Burlington Vermont Discover Jazz Festival 2010: In Service to the Community

Doug Collette By

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Discover Jazz Festival 2010
Burlington, Vermont
June 4-June 13, 2010

The symmetry of the graphic design for the poster announcing the 2010 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is emblematic of the balance attained in this year's lineup. More thoroughly traditional than in years past, the event nevertheless could not help but produce a diverse array of styles given the stature of the musicians, including saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins and legendary guitarist Jim Hall. And that emphasis on quality, in turn, mirrored the panoply of activities that took place during the festival.

The Jazz Lab, offered by local recordists at The Tank Studios, allowed musicians to record themselves live in front of attendees present and via webcam. The Meet the Artist sessions, conducted by esteemed journalist Bob Blumenthal, allowed serious music followers to witness interactions between artists such as Allen Toussaint and their audiences in settings other than the performing stage. The Long Trail Concert Series provided live music on Church Street at all times and at various locations along the pedestrian thoroughfare, even as Burlington venues offered live music more often than at any other time of the year.

In addition to concerts at the intimate FlynnSpace—where surprises always abound—as well as the Performing Arts Center MainStage, the tent on the waterfront this year featured contemporary R&B in the person of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, plus an extended afternoon/evening bill of reggae artists.

Perusing the colorful, information-packed but eminently readable program required meticulous attention to absorb the level of detail, but such thorough documentation only reaffirmed the impression of a truly great festival. With so much going on, some tough choices and irreconcilable conflicts are inevitable for the visitor intent on taking it all in: not even the most avid devotee of the music can be two or three places at once! The embarrassment of riches only served to call attention to what is perhaps The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival's greatest community service of all: to spotlight what a vibrant ongoing music scene exists in Vermont's Queen City.

Arturo Sandoval
Flynn MainStage
June 4,2010

Whether or not you imagine Sandoval as the opening, rather than climactic, act of a stellar weekend-long triple bill, there's no arguing how astute a choice it was to make Cuban-rooted jazz the kick-off of the entire Discover Jazz Festival. There may be no more infectious sub-genre of jazz, and the enthusiasm of the audience, sparse though it was in some quarters of the venue, was in proportion to Sandoval's own gusto, his ingratiating stage patter only warming the atmosphere further.

The trumpeter and his band certainly sounded larger than a quintet as they roared into action, maintaining a high level of intensity through at least the early part of their set. Thankfully, pianist Manuel Valera provided some variation in dynamics by offering lyrical interludes to offset the frenetic attack of saxophonist Charles McNeal. Sandoval & Co. relied a bit too much on pure technique rather than in-the-moment musical interaction, with drummer Alexis Arca the weak link of the group, as he seemed to struggle to keep up with his rhythm section partner, bassist Dennis Marks if not, in truth, the rest of the group. But the leader displayed an unwaveringly sleek tone from the first notes he played, greeting the audience with impressive aplomb.

Bob Wagner & Friends
Long Trail Concert Series
June 4, 2010

One of four bands sequenced in one of the festival's many outdoor events, Wagner & Friends gave new meaning to classic rock by substituting Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton for the usual heavy-handed fodder found in that niche. A terrific arrangement of "Isis" closed the set, but that followed less resplendent shreds, from Derek & The Domino's "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" through a reading of "Down in the Flood" that owed more than a little to The Derek Trucks Band's recent reinvention of The Basement Tapes tune.

And brave as it was for Wagner and his group to tackle Cream's take on "Crossroads," they did more than just acquit themselves well: following the leader, who plays with as much fire as focus (and sings like the words carry personal meaning), they romped through it. They did much the same, albeit at an appropriately slower pace for a slow blues, with "Key to the Highway:" this was one instance where there were no concerns about the artist transcending his influences because he and his accompanists—including wizard-of-a-bassist John Ragone, drummer Russ Lawton and soulful keyboardist Ray Paczkowski—are so firmly and happily grounded in their chosen spirit of the moment.

Allen Toussaint
Flynn Mainstage
June 5, 2010

Allen Toussaint's saxophonist Brian Cayolle introduced him as "the high priest of New Orleans music," a high-falutin' accolade in contrast to the self-deprecating persona the famous songwriter and record producer evinced in his interview with a local Burlington weekly publication the previous week. Toussaint carried himself with dignity throughout most of his extended performance on the MainStage, particularly during the first half: he is one of those rare musicians from whom music flows effortlessly, and when gifted, visionary horn player Don Byron joined the ensemble about thirty minutes into the set, a reverential audience had the rare experience of being in the same room with two undeniably "natural" musicians.

Would that more time had been given to the exploratory strains of Toussaint's latest, highly acclaimed album The Bright Mississippi(Nonesuch, 2009), rather than the extended series of medleys stringing together a clutch of the man's composing and production works. While it was fascinating to learn (or be reminded of) his extended history, it's nevertheless true that even confections of the highest order—like "Get Out of My Life Woman"—can't compare to the atmospheric likes of this night's rendition of "St James Infirmary."

Mose Alison
June 6th, 2010

This venerable pianist-songwriter was accorded almost as much spirited acclamation this Sunday evening as Allen Toussaint had received the night before. And leading an acoustic trio, Allison generally justified the enthusiastic response, despite some minor muffs of lyrics during the course of this first set of the evening.

Such a miscues may be understandable because, though Allison is a bona fide original, marrying fluid blues-based melodies to tongue-in-cheek topicality on his best original material, there is a certain sameness to his approach. (On the other hand, his folk-jazz piano playing and understated singing is so unique it deserves to be called personal style, not shortage of ideas, making it understandable, and certainly forgivable, if even the author might be prone to mix-ups among the tunes in his distinctive repertory. And such slip-ups did not, tellingly, occur on the covers.) More importantly, Mose himself wasn't visibly fazed by the snafus—nor was his rhythm section (during those moments when he momentarily lost the rolling beat of certain tunes). The music was "of a piece," which is why this bluesman-songwriter, who came to New York in the '50s from Tippo, Mississippi to record as a jazz pianist for the likes of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, fully deserved the loud testament of respect he got both before and after his performance.

Stephane Wrembel & The Django Experiment
Jamie Masefield & Brad Terry

June 7, 2010

Local musicians Jamie Masefield and Brad Terry brought an endearing informality to the stage, and the music they played in such an off-the-cuff manner had the same winning spontaneity. Both spoke of the intuitive communication they discovered when they met just weeks prior to this gig, and certainly they understated it: such uncanny rapport as they demonstrated in playing together is not to be learned even with the most assiduous practice: it is a wholly natural phenomenon if it exists between musicians at all and thus is equally rare and rewarding to behold.



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