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Festival Previews, Week 1

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Jamie Baum photo by Vincent Soyez.

Theo Croker: BLK2LIFE
Wednesday October 13 7:30pm PDT
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
In-person and livestrea
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Tickets $10–25

Theo Croker photo courtesy of B Natural

Presented in partnership with Langston Seattle. Welcomed by KNKX.

Theo Croker is a storyteller, trumpeter, and creator of shape-shifting music that blends traditional jazz musings with pop and hip-hop inflections of the modern era. He is the grandson of jazz trumpet legend Doc Cheatham. The music of Croker could very well be described as experimental, but in the process, he has developed a trumpet style that is very much in the modern jazz tradition. He hails from a generation of artists who grew up with hip-hop, and incorporates its ideas into jazz music. In his five previous recordings, including his 2019 release, Star People Nation, he utilized sonic textures from hip-hop, but mostly emphasized his improvisational skills as a jazz trumpet player. His sixth release, BLK2LIFE, is a deeper dive into heavily produced hip-hop, and features guests that include Wyclef Jean and Kassa Overall. 

Croker diversified his skill set as a spoken word artist and producer for this music. The young trumpeter is a musical gatherer, creating a personal style that draws from diverse influences. After his studies at Oberlin Conservatory, a seven-year stay in Shanghai, China, allowed him to spend time incorporating influences from salsa, fusion rock, R&B and hip-hop into his post-bop approach on trumpet. He worked in television and other media, and in the process, met and performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater. That relationship remained when he returned to the States.

Kicking off the 33rd Earshot Jazz Festival, Croker will present the music of his new album, BLK2LIFE, at Langston Seattle. How he presents this music in live performance is an intriguing prospect. Pre-pandemic, the band performed acoustically, with Croker utilizing light reverb on his horn. Drawing from the roots his grandfather left for his mercurial grandson, and the entire jazz tradition to date, Croker could jump from any musical point he has experienced along the course of his career, and create something entirely unique. Chicago-born pianist Mike King, D.C. bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Shekwoaga Ode provide him with the ideal tools to create eclectically. All four musicians are in the grasp of the same musical, generational tide, drawing from common sources, but be aware that this music is fully capable of thrilling and captivating jazz fans from any generation. –Paul Rauch

The Eugenie Jones Journey featuring Velocity
Thursday October 14 7:30pm PDT
Langston Hughes Preforming Arts Institute

Tickets $10–20

Eugenie Jones singing and smiling in a blue dress.
Eugenie Jones photo by Steve Korn.

Presented in partnership with Langston Seattle.

It’s been less than a decade since Eugenie Jones’ sublime debut album Black Lace Blue Tears, but the stunningly versatile and talented vocalist and composer has become an indelible part of the music landscape in the Pacific Northwest. On the heels of her NYC 9/11 performance, award-winning singer-songwriter Eugenie Jones returns home to entertain audiences at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. In a region absurdly rich with jazz vocal talent, Jones stands out for her powerfully assured yet nuanced sense of swing and taste.

Jones has received glowing accolades from DownBeat magazine and Jazziz among many others and is an award-winner of both NW Recording of the Year and NW Vocalist of the Year from Earshot Jazz. She can navigate the standards songbooks of jazz with the best of them, but she’s also an incisive and emotionally resonant composer and lyricist, staking out her own soulful territory within the singer-songwriter realm as well as in jazz.  

Any performance by Jones is a must-see event, but her Earshot performance will be an extra-special evening. Jones will not only be exploring her singular interpretations of familiar standards and a selection of her stellar originals, but she’ll also share a taste of her eagerly anticipated upcoming 2022 release, Players. Sharing the stage (and featured on the upcoming album) will be Velocitya versatile and tight Tacoma-based band. Featuring Peter Adams on piano, Cliff Colon on saxophone, Rob Hutchinson on bass, and Brian Smith on drums, Velocity is known for melding progressive musical styles, fashioning hard-hitting grooves laced with intricate melodies. 

Eager fans can wet their whistle by visiting eugeniejones.com for what will be an enticing show at Langston. This show is not to be missed! –Andrew Luthringer 

Marina Albero
Friday October 15, 7:00pm PDT
Town Hall Forum
In-person and livestream/VOD

Tickets $10–25

Marina Albero dressed in black, playing the piano.
Marina Albero photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Sponsored by Seed IP. Welcomed by KNKX.

