Editor’s note: Given rising COVID-19 case counts spurred by the delta variant, COVID-19 protocols and other details for events are subject to change. Please check your event’s website for the latest information, and heed local health authorities’ safety recommendations as they’re updated.
Seattle jazz has sprung back to life over the past three months and the momentum continues to grow, despite mask and vaccination requirements spurred by the delta variant of the coronavirus. On Sept. 10, an elegant new showcase in Ravenna for local musicians emerges, and two of the hottest acts in jazz — guitarist Pat Metheny and Lake Street Dive — are slated for shows at Jazz Alley and Chateau Ste. Michelle, respectively.
The Ravenna venue is especially exciting because it promises to revive the spirit of Tula’s, the beloved Belltown boîte that closed two years ago. No, Tula’s owner Mack Waldron hasn’t come out of retirement, but his former chef and club manager, Jason Moore, is now booking jazz at Calluna, the restaurant he opened after Tula’s shut down.
“After spending a lot of time in the kitchen alone here, I realized I really missed live music,” confessed Moore.
Calluna takes its name from the Latin genus for heather, a nod to Moore’s girlfriend and business partner, Heather Bourne. The room’s new baby grand piano looks right at home in the cozy new room, which only seats 30. But with a cover charge ($15-$20) and food-and-drink minimum ($15), Moore thinks he can make a go of it.
During much of the pandemic, Calluna survived by serving takeout, drawn from an upscale European-American menu that includes Wiener schnitzel, bouillabaisse and in-house-made desserts. It has been open to customers indoors since February.
Calluna will draw its musicians from a pool of Seattle’s finest. Pianist Bill Anschell and bassist Jeff Johnson kick things off and will be followed by duos, trios and occasionally quartets featuring Tula’s favorites such as vocalists Greta Matassa, Stephanie Porter and Kelley Johnson, trumpeter Thomas Marriott, and pianists Marc Seales and Jovino Santos Neto.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s most venerable jazz club, Jazz Alley, is bringing in 20-time Grammy winner Pat Metheny and his latest trio project, Side-Eye, Sept. 16-19. The band’s name is slang for “looking askance,” but in an email interview Metheny explained it’s also a commentary on the times.
“Could anyone view the USA over the past five-and-a-half years and not view the collective insanity of 30% of our population with anything other than the maximum amount of side-eye?” he asked sharply.
Side-Eye showcases a rotating cast of young jazz stars who, for the Jazz Alley gig, will be the dazzling Texas tyro James Francies, a pianist who recently released his second album on Blue Note, and up-and-coming New Orleans drummer Joe Dyson. If the group’s joyously flowing live debut recording, “Side Eye NYC,” is any indication, Francies will be playing a lot of organ as well as acoustic piano — welcome news, as his thundering mix of mainstream and avant-garde styles on acoustic is one of his most unusual and attractive qualities.
“He is difficult to place on a linear spectrum in the history of this music,” said Metheny. “That makes him extra appealing to me.”
As for the rhythm chair, as Metheny wisely observed, “it’s always the drummer’s band, no matter whose name is on the sign out front.” In Dyson, Metheny said he has found a drummer who deftly mixes New Orleans tradition with a “forward-looking approach.”
Seattle fans are lucky to be hearing Metheny in a club, as he usually plays large halls. (Indeed, he’ll be performing at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia on Sept. 15.)
He’s pumped to play Jazz Alley.
“It is very special,” he said. “I have always really enjoyed Seattle, anyway, and getting to settle into a place for four nights is a rare luxury for me — it basically never happens. What is especially good about this time is that I have written about 10 new tunes.”
New tunes, new band, new album, new tour. No “side eye” called for on this date.
Ditto for the welcome return engagement of Lake Street Dive, which plays Chateau Ste. Michelle Sept. 18. This refreshingly quirky, 17-year-old pop/jazz/soul group takes its name from a beloved local nightlife district in its hometown of Minneapolis. Since they were here last, they have grown from a quartet to a quintet, with the happy addition of keyboardist Akie Bermiss to an already unusual lineup that includes a guitarist who doubles on trumpet — Mike Olson — and a stand-up bass player playing pop and rock material — Bridget Kearney. Lead singer Rachael Price and drummer Mike Calabrese round out the band.
Bermiss brings a new range of colors and great songwriting chops to the band’s fetching new album, “Obviously” (Nonesuch), which hit No. 7 on the rock chart. Songs like the bittersweet “Same Old News,” the Beatles-happy love song “Know That I Know,” the gut-punching kiss-off “Lackluster Lover” and the wistful, James Taylor-ish tune “Anymore” all reflect his influence.
“He just fits in so well,” says Price of Bermiss, “I’ll have this song and maybe the chords are a little boring, but he has a grasp on harmony. Lyrically, he’s a poet.”
“Obviously” also reflects the influence of producer Mike Elizondo (Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple, Dr. Dre), who brings a hefty, ’80s-rock density to the music as well as a hip-hop sensibility to the drum sound and vocal placement.
But make no mistake, the driving force in Lake Street Dive is Price, whose sultry alto, soulful dynamism and charismatic stage presence light up the stage so dramatically that many pundits have predicted she will ultimately go solo.
“That’s so far from true, it’s funny,” says Price. “I’m in the best position I can possibly imagine, which is I’ve always wanted to be in a band. I love it. I’ll always continue to do stuff on my own — especially in the jazz realm. But I’m the lead singer for Lake Street Dive.”