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Indianapolis Jazz Festival: Day 1, September 26, 2009

AAJ Staff By

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Day 1 | Day 2
The Indianapolis Jazz Festival
Indianapolis, Indiana
Sept. 26, 2009

With two outdoor stages at The Lawn at White River State Park, the heavy clouds blowing across the sky brought just the right amount of the tension to the mix for the final weekend of the Indy Jazz Festival. The weather reports were conflicting, the skies threatened occasionally, but in the end it all came together for an exciting two days of music.

This year's festival was presented by the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, The Indyjazzfest and other supporters, injecting new blood and a contagious enthusiasm into the line-up.

Every place has its own tempo and language—the spacious world of Nordic jazz speaks to the fjords and the silver-cast sea, or the cool sophistication of the riffs of Italy, where it molds and blends like an espresso or a fine Italian wine.

Indiana, the heartland; where the music drives and whispers, mourns and celebrates, it is the living, breathing essence of us being no one but ourselves. It is different from the jambands of New York, and yet again from the cool electric jazz of the California coast. It is the cornfields that bisect the land and sky where they meet Highway 65, its paved dagger cutting through the city skyline. Its sound is the spirit of its synchronicities and ambitions heard in its many lines. The festival began a week previously with the The Joshua Redman Trio, the Charlie Hunter Trio, Fareed Haque with Garag Mahal, Claudia Acuna and many others worthy of attention. The finale brought its musical sons and daughters out for a party before the leaves turned russet red and brown, down by the White River.

Indianapolis boasts some of the most accomplished and talented musicians gathered together in one place and alternatively, suffers from relatively few people knowing about this store of wealth. The city has a deep history in jazz: Wes Montgomery was born here, as was Freddie Hubbard, giants who went on to worldwide fame. Its Golden Age was the '30s and '40s in the Bohemian area of the city known as Broad Ripple, although arguably one could say that the city is now entering a jazz renaissance. The inner city teems, as it always has, with the sounds and the language of jazz.

The endemic style, its inheritors are easily recognizable—many still play a Gibson, or close to it. You can almost see Montgomery standing behind many guitarists as they lean over the neck, thumb-picking; they still invoke that deceptively easy sound that tricks you into thinking you could you do it yourself—you wish, anyway.

The Bill Lancton Coalition, eponymously named for the guitarist-leader, also the president of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, raised such comparisons. But there it ended, a band of seven behind him, his was an easy, intimate sound; cohesive, skillful, embedded in perfect timing and laced with a dash of humor. He knew exactly whom he was playing to; a jazz cover of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" could be heard with the audience singing along. But dated it was not—"Boy's Night Out" delivered some serious drive, Lancton leading with an ultra-competent line that was both controlled and inventive. "Body and Soul" showed their flip side, this one visceral, personal, sweet and slow.

The festival's only flaw was wanting to be in many places at once—while Derrick Gardner (more about him on Day Two) led his Jazz Prophets with some propulsive sounds driving across the lawn from the main stage, Frank Glover on clarinet and Kilho were playing in the Owl Studios Jazz Club Tent. Many songs were from his collection now being recorded, but they also covered some gems from Politico (Owl Studios, 2004). Comparisons are dangerous, and often do injustice to the music exhibited by a genuinely original mind and spirit. There is nothing quotidian in Glover's multi-layered expression. The clarinet has an unusual sound, yet it's said to be more closely representative of the human voice than any other reeded horn—this is no truer anywhere than in Glover's hands. His stories are haunting, deeply expressive of our common tales; clean lines of inquiry balanced by seductive waves of innuendo ran 'round the set. A new composition, "Robot," marked both the human-marked passing of time, the moments lost forever—superimposed and running beneath the mechanistic drive of the machine. In the company of excellent fellows, here is a rare and singular voice. A well-kept secret in Indianapolis, Glover won't remain that way for long.

With the weather holding, Poncho Sanchez (congas) decided to get us all up to dance. Influenced by both Afro-Cuban jazz and Charlie Parker, Sanchez played with Cal Tjader (vibraphone) for his seven-year apprenticeship from '75 to '82. His latest album, Psychedelic Blues, (Concord, 2009), has changed gears from soul-based rhythms to a ripped Latin trip on steroids, which he graced the audience with, now dancing because one had no choice but to get up and shake it. This proceeded onward for better than 20 minutes, with everybody—including their kids, knocking over lawn chairs and trilling like mariachis to Sanchez' pounding congas. He polished it off with the classic "Afro Blue" to close the enthusiastic set.

Many other artists were featured during the day: Brandon Meeks, Clifford Ratliff with Melvin Rhynes, Soulive, Edward Bonilla Latin Band and Branford Marsalis. The only regret of the day was being unable to clone one's self to see all of them.

The magic spell cast over the weather now broke as evening settled in; the rain started coming down. The muse was looking after her followers to have made it through nearly the entire day without it. Exhausted, danced out, we draped our plastic ponchos over our heads and headed out to our cars, surfeited, at least for the moment, until the next day's musical events.


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