Elina Duni Quartet

October 24th, 2012


Tuesday night was a treat to hear Elina Duni and her quartet at Cornish College’s PONCHO CONCERT HALL as the 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival proceeds. Albanian vocalist Elina Duni appeared with fellow ECM recording artists pianist Colin Vallon, bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Norbert Pfammatter on her first U.S. tour this fall.

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Her new album Matanë Malit (Beyond the Mountain) is an homage to Albania and a look at Balkan folk music through a jazz lens. Duni explores the region’s troubled history through songs of lovers, heroes, workers, shepherds, exiles and songs of resistance.


As a child growing up in Albania, Duni had little exposure to folk music. Folklore had socialist connotations and Duni’s family, like many others, distanced themselves from it to avoid conflict. “I fell in love with the old songs and discovered that not only could I sing them and feel them but that this was really my voice, emerging in a very natural way. It was as if it had been waiting to be activated,” Duni explains.

She left Albania at 10 years old, when the Communist regime fell, and moved to Switzerland with her mother to seek refuge. “This album is the echo of my childhood, my exile and my reconciliation with the two worlds that have shaped me; the Albania of my roots and the Switzerland of my life today,” Duni says.

Duni studied singing and composition at the Hochschule der Künste Bern between 2004 and 2008, where she met Colin Vallon. Together, they discovered the rich history of Balkan folk songs and connected with the music immediately. Shortly thereafter, they formed the Elina Duni Quartet with Vallon on piano, Moret on bass and Pfammatter on drums.

They released their first album Baresha in 2008 on Meta Records, followed by Lume Lume in 2010. Both albums received praise from the Swiss, German, Austrian and French press and spurred a string of European tours and festivals.

Duni gives a captivating performance with a voice that is both tender and euphoric. She often sings barefoot and embraces the spontaneity of jazz. “To me, all improvised music is a jazz state of mind. We feel no obligation to play a song the same way twice,” she says. Tonight, the Elina Duni Quartet merges with this snap of kinetic energy.

– ST

Bobby Previte leads his Voodoo Orchestra West Monday night at The Triple Door as R=Earshot Jazz Festival rolls on.

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New York-based drummer Bobby Previte first brought his transcriptions of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew-era psychedelia to NYC’s Knitting Factory with the weekly Voodoo Orchestra 15 years ago. Now Davis’ seductively brooding electric music is resurrected with a cast of seasoned Seattle pros:
Saxophones Neil Welch, Kate Olson, bass clarinet Beth Fleenor, French horn Tom Varner, electric bass Keith Lowe, string bass Geoff Harper, Fender Rhodes Ryan Burns, keys Wayne Horvitz, B-3 organ Joe Doria, electric guitar Tim Young and percussion Jeff Busch.

Under Previte’s direction from the drums, the pieces often progress at differently than what Davis devotees are accustomed to. His Voodoo Orchestra West conjures the source material’s spirit and atmosphere; they play as themselves in Davis’ court, rather than simply emulating the sidemen on the original records. That allows a freedom to uncover their own starts, stops and melodies.

Monday night at the Triple Door as the 2012 Earshot Jazz festival enters another week of wonderful performances, The  Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble put on a great set.  The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble is a  conduction group led by Wayne Horvitz, featuring many of the same musicians as the Voodoo Orchestra who they were opening for: drums Bobby Previte, saxophones Greg Sinibaldi, Neil Welch, Kate Olson, bass clarinet Beth Fleenor, trumpets Al Keith, Samantha Boshnack, Steve O’Brien, trombones Naomi Siege, Jacob Herring, French horn Tom Varner, string bass Geoff Harper and piano Ryan Burns.

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The Royal Room Collective operates around a unique system of instant arranging fueled by musical symbols that Horvitz newly created specifically for this music.

– NB

Gregoire Maret

October 23rd, 2012

Gregoire Maret performed on Sunday and Monday at Tula’s as part of the 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival. I did’ny know what to expect and was happy to linger and listen to his set after I finished shooting. The group was veyr tight and Tula’s was warmed up on a cold wet evening on Monday. Maret performed with an electrifying quartet behind him, featuring pianist Federico Gonzalez Peña, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn.

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Gregoire Maret was born in 1975 in Geneva, Switzerland, and began playing the harmonica at age 17. His childhood was filled with a diverse array of musical influences from his Harlem-born, African American mother and Swiss father, a local jazz musician.

Upon graduating from the prestigious Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Genève, Maret moved to New York City to pursue jazz studies at the New School University.

Over time, Maret honed his craft, becoming one of the most sought after harmonica players in the world. Often compared to legends Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder, Maret has played with an incredible number of famous musicians, including Youssn’Dour, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Pete Seeger, David Sanborn, George Benson and Cassandra Wilson.

In 2005, Maret won the Jazz Journalists Association Player of the Year of Instruments Rare in Jazz Award, toured with the Pat Metheny Group, then embarked on a two-year tour with the world-class bassist Marcus Miller and subsequently joined Herbie Hancock’s band. He has developed his own unique sound, and his versatile style enables him to play effortlessly across different genres.

