Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, August 5, 2012
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