The 2004 Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest
June 6th was the end of the 2004 edition of the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest. It also marked the 10th Anniversary of the Berklee in Puerto Rico Student Big Band presentation, which the rain marred by sending most of the audience fleeing for cover and silencing the amplification of the reed section during the performance of "Samba de Carrera. Larry Monroe's "Blues With the Best of Intentions did exhibit the incipient extant talent. The ensemble gets an ever increasing jazzier vocabulary every year, more middle-aged technique ...which always requires street tempering... and a greater sense of the kind of team work such an ensemble requires. Scott De Ogburn, the trumpet player for the Berklee Professors Band, directed the two pieces performed this year. The timbale player, the oldest member of the trombone section, the acoustic bassist ...dwarfed by the size of the instrument... and some of the reedmen, seem ready for further challenges.
The Berklee Professors Band performed before the student's presentation, nonetheless. Under the direction of altoist Larry Monroe, Greg Badolato on tenor, guitarist Mark White, De Ogburn as trumpeter, Jeff "Bad Ass Galindo on trombone, pianist Tony Germain, bassist Oscar Stagnaro, drummer Ron Savage, Eguie Castrillo on congas and singer Donna McElroy "arrested the audience with plenty of jazzy swing, smart charts, and selfless ensemble playing.
In "Bonga, written by White, Galindo elicited some nasty funky swing off his trombone, which also left its mark on McElroy's "I Got Arrested, which in turn also featured the aforementioned guitarist. The latter tune is one of the highlights of last year's recording of the festival. The dynamic singer was visiting the festival again and she might've been cold at the hotel ...as she related to the audience... but she was hot on stage offering a lesson in vocal dynamics, superb taste and, as she put it: "a little vocalese never hurt anyone. All members of the band had the chance at soloing and their statements were at the level expected from such a distinguished faculty.
Duduka Da Fonseca, Romero Lubambo and Nilson Matta are Trio da Paz. Their music could, and has been described, as having elements of Brazilian bop, chamber jazz and various musical strains from their native land ...which by any definition simply means jazz. Since all three members of the group are masters of their craft, it would be rather easy to gloss over their immense endowments in terms of their truly notable cohesion as a trio, enviable technique, measureless deepness, highly emotive impact upon an audience, as well as their encyclopedic sensibility. Those gathered at the festival sure had appreciation for a trio that managed to speak so profoundly ...yet accessibly... in various musical lingoes coalesced into their own expression of improvised musical beauty.
There were no bolts from the blue in the repertoire; the surprises were ensconced in what they did with it. "Bachiáo, for example, was their take on the music from Salvador, the capital city of the state of Bahia, with Bach's harmonic concepts. Bahia is the most Africanized epicenter of Brazil. Bach certainly can't be described as African. Trio da Paz's acute, stirring and under-powering rhythmic pulses, however, were magnificently interpreted within Bach's essential harmonies whereupon ethnicity becomes superseded and elevated into a higher musical form of expression. "Take Five was rendered in a ternary time key. Its melodic underpinnings, however, sound so "Brazilian ...which help explain why it is the best selling jazz single ever... that its altered signature key could hardly throw off the most comfortable binary neural preference human beings share in musical matters. Rest assured, however, that "Take Five: In 3 ...if you may... wasn't just a tempo gimmick. The trio managed to ...both collectively and individually... deepen that jazz classic and mine unexplored venues to the delight and awe of all present. "Baden was simply a phenomenal chamber jazz performance and "Corcovado as an encore was a bidding farewell for an invitation to bring them back to Puerto Rico as soon as possible.
Having the Lincoln Center's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) as closers of the 2004 Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest was quite an inspired decision. Originally, the Cuban band Los Van Van was scheduled ...even though it was unlikely that they would come for reasons that aren't entirely political in nature.
The ALJO offered masterful, memorable, swinging, danceable and highly advanced interpretations of various canonical pieces from the Latin mambo Big Band era, from the Chico O'Farrill, Mario Bauzá & Machito, as well as Tito Puente repertoires, including the entire "Afro Cuban Jazz Suite ...which, as Mike Myers' character in Sprockets would say, made me feel "as happy as a little girl. "Wild Jungle, "En la oscuridad ...where Mario "El Comandante Rivera uttered just one of many superb solos throughout the set... "Sambia, "Havana Blues, "Mambo Birdland, "3-D Mambo, "Kenya, and "Para los rumberos were also featured.
"Humility and "Iron Jungle, however, were commissioned pieces ...including a fantastic composition by Tom Harrell... that portend quite a future for an ensemble that should eventually grow by leaps and bounds beyond a classic and rightfully beloved musical past. Under the direction of Aturo O'Farrill, 18 musicians took turns showcasing how is done both in terms of large ensemble playing, as well as individual soloing. The one possible exception was altoist Erica von Kleist who simply doesn't have the potency to hang with such a group. It isn't a matter of not being able to play at the same level of her already distinguished peers in terms of technique, ideas, swing, intelligence and taste ...is just a matter of sound projection. Her alto playing languished behind in that regard and one hopes that her inclusion in the ALJO is not an issue of PCitis as several equally worthy male counterparts from the Big Apple come readily to mind. Listening to the ALJO was one of the most privileged musical experiences I've had in my life and worth the investment in time and money to see them at the Lincoln Center in New York, or anywhere else for that matter.
I would like to thank the following people and institutions ...in no particular order... for having the opportunity to cover this event and their respective support: The staff at All About Jazz, Torres Toro & de Haro Media Management, RetailNet, Edelman and Grandes Eventos, as well as Joey Salas of Sala Creativa and Mr. Luis Álvarez of Méndez and Co. "Muchas gracias y cariño to Marta S. Albanese Bras of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, as well as the hyper professional staff at the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. I also had a great time with Dick Bogle, Larry Appelbaum of Jazz Times, Mark Ruffin of Downbeat, Daniel Furuno of Sucesso Magazine, Charles Belle, Elmer González, Tommy Muriel, Jaime and José Rodr'-guez.