Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival, Saratoga Springs, NY, June 29-30, 2013

R.J. DeLuke By

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So was the band of Rudresh Mahanthappa, one of the strongest voices on the jazz scene over the last decade, playing with the influence not only of the elders like Charlie Parker, but also borrowing things from Eastern music and his Indian heritage. His compositions from his new album Gamak (Act Music & Vision, 2013) are interesting to hear unfold, then the individuality of the solos puts great icing on the cake. David Fiuczynski on double-neck guitar is always cool to hear. With rock influences and jazz chops he created lines that held interest and created anticipation. And under Mahanthappa's lead playing, he didn't opt for comping but played odd contrapuntal lines, sometimes eerie effects. The two are mates in Jack DeJohnette's band and an empathy definitely showed. "Ballad for Troubled Times" showed they could do more than burn. A moody treat.

Tyner has played numerous times at the festival. This time, he carried Gary Bartz on sax, a man who's in his 70s and has played with many of the greats. He sounded blissful with Tyner, playing over some of the great compositions the pianist/composer has blessed the world with over the years: "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," "Blues on the Corner," "Aisha," "Fly with the Wind." Special guest was guitarist John Scofield, whose style also fits with Tyner, his angular and searching lines flying with the wind on each tune he played.

Gregory Porter is on his way to stardom as a jazz vocalist, with a deep, flexible voice drenched in soul. He and his excellent band tore through numbers from his acclaimed Be Good (Motéma Music, 2012), including the superb title track, as well as selections from Liquid Spirit (Blue Note, 2013), out this fall. He killed on his own compositions like "On My Way to Harlem" and "Real Good Hands" and woke up chestnuts like "Skylark." His blazing version of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" stirs the blood.

Donny McCaslin has been regarded among musicians as one of the finest saxophonists on the New York scene and his recordings under his own name are starting to show that. He's played with numerous important figures in music, but this cat is ready to step out in a big way. His music touched everything. It brought the heat. It was gentle and intricate. It was toe-taping and touching as well. Sophistication and a down-home feel through a set of music with the fine Jason Lindner on acoustic and electric keyboards, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana, who was a rhythm machine, providing all kinds of dense-but-supportive percussion. This group had fun, with Linder grinning broadly as he added weird electronics behind McCaslin's playing, the latter beaming with appreciation afterward. More is assuredly coming from this growing artist.

Similarly, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen brought many feelings to the stage with her sweet compositions, and with musicians she has worked with very often: Gary Versace on keynboards, Jon Wikan on drums and Matt Clohesy on bass. Jensen played melodic, mellifluous lines throughout all her creations, which could change like the shifting clouds within one tune, but never veered too far; never lost their beauty. She played strong, flowing lines that could hit 16th-note runs, then quiet down to the bare essence—influenced by Miles Davis, to whom she dedicated a tune, calling him "my ultimate idol." She used mutes to get different colors and textures, and directed the band sometimes with one hand while doing it. Jensen is an artist in the best sense of the word and the set was a distinct pleasure.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks set swung at times, but also cooked with the thermostat all the way up, particularly on John Coltrane's "Resolution." He showed that his years on that famed TV gig didn't erode his chops. His sound meshed nicely and his fire was that of the leader. His new album with the same band, The Messenger (Mack Avenue, 2012) is a good one.


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