Bella Composers . . . Bella Performers: An Unforgettable Evening at the Catalina Jazz Club!

Wow, wow, wow . . . I went to a concert by mistake on April 8, 2015. I was supposed to see a friend of mine perform and got my dates mixed up. Up on the marquee of the Catalina Jazz Club read Kaylene Peoples and Bunny Brunel. It sounded interesting enough. I bought a ticket and found a comfy seat at the bar. Women Composers and a double CD release was the theme for the evening. Actress Chase Masterson of Star Trek led the festivities and welcomed onstage French born bass player Bunny Brunel and his band. Who was on keys? Patrice Rushen! I love her. I saw her perform years ago in Pasadena at the Baked Potato. If you’re not into jazz, you might not know she is a very proficient jazz keyboardist. She’s most remembered for her hit “Forget Me Nots.” I had heard of Bunny Brunel before, but I never saw him live. What a treat to see this guy play his bass. He sounded a little like Jaco Pastorius to me. I loved Brunel’s melodies and his skillful, clean playing. You could literally distinguish each individual note–no sloppy playing at all, and he played those notes at a ridiculously rapid pace, but he made it all look so easy . . . I was duly impressed. What an incredible bass player! Grammy nominated Tony MacAlpine is a shredder and his playing really complemented the fusion music perfectly. The sax player, Doug Webb, had an animated presence. He was definitely a bebopper, that guy blows a gutsy tenor and soprano! Tom Brechtlein is a name that has been around for decades and aside from being a drummer’s drummer, he’s a legend. Like Bunny Brunel he’s recorded and played with people like Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. During Brunel’s show, Clayton Cameron came up and played on a tune. He was set up with just a snare and he even brought his own brushes. I think that one was planned. It didn’t matter though because he was great and great to watch. Percussionist Monette Marino is someone I had never seen before. Imagine taking your wife and kids to watch some jazz and you are faced watching a beautiful girl bang hard on the congas! All kinds of thoughts went through my mind watching her. That’s Monette Marino, she plays like a dude! So that was my first real introduction to fusion. I think I could become a fan of the style after watching Bunny Brunel. (I can see how he was nominated for a Grammy.) the show was easy on the ears, complex, definitely mind-blowing with focused solos and intense grooves. The set moved!

Up next was the enchanting Kaylene Peoples, a singer and a flute player. Peoples opened with “Take Five” and closed with “My Funny Valentine.” Hers was an interesting selection of songs. Most singers don’t mix torch songs with straight-ahead jazz usually. But Kaylene Peoples did. She took me on a high with songs like “Spain” and “Girl from Ipanema.” Peoples had a very entertaining and interesting show. She brought up a friend of hers and together they sang “Lullaby of Birdland.” It was sweet. They (Forté Carter and Kaylene Peoples) were both outstanding in their performance. Her singing held me captive, clinging to every word. I Love, love, loved the guitar. The guitarist Mark Hammond had a mixture of styles much like George Benson and Wes Montgomery. Patrice Rushen was now playing the grand piano, and played some very beautiful piano solos. One in particular really stood out–“How Deep Is the Ocean?” Kaylene Peoples outdid herself on that one. Just like she kept me hooked all the way through “How Insensitive.” I really liked her version with the flute and her low, smoky voice. It took me back to the days of Sara Vaughan. I enjoyed every bit of Peoples’ show; but what really made the most impact was her unique style. I hadn’t really seen much of this type of stage presence in recent jazz performances. She mixed a combination of Broadway with many elements of serious jazz with a current feel. The flute solos were definitely more on the pop side, but they worked. Peoples has such a rich flute sound, I was just vibing off of those ominous low notes. Yeah, she’s got something really special going on there. At one point Kaylene caught my eye (at least I think she caught my eye). It felt like she was literally singing to me. It was a special moment. It moved ma and I was thrilled to have discovered some fresh new “jazz” talent.

The evening was a fundraiser for a women’s charity called Bella Composers. The founder Kaylene Peoples, is a composer, wanted to create opportunities for women to showcase their compositions, and to have those compositions performed in a concert setting. The winners of this competition will also receive employment scoring a film as part of their prize. Another new piece of information for me that evening . . . Mozart had a sister. I Googled that when I got home and to my surprise not only did he have a sister, but she was a composer. Bella Composers is about bringing the world music that has been held back for centuries. It’s a great cause.

Let’s not forget the CDs, after all it was a CD release concert. Bunny Brunel’s new release is called Invent Your Future. It is definitely fusion. He does a lot of songs from Chick Corea and over half the record is with Brunel’s orginals. Patrice Rushen, Virgil Donati, Patrick Moraz, and more are playing on it. Brunel even pays tribute to Jaco Pastorius. The CD is available everywhere online. Kaylene Peoples My Man is a mix of straight-ahead jazz and classic jazz with Broadway influences. She does tunes by Brubeck, Chick Corea, and John Coltrane; she mixes it up with some songs from the “Great American Song Book,” such as “Smile,” “My Man,” “The Man I Love,” and “Stormy Weather.” She features Bobby Lyle, Bunny Brunel, and even another flute player Hubert Laws on one of her tunes.

The evening was exciting–it ebbed and it flowed–it took me places. It was a beautiful show with beautiful people. Stumbling upon Kaylene Peoples and Bunny Brunel was a “happy accident” . . . one I won’t soon forget!

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