Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, Saturday, August 6, 2011
The closing set on the Harbor Stage saw the young alto saxophonist Grace Kelly leading her quintet. Piano, drums, and bass, ushered in the opening measures. Kelly and trumpeter Jason Palmer worked the same melody on their horns. Palmer rang a low, repetitive note, that resonated with an almost rubbery tone, and then faded into silence. Drummer Bill Goodwin knocked at his kit and carried the groove. Kelly bent a note on her horn and then twisted a series of sounds into a melody line, leading the band through "Just The Way You Look Tonight." Light, airy, and crisp, this group evoked the classic sound that has become the Newport tradition. "I can't tell you how excited I am to be back at Newport," Kelly said to the audience.
From left: Doug Johnson, Grace Kelly, Jason Palmer
During the set, she brought special guest and fellow altoist Phil Woods to the stage. Kelly described Woods as "One of my inspirations and a legend," and named her latest recording, The Man With The Hat (Pazz, 2011), to honor him.
As Kelly's quintet closed the Harbor Stage, pianist and composer Randy Weston's African Rhythms Trio was poised on the Quad stageAlex Blake on upright bass and Neil Clarke on African percussion. As its name implies, the trio thrived upon rhythm, introducing rich textures of sound and melody around the groove. The set included the piano solo "African Lady," a journey across the burning sands with "3 Pyramids And A Sphinx," and "High Fly."
Blake brought a unique rhythmic and highly percussive quality to his bass playing. He aggressively plucked, strummed, and smacked a multitude of individual notes that created harmonic figures and introduced melody from the resounding depths of the instrument. At times he sang in a scat-like trance, entrancing the audience.
The milky haze that had greeted this Newport morning silently vanished during the day. Evening brought cooling temperatures and the scent of the salted air. Blake strummed at the bass while Weston danced lyrical piano notes around Clarke's percussive drumming. The tempo slowed. Seagulls crooned, accompanying the final measures of the music. African chants were the last sounds heard as the music was swallowed into the sea. Quiet would fall upon the stage, lone but for the notes of the gulls who had reached shore against a graying sky. Today, a potential storm paid no mind. Tomorrow would be an entirely different matter.