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Live Reviews

DC Jazz Festival Perseveres Through Sixth Year

By Published: July 13, 2010
One might think it would be hard to follow these three acts—either their combined musicality or energy. But leave it to Hargrove to overcome the challenge. Clad in all white—from thick rimmed sunglasses to converse high tops—Hargrove hit the stage with a bang, racing his big-band, dressed in contrasting all black, through a rambunctious, thoroughly hip opener that threatened to blow the roof off. Not only was the band loud, it was truly big, comprised of everything from a powerful frontline, to guitar, to congas. Combining traditional swing with urban grooves and modern textures, Hargrove blasted through one tune after another, all the while adding a level of showmanship that could have come straight out of a Cab Calloway playbook. Hargrove strode across the stage with commanding steps, he twirled on his heels, he conducted with big, sweeping gesticulations, heralding in finales with a leap and arms held wide as the stage lights flashed. Fortunately, the quality of the music more than matched Hargrove's flare and the combined effect of the swinging grooves and Hargrove's sparkling solos left the crowd clapping and shouting for more.

Asked about his multi-faceted participation in the festival, Hargrove made clear that his engagement with the event arose from his respect for festival organizer Charles Fishman. "I've known Charles Fishman for years. Me and him go back to the days when he was working with Dizzy. So that's really it. Whenever he's doin' something, I try to stay actively involved, because he's one of the few people left who really believes in the music... I am just glad to be part of something that represents something real, that has real musical roots."

This same sentiment of camaraderie was reflected in the festival's closing concert at the Kennedy Center, the presentation of a work commissioned specifically for the festival and performed by festival artistic advisor and long time friend of Fishman, Paquito D'Rivera. Titled "The Jelly Roll Morton Latin Tinge Project," and the result of an NEA Chamber Music grant, the project featured new arrangements of Morton composition by music director Michael Philip Mossman
Michael Philip Mossman
Michael Philip Mossman
. Performed by D'Rivera, Mossman, percussionist Pernell Saturino, a string quartet, and a flamenco dancer, the series of arrangements explored the Latin influence on Morton's original works. Revealing technical mastery and a deep appreciation for jazz music's complex origins, the evening could have suffered from undo pretention. However, in keeping with D'Rivera's inimitable style the whole affair resonated with humor, enjoyment, and a certain casual artistry that drew the audience in to the admittedly somewhat esoteric endeavor. Particularly engaging were the cleverly arranged renditions of Jelly Roll Blues, on which Rivera gave a classy, blues tinged solo, "Black Bottom Stomp," and the evening's piece de resistance, "Wild Man Blues." On this last not only did each of the strings participate in a round of solo trading, but the reason for the flamenco dancer's attendance finally became clear as she stomped and kicked in time to the beat, her body twisting sensually as if tied by invisible strings to Rivera's clarinet.

A satisfying conclusion to the festival, the evening's music fulfilled the all-inclusive nature of the DC Jazz Festival which provided audiences access to everything from cutting edge experimentation, to traditional jazz, to the classical-jazz blend of the Morton project. More telling, perhaps, was the sense of friendship and community that permeated all these events. Certainly, the DC Jazz Festival would benefit from expanding its repertoire even further and perhaps could rely a little less on Fishman's long-standing friendships to fill out the roster, but in the end it is hard to complain about music of this quality delivered with such honest graciousness. For unlike at other, bigger festivals, the DC Jazz Festival makes one feel a part of the show and the two weeks' of events seem more an invitation to take part in Washington's evolving musical scene than a one-time happening.

Photo Credit

Liz Medina Chiomenti

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