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Earshot Jazz Festival 2010, Part 1


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Earshot Jazz Festival
Seattle, WA
October 15-November 7, 2010
Part 1 | Part 2

Now in its 22nd year, the 2010 edition of Seattle's Earshot Jazz Festival presented audiences with a healthy mix of local musicians from Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest in addition to the performers that made the trip from locations as diverse and far-reaching as New York, Europe, and Central Asia. Indeed, this year's list of performers featured MURAL, a trio based out of Oslo, Ordo Sakhna, a "folk ethnographic theater" group from Kyrgyzstan currently on their first American tour, and Japanese pianist and electronics composer Ryuichi Sakamoto performing within days of Seattle jazz residents such as pianist Dave Peck, saxophonist Richard Cole, and trumpeter Thomas Marriott.

As would be expected from the list of locations that the players hail from, the forms of music that the festival attracts are equally unpredictable: Earshot never fails to cast a wide net, inevitably reeling in a lineup of groups that alternately focus on groove, experimentation, tradition, showcasing unusual instruments, and practically anything else that the term jazz is even remotely related to. Jazz is the focus, but Earshot isn't picky. Eager to satisfy jazz fans of all tastes, the organization managed to cram names as manifold as DJ Spooky, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Bill Frisell, and Chicago Underground Duo into the same schedule, amongst a host of others. In order to more thoroughly spread understanding of the ideas that are guiding their music, many of the musicians led workshops the day before, of, or after their performance, which were free of charge and open to anyone who is interested.

The Earshot Festival also provides a unique opportunity for a concentrated run of displays by the musicians involved in the local Origin Records label. Drummer John Bishop started Origin in 1997, with drummer Matt Jorgensen and trumpeter Chad McCullough joining him on the management team in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Together, the three of them have developed the label into a thriving focal point for Seattle jazz. At 13 years old, Origin has released hundreds of albums by a small army of different artists playing all kinds of instruments in every jazz direction; a jazz festival anywhere near Seattle wouldn't be complete without it. This year, Earshot audiences had the opportunity to see amongst many others pianist Randy Halberstadt, The Ziggurat Quartet, saxophonist Mark Taylor, and the live debut of Tattooed by Passion, Jorgenson's own recent series of pieces based on paintings by his late father-in-law, Dale Chisman.

One recurring theme in Earshot's programming, year by year, is the homebound migration of jazz musicians whose history is closely linked to Seattle. The prodigal crowd for 2010 included tenor saxophonist Roxy Coss and pianist Carmen Staaf, both of whom grew up in Seattle and honed their skills in the legendary Garfield High School Jazz Band (both the Garfield and Roosevelt High School Jazz Bands had performances of their own on the festival calendar, the former of which featured a guest appearance by Coss) and master singer Jay Clayton, who taught for 20 years at Cornish College of the Arts.

True to what has become the festival's tradition, the vast majority of Earshot concerts featured an introduction by Earshot Executive Director John Gilbreath, who manages to appear, seemingly out of thin air, at the beginning of most shows to talk briefly about the evening's concert, administer thank yous, and point out enticing concerts coming up in the next few days. As the face of an organization that delivers a three-week festival with only two full-time employees (himself and Program Manager Karen Caropepe) and a tireless squad of volunteers, Gilbreath always carries an aura of gracious excitement as he makes his address in his trademark sports coat and jeans.

Although performances are held at venues around the city over a period of three weeks, persistent festival attendees generally find themselves showing up numerous times at familiar spots such as Tula's Restaurant and Jazz Club in Belltown, The Triple Door in the heart of Downtown, Poncho Concert Hall in Capitol Hill, and the Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford. In short, the festival offered audience members with the unique opportunity to expose themselves to all different kinds of jazz in settings that will familiarize out-of-towners with several of Seattle's most popular and thriving neighborhoods, while locals enjoyed the chance to welcome non-native musicians to Seattle and revisit favorite venues.

In order to spread the language of jazz through formats other than musical performance, Earshot also teamed up with the Northwest Film Forum to present the Earshot Jazz Film Festival. This year's cinematic features include Howl (2010), a new nationally released feature film that dramatizes the story behind American poet Allen Ginsberg's infamous poem, Ornette: Made in America (1985), a documentary on free jazz hero Ornette Coleman's piece "Skies of America" as well as his relationship with his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, and Ed Thigpen: Master of Time, Rhythm and Taste (2009), a documentary on the late, great drummer Ed Thigpen.

