Litchfield Jazz Festival 2009
July 31-August 2, 2009
For two and a half days this past weekend, jazz invaded Connecticut with the arrival of the 14th Annual Litchfield Jazz Festival. This year, in a new home on the Kent School grounds in Kent, Connecticut, this major musical event, hosted by WBGO broadcaster and jazz journalist Michael Bourne, presented what seemed to be "a cast of thousands" of jazz artists geared up to play their best for an audience eager to hear them. The event, usually staged outdoors under a big tent and on the grass, wound up being moved indoors due to too much rain and six inches of water under the tent. Fortunately, the school's hockey rink on the grounds was able to be turned into an indoor concert venue. This minor miracle was accomplished in hours by the festival staff and many volunteers. This reviewer covered 11 of the 13 concerts presented and the descriptive moments follow.
Friday, July 31st
The evening's opener was the Lewis Nash QuintetNash on drums, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, pianist Renee Rosnes and Peter Washington on bass. The group's first offering was Thad Jones' "Ain't Nothing New" which featured a smoking solo by Pelt. A latin treatment was given Jimmy Heath's "Ellington's Stray Horn," where Greene's soprano sax took the lead. Rosnes and Nash had a connective chorus which drew applause before the end of the solo. Rosnes then supplied a lovely piano intro to Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye" (a song that is not done enough). Greene added a melodic solo on tenor, followed by Pelt on muted trumpet. Notable also was Washington's bass work on Monk's "Eronel" which was punctuated by drummer Nash. Nash, who is one of today's drummers most in demand for his all-around musicianship, really got a chance to step out on the closing tune, "The Highest Mountain"
Vocalist Jane Monheit, who appeared at the Litchfield Jazz Festival early in her career in 2001, was next on the menu. Joined by Michael Kenan on piano, Neal Miner on bass, Joe Magnarello on trumpet and husband Rick Montalbano on drums, Monheit dished up a set of standard and classic jazz tunes for her enthusiastic fans. Monheit has a good vocal instrument and was in fine voice singing and scatting her way through the well-paced set. One of the highlights was a slow tempo rendition of Leonard Bernstein's "I'm So Lucky To Be Me" with only Kenan's piano behind her. Then there was the up-tempo "Twisted" Wardell Gray bebop favorite and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Waters Of March," which she sang with the English lyrics. The band delivered solid support behind her with Magnarello doing some tasty fills on the trumpet. Monheit closed her set with a nostalgic visit, Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow" and another standard from the moviesIrving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek"as an encore.
Saturday, August 1st
High noon brought on the Latin beat with Cuban drummer Dafnis Prietoand his Si O Si Quartet. The quartet included Prieto, Peter Apfelbaum on sax, Manuel Valera on piano and Charles Flores on bass. The music was all original since Prieto has a history of creating music for dance, chamber ensembles and, of course, his own bands. The focus of this set was on the leader's drumming, which took on the character of a start/stop rhythm pattern rather than straight-ahead time-keeping. On one song the piano carried a constant rhythmic pattern and Prieto played the punctuation, his kit sounding almost like timbales. Apfelbaum contributed several interesting solos, and both Valera on piano and Flores on bass did their part to deliver an exciting set.