Saturday, August 11, 2018

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2018

I went last year and was thinking I should go every year provided that I am in town but I almost missed the 2018 edition. Glad that I checked Jazz Datebook in the morning! I paid $45 on Saturday for the "All Stages" ticket that allowed me to go to not just the main stage but also the other indoor stages, like Cafe Stritch and Fairmont Hotel. I ended up listened to more than 7 hours of jazz. Great deal! This was the list of musicians I saw that day:

  • Sylvia Cuenca Quartet (Cafe Stritch): The drummer led her group to perform at Cafe Stritch from time to time but this time featuring Bassoon virtuoso Paul Hanson. Hanson also plays another instrument from the other end of the range: Soprano sax! As a fan of modern jazz, I enjoyed their music very much.
  • SJZ Collective (Fairmont Hotel): they played Thelonius Monk's music re-arranged for the group. Monk has a sound that is so unique that I think non-jazz fan could tell immediately he's different. I went there in the middle of a lengthy Hristo Vitchev guitar solo. He certainly rocked the house!
  • Nick Panoutsos Quartet (San Jose Museum of Art): this is a free stage that I could have attended without ticket and it's promoting newer musicians. The members of this quartet certainly looked very young. On the other hand, the group sounded very experienced and the original compositions were mature. I could certainly hear influences by Coltrane. 
  • Aaron Lington Plays the music of Astor Piazzolla (Fairmont Hotel): I bet most music fan have heard Piazzolla's Tango music one way or the other, especially Libertango, which was the first tune of this show. Of course they played a lot of less famous but not less interesting pieces by Piazzolla. Dr. Lington told us a bit of Piazzolla's story: when he was studying music, he struggled a bit with composing but then his mentor listened to him playing some tango from his home country of Argentina. His mentor asked him what was the music and encourage him to focus on tango. And the rest is history! As a member of the academics, of course Dr. Lington has great technique, demonstrated in his jazz improv as well as a classical (no improv) duet between his Baritone Sax and his wife's piano. The rest of the band was equally amazing with an unusual mix of instruments: accordion, violin (by Mads Tolling), guitar and drums. 
  • Brian Charette Trio (El Taurino): This performance was part of the 10th anniversary of the Jazz Organ Hall of Fame. I still remember going to the first one! In addition to playing his own compositions, he also played some classics as well as a less well-known piece by a legend: 8 Counts for Rita on Jimmy Smith's Unfinished Business album.

I saw some of the acts briefly between stages but I was really impressed by the Cuban musician Yissy Garcia and her band Bandancha. They played some very dance-able fusion jazz.

Here is the link to the pictures from the festival.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Summer of Steel Tour

對我來說,一年之中如果沒有去過一場重金屬音樂會(或沒有打一場高爾夫球)的話,那一年就白過了。老實說,隨著年齡增加,近年來看爵士音樂會遠比重金屬為多,要企足三粒鐘不停headbang更是對身體一大考驗!不過這些事情年輕不做,將來難度只有更高!老骨頭在Mosh pit肯定不堪一撞!

雖然SF Bay Area「出產」過不少知名Thrash metal樂隊,但本地經常有重金屬show的場地其實不算多,近年我去得比較多的是Oakland Metro Operahouse. 想到2018已過去了一半,即管到其網站找找有甚麼看,聽過金屬的樂迷,其實看看海報及樂隊名字大概也可以想像到其風格,這場音樂會主打樂隊Exmortus, 玩的果然就是死亡金屬(Mortus一詞解作去死),主音歌手兼結他手技術十分出眾,頗有neo-classical的味道,這場音樂會實在值回票價。

至於主角出場前三隊「熱身」樂隊,水準亦相當高,風格亦相近,我比較欣賞的是很傳統Thrash metal的Hatchet:

而melodic death metal樂隊The Absence則算意外驚喜。以下是這三隊今年新作的playlist:

