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Live Reviews

Umbria Jazz: Days 7-10, July 16-19, 2009

By Published: July 27, 2009
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-10
The final days of the 2009 Umbria Jazz Festival were an extravaganza of sorts for lovers of the piano. Topping the must-see list was avant-garde innovator Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
, giving a solo concert on Friday at Teatro Morlacchi; but Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
Ahmad Jamal
b.1930
piano
and McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
also appeared, and for those with an ear to sophisticated pop music, Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach
b.1928
composer/conductor
also performed his compositions on piano.

The AACM Great Black Music Ensemble performed its last two concerts on Thursday evening, and George Benson

George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
, James Taylor Quartet
James Taylor Quartet
James Taylor Quartet

organ, Hammond B3
, and B.B. King
B.B. King
B.B. King
b.1925
guitar, electric
made appearances at Arena Santa Giuliana. Teatro Morlacchi featured such major figures as Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
, Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
, and John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
.


Chapter Index

  1. July 16—AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Program 5
  2. July 16—Burt Bacharach
  3. July 17—Cecil Taylor
  4. July 17—George Benson's "Unforgettable Tribute to Nat 'King' Cole"
  5. July 17—Ahmad Jamal
  6. July 18—McCoy Tyner Trio with Gary Bartz and Bill Frisell
  7. July 18—James Taylor
  8. July 19—Roy Haynes Trio
  9. July 19—B.B. King


July 16—AACM Great Black Music Ensemble, Program 5

The fifth and penultimate GBME concert featured two showcases. The first was for the Vocal Ensemble—at last!—whose work has had such a defining impact on their music. The second was the compositions of ensemble director Mwata Bowden, whose splendid ability to write and arrange for the full ensemble suggested a primary reason why he's its leader.

This time upon introduction, two additional musicians appeared: cellist Tomeka Reid, and singer Dee Alexander. Reid initiated a pizzicato walk on her axe, and Alexander dove into a song entitled "Beautiful Bird," with two long scats—one of which included Alexander doing bird songs (driving the point home by punctuating the line with "tweets"). When finished she introduced Saalir Ziyad, who did his own percussive scat (with lots of tongue-clicks) a capella. He then introduced Ann Ward, who hummed into the lyrics of "Blues in the Spirit," asked for audience fingersnaps, and introduced Taalib-Din Ziyad. He began with a drone that sounded like a didgeridoo, and moved into lyrics: "Peace is our natural state of being/happiness is our birth right... The beauty of life is from within, the beauty of life is all around."

The two bassists and percussionist Art Turk Burton soon took the stage, and as they joined Reid's comp, the vocalists began singing, "I'm calling, I'm calling you to join us." Upon which the entire band emerged in line from one of the side exits, playing their way up to their places and joining the vocalists on the same melody. The newly full arrangement was hyper-energetic, and its polyrhythms were intoxicating and genuinely exciting—feet were seen tapping throughout the audience.

The remainder of the show was Bowden's. At his command, trombones and flutist Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell
Nicole Mitchell
b.1967
flute
began rumbling, with trumpets commenting atop, then two magnificent and melodic solos from trombonist George Lewis
George Lewis
George Lewis
b.1952
trombone
and tenor Edward House. The Ziyads also took solos, Saalik accompanied by piano and Taalib-Din by the trumpets—which then veered elsewhere, poking and prodding each other as basses and drums established a funky, aggressive rhythm. Slowly other sections joined: trombones, strings, and flute; vocalists; trumpets. Mitchell soon stood for a featured solo on the flute that flat-out rocked. Next came violinist Renee Baker, playing in an entirely different key than the band; she was joined by the voices, who chanted "Are you getting caught up in the maze factor?" as the orchestra began a stop-and-start accompaniment.

As in Wednesday's midnight show, Bowden's work was a long one that could have been one piece or several; later movements featured Douglas Ewart with strings, an extraordinary feature for all three trumpets, and a polyphonic structure for the entire saxophone section. Concluding the concert, Bowden brought the entire orchestra to a crescendo and only then thanked the audience.

This afternoon concert had a difficulty that's been common to all the performances: The piano, violin, and cello were frequently lost in the ensemble roar. More attention can be paid to the sound balance. Nonetheless, this was likely the GBME's finest effort yet.


