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Freihofer Jazz Fest: Return to Forever and More

R.J. DeLuke By

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He included songs from an upcoming album, including "Fly By Night," "Misunderstood," and "Lovely" Brown's trumpet would blare in and put of the rhythms, with great tone and hip ideas. It wasn't just hard blowing. As improvisatory as it might have been, there was also careful thought. He deserves a spot with Jeremy Pelt and Christian Scott as young cats who are really playing some super contemporary music, as well as really speaking with the trumpet. How good was the music? Too good to leave, even though Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane and Dave Liebman were on the main stage tearing through their Saxophone Summit set.

The "surprise" of the fest was 22-year-old singer Rachel Price, who, backed by a trio ran through several selections from the Great American Songbook with surprising ease and elegance. Her voice was rich and her improvisations gleeful, without losing sight of the song. It called to mind Anita O'Day at several points. "That Old Black Magic," "The Trolley Song," "Skylark" and the like were among her repertoire, but she wore each of those chestnuts well. She's a singer to watch.

Another singer, Andrea Tierra, brought a nice Latin band, featuring the talents of her husband, harpist Edmar Castenada and celloist Dana Leong. She did music from her South American homeland (she's Columbian), and not much in the way of English lyrics. But her voice was velvety smooth and her natural feel for the music was enticing.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, ever the enthusiastic performer with chops to spare, began with her trademark rendition of Trane's "Afro Blue," but then went into her African-influenced recent recording Red Earth, A Malian Journey. It included rich rhythms and some blues. She's always exciting to see. Dianne Reeves was, likewise, an elegant presence, always sure in her presentation and her music, her voice strong, flexible and confident. She too covered the territory of her latest CD, When You Know, including "Just My Imagination," and "Today Will Be a Good Day."

Lloyd, a fine saxophonist who scored with crossover hits in the 1960s, played a good set of music with Rueben Rogers on bass, Jason Moran on piano and Eric Harland on drums, the same young musicians who recorded on his ECM project Rabo de Nube that came out earlier this year, and their music came from that; thoughtful and exploratory. The group meshes well and Lloyd's sound is sweet and fresh even at the age of 70.

Freihofer Jazz Festival / Jenny ScheinmanTerrence Blanchard's group was superb, playing music from A Tale of God's Will: A Requiem for Katrina. It was dramatic and touching at times, smoking at others. He even did wordless chant-like vocals during parts, and then, using an electronic device triggered by his foot, played them back while he improvised trumpet licks. His playing is very strong, one of the finest trumpeters on the scene. And his band is great, propelled by the wonderful Kendrick Scott on drums, an under-appreciated but terrific musician. Brice Winston is a young saxophonist who lends a lot to the proceedings, scorching up the turf when called for and putting forth sweet melodies in the slower sections.

The Brubeck Brothers are always consistent. Drummer Danny and bass/trombonist Chris have played together for a long time with guitarist Mike DeMicco. They run through their sets with fire and forethought and always have moments of excitement. Danny is a smoking drummer that can fit into any setting, as reliable when it gets funky as he is when it's torrid jazz. The group closed with a hot version of "Take Five," naturally borrowed from their dad's book, but with a different and pleasing arrangement. If they can't do it, who can?

Jenny Scheinman brought a small group to the gazebo stage and did music that owed as much to folkloric influences than jazz. She's got two CDs out this year, so she's becoming more well known as time goes by as one of the better violin players. She didn't dazzle much with technique, but provided interesting melodies and heady statements over the soft sounds of her group. Her music seemed bent to take people on a journey. She has a nice, mellow sound.

Chris Botti is a trumpeter who's kind of pushed into the smooth jazz section, but that's not all he's about. He can play some trumpet and his band, with the superb Billy Kilson on drums, Mark Whitfield on guitar and Robert Hurst on bass has a strong jazz pedigree. The group has great bursts of energy and, when playing ballad's playing comes to the fore. It's good ground for him and his tone is pleasing.

Another young pianist, Jonathan Battiste from the Crescent City, did a set of music that owed a lot to that region . He even sang "What a Wonderful World," no doubt influenced by Satchmo. The set was well executed, but lacked any true spark.

The festival rolls on, less under the influence of Wein, of course. One wonder how many more bands like the O'Jays will clutter up improvisational music, but SPAC's event seems to be indefatigable nonetheless. One can't help but have fun.

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R.J. DeLuke

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