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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2016

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2016

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Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, Vermont
June 3-12, 2016

With thirty-two years of history, the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is an avowed tradition, but those who oversee the wide variety of events that take place in Vermont's Queen City for the duration of its multiple nights regularly find a way to inject fresh ideas into the basic concept. 2015, for instance, saw the introduction of recording shows at the intimate FlynnSpace, later to be broadcast on Vermont Public Television (and streamed on-line). This creative initiative continued this year in the wake of winning a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for future festival initiatives.

As in the past, BDJF 2016 inspired the city to join the festivities in all manner of ways, from the various venues that feature music on a regular basis throughout the year, like the historic home of Phish Nectar's, as well as the other clubs, restaurants and various locations who rise to the occasion of the festival. Not to mention the multiple local sponsorships that not only make the festival possible, but allow films, workshops, meet-the-artist sessions, over one hundred of which such events are free.

But the overriding distinction of 2016's Discover Jazz Festival lie in the vividly memorable way the high(er) profile concerts, over the course of the ten days, set in motion a discernible momentum not unlike that a great band will generate during a truly stellar performance. By the time Bela Fleck & The Flecktones left a tumultuous Waterfront Park stage near 11:00pm Thursday June 9, it was as if the main 'set' was complete, leaving the ensuing three nights as multiple encores. Such a perception does nothing to disparage the subsequent appearances of The Kenny Barron and Marcus Roberts Trios or anyone else subsequently performing before the festival's actual close the evening of June 12th: it only reaffirms how appropriate is the festival's name 'Discover Jazz.'

Randy Newman
Flynn Mainstage
June 3, 2016

Regular and repeated ripples of recognition for songs, spontaneous applause through the venue the likes of which usually erupts at the end of shows, whispered singalongs more frequent as the night evolved, a genuinely heartfelt thanks from the artist (including good wishes for the festival he headlined) and a final tune clearly directed at this capacity crowd...Burlington's 2016 Discover Jazz Festival could not have offered and received a better opening night than the the two-set concert by this award-winning, yet self-effacing songwriter. Over the course of the two hours plus, both performer and audience laughed knowingly during his salty repartee, even as poignant tunes such as "I Wish It Would Rain" rendered the room silent as he sat alone at the Steinway piano. Newman might've played one elongated set instead and/or delivered less between-song repartee during the second segment, but regardless, the reciprocal affection that permeated the air was a far cry from his performance back in the early Seventies on a co-bill with Bonnie Raitt, long before the modern renovation of the Flynn, in front of fifty some attendees a handful of whom came just to razz the performers. But then Newman's come a long way since then and it's not just his own hit with "Short People" or the popular covers of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and "Mama Told Me Not to Come" (presented here in a short sweet take). It's a canon of tunes juxtaposed with numbers he's written for Disney movies like 'Toy Story,' as well as the poignant "Baltimore," which was no more or less cinematic than "Louisiana" which,like his lighthearted ode to Vladimir Putin, sounds as relevant now (perhaps more so) as when it was originally recorded. It wasn't even necessary to be a Randy Newman fan this warm June night: a voice caricatured but wholly unaffected radiated a deceptive confidence that justified the rapt and reverent attention from the floor and the balcony of the Flynn Center.

Will Bernard Trio
City Hall Stage
June 4, 2016

It's a measure of the quality of Burlington's Discover Jazz Festival that performers regularly return and, in the case of Will Bernard (who was just in Vermont last year!), do so to play multiple gigs while in town: the evening of his alfresco afternoon show, he shared the stage at Nectar's and was scheduled to play the next day at a local restaurant as well. During a delayed series of performances on the annual 'Big Joe Burrell Day' (honoring the late mainstay of Burlington's local music scene), the Will Bernard Trio was composed of the same personnel as 2015—Brian Charette on keyboards and Erik Kalb on drums—but the ensemble altered their approach to inject markedly insistent undercurrent throughout the entire ninety-minute set. Kalb set that momentum in motion on his break near the end of "Catscan" and further sustained it as the band moved through "We the People," a track from Charette's just released solo album Alphabet City (Posi-Tone, 2016) and a number from Bernard's Blue Plate Special (Palmetto, 2008). Perhaps it was the awareness of his other gigs that prompted the guitarist's elevated spirit of generosity toward his bandmates, but regardless, the attitude made for unusually tightly-knit ensemble playing, even for a trio as experienced together as this one.

