Discover Jazz Festival
June 2-11 2006
Diane Reeves and Ahmad Jamal are the high-profile names on the marquee and the ones mentioned in the TV ads, but, as with the Queen City's annual jazz fest, much of the action also takes place in and around the streets just up from Lake Champlain...
Charlie Hunter / Bobby Previte (Groundtruther)
Hunter and Previte's improvisation early set at the old home of Phish was informed by their latest project together The Coalition of the Willing, more than their duo/trio efforts under the cryptic moniker. As such, Previte swung and slammed his way against Hunter's deep rumbling bass and jagged rhythm guitar chords, nuance gladly (if not exactly joyfully) sacrificed to the high-volume. It was almost like meditating in noise, the mantra the decibel.
Vijay Iyer Quartet
A quiet invocation of the jazz muse proved anything but tentative as Iyer's four-man band proceeded through an hour of bracing jazz. Their group dynamics arise as much or more from intuition as roadwork or rehearsal and with the sound impeccable in the low-ceiling intimate room, the atmosphere couldn't have been more conducive to the subtleties of the genre. That said, the longer Iyer and company played, they more they recalled the classic quartet of Coltrane with Tyner, Garrison & Jones and while that's not a bad benchmark, they just barely skirted imitation, thanks to the unconventional approach of drummer Marcus Gilmore: mallet and brush simultaneously?
The Sun Ra Arkestra
There's invariably a sterling jazz show happening beyond the umbrella of Discover Jazz and this year is no exception as South Burlington's increasingly famed venue hosted a crew of brassy bespangled heirs to the eccentric jazz figure's unpredictable approach. Directed by Marshall Allen, the atmosphere here was far removed from the studied recital mood of the downtown Burlington venue, this was less a performance than a celebration, with band members parading through the sit-down but bouncy crowd. With percussion as prominent as the horns in these arrangements, it's little wonder the ballroom became a dance hall: the group hit high altitude on their first number and continued to swoop and dive good naturedly through their set.
A genuinely witty intro from the former manager of the dear departed club Hunt's set the tone for a rapturous acclamation forded the Vermont band by their hometown audience, so the ingratiating stage patter by bassist Tony Markellis between songs was totally unnecessary (though it added to the warmth of the almost too cozy atmosphere in the city hall venue.)
If you liked Kilimanjaro when you first heard themand virtually everyone in the first of two sold out shows didyou were bound to like them some thirty years later... And why not, really, with the breezy melodies and light rhythms that fill songs like "Kilimanjaro Beach Party." Even newer tunes like "Neon Leon" and the coyly titled "Herbin'" boast the same virtues, but if you don't find them virtues and instead hear the quartet as too derivative of Pat Metheny's first quartet, and late '70s fusion in general, this reunion show wouldn't change your mind.
Sold out, like all the events in this intimate venue, this show might be the highlight of the 2006 Discover Jazz Festival. At the helm of an unusual lineup, including sax and percussion, cello and violin plus acoustic and electric keyboards and organ, the young Cuban drummer put his ambition, as well as his band to the test, drawing them beyond the rolling rumble of native Cuban rhythms into the evocative likes of the suite of music that moved from the stark shadow of the strings to a richer mode of arrangement that never failed to highlight the leader's effortless light but authoritative style of play.
Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel
The way the precocious Ben Allison bends over his double bass is a good indication of how intensely he pursues his muse. The music he writes for his band is intricate, and the arrangement s ever so precise. This is where classical music meets jazz because the navigation of the changes in the material, jaunty as "Slap Happy" tranquil as "Peace Pipe" are a means for the group to build up a head of steam, the crescendos breaking with near-orchestral majesty. Young as he is, it will be fascinating to watch the bassist/composer/bandleader as he matures, because he is as earnest as he is technically skilled as a musician
World Saxophone Quartet
Vernon Reid & Masque
The pairing of the Quartet's Tribute to Hendrix with ex-Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid was illustrative of Jimi's influences in unexpected ways. Despite the searing tone of his electric instrument, the piledriver approach and the frantic pace kept with his band Masque, Reid's music didn't match the intensity of the late rock icon's. Perhaps that's because of the dearth of dynamics, apart from the slow blues of "Red House."
The World Saxophone Quartet celebrated its thirtieth anniversary by reaching for some more intangible aspects of Hendrix' music: the freedom of improvisation combined with an ingenious flair for arrangement. You might not have recognized "Freedom" had it not been introduced by David Murray, but that mattered less than the give and take all round the horns, including James Carter's abandoned contribution. The presence of a facile rhythm section opened up space in this music that was missing from Reid & Masque's and while it was somewhat less than galvanizing with just one man soloing, it's was telling to hear this trio alignment with the bassist and drummer in tow, much as it was through most of Hendrix' career with the three-man Experience.