Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival Poco Diablo Resort Sedona, AZ October 2, 2010
After a year's hiatus due to financial problems, the 29th Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Festival promised a "ReJAZZination," aimed at boosting attendance by having more blues and R&B. Unfortunately, the festival's original jazz focus suffered because the sounds were mostly blues, pop and rock, the same kind of shift in recent years at many other festivals. Attendance was a slight increase over two years ago to approximately 1,840.
The best-received set of the five bands at the event was pop-rock-new-age guitarist Craig Chaquico. The former Jefferson Starship band member (1973-90) opened his 90-minute set with a nod to Led Zeppelin, followed by a Santana-style chart. He nudged audience memories with the title track from his first album, Acoustic Highway (Higher Octave, 1993), and, later, "Songbird," from Follow the Sun (Shanachie, 2009). Chaquico was a memorable musician, exciting to hear and watch, moving around the stage and dropping to his knees during intensely extended solos.
Another top crowd pleaser was Dennis Rowland, a former Count Basie vocalist who performs in Europe and is known for a jazz-blues repertoire spiced by a measure of Motown. His was the closing set, but the festival had gone a full hour behind schedule, and dusk descending on the unlit grounds, shaving Rowland's hour-plus set to a mere 40 minutes. Despite the time crimp, he balanced a good mix of ballads and blues, including his signature version of "All Blues," and closing with "What's Going On?" It was obvious that fans were disappointed at the brevity of his performance, which was punctuated by rain showers that moved much of the crowd under trees but produced a stunning double rainbow above the legendary Sedona red rocks.
The festival, staged on the lawns of Poco Diablo Resort, opened with the youthful Homemade Jamz Blues Band from Tupelo, Miss., organized four years ago by the Perry siblings, 18-year-old guitarist-vocalist Ryan and 16-year-old electric bassist Kyle, with their 12-year-old sister, Taya, at the drums. Researching the band on the Internet, a solid, Delta juke-joint blues was expected, but as talented as they were, the group's sound came across as more rock than blues. Most of the band's songs were written by their father, they also performed the Little Milton / Van Morrison hit, "Grits Ain't Groceries." A blues band that played only two blues shuffles just didn't satisfy.
The second set featured Cuban-born pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, 24, whose classical training dominated his hour. His jazz style favored fragmentation and intentional dissonance delivered in a percussive style, but the set seemed more concert-hall recital than festival fare. A frustrating full-hour delay before he played was caused by his acoustic bassist lacking an instrument. After an announcement was made, a local resident drove off to get one, and the schedule never recovered from the lapse. (A festival spokesman later explained that an acoustic bass wasn't requested in the band's contract, only a piano and drum set.)
Following Chaquico, vocalist Maysa's 90-minute fourth set offered jazz and blues with major measures of soul and funk, reflecting her previous stint with Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove, and as lead singer with the British band Incognito. Her scat style was less traditional compared to that of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but she satisfied listeners with her passionate delivery and rich vocal range.
Overall, the festival lacked the level of power figures of past decades, and was flawed in scheduling and sound. Rowland's closing set was robbed of time because other bands kept their full performance segments, rather than lopping 10 minutes from each, especially the set by the Rodriguez band that had caused the delay. The sound system was rife with dead mics and many unnerving "whoomps." The program sequence was in the wrong order, as in past years; a more listenable progression would have opened with Rodriguez in the earliest part of the day, followed by Maysa, then Chaquico, followed by Rowland appearing at the height of attendance, with the young blues band closing to entice dancers.