Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

Leftover Salmon Tours as a Duo

Jam band Leftover Salmon’s co-founders—Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt—are out as a duo and they’ll hit Philadelphia’s City Winery February 12 and two shows at New York City’s City Vineyard February 13. It’s their first time out alone together after 30 years. It’s a different format too, allowing for stories and history. The set list keys in on LS rarities as well as “some of the quieter songs that we don’t bust out that often,” according to Emmitt.   

The Trumpeter

After paying his dues in New Orleans from ’94 to ’98 and New York City from ’98 to ’03, San Francisco native Erik Jekabson returned home. This bandleader/arranger/composer/trumpeter—who has toured with Galactic, John Mayer, and the late tenor sax man, Illinois Jacquet (he’s also arranged for the San Francisco Symphony, Madeline Peyroux, and Ani Difranco)—now returns with his 14th album, One Note At A Time, by the Erik Jekabson Sextet III (World Hive Records). Using the cream of the Bay Area crop (tenor and soprano saxophonist Dave Ellis, guitarist Dave Mac Nab, bassist John Wiitala, drummer David Flores, and percussionist John Santos) and poet Avtocja (spoken-word poetry is still in vogue on jazz albums these days), he’s fashioned an entertaining hour-plus of funk, Latin, fusion, and post-bop. Guitarist Dave Mac Nab almost steals the show with his sneaky lines threaded throughout the action, but it’s the leader’s show as his trumpet can shriek like Roy Eldridge yet purr like Miles.

The Guitarist

Gordon Grdina plays some of the most out-there guitar when he’s plying his craft in adventurous avant-garde jazz bands. He gets earthy and funky when strumming and soloing in indie rock bands. He’s also a whiz on the oud when he flexes his worldbeat muscles transcending classical Arabic music into the realm of the instantly accessible (no small feat). Now, with his Nomad Trio’s self-titled debut (Skirl Records), he gets to interact with two other amazing musicians. Pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black are the perfect foil for his stylistic surprises. Pianist Mitchell, in his career, has been almost schizoid in his constantly bouncing back-and-forth between the acoustic and the electronic (here, he’s acoustic). Drummer Black is seemingly always somehow off-kilter and it lends the mix a kind of funhouse mirror quality where you don’t exactly know where the music is going but the journey is what it’s all about. Take “Wildfire.” It’s one of six Grdina originals, written while gazing out at the tableau of nature surrounding his Canadian retreat. The rugged violence and survival he witnessed from his perch as artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta lent itself to his vivid imagination and it all came out in this track. It all ends with a tune he wrote upon not being able to pronounce the name of one of his influences, Larry Coryell. The dream-like 9:03 of “Lady Choral” is graceful and delicate.  

The Female Vocalist

A native New Yorker now living and working out of Philadelphia, singer Kayle Brecher knows no boundaries. Her adventurism fully flowers on her eighth album, Kayleidoscope (Penchant Four Records). Graduating Temple University with a double-major of performance and compositions/arranging, she set sail back to Greenwich Village as a teenage blues singer but soon joined the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.

When John Coltrane took “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The Sound Of Music and turned it into a jazz standard, the song’s inherent melodic twists and turns were made manifest, thus paving the way for everyone from pop singer Jack Jones and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass to country singer Lorrie Morgan and Ariana Grande (who lifted that haunting melody for her “7 Rings”) to transcend it into the fabric of pop culture. No one does it like Kayle Brecher, though. You won’t even know what song it is until a few minutes into its extended 7:30 treatment.

“She” is her most provocative song. It’s the most profound homeless-woman song since Harry Nilsson’s “Mourning Glory” in 1969. “Something About You” goes Latin right quick. Her version of Jimmy Webb’s “Shattered”—not to be confused with the Stones song of the same name—rivals the Ronstadt and Garfunkel versions. “An Elegant Tale” hits its Afro-Cuban groove within seconds. In “Sea Of Dolphins,” she adds lyrics to Herbie Hancock’s 1965 “Dolphin Dance.” And most charming of all is her update on “I Remember It Well,” originally a duet between Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the 1958 movie musical Gigi.

The Male Vocalist

Sam Fazio comes out of Chicago fully formed in quasi-Sinatra mode as produced by the San Francisco duo Tuck & Patti who have added their particular veneer of hipness to the proceedings. Thus, while still adhering to the “Great American Songbook” of such overdone roasting chestnuts as the 1927 Gershwin standard “S’Wonderful” plus “Teach Me Tonight” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” he also writes a few and warbles away on some Tom WaIts (“Downtown Train”), Leon Russell (“Superstar”), Lennon/McCartney (“Eleanor Rigby”) and, most endearingly, a dramatic update on Bobby Freeman’s 1958 “Do You Want To Dance.”

What gives the 10-song presentation its appeal are the varying instrumental beds:  closing original “Share My Life” just has Tuck’s mellifluous guitar while Patti’s beautiful “Reverie” sounds like late-night cabaret with but a piano. Opener “Pure Imagination,” from the Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory soundtrack, pairs piano with harmonica for an elegant understated effect while the title track comes complete with rhythm section. These variations make what might have been a staid session into an entertaining whole. 

The Saxophonist

Richard Underhill wrote nine tracks plus plays alto and bari sax on the ninth album—the aptly named Crazy Time (Stubby Records)—of his Shuffle Demons, Canada’s most touringest funk/rap/post-bop band. They just got off the road hitting Central America, New Zealand, and Australia in time for a succession of Canadian music festivals. No wonder it’s been six years since their last album.  They’ve been doing this for the last 35 years and, this time, they’ve added some new blood:  tenor sax man Matt Lagan and poppin’ bassist Mike Downes (who combines a Jaco dexterity to a Flea wildness). From the blues to the instantly appealing “Cat Walk,” they bring the funk and the hiphop to the fore while madly soloing on the more modern jazz tracks.