Monterey Jazz Festival still kickin' at 54
Sonny Rollins, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, music from HBO's "Treme," the Pizzarellis (Bucky, John and Martin) and Seattle musicians were all highlights of the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Seattle Times jazz critic
CONCERT REVIEW |
MONTEREY, Calif. — "Long live Monterey!" shouted 80-year-old tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins Sunday night, as he bid the dancing, roaring arena crowd adieu after a joyous 90-minute-plus set that closed the 54th edition of the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Head now topped with a mushroom cap of frizzy white hair, back bowed with age, but still prowling the stage for that perfect phrase, Rollins could have been an emblem of the Monterey Jazz Festival itself — which combined historic wisdom and youthful zest.
Earlier in the day, the festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra — an all-star band composed of high-school kids — played one of the most compelling, swinging sets of the three-day weekend, with particular kudos going to samurai-slicing trombonist Kyle Molitor, svelte vocalist Hope Flores and bronze-toned alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley.
Performances by young players nurtured in Seattle — drummer Kassa Overall and pianist Aaron Parks — also spoke to the music's bright future.
Overall kicked up dust with pianist Geri Allen in her excellent collaboration with tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, which featured a new festival-commissioned work, "The Dazzler," dedicated to ebullient showman Sammy Davis Jr. Though the narrative of the piece was somewhat elusive, Chestnut contributed not just the usual clickety virtuoso turns on a tap platform, but graceful, interpretive moves integrated smartly into the trio's flow.
Parks, formerly a 15-year-old University of Washington wunderkind, played in a new quartet with tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman called James Farm, in which the group subtly developed each piece as an ensemble; Parks' "Bijou" and "Chronos" were standouts.
Another Seattle alum, pianist Larry Fuller, lit up a segment of virtuosic good cheer, a family affair showcasing the wisecracking guitarist-vocalist John Pizzarelli; his father, guitarist Bucky, whose solo on "Body and Soul" was a heart-melter; Pizzarelli's bass-playing brother, Martin; and John's wife, vocalist Jessica Molaskey.
But the concert that fans will be talking about for years to come featured music from the New Orleans-based HBO series "Treme" (a version of which recently played Seattle). The combined forces of the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and trumpeters Terence Blanchard (in smashing form all weekend) and Kermit Ruffins reminded the Saturday-afternoon crowd that jazz moves the flesh as well as the soul.
A fascinating discussion of jazz on screen with "Treme" actor Wendell Pierce and festival board member Clint Eastwood added spice to the gumbo, with Eastwood revealing that his casual conversation with a Warner Bros. executive convinced the studio to give the green light to the great jazz film " 'Round Midnight."
Jazz for too long has been looking back, but two tribute shows, one featuring the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban conga-player Chano Pozo, "Cubano Be! Cubano Bop!," the other a replay of Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaborations, with Blanchard taking the trumpet parts on both counts, highlighted that the problem isn't repertory, per se, but the energy brought to the moment.
The Afro-Cuban concert was a bore. The Davis/Evans segment, with its chamber-music blends of woodwinds and horn lines alternately bravura and sighing, shimmered with such aching beauty, particularly on "Sketches of Spain," that it brought tears to people's eyes.
The only major disappointments over the festival's three days were a celebrity greatest-hits turn by Herbie Hancock, and the sappy universalist singsongs of neo-soul singer India.Arie.
Monterey used to sell out by May each year, but the past three years, thanks to the economy, attendance has been down to about a sustainable 35,000. Artistic director Tim Jackson emphasized that inevitable cuts have not affected the talent budget.
"It's become more challenging, but I'm really happy about the programming this year," said
About 35,000 other people seemed quite happy with it, too.
Long live Monterey!
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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