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LA Art Party Newsletter

LAArtParty is an arts and entertainment website. Established in 2010, it is an online go-to guide for what's happening in and beyond the LA area - this includes dining, travel and more.

Founded by journalist, and "Blues Mama" Kathy Leonardo (a longtime performer), the campy site has an unusual slant which will keep you entertained. Leonardo has been writing for the past 15 years about various subjects for the Huffington Post, THRIVE GLOBAL, LA Weekly, etc.

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Review: Lula Washington Dance Theatre at the Wallis

Thank goodness for Lula Washington and her dance company for presenting a three-night series of poignant performances at the Wallis Center for Cultural Affairs on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend that offered a counter balance to the recent rhetoric coming from our current administration.
The third evening program called Movement for the Soul began with a dramatic history lesson, "The Little Rock Nine" portrayed the African-American student integration of Central High School in Arkansas on September 25, 1957 and highlighted dancers interpreting the spirit of the students who were present that day. "The Movement" , evoked the civil rights movement using a slide presentation showing the harsh reality images of Jim Crow racial segregation and lynchings along with the iconic experience of Rosa Parks (danced to "It Had to Be You") and an extended overpowering recording of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. These pieces were commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine and choreographed by Lula Washington who was born just outside Little Rock.

After a pause, the tone shifted to the playful frolics of children in "Snowy Day" choreographed by Tamica Washington Miller with music by Liz Story and narrative based on the book by Ezra Jack Keats that captured the wonder of the first day of snow as experienced by a little boy and his friends in the city. "Reign" (2010) choreographed by Rennie Harris with a music mix produced by James "JT" Wlconson elevated the audience's spirit with the high impact energy of the rhythmic beat and frenzy of delightful abandon moves of hip hop, African dance and touches of Krump performed by the core troupe joined by apprentices and student dancers.
Jan2018-Wallis-LulaWashington-Reign edited-1
Reign, Lula Washington Dance Company; courtesy of Lula Washington Dance Company;

After the intermission, we were engaged in "The Message" (2017) that brought four dancers into a taped off rectangle on the floor offering us their personal expressions in movement and words in response to the social and cultural dynamics that effect them, be it LGBTQ or the temperament of "45," and culminating with the clearly articulated heartfelt message of "we are all human and deserve peace, love and respect."

The final work, "Open Your Eyes" (2016), choreographed to five songs from the 1970's by Earth Wind and Fire once again embodied the uplifted freedom of the human spirit that hopefully is not lost to us today. Concluding the evening, Lula Washington came to the stage, had the dancers introduce themselves, then enjoined us all to stand, link hands and express "love" to those next to us, and as we left to convene in the lobby for a toast and acknowledgement of our shared and interdependent humanity.

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre is a Los Angeles-based repertoire dance ensemble that tours internationally has steadfastly focuses on using dance to explore social and humanitarian issues. www.lulawashington.org
Visit www.thewallis.org for upcoming dance, music and theater performances.

Review: The Heart of Robin Hood at the Wallis

The Heart of Robin Hood, a modern and bold new twist on the classic tale of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, is filled with aerobatic stunts, visually appealing set production that captivated the attention of everyone in the family. From the incredible vocals of Salka Sól Eyfeld guiding the scenes to tree climbing and sword fighting the night was definitely one to remember.
Dec2017-Wallis-RobinHood1Photo courtesy of the Wallis; photo by Luke Fontana

One of the most visually appealing aspects was indeed the set of Sherwood Forest and how the textures and sounds played a huge role in convincing the audience we were in the 15th century witnessing the tale.

Scenic designer Borkur Jonsson's created a vertical wall, that sat center stage with almost every character sliding into their scenes which added an extra element of both surprise and stunt work. The positions of the seats, textures of the set combined with the lighting and sound elements created such a next level realness that made everyone believe they were actually roaming the Sherwood Forest watching the entire story comedy and romance unfold from afar.