July 16—Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach
b.1928
composer/conductor
has always dwelled on the border of respectability and kitsch. Musicians, and jazz musicians in particular, always knew he was a great composer, but '60s and '70s audiences often regarded him as elevator music; it didn't help that his favorite lyricist, Hal David, was more often ridiculous ("What the World Needs Now is Love") than sublime ("Walk on By").


Hipsters have rediscovered Bacharach in recent years, introducing the venerable songwriter to a new generation. Yet Bacharach's packed-house concert Thursday night at the Arena Santa Giuliana made clear that he hasn't lost his kitschy taste over the years. As his opening act, for example, Bacharach selected Karima Ammar, a young Italian singer and erstwhile reality-TV star famous enough to drive the crowd wild without an introduction. Beautifully and unquestionably talented, Ammar nevertheless purveyed bland, soul-tinged pop with maximum histrionics. She sang Brian McKnight's "Should Have Been Loving You" and Michael Jackson's most saccharine ballad, "You Are Not Alone," though she did manage a credible performance of Billie Holiday's "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Still, it was not an auspicious beginning.


Nor did the cheese end there. Bacharach himself used a live violinist (Eliza Taylor), saxophonist (Dennis Wilson), and of course his trademark trumpet/flugelhorn (Tom Ehlen) against synthesized orchestra and godawful digitized horns—the recent tune "Go Ask Shakespeare" was the worst offender in the use of these. Taylor was the worst victim, since the synthesizers' use nearly always coincided with her parts. Bacharach also employed three vocalists; two, Josie James and Donna Taylor, were quite good, but John Pagano—except when singing backup—was far too slick and contrived, the kind of singer who might win American Idol. When taking the lead on "God Give Me Strength," "On My Own," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," he always began with enormous potential that he then squandered by oversinging.

In spite of all this, however, the greatness of Bacharach's music was not to be overshadowed. Nor was its cultural pervasiveness: So many of the man's compositions are hugely successful that he was able to build two 15-minute medleys around them, plus another short medley of his first four (obscure) hits. The longer medleys featured his pop hits ("Walk On By," "This Guy's In Love," "Always Something There To Remind Me"), the second his songs for films ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," "Alfie," "Best That You Can Do (Arthur's Theme)"). In between came a mix of older songs, like "Make It Easy on Yourself," and newer, like "In Our Time." Bacharach is not one of the best in his own band—he plays arranger's piano and sings in a wavering, gravelly voice—but the glories of his compositions overcame the worst of those hurdles.

In the end, perhaps the kitsch is part of Bacharach's appeal, alongside the harmonies and flugelhorn. One thing is certain: When the concert ended at midnight, this writer came back to the hotel and spent an hour re-listening to favorite Bacharach songs.


July 17—Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor's years-old remark that audiences should prepare for his concerts just as he did stirred some controversy; odd, because it's a moot point. There is nothing, including a back-to-back listen of all his recordings, that can prepare the uninitiated for the protean onslaught of a live Taylor performance. It's a mesmerizing, experience unlike anything else on planet Earth.



After three days of the Great Black Music Ensemble's Afro-centric decor on the Teatro Morlacchi stage, it was striking to see it adorned with only a single, luxurious Fazioli grand piano—and speakers, out of which boomed a recording of Taylor reciting a self-written poem with guttural mouth sounds much like those of the GBME's vocal ensemble. Then Taylor walked on, wearing a black tunic, black parachute pants, black-and-white sneakers, and a fat white tie; responding to the audience's ovation, he curtsied.





Then came six long pieces of Taylor's unique piano music, performed over 90 minutes. They had no form, per se—at least not one discernable to anyone but Taylor—though there were motifs recurring within pieces and sometimes throughout all of them. Taylor is particularly partial to dainty staccato figures at the very top of the keyboard (cf. Silent Tongues), which he used here as well. But by no means could it be said that he overall favored any part of the keyboard. Taylor used each of the 88 keys on a roughly equal level, the very definition of atonality, and in doing so spontaneously changed direction at any given moment. He would play a high, delicate lick, for example, that would then erupt in an all-encompassing hailstorm of notes, clusters, and thick chords; immediately following it would be a percussive figure on the keyboard's bottom.



Similarly, he moved through a battery of pianistic techniques: Taylor had the classic conservatory positioning, with graceful arms and wrists, but the fingers could move in elegant arcs, or pluck at the keys as though strings on a harp. He could also strike suddenly and quickly like a snake, mash five or six keys at once with the butt of his hands, or shake his arms and hands on the keyboard mightily as through engaged in a violent strangling. During the encore, he shaped his fingers into beaklike formations and drilled the middle range like a pair of angry woodpeckers.

