Freihofer's Jazz Festival: One Great Weekend
"Sea Journey" has that Latin tinge Corea was commonly using years ago when he wrote it, and the soloists soaring through its changes set the tone for the set. Jarrett's "Coral" was a ballad on which Burton and Metheny were more serene, but no less expressive.
Other highlights came from youngsters Lage and Kelly.
Lage, a guitarist discovered by Burton when the former was in his teens, joined his hollow-body guitar with somewhat different instrumentation than a usual jazz group in the form of bass and cello, sax and a drummer, Tupak Mantilla, who played his set all by hand, without typical snare or tom-tom drums but rather with what appeared to be leather, or cloth-covered, drums. "Clarity," from his debut CD Sounding Point, was a sweet melding of all the voices. "Motor Minder," from the same album, featured a great duet with guitar and bassist Jorge Roeder, before the rest of the group joined. Lage has an open musical mind with a variety of genre influences, and his guitar work is crisp and clean. The band was very tight, and the give-and-take communication was spot on.
Kelly, 17, led a quintet of youngsters through a set of familiar and unfamiliar. In addition to her excellent sax, she now sings and has a pleasant voice. It's a nice addition to the act. Her vocal offering "But Life Goes On" was a pleasurable romp about getting through woes. But her sax work is ever growing and speaks volumes, as exemplified when she pulled off the vocal to "Please Send Me Someone to Love" nicely enough, but then dug in for a bluesy, sensual solo on sax. Trumpeter Jason Palmer displayed inventive melodic ideas through the set. "Summertime" had some of her best playing. But her encore, "Over the Rainbow," showed just how mature she is becoming, full of emotion and squeezing out a degree of pathos without going overboard. It was thoughtful ballad playing for one so young.
Coleman, who cut his sax teeth years ago in Memphis and toured with B.B. King when King was a puppy, played mostly jazz standards, like Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring," Ray Noble's "Cherokee," and Horace Silver's ballad "Peace." He even got jazz-funky with a rendition of "Where Is the Love?" He still has a great, full, gutsy sound he brought to bands like those of Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal, one of the last of the greats from that era. Pianist Harold Mabern was also sparkling throughout. Like Coleman, he's played with a full list of jazz greats, and his work on "Peace" covered all kinds of styles.
Brubeck's set was typical of what to expect from his gang, which included his son Danny Brubeck subbing on drums for Randy Jones. Sax man Bobby Militello was his usual strong, boppish self. Ellington-Strayhorn gems like "Mood Indigo" and "Take the A Train" were interspersed with Brubeck sparklers like "Unsquared Dance." Of course, the closer "Take Five" was a crowd pleaser. Brubeck, near 90, is frail coming off a recent illness, but he is still focused, and his playing still evokes his halcyon days.
Benson performed a group of Nat "King" Cole hits before segueing into his pop hits from more recent years. On the Cole numbers, such as "Nature Boy," "Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa," "Route 66," and even the cloying "Ramblin' Rose," Benson's voice was close to Cole's, velvet and clear. A good tribute, though without much of Benson's excellent guitar work.
Another "star power" act was the SMV Thunder tour, with bassists Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten. The three are super players, but the set was more "look what I can do," rather than an exploration of music and any kind of real communication of an established band. Many fans like that virtuoso type of display. Wooten's chops are incredible. Miller played bass clarinet on "When I Fall in Love," and churned out ""Tutu," the title cut from the album he produced for Miles in 1986, that had hints of Miles' "Jean Pierre." He brings the funk. Clarke showed his considerable acoustic acumen on "Milano."
Singers included Shank and R&B singer Bettye LaVette. Shank had a fine band, featuring pianist Frank Kimbrough. She made wonderful choices, including two Abbey Lincoln numbers, "Throw It Away," and "Bird Alone." Both showed her altering the rhythms somewhat, and her parsing twisted and turned, as well as caressed, the music, two of Lincoln's very best. A very slow Irving Berlin "Blue Skies" was pulled off with aplomb. There are many jazz singers coming out of the woodwork over the last few years, but many, though their voices may seem pristine, just don't have that something "extra," that feel for the genre and its improvisational ways. Not so with Shank, who has both a beautiful voice and the creativity and innate feel to go with it.