Blue Wisp Big Band Finds A New Home

Urban Artifact 001

After the Blue Wisp closed last year, things looked bad for the Blue Wisp Big Band and Cincinnati jazz in general. With the recent opening of Urban Artifact in Northside (the address is 1662 Blue Rock), however, things suddenly seem much rosier for the big band and Cincinnati’s jazz scene overall. Here’s some of the good news:

  • The Blue Wisp Big Band now plays Urban Artifact every Wednesday from 8:30pm to 11:30pm.
  • Urban Artifact hosts live music every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with jazz on many of those nights.
  • Thursday is always jazz night.
  • Urban Artifact is all ages and has non-alcoholic options like craft soda and Kombucha.
  • There’s no cover charge.

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I visited Urban Artifact for the Blue Wisp Big Band’s live performance last Wednesday, and what I discovered was an old church converted into a club that’s a great space for listening to music. On that night trumpeter Tim Hagans, who I first saw perform at the original Blue Wisp and is now living in Manhattan, was the special guest artist. The acoustics were excellent, and the whole room seem focused on what was happening on the stage; it was clear that much magic will take place there. Here’s a link to Urban Artifact’s web page. Here’s a link to Urban Artifact’s Facebook page.

For those readers who happen to like beer, I also throw in this little tidbit:

  • Urban Artifact is a brewery that serves its own tart and wild beers.
  • “Growler hour” takes place Mondays and Tuesdays at Urban Artifact. You get $2 off for every growler filled from 4-7pm.

Urban Artifact is also very friendly. That night I chatted with Emily Merz & Elese Daniels, who were happy to contribute valuable insights into what beer I ought to drink. I ended up choosing a Nitro Finn, and my professional assessment was: it rocked. Emily and Elese were both nice and helpful, plus they photograph well:

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Patrick Battstone at the Listing Loon

Patrick Battstone picture to use for blog entryThe Listing Loon (at 4124 Hamilton Avenue in Northside) is one of the few places around Cincinnati with an acoustic piano, and it has a nice, intimate atmosphere to go with it. For two nights—Friday, January 16 and Saturday, January 17—Patrick Battstone will be performing there for free from 8:30 to midnight. These performance are a combination of a homecoming, musical performances, and two separate CD release parties. Friday, January 16 is the CD release for Beyond the Horizon, his latest solo effort, and on that night Patrick will be performing solo. Saturday, January 17 is the CD release for a live recording of the Sound Museum, a legendary group from Cincinnati that ended up crossing paths with James Brown. The CD is entitled The Sound Museum Live at New Dilly’s. The personnel for the Sound Museum included Jimmy McGary on tenor saxophone, Kenny Poole on guitar, David Matthews on piano, John Young on bass, and Grover Mooney on drums—and the amazing Popeye Maupin on vocals. Grover’s son, Moses Mooney, will be playing drums with Patrick on Saturday. Admission is free both nights, and the dark, cozy room is a splendid place to listen to music, especially with craft beers on hand and a superb wine selection.

Patrick is a Cincinnati native who studied at Berklee and has been part of the Boston jazz scene for decades. At the same time he remains well-grounded in (and appreciative of) the Cincinnati jazz scene—he knows all the players, and he’s worked with lots of them, and he’s also deeply appreciative of Cincinnati’s rich jazz history. So come to the show, stay late, and drink a lot. As Patrick so aptly put it, “The more you drink, the better I sound!” Here’s a video of Patrick performing “Over the Rainbow.”



Live Jazz Every Monday at Om Eco Cafe

Ron Enyard 001It’s getting to be that time of the year when everyone sits at home and gets cabin fever. Here’s a close, convenient, and cheap alternative: on Monday nights from 7 to 10pm the Ron Enyard Quartet performs at Om Eco Cafe, located at 329 Ludlow Ave. There’s no cover charge, and the intimate setting is perfect for jazz. (I’ll sneak in here that Om Eco now serves alcohol.)

