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Live Reviews

Monterey Notebook 2006, Part 2: Saturday

By Published: September 30, 2006
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Saturday, September 16, 1:00pm - The Arena



My calendar says Saturday, but here at the Monterey Jazz Festival it must be Sunday morning. A revival meeting is underway at the Arena stage as the McCollough Sons of Thunder, straight from Harlem's United House of Prayer, fill the air with worshipful brass. It sounds like a Salvation Army convention on Bourbon Street.



The McCollough group is unique, not only because of the powerhouse lineup—half a dozen trombones, plus sousaphone, tuba and four pieces of percussion—but also because they decline to record this incredible music, wishing to maintain its sacred purity rather than allow it to become a commodity.



The Good Book says something about making a joyful noise unto the Lord. Both joy and noise are in abundance as the uniformly dressed trombone line sways and shouts, the drummers stomp and bandleader Edward Babb testifies. "Can I get a witness?" he asks, and a hundred souls shout back, hands raised high.



The sermon continues through "He Touched Me," with Babb frantically waving a white towel as he shouts for salvation. The horns' slow drag switches to jubilation as quickly as a Big Easy funeral, and the audience breaks into handclaps. Soon, a few brave folks are rising from their seats. One man spins a multi-hued umbrella that matches his gaudy tie- dyed shirt. A dancing woman waving two oversized fly swatters, as if trying to guide the Holy Ghost down for a safe landing in the center aisle. "Can I get some more?!" Babb shouts over the rolling horns. And suddenly half the Arena is on its feet.



Many sit back down for the next number, but Babb is having none of that. "Don't stop!" he says. "Wave your hands for peace! Wave your hands for tranquility! Wave your hands for joy! Even if you don't believe in Jesus, surely you believe in your own body. Be thankful for your body! Now stand up!"



Thus commandeth the Lord, I guess. But really, no commandments are needed here. When the Sons of Thunder come to town, sitting still is simply not an option.



Blues Bonanza



1:45pm - Garden Stage





It's a short but difficult trek from the Arena to the Garden Stage. CNN has set up shop midway between the two venues, and an interview in progress with Bonnie Raitt has clogged the passing avenue with gawkers.



The struggle pays off in the end. At the Garden Stage, tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert is blasting post-bop energy into a fiery solo. But this isn't modern jazz. It's the blues, baby. The Fins are holding court and the place is jammed. Out front, leader Benny Hi Fi's slicing guitar work and effusive personality trump his pedestrian vocals. When the band shifts to some old-fashioned jump blues, the four-man horn section bounds into action. Cliff Pecola's tenor solo sounds like a volley from one of those r&b sax battles of old—if only he had a bar to walk on! Next up, trumpeter Steve Jankowski takes off with graceful arcs and gutbucket warbles.



Funk is also on the bill for the versatile Fins, allowing the horn players to show off their tight ensemble chops. Meanwhile, bassist Angelo Mancuso and drummer Eric Addeo lay down a back beat somewhere between James Brown and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Tango in "Paradiso"



2:30pm - Coffee House Gallery



Some of the best music at this year's Monterey Jazz Festival is being made in its smallest room.



Last night, the warm, dark confines of the Starbucks Coffee House Gallery played host to some fantastic performances by Robert Glasper. Today, Steve Erquiaga's Trio Paradiso is here for two sets, and the three amigos are making the exotic feel familiar. Blending tango and the flavors of Spain into an intoxicating gypsy-jazz context, Trio Paradiso is one of those groups that can satisfy the brain and the gut in equal measure.



On accordion, Rich Kuhns shows a strong improvisational flair and an impeccable ear for accompaniment. These are traits shared by guitarist Erquiaga, who moves easily from delicate picking to driving rhythmic playing. Both shine on "Mina Sombina," as bassist Rich Gerard crafts a propulsive Latin walk before taking off on his own steadily forceful solo.

The mood is infectious, the interplay superb, the audience enthusiastic. Erquiaga keeps his humor as he wrestles a balky string between numbers, relating an anecdote about guitarist Joe Pass ("I spend half my life tuning my guitar," Pass reportedly said, "and the other half playing out of tune"). But there's nothing out of place as the trio begins "Porto Fino," a tender, nostalgic air with a ponderous bridge. The threesome plumbs deep into the tune's depths, ending on a note of near tragedy. But they pick up the mood for the rest of the lively set, continuing to tickle the intellect wth their subtle, sophisticated repertoire.



Sumlin's in the Kitchen with Duke



3:30pm - Garden Stage



Heading across the Fairgrounds, I once again pass CNN's "Showbiz Live" set. Roy Hargrove has attracted far fewer gawkers than Bonnie Raitt did. Raitt is about to wrap up her set in the Arena, but Duke Robillard is just getting started over on the Garden Stage.