Thursday, March 15, 2018


熟悉我的朋友都知道我是一個超級爵士迷,也是一個學藝不精的爵士樂手,平日最大娛樂要算是到各間爵士吧觀看現場表演,今天下午在三藩市辦公完畢,心想也不必急於回家,於是決定去「聞名已久」(數個月:P)的「黑貓」,星期四晚的戲碼是來自巴黎的鋼琴家Tony Tixier及其兄弟小提琴家Scott的樂隊,事先在Spotify已聽過兩位的音樂,頗為欣賞,雖然「黑貓」位處不是很太平的「田德隆區」,男人老狗也不用太膽小,找個Valet parking garage夠安全吧。轉過街角再行一個block,就見到位於Eddy及Leavensworth交界的Black Cat的大門,看起來頗有氣派,開門看到吧的裝潢(包括一支alto sax)更是喜歡,表演場地則在樓下(有NYC jazz club feel!) 樓下一邊是舞台,三邊是給食客的座位,中間是吧,圍著吧是酒客「專用」的高櫈,我在一張對正舞台的吧櫈坐下點杯威士忌寫篇字靜待開場,酒保說我選了全場最佳的四個座位之一,我當然無異議,不久旁邊三個最佳座位也被三位女士分別坐滿。第一場玩了一半,遲到的低音結他手終於加入演奏A Night in Tunisia, 客觀地說比之前沒有低音結他那首Misty的確更感豐富。中場休息時間我再以行草重寫晏幾道《臨江仙》一次,居然引來鄰座那位女客搭訕,問我是不是在翻譯甚麼?我簡單解釋了一下我只是練習兩種書體,而草書則有點爵士即興的味道,然後討論了一點表演場地,比較一下大家平常去的地方,原來大家都是首次到黑貓,她更是遊客(陪同同是爵士音樂人來錄音的丈夫到SF)話題一轉:著名屋崙爵士俱樂部Yoshi's太平與否(Jack London Square一帶還可以,但坐公共交通工具的話很難說)而她其實打算由田德隆走到Civic Center坐地鐵轉CalTrain回Menlo的住處,那就真的很不太平了(至少我自己不會這樣做)由於她和丈夫的住處實在太接近我家,作為有紳士風度的我當然offer送女士回去,(事實上也不是第一次,前年去聽完老師表演Flamenco結他,剛好又有一位同枱女士就住在我歸途之上!)途上當真「聞君一席話,勝讀十年書!」她是一位職業爵士音樂人(教育家兼鋼琴演奏家),建議我多點做transcription,及如何把學到的licks變化;作為地頭蟲的我則介紹了本地一些我比較喜歡去的爵士表演場地給她,讓她找找表演機會;也介紹了一點香港的爵士樂壇狀況(順帶提及我在high school reunion表演爵士結他被問到「可否彈點同學們聽過的歌?」那次慘痛經歷。BTW,我其實彈了Michelle,只是無人聽得出那編曲吧)這真是一個特別又愉快的晚上。

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2017

This is an annual event I try to attend if I am in town and free 'coz I'm all for supporting local artists and performances. I paid $40 on Sunday for the "2nd tier" ticket that allowed me to go to not just the main stage but also the other indoor stages, like Cafe Stritch and Hammer Theater. (The former has become my "home" club these days. ) This was the list of musicians I saw that day:

  • SJZ Summer Camper (main stage): these were our next generation (high school students?) of jazz musicians! Gotta show some support (hey, the main stage was right next to the ticket booth!)
  • Dmitri Matheny (Cafe Stritch): anyone that enjoy Art Farmer's flugelhorn playing would certainly like his performance. The theme of his latest project was about 70s 80s movie and show music. To be honest, I don't really care for too much. However, he also paid tribute to the late Chris Cornell by covering Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"
  • California Guitar Trio + Montreal Guitar Trio (Hammer theater): the two trio first play by themselves starting with the latter. And they began the show with some Spanish/Flamenco music, which I have always been a big fan of. Then they played a tune influenced by Indian music. I appreciated the complexity a lot. Compared to the other group, the California Guitar Trio certainly sounded more "West Coast" (actually, Pacific ocean) since one member came from Japan. In fact, their tune that I enjoyed the most was named "Komorebi" According to them, the Japanese word means the sun ray one sees when walking though a dark forest (or something more "poetic" than that!)  Then both trio joined force to play as a sextet. Their fusion of Tango and minimalism (think Philip Glass!) was certainly very interesting. Among all shows on Sunday this is the only one I listened from start to finish! (Even bought MG3's latest CD "Danzas - Spanish Guitar")
  • Jazz by 5 (main stage): This super group features the biggest name of this festival with Javon Jackson (sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Eddie Gomez (bass), George Cable (piano) and Jimmy Cobb (drums)  Really an all-star lineup! Too bad the main stage was not the ideal venue: it's outdoor and many people were talking so there's lots of noise. I could barely hear Gomez's fantastic bass solo through the speakers. I think that was a Miles Davis modal tune. 
  • Taimane (Jade Leaf): I gotta admit I went because of the picture of an attractive lady holding a ukulele. It turned out she and her guitarist were very talented musicians. What a dynamic duo! (Think Rodrigo y Gabriella) Their Michael Jackson cover was particularly impressive.    
  • Anton Schwartz Sextet (Fairmont Hotel): Schwartz is a very active local sax player (both performing and teaching) and a regular of the festival. I enjoyed their cover of Pink Floyd's Money very much. 
  • Kurt Ribak Quartet (Forager): this is one of the completely-free-admission stages. This group led by bassist Ribak played very diverse music. And that place is huge and seems to feature live music regularly! The bar serves craft beers, coffee and bar food. (This place used to be South First Billiards, I wanted to play there for a long time but never did and never will!)  
  • San Francisco String Trio (Fairmont Hotel): I have been to concerts of 2/3 of this trio several times before: Mimi Fox (guitar) and Mads Tolling (violin) are two musicians that I respect a lot. They have technical chops and also not afraid to experiment. This format, with Jeff Denson on bass, is a prime example. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beatle's Sgt. Pepper, they came up with refreshing arrangements of several tunes for their trio. 

