Burlington Vermont Discover Jazz Festival 2014 Burlington, Vermont May 30-June 8, 2014
During Burlington Vermont's Discover Jazz Festival, Vermont's Queen City teems with a level of excitement and activity unusual even for its ceaselessly vibrant environs. And while the Mainstage of the Flynn Performing Arts Center functions as the center of that universe, it is often the case that those performances at the intimate FlynnSpace downstairs, as well as other venues around the city, imbed the most indelible memories of the week-plus run. With all due respect to headliners such as Tony Bennett and Donald Harrison, 2014 was certainly no exceptionin fact, perhaps a better illustration than usual of that rule of thumb.
Seth Yacovone Nectar's May 30, 2014
Guitarist/composer Yacovone embodies the improvisational nature at the heart of jazz with his regular succession of performances with his own trio, Blues for Breakfast, and Dead Sessions. Though not officially affiliated with the fest, with this acoustic set he rose to the occasion of the BDJF's annual inauguration with one of the most scintillating set lists he's offered in recent memory. Having just celebrated his ninth anniversary of solo shows at the former home of Phish on Main Street, the native Vermonter offered tunes by Bob Dylan ("Po Boy"), the Band ("Ophelia"), two by Neil Young ("Thrasher" and "Motion Pictures"" and a selection from the vast repertoire of the Grateful Dead (in the form of Jerry Garcia's and Robert Hunter's "Dire Wolf"). If such an opener sounds a bit intimidating, it was no doubt intended, and worked successfully as an attention getter as Yacovone parlayed his various choices with an upbeat and fundamentally positive air. Even without brandishing his bottleneck at all, his impeccable acoustic fingerpicking lent further decoration to those aforementioned songs from which his voice elicited their intrinsic subtleties. And, to think the native Vermonter was heading out after these two hours for a show with Seth Yacovone Band, made the uniformity of this presentation all the more laudable.
Regina Carter Southern Comfort Flynn Mainstage May 30, 2014
Roughly halfway through Seth Yacovone's set up the street, the center of the Discover Jazz universe was filling with attendees for Regina Carter's concert, the momentum of which hit its home stretch at roughly 9:00 p.m. A headlining article in a Burlington weekly newspaper trumpeted the violinist's incursion into Americana on her latest recording, but just prior to the blues-derived "CC Rider" (where she and her four accompanists proved how to generate steam in low key), the collective offered palpable European strains that couldn't help but recall Stephane Grappelli's work with and without Django Reinhardt. Even so, those sounds were no more or less authentic than those emanating from the Louisiana-rooted tune, arranged by accordionist Will Holshouser, which closed the set. As polite as was the audience, deep in rapt attention to the detail in this musicianship, it was impossible not to sense the rustle of enlivenment as it permeated the listeners and, appropriate to its varied history, the building at large and the venues within. To call Carter's show a most apt opening for 2014 Discover Jazz is an understatement, given the festival's theme of traditionalism and the constant redefining of that concept in the hands, hearts and minds of the genre's most creative proponents.
Every year at Discover Jazz there's a show that, somewhat unheralded in advance, ends up becoming the buzz of the festival. As with J.D. Allen's 2011 show, this year the distinction may go to the Gregoire Maret Quartet, who played a late night (10pm) show in order to avoid conflicting with Tony Bennett
on the Mainstage. The band sounded sumptuous just coming down the stairs to the intimate venue, and all the more so when surrounded by the luxurious tones they created. Drowned out by the electric bass and drums once in a while early on, the mix evened out quickly to allow the warm, friendly tones of Maret's harmonica to float in and out of the keyboards of Federico Gonzalez Pena, creating a plush flow of sound not all that dissimilar to that of the Pat Metheny
Group, with whom Maret played in 2005. In their bell-like clarity and glistening tones, acoustic and electric pianos as well as the leader's instrument offset synthesized textures, while James Genus's bass flowed in tandem with John Davis's drums: it wasn't so much that they kept a beat as generated an ebb and flow of rhythm that added all the depth necessary to a create a cushion of sound upon which the sound of the leader's instrumentand in fact much of the comfortably ensconced audiencecould rest.
