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15th Anniversary of the Litchfield Jazz Festival


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Litchfield Jazz Festival
Kent, Connecticut
August 6-8, 2010
The green hills of Kent, Connecticut resounded once more with the sound of jazz as the 15th Anniversary of the Litchfield Jazz Festival settled in from Friday, August 6th through Sunday, August 8th. This year the main stage was again indoors in the newly air-conditioned hockey rink with a secondary tent stage outdoors. And this year, the weather cooperated with two beautiful sunny days and three starry, starry nights.

Day One: Friday, August 6th

With two emcees on hand—Gary Walker from WBGO New York/New Jersey and Michael Gow from WZBG-FM in Litchfield, Connecticut—the festival began with a musical heavy. Celebrating his 90th year, Dave Brubeck took the stage with today's version of his quartet—Bobby Militello on sax and flute, Randy Jones on drums and Michael Moore on bass. Before starting his set, Brubeck was presented with an award from Connecticut's governor that designated Friday, August 6th as "Dave Brubeck Day" in the state. And then the music started with Brubeck taking the melody for "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" . Militello's sax was smooth and swinging. Brubeck jumped in and made his statement with some tasty chording and showed off his mastery of time with some double-time work. Moore followed with a lyrical bass solo. A rendition of "These Foolish Things" was next with Brubeck providing some interesting key changes in his solo and Moore displaying his technique with the bow. Notable, also, was an Ellington medley consisting of a swinging "C-Jam Blues" with quotes from the piano, a slow, moody "Mood Indigo" and "Take The A Train" featuring Militello carrying the melody. "Sweet Lorraine," one of Nat Cole's hits, was given a smooth reading by Brubeck with a bluesy approach by Militello. Another oldie was "Margie" with an arco solo on bass and Brubeck delivering part Tatum and part boogie-woogie in his solo. Of course, the last number of the set was the one the audience had been waiting for—the famous "Take Five." Everyone was completely ready for this one; the players driving each other in their solos with Jones doing an incredible drum solo—one that had Brubeck standing up at the piano to watch him play and urge him on. This closer brought the audience to their feet.

Brubeck was dynamic throughout the set, with his unbelievable technique and taste, but there was something more. The Dave Brubeck that we all know is now showing us a mellow dimension in his playing in addition to his legendary mastery of the keys—proving that he keeps getting better as "time goes by."

Vocalist Denise Thimes was the closing act for this first evening of the festival. In this, her festival debut, the statuesque, St. Louis-based singer was accompanied by Chris Grasso on piano, Albert Rivera on tenor saxophone, Avery Sharpe on bass and 2010 Artist In Residence Matt Wilson on drums. Opening with a swinging "I Love Being Here With You," Thimes engaged the audience with her bouncy personality and her blues-rooted delivery. The set went on with renditions of "My Romance" and Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." "There Is No Greater Love" received a bluesy treatment with a wailing sax provided by Rivers. Thimes raced her way through a very fast tempo on "This Can't Be Love" that featured Wilson playing the melody on his drums. "Fever" was next on the set with Thimes getting the audience to add finger snapping while she started off the tune singing alone with Sharpe on bass and then building to a "fever" pitch. Renditions of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man Of Mine" and Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Any More" followed with Wilson's brush work sparking the former and Sharpe's fine bass work on the latter. Thimes finished out the set with an up tempo version of "That's All" working with drummer Wilson to build the ending. Possessing a rich quality of voice and a blues feel (and she can belt with the best of them when necessary), Thimes is an entertaining, audience-pleasing performer.

Day Two: Saturday, August 7th

Today's program displayed a Latin flair, opening with a set by the Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet. Comprised of Gabriel Alegria on trumpet, Laura Andrea Leguia on tenor and soprano saxophones, Yuri Juarez on guitar, John Benitez on bass, Shirazette Tinnin on drums and Freddy "Huevito" Lobaton on percussion, the Sextet (as announced by Alegria) aimed to take the audience "on a tour of Peru" via the music. Starting off with an original by Alegria titled "Pucusana" (also the title of their new CD), the group made an immediate melodic, rhythmical and high energy impact. Alegria's full, rich tone on his trumpet solo and Leguia's fluidity on soprano sax were notable. Another original (this one by Leguia) entitled "Puerto Pimental showed a quieter side and featured Leguia on tenor saxophone and Alegria on flugelhorn, as well as showing off drummer Tinnin's talents. Guitarist Juarez also contributed a conversational guitar solo on this one. A highlight of this set was another Alegria original, "Piso 19," which featured Lobaton on percussion and also performing Peruvian Zapateo dancing that brought the house down. It was a dynamic, exciting set for this group's debut Litchfield Jazz Festival appearance.

In total contrast (also making their first appearance at the Festival) was the next act, The Gerald Clayton Trio, Pianist Gerald Clayton (related to the musical Claytons) was joined by Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums. This multi-award wining pianist has an interesting style and delivered a lovely version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" as part of his set. Notable also was an example of his composing ability with his original "Summer Day Go." Both Brown and Sanders ably displayed their talents during the set.

