Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 2017

Doug Collette By

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The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival
Burlington, Vermont
June 2-11, 2017

With multiple popup shows and one on the roof of a local parking garage, in addition to the usual plethora of musical offerings up down and around Church Street at the center of the city, The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has never seemed more like a merry go round than in 2017.And that's meant as high compliment because each passing day of the ten in the schedule offered a slightly different perspective on the multitude of events taking place throughout the Queen City. Over the years, BDJF has come to pride itself on an eclectic take to both style and presentation, but perhaps never more so than this its thirty-fourth year: just look at a Flynn Center MainStage lineup comprised of Pink Martini, Diana Krall, Robert Cray and Kamasi Washington.

What's different this year and perhaps only subliminally so, is an elevation in significance of events related to, but not formally arranged by, Discover Jazz itself. So, the June 9 Block Party on Church Street, the Long Trail Ale concerts up and down the same thoroughfare and the triple bills at Waterfront Park (featuring headliners Trombone Shorty and Arrested Development) all compel as high a profile as artist-in-residence Terence Blanchard who played two shows within the cozy confines of FlynnSpace.

This year, though, it's impossible to under estimate the cachet of must-attends at Nectar's. Highlighting of local music stalwarts such as Seth Yacovone and Vorcza thus compared favorably—some might say exceeded—the range of style offered in the cabaret-style venue, now a firmly established bastion of memorable performances, the likes of Bassdrumbone and The VT/NY Collective underscore the fundamental truth of this festival's title 'Discover Jazz.' It's a growing and changing concept, like the very music from which it derives its name.

Robert Cray
Flynn Mainstage
June 3, 2017

It's illustrative of the broad appeal BDJF aimed for in 2017 that bluesman Robert Cray followed the kitschy likes of Pink Martini on the Flynn Center Mainstage. In front of an audience clearly primed for his mix of soul singing and guitar slinging, Cray and his band reminded that the blues is a comfort zone for him, a somewhat narrowly defined happy place of which the quartet pushed the boundaries roughly two thirds of the way through their ninety minute set. Further demonstrating that intensity is a purely relative concept, slow blues were not markedly different that the predominantly mid- tempo numbers Cray and company tendered. Perhaps goaded by the vocal crowd, at certain points late in the evening, the musicians threatened to catch fire but drew back, until the two-part encore where "The Forecast (Calls for Pain)" turned as emotionally wrenching for Cray as it was cause for celebration for his fans in the seats. Unfortunately, on the final number, the sound of keyboardist Dover Weinberg organ wouldn've been far preferable to the synthetic sounds he unfurled at these crucial moments?

Sullivan Fortner Trio
June 4, 2011

The Sullivan Fortner Trio are a groove incarnate, individually and collectively. The threesome walked out before their audience in a rhythm which continued, with all appropriate modifications, as they spent roughly ninety minutes in various conversations conducted verbally, facially and instrumentally. Mixing a clutch of tunes by Thelonious Monk (including "Crepuscule with Nellie"), originals by both the leader and the rhythm section, plus standards and the theme song from "Wheel of Fortune," pianist Fortner and company proffered bouncy takes that came in increasingly quick succession as the single set progressed. Yet the quick bursts of the tunes, punctuated regularly with laughter all around the intimate stage, sounded of a piece rather than disjointed, the tangible result of a spontaneous approach that highlighted the variations of the material and the melodic and rhythmic variations that arose from the songs.

Peter Brotzmann & Heather Leigh
June 5, 2011

Their mien as inscrutable as their music, saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and pedal steel player Heather Leigh nonetheless offered a cathartic experience via their somewhat truncated set at FlynnSpace. The frontal assault with which they began left some sitting around the intimate venue alternately startled and nonplussed, but even those spectators no doubt noticed the increasing dynamics of the duo's playing as they proceeded uninterrupted through approximately forty minutes of playing. In fact, Leigh assumed primary direction of the performance as the volatile early moments subsided: she used effects sparingly on the instrument, but in doing so, layered them in such a way that the sounds she coaxed from it intertwined with Brotzmann as he moved to his soprano saxophones. No one present at the start of this show might've guessed the pair would end their set on such a lyrical combined note as the short concluding piece, so it's little surprise the final applause was too tentative to compel an encore,

Camila Meza Quartet
June 6, 2011

It wouldn't be the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival without an honest nod to world music and if it's true that Barika's rooftop show on June 4 was the first such gesture, then the winsome Camila Meza reaffirmed the open-minded sentiment. Accompanied by an assertive quartet. the bandleader's disarming stage presence was disarming in its charm, as noteworthy in its own way as fair comparisons of her singing to Flora Purim,. Yet it's more significant that the light touch of her guitar playing effectively contrasted with the vigorous accompaniment by pianist James Francis, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jeremy Dutton; in backing Meza or taking their solo turns, their musicianship solidified their bond as a five-piece ensemble.