There was no apparent rhyme or reason to what Taylor did, when. Yet there were countless genuinely melodic sections in these seemingly untamed pieces, tantalizing and supremely beautiful regardless of the level of noise within and around them.

Notably, though, this was not entirely improvised. Taylor had sheet music with him; indeed, the pauses between pieces were only long enough for Taylor to get out the next page. But this was not standard notation or anything like it; from the theater's floor seats, it appeared to be pages full of mad scribbling but surely had some sort of formal system. This man Taylor is not like you or me—thank God.


July 17—George Benson's "Unforgettable Tribute to Nat 'King' Cole"

The great jazz/jazz-pop guitarist George Benson has been touring his Nat "King" Cole

Nat
Nat "King" Cole
1919 - 1965
piano
tribute all year, but it's only half the story. "After we finish with the Nat Cole part of the evening," he promised at Arena Santa Giuliana, "We'll do a Benson party!" As a teaser, Benson opened the show with his instrumental hit "Breezin'"—which, in addition to being exactly what the title portends, is possibly the catchiest tune that anyone has yet played in any performance at Umbria Jazz.

Cole has long been a major force in Benson's musical life—and to prove it he played a tape of 7-year-old "Little Georgie Benson" singing "Mona Lisa" before grownup George delivered a rendition backed by his septet and the 27-member string section I Solisti di Perugia. Given the soulful yell on his pop records, it came as a shock that Benson does an uncanny impression of Cole. He even had the enunciaton down to a T, complete with the short vowel and long consonant in words like "men" ("Mona Lisa, mennnn have made you..."). It was eerie, made all the more a few songs later so when Cole's brother Freddy joined Benson onstage for a duet on "Biding My Time." He also duetted with Janey Clewer on "When I Fall in Love"; she was ever-so-slightly overwrought in her delivery, but made up for it with superlative command of a choir who backed him on "That Sunday, That Summer."

Benson worked through most of Cole's classics, including "Ramblin' Rose," "Smile," and "Nature Boy," which Benson himself hit with in 1977. (His own version would come in the "party" section.) Except for a slightly deeper tone in his voice, the performances were nearly flawless, "Too Young" a particular tearjerker. The orchestra somehow avoided the ever-present danger of schmaltz, too, and Benson even got to add in a boogie guitar solo on "Route 66."

Then, as promised, it was time to party. Benson brought out some slick jazz-funk stylings and his whining soul vocal for "Love X Love," "At the Mambo Inn," and "In Your Eyes," all big hits in the '70s and early '80s (particularly in Europe). A sea of heads and shoulders began undulating; Benson's Philadelphia-Soul-infected "Love Ballad" inspired one man in the front row to rush to the edge of the stage and begin dancing before security made him sit. In response, at the song's end, Benson announced that "you are allowed to get up and dance on this one. You hear me, my man?" he said directly to the dancer. The song was his biggest hit, "Give Me the Night," and brought everyone out of their seats. Benson even ripped a blues solo to end the tune. Of course he saved his signature song, "On Broadway," for the encore.

The Cole tribute was the superior portion of the set—beautiful, tasteful, and somehow, even with an orchestra, much less glossy than the jazz-pop. Still, even the slickest excuse to shake one's groove thing is handy.


July 17—Ahmad Jamal

Chicago pianist Ahmad Jamal is most renowned for his melodic innovations: substantial use of space, light melodic figures, and heavy and dominant left hand. Less discussed is his imaginative rhythmic conception—although it was on equally prominent display in Jamal's midnight concert at Teatro Morlacchi.



It's surely not incidental, for example, that Jamal's quartet adds a well-armed percussionist, Manolo Badrena, to the standard trio configuration of Jamal's piano, James Cammack's bass, and Kenny Washington - Vocals

Kenny Washington - Vocals
Kenny Washington - Vocals
b.1957
vocalist
's drums. Even before the music starts, the rhythmic component is already beefed up.

True to form, Jamal opened his set with the heavy left hand on his composition "After Fajr," with rumbling chords and Bach-like phrases, to which Cammack responded; then, when Badrena and Washington started in, he added three notes and stood up from the piano...to watch Badrena solo on congas, bongos, timbales, bells, tambourine, and a chain. Too, when he sat down again, it was to play a groove-heavy piano line with two-handed chords.