The tale follows Robin Hood (Luke Forbes) and his anti-women and anti-love man crew, Will Scarlett (Sam Meader) and Much Miller (Kasey Mahaffy), who roamed the forest preying on wealthy patrons passing through Sherwood Forest. All thievery acts were going as planned until Princess Marion (Christina Bennett Lind) fleas her kingdom to escape from marrying the evil and sexist Prince John and shows up wanting to join them. As Princess Marion sets out on her own mission with sidekick Pierre (a scene-stealing Daniel Franzese), to find Robin Hood in hopes she'll be able to join his crew and start "charity work." Things don't go quite as planned. Robin along with his crew run Princess Marion and Pierre out the forest robbed of her jewels and invitation to be apart of Robin's crew. But determined not be accept rejection she returns as forest thief Martin and is able to befriend Robin and begins stealing from passing nobles.
Dec2017-Wallis-RobinHood2Photo courtesy of the Wallis; photo by Luke Fontana

During the forest heist Prince John sends his men to find Princess Marion and return her to the kingdom, this is where most of the fight scenes, acrobats and comedy take place. The story unfolds to Robin Hood and crew being confronted by the Princes' men, Martin being captured and the entire crew plotting to overtake the kingdom in order to insure his return. The various turns, storylines and set design are beyond captivating and stimulate any need for excitement and thrill.

The Heart of Robin Hood runs through December 17, 2017 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Single tickets are now available for $35 – $125. Show times: Tues – Fri at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 2pm & 2:30pm; Recommended for adults of all ages and brave children. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 310.746.4000, or visit TheWallis.org/RobinHood

Theater Review: New York Water at the West Coast Jewish Theatre

Why do two lonely people, so desperate for a connection, they will do anything to find peace and happiness?  In New York Water, two neurotic New Yorkers meet through a personal ad, and find love in Manhattan. She is a self-absorbed narcissist and in her words, he is a fruitcake! Somehow her overbearing narcissist and his pathetic fruitcake hit it off. But they feel stifled in their native big city and decide to move elsewhere. And so their adventure begins as they travel on an odyssey to Iowa, then California, to explore, experience and try to save their unraveling relationship.

Albert, played by Ross Benjamin who is a ringer for his father, the handsome Richard Benjamin, gives an honest and sincere performance. His character is at times pathetic, and other times gentle, compassionate and hard not to like. And Linda, played by Bridget Flanery is very good as an over-the-top, self-indulgent and animated character who seems possessed by success and climbing the corporate ladder.
Dec2017-NYWater credited photo
Photo: Michael Lamont

Written by Sam Bobrick, who created the classic TV series Saved by the Bell, has received two Writers Guild Awards (Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show). His thirty-two plays include: Norman, Is That You?; Murder at the Howard Johnson’s; Hamlet II (Better Than the Original); The Outrageous Adventures of Sheldon; and Mrs. Levine and many more.

Directed by Howard Teichman, who is the Artistic Director of West Coast Jewish Theatre, his previous directing credits include Fugu; The Whipping Man; Luv; Last of the Red Hot Lovers; Sarah Sarah; The Value of Names; Lost in Yonhers; Rumors; Simcha (which he also wrote); and much more. Produced by Bill Froggatt and Howard Teichman for West Coast Jewish Theatre. Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. New York Water runs through Sunday, December 17. Regular showtimes: Fri. & Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 3:00. Purchase tickets HERE.

Theater Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! at the Ahmanson Theatre

Something Rotten! is anything but. The Ahmanson Theatre's Los Angeles premiere of the Broadway smash, which is nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is in fact many things -- hilarious, outrageous, superbly clever, dazzling to watch, bitingly satiric, emphatically original, and just generally a rollicking barrel of laughs and a ton of fun. But it is never rotten. A gut-busting send-up of Shakespeare, his plays and all things Shakespearean, it is at the same time an irresistible love letter to the Broadway musical. And sure enough, it ends up as a celebration and a top-notch example of the very thing it sets out to parody.
L-R- RobMcClure-BlakeHammond-SomethingRotten-Ahmansnan-PhotobyJeremyDaniel
L-R: Rob McClure and Blake Hammond (center) with the cast of Something Rotten! Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Something Rotten! is a tale of two playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom, who are stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance "rock star", Will Shakespeare, and their frustration propels them to set out to write the world's first musical play, after a soothsayer tells one of them that musicals are the next big thing in theater. Giving away any more than this of the plot would necessitate a spoiler alert, so suffice it to say that the soothsayer assures Nick Bottom that Shakespeare's next hit play, his greatest of all, will be something called "Omelette." And the zaniness ensues.

