Discover Jazz 2007
June 1-9, 2007
Happening relatively soon after the great event in New Orleans each spring, Burlington Vermont's Discover Jazz has the distinction of being one of the first festivals of the season that extends throughout the United States and Europe during the summer season. But the Queen City's event also distinguishes itself by offering such an array of music it presents the true music lover with the best of all problems: choosing one potentially memorable event in favor of another just because there is so much going on. What follows are one problem-solver's discoveries during this year's festival:
Discover Jazz 2007
Flynn Mainstage, Burlington, Vermont
Discover Jazz could've hardly begun in a more delightful manner than it did at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. A rousing presentation by the Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble gave way to the most scintillating and sinuous of shows from the veteran pianist Palmieri and his septet. Swaying from the opening number through a delicate display of dynamics within full-blown horn arrangements, percolating percussion and the reflective likes of the leader's solos, this music drew you deeply into the sensual pleasure of its sound and reinforced the youthful players' exhibition of musical camaraderie.
Kenny Garrett Quartet with Special Guest Pharaoh Sanders and Vorcza
The much-touted Kenny Garrett/Pharaoh Sanders ensemble literally tore through almost a full hour of turbulent rhythm and melody before succumbing to the bane of pacingtwo slow ballads in a row that effectively destroyed that momentum. A sing-along interval ensued, conducted in an all too peremptory manner from Garrett: perhaps if he had seemed more joyfully engaged?
In contrast, Vorcza effortlessly conjured up tempo changes and melodic turns in quick succession. The two charter memberskeyboardist Ray Paczkowski and bassist/composer Robinson Morse---were augmented by Conor Elmes on drums (in place of road warrior Gabe Jarrett on tour with Page McConnell) and local guitar phenom Nick Cassarino. The latter pair added light, color and punctuation to the customarily dusky funk of the band, in just the right proportions, making the half-hour opening set all too brief indeed.
The next night's show was another role reversal as in that the opening act outshone the headliners. Jamie Masefield's MaMaVig hit the ground running for their hour on stage within City Hall, all four members displaying individual and collective precision and a palpable joy in playing together. Acoustic music provides some real insight into how difficult it is to play an instrument to begin with and further illustrates, by its innate understatement, how much empathy and timing is necessary for a band to play together. MaMaVig was as startling to hear when playing fast or slow, their grasp of dynamics equally evident in their original compositions as on a cover of Django Reinhardt.
Which isn't to say JFJO was much less impressive, but their stage presence detracts from the remarkable combination of technical skill and ambition the trio's members. Selecting material by Monk, Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman is chancy enough, but keyboardist Bryan Haas, bassist/guitarist Reid Mathis and drummer Jason Smart are all fully capable of navigating the changes with tremendous ease. Perhaps that level of competency is the root of a self-assured air, bordering on the cocky, that prompts body language all too reminiscent of musicians trying too hard to impress.
Miguel Zenon Quartet
It is often true of Burlington's Discover Jazz that the best music arrives with the lowest profile. So it was with the young saxophonist's appearance in the cozy confines adjacent to the Flynn Mainstage. The erstwhile member of Joshua Redman's SF Jazz Collective is part of a quartet in which every member is constantly contributing to the performance. Even more uncommon is to see and hear a group of musicians playing together at an equally high level of musicianship.
In the introductory suite of three tunes, lasting approximately forty-five minutes total, everyone in Zenon's band proffered and in turn was offered ideas in the most unpredictable fashion. At the same time, they managed to remain sympathetic with each other and attentive to the collective dynamic. The conventional ballad they playedsecurely yet inventivelyearly in the set simply confirmed the initial impression of a group with a fundamental grasp of true improvisation.
Magic Slim & the Teardrops and Bettye Lavette
Waterfront Blues Tent