Early on in 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), Morgan Neville’s Oscar-winning and highly recommended documentary about backup singers, Bruce Springsteen notes that while the physical distance between the star and the backup singers is only a few feet, it is a long, hard journey to get across that distance. Lisa Fischer, a longtime member of the supporting cast for the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Sting, and other pop/rock/soul royalty, has seemingly been catapulted into a solo career by the film, but the journey from back to front actually took nearly 40 years—and that despite winning a GRAMMY in 1992. The trip required intense personal honesty and growth, and it has at last placed her otherworldly talents front and center where they rightfully belong.
With a 4+-octave instrument and a musicality that match those of the divas—from Aretha Franklin to Patti LaBelle to Mariah Carey to Whitney Houston—Fischer has been mesmerizing audiences around the world, backed by her band, Grand Baton, featuring JC Maillard on guitar and keys, Aidan Carroll on bass, and Thierry Arpino on drums. This coming weekend, she will lift Albuquerque’s spirits at the fifth annual gala fundraiser for Outpost Performance Space at the Albuquerque Museum’s amphitheater. It is a concert that is not to be missed. Continue reading →
New Mexico is blessed with a generous helping of world-class musicians of all types, artists who could play on the world’s finest stages (some do) but choose to make their home here. Stellar reed man, educator, and award-winning broadcaster, Arlen Asher has been on that list for 59 years. Since his arrival here in 1958, Arlen has beguiled audiences with his beautiful tone and his silky lines on an arsenal of woodwinds that he hauls to just about every gig—flutes, saxophones (he once confessed that the bari is his favorite instrument), and clarinet. On May 7, Arlen turns 88, but age has not dimmed his passion for the music. On May 4, this consummate gentleman will celebrate his birthday—and the 83rd birthday of jazz fan and producer Bumble Bee Bob Weil—with a concert in the hall that bears Weil’s name at the Outpost Performance Space. I caught up with Arlen recently to talk about the upcoming gig, which will include pianist Jim Ahrend, bassist Colin Deuble, and drummer John Trentacosta, as well as guest vocalists Judy Christopher and Patti Littlefield. The quartet will reprise the concert at the Museum Hill Café in Santa Fe on May 6, with guest vocalists Susan Abod and Pam Jackson (guitarist Michael Anthony will replace Ahrend). Here are some of the highlights of our conversation. Continue reading →
Connie Crothers and Bill Payne. Photo by Scott Friedlander.
Woody Mann and Charley Kratchy. Photo by Rod Franklin.
The late pianist Connie Crothers, who lives on the same trunk of the jazz tree as pianist Lennie Tristano, with whom she studied, has been the center of gravity for a number of impressive musicians who have flourished under her watch. Among those Crothers colleagues are clarinetist Bill Payne and saxophonist Charley Krachy, who appear on three albums reviewed here. Each of the albums features what drummer Carol Tristano, Lennie’s daughter, thought might well be described as organic improvisation. You might also call it spontaneous improvisation (but not free). The first two recordings are The Stone Set/Conversations, a double album that pairs Payne with Crothers. Released in 2011, it is still as fresh now as then. The second is Conversations, a brand-new release that pairs Krachy with renowned blues/jazz/Americana guitarist Woody Mann, who himself studied with Tristano. The albums couldn’t be more different, but the two duos share one thing: they live as comfortably and joyously in musical improvisation as dolphins do in the sea. Continue reading →