Happily, this touring company arrives in Los Angeles complete with three of the main actors from the Broadway run -- playing Shakespeare and both Bottom brothers, but the entire cast, newcomers and all, are perfectly chosen for their roles. Stand-out performers include Rob McClure (Nick Bottom), Adam Pascal (Shakespeare), Blake Hammond (Nostradamus), and Scott Cote (Brother Jeremiah). The songs, including such showstoppers as "Welcome to the Renaissance," "God, I Hate Shakespeare," and of course "The Black Death," are hysterically funny and brilliantly crafted by real-life brothers and long-time songwriters and TV/film veterans Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. The book is by Karey Kirkpatrick and best-selling author John O'Farrell. The award-winning design team from the Broadway production is all here intact, and the impeccable direction and choreography are by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin).
Adam Pascal (Shakespeare), with the cast of Something Rotten! Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

LA Art Party was lucky enough to view Something Rotten! on opening night, and the audience in the packed-to-the-rafters theater hooted and howled with laughter to such a degree that the action of the play was held up after several of the songs due to their enthusiastic applause, and they rewarded the company with a very lengthy and hearty standing ovation at the end.

As the show's press release notes, Time Out New York called Something Rotten! "the funniest musical comedy in at least 400 years," and they might not be far from wrong. If you love history, Shakespeare, Broadway musicals, the Renaissance, or just having a good time, hop on the train and head downtown to the Ahmanson Theatre (at the Music Center) and see for yourself. Visit the website for additional info and to purchase tickets. https://www.centertheatregroup.org/

Music Review: Brand X – Vintage Fusion Rocks the Canyon

Being a huge fan of Genesis in the 1970's meant discovering some very cool secrets behind the band, such as when I found their EP "Spot the Pigeon" on one of my near-daily trips to Moby Disc Records in the San Fernando Valley. The EP was released exclusively in the UK and was the last to feature guitarist Steve Hackett. Then I came across Armando Gallo's book "Genesis: I Know What I Like", filled with incredible photographs from the band's legendary and spectacularly theatrical shows of the early 70's, which of course featured the musical innovator Peter Gabriel . But of all the Genesis discoveries, the biggest surprise was finding out that Drummer and vocalist Phil Collins had a Jazz-Rock-Fusion side band called Brand X.
The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills – A hot spot for nostalgic bands of many genres; Photo by Richard Bilow

Today, over 40 years later, Brand X is recognized as a group of true musical pioneers, having helped create an entire musical genre and having influenced a broad spectrum of musicians and bands, from Phish to Dream Theatre. Their contemporaries include Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, all composed of amazing musicians crafting their own unique blend of Jazz, Rock, and World influences, now widely known by fans around the globe as Fusion.

With Phil Collins as their main drummer (from 1975-1980), the band released their superb debut album "Unorthodox Behaviour" in 1976, featuring members Percy Jones, Phil Collins, Morris Pert, John Goodsall and Robin Lumley. The guys had been doing sessions for Brian Eno, and decided to join forces and put out an album. The album cover featured artwork from the legendary design collective Hipgnosis (known for their work with Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin and hordes of others) – a sure sign that this wasn't just another band. I am a huge fan of the bass and what kept me captivated, just as it did in the days of my youth, was the hypnotic fretless bass playing of Percy Jones: aggressive, sinewy, extraordinarily proficient but always musical. Jones is on a par with innovator Jaco Pastorius.
Percy Percy Jones and his fretless bass; Photo by Richard Bilow