Robert Pinsky with Marc Seales & Paul Gabrielson

Nordstrom Recital Hall/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The festival opened with an enthusiastic recital by poet Robert Pinsky, who took the stage at the Benaroya Hall's Nordstrom Recital Hall with pianist Marc Seales and bassist Paul Gabrielson, both highly regarded representatives from the Seattle jazz community. As soon as the performance began, Pinsky's right foot was caught up in Seales and Garbrielson's casual swing as he pattered out words with the quality of a low-flying bird's flapping wings, beating out verbal lead lines so that his voice gracefully floated over Gabrielson's driving rhythm, with the occasional duck or dive. Gabrielson was the straight man in this group, holding down the rhythmic fort while Pinsky pushed things forward and Seales cemented the performance's flavor with jesting post-bop contributions.

All three were clearly having a great time with their performance, but Seales especially was in a constant state of amusement, heartily laughing and grinning at the music's developments as if they contained all of his favorite jokes. Pinsky's manner of speech put a lot of zest behind single syllables, be they from one word or the segments of a larger one, slipping and spelunking them into Seales' harmonic cues so that the pianist could scoop them up with a well-timed chord or melodic sentence of his own. Once the music segment was finished, Pinsky sat down for a brief series of questions from the audience, touching on subjects such as his writing process and lifelong love for jazz.

Robert Glasper Trio

The Triple Door/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

New York-based pianist Robert Glasper played at the Triple Door in a trio rounded out by bassist Derrick Hodge. Although Glasper has a reputation for infusing his version of jazz with strong hip-hop characteristics, this aspect of his music seemed to be on the backburner this particular evening, as he focused more on poignant, down-tempo chord progressions and moods. The music certainly didn't fall into a stylistic rut, however, as Glasper is a well-versed student of Keith Jarrett's live improvisations: he likes to start a tune one way and gradually evolve it into something else, which makes many of his pieces into extended odysseys through rotating shades of soul, jazz, pop, and so forth.

Glasper trickled out traditional solos only a handful of times, instead concentrating on the holistic picture and melody of what he was playing. He seemed wrapped up in the broader strokes that the piano allows for, impression and abstraction were favored over direct sentences. Hodge and Colenburg were left with the task of finding just the right time to pick up the rhythm in Glasper's wanderings and start turning the wheels, a task at which they proved consistently inventive. Bilal, an R&B singer who has worked with Glasper in the past and conveniently found himself in Seattle that night, came to the stage for a few minutes of vocal jamming near the end of the show.

Richard Cole Quintet

Tula's/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The Richard Cole Quintet gave a bravado performance at Tula's on the 20th. Celebrating the release of Cole's new album Inner Mission on Origin Records, Seattle musicians Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Bill Anschell (piano), Chuck Deardorf (bass) and Matt Jorgensen (drums) backed the tenor saxophonist with confidence and command for two sets of mostly fresh material. The tunes on Inner Mission are a solid overview of different jazz idioms, in the form of funk, hard bop, ballads, and more contemplative, brooding numbers. No matter the tempo, Cole himself charged each of his solos with a bold push towards the outer regions of his abilities, billowing with enthusiasm for the night's performance. Each improvisation was running at full throttle from the first note; Cole wasn't interested in teasing anybody or making audience members wait for a solo's climax.

Marriott, Anschell and Deardorf responded to their leader's mirth with graceful, comfortable playing, not only sustaining Cole's energy but fanning the flames to greater heights. Jorgensen, who runs Origin Records alongside drummer John Bishop, propelled the group with a crisp, shimmering percussion surface. Bishop himself took Jorgensen's place for one number at the beginning of the second set, while Dr. Ronald Cole replaced Marriott on trumpet for the same tune. The brief lineup shift provided a sharp contrast in styles that left one with a better feel for the musical personalities of everyone involved and also showcased the Origin Records community's thick comradery.

