Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival: Sept. 2-3, 2011
Stevie Wonder was also in great form, a consummate entertainer. He's also a terrific musician, not just a manufacturer of pop and R&B hits and hooks. He made a grand entrance playing a keytaran electronic keyboard carried with a strap slung over the shoulder like a guitar (Hancock also uses one on occasion). As he played to a driving beat on "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You," he walked slowly across the stage, unassisted, wailing away. Eventually he made his way to sit at the keyboards where he played both acoustic and electric, cranking out hits but with lots of off the cuff changes and improvisations. It wasn't a carved-in stone, note-for-note hit show (can you say Earth, Wind & Fire?).
The band was tight and moved easily when Wonder decided where he wanted to go, except when he decided to sing the blues, segueing into "Further On Down the Road" and having to correct the band on its approach before he continued. Then he suddenly broke into "You Got Me Running," another blues staple that the band melded into more easily, and which featured a harmonica solo where even the uneducated had to realize that this cat can really wail, with technique and emotion. He seamlessly turned that medley into "Boogie On reggae Woman." Difficult improv stuff.
Wonder was outstanding. He demonstrated a jazz singing voice in range and approach, because it was filled with the sound of surprise. At one point he slowed, seeming to jumpand it certainly appeared impromptuinto the 1930s chestnut, "When Did You Leave Heaven"an acoustic piano ballad recorded by folks like Jimmy Scott and Nancy Wilsonsinging it with heart-melting fervor. "For Once In My Life," his own standard, was also superb.
In the two hour-plus concert, he also did a duet with Warwick on "That's what Friends Are For," sang Happy Birthday to his 10-year old son Kailand Morris, who came onstage for the rendition, and did hits like "Don't You Worry About a Thing," "Higher Ground," "Sir Duke," "Overjoyed," "My Cherie Amor" and "Isn't She Lovely."
Nearly all jazz festivals feature crossover acts and this is one that would always be welcome.
As for jazz, Danilo Perez delivered an outstanding set. Perez is a superior player, and his group, with Hans Glawischnig and drummer Adam Cruz, was right in step with every move. The music moved seamlessly from soft and reflective to intense. Sublime and intricate, the trio had all its bases covered.
Poncho Sanchez is always fun. From behind his conga drums he fronted a band that hit the clavé and swung at given moment. He performed Horace Silver's "Silver Serenade" with a distinctive Latin flavor, followed by a kick-ass tribute to the late conguero Willie Bobo, but then he brought out Terence Blanchard and the rest of the set was a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie and the conga player hired back in the 1940s who , along with the trumpet legend, introduced Latin jazz to America on a large scale, Chano Pozo.
Blanchard, of course, played the role of Gillespie for the most part, but at times he sparred with Sanchez's trumpeter, Ron Blake, a fine player with immense chops who could negotiate all the rhythmic and chord changes and also do some Cat Anderson acrobatics. The band, with Blanchard, is releasing Chano y Dizzy ( Concord Picante, 2011), hence the tour. They were hot, covering well-known tunes like "Con Alma," "Tin Tin Deo," "Manteca," and "Groovin High." It's worth noting that saxophonist Ron Hart and trombonist Francisco Torrepart of Sanchez's regular horn sectionwere also excellent.
Branford Marsalis has been touring with the same cats for some time, which is a reason why they are so tight and burn so hard. Joey Calderazzo is a fine pianist and Eric Revis a notable bassist. Young drummer Justin Faulkner tore it up, in the tradition of greats like Tony Williams. The band burns. Marsalis was all over the changes, with fiery statements, and Calderazzo's boppish forays were exciting. The quartet ran through the material with the kind of speed and dexterity that comes from intimate familiarity with one another. Thelonious Monk's "Teo" and Watts' "Return of the Jitney Man" were particularly good.
Chucho Valdés' band had three percussionists and two horns, and also on occasion strong vocals from his sister, Mayra Caridad Valdés. It was high-energy music, influenced by both Cuban and American sources. "Zawinul's Mambo" followed somewhat, but not always, the late Joe Zawinul's famous Weather Report hit, "Birdland," with a driving, percussion-driven exchange. Valdés exhibited his virtuoso abilities as a pianist on several songs, but his band was up to the task, playing with joy and fire, and the music moved people accordingly.