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Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 6-12

Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 6-12

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

Chapter Index
  1. April 24: Ernie Krivda's Thunder From the Heartland
  2. April 25: Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts
  3. April 26: The Jack DeJohnette Group
  4. April 27: David Sanborn Trio / Trombone Shorty
  5. April 28: Diana Krall
  6. April 26: TCJF SoundWorks

April 24: Ernie Krivda's Thunder From the Heartland

Well-travelled tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda is a Cleveland native who has not only lived here through most of his career, but has made a point of championing his hometown's music scene and that of the Midwest more broadly. His Thunder From the Heartland group fits in this vein, bringing together accomplished jazz musicians from the area—Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago—in an effort to demonstrate a characteristic approach to the music, cultivated by the Midwest jazz culture: a "gathering of kings," in Krivda's parlance, with "distinct dialects" formed in America's heartland.

In a five-tune opening set that mixed Krivda originals with standards, the band blew a bluesy, bop-oriented sound that gave plenty of room for soloing and fostered a competitive but convivial spirit among the players as they went through the rounds. Through most of the set at the quaint Hermit Club, tucked away behind the opulent theaters of downtown's PlayhouseSquare, Krivda laid out the tough, unraveling bop lines he has become known for.

A nice departure from this mode came, however, on the evening's second number, "Emerald," a Krivda composition wherein the saxophonist opened his solo with the tone of a 1940s crooner. At his elbow, trumpeter Brad Goode blew with aching voice, full of deep swoons and dramatic glissando, promoting melodic possibility through continually well- placed dynamic emphasis. Guitarist Bobby Bloom switched voices with the tunes. On Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," he worked in a traditional Charlie Christian mode; he bent toward abstraction on "Emerald"; went further out on Wes Montgomery's "West Coast Blues"; and further still on Krivda's "Great Lakes Gumbo," with deep swooping bends and a couple belly groans dug from the strings.

It was this "Gumbo" ("It's got carp in it," Krivda quipped) that found the group at its strongest. The frontline of Krivda, Goode and Bloom sounded a we're-here-whatja-gonna- do-about-it? confidence on the hard bop number, as if sauntering the rusting Cleveland flats in the '70s, soot on the jacket, a chip on the shoulder and a smile on the lips. Over sparsely laid, but defining piano chords from The Bobby Floyd Trio, Goode dipped into lament before Krivda brought a dark, dangerous tone—the kind that walks in a trench coat—loosing quick lines studded with tough articulation. Floyd's notes jumped angular and funky, building toward an intense running at the high end, before bassist Jeff Grubbs brought it home with a slow, walking solo.

The group closed the set with an upbeat, Latin reading of "I Remember April" that opened with a mariachi-like intensity and featured a Cuban-sounding solo from Floyd and the only full-fledged drum solo by Renell Gonsalves, son of Duke Ellington's longtime saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. It was a high-energy close to a set of no- nonsense Midwestern jazz.

April 25: Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts

Around the midpoint of the JazzFest set with his Arts & Crafts group, drummer Matt Wilson stepped to the microphone and recited the lines from his new composition "Bubbles": "Two bubbles found they had rainbows on their curves. And they flickered out, saying, 'You know, it was worth being a bubble just to have held that rainbow for 30 seconds.'" A similar sentiment might well have been expressed by those who found their way to Tri-C's Black Box Theatre on a Wednesday night: It was worth it to be a workaday jazz fan just to have held Wilson's group in your ears for 90 minutes.

Wilson has received accolades for this musical playing—for drumming notes, so to speak. And his interaction with band mates is certainly outside the norm—open as he is to releasing himself from the traditional roiling of drums to enter into note-for-note exchanges with the other instrumentalists—leading one to perhaps wonder if he's not a frustrated saxophonist or guitarist who somehow got duped into taking up the drums by an evil band master in his youth, and now exacts his revenge by insisting on playing those other instruments through the drums. Yet there's a sheer, infectious joy in his playing that seems to rule out anything as petty and wasteful as revenge. Better, he might be an inspiration to budding musicians who weren't aware that you could—that you were allowed to—play drums like this.

