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Live Reviews

25th Annual Discover Jazz Festival, Burlington, VT

By Published: June 24, 2008

Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, Vermont
May 30-June 8th, 2008
The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has a profound right to celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. In the quarter century of its existence, it has performed the dual service of honoring the great traditions of jazz and its artists, at the same time developing a forward thinking approach to the music and its creators. In learning to anticipate the innovations to come and simultaneously revering the foundations upon which those innovations are built, Discover Jazz has made a name for itself and developed a legacy of its own worth revering.

2008 is, not surprisingly, a case in point. The courage of the Festival's collective convictions prompted Grammy-nominated Ledisi to open the ten days of musical events in a decidedly contemporary vein. While it might not have justified itself in pure business terms (Flynn Mainstage theatre attendance was limited), it nevertheless set a vibrant tone by dint of the performers' lustrous stage presence.

Joshua Redman Trio
Flynn Mainstage
May 31, 2008

The incessantly pouring rain on the last day of May certainly put a damper on the tribute to the late long-time presence of Burlington's music scene, Big Joe Burrell, but it didn't dull the spirits of the audience or the artist at Saturday's mainstage show. Having become acquainted with at least some of his fans and listeners at the afternoon's meet and greet in FlynnSpace, Joshua Redman distinguished himself on the Mainstage as he has virtually throughout his whole career: primarily as an authoritative bandleader who submerges himself within the playing of his group and less prominently as an instrumentalist.

Redman may always be in the process of developing his own voice on the saxophone. Certainly he doesn't play in a truly linear fashion and that is to his credit and distinction, but perhaps no more so than his willingness to allow almost equal input from his comrades on stage.

If you have ever seen Larry Grenadier in the past—with Brad Mehldau, John Scofield or Pat Metheny— you can't help but notice he develops more subtlety and strength in his bass playing as time goes on. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson has a history with Redman, having been a staple of the acoustic quartet of the nineties, but he possesses his own innate sense of dynamics, using his entire kit to play with as much flair when he generates a groundswell of rhythm as when he is restraining himself to just his finger on a ride cymbal.

Paquito D'Rivera's Funk Tango Quintet with The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Big Band
Flynn Mainstage
June 1, 2008

The purity of the Redman Trio's approach certainly hit a chord with the sold-out crowd, but no more so than Paquito D'Rivera as he played with his own quintet after an opening set of his own material with the Discover Jazz Big Band. The return of the latter near the end of the second set was actually something of a disappointment, if for no other reason than the means by which D'Rivera's small group altered its approach when on-stage alone with their leader: each member opened up his playing as the five interacted in a loose- limbed fashion that packed more punch, relatively speaking, than the larger lineup.

That's no criticism of the big band, but only the observation that, except for the final tune of the first set, introduced by Dave Grippo on baritone sax and three other hornmen in a pulsing intro to the tune, the larger ensemble swung and swayed gracefully for the greater part of their time on stage. Big band music may or may not be an acquired taste, but the BDJBB—as introduced by leader Alex Stewart—may have opened some ears to its virtues this Sunday night.

Trio 3
FlynnSpace
June 2, 2008

It's gratifying to see FlynnSpace at capacity but less surprising each passing year of the Discover Jazz Festival. The intimate venue adjacent to Mainstage has nurtured a reputation of its own, not as an alternative to the more mainstream shows, but as a means of augmenting them. An ideal case in point was Trio 3: Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille alternated the abstract and the celebratory in their low-key performance, illustrating how little good jazz needs any trappings of show business but rather thrives on the purity that derives from a direct connection between musicians and listener. Given the relative brevity of the tunes—roughly between five and seven minutes—it was remarkable how much ground the threesome covered in their flights of fancy: rumbling low notes were interspersed with polyrhythm that emanated from seemingly nowhere, as these three venerable jazzmen made it look and sound easy.

Hardcell
FlynnSpace
June 4, 2008

This brave, articulate trio led by saxophonist Tim Berne gave what may have been the most invigorating performance of Discover Jazz 2008.

