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Back Roads Beat

The 2007 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Almost Free For You Today

By Published: January 30, 2008
"That pianist really anchored them well," said Bill Wahl, a Carlsbad, Calif., resident who is editor and publisher of Jazz And Blues Report. He also said the size and skill of the vocal guests allowed an intriguing variety of lyrical and tonal flourishes.

Miller's show, already more than an hour late, was delayed an additional 20 minutes by unspecified production problems. It was something less than my most anticipated moment of the festival, having heard him once or more a day for nearly two weeks during a jazz cruise a few months earlier (often playing a lot of the same material from the album Free, just released at the time in Europe). But he surpassed expectations by expanding the playlist through the range of his career. Also, while it was very much a "working gig" without special material, the energy and soloing most of the night were a step above another day at the office.

From the start Miller allowed adequate solo time for all. While his thudding slap tones were plenty familiar, he worked his opening statement through a series of funk progressions without his typical repetitive licks until the end. He generally avoided embellish-on-a-groove solos for much of the set, making distinct style changes between and during songs.

He earned the first distinct cheer from the audience for the first of two solos on an extended arrangement of the meditative "Jean-Pierre," gradually deconstructing a series of phrases with increasingly off-color embellishments, but more to the degree of keeping listeners alert than striving for the edge of musical possibilities He retreated into vamps at the end, but kept them from getting repetitive through tonal variations and some percussion-like string hits in bursts. After trumpeter Patches Stewart took a turn emulating the long, slow notes of Miles' late career, Miller entered with a second solo heavy on timbre changes, going from a wah-wah to octave jumps and other pitches. He kept up the theme in a series of exchanges with keyboardist Bobby Sparks, with Miller's duck quacks being answered with UFO hums and wobbly flutters.

He dominated "Amadala" with long, low anchor tones providing a foundation for bursts from the upper frets. His bass clarinet work is usually commendable and proved popular among the crowd when he joined Stewart, saxophonist Keith Anderson and harmonica player Gregoire Maret in a jam circle during "When I Fall In Love." Lesser moments were his OK, not great soft and high-pitch vocals on "Boomerang" and lackluster instrumental arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."

The set ended promisingly with a funked up "Come Together" featuring a lively round of exchanging shots where players picked up each others' themes effectively while straying far from the lyrical theme. But the encore was a drowsy "Tutu" with a lot of repeat riffs from Miller, although Stewart offered a solo with far more range and fewer effects than Miles' typical effort. Maybe it was just the hour—the concert ended at 11:45 p.m., nearly two hours past the scheduled conclusion.

Differing Points Of View

A problem traveling with PR people: Everybody loves all the shows.

Generally when there's a disagreement—usually my panning of a concert somebody else raves about—I tend to assume I'm the idiot in the room, since I hardly consider myself fully "educated" in all things jazz. But that gets harder, especially on the self-esteem, during a junket like this where either 1) the person I'm talking to has some kind of financial interest in a successful gig or 2) they're journalists focusing more on travel than music, so the jazz festival is merely some spice in the overall experience.

So when I say the opening concert on Day 2 by Los Dorados fell short of expectations it's worth noting it was a favorite of some fellow travelers and the biases above may or may not have been a factor. The Mexico City quartet, named after the legendary Mexican Revolution guerilla troops of Gen. Francisco Villa, promote themselves as playing an experimental blend of chamber, electronic, tango and Mexican music. Among the many listed influences are Radiohead, Charles Mingus, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Stravinsky and Debussy (considering the latter two are among my favorite and least favorite classical composers, respectively, cross- breeding them was an interesting concept).

"They create what can be described as the Dorado sound in reference to their search for an alternative kind of interpretation," a band biography notes. "Yet they do not have any ambition to create a new style or type of music. They rather try to constantly open up to a new exploration of sound."

Despite the dubious bit about ambition, it seemed Los Drados had potential to stand out in a mostly mainstream commercial lineup. What I heard were occasionally interesting compositions too often dragged down by muddy arrangements and players lacking honed communication skills among themselves.


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