Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Brian Culbertson Jazzes It Up In Winter Stories

Inspiration strikes artists even when on holiday break. As pianist Brian Culbertson strolled the frigid streets of Chicago last winter, he felt compelled to write music. Feeling the cold air, seeing his breath and hearing the crunch of snow under his feet spurred the creation of “Winter Stories,” a contemplative collection of melodic musical “stories” recorded in a jazz trio setting. The first “story” that will preface the BCM Entertainment release dropping October 4 is “Morning Walk,” which went for playlist adds on Monday.     

When Culbertson returned from that inspired walk, he started composing the first piece for the album that, over time, will become a four-album series: separate stories for each season. He wrote and demoed one song per day for ten consecutive days. After each day’s session, he’d head back into the cold, taking the demo out for a walk. Upon his return, he’d make adjustments to the composition until “it was just right.”

Best known for crafting a catalog of R&B, jazz, and funk hits, Culbertson felt that this pensive and introspective album would best be presented by a jazz trio. Knowing that drummer Khari Parker has a deft touch with brushes to craft the gentle rhythms, Culbertson had only one acoustic bassist in mind: Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny Group). They knew each other from the Chicago jingle scene at the beginning of Culbertson’s professional career and Rodby played on a track on the keyboardist’s second album, “Modern Life” (1995). 

“Understanding Steve’s jazz/pop sensibilities and knowing how musical and ‘in tune’ he plays upright bass, I knew that he was the only one who could play on this record,” said Culbertson.

Culbertson describes “Winter Stories” not as a Christmas album, but as a hybrid. “It is very melodic with a pop structure, but utilizing traditional straight-ahead jazz elements - acoustic piano, upright bass and drums with brushes – which give it a ‘holiday’ feel, but also something you can listen to any time since these are all new original songs. However, what was unusual is that the three of us didn’t record together. I produced the album using a layered approach, which also makes it more of a pop-styled record, replacing each demo track one at a time. I first recorded piano, then layered Wurlitzer, Rhodes and B3 organ parts sparsely to add depth here and there. After that was drums and then bass was last. A couple tracks also called for percussion, which was played by Lenny Castro.”

While writing his “Winter Stories” - the inspiration for all ten stories is shared in the accompanying liner notes, which is another first for Culbertson – he spotted a painting online that he felt perfectly encapsulated the album’s motif. So, he bought the painting and made it the album cover.

“It was exactly what was in my mind. I wanted it to be like an intriguing book cover, the kind that after you look at it, you get a sense of what the music is like and then compels you to want to listen,” said Culbertson, who curates, hosts and headlines his second annual Chicago Jazz Getaway running this Thursday through Sunday, a spinoff of his wildly popular Napa Valley Jazz Getaway.      

A second single from “Winter Stories” is planned for just prior to the holiday season. Going for adds on November 18, “City Sleigh Ride” is one of the album’s more up-tempo and fun adventures and the only song with sleigh bells. “While most of the album is on the slower, more ruminative side of things, it was important for me to break up the feel a little bit with a couple tracks,” said Culbertson.

The video of the album opener, “Sitting By The Fire,” is below. 

“I’d say the best time to listen to this record is when it’s the coldest and bleakest outside,” said Culbertson. “These songs will warm you up and keep you cozy.”  

“Winter Stories” contains the following songs:

“Sitting By The Fire”
“Montana Skies”
“Morning Walk”
“City Sleigh Ride”
“Waltz For M”
“Island Dream”
“Northern Lights”
“Frosted Window”
“Starry Night”

Monday, September 16, 2019

Joshua Harmon's Play At Geffen Is 'Skintight'

Idina Menzel plays Jodi in Joshua Harmon's Skintight

By Darlene Donloe

When Joshua Harmon’s Skintight begins, Jodi (Idina Menzel) is sitting on the couch in her father, Elliot’s (Harry Groener) plush, ritzy Manhattan home - complete with a maid and a butler.  She has just flown across the country to surprise him on his 70th birthday.

Actually, Jodi, a lawyer is also running away from Los Angeles because that is where her ex-husband is throwing an engagement party for him and his 24-year-old fiancée who loves to spin. Jodi refers to her as the “little spinner.” Jodi’s ex has invited all of their friends to the soiree and Jodi, who is mentally hanging on by a thread, just can’t take the betrayal so she escapes to her father’s luscious digs.

The problem is, and there are many, Elliot doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday and he doesn’t like surprises.  Jodi also doesn’t know that her father has taken a male live-in lover named Trey, brilliantly and deliciously played by Will Brittain. When she finds out, she’s none too happy about the situation.