If percussion was a major factor on "After Fajr," later tunes would crystallize that factor and bring all players into the rhythmic matrix. "Balbec" was set to a subtle marching-band rhythm, Washington practicing rolls on the snare and hitting the hi-hat every two measures; Badrena's solo, on his various accessories, was the busiest and most interesting. "Portry" introduced a recurring element of instrumental doubling—in this case, Jamal and Cammack weaved their lines together, dodging regularly between unison and bass accompanying piano. Washington, too, was making novel use of his instrument's traditional rhythmic delivery: He entered "Portry" riding the hi-hat and shivering the ride cymbal.



The doubling continued throughout the set. Jamal and Cammack regularly played either in unison or in harmony on the percussive melodies, Jamal regularly contributing his part with the thick chords on his left hand. On the long, closing "Swahililand," it was Cammack and Washington who ended up doubling between bass and ride cymbal—an interesting development, considering that Jamal is notorious for the wide berth he gives his rhythm section. Apparently he has bred in his musicians a unique hearing of rhythm. Badrena was no small part, either, always ready with a lick or a polyrhythmic on his tambourine or timbales.





Yet Jamal's classic attributes as a melodist were hardly in the backseat. While his left hand hammered at low chords, his right fingers were contorting themselves around lovely high-pitched figures. His ballad "Flight to Russia" brought all his musicians to a wondrous lyricism, especially Jamal himself, with his thematic use of a three-note motif. Cammack was greatly mellifluous, too, with a two-handed solo line that also inherited Jamal's spaces; Washington and Badrena contributed beautiful fills on crash cymbal and bells against Jamal's delicate trills. "The Love Is Lost" balanced the crashing chords with soft meanderings that demonstrated why Jamal long had an (unfair) reputation for "cocktail jazz."

At 80, Jamal is as lyrical and moving a player as ever, but hearing his ideas about rhythm does change one's perceptions—it makes it all the more a crime that Ahmad Jamal is not a household-name jazz pianist.


July 18—McCoy Tyner Trio with Gary Bartz and Bill Frisell

There's no arguing that McCoy Tyner is one of the greatest and most influential pianists in jazz history. Nor is there any question that he has one of the tightest piano trios currently working, with bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt. And his guests, alto saxophonists Gary Bartz

Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
b.1940
sax, alto
and guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, are both brilliant. Which makes it all the more baffling that their concert together at Teatro Morlacchi was such a dud.



To be sure, none of the musicians had checked their chops at the door. Tyner's band came out swinging hard—especially Gravatt, who was loud and aggressive even on his ride cymbal (which he had mounted sideways so the top faced him); on "Angruna" he struck it dead center so it rang to the back of the hall. Cannon spent the evening making the most intricate bass lines and lyrical solos seem nimble and effortless ("Ballad for Aisha"), and Tyner himself played a dramatic improvisation in his unmistakable chord voicings on "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" and beautiful passing harmonies on his solo performance of Coltrane's "Naima." Bartz had a strong solo on "3" and Frisell's folk-rock leanings came powerfully into play on "Angruna."





What was lacking, however, was inspiration. Tyner, in particular, seemed listless and not terribly interested in where he was or what he was doing, and even his most forceful solos felt rote. Perhaps the musicians were deferring to the legendary leader, or his lack of energy was simply contagious, but none of the people on stage were able to add much spice to the performance. The only musician who seemed at all engaged was Frisell, the newcomer to the ensemble; as is his wont, he did his best to inject some dark and rootsy atmospheres into the proceedings. Nobody else seemed terribly interested, though.

There was one notable exception, one moment where the ensemble came alive: on Tyner's "Blues on the Corner." Bartz and Frisell took the theme in unison, making it resonate, and the guitarist took a stinging four-chorus blues solo, followed by a smokier, more thoughtful one from Bartz that nonetheless grew more ardent as it progressed. It was effectively a challenge for the other players, and Gravatt tackled it with a four stunningly melodic drum choruses that morphed every four measures. Next came Tyner, unaccompanied, with a gnarled solo that complicated the blues harmonies weirdly—and beautifully. After two such choruses, the band came back in for five more by the pianist, the last two with him working a key above the rest; Gravatt came back for two more choruses, followed by two more from Tyner in a short but awesome battle royale before the ensemble moved back to the head.

Alas, "Blues on the Corner" stood in sharp relief to the rest of the set, and only made it that much more disappointing. Even the greats, one supposes, have their bad days.


