob James Saturday at 8:00 PM.

MTH-V: Charles Lloyd

This past Saturday I finally got to see Charles Lloyd (with his New Quartet) live at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater. These last five years or so I’ve become quite taken with Lloyd, and he’s perhaps my favorite living jazz saxophonist after Dave Liebman. (At least according to my wallet and library.) I blindly purchased 2001’s Hyperion with Higgins on a whim a few years ago, having been convinced by both the personnel (Charles Lloyd, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier, Billy Higgins, Brad Mehldau) and the record label (ECM, his nearly exclusive label since coming out of semi-retirement/reclusivity in the 80s) that it’d be worthwhile. In fact, for many reasons I’ll not list here, I consider that purchase/album to be the watershed moment for my love of ECM, when I went from thinking That’s a great label to That is THE label.

While I’ve since gone far down the rabbit hole that is Lloyd’s output, Hyperion remains one of my most-listened to jazz albums. But most of his other albums are in the running for a close second, and that’s because Charles is 1) always engaging and 2) surrounds himself with great players. Perhaps the single most appealing aspect of his playing, to me, is its gravitas. There’s no frivolity is Lloyd’s music, and even the more light-hearted moments have weight. That’s where I hear the influence of Trane most in his music, although the harmonic vocabulary is evident, its the ethos more than anything that grabs my attention. And even with the most chromatic of runs that may include multiphonics or other extended techniques, Lloyd’s unparalleled melodic and rhythmic phrasing make his playing appear deceptively simple or “in,” especially in the last couple decades. It’s more about subtle nuance than aggressive showboating or gymnastics with Lloyd.

At 74 he’s a solid as ever, and rhythm section of his New Quartet – solidified in ’07: Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland – provides a nice youthful balance to his more meditative approach. Without writing a full-blown concert review here, suffice it to say that Saturday night’s show scratched me right where I itched. The highlight for me was their powerful rendition of “Go Down Moses.” Stopping only to introduce the band twice, Lloyd & Co. captivated the auditorium for 100+ minutes.

I’ve assembled a variety of videos to serve as a primer for those unfamiliar with him. And if you’re already a fan, you should really dig these if you haven’t yet seem them. FYI – they’re in reverse-chronological order:

“Passin’ Through”
This features the New Quartet (and they performed this on Saturday, if you happened to be in attendance)

“Prometheus” (the first half)
Geri Allen – Piano; Eric Harland – Drums; Robert Hurst – Bass
Geri’s solo is top notch here…

“You Are So Beautiful”
Geri Allen – Piano; Billy Hart – Drums; Robert Hurst – Bass
(Yes, that “You Are So Beautiful,” although Lloyd’s interpretation practically transcends any other associations or notions you may have previously held about it.)

“Manhattan Carousel”
His famous quartet from the late 1960s – talk about being able to spot talent!
Keith Jarrett – Piano, Jack DeJohnette – Drums; Cecil McBee – Bass
Keith’s pianistic outburst at 3:15 gets me every time…


Reflection: ‘Einstein on the Beach’

(Disclaimer: I don’t intend for this to be a “review,” but rather a stream of consciousness way for me to gather and digest my immediate thoughts and reactions. Also note that I am not an EOTB expert. I’m simply a fan.)

It was very fresh and clean.

This afternoon, I was fortunate enough to see Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s mythic Einstein on the Beach. It’s been nearly a decade since I first learned about this work (and saw a clip) in Music History III, and since then seeing it performed live has been on my bucket list. I remember most of my classmates’ initial reaction upon first hearing of a 4.5-hr, intermission-less and plotless opera in which the only singing is that of solfege and numbers, along with senseless spoken text (not to mention modern choreography and stage design): “That’s cool.” Then we saw the video clip of “Trial/Jail” (AKA “The Supermarket Scene”), and many of the cheers turned to, “Eh, nevermind.” I, however, was one of the few converts, and have longed to see it since.

