Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time to Roar ...

March 31, 2011

KUHF's Eric Ladau previews a new contemporary dance-jazz collaboration:

Dancer and choreographer Michele Brangwen is a true believer. She fervently believes in the power of movement to express new ideas. In fact, the goal of her Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble is to commission new music for all of her choreography and to "incorporate musicians into the visual imagery. Sharing the stage and the focus, the dancers and musicians break the boundaries of traditional ensemble interaction." Now celebrating its 12th year of collaborative performance, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble has commissioned 18 new ballet scores, with no sign of slowing down any time soon.

KATSU will be performed this Sunday, April 3, at 6 and 8pm at FotoFest Headquarters, 1113 Vine Street near downtown Houston. KATSU (the Zen word for "roar") is one in a series of works created by Michele in conjunction with the current FotoFest exhibit, Nowhere Near Here: New Photographic Work by Texas Artists. In keeping with Michele's usual inclusive and innovative style, KATSU will incorporate dancers, musicians, a roving DRU camera and the delightfully funky and old world structural properties of FotoFest's Headquarters (built in 1913 and converted into a hauntingly beautiful space).

As has been her practice in recent years, Michele's musical partners for KATSU are four breathtakingly brilliant musicians billing themselves as Tim Hagans Subversive Jazz.

A native of Ohio, Tim Hagans is one of the most exciting and innovative post-bop trumpet players around today. As a young man, he paid his dues playing in the Big Bands of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, among others. He established himself in Sweden as a swinging, high-energy trumpeter as well as an adventurous composer, and for several years he was the Music Director of the Norbotten Big Band (the jazz ensemble for the Swedish Radio Service). He simultaneously taught at several prestigious music schools around the U.S. (including the Berkeley College of Music in Boston) and established a career as a club and session musician in New York City. Tim was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award for "Best Jazz Instrumental Composition" for his tune BOX OF CANNOLI from the CD, THE AVATAR SESSIONS - THE MUSIC OF TIM HAGANS.

When Tim first arrived in Houston several years ago, I remember thinking, "This has GOT to be a good development for jazz in this city!" So far, my prediction (hope) has proven to be correct. Whether playing at Cezanne, Barnevelder, Dean's or other performance venues, Tim never fails to blow everyone away with his incredible chops, originality, musical generosity and ability to move outside while still swinging.

Frequently appearing with Tim are "The Subversives," three outstanding and versatile local musician/composers: Double-bassist Thomas Helton, Tenor & Soprano Saxophonist Seth Paynter and Drummer Richard Cholakian.

"Fearless" is the word that I think best describes this quartet's approach to new music. They skillfully move from the Art Blakey/Horace Silver early-bop styles through sounds reminiscent of Miles, Coltrane, Dolphy, Albert Ayler and on up to the Avant-Garde Stratosphere. Watching them play together, as they bounce ideas and themes off each other, takes us on a boundary-challenging journey. Early on, I decided to quit trying to figure out where they were going and just enjoy the ride -- it is exhilarating and enlightening to say the least.

Each performance this Sunday, April 3, will be divided into two parts.

The first will be a performance of the new ballet, KATSU, a largely improvised work for dancers, musicians and portable camera. Musical conception will be provided by Thomas Helton, and lighting designer, photographer and filmmaker Jeremy Choate assumes his new role as participant as well as documentarian.

The second portion of each program will feature Tim Hagans Subversive Jazz, with new compositions by Tim Hagans, Thomas Helton and Seth Paynter. Be prepared to vacate your musical comfort zone for a fascinating and Promethean experience. I look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Becoming Kinky

March 25, 2011

Why was Kinky Friedman at KUHF yesterday? Might have something to do with a new musical based on this singer-songwriter / author / politician / cigar-lovin' cowboy / Texas legend's life ... Tune in to find out on Monday, March 28th at Noon on The Front Row!