The band's next album "Moroccan Roll" surprised everyone by hitting #37 in the UK. In hindsight, it turns out they had created an uncanny masterpiece – a fusion album with melodies. Guitarist Goodsall plays a shimmering Sitar on "Sun in the Night" while percussionist Morris Pert manages to bang on everything including a few kitchen sinks. I got the chance to see Pert on Mike Oldfield's only US tour in 1982 at the Santa Monica Civic. My recollection is of him moving around the stage switching from drums, to timpani, to marimba in constant motion adding nonstop color to the music and creating a spectacle with his relentless attack – I could not take my eyes off of him. The musicians in Brand X, over the years, have been virtual masters. Pert played drums, congas, tam-tam, timbales, flexatone, vibraslap, marimba, vibraphone, timpani, tabla, gong, bell tree, tambourine, bells, kalimba, shaker, jawbone, assorted percussion and keyboards. Sadly, he passed away a couple of years ago. The band went on to release 6 albums before disbanding in 1980. Then they reformed as an augmented trio from 1992-1999, broke up again, then surprised the music world by reuniting again last year.

The reunited Brand X came to SoCal this week with four shows in the area featuring material mostly from their first three albums ("Unorthodox Behavior," "Moroccan Roll" and "Livestock" – a live album that featured new material). I attended the show at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and witnessed these remarkable musicians in action.
Brand X band; Photo by Richard Bilow

The band now features two founding members, John Goodsall on guitars and Percy Jones on bass with keyboardist Chris Clark, drummer Kenny Grohowski and percussionist Scott Weinberger (who studied under Brand X drummer Kenwood Dennard — the drummer and percussionist hand-picked by Phil Collins Collins to be his replacement).

Brand X is known for their unique combination of masterful chops mixed with their childlike melodies. This was evident with the opening number, where Goodsall displayed a nastier, snarling tone, only hinted at on the bands old albums, unleashing a cutting and angular solo, while Jones in fine form kept the frantic pace flowing with his deep, swirling fretless bass. All the while, drummer Grohowski's arms seemed to flail about like an octopus.

The band had little interaction with the audience verbally and let their instruments do the talking. They didn't introduce a song until the third number, when they played Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Yours Off Already) from "Moroccan Roll". The song highlighted the band's cohesiveness while also demonstrating their insane musicianship. In particular, Clark's keyboard solo was masterful. His spare and lovely, but crisp and sharply attacked playing evoked Chick Corea.
From left to right, Chris Clark and Percy Jones in their mutual zones, Photo by Richard Bilow

Next the band payed homage to their old mate Morris Pert by playing his song Earth Dance from their stellar 1978 effort "Masques". It was a spotlight for the percussive team of Growhowski and Weinberger. Then, before a brief intermission, the focus shifted to Percy Jones who proceeded to blow everyone's mind on Noddy Goes to Sweden, from the band's 1980 album "Do They Hurt?" Give the original a listen here: http://bit.ly/2k3pIax

While the first half of the show focused on the band as a unit, the second half was more about instrumental prowess. Goodsall really let loose and played homage to his influences, particularly John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. Keyboardist Chris Clark soloed and showed a cerebral approach, constructing his solo for maximum chromatic effect – deliberately eschewing any notes that could possibly be expected in a given moment. The result was dizzyingly satisfying. They followed the solo with two of their best – Disco Suicide which is as catchy as it is clever and Jones Malaga Virgen – a furious bass and drums workout. Here's a clip from a recent performance: http://bit.ly/2i8kHgu

It was appropriate that the band's final song was Nuclear Burn. The opening track from their debut album could be their best – it has all the elements that make the band shine – a catchy melody, a driving bass line, explosive percussion and stunning solos. Overall, it was wonderful to see these musicians bring new ideas and vigor to the material, with Goodsall and Jones exploring new sounds and Clark, Grohowski and Weinberger bringing their own musical identities into the mix. 

Review: Turn Me Loose at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills

TheWallis TurnMeLoose 7 Pictured-Joe Morton Credit-LawrenceKHoTurn Me Loose at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Pictured: Joe Morton as Dick Gregory. Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho.

