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With [Joe] Lovano and producer Jim Luce running the show, Caramoor customers are more than likely to get their money's worth every year.
On the second Saturday of this year's Caramoor Jazz Festival (an hour north of the Apple), Sheila Jordan sang "Autumn in New York". That's how it felt, though it was early August. Enjoying the cool breeze, and Jordan's outsized personality, was one of Caramoor's main highlights. Pianist Steve Kuhn, with Cameron Brown on bass and Billy Drummond on drums, gave Jordan superlative backing and took a moment to play "Ladies In Mercedes" as a trio. The 75-year-old Jordan cut a swath through tunes like "Dat Dere", Tom Harrell's "Buffalo Wings" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" joined on the last by Caramoor Jazz' Artistic Director and resident gadfly, Joe Lovano. It was one of the festival's two extraordinary vocal sets. The other was Kurt Elling's. Co-headlining the previous Saturday with Lovano and Hank Jones, Elling fronted the Laurence Hobgood Trio and displayed the mien of a serious creative artist - albeit one who "gives great show." After a languid "Stardust," the trio struck up the vamp to "Easy Living" while Elling did a little spiel and then walked off-mic. The volume picked up, applause rang out and we were on our way. Lovano stepped out for a loose "Bye Bye Blackbird," during which Elling offered the first taste of his nonpareil scatting. But it was Elling's unaccompanied tour de force in between "Winelight" and "Man In the Air," complete with Tuvan overtone singing, that left the most lasting impression. During the evening's second half, Elling returned to jam on "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Lester Leaps In" with Lovano, Jones, Frank Wess, George Mraz and Dennis Mackrel, giving the horn players a considerable run for their money. The entire house sang "Happy Birthday" to Jones in honor of his 86th (on that very day); he may have blown out the candle, but he ignited many fires at the keyboard. Leading off the first afternoon was pianist Pete Malinverni, with Dennis Irwin on bass and Leroy Williams on drums, playing originals and standards in a vibrant post bop vein. Then Lewis Nash's trio with vibraphonist Steve Nelson and bassist Peter Washington played four tunes, including the waltz "Arioso" by the recently departed James Williams. Kenny Garrett then joined Nash and company, barnstorming on "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Naima" and "Invitation." John Abercrombie's quartet with Mark Feldman, Marc Johnson and Adam Nussbaum (subbing for Joey Baron) brought the afternoon to a close with beautiful (and calmer) music from the Cat 'n Mouse and Class Trip albums.
A week later, the show opened with music from two Jazz Composers Collective units: the Frank Kimbrough Trio and the Herbie Nichols Project. Kimbrough, with Ben Allison on bass and Michael Sarin on drums, was burning but reflective at the piano, playing music from his rousing Palmetto debut Lullabluebye. The last of three Kimbrough tunes, "Whirl," segued directly into Nichols' "The Happenings" as tenorist Michael Blake and trumpeter Ron Horton took the stage. Suddenly a quintet incarnation of the Nichols Project was before us, playing the dark 5/4 "Swan Song" and the mid-tempo "Spinning Song" before taking bows.
Trio da Paz got a well-deserved standing ovation for its perky and accessible set, which began with a bravura reading of Dori Caymmi's "Saudade de Bahia." Here was the true test of the Caramoor staff's audio abilities: getting the right mix between nylon-string guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. Lubambo's virtuosic fretwork - from hushed chordal passages to blistering single-note runs was never less than crystal clear, even when Duduka turned on the heat. Sounding like the formidable working band that they are, the three played Egberto Gismonti's "Café," Herbie Mann's "Keep the Spirit Singing," a number of intriguing originals, and, in another guest spot for Lovano, the Jobim classic "Wave."
Circumstances required that we miss Phil Wilson's Berklee Rainbow Band and Jon Faddis' all-star Count Basie Centennial celebration, the latter featuring Benny Powell, Harry Allen, Renee Rosnes, Todd Coolman, Tia Fuller, Joe Cohn and of course Joe Lovano. Reports are highly favorable. Faddis paused for an onstage interview with the great Frank Foster, who is partially paralyzed and unable to play. Vocalists Carrie Smith and Jo Lawry made appearances as well. With Lovano and producer Jim Luce running the show, Caramoor customers are more than likely to get their money's worth every year.