When Marina Albero relocated to Seattle from Barcelona in 2014, her unique background and musical skill set brought a new voice to the city’s musical landscape. The daughter of legendary Catalan musician/composer Marian Albero, she had spent some formative years in Cuba studying classical piano, and learning the textures and rhythms of Afro-Cuban music not by playing, but by dancing. Her parents introduced her to jazz by playing records at home of artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Her twenty-year partnership with iconic flamenco jazz pianist Chano Domínguez had influenced her not only in terms defined by the keyboard, but by friends and acquaintances made along the way that added colors to Albero’s now formidable palette. Her debut performance in Seattle was at the 2014 Ballard Jazz Festival, playing vibraphone in a stunning and well received duo performance with Domínguez. 

The next task in her new Seattle residence was to put together a band  of musicians in the city that would complement Albero’s highly nuanced, original style. Ultimately, those players, which include drummer D’Vonne Lewis, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, and percussionist Jeff Busch, became friends. Albero smoothed out the rough edges by adding multi-reedist Hans Teuber, who at the time was acting as her music director with the talent-laden Teatro ZinZanni band. At times, trailblazing bassist Jeff Johnson would join the band and add a whole different dimension. Albero began to gig with Johnson in a duo setting, with her daughter Serena Domínguez Albero joining on vocals. Over time, it became very clear that the quintet (and the musicians associated with it) was the best vehicle to deliver Albero’s music live and in the studio. Her 2019 release, A Life Soundtrack, is a vivid portrayal of this period in time, when Albero truly found herself as an artist, and began to share her artistry with the world. 

It seems appropriate then, that she celebrates being named Festival Resident Artist of the 2021 Earshot Jazz Festival by performing with this marvelous contingent of Seattle’s vibrant jazz scene. With Lewis and Busch performing as one mind, and Johnson’s read and react style on bass, Albero has plenty of wide open space in which to maneuver. Teuber’s probing, always melodic playing adds another vital component to this splendid quintet. 

“It’s with my regular crew. The first thing that I wanted to do was acknowledge the people who have been by my side, all these years, my quintet,” says Albero.

The quintet will perform Albero originals, some of which were composed during the past eighteen months during the COVID-19 shutdown. This will be the first of four Earshot Jazz Festival appearances for the intrepid pianist, who will as well be featured on hammered dulcimer and vibraphone over the course of this year’s event. –Paul Rauch 

Meridian Odyssey
Friday October 15, 8:30pm PDT
The Royal Room
In-person and livestream/VOD
Tickets $10–20

Meridian Odyssey band members standing side by side on a bridge.
Meridian Odyssey photo by Lee Budde.

Welcomed by KBCS.

An airplane hangar outside of Anchorage, Alaska, is not necessarily the first source that comes to mind when one thinks of cutting-edge modern jazz, but that’s exactly where Second Wave, the superb debut album from the young, powerhouse unit Meridian Odyssey, originated. 

Left with empty calendars after the pandemic upended the music business, five Seattle and New York residents—bassist Ben Feldman, tenor saxophonist Santosh Sharma, drummer Xavier Lecouturier, keyboardist Dylan Hayes, and guitarist Martin Budde—spent a portion of the lockdown summer of 2020 writing and playing music, producing livestreams, and ultimately recording Second Wave, released on Origin Records. Chosen as one of the top 15 albums of 2021 by The Seattle Times, the album is a remarkably assured and cohesive collection that aptly defines what creative, expansive jazz is in 2021: soulful and capable of bluesy flavors and swing, but also an effortless and intuitive exploration of electronic post-rock and post-fusion flavors, where no musical realm is off limits. 

All the band members are broadly talented composers. Their material is not merely a setup for blowing endless solos, but instead a rhythmically, harmonically, and stylistically varied soundscape of shifting dynamics and moods. Having expanded to a sextet with the inclusion of ace trumpeter Noah Halpern, Meridian Odyssey is eagerly getting back into the groove of live performance and have already recorded a yet-to-be-released second album, with a new batch of beautifully structured originals. This homecoming show is a must-see for fans interested in the future of jazz. –Andrew Luthringer

Kareem Kandi World Orchestra
Saturday October 16, 8:30pm PDT
The Royal Room
In-person and livestream/VOD
Tickets $10–20

Kareem Kandi photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Welcomed by Rainier Avenue Radio. Tickets $10-20.

