Litchfield Jazz Festival 2006
August 4-6, 2006
Nestled amongst the beautiful hills and valleys of western Connecticut and graced with wonderful weather, the 11th annual Litchfield Jazz Festival (August 4-6, 2006) was run like a well-oiled machine. There were two tents, with the larger one serving as the main performance location. Each band played for an approximately one hour set followed by a thirty to forty minute break as the next band set up. A second smaller tent hosted art and photography exhibits along with a stage where students of the Litchfield Jazz Camp perform (more on that later.) Regrettably, this writer was only able to attend the Saturday (August 5) performances.
The day began with pianist Robert Glasper's trio featuring Damon Reid on drums and Alan Hampton on bass. Their challenging set of four pieces provided some interesting moments, including the opener, a Glasper original "G and B which was composed in asymmetrical meters and featured a beautiful melody decorated by Glasper's wonderful left hand runs. The next tune, "Jelly's da Beener, which Glasper introduced as being about a girl, "was not slow and beautiful, but fast and frantic like the girl. He did not lie. The tune smoked and featured a wonderful solo by Reid. The set closed out with an extended version of "Maiden Voyage highlighted by the interplay between Reid and Hampton.
Next on the bill was trumpeter Terell Stafford with Don Braden on saxophone, Bruce Barth on piano, Chris Beck on drums and Danton Boller on bass. Their line-up and seven song set would have been right at home on a 1950's or 1960's Blue Note release. This set ran the gamut from the up-tempo opener "Minnesota, which featured some fiery horn work by Stafford and Braden, to the beautiful ballad "He Knows How Much You Can Bear. The ballad featured Stafford on flugelhorn and he displayed a rich, warm tone on the larger horn. This review would not be complete without a mention of pianist Barth's wonderful sense of time, space and 'comping, and the killer drum solo by Beck on "The Touch Of Your Lips.
Litchfield traditionally features Latin Jazz on Saturday afternoon. The Trio da Paz with Romero Lubambo on guitar, Nilson Matta on bass and Duduka da Fonseca on drums was next on the schedule. Their set worked through the expected turns including bossa nova and samba. While at first one might take their music for a nice "jazz brunch sound, it was the band's virtuosity that demanded one's attention. Their composition dedicated to the brilliant Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell and "Keep The Spirits Singing" closed out this exquisite set.
Carol Sloane followed with a tribute to Duke Ellington. Her set included the classics "It Don't Mean A Thing, "Mood Indigo, and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. A three song mini-set of ballads including "Prelude To A Kiss and "Sophisticated Lady provided a nice touch. Sloane's smoky style was in top form and she threw in some tasteful scatting along the way.
Saxophonist Lee Konitz's quintet took the stage next, sans guitar player Peter Bernstein (who was late arriving from the west coast.) They began with "Solar and were half way through their second tune "I Love You when Bernstein took the stage. He added a rhythmic richness to this piano-less group. This second number opened with a gorgeous bass solo by Rufus Reid. Sticking with standards, the band then played "Invitation and "Body And Soul. Closing out the set was one of the highlights of the day, a mid tempo version of "Cherokee which had Konitz playing the tune through all twelve keys. Drummer Matt Wilson kept pace with Konitz, providing perfect rhythmic feel and swing on this unique version of the tune.
The night closed out with Eddie Palmieri and his band, including among others, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Craig Handy on saxophone and Pucho Malos on bass. Unfortunately, song titles were difficult to hear, but music was clear as a bell. Palmieri's set was full scale romp that had the almost capacity audience tapping in rhythm, even standing on their feet throughout the entire set. Herwig, whose recent releases have tackled Latin Jazz, provided the fire on the front line and Palmieri displayed the perfect balance of rhythm, harmony and force, showing why he has been awarded eight Grammy's. This set was the ying to the Trio da Paz yang.
Special kudos must go the festival organizers as well as Don Braden, Musical Director of the Litchfield Jazz Camp. Having had the chance to visit the tent where the students performed, one could not help but come away impressed by quality of the young musicians which seems to defy the frequent and dire predictions of jazz's imminent demise. Now all that we need is to find a way to get more people to come out to clubs and festivals to hear live jazz.