26th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
“ McBride, who later switched to electric [bass], has drastically shifted his style from mainstream jazz to pursue a new musical path he calls 'melting pot' music. ”
A diverse roster ranging from top jazz musicians to blues, soul, R&B, crossover and world-beat music filled the Hollywood Bowl for the 26th annual Playboy Jazz Festival, June 19-20.
During the quarter-century that I've reviewed this festival, programming has mixed jazz legends and emerging talent from many musical genres. The main jazz lineup included Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter, James Carter, Michel Camilo, Gerald Wilson and Charles McPherson.
Predictably, this year's top crowd favorites were blues diva Etta James and South African bandleader Hugh Masekela, as well as the smooth-jazz and world-beat bands. That's because their energy communicates better in this 18,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. The festival's party-hearty audience is not intentionally disrespectful, but the most pure-jazz groups are less attentively received than they merit. The action on the revolving turntable stage would be completely lost to those in the nosebleed bleacher sections but for an excellent sound system and two huge LED screens.
Saturday, June 19
The festival started out right in the pocket with tomorrow's stars, the impressive Washington Preparatory High School Jazz Ensemble delivering a brief set of big-band charts. The partially filled bowl crowd cheered, and again when emcee Bill Cosby called for the students' parents to stand for their own deserved ovation.
Alto master Charles McPherson's brilliant quartet, featuring his son on drums, followed with mainly originals, although the Bird-style leader closed with the familiar "Billie's Bounce."
The ninth annual edition of Cosby's hando-picked "Cos of Good Music" ensemble tossed aside the charts and music stands that marked recent years' performances to play loose and free. The '04 CosTeam had James Carter on soprano and tenor sax, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Geri Allen on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Ndugu Chancler on percussion (with Cos at a smaller trap set). After exhilarating readings of Dizzy's "Manteca" and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Bright Moments," a curious rendition of "Turkey in the Straw" sometimes sounded as if the gobbler was fed LSD-laced corn, but the three leads kept it from being a farce. Another plus: Cos left his drum stool only once to pretend to lead the band.
Bassist Christian McBride startled my ears when he employed a wah-wah pedal with bowed acoustic bass on "Technicolor Nightmare." McBride, who later switched to electric, has drastically shifted his style from mainstream jazz to pursue a new musical path he calls "melting pot" music. I've always viewed that the role of jazz as an international language.
During this set, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner made his entrance with his usual flair - and the well-publicized blonde triplets, plus a spare - to sit in his front-center box.
A major aural shift took the stage in the person of South African trumpeter/band leader Hugh Masekela, who performed his 1968 hit "Grazin' in the Grass," but expanded his sound with a blend of bebop, funk and Afrobeat elements.
Smooth-jazzer Brian Culbertson's hyperactive persona pranced throughout his set, switching from electric keyboard to trombone to vocals. Guest artist Danish-born saxophonist Michael Lington, formerly with Bobby Caldwell, shared the stage and contributed to a Ray Charles tribute. That led perfectly into Yerba Buena's merger of Motown soul with African and Middle Eastern influences that makes it a great dance and festival party-band.
Unfortunately, renowned dancer-choreographer Savion Glover, performing with his TiDii jazz quintet, couldn't tap the hearts of the bowl audience in a too-long set that turned into time for meandering and snoozing. Even the dual big-screen videos couldn't hold the audience's attention in this try for diversity, which I continue to commend.
Wynton Marsalis performed a satisfyingly ear-catching mix of playful New Orleans street-beat and serious straight-ahead jazz. Then the quintet played funeral hymns in tribute to Elvin Jones and Ray Charles during the trumpeter's triumphant 10th festival appearance.
As expected, it was Etta James who commanded the most attention with her Roots Bandsmen (including sons Donto and Sametto).The sassy, funky blues queen treated listeners to many of her hits, including "Damn Your Eyes" and "I Want to Ta-Ta You, Baby," before crooning "At Last" and moving everyone to their feet on "Love and Happiness." This big-legged woman always delivers.
It was a hard act to follow, even for the Jose Rizo Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars. Since KKJZ's Latino deejay organized the band four years ago to mark the 10th anniversary of his SoCal radio show, the 16-piece ensemble has continued to flourish and issue three CDs. This set was a fitting finish for the night, propelling salsa dancers out of their seats.
Sunday, June 20