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Live Reviews

Monterey Jazz Festival 2004

By Published: September 29, 2004

Unpredictable clarinetist Don Byron emerged as maybe the star of the festival. His latest project, the Ivey Divey Trio... is meant as a salute to the classic Lester Young/Nat Cole/Buddy Rich session.

Monterey turned a corner in 2004:
  1. No marquee names like The Crusaders or George Benson played, but there were more leading musicians (particularly from outside the U.S.) than usual. The selectors based their choices more on music (less on entertainment) this year.

  2. Admission price was raised which can be seen as a positive if it brought in more first-rate musicians.

  3. More energy-driven, modern-rhythm bands played.

  4. Theme nights were presented on some stages. One venue featured three San Francisco singers, and another had three flute bands.

  5. Saturday afternoons (old-time blues dominated) and Sunday afternoons (high school big bands) were broadened to include more performances and workshops of improvisational music.

  6. Some details were not handled as professionally as previous festivals. In particular the sound was not as clean, notably at the "Night Club." Also, an unannounced schedule change resulted in some fans missing a much anticipated Bobby McFerrin concert.

With as many as four stages going at a given time there was often more than one desirable concert to choose from.
Up-and-coming local pianist Milton Fletcher led off with a program of his own crackling compositions. Fletcher knows his Wynton Kelly, but he has moved into the new millennium rhythmically. He likes to vary tempo throughout his pieces. He'll take a simple rhythmic idea and endlessly vary and expand it. He has a long attention span and the patience to gradually work from one idea to the next, and he has the blues down. It was difficult to get a reading on his piano sound because of the rough amplification system.
Claudia Villela is a talented vocalist comfortable in any odd meter or tempo that comes up. Her repertoire is modern Brazilian tunes, but she sounds like she could easily branch out. She loves to take chances, switching the direction of her solos midstream or inventing percussive vocal sounds to accompany or egg on other musicians. She sings with heart, and she is always right in tune. Her accompanists were competent, but occasionally they got in her way more than added dimension to the performance.

Versatility is Kitty Margolis' strong suit-any tempo, blues, pop tunes, scat, old-time ballads, swing, modern urban rhythms, Brazilian—all musically rendered. Her between-tunes comments are hilarious. "I'm Gonna Take It With Me When I Go" by Tom Waits was her most heartfelt number. Drummer Allison Miller added some popping solos and rhythmic comments particularly in her exchanges with the singer.

Pianist Uri Caine led a high energy, equal-participation trio with thundering drummer Ben Perowski sharing the lead much of the time. It was worthy music, but there was sometimes a sense of similarity between one tune and the next. A change-of-pace slow blues featured bassist Drew Gress who launched his solo with a one-of-a-kind triple-stop passage.

The Lee Sarah Big Band from Japan mainly stuck to a conservative set of Buddy Rich charts ("Love for Sale") and basic blues. Their most inspired performance came on a Pat Metheny odd meter piece.

The Brubeck Institute Jazz Sextet (University of the Pacific), mostly college freshmen, presented a program of original music with intelligent soloing, snappy ensemble playing and accompanying, and current-day swing. Bassist Christian McBride, director of the program, sat in on one tune and lifted the music to the next level as he does with any band he plays in. Gifted San Diego high school pianist Eldar Djangirov, currently attending a workshop at the Institute, also sat in and said more in his one chorus than some bands in their entire sets. His accompanying was equally superb. A Russian band studying at the Institute for a few weeks finished the set and seemed to be in transition to music that has a chance to succeed.

Lynne Arriale sounds better and more diverse every time I hear her, particularly as a composer. It helps that she has kept the same trio over a number of years. Her music flows.

Pianist Mark Levine's Latin Tinge was a no-frills quartet (trio + conga) that took some solid tunes by Joe Henderson and Mulgrew Miller through their paces.

Unpredictable clarinetist Don Byron emerged as maybe the star of the festival. His latest project (and record), the Ivey Divey Trio with Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette, is meant as a salute to the classic Lester Young/Nat Cole/Buddy Rich session. There is not much literal similarity-the original 1946 record featured crisp, brilliant, understated interchanges and solos by Young and Cole with Rich thumping away in the background. This trio is integrated with all three players relentlessly pushing the music forward. Byron played tenor (nothing like Lester's sound) on "I Want to Be Happy," a tune with many tempo changes. He switched to bass clarinet on a stark folk song. DeJohnette stretched out on "Back to the Land" followed by some 1920's Moran piano blues. Byron wound up the piece with a "Creole Love Call" interpolation. The next day Byron took part in a "Blindfold Test" in which he was asked to identify jazz clarinet players from all eras. He revealed a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the tradition with his often uproarious comments. He noted Bill Smith's (William O. Smith) contributions to the technical and pedagogical traditions, Smith's career as a classical composer, and Buster Bailey's clarinet sound as an inspiration to later players. He lamented a modern player's inability to escape his bebop thinking on a Bulgarian piece. Byron also played in DeJohnette's Latin Band (see below).

