Newport Jazz Festival
Newport, Rhode Island
August 8-10, 2008
Jazz in every form was bubbling August 8-10 at the 2008 edition of the JVC Newport Jazz Festival, with a visible and aural increase in the post-rock jam sub-genre. The strength and diversity of the weekend's music showed that under new ownership, this granddaddy of American jazz festivals continues to seek out an expanded audienceand build on the legacy that founding festival producer George Wein began 54 years ago.
This was the first year that the Festival Network, LLC, which bought Wein's Festival Productions organization early in 2007, put its full imprint on the event. Wein remains executive producer, but Festival Network's Jason Olain is now artistic director and chief programmer.
Classic mainstream jazz, a la Warren Vache, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Wein's Newport All- Stars quintet, was present in a forceful way, but so were instrumental pop (Chris Botti), R&B, funk, young traditionalists like New York-based trumpeter Mark Rapp and the U.K.-based band Empirical, and the Latin tinge of Guillermo Klein's Los Guachos big band. Rising talents who were showcased in a variety of settings at Fort Adams State Park's three stages included clarinetist Anat Cohen, singer-songwriter Melody Gardot, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist/singer Esparanza Spalding and trumpeter Christian Scott.
Saxophonist Chris Potter was the weekend's ironman, with five JVC Newport appearances in two afternoons. He performed twice as a member of the Dave Holland-Gonzalo Rubalcaba-Chris Potter-Eric Harland quartet and once apiece with his own band, Chris Potter's Underground, and Herbie Hancock before winding down the weekend as a special guest with Marco Benevento's trio.
Among the weekend's highlights:
Bassist Charlie Haden's premiere of a new bop-focused trio with pianist Ethan Iverson and guitarist Bill Frisell.
Holland's quartet opened the weekend's main stage performance with a very fine hour-long set at Fort Adams, then brought its music to the more intimate Pavilion Stage three hours later. The intimate confines and closeness to the crowd triggered an even stronger performance with more intensity to the ensemble work and the soloing:
The Brian Blade Fellowship drew an overflow crowd of 500-plus to the Pavilion Stage for its 75-minute jazz/rock odyssey. Drummer Blade also appeared on the main stage in the Wayne Shorter Quartet.
Hancock turned his 70-minute performance into a career retrospective with classic, electronic funk and material from his Grammy-winning Joni Mitchell tribute project.
Potter rushed from his Sunday afternoon main stage appearance with Hancock's band just in tie to join jazz-rock keyboardist Marco Benevento's trio as it roared through Led Zepplin's "Friends." The band included Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Matt Chamberlain from Critters Buggin. (JFJO appeared Saturday).
Gardot, winding down a summer-long tour that began with three nights in Montreal, captivated her Newport audience with her sultry/cool gospel- and blues-based lyrics and presence.
Pianist Wein brought straight-ahead jazz to the main stage Sunday. His Newport All-Stars group featured guitarist Howard Alden, reed player Anat Cohen, bassist Esparanza Spalding and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Wein ended the hour-long set with a poignant vocal version of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams."
The program simply listed one 70-minute mid-afternoon set on the Waterside Stage as "Newport Sunday Surprise." Absent any announcements, the curious, and there were many, found an edgy trio performance by Frisell, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
JB Horns trombonist Fred Wesley guested with Lettuce and Soulive in performances that closed the Pavilion Stage on Saturday and Sunday respectively. While leaving Fort Adams after his own main stage performance, R&B singer Anthony Hamilton joined Soulive onstage to share in its irresistible funk, which drew an overflow crowd.
Rollins brought the 2008 Newport Jazz Festival to a close with a stirring performance of jazz ballads, standards and originals. He stretched out the longest with a seemingly endless version of his own calypso-based "Global Warming."
Festival Network seemed to leverage its musicians in terms of scheduling, above and beyond Potter's quintuple appearances and Blade's sets with his own band and with Shorter. The Holland quartet played two stages on Saturday, as Klein's band Los Guachos did on Sunday.
Trumpeter Botti and R&B singer Ledisi, who opened the festival at historic Newport Casino on Friday night, also were featured on the main stage Saturday afternoon. Both leveraged their music, unfortunately, as each performed the same material in both settings, right down to the same banter from the stage.