Monterey Notebook 2005, Part 2: Saturday Afternoon
12:30pm - The Fairgrounds
The Monterey County Fairgrounds are quietly busy as festivalgoers amble along the seemingly endless stretch of vendors, sampling the greasy foods of five continents. Out behind the Fairgrounds, the back nineholes of a local golf course have been converted into a massive parking lot, with one fairway already packed like a sardine can.
At the Festival's information booth, a small wooden box waits for donations to the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund, a project of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (www.braf.org). Donations have been slow so far, but the day is just beginning and the staff is optimistic.
Donations of a different sort are accepted outside the building known as the Night Club. Inspired by the illness of saxophonist Michael Brecker, the Festival has allowed the National Marrow Donor Program to set up a blood-screening tent on the grounds. 9,000 Americans die each year awaiting a bone marrow transplant, explains a staffer, with the need especially acute among minority populations. The testing proves to be quick and nearly painless, and the tent is already seeing a steady flow of donors, keeping two phlebotomists busy.
1:15pm - Jimmy Lyons Stage (The Arena)
It is time to bring the funk.
Sharon Jones' band, the mighty Dap-Kings, announces this in no uncertain terms as tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman strides to the front of the Jimmy Lyons Stage and lets loose a blistering attack punctuated by the acid sting of David Guy's trumpet.
The band runs their set like a 1960s soul revue and nails every twist, warming up with retro grooves both hot and mellow before bringing out their star performer. Introduced with a barrage of cool-cat lingo that puts those old JBs records to shame, Jones knows the stage is 100% hers from the get-go, and struts and shimmies with abandon. She draws from and feeds the lightning grooves of her band, which in an earlier decade would have topped the R&B charts.
The band, which even looks the part in their suits, shades, and sideburns, turns Aretha Franklin's "Respect" into a high-octane blowout, before turning serious for two tunes. After taking a point-blank shot at the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Jones launches into "Stop Paying Taxes," the latest in a long line of soul tunes going back at least as far as James Brown's Watergate jams. The theme continues with "This Land Is Your Land," reworked into an anthem for the urban poor.
A handful of older folks in the audience can't handle it, and make for the exits even before Jones gets up to full steam. But most of the arena crowd keeps up just fine, and they are treated to a rollicking hour of pure entertainment. When Jones demonstrates a wild dance purporting to blend African and Native American moves, and the band throws itself into a manic crescendo, all cylinders in overdrive, the Arena goes nuts. Jones will expand on this theme in a later set at the Garden Stage, running through the full spectrum of 60s dances, from the mashed potatoes to the jerk.
2:00pm - Night Club
It's not easy for a bunch of teenagers to make a splash amidst Monterey's big names, but the Australian Youth All-Star Big Band is holding its own in the crowded Night Club. A coolly swinging arrangement of "Lullaby of Birdland" balances the sweet vocals of Danielle Blakey with big, punchy horns. Blakey's poise and confidence win over the crowd, and she even dares to scat a few lines.
A smooth cha-cha version of "You Gotta Have Heart" goes over equally well, before tha band takes on a pop song ("The Devil You Know") with a brash Vegas swing that lets Blakey really open up and showcases the band's tight, dynamic arranging.
3:00pm - Starbucks Coffee House
Matthew Bourne is attacking his piano, literally, going straight for its musical jugular. Arms flailing, body rocking in a sort of St. Vitus dance, Bourne creates abstractions of startling density and violence, at one point leaving the keys entirely to bang on the piano's body.
Tweaking a sampler atop his instrument, Bourne suddenly finds himself playing along with a monologue by Homer Simpson, allowing the animated character's cadences to become a part of his thunderous improvisation. Bits of cartoon melody break through the splintered maelstrom, which abruptly ends, just as surprisingly as it began.
Now playing off an Irish storyteller, Bourne is spare and melodic, the cyclone gone to reveal a blasted plain, quiet and lonely. But soon, Bourne's raw, passionate creativity will again push him up and outwards, with snippets of Harlem stride, locomotive chugging, or haoor-movie themes giving way to massive block chords.
Turnover is high in this room, and when Bourne's sampler alights on an X-rated standup comedy routine, a number of listeners scurry away, stony expressions set on their faces. Others sit rapt, laughing along with the samples and leaning in as Bourne's intensity rises. It all fits the flow of the set. This is music which holds nothing sacred and finds everything useful.
3:45pm - The Arena
Straw hats run neck-and-neck with baseball caps as the headwear of choice in the Arena, where the huge, milling crowd resembles nothing so much as a massive block party. But it all becomes orderly in time for Larry Carlton's set with the Sapphire Blues Band.
Casually dressed and flanked by a four-man horn line on one side and a bulky Hammond organ on the other, Carlton blends pure Chicago blues with dollops of fusion and a dose of Steely Dan in his set. He also takes time to revisit the pop hit "Minute By Minute." But it's the blues numbers that are most impressive.
For the slow-burn vibe of "Night Sweats," Carlton plays a clear, vocalistic line that sowly builds heat; then he wails, the notes suddenly tumbling out in an uncontrollable blue sob. Keyboardist Greg Mathieson kicks it up a notch, and then another, with a molasses-thick break that leaves him red-faced. And Carlton brings it home has drummer Moyes Hayes pounds the path flat.
Tenor saxman Mark Douthit makes his mark on the fusion numbers, playing from somewhere between uptown and downtown before engaging Carlton in some spirited interplay. Local jazz/blues/soul singer Ledisi will join the band soon, but I'm off to...
4:30pm - Dizzy's Den
Branford Marsalis is midway through an on-stage conversation with journalist Yoshi Kato, and he's talking about roaches.
In response to a question about the future development of jazz, Marsalis argues that today is a great time to be a jazz musician, precisely because the music is so unpopular now. When something is trendy, he explains, the "roaches" come out of the woodwork, jumping on the bandwagon for all the wrong reasons. But tough economic times drive the roaches away like a sudden light in the kitchen, leaving the musicians who really want to work alone on the scene. "Its amazing how many young cats come up, make two jazz records that don't sell, and then their third record is a funk record," he quips.
Speaking expansively on a range of topics, Marsalis also gets into hip-hop/jazz fusions, which he finds unsuccessful. "It doesn't work well," he says, arguing that the static beats of hiphop and funk are incompatible with the more organic needs of jazz. He points out that on his own funk records, he uses the band's name rather than his own to avoid muddying the waters, and he never refers to such efforts as jazz.
Later, Marsalis reveals his thinking on duo recordings, which he says are too often treated like quartets with two players missing. He talks about writing specifically for the duo format. If working with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, for instance, Marsalis would use his knowledge of Watts' drum tuning to write pieces that Watts could play, rather than just writing generic drum parts as so many others seem to do.
Moving on to education, Marsalis discusses a generational gap he has perceived: he believes that current student musicians play better than his generation did, but they're more focused on being part of the jazz scene than simply being musicians. And the conversations he hears today are more often about gigs and selling records than about the intricacies of music.
Marsalis also gets fired up on the subject of bootlegging. He refuses to join industry anti- piracy campaigns, saying, "hell, I learned to play by bootlegging music! We all did!" He declares that it is the industry, not "12-year-old girls," who are the true pirates. After endlessly repackaging the same records over and over, "They're suing kids, and they wonder why they're in trouble?"
Continue: Part 3