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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, VT, May 31-June 9, 2013

Doug Collette BY

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Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, VT
May 31-June 9, 2013
Swooping into Burlington off interstate 89 through a series of uninterrupted green lights seems a good metaphor for the transitional year of Burlington, Vermont's Discover Jazz Festival.
It's a tribute to departed director Brian Mital, as well as incoming director Linda Little, that even as some struggles occurred late in the ten days due to inclement weather, the colorful template for this 10-day celebration of music in the Queen City remained firm.
Flourishing in the increasingly sweltering mid-summer heat that hit Thursday, May 30, the Friends of Discover Jazz had much to look forward to as they dispersed from the annual opening reception, and a packed throng filling Church Street justified the anticipation into the wee hours.

It's perhaps a testament to the vigor of the native music scene in Burlington, Vermont, that no night goes by without something memorable taking place, and these ten early summer days and nights in June 2013 once again proved a microcosm of that phenomenon.

John Scofield Überjam Band/Dr. Lonnie Smith, Flynn Center Mainstage, May 31, 2013

What on paper looked to be a perfectly complementary pairing proved anything but, after ten minutes or so of vintage Hammond B3 organ trio sounds from Smith, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jonathan Blake on drums. Synthesized orchestral sounds swelled from the keyboard set atop the classic instrument before Smith & Co. launched into a gallop through fusion territory.

More electronics appeared in the form of the Doctor's charged walking stick, the playing of which seemed as gimmicky as the samples of Überjammer Avy Bortnick did not. Almost as if to say nothing compares to the swing of humanity, virtually every rhythm emanating from the computer stand of the guitarist was supplanted by the heavy—but not heavy-handed—drumming of erstwhile New York drummer Tony Mason.

As if to allow no mistaken perceptions to arise further, monster bassist Andy Hess dug in and danced his way into deep grooves with his own instrument, the resonance contrasting with the syncopated rhythm flicked off from Bortnick's Fender. Leader John Scofield took great pleasure in the sounds emanating from across the stage, but no more so than in those he squeezed and coaxed from his own guitar and the attendant devices that allow him to generate more than a little ambient sound. Scofield displays an earthy artistry no matter the context in which he appears for his own projects of recent years, collaborations with Medeski, Martin and Wood, or his intermittent appearances as one of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh's friends.

But there's really nothing like hearing this riot of modern jazz guitar riding the rhythm of this well-oiled machine that is the Überjam Band, the reunion of which had them parlaying equal amounts of vintage material ("Thikithali" and the encore "I Brake For Monster Bootie") combined with selections from Überjam Deux (Emarcy, 2013). Despite the increasingly steady stream of departees, and notwithstanding the audience chatter during the early part of Scofield's hour-plus set, there was no denying the pleasure these musicians and the more faithful attendees took in the band's return to Vermont or another in the string of memorable shows to which the frontman good- naturedly alluded in his mid-set comments.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet, Flynn Center Mainstage, June 2, 2013

If there was a shortcoming in the single hour-plus set John Scofield & company played, it was the relative paucity of extended improvisation. No such issues arose Sunday evening on the Mainstage occupied by The Branford Marsalis Quartet. Extended experience together imparted an instinctive cohesion that led to what may have been one of the most forceful performances Discover Jazz has seen and heard in its three- decade lifetime.

It took the quartet less than five minutes to get moving full-force on pianist Joey Calderazzo's original "The Mighty Sword." This performance alone reminded the full house of the one-of-a kind flavor of such traditional acoustic jazz that is piano, double- bass, drums and saxophone/cornet, but even as the two-hour set progressed through a distinct ebb and flow, it wasn't till Marsalis and company indiscernibly approached a boiling point on their Thelonius Monk selection of choice "Teo" that their mastery of dynamics became clear.

And, as if to reaffirm the point, the group generated a comparable intensity on their Irving Berlin cover of "Cheek to Cheek," working their way inside the tune in such a way that each musician, on his own and as a member of the tightly-knit ensemble, stretched melody and rhythm equally (and indistinguishably) within the composition. The encore of Jelly Roll Morton's "Tiger Rag" was a crisp punctuation of the Marsalis Quartet's statement as rendered on the melancholia of Joey Calderazzo's "As Summer Into Autumn Slips."

The translation of emotion into music through their respective instruments on this ever-so-quiet tune was simply another sterling demonstration of chemistry and integrity on the part of the erudite, good- humored leader, the composer/pianist as well as bassist, Eric Revis, and drummer Eric Faulkner. If the Flynn audience left in somewhat of a stunned silence, it was only after an ovation, the likes of which rang as true as such acclamation rarely does.

The Dave Douglas Quintet, FlynnSpace, June 3, 2013

Remaining charged in the afterglow of the BMQ could conceivably leave a music lover immune to the rapture in the air at FlynnSpace the very next night. But then again, there was a distinct lack of adventure emanating from the stage as occupied by the Dave Douglas Quintet, at least for the first hour or so.