The Benny Golson Quartet Flynn Mainstage June 1, 2014
Surprisingly, or perhaps notconsidering their long-term friendshipRon Carter's trio played first this evening with the saxophonist and his quartet following, right away establishing a sonic realism suited to this well established venue: the remodeled, retooled, and reconfigured landmark of Burlington seemed perfectly suited to carry the acoustic sounds of piano and standup bass, while the leader's horn emitted sounds that seemed to glow in the air. And it was good that it did, given his intros to each tune the group played. Self-effacing and facetious as he was (and to the extent it masked the somewhat predictable approach of the ensemble), the flow of the evening suffered slightly as he framed his intros to a Clifford Brown tune and his own ode to the famous trumpeter. Moving from sax to Mike Ladonne's piano, then to Peter Washington's bass, and then Carl Allen on drums, didn't exactly bespeak spontaneity, but at least the latter evinced true personality when it came time for him to command the stage alone on the percussion composition "Out of the Shadows." The applause that erupted across the venue was in proportion to his concentration and the nuance that arose from it.
The Linda Oh Quartet finished their FlynnSpace set with a flourish, playing with the finesse of a well practiced team of high-flying trapeze artists who know how to stay just close enough to each other. The Sun Pictures Quartet maintained the melody and the rhythm of the music, yet still impressed with their own individual and collective grace in motion. Their well deserved (and enthusiastically demanded) encore was more of the same, if a little less involved, as the flourishes proffered by guitarist Matt Stevens only heightened the perception thatapart from Oh herself with an exquisite touch for melody on her standup bassthe most provocative musician on the intimate stage was drummer Rudy Royston: his percussive attack on his kit pushed the boundaries of what the group was doing on this comparatively structured number.
Fans of Geoffrey Keezer were probably not that surprised to have him preface his performance with his trio with a segment of solo piano. Still, those dedicated followers were no doubt as delighted as the comfortable capacity crowd to hear a Steve Wonder tune and Peter Gabriel's "Come Talk to Me" stand as a concert, in and of itself. Keezer distinguished himself from the other contemporary giant of jazz piano, Brad Mehldau, by alternating between the latter's dense exploration of melodic motifs and a more deliberately spacious take on his chosen material. That approach was implicit on "These Three Words," but more pronounced as he played the original from the former Genesis frontman, in part no doubt because, as Keezer noted in introducing the number, he wanted to maintain a pronounced rhythmic foundation as the author prefers.
with a healthily eclectic set, the likes of which has become the trademark of Discover Jazz shows on the shores of Lake Champlain, Fredericks Brown suggested when they next return to Burlington, Discover Jazz or otherwise, they will be the headlining act. Deva Mahal (daughter of Taj) sounded as earnest in her stage repartee as she sounded honest and unaffected in her singing before an ever-expanding crowd. Co-leader Stephanie Brown played keyboards, including a synth bass that locked with the syncopation-laden drumming of Fen Ikner, even as she complemented the sonic coloration emanating from guitarist Michael Taylor. The latter's role was perhaps understated to a fault, but there's no shortage of overbearing heroes of that instrument and his knowledgeable restraint is the source of the group's fundamental appeal: Fredericks Brown know they have nothing to prove and their confidence was winning this overcast evening near the water.
