"He did a lazy sway . . . To the tune o' those Weary Blues. " --- Langston Hughes

Photo entitled "Jazz City" (NYC, 2007) by William Ellis
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Apr 2, 2008

Q&A: (Stephen Kellogg)

As the frontman of a well-oiled, American roots rock ’n’ roll quartet, Massachusetts native Stephen Kellogg is no stranger to the road.

The singer/songwriter/ guitarist and his sidemen, The Sixers — drummer Brian “Boots” Factor, bassist and pianist Keith “Goose” Karlson and guitarist Chris Soucy — are so at home on the bandstand that they spent exactly nine days recording the tracks to their latest album, “Glassjaw Boxer.” That’s not to say they don’t like being at home, spending time with friends and family, but it just so happens that the group, in recent memory, has traveled the country, and in fact, racked up nearly 300 shows in a year.

Kellogg said his biggest regret is feeling like he hurried through a project that usually takes a bit more time; nonetheless, the result is an untreated collection of songs with a style evoking a kind of musical realism, which is to say most of the songs on the album don’t disappoint when played on stage. The songs’ recorded textures as heard through an iPod or stereo are easily recreated when played live because they don’t stray into a world of slick productions.

Mar 6, 2008

California Sounds

What are the odds that the first name of a musician is the exact adjective one would use to describe his work? Well, for Sunny Levine, who grew up in Los Angeles and now makes his home in Venice, this is just the case. Levine's music seems to soak up the temperature, color, and landscape of California's southern region a with the kind of fervor characteristic to only a native.

“People say my music has a California sound, a new California sound, and I think definitely geography has a big influence over me,” said Levine. “I think the music sounds sort of easygoing - stuff that would work outside in the sunshine and late at night with the palm trees blowing.”

Growing up as the grandson of the iconic Quincy Jones, son of music producer Stewart Levine (Simply Red, Joe Cocker and B.B. King, to name a few) and nephew of QD3, who has produced albums for rappers Tupac Shakur and Ice Cube, Levine was destined for a career in the industry.

Feb 28, 2008

A Jersey Girl

Nicole Atkins is the hottest singer no one has ever heard of. Sort of. The New Jersey native has performed on David Letterman's show while Rolling Stone dubbed her an “Artist to Watch,” not to mention she is considered a precious gem within the artistically bejeweled city of New York.

The 29-year-old's debut album with Columbia Records is inspired by her hometown and shares its name with the New Jersey seaside enclave: “Neptune City,” just down the road from Asbury Park in a state known as the land of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

“I wrote this whole record at a time when I was just moving back to New Jersey after not living there for eight years,” said Atkins, “So it was all about trying to make myself OK with living there again. It's actually getting a lot easier for me to be there because I'm on the road all the time so when I get home, that familiarity is really intoxicating.”

The album, recorded in the height of winter in Sweden, seems to encapsulate the love/hate relationship Atkins once had with Neptune City and the kind of opaque and nautical qualities of the Jersey shore that give the music textures and sounds that feel like the soundtrack to the sea. It also exemplifies her stylistic mood she calls “pop noir.”

Feb 21, 2008

Aussie Invasion

The Australian-born singer Missy Higgins, who first took to the piano at the age of 6, has discovered a new instrument to write songs: the guitar.

For her latest work, “On a Clear Night,” Higgins composed the majority of her tunes on the stringed instrument and from the first notes you can hear the emergence of a new direction - in terms of tempo, lyrical content and a newfound sense of clarity - as compared to her last work “The Sound of White.”

“I usually sit down at the piano when I'm feeling somber and I feel like writing a ballad, and I usually pick up the guitar when I want to write something a bit more angst-ridden because you tend to write with rhythm when writing on a guitar,” said Higgins.

The Melbourne native actually wrote most of the songs for the new album while on the road in support of “The Sound of White” and had only the portable guitar to express her musical ideas.

“I wanted these songs to tell a story in the most beautiful way possible,” she said. “All of my songs have a sense of a narrative to them, I guess, and I wanted to really put that in the forefront and allow the songs to build and allow the songs to kind of speak for themselves.”

Jan 10, 2008

Q&A:(Terence Blanchard)

Marking its 50th anniversary in 2007, the Monterey Jazz Festival is one of the longest running events of its kind with a notable history in which everyone who's everyone in the jazz world has made an appearance.

The event was the brainchild of its co-founders Jimmy Lyons, San Francisco-based radio disc jockey, and Ralph Gleason, and debuted in 1958 with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Shelly Manne, Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Harry James, Max Roach and Billie Holiday. The festival, which takes place at the Monterey Fairgrounds, has grown over the years to showcase music on nine stages. It also offers panel discussions; workshops; exhibitions; clinics; and a myriad of food, shopping and activities scattered throughout the 20-acre space.

