Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2018's Newport Jazz Festival juggle nears

The 2018 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival's three-day music marathon has quite the lineup in store at Fort Adams State Park August 3-5  With all sizes of ensembles and a range of mostly jazz styles, the event offers more than 60 musical groups on its four stages.

Charles Lloyd
Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd turned 80 in March - and that significant birthday celebration will continue at Newport, where he will be featured with a different group each day. On Friday, he appears with his Sangam trio with tabla player Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. Saturday features Lloyd's New Quartet with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Ruben Rogers and Harland. Lloyd wraps up the birthday fete on Sunday with his Americana-styled band with singer Lucinda Williams, guitarists Marvin Sewall and Stuart Mathis, Moran, Rogers and Harland.

Every day's lineup is strong and diverse, all of them featuring both Newport regulars and artists making their debut in 2018. Guitarist Pat Metheny's quartet and singer Jose James' Bill Withers tribute project perform at Newport Casino/the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the upscale Friday night opener and again on Saturday at Fort Adams.

But I want to take a closer look at the offerings on Sunday, August 5, which is the one day I'll be able to attend this year. This will be the 38th straight year that I've been in Newport to write about and photograph the Jazz and/or Folk Festivals since 1981. That's when founding producer George Wein brought the event back to the resort city after a 10-year absence.
Cecile McLorin Salvant

Sunday's lineup includes the aforementioned Charles Lloyd & Friends, singers Gregory Porter and Jazzmeia Horn, who is making her Newport debut. Horn won 2015's Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition and the so-called Sassy Award at 2013's Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition. Saxophonist Melissa Aldana, the first female instrumental winner of the Monk Competition, back in 2013, makes her Newport debut as part of Artemis, an all-female band with singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, pianist Renee Rosnes, reed player Anat Cohen, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller. A powerhouse group indeed.

Canadian soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett, back in Newport for the first time since 2002, appears with her all-woman sextet Maqueque, whose roster consists of Cuban singer/instrumentalists. Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa is also on the Newport bill with his trio.
Jeremy Pelt

While its members have appeared at Newport in a wide variety of different bands in past years, 2018 also marks the festival's debut for the Black Art Jazz Collective, which performs original music inspired by the lives and work of Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Du Bois and Barack Obama, among others. The band includes tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, drummer Johnathan Blake, bassist Vicente Archer, trombonist James Burton III and pianist Xavier Davis.

The Sunday lineup also includes George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, the British jazz trio GoGo Penguin, saxophonist James Carter's organ trio, flutist Nicole Mitchell's Dusty Wings project, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Harvest, drummer Nate Smith & Kinfolk, and the Massachusetts Jazz Educators Association big band led this day by Darcy James Argue. The latter's Secret Society, an 18-piece jazz orchestra, has been a frequent Newport visitor over the past decade.

The intimate indoor Storyville stage on Sunday will feature pianists Bill Charlap, Micah Thomas and Helen Sung; and two duos: trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick & guitarist Nick Cassarino, and pianist Matthew Whitaker & bassist Jake Leckie.

 As always, there is much to enjoy and many artists to check out for the first time. Check out the Newport Jazz Festival website for the full daily lineups.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CDs of Note – Short Takes

Taking a look at new CDs by Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, Roxy Coss, E.J. Decker, Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, the Benito Gonzalez-Gerry Gibbs-Essiet Okon Essiet trio, and Dave Tull…

Benjamin Boone & Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin) 
Jazz and poetry have had strong interconnections for many decades, including 1950s collaborations between bebop musicians and beat poets. More recently, there have been collaborations between former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and pianist Laurence Hobgood, as well as Amiri Baraka and saxophonist David Murray. The latest to emerge was last month’s release of The Poetry of Jazz, a collaboration between late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine and saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone.

The recording was completed a year before Levine’s death in 2015. It features the former U.S. Poet Laureate reading 14 of his works to compositions and improvisations by Boone and his band. Most often, the musicians are adding appropriate accents, colors and responses to Levine’s vivid narration. Four of the works are jazz-inspired. They include poems written in homage to Sonny Rollins (“The Unknowable”), Clifford Brown (“I Remember Clifford”), John Coltrane (“Soloing”) and Charlie Parker (“Call It Music”), featuring Chris Potter, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis and Greg Osby respectively. The project was developed when Boone and Levine were fellow professors at Cal State-Fresno. This is a gem.

