30th Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
The festival returned to the Reese Center for Monday's show with local sax legend Ernie Krivda and the Detroit Connection, featuring Claude Black on piano, Marion Hayden on bass and Renell Gonsalves on drums. Under the billing "Dexter, Trane and Sonny: A Tribute to the Jazz Tenor Sax Giants of the 1960s," Krivda fired his thin cutting sound through bar after bar of swirling, breathless bop. Hayden favored a more harmonic approach than at Mt. Zion on Saturday. Black flaunted a supple right hand in constructing quick, dancing melodies. And Gonsalves kept matters loose, shifting from aggressive Philly Joe Jones fare to Afro-Cuban beats and many open and wooded landscapes in between.
The group stuck to the biggies, taking on Dexter Gordon's "Cheese Cake," Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and "St. Thomas," Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and "Blue Train." Krivda was most subtle on "Midnight," checking his trademark hip twists and knee bends and, with them, the sonic rush of his horn. Single notes were extended into day-ending sighs that trilled off into yawning gaps, pricking and threading the melody. Hayden likewise coursed the melody in her solo attack of "Giant Steps," fashioning perhaps the most expressive statement of the evening. Black's powerful, theatric solos were crowd favorites and Gonsalves, as indicated, was always fresh and inventive, handling a large chuck of "Oleo" by tapping a muted cymbal and its post.
April 28: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble
The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland hosted Wednesday's performance by Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble. Befitting the venue, it was the most avant-garde performance on the festival's schedule. Mitchell, the Jazz Journalist Association's 2008 "Jazz Flutist of the Year," and her group blend African rhythms with Ornette Coleman-like experimental forays to fashion a wild, natural music. Which isn't to say their music is constantly explosive. On the contrary, it's often gentle, led by Mitchell's flute into a dreamy or spiritual realm. But whatever the dynamic, there's a reviving jungle steam that lifts from their sound and an undergrowth teaming with life.
Nicole Mitchell and Julius Paul
As co-president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Mitchell said she seeks to "push against the musical limits." And it showed. While her flute was often lilting, sailing in smooth hawk-like glides above the fray, she also immersed herself in the surging greenery. Whether employing a singing technique (to alternately sound her flute and her voice in a dazzling blend of technical virtuosity and artistic soul), launching her flute into dual tones or playfully trilling, Mitchell spiked the music with all manner of exotic avian song. Saxophonist David Boykin, the most experimental trekker of the bunch, blew with a Wayne Shorter-like adventurousness that often squawked with Dolphyesque abandon. His sound was the most urban of the group, plowing streets of asphalt through the jungle, as on "The Creator Has Other Plans for Me," where his solo steamed with vented gas from the manhole. Trumpeter David Young was as playful as his mates, loosing a Tarzan call on what Mitchell termed the group's theme song, "Africa Rising."
Yet, with all the individual inventiveness, the group dynamic never suffered. An overriding pack and crunch akin to snow carried "February." "Africa Rising" surged with a collective roar of celebration and protest. And time and again an alarm was sounded by the groupunderpinning the wild, living cacophony with the plow of encroaching modernity.
April 29: Cecilia Smith
Four-mallet vibraphonistand Cleveland nativeCecilia Smith was commissioned to compose a work that would foster a collaborative effort between local artists, students and faculty at Tri-C. The result was Crossing Bridges, an inter-media piece of jazz, cinema and spoken word that had its premiere this night at the Ohio Theatre. Backed by three video screens and a set representing the iconic buildings of Cleveland's skyline, Smith anchored a big band that also featured saxophonist Bill Pierce and trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater, Sean Jones and Dominick Farinacci. The music rose and fell with the cinematic sweep of a Terence Blanchard score, as it linked and lifted eight stories told through video and/or live action. With an eye on inner-city blight and social decay, the stories used humor, pathos, stats, anger and triumphant joy to tell of the separations that plague modern life.