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Live Reviews

Monterey Notebook 2007, Part 2: Saturday

By Published: November 2, 2007
As a preview to their upcoming duo recording project, Fox and S next take an untethered, dreamlike tour through an exotic, undefined space, gentle monologues fusing into sympathetic hipster dialogue. It's a sublime moment. Only later, after nearly ten rhapsodic minutes, does the tune reveal itself as the old standard "Alone Together."

Rashied Ali Quintet: Judgment Day

4:10 p.m.—The Night Club/Bill Berry Stage

Down at the teeming Night Club, the Rashied Ali Quintet has worked itself into a frenzy, the air pulsing with raw electric energy from Lawrence Clark's tenor saxophone. Condensing into a tunneling post-bop burn, the ensemble greases the skids for Josh Evans's ringing trumpet solo as a knot of young hepcats standing in the back of the room looks on and nods. The conflagration on stage soon spreads to ignite Greg Murphy's piano, which cuts through a maze of maddeningly fast notes like a laser beam.

Smiling, Ali drives the breakneck pace from his drum kit. But it seems to be less a matter of his pushing the band than of pulling them up to his natural pace. Lifting off into a solo of his own, Ali tempers the thunder with prodding, exploratory pauses, as if seeking to define the underlying structure of his titanic rhythms.

After a workout lasting the better part of half an hour, the band quickly calms things down for "You're Reading My Mind," a mysterious ballad by bassist Joris Teepe. Formed by layers of melancholy, Teepe's solo on this tune carries a tenderness that might have seemed impossible only minutes before.

"Judgment Day," another 30-minute epic, enters with a simple fanfare before launching into a hard 1960s-style thrust. Again the intensity rises to shattering levels, and the dynamite horn solos soon form a sort of force field around the Night Club stage, making everything outside seem almost irrelevant.

Food Glorious Food

6:30 p.m.—The Fairgrounds

BRATS! scream the signs. FUNNEL CAKE! BBQ! DEEP FRIED!

Jazz may be good for the soul, but festival food isn't always good for the body. Sure, if you look a little closer, you can find some options that won't make your doctor scowl—a little salad, maybe some rice and vegetables. But pitted against SAUSAGES! WINGS! SOUL FOOD! GARLIC FRIES!... it's no contest. Why, there's even a booth selling smoked turkey legs, so you can walk around pretending to be Henry VIII.

It's remarkable how many of these same food vendors appear in exactly the same spot year after year, like the "freshly squeezed lemonade" or the "real Philly cheesesteaks." To say nothing of those evergreens in the food court next to the main gate, the bean pies and jambalaya and Kiwanis Club hot dogs. Let's face it, these are almost as much a part of the Monterey Jazz Festival experience as that trumpet-on-a-chair logo. Artists may come and go, trends emerge and die. But greasy, smoky, dripping temptation is eternal, and it always lies just a few steps away at Monterey.

Now if only I could get a cup of coffee in less than 20 minutes, I'd be a happy man...

Terence Blanchard: A Poignant "Tale"

8:00 p.m.—The Arena

Two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, there is still an ongoing toll in the form of shattered lives, torn memories and lost homes. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, a New Orleans resident, pays eloquent respect to the Katrina's many victims in A Tale of God's Will, released last month by Blue Note Records and now beautifully rendered on Arena stage. Backed by his own quintet and the 18-piece Monterey Jazz Festival Chamber Orchestra, Blanchard paints a spellbinding, tragic, but ultimately hopeful picture of loss and recovery.

Portions of the suite were originally composed for Spike Lee's visionary documentary "When the Levees Broke." Blanchard, a veteran of dozens of film scoring projects, draws on all of his prodigious skills in this evocative set of music. It is impossible to listen and not see the flooding, hear the cries for help, feel the crushing fear and destruction.

Blanchard's wracked trumpet solo in "Levees" carries power despite some microphone feedback problems. As the string section begins a sad, flowing elegy, an overhead video monitor intersperses close- ups of the musicians with images of the city underwater. Brice Winston, another Katrina evacuee, delivers a passionate, pained sax solo that becomes a gorgeous duo improvisation with Blanchard.

"Wading Through" evokes a slog across a watery landscape, encompassing both desperation and grim resolution. Pianist Fabian Almazan embroiders the haunting refrain with tender threads of confusion and yearning.

Aaron Parks' "Ashe" is a melancholy featre for trumpet and piano. Like a sad lullaby, it offers comfort despite a broken heart. As the music rises at the end like a triumphant phoenix, Blanchard crouches into his downward-cast horn, blaring at the floor as if urging a beaten man to rise once more to his feet.

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