Sunday, August 13, 2017

Assignment Newport

George Wein
This was the 37th consecutive year that I've gone to Newport on assignments to cover the Jazz Festival and/or the Folk Festival. 

That long  run started when George Wein brought the jazz festival back to the City-by-the-Sea in 1981 after a 10-year absence. 

This year' s coverage was for Jazz Times and New Orleans-based Offbeat magazine, as well as this blog.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images of New Orleans musicians published by Offbeat.  

It's been a splendid run so far. I look forward to 2018 and documenting the festival's continuing evolution.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival looks to its future

There was a palpable shift in the musical air at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which the new artistic director, Christian McBride, put his stamp on the event. 
Christian McBride, George Wein

Founding producer George Wein, 91, still heads the Newport Festival Foundation that runs the jazz and folk festivals in Newport. But the musical choices mostly were McBride's, and that lineup delivered the largest weekend attendance the festival has seen in quite a few years.

Combined attendance was 25,500 for the three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park and a sold-out opening night concert at historic Newport Casino on Friday, August 4. Saturday's attendance at Fort Adams was 9,600, just 500 tickets shy of a sellout for the day.
Maceo Parker

The biggest crowd draws were Maceo Parker and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on Friday, the collective Snarky Puppy on Saturday, and Sunday's main stage closing act, The Roots, the hip-hop and rap-laced backing band on NBC's Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  

Benny Golson
McBride drew mightily on his native Philadelphia's music scene for the 2017 festival, blending adventourous, talented players from the jazz tradition and beyond. The grand old man of this year's performers, Benny Golson, 88, is a Philly native. 

Other talents from the City of Brotherly Love included McBride's own powerful big band, B-3 organ player Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Questlove. The Roots drummer also teamed with McBride and pianist Uri Caine  for a Quad Stage combination they called "Philadelphia Experiment" with DJ Logic as a special guest.

Introducing DeFrancesco's set that closed out the Quad Stage on Friday, McBride said "This feels like a Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts reunion." (DeFrancesco, Questlove (Amair Khalib Thompson) and The Roots' rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) were classmates of McBride.

Favorite weekend acts for these eyes and ears:
  • Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster WiIlliams and drummer Carl Allen.
  • The modern bop collective One For All, now in its 20th year of performances. The band includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi (who flew in for Austria for the gig), trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
    Spalding and Carrington
  • Terri Lyne Carrington and Esparanza Spalding's poignant "Flying Toward the Sound" celebration of late band mate Geri Allen, who died from cancer in June. Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and Christian Sands shared the piano duties.
  • On the main stage, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene's quartet on Friday, the Christian McBride Big Band, with special guests Warren Wolf (vibes) and Sean Jones (trumpet) on Saturday, and Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra on Sunday.
  • Joey DeFrancesco's quartet, The People.
  • The Danilo Perez-led Jazz 100 project, which honored the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Mongo Santamaria and Ella Fitzgerald on the centennial of their births in 1917.
  • Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci's octet featuring vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, and drummer Antonio Sanchez & Migration.
  • The supergroup Hudson, with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist John Medeski and guitarist John Scofield, whose powerful set blended jam band-style originals and jazz covers of classic rock tunes.

Trombone Shorty
Newport for many years has solidified its link to the birthplace of jazz. New Orleans musicians were a solid presence again this year, with clarinetist Evan Christopher, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, pianist David Torkanowsky and saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet.

At the start of his Friday afternoon set on the Quad Stage at Fort Adams State Park, Christopher told the crowd his band, Clarinet Road, “is not even about the clarinet anymore. It’s about presenting the great music of New Orleans, which turns 300 next year.”

Trombone Shorty, who plays trombone, trumpet and sings, headlined Friday’s opening night concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino, the charming original home of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.

The Newport Jazz Festival's presenting sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images for Offbeat.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Exceptional jazz with firepower

John Allmark’s Monday evenings at the Met CafĂ© in Pawtucket RI generally feature his very fine big band. This past Monday, Allmark presented his octet, a brass-rich band that gives each player a bit more time in the spotlight than the big-band format permits.

For that evening, the horn line included Allmark (trumpet), Tucker Antell (tenor sax), Mark Vint (alto sax), Angel Subero (trombone) and Bob Bowlby (baritone sax), Dennis Hughes (piano), Bill Miele (electric bass) and Jim Lattini (drums) comprised the rhythm section.

Allmark, Antell
The octet’s first set included a wide range of bop classics from the likes of Horace Silver, Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, artfully arranged to feature the textures and possibilities of the horns. The band also dug deep into Dave Holland’s “Blue Jean,” which was a feature for Bowlby, and a spirited take on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that closed the set.

Antell turned the evening from something very fine into something way over the top – in a good way. The southwest Florida native, now based in Boston, is blessed with limitless ideas as a soloist and possesses incredible endurance as a player. He was on fire on Golson’s “Blues After Dark.” But that was just a precursor for the night’s finest moment.

Tucker Antell
Allmark featured Antell on Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” which Stitt recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins on Gillespie’s 1957 album “Sonny Side Up.” Allmark introduced that Antell spotlight by quipping “the rest of us are going to go home now and kill ourselves.” The other horn players exited the stage but were within earshot for what transpired.

With just the trio backing him, Antell launched into a seven-minutes-plus solo with wave upon wave of musical passion. It was reminiscent of tenor player Paul Gonsalves’ famous “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” interlude on Duke Ellington’s career-reviving 1956 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

It was stunning to say the least. [Here's a link to his live feed on Facebook that evening.]

Allmark will be back at The Met on August 7 with his big band, the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra.  
Allmark, Antell, Vint, Subero, Bowlby, Lattini

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Musical impacts linger in jazz and beyond

If you’ve ever experienced a musical epiphany, you know of what I write.

It’s about those special encounters with music – not necessarily jazz – where you walk away with goose bumps from the experience. The memories linger for a long time. Perhaps it was the band’s chemistry and musical conversation, perhaps some other intangibles, something that leaves you almost speechless, beyond saying “wow.”

I was reminded of that impact of music last weekend in western Massachusetts at Mass MoCA, the sprawling contemporary art museum in North Adams, housed in a 250,000 square-foot former mill complex.

Mass MoCA’s many exhibits include Dawn DeDeaux and Lonnie Holley’s collaborative installation, Thumbs Up For The Mothership. 

Their multi-faceted installation consists primarily of found objects that were recrafted and are exhibited in ways designed to provoke serious thinking about the issues facing our planet.

The Strength of Music.....
Holley’s portion of the exhibit space included the folk artist and musician’s installation called Vox Humana III: The Strength of Music Lives After the Instruments Are Destroyed.

This Alabama-born artist, now based in Atlanta, combined a wide range of junked/destroyed musical instruments into a visual commentary. To me, it said, the best musical experience lingers long after the notes ebb into the night.

Other viewers may have different takeaways. That's just fine. That's art's purpose. Right?