Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz,” Dorthaan Kirk, held her first of a series jazz brunch jam sessions, titled “Dorthaan’s Place,” at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s NICO Kitchen + Bar on Sunday, October 21. The event blends Sunday brunch with an intimate jazz performance hosted and curated by Kirk, special events and programs coordinator at Newark’s WBGO Jazz, the country’s largest jazz station.
I was fortunate to to be reporting at the James Moody Jazz Festival, although the high quality Jazz festival was concluded last month. But periodically throughout the year, Dorthaan Kirk will feature jazz greats at Nico NJPAC premiere restaurant with a delightful brunch jazz series. The first of this season was the performance of saxophone and clarinets Paquito d’Rivera and his quartet. The next brunch is scheduled this Sunday Dec. 15.
Paquito D’Rivera was a child prodigy who began playing music at the age of five. His father, Tito, was well-known saxophonist and conductor in Cuba. After performing at the National Theatre in Havana at the age of ten, D’Rivera began studies at the Havana conservatory. He continued to perform throughout his teenage years as well as co-founding the Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna. Several members of this group collaborated with D’Rivera to form the band Irakere, a jazz-rock group who was clearly influenced by traditional and classical Cuban music and who became the first Cuban musicians since the revolution to record in the U.S.
In 1981, while on tour in Spain, D’Rivera sought asylum with the American Embassy there, and left his homeland. Many notables reached out to help Paquito, including Dizzy Gillespie, David Amram, Mario Bauzá and Bruce Lundvall, who gave him his first solo recording date. D’Rivera quickly earned respect among American jazz musicians and was introduced to the jazz scene at some of the most prestigious clubs and concert halls in New York. He became something of a phenomenon after the release of his first two solo albums, Paquito Blowin (June 1981) and Mariel (July 1982).
His numerous recordings include more than 30 solo albums. In 1988, he was a founding member of the United Nation Orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble organized by Dizzy Gillespie and lead the band after Gillespie’s death in 1993, to showcase the fusion of Latin and Caribbean influences with jazz. D’Rivera continues to appear as guest conductor. A GRAMMY was awarded the United Nation Orchestra in 1991, the same year D’Rivera received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Carnegie Hall for his contributions to Latin music. Additionally, D’Rivera’s highly acclaimed ensembles- the Chamber Jazz Ensemble, the Paquito D’Rivera Big Band, and the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet are in great demand world wide. His projects as a bandleader tend toward mergers of classical with jazz, funk with tango, Brazilian choro with Cuban habanera.
Mr. D’Rivera clarinet playing started sweet and plush, and gradually became deep and complex.“Oblivion,” a Piazzolla tango rearranged into a slow Cuban danzón, changed the temperature. This was music you could see through, elegant and laconic, and here played his clarinet, immediately raising the stakes. No performer should be at full voltage all the time, and the clarinet subdues Mr. D’Rivera’s superabundant energy. The sound he gets from it is gorgeous: strong but mellow and almost entirely free of squeaks.
D’Rivera informed thee audience his relationship with Dizzy Gillespie. Spreading the gospel of Afro-Cuban jazz around the world. he performed several memorable pieces You can hear a modernized version of Dizzy’s “Manteca” and “Salt Peanuts”here, quintet swings with intensity throughout. It is a great arrangement the horn section was excellent, as was the solo contributions from the pianist.
D’Rivera was experimenting with virtually every style available, from near-smooth jazz to funk and beyond, his saxophone playing was shape, fast and demonstrated the huge sound and varied elements that were going into Paquito’s music at this time-check out his quote from “Salt Peanuts” that opens his fiery solo. The Afro-Cuban roots jazz, and is represented here by “Song For Maura”, a Paquito original. The Paquito D’Rivera Quintet included Bassist Oscar Staghoro, Trumpeter-Trombonist Deigo Urcola, Drummer Mark Walker, and Pianist Alon Yavnai.
The brunch was amazing, waffles, tender meats and roasted poultry, Belgium waffles, custom omelet bar, and not to forget an assortments of desserts, and mimosa. When Ryan DePersio signed on to create a new concept for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, he was charged with creating an exceptional dining experience, both casual and upscale, one that would appeal to the traditional theater client as well as the younger, edgy one the theater hoped soon to attract. A challenging directive, especially if you throw in the whole idea of pre-show deadlines, with a dinner crowd that spills in and empties in near unison. DePersio, though, is as deft with calamari (crisp, light and addictive, with homemade marinara) as he is with squid ink cavatellli with octopus (silky, unctuous, with the oomph of peppers). What DePersio has learned about restaurant success in the past 10 years is that you have to say yes more often. Thus, the evolution of his Italian-without-borders concept, a world where polenta fries share menu space with duck confit. At Nico, named for his 9-year-old, the customer wins. Don’t skip dessert — the chocolate sour cream cake and the outrageous Sicilian sundae are worth a post-performance stop.
The cost the the entire event was $45 per person, what a reasonable valued to have a high caliber performance along with a high quality food. The next brunch event will be this Sunday Cecil Brooks III, one of the hottest drummers on the jazz scene. As both a sideman and a leader, this on demand drummer-composer has lent his polyrythmic flair to a wide variety of jazz setting from straight ahead and grove to hard bop and be bop.
Nico Kitchen + Bar • New Jersey Performing Arts Center • 1 Center St., Newark • (973) 642-1226 • nicokitchenbar.com