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Discover Jazz Festival 2005 Burlington VT: Bouncing Around the Room(s)

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Its gratifying in itself that prestigious jazz artists come to Vermont, doubly so when they play at such a high level of inspiration when they are here.
Each year Burlington's Discover Jazz does an admirable job in providing jazz fans a chance to hear music to suit their taste, reaffirm their taste or broaden their taste, and this year is certainly no exception...

Bill Charlap Trio/Flynnspace - Monday, June 6

One wonders if the approach of The Bill Charlap Trio was more or less studied for their first show on this weekday night. The latter half of the Charlap trio's hour and fifteen minute set at 8:30 p.m. was tuneful and energetic, most of the color and momentum provide by rhythm partners Peter and Kenny Washington. For his part, Charlap painted with broad strokes on piano, predictable touches of melodrama only accentuating an overall method as conservative as his dress (gray suit and tie, white shirt). The splendid sound filling the intimate room made the music more enjoyable than it otherwise might've been, but having said that, Charlap & Co. made for a comfortable introduction to a week's worth of diverse jazz

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts/Flynnspace - Tuesday, June 7

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts band displayed an ebullient temperament in keeping with their leader's own boisterous, comedic personality. The first of two sets ranged from warm ballads just shy of the saccharine, formal improvisations that left you wondering if the quarter was too staid for its own good, then on to some crisp interplay highlighted by not one, but two fascinating solos by Wilson using both bare hands and sticks.

A flat room sound in comparison to the previous night was the only drawback to an entertaining presentation that drew on jazz tradition, the opener composed by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, as much as it portrayed how fluid the genre can be: Wilson's original "25 Years of Rutabagas evolved from soft sounds to churchy/cheesy organ, which when you reminded yourself it was (or might've been) meant ironically, proved jazz can be pure fun.

Kurt Rosenwinkel/Flynnspace - Wednesday, June 8

That Kurt Rosenwinkel was able to bring a standing-room only crowd to the Flynnspace says as much about the fascination with guitarists as his own rising star as the heir apparent of contemporary jazz fret hero. Certainly Rosenwinkel's hungry to play, dominating each number through its seven- to ten-minute length, demonstrating an undeniable technical proficiency.

To his further credit, he adheres to tradition with his (over?) reliance on standards by Billy Strayhorn and Joe Henderson. And that's not to mention his warm liquid tone, reminiscent of Jim Hall, among others, that's so inviting to listen to in and of itself. But the absence of any discernible familiarity with the blues leaves his dynamic range stunted, leaving you to wonder if he unveiled any surprises whatsoever in the second set he played this mid-week night.

Sonny Fortune-Rashied Ali/Flynnspace - Thursday, June 9

Within ten minutes of beginning their performance, Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali generated more energy in this intimate venue than had been evident in the three previous nights. Their extended free-playing duets of saxophone and drums may not have been to the liking of all who showed up—more than a handful of attendees heading for the door within the first thirty minutes, but for the faithful who knew what to expect, they were rewarded and energized.

Formulating a logic all their own and reinventing it continuously as the minutes wore on, Fortune and Ali deliberately aimed for that rarified air first explored by the drummer when he worked with the late John Coltrane in the late '60s; it's a space few musicians visit—much less live—and for a music fan it's an acquired taste, to be sure, but the stimulating vigor of their presentation excited the crowd no end. Their climactic flourish, with the theme of "My Favorite Things at the end of 90 minutes , sounded simultaneously like homage to Coltrane and a statement of purpose to continue the musical adventures the late saxphonist first initiated.

Dave Fiuczynski's Kif/Club Metronome - Thursday, June 9

Just as Fortune and Ali were finishing guitarist Dave Fiuczynksi was beginning some adventures of his own up the street and up the stairs at Club Metronome. With his current band Kif redolent with tones and timbres from Middle Eastern music, if not all the structure that might benefit Fuze & Co., the three-man attack was formidable, indeed, their electricity both tangible and intangible before a sparse crowd.

