21st Annual Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington Vermont

Doug Collette By

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Burlington's Discover Jazz Festival has evolved into the most eclectic celebration imaginable
In its twenty-one year history, Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival has evolved into the most eclectic celebration imaginable. And it’s not just the music, which ranges from the progressive to the traditional; during 2004’s 10day festival run, the array of venues ran from the clubs to the courtyards to the theatre and the auditorium.

Fans of groove jazz could hardly devise a more delectable bill than MMW, Soulive and DJ Logic, but what sounds ideal in thought doesn’t necessarily translate into ticket sales: Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium seemed particularly drafty as the 2004 Discover Jazz festival began this June 4th night, but the audience expanded and contracted as the night went on, in time with the beats per minute ratio.

Logic’s turntable spinning was a much preferable intro and between set use of time than the usual canned music. Especially so when Soulive took the stage unannounced and proceed to seamless slip into the groove Logic had dug. The young trio has never sounded so sleek since their earliest days, when they seemed like old-school Blue Note wannabes. Now, with years of experience under their collective belt the experimentation of their studio work has clarified their stripped-down approach; Eric Krasno’s guitar is now equally prominent with Neal Evans’ keyboards—the latter’s late set solo spot notwithstanding—and as Alan Evans continues to drive the band on drums, they arguably sound better than ever

The guesting of guitarist Melvin Sparks and his saxophonist on The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces” left the now fully engaged audience ripe for a consummate headlining performance from Medeski, Martin & Wood, even after a prolonged set break. At a time when the trio could be comfortably playing self-created greatest hits sets—and on this particular night deepen the groove established by the preceding acts, they preferred to challenge themselves and their audiences. So it was that MMW relied no more on the surefire rhythmic touch of Billy Martin or Chris Wood than the oblique keyboard excursions of John Medeski.

Interweaving “Afro Blue” and Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” into an extended single set that took the crowd right up to curfew, Medeski Martin & Wood clearly left an increasing number of listeners cold as the set went on, but secured an apparently equal number of attendees in rapt attention; they placed just enough accessible material in just the right places to keep from losing the crowd—and vice-versa—while the inclusion of a few sweet intervals of melody when Medeski went to acoustic and electric piano from his battery of keyboards allowed the band to touch virtually the entire dynamic range. MMW can do it all, but simply prefer not to do it to meet the tastes of all who may listen. More power to them(as if they needed it!0

It’s a tribute to the Discover Jazz Festival in its 21st year that it brings out listeners to events such as this highly contemporary triple bill who normally might not attend. It’s a further testament to the eclectic approach the festival organizers take that MMW/Soulive/DJ Logic so effectively set a tone of open-minded creativity. Here are some more memorable moments...

At the Flynn Theatre June 5th, the local trio Vorcza, in opening up for “A Tribute to Frank Zappa,” demonstrated how they are growing in leaps and bounds. It was hard not to take your eyes off drummer Gabe Jarrett who seemed to have taken over the band...as he did the following Tuesday at Club Metronome: his flamboyant playing drove guitarist Paul Asbell, bassist Stacey Starkweather and his Vorcza-mate keyboardist Ray Pazchowski, into high gear via some choice Monk material and a particularly sensitive but visceral reading of Hendrix “Little Wing.”

With his quartet evenly divided half acoustic and half electric, saxophonist Chris Poter effectively cut a swath between traditional and contemporary jazz approaches the previous night in FlynnSpace. The moments of four-way interaction was few and far between---but no less sublime for their scarcity.

Despite an increasingly noticeable temperature drop as their second set progressed Friday the 11th outside in the Courtyard at Halvorson’s’ on Church Street, The Benevento/Russo duo used their drums and keyboards to generate sounds as far afield as their choice of material: from the comforting melody of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” to slashing rhythms populating Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Randy Weston’s pan-African jazz was almost but not quite upstaged at the Flynn Theatre the next evening by the vigorous compositions and arrangements offered by James Harvey(on drums!?) and his band Garuda. The showmanship of the venerable pianist’s percussionist Neil Clarke and bassist Alex Blake stood as crowd-pleasing contrast to the more philosophical bent of this jazz master’s program.

Although this year’s Discover Jazz Festival didn’t boast the same roster of marquee names as last year’s 20th anniversary lineup—Branford Marsalis was the only headliner to rival the likes of 2003’s John Mayall, Trey Anastasio, Sonny Rollins and Dave Holland--- there’s no doubt the joyous noise in, around and above the streets of Burlington during this extended ten-day run was the spontaneous, inspiring atmosphere jazz thrives upon.

Visit the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival on the web at www.discoverjazz.com .


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