Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2011: Days 8-10
Billed as "Tri-C JamFest," this three-act show stretched out over four hours, giving the local contingent of Jam Nation more than its money's worth. Guitarist Will Bernard hit the stage first, backed by keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Simon Lott. Bernard ran his fat, muddy tone through bluesy groove paces, often augmenting his sound with slide or echoing effects that washed over and slithered between Medeski's skating vamps, until there was the sound of dual guitar lines. As much as outright drumming, Lott used his sticks to scratch loose cutting shivers from his cymbals, and employed a host of crackling, gurgling effect boxes to boot. But the trio left its biggest impression with it most straight-ahead number, a faith-in-the-trodden-dirt rendering of "How Great Thou Art," featuring Medeski's churchy Hammond B-3 and Bernard's high-lonesome, warbling slide guitar.
Dr. Lonnie Smith
Next came organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, accompanied by guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams, who also played on Smith's most recent recording Spiral (Palmetto, 2010). Not unexpectedly, the trio kept largely to that album's music for its set. Smith started off ceremoniously, standing to play his Hammond organ for several minutes as if presiding over an altar. And even after sitting, and throughout the show, he lifted a dramatically contorted hand and conducted the music as if at a high-volume, swirling revival. In such an environment, a gravely whispered pseudo-aphorism like "You know the nature of bees and hives," felt perfectly at home. Still, it was the music that lit souls, as Smith brought his singular brand of organ playing to bear on originals and standards alike, coaxing loose a mystical yet terse and economical cacophony of music that was at once pleasurable and unsettling. Kreisberg's fluent, John McLaughlin-like guitar support and Williams' steady but diverse drum attack sealed the deal.
But the crowd, no doubt, had come primarily to hear king jammers Medeski Martin & Wood. And judging by the host of grooving bodies in the seats, in the aisles and even in the grand opera boxes of the refurbished State Theatre, MMW's fans were feeling every bit of what their boys were layin' down. But after Smith's masterful conduction of jazz ectoplasm along the jammer's electric wire, MMW's show at times felt more like a soundscape grab bag. Scavenger percussionist Billy Martin lifted all manner of rattles, cowbells and whistles from his crate of tricks to augment the drumming on his trap set, and on the idiophonic pieces of metal laid out behind him. Bassist Chris Wood moved effortlessly between heavy funk electric bass, straight-up acoustic bass and every imaginable morphing of the two, at one point even scraping loose with his bow the cries of a dying cow (which is in no manner meant as an insult). For his part, Medeski kept up a steady flow of Hammond organ, piano and keyboard skating, plunking and slashing that gave the band's music its vibrant hum.
From left: Billy Martin, Chris Wood, John Medeski
Bernard and Smith joined in on one tune, further fleshing out the highly teased electric groove. And Bernard stuck around for the encore, the appreciative sendoff "F*** You Guys," one of the trio's 20 new tracks written to celebrate its 20th anniversary. But MMW were never more endearing than when they first pranced on stage and when they left it at the close of the scheduled set, wielding tambourine, double-bass and melodica like happy-go-lucky, wandering troubadours.
All Photos: Matt Marshall