Monterey Notebook 2005, Part 3: Saturday Night
Joking about his dreadlocked hair during the band introduction, Bey identifies himself as Ziggy Marley. But Marley, talented as he may be, has never treated a lyric with the almost painful tenderness Bey gives to "Never Let Me Go." Indeed, no other singer sounds quite like Bey, who glides freely from a husky whisper to a high-pitched squeak and into a powerful soul shout, bending notes as he goes in a way that occasionally gives his elusive voice a guitar-like quality. For "Midnight Sun," Bey steps away from the keyboard and stands, caressing the ballad with a slow, tension-laden dance around the tunes melody.
I can hear Miguel Zenón starting to pour it on across the road in Dizzy's Den, but I can't tear myself away as Bey rolls through "Caravan," taking the first chorus smoothly before belting out the second. Although I have heard some excellent performances so far at this year's festival, Bey's is the first truly transformative experience. I sit for an hour that feels like fifteen minutes, and glance down at my notebook to find I have written almost nothing.
10:35pm - Coffee House
For the second time tonight, I enter the Coffee house just in time to see Joey Calderazzo leave the stage at the end of a set. I will not hear Calderazzo's trio tonight. But that's the risk one takes at a sprawling festival like Monterey. No matter what path one chooses to navigate through the grounds, one will always miss more than one hears.
11:00pm - The Arena
John Scofield is the Showcase Artist at the Monterey Jazz Festival this year, which means that each evening he appears on stage with a different band. For tonight's Arena capper, a tribute to the late Ray Charles, the guitarist is working with electric bass, drums, and the festival's seemingly ubiquitous Hammond B3 organ.
The quartet kicks things off with "Sticks and Stones," propelled by drummer Steve Hass' chicken-strut backbeat. Scofield, never shy about effects, tweaks out with a one-finger electronicized solo that sounds uncannily like a turntablist scratching vinyl.
Meyer Statham lends both vocals and trombone to "I Don't Need No Doctor," a tasty strut with some excellent organ/guitar dialogue. But the featured vocalist tonight is the great Mavis Staples, who incredibly has already pulled double-duty today with a pair of solo shows at the Festival.
When Staples emerges in a spangly black dress, the now-complete band eases gracefully into "Georgia on My Mind." Staples' raspy voice gives a gentle spiritual weight to the song, making it sound something like "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," until Scofield lightens the tone with an optimistic solo. The tune ends with Scofield and Staples standing face-to- face in a lighthearted jam.
An upbeat revival-tent feel pervades "Talkin' About You," the frst duo vocal of the night. And in Charles country-music hit, "I Can't Stop Loving You," Scofield ramps up the reverb while Staples goes all-out, wresting every bit of feeling from the song.
The band wraps up a few tunes later with "What'd I Say," taken here with a rumba beat. Bassist John Benitez doubles on conga while Scofield again surprises by imitating a cuica on his guitar. But despite the good band energy, and spirited vocal sparring from Staples and Statham, the tune underscores that no tribute will ever match the real thing. We miss you, Ray.