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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2018

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2018
Doug Collette By

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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, Vermont
June 1-10, 2018

As the case with any festival worth attending at all, the passionate musiclover faces a challenge with Burlington Discover Jazz. Simply put, it's the choice between attending a marathon of events, thereby risking overload and over-stimulation, or more selectively discern which bills at which venues warrant the attention that will prove truly memorable. The latter approach invariably involves bringing individual taste into play, an attitude corresponding to that of the more casual fan who scans the roster of artists (and in the case of this ten-day festival, the multitude of free events around the Queen City), opting for familiar names and places or those that pique the curiosity. Either way, fanatics and dilettantes alike could readily satiate their appetites through the eclectic selections on offer for BDJF's thirty-fifth anniversary roster, including non-concert occasions such as round-table discussions and 'Meet the Artist' sessions plus music up and down the streets surrounding the various and sundry bills at the Flynn Center homebase (upstairs and down), Burlington's Waterfront Park and the legendary Nectar's venue.

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
Higher Ground Ballroom, South Burlington, Vermont
June 1, 2018

While the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was formally launching Discover Jazz on the MainStage on June first, the appearance of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite in Higher Ground's Ballroom served as the missing link to the blues for the annual festival. A thoroughly delightful affair from start to finish, this first of the duo's two nights at the South Burlington club evoked memories of John Mayall and Matt Schofield in previous years of BDJF history and, although it was not an officially sanctioned presentation of the festival, the event nevertheless served as the missing link to the blues for the eclectic offerings around the neighboring city. In a little over two hours on stage in a single set, Harper and Musselwhite demonstrated the innate musicality of their chemistry and how its infectious nature informs the musicianship of their bandmates as much as their own. There's a mutual admiration in play between the principals that not only reflects their shared devotion to the blues-one that's rightfully earned them a Grammy-but also elevates the deep delight both take in playing together, minimizing less-than-positive personality traits (like Harper's crowd-pleasing antics) and on this Friday night precluded anything predictable: during the perfectly-paced performance, notable covers of Zeppelin and the Beatles got no greater acclamation than those afforded Musselwhite's spotlights, not to mention Harper's dramatic turn during the encore when he sang to a rapturous audience, sans microphone.

Black Market: A Tribute to Weather Report
June 2, 2018

It's an audacious move indeed to play any of Weather Report's material, much less devote an overall band concept to the distinctive compositions and arrangements of late keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, but, in opening one of the pair of Discover Jazz occasions at Nectar's, local ensemble Black Market played it smart in their relatively early set. Opening with the iconic fusion band's best known tune, "Birdland," was a most astute means of drawing the attention of a rapidly-expanding crowd, after which the quintet then went on to successfully sidestepped the bane of tribute bands, that is, playing too correctly. There was as great a sense of play as reverence in the musicians' interactions on seven astute choices from a considerable discography and whether navigating delectable melody lines via leader Matt Dolliver's horns on "A Remark You Made" or allowing bassist Paddy Donely and drummer Cotter Ellis to generate borderline explosive rhythms during "Havona." On both fronts, the sound was both lush and pure thanks to the venue's sound guru Sergei Ushakov; the impeccable audio mix revealed nuances including, but was not limited to, the subtle colors from Gyasi Garcia's palette of keyboards, while the understated presence of Ben Bivens' electric guitar bestowed yet another distinction upon Black Market (Weather Report only ever used the instrument late in its history, via Carlos Santana on This Is This [Columbia, 1986]). The logical choice of a finale, the tune by which this band derived its name, suggested the highest compliment to be paid such homage is two- fold: the group in question does justice to its source with style and honest spirit-which is what happened here-and, in turn, inspires those listening to seek out the original.

Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah
June 3, 2018


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