September 19, 2011
Considering the ceaseless surprises and awesome musicianship that saturated the Monterey Fairgrounds with revelations and fellowship this past weekend, no one person could draw a complete map of the breadth and depth of the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival. But maybe through its smaller parts, previously described by Weekly music man Adam Joseph and snapped by Weekly photographer Nic Coury, the bigger picture can be suggested. Here are a few more pieces of the dazzling whole.
On Friday, the buzz swarmed about pianist Hiromi Uehara and her trio, bassist Anthony Jack and drummer Simon Phillips. She was ferociously, joyously good, both in a packed Arena and, just two hours later, in a packed Dizzy's Den (Joseph already reported as much, but it can't be oversaid). And crowd chatter suggested that the Helen Sung Trio at the Coffee House Gallery also killed it—both women's CDs sold out at the Amoeba Records tent after their first sets.
Hiromi on the main stage.
On a sunny Saturday, a cadre of New Orleans musicians, including Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and Soul Rebels Brass Band, brought the business, coloring the atmosphere with Southern soul, New Orleans second line power, call and response chants, and big, brassy jams that went on for days. Actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme, When the Levees Broke) served admirably and graciously as emcee and ambassador for the New Orleans presence, and sat in with Clint Eastwood for a discussion, "Jazz on the Screen," hosted by Ashley Kahn and punctuated with film clips of jazz legends in action and at rest.
"The Kansas City jazz scene was great," said Eastwood. "Wouldn't you like to go back?"
"Robert Altman tried to," replied Kahn, referring to the director's affectionate but lukewarm 1996 film, Kansas City.
Across the lawn from the Eastwood and Pierce talk (Pierce, btw, is a hot topic, as a crush of post-talk autograph and photograph hounds indicated), trumpeter Carl Saunders guested in front of a safe but solid big band orchestra of the U.S. Air Force Band. He lit up the room with fireworks from his horn, and won laughter with revealing anecdotes of his musical peers.
The Bay Area buskers of John Brothers Piano Company played on the SUV-sized West Lawn stage, in the midst of the vendor food court and foot traffic, banging out impressive period ragtime on a rickety upright piano and zippy clarinet.
Random wandering revealed what could be described as another "Hiromi moment" upon the discovery of the duo of Richard Bona & Raul Midon at the Garden stage, where people were jammed into the benches, bleachers and folding chairs, sprawled on the lawn, standing on the periphery, with one limber dude even perched in the crook of an oak tree. The size of the crowd, by itself, implied: "you might want to see this."
And the performance bore that out. It was deft, delicate and complex, unconventional and instantly captivating, modern and soulful, conjured from Midon's percussive guitar playing, aching singing, playful scatting, and evocative bongo-drumming. (Midon, and his twin brother, were blinded in a tragic hospital accident at birth, according to his friend and current director of the MJF youth chorus Julia Dollason.) Bona, also a masterful singer, but in a West African/American diaspora mode, played electric bass like he was a couple of evolutions ahead of the pack, squeezing and plucking sounds out of it that stretched the preconceived definitions of bass guitar. The rumble of passing airplanes and the inspired but random outbursts from a developmentally disabled man didn't throw off the two musicians: They just incorporated the intrusions into their free-flowing set. One welcome intrusion, though, arrived when India.Arie walked to the mic and joined Bona for a song. And the crowd, spellbound by the yearning beauty of the sound, could not and did not leave until Midon and Bona coughed up at least one encore.
Even for a high-octane event like the Jazz Festival, it was special. It wasn't the only special moment. The Tia Fuller Quartet, on Sunday, employed piano that swung from melodic to dissonant without ever losing the musicality or getting too technical (something that, imho, Herbie Hancock's short set did) and they absolutely scorched the Garden Stage with Tia's saxophone before she walked off stage while still blowing; artist-in-residence Joshua Redman huddled in a close-knit formation with his small combo in the middle of the big Arena stage Saturday night and sprawled out on Sunday afternoon with the youngsters of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.
Terence Blanchard performing with the Miles Davis tribute band on Sunday.
Terence Blanchard dueled horns with the trumpeter from Chano Pozo's Cuban orchestra, each daring the other to greater heights Friday night—like a headliner fight at the start of the fight card; closing the Arena on Sunday, Sonny Rollins, in a bright red, billowy shirt and a bush of white hair, hunched over his tenor sax while lumbering about the stage in front of his dependable combo, blowing like the North wind; while Rollins unleashed his melodic tunes at the Arena, over at the Night Club building, the young Robert Glasper Experiment got off to a rocky, tech problem-addled, late start, but they finished strong with a jam with trumpeter Terence Blanchard and soul singer Bilal, a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and a spacey hip-hop take that suggested the future of jazz will sound pretty exciting and fresh.
Sonny Rollins on Sunday night.
And so it went, hour after hour of inspired jazz and even non-jazz musical moments, stacked on top of each other. An embarrassment of riches, as a Santa Cruz blogger and radio personality friend put it. No apology needed. Just keep it coming, Monterey Jazz Fest. Keep it coming.