Monterey Notebook 2006, Part 1: Friday

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The elusive piece is loaded with unsettled emotion. It is the quiver after the sob, the surge before the kiss.
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It was clear from the first press release that the 49th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, presented by Verizon, would feature a mind-boggling array of top jazz talent—Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Kurt Elling, Roy Hargrove and many others crowded the program on five stages over three days (September 15-17). But no roster of names can convey the deep-seated sense of community and exultant atmosphere that pervades the Monterey County Fairgrounds each year. This year's festival was a harmonic convergence of fine weather, musical fireworks and enthusiastic jazz lovers that should be long remembered. It also bodes very well for next year's golden anniversary event, which promises to be one for the ages.


Arrival / Settling In


6:00pm - Near the Fairgrounds:



The young man behind the desk shuffled his papers for a minute. Finally he could avoid his work no longer and checked me in, handing over my plastic room key. It had been a quiet day at this Fremont Street motel, despite the growing air of anticipation just blocks away at the Fairgrounds. Surprisingly, the motel's "VACANCY" sign remained lit, and only three cars were present in the parking lot. It looked like just another sleepy off- season day.



At precisely 4:00, everything changed.



The windows of the white bus were dark. But even from the motel office, we could see that the vehicle was crammed. The bored kid's eyes grew wide, a rude comment escaping his lips as the bus spilled forth a complete high school big band, along with piles of instrument cases and several harried-looking chaperones.



Now, the motel is alive with sound. Sax licks, passionate if not perfect, burst forth from the second floor and are answered by tentative phrases from below. A pleasing ring—perhaps a tuning fork?—bleeds through the wall once, twice, a third time. Voices chatter and giggle. The shadows grow long and the wind gusts — it's going to be a brisk night. After what seems like mere moments, it is six o'clock. Two blocks away, the Fairgrounds' main gate is opening.



7:00pm - Garden Stage:



The Festival kicks off simply, as the 2006 Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellows, one of many student groups on hand this weekend, leap into a spirited set of modern bop standards. In the tune "Footprints," pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack locks into an African rhythm, teasing spinning lines from the keys, and trumpeter Billy Berg displays masterful poise in his aggressive solo.



Meanwhile, a line is already forming outside the venue known as the "Night Club" for local favorite Taylor Eigsti. His set is still an hour away. As the temperature drops, the clothing stalls are beginning to do brisk business. One hooded sweatshirt is already becoming ubiquitous among the band from my motel: "I didn't know there was a uniform," one teen says to two black-clad friends.



As the Brown/Getz septet gamely tackles a challenging Woody Shaw composition (which bassist Dominic Thiroux assaults with particular verve), the air grows thick with the greasy smells of Cajun food. The mood changes with the atmosphere, settling into the comfortable joy of a holiday gathering. The table is laid, the family has reunited. The feast has begun.



"We Are All Connected"



8:15pm - Garden Stage:





Babatunde Lea wastes no time as he takes his music back to the motherland. Hurling himself into action with his left hand on the congas and his right at the drum kit, he creates a rich carpet for Richard Howell's streetwise yet spiritual tenor sax. The pair look like brothers in their matching white robes and long dreadlocks, and it's easy to imagine them as shamen of a distant tribe.



But in a wink, the Afro-Cuban jam gives way to hip urban bop. Glen Pearson's piano mines an uptown groove as Howell begins to dig deeper. A passing airplane tries to obliterate Geoff Brennan's urgent bass solo—common hazard at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which are adjacent to an airport— ut Brennan will not be denied as he sets up another black pearl of Afrocentric jazz. The crowd grows vocal in response, shouting encouragement to Lea's burning conga solo, their heads nodding as Howell tears into a searing line.



Later, Howell sums up the band's philosophy by leading the audience in a healing chant: "We are all connected / so we must treat each other right." There's no doubt that they've treated the audience right.



This One Goes to Eleven!



8:45pm - Dizzy's Den:



The African vibe continues outdoors as Richard Bona's delicate melodies waft over from the Arena. Indoors, the Dizzy's Den stage has exploded in a technicolor orgy of Brazilian-tinged electric funk. Uri Caine's Bedrock trio with Tim Lefebvre and Zach Danziger seems to be producing enough music for a band twice its size, and their sound board is pumping at full volume.


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