Most recently, in May 2010, Maret played at the Concert for the Rainforest with Elton John and Sting. Prior to that, he recorded a duo album with Andy Milne entitled Scenarios (ObliqSound).

His recent debut as a bandleader on Koch is an ambitious self-titled release, Grégoire Maret, that features high-profile guests, including harmonica legend Toots Thielemans, bassist Miller, vocalists Cassandra Wilson and Gretchen Parlato.

Maret assisted his sponsor, Suzuki Harmonica, in creating his own Gregoire Maret G-48 and G-48W Signature Chromatic Harmonica Series and continues to record and tour with incredible collaborators. – DB


Lionel Loueke Trio

October 22nd, 2012

Lionel Loueke Trio was the headline act last night at the Seattle Art Museum Plestcheeff Auditorium as the Earshot Jazz Festival rolls on. Beautiful sounds from this trio especially the unique Lionel Loueke on vocals and guitar.

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Hailed as a “gentle virtuoso” by the New York Times, guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke followed up his acclaimed Blue Note releases Karibu (2008) and Mwaliko (2010) with the extraordinary Heritage, released in August of this year. Co-produced by pianist and label mate Robert Glasper, Heritage finds Loueke in top form.

A veteran of bands led by Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock, Loueke brings jazz into vibrant contact with the sounds of West Africa, in particular, his native Benin. Starting out on vocals and percussion, Loueke picked up the guitar at age 17. After his initial exposure to jazz in Benin, he left to attend the National Institute of Art in nearby Ivory Coast. In 1994, he left Africa to pursue jazz studies at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, then came to the U.S. on a scholarship to Berklee. From there, Loueke gained acceptance to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, where he encountered his Gilfema (ObliqSound, 2005) release bandmates – bassist Massimo Biolcati, drummer Ferenc Nemeth, vocalist feature Gretchen Parlato – and musicians with whom he would form creative relationships.

The title of his latest recording, Heritage, is a direct reference to his personal odyssey. “I have two heritages,” Loueke says. “One is from my ancestors from Africa, and that goes through my music, my body, my soul, every aspect of what I do. But also I have the heritage from the Occident, from the West, from Europe and the U.S. I speak English, I speak French, and I have that heritage too.”

While Heritage finds Loueke performing with a larger ensemble at times, he remains explosive in the trio context with bassist Biolcati and drummer Nemeth.

Dos y Mas

October 22nd, 2012

Earshot Jazz presented Dos y Mas at the Seattle Art Museum Plestcheeff Auditorium last night, Wow. What a great show. Elio Villafranca and Arturo Stable, two Cuban-born maestros of jazz and world music, unveiled Dos y Mas, their debut recording of their exquisite new piano and percussion collaboration, on Motéma Music, January 2012.
Villafranca and Stable have developed loyal followings both as leaders and for their work with many of the world’s top musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Pat Martino, Johnny Pacheco, John Faddis, Billy Harper, Esperanza Spalding, Lionel Loueke and Paquito d’Rivera.

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Both artists are avid and creative educators who are as in demand as lecturers at universities as they are as performers at festivals, clubs and cultural centers. Villafranca is a resident professor at Temple University, while Stable teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he designed their unique hand percussion major of study.

Stable says, “Working with Elio is a very rewarding experience. He is always open to new ideas and to taking risks, musically speaking. I love that, because it means the music can always take a new direction. We share similar backgrounds culturally and musically, so the connection between us was there since the beginning. I always feel I learn something new when we perform together.”

Villafranca agrees, “Arturo’s musicality and ability to play many different hand drum instruments with facility, elevated my playing and my interpretation of his playing. Together we have arrived a new musical dimension.”

– DB

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From Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Arga Bileg performed last night at the Seattle Asian Art Museum as the 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival continues. In a packed sold out concert, Arga Bileg presented an uncanny blend of jazz and Mongolian folk music created with traditional and western musical instruments in a transporting evening complete with piano and horse-head fiddles and zithers and throat singing – Arga Bileg blended old and new on both Mongolian and Western instruments. It makes me want to hop on an airplane and fly off to Mongolia.

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Founded in 2009 by percussionist Gantulga Ganbat, this eleven-piece ensemble – dancers Enkhgerel Dash-Yachil, Odbayar Batsuuri, Bayart Dash-Yachil, Norovbanzad Byambasuren and musicians Davaazorig Altangerel (fiddle), Batzaya Khadhuu (fiddle), Munkhtogtokh Ochirkhuyag (zither), Purevsukh Tyeliman (pianist), Jigjiddorj Nanzaddorj (fiddle), Bayasgalan Terbish (percussion) –combines several years of talent from the group’s award-winning musicians, composers, dancers and choreographers.

Arga Bileg members sit on the National Morin Khuur Ensemble of Mongolia, the country’s prestigious national orchestra, and have performed in venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Beijing’s National Grand Theater and the Vienna Philharmonic. In June 2010, the band released soundtrack to horror film Dev and ethno jazz record Deelt – albums with electronic elements and modern interpretations of folk songs.

