I made a last minute decision last night. At 5 pm, I was trying to decided whether or not to go see Jamie Cullum at the Hollywood Bowl. I didn’t have tickets yet and they were unavailable online. But I thought I’d try and see what I could get at the box office. I my good friends Caleb and Katy decided to come as well. We parked at the park and ride 15 minutes from my aparment and for 5 bucks, got a round trip bus ticket to and from the Bowl. When we got there, the cheapest tickets available were the $13 tickets. I was more than okay with this, as $18 is a fantastic price to pay for what happened that night.
The night began with Elizabeth Shepherd. The Canadian born jazz singer also plays piano, and was accompanied by a bassist and drummer. I really liked their music. She had almost a Bjork/Fiona Apple sound, but with a definite jazz feel. This was very much “progressive” jazz, with odd harmonizations and frequent time changes. A few times I was thrown off by the time changes, but that’s not a complaint. The bassist and drummer were very good, and Elizabeth’s piano playing was great, although I wasn’t crazy about her singing. It’s not that she has a particularly bad or unpleasant voice, it’s that she doesn’t have a particularly pleasant, or memorable voice. She can sing just fine, but her voice wasn’t all that memorable. All in all, they were very good though, and I plan on checking them out online.
Next up was “A Christian McBride Situation”. On the website, several performers were listed, but it was unclear to me whether or not McBride himself would be playing, or just putting the group together. I think the “Situation” was intentionally vague. McBride came out and described what would occur. He explained that they were artists in front of a blank canvas and they would create in front of everyone. So McBride, joined by his unconventional collection of artists, created. McBride, who is equally proficient in Upright bass as well as electric, demonstrated his supreme virtuosity throughout. Walking bass lines, crazy electric grooves, and bowed themes were joined by effects pedals and unbelievably fast solos on the fretless electric bass. As for the Situation, the band was made up of a keyboard player, a tenor sax, a vocalist (singing primarily not words, but sounds, with soul), and two DJs. The DJs would bring in a beat, and other than that, it was completely improvised. Picture “The Philadelphia Experiment” on crack. It was a crazy fusion of Free Jazz, Funk and Hip Hop. And it was fantastic. Smooth sax lines met fast rhodes solos and crazy scratching, with soulful “DOOs” and “BAHs”, all on top of McBride’s phenomenal playing. All in all, it was an awesome experience.
Next up was The Count Basie Orchestra, playing 2 swinging tunes before being joined by the man of the evening. Once Jamie Cullum took the stage, the magic began. Cullum’s voice is like none other and his variations on the melodies are brilliant. He opened with several more straight ahead jazz songs of his, joined by the fantastic horn players of the CBO. Christian McBride once again took the stage for a duet. The combination of just bass and vocals worked perfectly and made for a very cool arrangement of “Nature Boy” from Moulin Rouge. Perhaps my favorite song of the night by Cullum was “Singing in the Rain”. I’ve heard his arrangement before on his album, Twentysomething, but this one was different. Cullum performed the familiar tune by himself, just piano, vocal, whistling, some light beatboxing and percussively hitting the piano. The chords were different, the feel was different, and his vocal variations were sweet. Just when I thought I knew where the song was going, Jamie threw another song into the mix, and an unlikely one at that. It’s funny when there’s a song that you don’t really care for, but someone else does it another way and you love it. Such was the case when Cullum mixed “Singing in the Rain” with Rihanna’s “Umbrella”. Check it out.
My only complaint of the night is that Cullum performed for only an hour. This was unavoidable as certain city ordainaces require the music to stop at a certain time, but I would have like to listened to him all night.
A few thoughts about the Hollywood Bowl:
1. They’re doing it right. Tickets start at $1, making it affordable for everyone.
2. Transportation is taken care of. You don’t have to drive and pay for parking. 5 bucks gets you there and back.
3. They have such a variety of music at the Bowl that everyone is likely to find something they like. If Jazz isn’t your thing, try Feist, Tchaikowsky, or Radiohead (Sunday), or the Mahler’s massive “Symphony of a Thousand”, coming September 9th and 11th.
4. It was a great night, comfortable weather, a clear night, the hollywood sign in sight, with 2 searchlights meeting above us. This was topped by a waning gibbous moon rising during Cullum’s set.
5. Last night was an incredibly memorable evening, and makes me want to go to the Bowl as much as possible. Thanks, Hollywood Bowl.