Umbria Jazz: Days 7-10, July 16-19, 2009
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 improprietyall 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 sublimenot 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 quintetsstill 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.
John Scofield'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 Bluesmancertainly not since his only rival, John Lee Hooker, 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 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.