For his part, Wilson never seems stymied by any such concerns over drumming decorum. To open "Bubbles" he grabbed hold of his ride cymbal and began to shake it. This quickly escalated into a shaking of the floor tom in its stand, the rattling from this incivility filling the room with a well-orchestrated clatter. Soon Wilson had moved on to the snare, playing its head with his fingers, then the handle of his brush, producing an innerving disturbance akin to the rattle of glassware. As organist Gary Versace came in on his B3, Wilson was busy swatting at his set like a defensive cat.

This unpredictability was the general mode of Wilson's playing throughout the set—and it was captivating—but it was hardly the end of the story. This quartet is truly a group of artists and craftsmen. Trumpeter Terell Stafford crafted melodies with an easy, powerful grace like that of a racing horse. And, indeed, his horn would neigh on occasion, or (especially while playing the flugelhorn) go breathy and wistful. His handling of Donald Ayler's "Our Prayer" (in a nicely placed tribute to the Cleveland-born trumpeter and his more famous saxophonist brother Albert Ayler) emphasized the highly emotive melody with none of the free warbling favored by the Ayler brothers. Stafford's muted trumpet pulled hard on heartstrings, singing a genuinely desperate praise song that made at least one listener wonder why more musicians don't cover this material.

Versace, celebrating his 44th birthday as Wilson reminded on several occasions, worked both the B3 and piano to good effect, as was to be expected. His most inspired moment came, perhaps, on "Bubbles," when he kept his left hand on the organ and reached the right over to play the piano, producing an overlaying of tones that sounded much like the loudly beeping, crunching computer computations from some old sci-fi movie. Bassist Martin Wind kept pace with the experimental sounds of his mates, plucking a startling full-bodied roil from his strings on the John Scofield tune "You Bet" and going funky and electric sounding on Jaco Pastorius' "Teen Town."

To close, Wilson had everyone in the audience stand and sing and sway in a state of meditation to his composition "Feel the Sway." "Feel the sway, now!" the crowd gladly intoned, laughing, moving easily, a little loopy, as Stafford went off on a final blaring foray. Wilson's Arts & Crafts certainly held sway on this night. And, damn, it felt good.

April 26: The Jack DeJohnette Group

The experimentation continued on this night, when storied drummer and 2012 NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette brought his group to the Tri-C Metro Auditorium. Playing to a disappointing turnout (there were, at best, 400 people in attendance) and absent their regular saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa, the group nonetheless presented an invigorating program of outward-bound jazz music.

Filling in for Mahanthappa, reedist Don Byron opened the set on clarinet, easing into the music with regulated tones then breaking into fits and starts and hastily scribbled lines. This was, in fact, the general pattern of the evening for the group as a whole. Sticking largely to the set of DeJohnette compositions heard on Live at Yoshi's 2010 (Golden Beams, 2011), with only "Ahmad the Terrible" substituted for "Tango African," the group's music ebbed and flowed with a rather organic rise and fall of individual voices—or pairing or tripling of voices —rather than the pointed rotation of soloists.

Guitarist David Fiuczynski, operating a double-neck instrument, often fashioned sliding lines fringed with a tightly constrained warbling—a sound reminiscent of that produced by Chinese or Indian stringed instruments, if electrified here and accompanied by thick, crunching chords. Keyboardist George Colligan worked not only the piano and various sets of electric keys, but also pulled out the pocket trumpet on "Blue," providing further impressionistic recall—along with his bubbling keyboard tones—of the early electric jazz of which DeJohnette was a part with Miles Davis's group. On the closer, "Monk's Plum," Colligan did indeed adjust to a more spacious, jagged, Thelonious Monkish approach, but soon pushed on into Cecil Taylor terrain— nicely tracing the line forward, intentionally or no. On acoustic bass guitar, Jerome Harris was at his most interesting vocalizing over his bass lines on that final number, creating an otherworldly dual tone.

