Travels: Singapore/Colombia

September 13th, 2008

A lot of air miles have been logged in the last ten days by yours truly. First on the agenda was 24 hours in transit to Singapore from JFK to take part in the first Harry’s Jazz Festival as featured artist. Harry’s is a chain of restaurants and pubs in Singapore, some of which feature jazz on a regular basis. Harry’s Bar @ Boat Quay has had the same group playing six nights a week for 16 years! This group, fronted by a remarkable bassist from Los Angeles, Christy Smith, was the rhythm section for a powerful front line of NY players: myself, Keith Loftis (tenor sax) and Vincent Gardner (trombone). The proceedings tipped the hat to Buhaina (Art Blakey) by concentrating on Jazz Messengers repertoire, from classic Wayne Shorter up to some of the tunes I brought in to the last edition of the Messengers. House drummer Eddie Layman, whom I played gigs and sessions with in my early days in NY, did a fine job of stoking the rhythmic fires ala Art B. – and my fellow front liners were fantastic! I had played with Vincent before but really got a chance to hear him on this gig. He’s a hard swinging and amazingly literate (in the sense of knowing the tradition and repertoire of this music) player who totally knocked me out! Keith Loftis is a new musical acquaintance, but I know I’ll be seeing more of him – I love his style and sound on the instrument, capable of a great range of nuance accompanied by harmonic savvy & sophistication. These cats had me on my best behavior! A great time was had by all. Singapore has got a vital music scene and I met a lot of fine musicians there over that weekend – even a great all woman Cuban band in a club killing it! I’d like to give a special mention to a wonderful pianist and composer, Michael Stanton, who played a set with us one night. I really enjoyed playing with him and performing one of his tunes dedicated to the great Willie Bobo, who he worked with in California back in the day.

BL, Keith Loftis, and Christy Smith

24 hours back and a brief pit stop at home to drop off the dirty clothes and kiss my wife – and back to the airport, bound for Colombia and a tour with an all-star cast playing some great music. I first played percussionist Samuel Torres’ music early this year on a Monday night at the NY Blue Note, and was greatly impressed by the verve and sophistication of his compositions. Samuel was also an important part of the new Lila Downs recording, “Shake Away”, that I played on, arranged for, and co-produced. I was happy to have the opportunity to delve into his music further when he called on a star-studded group (myself, Joel Frahm on saxes, Manuel Valera on piano, John Benitez on bass, the amazing Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, and Ralph Irrizary on timbales) to do a series of festival dates in his native Colombia. As I write, we’ve done two of four concerts, in Medellin and the very pretty city of Manizales, with two more dates to come in Barranquilla and Bogota. Along with playing Samuel’s music, we are also backing the legendary pianist Edy Martinez, who I’ve worked with previously in both New York and Europe, in a set of his own compositions, using added horn players from Colombia to fill out an expanded section. We’re having a great time in a beautiful land playing for avid audiences (Colombians are real music people!).

Last night I had the great pleasure of hanging out with a lot of great musicians at the concert of the Buena Vista Social Club in Barranquilla, where I’m playing tomorrow. More in my next post….

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