This year, a piece of the festival will come to fans across the country in the form of a touring group, featuring trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist James Moody, vocalist Nnenna Freelon, pianist Benny Green, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott. The tour commences in early January with dates in 52 cities in 22 states, including a stop at UCLA's Royce Hall Jan. 18, and commemorates an event synonymous with historic jazz performances, which this September, drew 45,000 fans with all three days sold out, setting a record.

Jan 4, 2008

All-Natural Music

“He talked of the way of the world and where we are going-it was probably the most amazing situation I've ever been in, spiritually,” said Aussie troubadour Xavier Rudd about his session time with First Nations Cree elder Kennetch Charlette - one of several guest singers on the musician's album entitled “White Moth.”

Rudd met Charlette, a member of the Cree Nation and resident of Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan, Canada, through an Australian medicine man during a past tour to the North American country. Charlette, during his three-hour visit in the studio, sang traditional prayers with one in particular to Mother Earth, which made its way into the song “Footprint”- a contribution that Rudd feels is the most poignant part of the record.

Mar 8, 2007

Inspired by Duke

It is sweet sounding but also aggressive. It can support a song in a percussive and rhythmic way or can create a vibrant sense of harmonic and melodious colors. It is the vibraphone - an instrument invented in the United States in the early 1900s and popularized throughout the history of jazz by the varied styles of legends like Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Cal Tjader and Terry Gibbs.

As a gifted vibes man, Stefon Harris follows in the footsteps of such predecessors and as a jazz musician is part of a rich cultural and musical heritage that is truly American, a legacy he indelibly rejoices in with his new work “African Tarantella: Dances With Duke,” on Blue Note Records. The album celebrates what is the genius of Duke Ellington by way of pieces from his “New Orleans Suite” and “The Queen's Suite,” and the immense growth, skill and emotion of Harris by way of excerpts from his original composition, “The Gardner Meditations.”

Harris, in his 30s, who has an ear for creating brilliant colors and an expansive palette of sound, enlists the talent of only nine players - Harris (vibes and marimba), Junah Chung (viola), Louise Dubin (cello), Anne Drummond (flute), Greg Tardy (clarinet), Steve Turre (trombone), Xavier Davis (piano), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Terreon Gully (drums) - to establish a textured and orchestral sound trademark of Ellington.

Feb 15, 2007

The Rocking Homebody

“I don't really ask too many questions and later on I can apply it to my own situation to see where it fits into my life, but normally when I write songs I write down whatever comes into my head, and I try not to make it too linear,. I'm not a big fan of writing about what's going on in my life,” said Texas-based rock 'n' roll singer Bob Schneider about the songwriting process.

His latest album entitled “The Californian” is a collection of 14 songs recorded live - with the exception of a few vocal and guitar overdubs - in Austin at Jack Rocks studio, and are part of 27 songs recorded over a period of about four days. The work documents Schneider's band - aptly called The Bob Schneider Band - before the departure of its guitarist Billy Harvey who left once the group wrapped on the work. Schneider originally convinced Harvey to play with the band - Bruce Hughes on bass, Derek Morris on keys and Rafael Gayol on drums - for three weeks in 2001, which turned into four years.

“We have been playing as a band for a few years now and touring nonstop so we knew the material pretty well,” said Schneider about recording “The Californian” released in 2005. “We just went in and blasted through it. It was pretty crazy.”

Feb 8, 2007

Musical Melting Pot

Whether you call it Latin hip hop or a kind of dark soul jazz or orchestrations in electronica, there is no doubt the music of the New York City-based group Si*Sé is nothing short of rousing, provocative and ingenious.

Founded in 2000, by its singer Carol Cárdenas and DJ U.F. Low (a.k.a. Cliff Cristofaro), Si*Sé (pronounced see-seh), also features Ryan Farley on drums, Morgan Phillips on bass, Neil Ochoa on percussion and Jeannie Oliver on viola who has since been replaced by Tarrah Reynolds on violin.

“I think from the time we started the band to now, we've seen a lot of growth in Latin lounge and electronica music,” said Cárdenas “It's always evolving and it's nice that a lot of it is being heard now more than ever.”

Feb 1, 2007

Lemonade from Lemons

“I've really enjoyed the people I've been working with, so on the creative side of it, it's been really wonderful,” said singer/songwriter Glen Phillips about his career as a solo musician.

Phillips, formerly of the group Toad the Wet Sprocket, released his new work “Mr. Lemons” in 2006, and recorded it in east Nashville with a group of local players and some dear friends.

“There is definitely a character to players in Nashville and that has, I think, a really big effect on things,” said Phillips. “It was a really great group of people to be around, and that part was exciting. In Nashville, people just want to play, they are all about just working, and know they will get a job today and get a job tomorrow, and it's great to have people who will come in (to the studio) and do whatever it takes to make things sound good.”