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Live Reviews

Burlington Vermont Discover Jazz Festival 2010: In Service to the Community

By Published: June 29, 2010

Masefield, the once and future leader of The Jazz Mandolin Project, gladly deferred to Terry's clarinet playing and whistling (!), seeming to take as much pleasure in rhythm work and fills as those moments when he had the spotlight to solo. A man of independence and integrity, the mandolinist exhibited a remarkable humility in this duo setting, as did, to his credit, former school teacher Terry, who introduced a former student of his to play harmonica with the pair two-thirds through the set.

William Gallison elevated the synchrony of the musicianship to another level altogether with the sweet, slightly bluesy sound of his instrument and, as with the two principals, the smooth transitions were all the more remarkable to hear, given the paucity of rehearsal time in anticipation of this show. Every year Discover Jazz is marked by a performance or two (usually in the cozy confines of FlynnSpace) that transcends its unheralded status, and in 2010, the first of these indelible memories was the Masefield/Terry set.

Stephane Wrembel's tribute to Django Reinhardt on the hundredth anniversary of the latter's birth really couldn't compare, despite the daunting technical expertise and well-practiced presentation of the quartet. It's perhaps too disparaging to dismiss the group as a cover band, but the overweening facility with which they blew through the early segment of their set—much to the delight of an audience ready to be so pleased—had all the earmarks of a thoroughly rehearsed act conceived and executed to a level of expertise that quickly became less elevating or energizing than enervating through a lack of genuine fire in the playing. This was icy music, not Le Jazz Hot.

Gerald Clayton Trio
June 8, 2010

Gerald Clayton displayed a poise beyond his years as he began to play his acoustic piano this night, but this was merely a transferral of the dignified air he and his trio evinced as they walked to their instruments upon introduction. In performance, Clayton and company seem intent on assuming the most formal role of jazz musicians on every front, and the fearlessness, not to mention sheer delight, they showed as they played together suggests they are well on their way.

Rare it is to see so many grins of joy shared during the moments of instrumental interaction as evidenced by the interaction among the pianist, bassist Joe Sanders and fiery drummer Justin Brown. Indeed they had a right to be so expressive, as those intimate moments arose directly from an unusually distinctive approach to improvising: Clayton loves to turn melodies inside-out to discover as many nuances as he possibly can, while the rhythm section uncovers the beat intrinsic to the tune in order to render that rhythm more pronounced on their respective instruments. This trio has a remarkably tuneful means of deconstructing the material they choose to play, so it's little wonder they elicited such hearty response from the audience that comfortably filled the tiny venue. Gerald Clayton is the discovery of the 2010 Discover Jazz Festival.

Michael Zsoldos Quartet
June 10, 2010

The Michael Zsoldos Quartet radiated a quiet self-assurance as they took the stage in their classic jazz alignment (tenor sax, bass, piano drums) and played in that mode during most of their hour-plus set celebrating the release of Zsoldos' first album as a leader. The foursome became discernibly more assertive as they reached the end of their set, yet there were no fiery improvisations or truly extended renderings. Most takes, of original material from various sources and covers, including a Coleman Hawkins piece, were in the six to seven-minute range, comprising bright melodious playing from Zsoldos, pianist Miro Sprague and even bassist Martin Wind (whose instrument came though clearly in an impeccable house sound).

The latter applied more than a few rhythmic flourishes whether he was soloing or not, while "the lovely and talented" (Zsoldos' words) drummer Matt Wilson inserted his own slightly eccentric but nevertheless appropriately decorative touches within the ensemble and when he soloed. Whether Zsoldos, familiar as a regionally-based musician and teacher, becomes a genuine innovator remains to be seen, but genuine aficionados of jazz can never hear too much of this kind of rich, accessible acoustic music.

Jim Hall Quartet
Flynn Mainstage
June 11, 2010

If Discover Jazz 2010 had a designated artist-in-residence, Jim Hall might qualify. He appeared at a "Meet the Artist" session, guested with Sonny Rollins during Newk's concert on June 12, and he conducted his own performance the night prior, during which he hosted a brass section composed of Vermont musicians supervised by The University of Vermont's Alex Stewart.