Robillard often works a little jazz into his guitar playing, but this set is pure blues. He lays some crunchy West Coast licks over a sort of surf boogaloo in the warmup number, settles into a lowdown Chicago scream for the risqué "You Got to Use What You Got (It Doesn't Matter 'Bout Your Size)," then jumps like mad on the honkin' and growlin' "Blue Coat Man"—a showcase for sax man Doug James. Robillard invokes the spirit of T-Bone Walker in a slow-burn number, making his axe sing, chatter and moan under his gruff vocals, then pulls a churchy soul-jazz ditty out of his bag with "Sunday Mornin'."

When the legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin strolls on stage to join Robillard, the elder statesman's effect is immediate. The entire band seems to find a new gear when backing Sumlin—James' sax gets a little grittier, Robillard's guitar wails a bit higher. Sumlin himself is the essence of the blues. His raw voice and authoritative playing seem to change the force of gravity, pulling the entire region into his own little orbit. Robillard's eyes remain locked on the master for the rest of the set.



Shrugging off recent health problems with a simple "I'm back," Sumlin tears into a tough boogie strut: "When you see me comin', you better run." And I believe it. Sumlin can play it sweet, acidic or slamming—sometimes all at once—getting down and dirty for "Little Red Rooster" or laid-back in a tale of love gone wrong, then going all-out in a rockin' jam. He's back alright, and it sounds like he's going to stick around for a long time.



Odds and Ends



4:45pm - The Fairgrounds



While Duke Robillard and Hubert Sumlin are rocking out for hundreds of fans at the Garden Stage, a few dozen folks seated on the grass of the West Lawn are getting a more intimate brush with the blues. The guitar/harp duo of Robert Lowry and Vincent Thrasher is keeping it real: the harmonica is amped, the guitar is not. Surrounded by the Festival's food stalls, the duo serves up a menu of down-home country blues so quietly it's almost a strain to hear them through the Fairgrounds ambiance.



There's a completely different scene in the Night Club, where the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble is blasting through a Maynard Ferguson chart in front of a capacity crowd. Education is central to the Monterey Jazz Festival's mission, and top student bands are always a big draw here. The Floridians handle Ferguson, Pat Metheny and Duke Ellington with equal aplomb, the students' solid soloing matched by pinpoint- accurate ensemble performance.



Not far away, a media question and answer session has been scheduled with Charles Lloyd, who 40 years ago scored a massive triumph with his "Forest Flower" performance at Monterey, and takes the Arena stage again tonight. A small group of fans furtively snaps photos outside the rehearsal room where the interview will take place. "Look at him," whispers one woman, "he's such an icon." But alas, it's not Lloyd they're ogling. Clint Eastwood, a member of the Festival's board of directors since 1992, is deep in discussion with a staffer. By the time Lloyd arrives, Clint and his fan club are gone.



The session with Lloyd is a freewheeling, almost stream-of-consciousness affair lasting about an hour. Lloyd is engaging and talkative, drawing frequently on mystic metaphor as he reflects on his first Monterey appearance ("we were dreamers, trying to change the world with a sound"), his expectations for the evening ("no expectations; expectations ruin performance... I'm just looking to be here in this moment") and drummers Billy Higgins, Eric Harland and Zakir Hussain ("Zakir, he's got the sense of the blues. He doesn't call it that, but Indian music has that moan, you know? What we understand"). Lloyd takes a realist's view of his own career and the vagaries of fame. Using the analogy of the hog plum, a fruit that looks delicious but is "all pit and skin," he says: "to our work only we have a right. The fruits may or may not come." Lloyd follows up with an oblique self-assesment: "I'm not wired properly for the dance of the relative." Instead, he prefers to deal in the realm of the spirit.



Lloyd, 40 Years On



8:00pm - The Arena



As expected, Charles Lloyd's set is full of inventive spirit. The vast red Arena stage curtain parts to reveal the quartet already in action. Lloyd does not interrupt the proceedings with talk, instead letting the music work on its own terms.



A low rumbling introduction finds Lloyd blowing freely but softly, occasionally hitting a phrase reminiscent of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (a reference that will sneak briefly into the set on several occasions). Suddenly, the veil drops and the group falls contentedly into a happy sway. But with this band—Lloyd on tenor, Geri Allen at the piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland drumming—even a simple tune becomes rich with detail. Lloyd and Allen toy with the melody, grabbing hold briefly and then wandering off into new ideas, only to return again and again to the theme.



Lloyd is fleet-fingered and elusive on the old chestnut "Azure-Te (Paris Blues)," taken at a breathless pace. Bobbing his body incessantly, he wrings every ounce from his beboppish solo. Allen keeps the momentum going, concentration carved into her face as she digs deep into the middle range of her keyboard.



