Littlefoot – BUFU Fest – Cambridge Elks Lodge – May 2

Erica Sutherland

The name of the band is cute, if you just know that; but if you remember Lowell George, it means much more. Lowell George led the ’70s band Little Feat. Little Feat, well, were the most daring stoner Americana band of their time. “Time Loves a Hero” is their song, “only time will tell…” As I write this, Littlefoot is starting to play. Several minutes will tell what this allusion is.

Yes, the music is timeless. Dreamy voice with Euro undertones. Now it has a western twang, almost like dreamboat singer of last generation Chris Isaacs (“But I Want to Fall in Love”). They move fast… You can just forget you’re even in the Lodge, and, well, it’s midnight at the oasis.


Polar Visions: Andrea Pensado and Yoko Miwa

Andrea Pensado with doll

Andrea Pensado

You have to ask yourself, when you’re an artist, what you expect of your audience. I often ask this question of musicians. “A headache?” said one girl a few years ago. So it has something to do with the body. If you’re a performing artist, the question becomes crucial, because you are right there. You have to envision the kind of world you want to be in, and you have to share it. If you’re a woman, this is inescapable. Your body is already an object of art, and it is part of your music, and the beauty of your music. You can see this in two local artists, extreme polar visions, but with the same, passionate cerebral core.


Yoko Miwa

Yoko Miwa plays jazz in the classic style. Trained in Kobu, Japan, she was the favorite student of Minoru Ozone, national treasure, and became quite established in the Japan jazz world before her city was crushed by an earthquake. Now she teaches at Berklee, and she has a deep popular base in Boston, and even New York. Her work is about intimacy. She reaches best people who really know what her music is like. It is a complex weave of beautiful strands, and these can shimmer for the new listener, but for an initiate, it creates an inner world.

 Andrea Pensado

Andrea Pensado is Argentinian, and came to Salem, Mass after an international career and study in composition and choral music in Poland. Her early work is strictly composed, with the niceties of European classicism reining in the strange, eerie sounds which finally came to the forefront when she, in her words, “just got bored,” and decided to play primal, radical noise. She does this with scratch like sounds on her laptop, and witchy screeching from her voice. This is a music to push you out from where you are. Freedom music, the music of the future. It is an exhilarating challenge, and it can be rigorous.

 But Miwa is rigorous too. Her technical/conceptual mastery of the keyboard is daunting, and there are deep motifs and leitmotifs structuring the lyrical music. Both musicians have a deep love and respect for beauty. While Pensado’s work has roots in the nihilism of dada, it is exuberant and full of positive energy. It’s as if she were using a chisel and Miwa were using clay, reaching a similar body either way. And this leads us to new worlds.


Pensado and Miwa are fullest in performance, and they are seminal artists. This presents a question: will we still recognize their accomplishment when they are gone? Two answers are possible. We could think of a dancer like Isadora Duncan or Martha Graham, of whom we have no record at all, but of course who have legacies, in the movements they perpetuated and in the spirit of the dance, as it is carried on into new traditions. On the other hand, there is Billie Holiday or Charlie Parker. We listen to their records and say they are great artists, but we don’t really know, even though we know. What we know is it will never be the same as it was on 52nd Street. Only The Beatles will ever be immortal on record, because it was their primary focus. It was all they did. Pensado and Miwa are as great as The Beatles, but the moment to hear them is now.

Ben Katzman and The JP Drive In


What does a Miami kid like Ben Katzman have to offer the Boston scene? The JP Drive In. Ben makes things happen. For me, The JP Drive In has been the most exciting house scene over the past couple of years. The Drive In is the youngest scene, and kids come in with fire. Ben is only 22, but he is a prime mover. He’s got energy and flair. And he has ideas.

“I think the best way to contribute to a scene is be the best you can be,” he says. “Do you the hardest. The best way to make a difference is to add something to the table. Just be you and do you what you love.” Bands come and go, but the good ones always make a splash, because of people like Katzman.

Katzman’s aesthetic is simple. He loves Kiss, a supergroup perpetually creating a spectacle, but fun and never taking themselves too seriously. Would he book them for a show? “You know I’ve been holding a judge against Gene since I was 13. I sent Gene Simmons an invitation to my Bar Mitzvah back in the day. I probably should have asked Peter Criss instead.”

Yoko Miwa’s Chemistry – Yoko Miwa Trio – Ryles – March 8


Already, as Yoko Miwa starts up her jazz brunch show this morning at Ryle’s Jazz Club, in Inman Square, Cambridge, I hear a surer, gentler, stronger, but smoother tone. She has a nice legato as she strings notes together in her solo. She has confidence now. She’s a new musician.

Yoko is seeking a new label for her trio’s next record, one that will gain her national attention. In the Mist of Time, her debut in Japan, was misty effort with little trace of jazz. As she progressed, climaxing with her fifth album, Live at Scullers, she really developed a hard swing, which blended with her own natural jazz temperament to create outright heartbreaking music. Her sixth album, Act Naturally, was showcased by John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”, and Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, but my favorite was the McCoy Tyner number, “Inner Glimpse”, which brings back Coltrane memories.


