2005 Caramoor Jazz Festival
“ The Saxophone Summit, with Lovano, Dave Liebman and Chris Potter (subbing for an ailing Michael Brecker), closed the afternoon with post-Trane fire and fury. ”
While Bird & Diz were revolutionizing jazz in 1945, Caramoor, a leafy estate in Katonah, was on its way to becoming Westchester's haven for the arts. And so this year, as Caramoor celebrated its 60th anniversary, producer Jim Luce and artistic director Joe Lovano chose "Modern Jazz at 60 as the festival's theme, seeking to highlight decades' worth of creative ferment since the birth of bebop.
The first of two consecutive Saturday programs began with -what else? - bebop. Charles McPherson and Tom Harrell, with pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Chuck McPherson, offered a modern take on the Bird & Diz songbook, beginning with "Anthropology and continuing with the seldom-heard "Quasimodo . Harrell, in strong form, played "Don't Blame Me as a ballad feature and closed "Night In Tunisia with a sparse yet suspenseful cadenza. McPherson brought a hard- bitten blues sense to "Half Nelson , which also found Burno quoting Monk and making ingenious use of the main melody. Grissett held it together with his Mulgrew-esque touch.
Next was bebop with a twist: a "percussion discussion in honor of Max Roach featuring Billy Hart, Andrew Cyrille and Michael Carvin. This was no verbal discussion, but rather an actualization of Roach's life work: bringing the drummer to the fore as a musician. In his remarks, Cyrille warned against the stereotype of the drum "battle . The three men, he insisted, were there to play drum music. And so they did: first Cyrille and Carvin on a driving rhythm associated with the Congolese Topoke people; then Carvin with "Tradition , a playful tour through every conceivable drum style - each transition prefaced by Carvin shouting the one-word title. Hart and Cyrille continued with a subtle brushes treatment of John Lewis' "Delauney's Dilemma and Cyrille invited audience participation on "7/4 Max . Then the full trio let loose with "Salt Peanuts and encored with Monk's "Hackensack . One could pick out nearly every melodic nuance.
The Saxophone Summit, with Lovano, Dave Liebman and Chris Potter (subbing for an ailing Michael Brecker), closed the afternoon with post-Trane fire and fury. The rhythm section from the Gathering of Spirits album was intact: Billy Hart on drums, Phil Markowitz on piano, Cecil McBee on bass. The set began with Lovano's "Bye Bye Blackbird variant called "Alexander the Great , followed by Markowitz' "The 12th Man and Liebman's avant-epic "Tricycle . Coming right before the dinner break, the set was necessarily short and the music didn't breathe as much as it might have. McBee's sound was uncharacteristically harsh, but Markowitz' harmonic interjections were brilliant. Potter's moment, the double-time section of "Tricycle , found Markowitz silent as Hart and McBee burned.
In the evening, jazz-as-composition came to the fore with tributes to Monk and Mingus. Ben Riley's piano-less Monk Legacy Septet, under the de facto leadership of trumpeter Don Sickler, led off with rigorous arrangements, hot playing and priceless tunes - "Brake's Sake , "Bright Mississippi , "Shuffle Boil and "Bye-Ya were among the picks. Sickler's charts, more or less, were in the mold of Monk's live Town hall recording. But the band got stuck in one area of the metronome for too long, diminishing the impact of the highly qualified players (Bruce Williams, Wayne Escoffery, Jay Branford, Freddie Bryant, Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Sickler himself). Riley's drumming, however, was the essence of subtlety. With the simplest of funk-tinged solos and stop-time breaks, he brought us to the edge of our seats.
After a short break, the shy wallflowers of the Mingus Dynasty band took the stage. If jazz has in fact become highbrow concert music, someone forgot to tell these fellows. Closer in spirit to the Sex Pistols than the symphony, the band sent the sound crew into a panic with "Haitian Fight Song . Ku-umba Frank Lacy ended his solo with the trombone analogue to guitar-smashing: He yanked the slide right off the horn. Craig Handy served as emcee and blew inspired alto on "Sue's Changes ; Lacy sang Elvis Costello's lyrics to "Invisible Lady ; tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery (still warm from the Ben Riley set) took the floor with a marvelous feature on "Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat . Bassist Boris Kozlov's arrangement of "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi USA and Joe Lovano's guest appearance on the finale, "Moanin' , were among the other highlights. Basically a scaled-down Mingus Big Band (also featuring Kenny Rampton on trumpet, George Colligan on piano and Johnathan Blake on drums), the Dynasty put its own hell-raising spin on "Modern Jazz at 60 and left the crowd feeling optimistic.