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Live Reviews

3rd Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival

By Published: March 12, 2004
Friday evening's concert was given over to the piano trio of Renee Rosnes, with drummer Billy Drummond (Renee's husband and no relation to Ray) and bassist Peter Washington. All three members of this group are very much in demand to play with other people's groups so the feeling was that this was a special concert not only for the audience, since West Coast folks are not as aware of Renee as those of us in the East, but for the players themselves. Never the less this has been a working group whenever possible for some time and the communication between them was almost palpable. The choice of the tunes was a fine mix of the well-known like "Star Eyes", and the obscure like a composition by a man who lives not far from Healdsburg. The audience left the concert with a clear understanding of why these are three of the busiest musicians in Jazz today.

Saturday's Festivities began with an outdoor "Latin on the Lawn" concert in the performance space at Rodney Strong Vineyards. The concert opened with the 10 piece salsa band of veteran timbalero Pete Escovedo. With an instrumentation of two trumpets, two trombones, one reed player, timbales, congas, piano, bass and drums this was the biggest ensemble of the weekend, and what a wonderful groove they provided. Pete, as many readers probably know, is the father of the famous Sheila E., as well as congero Juan, who was in the band on this occasion. All of the players were superb and with the leadership of Papa Escovedo and the charts of Wayne Wallace they kept things cooking. By the end of the set practically everyone was up dancing.

After we caught our breath we were treated to a rare West Coast appearance of the Fort Apache Band, or as Ray Drummond calls them, the Gonzalez Bros. Band. Lead by Jerry Gonzalez, who would be impressive on either trumpet or congas, but plays both, the band included altoist Joe Ford, whom I first heard many years ago with McCoy Tyner, the wonderful and underappreciated pianist Larry Willis, Jerry's brother, and one of the foremost latin jazz bassists, Andy Gonzalez, and the great drummer Steve Berrios. The group held the audience enthraled with their high energy mix of Afro-Cuban and New York jazz.

After a break for showers and dinner came the evening concert. The first set featured the Ray Drummond Quartet, led by the esteemed bassist, with Craig Handy, saxophones, Rob Schneiderman, piano and the magnificent Billy Hart, drums. The group mixed a collection of standards and originals into one continuous fantasia that explored a wide range of colors and tempos, playing together in various combinations, and as individuals. Drummond has, over the last several years, personalized the innovations of Charles Mingus in exploiting the expressive potential of the small jazz group to the fullest. This evening we were treated to very fine example of Drummond's work as a leader.

After an intermission there was a 1/2 hour film collage of concert footage and interviews of the late Lester Bowie. Most of the film and video was supplied by Bowie's long-time friend and collaborator Famodou Don Moye and the presentation was assembled in Healdsburg, with Moye's assistance, especially for this festival. I am embarrassed that I did not write down the name of the gentleman who provided the equipment and expertise for this effort, because I find that mention of him was omitted from the program as well. He and Famodou managed to remind us of the breadth of Lester Bowie's achievement across those years after which Jazz was supposed to have died, according to the Ken Burns documentary.

To conclude Saturday evening's concert, Don Moye was joined by two more of Bowie's friends and colleagues, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and organist Amina Claudine Meyers for an exciting set of forward-looking blues-based jazz. In other words music that was both deep and delightful. There is something about Blythe's tone alone that takes my breathe away, and his solos were among the very finest saxophone playing I heard at this festival, which is not to take any thing away from anybody else. Amina Claudine Meyers is a master of the Hammond B-3 and she demonstrated both the power and beauty of this extraordinary instrument. And again Don Moye displayed that exciting combination of looseness and precision that is one of the hallmarks of the music to come out of the Mid-west in the late sixties and early seventies, exemplified by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and others associated with the AACM.

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