Caramoor Jazz Festival 2007
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
Katonah, New York
July 28, August 4, 2007
New York has the most cutting-edge jazz scene in the world. However, it's sometimes nice to catch a show outside the city limits for a change of pace. Caramoor Jazz Festival is just that, located in the mostly classically-oriented Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, a palace tucked in the woods of Katonah, an hour's train ride to perhaps the most picturesque setting for live music on the East Coast.
For this year's Jazz Festival, artistic director Joe Lovano made some obvious choices and some less so. But on each of the consecutive Saturdays on which the festival took place, both the familiar and unfamiliar programming combined to create some indelible nights of music. The first festival night featured performances by the ensembles of David Sanchez, Geri Allen and Steve Turre in the first half, before the dinner break, and closed with the Weber Iago/Jovino Santos Neto Duo followed by Eddie Palmieri and his AfroCaribbean Jazz Septet.
A sub-theme for the first night of the festival could be nasty ensemble units. Saxophonist David Sanchez was accompanied by guitarist Lage Lund, winner of the 2005 Monk Jazz Competition, bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. Next, Geri Allen, a musician accustomed to performing with her pick of younger up- and-comers, came to the stage with Christopher Mees (bass) and Kassa Overall (drums). After a bolero and a suite of spirituals, she pulled on to the stage a final element to add to the mix, tap dancer Maurice Chesnut.
Chesnut and Overall came to blistering accord in a tap/drums duo, and by the time the tumbao dropped and Allen jumped back into the foray, there was some very dynamic interaction going on between the various members of the band.
Trombonist Steve Turre closed out the afternoon with a set of tips and nods to his heroes, including a jagged original head written over the chord changes of "Cherokee and two Illinois Jacquet pieces, "She's Funny That Way and "Jacquet's Bounce." Bassist Peter Washington and pianist Xavier Davis provided the support while Turre laid down some real swinging solos. No Turre performance would be complete without a song or two on seashells, and his solo on "All Blues," reserved and deliberate, reminded listeners why people still go back to the blues time and time again. Turre's wife Akua Dixon appeared as a guest performer on cello and vocals, and her vocal performance of the original "Where's My Daddy With the Big Long Sliding Thing would make Martha Stewart (a resident of Katonah, who was perhaps in earshot of concert) wish she were still in prison.
After the dinner break, pianists Weber Iago and Jovino Santos Neto (both from Rio de Janeiro and now based on the West Coast) each performed one piece solo and then teamed up as a duo. Iago began his solo performance with just one note, eventually waxing into a no-holds-barred flurry with an emphasis on the lower register and an appetite for trills and lush irregular arpeggios. Jovino Santos Neto came across more like a Brazilian Erroll Garner, his left hand stuck in intense rhythmic syncopations while his right hand played lyrically and sweet. Lovano, sitting in for the last number, represented the fourth incarnation of an ensemble unit in less than an hour, his presence somehow making everything going on between these two Brazilian musicians suddenly swing in just the most subtle way.
The final performance of the night was by the formidable veteran pianist Eddie Palmieri, joined onstage by several cohorts from the recent Grammy-winning album Simpático, including trumpeter Brian Lynch and trombonist Conrad Herwig. Palmieri laid into his rhythmic syncopations and his chromatic interchanges, but mostly just let the changes sing for themselves. The set ended with Lovano making a second cameo appearance, which went into trading fours. It was interesting to watch Lovano accidentally getting cut out of the circle, missing his turn twice before jumping back in with full force.
The second week of the Caramoor Jazz Festival certainly featured less cowbell with performances by the Arturo O'Farrill Trio, Fred Hersch, Odean Pope's Saxophone Choir, the Brad Mehldau Trio and the Joe Lovano/Paquito D'Rivera Festival Ensemble.
O'Farrill, Hersch and Pope each could close out the program for any festival on their own, so having them as the opening lineup made for a bit of excitement. O'Farrill, a staple at Birdland with his weekly performances at the helm of the Chico O'Farrill Big Band, made seeing him in a small ensemble setting a treat. Hersch, a more-than-capable solo pianist, brings to the format the same delicate expressiveness as his larger ensemble work and is definitely someone to hear. Odean Pope presented his Saxophone Choir: nine saxophones and a rhythm section. The most unique and swinging ensemble arrangement of the festival, Philadelphia-raised tenor Pope sent the crowd on their way to dinner wishing for a second set.
After dinner came the Brad Mehldau Trio, featuring Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums). Even though at this point it is old hat still to compare Mehldau's piano playing to that of his idol Wynton Kelly, the most satisfying aspect lies in something he got out of Kelly. On the first tune of the set, the Oasis hit "Wonderwall," Mehldau's right hand had an expert sense of hesitancy, as if he were resisting all of the filler notes and letting only the real, the most meaningful, ones show through.
Paquito D'Rivera was a fabulous choice to close out the festival. He was joined by Lovano (his only full set of the festival), Alon Yavnal (piano), Cameron Brown (bass) and Francisco Mela (drums). The band busted out with a grooving mambo, D'Rivera proving once and for all that you can indeed swing en clavé. Although it is usually impossible to point out one specific tune as a highlight of an entire festival, a duo between D'Rivera and the Alon Yavnai on a piece by the great Cuban pianist/composer Ernesto Lecuona was certainly up there. Almost sounding like a cross between Chopin, Lieder music and Cuban Son, this through- composed number turned a lot of folks in the audience onto something a little closer to the essence of Cuban music.