12th Annual Newport Beach Jazz Party Newport Beach Marriot Hotel Newport Beach, CA February 16-19, 2012
An abundance of top-level jazz in the glamorous ocean-side setting of the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel has made the annual Newport Beach Jazz Party one of the most popular on the circuit. The extended President's Day weekend event attracted listeners from 27 states and Canada, and as far away as Australia, England and Austria. The party was billed "right down the middle and straight-ahead jazz," and fulfilled that premise.
Thrilling tributes, swinging big bands and exhilarating combos filled 40-plus hours of live jazz from some eighty musicians. The strongest audience response of the weekend was earned by Australian trumpeter James Morrison
, whose virtuosity on multiple brass instruments had long ago gained him the nickname "The Wonder from Down Under." He lived up to that billing with incredible range and power that involved breathtaking leaps into awesome heights. He's also a musical gymnast on trombone, shifting with elastic ease from extremely high notes to bottom-low sounds, always with agreeable charm, never an egotistical attitude. As a leader, Morrison enticed with the ballad "The Second Time Around," then blazed white-hot on "Basin Street Blues." He never failed to thrill, entertain and surprise, as he once did by sitting at the piano to create a left-hand accompaniment while playing trumpet with his right.
A crowd favorite was a solo set by Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu
, but lacked the feeling of the late great's luminous heart and soul. Repeated cascades of notes made it seem like Petrescu was playing to impress rather than to express, more Roger Williams than Oscar Peterson. In combo sets, Petrescu's solos and support work came across as more jazz-inspired.
Another crowd-pleaser was Los Angeles-born guitarist Graham Dechter
fit perfectly and, as always, never played an extraneous note. Hamilton's expert use of cymbals is unparalleled, and the element of using only his hands and fingertips is always refreshing to watch and hear.
For many, the event's three powerhouse orchestras brought the weekend's highest peaks. Opening night's "Basie, Benny and Buddy Big Band" lived up to its billing of tribute to these valued icons of jazz (the concept created by trumpeter Byron Stripling