Litchfield Jazz Festival 2009
Pianist Dena DeRose's, joined by Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums, started off with several songs featuring DeRose on vocals. DeRose's voice has a light, fluid quality which is easy on the ear and was ably supported by Wind and Wilson with whom she has worked for quite a while. Because of this, there is an almost visible musical connection between the three. Part way into the set, the trio was joined by Henry Johnson on guitar who showed off his fast and furious fingerwork on an up-tempo version of "My Shining Hour." Also featured on this was Wind doing a brilliant arco solo on the bass and Wilson's solid and inventive drumming. It was at this point that trumpeter Claudio Roditi appeared on stage to play a bossa nova called "If Nothing Else." Roditi plays with a warm, full tone, knows how to build a solo and just about talks to you with his phrasing. Guitar, piano and bass solos augmented Roditi's lead. Roditi followed this with several other songs including one of his originals ("Blues For Ronnie") and Al Cohn's "No More." Before the set was over, DeRose sat alone at the piano to deliver a sensitive vocal on "Two Different Worlds." Closing out the set was the evergreen "Green Dolphin Street" with everyone with DeRose swinging at the piano along with everyone else.
The Houston Person Quartet (Person on sax, Stan Hope on piano, bassist Jon Burr and drummer Chip White) tendered their first appearance at the Litchfield Jazz Festival. Person, a global performer as a leader and as a sideman, has an extensive history of recordings as well. Starting off with "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," Person went on to deliver a most soulful reading of Tadd Dameron's killer song "If You Could See Me Now." Person is a master of many styles including his trademark soulful hard bop. His partnership with the great vocalist Etta Jones gives him the advantage of knowing how to play the lyric, a talent he also displayed when he played "Since I Fell For You" and gave a sensitive reading to "Too Late Now" later in the set. Highlights here also included drummer White's mallet work and bassist Burr's arco solo on the title samba from "Black Orpheus." The set also included everybody wailing on "Lester Leaps In" where White delivered an explosive drum solo. (This was the third time "Lester Leaps In" was played at the festival by different groups which leads one to wonder. The most obvious explanation for its multi-inclusion seems to be the upcoming 100th birthday of "The Prez" later this month.) The set closed with a foot stomping blues on which everyone also wailed.
The Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band closed out the festival on a high note. With Sanchez at the congas, this ensemble continues the tradition of the great Latin jazz bands that used to play the New York City Palladium in the fifties. Incredibly danceable, the music from this organization features a tight horn unit along with the necessary percussion. Playing a selection of jazz standards (i.e. "One Mint Julep" and Horace Silver's "Silver's Serenade") and Latin standards such as Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," the band's driving rhythms finally got part of the audience up on their feet. With Sanchez exhorting everyone to get up and dance, the evening ended with a lot of empty seats and a lot of salsa dancing feet in front of the bandstand.
Kudos to Vita West Muir (founder and executive artistic director), her staff and the devoted crew of volunteers for organizing and pulling off one of the best straight-ahead jazz festivals on the map. This reviewer looks forward to next year's fifteenth annual Litchfield Jazz Festival when the hills of Connecticut will be alive again with the sound of jazz!