Moving to a ballad, Lloyd's playing becomes hushed but dense. Slow, breathy phrases dissolve into tortuous twists and eddies. Allen follows a similar strategy through her elegantly cerebral solo, then Rogers steals the moment with a touching bass soliloquy that is both calming and questing. In the next piece, Allen weaves a delicately textured introduction into a dynamic desert groove, then guides it through Latin shadings. Lloyd picks up the slinky refrain on flute for a bit of intellectual soul-jazz that suffuses the Arena with good vibes.



And that's just the first half of the set. He hasn't even played "Forest Flower" yet, assuming he will. As Lloyd said in his press event this afternoon, "Nobody has ever told me what to play. I've made a career out of that."



Whaich Way Do I Go?



9:00pm - The Fairgrounds



My carefully-drawn plans for the evening are beginning to fall apart.



Peter Apfelbaum's New York Heiroglyphics ensemble is crafting a fabulous West African groove at the Garden Stage, but their set is already coming to an end. The few minutes I do get to hear are compelling. Malian vocalist Abdoulaye Diabate is in the front of the crowded stage, singing a pretty song in Arabic about a music-loving genie. Apfelbaum bounces from instrument to instrument: piano, melodica, cowbell, flute. The rhythm is cyclical, repetitive, then takes wing with a lovely bridge.



The emcee persuades the band to play an encore, but this turns out to be a Clash song called "Straight to Hell." Nobody expects a Peter Apfelbaum band to play it safe, but the punk-jazz sound—complete with unpolished vocals—is a jarring contrast from the mellow groove of a few minutes earlier.



Heading over to the Coffee House Gallery to see what pianist Hiromi is up to, I am confronted by a line of people snaking through the lobby and out into the night air, all waiting for their chance to enter the overflowing room. This clearly isn't going to work out.



I then walk down to the Night Club to hear Lionel Loueke's trio. This is bound to be a highlight of the evening and Diabate has already put me in the mood for an African touch. There are plenty of open seats here, but the set-up is running way behind schedule, and I haven't budgeted enough time to stick around. I am beginning to regret leaving the Arena, where Dianne Reeves is now well into her performance.



But the journey is salvaged back at the Garden Stage. Bay Area trumpeter John Worley made a splash at Monterey last year, turning in some sparkling solos with Carla Bley's big band. Now he gets a stage to himself, presenting his Worlview septet in a series of tasty tropical grooves. Wayne Wallace gets plenty of space for his supple trombone work, and the leader provides several buttery flugelhorn breaks. On a Latinized version of "Social Call," Worley's warm, inviting solo wraps itself around the tune like a cozy blanket, just the thing for a chilly Monterey night.



Time for Tyner



11:00pm - The Arena



In a lineup as loaded as the Monterey Jazz Festival's, with so many paths available to find quality music, it's not often that any performance can be called an obvious listening choice. But when that performance involves McCoy Tyner's trio, plus the added star power of Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Hargrove, it's a no-brainer. And Tyner's group is quick to justify the audience's faith.



Vibraphonist Hutcherson quickly takes ownership of the first tune, a driving, exotic modal groove. His punchy, inventive solo channels the song into tight focus, then Hargrove takes hold and pulls it to stratospheric heights. Tyner's left hand provides crashing chords as his right skips downward across the keys, then he reverses course, and it's the right hand that crashes while the left brings the tone back up.



Kicking up the tempo for "Passion Dance," a gem from his 1960s book, Tyner again gives Hutcherson the first word. The mallet man spins out a remarkable string of lengthy, twisting runs, occasionally falling into a kind of dialogue with Tyner's cresting chords. Hargrove juxtaposes his fat trumpet tone and short, lyrical phrases with bassist Charnett Moffett's breakneck walking patterns and Eric Kamau Gravatt's precision spang-a-lang drumming. Then Tyner is off and running with another st of huge, crashing chords and overlapping harmonic phrases. Gravatt's sticks fly madly around his kit, cleverly referencing the tune's catchy melody.



Moffett pulls off the biggest surprise of the evening by running his acoustic bass through an effects box. Alternately bowing and plucking with abandon, he simulates electric violin, Hendrixian guitar fire and even a harp in the space of perhaps two minutes. Tyner has a surprise or two up his own sleeve, as he breaks the set's pattern with some straight-up blues piano on the next selection. Hutcherson and Hargrove respond in kind, and the relative simplicity of the tune lays the sheer instrumental mastery of this band bare. Hargrove is delightful, shouting his message to the skies as midnight pproaches.



The night is not over when Tyner leaves the stage. I can hear the tightly coiled improvisation of Hiromi's trio still tearing up the Coffee House, which is now merely full instead of bursting with listeners. Over in Dizzy's Den, the Yellowjackets have just started their night-owl set. But after a full day of nonstop movement, it's time to crawl into the night and back to my motel. In just twelve hours, I'm going to do it all over again.



Photo Credit
Janna L. Gadden



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