Umbria Jazz Winter: Orvieto, Italy, December 28, 2012 - January 1, 2013
December 28, 2012February 1, 2013
Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble
Dee Alexander's sensitive and virtuosic voice, together with the exquisite harmony of her group, charmed the Umbria Jazz Winter public with two different concert series. The first was dedicated to the memory of Alexander's mentor, Light Henry Huff, and the second focused on the music of James Brown.
The group's new album, Sketches of Light (IGEA, 2012), was the basis of the homage to Huff's composition and role. The set opened the jazz festival with a perfect balance of upbeat, highly syncopated pieces, and softer, smoother compositions including "See You on the Other Side," romantically describing the masters of American jazz filling paradise with touching sonorities.
Dee's astonishing vocal range and technique were particularly heightened by the long, breathtaking scat sections on "Rossignol," where the singing transmogrified into a bird's tweeting in a dialogue with Nicole Mitchell's so graceful notes, reminiscent of the flight of a hummingbird. Alexander playfully invited the audience to join them with their own tweets in a theatrical moment of shared, joyful vocal interactions.
Her whispered high notes, emotional range and spiritual vibratos on "Truth" were enchanting and powerful at the same time. This same energy and sensibility, mixed with technical dexterity was mirrored in the whole group, which sparked with the ease of friendship and the strength of professional knowledge.
Nicole Mitchell's limpid, shiny phrasings on flute passed from spring-like, jumpy, vital crescendos, suggesting the foamy and fleshy energy of spring, to the more subtle and intimate accents of her ad hoc exchanges with Alexander.
Tomeka Reid's contrapuntal pizzicatos were counterbalanced with mellow, bowed intros, artfully mixing joy and melancholia, enthusiasm and meditative moods, as well as soulful, spiritual duo sections with Junius Paul on bass, who sensitively mastered the complex rhythmic percussiveness of his own signature style as well as the more lyrical passages of his duo sections with Reid.
Guitarist Scott Hesse showed bluesy arpeggios and surprising flamenco- like inserts, as well as his beautiful arrangements in the set dedicated to James Brown. Knitting the rhythmical waves of the group, from tables to minimalist brush strokes, with creative and unexpected breaks and a vocabulary mixing Creole patterns with traditional jazz tempos, was Ernie Adams, a confirmation of how drumming can be a poetic, cross-cultural texture on which original structures can be constantly developed.
Gregory Porter Septet
Introducing a rich sample of his new albumBe Good (Motéma Music, 2012) and his previous Grammy-nominated Water (Motéma Music, 2010), Gregory Porter brought a jazz-imbued, Billy Wilder funk aura on stage.
His sets revealed not only a warm, smoky voice, but also the magic of original compositions grown from the urban African-American tradition of Harlem, including a piece openly dedicated to this creative musical cradle of NYC: "On My Way to Harlem." As Willy Smoth once said: "I'd rather be a fly on a lamppost in Harlem than a millionaire anywhere else," by listening to the warm-hearted nature of this hymn to Harlem one gets an idea of why it is still so. Other lullaby-like pieces of the same concert seemed to touch another vein of American-ness, reminding one of the touching atmosphere of Chaplin's "Smile."
Porter's septet worked like a lean machine to support his new American songbook. In the brass section the musicians often performed like a Greek choir, highlighting in unison the energetic refrains, and disclosing more metallic voices (like Tivon Pennicotton tenor) or smooth variations (as in the case of Yosuke Satoh on alto) or athletic forces (such as Josh Evans on trumpet) in their solos.
Bassist Aaron James mostly favored a more delicate, warm, and willingly understated poetics, dialoguing with Emanuel Harrold's surgical drumming, while pianist Chip Crawford backed the funky texture of Porter's compositions with sudden, twinkling phrases. The encore, a captivating and energetic "Free," developed over the obsessively repeated title-word, resonating loudly and sharply as a powerful memento of the social importance of this concept.
Paula Morelembaum Cello Samba Trio
Warmth coming directly from Bahia started spreading through the notes of Vinicius de Moraes' masterpiece under the same name, led by Paola Morelembaum's soft vocals as well as Jacques Morelembaum's bowed cello notes, resonating with touching essentialism. Soon after, Lula Gulvao's guitar solo, realized with fast, piercing arpeggios developed over minimal, yet significant rhythmic changes, added spice to the already flavorful soundscape.