Tyshawn Sorey: Koan Quartet
June 4, 2016

It's fair to say FlynnSpace has neither seen nor heard anything like the performance put on by these four musicians this second night of 2016 Discover Jazz and it set a standard for the 2016 FlynnSpace shows as the rather unusual instrumental lineup of trombone, acoustic guitar, viola, piano and drums turned out to be just a hint of the eccentricity to come: the foursome played an uninterrupted seventy-five minutes that made the Sonny Fortune & Rashied Ali drums/saxophone free form of 2005 seem wholly conventional in contrast. To describe what happened to anyone not present is to beg credulity when mentioning trombonist Ben Gerstein pouring water in his instrument, blowing through the bell and playing his phone through the instrument; guitarist Todd Neufeld rarely chording but more often stretching and sliding his hands and various objects up down and around the fretboard even as he tightened and loosened strings. Mat Maneri added vocal exhortations to comparative lulls in the cacophony when seated on the stage, but he sat on the edge of it twice and took a walk through the audience at one point, sitting down to serenade the attendees near the rear. All the while, Sorey, the bandleader/drummer took a couple stints away from his kit to bang and pluck the piano to his left returning to bend cymbals, blow through a drum head, rattle around those as arrayed before him when he wasn't squeaking up down and inside out them all. What was perhaps most amazing is how Sorey and company captured and held the attention of an admittedly sparse audience for the duration of the 'piece,' which might best be summarized by suggesting the notes and beats they struck were those that otherwise would exist in the spaces and silence of conventional compositions. Those who don't dote on jazz in any form and (over) generalize the genre as just noise would find their description almost but not quite apt in attempting—but ultimately probably failing—to capture in words what Koan Quartet did in sound this first Saturday of Discover Jazz.

The Jimmy Greene Quartet
June 5, 2016

Even if you hadn't attended Tyshawn Sorey's free-form excursion at FlynnSpace the previous evening, the saxophonist and his band would still have sounded absolutely refreshing. As soulful as it was accessible, Greene and his band offered a particularly well-constructed set that included a breathless opening number based on Greene mentor Jackie McLean's writing, the rollicking "Stinkthumb" and an exercise in deceptively infectious syncopation called "32." And as much as the trade-offs for solos were carefully arranged, when pianist Kevin Hays took over from the bandleader on "Ana's Way," the transition was effective precisely because of the seamless overlap between the two musicians. Greene displayed restraint and abandon in turn throughout the concert so that a duet between him and Hays wasn't the only number where he brought John Coltrane; nevertheless, it was the most memorable such instance simply because the subdued piece was so ideally placed in the setlist to set up the crackling drum interlude by which Otis Brown III closed the set. In more ways than one, the Jimmy Greene Quartet deserved the word 'classic' applied to their performance for the full house sheltered from the summer rain this early June evening.

Film Screening: "Bill Evans: Time Remembered"
The BCA Center
June 6, 2016

Filmmaker Bruce Speigel's tribute to the iconic pianist deftly balanced rhapsodic observations about Bill Evans' musicianship with trenchant comments on his personal life in such a way that, by the time the film concluded, he had presented a comprehensive picture of the man's life. Whether everyone in attendance in the fairly small auditorium of the (festival co-sponsor) Burlington City Arts building learned something new or was prompted to recall their knowledge about Bill Evans and his legacy to jazz matters less than it was an occasion, like so many free events on the Discover Jazz schedule, fully competitive with the higher profile presentations.

