Umbria Jazz: Days 4-6, July 13-15, 2009
There are, however, two points on which Marsalis remains full of surprises: his trumpeting, with its clean, burnished sound and evasion of cliche, and his eye for talent. Both gifts were on magnificent display. His bright, tuneful submission on "We See" included a cheeky quote of "O Sole Mio," and "Offertory's" solo "Father" section was a lovely, linear melody for which "lyrical" was an understatement. As for his bandmates, Gardner made ample use of his talents as composer and arranger (he orchestrated "Light Blue" and "Blues Walk"), but on trombone was overshadowed by 25-year-old Chris Crenshaw with a "talking" plunger solo on "You Better Watch That Holy Ghost." Saxophonists Sherman Irbyand Ted Nash played hot alto saxophone, and Ali Jackson Jr. once again proved himself as a drum wunderkind; he sounded for all the world like an amplified fireworks display.
The featured player, though, was Italian native Francesco Cafiso, who just turned 20 and was also part of the inaugural concert in Washington. The young alto saxophonist has a huge harmonic ear and great facility on the keys, but is still finding his own sound; clearly of the Johnny Hodges school, Cafiso is still too enthralled with Hodges and some of his followers, especially Charlie Mariano. However, he showed particular potential with a stuttering line on "Epistrophy," and Nimmer found his phrasing on "Peace" rich enough to swipe it for his piano solo. So, even if he's not quite there yet, his talent is apparent; Marsalis has found another one.
He's also a splendid showmanand saved the most dazzling for last. On "Stage West," the saxophone sectiontenor Vincent Goines, altos Nash and Irby, tenor Walter Blanding, baritone Joe Temperley, and Cafiso, respectivelytook solo turns of one chorus each, after which they traded fours, then twos, then swelled into boisterous polyphony. Trumpeter Sean Jones followed with twelve brilliant, raucous choruses, and Jackson topped him with eight. That's how you close a show.
Oratorio Santa Cecilia is a tiny, 800-year-old chapel a few blocks off Perugia's main drag. It's also an elegant, intimate spacean ideal spot for vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Dado Moroni, and alto saxophonist Rosario Giuliani to perform and record an upcoming release on the Egea label.
Wednesday's concert was the last of their three (and the first not sold out long in advance). But the trio showed no signs of fatigue, or anything but joy, at playing together. Locke spoke of their great friendship, a bond that shone through from the opening measures of "Stepping on Stars" indescribable as anything but "pretty." Moroni began with a slow intro, which Locke then joined and dialed up to mid-tempo; once their rapport was crystallized, Giuliani entered with the gorgeous theme.
The saxophonist's remarkable dexterity and originality were put beyond question Saturday, with Enrico Pieranunzi; what astonished here was his ardent passion for the music. It came in strongly in his virtuosic tendrils on "Stepping on Stars," but also in his aching power on Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" and nostalgia on Locke's "Beatrice Rose." His finest moment may have been in his own composition "My Angel," on which he stated a spacious melody (atop a march-like ostinato) of three or four short notes per measure, then gave a solo less spacious than haltingbut also tender and wonderfully moving. Giuliani is destined to become one of the greats.
Locke, in the meantime, used the four-mallet approach (a la Bobby Hutcherson) to play hypnotic swirls of color and sound: The whimsical, airy "Love is a Pendulum" had him making the sounds of wind in the same manner as Robert Johnson's guitar, and his figures on "Alone" transformed the piece into a graceful ballet. Yet he was also capable of rhythmic wonders, laying out a scatlike groove and progression on "The Peacocks" and bluesy bluster on Moroni's "Brother Alfred." Moroni was the bluesman of the trio, with a lightning-fast mix of blues and gospel riffs on "Brother Alfred," and masterful triplet phrasing on "My Angel."