The initial portion of the evening was devoted to pieces from the venerable guitarist's Textures (Telarc, 1997) and, to be fair, drummer Joey Baron stole the show, as much through the obvious delight he takes in playing as through the unconventional approach he takes to drumming. The arrangements, including the brass, with Hall on guitar (more as a table-setter than soloist) and bassist Scott Colley, featured Baron more than anyone, and the drummer took great pleasure in working his way around his kit—literally—spending as much time tapping its stands, the sides as well as the heads of drums and rubbing, as well as slapping or crashing his cymbals; it was hard to take your eyes off him (no small compliment inasmuch as the talented Colley is almost as tall as his double bass!).

The playing and selection of material from The Jim Hall Quartet allowed the strengths of all four men to become visible. The leader, for his part, established a gentle but incisive tone, his rhythmic accents virtually as important to the progression of the group interactions as his soloing. Though his instrument was always clearly perceptible, Hall prefers, as often as not, to approach the changes of tunes from an angle, and his accompanists follow suit: particularly notable in this respect was Colley who, especially on a Brazilian piece, allowed his insinuating style of playing to become even more insistent, in a steady rolling set of emphatic statements.

Saxophonist Greg Osby

Greg Osby
Greg Osby
took a similarly low-key approach to his participation, notwithstanding Hall's frequent mentions and praise of his presence. He was most often content floating comments into the ensemble interplay, thereby fostering the dialogue among his three comrades, so that when he stepped forward on Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
Billy Strayhorn
1915 - 1967
's "Chelsea Bridge," his declarative rendering of the main melody sounded that much more forthright and crisp.

More highlights than that flashed through the hour-long set, the understated magnificence of which culminated in a sharp joyous reading of Sonny Rollin's "St. Thomas;" in his intro to his musician friend's tune, as in his playing and that of his band, Jim Hall displayed a good humor and generosity of spirit that may have belied his frail physical appearance, but which stood as the foundation of guitar playing as fresh and imaginative as a musician (re) discovering the rewards of playing for an audience, like the one in attendance at The Flynn. Pity there were so many empty seats: this was not be to be missed but rather an occasion not soon to be forgotten, if ever.

Sonny Rollins
Flynn MainStage
June 12, 2010

The halting manner with which Sonny Rollins, nattily attired and topped with a gray and white Afro, took the stage belied a seemingly ravenous hunger to play, demonstrated right from the outset through the end of his near two-hour set. It was an appetite shared by his four bandmates—and special guest Jim Hall, who appeared near the end of the concert as perhaps its crowning moment.

"Newk" was careful to move around the stage whenever a sideman, such as long time bassist Bob Cranshaw, took a solo to make sure he did not obstruct the audience's view, but most of the time the venerable saxophonist was center stage, turning melodies inside out, searching out every possible nook and cranny of melody and its connection to the internal rhythm of the song. Approaching eighty years, Rollins played with astounding vigor and ingenuity, all the while enjoying the spirit of the moment(s) on stage far more than his staid appearance at Discover Jazz in 2003.

But the beauty of this much anticipated event was that although the focus was on Rollins (and rightly so), as the evening unfolded it was not all about him. And not just for those rarefied moments when he and guitarist Hall demonstrated the wisdom of their years and a mutual generosity of spirit that manifest itself in the sharing of changes on two numbers just before the conclusion of the encore-less performance. Sonny Rollin's band plays in a near-perfect symmetry, its instrumentalists complementing each other in ways that suggest why the leader selected them.

Guitarist Russell Malone might have warranted more chances to solo, except that when you heard how his construction of melody lines was reflected in Cranshaw's bass patterns at any given moment, it was almost preferable to listen to the indivisible pair in the background. Likewise percussionist Sammy Figeora and drummer Kobie Watkins: the latter's preference for the well-placed downbeat meshed so tightly with the recurring pop of the former's congas that there was a steady current of symbiotic rhythm emanating from the two performers for the duration of any given tune throughout the performance.

Rare it is that a much-ballyhooed show meets expectations in any context, but Sonny Rollins' performance with his band at 2010 Discover Jazz exceeded expectations by a quantum leap or more, leaving the appearance of The Levon Helm Band in the position of offering the ideal encore for this annual Burlington musical milestone.

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