Feeling the vibe: The sax comes calling

Drummer Davu Seru
Drummer Davu Seru
David Cazares / MPR News

Five shows featuring saxophone players are on tap for the next few days in the Twin Cities and MPR News editor David Cazares and bassist Chris Bates have the details.

But first, they take a few minutes to discuss the masterful compositions of Thelonious Monk, whose music has inspired a local ensemble. On Friday, trumpeter Steve Kenny's group What Would Monk Do? performs at Jazz Central Studios in Minneapolis.

Bates says that for a while he found the legendary composer's compositions hard to grasp. But after he studied them he found they were worth the trouble.

"Now, [with] almost everyone I play with, if a Monk tune gets called it's going to be a great time and we're going to go somewhere new with it," he said. "That's how the music works. It deserves and rewards repeated and in-depth understanding."

The horn playing gets underway Saturday, when sax player Dave Brattain takes the stage with guitarist Kevin Daley, drummer Dave Schmalenberger and bassist Billy Peterson at the Black Dog Cafe in St. Paul. Bates says Brattain is a versatile performer with "a huge fat sound."

Following their show, Chris Bates joins drummer Jay Epstein and guitarists Dean Granros and Zacc Harris at the Black Dog. They're preparing to record a recording the first week of February.

Also on Saturday, sax player Steve Cole comes to Minneapolis for a show at the Dakota Jazz Club, where he will perform with a trio of Petersons: singer Patty Peterson and brothers Ricky on keyboard and Paul on bass or drums.

The instrument stays in the spotlight on Monday, when sax player Matt Otto of Kansas City comes to town on Monday for two sets at the Icehouse in Minneapolis. He'll be joined by the Fantastic Merlins -- sax player Nathan Hanson, bassist Doan Brian Roessler and drummer Pete Hennig. Chris Bates is excited about the collaboration of Otto's rich sound with the Merlins, a very adaptable band.

But the biggest show of the next few days likely will occur Monday and Tuesday, when sax player Chris Potter brings his quartet to the Dakota.

"He is without a doubt probably the most well-known jazz saxophonist right now outside of the major icons that are still around," Bates says. "He is one of the greatest improvisers around right now. And if you like saxophone playing, you are going to like Chis Potter."


On Tuesday, guitarist Dean Magraw and drummer Davu Seru return to the Black Dog in St. Paul for what is sure to be a session of organic improvisation. The duo setting puts the spotlight on the dialogue that occurs between players.

Also on Tuesday, jazz fans will have a chance to catch one of the best big bands in the Twin Cities when the Bill Simenson Orchestra plays two sets at Jazz Central. Bates says the band plays very challenging music, compositions that let musicians "have a total blast" once they grasp the concepts.

Jazz Central also hosts a show on Wednesday by Riotus N - bassist Anthony Cox, guitarist John Penny and drummer Seru that likely will include standards, original tunes and free improvisation.

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