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Monterey Jazz Festival 2016

Monterey Jazz Festival 2016
Josef Woodard By

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Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey, CA
September 16-18, 2016

In its 59th annual edition, the Monterey Jazz Festival once again delivered on its promise to bring a stylistic plethora and pageantry—with nods to more abstract or daring fare—to the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Among the marquee bragging rights: an impressive new commissioned chamber jazz piece, "The Unfolding," by Wayne Shorter; a good clean fun-making big band tribute to Quincy Jones influential soul and jazz-bridging A&M albums, a residency by increasingly bold bandleader and project-maker Terri Lyne Carrington which included a headlining set by the drummer-leader's much-acclaimed Mosaic Project. From the notable younger set of jazz players making an impact, to varying degrees, the barely-into-adolescence piano sensation Joey Alexander over-packed the Garden Stage, later lit up with the captivating aesthetic graces of flutist-vocalist Elena Pinderhughes.

Speaking of young sensations... to wrap up the festival in a circus-like burst of virtuosity and friendly grandstanding, the genuinely remarkable young Brit Jacob Collier proved the most self-reliant and athletic of performers all weekend. Following a stirring, warming set by Pat Metheny's fine new quartet (with old pal Antonio Sanchez and Metheny-world neophytes pianist Gwilym Simcock and bassist Linda May Han Oh), Collier took to the big stage by his lonesome. But the sonic fruits were anything but lean. Amidst a dense array of instruments, the 22-year-old wunderkind raced between keyboards, drum kit, guitar, bass and grand piano, to build up dazzling thickets of sound, via looping and an elaborate vocal harmonizer system. As YouTube visitors know, his version of "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" is a brain-teasing wonder, especially exciting when witnessed live, and likewise, his post-modern trickster take on the Gershwin-ia of "Fascinating Rhythm" was rather mind-blowing. Still, we wonder about what the future holds for a jazz artist so wrapped up in the one man band game, in a genre celebrating conversation and cross-fire. In the end, fireworks notwithstanding, the show felt a tad lonesome.

A few of my personal wow moments in the margins included catching the new (yet old soulful) Still Dreaming—a tribute to the Old and New Dreams band (itself a tribute to Ornette Coleman's acoustic band), respectfully rendered by late saxophonist Dewey Redman's son Joshua, the late Charlie Haden protégé Scott Colley, Don Cherry-inspired cornetist Ron Miles and nimble, Billy Higgins-esque drummer Brian Blade finding their own lithe groove, colored by the band of old; the unique Billy Hart Quartet (featuring pianist Ethan Iverson and gentle giant tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, along with bassist Ben Street) on the occasion of the drummer-leader's 75th birthday year, cooking up its own savory, creative musical stew, where melodic, impressionistic and category-busting ideals meet. Another unforgettable moment: I was also entranced by young Canadian-in-New-York pianist Kris Davis' powerful, poetic and free-to-be-free trio, featuring the ever-inventive and lankily loose-limbed drummer Tom Rainey and bassist TK. With this refreshingly iconoclastic variation on the theme of piano trio conventions, we had the prize act of this Monterey fest's experimental niche.

This year's crop of piano trios making their way into the small Coffeehouse Gallery venue—where a trio will play three sets during a specific evening—was a model of balance and variety, climaxing with the Davis Trio's triumph of adventurism. Luminous pianist Sullivan Fortner's set asserted polish and heat in a mainstreaming direction, including a fascinating arrangement of the children's television classic "You are Special," by Fred Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers, who insisted on ushering jazz into his TV-landscape), while Stanley Cowell (emerging from his long tenure as an academician into the performance world), traversed more intellectual byways and a cool technical bravura less about flash than intellectual inquiry mixed with earthiness.

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