Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
May 31-June 9, 2019
Prominent among the many of virtues the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
offers its hometown each year is a reminder of the energetic activity that permeates the Queen City of Vermont (and not just at this most wonderful time of the year). Witness the first night of 2019's ten-day run: in addition to one of the most friendly and accessible opening acts in recent yearsBobby McFerrin
on the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts MainStageArts Riot's Friday night Truck Stop was in full-swing on Pine Street in the increasingly vibrant South End of the Green Mountain metropolis, while at the 'House That Phish Built,' Nectar's on Main Street, peripatetic Vermont native Seth Yacovone's solo acoustic set (a twenty-year plus weekly tradition) had given way to a tribute to Thelonious Monk.
Bobby McFerrin with Ranky Tanky
Friday May 31, 2019
At least in the early going of the first hour, Bobby McFerrin's set in front of a capacity crowd was not a tour-de-force, but then it didn't have to be: he responded in kind, albeit humbly, to the gracious and enthusiastic introduction he had received from the Mayor of Burlington, Miro Weinberger. McFerrin's subsequent crowd-pleasing gestures were par for the course at such concerts on the Mainstage and he might've seemed unctuous if not for the more solemn, gospel-inflected interlude that stilled, then stirred the attendees on the floor and into the balcony. The audience was with the gifted vocalist him every step of the way this opening night of Discover Jazz, at least judging by how quickly those in the seats picked up on his invitation to singalong some twenty minutes into the set. And there was barely a nanosecond between the his request for a partner in a vocal duet and the appearance of a more-than-capable volunteer by the name of Page. The twosome's instantly symbiotic relationship mirrored McFerrin's bond with Ranky Tanky
, the five musicians and singers arranged alongside and behind him on stage; befitting that alignment, McFerrin was more a member of the troupe rather than simply backed up by that ensemble, a down-to-earth setting that nurtured the intimate air throughout the room.
Saturday June 1, 2019
Befitting his variegated solo career, plus membership in bands led by the iconic likes of Dave Holland
and Pat Metheny
, saxophonist Chris Potter
is nothing if not unpredictable. But any attendee of his first of two sets in the cozy confines of FlynnSpace might nevertheless have been surprised and pleased that this early show with drummer Eric Harland
and bassist Reuben Rogers
was more than simply free blowing. Not that the group didn't give free reign to such impulses, especially near the end of this performance and with vigorous aplomb. But the Circuits Trio so named after Potter's latest long-player also engaged in some very finely tuned interplay during this hour plus, many of which interludes were introduced (and/or furthered) by the leader's judicious use of technology as well as his brief turns at grand piano: such segments served to balance the use of pre-recorded sound effects in combination with delays and looping on both horns and flute. "The Nerve" was particularly notable in this eclectic, forwarding thinking mode, but the title track of the aforementioned album also reminded how memorable Chris Potter's previous visits to Burlington's Discover Jazz have been, precisely for that fundamental virtue of his distinctive horn playing: unlike so many who play his instrument, he refuses to engage in clever quotes too often"My Favorite Things" came and went in a flashpreferring to offer always articulate and often eloquent passages that on this Saturday night so inspired his bandmates to stretch themselves proportionately.
Saturday June 1, 2019
This self-described 'Morrocan-based psychedelic dub jazz collective' out of Massachusetts didn't waste any time establishing a deep groove on the stage outside Red Square this cool weekend evening. And the early-going clubbers didn't hesitate to jump in early either, the eager and vociferous reaction to the music accompanying more than a little tandem dancing between tables. While the five musicians in this particular lineup of Club d'Elf
appeared somewhat cramped on the stage, that physical restriction was also reflective of how tightly they were playing together and, in turn, how focused was the sound mix, an altogether uncanny replication of the deep, spacious sonics of their recordings both live and studio. Led by bandleader Mike Rivard on bass & sintir, the quintet played only two numbers during their first of multiple sets, but it was more than sufficient to set the tone for the evening: as guitarist Van Martin, keyboardist Paul Schultheis and turntableist/sampler Mister Rourke used their respective tools to layer texture upon texture, drummer Erik Kerr maintained appropriately circular rhythm patterns underneath it all, the rolling nature of which, so prominent in the audio, clearly appealed equally to the minds and bodies of a growing crowd along 'Alfredo's in the Alley.'