The vocalist is David Tarbell, whose delivery owes much to Chet Baker and other male vocalists from the 50s and 60s who epitomized a “cool” style now associated with a classic period in jazz history. Drummer and band leader Ron Enyard could easily rest on his laurels – he’s played with Roland Kirk, Bobby Miller, Paul Plummer, and everyone who performed at Kaldi’s during an eight-year stint there – but he keeps coming up with new ideas, and this particular project is both nostalgic and fresh. Here are a couple videos of the quartet that performs for free every Monday at Om Eco Cafe.

JD Allen Quartet Live on Saturday

jd allenDid you know that a jazz musician who has built a reputation around the world as one of the most talented and innovative players on the scene happens to live in Cincinnati? Saxophonist JD Allen is young enough to still be considered a rising star and old enough to have already built an impressive resume. He didn’t grow up in Cincinnati—Detroit was his hometown, and he’s lived in New York—but recently he moved here. Although, like other in-demand jazz musicians, he spends a lot of time playing and recording around the world, he is interested in putting something together locally, and the performance Saturday night at the New Prospect Baptist Church at 1821 Elm Street (the corner of Findlay and Elm) has the potential to be some pretty awesome music. The quartet includes Willie Smart on drums; Willie you may know from the years he spent busking next to Graeter’s with any number of percussion instruments as well as a multi-tiered drum set. If someone can make it happen as a solo percussionist—and Willie sho’ nuff does—imagine what he can do with a quartet. The guitarist will be Brendon Scott Coleman, an extremely active and versatile young player, and the bassist is John P.

As for the bandleader, JD Allen, I’ll simply say that he’s one of the shining lights among young jazz musicians right now. Listening to him, I hear echoes of earlier tenor players from the golden age of bebop (and earlier too), but I also hear a searcher, someone who’s not content to mimic other musicians. He has a robust sound on the horn, and he’s a quite lyrical player when the situation calls for it.

The show starts at 8pm. The cover is $10 prepay (call 513-787-7025), or $12 at the door—and there’s a discount for seniors. Here’s some live footage of JD performing in Spain (I told you he’s a world traveler):

Where Will the Blue Wisp Go?

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There’s a lot of talk these days about the closing of the Blue Wisp downtown, and there’s also plenty of talk about reopening the wandering jazz club in a new location. Matter of fact, lots of people would like to see it end up in Clifton, as you’d know if you’ve signed up with Nextdoor Clifton, which I highly recommend. Already people are stepping up to help keep great jazz alive in Cincinnati. Starting this Wednesday, and for at least the next six weeks, Japps Annex will be home to the Blue Wisp Big Band. Admission to the Annex is free while admission to Japps proper is free as always.

I started attending shows at the Wisp when it was still located in O’Bryonville. Some of my first concerts there included Johnny Lytle, Joe Lovano (who came there often), Cal Collins, Tim Hagans, and the Blue Wisp Big Band. My memory is still clear of seeing, through a cloud of smoke, Steve Schmidt leaning over his piano with a cigarette dangling out of the side of his mouth while launching into a solo. I suspect that the Wisp will be back with us soon. I hope so, as it has a history, character and a tradition of hosting great jazz. Below are five concerts that I’ve seen at the Wisp. These are from the previous three Blue Wisp locations as opposed to the most recent one. The last time I was at the Wisp I saw a Bernie Worrell show where the P-Funk legend was joined by lots of local and area musicians for a superb evening of music. Technically the music wasn’t jazz, but it was all about improvisation, even when the dj Tobe Tobotius Donohue scratched records on his turntable.

Dave Liebman. When the Dave Liebman Quartet came to the Wisp, it was the opening weekend of the Eighth Street location. Arguments that Cincinnati can’t sustain a jazz club were negated by their opening night performance, which was packed, and arguments that can only straight-ahead jazz can draw and please a crowd was also negated, as a young, curious crowd seemed quite pleased to hear something so radically different from the norm in any genre. The music was way out, including the most circumlocutious version of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” that you could ever imagine. The final set closed with a version of John Coltrane’s “India” that shook the rafters.