The Rodriguez Brothers
June 6, 2016

Anyone in FlynnSpace the night of June 6 would've been hard pressed to tell who was enjoying the evening more—The Rodriguez Brothers or their audience. And, with all due respect, any attendee who walked down to the intimate venue on a whim might well have assumed the namesake leaders of the band were the drummer and percussionist: the bond between Ludwig Alfonso and Samuel Torres, respectively, was such that it was well nigh impossible to look around the stage. That said, the deep pulse Zachary Brown generated on his double bass was nearly as riveting, so much so that, given his position center stage, albeit removed in the rear (and thus aligned with the rhythm section), it was as if Mike and Rob were there to support their three bandmates not vice versa. Truth be told, the Rodriguez' are the creative force in the quintet as they supply the original material, like the pianist's "Fragment," and they do work the melody instruments(though the ivory keyboard may never be more of a percussion instrument than in this setting). But the reality is that the loose-limbed and light touch of Alfonso on his kit was a tightly fused complement to Torres' unerring touch and savvy use of his battery of rhythm tools, so much so the spontaneous eruptions of applause for their work was just a precursor to a deserved standing ovation and a muted spacious encore ballad that was a fitting end to an otherwise wholly rousing performance.

Jenny Scheinman & Myra Melford Duo
June 7, 2016

The rhythmic detail generated by the Rodriguez brothers in their performance at FlynnSpace the previous night found a corollary in the exploration of melody while these two musicians occupied the stage for ninety-minutes. Even so, emotion prevailed over otherwise obvious technique right from the evocative start: with Melford on harmonium at the beginning, Scheinman's violin never sounded so pure as during the first half-hour or so. By that point Melford had turned the piano into a percussion device for the string instrument from which her duo partner coaxed teases of Celtic motifs, pure gypsy reels and even some sweeping figures reminiscent of the jazz fusion virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty. Scheinman was less adept at between song repartee than composition, including excerpts from a forthcoming larger project, but more originals from Melford like "Strawberry" would've made a discernible difference in the flow of the show: that crowd-pleaser setting up a closing almost as tranquil as a lullaby, thus revealing ever more clearly the diversity of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival's FlynnSpace program of 2016.

The Ingrid Jensen Quintet Featuring Christine Jensen
June 8, 2016

Ingrid and Christine Jensen used their horns (trumpet and saxophone respectively) to lead the charge of the quintet into a bracing opening number in front of a standing room only crowd in FlynnSpace, but they didn't neglect to season the brisk musicianship with a few dashes of a dream-like quality that allowed the Fender Rhodes electric piano of Jon Cowherd to further that atmosphere on the very next number. And that only set the stage for a tour-de-force medley, lasting perhaps thirty minutes, that ran the gamut from trumpet and sax playing harmony and counterpoint to the rhythm section alternately popping the beat along or elongating the rhythm they maintained; Matt Clohesy on bass and Jon Wikan on drums actually furthered the otherworldly sensation Ingrid conjured up with looping effects as well as blowing her horn over the strings inside the piano. Even given the venue's overall schedule, it might be fair to say FlynnSpace has never contained such a range of variations as this five-some alone generated at the mid-point of Discover Jazz 2016.

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones/High & Mighty Brass Band/Soule Monde
Waterfront Park, Burlington, VT
June 9, 2016

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones' set on the shore of Lake Champlain was as stunning in its own way as their magnificent performance closing the 2011 Discover Jazz Fest from the stage of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Perhaps in an effort to maintain the momentum set in motion by the earthy propulsion of Soule Monde (drummer Russ Lawton and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski) and the infectious stomp of the High And Mighty Brass Band, the quartet hit the ground running with a triad of tunes that, were it not for the harmonica and grand piano of Howard Levy, might be dismissed as space age bluegrass. In fact, the prodigious instrumental skills of Fleck on banjo(s), Victor Wooten on bass(es) and Roy Futureman Wooten on acoustic and electronic percussion might well have descended into pure technique were it not for the tall lanky musician who injects a light touch and, more importantly, a sense of play into his musicianship and, by infectious extension, into that of his bandmates. Concentrating on material from their two early albums with Levy and inserting one he wrote, "Sweet Pomegranates," from their 2011 reunion record Rocket Science (E-One Music, 2011), Fleck & Co., repeatedly elicited near-delirious acclamation from an audience inside the tent and out, its joyful intensity ratcheted up another level altogether by sit-ins from Fleck's one-time collaborator, pianist Marcus Roberts (with whom he opened the 2012 BDJF), and, on the latter's second appearance at the encore, drummer Jason Marsalis. One of the few impromptu jams at a formal festival show this year made this one all the more memorable.

