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Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2015

C. Andrew Hovan By

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2015 Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland
Playhouse Square
Cleveland, Ohio
July 9-11, 2015

For the second time in its 36-year history, Tri-C JazzFest lit up downtown Cleveland with a three-day midsummer jazz festival that mixed paid shows from national headliners with free outdoor performances featuring musicians from Northeast Ohio. Home to all these festivities would be the highly acclaimed Playhouse Square area, with an outdoor plaza being utilized for the free concerts that ran each day from three o'clock to midnight. Also taking a prominent role this year would be a culinary focus, thanks to the offerings of local restaurants and the college's Hospitality Management Center. In addition to demonstrations from area chefs, there were also recipes offered up by producer Tommy LiPuma and bassist John Clayton.

Revelries got officially underway on Thursday evening, July 9th in the largest of the venues at Playhouse Square, Connor Palace. A full half hour was devoted to salutations, introductions, and corporate acknowledgements from a host of folks, including festival director Terri Pontremoli and recording arts director and icon Tommy Li Puma. When trumpeter Dominick Farinacci finally took the stage with his quintet, he wasted no time in getting to the point with a mature and satisfying set that shows just how far this Cleveland native has come in the past few years.

Farinacci's originals supplied excellent fodder for his ensemble to explore and his own trumpet solos told a story with a wonderful sense of pacing that is rare among musicians his age. "Doha Blues" provided the perfect opportunity to sample the percussive brilliance of Jamey Haddad, who used what looked like a pair of straw whisk brooms to tap out a beat on his hand drums.

The highlight of the set would be the surprise appearance of vocalist Gregory Generet, setting things ablaze first with an up-tempo "Mr. Kicks" before settling deep into the vibe of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." Pianist Richard Johnson also found this setting inspirational as he followed Generet with a stunner of a solo that included a sagacious quote of Shorter's "Witch Hunt." As if to make sure he covered all bases, Generet then turned to the blues for the barn burner "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man." Farinacci would then wrap things up with "Tango," a perfect conclusion to a masterful and engaging set.

Following a brief set change, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra would launch into an all-too-brief performance that offered the kind of visceral impact you can only get with a big band. Formed almost thirty years ago, the CHJO is stocked with talented soloists that deliver on a strong book of material that includes originals by both leaders.

"I Be Serious About Them Blues" gave the crowd ample exposure to the solo genius of the renowned trombonist George Bohanon. John Clayton's clever take on Monk's "Evidence" featured a great trumpet soli spot featuring Gilbert Castellanos, Bijon Watson, Clay Jenkins, James Ford, and Joe Magnarelli. On a gentler note, the Brothers Clayton bewitched the audience with a wonderful arrangement of "Emily," John on bowed bass and Jeff on alto saxophone. Finally, the CHJO debuted Jeff Hamilton's "Cybill's Day," a shuffle number that also put the drummer in the spotlight for a typically tasty display of musical drumming.

The vibe totally changed once Take 6 walked on stage. Aside from the two brief pieces they would perform with Clayton-Hamilton, the vocal sextet took over the festivities with a style that is more pop inspired than jazz based. As the eighteen members of the CHJO looked on, Take 6 ran down a typical set, featuring such tunes as The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive," Pharrell's "Happy," and Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." For what they do, Take 6 has honed their skills into a crowd-pleasing venture. Oddly inconclusive, it seemed like a missed opportunity to not have integrated the repertoires of both Take 6 and the CHJO.

Friday's festivities shifted the focus from jazz to blues and smooth jazz. Spread over three shows, the evening kicked off with a celebration of the music of Robert Lockwood Junior. The second set shifted to the pop sounds of Brian Culbertson, Kim Waters, Peter White, and Brian Simpson. Then, the evening wrapped up with the New Orleans Creole leanings of C.J. Chenier, Nick Sample, and Ray Parker, Jr. Since these shows proved to sit squarely outside of the mainstream jazz genre, this reviewer has opted to bypass a more detailed analysis.

In terms of sheer density, Saturday packed quite the wallop, with eight free shows competing with five paid gigs that got underway starting at one o'clock. Aside from Ernie Krivda's tribute to Quincy Jones and a set by Pete Escovedo's Latin Jazz Orchestra, the remaining offerings were double bills of contrasting tastes and styles.

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