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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."

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