Monterey Notebook 2006, Part 2: Saturday
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'." p>
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 SumlinJames' 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 slammingsometimes all at oncegetting 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.