June 3, 2019
After what by all accounts was a rousing offering from Patti Labelle
on Sunday at The Flynn Mainstage, Makaya McCraven
and his band blazed their way through a set of the purest jazz in the sole single show evening at FlynnSpace for Discover Jazz 2019. And the foursome made the most of their extended time, not the least of which action was an encore of near-total dissonance in response to a standing ovation from an audience clamoring loudly for more. The drummer/bandleader established a familiar pattern early in the hour-plus performance---imperceptible increases in intensity to a fevered finishbut not before his electrifying playing brought to mind the late great Tony Williams
, to whom he actually dedicated a number near evening's end. Prior to that moment, spotlighting the hushed vocal of bassist Junius Paul whose stand-up instrument was, oddly, more prominent in the mix than the fibrous lines he played on his electricthe group took its time with numbers like "Young Genius" and "The Bounce," offering delicate and nuanced interaction wherein each member evoked a giant of jazz on their respective instruments: the fulsome melodic touch of keyboardist Greg Spero (pianist Bill Evans
), the supreme dignity of the aforementioned Paul (bassist Ron Carter
) and the authoritative confidence in Irvin Pierce's horn-playing (saxophonist John Coltrane
), meshed with McCraven's often explosive drumming, creating such a mutually invigorating environment, the audience's uproarious reaction(s) became almost a fait accompli at number of junctures within as well as at the , of the musicians' time on stage.
June 4, 2019
McCraven and company displayed their convictions of improvisational courage in no small measure in their Discover Jazz appearance, but the bravery of some local musicians was little less impressive the next night at Nectar's. Guitarist Nick Cassarino, keyboardist Joe Davidian and drummer Connor Elmes opted to cover Wes Montgomery
's watershed album Smokin' At The Half Note
(Verve, 1965) in its entirety and they did so in sequence before a remarkably respectful and attentive audience. The trio of native Vermonters clearly exhibited their individual and collective technical skills, not to mention the practice they devoted to the piece(s) as they rolled out the nine tracks in sequence. Yet the threesome never made the mistake of playing too carefully; in fact, as they hit the middle of their approximate hour on stage, they loosened considerably in both the abandon of their musicianship and some obviously more animated stage presence. Still, their own excitementand that of a crowd both restrained and intelligent as well as enthusiasticdid not preclude catching the dynamic mood(s) of the record, right down to the soft, subtle conclusion of Errol Garner's "Misty." The upbeat romp with which Cassarino, Davidian and Elmes then concluded thus made even more sense in terms of the pacing with which they imbued their whole performance.
June 5, 2019
The music Leyla McCalla
made at FlynnSpace June 5 was almost as quiet as a whisper but all the more distinctive for its understatement. As a result, it was impossible to miss either the poetry of the skeletal arrangements or that of the lyrics, whether the words were her own or those of Langston Hughes around whom she composed a song called "Heart of Gold." And accompanying their leader ,who alternated between banjo, cello (strummed and bowed) and electric guitar, her three bandmates reinforced the point of songs like "Capitalist Blues" with correspondingly (and deceptively) rudimentary musicianship. McCalla's self- effacing demeanor as she introduced songs was bound to win over the near-capacity crowdwhich seemed inclined in her direction anywaybut there was no denying the spirit or intelligence of a song she co-wrote with her husband, "Oh My Love:" a neo-torch song somewhat less deeply steeped in the New Orleans tradition than the opening selection it nevertheless transcended its roots as she sang it (and not surprisingly, set it apart from both her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops
as well as Our Native Daughters). It wasn't necessary to hear the imaginary brass band echoing behind the quartet on the aforementioned title-song from McCalla's latest album to know that, while this artist didn't often sound much like the jazz that usually inhabits this intimate venue, she belonged there nonetheless.
