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Located an hour's drive out of NYC, the bucolic grounds of Caramoor music and art center nonetheless seem a world away from the sweltering city. European style gardens complete with bubbling fountains and ornate sculptures dot the landscape along with lush, rolling fields that beckon summer picnickers. Add to this the breathtaking music that fills the air throughout the entire summer music series, and you begin to understand what draws people in droves to this musical mecca. Known mostly as a classical venue, the 2006 schedule featured two days of jazz served up by some of the best performers in the business. Day one started out with Rodney Kendrick's swinging trio in Caramoor's dramatic Venetian Theater. The pianist stuck to standards throughout the set, and showed respect for his jazz elders with his sensitive renditions, spare comping, and choice of sidemen. Monk alumnus and longtime Barry Harris drummer Leroy Williams provided relentlessly swinging support, while youngster Ori Roland (also a member of Harris' quintet) plucked strong lines and showed off his ability as an arco soloist. "Body and Soul received a thorough reworking by Kendrick, who played the melody over an insistent bass pedal and repeating rhythmic motif. The song's familiar harmonies were transformed into dark, dissonant clusters of sound, which spurred on interesting solos by the pianist, and musical director/special guest Joe Lovano on soprano. A focused Ravi Coltrane took the stage next with his quartet, quickly diving in to Ralph Alessi's composition "One Wheeler Will. The daring saxophonist used the oblong, darting themes from the melody as a basis for his improvisation over the odd metered piece, and fed off the infectious energy radiating from his rhythm section. Pianist Louis Perdomo kept masterfully abreast of Coltrane's ricocheting ideas, stepping back to let a delicate phrase bloom on its own, or vigorously fanning the flames of the saxophonist's wailing climaxes. Despite his obvious desire to assert his individuality, Ravi paid homage to his famous father with "For Zoe a rumbling, modal ballad reminiscent of "Alabama, and with a burning rendition of "Giant Steps, which featured a brief but spirited sparring match between Ravi and Joe Lovano's woody soprano. Before a brief dinner break, pianist Renee Rosnes led her Joe Henderson Project band through a series of Henderson favorites and originals. The all-star New York assemblage featuring Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on saxophone, Peter Washington on bass, and the phenomenal Lewis Nash on drums showed formidable solo chops on tunes like "Recorda-me and "Inner Urge.
The night was closed out in European style with the Django Reinhardt festival, featuring the fiery gypsy guitar of Dorado Schmitt. As the sun set over Caramoor's gardens, the air was thick with the thrumming texture of acoustic guitars, the hot breath of accordion tones, and the enthusiastic applause of an appreciative audience.