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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, Vermont, June 3-12, 2011

Doug Collette By

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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, VT
June 3-12, 2011
The mix of anticipation and apprehension at the outset of each year's Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is no doubt something akin to stage fright in the mind of any stage performer, musician or otherwise. Will the string of high-profile events meet audience expectations and generate the publicity that translates into financial solvency? Will the mix of up-and-coming and cutting edge artists offer sufficient accessibility to bring in casual jazz fans and solidify the attraction(s) for dyed-in-the- wool aficionados? And will the educational events, including meeting-the-artist occasions, provide the insight that nurtures an ongoing interest in the art form?

Truth be told, the trepidation's gone the first night Church Street comes alive with music coming from venues that don't always feature sounds, sites that make it a regular occurrence and the now-familiar Long Trail concert series lines at the Marketplace. The inaugural concert on The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts' Main Stage doesn't always represent a bellwether for the ten days festival, but on the night of... no one knows for sure.

If the 2011 Discover Jazz lineup proved anything, it's that the composition of a festival is much like the arrangement of a song rife with seemingly infinite variations on themes that, in just the right proportion, create sparks on the stage and in those present. Thus, this year jazz vocalists took the place of the avant-garde at FlynnSpace, while mainstream acoustic jazz dominated the Mainstage, and the blues tent became the Groove Tent down on the shores of Lake Champlain. And there was no discernible drop-off in excitement or satisfaction from years past: those virtues only came in different guises.

Bitches Brew Revisited Flynn Mainstage June 3, 2011

The appearance of the Bitches Brew Revisited project presents a strong statement on the Discover Jazz approach over the last ten years: recognition of the contemporary redefinition of mainstream jazz. Miles Davis was an icon of jazz longer than any of his predecessors such as Charlie Parker and rightly so, because he repeatedly retooled the music in epochal ways over the course of his career.

As pointed out by the erudite scholars of jazz, Bob Blumenthal and Dan Morgenstern, in a late afternoon panel discussion, the groundbreaking 1970 album was logically presaged in the modal explorations of In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) (teased on stage at the outset by turntablist DJ Logic), which now seems a mere sketch for the density and intricacy of the subsequent album. The eight-man band reimagining this music is larger than those ensembles that The Man with the Horn himself used to present the music in the wake of its release (usually with a five or six piece lineup), but their ambitious attempt to not just recreate, but expand upon this forward thinking music, represents a statement in itself on the enduring influence of the original release.

On its own terms, the Bitches Brew Revisited project is largely successful in offering an accurate sonic simulation of the melodic and percussive themes in the form of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" and "Pharaoh's Dance." The enrichment of the sound with percussion and the brilliant drumming of Pheeroan AkLaffas well as the imaginative treatments of Logic reminds how Miles Davis foretold the future forty years ago, while the presence of Marco Benevento on Fender Rhodes electric piano and former Living Color electric guitarist Vernon Reid spoke volumes on both the eclectic nature of Davis' vision and the technological advance it still represents today in this digital age.

Given that, it was odd how the sound quality often fell short of the performance, turning oddly thin at times and varying in volume at unexpected points (do the speaker columns on either side of the stage need to be enlarged?) Add to that the imposition of will tendered by organizer and bandleader Graham Haynes, who seemingly curtailed nascent improvisation on the part of the latter two players as they faced each other across the stage: while it's important to present as much material as possible from the Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) album within each performance, it does more justice to the open-ended idea behind the music (as opposed to the carefully-wrought production by the late Teo Macero on the original double vinyl LP) to allow those involved to embroider upon those themes when given the opportunity.

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