July 18—James Taylor

Disclosure: I grew up in James Taylor's home state of North Carolina, and graduated from his alma mater of UNC-Chapel Hill. Not only was "Carolina in My Mind" the state and the school's unofficial anthem, played at any and all public events, but when sick on campus I went to James A. Taylor Student Health Services. In those circumstances, getting sick of James Taylor is inevitable.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Taylor's sold-out concert at Arena Santa Giuliana proved a shot in the arm after the afternoon's dismal McCoy Tyner set. His brand of sensitive, vulnerable folk-rock reinforced just how much difference the artist's emotional investment makes in the delivery of his/her art. (Answer: all the difference in the world.)

Taylor's set, predictably, was a wall-to-wall greatest hits session. The "new" material consisting of songs from his 2008 Covers (Otis Redding's "It's Growing," Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog"); the next most recent songs were 1991's "Shed a Little Light" and "(I've Got To) Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That." The rest were the stone-cold classics, including his double signature songs of "Sweet Baby James" and "Fire and Rain."

Taylor didn't have a huge ensemble backing him, just a quintet (guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Johnson, keyboardist Larry Golding, drummer Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd
Steve Gadd
b.1945
drums
) and backup singers Arnold McCuller, Kate Markowitz, and Andrea Zonn—who also played gorgeous violin on several songs. Even these generally stayed out of Taylor's way: Though he was never entirely unaccompanied, his voice and acoustic guitar were almost always the focus on songs like "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and "Up on the Roof." Backup could be minimal, limited only to the singers on "You've Got A Friend," or full, as in the subtle country jam on "Country Roads." Either way, Taylor's mellowness remained intact—so much so that it could be amusing. His version of the nasty blues "Hound Dog" was odd in its gentleness, the backup singers softly chanting "Hound Dooooog" on the choruses; between songs, when rabid fans hooted loudly from the front, Taylor replied in a near deadpan, "Yeah. That's what I'm talkin' about. Right there."

Then, just when you'd forgotten he was capable of it, came "Steamroller Blues," a mean, Howlin' Wolf-style urban blues that had Taylor donning his electric guitar and growling happily into the mike. "I'm a CHURNING URN of BURNING FUNK," he hollered, barely the same man. Golding joined the proceedings with a greasy church-organ solo, followed by a jaw-dropping blues guitar from Landau that for one moment transported one and all away from the laid-back soft rock of the evening. "Shameful excess," Taylor acknowledged afterward.



Taylor's music, and his performances thereof, have not defied expectations for a good thirty years. His audience knows what he sounds like; Taylor knows what they want from him, and between those two trajectories surprises are rare. That need not be a bad thing. Why split hairs over how to deliver a message like "Shower the people you love with love?"

(As for myself, by the time "Carolina in my Mind" finished, I had a lump in my throat.)


July 19—Roy Haynes Trio

A number of drummers have a melodic quality to their playing, but rare is the musician who can make the traps sing the way Roy Haynes

Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
does. That's especially true when he has a tight and dexterous combo like his current trio, with bassist John Patitucci
John Patitucci
John Patitucci
b.1959
bass
and pianist Dave Kikoski}. (Umbria's program actually lists Haynes' regular pianist, {{Danilo Perez, as part of the concert, but an injury has prevented Perez from touring.) Their noontime concert Sunday at Teatro Morlacchi was, bar none, the best performance of the 2009 Umbria Jazz Festival.

Haynes came out looking incredibly cool in shades and a white jacket over black pinstriped shirt, clearly in fine spirits and ready for action; the same was true for his bandmates, even if they weren't so sharply dressed. After some individual exercises, they launched into "Sneakin' Around" swinging like nobody's business; Haynes' ride cymbal surely rivaled any other for the title of swingingest ever, and at one point he began tapping out the beat with both sticks on the hi-hat behind an intricate, relentlessly talkative Patitucci solo.





Kikoski hit "Sneakin' Around" with a showy but nonetheless superlative solo; on the mid-tempo "Reflection" he replicated the superlative without the showy. Patitucci, too, followed his earlier success, this time with fleet, nimble complexities that nonetheless showed a surprising lyricism. Haynes maintained his soft touch, riding the cymbals and giving off inventive but very light accents on the snare, almost as if he were playing brush; when it was his turn to solo, though, he fired off a machine-gun round on snare and kick with accents on tom and crash cymbals. Haynes' use of the bass drum is particularly remarkable: frequent and distinctive without overpowering.

