Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 6-12

Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2012: Days 6-12
Matt Marshall By

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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.


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