James Hunter: Turning Back the Clock Saturday, 1:00 p.m.The Arena
Friday night's drizzle has held on tenaciously through the morning hours, turning the 50th annual Monterey Jazz Festival into a soggy, mud-speckled event. The Arena is mostly empty as British soul man James Hunter begins the traditional Saturday blues program. But even if much of the sellout crowd is staying home so far, the preponderance of slickers and broad-brimmed hats on the fairgrounds show a determination to keep the party going.
On stage, Hunter turns back the clock with a bumping, screaming soul-blues revue, literally bouncing across the stage as he pays tribute to the genre's greats, backed by a gritty, mostly English quintet. Hunter's popping original tunes have the classic R&B flavor of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. But not only could these songs have been lifted from an earlier era; they might well have been top-40 hits then and beloved oldies today.
There is a rasp in Hunter's voice that interferes with some of his more extreme interjections, but he is undeterred. "No Smoke Without a Fire" channels Wilson Pickett by way of James Brown, with just a touch of Boots Randolph from tenorist Damian Hand lightening the mood. At opposite ends of the stage, Jared Samuel kicks out a churchy soul break on Hammond B-3 organ while baritone saxophonist Lee Badau groans behind Hunter's stuttering lead. Rain or no rain, the festival burns on.
Honeydripper All-Stars: The Turning Point
1:40 p.m.Garden Stage
While James Hunter winds up his Arena gig, the Honeydripper All-Stars are romping and stomping through a powerhouse set of jook-joint blues at the nearby Garden Stage. Playing in support of the upcoming John Sayles film "Honeydripper" (for which these musicians provided the soundtrack), the band unleashes a barrage of searing vocals and show-stopping instrumental breaks. Tenor saxophonist Eddie Shaw emcees the set with humor and verve as a mix of veteran and younger blues players digs deep and brings up gold.
Harmonica player Arthur Williams blasts away and eggs on the honking Shaw, then gives way to a smashing barrelhouse piano solo from Henderson Huggins. This is one of those bands where almost everyone sings, and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. proves a double threat with burning licks and a sledgehammer voice.
Later, as Mable John takes things down a notch with some bawdy vocal features, a minor miracle occurs. The rain stops, patches of blue appear in the sky, and just as Ms. John sings, "I don't know how she done it," a sunbeam begins to peek through the clouds, marking a turning point for this wet weekend.
Otis Taylor: Blue Trance
2:20 p.m.The Arena
Back in the suddenly sunny (and crowded) Arena, Otis Taylor has come ready for business. His band consists entirely of guitars, including electric bass and lap steel. "You know what, y'all? We don't have no drums!" he shouts. "Clap your hands and be our drums!" But no external aid is necessary as the band stirs up a swirling blues-rock cyclone.
Taylor calls his music trance blues, and the name is apt. Standing close together in the center of the stage, Taylor and his daughter Cassie craft chugging guitar/bass lines while John Richardson and Chuck Campbell wash over them with thick, atmospheric waves. The sound surges into a psychedelic stew, cresting and falling back in tune after tune.
Taking the lead in a heartfelt tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Cassie Taylor turns in a sweet- toned, breathy vocal somewhere between a whisper and a moan. Then things turn upbeat as Otis switches to harmonica, getting the Arena audience worked up in a joyous call and response on an old "hambone" lyric. Not content with the level of participation, the elder Taylor climbs down from the stage to personally lead his chorus from the aisles.
As the band returns to trance blues, there is a surreal moment. With the music once again reaching a hallucinatory high point, a tie-dyed, rainbow-hued gang of Mardi Gras hippies marches up the center aisle. And for just an instant, Monterey Jazz 2007 merges with Monterey Pop 1967.
Mimi Fox: The Art of Conversation
3:30 p.m. Coffee House Gallery
A healthy crowd has assembled in the Coffee House Gallery for guitarist Mimi Fox's second trio set, which opens with a streetwise take on Wes Montgomery's normally breezy "West Coast Blues." Seated and scatting quietly along with her multifaceted solo, the constantly moving Fox looks to be as much the recipient as the originator of her melodic inventions. Is she playing the guitar or is something else playing her?
"Caravan" emerges from a complex mass of parallel riffs, interspersed with brief classically-inspired musings. Drummer Akira Tana balances a floating ride with a rumbling groove for Fox's fleet, jerking solo, while bassist Harvie S speedwalks in the background. S takes surprising liberties with rhythm and tempo in his own solo, mixing speedy linearity with lopsided diversions.