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Monterey Jazz Festival 2013

Larry Taylor By

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Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey, California
September 28-30, 2013

Like a lavish banquet, one can't indulge in the whole spread, but only savor favorites. That was the case with the lineup at the 56th annual Monterey Jazz Festival which ran at the Monterey Fairgrounds in Northern California.

Topping the fare were Wayne Shorter, Diana Krall and Joe Lovano. For three days, from afternoon to late evening, great jazz was performed by the best from around the world in six venues. Additionally, veteran saxophonist Lou Donaldson was there for an appearance on his 86th birthday. To be noted, most big-name acts heard in the 7,000 capacity arena also played in the other more comfortable spots.

Friday Night

Gregory Porter, the popular Grammy nominated singer got things off at the large outdoor Jimmy Lyons Stage. Dressed in dapper garb, he put on a lively show for the cheering audience, even jumping high in the air, doing the splits, coming down on twos.

In the intimate Night Club, the tall, imposing Carmen Lundy was in command instantly, her soaring voice filling the room. She performed originals, beginning with the urgent "Prayer for Peace," followed by a very affective "Star Eyes," her voice ascending while holding long sustained notes of yearning. She truly shared the stage with pianist Patrice Rushen whose fingers were all over the keyboard in a flurry as she was generously given opportunities to excel in her solos.

Later, Orchestra Buena Vista from Cuba performed at the Arena. The exotic rhythm was catmint (catnip) to the audience, and the orchestra's hot music had the crowd dancing and celebrating.

Saturday Afternoon and Night

As always here, Saturday afternoon was dedicated to the blues. This year The Relatives arrived from Texas. Formed in the seventies, the eight members recently got back together to sing their brand of gospel blues to the boisterous crowd. They reached their peak with "Do the Hokey Pokey."

Next up, singer-guitarist George Benson got a big response playing amazing guitar and singing mostly favorites in his stylized manner. He showed he could get down with the blues in "Moody's Mood For Love" and "I've Never Been in Love." As a critic once said, "There is a satisfying kind of oneness between Benson and his guitar."

Leading off on Lyons Stage was the Joe Lovano-Dave Douglas Sound Prints Quintet. The feature of the set was the performance of two commission pieces by Shorter. From the get-go, their bristling interplay was evident. They softened a bit for Shorter's beautiful "Sail Into Sunset." Undoubtedly one of jazz's best groups, much of its charged presence came from the explosive bursts of drummer Joey Baron, setting a course for the next improvisational interlude. 2013's Artist in Residence, Lovano was seemingly everywhere—with two appearances of Sound Prints, fronting the Us Five, group, soloing with the New Generation Jazz Orchestra and taking the Downbeat Blindfold Test.

Bobby McFerrin and his SpiritYouAll show on Lyons Stage went back to the leader's roots in the church. His daughter Madison, too, was featured at his side with his seven-piece group. The old hymn "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" never sounded so good. As usual, he sang standards with his marvelous voice in falsetto or scat—rapidly veering into modal registers, performing both the main melody and the accompanying parts of songs. Percussion came from a grunt and by tapping his chest. Don't try this at home.

Sunday Afternoon

Those concerned with the future of jazz should be heartened by the Monterey Jazz Festival's New Generation Jazz Orchestra. After 56 years, this program has become identified with raising prospects for young players in high school and college. Sunday's band was the result of competition among students throughout the country. The best survived and had been molded into a sharp, precision unit led by Paul Condos. The band's outstanding set started with a sparkling modern arrangement of "Sunny Side of the Street." Later, Lovano joined in on a pair—a rhythmic "Shades of Naples" and a soaring version of "The Peacock." In other venues throughout the afternoon, prize winning college and high school groups played. As well, there was a contingent from the Brubeck Institute to hear.

Next up, pianist Bob James and sax star David Sanborn were re-united. Playing less smooth pop here, the longtime buddies went back into mainstream, even adding a little funky blues. Best was their allusion to "Take Five." Drummer Steve Gadd was the backbone this p.m., hoisting the set on his shoulders and running with it.

Sunday Night


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