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Tanglewood Jazz Festival 2009, Lenox, MA

R.J. DeLuke By

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Holland last appeared at Tanglewood in 1969, playing the electric bass as part of the Miles Davis band. That was same year he took part in the Bitches Brew recording sessions. "How come it took you forty years to invite me back?" he said whimsically when he walked on stage. Hopefully, the gap until the next gig will be small.

Faddis is known for his tremendous chops and energy. His set, a tribute to trumpet icons Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles had both those attributes. It was exciting throughout.

Faddis is, as always, a disciple of Dizzy's, including his ability to play creatively in the chops-busting highest register of the horn. But he also showed his respect for Satchmo, playing with a fat, clean tone and powerful vibrato on "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and "West End Blues," the first used by Armstrong as a theme song and the second (1928) often called the first genuine "classic" jazz recording, with its thrilling opening cadenza. Jones' take on "West End" was a hot blowing of the blues, but in his own modern style. He's got outstanding technique and a great feel. Roney strolled out during "Struttin' With Some Barbeque," soloing in a running, fluid manner.

Dizzy's "Con Alma" moved the set into a more modern realm. Jones, again, showed why he's one of the finer young players, twisting through the changes with aplomb. Faddis started out using space, then took off with his power and might, up into the stratosphere like Diz. Roney was more reflective, as is part of his style, yet ideas poured from the bell of his horn. Each was featured on ballad standards, a highlight of which was Roney's take on "Round Midnight," his swirling harmonic improvisations embellishing the well-known Monk nugget.

"Milestones" aptly closed things out, a burner that allowed them all to dip into their bebop bags, Faddis bold and brash, Jones deft and swift, Roney with his great tone and resourcefulness. A moving set.

"Just In Time" started the Barron-Miller duet. Both pianists have so much technique and are so creative that one might wonder about clashes. There were none. They listened intently to each other, complemented one another's lines, backed up with cool chords when the other was taking the lead. Arpeggios here, bluesy runs there. Always inventive, always precise. These are piano players that other pianists watch.

"All God's Children Got Rhythm" was exceptional, as the pianists traded phrases that even changed styles—some stride here, classical influences there. The requisite Thelonious Monk tune for pianists was "Blue Monk." They blues'd it, they bopped it, they re-harmonized and de-harmonized it. A great ending to a great set.

The VJO jumped in with Thad Jones' "Mean what You Say," which coincidentally was what the band did for its hour-plus set. They meant everything they said. The music was mostly arrangements by Jones going back over the 43-year history of the band (started by Jones and drummer Mel Lewis), and also a couple from the celebrated Bob Brookmeyer, who is still active and turns 80 this year.

Brookmeyer contributed "Oats," a free flowing journey that featured the hard, almost-approaching-free jazz, style of altoist Dick Oats, and "The ABC Blues" that started with flute and clarinet voicings in the sax section, then strode more into a blues for the soloists, with Jason Jackson playing a mellow, but swinging, solo.

Other songs from the brilliant Jones were "Kids Are Pretty People," "The Waltz You Swang For Me," "My Centennial," and "For You." This talented group executed this music—intricate and intellectual at times, as well as just plain jazzy—with their trademark expertise, and noted improvisation by each member that soloed—which was nearly all of them, of particular note Billy Drewes on soprano and Smulyan on baritone.

Rivera began with a small group that played highly written and arranged pieces with a classical bent, which he penned for Cuban bassist Israel Lopez, known as "Cachao." Done in three movements, some had a slight Latin tinge, and Rivera negotiated the pieces on both alto sax and clarinet. He gave them passion, even in the spots that weren't improvised. The four musicians—piano, percussion and bass—were in constant conversation; four independent voices at times, at others in unison.

Another part of Rivera's Friday night set was a performance of his "Fiddle Dreams," commissioned by Library of Congress and originally played by Regina Carter. But he gave up the stage, letting two young musicians—flutist José Valentino and pianist Tony Madruga—play the piece. They did so very well.

The rest of his set, played by a different band of nine pieces, played music influenced by Cuba and classical works, as well as jazz, featuring strong soloing throughout.

During the weekend, Tanglewood features a "jazz café" away from the main stage, where it showcases younger, lesser-known musicians.

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