53rd Monterey Jazz Festival: A Distinctive New Orleans Flavor
To summarize the high spots of the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival would certainly take more than one lead paragraph. From Sept. 17 through 19 at the Monterey, California, Fairgrounds, there was a pervasive New Orleans spirit in the air and the music. This was emphasized by the appearances of Trombone Shorty on Saturday afternoon, and Harry Connick, Jr. on Sunday night. And then there was singer Dianne Reeves, featured as artist-in-residence, who made key appearances on each of the festival's three days. There was also the undeniable impact of trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and his wonderful big band.
These figures stand out but, of course, there was much more to hear from the many great musicians who performed at the five main venues at the fairgrounds: the large, outdoor Jimmy Lyons Stage (also simulcasted in the barn-like Jazz Theater), and smaller, outdoor Garden Stage; the mid-size, indoor Dizzy's Den and Night Club; and the small, intimate Coffee House Gallery. Having this much jazz at a fan's disposal was good, of course, but it was also frustrating. Overlapping schedules called for decisions, and some favorites had to be missed.
Lyons Stage Headliners: Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Harry Connick, Jr., and Others
On Friday night, trumpeter Roy Hargrove kicked the festival off with his explosive 17- piece group. In perfect unison, the group shifted mood and texture, with a nod from Hargrove. Leading with trumpet in hand, he took solos in his inimitable stylein all tempos and ranges, always in the groove.
Fired-up vocalist Roberta Gambarini came on at the half-way point, charging into the Spanish lyrics of "La Puerta," followed, in a mellow mood, with "Every Time We Say Goodbye." Hargrove accompanied with his soulful horn. Many Lyons Stage attractions later perform in one of the small spaces, with Hargrove and his band in returning to Dizzy's Den later that same night.
On Saturday night, pianist Billy Childs' Quartet led off, in collaboration with Kronos Quartet. The festival commissioned Childs to write and perform his Music for Two Quartets. Despite its primary roots as a classical string quartet, Kronos Quartet intermingled with Childs' Quartet, into a swinging combination, galvanized by drummer Brian Blade. Childswho also wrote the orchestrationsand melodic alto/soprano saxophonist Scott Wilson, perfectly complemented Kronos' strings.
Later, Dianne Reeves came on with her quartet, featuring pianist Peter Martin and guitarist Roberto Lubambo. Coping with sound problems at first, she soon hit her stride with "Misty" and "Windmills of My Mind," sounding better than ever. Further establishing herself as successor to the late, great Sarah Vaughan, Reeves hit the sultry low notes with aplomb and effortlessly soared to the higher register.
As artist-in-residence, Reeves spent time over the year working with student musicians. On Sunday afternoon, she joined the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and was particularly good on "Skylark," her voice floating above the band's lush trombone cushion. That same night, she sang with guitarists Russell Malone and Lubambo in what promised be a particularly tasty show.
Saturday afternoon is traditionally the blues day, with an audience primed for a celebration, and it certainly got it in the hands of party animal Trombone Shorty and his revelers.
Harry Connick, Jr.
From New Orleans' historic Treme district, Troy Andrew is the leader's given name. At 24-years old, he stands upfront, leading the charge with his extroverted trombone in a lively, unrestrained onslaught of blues funk. This led to the high of James Brown's classic "I Got the Feeling," featuring a romping tenor sax solo from Tim McFatter. At one point, guitarist Mike Ballard entered the fray with a high energy solo, hopping and skipping across stage. He became so overcome with the spirit that he fell to the floor, finishing on his back, as band members took instrumental licks in his face to revive him. It was that kind of showcontrolled frenzyand the crowd ate it up.
The most effective part of the afternoon came, however, at the end of Shorty's set, with a medley best described as Dixieland funk: a gumbo, starting with "When the Saints Go Marching In," which led to Shorty's imitation of Louis Armstrong. The climax came with the irresistible theme from HBO's Treme, a television series in which Trombone Shorty had a recurring role
The standing ovation went on for minutes, with the crowd conquered and more. Shorty and the band were slated to play in the smaller outdoor Garden Stage later that afternoon, and people immediately started grabbing seats there.