Like Arriale Bill Charlap has kept his trio together for a while featuring Peter Washington's melodic, perfectly-timed bass lines and Kenny Washington's understated but driving brushes. Instead of just soloing on the changes Charlap paid particular attention to the nuances of Sondheim's original "Uptown/Downtown." He also presented a wonderful afternoon workshop discussion of classic American show tunes. He commented briefly on some of the most important song writers and played illustrations on piano of what gave each writer his own identity. He regretted that subtleties of a tune are sometimes lost in the fake books musicians sometimes play from. For example Gershwin's "A Foggy Day," a tune not often played as an instrumental because of a common chord substitution, is more interesting in the original. Charlap mentioned he is taking over for the retiring Dick Hyman next year at the celebrated "92nd Street Y" popular song program and discussed his plans for programs featuring the music of Nat Cole and others.

The trumpet (or flugelhorn)/piano duet is a beloved member of the jazz tradition through records by Louis Armstrong/Earl Hines, Frank Newton/Art Tatum, Kenny Wheeler/Paul Bley, and others. Dmitri Matheny (flugelhorn) and Darrell Grant (piano) have played together for years, and it showed particularly on Bill Lee's "Little Jimmy Fiddler" where they sometimes shared the lead or finished each other's phrases during four-bar interchanges. Both players have refined their instrumental techniques to the essentials, and their music had a relaxed, uncomplicated sensibility that made it fun to listen to. Not surprisingly the audience loved them.

The Berklee-Monterey Quartet (Berklee School of Music) is usually led by an outstanding pianist/composer. This year Berklee sent a guitar/trumpet quartet with a "European" feel focused on group sound with evolving, odd-meter composition and electronic sound manipulation. All four players are New York ready.

Jazz Across the Americas was something of an all-star band that rotated tunes associated with various American cities around the band. Guitarist/vocalist Henry Johnson offered a passive old-time blues, bassist Marian Hayden took some choruses on Coltrane's "Mr. P.C.," and pianist Milton Fletcher covered "Honeysuckle Rose." Jon Faddis (trumpet) and Antonio Hart (alto), billed as co-leaders, took short solos and breaks during the part I heard having already played their features.

The Jack DeJohnette Latin Project was the buzz, and they did not disappoint, overwhelming the auditorium with percussive energy. Don Byron assumed music director responsibilities, contributing tunes, setting tempos, and taking the most extended solos. He also played percussion in the ensemble. "Hand by Hand" by bassist Jerome Harris started out as a rhythmic idea. Midway through Harris sang (possibly in an African dialect), establishing a melodic theme. Finally the piece evolved into a Byron solo over montuno. A 30-minute "Homecoming" by Byron began with an unaccompanied clarinet solo before DeJohnette and the others gradually nudged themselves in. After a brilliant Edsel Gomez piano solo and a Byron "Manteca" interpolation things got frantic with extended percussion exchanges between DeJohnette, Luisito Quintero, and Giovanni Hidalgo.

Humor is the Claudia Quintet's calling card, not that they are parodying anything in particularly. I interpret their message as a gentle comment on American society with its conformity and reluctance to act. Their music is mostly through composed and in odd meter with a chamber music sound and a vaguely mechanistic feel. Individual statements are more breaks than solos. The band allowed the audience to vote on the song title for a frenzied piece written in honor of their trip to California—"Major Nelson" won out I think. "Adowa" was happy funeral music with brief exchanges around the band.

The e.s.t. Trio from Sweden offered some of the most intense music of the festival with all three players aggressively passing/taking the lead. Pianist Esbjorn Svensson and drummer Magnus Ostrum wired their instruments for sound modification (The mods were mostly out.) to give themselves a screeching edge. "When God Created Coffee Breaks" began as a folk tune and evolved into a rhythmic adventure. Svensson maintained a Bach-derived left-hand ostinato throughout the up-tempo "Seven Nights of Falling."

I had never heard Jean-Michel Pilc before this concert, and I was floored by his authority, swing, and freedom. He breaks his abstract solos into segments to give his audience a chance to breathe. Pilc, a strong individual with his own style, is the first pianist I know of to absorb the message of Martial Solal—in his chord voicings, approach to modulation, and method of abruptly moving into or out of tempo for example. Like Solal he sometimes incorporates (more than just quotes) one tune into the middle of another, sometimes suddenly ending a piece on one note while the next note begins a new piece. Pilc composes most of the rhythmic-based music for his trio to hover around and consume. The standards he arranges are so far removed and rethought that they qualify more as original composition.

Visit the Monterey Jazz Festival on the web at www.montereyjazzfestival.org .



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