Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 1-5

Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 1-5
Matt Marshall By

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Days 1-5 | Days 6-12
33rd Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio
April 16-April 29, 2012

In the weeks leading up to the 33rd Annual Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, the town was abuzz with rock 'n roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were back in Cleveland—as they are now every third year—with the grand ceremony scheduled for the weekend before JazzFest. So with all the excited handwringing over a possible Guns N' Roses reunion (or an even more anticipated public brawl amongst the band members), there seemed little time to worry about jazz concerts. And for Clevelanders motoring beneath billboards touting popular stars Diana Krall and Aretha Franklin, there was little to shock their systems to the realization that an entire festival dedicated to jazz was just on the horizon.

Now over the past few years there's been a fair amount of bellyaching in certain circles about the demise of the jazz festival, generally. It's another chapter in the decades' old narrative that rises time and again to yelp wild prophesies of jazz's demise at the hands of whatever musical interloper might currently be storming the—seemingly crystal—gates of America's holy music. Too many non-jazz acts are populating festival stages, the story goes. Before long rock, pop and hip-hop artists, along with a coven of as yet unimagined musical philanderers, will have muscled all proper jazz musicians from the stage, and all that will remain is that vaunted name jazz, flapping from a wind-torn festival banner in the clearing smoke.

To be sure, the shrill cries of doom, silenced either by some mode of acceptance or the slamming of bunker doors, have been overblown. But that's not to say they haven't raised a legitimate gripe. At this year's festival in Cleveland, those left behind in the wake of the jazz prophet's waning cadence might scan the list of headliners—Krall, Franklin, Esperanza Spalding, David Sanborn, "Smooth Jazz All-Stars"—and wonder if the jazz focus hadn't blurred too much in a desire to court the favor—and money—of popular taste. Still, drummers Jack DeJohnette and Matt Wilson were both on the bill, each bringing intriguing groups to town. Sanborn and his B-3 trio, featuring Joey DeFrancesco, were paired with Trombone Shorty's outfit in what promised to be an interesting evening of clashing styles. Young innovators Reuben Wilson and Marcus Strickland were both set to play on the festival's first Sunday. And, as ever, there was to be a strong local presence, led by the likes of Sean Jones, Ernie Krivda, Paul Samuels and Dominick Farinacci. So all was hardly lost. And the big names of popular consumption might just help pay the bills, ensuring that this jazz festival would surge on in the home of rock 'n roll.

Chapter Index
  1. April 16: Paul Samuels 4, The Tri-C Jazz Trio +
  2. April 19: Esperanza Spalding
  3. April 21: Aretha Franklin
  4. April 22: Ben Williams and Sound Effect; Marcus Strickland

April 16: Paul Samuels 4, The Tri-C Jazz Trio +

The festival got underway at the Brothers Lounge, located in the near-west suburb of Lakewood. A nice, diverse crowd filled the club's music room and was treated to a relaxed, fun evening of jazz from some of the stalwarts of the Cleveland jazz scene. The Tri-C Jazz Trio + (keyboardist Ivory Joe Hunter, bassist Demetrius Steinmetz, drummer Ray Porello, plus guitarist Bob Fraser and saxophonist Chris Burge) kicked off the evening with a playful set that included takes on Cole Porter's "I Love You," The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," "The Rainbow Connection" and Jaco Pastorius' "Three Views of a Secret."

Hunter led the affair, at least from the mike, handling song introductions and such from his tucked-away position behind the keys in the rear of the small stage. But Fraser and Burge were out front and often took the leading solos, before giving way to Hunter's springy keys. "Norwegian Wood," one of a few tunes arranged for the band by Fraser and one of the more intriguing interpretations of the evening, moved from Hunter to Burge to Fraser, each offering a solo introduction that kept the familiar tune cloaked in mystery until the whole band came together as one. "Three Views" followed and found Burge, who had, by and large, kept to the easy, relaxed feel of the group, finally giving way to impassioned, body-twisting statements.

Paul Samuels 4 took the stage on the heels of this lift in energy. Led by drummer Samuels and veteran Cleveland bassist Glenn Holmes, the group also featured guitarist Dan Wilson, a 2006 graduate of Hiram College, who subsequently earned a master's at Youngstown State University in 2009, and saxophonist Alex Cummings, a current student at Oberlin.

The band played many of the Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman tunes heard on Samuels 2006 release Speak (Doc City Music), with the drummer maintaining a tightly woven layer of percussive sound to undergird and propel his mates. Wilson was a wonder throughout the set, unraveling extremely rapid lines of single notes that maintained an almost surreal individualistic clarity. The group perhaps shown most brightly on "Ruby, My Dear," with Cummings adopting something of a Coleman Hawkins approach (if on alto) for deep, emotive statements over Samuels' brushes. And space opened for Holmes to take an extended, nicely constructed solo. Burge was pulled back on stage for the encore and fired loose another impassioned solo on "Bags' Groove." It was a fitting, rollicking end to a fun night of music, and a great kick-start to two weeks' worth of jazz in Cleveland.


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