52nd Monterey Jazz Festival Presents Best of Old and New
Jason Moran & the Bandwagon was first up on Lyon's Stage in Sunday's piano celebration. Moran was commissioned for a composition by the festival, and he provided "Feedback" as his piece. He said the number was inspired by Jimi Hendrix's creative use of feedback in 1967's Monterey Pop Festival. Indeed, Moran used feedback but not jarringly so. Later we caught him up close on Bill Barry Stage.
Known for exploring the boundaries of jazz, the prodigiously talented Moran rewards listeners' close attention. In his set, several numbers were preceded by audio tape. Very effective was a piece that began with a recording by Billie Holiday of Bernstein's "Big Stuff." After a couple minutes, her voice fades, and Moran and his men come in, taking the tune to another level. Lifting it one era to the next, one might say.
However far out Moran goes, he keeps a toehold in the mainstream. He may be pounding away with crashing atonal chords, then a few seconds later, say, a hint of Monk is heard. Then at the finish it dawnsyes, I think that's "Bemsha Swing."
The last bit was the best. The segment started with an old recording of King Pleasure re-creating a James Moody sax solo in vocalese. After a bit, Moran comes in and improvises over Pleasure's improvisation. Here, we didn't ponder the possible paradox; just fascinated, we enjoyed. His cohorts, Tarus Mateen, bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums, always on the same wave length, were indispensable.
Following Moran, Brubeck came on Lyons Stage with his usual group: Bobby Militello, alto sax, Michael Moore, bass, and Randy Jones, drums. At 88, Brubeck has naturally slowed down a bit. There is little of his bombastic chords as in days gone by. Now he has settled into a more relaxed, lightly swinging mode. During his set he gave a salute to Ellington with a medley including "Mood Indigo," Duke's Place," and "Take the A Train." As ever, Militello's alto took swinging solos and gave lively backing.
Across the fairgrounds on Bill Berry Stage another veteran pianist, Toshiko Akiyoshi, showed that, at 80, she really is as good as ever. A Bud Powell protege, former band leader and arranger, she vigorously attacked the piano, setting a lightning fast tempo on her "Long Yellow Road." Her co-leader, husband Lew Tabackin, was peerless on tenor and flute. On Akiyoshi's "Autumn Sea," Tabackin's flute evoked rustling breezes while drummer Mark Taylor provided Kabuki flavor. The band also included the wonderful Peter Washington on bass. He and Tabackin collaborated on Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism," the tenor getting almost in the face of the bass. While soloing, Tabackin is constantly in motion, rocking back and forth, roaming the stage; he gets into it with his whole body.
Cutting-Edge Pianists at Gallery
In the intimate Coffee House Gallery, piano is king. In all years, this is the place to see exciting new artists with each grouping having the stage for the full evening. This year, we managed to at least catch a segment each evening.
Not to over-praise, but we were blown away by 23-year-old Jonathan Batiste. Wonderfully talented, with technique to spare, his influences seem to encapsulate jazz history from Scott Joplin to Oscar Peterson to Monk. With his grouptwo saxophones, bass and drumseach tune turned into a suite with various movements. For example, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," went from a jazzy beginning, into a swirling atonal middle, winding up in a haunting evocation of America's pastime. Everyone was moved. Then, leaving the audience beaming, he took Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" rag through several movements. We should be seeing a lot more of Batiste.
In the Gallery Saturday, we took in a few minutes of the very tasty music of the Peter Erskine/Alan Pasqua Trio. It was interesting to see how master drummer Erskine molded the three into one. Including Derek Oles on bass, it was a case of the sum of the parts adding up to more. On Sunday Vijay Iyer and his trio held forth in the Gallery, furthering the cause of piano exploration.
As said before, when one comes down to it, a lot of great sounds are necessarily missed over the weekend. On the Garden Stage, for example, people urged us to see the Alfredo Rodriquez Trio from Cuba and the New Orleans All-Stars, featuring Cyril Neville. And, last but not least, on Sunday influential pianist Chick Corea closed out the festival, appearing with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. But we could stay no longer. That is the way it is in Montereycan't do it all.