April In Cleveland: The Tri-C JazzFest
Howes, most recently featured with piano whiz D.D. Jackson, plays a hybrid electric violin and his dynamic personality and technical brilliance has won over even those who find violin an unlikely medium for jazz. Classically trained from an early age, Howes creates lines of great intricacy, building momentum while swaying back and forth and putting his face and upper body through some wild contortions. To put it simply, he’s really something to see as well as hear. Along with guitar slinger Rez Abbasi and organist Gary Versace, Howes explored a variety of moods with an advanced and often funky base providing the structure, not unlike the forward-looking Blue Note records of Larry Young from the late ‘60s. Cleveland saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio also took to the stage and several of his sublime compositions were featured over the course of a dynamic and dynamite set.
Although the Clayton Brothers would be featured with their own quintet for a 5 o’clock show, I decided to take a break in preparation for the return of the illustrious Randy Weston later in the evening. This would mark Weston’s third appearance at the festival and I rekindled fond memories of his previous stays in town. As far back as ten or twelve years ago, he had played a solo performance at a Sunday afternoon brunch that almost seemed like a private affair, a more recent offering saluting the contributions or trombonist and arranger Melba Liston just prior to her untimely death.
Fronting what he calls his African Rhythms Sextet, Weston brought with him regular collaborators T.K. Blue on saxophones and flute, Benny Powell on trombone, Alex Blake on bass, and Neil Clarke on percussion. As an added treat, prophetic tenor saxophonist Billy Harper filled out the front line. Several of Weston’s finest charts provided fodder for the evening, with T.K. Blue’s delicate flute work illuminating a darkly romantic “The Healers.” Alex Blake amazed everyone as he strummed his bass with great abandon, almost like caressing a guitar, throughout combustible solos in both “African Sunrise” and “Blue Moses.”
Weston had some fine moments of his own during a elegant medley of “Hi Fly” and “Body and Soul.” Harper, in what would be a rare appearance as a sideman and an even rarer one in Cleveland, combined his own deeply mystical outlook with Weston’s efforts to conjure the spirit and rhythms of ancient ancestors. It made for a profoundly rewarding musical experience that left an impact on an appreciative throng of admirers.
These highlights are just a few from the ambitious schedule that kept Cleveland jazz fans hopping this spring. For more information and to obtain a limited edition CD sampler featuring the music of various JazzFest 2002 artists, visit www.cleveland.com/jazzfest.
View the Cleveland Tri-C JazzFest photo gallery.