Monday, March 12, 2018

A tasty and filling jazz smorgasbord

The Sarasota Jazz Festival took on a jazz party flavor at its 38th annual event, March 8-10, which, under this year's "A World of Jazz" theme, featured 15 musicians from seven countries. 

Its four major concerts blended festival first-timers and familiar faces in a format that  changed combinations of on-stage musicians frequently in creative ways. In his first year as the festival's new music director, reedman Ken Peplowski kept things vibrant and at times surprising - and joined in as a player several times per show. He also used his self-deprecating sense of humor to great effect.

Sinne Eeg

Danish drummer Kristian Leth's Scandinavian Jazztrio with Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish pianist Ole Hansen, was the featured rhythm section for most of the concert sets.

Here were some highlight moments:
  • Danish singer Sinne Eeg's performance of Lionel Hampton's "Evil Man Blues" in a duet with Backenroth during her Thursday night performance with the trio. The talented vocalist added gender-bending twists to the original Leonard Feather lyrics to turn the song into a teasing ode about "an evil girl."
  • Thursday's second set featured tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene
    Jeremy Pelt
    and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt with the trio.The two horn players are frequent collaborators whose boppish sounds work well together. Pelt stepped away from the microphone and delivered a stunning acoustic solo feature on "Little Girl Blue" - showcasing his beautiful translucent tone and melodic invention. Audience members rose from their seats after this mid-set moment.
  • Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo performed Friday night
    Hyman, Peplowski, Figueiredo
    with Greene and Italian singer Chiara Izzi, and in several combinations at Saturday afternoon's jam-style concert, including a guitar duo with Los Angeles-based Graham Dechter. At the end of Friday set, Figueoredo and Peplowski invited 91-year-old pianist Dick Hyman to come up from the audience. He joined them for a trio version of Luis Bonfa's "Samba de Orpheus."
  • Tenor saxophonist Houston Person and guitarist Dechter performed with the Scandinavian trio in Friday's closing set. Person showed again and again how he is a soulful balladeer on the horn, then brought out Peplowski for a two-tenor take on Bobby Hebb's pop hit "Sunny."
  • The Saturday jam closed with an all-hands on deck version of "Perdido" that featured two drummers - Leth and Jeff Hamilton, who was this year's recipient of the festival's Satchmo Award for his career contributions to jazz.
    Ole Hansen
  • Two fine piano moments stood out at Saturday night's opening set, which featured Peplowski, Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie, Backenroth and Leth. To start the show, Peplowski asked Ole Hansen to perform one number with Backenroth and Leth. The Danish pianist, composer and bandleader's feature moment, quite appropriately, was a jazz version of the traditional Swedish folk song "O, Tysta Ensamhet," which translates as Oh, Silent Loneliness.
    Ehud Asherie
    Later in the set, Asherie delivered an impressionistic solo piano take on Fats Waller's classical-tinged "Clothes Line Ballet."
  • Akiko Tsuruga
  • Japanese organist Akiko Tsuruga performed a rousing final set on Saturday in a trio with drummer Hamilton and guitarist Dechter. This rising star in jazz has been part of saxophonist Lou Donaldson's organ quartet for a decade. The three trio members were fueled by each other's energy and ideas throughout the set. They were joined at mid-set by Person, whose spotlight on "My Romance" drew out Tsuruga's subtle side as an accompanist.
With 10 fresh faces and five SJF veterans - Figueiredo, Hamilton, Hyman, Peplowski and Person - this festival had much to offer.

The 2018 festival had been scheduled for the new Art Ovation Hotel in downtown Sarasota. Because of a delay in the venue's opening, the performances were moved to Riverview Performing Arts Center, which was the festival's home for the past three years.

Here are a few more visual treats:
Jimmy Greene
Graham Dechter

Satchmo Award-winner Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter
Houston Person, Akiko Tsuruga
Kristan Leth

Hansen, Greene, Eeg, Backenroth, Pelt, Peplowski, Leth

Graham Dechter, Diego Figueiredo

Chiara Izzi
Houston Person

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