Kurt Elling Highlights Tanglewood Jazz Festival
The order of the day is usually straight swinging, with Pizzarelli's fine quartet playing a variety of well-known songs that the hosts run through with grace and ease. The guitarist's latest album is a Duke Ellington tribute "Rockin' In Rhythm" (Telarc, 2010) and some of the music came from that, like "C Jam Blues, "Perdido" and a blending of "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The couple's collaboration on "Haven't We Met," a Kenny Rankin tribute, and a merger of "Killing Me Softly" with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" were executed in fine fashion. The couple is always in much on such things. It's always fun as well as high quality.
After Monheit's spot, which featured "My Romance" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me," he eldest Pizzarelli, Bucky, joined the group for more swinging fun. Father and son together on guitars are exquisite. They both play with taste and chops and swing like mad. The killed "Nuages" together.
The matching of James and Daniels is called "Broadway Boogie," but the name doesn't seem to have much to do with repertoire. Still, Daniels on clarinet and tenor sax was in good form, especially on the former where his tone is so rich and his execution so distinct. The James original "Mood Swing" had a waltz-like feel and Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans" was a bluesy pleasure. Daniels full-bodied clarinet work was well suited for the Nawlins feel and bassist James Genus got a chance to flex his considerable solo muscles. An arrangement of "Makin' Whoopee" took the song far from its path, into a funkified statement where James sparkling piano style was put too good use.
The Basie organization is still very, very tight, brash and as swinging as ever. They reached back into their rich musical book to present hits like "Shiny Stockings," "One O'Clock Jump," "All of Me," and "Lil' Darlin'" as well as arrangements by people like Frank Foster ("Blues in Hoss' Flat"). Each has the distinctive swinging style and features some outstanding soloists, like trumpeters Mike Williams and Scotty Barnhart, trombonist Clarence Banks, and Doug Lawrence and Marshall McDonald on sax. Dave Glasser, alto sax, was back with the and blew a couple hot, hot solos. Pianist Tony Suggs does a good job of playing that economical Basie-style piano that contributes to the band's unique feel.
Carmen Bradford, the last vocalist to be hired by Basie himself, brought her huge, soulful voice to the proceedings for three numbers. She got emotional talking about her pleasant years when she was 23 (she's now 50), and belted out a grand "I Love Being Here With You" that summed up her feelings. Her powerful voice suitedhell, it was needed to keep up withthe power of the band.
For director Bill Hughes, who joined Basie in 1953, it was close to his last gig in that position. He said he's stepping aside for his son, Dennis, to take over. Hughes is part of the lineage of leaders after Basie's death that includes Thad Jones, Foster and Grover Mitchell.
Saxophonist Brandon Wright was the best of the lot at a small tent venue that features younger players. Originals like "Free Man" and "Odd Man Out" were good tunes with well crafted solos. The latter was a tribute to the old Blue Note Records days in the 50s and definitely had that feel. Trumpeter Alex Norris was outstanding on trumpet, playing flowing melodic ideas with a good tone. Wright's ballad feature, "Here's That Rainy Day" was sweet, hearty in tone and arresting in sentiment.
The Tanglewood Jazz Festival is a great injection of great music for the Berkshires. A grand setting for grand music and musicians.