Tanglewood Jazz Fest: Casteneda, Elias, McPartland, and Freelon Headline Labor Day Show

R.J. DeLuke By

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[Edmar] Castaneda continues to wow audiences with his virtuoso abilities on the harp, executing runs that can sound like two guitarists, with percussive articulations and firmly etched bass lines. —Yet he plays with gentle sweetness and lightning speed.
Tanglewood Jazz Festival
Lennox, Massachusetts
August 29-31, 2008

Tanglewood, the venerable Lenox, Massachusetts, music facility, is renowned for classical music and has been the home for many of the great composers and conductors over the years. But the annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival has carved out its own reputation for bringing exciting and eclectic music to the stage each year over the Labor Day weekend.

This year, among the highlights was a remarkable double-bill concert by the Edmar Casteneda trio, featuring guest Joe Locke, and by the elegant Eliane Elias, presenting her tribute to Bill Evans. It also celebrated the 90th birthday of one of the grande dames of jazz, Marian McPartland, with a live taping of her long- running, Peabody Award-winning, NPR show Piano Jazz.

Mixing classical and jazz themes was a band led by pianist/composer/arranger Donal Fox, and providing expert clarinet sounds of bebop and swing was Eddie Daniels. Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Band melded the swing of the Grappelli-Reinhardt era with bluegrass energy. Then there was the Jazz Cafe, which brings notice to up-and-coming musicians every year. It added up to a successful musical weekend.

Elias brought much of the music from her heralded CD, Something For You, the tribute to Evans, one of the pianists she was influenced by as a young girl and aspiring musician in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She was one of the weekend's stars, with an expert and classy performance.

Cole Porter's "Everything I Love" allowed her to show her deft and precise piano skills, as well as the tightness of the group— bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Constantly touted for her interpretations of Latin music, particularly Jobim—which she does wonderfully—some may forget she's one of the finer pianists in jazz. She's expert at playing in the jazz mainstream, her improvisations fiery and passionate. She played the Monkish "Five," which Evans wrote many years ago, and a solo on his tune "I Love My Wife" was beautifully rendered, with lush harmonic twists.

She sang "Waltz for Debbie," "Sleeping Bee" and "Beware, My Foolish Heart" from the Evans book, and each time added sweet piano to back her soft, yet engaging, vocals. At every step, Johnson and Nussbaum were in synch. Johnson's sense of time and his superior solo improvisations make it easy to understand why Evans was so pleased with his very last trio—comprising Johnson along with Joe LaBarbera on drums. The bass solo on "You and the Night and the Music" was particularly outstanding.

Elias also dropped some nuggets from her latest CD, Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note), which is out in Europe and Japan but doesn't hit the U.S. until January. Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" proved an excellent vehicle for her sensuous vocal. Jobim's "Desafinado" was absolutely reconstructed, with abstract excursions and different rhythms surrounding the basic melody. Far more experimental a reading than one would expect but, because it is performed more traditionally so many times, the change is what made it more interesting and fun.

Castaneda continues to wow audiences with his virtuoso abilities on the harp, executing runs that can sound like two guitarists, with percussive articulations and firmly etched bass lines. Yet he plays with gentle sweetness and lightning speed. And his band was right in step. Marshall Gilkes not only proved to be a strong trombone player but also wrote some of the intricate music. Drummer Dave Stillman did the work of two men, playing the trap set as well as multiple percussion instruments, with an apparent djembe between his legs. Moreover, he managed to play them all on most of the numbers—not separately but melding them all. Joe Locke on vibes used double mallets while playing with fire, beauty, and captivating energy—a great pleasure to hear and, because of the visual element, to witness as well.

At one point, the Latin-tinged music got hot: Stillman was playing an array of percussion, Castaneda was working his magic, and Gilkes, in addition to improvising over the insistent pulse, managed to make his mouthpiece imitate the sounds of the Brazilian cuica, which fit right into the overall sound. (The squeaking sound of the cuica maybe is most familiar to fans from Airto Moiera's playing it behind Miles Davis in the electronic 1970s period). The music of this group was exciting, and its future is bright.


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