Red Rodney/Ira Sullivan Quintet. A great show that featured some jazz heavyweights fronting a band that included some younger guys, including the fabulous Joey Barron on drums. You best believe Joey had a capricious streak that evening, throwing in crashes when no one (band members included) expected it. Ira Sullivan played numerous instruments throughout the evening, including, at the end, trumpet, as he and Red Rodney duked it out in a trumpet duel that was (pardon the pun) red hot. Afterwards, Red Rodney complained that his lip hurt after such a fiery battle—but hey, sometimes you gotta take one for the team.

Tal Farlow. Even a dumbo like me knows that when a legend like Tal Farlow hits town you best get off the La-Z-Boy and go hear some live music. On that evening he was joined by Kenny Poole, who shared some impressive licks of his own. I remember clearly the size of Tal Farlow’s fingers—ginormous they were, making it easy (yeah, right) to rip off some lightning-fast licks with perfect intonation and, when it turned ballad time, coax some beautiful tones out of a guitar model that was named after him.

Sun Ra. Did I really see Sun Ra, and did this really take place in Cincinnati? I guess it did. Stranger still, the most avant-garde extraterrestrial to visit planet Earth devoted a good chunk of his set to playing stride piano on some old Disney tunes, including the closer, “Zip a Dee Doo Dah.” A few months I caught Sun Ra again at the Public Theatre in New York City, at a fundraiser for Jimmy Lyons. (The same show also included performances by Walt Dickerson, World Saxophone Quartet, and Archie Shepp, among others.) You could tell he was a favorite in that neck of the woods—like an old friend.

Charlie Rouse. My friends and I were not prepared for what we witnessed on the evening that we saw this tenor sax immortal at the Wisp. I remember that we sat at the bar that night. I know that because we kept falling off our bar stools when Charlie was soloing. No amount of music theory could explain why he was such a powerful player. With great jazz musicians, there’s something that comes through in their playing that comes from within that penetrates to the very heart of jazz and makes you realize why it’s such an amazing and deeply human style of music. Charlie, who had a long run with Thelonious Monk, played mostly Monk that evening. I think he opened with “Played Twice” and also dipped into “Rhythm-n-ing” and “Round Midnight.” My friends were so blown away by the first set that they split to have a jam session in which they hoped to catch some of the spirit they’d just experienced. I stuck around and met Charlie. As he signed an album I basically gushed the whole time, and I’m not ashamed that I did. The second set opened with Monk’s “Epistrophy,” for which Charlie launched into a lengthy solo that was nothing less than sublime. So yes, a lot of magic has taken place at the Wisp, and I’m hoping for more.

Miles Davis in Cincinnati

Miles Davis MovieHere’s something to be excited about: a movie about one of the greatest jazz musicians ever is about to be filmed in Cincinnati.

That musician is Miles Davis, and the filming is set to take place in July. As with ‘Carol,’ ‘A Rage in Harlem,’ ‘The Public Eye’ and ‘Lost in Yonkers,’ modern-day Cincinnati will be transformed into midcentury New York City.

Miles Davis for blogOne of the intriguing things about the project is the fact that Miles Davis visited Cincinnati during every phase of his career. He played Cinci when his introspective style was described as “walking on eggshells,” and he also performed here after turning electric and throwing some Sly Stone into the mix.

Then, after battling back from serious health issues, he pMiles Davis for bloglayed here a couple times in the 1980s. That brings us to the two times I have been the same room as Miles Davis: one at the beginning of his “comeback,” and the other near the end of his life. In all, I saw Miles Davis perform three times, and each concert was radically different. I published a piece about that in, and if you’d like to know what happened when I saw Miles Davis in Cincinnnati, have a look-see: Miles Davis in Cincinnati.

Matt Wilson Quartet Plays CCM Sunday

GatheringCallOne of the most in-demand jazz musicians in America is coming to CCM this Sunday, February 9 at 4pm. Matt Wilson is a drummer who’s played with all the Who’s Whos but also loves to lead; in fact, he’s headed a quartet since 1996. Released a couple weeks ago on the Palmetto label, Gathering Call features special guest artist John Medeski from Medeski, Martin and Wood on piano. The record’s split almost evenly between standards and originals, and I’m intrigued by Wilson’s choice of standards. “Main Stem” and “You Dirty Dog” are definitely lesser-known Ellington compositions, and “Pumpkin’s Delight” was penned by tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who, in spite of extended work with Thelonious Monk, remains relatively obscure. (He played at the Blue Wisp once, incidentally, back in the O’Bryonville days.) It’s a treat to hear these overlooked compositions in a small-group setting (drums/bass/cornet/sax & clarinet/piano).