As you’ve likely seen online or elsewhere, Einstein is being revived this year and into 2013 by the originators – Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Lucinda Childs – and Pomegranate Arts both in celebration of Glass’s 75th year and simply because they see this is being their last chance. It’s been 20 years since the last production and international tour, and, with one exception, the one before that was the very first in 1976. And while this tour will feature many international hotspots, including runs in Berkley, CA and New York City, the tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and “preview performances” occurred in Ann Arbor, MI (!) over the last month (with the preview performances this weekend). (The University Musical Society board should be given some sort of medal…)

I could give a blow-by-blow account of what I saw, but it’s not as if I saw a new storyline or interpretation. (After all, how could one effectively re-interpret something that has no plot?) Instead, I’d rather attempt to capture some of the feeling. I hadn’t been as excited for an individual concert/performance as I was for today’s Einstein in at least a couple years. Concerning classical/contemporary music, only my excitement for attending Chicago Lyric Opera’s 2005 Der Ring des Nibelungen compared. However, the main difference between the two is that I knew I would one day get to see a major company perform Wagner’s magnum opus; it was only a matter of time and resources. On the other hand, I chalked Einstein up to a pipe dream – something I’d only realize via DVD.

Well, today was the day, my friends. Not only did I see the opera, but as it was conceived and realized by the original creative forces, including the Michael Riesman-directed Philip Glass Ensemble. I sat through the 270-minute behemoth (minus a couple minutes for a quick dash to the restroom – did I mention there’s no intermission?), not once thinking Are we done yet?. Much of the time, to be honest, I wasn’t even on planet Earth to ask the question. I was in instead in Bern, Switzerland. And in a laboratory-cum-courtroom. And a jailhouse. And a prematurely air-conditioned supermarket. And a spaceship. And even a park bench. I lost myself in an endless barrage of numbers, syllables, and mind-boggling, repetitive text. While the music alone is quite something, the Gesamtkunstwerk is absolutely mind-altering. (Thank you, Alex Ross, for aptly noting, “It all goes back to Wagner.”) Between the trance-inducing music, the minimalist-but-still-a-three-maybe-six-ring-circus action, set designs, costumes, and props, every subtle nuance – from a quick wink to the tossing of a paper airplane – commanded attention. Some specific thoughts:

• I quite enjoyed the way in which the production started. Instead of the typical “light down, mouths shut” procedure, it was a gradual transition from the time the audience entered the theater until the entrance of the chorus.
• Kate Moran kept me on the edge of my seat with the supermarket text, never quite saying it the same way twice (despite repeating it for ~15 minutes…).
• I expected great things for the “walking bass” portion of the Spaceship scene. What I didn’t expect was to be overwhelmed. Definitely the climax.
•  After returning from my jaunt to the restroom three hours in, that’s when it really hit me that the cast and crew gets no break. (Yes, individuals may come and go, but the show continues nonetheless.) Hats off to them, especially the Philip Glass Ensemble’s soprano.
• There was much more subtle humor (as compared with the toothbrushing bit) than I had expected. It of course helped that the audience was so willing to dive in.
• I appreciated the narrators not always being prominent in the mix. It was particularly effective in “Knee Play 1.”
• The extended dance numbers left me exhausted when complete.
• Although I felt as if I roughly “got it” while I stood applauding afterward, whatever “it” was vanished in an instant. I still couldn’t tell you what it’s about. 🙂 Much like a dream, which is as clear and real as anything while it occurs, it’s a blur once awake. Unless you’ve seen it or know it well, my rambling descriptions would make little sense.
• While I won’t be so bold as to say I was a part of history, I can safely say that I witnessed history – at least artistic history – in the making this afternoon. And that was truly special. (Simply see the bottom of this page for a list of all its performances. Ever.)
• This was one of my most unique musical experiences.

I gave the full recording one final listen on Friday in an attempt to get myself in the right frame of mind, but nothing could have properly prepared me for what I witnessed this afternoon. I left the theater feeling many things: giddy, emotionally and mentally exhausted, thankful, awestruck, somewhat confused. One thing was for certain: I needed more time to digest what I had just experienced (and still do). I drove home in silence (one hour), and haven’t listened to anything since walking in the door. I just keep replaying hundreds of auditory and visual snapshots in my mind, most of which I’m sure I’ll remember forever. Fervently… 🙂