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Longwood Gardens' Wine and Jazz Festival: Kennett Square, PA, June 2, 2012

Longwood Gardens' Wine and Jazz Festival: Kennett Square, PA, June 2, 2012
Victor L. Schermer By

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Longwood Gardens' Wine and Jazz Festival
The Meadows at Longwood Gardens
Kennett Square, PA
June 2, 2012

After a night of thunderstorms and tornado warnings, the weather cleared at Longwood Gardens, a horticultural conservancy spread over a wide swath of countryside in Kennett Square, Chester County, PA. The day turned out sunny and mild, perfect for "jazz on a summery day" in late spring. A sold out crowd of over 4,000 fans showed up for the music and wine tasting in a broad expanse of meadow at the edge of the conservancy. They were treated to a delightful mixture of performances that embodied alternately straight-ahead, cool, and New Orleans styles, culminating in the contemporary vocalizing of featured artist Dianne Reeves. Thanks to the tireless efforts and creative intelligence of Longwood's Performing Arts Manager, Tom Warner, this festival has, in a few short seasons, become part of an ongoing year-round concert series in all genres, one of the best of its kind on the East Coast. Jazz fans in particular can look forward to the likes of guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Christian McBride and others of similar stature during the 2012-2013 concert season.

The shows began at noon with Joe Baione's quintet. The Wilmington, Delaware-based vibraphonist is making it on the international scene with recordings, as well as concert and festival performances. The reason for Baione's evolving success became evident with his lively, articulate, and swinging solos in the Milt Jackson tradition. The set featured original compositions, including the upbeat "Superhero,"a driving version of "The Journey," the African/salsa "The Stranger," and the climactic "Oh Yeah!!" These were interspersed with Len Winchester's "Down Fuzz" and the funky Miles Davis standard, "All Blues." Baione's sidemen backed him up beautifully, with Jorge Castro wielding a spicy tenor sax and flute, pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Yoshi Waki (the number of high power Japanese bassists is exceeding the immigration limits these days), and drummer Willie Martinez.

A food, wine, and relaxation break was followed by Dominick Farinacci Quintet. Farinacci is a New York-based trumpet and flugelhorn player with Cleveland roots. He has the stage persona of a laidback urban guy with a slightly Seinfeld sense of humor and an efficient, effective way of playing the horn. His approach in this set was conservative, compared, for example, with other trumpeters like Ralph Alessi and Dave Douglas. His playing resonated with early Miles Davis, with shades of Freddie Hubbard and, on flugelhorn, a touch of Art Farmer.

Farinacci's on-point improvisations merited sustained interest, and he stayed on top of the music from beginning to end. The set, which included the standards "It's All Right with Me," and "What's New," harked back to the cool jazz era. An original blues tune as well as an Eastern European composition, "Erghan Diado," added contemporary variations and flavors. The group, which included bassist Yasushi Nakamura, drummer Marion Felder and percussionist Keita Ogawa, played in a manner that was relaxed yet tight, sophisticated, and on target. Ogawa came across as a Zen master's version of a one-man band, adding a cymbal to the tabla, and dangling some bells on his leg, yet sustaining balance and coordination with Felder's drumming throughout.

Farinacci's pianist, Kris Bowers, manifested a special flair, first noticeable in the Farinacci original, "Tango." His comping and solos were quietly absorbing, as emerging from a source deep within rather than a prearranged plan or structure. Similarities to the work of pianist Horace Silver could be heard over time. Farinacci must have recognized the special talent of this gentleman, because he gave him space for a solo piano version of "Skylark," which he performed with grace, again in a style reminiscent of Silver. It turns out that Bowers won the prestigious 2011 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition—and, for good reason.

Wycliffe Gordon is a top-of-the-line trombonist—possessing equal facility on trumpet and vocals as well—who remains true to his southern roots and the gospel tradition. Switching handily between trumpet, trombone, and vocals, he stayed in a traditional New Orleans mode with a set based on his recent Hello Pops: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong (Criss Cross, 2011). The group began with a medley of Armstrong staples, "Sleepy Time Down South" and "Back Home Again in Indiana," followed by a vocal on "Sunny Side of the Street" with just enough of the Armstrong growl to evoke Satch while remaining respectful.

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