53rd Monterey Jazz Festival: A Distinctive New Orleans Flavor

53rd Monterey Jazz Festival: A Distinctive New Orleans Flavor

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To summarize the high spots of the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival would certainly take more than one lead paragraph. From Sept. 17 through 19 at the Monterey, California, Fairgrounds, there was a pervasive New Orleans spirit in the air and the music. This was emphasized by the appearances of Trombone Shorty on Saturday afternoon, and Harry Connick, Jr. on Sunday night. And then there was singer Dianne Reeves, featured as artist-in-residence, who made key appearances on each of the festival's three days. There was also the undeniable impact of trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and his wonderful big band.
These figures stand out but, of course, there was much more to hear from the many great musicians who performed at the five main venues at the fairgrounds: the large, outdoor Jimmy Lyons Stage (also simulcasted in the barn-like Jazz Theater), and smaller, outdoor Garden Stage; the mid-size, indoor Dizzy's Den and Night Club; and the small, intimate Coffee House Gallery. Having this much jazz at a fan's disposal was good, of course, but it was also frustrating. Overlapping schedules called for decisions, and some favorites had to be missed.
Lyons Stage Headliners: Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Harry Connick, Jr., and Others
On Friday night, trumpeter Roy Hargrove kicked the festival off with his explosive 17- piece group. In perfect unison, the group shifted mood and texture, with a nod from Hargrove. Leading with trumpet in hand, he took solos in his inimitable style—in all tempos and ranges, always in the groove.

Fired-up vocalist Roberta Gambarini came on at the half-way point, charging into the Spanish lyrics of "La Puerta," followed, in a mellow mood, with "Every Time We Say Goodbye." Hargrove accompanied with his soulful horn. Many Lyons Stage attractions later perform in one of the small spaces, with Hargrove and his band in returning to Dizzy's Den later that same night.

On Saturday night, pianist Billy Childs' Quartet led off, in collaboration with Kronos Quartet. The festival commissioned Childs to write and perform his Music for Two Quartets. Despite its primary roots as a classical string quartet, Kronos Quartet intermingled with Childs' Quartet, into a swinging combination, galvanized by drummer Brian Blade. Childs—who also wrote the orchestrations—and melodic alto/soprano saxophonist Scott Wilson, perfectly complemented Kronos' strings.

Dianne Reeves

Later, Dianne Reeves came on with her quartet, featuring pianist Peter Martin and guitarist Roberto Lubambo. Coping with sound problems at first, she soon hit her stride with "Misty" and "Windmills of My Mind," sounding better than ever. Further establishing herself as successor to the late, great Sarah Vaughan, Reeves hit the sultry low notes with aplomb and effortlessly soared to the higher register.

As artist-in-residence, Reeves spent time over the year working with student musicians. On Sunday afternoon, she joined the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra and was particularly good on "Skylark," her voice floating above the band's lush trombone cushion. That same night, she sang with guitarists Russell Malone and Lubambo in what promised be a particularly tasty show.

Saturday afternoon is traditionally the blues day, with an audience primed for a celebration, and it certainly got it in the hands of party animal Trombone Shorty and his revelers.

Harry Connick, Jr.

From New Orleans' historic Treme district, Troy Andrew is the leader's given name. At 24-years old, he stands upfront, leading the charge with his extroverted trombone in a lively, unrestrained onslaught of blues funk. This led to the high of James Brown's classic "I Got the Feeling," featuring a romping tenor sax solo from Tim McFatter. At one point, guitarist Mike Ballard entered the fray with a high energy solo, hopping and skipping across stage. He became so overcome with the spirit that he fell to the floor, finishing on his back, as band members took instrumental licks in his face to revive him. It was that kind of show—controlled frenzy—and the crowd ate it up.

The most effective part of the afternoon came, however, at the end of Shorty's set, with a medley best described as Dixieland funk: a gumbo, starting with "When the Saints Go Marching In," which led to Shorty's imitation of Louis Armstrong. The climax came with the irresistible theme from HBO's Treme, a television series in which Trombone Shorty had a recurring role

The standing ovation went on for minutes, with the crowd conquered and more. Shorty and the band were slated to play in the smaller outdoor Garden Stage later that afternoon, and people immediately started grabbing seats there.

Native son Harry Connick, Jr. is a prime ambassador of everything New Orleans. On Sunday night, a packed crowd at Lyons Stage was ready for him. Taking the stage with his 11-piece jazz band—brass on the right, bass mid-stage, strings on the left—the veteran singer/pianist put on a well-honed show, most recently performed in New York and at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl.

Eugenio "Raspa" Rodriguez, of Septeto Nacional de Cuba

The evening started with Connick in a Frank Sinatra mode, beginning with a percussive "Bésame Mucho." Over the last few years, Connick's voice has gained timbre and jazz nuance, putting him squarely in the "Ol' Blue Eyes" tradition. His set list also included the very relaxed and listenable "All the Way," and "You Don't Love Me."

