Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, August 5, 2012
Newport Jazz Festival
Fort Adams State Park
August 4-5, 2012
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt belted a splitting note that hooked and reeled in the ear of fellow hornster Avashai Cohen. As soon as Cohen heard the sound, he stopped strolling through the Newport crowd, and jerked his head toward the stage. Cupping a hand across his brow, shielding his eyes from the sun, he peered for a better view of the horn happenings.
With a lengthy rendition of Thad Jones' "Ain't Nothin' Nu," the Lewis Nash Quintet finished the opening set of the quad stage. In blistering hard bop tradition, horn phrasings twisted about Donald Vega's piano chords, while Nash's cymbals provided the timekeeping device.
When the sparkling set opened, fresh melodies rang out in unison. Pelt's trumpet and Jimmy Greene's tenor saxophone worked to Bobby Hutcherson's "Teddy." As the melodic phrasings wound down, Greene began to soloshuffling notes, dizzying the theme, and exploring phrases as he played. Working up to a single, bending, high-pitched tone, the sounds fell back down in fluid runs. As Greene returned to the instrument's higher region, Pelt joined in, then steered the tune on a ride of his own.
The second selection, the ballad "Arioso," was written by the late pianist and former Berklee instructor James Williams. Thelonious Monk's "Eronel" featured a solo by bassist Peter Washington. After nearly 10 years together in pianist Tommy Flanagan's band, the interplay between Nash' drums and Washington's bass was obvious and immense. Upon leaving the bandstand, Washington commented on performing at Newport, stating: "I loved it. It was a wonderful experience, and this is an amazing thing that [festival founder] George Wein has done here through the years."
From the first notes of "Come Fly With Me," Kurt Elling delivered a vibrant set of vocal jazz to a responsive audience. Elling performed selected items from his upcoming October release, 1519 Broadway: The Brill Building Project (Concord, 2012), backed by a quartet comprised of drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Clark Sommers, and pianist Laurence Hobgood, who has collaborated with Elling for 17 years. The band drove the groove home on the closing number, Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," a funky piece that featured special guest John McLean's flourishing guitar, intermingling with Elling's gilded voice.
On the harbor stage, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's Samdhi delivered a set of electronic fusion with commanding authority. David Gilmore's guitar moaned as he plucked a series of bending notes that hinted at a melody and created a rhythm. Pressing his foot against a switch, a clump of electronic pedals captured the instruments thrashing sounds, and played them back in a loop. Gilmore played faster, layering the guitar with a hooking riff that tore at the air. The band opened with "Killer," and then played "Enhanced Performance." They closed with "For All The Ladies."
..."thank you for creating this historical institution..." Ryan Truesdell said to George Wein over at the main stage. On this occasion, Truesdell orchestrated a large troupe that performed previously unrecorded selections of composer/arranger Gil Evans' material. "Punjab" featured percussionist Dan Weiss and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, while Evans' 1965 Brazilian arrangement "Look To The Rainbow," saw Gretchen Parlato provide vocals. The set closed with Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," which featured trumpeter Greg Gisbert, a former member of Silver's band.
Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks provided an education in the sounds of early jazz. Sporting black tuxes, starched white shirts, shiny black shoes, and bow ties, the band whisked through more than a dozen selections associated with musicians from jazz's infancy: King Oliver's "I must Have It," Fletcher Henderson's "Stampede," Maceo Pinkard's "Sugar," and Duke Ellington's "Cotton Club Stomp," were just a handful of selections the eleven piece band performed. In an animated set, the front line of seven horns talked with one another otherplayers stood when blowing extended lines or taking solos, toyed with call-and-response phrasings, and smeared oily notes. The band closed with Jimmie Lunceford's "Jazznocracy" played at a breakneck pace, and can be heard every Tuesday night at Sofia's Restaurant in New York City. "Thanks so much," Giordano said to the audience, "keep supporting live music."
Back at the harbor stage, "The Sheik of Araby" opened with pianist Jason Moran playing a clinking a percussion instrument in one hand, and phrasing piano notes with the other hand. Vocals were pumped in for parts of "Body and Soul," which seemed to enshroud a triplet theme. At times, Moran took his playing to Monkish-sounding places, employing disconnected tritons, yet making it all swing. Bassist Tarus Mateen, who sat slumped in a chair and heavily stomped his timekeeping foot, played swirling, sliding riffs in a free-roaming manner. Nasheet Waits' invigorated playing filled empty spaces as gentle accents on cymbals, rhythmic surges on the drums, and rolling sounds gushed to and from the forefront of the music. The impulsive "Kinda Dukish," the cosmic "Life, Live, Time," and "To Bob Vatel of Paris" completed the set.
Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet cut notes through the music as his quintet closed out the quad stage. Long, pronounced notes resonated, then smacked and spattered in scattered bursts. Harish Raghavan walked notes on the bass, perhaps listening to his band mates more than he thought about his playing. As pianist Sam Harris flowed through a series of chords, Justin Brown's drums barreled forward for a fill. Instantly, Raghavan stopped walking, dropped to the low end of his instrument, and repeatedly hammered the same, short note several times. As if the note were a springboard, Walter Smith III stepped forward, and the tenor saxophonist began to solo.
"I know it's one of those things that people say a lot, but it really is different every night." Smith said, commenting on quintet's the rhythm section. "Sometimes certain songs don't come off the same way because everyone is trying something new. From performance to performance everything is differentthey bring that to the gig."
A bright sound emerged from Smith's horn. "It's the way they approach it: five eighths, sevenths, it's all mixed in. It sounds almost like its open. The three of them together is special, a unique type of interplay." Drawing from that feel between musicians, Smith spoke. Intermingling rapid runs, squawks, and coherent phrases, Smith changed pace, dove, and surged forward for extended explorations.
"Sometimes, there will be seven or eight choruses that go by before everybody gets [back] to the one. It's murky in there at times," he said with a laugh.
The set opened with "Richard," followed by "Diver Song." Smith described the band's previous music as "mostly improvisational, the music was a vehicle for that. To change that, [Akinmusire] began writing stuff that was more melodic and contained less solos. In that sense, I would describe it more as a band."
Akinmusire's slow, brooding trumpet ballad, "Regret No More," and "Marie Christie" wrapped up the set.
"I think the first time I played [Newport] I did a live record," Smith said. "It was kind of one of those special festivals. There is a lot of history, and you know the people attending are aware of that history. For me, it's always been one of the great things about the festival that you can just walk around and hear so mucheverything is right there in walking distance."
Reflecting, he mentions: "One time, [saxophonist] Wayne Shorter was playing at the same time I wasand here is this guy [who was] responsible for influencing so many other saxophones playing at the festival on the same day."
The Tedeschi Trucks Band closed the festival with an energetic set rooted in blues. On "Nobody's Free," Kebbie Williams' tenor sax solo exhibited elements of jazz improvisation. Beginning with long notes, Williams began playing in quick spurts. Working the horn, he created a fury of abrupt, shredded phrasings, and then returned to long, honking notes. "Don't Let Me Slide" and "Midnight in Harlem," a soulful, gritty shuffle, thrived on Tedschi's expressive vocals and Trucks' gliding slide guitar that morphed into startling finger-picked solos.
All Photos: Richard Conde