(l-r) Harry Groener, Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in Skintight

This is just the beginning of the racy, raunchy and sometimes naughty Skintight, currently enjoying its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

At its core, the show is about family and about the need to be accepted, wanted and loved. It’s also about our obsession with aging, youth, and beauty. But what actually ensues once all the players are in place, is just how fragile a family and relationships can become when everyone tries to force their morals on others.

Jodi and her father, Elliot, have a strained relationship. He wasn’t around much while she was growing up and she still resents it. Elliot was too busy building his fashion empire and he has no apologies. 

Jodi has a gay son named Benjamin who also doesn’t share a loving relationship with his grandfather.

Jodi, Benjamin and Elliott just seems to tolerate each other. It’s very much like any other family.

(l-r) Idina Menzel, Harry Groener and Will Brittain

And watching all of this on the sidelines are the butler, Jeff (Jeff Skowron) and the maid, Orsolya (Kimberly Jurgen), who both give a pleasing turn in this show.

Harmon’s script is incredibly authentic. He writes from a base of realism. His writing is solid – yet fluid, hilarious, and engaging.

Aukin’s direction couldn’t be better. It’s crisp and has forward movement. It moves the story along at just the right pace. It’s on point, emotional and rings of genuineness. There isn’t a wasted move in the show.

Idina Menzel is a wonder. The Tony Award-winner brightens the stage with her very presence. Her delivery is appealing. She’s a theatrical wonder.

Eli Gelb as Benjamin nearly steals this show. His performance as the glib, young, gay Jewish boy is dead on.

(l-r) Eli Gelb, Harry Groener and Will Brittain

Brittain is magnetic with his Greek-like body and Oklahoma drawl, while Groener delivers just the right amount of being non-plussed.

Lauren Helpern’s scenic design is remarkable and slick. It whets your whistle just enough to make you want to move in and wonder what the rest of the house looks like.

All around, Skintight scores on several points and is well worth the price of admission!

Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel

 was commissioned by and premiered at Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes, Artistic Director; Julia C. Levy, Executive Director).

Skintight, written by Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews, Significant Other) and directed by Daniel Aukin, stars Idina Menzel, Harry Groener, Jeff Skowron, Will Brittain, Eli Gelb, and Kimberly Jurgen.

Skintight, Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10888 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 3 and 8 p.m. Sat. and 2 and 7 p.m. Sun.; $30-$145; 310 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.org.

2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, no) and E (excellent), Skintight gets an E (excellent).

Friday, September 13, 2019

Migos, Karol G, Snoop Dogg and Rock Mafia Team Up For 'My Family,' First Track From 'The Addams Family'

Migos, Snoop Dogg, Karol G, and Rock Mafia have teamed up for the new song, My Family, which is the first official track from The Addams FamilyThe first family of Halloween, The Addams Family, is back on the big screen in the first animated comedy about the kookiest family on the block. Funny, outlandish, and completely iconic, the Addams Family redefines what it means to be a good neighbor.

Cast:   Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg as “IT” with Bette Midler and Allison Janney. Also starring Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Tituss Burgess, Jenifer Lewis, Elsie Fisher, Aimee Garcia. Executive Producers:  Kevin Miserocchi, Andrew Mittman, Joe Earley, Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Cloth. Producers: Gail Berman p.g.a., Conrad Vernon p.g.a., Alex Schwartz p.g.a., Alison O’Brien. Based On: Characters Created by Charles Addams. Story By: Matt Lieberman and Erica Rivinoja and Conrad Vernon.  Screenplay By: Matt Lieberman. Directors: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Actor John Leguizamo Schools His Audience

By Darlene Donloe

John Leguizamo literally takes his audience to school in his latest show, John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons, currently enjoying a successful run at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

One of the most underrated talents in the entertainment industry, Leguizamo, an actor, stand-up comedian, filmmaker, and playwright, is a master at delivering exciting and entertaining one-man shows. For nearly 30 years he has used his own life to create some innovative productions. His other shows include Ghetto Klown, Mambo Mouth, Spic-O-Rama, Freak, Sexaholix….A Love Story

In John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons Leguizamo, he mixes comedy with some actual historical facts that have somehow never been acknowledged in American history.  Class is in session as he educates audiences on Latino culture in a way that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.

The impetus for this show came from his son. First, there was nearly zero reference to Latinos in his son’s history books. So Leguizamo went on a search to find a Latin hero for his son’s school history project.  Second, his son was being bullied and racially-profiled in school.  Wanting his son to take the high road, Leguizamo encouraged him to fight the bullies with words, facts, and information instead of his fists.  It was then that Leguizamo started doing research. What he found was an enormous amount of Latin contributions to America and the world. Until then, he himself had no clue of the depth of Latin influences. He decided to build a show about his findings after he did a workshop at Berkeley Rep (The Ground Floor Summer Residency Lab at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) and several noted playwrights told him he had something special. That’s when and where John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons was bornThe show debuted in 2017 before moving to Studio 54. Latin History for Morons was nominated for the 2018 Tony Award for Best Play. 

