Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2019

Doug Collette By

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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 finish—but 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 electric—the 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 excitement—and that of a crowd both restrained and intelligent as well as enthusiastic—did 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.

Leyla McCalla
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 crowd—which seemed inclined in her direction anyway—but 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.

Bria Skonberg
June 7, 2019
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