This morning, she features Keala Kaumeneheiawa on bass, in addition to her regular, right hand drummer Scott Goulding. Nothing has really changed in Yoko’s approach. It is just like a river, flowing through the jungle, with some occasional turns, and a different quality of light flashing on the surface as we go deeper in.

Scott Goulding

McCartney’s “For No One” has been popular with her, and she plays it this morning, beginning solo and rubato. It is like a Faberge egg, magical and glistening, with subtle, ornate detail. She takes you inside the song, showing what’s really inside The Beatles. Then the drums and bass come in, with a thud. It’s rock and roll. This is Yoko: the intellectual beauty, always making you guess at the next development in her style, then showing you what style really is: taking you to a song’s core, where the essence is released like perfume. No attempts to shatter form, none the less she is deconstructive, bringing out bluesy hints, playing with them, making them breathe, making a classical canvas alive with the qualities of abstraction.

Rotten Apples Interview Questions (December 2011)

It took my 19 questions to get a half an hour of press. With jazz musicians, I get an hour with ten… This interview got published in all about Jazz in January 2012:


Rotten Apples Questions

  1. Let me start by asking you all who you are, where you each came from, and how you came together as a group.
  1. What made you realize that you clicked as a unit?
  1. Or DO you click as a unit?
  1. Tell us something about the development of your audience, and the role audience plays in your work.
  1. Your music seems to have the feel of being “stable in its instability.” What went on in the early years towards developing your sound?
  1. What has kept you together?
  1. Having fun and partying with the people listening to you is part of who you are as a band. How does interface with your fans affect your music?
  1. Tell us some stories of surprising or meaningful encounters with fans along the way.
  1. What makes keeping this band together rewarding for all of you?
  1. How do you deal with influence? Do The Rotten Apples have any?
  1. What types of music do each of you like?
  1. Is their anything you try to keep out of your music?
  1. How much control do you have over what you do, and how much do you leave to chance or accident? Do you tune your guitars?
  1. What do you think of labels and genres? Can The Rotten Apples fit under one? Will you let them?
  1. How serious are you?
  1. How does setting affect your music? Where do you like to play?
  1. How do your lives relate to your playing?
  1. Do you have a five-year plan or growth trajectory?
  1. Can anything destroy this band?

Hypercolor (Tzadik, 2015) – Heavy funk fusion trio


Hypercolor is a trio with Lukas Ligeti (drums), James Ilgenfritz (bass), and Eyal Maoz (guitar). From Austria, of Hungarian parents, Ligeti came into the New York scene through John Zorn. As you find in Zorn, you find a crazy eclecticism in Ligeti’s projects, with edgy flavors and international strains. But Zorn didn’t have Gyorgi Ligeti, post-war avant-garde avatar, as a father, who invented systems where opposing melodies and rhythms cancelled each other out in his new music compositions, but always executed with the light delicacy of folk music.

Hypercolor is a power trio, opposing individual styles like a particle smasher. But it is not cut-and-paste. Ligeti goes to sources. A primary one is polymetric African drumming, where different rhythmic cycles run against each other concurrently. The differing stylistic elements in Hypercolor likewise work together in one process, without the abrupt dislocation of channel switching.

Hypercolor is basically heavy funk fusion. The play on “Living Colour” is patent, and the group similarly throws up a knowing, intellectual take on a kind of dance music, music with a groove, that moves the people. There are sly introductions of modern rock themes, as in one track where Maoz plays on the Nirvana “In Bloom” guitar line, “He knows not what it means…” But Ligeti is also a giant Tony Williams fan, and he goes back to the source of the source, the source of Miles Davis, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, from which Davis hijacked the members of his electric band.

I have played this album over and over again, and I’m still playing it. Like the best jazz, it has a smooth patina, something you can hear at a nightclub and still enjoy your drink, but with the deep beauty of foreign lands, taking you to indigenous intellectual traditions, where secrets are unraveled, secrets to the key of human creativity.

Musician of the Year (2014) Yoko Miwa (piano)

yoko ryles

Yoko started playing piano at four, with a deep bedrock classical foundation. Jazz is her second language, but she swings with deep blue soul. She approaches the keyboard conceptually, with solos structured holographically that unfold with impeccable logic. Her focus is as great as the great jazz musicians, and she will have to be seen as in a league with an artist like Thelonious Monk in the long run. The difference is Monk was a jazz artist first, with an uncanny grasp of the structure of the idiom, whereas Yoko’s grasp is of the sheer logic of the keyboard. Monk was a technician second, playing flat fingered and choppy melodic lines, but glistening with smoky rhythm. Yoko came to jazz late, after seeing a movie with a friend and hearing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” As Monk’s technique was basic, Yoko’s jazz vocabulary is basic, based on primary theory and built on such things familiar to jazz students as chord blocking, walking bass lines, and octaves. But just like Monk, her whole transcends its parts. She extracts a world of perfection from a within a context of limitations, which is the soul of improvisation. Not as visible as some of the New York musicians, she comes through with greater integrity, putting herself second before the great tradition.