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Tanglewood Jazz Festival 2009, Lenox, MA

R.J. DeLuke By

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Tanglewood Jazz Festival
Lenox, Massachusetts
September 4-6, 2009


The annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival in western Massachusetts has become an intriguing mix of music over the years, its programming taking into account jazz masters, as well as young talent, and projects that are as new or at least a bit different; something that isn't experienced everywhere else.

For example, in 2008, Terence Blanchard performed his wonderful music from A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note, 2007). But unlike other festivals and venues where he adapted the music for his quintet, at the hallowed Tanglewood facility in Lenox, Mass., he presented the music backed by a 34-piece orchestra. Stunning. The same year pianist/composer Donal Fox played pieces from his "Scarlatti Jazz Suite," which blended classical and jazz elements and featured monster jazz players like trumpeter Christian Scott and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.

In 2009, held over Labor Day Weekend, Paquito D'Rivera's presentation of classical music with jazz improv was different and invigorating. Dave Holland, ever out front in the jazz world, with his award-winning quintet and big band to his credit, appeared with yet another new aggregation, a relatively new octet, that was as kick-ass as any of his other terrific bands.

The festival was also able to book the heralded Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which holds court Monday nights at New York City's Village Vanguard, but doesn't get away from those digs all that much (although it played some European gigs this summer). Meanwhile, master jazz pianists Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller put their head—and pianos—together for a rare duet performance. They've done it before, but not in a while, and it was another slightly different lilt that turned out to be memorable. Other exhilarating moments came from a set called "The Majesty of the Trumpet," hosted, as it were, by Jon Faddis and his quartet and featuring fellow trumpeters Wallace Roney and Sean Jones.

It was a memorable weekend for fans and for the festival itself, which remains one of the vital jazz events in the region each year.

No one brought da funk, but if the VJO brought the noise, Barron and Miller brought the class, and Faddis and company brought the majesty, the Holland Octet brought all of that and then some. Closers at the three-night, two-day festival, the best definitely came last. Holland just continues to turn out first-rate bands and first-rate music.

The octet hadn't played that many gigs when it came to Tanglewood, but you wouldn't have known it. The band was on fire—in the pocket, yet edgy and probing; subtle and reflective when need be, and explosive. They generated a bigger sound, and more balls, than the 16 pieces of the VJO, yet it could break down in smaller units and end up revealing forceful stories.

"Dave knows exactly what he wants for music," the band's trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin, told All About Jazz earlier this year. "He has a very distinctive style of writing, and his sound is amazing. But at the same time, he gives you a lot of freedom to express yourself."

That certainly was the case, and when those expressing themselves are Sipiagin, Chris Potter, Jaleel Shaw and Gary Smulyan on saxophones, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibes and Nate Smith on drums—along with one of the finest bassists in existence in Holland—the recipe for good music is in place. Holland cooks the ingredients and serves up a delicious meal.

The group recorded Pathways in January, which will be released later this year on Holland's Dare2 label.

The group blasted out of the gate with an intensity, the horns playing different lines, but toward the same point. A big sound. Smulyan's baritone horn was raucous over the rhythm. Holland's bass was fleet and imaginative. Sipiagin has been a good addition to Holland's groups of late. He darted and dashed through the changes with imaginative turns of phrase and a glistening tone. The sound was pushed by the propulsive Smith, who needs all his muscular maneuverings to hold up this fine group. And he does it in fine fashion.

"How's Never" showed Holland's bold and gutsy side to his soloing, which led to some smoking horn interplay. The horns accented the funky, exotic rhythm and then helped display the melody. Shaw's alto solo was both funky and sleek.

Potter, one of the great sax men out there, is always a pleasure to hear. When he makes a statement, it can take any direction, but its always inspired and he has a great sound. Eubanks big, round tone always adds great color to the music and Nelson provides the right chordal support and is a dashing soloist as well. This band is extraordinary.

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