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Newport Jazz Festival: Saturday, August 7, 2010

Newport Jazz Festival: Saturday, August 7, 2010
Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival
Fort Adams State Park
Newport, RI

August 7, 2010

Sun rays streamed through mostly blue skies, pelting Fort Adams State Park with heat, as the annual jazz festival returned to the Rhode Island peninsula in 2010. Few people attending probably even realized that a week earlier, tropical storm Colin feigned a move that would have had festival goers singing a different tune. However, the storm altered its path and fizzled, leaving Newport with nothing but sunshine for its three-day musical extravaganza.

As things got underway, Darcy James Argue started off the late morning music on the Harbor stage. The 18 piece orchestra opened with "Transit," a zig-zagging odyssey inspired by the infamous Fung Wah bus service. Next, they performed "Zeno," a dizzying piece drawing from the paradoxes of the Greek philosopher bearing the same name.

"Think fear and destruction," Argue explained as he introduced "Phobos," titled for both the Greek god of Fear and the ill-fated moon of Mars. Throughout the performance, the orchestrator steered this modern day interpretation of a big band, through varied timing changes, moments of soft expressions, and places of crashing sound. While illness prevented Bob Brookmeyer from performing, Argue fondly recalled the influence of his mentor, performing "Blow-out Prevention," "Obsidian Flow," and closing with "Drift."

The 2010 festival experimented with its long-standing three stage layout. While the large, open-field Fort stage and the mid-sized, more intimate Harbor stage remained, the small Waterside stage was removed. This year, a Quad stage was added inside the walls of the stone fort. In the past, sounds from one stage could sometimes be heard at other listening areas, and this new layout helped improve the overall listening experience.



JD Allen took to the Quad stage at half passed noon. Joining the saxophonist, drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Gregg August completed a trio format, and threw down a marathon session that enthralled the audience. Beginning with the powerful "Esre!," the trio consistently improvised musical ideas throughout the set—a quick saxophone riff by Allen gave way to Royston's rolling drum work. Cymbals smashed and August's bass playing came to the foreground, the two exploring for several minutes. Allen returned, and rang out long, emotional notes, then the band plunged into the more Middle Eastern sounds of "The Cross and the Crescent Sickle."

Allen soared soulfully swerving around and through the rhythm. Suddenly, he played in abrupt bursts, and then brought the band back into more melodic movements. Incessant and fiery, the band performed with a relentless and enduring energy. Soon, they spanned themes for other pieces—"Sun House," "Pagan," and "Titus," among others. After nearly forty minutes, they broke into "Stardust," a slow moving ballad, where Royston worked his drums using mallets, while Allen's sax swooned, and August slowly walked notes. The tempo slowed and the band paused, as if ending, only to abruptly resume its energetic playing.

"I was initially a little nervous," Allen admitted after the set, "but I got comfortable. I enjoyed it. I think the guys enjoyed it, too. If you come to Newport, I realize it's an intelligent crowd. You can't bullshit this crowd. It almost feels kind of like when you're in Europe, they're listening intently."



As the second round of performances came to a close, The Julian Lage Group displayed rich artistry and dynamic influences during the Harbor stage's mid-afternoon set. Joining guitarist Lage, were saxophonist Dan Blake, Cellist Aristides Rivas, bassist Jorge Roeder, and percussionist Tupac Mantilla, who formed as a cohesive unit while studying music in Boston. The set opened with "Listening Walk." As Lage repeatedly riffed on the opening number, Mantilla and Roeder rhythmically built a foundation upon which Blake's droning saxophone notes could be heard. Continuing, they played "Telegram," which touted a heavy Bluegrass feel, and briefly danced towards a Celtic sound.

The centerpiece from the performance may have been the creative trio twist on "Lil Darlin," where Guitarist Lage glided from melody line to solo flurries, and back, accompanied by Roeder's bass work. As Roeder played, Mantilla wove percussive beats by hitting the upright bass' body, bridge, and neck. Several pieces from the performance, including "Cocoon," "Working Title," and "Ode to Elvin," (which is dedicated to Elvin Jones), will be recorded later this summer, when the band returns to the studio for its second release.

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