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Otis Brown III + Revive Big Band at Central Park Summerstage

Ernest Barteldes By

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Otis Brown III + Revive Big Band
Blue Note Records 75th Anniversary at Central Park Summerstage
August 3, 2014
New York, NY

On an evening dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Blue Note Records (now a subsidiary of Universal Music), drummer Otis Brown III began the proceedings by leading his quintet through hard-bopping original material, opening with "The Way to the Light," a rumba-based tune with a simple structure that became fodder for great improvised moments from everyone involved. A heartfelt take on Herbie Hancock's "I Have a Dream" followed, which Brown dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, a Staten Island African-American who died in police custody during a controversial arrest on July 17, 2014. The tune started with bassist Ben Williams who was followed by the rest of the ensemble.

The band was joined by vocalist Gretchen Parlato and created an alternative arrangement to Shania Twain's "You're Still The One," from a downtempo jazz point of view so many miles away from the original recording's country & western direction it was almost unrecognizable at first. Parlato introduced the tune by slowly delivering the lyrics.

After a brief intermission Brown joined the Revive Big Band, led by Igmar Thomas, for what turned out to be a fiery set. It started off with an original tune featuring Radar Ellis, who rapped over the beat (Ellis, a professor at Berklee College, was also the MC for the evening). One of the evening's highlighted guests, Terence Blanchard, joined the band for a wonderful take on Freddie Hubbard's "One of A Kind." The tune started in a mellow direction then gained momentum as the first soloist took a moment on the trombone, then Blanchard took over with a lengthier solo. The tune then switched tempo and went into a funk-inflected backbeat, providing more space for Blanchard's improvisations.

The concert changed musical direction again when vocalist Christopher Turner joined the ensemble for a rendition of Bilal's "Levels," with more of a neo-soul feel that adapted well in the big band format. They returned to contemporary jazz when pianist Robert Glasper took over the keys for Shorter's "Running Out of Time," a tune that featured several band members. Glasper kept the song close to his style, contributing a solo on electric piano that flowed around the tune as it went along.

It was a great evening, topped off with a high-energy set by vocalist Gregory Porter backed by The Revive Big Band.

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