Caramoor Jazz Festival
July 29, 2006
The atmosphere at the Caramoor Jazz Festival in its wonderful facility nestled in Katonah, NY, is special. Laid back; not hectic. And the groups that artistic director Joe Lovano has been putting together, along with producer Jim Luce, are also special. They present some of the finest musicians out there, and aren't afraid to throw in new twists, not just stick with household names or all-star bands.
This year was no exception on the first day of the event. Outstanding music came from all four groups presented during the dayRodney Kendrick, Ravi Coltrane, the Joe Henderson project and the Django Reinhardt Festival band.
On Saturday, Aug. 5, it continues with more great music: Kirk Lightsey's tribute to John Hicks; Jeremy Pelt Quarter; Steve Kuhn's "Promises kept (with strings); and a McCoy Tyner septet that will include Pelt, Donald Harrison, Dave Liebman and Steve Turre on the front line.
On July 29, pianist Kendrick set the perfect tone for the day with his quarter that featured veteran drummer Leroy Williams. Kendrick has a different eye when looking at standard songs. His voicings and ideas create different fields of sound and texture for a song, whether pounding two-handed block chords or delicately creating melodies. He introduced "Just One of Those Things slow and sweet and it turned into a swinging affair. "It Had to Be You was swinging, yet bluesy.
"All God's Children Got Rhythm (sung by Ivy Anderson in the 1937 Marx Bothers hit film "A Day at the Races ) was joyous. Over Williams' propulsive rhythms, Kendrick placed Monkish chords in places of his own design. Then he would occasionally leave the piano to dance a bit, enjoying the sound of the musicians... only to sit back and starting comping chords without missing a beat.
During "Body and Soul which, again, had a different slant, out strolled Lovano with soprano sax in tow. It's common for Lovano to appear with most groups at the fest to sit in for a bit. His wailing, aggressive romp suited the situation and was a highlight. He stuck around for the finisher, "Rhythm-N-Ing which was a natural for Kendrick, who seems influenced by Monk, among others, and his playful was with chords was reminiscent, not repetitive, of Thelonious.
Coltrane showed once again that he is one of the fine saxophonists on the scene. His compositions are compelling and his playing just tenor on this day is mature and brawny. And the band Luis Perdomo on piano, John Herbert o bass and Rodney Green on drums sizzled. Coltrane showed his strong tone and good way with a ballad on "Dear Alice back by lush harmonies from Perdomo, a monstrous pianist. "Translinear Light from the album done with his mother, Alice, was enticing, even spiritual. "Giant Steps started frantically and choppy and turned into a burner where Ravi wailed over the tune penned by his father. Lovano appeared from the wings to toss torrents of soprano that sound great over the outstanding polyrhythmic Green.
Pianist Renee Rosnes put together the group that tipped its hat to the great Joe Henderson. It was a treat. With her tasteful, swinging sound on the 88s, stalwart Peter Washington on bass and the great timekeeper Lewis Nash on drums, the rhythm section was tight. Tight section, tight group. So it didn't sound like an all-star aggregation thrown together. They made way for sweet solos by tenor saxman Jimmy Greene (who even sounded a bit, tone-wise, like Joe Henderson) and the under-appreciated and excellent Eddie Henderson on trumpet.
The band covered songs that Rosnes said Joe Henderson liked to play on, like Sam Rivers' "Beatrice and Duke Pearson's "I Know You Care. They also, naturally, played his compositions, like "Inner Urge and "Black Narcissus. Each solo was thoughtful and enjoyable and it helped to have Nash, reminiscent of an athlete behind the trap set, so crisp is his playing and so wide his musical range.
The Django set was set up, as one might expect, with acoustic guitars, accordion, violin, mostly with European musicians, save for bassist Brian Torff. The musicianship was very high, and the music played to a T. Guitarist Dorado Schmitt provided much of the fireworks, as did Florin Niculescu, playing the Stephane Grappelli role. The band played some originals, like Schmidtt's "La Vie, standards like "It's All Right With Me, and Django tunes.
It's a good band. But while the music was expertly rendered by quality musicians, and it is fun for people to revisit that language, the group is almost too fine. It's swinging, but sterile, in a sense. There's more edge and more sense of adventure - "what's going to happen next? in one impromptu appearance of Lovano with Kendrick or Coltrane than there was in all the late-night set.
But viva la difference. And Caramoor does provide that. It's a superb small festival.