CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Jazz Is Alive Online, or My Week of Listening Virtually: Day Two

Lee Mergner reports on the second day of his immersion in online jazz performances over the course of a week

Nate Najar and Daniela Soledade performing for weekly stream of Love & Bossa Nova

Fortified for binge-watching by a diet of Coca-Cola, red wine, seltzer (you have to hydrate at a festival, even indoor ones), and homemade ice cream (tonight’s flavor: peach) and hunkered down at my house in Emerald Isle, N.C., I dove into another evening of online jazz shows. This time I was more prepared, with both my credit card and any appropriate login/password information on hand. I also learned to double-check start times, as one of the shows started a half-hour later than the time that had originally been sent to me by the venue.

On the subject of time: Given that we’re in the COVID “stay-in” era, why do so many artists and venues still prefer a 7:30 or 8 p.m. start, particularly on weekend nights? For some people it’s way too early and for others it’s way too late, but few of us are going out to dinner or coming home late from work. I was glad to see that SFJAZZ’s series was named Fridays at Five, until I discovered that it was Pacific Time, meaning yet another 8 p.m. ET start.

If you’re running into schedule conflicts with shows, look for tickets that give you repeat access to your show at a later time in case your computer crashed. Or you crashed. Or, in my case, had at least four shows going at the exact same time. I’ve found that any of the sets for which a paid ticket was required enable you to watch the show at any time on demand, though not indefinitely (the availability window is usually open for about 48 hours from when the musicians first came on).

In any case, the performances today were uniformly well-recorded and produced with excellent sound and image. It can often be hard to hear the bass player, but what else is new? It doesn’t help that I’m listening to the music through my computer’s speakers, which have an audio fidelity only slightly better than the transistor radios of my childhood. Note to self: Tomorrow, send the audio to a Bluetooth speaker and see if the bass surfaces.

Day Two: Friday, Nov. 13

5 p.m. Paolo Fresu & Daniele di Bonaventura for the Italian Culture Institute of Washington

This short concert from the Italian Culture Institute of Washington was co-presented by the DC Jazz Festival and featured the lyrical and evocative duo of trumpeter/flugelhornist Paolo Fresu and bandoneonist Daniele di Bonaventura, who performed original ballads, a Puccini theme from La Boheme, music by Neapolitan composer Ernesto de Curtis, “O que sera” by Chico Buarque, and lots of improvisation. The music was highly atmospheric, leaning on influences from jazz, South American music, classical music, and electronic music. One could imagine the session being released on ECM Records. It didn’t swing, but it did sing.

Daniele di Bonaventura & Paolo Fresu (photo c/o Pannonica)

Streamed on Facebook, the production was clearly produced beforehand, apparently in Milan, and was beautifully filmed and recorded. This session points out one of the surprising benefits of online shows—that we can easily watch performances from halfway across the world, while people in other countries can catch jazz greats at venues in New York City or at one of the noted jazz festivals. A small silver lining to this COVID era.

Stream on Facebook pages of Italian Culture Institute of Washington and DC Jazz Festival.

Cost: Free

7 p.m. Imani-Grace Cooper at An Die Musik

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The Washington, D.C.-based singer and songwriter Imani-Grace Cooper held forth at a venue well-known to jazz fans in the Baltimore area, but less familiar nationally. An Die Musik is located on the second floor of a building on Baltimore’s busy Charles Street and is set up much like a loft during the olden days of jazz in cities. Before COVID, this hybrid of nightclub and arts center presented both jazz and classical artists nearly every night at affordable prices and took advantage of its close proximity to the Peabody Institute, where Sean Jones heads the jazz program.

Imani-Grace Cooper performing at An Die Musik Live in Baltimore
Imani-Grace Cooper performing at An Die Musik Live in Baltimore (photo by Andrew Bohmam)

Sans any audience other than the audio and video team, Cooper performed a 45-minute set of all originals, I believe (I missed the first few songs), backed by Warren Wolf on piano, Craig Alston on electric bass, and Charles Wilson on drums. Ms. Cooper certainly is well-named, because her tunes all seemed to reflect themes of love, faith, and grace. A graduate of the prestigious Howard University jazz vocal program, she has an impressive vocal range and her music is very much a mix of gospel, R&B, and jazz, comparable perhaps to an early Roberta Flack. She’s part of a generation of vocalists like Jazzmeia Horn and Veronica Swift who aren’t necessarily hidebound to the Great American Songbook and are looking to write more personal songs that reflect their experience as jazz women of the 21st century. As a true connoisseur of holiday music, I was pleased to see her take a stab at a Xmas song of her own, one with a clear-eyed spiritual message in what can be a crass and commercial world. And I knew that the noted vibraphonist Wolf could play the piano (and drums too), but to hear him do a whole set on a beautiful grand piano in a trio format was revelatory.

The stream was nicely recorded with a very natural live sound, though, as always, the bass could be hard to hear. The filming was fairly basic but fine and was aided by the simple setup and bright lighting, so that you didn’t feel you were in a dark club. Anybody who’s done a Zoom or WebX call knows the importance of light for streaming video. Check out future shows from An Die Musik, which has been streaming live sets since the pandemic started. This show was their 136th! Most of the artists are based in Baltimore and DC, but there are plenty of excellent ones, both emerging and established, in that region, as tonight’s stream demonstrated.

