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Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Citizen Kitten at Three Clubs

Posted by dlockeretz on March 20, 2017

Jazz may have an uphill climb these days, but Citizen Kitten is willing to put in the legwork. The Los Angeles jazz quartet made their debut at Hollywood’s Three Clubs on Sunday, March 19th, 2017 and delivered a show that was as entertaining as it was musically accomplished.

Today’s jazz musicians face a bit of a catch-22: if you put in the time to study, practice and gig your way to excellence, it’s hard to not take yourself at least a little bit seriously for your efforts, but when audiences have more and more choices for entertainment – live or in home – they don’t want to spend money or time hearing someone blowing their own horn (excuse the pun). We’ve all seen the meme showing how the performance is the tip of the iceberg compared to the rehearsals, but most audiences don’t care about how much time musicians have put into their art anymore than most musicians care about how many thankless hours the average corporate drone has to log. In a nutshell, a successful jazz (or any other style, really) performer has to put in the work and still make it look fun.

How does Citizen Kitten tackle this dilemma? The “kitten” of the band is singer Amanda Achen, a twentysomething who moved effortlessly from jazz standards to Broadway to Beck to Zeppelin to Gnarls Barkley, commanding the stage at a rare level. She also managed to seem approachable in a way that not all jazz singers are. During a sultry rendition of “Misty” she couldn’t help but smirk as she sang the line “Helpless as a kitten up a tree.” Her “What Lola Wants” was, inevitably, seductive, but she didn’t overplay the temptress role; she strode up to an audience member in the front row and said, “I like your shirt” without missing a beat. Add this to a rocking version of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling”, an odd-time “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and a genre-exploring rendition of “It Don’t Mean A Thing” and she put in a full night’s work.

Backing Achen was bassist Jon Lee Keenan, guitarist Matt Berger and drummer Paul Tavenner, all of whom expertly navigated the multiple changes of groove and tempo. Berger felt equally at home using dissonant chord voicings on a jazz arrangement of “Black Dog” as he did taking his microphone stand and playing slide guitar with it on a ripping solo in the same song. Keenan’s electric upright bass had the woody, full sound of an acoustic but allowed him more room to explore with both the grooves and solos than would have a traditional instrument. Tavenner provided a framework for the others from behind the kit, running the gamut from the torch songs to the rockers, giving the funkier numbers an old-school feel with brushes and pulling no punches with the cymbals when things needed to get loud.

In the midst of their innovation, some of Citizen Kitten’s standards felt a little familiar. They have shown an ability to turn songs on their head without making it seem like a gimmick; it will be interesting to see how they continue to develop tunes such as “One Note Samba”, “Cheek to Cheek” and “If I Were A Bell.” Over time, the skill and chemistry of these musicians will lead to the pace of their comic interplay between songs will tighten up while remaining organic. If it seems like I’m nit-picking a debut performance from a band that’s only been together for a few months, maybe it’s just my own envy sneaking through – I’ve been in bands that have worked for years without ever reaching this level. These guys are great and will only get better.


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Photos from NAMM 2013

Posted by dlockeretz on January 28, 2013

A few pictures from my first trip to the NAMM show in Anaheim, CA.


NAMM 2013 014

Straight alto and tenor saxes

Two basses, 28 strings

Just in case the 10-string wasn’t enough….

Contra-bass flute


Another Boulder Creek bass

NAMM 2013 009  NAMM 2013 013 NAMM 2013 019NAMM 2013 024


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Doc Watson: 10 great performances

Posted by dlockeretz on June 9, 2012

The music world recently lost yet another icon.   On May 29th,  Arthel Lane Watson, best known as Doc, died at age 89.

Blind since childhood, Watson was raised to be independent, and earned the money for his first guitar by chopping wood and selling it to the local tannery.  While he is best known for his folk, bluegrass and country music, his first big professional gig was on electric guitar, with a western swing band.  However, it was during the folk music revival of the 1960s that Watson’s career took off.  In the years since, many musical fads have come and gone, but Watson’s art remains timeless, always reaching new audiences.

