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Live Reviews

Monterey Notebook 2005, Part 1: Friday Night

By Published: September 20, 2005
A soul-drenched "Basin Street Blues" opens the set with searing breaks from Handy and violinist Carlos Reyes, but then the group suddenly changes gears, moving into a slinky India-inspired tune. Handy trills and glides through his lengthy lines, then leaps into a series of squeaks to set up Reyes, who accompanies his own searing solo with a wordless vocal. Guitarist Steve Erquiaga follows with a rippling, classical break that bridges the traditions of Asia and Europe.

For the enigmatic standard "Nature Boy," Handy announces a special guest singer: pop/ bluesman Steve Miller. Reyes, now on harp, swoops from a quietly meditation into a bright South American rhythm before settling down for Miller's breathy vocal.

Miller sticks around to lend some guitar licks and another vocal turn to "St. Louis Blues," an old-fashioned jam with a Latin beat slipped into the bridge. Then Handy returns to an Eastern frame of mind, his searching solo dovetailing with some energetic Flamenco- tinged playing from Erquiaga. Somewhere in the middle of this, the band explodes. Reyes is like a man possessed, rocking and twisting through a furious violin solo, and Erquiaga burns through some unison comping from sax and violin. The crowd roars with each new twist.

9:45pm - Garden Stage

On the Garden Stage, Jay Collins is tearing it up.

Collins is the kind of glorious musician who gives writers fits. With his rough voice, explosive chops on saxophones and flutes, and a killer band behind him, Collins gleefully evades categorization. At any given moment, the Collins band might evoke a vintage Stax soul record, Dr. John's voodoo-tinged funk, or the blues-rock band at your neighborhood bar.

Many of the tunes in this set wrap serious messages inside tasty riffs. "Songbird and the Pigeon" attacks religious fundamentalism of all stripes while Dred Scott lays down a strong line on Hammond organ and Moses Petrou lends solid conga support. The same duo connects on "Running in a Circle," a tune whose insistent, perky groove, monotone vocals and street-smart sax solo recalls Eddie Harris and Les McCann's "Compared to What."

And then Collins mixes it up with tunes like "Taking My Landlord to Court" or "My Dreams Came Back Last Night," friendly little ditties that sound like Randy Newman fallen through the looking-glass. What is to be made of this band? What can be said is that everything Collins does onstage exudes an urban hipness, and the music is consistently engaging.

10:30pm - BET Jazz Theater

While the Spanish Harlem Orchestra plays on the Jimmy Lyons Stage, those without pricey Arena tickets can follow the action from here via a live simulcast.

Although the musicians are on a video screen and the music is piped in from across the Fairgrounds, the party atmosphere is real. The hundred or so people in the room applaud a hot solo just as their Arena counterparts do. Three women dance under the ghostly blue lights in the back of the room, while a seated man pounds out bongo rhythms on his knees. Somewhere in the dark room, somebody lights a spliff.

Outside, the Jazz Vipers continue to play as they have throughout the evening. The half-dozen spectators they had at 6:00 have multiplied tenfold. In the room known as Dizzy's Den, John Scofield's Uberjam Band has given way to the free-funk frenzy of Banyan, which grows steadily louder as the night progresses. Carla Bley is wrapping up on the Bill Berry Stage in the "Night Club," and John Handy will follow with his second set. In the wings at the Arena waits Sonny Rollins, who was at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival and remains a fresh, vital force 47 years later.

The night is young.

Continue: Part 2

Photo Credit
New Orleans Jazz Vipers by Forrest Dylan Bryant
All others by Mark Sheldon

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