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Jazz Port Townsend 2004

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Throughout the week of this July's Bud Shank Jazz Workshop at Port Townsend, everyone tried to ignore the ticking time bomb in the corner. The workshop was followed by Centrum's Jazz Port Townsend on the weekend, and everything unfolded as it has for the last 20+ years. The old gang of veteran musicians passed on bandstand wisdom to their students, capped by a series of concerts at Fort Worden's McCurdy Pavilion and club appearances in Port Townsend's venerable, quaint downtown. It all built to the Phil Woods/Bud Shank Quintet's closing set at McCurdy Pavilion's main stage Saturday night.

After opening with a bristling reading of Gigi Gryce's hard bop burner, "Minority", Shank and Woods took turns re-shaping a series of jazz standards and originals including a lyrical suite of Bill Evans-inspired tunes. Shank offered an achingly beautiful reading of "Nature Boy" before the dual alto-driven quintet drilled the set to a standing ovation.
Then Shank came out alone, sat down, and opened a long, seething, emotional rant directed at the Centrum arts organizers who took away his artistic director position last spring after more than 20 years of guiding the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop and Jazz Port Townsend.
"They fired me," Shank fumed, and continued his tirade before the stunned, silent, full house by describing how for two decades he'd played every concert and club stage for free during the festival, taking payment only for his dual roles as clinician and artistic director. He said his famous friends who served as clinicians always played for free too, citing the George Cables Trio's club date that night as an example. Then he brought his wife Linda out, and she continued the emotional complaint after Bud promised "We'll never come back to Port Townsend."
It was awful, like witnessing a very messy domestic break-up's dirty laundry, and I hurried back downtown to the American Legion Hall for a dose of the Alan Jones Sextet's playful, powerful original music. The barefoot drummer's band is one of my favorites. The Portland-based sextet was joined by tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer for their Port Townsend performances, and Dwyer's ferocious attack and brilliantly conceived improvisations perfectly mirrored the leader's volcanic drumming. Newly returned to the west coast after a decade toiling in Toronto's busy studio scene, Dwyer was on fire.

The sextet opened with a fevered reading of Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Tune" followed by a series of originals dedicated to Jones' mentor, Leroy Vinegar, and the drummer's passion for rock climbing and high altitude mountaineering. Trumpeter Phil Mazzio and alto saxophonist Warren Rand ably shared the front line with Dwyer, and pianist Randy Porter and bassist Tim Wakeling helped Jones propel the set's adventurous rhythmic underpinning. What a band! Sadly, Jones is moving his family to Germany, and that's a huge loss to the Pacific Northwest's jazz scene.

I wrapped up Saturday evening with the George Cables Trio at the Upstage. The bar was packed, and the kitchen was still open. They put together a deliciously garlicy lamb sandwich and salad, and I sat at the bar savoring my midnight snack while Cables, bassist John Clayton and drummer Victor Lewis produced elegantly funky reinventions of Monk and a luscious version of "Over The Rainbow". It was a wonderful, nostalgic, romantic, healing balm for the night's earlier dramatics and another reminder of why I love this festival so much.

The festival had kicked-off inauspiciously Thursday night with a truncated, opening night club offering. I started my evening with the Bill Ramsay/Ron Eschete Quintet's bluesy swinging at the Public House. Leaving the packed pub after one set and walking down Water Street to the Water Street Brewing Company's high-ceilinged bar, I caught a set by the Dawn Clement Trio with Laura Welland. Clement and her rhythm team of bassist Doug Miller and drummer John Bishop were an intuitive combo that swung relentlessly. Welland's stiff body language onstage mirrored her uninspired vocals. She felt emotionally blocked despite her technique and the band's prodding.

Friday night's main stage performance by the Buster Williams Quartet, Something More, was a hit and miss affair too. Drummer Lenny White is fusion-bred pounder and his percussive bombast was matched by pianist Patrice Rushen's keyboard bashing. Young tenor saxophonist Casey Benjamin got most of the solo space, and his Coltrane-inspired modal runs were full of rote sound and fury signifying nothing...which left Williams' deep, majestic rumblings buried in the maelstrom of his too-similar original tunes.

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