An Evening with Vorcza
June 6, 2011

Given the other commitments by the individuals in the group, Vorcza don't play that often together anymore, but the early part of their appearance at Nectar's confirmed without doubt that their natural chemistry remains, necessitating only the slightest spark to re-ignite. At least based on the first seventy-five minutes or so before guests began to appear, it's as if keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, acoustic/electric bassist and percussionist Gabe Jarrett still gig on a regular basis. Their finesse is that uncanny, allowing for smooth (and frequent) transitions from deeply funky intervals to more spacious atmospherics and back again. Everything sounded of a piece too, primarily because of the technical skill they share in addition to the mutual empathy all around. The end result is an earthy, yet formal elegance at the heart of Vorcza's music that's impossible to miss, even if it's difficult to categorize.

Kamasi Washington
Flynn Center MainStage
June 7, 2011

Kamasi Washington cuts an imposing figure on stage, all the more so on stage as he's flanked by his six bandmembers arranged so symmetrically around and beside him. But if his reputation preceding him is what almost but not quite filled the Flynn Center, the saxophone/composer's much-anticipated headlining appearance might've left more than one observer questioning the ascension of his star s. Consisting of two drummers, keyboards, double bass and trombone, such a large ensemble, has some precedent in the annals of contemporary jazz-the second incarnation of John McLaughlin'sMahavishnu Orchestra comes to mind, as does Chick Corea's enlarged configuration of Return to Forever-but, in line with that history, the concert as a whole was as carefully segmented as the arrangements, during which improvisation was less spontaneous than tightly constricted. Meantime, Washington's ingratiating between-song repartee might well have served the purpose of respite from the intensity of the performance, yet on this night quickly became as predictable as the interval devoted to keyboards and the 'conversation on drums,' not to mention the intro of his father to play an r&b tune. While the latter number to some degree explained the logic of his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, it did not portray the visionary level of the bandleader's triple-album work, The Epic (Brainfeeder, 2015), to which much pre-concert publicity alluded.

Yonrico Scott
June 7, 2011

Rather than heading a well-honed ensemble of his own, the long-time drummer from The Derek Trucks Band took the tiny stage with a pickup band of Burlington musicians long on enthusiasm but somewhat short on niceties. A quartet expanded to five players on tunes ranging from Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" to The Allman Brothers Band's "Dreams" (which Yonrico graciously dedicated to the now-departed Gregg ). And while that gesture to the icon of Dixie rock was certainly heartfelt, there appeared a certain lack of familiarity with the tune; either that or the incessant balls-to-the-wall attack of generic jazz-rock fusion that dominated the early part of the set, giving way to forced funk later on, was simply the chosen method in a musicianship far removed from the subtle likes of the bandleader's recorded endeavors.

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque
June 8, 2011

Aided and abetted by five able and enthusiastic musicians call Maqueque before yet another sold-out audience at FlynnSpace, Jane Bunnett lead that rare experience where a rhythm-oriented ensemble dug a little deeper into their groove with each successive number. Even with the poignant moment that was a sultry reworking of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," rendered as movingly as the up-tempo numbers (even with some ragged moments due perhaps to this initial tour stop), there was no sense the sextet had to start over in their literal and figurative engagement with a crowd willing and able to respond to the infectious rhythms or outright invitations to get up and dance. Yet despite the wholehearted acclamation afforded the sax and flute bandleader and her compatriots it seemed more than odd there was no sustained clamoring for an encore at the designated close of the show?