In between his dropping knowledge, Leguizamo, who wrote the show, does what he does best, he presents it in comic form. He is a smart enough performer to know that he can’t just beat people over the head with historical facts. Since he’s acting in a professorial role, he has to keep his class, in this case, his audience, engaged.

Like a teacher or professor, Leguizamo asks questions of the audience to see just how knowledgeable they are about American history. Some members failed the test – which Leguizamo quickly, but comically points out.

In short order, Leguizamo breaks down the 3,000 years of Latin culture between the Mayans and, who else, Pitbull. 

Leguizamo goes so deep into lost history that he leaves some of the audience stunned with facts that until watching this show, went unknown.  With the information that came out of this show, it’s not a stretch to see Leguizamo teach a course on the subject in public schools or at colleges.

There is something about the way Leguizamo tells a story. He knows how to tell people to kiss his ass and go to hell in such a way that they will enjoy the trip.  In this case, his angst is directed at historians who have whitewashed history ignoring the contributions of those of Latin descent.

If you know Leguizamo’s work, you know he can go there.  And by “go there,” I mean he can get raunchy and politically incorrect.  If you’re highly-offended – just beware. In the end, it’s all good!

A noted actor, Leguizamo is a Tony-Award winner. He is also an Emmy-nominated actor who appeared recently in When They See Us, Moulin Rouge!, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! and Julie Newmar.

John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons is entertaining, clever, educational, informative, hysterical, and touching.

Kudos to John Leguizamo!

John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons is directed by Tony Taccone.

The show is 110 minutes without an intermission.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), John Leguizamo: Latin History for Morons gets an E (excellent).

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Pastor Marvin L. Winans And Perfecting Church Celebrate 30th Anniversary With Black Tie Gala

Pastor Marvin L. Winans

Pastor Marvin L. Winans and the Perfecting Church Choir shined brightly as musical guests at the recent Democratic Presidential Debates held at the Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan.  Winans created special arrangements of, “America the Beautiful” and the “National Anthem” that was performed and aired live on CNN’s domestic and international platforms. 

White House correspondent April Ryan tweeted, “What an incredible rendition of “America the Beautiful,” it mixed both the classical choral styles with the soul of the Black church experience. Bravo!”

Pastor Winans has now turned his attention to the Perfecting Church 30 Year Celebration and Gala on Friday, October 11.  The black-tie affair is being held at the historic Henry Ford Museum 20900 Oakwood Blvd. located in Dearborn, Michigan.  The gathering is open to the public and Winans welcomes the residents of Detroit to join the celebration; the deadline for RSVP and ticket confirmation is September 26.  Visit www.perfectingchurch.org  or call (313) 365-3787 for more information.

The renowned social activist, Bryan Stevenson, and former professor at the University of Michigan School of Law is making national headlines and appearances on television outlets such as NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt; MSNBC; National Geographic with Katie Couric and one-on-one with OWN Founder and CEO, Oprah Winfrey.  The author of New York Times best-seller Just Mercy is the guest speaker for the Perfecting Church’s big celebration.  Since 1989, Stevenson has been executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a private, nonprofit law organization he founded that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform in the United States.

Pastor Marvin L. Winans says, “It is hard to believe that thirty-years have passed since Perfecting Church opened her doors. We are honored to have Social Activist, Bryan Stevenson as our special guest to lift us to a greater awareness of social justice. We will be entertained by the multiple Grammy Award winners BeBe Winans and CeCe Winans. Come and Celebrate with us!”

The evening of festivities begins at 6:30pm with special performances by hometown recording artists, BeBe Winans along with his sister, CeCe Winans.  BeBe adds Author and Theatrical Producer to his title after touring the states with his award-winning play and book, Born for This, now headed to Broadway and the book are available for purchase online and via retail. Continuing to make her mark in music and ministry, CeCe recently collected her 12th Grammy Award for the release of Let Them Fall in Love CD, and enjoying her sixth year as Co-Pastor of Nashville Life Church with her husband Alvin Love.  The extraordinary talent of these two siblings is unending and far-reaching as they move beyond their confront zone of singing. 