Kareem Kandi is a Tacoma-based tenor saxophonist with strong roots in jazz and the blues, sporting a velvety, enveloping sound that is warm and lyrical. For more than 25 years, Kandi has been one of the busiest jazz performers and educators in the Pacific Northwest. His performances include original compositions and modern interpretations of timeless classics. As a bandleader, he has a penchant for applying jazz concepts to popular music not often associated with jazz improvisation.

As an improviser, Kandi prefers to play without the encumbrance of chordal harmonic accompaniment, performing in the trio format. For this performance, he brings his familiar bandmates in bassist Greg Feingold and master drummer Stefan Schatz. The threesome plays with a remarkable, almost telepathic chemistry that offers a fresh approach to standards and Kandi’s unique, post-bop compositions. Kandi’s definable Northwest sound is tempered with Feingold’s traditional approach on bass. Schatz arrived from New York a few years back, bringing with him a style reminiscent of the later stylistic iterations of Max Roach. The result is an iconoclast of jazz tradition with a modernist twist. 

Kandi’s playing is influenced heavily by a cadre of Seattle area saxophone giants. His early jazz education included spending considerable time playing with, and listening to such greats as Don Lanphere, Tracy Knoop, Pete Christlieb, Jay Thomas, Hadley Caliman, and Bill Ramsay. His tonal elegance, adventurous spirit, and immersion in the traditions of those that came before him have given Kandi the tools to move his personal style and music progressively forward with the appropriate respect and humility that true artistry entails. His sound carries the markings of his deep commitment to jazz performance and education in Seattle, Tacoma, and surrounding Salish Sea communities. –Paul Rauch

Jamie Baum Septet+
Sunday October 17, 7:00pm PDT
Town Hall Forum
In-person and livestream
Tickets $10–25

Jamie Baum photo by Studio 17.

New York-based flutist Jamie Baum has toured all over the United States and in more than three dozen countries around the world, but her show at this year’s Earshot Jazz Festival represents a rare Seattle appearance. Embarking on an October tour, Baum will visit the Emerald City with her Septet+, a group she assembled back in 1999. Baum calls the group her “compositional muse.”

“I’m fortunate to get to play with such great players who can play anything,” Baum said. “I can really let my imagination fly.”

Baum and the septet play a style of jazz with a South Asian influence. Oddly enough, that influence is in part due to the United States Department of State. Baum was chosen to tour for the department’s Kennedy Center Jazz Ambassadors program in South America and South Asia from 1999 until 2003. Baum eventually made other DOS-sponsored tours as well as her own gigs in Europe and South Asia.

By around 2010, Baum’s musical direction changed reflecting those experiences. The new direction led to changes in personnel in the Septet+. The complete Septet+ includes Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet), Aaron Irwin (alto sax, bass clarinets), Brad Shepik (guitar, singing bowls), John Escreet (piano), Ricky Rodriguez (bass, singing bowls), Chris Komer (French horn), and Jeff Hirshfield (drums).

Shepik, by the way, has Seattle roots. He was born in Walla Walla and raised in the area. He attended Juanita High School and then earned a B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts. He moved East to attend New York University and earned a Masters degree in Jazz Performance and Composition. He’s been a fixture on the New York jazz scene for more than three decades now.

A couple of Baum’s notable achievements includes receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship Award in 2014 to compose new music for the Septet+, and a commission from The Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art to honor Nepal, which later helped fund the work that resulted in the 2018 album Bridges, released on Sunnyside Records. It received rave reviews, being voted #4 that year in the JazzTimes Readers Poll for Best New Release. The success and critical acclaim for Bridges led to a busy couple of years of performances at festivals and other concerts around the world. In 2020 Baum was nominated as Flutist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and as “Top Flute” in both the DownBeat critics’ and readers’ polls.Baum’s tour is made possible with the support of a grant awarded by the Presenter Consortium for Jazz, a component of the Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project and is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. It is also made possible with the support of Jazz Road, a national initiative of South Arts, which is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. –Greg Scheiderer

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October 1, 2021

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