Monday, May 12, 2014

Singers, Musicians and a Solo Piano Gem

The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme celebrated its 1st Anniversary last weekend and is now starting Year #2 in great style.
On Wednesday May 14, vocalist/composer Rene Marie hits the stage and one best be ready.  Ms. Marie, a native of Virginia, is touring in support of her new Motema release, "I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt".  The CD, issued late in 2013, features the vocalist, her splendid trio (pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer/percussionist Quentin Baxter) plus guests Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Adrian Cunningham (tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute) and Etienne Charles (trumpet, percussion, horn arrangements) on a sultry, sexy, stimulating, quite enjoyable journey through 9 songs associated with the delightful Ms. Kitt (1927-2008).  Rene Marie's other releases on Motema - "Black Lace Freudian Slip" and "Voice of My Beautiful Country" - both came out in 2011, pushing the envelope in the style that her fans have gotten used to. She's not afraid to speak her mind through her music; the "Kitt" CD contains the original piece, "Weekend", that tells of a woman in an abusive relationship and a sexual encounter that could be viewed as rape.

Side Door attendees not only get to see Rene Marie and her Trio but Etienne Charles will be joining in on the gig.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the music starts at 8:30. Tickets are still available so call 860-434-0886 or go to

On Friday 5/16, The Side Door presents vocalist Sachal Vasandani.  The Chicago native and graduate of the University of Michigan, has been making listeners perk up their ears for the past decade.  He's issued 3 CDs for Mack Avenue Records, the latest being 2011's "Hi-Fly". His repertoire covers a wide swath of the American Songbook, from Broadway to Hollywood to jazz standards and his smooth voice never sounds out-of-place.  Joining him in Old Lyme will be the great young pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Buster Hemphll and drummer Jeremy Dutton.   Call the number above for more information and go to to learn more about the fine young singer.

You could make it 3-for-3 and show at The Side Door on Saturday and partake of Ray Vega & His New York Latin Jazz All Stars.  The trumpeter, a native of the South Bronx, has played with a slew of Latin music greats over his career including Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Arturo Sandoval and Mongo Santamaria.  Vega also has appeared on recordings and stages with composer Osvaldo Golijov, Paul Simon, Diane Schur, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and The Mingus Big Band (plus many more.) Lately, he's been concentrating on his All Stars Band, a quintet that features Andy Eulau (bass), Willie Martinez (drums), Chembo Corniel (congas) and Hartford-native Zaccai Curtis on piano.   The exciting rhythms will no doubt get you up on feet throughout the night.  Call 860-434-0886 to make the connection.

On Wednesday, Cafe Nine, 250 State Street in New Haven, presents a triple bill organized by the New Haven Improvisers Collective.  Scheduled to appear is the 11-member Large Magic Ensemble, electronhic, plus Guitar Trio E (Jeff Cedrone, Chris Cretella and Bob Gorry) and the duo of cellist Daniel Levin with drummer Juan Pablo Carletti.  The Large Magic Ensemble will be performing a new work from New Haven-based composer Nate Trier while the Guitar Trio E will play play music from its new CD, "Goodbye Watson." The music commences at 9 p.m.  For more information, go to or call 203-789-8281.  

Firehouse 12's Spring Concert Series rolls right along and this week welcomes the Russ Nolan Quartet.  Tenor saxophonist/ composer Nolan, a native of Illinois who now lives in the borough of Queens, has just issued his 4th CD as a leader, the aptly titled "Relentless" (Rhinoceruss Music).  The recording features the band on the CD including bassist Michael O'Brien, drummer Brian Fishler and the fine Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera (see below) and that's the group he's bringing to the performance venue. Nolan, who took up salsa dancing 7 years ago, brings a strong sense of  rhythm to his music but does not skimp on melody.  Valera leads a group called the New Cuban Express that explores the many facets of the music of his native land.  Both he and Nolan are excellent soloists, pushing each other to play their best; with the rhythm section percolating beneath them, the music rarely if ever stumbles.

The Russ Nolan Quartet will play 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. - for ticket information go to or call 203-785-0468.  To learn more about Mr. Nolan and his music, go to

"Self Portrait" (Mavo Records) is pianist Manuel Valera's 8th recording as a leader and first solo piano effort.  As one can tell from the title, this is a musical biography, a compendium of Valera's influences and inspirations that range from Bud Powell to Bill Evans to Thelonious Monk to Erik Satie to George Gershwin to classic songs from a Cuban and a Mexican composer.  There is a short "Impromptu" dedicated to Russian composer, pianist, musicologist and lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky. Valera even plays a sweet blues tune to close out the program.

This project may remind some listeners of the solo piano series Concord Jazz created at Maybeck Recital Hall. The piano sound is impeccable, very live and full - Valera recorded his music on 2 separate dates in November 2013 in the Arlan Harris Piano Salon.  This is wonderful music to lose one's self in. The music flows easily, nothing feels forced and the pieces are filled with long stretches of melodic invention.  There may be thousands of recordings of Monk's "Ask Me Now" but few as exciting as Valera's rhythmical romp through the melody and rhythms. The original ballad, "Hope", has moments where the phrases take one's breath away with the emotional content.   "Water" has lines that would not be out of place in a Broadway musical, a poetic piano melody that could have words but conveys its message with elegance.

"Self Portrait" is dazzling without overwhelming the senses, a confident. mature, statement from its creator.  I have played this recording all the way through on numerous occasions and continue to find moments that surprise or challenge me.  Manuel Valera has technique galore but does not fall back on cliches or speedy riffs that might impress one but fall flat on repeated listenings.   This music, this hour of pure joy, comes from a pianist who is self-assured, confident, masterful and clearly in his prime.   For more information, go to

No comments:

Post a Comment