16th Litchfield Jazz Festival: Kent, CT, August 5-7, 2011
The late Ray Charles was an electrifying blues and jazz creator, and a tribute by New Orleans singer/keyboardist Davell Crawford, was a thrill. Crawford, too, comes out of the black church tradition, and his melismatic renditions of hits from the early R&B to later country ditties and the classic "Georgia On My Mind" were wild, uninhibited masterpieces with no hint of copycatism. Crawford jumped from piano to B3 organ to electric keyboard during the set, which concluded with the riveting "Drown in My Own Tears" and "America the Beautiful."
The irrepressible Roy Haynes closed out Saturday, conducting a master class in drumming at age 86, with help from his much younger but no more lively Fountain of Youth quartet.
Singer/pianist Dena DeRose had Matt Wilson on drums and Martin Wind on bass for Sunday's eye-opening set. DeRose's cool and flexible voice stretched and shaped lyrics on her imaginatively chosen repertoire"Blue and Green" set words to a Miles Davis classic, "Detour Ahead" brought new life to the Johnny Frigo standardand her pungent chords on piano were apt. She closed with "Imagine," the John Lennon call for peace; it had particular resonance as news came of the helicopter disaster in Afghanistan.
Emcee Michael Bourne, of WBGO in Newark, N.J., had telling anecdotes about most of the performers, none more spot-on than his introduction for organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. Bourne described a nightclub date when Smith started a tune "as softly as a baby's breath" and amped up to "earthquake" intensity. Then Smith followed that script to a T, building a slow blues relentlessly as Jonathan Kreisberg's guitar skittered along.
Matt Wilson's quartet was augmented by a string quartet that included his wife, Lisa, on violin, for an hour of absorbing musicsome classical, some avant-garde jazz, some klezmer, some Bollywood, and a final medley of "Afternoon Delight" and "All You Need is Love" that involved a bubble machine, an open jam for other musicians at hand and an audience sing-along. Who says jazz can't be fun ?
Joe Lovano's Nonet was another wonderful group put together by the tenor sax giant, featuring lush orchestrations for the four-saxophone frontline (plus trumpet and trombone), The "Birth of the Cool Suite" comprised three timeless tunes from that landmark Miles Davis recording of six decades ago, arranged by the noted Gunther Schuller with meaty solos by all concerned.
Jimmy Heath's big band wrapped up the festival in fine fashion, roaring through standards and originals as the 84-year-old leader radiated joy in his conducting and in his several solos on tenor and soprano. The highlight was a robust reading of the jazz waltz "Gemini," written by Heath for his daughter and featuring Antonio Hart's flute solo with punchy trumpet accents egging him on.
Rain fell for much of Saturday and threatened on Sunday, cutting into attendance. Let's hope the nonprofit festival achieved its goal: raising $100,000 for scholarships for deserving students at next year's jazz camp.