All That Jazz Month: Phoenix, AZ, November 9-30, 2012
The harmony charts were well-balanced and flawless, from founder Tim Hauser and original members Janis Siegel and Alan Paul in 1974 to longtime colleague Cheryl Bentyne, who replaced Laurel Masse after she was injured in a car accident in 1979. Solo spots showcased Hauser's ageless and mellow elegance that define the group harmony. Bentyne's soprano continues to be supple and high-energy, despite battling cancer during the past year and rejoining the group in July. Paul's relaxed charm is tailor-made as the ensemble's balladeer. Siegel's rich horn-style vocalese improvisations were alternately soothing and swinging. Musical director-pianist Yaron Gershovsky pleased the audience with his intro for the Count Basie version of "Corner Pocket (Until I Met You)." Like the Rolling Stones, these "elders" show no sign of diminishing energy or talent.
The DIVA Jazz Trio, the core of the all-female orchestra created in 1992, is proof of musical intuition. Following the short opening set by a local jazz quartet featuring Eric Rasmussen (director of jazz studies at Scottsdale Community College), drummer-leader Sherrie Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda delivered their November 10th concert at the MIM as a solid collective, while affording individualistic opportunity in every chart. Powerful big-band drummer Maricle provided the propellant, but never eclipsed her coalition partners in this small-group setting. Ohno's keyboard invention was dazzling in concept and technique-strong, while Ueda delivered round warmth on acoustic bass, even adding a bit of scat. With a far-reaching repertoire, from the evergreen "Bye Bye Blackbird" to a most-modern "If I Only Had a Brain," the trio played a thoroughly satisfying set.
Then they brought on Grace Kelly, the 20-year-old saxophonist who's been stunning listeners around the world on alto and soprano saxophones. She was nothing less than fearless in her blazing bebop solos. Her astonishing technical agility created ear- boggling flights, but she proved equally capable of treating a ballad gently. While there was a rock-star element in her onstage movements and wardrobe choices, she obviously respected the genre of music she has chosen to pursue. This one is not simply a prodigy, but a talented and trained musician who has developed the confidence to challenge herself in each outing. Born in Massachusetts of Korean parents, Grace Chung was adopted by her mother's second husband, Robert Kelly.
Dorado Schmitt and the Django All-Stars brought the 1930s sounds of the Quintette du Hot Club de France to the MIM on November 18 (the concert added to MIM's jazz month after the group's tour ended in San Francisco before returning to Europe). The French guitarist-violinist is dedicated to the gypsy jazz oeuvre of Jean "Django" Reinhardt, the genre known in France as "jazz manouche." Like Reinhardt, Schmitt merges swing and bebop via lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic bass and violin, plus an accordionist, as Reinhardt briefly used in his early years of performance. Unlike Reinhardt playing only acoustic guitar, Schmitt was on electric guitar for this concert, but his infinite control and speedy agility were amply displayed.
"Sweet Georgia Brown" was an anticipated rendition, also "Minor Swing" and "Nuages," with Xavier Nikq slapping the upright bass as Schmitt and rhythm guitarist Franco Mehrstein delivered counterpoint melodies. Violinist Pierre Blanchard rekindled memories of Stéphane Grappelli's work with the Quintette, and Ludovic Beier impressed with his accordion prowess. Schmitt's "Bossarado" merged samba with Django-jazz for a fascinating change of pace. Schmitt has starred for the past 10 years at New York's annual Birdland Djangofest.
An added element of jazz month was the showing of "The Girls in the Band, a 2011 film that will be released soon, after its premier at a recent Palm Springs, Calif., festival. Director Judy Chaikin explored women's roles in jazz as instrumentalists, composers, arrangers and conductors. The archival footage and stills that Chaikin assembled were enhanced by interviews with many of the women themselves, among them drummer Viola Smith, trumpeter Billie Rogers and saxophonists Rosalind "Roz" Cron and Peggy Gilbert, also contemporary musicians including pianists Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor and Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, arranger/composer Maria Schneider, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Maricle.