Roxy Coss, The Future is Female (Posi-Tone)
“The Future is Female” is not a tune on saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss’s new CD. It was the message on her sign at the Women’s March in January 2017. That initiative was the catalyst for the recording, which includes 10 originals musically exploring her perspective on the current state of feminism. Many of the titles, and the musical energy within those tunes, carry her own truths: including “Little Did She Know,” “She Needed a Hero, So That’s What She Became,” “Mr. President,” “#MeToo,” “Choices” and “Nasty Women Grab Back.” The latter was on her younger sister’s sign at the Women’s March. Favorite tracks: “Nevertheless , She Persisted,” “Females Are Strong as Hell” and “Feminist AF.” Coss’s band includes guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Miki Yamanaka, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Jimmy McBride.” The synergy and conversational quality of the interchanges between Coss and Wintz make this one soar.
E. J. Decker, Bluer Than Velvet (Candela) 
Singer E.J. Decker’s newest CD pays tribute to the late, great jazz storyteller Arthur Prysock. Bluer Than Velvet includes 11 hit tunes that Prysock recorded during his career from the mid-1940s through the 1970, including “”Blue Velvet,” ”A Ghost of a Chance,” “September in the Rain” and “Since I Fell For You.” Decker added three more tunes that Prysock never recorded, but have the same feel as the late baritone’s material. They are Cole Porter’s “Why Can’t You Behave,” the Gershwin Brothers’ “He Loves and She Loves,” and Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live.” With superb backing from baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, guitarist Chris Bergson, trombonist Elizabeth Frascola, pianist Les Kurtz, bassist Saadi Zain and drummer Tom Melito, New Yorker Decker has carved out his own space in today’s jazz vocal genre – while also underscoring Prysock’s important contributions.

Thomas Fonnesbæk & Justin Kauflin, Synesthesia (Storyville) 
Jazz duo projects don’t get any better than this. Danish bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk and pianist Justin Kauflin recorded the session over two days in a Swedish studio. Some original material was composed in advance, while the two players developed others on the spot. Favorites include their explorations of Kauflin’s brooding “Lost,” Fonnesbæk’s mood-capturing “Panic Attack” and Oscar Peterson’s “Nigerian Marketplace.” The way they share the lead and support each other here is both exhilarating and beautiful. The title track “Synesthesia” is named after a neurological trait the two musicians have in common: seeing sounds as colors in their minds.

Benito Gonzalez, Gerry Gibbs, Essiet Okon Essiet, Passion Reverence Transcendence (Whaling City)  
On Passion Reverence Transcendence, Venezuelan-born pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer, mallets player and producer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet celebrate the music of piano giant McCoy Tyner, who came to prominence in the John Coltrane quartet. This is loaded with the rolling-thunder energy that is a hallmark of Tyner’s overall sound. They perform nine of McCoy’s compositions, including the hard-driving “Fly With the Wind” and the more genteel “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” while Gonzalez adds a solo piano version of Coltrane’s “Naima.” The trio contributes three originals with a Tyneresque flavor: Essiet’s “Tyner/Train Express,” Gibbs’ “Between Friends” and Gonzalez’ spirited “Brazilian Girls.” If you dig Tyner, you’ll savor this heart-felt homage.

Dave Tull, Texting and Driving (Toy Car)
Drummer, singer and songwriter Dave Tull finds humor in ordinary things we often take for granted, or in social trends. With a zany twist of words, his good humor results in spirited jazz in the Dave Frishberg tradition. The title track is all about the over-dependence many of us have on our smartphones. Consider this lyric snippet: “I believe my seven followers on Instragram would like to see a photo of my every meal.” His rapid-fire delivery of social media bemusements is a clever way to underscore some of those absurdities.

Tull also tackles the subjects of dating, raising kids, and people who don’t get jazz but pretend they do (the latter on the hysterical “Clapping on One and Three”). There’s also a nifty duet with singer Cheryl Bentyne on “The Date.” He considers our daily lives from the viewpoint of a traffic signal that sees all on “The Stoplight at the End of the Street.” Top West Coast jazz musicians, including pianist Randy Porter, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Kevin Axt, trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and George Stone, and saxophonist Doug Webb, provide superb support here. The arrangements swing mightily.