Traversing layers of geographic, historic and musical complexity, Arga Bileg brings Mongolia’s contemporary music and choreographed dance all the way from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
– Sarah Thomas

Buster Williams Quartet

October 21st, 2012

The big guns rolled out for this 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival concert on Saturday night at the Seattle Art Museum Plestcheeff Auditorium. Bassist Buster Williams locked and loaded the jazz love cannon with pianist Patrice Rushin, saxophonist Mark Gross and drummer Ndugu Chancler.

Seattle photographer Michael Craft filled in for me at this concert and I am sorry I could not have been there to hear  and see it. Click on the schedule here 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival  continues.

As a boy, Williams heard bassist Oscar Pettiford solo on a record and the rest is history. His bass-playing father, “Cholly,” was a fan of Slam Stewart and, like Stewart, strung his two basses at a higher pitch so that he didn’t have to reach as far to play high notes. Buster recalls that his father said, “If I restring my bass for you [to the normal tuning], you better be serious!”

Williams was serious. He began working with saxophonist Jimmy Heath in 1959. One month after graduating from high school, the 17-year-old hit the road with saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Then came gigs with singers Dakota Staton, Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. He joined pianist Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet and later the Timeless All Stars and Sphere.

Williams’ strong left hand slides up the bass neck during solo passages, creating his characteristic smooth slurs, glissandos and vibrato. His compositional maturity is on display in “Christina,” with pedal points, contrary motion between bass note and melody, developing melodic motif and emotional relief. No wonder this tune has become a standard among performers.

All this talent and humility too? “You see, I always enjoy playing other people’s music,” Williams says in a 1987 interview. “I don’t enjoy as much playing my music. I hope that someday I will enjoy playing my music as much as I enjoy playing other people’s music.”

Ernie Watts w/ Marc Seales Trio

October 21st, 2012

California saxophonist Ernie Watts backed by Seattle’s Marc Seales Trio opened the program at Saturday night’s Earshot Jazz Festival presentation at the Seattle Art Museum Plestcheeff Auditorium.  Watts and Seales have collaborated for 15 years, playing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant twice a year and recording two CDs together. Watts was saddened to hear of Gaye Anderson’s recent passing and hopes that the New Orleans will continue its tradition of live music.

Seattle photographer Michael Craft filled in for me at this concert and I am sorry I could not have been there to hear  and see it. Click on the schedule here 2012 Earshot Jazz Festival  continues.

Like Williams, Watts’ devotion to jazz began at an early age. He started playing saxophone at age 13 in Delaware. The next year, his mother bought him a small record player and joined the Columbia Record Club. The first free record was a new release by Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. The intensity of sound from saxophonist John Coltrane became a central focus for the rest of Watts’ life.

A DownBeat scholarship took him to Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He replaced saxophonist Gene Quill in the Buddy Rich Big Band and toured the world for two years. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles and worked with Gerald Wilson and Oliver Nelson. Decades of work in recording studios followed and Watts toured with Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden. Watts became a charter member of Haden’s Quartet West, which is still working and recording after more than 25 years.

Watts and his wife Patricia formed Flying Dolphin Records in 2004, and tonight’s performance features music from his latest release Oasis. Watts says that he will be performing originals and tunes that he loves – Coltrane’s “Crescent,” Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “Shaw Nuff.” The “music velocity and energy should be very enjoyable and invigorating,” Watts says.

– SG

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Phil Dadson Ensemble

October 19th, 2012

At the Chapel Performance Space on Friday night, Earshot Jazzz Festival presented the Phil Dadson Ensemble. New Zealand home-made-instrument innovator Phil Dadson, above right, performed with three Seattle soundscapers: Bill Horist, Paul Kikuchi and Steve Barsotti.

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Dadson is a sound installation artist, solo performer, experimental instrument maker and composer. He is the founder of the sound-performance group From Scratch (1974-2002), which developed an international reputation for an innovative sound and performance style that included sculptural, ritual and theatrical elements with large, custom-built plastic instruments and industrial and natural materials used in a variety of non-electronic sounds and energetic rhythms.

Born in Napier, New Zealand, 1946, Dadson studied at Elam School of Fine Arts, where he later lectured in intermedia art from 1977-2001. He is co-author of the From Scratch Rhythm Workbook and Slap Tubes and Other Plosive Instruments, a DIY guide to building a variety of slap tube instruments.

Since 1990 he has received many major awards and commissions, including a Fulbright travel award to the U.S., and research, exhibition and performance grants to Canada, Japan, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hungary, Austria, UK, India and Argentina. A New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2001 led Dadson to further expand – in festival appearances, various new commissions; an Artist-to-Antarctica fellowship; and recently, a 2011 expedition of nine artists into the South Pacific, called the Kermadec Ocean Project, to produce works in support of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Phil Dadson writes: In terms of pure sound, I am attracted to intricate texture; the microscopic, the unexpected, the naturally rhythmic and the adventurous; to sound atmospheres and layered perspectives, to sounds that conjure mood and imagination, that convey ideas and express the human heart and soul.

– SH