Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival: June 25-26, 2011
The Bad Plus was working Never Stop (E1 Entertainment, 2010), its first all-original recording. They've been together a while now and the synergy among drummer David King, bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson was strong. They stretched the rubber band of the trio and it snapped back when they needed to. It was thoughtful music but still had a lot of guts.
On the other hand, Donald Harrison always plays with guts and feeling, but his set called A Night in Treme, after the HBO series, wasn't as exciting as when he carries his own band and plays what he calls "nouveau bop." This band, capturing some of the tradition of New Orleans, featured New Orleans Indians, from which Harrison is descended, and the singing of Cyril Neville. Entertaining in spots, it didn't always play out with anything that could be called special. More fun and funky was Brian Mitchell, whose résumé includes playing piano with Levon Helm of The Band. The pianist had a sleek band with percussion, keyboards bass and trombone. They were full of blues and funk and swing.
Mitchell called to mind Dr. John, but without as much rasp in the voice. "Shake That Thing," and "Love Don't Mean That Much To Me" had toes tapping and heads bouncing.
Pedrito Martinez also knew how to get the feet moving, as most Latin bands seem to do. It was a small band though. Alvaro Benavides played percussion with the leader and they were joined by keyboard and bass. Everyone sang. But they cranked out high energy Latin music with not much jazz. Hips were shaking as well as heads.
Saxophonist Tia Fuller has been rising on the scene and with good reason. She's a smoking player with all the grasp of bebop and the heart to light it up. She always brings the fire. Her sister, Shamie Royston, is also a fine musician, playing remarkable piano, and Rudy Royston played superlative drums. The result was a tight, grooving, burning band.
Bringing a different kind of fire, more smoldering, was trumpeter Rebecca Coupe Franks, who played a set of interesting original material, like "Hugs From Heaven" (for her late father), that was marvelously carried out by Luis Perdomo on piano, Tani Tabbal on drums and Lew Scott on bass. Perdomo's fleet fingers are always a treat; tasty and dazzling at the same time. Franks showed a nice tone and good chops on her straight-ahead jazz compositions. She also sang a couple numbers, which wasn't a good choice.
Singing is the choice of Hilary Kole, and the New York City club star was in fine form, despite struggling with a cold. She has a style that straddles jazz and cabaret, but she's been doing an awful lot of jazz gigs and it shows. Her phrasing, and even her scatting, was as much jazz as just about anything else. She articulated and swung, and knew how to get feeling out of a song without being maudlin and without forcing it. It was a swinging set, as her voice ran like syrup over songs like "Better Than Anything," "Get Outta Town" and other standards. John Hart's sparkling guitar solos added a lot to the good feeling.
Hilary Kole and John Hart
A couple great jazz singers took the main stage during he weekend. Dee Dee Bridgewater did a set of music honoring Billie Holiday. Her voice is always on target, it seems, with a strength that kind of sneaks up on the listener. She has a strong stage presence and grabs the audience before opening them up to her stories.
Dianne Reeves is another strong-voiced jazz singer, along the lines of Sarah Vaughan, and was part of the Sing the Truth! act, along with Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright. Billed as a tribute to Odetta, Miriam Makeba and Abbey Lincoln, it was also a tribute to women in general, taking songs from a huge gamut of female singers like Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman, Holiday and others. All three were in good voice in an uplifting performance. Reeves, particularly, was shining on "Throw It Away" of Lincoln's, whose popularity among jazz singers is because she was such a strong songwriter, and it's always a good thing when tribute is paid to this late, great artist. The band, featuring Geri Allen, bassist James Genus, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and guitarist Romero Lubambo, was top notch, providing a perfect platform for the vocalists.