Montreux Jazz 2009 Festival Journal
July 6: To Pea or Not to Pea
Auditorium Stravinsky lacked the throngs for Black Eyed Peas that had gathered for The Dave Matthews Band just a few nights before. Nonetheless, the crowd was ready to party. Besides a few studious youngsters who attended the Hancock-Lang Lang show, this was the only indoor concert with a strong youth presence.
The Peas arrived surfing skyward on the unprecedented success of their latest release The E.N.D. (Interscope, 2009). The album produced a pair of singles entitled "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling" that made the BEP only the eleventh act ever to hold the number one and two spots on Billboard's Hot 100 since the chart's inception.
The Peas brought a high energy act with big special effects, but as a live act, they are still growing in terms of achieving the heights of their recordings. The set was marred by technical problems from the beginning, but this unexpected event resulted in an impressive improvised free-verse rap that proved the strong roots of the quartet's rhyming abilities. Still, the group spent much of the concert's first half imploring a hollow response from a swarm that was there to dance, but the crowd received little inspiration from what emanated from the stage.
Frontwoman Stacey "Fergie" Ferguson is a charismatic performer whose personal trainer deserves a generous bonus. Ferguson is the face of the group, but in concert the foursome, including Will.i.am (William Adams), Apl.de.ap (Allan Pineda Lindo) and Taboo (Jaime Gomez), showed equivalent star power.
The second half of the show saved the night, beginning with the heavy thumps of "Pump It," from the hit-filled album Monkey Business (Interscope, 2005). Suddenly, the Stravinsky floor morphed into a hopped up mass that resembled an oversized childrens' jumping castle.
A strong string of familiar, inspiring grooves followed, and as the Peas roared down their closing stretch, they proved they were indeed one of the hottest acts currently touring.
George Duke Trio featuring Chaka Khan: Class Act
Considering the wide range of performers, perhaps George Duke best bridged between the genres of classical and progressive music. With a gig that could have been a tribute set, Duke traversed terrain that was both familiar and eye opening.
Duke had the perfect attitude for his aptitude. He looked thrilled and honored to perform in the intimate Miles Davis Hall, a demeanor mirrored by both his brilliant trio and the featured singer, Chaka Khan. The performers began as a gourmet, late-night snack kicking things off around 1 am, but they became a full on feast by their nearly 3 am conclusion. This superhero showcase, complete with fantastic four, stood proudly amidst far more heavily hyped acts.
Chaka Kahn may have lacked vocal nuance in some songs, but she had more than enough emotion to compensate for it. Khan's most powerful moments, and there were many, included "Take the A Train" and Billie Holiday's "End of a Love Affair," the latter piece taken from Khan's Echoes of an Era (Electra/Rhino, 1992). When she dedicated a surprising "To Sir with Love" to her late father, dry eyes were few and far between.
"I've worked with every diva on the planet, and Chaka is one that I love," said Quincy Jones after the show. "If God made a woman with a bigger heart and a better voice, he kept her for himself."
"Many years ago when I was messed up on drugs and undependable, Quincy and Claude were always there for me," mused Khan. With this blunt admission, perhaps Ms. Kahn revealed why she put so much soul into this particular show.
An appearance by George Duke surely didn't hurt either. Duke received a standing ovation as he walked on stage, then proved he deserved it. He hit all the right keys as he alternated from an ECL piano to a Yamaha Motif ES 8. Duke spent most of his time, however, on a majestic old Rhodes that looked as though it had been taken right off the set of the 1960s TV show "Mod Squad."
Rounding out the heroics were a dynamic duo of Mike Manson on bass, who managed to up the ante on a stage previously held down that evening by the bass stars SMV (Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten), and drummer Ronald Bruner. Jazz fans will soon hear much more from Bruner if he continues in a similar vein.
While Montreux does not feature widespread venues, like the Montreal International Jazz Festival for example, there were still plenty of free venues near the relatively small convention complex. The zany but highly skilled Flat Earth Society from the Netherlands made the hillside grass around Parc Vernex Bandshell a fine place to spend an afternoon. Meanwhile, the Marshall University Jazz Band proved that the American East Coast offers hope for the future of the genre. New York City was well-represented by The Virgins at the nearby Jazz Café.