[Top photo, L-R: Ted Swindley (playwright), Little Jewford (sidekick, lifelong friend), Kinky Friedman; Bottom photo: Kinky & producer Bob Stevenson; photos by KUHF's Paul Pendergraft]

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This Year's Kisses

March 2, 2011
Here's the latest from KUHF's jazz correspondent Eric Ladau:

Houston has a reputation as a great city in which to reinvent yourself and, fortunately for jazz lovers, singer Danielle Reich fits right into that category. Although she was a jazz lover from a very young age, Danielle studied opera, music theory and psychology at the University of Florida. Upon her arrival in the Bayou City, her classical training allowed her to secure a position in the Houston Grand Opera Chorus. Amidst all of the Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, bits of Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk stubbornly clung to her musical gray matter, and Danielle found herself studying Jazz Theory with Joe Locascio at Houston Community College.

Her first jazz gigs were not what you would call particularly cool or glamorous -- early locales included the lobby of an office building and a gelato parlor in the Woodlands. However, Danielle's talent, dedication, diversity and swinging interpretations of old and new repertoire quickly endeared her to jazz musicians and lovers alike. She is currently busy singing most nights of the week at several locations around town, including the King Biscuit Patio Cafe, Tasting Room Uptown Park, El Pueblito Cafe and Vintropolis Wine Bar. More information can found on her informative website and Facebook page After gigging around Houston for about five years, Danielle put together a group of her favorite musical collaborators for her first CD release, This Year's Kisses. The musical lineup includes pianist and arranger Andrew Lienhard, trumpeter and producer Carol Morgan, saxophonist Seth Paynter, bassist David Craig and drummer Daleton Lee. The full sextet performs this evening, Wednesday 3/2, at King Biscuit Patio Cafe, 1606 White Oak Drive in Houston and for us today on The Front Row.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fat notes and a swingin' sound

February 24, 2011

KUHF's Jazz Man-About-Town, Eric Ladau, filed this report:

Trombonist Andy Martin leads something of a fantasy life -- at least from the point of view of jazz lovers and musicians. I had the opportunity to speak with him earlier this week, and his enthusiasm, combined with breathtaking musical skills, have renewed my faith that the jazz Gods are smiling upon us -- particularly for those fortunate enough to be attending the 13th Annual Moores School of Music Jazz Festival this weekend.

By day, Andy is one of the busiest horn players in the Hollywood studios. Just a tiny sample of his film and television credits include Mission Impossible III, Glory Road, Rush Hour, Planet of the Apes, Monsters Inc, Spiderman, Enemy of the State, Invasion, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Family Guy and King of the Hill. Andy is also "First Call" trombonist at Hollywood's Pantages Theater, playing for such Broadway blockbusters as The Producers and The Lion King.

As night falls, Andy finds himself carrying on the Big Band tradition of his idols Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino, as well as his father David Martin, an accomplished trumpeter and dedicated music teacher. Andy is a regular in several West Coast big bands, most notably the phenomenally successful Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.

Andy spends a good bit of time on the road as a clinician and jazz ambassador for young folks eager to stretch their ears, develop their chops and follow their dreams as jazz musicians. Andy emphasizes plenty of practice, developing good listening skills and familiarity with diverse musical styles as key to success in the demanding commercial music world.

In addition to all of his engaging personal traits, Andy is simply a MONSTROUS trombone player. He will dazzle you (and everyone else) with his sharp fat notes and swinging sound. I promise you that.

Houstonians will have three opportunities to enjoy Andy’s playing (and meet him) this weekend.

1. Friday, 2/25 - Noon to 1pm: Free Clinic and Performance at the Moores Opera House
2. Saturday, 2/26 - Noon to 1pm: Free Clinic and Performance at the Moores Opera House
3. Saturday, 2/26 - 7:30 pm: Performance by MSM Jazz Orchestra featuring Andy Martin

Monday, February 21, 2011

Poets take over the studio

February 21, 2011

Call it a Front Row "mug shot." I love this photo of acclaimed poets Tony Hoagland and Nick Flynn, who engaged in some studio shenanigans by posing with each other's book. Tony's latest collection is Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty [in the hands of Nick Flynn, right], and Nick's collection is The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands [held by Tony Hoagland, left].