Seth Yacovone
June 10, 2016

Seth Yac's Friday night solo sessions at Nectar's may not have all the history of Burlington's Discover Jazz Festival, but it's just about as much of a tradition, having gone on now for over ten years. It's a streak that, in part, earned the native Vermont musician a 'Lifetime Achievement Award' when the venue celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015. Early in his set, Yacovone wisely utilized a couple Neil Young tunes ("Vampire Blues" and "Revolution Blues") to gain some traction, while the inclusion of the Faces' Ronnie Lane's "Glad and Sorry" offered an understated contrast to the wicked slide he played on Howlin' Wolf's "Ain't Superstitious." And all of this action was prior to a frenetic take (as is usually the case) on Bob Dylan's "Isis," further evidence—if any were in fact necessary—that Yacovone wouldn't have been able to continue these regular appearances for a decade if he didn't embody the truly spontaneous spirit of jazz.

The Kenny Barron Trio
Flynn Mainstage
June 10, 2016

Kenny Barron's light touch on the ivories had all the clarity of the deeply percussive piano playing of Marcus Roberts in the open air of Waterfront Park the night before, no doubt befitting a breadth of history dating back to the venerable pianist's first self-professed visit to Burlington in the sixties as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band. His accompanists followed Barron's lead with the touch they applied to their respective instruments too: on the late Charlie Haden's "Nightfall," bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake exhibited the wisdom that it isn't enough just to play the right notes, but play them just the right way, to extract the mood of a tune. The set threatened to become staid when Blake's explosive solo brought whoops and hollers from an otherwise polite audience, this just before Barron picked up the pace, ever so subtly but effectively, with a Brazilian-flavored number followed by the similarly-rhythmic "Calypso." Forget the sparsely-populated balcony: the Flynn may have never looked or sounded more elegant than during the ninety-minutes the Kenny Barron Trio inhabited the stage this genuine summer evening.

The Marcus Roberts Trio
June 11,2016 (Early Set)

Having conducted a 'Meet the Artist' session and acting as 'Artist-in-Residence' for Burlington Discover Jazz 2016 (working with high school musicians, offering concerts for kids and various other edifying activities), Marcus Roberts headed to the home stretch with his trio on two sold out performances in the intimate FlynnSpace. The earlier show of the two was wholly complete unto itself and deeply stirring to boot: Roberts displayed his passion for jazz through literate-humored, good introductions for all the songs he played (by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Tadd Dameron, among others), but even more so by the finesse with which he, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis imbued their often dazzling musicianship. It might be said Roberts offered a primer in the history of jazz to the standing-room-only audience, and, even with another set to play, following a meet and greet/autograph session between the two performances, Marcus Roberts made the audience feel at home perhaps because, after a week or so in the Green Mountains, that's how he felt too!

Jacob Garchik
June 12, 2016

The 2016 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, as usual, went out with a bang on its last day, offering ten events on a roster including free music and movies, plus Diane Schuur on the Flynn Mainstage accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra. Just prior to that event, Jacob Garchik and his band Ye Olde reminded how the guitar, as an instrument, had not been too prominent during this year's festival—but they made up for it! Three different electrics with varying effects meshed in layers for the duration of a story-in-song as vivid, if not more so, as the bandleader's narrative poetry. In fact, the half-serious presentation of a tale set in medieval Brooklyn (?!?) took a back seat to an unusual collective sound rooted in the progressive rock likes of Yes and King Crimson; Garchik's trombone, however, was a crucial distinction, in part because he didn't overplay any more than his bandmates. And that included drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, whose insistent style pointed up the only arguable shortfall of this performance: a drum break of greater or lesser duration was lacking, if only, perhaps, to accurately render the pomp and circumstance in a pair of segments that otherwise sounded forced. In his intro to the group, chief executive director of the Flynn Center John Killacky sagely observed that Garchik & Ye Olde were an appropriate bookend to the Tyshawn Sorey performance the previous weekend which began the string of varied and adventurous shows presented in Flynnspace for 2016's Discover Jazz Festival. Yet even as each of those presentations evinced a logic of their own, none was more compelling than this climactic one and fittingly so.

Photo Credit: Kevin Shapiro

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