Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, August 4-5, 2012
Zenón comes up with projects that are off the beaten path. Lately, the altoist has been teaming up with pianist Laurent Coq, writing music based on a novel by Julio Cortázar called Rayuela (1963), and Zenón has recently released an album of the same name on Marsalis Music. The music from that albumbrought to life by Dana Leong on cello and trombone, pianist Coq (who helped write the music) and Dan Weiss on his unique drum/tabla setupfeatured strong melody and enough space for strong solos by one of today's finest saxophonists. Leong is a pleasure, too, capable of just about anything, hot or mellow.
A sheer delight was the 3 Cohens. The siblings tore up the stage, playing original music and a couple standards. The fun they had on stage transferred to the audience. But don't think the music was diluted. These musiciansAvishai on trumpet, Anat on tenor sax and clarinet, and Yuval on sopranoplayed with great intensity. Yuval's "Blues For Dandi's Orange Bull Chasing An Orange Sack" started the show and set the tonea burning opportunity for each to demonstrate some chops, supported fantastically by Reuben Rogers on bass, Rudy Royston on drums and Aaron Goldberg on piano. They were as hot as the summer weather. "Shufla De Shufla" grooved like made and a great vehicle for the siblings' solos, closing a super set and leaving 'em wanting more.
Big bands were there, including two of the finest in Darcy James Argue's Secret Society and the Maria Schneider Orchestra. They used some of the same players over the weekend, as the do at New York City appearances, but both composer/arranger/leader had his/her own way. They both built great tapestries for examination. Layers and textures were expertly tied together.
Argue's band covered things from the sublime to raucous and funky. Stately and dramatic to swinging. Selections from his Brooklyn Babylon CD, inspired by a movie and yet to be released, were outstanding, and it was easy to imagine them fitting into a cinema setting.
Schneider's organization performed some of her well-known themes like "Evanesque," which featured a scorching trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes, who is becoming a major player on his instrument. His sound and agility were remarkable. The understated but fantastic saxophonist Steve Wilson wailed on "Night Watchman," as did Ingrid Jensen who never disappoints on trumpet.
"Hang Gliding" was another fine Schneider staple on her compositional menu and Donny McCaslin's bristling tenor sax helped elevate it.
Kurt Elling's band performed its typical compelling show. With his great collaborator, Laurence Hobgood, on piano and, on this gig, the superb Kendrick Scott on drums, the music took off from the start with "Fly Me to the Moon" done in a unique, twisting turning style that was captivating. "Dedicated to You," from Elling's John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman CD, Dedicated to You (Concord, 2009), was a ballad that, in the singer's indomitable fashion, took a different route. Notes were bended, phrases extended, shifted. Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" included a scat segment with his considerable vocal acrobatics playing off the sounds from guitarist John McLean, then cascaded nicely into the main melody as only this band can do it.
Wildly creative music that took winding turns, changed moods and overall pushed an edge were turned in by Jason Moran's Bandwagon and the Sound Prints band from Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas. In the latter band, the two horns have such creative minds and so much technique it can be too much for some listeners. But the Newport audience stayed in step. Lovano played with tremendous heart and passion. Douglas' lines were serpentine and impassioned as well, as he seemed to be drawn into telling a forceful story each time. Joey Baron's thundering drums were perfect for this group.
Moran, with Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, played like a history of jazz. There were honky tonk moments, old trad swing moments, and definitely things that got into the free jazz state. He played tumultuously at times, and light at others. "Body and Soul" took on a completely different flavor. "Kinda Dukish," at times, seemed kinda Monkish. It's always interesting to see what turns this band will take in any given set.