9th Annual Capital JazzFest

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Home again in Bull Run Park! In its 9th year, Capital Jazz has scaled back its size and venue, returning to the Bull Run Park in Fairfax (where it was held most of the first six years), and setting up just one stage.
But I expect that most jazz fans won't mind at all! Bull Run Park is a MUCH cooler, more spacious venue, where people can be on grass instead of concrete. And the music quality is as excellent as ever! Once again, the CapJazz Fest staff put together a VERY strong and diverse line-up, while remaining true to the contemporary jazz genre.
The weather gods were NOT smiling on Saturday. The weather alternated from a steady soaking rain to an occasional downpour, but if anyone was staying home because of the rain and the mud you certainly couldn't tell it from the number of cars in the parking lot! People simply pulled out their umbrellas and their ponchos and settled down for a full day of music that was going to be sizzling.

Strong young keyboardist Marcus Johnson started the show Saturday with several songs from his well-named Urban Groove album as well as new material. He was followed by multi-Grammy winner Larry Carlton whose set was slightly abbreviated by his late arrival and Capital Jazz's firm maintenance of schedule, but Larry still managed to play Josie, Minute By Minute, and several other favorites plus a couple of new tunes. His sparse back-up band, consisting of Rick Jackson on keyboards, Chris Ken on bass and Moyes Lucas on drums, was in top form.

Sax & flautist Najee was next with his fine, smooth set that acknowledges the influence of Stevie Wonder. Najee would have been scheduled later in the day, but had to work this appearance into his 2001 tour with Prince! (Yes, he flew in from Minneapolis just to be at this show, then flew back the same day to be on-stage again with Prince that night. Now THAT'S dedication!)

This year's nod to funky R&B was the British group Down to the Bone who brought considerable talent and one of the largest bands at CapJazz this year. Armed with two sax players — Paul Weimar on tenor and Adrian Revell on alto and flute, plus Tony Mason on drums, Satin Singh on percussion and others, this was a full-bodied set.

Next was Michael Franks — vocalist with the dubious fame of being best known for "Popsicle Toes". I have never exactly understood just WHY he was so popular or why he was considered jazz, but his smooth popsy vocals were pleasant enough and they were certainly big crowd-pleasers.

The uncontested main man of the day was Rick Braun. Not only for the smooth, bouncy trumpet and creative arrangements, but also for crowd contact — including rolling up his pants and running barefoot through the muddy lawn with the crowd! The fast-moving set included Notorious, Kisses in the Rain, Groovis, and many other hits, leaving the crowd thoroughly satisfied.

Pianist extraordinare Joe Sample closed the Saturday set with his usual superb keys. Backed only by bass and drums, Joe brought a smooth, sweet low-key conclusion to a fine, diverse day.

Sunday the weather was cleared and the music likewise clear and strong. Wayman Tisdale, basketball player turned bassist started the action. With his polished bass notes, strong backing band including Michael Phillips on sax, and his usual infectious sheer joy and energy, this set got things off to a sound start. Smooth expressive guitarist Chuck Loeb and diverse pianist Jeff Lorber followed along to set a mellow tone for Sunday afternoon. Both of these artists are better known for the show tunes they have composed and arranged, and it was a treat to see them out on stage performing more of their own music.

The afternoon's talent-meter continued to shoot off the top with Stanley Clarke coaxing sounds from his bass (and that of back-up bassist James Earl) that push the edges of the envelope. The early fusion work could be heard, as well as very contemporary jazz.

Cassandra Wilson provided an eclectic and powerful set of modern jazz vocals, showing that prominent and expressive jazz singers are not from a bygone era — they are very much in the here and now and Cassandra Wilson is among the leaders of that pack!

The closing set for Sunday and the weekend was an incredible combination: Dave Koz and Friends brought out a truly all-star set. Ever-popular and personable Dave Koz was joined by Brian Culbertson on keyboards and trombone, Norman Brown on guitar, Michael McDonald on vocals and keyboards, plus the usual top-flight Koz band. This was a high energy non-stop two hour set which included some of the top hits from each artist, plus a show-stopping performance of "The Dance" (from Koz's CD of the same name), with Michael McDonald doing the vocals! (Say, guys, when are we gonna hear that version on a live CD? Hint, hint.)

Another all-around fine weekend of jazz, and the new/old venue puts this event back on our 'regular attendance' list!


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