That's probably the best way to spend a weekend afternoon!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Jazz Radio and Sco

This week's "Jazz Night in America", broadcasted on KCSM Jazz 91.1 8/1 9PM PDT, features John Scofield. Well, that's a time slot I usually not listening to the radio :( Even though Radio Free America hosts archives of the station's radio program up to 2 weeks back, this is not included because it's not KCSM's original. Fortunately, I am able to find it on NPR:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music industry in the digital age

As a big music fan and amateur musician who doesn't make a living from the music business (also a tech guy who makes a living in the tech biz) I have always been interested in how tech affected the music industry. For example, everyone must have heard that illegal download was killing the record companies. Most people know about musicians got signed by record companies or work as session musicians and made money from record sales. It seems that illegal download or even legal streaming broke this model completely: musicians earn much less from streaming or downloads. Record companies became more "conservative" and only willing to promote artists that are deemed "safe bets" Even the "frugal" (i.e, not paying musicians enough) streaming service providers were not making a profit! (Well, at least the last one was no longer true for Napster, rebranded from Rhapsody, the service I used for years and just dropped in 2016 when they became profitable!) Some in the industry think high resolution downloads might save the day. It does have a niche market of audiophiles as potential buyers. Check out this article to see if this is for you.

So, what type of music company/service looked promising and profitable in the digital age? Here is an example: Bandcamps, which allows musicians to upload their music for free. They make money by taking a cut when fans buy downloads from musicians they enjoy. I guess it's really a win-win-win situation, isn't it? Not using traditional record companies as a middleman is definitely a trend. Jazz guitar master Martin Taylor has gone this route. In fact, this "route" is century-old, the same one used by Mozart! Basically his music was funded by his patrons: who got to watch Taylor's video and listen to his tracks.

Another jazz musician has also found his way to make money as a multi-faceted performer, recording artist (running his own label) and educator. That is trumpeter Dave Douglas. Bloomberg wrote an article about him (available to professional subscriber only)

I guess if you are savvy and good at music, you could still make a good living. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy International Jazz Day

Today is the International Jazz Day and I had a sort-of International Jazz month of April as I had a family vacation/cruise in Australia. I visited Cafe Stritch the night before I flew to see the Essiet Essiet Quartet featuring the fabulous Sylvia Cuenca on drums. And as the cruise (Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas - 8 day Queensland) was mainly geared towards old folks, I got to hear a lot of jazz by ways of oldies/easy-listening music. Of course there won't be any "pure"/free jazz (borrowing the terms from "La La Land") as it's opposite to the relaxing atmosphere. I am amazed by how versatile these cruiseship musicians are! Almost all of them could play some jazz standards and improvise over the changes. I could hear them relying on a few "cliche" licks but that's par for the course. (I would consider myself graduated from the Jazz High School if I play anywhere near that!) Over that week I hear almost every tunes I practices: Blue Bossa, Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Fly Me to the Moon, Satin Doll...... performed by:
- a guitar/violin duo: they handled the "easy listening department." For the first few days the guitarist strictly accompany the violinist who would take improvised solo. However, one night the violinist was MIA (I guess he went to rehearse with the Radiance of the Seas orchestra at that time for the Tango show later that night) and the guitarist played over accompaniment from his phone and I finally heard him soloing. It was very enjoyable.
- a guitar/singer duo: they sang oldies, country and standards
- a 4 man band: they could easily be a Eagles cover band but they play everything from the Rolling Stones to jazz.

After the cruise ended I stayed at Sydney for that Tuesday night and I visited Australia's most famous jazz club: 505. Even though its website mentioned it's Old School Funk Band's night, I figure I should just give it a try and the band was way more than OK! Everyone was playing with a ton of energy. The bass player surely knew secret of laying down a good funky groove. And everyone launched off from there. It was not "pure" but definitely "jazz", and high-quality one.

Gotta praise Air New Zealand for playing local jazz cats on their in-flight entertainment, including Ron Samsom's Ace Tone, The Rodger Fox Big Band Plays New Zealand's X and Phil Broadhurst Quintet's Panacea. I enjoy them a lot on my way home.

And I conclude the month of jazz with another visit to Cafe Stritch for the SJZ Camp Faculty Sextet. (This is the San Jose Jazz camp, not the Stanford Jazz Workshop camp that I attended before) The show started with a sad announcement though: local jazz bassist and SJSU professor John Shifflett has just passed away. The members of the sextet were all local musicians who were close to Professor Shifflett and we had a moment of silence before they played a set dedicated to him. I finally get a chance to see Brian Ho on piano/organ. (Saw his name listed on many local gigs before, including one at the Casino, but never get to see his performance) Trumpeter John Worley is a staple of the local jazz scene. So is guitarist Hristo Vitchev. It's a wonderful thing that we have so many world-class jazz musicians living, teaching and playing right in the (figurative) neighborhood!