Not that there's a lack of skill within the group. But what does it say about a five-piece group when, as numbers come and go—some of them of surprisingly short duration— it sounds increasingly preferable to hear just the rhythm section of bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Rudy Royston with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, sans trumpet and piano accompaniment?

Thought of this group as a diluted replica of Miles' great quintet with Hancock, Carter, Shorter and Williams became prevalent as the set progressed, nagging in its own way as much as Douglas' unctuous repartee with the clustered audience. The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival rarely radiates a self-consciously hip attitude, but the night of 6/3 there was a discernible scent of same in the air, an altogether unnecessary atmosphere at any of its events, given the booking of such memorable but under-the-radar acts as The Fringe, who appeared in the intimate venue two nights later.

The Fringe, FlynnSpace, June 5, 2013

An idiosyncratic trio who've been plying their trade (generally headquartered in the BDJF director's former home in Boston) for some time, the Fringe brought to their playing the kind of commitment so rare in any of the arts. A thirtieth anniversary in any context, festival or group, is a formidable achievement, and while this sax, bass and drums trio was not recognizing a milestone per se, this appearance at FlynnSpace was a celebration in no uncertain terms.

Their long-term shared experience allowed them to effortlessly take flight and remain in motion for the better part of the ninety minutes they were on stage, playing freely with melodic and rhythmic themes used mostly as transitions or climaxes for their intervals of more open collective improvisation.

Given their familiarity with each other, it might not seem so odd that saxophonist George Garzone, bassist John Lockewood and drummer Bob Gullotti kept their eyes closed almost all the time they played; more than once, it seemed as if eye contact would've interrupted the individual and collective trains of music thought that generated a flow of ideas morphing so imperceptibly as they interacted. There was purity to the playing of the Fringe that thus made perfect sense in light of Garzone's comment about playing fewer notes when the band comes to Vermont.

The relaxed air to which he alluded accounted for the intuitive sense of space into which none of the three intruded. That said, they allowed each other room to move the intensity, its waxing and waning the essence of spontaneous improvisation. And while the turbulent nature of the final number was unlike the softer, sweeter tones of much of what preceded it, there was a palpable sense of dynamics that kept the comfortably full cadre of attendees in the same rapt attention afforded Branford Marsalis and his group on the MainStage above FlynnSpace three nights before.

Eliane Elias, Flynn Center Mainstage, June 7 2013

The demure curtsey with which Eliane Elias greeted the full house on a rainy June 7th belied the ardor she brought to her concert. More instrumentals like the one which opened her set might well have broadened the dynamics of the performance, but there was no denying the sultry warmth of her vocals, which had a lilt in perfect synchrony with the Brazilian rhythms in most of her song choices.

Add to that the fluidity with which she played the piano—as sonorous in its own way as her singing—and there was an ideal poise within her delivery (including her charmingly self-effacing song intros) that mirrored the stage alignment of her trio as well as their overall instrumental balance.

Mauricio Zottarelli's drumwork absolutely crackled, allowing Marc Johnson's bass to work on an almost wholly subliminal level: it was hard to hear the instrument, but its understated impact was ever present. Perhaps no 2013 Discover Jazz performer relished time on stage more than Eliane Elias, and her joy was infectious in her stage presence as much as her music.

The Greg Tardy Quartet, FlynnSpace, June 9 2013

As set off by the deep greenery along the shore of Lake Champlain, the dark grey clouds Saturday night June 8th were hardly as ominous as the rain that fell almost continuously on the waterfront tent the previous Thursday. Nevertheless, the bright sunshine that glowed in the air Sunday was as fitting a conclusion to Burlington Discover Jazz 2013 as the music that filled the FlynnSpace that night.

Self-effacing almost to a fault, saxophonist Greg Tardy, along with his quartet, finished their formal set with a tune call "Firm Roots," an especially appropriately chosen piece since they had spent the better part of the previous ninety minutes demonstrating how they transcend their modern jazz influences.

The effect was even more remarkable given Tardy & company seemed bent on seeing how soft a touch they could bring to their respective instruments. They enchanted the comfortably full house, before sending the audience spinning off on a raucous note, this after moving through virtually non-stop improvisations in which each instrumentalist carried on the thoughts of the player who'd just soloed, then went on to comment on those thoughts and offer his own in exchange. These fascinating dialogues so moved an otherwise restrained audience, the attendees whooped it up sufficiently to gain an encore in a much deserved, and ever-so-rare, demonstration of mutual appreciation.

Quietly inspiring as it was, he Greg Tardy Quartet's appearance proved it wasn't absolutely necessary to attend the highest profile artists on the 2013 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival roster. Bobby McFerrin (who performed with a string section in tribute to his father) or either of the waterfront tent events (evenings of New Orleans jazz and funk, then world music and reggae) bore witness to the diversity of the acts that emerged in the venues in and around the Church Street Marketplace, populated almost constantly for more than a week. (Nectars and Signal Kitchen are now both must-sees for an annual event that, when it's over, becomes almost as much fun to anticipate as it is to experience.)

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