Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Concert Review: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at the Dakota

Last night I saw Herb Alpert and his wife Lani Hall at the Dakota jazz club. It was a great show! Lani Hall was one of the singers in Sergio Mendes's Brazil '66 group, and she and Herb have been married for 35 years. They finally did an album together, "Anything Goes," she sings jazz standards and he accompanies her on trumpet. When my Mom and I heard that they were coming to the Dakota, we knew we had to go. My Mom was a big fan of Herb's in the 1960's, and I've really liked his music since I was a teenager. (When I was in high school, I listened to a radio station that played a lot of his songs, so I would be hearing "A Taste of Honey" and "The Lonely Bull" as I got ready for school.)

I was blown away by how good Alpert still sounds on the trumpet. His tone is rich, clear and pure, and his playing is effortless. And he's 74 years old. I've heard that playing the trumpet gets more and more difficult as you get older, but Herb sure made it look easy last night. Lani Hall has a pure voice that is easy to listen to, and her phrasing is outstanding. It was fun to watch the back and forth between them, and to hear Herb respond to her singing on his trumpet. And it was fun to see the obvious affection between them, this is a couple still very much in love after 35 years of marriage! Some of the highlights for me were a beautiful version of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird," Herb's solo take on "Till There Was You," and a lovely medley of Antonio Carlos Jobim songs played as an encore. No, Herb didn't play any of his hits from the Tijuana Brass period, although he did quote from "This Guy's In Love With You," at the end of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," and he also offered brief quotes from "Spanish Flea" and "What Now My Love." When he played the little part of "What Now My Love," I got a shiver, he sounds just like he did 40 years ago!

There were also great versions of "Anything Goes," "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "That Old Black Magic," and a re-arranged "Laura." What makes Herb Alpert a great arranger is that he is able to combine disparate elements and make them into a coherent whole. His version of "Till There Was You" featured groovy percussion and finger snapping, which wouldn't seem to fit, but it sounded fantastic. It reminded me of what he did with the Tijuana Brass, combining things together into new ways and creating something new and different that sounds great. Herb and Lani's band was great as well. The band is Bill Cantos on piano, Hussain Jiffry on bass and Michael Shapiro on drums. Jiffry and Shapiro really got to shine last night, handling tricky rhythms all night long with ease.

Alpert's stage presence really surprised me. I had no idea what he would be like, but he told everybody that he wanted a very "informal" show, and then he asked if anyone had any questions. And he was serious! Eventually some people raised their hands and Herb answered their questions with charm and wit. One woman told a story about how in 1968 she was studying to be a nun, but she kept hearing his music being played by other students outside her window. She quit her studies to be a nun and never regretted it! Herb and Lani found that story very hilarious.

I was thinking the other day about what made Herb Alpert such a star in the mid-60's. I think it's just a matter of great music actually becoming popular. Sure, scorn it as mere easy listening music, but take another listen, there's a lot more there. Herb was able to cross the generational divide of the 60's. That struck me when I realized that my Mom, a college student who loved folk music and the Beatles, had lots of his albums, so did my Dad, and so did my Grandma, who turned 50 in 1966, the peak year of Alpert's popularity. His music was really appealing to everyone. (At one point in 1966, Herb had 4 albums in the Top Ten! No one else has ever accomplished this.) I can't listen to his music without smiling, perhaps the highest compliment you can pay music.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dave Brubeck at the Dakota

I saw 88 year-old Dave Brubeck at the Dakota Jazz Club on Wednesday night, it was an amazing show! Brubeck is still performing at the peak of his powers. I don't know how the guy does it. When he walks out on stage, he looks very much like a frail 88 year-old. But once he starts to play the piano, the years just melt away. He played 2 shows on Tuesday and Wednesday night, I was at the late show on Wednesday. He played for about an hour and ten minutes, and I sure got my money's worth.

Brubeck's group is great, they play so well together, they are a perfect example of the creative interplay that makes jazz so fantastic. Bobby Militello on alto sax and Randy Jones on drums have both played with Brubeck for more than 25 years, and Michael Moore on bass is the new kid, he's only played with Dave since 2000. Each member was given plenty of solo room to show their stuff, and they are all fantastic players.

Dave Brubeck is my favorite jazz musician, and I've been lucky enough to see him in concert 5 times now. I also got to intern for the journalist Hedrick Smith when he made a documentary about Dave. It's called "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck," and it was issued on DVD a few years ago, everyone should check it out. Every time I see Dave in concert, I kind of say to myself, "Okay, this could be the last time you see him, he's getting up there in years and he won't be touring forever." And yet, knock on wood, there's always been one more time. He's an incredible musician, and a great guy. He said at the end of the show, "I hope to be seeing you again very soon." I hope so too.