During the first two Mainstage sets of the day, Artist in Residence Matt Wilson was out in the Second Stage tent conducting a lengthy interview with Dave Brubeck. This writer caught a few minutes of this fascinating dialogue and hopes that it was captured in its entirety on a video.

Next on the Mainstage was Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Project. Dave Samuels on vibes and marimbas, pianist Alain Mallet, bassist Lincoln Goines, Vince Cherico on drums and Roberto Quintero on congas. This group is a tightly knit unit that swings latin-style. One of the major treats in the set was group's rendition of Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" with Samuels displaying his formidable vibes technique. His solo was complete with appropriate shading, tempo changes which ranged from very fast down to a soulful ending.

Quintero took the stage to play a solo on Venezuelan maracas—which are smaller and have a different sound than the maracas with which we are familiar. He has wonderful dexterity with these and also with the congas, on which he can be electrifying. The rest of the set bespoke of more of the same talented musicianship from all of the players and ended up with a tune that Samuels called a "takeoff on 'Green Dolphin Street.'" Mallet really gave the piano a workout on this one, with solid support from bassist Goines, a dynamic drum solo by Cherico, an exciting one from conguero Quintero and Samuels leading the way with his magic mallets.

A leap into the avant-garde was provided by Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor playing sections of his commissioned work "Arc Suite"—a piece that will be recorded for broadcast on Dee Dee Bridgewater's Jazz Set on National Public Radio. Bassist Pavone, who is president of the board of Litchfield Performing Arts and a clinician at the Litchfield Jazz Camp, was joined by Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene on soprano and tenor saxophones, Dave Ballon on trumpet, Peter Madsen on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The work featured some impressive conversational work between trumpet and piano and piano and the horn section—driven all the way through by Pavone's powerful bass playing.

An All-Star Cannonball Adderley Tribute brought together a group of players who had never made music with each other before. (One of the miracles of jazz is that this kind of performance can be done and usually with successful results.) The usual suspect here were Wessell Anderson on alto saxophone, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Benny Green, bassist Rodney Whitaker and Matt Wilson on drums, with vocals by Joanna Pascale. Right from the downbeat on the first tune, "The Work Song," this group energized the audience with a rousing rendition. Stafford playin the words with his trumpet, Green swinging on the keys, Anderson's soulful alto, Whitaker waxing lyrical with his bass and Wilson's driving drumming. "Jive Samba" was next and featured some great call and response work between Anderson and Stafford. Green's astounding piano solo had his left hand doing one thing and his right hand doing another. This time, Wilson played the melody during his drum solo. Joanne Pascale delivered two vocals. The first, "Save Your Love For Me" (a song that Nancy Wilson sang with Adderley), featured sensitive muted trumpet work by Stafford and a very soulful sax by Anderson. The second vocal by Pascal was a song titled "Old Country."

Pascal has a pleasant voice and did a good job while enjoying sharing the stage with this group. The set closed out with Bobby Timmons' "This Year." This gospel-oriented song had several highlights. Anderson's rousing solo which included quotes from "C.C. Rider" and "Lover" was followed by Green's solo which built beautifully to a resounding climax. Stafford's solo started off smoothly, building into a fiery trumpet statement. Whitaker's fingers flew on the bass and Wilson was in overdrive....spurring everyone on until the last beat which produced a standing ovation from the most appreciative audience.

The last group of the night was the largest. The Arturo O'Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra brought the day back into the latin mode. This large orchestra, with full brass and horn sections, almost overfilled the stage. O'Farrill, the son of Chico O'Farrill, playing and conducting from the piano launched the band into a program of latin material designed to make you want to dance. Among the selections was a tribute to Eddie Palmieri, a song in honor of Justice Sotomayor's appointment, three Afro-Cuban dance moods written by Arturo's father, Chico and Arturo's piece "Song For Chico." The familiar "Caravan" by Juan Tizol with trombone, sax and trumpet solos by members of the orchestra with a heavy injection of very able percussion work.

Overall, O'Farrill's band is loud and heavy on the brass making for an exciting presentation. O'Farrill's son, Adam was heard from with some trumpet work, showing that the family business is going into another generation. For the closing number, Gabriel Alegria joined the orchestra to conduct and play one of his original compositions "El Sun." Also on stage was Alegria's percussionist, John Benitez, who once again gave the audience an example of his excellent drumming and his zapateo dancing. This made for an upbeat ending to a perfect musical day.

