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Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, Saturday, August 6, 2011

Newport Jazz Festival: Newport, RI, Saturday, August 6, 2011
Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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Natixis Newport Jazz Festival
Fort Adams State Park
Newport, RI
August 6, 2011

On a hazy Saturday that started hot and grew more humid, violin and accordion walked a melody as Regina Carter's Reverse Thread opened the main stage at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. Will Holshouser's accordion puffed sounds inspired by zydeco and percussionist Alvester Garnet hinted at African-inspired rhythms. The band opened with the slow-moving tempo of "Juru Nana/God Be With You," followed by the more upbeat "Artistiya."

"N'Tteri," meaning friendship, featured a kora solo by Vacouba Sissoko. Sissoko captivated the crowd as he wove polyrhythmic tonalities on the West African instrument containing more than 20 strings. Carter's violin, which layered and embellished the sound, soared on this beautiful piece.

The waterfront environment that makes up the festival contained three stages, each of which had five acts perform throughout the day. Within the walls of the stone fort that has hosted the festival for more than five decades, the Quad Stage aired the sounds of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Trumpet, alto sax, bass, and electronic drums combined dizzying, avant-garde thoughts with doses of ragtime swag. Kevin Shea contributed a drum solo that ranged from a standard jazz cymbal ride to varied electronic pitches, swells, and chirps.

From left: Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith III

A short walk away, a lone, piercing trumpet note rippled through the air, and quickly melted into flurried statements at the Harbor Stage. The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet ushered in its set with "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter." Akinmusire called out a trumpet figure four times. Drummer Justin Brown, bassist Harish Raughavan and pianist Sam Harris joined in. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III spoke in a quiet, dour tone. Smith and Akinmusire mirrored a melody line and exchanged ideas of sound—smeared notes climbed to a scream, morphed into solos, and then fell back down to simmer.

"Thank you so much," Akinmusire said as he introduced the band members. "We don't have much time up here, so I'm just going to continue with the music." The set also featured "J," an original scored by Raughavan, "Regret No More" and "With Love." The performance drew from the adept rhythm section. With skill and flexibility, they constantly pushed the music, procuring dense sounds, rich fills, and wondrous embellishments, amid a torrent of horn lines.

Fast, slow, and heavy, Eddie Palmieri's Latin Jazz Band delivered rhythms so deep and robust, you could almost taste papaya. During this set, the sun sneaked out from beneath its blanket of haze. The crowd grew—spilling onto the bed of dry grass that made up the grounds about the Quad Stage. Around and between melodic phrasings, horns spit sound into the air and chided with comical bursts. Some people danced the cha cha to "Piccadillo" and others screamed with enthusiasm to "Vanilla Extract" and "Comparsa"—good thing the Del's Frozen Lemonade stand was nearby—some peeps looked like they needed it!


Esperanza Spalding



The mid-day mark made for arduous decisions. On the Main Stage, Wynton Marsalis cast his classic sound, peppered by a Cajun butter, as he opened with song "#8." From the Harbor Stage, the churchified sounds of Joey DeFrancesco's organ trio preached "V&G" and "Blues in 3" to receptive parishioners. Simultaneously, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue could be heard on the Quad Stage. Arguably, Newport hasn't seen a high-energy act of this magnitude since the 2008 Soulive set or the 2009 James Carter gig. The rich chocolaty grooves of this hard and swinging band had the audience standing and moving. If you knew where to look, you could even catch Esperanza Spalding shakin' it! The horn players stepped, twirled, and swayed, in a stage routine that harkened back to the height of the Motown era. First to last, each note was a party.

From the opening alto sax riff of "January 18," Steve Coleman's Five Elements drew an audience of enthusiastic ears. Jen Shyu sang in tones and syllables, while David Virelles comped on the piano. At times, the group appeared to utilize an improvisational approach of playing individual notes that collectively gave rise to melody. Other times, more traditional lines, scales, and chord phrasings were employed. Coleman, who was a central figure in the M-Base concept, continues to strive for new sounds and ideas in music.

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