"You can't laugh social problems out of existence" goes a line voiced by Emmy Award and NAACP Image Award-winning film, television and stage veteran Joe Morton as Dick Gregory in Turn Me Loose by playwright Gretchen Law. This West Coast Premier of the Off-Broadway hit is staged to partially transform the Wallis' Lovelace Studio into a comedy club with half the audience is seated at small tables close to the stage as we become intimately captivated by the words and life of the deeply passionate comedian and social activist.
TheWallis TurnMeLoose 12 Pictured-Joe Morton Credit-LawrenceKHoTurn Me Loose at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Pictured: Joe Morton as Dick Gregory. Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho.

As much a social political history lesson about race and civil rights as a stand-up act, we are taken back and forth between the 1960's when Gregory was finding his place in the entertainment world to the clearly spiritually grounded presence later in his life and at the time of his passing in August of this year.

Joe Morton subtly shifts in tone, posture and gait portraying Gregory over these 50 years while consistently delivering skillful soliloquies and verbal punches to the audience's gut, engaging us and keeping us off guard with jokes that educate and admonish our collective complacency. At one point he cajoles us to stand up in our seats and voice to him the racial epithet he so often hears when performing. Supporting Morton on stage to move through the flow of scenes is actor John Carlin who nimbly voices characters including racist audience members who taunt and heckle Gregory as he stands his ground.
TheWallis TurnMeLoose 16 Pictured-Joe Morton Credit-LawrenceKHoTurn Me Loose at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Pictured: Joe Morton as Dick Gregory. Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho.

Gregory had an internal voice knowing what to do from insisting to having a "seat on the couch" at the Tonight Show to standing with his friend Medger Evans weeks before he was killed and whose last words were "Turn Me Loose". Leaving the theater, Gregory's thoughts and feelings linger to offer more light on the racial and social issues we still confront today.

The production is directed by John Gould Rubin and produced by John Legend and Mike Jackson with an original song by legend. Turn Me Loose has an extended limited engagement through November 19. http://TheWallis.org

Review: Dorrance Dance at the Wallis

This past weekend (Oct 12-14), the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Michelle Dorrance, artistic director, founder and choreographer of Dorrance Dance, presented a three work production that fused hip-hop, break dancing, live music and individual style to create one of the most electrifying and riveting rendition of tap dancing.
Dorrance Dance 2Myelination Picturedl-rByronTittleandMichelleDorrance PhotoCreditKevinParryforThe Wallis
Dorrance Dance Myelination Pictured (from left to right) Byron Tittle and Michelle Dorrance Photo Credit Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Dorrance Dance celebrates the distinct tradition of dance through the vision of Artistic Director and 2015 MacArthur Fellow, Michelle Dorrance. Founded in 2011 the acclaimed dance company incorporates new and unique forms of dance, such as street, club & experimental dance creating a constantly evolving style of dance. This West Coast premiere version of Myelination included the Bessie Award-winning Three to One, Jungle Blues and a new, fully extended version of Myelination.

The harmonious relationships on stage between the live music, choreographed dance, and individual style variations is what the company is best known for. With each act layered in synchronicity, the music and movement became an extension of one another. Solo and duet performances were filled with head spins, handstands and bold improvised moves. The music and combined the personal style of each dancer told a story and evoked and intensified emotion. The bodies of the dancers moved as one with the band and the lights it all added to the intensity. The production was eccentric, molding modern and classical tap was received with great satisfaction and a standing ovation from the audience.
DorranceDance  Myelination 4 PicturedByronTittle PhotoCredit KevinParryforThe Wallis
Dorrance Dance, Myelination, Pictured Byron Tittle, Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Dorrance Dance has performed at celebrated venues such as Jacob's Pillow, The Joyce Theater, The Kennedy Center, New York City Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Vail International Dance Festival, National Arts Centre of Canada, Spoleto Festival USA, Fira Tarega (Spain), Staatstheater Darmstadt (Germany), and more.