Stream on the An Die Musik Live YouTube channel.

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Cost: $8

7:30 p.m. Daniela Soledade and Nate Najar for Love & Bossa Nova

The Brazilian singer Daniela Soledade joins her partner Nate Najar for a duo concert from their home base of St. Petersburg, Florida, every Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET on both of their Facebook pages. The two set up in what looks like a high-rise apartment with a glass backdrop that should distract both visually and aurally, but in fact looks and sounds fantastic, as if they’re performing on the roof of a swanky hotel; think of the late-night lounge scene in Lost in Translation. Besides being a masterful guitarist, Najar is also a wizard in the recording studio as an engineer and producer, and it shows in the audio quality for their stream. The two sat side by side as Najar played his nylon-string acoustic guitar behind Soledade’s exquisite vocals, with professional mics on each.

Nate Najar and Daniela Soledade

The repertoire is indeed bossa nova as advertised, and Soledade sings Brazilian tunes in perfect Portuguese. As the granddaughter of Paulo Soledade—who wrote songs with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Baden Powell, and other Brazilian music greats—and the daughter of musician and producer Paulinho Soledade, she has real bona fides. That would explain the absence of any false notes. Also, the duo has been doing these shows for 35 straight weeks now, and you can feel the musical chemistry between them. If you love bossa nova and Brazilian music, I highly recommend that you tune into this stream. Best of all, because it’s on Facebook, you can catch it later—and, of course, it’s free. They sometimes start a little late, but given how long they’ve been doing these sets, I give them a pass on that.

Stream on Facebook pages of Daniela Soledade and Nate Najar.

Cost: Free

8 p.m. Sons of Kemet with SFJAZZ Fridays at Five

I think I picked the wrong week to check out this long-running series from SFJAZZ in which the organization offers up a video from its vast and impressive archive. I had seen the Sons of Kemet at the Quad stage (or, as I call it, my stage) at Newport last year, not too long before this performance was recorded as part of SFJAZZ’s Summer Sessions series. I know that this group represents the new wave of jazz from Great Britain and is a hit with critics and young audiences. Maybe you have to be a critic or young to enjoy the band’s sound and direction; I’m neither. Too bad for me, because next week Fridays at Five will feature the Anat Cohen Tentet, a band I really adore. They’re followed in subsequent weeks by Gregory Porter, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the Klezmatics, all very different but all in my wheelhouse. Well, now that I’m an SFJAZZ senior member—which has been proven here by my response to saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, tubist Theon Cross, and company—I can watch any week I want.

Sons of Kemet at SFJAZZ Center (photo c/o SFJAZZ)

I can say that the production of these archival videos was excellent and I highly recommend the series. Just as importantly, I recommend the SFJAZZ organization, which is one of the great jazz presenting and education programs in this country. So join as a member (or, like me, a senior one) and take advantage of these great shows on Fridays, and other days as well.

Stream on SFJAZZ’s YouTube channel.

Cost: Free to SFJAZZ members

8 p.m. Renee Rosnes Quartet at the Village Vanguard

I am embarrassed to admit that this was only the first time I’ve seen a stream from this historic and treasured jazz club, but it won’t be the last. The Village Vanguard is hallowed ground to any jazz fan, but for some reason I was imagining that the stream would be as stripped-down as the club’s menu and décor. However, the presentation is as if you’re sitting at one of those prized tables right in front of the stage or in that raised area at stage left. As with every show that I saw tonight, the sound and video were excellent. We expect the former at the Vanguard, which has the most natural acoustic jazz environment of any venue in the world, but it’s not a given when you have to transmit that room sound out through the internet. The band was beautifully captured by multiple cameras for this 75-minute set. At first I thought that the video had been pre-recorded and edited because the production was so smooth and professional, but at one point during a closeup of a drum solo I saw the camera go skyward as if the holder had fallen. It was only a second or two, but instead of coming across as amateurish, that moment told me they were shooting the band live. And doing it well.

Renee Rosnes at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival
Renee Rosnes performs with Artemis at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival (photo: Alan Nahigian)

And what a band it was. Led by pianist Renee Rosnes, the quartet featured Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Peter Washington on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums, a true all-star lineup. Rosnes is a pianist of great depth, whose facility on the instrument never gets in the way of the music. There’s a clarity about her playing that’s apparent at any tempo, and she can play fast at times. She’s also the type of pianist who enjoys a powerful rhythm section, which is certainly what she got tonight. Normally, the brilliant Lewis Nash would hold down the drum chair, but with musicians dispersed to places of shelter all over the country, she brought the singular Stewart onto the gig. I love his playing—the shine and shimmer of his cymbals and the propulsive nature of his bass drum. He and Washington locked in for this set of Rosnes originals (including “Mirror Image” and “Galapagos”) as well as tunes by Alec Wilder, Billy Strayhorn, Dubin/Warren, and Thelonious Monk. Having a master saxophonist like Potter was icing on the cake.

The four will be back tomorrow night, meaning Saturday, so pay your $10 and check them out. Yes, $10. Worth every cent and more, if you choose, which I was happy to do given the enjoyment they gave me. After all, I saved on the cost of any drink minimum because here at Almost Paradise in Emerald Isle, it’s BYOB every night. More of a drink maximum than minimum.

Stream on the Village Vanguard’s video channel.

Cost: $10