For his part, DeJohnette sat back as conductor, appearing almost bored with the proceedings when not thundering away at the set. But, no doubt, it was more the continence of the master surveyor overseeing his field, the puppet master pulling strings with a clap here, a rhythmic shift there, to propel and form the piece to his liking. He silenced the others for a solo near the end of "Monk's Plum," raising tangled vines and shifting rhythmic patterns in a plum of his own, and providing a fitting, masterful close to a set that, through tunes like "One for Eric" (for Eric Dolphy), "Ahmad the Terrible" (for Ahmad Jamal) and "Monk's Plum" (for Monk, of course), had paid tribute to the great innovators who had come before.

April 27: David Sanborn Trio / Trombone Shorty

"You wanna take it old school?!" Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews hailed the State Theatre crowd well into his bombastic performance with his Orleans Avenue septet. The David Sanborn Trio had already played an hour-long set of music largely focused on the Ray Charles aesthetic. And Shorty himself had just growled and grooved his way through his first overt Louis Armstrong tribute of the evening—a thumping version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" that had him muting his trumpet with his left hand, firing off clipped statements and blowing a sustained, minutes-long single note (a gimmick that's giddily thrilling the first time you see it, groaningly tiresome thereafter). To a large extent, Sanborn and Shorty had taken it old school all night long.

Playing with a slightly revamped trio—organist Joey DeFrancesco retained on the Hammond B3, with drummer Jeremy Thomas brought on for his first gig with the group— Sanborn blew his signature alto sound over a handful of tunes from his last two Decca releases, Here & Gone (2008) and Only Everything (2010), both tributes to Ray Charles and two of his saxophonists, Hank Crawford and David "Fathead" Newman. He also played two other tunes, opening with Ben Tucker's "Comin' Home Baby" and closing with Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel." The saxophonist blew his usual high-energy lines with waxed-paper sheen, but it was DeFrancesco that carried the show.

The organist maintained a heavy, skating groove behind Sanborn and pounded out bluesy, intriguing bass and treble lines that swam in and out of each other and morphed for powerfully throbbing conclusions. One such mash-up had DeFrancesco himself pumping his left fist in victory. He also proved himself a capable blues singer, belting out the lyrics to "Let the Good Times Roll" with all requisite growl and gusto. Tucker was given—or took—a good chunk of space on "Basin Street Blues" to craft a slow developing, but ultimately explosive drum solo that roiled on at length in full force, to the delight of the crowd that erupted as the drummer finally gave way. Sanborn then launched into the Jackson tune and was truly in his element running through—and improvising within—the '80s pop melody. But at song's close, he looped his finger in the air and led his band off stage.

After a quick reconfiguring of the stage setup, Orleans Avenue was out blaring its hardcore brand of New Orleans jazz. Shorty paraded on stage with his implements—trombone and trumpet—hoisted overhead, set the smaller of the two aside and attacked the center-stage mike with some muscular slide action.

Running through songs from his albums Backatown (Verve, 2010) and For True (Verve, 2011), plus chestnuts like "Sunny Side," "St. James Infirmary," "I Got a Woman" and "When the Saints Go Marching In," Shorty and crew provided all the thump and blare the crowd could handle, with the trombonist ever the showman. Each solo was followed by exaggerated fatigue, with Shorty clownishly stumbling back from the microphone like the victim of a Rocky Balboa left hook (and so immediately recovering, also, to blow just as fiercely as before). He pranced and stoked the crowd as the others played, most notably guitarist Pete Murano, who tore off many a solo of hard rock persuasion.

Yet the group was perhaps at its most engaging when, at the show's finale, they discarded their electric instruments, hauled a couple drums to the edge of the stage, and blew "Down by the Riverside" in acoustic, second line fashion. Andrews jumped down from the stage and led the boys in a loop around the auditorium, before regaining the stage and blowing on for several more minutes to the chants of "Shorty!" "Shorty!" emanating from the crowd.

