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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, VT, June 1-10, 2012

Doug Collette By

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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, VT
June 1-10, 2012

Now in its 29th year, Burlington Vermont's Discover Jazz festival generates a tremendous amount of anticipation as its 10-day interval arrives each June. Followers plan their vacations around it, residents arrange family gatherings in time with it and those coming in from afar look forward to it as one of the most significant events of the year.

The level of anticipation for this year's festival ran higher than usual, and not just because of an unusually star-studded roster of artists (though that justified the emotion). The 2011 festival endured the first-ever cancellation of a Flynn Theater Mainstage event, while contingency plans were employed—and quite successfully— when inclement weather brought a temporary halt to one of the Burlington waterfront events. Such an adverse fate couldn't happen again...?...

Such were the community's thoughts, if not implicit in the initial publicity, yet they didn't dampen the optimistic spirit of the welcoming reception on May 31st, held below a waxing moon. And as it turned out, it shouldn't the least. What turned out to be the swansong for director Brian Mital, as well as his associate of six years, Geeda Searforce, turned out to be a homerun of mammoth proportions, artistically (and presumably financially). Is there a better calculation of the success of any festival?

Béla Fleck with The Marcus Roberts Trio Flynn Mainstage June 1, 2012

The 2012 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival couldn't have gotten off to a better start than this absolutely wondrous performance. Anyone doubting the drawing power of premier banjoist Fleck would have been gratified to see the venerable theater fill up, but more so to watch the interaction between the man who's come to be something of an artist-in-residence (four appearances in the last seven years) with a jazz combo possessing all the chops necessary to give a scintillating performance.

As in his performance with Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty, Chick Corea and the original Flecktones, Fleck was his usual modest, winsome self between songs, but focused and adventurous during tunes, most of which came from the studio album recorded with Roberts, drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan, Across the Imaginary Divide (Rounder/Concord, 2012). The set was as well paced as the CD, the band catching fire with "Petunia" and flying high through material that allowed each of the four musicians to demonstrate there's no discernible degree of separation in skill between them.

Whether in Jordan's intro to "One Blue Truth," Marsalis' drum break later in the two- hour performance, or any of the melody players' solos and interactions, there wasn't a dull moment. Atypical of the usually staid Flynn audience, spontaneous applause arose more than once, and deservedly so: while it's a cliché to speak of telepathy between musicians, there's a truth at the core of the truism, and so Fleck and company demonstrated, with ingenious improvisations like the mini-whirlwind that was the album's title song, rendered near the end of the evening with a stoicism that belied the carefully- channeled physical and mental energy involved in their interplay.

There were enough grins to go around during the course of the concert though— not just among the musicians, but for the audience during fleeting interruptions of the rapt attention they paid to what was happening on the stage— setting a high standard for subsequent shows to come during Burlington Discover Jazz 2012.

Ninety Miles Flynn Mainstage June 2, 2012

The music of this septet was almost as sophisticated as that of Fleck, Marcus et al, but it put greater emphasis on improvisation within composition, rather than material as a jumping-off point for jams. Co-led by vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and saxophonist David Sanchez, the band paid careful attention to arrangement but nevertheless left room enough for all involved to personalize the performance.

Harris took priority as front man, as much by personality as by his instrument, but he was also more prominent in the range of material than his peers, who tended to take the spotlight when their material was in play. That said, the rhythm team got almost as much emphasis as the melody instruments.


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