Tanglewood Jazz Festival
Tanglewood Music Center
June 28 to September 3, 2007
Chronological balance and stylistic diversity helped imbue the 2007 edition of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival with extra pizzazz over Labor Day Weekend as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts turned its season-ending focus from classical to jazz.
Hugh Masekela dominated opening night when he opened for Poncho Sanchez' Latin Jazz Band, offering a heart-felt program of primarily social- consciousness material, dedicating his portion of the evening to the people of Darfur, reminiscing about the horrors of apartheid and offering his "Bringing Him Back Home , which celebrated Nelson Mandela's release from prison. He dedicated his coal train song "Stimela to all laborers around the world and his 1968 hit "Grazin' in the Grass was treated as an extended jazz instrumental in this setting. The Sanchez set didn't really heat up until the leader turned it into a salsa party after offering "Shiny Stockings and "The Nearness of You with a Latin tinge.
Pianist Renee Rosnes was Marian McPartland's guest on her sixth annual live Tanglewood taping of NPR's Piano Jazz, which has become the festival's centerpiece. At times, Rosnes sounded like the host, grilling McPartland about her years at New York's Hickory House and her musical friendships with Duke Ellington and Alec Wilder. McPartland even offered to send her 'guest' the chart of a tune (unplayed that afternoon) that Wilder wrote for her.
Highlights were Rosnes' version of Dizzy Gillespie's classic ballad "Con Alma , a duet on "Lullaby of the Leaves and McPartland's solo version of her own "Stranger in a Dream . The taping revealed an amazing musical empathy and warm, intergenerational friendship. With Piano Jazz in its 29th season, Rosnes continued to turn the tables as she concluded by thanking McPartland for "creating such an important institutional jazz history vehicle.
Kurt Elling featured three special guests in his strong Saturday night opening set: Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Gregoire Maret (harmonica) and Romero Lubambo (guitar). Each added to the wonderful musical rapport Elling has with his regular quartet and that he quickly develops with his audience. Joe Sample and singer Randy Crawford closed the Saturday night portion of the program with a capable but uninspired set. Crawford still has a charming voice but didn't seem to remember or care where she was that night. Boston? Birchmere? Pittsfield? Sample gently set her straight after those guesses.
More than once as he was still in the early stage of his career ascent, I'd felt that Kevin Mahogany was a strong voice in search of a style. At Tanglewood, it was clear that he finally found it back home in his native Kansas City. Mahogany opened a very strong and diverse Sunday matinee with his Kansas City Revue that featured Red Holloway, Cyrus Chestnut and Detroit singer Kathy Kosins performing the music of Big Joe Turner and some clever Mahogany blues originals that fit the same mold. They were followed by Bossa Brazil with Lubambo, pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano and singer Leny Andrade, whose sound draws frequent comparisons to Sarah Vaughan. She flew in from Rio just for this performance. The Maria Schneider Orchestra capped the afternoon with a blend of new and vintage material, all of it exquisite.
The Sunday evening sets at Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall featured two piano greats in very different settings. Hank Jones and singer Roberta Gambarini combined his gentle, elegant keyboard touch and strong sense of swing, still robust at 89, with her pristine yet cool interpretations, particularly on Irving Berlin's 1933 (pre- Strange Fruit ) commentary on racial strife, "Suppertime . Ahmad Jamal, with percussionist Manolo Badrena added to the pianist's traditional trio, displayed even more grit with the added texture. The leader's signature tune "Poinciana benefited the most, having developed a harder edge through the years. Special guest Jimmy Heath on tenor and soprano sax joined them mid-set. Heath and Jamal turned the festival's closing segment into a mutual admiration society by selecting each other's tunes to spotlight: Heath's "Mellowdrama and Jamal's "Picture Perfect sandwiching the wistful Billy Strayhorn ballad "Daydream .