The Detroit legacy of the Winans Family expands over several decades.  The Patriarch David Winans, Sr. supported his large family as an employee at Ford Motor Company and a few side jobs. Through his example the Winans family learned the importance of community outreach and continues to honor the memory of their father with a very powerful community presence.  In 1992, Pastor Winans founded the Perfecting Community Development Corporation (PCDC) which is home to: The Amelia Agnus Transitional Home for Women, The Winans Academy of Performing Arts, Perfecting Community Care Center, Hands of Hope, Camp Peace and SOAR.

A portion of the proceeds will help support the Perfecting Community Development Corporation (PCDC) Mission Statementhttps://perfectingcdc.org/programs-services/.   

'Bad Boys For Life' In Theaters January 2020

The Bad Boys Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are back together for one last ride in the highly anticipated Bad Boys for Life.

Directed by:
Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah Screenplay by:
Joe Carnahan and Chris Bremner Story by:
Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan and Chris Bremner Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer Will Smith Executive Producers: Doug Belgrad Barry Waldman Chad Oman Mike Stenson Cast: Will Smith Martin Lawrence Vanessa Hudgens Alexander Ludwig Charles Melton Paola Nunez Kate Del Castillo Nicky Jam and Joe Pantoliano

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dante's Jazz-Sax Debut Is In 'Mint' Condition

The first single, “Vibin’ Out,” written and produced by Darren Rahn,
goes for playlist adds on September 9. The album drops October 4.

It’s common. You go to school and prepare for a certain career path, but somehow the focus shifts. Years can go by before you realize that you have veered off course. R&B-jazz saxophonist Dante’ caught himself drifting and after some soul searching, realized that his joy would be found in music as a recording artist. He assembled an experienced crew of proven producers, songwriters, and musicians to help him craft “Mint,” his debut album that drops October 4.   

Dante’ is a Berklee College of Music graduate who was featured on rapper J. Cole’s 2011 heralded first album, “Cole World: The Sideline Story.” As an entrepreneur, he created Dante’ Neck Straps, handcrafted performance straps used by sax stars Dave Koz, Paul Taylor, Jackiem Joyner, Marcus Anderson, Walter Beasley, Mike Phillips, Joe Lavano and others. There were other successful business ventures outside of music that Dante’ spearheaded, but his spirit wasn’t fulfilled. After introspection, he felt that what would satiate his artistic expression would be making records as an artist.

I’m constantly tangled up in multiple projects. One day I said to myself, ‘What do I really want to do? What will bring me the most joy?’ The answer was music. Instead of dropping everything and start chasing gigs, I decided to create a record and put myself out to the world through music,” said Dante’, who plays soprano sax throughout “Mint” with the exceptions being an alto sax on two songs: “Kansai Groove” and “Before We Begin.”

He knew his first single had to be “something fun to get people moving,” introducing his sound – a fusion of contemporary jazz, soul, funk and pop – with the help of an established hitmaker. Dante’ tapped fellow saxophonist and chart-topping artist-producer-songwriter Darren Rahn to craft “Vibin’ Out,” which goes for playlist adds on September 9.

Dante’ co-wrote all of the original songs for “Mint,” writing half the tunes with Grammy and Emmy nominee Rex Salas (Janet Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Boyz II Men). “I owe a lot to Rex because he gave me my first shot and believed in me when no one else did.”

The melodies and rhythms on the session were played by an accomplished crew consisting of guitarists Darrell Crooks and Allen Hinds; keyboardists and programmers Rahn, Greg Manning and Daniel “Doc Junya” Hargrove; bassists Anthony Crawford, Nate Kearney and Mel Brown; and drummers Eric Valentine, Tarell Martin, and Nate Barns. Dante’ produced “Mint” with Manning, who co-wrote and plays piano on the Japanese tinged, New Jack Swing cut “Kansai Groove.”   

The album’s lone cover is Daniel Caesar and H.E.R.’s “Best Part,” which Dante’ re-envisions as an atmospheric instrumental.          

I would say the best part of doing this record is the fact that I got to learn a lot about the process to the point where I could help someone else make a record. I’m a jack of all trades and I learn very quickly. Add to that the fact that I had access to some of the best talent in the business, which made everything possible. Watching and learning how they do what they do was priceless,” said the Los Angeles-based Dante’.

“Lately, I have been trying to focus on fewer things and doing them well instead for doing lots of things and overlooking fine details. With ‘Mint,’ I really focused and made sure I had the right people on my team to execute every component of the record. It was a lot of trial and error, but in the end, I came out with a project that I am very proud of.”

“Mint” contains the following songs:

“Vibin’ Out”
“Take It Slow”
“Kasai Groove”
“The Wish”
“Before We Begin”
“Best Part”
“The Wish (Acoustic)”