Not exactly free playing, but rather an angular approach to melody and rhythm in which pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Tom Rainey and the saxophonist leader simultaneously spiraled around each other in elliptical patterns that generally diverged (though not too far afield from each other) and occasionally meshed in sweet unison. The intensity of their approach was reflected in the focused concentration each of the trio displayed but, like those aforementioned moments of unity, their respective beaming visages at the close of a tune said it all about the gratification that comes from jazz well and ambitiously played.

The expressions throughout the audience mirrored the artists' whose presentation was bereft of theatrics except that of the innate drama of great musicians in action. It was the kind of show that left you hoping a stealth tape was at work somewhere in the room, if only to preserve a one-of-a-kind performance that deserves a place in posterity somewhere.

Jason Lindner Now vs. Now Trio
FlynnSpace
June 5, 2008

Difficult as it was to leave the picturesque waterfront buoyed by the sounds of Geno Delafose & co's French Rockin' Boogie, the prospect of a jazz trio in the intimate confines of FlynnSpace held its own attraction. Far better it would have been, however, to more accurately credit this trio as more than just piano, bass and drums: that classic jazz lineup got barely a nod, at least in the early going June 5th

Even had Bob Blumenthal's brochure notes included listing of the Moog and Roland equipment arrayed on stage, the setup could not have prepared an attendee for the high volume bombast that strained the sound system of the intimate venue. Further pandering to the audience with self-conscious vocal and instrumental flash-to-flaunt called attention to itself at the expense of genuine invention.

As duly noted by Flynn artistic director Arnie Malina in his introduction, Linder's appearance was a return to the venue, having taken part in Dafnis Prieto's memorable appearance back in 2006, but the only resemblance between the two performances was the understated eloquence of drummer Mark Giuliana: playing, perhaps not coincidentally, a stripped-down kit similar to that of Rainey from Hardcell, his understated attention to detail was in stark contrast to the broad strokes of his bandmates.

Dave Brubeck Quartet
Flynn Mainstage
June 6, 2008

Approaching the ninety-year mark, Dave Brubeck refuses to merely go through the motions. Likewise his quartet, whose robust energy radiates a commitment to the jazz tradition, grounded no doubt in their loyalty to their leader, that had them swinging from start to finish in their near hour and half on the Mainstage. And it doesn't hurt that they obviously love to listen to each other play, given the wide grins circulating at so many points during their set.

Bobby Militello's sax playing contained a sweet simplicity comparable to the chording and clustered notes of the pianist, who so often almost but not quite played the blues, while drummer Randy Jones, even apart from his spectacular solo on "Take Five," made his peripatetic playing look eminently easy. To be sure, the sold-out audience was inclined to be on the side of the artist, but this happened to be one night the devotion was well-deserved and wholly reciprocal.

Ornette Coleman
Flynn Mainstage
June 7, 2008

It was perfectly appropriate the last official Discover Jazz show occurred 6/8 at FlynnSpace—a collaboration between two local mainstays Paul Asbell and Nick Cassarino brandishing acoustic guitars with journeyman James Harvey opening up—and it served as something of an encore for the ten-day program. Ornette Coleman's performance the night before was the dramatic climax.

Though it may have been more a necessity of booking than anything else, it was perfectly fitting for the Queen city's festival to end with the scintillating performance of the forward-thinking and playing Coleman, especially so closely on the heels of the Brubeck performance. In a bracing hour-plus on stage, the unconventional quartet— two bassists, drummer and the leader on sax, trumpet and violin—moved with an authority equaling their unpredictability.

It is one thing to hear technical expertise at such a prodigious level; it is another to hear deeply profound emotion in such musicianship. It is another sensation altogether to hear those forces united, and that's what Coleman achieved on June 7th : their leader at the forefront, as he has in the jazz world for decades, each individual played only the notes that count the most, a reminder of what constitutes true beauty—in music as in all things. Discover jazz indeed!



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