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Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival

Dave Kaufman BY

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Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival featured excellent performances by some of the lesser known artists, fine concerts by headliners and a great after-hour jam sessions. It was another splendid day with much great music. My day at the fest started out mid-afternoon with a fine performance by accomplished trumpeter Sean Jones leading a quartet that included the remarkable piano playing of Victor Gould. The "Mississippi Blues Child-Mr. Sipp" thrilled an audience with some scorching blues on the Garden Stage. The group is led by the brilliant guitarist Castro Coleman, a veteran gospel musician and record producer. In recent years, he has become a celebrated and award wining blues artist. The group plays an update of classic blues-rock featuring mostly original compositions. Coleman (AKA Mr. Sipp) is a virtuoso and flashy guitarist, but he plays with a lot of soul and has a broad command of the blues genre. He was supported by a crack band that included veteran organist Carroll McLaughlin. I cut out after about 30 minutes and missed an apparently epic cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" coupled with the "Star Spangled Banner." It was the best blues concert that I had seen in a very long time.

Monsieur Perrine, a band hailing from Colombia, is truly an act beyond category. They fuse Colombian folk, Latin pop with Django Reinhardt inspired gypsy jazz. They are led by exciting vocalist Catalina Garcia and a fine band with an energetic stage presence. I only caught about 15 minutes of their performance on the Garden Stage, but it was serious fun. Bassist extraordinaire Kyle Eastwood has been a regular visitor to the fest and grew up only a few miles down the road in the city of Carmel. He led his excellent group through a series of finely arranged tunes including original compositions (some composed for his father, Clint Eastwood's films) and excellent covers' (e.g., Mingus' "Boogie Stop Shuffle"). The front line horns included Alex Norris on trumpet and Jason Rigby on tenor sax. Rigby, in particular, was stellar and is certainly a musician deserving wider recognition.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is a hard-swinging modern big band known for its colorful and original arrangements. This Los Angeles based orchestra has been around for some 30 years under the joint leadership of conductor and bassist John Clayton, alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton (John's younger brother) and drummer Jeff Hamilton. In an interesting twist, John's son, pianist Gerald Clayton appeared on stage with his Trio (with Joe Sanders on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums) and were featured as a soloing unit within the orchestra. The festival commissioned John Clayton to compose and present a new work for this year's 60th anniversary edition. As Clayton explained, the eight-piece suite, "Stories of a Groove," was inspired by the political events and socio-cultural divisiveness of the day. The music conveyed rage, sadness and even celebration as expressed in solos by Jeff Clayton, Ricky Woodard on tenor and others. One of the highlights was a duet between drummers Jeff Hamiton and Obed Calvaire that began as a fiery display, but evolved into a series of humorous exchanges. This magnificent concert was the highlight of my Saturday at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Leslie Odom Jr. is widely celebrated for playing the role of Aaron Burr for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Hamilton. Odom Jr. is also an accomplished jazz crossover singer with a remarkably rich and versatile voice. He was one of the featured artists on the Jimmy Lyons stage. He is a dynamic stage performer and brilliantly worked the crowd. Odom Jr. is also immensely funny, with an alternately self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating sense of humor. Backed by a stellar band that was liberally featured at times, Odom Jr. served up a mix of jazz standards, Broadway tunes and popular songs.

Sonny Rollins performed at the very first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. Although he could not attend, the fest saw fit to pay tribute to him with a group that featured four tenor saxophone greats namely, Jimmy Heath, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman. They were ably supported by Gerald Clayton on piano, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. The entire group performed as an ensemble for the opening and closing numbers. On the other tunes, each tenor alternated playing with the rhythm section. The highlight was a moving rendition of "Round Midnight" that featured Jimmy Heath on soprano sax. Heath also discussed his 70-year-old friendship with Rollins and how they speak frequently by phone noting that they are among the last remaining musicians of their generation. The concert concluded with a rousing, celebratory version of St. Thomas that was a fitting end to a fine tribute.

The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra is an assemblage of the most talented high school musicians and recent graduates from across the country. They were featured throughout the festival on the Education Stage, in various aggregates from small group to big band. The stage was situated in the middle of the Fair Grounds and I periodically listened to the very fine musicians. I was most impressed by 19-year-old Sasha Berliner, a prodigiously talented hard swinging vibes player (and drummer) who is already drawing notice in both the Bay Area (where she is a native) and in New York City. Trumpeter Akili Bradley and tenor saxophonist Abdias Armenteros were also immensely impressive, performing with different ensembles.

If 10 hours of jazz wasn't enough, there were the nightly jam sessions at the Hyatt Regency Monterey, the hotel where most of the artists stayed. On Friday and Saturday nights, the place was packed to the rafters. The jam sessions were anchored by a trio led by drummer (and surgeon) Dr. David Morwood. Several notable artists and some lesser known ones sat in with the group. Highlights include a brief, but lovely flugelhorn interlude by Roy Hargrove. Jam sessions offer James Carter the perfect vehicle for his displays of virtuosity and unique brand of showmanship. He certainly did not disappoint. Exciting newcomer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, Isaiah Collier contributed much in the way of exuberance on both evenings.
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