Music cascading through the Tanglewood music venue in Lenox, Mass., on Labor Day weekend sure had its diversity. It was thunderous, cool, Latin-tinged, swinging, sweet and classy at given points throughout the three nights and two days of its annual jazz festival. The thunder came from the majestic Sonny Rollins and his tenor sax; cool from the hip laid back vocal styles of Madeleine Peyroux, Latin tinged from the Caribbean Jazz Project, and from a group led by Toots Thielemans; swing from the Count Basie Orchestra, sweet from a variety of sources, including the piano of Kenny Werner; and class from the pedestal mounted by ageless singer Tony Bennett each time he performs. The pinnacle for jazz lovers came from Rollins, three days shy of his 75th birthday, wailing with his sextet inside Ozawa Hall, as a crowd hundreds laid their blankets and set up their portable chairs across the hillside to marvel at the sounds, even if many couldn't even see the icon, while they picnicked. Rollins is still an astounding improviser with incredible strength and energy. From standards like "I'm Glad There Is You "They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful and "In A Sentimental Mood through music with calypso influence, like "Global Warning and a spin around "Without a Song part of the title to his newly released live disc The 9/11 Concert Rollins was all over his horn and all over the stratosphere.
Distinct with his slick-backed silver hair and matching beard, hip shades, black shirt and daring red pants, he belied his age, rocking back and forth as he relentlessly preached, prowling the stage. Ideas burst out, challenging the rhythm, chord changes, melodies and harmonies sometimes more than one at a time. He seemed to prove in one direction, then blare out long repeated themes before embarking on another. Maybe they could have put Sonny in New Orleans on Aug. 29... up on a platform...Sonny versus the Hurricane. like Zeus or Thor... which tempest wins?
Rollins played up a storm of his own, over the propulsive layers of Steve Jordan on drums and Kimati Dinizulu's percussion gave Rollins a cushion to spring from, with ever-present Bob Cranshaw on bass. Clifton Anderson's big-toned and guitarist Bobby Broom's occasional, short bop-style solos, gave respite to the wonderful tumult of the saxophonist. Even at his most serene, like the head to Duke's "Sentimental Mood his tone was gritty and his statement sublime.
At the other end of the spectrum was Peyroux, who taped a live version of NPR's "Piano Jazz with host Marian McPartland. The pair chose songs from Peyroux' latest Carelss Love and previous Dreamland CDs, as well as songs as old as the hills like "I Wish I could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate. Her voice sounds a bit like Billie Holliday, but similarities end there. Peyroux is cool, her voice gliding over notes; the lyrics put over in a poignant and almost sing-songy way. Different and engaging. A bit like Leon Redone in her willingness to sing old chestnuts and put a provocative spin on them.
McPartland, 80-something, was her typical humorous self, interviewing the singer, and also getting in "beastly announcements to be edited into the segment. The sound of her piano fit well with Peyroux' spare, but pleasing, guitar. "Dance me To The End of Love "Don't Wait too Long and "Careless Love from the new disc were best, and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans was eerily sweet, considering the circumstances. McPartland's piano was warm and friendly on her solo spots, "If I Had You and "Basin Street Blues.
The other king of the weekend was the timeless Bennett. he's revamped his own and, but also followed a set by the Basie band by using all of its 13 horns to back him on many songs and swing the place into bad health. In an impeccably tailored light blue suit, Bennett took center stage, intoned "Watch what Happens and had the audience lock, stock and barrel through a long set a long set he wasn't paid for, since he announced his pay was going to the Gulf Coast to aid relief efforts.
Bennett is a consummate pro, like his friend and mentor Sinatra, and carries much of the charisma these days, though in a softer way. There is nothing new to his repertoire rally, save a song from his new CD The Art of Romance that he penned himself. He put a lyric to Djano Reinhardt's "Nuage, calling it "All For You, and it's not a bad job for a "rookie.