Dan Karlsberg’s Brilliant Love Letter to ’Nati Jazz

Cincinnati’s Jazz scene took a hit lastyear when one of its longstanding and more popular venues, the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, closed. But if you think the Wisp’s closure marked the death of Jazz in Cincinnati, you are underestimating not only the endurance

Jun 24, 2015 at 8:46 am
click to enlarge Dan Karlsberg (left) and The 'Nati Six
Dan Karlsberg (left) and The 'Nati Six

Cincinnati’s Jazz scene took a hit last year when one of its longstanding and more popular venues, the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, closed. But if you think the Wisp’s closure marked the death of Jazz in Cincinnati, you are underestimating not only the endurance of the city’s great Jazz musicians, but also Jazz itself. It is a style of music that has persisted for more than a century, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

In Cincinnati, venues including The Greenwich, Washington Platform and even Washington Park have provided local musicians stages on which to play, while Northside’s hip new Urban Artifact brewery has made Jazz a priority in its live music programming. Having the University of Cincinnati’s renowned College-Conservatory of Music has also kept the local Jazz scene thriving, employing musicians as teachers and shaping the next generation of players.

Pianist Dan Karlsberg, a graduate of CCM who now teaches at the school, is one of the “young lions” of local Jazz who has chosen to stay in his native Cincinnati, carrying the torch to pass on to the next generation. Karlsberg has a great appreciation for Cincinnati’s rich Jazz heritage, so much so that his spectacular new album, The ’Nati 6, was conceived as a tribute to his hometown’s Jazz scene — past and present.

To record the album, Karlsberg enlisted some of the city’s finest veteran players, calling the ensemble The ’Nati 6. The musicians all have impressive résumés that include work with notable acts like Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and many others. They are also all some of the cornerstones of the local Jazz scene. Joining Karlsberg on the 10-track collection are trombonist Marc Fields, saxophonist Brent Gallaher, trumpeter/pianist Kim Pensyl, drummer Art Gore and bassist Jim Anderson.

The ’Nati 6 is Karlsberg’s third album, but on this one, he takes full advantage of the talented musicians who joined him in the studio. The album features a ton of sublime playing, but it’s also a stellar showcase for Karlsberg’s remarkable writing and arrangement abilities. It is an incredibly diverse collection that is often hypnotically adventurous. On “Tchaikovsky 1” and “Tchaikovsky 2,” Karlsberg uses a theme from a piece by the Russian Classical music giant and takes it on a winding journey the composer would never have imagined. Elsewhere, “Oh! Susanna” utilizes the melody from Stephen Foster’s American standard as a jumping-off point from which the horn players engage in some spine-tingling call-and-response rapport (with Gore effortlessly soloing like the master he is in the middle). The musicians play off of each other incredibly well, showing a telepathic bond that is a testament to the players’ vast experience and impeccable skills.

Between the dynamic and engrossing arrangements and the soulful, deft musicianship, The ’Nati 6 is not only the kind of album that will impress Jazz die-hards — it’s also the kind of album that could easily capture the imagination of a young, open-minded music fan who has yet to engage in the enthralling experience of hearing great Jazz music for the first time.

In honor of the album’s recent release, Dan Karlsberg and The ’Nati 6 perform a concert Saturday at the aforementioned Urban Artifact (1662 Blue Rock St., Northside, artifactbeer.com). The show is free and begins at 8 p.m. For more on Karlsberg and the project, visit dankarlsberg.com.

More Local Notes

• After releasing a string of albums with his band, The Tempers, great local songwriter Maurice Mattei has returned to his “solo acoustic” roots for the new album Girl Jungle. Friday at the Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport, Ky., southgatehouse.com), Mattei and his Tempers will reteam for a show celebrating the new release. The free show starts at 9:30 p.m. Visit 

mmattei.com for more on Mattei's music and various other artistic outlets. Sample Girl Jungle here .

• Saturday at the Southgate House, local music website cincygroove.com presents the Cincy Folk Festival. The 7:30 p.m. event features some of the city’s best Roots/Americana/Country acts (and a few just on the edge of those genres), including Young Heirlooms, Honey & Houston, Wilder, Bulletville, Mamadrones, Hickory Robot, Kim Taylor, The Gabbard Brothers and Daniel Wayne and the Silver Lines. Touring acts include Georgia’s AJ Ghent Band and Illinois’ Chicago Farmer. Tickets are $20, with proceeds benefiting Northern Kentucky radio station WNKU. Find full details at cincyfolkfestival.com.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: [email protected]