Water for Gasoline
June 8, 2011

This cryptically-name amalgamation of stalwarts from Burlington's local music scene—guitarists Seth Yacovone and Bob Wagner, bassist Alex Budney, drummer Steve Hadeka and keyboardist Mark Fried—supplied Burlington Discover Jazz 2017 with exactly what was missing from the formal and informal lineup: another shot of the blues. In fact, the lengthy appearance constituted a double shot in the form of two sets at Nectar's, tellingly initiated with the cataclysmic boom of fuzz- drenched bass notes from Budney. From there on, at least for the initial ninety-minutes, the quintet availed themselves of song sources ranging from Muddy Waters ("Champagne and Reefer"), Bob Dylan ("Down Along the Cove") and The Allman Brothers Band's ("Dreams"), along the way schooling the willingly subservient audience on those roots they rendered with such hearty obeisance. Wagner's own original hewed as closely to the seminal genre as the Eric Clapton-style romp through Bobby Blue Bland's "Further On Up the Road" and it was equally (and deeply) heartfelt, yet no more so than those intervals where Fried offered fitting contrast to the guitar onslaught: his assertive playing on piano and organ maintained the authenticity of this music while simultaneously propelling the momentum of the performance. Anyone lucky enough to witness this appearance had to hope it won't be a wait til next year's Discover Jazz for another appearance by this ensemble.

The VT/NY Collective
June 9, 2011

Even if the air-conditioning had been working properly in FlynnSpace for this late night Friday show , chances are it still would've gotten hot. This quartet played a lean, vigorous set of straight-ahead jazz featuring the material of special guest Victor Lewis, who might well have dominated the proceedings regardless of the billing or the inclusion of his compositions for the better part of this hour-plus show. It was well-nigh impossible to take the eyes off the drummer, whether during the languorous likes of "Buttercups" or the more sprightly likes of "The Shaw of Newark": the one time accompanist to Woody Shaw (to whom the latter tune was dedicated) and saxophonist Dexter Gordon simply refused to play in any overtly predictable fashion. That's not to say he didn't keep the beat, but only that, in using every part of his comparatively minimal kit (including the side of his floor tom), the patterns he maintained weren't all that obvious. Add to that element of surprise the rare absence of any keyboards—Ray Vega played trumpet and percussion, Rob Morse handled the bass with aplomb (though not the necessary depth in the sound mix) and Will Sellenrad led with an assertive guitar—and this ten pm show night well have overshadowed the earlier performance of Diana Krall had the concerts been scheduled simultaneously.

Terence Blanchard
June 10, 2011

Is it sacrilegious to say that, at least in the first hour or so of the later of two sets in the cozy confines of FlynnSpace, the most memorable musicianship arose when Terence Blanchard was off the stage? While he was absent, at least during the initial such interval, there was a definite sense of freedom apparent in the playing of his four-man E- Collective: Pianist Fabian Almazan found was a rollicking counterpart to his counterpart bassist David Ginyard Jr., whose kines moved assertively under over and around the slightly syncopated drumming of Oscar Seaton. And when guitarist Matthew Sewell entered the fray, he played with the liquidity of Tal Farlow, albeit with a psychedelic touch. Similarly liberating moments reoccurred a little later, for a shorter interval, when the trumpeter/bandleader stood at the rear of the stage, but like the first segment, descended back into the more rote approach of the set's opening: with the first appearance of the artsy, intrusive voice overs (from Blanchard's Macbook?) introducing a latter-day Miles Davis number, 'Hannibal," there was a definite sense this acoustic/electric mix had all been done before, except that "The Man With The Horn" let the music speak for itself, at least on stage eschewing less-than-dignified stage patter Terence Blanchard engaged in while introducing the members of E-Collective.

June 11, 2011

It might be both fair and accurate to say no musicians radiated more joy during their Discover Jazz performances than the three in BassDrumBone. And talk about the abstract and the idiosyncratic: three instruments—drums, bass and trombone(!)---sounding as one as often as not, whether conjuring up the delicacy of their final take of the formal set. "Land's End," or assembling then dissembling the dissonance in the appropriately and cryptically titled "Stompin on Enigmas." Drummer Gerry Hemingway, bassist Mark Elias and trombonist Ray Anderson did the rounds of original compositions and, as with their musicianship, the individual(s) spoke as forcefully—not to mention idiosyncratically-as the collective. That would perhaps stand to reason given the fact the threesome has, by their own somewhat delighted and amazed admission, been together for some forty years, but to preserve and nurture their art, like a performance such as this (or jazz in general as a genre), is a precarious balance, the thrill of which energized not just the musicians in the delightfully cool little room, but all of those in attendance this final night of BDJF 2017.

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