April 28: Diana Krall

The night opened with the honoring of Diana Krall's longtime producer Tommy LiPuma, whose name had been officially attached to Tri-C's new Center for Creative Arts two days earlier, and the singer/pianist continually expressed her admiration for her friend throughout the set. "Tommy and I have had fun," she said at one point, refusing to expound on this for comedic effect. Though a short time later she expressly dedicated Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag" to LiPuma, an elbow to the producer's ribs, for sure, but also a chance for the pianist to play humorously against type. One simply doesn't expect the refined Krall to open a song with the words, "I dreamed about a reefer five feet long," and she, of course, knows this.

But some of her other song selections were surprising as well. Though she recently recorded a version Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate," mention of the songwriter's name garnered scant applause from her audience. ("Ah, one person. In the back row," Krall observed.) More surprising was her decision to close the show with Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon." Although she did have the good sense to come back for an encore with "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," which was, no doubt, more her audience's speed. Earlier, she had played "So Nice (Summer Samba)" to warm, breezy effect, had paid tribute to Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson with "I'll String Along with You" and "I Was Doing All Right," respectively, invoked shades of husband Elvis Costello's vocals on "Abandoned Masquerade," a song penned by the couple, and stuck to more predictable pop in performing Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By."

The character of her piano playing also seemed to straddle a line between the refined and the common, sounding by turns classical and pop in orientation. She moved to stride on "Viper's Drag" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," part of a four-song run played without her band that also featured the Dylan tune and "Don't Fence Me In." On all the other numbers she received strong support from drummer Karriem Riggins, bassist Robert Hurst and guitarist Anthony Wilson. Wilson, especially, was afforded a good deal of solo space, and he picked out sharp single note lines with vibrant chordal shading in a Jim Hall vein. In all, it was a pleasant evening of music that entertained with a refined but folksy charm, and tossed in a healthy dose of misdirection.

April 29: TCJF SoundWorks

The festival closed at Nighttown, the standout jazz club in Northeast Ohio. Manning the tight quarters on the room's bandstand was TCJF SoundWorks, the festival's resident ensemble formed in 2009. Trombonist Chris Anderson led the group this year, which, absent the guest stars from the previous two outings—Charlie Haden in 2010 and Benny Golson and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler in 2011—focused on compositions from those within their midst.

The five-number second set featured two compositions by pianist Chip Stephens ("C Hip's Blues" and "Sadness and Soul"), one from saxophonist Howie Smith ("A Mingus, A Mongus"), one from Anderson ("Unsettling Nature"), plus a reading of saxophonist Michael Brecker's "Take a Walk." While each player got ample soloing time (with the exception of drummer Chris Baker, whose lone solo, a tightly spliced affair of rhythmic jump cuts, came on the closer, "Unsettling Nature"), Smith and trumpeter Sean Jones led the way with extended statements, and rightly so.

Switching between alto and soprano, Smith was, as ever, explorative and inventive, often charging into high-register, slightly atonal terrain to capture the emotive effect he was after. Whether working slow and thoughtful with muted trumpet pressed directly into the microphone, as on "Sadness and Soul," or working into frothy glissando with an open trumpet, Jones constructed several nicely realized solos.

Stephens, ever a serious twist to his brow (in something like Stephen Colbert fashion), mixed heavy block chords with extended racing lines that spun into rolling fits and back to jumping chords. He was also key in support, shifting from traditional comps to something more abstract in order to complement a shift in soloist or to drive the music in one direction or another himself. Klayman, for example, played a solid bop tenor, and so required something different from his pianist than Smith might. Bassist Glenn Holmes opened "Take a Walk," appropriately enough, but gave a good deal more than walking lines in his extended, nuanced solo that fed effortlessly into the two-note groove that then drove the tune. On his "Unsettling Nature," Anderson worked from slow, considered statements into intense scales and tight warbling, which was echoed by Stephens' piano and Baker's interesting shift into rock drumming.

Early in the set, Anderson had invited the audience to "sweat, clap your hands, drool." All fitting responses to music made from divergent voices that reached not for common themes and expected resolutions, but banged around a bit, searching, unconcerned that a tidy blend and finish be found. So, the final show of this year's festival was not a conclusive goodbye, but a call to forth and continue to explore the art form known as jazz.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Matt Marshall

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