The two friends and colleagues, both on the Faculty of the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program, had a lively discussion of their works, with topics ranging from love, torture and fake Japanese dynasties to the risk of writing political poems. Listen to their complete conversation here.

Nick Flynn's new poems have the whisper of overheard conversations, the rhythm of Morse code. They are "like haunted houses ... full of the voices of the dead and the fragmented nature of the self," as Tony Hoagland said. A poem that begins as if spoken by two lovers takes a dark turn of survival and desperation: "First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make a cage of our bodies -- inside we can place / whatever still shines."

As Nick described, Tony's poems reveal "the struggle of what it means to be alive ... wrestling with subtle and complex emotional states [which] move in and out in a recognizable landscape of bewilderment." Those familiar landscapes include The Galleria, dinner parties, a subway station or MTV, where Britney Spears is "nothing less than a gladiatrix / who strolls into the coliseum / full of blinding lights and tigers."

The poems I love always surprise me in content or form. You think it's about one thing, but it shows you something else. Instead of arriving at epiphany, it may lead to more questions. It can take a complicated, unsettling idea, like torture, and make it sing. Read it aloud - it will make you hear the sound of your own voice, and certain words, in a whole new way.

Poets Nick Flynn and Tony Hoagland read from their new collections -- Wednesday, February 23, 5:30pm at the University of Houston's M.D. Anderson Library, 713.743.1050. Free.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nora the Cat comes to Jones Hall

February 18, 2011

When I first heard of Mingaudas Piecaitis' CATcerto, a concerto for cat and orchestra, I secretly wondered if the Houston Symphony would ever perform it. Well, that day has come!

This weekend, on the same bill as pop star Kenny Loggins and his hits like Footloose and I'm Alright, the Houston Symphony will perform the feline concerto on the first half of the program.

For those imagining a cat being led on stage and placed before a cat nip-dusted Steinway, I should explain that Nora the Cat will not actually be present, but rather the CATcerto is performed by live orchestra with a cleverly edited video of Nora's piano playing. The charming piece might have you wishing someone would bring Nora out for a little bow at the end.

Performances are Friday, February 18 & Saturday, February 19 (8pm) and Sunday, February 20 (7:30pm) at Jones Hall. Principal Pops Conductor Michael Krajewski will be on the podium. Vocalist Kenny Loggins headlines, with Nora the Cat as the opening act.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dennis Gonzalez Yells at Eels

KUHF's jazz correspondent, Eric Ladau, files this latest report:

One of the pioneers and founders of Progressive Jazz in Texas joins us on The Front Row, Friday, January 28 for an energetic and enlightening session of music and discussion. During the 1970's, Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez was inspired by the Chicago-based AACM (Association the Advancement of Creative Musicians) to move away from traditional jazz styles of swing and bebop to explore a more cutting edge and aggressive sound. The legendary saxophonist Anthony Braxton visited Dallas and encouraged Dennis to form "daagnim" (Dallas Association for Avant-Garde and Neo-Impressionistic Music). In addition to providing outlets for composition and performance of new music, "daagnim" quickly became a record label as well, featuring numerous recording sessions led by Dennis Gonzalez and others.

Beyond composing and recording, Dennis hosted a radio program entitled Miles Out on KERA in Dallas for 21 years beginning in 1978. He appeared on many jazz programs around the world, including organizing a jazz orchestra for Student Radio in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Among the many musicians inspired by Dennis Gonzalez are his sons, bassist Aaron and percussionist Stefan. Both had established careers playing heavy metal and punk when in 1999 they formed the trio Yells at Eels, combining jazz with several different types of rock influenced genres. The result is music with a high energy, swinging groove with lots of room for soaring (and technically brilliant) improvisation and experimentation.

Yells at Eels along with guest tenor saxophonist Jason Jackson will be performing Saturday January 29 at 6 pm at Barnevelder Movement/Arts complex located at 2201 Preston Street. The presenting organization is Houston-based Nameless Sound.