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Live Reviews

55th Monterey Jazz Festival: September 21-23, 2012

By Published: October 18, 2012
Later Friday, Gordon Goodwin
Gordon Goodwin
Gordon Goodwin
b.1955
composer/conductor
's Big Phat Band on Lyons Stage was a truly modern, revved-up band with a big sound. Tenor sax man Eric Marienthal
Eric Marienthal
Eric Marienthal
b.1957
saxophone
contributed a blistering solo on "Hit the Ground Running," and it brought the crowd to its feet.



Vocalist Melody Gardot
Melody Gardot
Melody Gardot
b.1985
vocalist
, a woman making strides on a new path, was up next. A self-proclaimed citizen of the world, this Grammy winner brings a variety of influences to her work, including elements of Spanish, Portugese, vocalese, even birds and whistles. She sang fetchingly from her collection of compositions, but, unfortunately, was hindered by the large outdoor venue's und system which often made it impossible to make out her lyrics.

New Orleans Blues, Scott, Sutton, Russell

Saturday afternoon is for the blues, and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his group from New Orleans were the stars. Shorty, with his rapid-fire bursts on the horn, streaking over his eight-piece band's wall of sound, became a mixture of new and traditional Orleans sounds.

Shorty's vocals went back to the mid-fifties into Cab Calloway
Cab Calloway
Cab Calloway
1907 - 1994
composer/conductor
territory with his riff on "Minnie the Moocher" and brought in touches of Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
. The whole long set was truly good-time music. Perfect for the sunny day outdoors.

Anther vein of New Orleans was on display with trumpeter Christian Scott
Christian Scott
Christian Scott
b.1983
trumpet
's group in a standout set in the Night Club. Also from the "Big Easy," Scott and his music deals with bad times, particularly problems and hardships from post-Katrina. He has a message that could be understood by an angry James Baldwin from the sixties.

Regarding "Klu Klux Police Department," Scott said that it deals with his frustration from being picked up and detained, apparently because he was black. Before playing, he readied his group for battle as he crouched. Rising from a coiled position, his trumpet unleashed a battle call. All intensified with the guitar of Matthew Stevens
Matthew Stevens
Matthew Stevens
b.1982
guitar
, and bass of Zweleke-Duma Bell adding to the turmoil. But Scott is able to calm down and did, with a lovely ballad with pianist Lawrence Fields accompanying.

Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
Tierney Sutton
b.1963
vocalist
is not just a singer of the American songbook. Her arrangements make a number she sings uniquely her own. This was well illustrated Saturday night in the Night Club.

Her group, featuring Christian Jacob on piano, has been together for 20 years. It shows in the band's crisp, cohesive sound, from the very hip "Devil May Care" to the frenetic tongue-twisting version of "I Get A Kick Out of You." Her opening medley from "Porgy and Bess" was particularly effective as well, putting the Gershwin tunes in a new light and making it difficult ever again to think of Porgy as "beat down" and subservient.

Catherine Russell was another singer who made a big impression Saturday during her packed Garden Stage appearance. She sings in the tradition of Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
1894 - 1937
vocalist
and Esther Phillips
Esther Phillips
Esther Phillips
1935 - 1984
vocalist
, and her rendition of Phillips' "Aged and Mellow," expressing how she likes older guys, had a sea of gray heads shouting: "Yeah!"

Finishing up the night by dropping around the Lyons Stage to see the last of Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
b.1926
vocalist
's set, the 86-year old great was amazing, never flagging during a 20-song set. He ended up with the transcendent ballad "Fly Me to the Moon."

Sunday: New Generation, Spalding, Organ Blowout, Tigran

Following Sunday's appearance of the student bands, the very popular Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
b.1984
bass, acoustic
took the stage late in the afternoon. She had her 11-piece Radio Music Society Band, which combines jazz and new age-like inspiration music. With a large following of fans in the seats, her bass in hand, her small stature belied the strength of her voice. She urged the crowd to sing along with her on "Radio Song," and they happily obliged.

At the Night Club, the Sunday night Organ Blowout is always popular. The first act was guitarist John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
b.1944
guitar
's trio. The audience quickly turned-to with the scorching starter, "Gone With the Wind," Gary Versace
Gary Versace
Gary Versace

organ, Hammond B3
pulling out the stops on Hammond B3, followed by Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
b.1968
keyboard
and Chester Thompson.

Serendipitously, one of the best performances had been saved for last—pianist Tigran Hamasyan and his trio at the Coffee Gallery. A truly spectacular player, this creative musician from Armenia astutely blends jazz with middle-eastern folk music. On the way, he brought in wailing, technically-enhanced vocals and bombastic solos that had the crowd on its feet.

One of the things festival-goers look forward to is the variety of foods available in stalls on the grounds. There is never any need to leave the festival to get something to eat. It was all here, and delicious, from Ghanian chicken, beef and pork barbecue, sushi and rice bowls, to Indian fare and fried artichokes, strawberry shortcake and lots more.


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