Berskshire Jazz Festival Turns Two
It's good to see Mangione back, and equally good to see his one-time sidekick Gerry Niewood back on woodwinds. Mangione has never gotten great praise from critics, and he may not be the best horn player, but his flugelhorn hasn't lost its sweet tone and he hasn't lost his was with a melody. He also puts togtehr a band that can execute his imagination. From "Land of Make Believe" and "Bellavia" from the older days, to "Peggy Hill" "Fun and Games" and "Dizzy Miles" from the newer, the band cooked when it had to and played his soft ballads serenely.
Drummer Dave Tome was superb (he even sang well a Jon Hendricks lyric about Diz and Miles, as well as "Children of Sanchez") as was percussion ace Don Alias. Niewood is still wonderful on flute and a solid sax soloist and the veteran adds a lot to the proceedings. A couple tunes, like "Dizzy Miles" and "Amazing Grace" started softly, then would switch gears into hard drive. Mangione has always had a way of building up and releasing a song's emotive qualities like that, and it was pleasing. He's a solid performer.
In addition to the main stage at the base of a ski slope, there are also sets by lesser know, but usually good, musicians in the ski lodge. The highlight this year was Brazilian singer Monika Oliveira, backed by the Richie Hart Trio. She sang a ton of Jobim tunes "Wave," "Girl Fro Ipanema," "So Danco Amor" and while she has a smallish voice, she has a great feel for the rhythms and a nice way with phrasing.
A word should be said about Hart and his men. He's a very tasty guitarist with fine chops and a quick read. They lead jams sessions and play with whomever else might be on stage, with little preparation. (Last year it was the fine up-and-coming singer Roberta Gambarini that the trio backed like they'd know her for years). Bassist Rick Petrone is rock solid; great tone and articulation and always an interesting soloist. The same can be said for drummer Joe Corsello: smooth, tasty, always able to fit in and enhance things.
The festival also has a room where workshops are conducted for musicians and singers throughout both days. It's a nice touch; great for aspiring players, and the public is also free to go get a gander.
Cudos should go to Mark Morganelli and his Jazz Forum Arts staff (based downstate in Westchester County, outside the Big Apple). They present various concerts throughout the year, but they've created a festival that's just small enough to be fun without being hectic, and big enough to be a serious event for jazz fans and music lovers, with great bands and important musicians. The mountain setting is great, and there's not much waiting around between acts. Toss in arts and crafts, food, and picnicking. The festival doesn't appear to be experiencing many growing pains, because it's been done so well right from the start. One hopes it continues to age and take its rightful spot as an event you write on your calendar each year with an asterisk.