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Live Reviews

Burlington Vermont Discover Jazz 2007: Beside The Joyous Lake

By Published: July 17, 2007
Discover Jazz 2007
Burlington, Vermont
June 1-9, 2007

Happening relatively soon after the great event in New Orleans each spring, Burlington Vermont's Discover Jazz has the distinction of being one of the first festivals of the season that extends throughout the United States and Europe during the summer season. But the Queen City's event also distinguishes itself by offering such an array of music it presents the true music lover with the best of all problems: choosing one potentially memorable event in favor of another just because there is so much going on. What follows are one problem-solver's discoveries during this year's festival:

Eddie Palmieri
Discover Jazz 2007
Flynn Mainstage, Burlington, Vermont
June 1st

Discover Jazz could've hardly begun in a more delightful manner than it did at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. A rousing presentation by the Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble gave way to the most scintillating and sinuous of shows from the veteran pianist Palmieri and his septet. Swaying from the opening number through a delicate display of dynamics within full-blown horn arrangements, percolating percussion and the reflective likes of the leader's solos, this music drew you deeply into the sensual pleasure of its sound and reinforced the youthful players' exhibition of musical camaraderie.

Kenny Garrett Quartet with Special Guest Pharaoh Sanders and Vorcza
Flynn Mainstage
June 2nd

The much-touted Kenny Garrett/Pharaoh Sanders ensemble literally tore through almost a full hour of turbulent rhythm and melody before succumbing to the bane of pacing—two slow ballads in a row that effectively destroyed that momentum. A sing-along interval ensued, conducted in an all too peremptory manner from Garrett: perhaps if he had seemed more joyfully engaged?

In contrast, Vorcza effortlessly conjured up tempo changes and melodic turns in quick succession. The two charter members—keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and bassist/composer Robinson Morse---were augmented by Conor Elmes on drums (in place of road warrior Gabe Jarrett on tour with Page McConnell) and local guitar phenom Nick Cassarino. The latter pair added light, color and punctuation to the customarily dusky funk of the band, in just the right proportions, making the half-hour opening set all too brief indeed.

Contois Auditorium
June 3rd

The next night's show was another role reversal as in that the opening act outshone the headliners. Jamie Masefield's MaMaVig hit the ground running for their hour on stage within City Hall, all four members displaying individual and collective precision and a palpable joy in playing together. Acoustic music provides some real insight into how difficult it is to play an instrument to begin with and further illustrates, by its innate understatement, how much empathy and timing is necessary for a band to play together. MaMaVig was as startling to hear when playing fast or slow, their grasp of dynamics equally evident in their original compositions as on a cover of Django Reinhardt.

Which isn't to say JFJO was much less impressive, but their stage presence detracts from the remarkable combination of technical skill and ambition the trio's members. Selecting material by Monk, Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman is chancy enough, but keyboardist Bryan Haas, bassist/guitarist Reid Mathis and drummer Jason Smart are all fully capable of navigating the changes with tremendous ease. Perhaps that level of competency is the root of a self-assured air, bordering on the cocky, that prompts body language all too reminiscent of musicians trying too hard to impress.

Miguel Zenon Quartet
June 4th

It is often true of Burlington's Discover Jazz that the best music arrives with the lowest profile. So it was with the young saxophonist's appearance in the cozy confines adjacent to the Flynn Mainstage. The erstwhile member of Joshua Redman's SF Jazz Collective is part of a quartet in which every member is constantly contributing to the performance. Even more uncommon is to see and hear a group of musicians playing together at an equally high level of musicianship.

In the introductory suite of three tunes, lasting approximately forty-five minutes total, everyone in Zenon's band proffered and in turn was offered ideas in the most unpredictable fashion. At the same time, they managed to remain sympathetic with each other and attentive to the collective dynamic. The conventional ballad they played—securely yet inventively—early in the set simply confirmed the initial impression of a group with a fundamental grasp of true improvisation.

Magic Slim & the Teardrops and Bettye Lavette
Waterfront Blues Tent
June 7th

The Discover Jazz Blues Tent is a tradition that never fails to become pure celebration, and 2007 was no exception. Betty Lavette no doubt came as a revelation to those who found her down-to-earth soul all the more affecting for its lack of pretension. She may not have been as frenzied as Otis Redding, but the depth of feeling was comparable.

Magic Slim had to go a ways to match the intensity of the audience, not to mention his opening act, and the introductory mini-set from his own Teardrops further challenged the stout bluesman: at least early on, even he couldn't wholly surmount what had preceded. Neverthless, the increasing volume of the music wasn't the source of the crowd's hearty reaction: it was the authenticity of the sound itself emanating from the musicians who made it.

June 7th

To their credit, Bassdrumbone trio did not trade solely on their eccentric instrumental lineup. Apart from the almost wholly abstract opening piece, the threesome focused on rhythm juxtaposed with mere shards of melody as their set went on. It's a tribute to the venue itself and the broadminded attitude of the audience (which can be self-congratulatory to a serious fault in this venue) that both band and listeners reveled in each others' presence before it was all over.

Bela Fleck and Chick Corea
Flynn Mainstage
June 8th

On paper this was the crown jewel of Discover Jazz, and it turned out to be just that. Two highly celebrated musicians took the stage to a thunderous acclaim, yet they refused to play it safe. Certainly, some shtick on Corea's part interrupted the musicianly flow of the second set (Bela's self-effacing demeanor was a marked contrast), but the two-plus hours overall were generally bereft of exercise in technique for its own sake. Rather, the pair challenged each other as musicians on a selection of material from their CD The Enchantment (Stretch, 2007) as well as older material such as Corea's â??Å"Children's Song #6."

Fleck may have been the more impressive of the pair, as his speed and fluid (can you say flamenco?) virtuosity regularly set a pace which the elder Scientologist statesman exerted himself to match. For their labors both performers received richly-deserved kudos: wholly absorbed during the duo's interplay, the soldout crowd burst into spontaneous applause, whether at the conclusion of a piece or an especially impressive interlude.

Lee Scratch Perry w/Dub Is A Weapon and Skatalites
Waterfront Blues Tent
Saturday June 9th

A somewhat anti-climactic show near festival's end, it was worth it to share the rarified air with the reggae legend whose work in the Jamaican recording industry actually predates Bob Marley's. None of the three acts truly distinguished itself, but as a suitable soundtrack for the sublime weather and scenic vistas of Lake Champlain the bill was wholly appropriate .

Coda: Have Guitar Will Travel

Guitarist Nick Cassarino was all over the place during the ten days of Discover Jazz. He played with various group alignments including trio and quartet and led his Sisters of Salvation gospel group in addition to sitting in with Vorcza for their Flynn engagement (as well as a late night, rain-shortened gig at Red Square in downtown Burlington). The native of South Burlington proved he can play open improv as well as traditional forms and material with equal assurance and enthusiasm. The young guitarist might do well to assume a similarly peripatetic residency for himself in Boston or New York : who knows who'd hear him, who'd play with him and who'd take part in Cassarino getting the break he deserves?

Photo Credit
Dana Pleasant

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