Fluid, heavy drumming and wide-ranging wiry bass brought to mind hard-rock icons Cream and the Hendrix experience, a stable foundation for the guitarist leader's exploratory forays along the dual fretboards of his double-necked six- and twelve-string guitar. More rhythmic chording to counterpoint his harmonic picking might elevate the intensity of Kif even more, but it'd also render them less distinctive, as flourishes of funk combined with exotic sonorities created a world music of a whole different kind for those lucky few there to listen.

Sax Summitt/Flynncenter - Friday, June 10

The Sax Summit could hardly have gone off better had it happend as planned, but Chris Potter's substitution for the ailing Michel Brecker brought a different dynamic to this group than originally recorded and, in fact, allowed for some memorable particpation by the rest of the band. Drummer Billy Hart, for one, couldn't have impressed more with his fluid play—hard-hitting, yet understated. Cecil McBee on bass was no less noteworthy and, like pianist Phil Markowitz, portrayed himself as an eloquent musician.

One of the three stars, Joe Lovano deserved less time: he seems more conscious of acting the part of jazz musicians than playing like one. Dave Liebman's abandon to the moment in his solos was upstaged only by Potter's deceptive style: his patient means of beginning his statements turn intense in the blink of an eye.

A tribute to the late big Joe Burrell, introduced by local saxman Dave Grippos, was a more conventional departure from a non-traditional format that had more people leaving the venue with each successive number, but...what exacly did they expect to hear?

McCoy Tyner Trio/Flynncenter - Saturday, June 11

Notwithstanding the brevity of the performance, the McCoy Tyner Trio played brilliantly. It was mere seconds after sitting down the pianist was well into the roiling intensity he is so well known for and it wasn't long before hs two compatriots followed suit. In fact, it was arguable each of the three did played at an equally high level of invention throughout the set.

It was nigh impossible to take your eyes off drummer Eric Gravatt for his purposefully busy use of his entire kit was a magnificent exercise in technique. Bassist Charnett Moffett honestly pleased the rapt audience by the unorthodox use of his bass bow as well as a more conventional command of his instrument: he was stunning.

Attempting to end the set after approximately 45 minutes may be a surefire way to garner two encores: the finest live performances seem to suspend time and the Tyner Trio's was one of those, begging the question: would it have been more brilliant had it gone on longer?

Trio!/Flynncenter - Sunday, June 12

The first Discover Jazz show to sell out this year, on the first date of their tour, Bela Fleck, Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty could probably do no wrong...and they did very little wrong, sublimating their egos to the music and paying an extended two-hour-plus set that was just short of brilliant. Had it not been for the conventional riffing early on, bottoming out—ironically—on the bassist's tribute to Coltrane on "Song for John, the Trio! show would've been peerless.

As it was, following Ponty's solo interlude, where he demonstrated his intimate knowledge of his instrument plus an uncanny ability to find the nuances of melody where there appear to be no more, the threesome began to make music that seamlessly interwove the distinct sounds of their respective instruments through an interplay that became increasingly sure as the evening wore on.

Banjoist Fleck's own spotlight was almost as much of a highlight as Ponty's, containing toward its conclusion some of the whimsy for which he's known, but the humor did not distract from his prodigious technique. Stanley Clarke demonstrated no such innovation when he played alone, only flamboyant gestures and crowd-pleasing antics that made you wonder if he'd actually grown as a musician in the interim since he and the diminutive violinist first met.

New originals such as "Storm Warning and "Hunter's Moon sound like gypsy music for the new millennium, a fusion markedly different than that which each individual plays in his own projects, but one perhaps even more impressive—and surely memorable—because even at this early stage of their collaboration, it sounds so fully developed.

As the final show of 2005 Discover Jazz in Burlington, Sunday's event demonstrated how handsomely the ambition of the festival organizers paid off. It's gratifying in itself that prestigious artists like McCoy Tyner come to Vermont, doubly so because they play at such a high level of inspiration when they are here. You'd like to see the appearance of Trio! as a harbinger of things to come for Discover Jazz 2006.


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