Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, VT, June 1-10, 2012
Jazz Lab 2012 was a definite study in contrasts as it moved from almost pure pop to pure spontaneity on June 9. Once-and-future one-man band Mike Gamble got his wish to work with electronicist Greg Davis and the pair engaged in two-lengthy workouts of almost an hour apiece, swirling synthetic computer textures intermixed with treated guitars and the sounds of a good old-fashioned drum kit: the artists were left breathless when each performance concluded, but not so much so that they didn't engage in a fascinating conversation with the event moderator, yours truly [Doug Collette], the engineers and a tiny gaggle of individuals whose curiosity was piqued, and their interest elevated, by hearing and speaking with Gamble and Davis. The finale of Jazz Lab was, appropriately enough, a lesson in the fundamental ambition of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (though their mission statement doesn't state it outright): keep your ears as open as your mind.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue w/Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience Waterfront Bayou Tent June 7, 2012
High-spirited offerings of familiar songs ranging from "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" to "No Woman No Cry" rendered Terrance Simien and company the ideal opener on a beautifully warm summer evening on Lake Champlain. Yet the momentum the band generated as the tent filled up with dancing people, egged on by the ever- socially-active Ben and Jerry, almost subsided by the time Trombone Shorty and his band took the stage. Some strictly heavy-handed rock, nevertheless greeted with increasingly frenzied acclamation, was beginning to morph into some more traditional NOLA funk by the time the evening's conflicted decision set in: The Mary Halvorson Quintet was occupying the FlynnSpace as of 8:30.
The Mary Halvorson Quintet FlynnSpace June 7, 2012
Not far removed geographically from Shorty's performance, Halvorson and co. were light years removed from that visceral force, substituting an almost scholarly formality in the orchestrated arrangements. This wasn't the academic correctitude of the prior night's McCaslin show nor the challenging approach of Tim Berne and Snakeoil, either, rather it was a contemporary chamber music. Halvorson's guitar took little prominence in the first hour of the performance, except to smoothly complement the discordance that emanated from Jon Irabagon's saxophone. On "Hemorrhaging Smiles," however, her own instrument's angular lines lifted the five- piece ensemble in a way that even the sleek rhythm section could not.
Christian McBride & Inside Straight Flynn Mainstage June 8, 2012
No performers enjoyed themselves at BDJF this year more than Christian McBride and Inside Straight. They went for the gusto and got it, their energy more than compensating for a certain sameness in the arrangements, as well as a lack of true innovation in their choice of material.
The inclusion of a trio number toward concert's end made for an especially effective change of pace, and turned the evening's overall experience into one of the high points of the festivaldespite the disappointment of seeing so many empty seats in the theatre, and more so, because the music itself was straightforward to a fault: the musicians nevertheless offered solos with impeccable logic and stylish flourishes that elevated them far beyond the level of the ingenuity contained in the original compositions.
The Duke Ellington numbers, for instance, were basically blues, while the originals, though not pop by any means, bore too close a structural similarity to them that somewhat overshadowed the skill of vibraphonist Warren Wolf and drummer Carl Allen.
Jimmy Cliff w/Touissaint the Liberator & Amandla Waterfront World Tent June 9, 2012
By the time the two waterfront concerts actually took place, snagging big- name attractions like Trombone Shorty and Jimmy Cliff was almost, but not quite, icing on the cake. After the calamity-stricken shows last yearnot to mention less than ideal, though not so extreme, inclement weather in recent yearsthe impeccably sunny warm (but not hot) weather, particularly for the reggae show, was karma well-earned.
No doubt that's why the Cliff show even outdrew its predecessor, as a robust, high- spirited audience whooped it up with increasing loudness while the openers set the proper tone of positive vibrations, and the thoughts of good ol' Saturday night increased the walkup attendance appreciably.
Perhaps it would've been enough to be in the same room with Jimmy Cliff (as he does indeed deserve the appellation of legend) but his occasional vocal frailty aside, his performance was increasingly buoyed by his band: the deeper they dug into a groove, the more animated he became. And the pacing of his set, particularly in the early going, was immaculate, as the tried-and-true reggae themes of pacifism and positivism, now augmented by environmentalism, echoed alongside each other.