30th Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
But the vocal highlight of the show came immediately after the intermission, when Rebecca Morris, the star of a local theater production of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, stepped to the mic and with solo piano accompaniment loosed a pained, breathy "Deep Song" that truly echoed the harmonic twists and choked agony of Lady Day.
Hayden and her trio were given ample breaks to stretch on each number and they used the space to fine effect, projecting three distinct personalities that blended into harmonious backing behind the singers. Hayden's solos followed the melodic line, while Rowe favored a play with harmonic shading and McKinney crashed out exuberant, personal bop statements that were consistently the highlight of any song on which she found the spotlight.
April 25: John Scofield and Buddy Guy
On tour with the band from his latest release, Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009), John Scofield favored a strong blues feel on his treatment of New Orleans gospel music. But the guitarist was also full of surprises, working his pedals overtime to produce layered loops and sonic effects that ran from wah-wah to something resembling a record being played backwards (Scofield murdered Paul). The highlight was his solitary opening to Hank Williams' "The Angel of Death," the guitar ringing lonesome single-noted runs and mournful bass tones. Organist Jon Clearyhandled the vocals on most numbers and was instrumental in producing the heavy swamp voodoo sound that pulsed through the music. Yet with Donald Ramsey's funk groove and drummer Ricky Fataar's rock-steady beat (augmented often by tambourine) the show likewise had a festive, revival quality that had the audience (and Scofield's guitar) clapping along.
That good-times, repentance blues was the perfect lead-in to the devil himself, Buddy Guy. Ever the showman, Guy electrified the crowd from start to finish with his high-pitched hollers, steamy guitar and playful banter.
"I'm gonna play something so funky you can smell it," Guy snorted before launching into "Hoochie Coochie Man." Soon after attempting (and failing) to launch the audience into the first of many sing-along call and response efforts, Guy shut down the music with this admonishment: "I didn't come here to have you fuck that song up." It was the vocalization of the same swaggering humor that haunts his music. Guy tore loose raging chordal barrages and trigger-happy single-noted flurries, but the keyas alwayswas his use of space. His solos were constructed with the poetic gaps essential to breathing true passion into fire or tripping it up with comedic flare. And, as has been his wont for many years, he used the time on stage to showcase the music of his idolsfrom Tampa Redto Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrixaping their styles to largely humorous effect. A walking (and jamming) lap around the theater was the pinnacle of the entertainer's night.
April 26: Jonathan Batiste
With its trip east to the Greg L. Reese Performing Arts Center in the East Cleveland Public Library, the festival truly began to settle into jazz. Jonathan Batiste, a 22-year-old pianist and singer from New Orleans, took the stage with his young quartet (Batiste introduced 20-year-old alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash as a 15-year-old phenom) to blend funk and R&B with Big Easy pomp and post-bop crash and dissonance. Sticking mostly to self-penned numbers, Batiste displayed soulful vocal chops and a mastery of the keyboard that had him pulling quotes and influences from all directions. He worked a death knell passage into "St. James Infirmary," quoted "Bo Diddley" on the original "Kindergarten" and channeled Beethoven on the lead-in to a heart-heavy "What a Wonderful World," the latter sounding an environmentalist lament for what might be passing away from us.
April 26: Sachal Vasandani
The day continued at the Reese Center with singer/songwriter Sachal Vasandani. Backed by a fabulous local trio of pianist Philly Joe Jones, bassist Glenn Holmes and drummer Bill Ransom, Vasandani addressed standards and originals alike with a comfortable cross between Michael Buble and Johnny Mathis, his voice coursing the songs' curves like molten vinyl. He leveled a verse-worth of energetic, syncopated scat on Guy Lombardo's "By the River Sainte Marie" and scrawled his voice cursively over the lyrics of "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," fashioning a pleading letter to a lover who'd already moved on. But other numbers, such as the original "Storybook Fiction" and "My Sweet Embraceable You," dripped a bit heavily with romantic sap (though the former, admittedly, was written as a look at idealized love).