Day 3: Sunday, August 8th

The Aaron Weinstein Trio kicked off Day 3 of the festival. Jazz violinist Weinstein brought along pianist Tedd Firth and bassist Steve LaSpina to aid and abet him. Starting off with an Irving Berlin medle, Weinstein immediately displayed his skill on the violin with rich tones and quick runs. Firth and LaSpina both contributed with smooth solos particularly on "Cheek To Cheek." Continuing with a medley format, Weinstein switched to mandolin to play a combination of "Last Night When We Were Young," "A Sleeping Bee" and "Paper Moon." But before getting to playing, Weinstein did an introduction which turned out to be some really good stand-up comedy. Reading from a copy of Truman Capote"s "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (since Capote wrote the lyrics to "A Sleeping Bee"), Weinstein quoted from a section describing a person seemed out of place with the rest of the group like a "violin in a jazz band." At this point, Weinstein threw the book from the stage and started playing while the audience roared. He played "A Sleeping Bee" in tempo with the bass and "Paper Moon" in tempo with LaSpina providing a swinging improvisation. Weinstein's skill on the mandolin is impressive. "If I Were A Bell" rated another comedy introduction and was quickly followed by a rendition of "Just One Of Those Things" where he traded fours with Firth playing lots of piano. "Dancing In The Dark" received a quiet sensitive reading by both Weinstein and Firth.

The largest laugh, however, was yet to come when Weinstein did a tribute to that "great violin player" Jack Benny. Starting off "Love In Bloom" in imitation of Benny with wrong notes and scratchy tones, reached everyone's funny bone before he played the song correctly with Firth doing a swinging solo and then trading fours with Weinstein. A Gershwin medley of "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "They All Laughed" closed out the set. This was done up-tempo with everyone having a great time. Besides his obvious violin and mandolin skills, Weinstein has wonderful comedy timing and delivery that made this set doubly entertaining.

The Avery Sharpe Trio, consisting of Avery Sharpe on bass, Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano and Winard Harper on drums was next on the program. These individually talented musicians play together regularly and present a very tight working package. Gumbs is an inventive and solid pianist. Sharpe is a virtuoso bassist who plays with lots of bottom. And Harper is a talented, dynamic drummer who is also wonderful to watch as he enjoys the process of making music. The group began the set with "Boston Baked Blues," a bluesy little number that gave everybody a chance to stretch. James Taylor's "Fire And Rain" was given an inventive treatment with Sharpe winding his way beautifully through the melody. An original titled "Oh No" followed with Gumbs building a tasty solo and Harper showing off his brush technique. "I Understand" featured Sharpe with a hand-clapping participation from the audience. "Sweet Georgia Brown" was followed by "Palace Of The Seven Sands," an original ballad that provided a spellbinding experience because of the loveliness of the composition and the performances of the trio. The set closed with an up tempo "Fly With The Wind" which featured Gumbs piano with Sharpe playing a rhythmic bass pattern and a melodic solo; all driven by Harper's exciting drum engine.

Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana brought a latin element to the day by way of the music of Cuba. Jane Bunnett on soprano sax and flute was joined by husband Larry Cramer on trumpet, Hilario Duran on piano, Charles Flores on bass, Francois Zayas on drums and Mauricio Herrara on congas. The set consisted of music from Cuba in various tempos and provided a showcase for the talented Cuban musicians in her group. As a player, Bunnett has creative improvisational skills on both instruments and is able to demonstrate her deep connection with the rhythms and culture of Cuba. Cramer is equally connected and displays it ably on both trumpet and flugelhorn.

Headlined as "Clarinetwork—Benny Goodman and Beyond, the Anat Cohen Quartet with Anat Cohen on clarinet, Benny Green on piano, Barak Mori on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums set the tone for their set with the first number, "Sweet Georgia Brown." With Green's flying fingers on his piano solo, Mori swinging on bass and Cohen showing her dexterity and improvisational skills, the group let the audience share their enjoyment of the music they were making. Their version of "Lullaby of the Leaves," another Goodman standby, followed. But one of the highlights of the set was the ballad "Poor Butterfly" where Green's chords behind Cohen and his single line solo almost sounded like a vibraphone (creating the illusion that Lionel Hampton was somewhere in the group). Cohen's solo on this one was also impressive. A very, very fast rendition of "After You've Gone" had Cohen racing on the clarinet, Green delivering a set-stopping fiery solo, and Calvaire's drums getting a good workout and produced a standing ovation from the crowd. The set closed with a very soulful "Body and Soul." This was one of the magic moments of the festival where everyone on the stage and everyone in the audience really enjoyed themselves.

The last act of this year's Litchfield Jazz Festival actually was a world music group, not a jazz group. The trio comprised of Bela Fleck on banjo, Zakir Hussain on tablas and Edgar Meyer. These three, who individually are virtuoso musicians, joined together to deliver a set of Indian-oriented compositions. With Fleck's banjo dexterity, Meyer's arco bass playing sounding almost like a sitar and Hussain's skillful tabla playing, they produced an atmosphere in which Ravi Shankar would have felt at home. It was a calm, quiet ending to all of the activity of the weekend.

It would be remiss not to mention that all through the weekend, there were also performances by talented students from the Litchfield Jazz Camp in the Second Stage tent and various clinics held on the school grounds.

The 15th Anniversary of the Litchfield Jazz Festival ran smoothly and on time, thanks to the organizational skills of its staff and its volunteers. Once again, executive artistic director and founder Vita West Muir has pulled the remarkable rabbit out of her hat and put together a weekend to further the cause of this wonderful music we call jazz. Bravo!!

Photo Credit

All by Nathan Turner except Dave Brubeck by Fran Kaufman


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