Visit the website to find out about upcoming performances in your area.  https://www.dorrancedance.com/

Review: Jazz at Drew Concert Series

Returning last year, after an eight year hiatus, the 2017 Jazz at Drew Concert Series was held Saturday, October 7th on the campus of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU). This year marked the 20th time the event has taken place. According to David M. Carlisle, MD, PhD, President and CEO of CDU, there are two goals for Jazz at Drew, “First, as a fundraiser, it helps support CDU student scholarships, services and campus facilities.  Second, as a concert, it provides South LA with a first-class entertainment event as part of our commitment to bring as many resources as we can to the community in which we live and work.”
OCT-2017-MUSICREVIEW-JazzatDrewIt hasn’t yet been stated how much money was raised, but I can unequivocally declare that they delivered on their first-class entertainment claim! Plus, the event was well organized with a small shopping bazaar, plenty of food/drink options and ample bathrooms.

Jazz at Drew’s emphasis on showcasing homegrown talent with international appeal has been the distinguishing factor that separates the event from larger jazz festivals in Southern California. The home town community feel was evident from the start with the Honorable Maxine Waters seen walking through the crowd – giving everyone a smile and a wave to the crowd’s chants of “We love you Maxine.”

The Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center Jazz Band opened the show. In addition to its top level youth jazz program, the center offers free performing arts classes to students 5 – 20. The jazz students got things going with their opening tune, Stevie Wonder’s classic “Isn’t She Lovely.” Then, West Coast Get Down members Kamasi Washington and Ryan Porter joined the band. While the elders provided the solos, the kids laid down an ample groove and provided an early highlight with a driving version of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” which resonated with the crowd who were trying to get used to the 90+ degree heat.

Next up was veteran jazz and R&B singer Eloise Laws who is known to her fans simply at “El”. Ms. Laws is a member of the talented Laws family which includes brothers’ Hubert and Ronnie as well as sister Debra. The soulful, sophisticated singer started her set with “Last Days of Summer,” a song off her 1999 album The Key. The song emphasized her easy-going vocal style and her band’s potent chops. The focus on the heat continued with a sparkling version of Peggy Lee’s classic “Fever.” Throughout her set, El commanded a consummate stage presence that melted the crowd’s hearts and grabbed their attention with her passionate unique vocal style. A highlight of the set was El’s new single “Can’t Let Myself, Hurt Myself” – an authoritative and demonstration to the power and independence of the female spirit. She dedicated the song to all people, especially women.
dw3-RichardBilowDW3 makes a big impression (photo by Richard Bilow)

Local Latin soul group DW3 took to the stage next. DW3 is short for Down With 3 and the three are Damon Reel, Eric Mondragon and Eric’s brother Billy. At the Drew, the trio was augmented by five superb musicians that added a lot of color (i.e., horns and percussion) and really filled out the sound – kudos to the C-Town horn section. Another shout out should go the group’s guitarist who was featured in a couple of songs and as guitar fans would say, “The dude can really shred.” The group played a set of upbeat originals showcasing their new album “On the Floor” which produced two chart topping singles for urban format and was produced by two-time Grammy Award Winner Paul Brown and Marcus Miller.The group has a lot of talent and I’m sure glad I found out about them at the show. If you want to hear the band play in an intimate setting, they have a biweekly gig every Thursdays and Sundays at Spaghettini Jazz Club in Seal Beach.

Around 3:30PM, The West Coast Get Down (WCGD) took the stage. For those of you not familiar with the band, the WCGD’s month-long recording session in 2012 is already the stuff of jazz legend. Inspired by their packed-house jam sessions at the Piano Bar in Hollywood, the group got together and rented out a Los Angeles studio for 30 days. The results became a landmark jazz record (Kamasi Washington’s The Epic) and two extraordinary albums (bassist Miles Mosley’s Uprising and Cameron Graves’ Planetary Prince). The latest album from trombonist Ryan Porter is also a result of that fruitful month, but, Porter had something different in mind – a children’s record entitled Spangle-Lang.

Oct2017DREWMusicREVIEW-TheWestCoast-GetDownby RichardBilowThe West Coast Get Down creating musical magic. (photo credit – Richard Bilow)

While the band often gets categorized as Kamasi Washington’s band; in fact, Washington — is a partner in the WCGD, not its leader. It’s an eight-man musical collective that seems not so much about removing the boundaries between genres as never recognizing them in the first place. Each player in the band is a virtuoso and has a unique approach to their instrument. While it used to be a weekly occurrence to see the band at the now defunct Piano Bar, times have changed. The well-earned success of Kamasi Washington and Miles Mosley has made them jazz superstars and has led to international tours. So, it is always a treat when they return home and they get the band back together and play live.