Still, the musicians were at best when at their most empatheticbest captured on "Sword of Whispers," a tune Locke dedicated to one of his mentors, singer Jimmy Scott. To a very soft piano and vibe accompaniment, Giuliani began a quiet, haunting melody. Locke's solo was equally haunting: sweet, with a feeling of gratitude. Giuliani's was stronger and more concretely reflective, as though listing the lessons learned from the mentor. Moroni didn't solo, but his delicate accompaniment was steeped in reverence bordering on awe. Quite elegiac, considering the object of the tribute is still alive. Locke apparently agreed; he wiped away tears as the song concluded.
Although beautiful and emotional, the concert's sound was unevenMoroni's piano, frequently washed out by the vibes, could be heard only with considerable effort. While it's great that the performances will be preserved, the ideal miking for records may conflict with that for live performancesomething for Umbria Jazz to consider.
Wednesday was "A Funk and Soul Night" at Arena Santa Giuliana, featuring heavyweights Maceo Parkerand Solomon Burke. Knowing that the AACM was on at midnight, however, meant a less-intense prelude would be welcome. Hence, a return to the Non Stop Music at Giardini Carducci for an evening with Chip Wilson.
New Orleanian Wilson is a phenomenal guitarist, a true aficionado of the instrument who writes for Vintage Guitar magazine. He's also a singer-songwriter who describes himself as "classic and original American music: jazz, blues, folk, country, R&B, and funk." But that description reveals much less about his aesthetic than it seems.
If his performance at Giardini Carducci is any indication, Wilson is a folk musician first and foremostand an Americana folk musician at that. That can sometimes mean a generous mixture of blues, soul, and even pop, but his overall sound is the earthy, dusty, world-weary sound of the working-class American south, delivered on an acoustic guitar with the traditional folk chord changes and the technique of a virtuoso troubadour.
Wilson stood onstage a while, tuning, but at precisely 9:30 he let loose with a deft, but tightly controlled slide lick and began singing "When the Levee Breaks" in a tuneful but slightly raspy voice. His guitar playing, a stunning blend of country blues and gritty folk, was an early indication of the deep vein that he mines.
"That was from our city of Memphis," he explained, referring to the song's 1929 genesis by Memphis Minnie. "Maybe a little bit more Memphis music?" Then came Al Green's "Love and Happiness" with a similar blues-folk fusion, followed by Marc Cohn's iconic "Walking in Memphis" in a pure folk idiom. That did it for songs of the River Citybut Wilson hadn't even started yet on the Crescent City, a recurring motif for the rest of the night. He sang "The Ponds of Pontchartrain," an age-old Irish melody with 1850s lyrics; a world-weary original, "Buddy Bolden's Garden"; "Constantinople," about the New Orleans street; and closed with a medley of Big Easy brass band favorites: "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," "Make Me A Pallet on the Floor," and "I Bid You Goodnight." Each song was performed in Wilson's earthen folk style, with varying degrees of guitar pyrotechnics.
But that didn't mean he didn't change it up a little. Wilson also played an acoustic version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" that showed off his unbelievable fingerpicking, as well as the early blues "Country Boy" and "Low Down Blues" (which drove the crowd to stitches with the line "I know a gal lives down by the jail/Sign in her window says she's got great booty for sale.")
Wilson has played the last seven Umbria Jazz festivals, and this year plays nightly at both Giardini Carducci and Bottega del Vino. Otherwise he gigs regularly in New Orleans' French quarter. He believes it the best gig in the world ...but it's slightly sad that such an inspired, moving artist doesn't have a national spotlight.
"Signore e signori," the emcee told the midnight crowd of about 40 at Teatro Morlacchi, "AACM Great Black Music Ensemble!" And out stepped...a single woman.
"Obviously I am not the Great Black Music Ensemble," she said, "But I am a dedicated member. My name is Ann Ward and I am going to begin." With that she sat at the piano and created a warm, lovely melodic plain that was punctuated by strange pauses; it was the beginning of a genuinely transcendent musical experience.