Scott Amendola Trio

Poncho Concert Hall/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

On the 26th, the Scott Amendola Trio appeared at Cornish College of the Arts' Poncho Concert Hall to deliver a rich, charismatic set that mostly consisted of tunes from their new album Lift, on San Francisco's Cryptogram label. Guitarist Jeff Parker, best known for his work in the band Tortoise, practically oozed steam and smoke from his instrument, filling the air with reverb singed chords and soaring leads. From funk to Latin to psychedelia to pseudo-blues, each of the trio's pieces displayed a different face from their collection of influences and abilities. No matter how much they varied, however, they were all obviously cooked up at the same back porch barbeque, on some kind of humid, hazy day. Amendola himself orchestrated, kneaded and sculpted, building the music up with an expert combination of franticness and fluidity. At times he appears to spill himself over his drum set, collapsing on it in a flurry of polyrhythms whose center is on whichever drum or cymbal that he chooses.

Bassist John Shifflett cut directly to the music's core with perfectly placed thumps and stepping stones, forming a healthy trunk for his band mates to lean on. Parker's dried out Saturday-morning solos sprouted and curled from Shifflett's constructions, with the whole package being sprayed by Amendola's earnest but intensely dedicated rumblings. "The Knife" crept up in the form of slide melodies and spy tones, "Death by Flower" presented a head-on collision of feedback and improvised angst, and "Lima Bean" cruised along in a wavy zigzag jet stream. The encore number, "Buffalo Bird Woman," was a wailing piece of rock shuffle, emanating final torrents of noise from all three of the musicians.

The Teaching

The Triple Door/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The Teaching is a young Seattle group whose members have gained notice not only for their able musicianship but also for their enthusiastic and warm approach to building an accessible jazz community. Their weekly event "The Hang," held at Lucid in the University District, features them as the house band but welcomes contributions from any musicians, singers, dancers, or other potential contributors that wish to join them on stage, as their tunes are generally light-hearted and accessible, typically based around a simple hook or groove. This performance at The Triple Door, however, was a showcase for the band itself, made up of Josh Rawlings on piano and Fender Rhodes keyboard, Evan Flory-Barnes on bass, and Jeremy Jones on drum set and percussion. They played a set full of catchy melodies, extended musical suites, and the occasional group chant as a cherry on top at the end of jams on pieces such as "The Teaching" and "Apex of a Beautiful Day."

Each of the three musicians breathed comfort from the stage in the form of big smiles, casual talk with the audience, and highly visible, pleased reactions to the surprises that came up in their playing. This is a group that isn't afraid to openly encourage each other and those around them, as they were extremely gracious to the folks that had come to see them. More so than most musicians, they left the likeable impression that this isn't music that they play because they have to, but because they can. Although a solo by Flory-Barnes or Rawlings can be dizzying in its acrobatic flights from one end of the instrument to the other, when it comes down to it The Teaching is a band of simple pleasures, happy with nothing more than the chance to play for people who are happy to see them.

Steve Lehman Octet

Seattle Art Museum/Earshot Jazz Festival

Seattle, WA

Friday, October 29th, 2010

On Friday the 29th, The Seattle Art Museum was transformed into the thriving lego-land metropolis that erupts from the music of the Steve Lehman Octet. Lehman, who plays the alto saxophone, constructs compositions that are three-dimensional, theatrical, and fearless, most of which divided into a successive string of sections ranging from tempered soliloquies to all-out stomp fests while others clock in at just under two minutes. The melodies, monotones and countermelodies that Lehman builds his music with have different instruments poking and smearing in all directions, captivating the ear with their indecipherable yet organized tactics. Cody Brown, whose drumming emulates a bag of popcorn blowing up in fast-forward, blasted out every manner of break beat, funk strut, and tap dance in the book, charging each piece with a percussion sandstorm whose structure could only be translated by Drew Gress's street-smart bass playing and Chris Dingman's stoic vibraphone motions. Despite the quicksilver pace of things, Gress and Dingman made the whole operation look easy.

Lehman's work grabs you and doesn't let go, it drags you into a dance that you just have to keep stepping with or you'll get stepped on yourself. Lead solos by tenor saxophonist Chris Shim, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, trombonist Jacob Garchik, and Lehman himself seem to burst out of nowhere, blooming naturally from a setting that at first feels like it's all cogs and pulley systems. What's more, they are usually very short—the players really get only a few bars to make their move, which comes out as pure instinct, like they've been rushing through a jungle, finally make it to a clearing, and are suddenly confronted by a tiger that they must battle to the death. The whole time, tuba player Jose Davila sat lurking in the corner, a chugging furnace of low-end frequencies that trimmed the octet's features into a bold, concentrated demeanor.

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