The Power of Jazz Happens At Big Sur JazzFest
Nestled high in the redwoods along the edge of the Pacific Ocean is a 17-mile stretch of romantic, natural charm called Big Sur. Among the annual highlights here is the annual Big Sur JazzFest that spans the course of three days. This year, May 4, 5, and 6th were the event-filled days that attracted those with an affinity for jazz in a beautiful setting to this tiny, coastal resort town. Complete with venues to match the sparkling serenity of the Pacific view, Big Sur offered its guests one great weekend of jazz, food, art and fun!
Friday’s lineup included the Bay Area’s own dean of jazz drummers, Eddie Marshall and Holy Mischief, tearing down the house at the Big Sur River Inn. Their rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” was just about one of the best renditions out there and really awed the crowd. The smooth jazz vocals of Roberta Gambarini could be heard if you were lucky enough to get a ticket to her sold-out set at Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn. Joined by guitarist Tonk Edwards, the duo delivered and made quite an impression on both artists and patrons alike.
Saturday’s day-long events kicked off with Divine Geometry-with Nancy Peacock at the Big Sur Arts Center. The jazz inspired artwork of the Seattle native along with the solo saxophone accompaniment of Paul Lesniak was an extra treat since the quality of her paintings set in the dreamscape of Big Sur added an extra creative dimension to the great jazz. His commanding saxophone repertoire brought the paintings to life and as you interpreted the art, you could also hear the sounds emanating from the canvases.
Jenna Mammina and Andre Bush awed the early morning crowd at Ripplewood with the art of their duets. Singing songs from her latest CD, UNDER THE INFLUENCE, the striking vocalist’s tender, witty, and intensely romantic vocals were thoroughly charming. The Bay area duo, played to a full house who listened attentively to the guitar stylings of Andre Bush which glowed in the morning sunlight. This pair can clearly deliver melody, charm, rhythm and great guitar stylings with dazzling techniques that are surely their calling card.
Over at the Big Sur Lodge, the Kenny Stahl Quartet with George Young was delivering the first of two sets. Stahl, persistent and devilishly smooth on his flute, heightened the jazz for the lunch crowd and engaged in some rather masterful conversation with saxophonist George Young who was identifying a zone somewhere between straight ahead jazz and fusion. Stahl's “Song For David” received a rousing applause and not even the midday heat could stir the crowd away from this remarkable two-hour set.
Robin Eubanks and Mental Images put on one great show at the Henry Miller Library. The soft, fragrant grass provided its natural cushion amid the redwoods for Eubanks’ audience who gathered around 3:00 until 5:00. The power of the electric trombone in the ambience of the rainforest was truly amazing, with each powerful note echoing in complete harmony with this natural acoustic setting. Among the highlights of Robin Eubanks’ set were his great “Blues For Jimi” and “Indo.” Accompanied by Lonnie Plaxico on bass, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, George Colligan on piano and Gene Jackson on drums, the ensemble played masterfully. Repeating another scene like this would clearly cause the good people of the Big Sur Arts Initiative to invite them back. No kidding!
The New York soul of Roy Hargrove translated very, very, well on the West Coast. The beloved trumpeter, who recorded his beautiful MOMENT TO MOMENT right in Big Sur, had the overflow crowd at the Hawthorne Gallery in their comfort zone. Complete with a breathtaking sunset and twilight providing a glorious backdrop for their concert, Hargrove played a romantic set, filled with enough ambience that his instrument may never be the same. Playing “Natural Wonder” and “Moment to Moment” the audience sat enraptured as he captured the time and the place with an understated approach that is not to be underestimated. Hargrove’s Quintet – Larry Willis on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Willie Jones III on drums and Bruce Williams on saxophone - played like a lovely first kiss and won the audience over with its melodramatic and peaceful quintessence. Changing tempos on “Money, Money, Money, Money” the audience changed gears and flowed right along with the registers of Hargrove’s prime timing. This performance captured perhaps the festival’s most exciting moments where Hargrove’s impeccable talent and timing have coincided to create one of the most important works in recent jazz history...MOMENT TO MOMENT.
The spirit of experimentation continued at Fernwood with Living Daylights playing some of the best soul and funk jazz of the festival. Saxophonist Jessica Lurie, bassist Arne Livingston,and drummer Dale Fanning released enough energy into the night sky to keep California lit up for the next year! Playing songs from their CD ELECTRIC ROSARY, this talented trio had everyone on their feet dancing to the funky grooves of Lurie’s great sax lines. She can wail and tonight’s performance is sure to garner them much more attention since they made quite an impression on the packed house.
The weekend of jazz at Big Sur is truly one of the best festivals in the USA because of its great setting, the remarkable talent and the creativity of its residents, volunteers and staff. Presented in conjunction with the Big Sur Arts Initiative the Sixth Annual Big Sur JazzFest can be re-lived on May 27th by logging on to www.bigsurjazz.org The entire concert will be streamed, so be there!