Two of my favorite Doc performances are not present here, as I was unable to find them online (so if anyone knows where they might be hiding in cyberspace, please let me know.)  “F.F.V.”, a song about a train-wreck that was first played by the Carter Family as “Engine 143“, and “Dill Pickle Rag” (played here by Chet Atkins) were both heard on his 1966 record “Home Again.”  He also performs “Down in the Valley to Pray” and “Old Man Below” on this release.

Deep River Blues – probably Doc’s most famous finger-style number, played and studied by countless guitarists.

Down in the Valley to Pray – sometimes Doc’s singing is overlooked compared to his instrumental ability.  Here he gives a great a capella version of a Gospel classic.

In the Jailhouse Now – classic drinking/gambling/carousing song, with nice slide guitar and yodeling.

Little Sadie – a classic “murder” ballad.

Mama Don’t Allow No Music – a fun, uptempo song which gives each instrumentalist a chance to play the music that “mama don’t like.”  This live version features piano, electric bass and drums as well as banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Old Man Below – as a youngster, I remember finding the line about the “double-barreled gun” amusing.

Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia – great rendition of a country classic, with nice flatpick solos – and more yodeling!

Tennessee Stud – besides murders, jail and train wrecks, Doc liked to sing about horses.

Wabash Cannonball – not all train songs are about crashes, such as this classic foot-stomper.

Way Downtown – apparently the characters in “In the Jailhouse Now” didn’t learn from the experience.

The ten songs picked here are no means a comprehensive list of Doc Watson’s best work, but for those not familiar with him, they make a nice introduction, and connoisseurs will undoubtedly enjoy the memories.  Thanks Doc for all the great music!

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An open letter to Vince Gill

Posted by dlockeretz on May 25, 2012

Dear Mr. Gill,

I recently read your comments about what the music business has become.  I’d like to thank you for articulating, with brutal honesty, feelings felt by many musicians about the current state of our industry.

However, I’d also like to challenge you–and the countless artists who feel the way you do.  Yeah, the music business sucks.  What can we do about it?

The first step is to ask why it is that music has become devalued.  The superficial answer may be that in 1960, recorded media, such as 45s and LP records, cost more to manufacture and distribute.  Digital downloads have less overhead expenses attached to them; thus a lower price point is possible.  In general, the trend of technology is that it gets cheaper as it evolves.

But what about the bigger picture?  Is it true that “creative brains are being sorely mistreated?”

There’s no nice way to say this, but my opinion is that accomplished musicians such as yourself are becoming a thing of the past.  The past, of course, can still be–and is being–kept alive, but just as classical musicians, Vaudeville performers and Shakespearean actors are not mainstream and probably never will be, the reality is that public tastes have changed and before long, rock and country musicians who were once iconic will become niche acts.  A friend of mine who is a great jazz drummer and also owns one of L.A.’s premier recording studios where he has recorded some of the world’s best players has made the comparison between instrumental proficiency and jousting.  Jousting, like musical mastery, is a difficult skill that takes years to develop, yet sadly, its simply not marketable, at least not in a mainstream way.

It’s not easy to make the transition from mainstream to niche, but in order to survive, that’s what today’s great musicians must do.  It’s either that or nothing.  Music trends are what they are, and becoming grumpy old men won’t solve any problems.  The solution is to keep making great, honest music, and find an audience that will respond.

I’m not asking you, or anyone else, to jump up and down for joy at the current state of popular culture.   But your music will always have its place, even if it’s not at the top of the charts.  Great, timeless music is still appreciated.  There are still people who know that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has more than four notes, and there are people who know that, contrary to popular belief, Louie Armstrong was not the first person to walk on the moon.  Heck, even jousting is back  in the spotlight–as featured on the History Channel’s show “Full Metal Jousting.”

Of course it’s a drag to see your life’s work marginalized.  But even if more people would rather spend their hard-earned money on an audible flatulence app than on your creative output, don’t forget that there are still people out there who appreciate what you do.  I hope that your words are a rallying cry to musicians all over the world–not to commiserate about the state of their craft, but to keep moving forward and to keep finding new ways to make music that inspires their audiences and themselves.

All the best

David Lockeretz

Long Beach, CA

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