Much of the press about Wilson has focused on his eagerness to make the jazz experience less stuffy and more fun. In his words, “We perform music that is not afraid to challenge AND entertain.”  Makes sense to me; in fact, while listening to Gathering Call I’m reminded of some earlier incarnations of Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, whose music was both playful and adventurous. In any case, Wilson’s quartet show at CCM should smoke. Here’s the full skinny per the CCM website:

4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9
• Jazz Series •
Jazz Ensembles
Scott Belck and Dominic Marino, music directors and conductors
Featuring guest artists Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts Ensemble

Location: Corbett Auditorium
$12 general, $6 non-UC students, UC students FREE.

And here’s a video of the Matt Wilson quartet performing “Rear Control:”


Tatsuya Nakatani Performs this Saturday

Tatsuya NakataniThis Saturday, December 21 at 7pm sound artist, percussionist and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani will perform at Bromwell’s downtown. Yes, you read that right: the store at 117 W. 4th Street, which sells luxury fireplaces and home décor, will host this intriguing event. According to his website, Nakatani “creates sound via both traditional and extended percussion techniques, utilizing drums, bowed gongs, cymbals, singing bowls, metal objects and bells, as well as various sticks, kitchen tools and homemade bows….His approach is steeped in the sensibilities of free improvisation, experimental music, jazz, rock, and noise, and yet retains the sense of space and quiet beauty found in traditional Japanese folk music.”

Saturday’s show will include both solo performances and duets with Napoleon Solo Vox, the composer, beat box artist, and front man for IsWhat?! Recently I asked Nakatani a few questions via Facebook, and he was kind enough to respond. He requested that I edit his English, which I did in a conservative manner.

What made you decide to work extensively as a solo artist using percussion instruments?

I used to play as a drummer and was in a band or group. Sometime ago (late 90s) I realized many drummers work as a member and not as a soloist. Solo is very flexible and powerful, so I moved to that direction instead of playing in an ensemble. Based on touring and moving myself to different places as a touring musician, that also makes it possible to do a variety of work.

To what extent will Cincinnati’s show be improvised?

The Cincinnati show will be solo and collaboration with Napoleon. We will be totally improvised. We have collaborated briefly, a few very short collaboration in a several years; this time should be a nice one.

You’ve made a great number of recordings. Is there a particular label that you’ve been working with primarily for the last few (or many) years? Can you tell me a little about that label?

I have been producing a small self label for surrounding my work. I have a new LP on Taiga records in Minneapolis, they focus on only vinyl. They did a beautiful job. I trust their work.

Are your influences primarily other drummers…or composers…or musicians who play other instruments?

I am influenced by day-by-day life and people. I tour, meet so many people every day, which is my influences. I used to listen carefully to drummers, but now, more to focus on what kind of sound, tone is…

I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and I see that you performed there last night. Your thoughts of that fair city…

It was good time in Des Moines for my first time show. A small but nice group of people are doing the art of sound there.

Here’s a video of Nakatani during a live performance:

Coming to the Blue Wisp on Friday, October 4

On Friday, October 4 at The Blue Wisp a free concert will take place that’s been a long time coming. If you’ve seen vibraphonist King Reeves and pianist Charlie Wilson perform live, you know they’re world-class jazz musicians. Yet they’ve never played together at the Blue Wisp, which due to its high profile and central location (700 Race Street) is an ideal venue for people to check out these veteran players.

The concert is free, and it runs from 6pm to 10pm. Both the early start and the lack of a cover charge are an attempt to woo the nine-to-five folks who get off work on Friday and want to either (a) try something different or (b) were curious about The Blue Wisp (or both). The show is being billed as an Evening of Duets because another talented twosome, April Aloisio on vocals and Philip Burkhead on piano, will open the show. Continue reading “Coming to the Blue Wisp on Friday, October 4”