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Live Reviews

Monterey Notebook 2006, Part 3: Sunday

By Published: October 2, 2006
Bassist Reuben Rogers is at it again, playing his third gig of the Festival. Last night he played back-to-back sets in the Arena with Charles Lloyd and Dianne Reeves. Now he's anchoring the Aaron Goldberg Trio, and the mood is intense.

The packed house erupts with applause as Goldberg breaks the tension built up by an insistent, repeated piano phrase. But it's a brief respite. Eric Harland, another crossover from the Lloyd band, turns the pressure boiler up even higher, banging out a drum solo like a piledriver carving a shortcut to China. A standing ovation follows, causing the bemused Goldberg to note, "we're not even done yet!"

"Lambada de Serpente" turns the vibe around 180 degrees. It's a thoughtfully folksy piece, the sort of thing that might have appealed to the late Penguin Café Orchestra. Rogers alternately plucks and bows, at one point moving in unison with Goldberg, later playing a casual, woody solo over Harland's quiet hand-drumming and Goldberg's minimalist comping. The leader's turn is sparkling and exuberant, riding a cresting wave of positive energy.

Next up is a speedy, fractured scramble that scurries along like a small rodent. Goldberg takes the twisty staccato line as a solo the first time through, then its a mad roller coaster ride as Harland drives the others to a seemingly unsustainable pace. Given sole ownership of the stage during his own solo, Harland does his level best to demolish the building. Fortunately, this is California and most structures are earthquake-proof. There is, predictably, another standing ovation. But this time it really is the end of the set.

It's Jazz, Baby!

4:30pm - The Night Club

Less than an hour after his powerhouse trio set, Aaron Goldberg is back on stage. But this time, he's swinging "Old McDonald Had a Farm" and the Alphabet Song (yes, that one: "A-B-C-D..."). He's not alone. "Downtown" trumpeter Steven Bernstein is there too, as are saxophonist John Ellis and the dynamite drummer Alison Miller. Soul diva Sharon Jones is carrying part of the vocal duties as sidekick to the hipster comic jive of Babi Floyd.

These are some heavy duty musicians, so what's up with the nursery rhymes? Meet Baby Loves Jazz, a jumping ensemble that could do for children's music what Ashton Kutcher did for trucker caps — making the corny cool. Although geared to the under-six set, and taking itself about as seriously as the Muppet Show, the music is real jazz, as much about musical education as entertainment.

Interacting directly with some eager tykes in the front row, the band runs through a delirious introduction to the various instruments on stage. "What's that?" Floyd asks as Tony Scherr plugs away on bass. When the kids shout "bass," Floyd pretends not to follow. "Face? That ain't nobody's face, man! Naw, that's a kalimba! That's a zither! That's a sousaphone!" Each time, the kids correct him, and they're delighted to eventually be proven right.

Soon, Floyd and Jones are giving the kids a rollicking clinic on scat vocals, using an animal song to scat out the sounds of monkeys, cows, owls and other critters. Next stop: naming colors! The band's high spirits are irresistible, and even childless adults in the room are having a ball. This may not be one of the high-profile shows in the Festival; there are no sweeping premieres or innovative postmodern experiments going on here. But a better time can't be had anywhere on the Fairgrounds.

Dave Brubeck: The Main Event

7:15pm - The Arena

Clint Eastwood is looking out over a sea of faces in the nearly-full Monterey County Fairgrounds Arena. "You all picked the right night to be here," he says, for on this evening two of the greatest living jazz giants will appear in back-to-back sets. Dave Brubeck has come to premiere his "Cannery Row Suite," a commissioned musical portrait of John Steinbeck's novel, and Oscar Peterson is waiting to follow him.

But "Cannery Row" comes later. When Eastwood's brief introduction is over and the preemptive standing ovation has subsided, the Brubeck quartet slips gracefully into a light, swinging rendition of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," taken at a deliberate tempo with brisk playing on all sides.

Brubeck's solo reading of "Stormy Weather" has a relaxed, after-hours feel, flirting with stride piano and blues of the Bessie Smith variety. When the rest of the band comes in, those blues jump forward a generation or so, as sax man Bobby Militello bends low over his alto to produce a searingly soulful cadenza. Brubeck is solo again for the start of the next number, this time taking a grandiose approach before dropping into a mellow bounce. Bassist Michael Moore returns a sense of classicism to the tune, engaging the others in a delicate dialogue that turns into a fugue. The band flirts with a higher gear in a steaming, beboppish number before mellowing out again in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Brubeck's achingly tender intro and Militello's serene flute daydream draw sustained applause.

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