Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival: June 25-26, 2011

Freihoferâs Saratoga Jazz Festival: June 25-26, 2011
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Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, NY
June 25-26, 2011

This year's Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, the 34th edition of the upstate New York event, featured a great touch when famed jazz impresario George Wein
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
was awarded a star on the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Walk of Fame. Wein created the festival, fashioning it as an outdoor event in the mold of the iconic Newport Jazz Festival, and produced it until 2007, when he thought he was pulling out of the business.

He returned to run the Newport Jazz Festival in 2009, and still has a big place in his heart for Saratoga Springs. And vice versa.

But the cool thing extended further, as Wein also performed at the festival, as a pianist fronting his Newport All Stars that were a hit on the main stage of the two-stage Saratoga Performing Arts Center venue. It featured superb players like trumpeter Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
, Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen
Anat Cohen

sax, tenor
on sax and clarinet, Lewis Nash
Lewis Nash
Lewis Nash
b.1958
drums
on drums, Peter Washington on bass, Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
Lew Tabackin
b.1940
sax, tenor
on sax and flute and guitarist Howard Alden
Howard Alden
Howard Alden
b.1958
guitar
. They wailed through a set of standards, with Cohen flexing her muscular chops on both instruments. She blazed on tenor through "Manha de Carnival," which also featured the always-excellent flute of Tabakin. Brecker's trumpet soared as it always does and the rhythm section was impeccable. Wein's 85 year-old fingers are nimble enough to provide many fun moments.

The star-studded band was emblematic of the festival put together by Wein protégé Danny Melnick of Absolutely Live Entertainment. It was two solid days of outstanding jazz on two stages. It featured the likes of Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
b.1960
piano
, Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
, The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

band/orchestra
, Ben Allison
Ben Allison
Ben Allison
b.1966
bass, acoustic
, Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
, Marcus Strickland
Marcus Strickland
Marcus Strickland

saxophone
, Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater
b.1950
vocalist
, David Binney
David Binney
David Binney
b.1961
saxophone
, Hilary Kole
Hilary Kole
Hilary Kole

vocalist
and more.

Elias' set was typically fine, full of energy and life. Her current band, touring in support of her new album Light My Fire (Concord, 2011) and she did an array of tunes from it, as well as gems from past albums like "So Danco Samba." The rhythm section, anchored by Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
Marc Johnson
b.1953
bass
on bass, is energized by percussionist Marlvaldo dos Santos. High-energy tunes were balanced by softer things like "Rosa Morena," allowing Elias to display her attractive voice. She's become a strong singer, but don't go to sleep on her monster piano chops that propel the music.

"It's a very special album and it has an aspect to it that is different than the others," she said after her set. "It has some very sexy moments. It has moments that are very cool, vibey. But also a lot of rhythm, groove and romance. It has different things that worked so nice together ... I always brought different elements of Brazilian music, but I've done a lot of albums that were more instrumental. This is a vocal album that still has a lot of piano. But this album, with the vocals, has more of a variety of elements of Brazilian music than just the bossa nova. There's some music from the north of Brazil, from Bahia. And some Afro-Brazilian rhythms ... This album, from the very beginning, had a force of its own."

Jack DeJohnette

Among the best was the music of DeJohnette. His band featured young monster musicians who have melded together and play with passion, scorching the SPAC main stage with blistering improvisation. Of course, it was all fielded by the magnificent drumming of the leader, who got sound and feeling from a drum set that was staggering. George Colligan
George Colligan
George Colligan
b.1969
keyboard
's keyboards were crazy good, and David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
b.1964
guitar
's hot guitar work created blissful moments. And DeJohnette has found a soul mate in Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
b.1971
sax, alto
, who blew hot, cool and everything in between. Always pushing and exploring.

Marcus Strickland's recent albums are establishing him as a major saxophonist. With David Bryant
David Bryant
David Bryant

piano
on piano, Ben Williams on bass and twin brother E.J. Strickland on drums, the group mesmerized the gazebo stage audience. The band cooked, and then was tempered by a serene ballad that highlighted the soprano sax. Bassist Ben Allison's band had a similar effect, with sublime musicianship streaming from the bandstand, evoking a variety of moods while always maintaining intensity and interest. Guitarist Steve Cardenas had a rich sound and his melodic sense of invention was always pleasurable. Drummer Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston

drums
has really along in the last couple years as one of the very finest young drummers on the scene, and he drove the Allison unit in great fashion. Cardenas also played his own set as a trio with Allison and Royston, so he got to develop more musical ideas of his own and the interplay of that unit was what jazz is about.

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