39th Annual Lakeland Jazz Festival: February 24-27, 2011

39th Annual Lakeland Jazz Festival: February 24-27, 2011
Matt Marshall By

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39th Annual Lakeland Jazz Festival
Kirtland, OH
February 24-27, 2011
The Lakeland Jazz Festival routinely catches the ire of Mother Nature, with winter storms often hampering travel of artists and fans alike, at times limiting attendance or even necessitating the cancellation of a show here or there. But that's life for a February festival in the heart of Northeast Ohio's snowbelt. Yet Lakeland's festival, now in its 39th year, soldiers proudly on. Its organizers even opted for an all-out effrontery to Old Man Winter this year by adding a third day of performance—a Sunday matinee—to its regular program of Friday and Saturday night headliners and roughly 15 hours of performance by junior high, high school and college musicians over the course of the weekend.

February 25: Organ Ism / Bobby Selvaggio's Grass Roots Movement

Friday night boasted a strong double bill of two of Northeast Ohio's more forward-looking jazz acts. First up was Organ Ism, a tight, energetic organ trio formed in 2007 that features saxophonist Howie Smith, organist David Thomas and drummer Bill Ransom. The group opened with a haunting, spatial take on Gershwin's "Summertime," cemented at opening and close by a slightly eerie, Ellingtonian coupling of Smith's soprano and Thomas' Hammond B3 on the melody. Thomas took the first solo, fracturing what up to that point had been a majestically orchestrated piece. From jagged steps he built a mosaic of sound—an arc he often follows on piano, as well—the cacophony expanded here by the Hammond's Doppler warble, as Thomas set the woofer baffle in the Leslie speaker cabinet into a twirling blur. Smith switched to tenor for his solo, releasing smooth, pressurized lines, compressed to zip through the molded pipes of his imagination. On his "Say It Again" and Thomas' "Chaz Jazz," Smith cut release valves for his solos—screaming desperate on his own tune (while retaining a very pure tone); releasing fluttering bird noises in the early going of "Chaz," then replying to himself later in his solo with more urgent avian squabbling. Ransom was reliable thunder on the kit, firing the trio down the track with a thrilling, engineered propulsion that echoed Smith's. "Fool on the Hill" was the group's departure from the headiness. Yet they kept their heads appropriately in the ether: Ransom moved to the Cajon box drum to underpin Smith's spiritual ascent up the mountain with alto. Organ Ism then rose an angular, R&B wall of sound on the closer.

After this, the fusion of saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio's Grass Roots Movement felt perhaps even more stretched and moody than it might have otherwise. Selvaggio stuck to originals—four of the set's five numbers came from his Grass Roots Movement (Arabesque Records) album that was for release four days later. The fifth tune—"Flow"—was newer still, and played, so the saxophonist said, at his band's insistence. Bassist Kipp Reed was the lone Grass Rootist from the album, joined on this night by keyboardist Andrew Lawrence and drummer Chris Baker. The crew started, as indicated, with a few slowly evolving tunes—"Signature Needed," "Fish Food" and "Movement"—that allowed Selvaggio and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Lawrence, broad room to explore ideas and construct solos in a novelistic vein. The band maintained an involving ebb and flow with Selvaggio and Lawrence countering one another with distinct voicings and manners of telling a story. Reed lent a grungy bass fuzz to the affair, while Baker kept matters chugging along. "Flow," which Selvaggio dubbed a "fun little thing," actually took the group into deeper, darker waters, and proved a nice change of pace—thickly flowing with more gut and bottom than the previous numbers. The closer, "No Turn On Red," amped the groove, launching from a rush-hour-like stop-and-go propulsion, into free-flowing, weaving, wind-in-the-hair soloing and back round to traffic lights and city congestion.

February 26: Kurt Rosenwinkel


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