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Live Reviews

Jazz Port Townsend: Reborn

By Published: October 15, 2005
Following the McBride aggregation's maelstrom, the duo of Regina Carter and Kenny Barron were like a warm harbor after a storm. Standing almost motionless, produced a haunting, stately interpretation of Sting's Fragile followed by an earthy, hoedown echoing "Lady Be Good" that married the Deep South and the Hot Club of France. Barron's piano stylings linked the music's past to the modern with a minimalist's slight of hand.

Their version of "Hush Now" brought Billie Holiday's pain and transcendence back to life with an understated grace and seemingly simple brilliance. Carter's very human violin sound was spiced with quotes from the classical canon and capped with a "Motherless Child" coda. After the set, fans rushed Quimper Sound's record tent to buy-out their large supply of the duo's CDs and dozens signed up for orders.

John Clayton's tenure with Count Basie inspired the afternoon's tribute by the festival's big band. Clayton conduct-ed a team of clinicians through the Basie songbook, adding between-song anecdotes. Tom Marriott pitched-in a lovely, succinct trumpet solo on "Little Darlin'", a beautiful rendition launched by guitarist Bruce Forman's re-creation of Freddy Green's delicious chords. Ingrid Jensen added a knife-like trumpet solo to the big band's version of "Shiny Silk Stockings" followed by a flat-out swinging rendition of Ernie Wilkins' Basie.

Basie veteran Byron Stripling stepped-out of the trumpet section for a Joe Williams-like vocal workout on "Back O Town Blues", and then Carmen Bradford, another Basie alum, brought the house down with "This Can't Be Love", a heart-breaking "Young and Foolish", and a swinging "Love Being Here With You".

After Saturday afternoon's triumphs, I was almost afraid to return to McCurdy Pavilion for Saturday night's show, but Benny Green and Russell Malone's piano/guitar duos were even more magical. Malone's virile guitar married Green's more reflective piano musings on the opening "Falling In Love With Love", intuitively finishing each other's thoughts as Malone sat impassively in his cream-colored suit and Green hunched sweating over the keyboard. Russell strummed Hot Club chords as Benny produced light, fast, economical lines on the duo's version of "It's Alright With Me".

Malone tapped out the rhythm on his strings in the intro to Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love", and the duo produced a soulful, séance-like reading that left the 1000+ in attendance breathless before roaring their approval. The duo's version of Charlie Parker's "Bluebird" was steeped in grits and gravy blues. Malone's solo reading of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend" was another moving, pristine gem that led to a finger-busting, four-handed reshaping of Paul Chambers' A Tale of the Fingers. Their version of Milt Jackson's "Reunion Blues" was very cool, and the hyper-charged, frenetic "I Know That You Know" capped a spectacularly soulful, technically brilliant display of great playing, and more importantly, great listening.

The Clayton Brothers Quintet came out in natty, dark business suits, and from the opening "Blow Your Horn" they meant business. On Jeff Clayton's "Runway", John's alto sax blowing brother blasted a wicked solo, driving young drummer Kevin Cannor and John's son Gerald Clayton on piano squint-eyed and wrinkling their noses in pleasure as the band swung out. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford added a feverish, nasty solo before the band turned it down to simmer on John's original, "Gina's Groove". Jeff's feathery alto was featured on the band's moving reading of "Emily", a gorgeous version grounded by John's deep, arco bass ruminations on the melody.

The hard-charging Last Stop was reminiscent of the Adderley Brothers' highpoints, and not just for Jeff's Cannonballesque physique. Stafford's solo sliced shards of "Work Song" and "Night In Tunisia" while young Gerald's keyboard offering hinted at "Symphony Sid" in a hard bopping climax to an immaculate, inspired set.

After the concert, I headed back downtown for more Seventh Heaven sushi and some guitar jazz from Dan Balmer, Dave Forman and Russell Malone sitting in. It just doesn't get any better than this year's Jazz Port Townsend. Bravo!

Speaking with many of the 230 workshop participants, it was obvious that the session was a huge success. Clayton's warm personality and boundless energy inspired enthusiastic reviews from students and teachers alike.

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