Christian Sands Trio
June 6, 2019
The Christian Sands
Trio began their early set in FlynnSpace as if in mid-performance, the roiling intensity on their first two numbers contrasting with a deep tranquility. But the near ninety-minute performance became somewhat disjointed after that, despite (or perhaps because of) the threesome's grasp of dynamics. The leader's grand, circular ripples of melody, evoking the great McCoy Tyner
, was just the most derivative sign of a lack of continuity, but it did correspond to drummer Jerome Jennings
' own tendency to overplay: his brushwork on "Reaching for the Sun" was as intrusive as Yasushi Nakamura
's bass work was understated. And even if the percussion break on the Cuban-derived "¡Óyeme!" was understandable deference to the bandleader's long-term comradeship with Jennings (both were members of Christian McBride
's group during Discover Jazz 2015), there was really no need for the interlude: it only added to the halting progression of the near-ninety minutes concert. Fortunately, Nakamura's 'choice' of a song found the three men of a single mind again so that, on the savvy choice of an encore, Steve Winwood
's exquisite song of yearning for Blind Faith
, "Can't Find My Way Home," the melody and rhythm were entwined in near-perfect balance.
June 7, 2019
Effusive as she was effervescent, Bria Skonberg
immediately won over her audience upon taking the stage of FlynnSpace this balmy Friday evening. And this proud native of Chilliwack. British Columbia, Canada maintained her hold on the crowd with a performance in which she maximized her multiple skills to their greatest potential. Yet she achieved that admirable end not by wowing the attendees through innovation, but instead by carefully parceling out her talents in playing trumpet and singing (with equally remarkable control on both fronts), as well as a selecting an effective mix of original songs and standards. The latter category included an encore of "Moonlight In Vermont" as touching in its own way as the tongue-in-cheek dedication to Vermont cheese (!?) in the form of "The More I See You." Reaffirming the predominant Dixieland slant of the seventy-five minutes plus, Skonberg also offered two tunes from the iconic Louis Armstrong
including "Hotter Than That," thereby keynoting one of those rare performances in which the artist touched all the bases without ever appearing calculated or contrived; it was thus only natural the woman and her three well-practiced accompanists so fully charmed the near-full house.
June 8, 2019
The solemn intonations of Tia Fuller
's voice on the pre-recorded introduction to her show made for the most theatrical inception of a FlynnSpace performance during the whole of Discover Jazz 2019. And while a similar theme pervaded much (but fortunately not all) of the BDJF artist-in-residence's between song patter, it did not undermine the impact of the complexity in her playing or her accompanying musicians: theirs was the kind of interplay where it was difficult to tell where composition left off and improvisation began. "The Coming," "Fury Of Da'Mond" and "Queen Intuition" were among a clutch of tunes from Fuller's album Diamond Cut
(Mack Avenue, 2018) that comprised perfect fodder for the bandleader/saxophonist and her extremely able band to stretch out. Meanwhile, a vocal turn on Cole Porter
's "I Love You" further personalized and consolidated an abiding connection with the entire audience, so that Tia Fuller and her band may well have rendered anti-climactic the appearance of Toots & the Maytals about an hour later at a densely-populated Waterfront Park on Lake Champlain.
The Left Ear Trio
Top of the Block
June 9, 2019
The Left Ear Trio's performance in the breezy bright sunshine of Church Street was, in many ways, a natural extension of the previous evening's picture- perfect weather. And while the threesome's two sets may have been more sparsely attended in comparison, the number of onlookers grew with each passing number. The vivid contrasts between "Slow Funky" and an imaginative cover of John Coltrane
's "Big Nick" cemented observers' attention so that guitarist Michael Louis Smith, organist Andy Carballeira and drummer Dave Berger fully established themselves with their listeners: the titular bandleader's biting tone on his instrument was an ideal foil for the keyboard (especially as its low-tones were so prominent swirling from the Leslie speaker), while the latter made optimum use of his minimal kit. Even though other musicians followed The Left Ear Trio at the 'Top of the Block" throughout the afternoon of the final day of 2019's festival, the easygoing and authoritative stance with which they conducted themselves earned memorable positioning as de facto closer of the BDJF's ten-day schedule (notwithstanding the sudden cancellation of the final night's MainStage headliner, Brian Wilson
). By the time the atmospheric "Gone" closed the first set, The Left Ear Trio had cemented a tacit, bittersweet adieu to these ten days preceding the summer solstice that represent such a reliable pinnacle of excitement and celebration year in and year out under the banner of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.
Photo credit: Rudolph Lu