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Live Reviews

Monterey Notebook 2007, Part 2: Saturday

By Published: November 2, 2007
Winston's "In Time of Need" is dark and atmospheric. The saxophonist's solo is a soulful lament, Blanchard's a heavy sigh. In "Water," Blanchard's lonely trumpet bobs helplessly in the middle of a vast, undulating sea. And "Mantra" begins with a lengthy, meditative bass solo, gradually rising to a position of calm strength before striding confidently into a celebration of the human spirit.

Gerald Wilson: Round and Round

10:00 p.m.— The Arena

Dark clouds dispersed at last, the moon shines brightly overhead as the Gerald Wilson Orchestra salutes Monterey's 50 years with a newly-commissioned suite, "Monterey Moods."

Wilson has been a fixture on the MJF scene since the beginning, and he held the commission for the festival's 40th anniversary in 1997. So it is only fitting that he perform the honors once again. First, however, are three crisp big band performances with special guest Kenny Burrell on guitar.

The orchestra shows its trademark punch and bravado as Burrell reels off some cool-toned solos. He sounds especially at home and even sings in a swinging blues arrangement of "Stormy Monday." Meanwhile, Wilson dances across the stage as he conducts the ensemble, jabbing the air and shuffling his feet with seeming abandon.

Introducing the suite, Wilson says he wanted to capture the "romance and adventure" of the festival. "Think of all the husbands and wives who are here, boyfriends and girlfriends... boyfriends and boyfriends!" He says he wanted to write a piece that would stick in the audience's minds, something they will always associate with the word "Monterey."

He succeeds in creating something sticky, but perhaps not quite in the intended way. "Monterey Moods" is a simple theme—a riff really—repeated endlessly under a series of solos. The orchestra plays it up-tempo, as a ballad, in waltz time, as a blues... but the hook, while undeniably catchy, never stops and barely changes from movement to movement.

The steady pattern does leave plenty of room for hot solos. Kamasi Washington stands out with a full- bodied, filigreed tenor sax turn that turns "Ballad" into something much more aggressive. And "Blues" inspires jaunty, exuberant improvisations from several horn players as the crowd sings along, "Mon-te- raaaay, Mon-te-raaaay." But after half an hour or so, even the catchiest riff gets more than a little stale. "Monterey Moods" has its heart in the right place, but in the end it goes nowhere.

Cyrus Chestnut: Simply Stated

11:15 p.m.—Coffee House Gallery

Cyrus Chestnut is an unassuming, soft-spoken man at the microphone. But sitting at the piano in his third and final set of the night, the man speaks volumes. He takes off at a rollicking, breathless pace, mixing a healthy dollop of Fats Waller into his tricky, utterly swinging phrases. Chestnut and his bandmates—bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Neal Smith—are tightly grouped both on stage and in the music, playing off each other in hip-wiggling burners and jaunty strolls.

"Polka Dots and Moonbeams" is a perfect example of everything Chestnut does right. He begins the piece as a solo piano etude, dancing lightly and prettily around a wistful motif. When a cell phone bleeps somewhere in the audience, a frown crosses Chestnut's face for just an instant, then he calmly inserts the trilling tone into his reverie, a comic touchpoint that Chestnut will employ three more times throughout the piece. Such rhythmic playfulness is the hallmark of the performance. In subsequent numbers, Chestnut tiptoes across the upper end of his keyboard, spinning in little curlicues, and makes the Elvis Presley hit "Don't Be Cruel" sound like it was written by Thelonious Monk.

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