30th Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
One story began with a seven-year-old black girl taking the stage in a pink dress to recite the grim, daily reality of living in the projects. A slightly older girl followed in a slightly more rose-hued dress, representing the same character at age nine, her troubles now a bit more dire, the reality of inner-city womanhood becoming more personal. And so she aged, her dress deepening in red, her troubles mounting, but her will and drive never diminishing. These latter qualities would see her through teenage pregnancies and dead-end, minimum-wage jobs up an academic sweep through college to a stable, rewarding marriage and optimistic future. While a simple tale, it was saved from triteness by the powerful, singular presence of each of the actors on stage. Their harsh reality stood in stark contrast to that seemingly palatial one faced by the young adults projected on the video screens at the show's open and close, their collegiate faces subjected to gentle Warholian "screen tests."
Other tales, such as that of a neighbor known in his community only through rumor and dark, speculative imagination or of the teenage suburbanite slumming in the ghetto to score the city's best barbecue sauce, were more open-ended. But, as the work's title suggests, the whole was a stirring call to action to cross divides (be they economic, social, political, racial, cultural, et. al.) wherever we might find them. To go out and make a difference.
April 30: Roy Haynes and Randy Weston
Randy Weston opened the show at the Tri-C Metro Campus Auditorium with a rousing series of solo piano compositions. Citing the heavy influence African music has had on his art, Weston employed an active left hand to add a deep rhythmic pulse to his playing. Taking the influence further back, he introduced "Blue Moses" (see video excerpt below) with the observation that "Mother Nature was swinging before man ever arrived." He grouped "Berkshire Blues," "High Fly" and "Little Niles" to stirring effect, and closed with a roaring, swinging "improvised tribute" to Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.
Roy Haynes' Fountain of Youth Band
His fellow octogenarian Roy Haynes then took the stage with the decidedly youngerthough no more vibrantmembers of his Fountain of Youth Band. Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw often led the way with quick bop lines that fed the aggressive piano work of David Kikoski and clean, springing bass solos by David Wong. Haynes opened the group's fifth number alone, mastering time and space with a pair of mallets, but mostly he preferred to hang back and give his mates time to stretch. Still, his presence was always feltrich, banging and variedshowing why he's been the drumming choice for so many musicians over the past 60 years.
May 2: Bill Ransom: Jazz Meets Hip Hop Part VII
The festival moved to the basement-like, red-lit confines of the Grog Shop for a late-night session of its annual "Jazz Meets Hip Hop" show. Drummer Ransom was joined by saxophonist Keith McKelley, bassist Joey Green, guitarist Dan Wilson, keyboardists Theron Brown and Kenny Bell and DJ e.react to create a street-smart wall of sound fronted by MCs/poets ZiON, aLIVE and Q. Nice. Their pieces, often anchored by the choral repetition of emphatic, triumphant or dance-centered pronouncements like "I Shall Proceed," "Burn It Up" and "You Will Never See No Other Like Me," were mostly hard, funky, body-shaking affairs built on group improvisation and solo statements alike. Q. Nice turned in an impressive next-generation rap-scat on his "Mr. Beat Man," backed only by drums and bass. e.react worked his turntable and effects into a sweaty lather on "You Will Never See No Other Like Me," matching the heat blowing from McKelley's sax across stage. And Wilson brokered a tasty fusion bridgetwining old-school jazz, funk and R&Bover a break in "I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way." The highlight, though, came when the group was joined by guest Sean Jones and his trumpet (see video excerpt below). Taking off from an inspired McKelley sax solo, Jones bent back and blew a crater through the pipe-lined ceiling. His high-register screams sent shock waves around the bandstand, as each musician soaked up a bit of Jones' fire and spit it out at the audience.
May 3: TCJF SoundWorks
Formed especially for the Tri-C JazzFest by two local jazz titans, saxophonist Howie Smith and bassist Glenn Holmes, TCJF SoundWorks took its maiden flight at the Reese Center with a tribute to the music of McCoy Tyner, who played at Tri-C's inaugural festival in 1979. Filled out by trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Chip Stephens, trombonist Chris Anderson, saxophonist John Klayman and drummer Paul Samuels, the group ran through Tyner music from the 1960s and 1970s, using fresh charts and full-throttle improvisation.