The band hit their stride on their second song, “The End of Corporatism” from Cameron Graves’ Planetary Prince. This piano driven tune with a memorable, melodic horn line gave everyone in the band ample opportunity to display their talent – I really loved watching the interplay between the drummers Ronald Bruner, Jr. and Tony Austin who produced Mosley’s Uprising and served as the band’s spokesman at the Drew.  Austin introduced the next tune “Little Boy Blue” from Porter’s new that featured the lovely vocals of Patrice Quinn. The comradery in this band unparalleled and their comfort level with each other leads to a lot of smiling – everyone was really enjoying themselves but nobody more so than keyboardist Brandon Coleman who just could not stop smiling!

The band next turned its attention to bassist Miles Mosley who did a rousing version of his song “Abraham” which featured Mosley’s skill with a bow and a nice little interlude from DJ Battlecat. After Mosley’s dazzling display, the band ended its set with Washington’s “The Rhythm Changes” from The Epic. This beautiful tune was another highlight for vocalist Quinn and the saxophone stylings of Kamasi Washington and his father Ricky who plays soprano saxophone in the band. And, can I just say how cool is that to play in the same band with your Dad?
Oct2017-DREWMusicReview-Earth-Wind-Fire-RichardBilowEarth, Wind & Fire playing another one of their smash hits. (photo credit – Richard Bilow)

As the temperature cooled and the sun went down, it was time for the event’s headliners, the legendary Grammy-winning group, Earth, Wind & Fire to grace the stage. The band is helmed by founding members Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey, and Verdine White and they are joined on stage by Bailey’s son Philip Jr. and a gifted collection of percussion, singers and horn players. The entire crowd was familiar with all of the songs and everyone sang and danced along to the group’s hour set of non-stop hits: “Sing a Song,” “Reasons,” “September” and the band’s national anthem “That's the Way of the World." One of my favorite sights from the show was watching the enthusiastic kids from the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center Jazz Band singing and dancing while watching the band from the front of the stage. EW&F still have their mojo with a stage show that features highly choreographed moves, accentuated horn arrangements and great harmonies. Also, Philip Bailey can still hit those high notes on “Reasons”.

After the headliner’s set, there was a rather long break and I expected a lot of folks to head home satisfied with a great day of music. But, evidently, the crowd knew that Shelia E. was worth waiting for. Shelia E. and her band took the stage at 7PM and opened up with very funky version of the national anthem followed by “America” that set the stage for her politically charged set which was focused on her new album Iconic. The album was a result of the musician aborting her dance record and opting for a timely project that calls back to her Oakland roots, where she listened to the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, as the Black Panther Party movement gained momentum.  The album was her reaction to the current political climate and the fact that the songs still resonate.
Oct2017DREWMusicREVIEW-sheilasaxSheila E. cozies up to her longtime sax player Eddie M. (photo credit – Richard Bilow)

Shelia E. displayed her talents on percussion, vocals and guitar as the band attacked the familiar 60’s and 70’s tracks from the new album: Parliament-Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove / Mothership Connection", Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People", Marvin Gay’s “Inner City Blues / Trouble Man", will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” and a medley of James Brown tunes. Between songs she mentioned how much these songs mean to her and that we need to remember that love unites and hate divides us. The crowd loved every minute of it – especially, when she walked through the crowd and then invited them to dance on stage with her. Shelia E. brought the crowd together and made everyone feel loved. Near the end of the show, she asked everyone to look around to a stranger next to them and look them in the eye and say you love them. I did it and the person was so touched, I was soon hugging their entire family – it was very emotional and it brought enormous smiles to our faces.

Shelia E.’s uplifting set and her way with a crowd, brought us together and made us think that maybe we can just get along – an ideal ending to a show with a local focus and an international appeal. I can’t wait for next year’s event and I hope to see you there!