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Monterey Notebook 2006, Part 2: Saturday

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Saturday, September 16, 1:00pm - The Arena



My calendar says Saturday, but here at the Monterey Jazz Festival it must be Sunday morning. A revival meeting is underway at the Arena stage as the McCollough Sons of Thunder, straight from Harlem's United House of Prayer, fill the air with worshipful brass. It sounds like a Salvation Army convention on Bourbon Street.



The McCollough group is unique, not only because of the powerhouse lineup—half a dozen trombones, plus sousaphone, tuba and four pieces of percussion—but also because they decline to record this incredible music, wishing to maintain its sacred purity rather than allow it to become a commodity.



The Good Book says something about making a joyful noise unto the Lord. Both joy and noise are in abundance as the uniformly dressed trombone line sways and shouts, the drummers stomp and bandleader Edward Babb testifies. "Can I get a witness?" he asks, and a hundred souls shout back, hands raised high.



The sermon continues through "He Touched Me," with Babb frantically waving a white towel as he shouts for salvation. The horns' slow drag switches to jubilation as quickly as a Big Easy funeral, and the audience breaks into handclaps. Soon, a few brave folks are rising from their seats. One man spins a multi-hued umbrella that matches his gaudy tie- dyed shirt. A dancing woman waving two oversized fly swatters, as if trying to guide the Holy Ghost down for a safe landing in the center aisle. "Can I get some more?!" Babb shouts over the rolling horns. And suddenly half the Arena is on its feet.



Many sit back down for the next number, but Babb is having none of that. "Don't stop!" he says. "Wave your hands for peace! Wave your hands for tranquility! Wave your hands for joy! Even if you don't believe in Jesus, surely you believe in your own body. Be thankful for your body! Now stand up!"



Thus commandeth the Lord, I guess. But really, no commandments are needed here. When the Sons of Thunder come to town, sitting still is simply not an option.



Blues Bonanza



1:45pm - Garden Stage





It's a short but difficult trek from the Arena to the Garden Stage. CNN has set up shop midway between the two venues, and an interview in progress with Bonnie Raitt has clogged the passing avenue with gawkers.



The struggle pays off in the end. At the Garden Stage, tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert is blasting post-bop energy into a fiery solo. But this isn't modern jazz. It's the blues, baby. The Fins are holding court and the place is jammed. Out front, leader Benny Hi Fi's slicing guitar work and effusive personality trump his pedestrian vocals. When the band shifts to some old-fashioned jump blues, the four-man horn section bounds into action. Cliff Pecola's tenor solo sounds like a volley from one of those r&b sax battles of old—if only he had a bar to walk on! Next up, trumpeter Steve Jankowski takes off with graceful arcs and gutbucket warbles.



Funk is also on the bill for the versatile Fins, allowing the horn players to show off their tight ensemble chops. Meanwhile, bassist Angelo Mancuso and drummer Eric Addeo lay down a back beat somewhere between James Brown and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Tango in "Paradiso"



2:30pm - Coffee House Gallery



Some of the best music at this year's Monterey Jazz Festival is being made in its smallest room.



Last night, the warm, dark confines of the Starbucks Coffee House Gallery played host to some fantastic performances by Robert Glasper. Today, Steve Erquiaga's Trio Paradiso is here for two sets, and the three amigos are making the exotic feel familiar. Blending tango and the flavors of Spain into an intoxicating gypsy-jazz context, Trio Paradiso is one of those groups that can satisfy the brain and the gut in equal measure.



On accordion, Rich Kuhns shows a strong improvisational flair and an impeccable ear for accompaniment. These are traits shared by guitarist Erquiaga, who moves easily from delicate picking to driving rhythmic playing. Both shine on "Mina Sombina," as bassist Rich Gerard crafts a propulsive Latin walk before taking off on his own steadily forceful solo.

The mood is infectious, the interplay superb, the audience enthusiastic. Erquiaga keeps his humor as he wrestles a balky string between numbers, relating an anecdote about guitarist Joe Pass ("I spend half my life tuning my guitar," Pass reportedly said, "and the other half playing out of tune"). But there's nothing out of place as the trio begins "Porto Fino," a tender, nostalgic air with a ponderous bridge. The threesome plumbs deep into the tune's depths, ending on a note of near tragedy. But they pick up the mood for the rest of the lively set, continuing to tickle the intellect wth their subtle, sophisticated repertoire.



Sumlin's in the Kitchen with Duke



3:30pm - Garden Stage


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