"Easy to Remember," a ballad, was the closest the band came to impropriety—all three got carried away on the solos, amping up the speed and intensity without taking the tune's gentle setting into account. Haynes was the worst offender, but also the best: His solo played the toms with mallets, creating a timbre like kettle drums, and if his energy got the best of mood, moving into a marathon on the rims of the toms and the snare, he also seemed lost in his own thoughts, as though the drums were a vehicle for meditation. It was awesome, in the most literal sense. And Haynes also seems to have caught himself; he used the juiced solo to segue into the more upbeat "True or False."

Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays' "James" was the most nearly flawless of all the trio's tunes. Kikoski played the theme as a Ramsey Lewis-style, gospel-flavored jazz, and the solo Patitucci topped him with was sublime—not a note could have been better chosen or articulated. There were two other performances nearly as fine: "Trinkle Tinkle," in which Kikoski played stretched out, crashing chords that surely made Monk sit up, wide-eyed, in his grave, and the encore "Blues on the Corner," with Haynes' vocal ride dominating Kikoski's eight cool choruses and Patitucci's five fierce, in-the-pocket ones before Haynes himself charged forth with a single, macho break featuring the hard accents that Kikoski had placed on his keys. On the return to the head, Haynes chose the thematic route, playing Tyner's triplets on his skins along with Kikoski and Patitucci in a smart conclusion to the song and the show.

At 84, Haynes is the last veteran of the Charlie Parker quintets—still outplaying and outswinging drummers a quarter his age. If most gigs even approached this one's level of energy and thrills, we'd have world peace.


July 19—B.B. King

John Scofield

John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
's evening Piety Street set was awful —overcooked, contrived blue-eyed soul via 100-year-old gospel songs from New Orleans. This writer left very early in the set, not wishing to end the festival on such a low note... and knowing that an excellent capper to the fest was virtually guaranteed.



It's a rare thing indeed to be able to objectively call a person "the greatest living (fill-in-the-blank)." In the case of Riley B. "B.B." King, however, nobody will argue the label of Greatest Living Bluesman—certainly not since his only rival, John Lee Hooker

John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker
1917 - 2001
guitar
, passed away in 2001. But even Hooker never approached King's chops as a showman, which on Sunday night may even have surpassed his musical chops.

King, 83, has attained that special stature in which he can keep a packed house waiting and it only makes them love him more. In this case, at his scheduled start time he sent Tuck & Patti

Tuck & Patti
Tuck & Patti

guitar
out to open for him; then, some time after they had finished, it was King's backup band, minus its star, who hit the stage to perform three full tunes before the headliner's appearance. By the time he finally strutted out and shouted simply "HELLO!" the audience would have followed him off a cliff. The frenzy only heightened from there, when King picked up his beloved Lucille and let rip his classic overdriven, distorted guitar solos, including the notes he sustains for eight bars.

King's passion for the blues was equaled only by the range of styles he'd mastered. His first onstage tune, "Let the Good Times Roll," was church-ified soul blues, complete with gospel organ from Hammond player Ernest Vantrease; but there was also the waltzing "I Need You So," the urban Chicago blues "One More Kiss," some swinging instrumental blues, the flat out rocker "Every Day I Have the Blues," and even a Delta blues cut, the recent Grammy-winner "See That My Grave is Kept Clean." Inevitably, King also performed his biggest hit, the dark Memphis setpiece "The Thrill Is Gone"—easily the best performance of the show.



King's performance as master of ceremonies, however, was quite something too. He took the notion of intimate rapport to such an extreme that he actually stopped the show in the middle to converse one-on-one with a patron from Argentina. "Y'all give us a minute," he intoned into the microphone before talking to the gentleman about his trip to Italy. He also delivered gender-specific messages, oddly juxtaposed: after apologizing to women for hip-hop misogyny and singing them "You Are My Sunshine," he gave tips to the men about seducing the ladies by slipping vodka into nonalcoholic wine. But his charm carried the evening, particularly when he signed off with "a song to you, from my heart"—his "Guess Who?" ("Somebody really loves you—guess who?") The love was palpably reciprocated, specifically by an ovation that went on for ten full minutes after the conclusion; nobody wanted the show, and by extension the festival, to end.

Photo Credit

Giancarlo Belfiore for Umbria Jazz



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