Then, at the halfway point, Connick staged a Mardi Gras party. He brought on trombonist Lucien Barbarin, from down in the Bayou, who joined honk-and-stomp saxophonist Jerry Weldon and ragtime trumpeter Kevin Bryan in the spotlight.

The party began. Connick—singing, tap dancing and boogieing across the stage—showed that he was into the celebration, singing a jambalaya of tunes: the coy "How Come You Treat Me Like You Do"; the spirited "Take Me to the Mardi Gras"; and "Down in New Orleans." It wasn't high art, but the audience loved it.

. Ahmad Jamal was up next and, despite opting to leave to hear some trio sounds in the Jazz Gallery, it was tempting to turn back, as the hypnotic strains of the pianist's classic "Poinciana" began filtering through.

Performance Highlights in Small Venues

After a fervid introduction by MC Ricardo Fernandez in Spanish, Septeto Nacional de Cuba took to the stage in Dizzy's Den, unleashing it passionate music. Lead vocalist Eugenio "Raspa" Rodriguez," one of the precursors of son, the forerunner of salsa, led the seven in songs, which mixed indigenous Cuban styles including rhumba, guaracha, and the sad, pretty bolero. The rest of the group joined in with Rodriguez, and it wasn't long before the infectious rhythms had people up and moving their hips—both inside and outside the den.

Instrumentally, Enrique Collaza took intricate solos on his Cuban Tres (three-string) guitar, and Augustin Garcia delighted with his pulsating infusions on trumpet. This was good-time music from across the gulf.

On Friday night, Nellie McKay brought the house down in the Nightclub. Having read about this clever, versatile singer, it wasn't preparation enough, for an impressive, sly and sardonic style, wrapped in a shy little girl's voice—a Blossom Dearie for a new millennium.

Nellie McKay

McKay started out by entrancing the audience with selections from her Doris Day tribute, Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve, 2009): a wistful "The Very Thought of You"; and a breathy "Do, Do Do." Moving from her piano bench, she began strumming her ukulele, and want into her razor-sharp satire of feminism, "Mother of Pearl," which left the hip audience hooting and hollering.

George Wein , the 84-year-old pianist and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, appeared in an all-star group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage. The set featured the flawless Ken Peplowski on clarinet and tenor, his dazzling duet with guitarist Howard Alden on "You" a delightful exercise in breakneck synchronization of sound. Wein closed the set with a heartfelt rendition of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."

Not just a jazz novelty act, Hawaiian Jake Shimabukuro plays a custom-built, four-string ukulele, with all the flexibility of a Fender electric guitar. On Saturday night at the Garden Stage, he coupled a flamenco-tinged piece with his hauntingly beautiful version of The Beatles' "In My Life"; the man's range is amazing.

The Coffee House Gallery Pianists

Always a festival favorite for lovers of the piano trio, the intimate Gallery's nightly lineup featured a range of top pianists.

Marcus Roberts' group played Friday, and featured bassist Rodney Jordan, and drummer Jason Marsalis. In his first set, Roberts turned the venerable Russian folk song, "Dark Eyes," into a rhythmic samba while, finishing on a high note, the pianist introduced "New Orleans Parade" with a panoply of early jazz styles brought into creative play. Marsalis' drums were featured prominently, as they were the entire hour.

On Sunday, Fred Hersch's trio—with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson—played with a cohesion that brought to mind Bill Evans' groups of decades past. Hersch dug deeply into each song—whether original or standard—intuitively reaching for the right note or phrase. His sublime version of Sammy Cahn's "Some Other Time" left the crowd entranced, as did his utterly complex and completely delightful version of "Change Partners," reinventing this Irving Berlin favorite and ending it ingeniously in the upper register of his piano.

Fred Hersch Trio, from left: Hersch, John Hébert, Eric McPherson

Performers Regrettably Missed

On Saturday, people were talking about the late Friday night performance at the Nightclub by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition. The American-reared saxophonist led a group that merged traditional Indian music with jazz. Some compared the leader to an Indian Charlie Parker , in the way he charged through the numbers.

Late Sunday afternoon at the Arena, there was more musical cross-breeding. Benin-born and raised Angelique Kidjo reportedly entranced the crowd with a spirited, soulful and crowd-pleasing set, combining African styles with rock and jazz. The crowd favorite was an Afro-funk version of James Brown's classic "Cold Sweat," though at the end of her set she brought Dianne Reeves in for a soulful version of "Baby, Baby I Love You."

Finally, 85 year-old drummer Roy Haynes made two well-received appearances. On Saturday, he played with Chick Corea's Freedom Band, and on Sunday, with his own Fountain of Youth Band, where the jazz archetype surrounded himself with young stars in-the-making. Attendees said he played with the verve of someone decades younger.

For those minutes between sets and during hungry times, the lineup of businesses along the ground's pathways attracted shoppers and hungry fans, with over 40 arts, crafts and clothing booths, and over 40 food and beverage stalls. There was some tasty Jamaican jerk pork and a succulent salmon rice bowl.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Gail Taylor

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