Events at this intimate venue can be too serious for their own good, yet vibraphonist Warren Wolf's with his trio this night was anything but. Twenty minutes in, the smiles of pleasure on all three faces was testament to their shared realization they had hit their stride for the evening, but the leader of Wolfpack kept himself deliberately lighthearted as he realized his instrument was falling apart; objects began to fly as early in the set as the first number but it wasn't till midway through the hour-plus that the group was on-stage that Wolf, grinning ruefully from ear to ear, pointed out how some of the wiring holding the bars together had frayed and split; as is to prove a point, he hit a flat note but, in so doing, simply rendered it a marvel of his resolve that he was subsequently able to successfully navigate his instrument, often as lightning fast as he started the night, without hitting any more bum notes. On the contrary, he continued to elicit glowing resonant tones from the vibes in correlation to the fluid pulse from Jake Sherman's Hammond organ and the light-but-firm rhythm drumming Lee Fish maintained with his minimal kit. Forestalling the inevitable, but also demonstrating his camaraderie with his co- musicians as well as his own eclectic skills, Wolf took quick turns on drums and keyboard before the trio concluded the evening with authoritative but no less gleeful relish, leaving each other and the fascinated audience equally high- spirited and satisfied with the music as rendered.
Soule Monde/Natalie Cressman Nectar's June 6, 2014
Trey Anastasio did not show up to sit in with these members of his current solo band, but even if he had, it's arguable there was room to accommodate him. Keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and drummer Russ Lawton were sitting in with Cressman and co. at one point, but upon their departure to prep for their own set, there was no discernible drop off in lively musicianship. On the contrary, Jonathan Stein with his seven-string bass, Ben Lusher's crisp keys and the perpetual motion of Mark Whitfield, Jr.'s drums maintained space even as they so assertively interacted with each other. And while the leader of the band may or may not have heard Flora Purim, the airy tone of her voice certainly called the great Brazilian jazz singer to mind (just as her hearty trombone playing matched will with Casey's earthy playing).
Soule Monde have nurtured their chemistry as a duo over the past couple years to the point they are the definition of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Not only does the drums/keyboards duo never allow a thought of other missing instruments, melody- or percussion-wise, their sound has grown gigantic (notwithstanding the cramped quarters of this club). Digging into the deep grooves of "Whassat" and "Miss Miriam" or elaborating on melody such as that of "The Story," Lawton and Paczkowski established themselves early on in the first of their two sets, as they fully and completely encompassed their tunes, their spontaneity so palpable, it was impossible to tell where the song left off and the improvisation began. And they savored doing so all the while, as often as did their listeners, grinning from ear to ear in delight at what they were creating.
& The Indomitable Soul Band/Jennifer Hartswick Band Waterfront Tent June 7, 2014
The second evening at the Discover Jazz Waterfront Tent ended up being a celebration of Burlington, Vermont, and for more than just the music of local artists. With full sun and temperatures in the eighties and no humidity in the soft breeze, there is no better summer weather on the shores of Lake Champlain. There may not be a better Burlington band than Kat Wright's right now either: she and her group are so artful in building upon familiar r&b/soul motifs without aping the classic sound, they can, as they did this night, offer a fully satisfying take on a vintage style with credibility and confidence. The namesake of the band restrained herself admirably with her full-throated singing, but she might well concentrate on softening and/or toning down her stage presence as she can detract from the collective impact of the Indomitable Soul Band or worse, distract from the attention guitarist Bob Wagner deserves when he's mid-solo . Wright's kindred spirit Jen Hartswick, on the other hand, has a truly ingratiating presence on stage, but her unfortunate tendency to oversing combined with her accompanists' more literal-minded take on a similar stylistic mix, rendered her set less satisfying, though rousing to the audience. The sit-in of saxophonist James Casey and trombonist Natalie Cressman, Hartswick's once and future partners in the Trey Anastasio Band, became the high point of the set when not only did the horns amplify the intensity of Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin,'" but the gleeful vocal harmonizing generated camaraderie Kat Wright and Co would be well served to cultivate.
Those music-lovers whose BDJF experience ended the night of 6/7 rather than the next night's shows from Jerry Bergonzi
nevertheless proved the truth of what Shakespeare said: "All's well that ends well..." And anyone who didn't get to see and hear any of their personal favorites in 2014, it's not too early to think ahead to Discover Jazz 2015!