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Live Reviews

The Fantastic Freihofer Jazz Fest

By Published: March 12, 2004
On the main stage, the sultry Cassandra Wilson began her set with “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” from her Miles tribute CD and did other songs from that, like “Time After Time.” She’s always sharp, and her experimental style leaves listeners waiting to see where she will turn next. She also gave nice twists to “Green Dolphin Street,” and “Love For Sale.”

Cesaria Evora, a singer of Morna music from the Cape Verde islands, was interesting, but the music not arresting, venturing too often into bland. Another Latin band, featuring famous conga players like Candido and Patato Valdes, was tiresome after two songs. The background music was cloying (more brass needed, fewer whiny guitars) and the two men, 80 and 74, respectively, ... well ... let’s just say they could have used a shorter set.

A “super band” with Randy Becker, Bob Berg and Joey DeFrancesco played pretty well, considering the concept doesn’t always work. DeFrancesco kept things moving with hot organ grooves and Berg’s sax was in fine form, as was Becker’s trumpet.

During the rest of the evening, Maceo Parker was the musical cure for insomnia, though his over-hyped pop style excites some people. Bruce Hornsby was far better. A pianist with considerable chops (he knows his Bill Evans, Monk, Jarrett, et al.) was fairly experimental with his rock fusion and the band had a nice groove. David Sanborn was his usual soulful R&B self, always a player that gives it everything and establishes a nice feeling.

On day 2, the main stage began with the venerable Lew Tabakin, thrilling with a tribute to Coleman Hawkins. Tabakin can really get that sound that Bean was famous for and the music was alive, not dated. Tabakin is one of the world’s treasures on sax, though for some reason his name doesn’t pop into print when people discuss such things. And when he plays flute? Jump back! No prisoners taken here.

Kenny Garret was awesome, playing mostly from his latest CD, “Simply Said.” The disc has been called his attempt at playing more “accessible” music, after some more adventurous projects, including an all-Coltrane album. But the music is good and songs like “Charlie Brown Goes to South Africa,” “Can I Just Hold Your Hand,” and “Back to Where You Started,” were great in their live versions. That said, there are two cookers at the end of that CD, “Organized Colors,” and “3rd Quadrant,” and they blazed across the SPAC grounds, Garret putting on his Bird and Coltrane shoes. Those who dislike latter day Miles, and therefore, by association, Garret, are sadly mistaken. The last of Miles’ long line of great sidemen plays the alto sax as well as anyone on the scene. A monster!

At the gazebo, Brian Blade’s band was a highlight. The superb drummer flowed across his set, pushing a very hot band through thoughtful, intricate and hot tunes. Each band member was solid, notably Ken Rosenwinkel on guitar. D.D. Jackson did nothing to silence the talk of him as an up-and-coming star at the piano. His music was absorbing, hard charging, and he mixed electric keyboard with acoustic, sometimes playing both at once. Blues singer Tony Lynn Washington performed as billed: smooth, yet soulful; a fitting end to the backstage festivities for 2000.

The main stage on the final day was loaded. John Scofield, Herbie Hancock, Dianna Krall, Diane Reeves and Ray Charles. The less said about Spyro Gyra, the better.

Scofield is a great player, yet his foray into “jam band” grooves didn’t always maintain interest. Reeves put in a solid set, but she doesn’t shine like Cassandra Wilson or Diana Krall.

Krall was excellent was always, playing most of the tunes from her latest CD “When I Look in Your Eyes.” Each song is stamped with her swinging, sensual style. She’s consistently amazing and continues to do a knockout, emotion-packed, dramatic version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” She should record that tune in a hurry. And it’s about time for a live Diana CD; her music is so much more striking when sipped and savored in concert. Superlatives are feeble when describing her work.

Hancock proves each time he goes out on tour that he’s almost in a league of his own as a pianist. From his days with Miles on forward, he’s shown his aggressive, thoughtful, swinging and tasteful style each time out. A legend. He played this time from his popular “Gershwin’s World” CD and the set was exceptional.

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