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A sunny day welcomed the audience to Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park and the first of the two day annual Charlie Parker Festival (Aug. 27th-28th). Young pianist Hiromi took to the stage first with her trio and, despite the fact that she'd just flown in from a performance in Israel, she delivered an impressive, energetic set. On "If , bassist Tony Grey showcased an echo-drenched solo, while Hiromi seemed to put everything she had into the tune - seemingly feeding from the audience response. Hiromi was followed by Brit hiphop bebop man Soweto Kinch, who came to the stage with an innovative approach towards blending the hard- driven jazz style with the oft-controversial urban beat. Unfortunately, due to "lip problems , the saxophone was "off-limits . He compensated by showcasing his piano skills in "Adrian and rapping about an utopian reality in which jazz was the dominant musical style on TV and radio, driving pop artists and DJs to "sit and complain . Odean Pope's Sax Choir - the only band to play on both days - featured Louis Taylor (on alto) and Elliott Levin (tenor) and was comprised in total of 3 altos, 4 tenors and baritone sax, along with piano, bass and drums. Blending original compositions with tunes by John Coltrane and others, he opened with "Epitome featuring a long acapella solo later joined by the rest of the group. "Iris , taken at a slow tempo, was an original tune dedicated to the bandleader's wife and featured subtle-sounding drums and a heartfelt solo by the leader. The Sax Choir closed with a beat-driven baritone solo soon joined by the group as the tune progressed. The tempo shifted to a Latin beat, the saxophonists getting up and walking into the audience (only done in Harlem - the stage in The East Village did not allow for that kind of stunt), individually improvising as they went along, then returning to the stage for the band's grand finale. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson closed the evening with more moody selections: "In A Sentimental Mood was quickly recognized and applauded, and "Limoncello was a funky, easy going song about the cocktail made from "a little bit of lime and about a gallon of moonshine .
The following day took the Charlie Parker Festival to the Lower East Side's Tompkins Square Park (the acoustics at the Marcus Garvey Park amphitheater contributed for a better overall listening experience). Jazz fans, ignoring the forecast of rain, crowded the downtown locale. Cindy Blackman's quartet opened, blending hard bop jazz tendencies with influences culled from heavy metal rock. The band was well received, and the energetic Blackman demonstrated a lot of musicality on the drums.
The John Hicks Trio, joined by saxophonist David "Fathead Newman, followed with a more traditional set. Starting with a Latin/bossa groove, they moved on to more moody and hard bop turf featuring Newman's clear, inspired playing. The band's strong Latin-inspired percussive element was surely a plus, and was audibly appreciated by the crowd.
The evening closed with pianist Geri Allen, charming everyone with her sensual, cool style. Though the sky was overcast most of the afternoon, the clouds broke, giving way to sunshine as soon as her set started. One of her highlights was "Lover Man , a song popularized by Billie Holiday. In her hands, the song was taken away from its usual jaded, depressed mode and taken to a more pleasant, comfortable place. Allen delivered a magical set and was given a cheerful ovation.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.