Saturday, March 18, 2023

The art of the duo personified

The jazz duo is the ultimate musical challenge. With just two musicians on stage, there is no coasting allowed. You're either doubling on the melody, listening intently to anticipate how to respond to the other player's solo, comping behind him -- or all of the above.

Dick Hyman, Diego Figueiredo
That fine art was in the spotlight at the 42nd edition of the Sarasota Jazz Festival on Friday, March 17 in the hands of pianist Dick Hyman and Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo. 

Their musical conversation belied their half-century age gap. NEA Jazz Master Hyman turned 96 last week. Figueiredo, a rising star on his instrument, is just 42.

It was a call-and-response set from the get-go as they explored a wide range of Brazilian and Cuban material, with a few American standards sprinkled in for good measure. At every turn, they found common ground through the music itself.

Diego Figueiredo
"The Color of Brazil" and "So Danca Samba" led to a playful take on "All The Things You Are," with Figueiredo filling behind Hyman's lead. Whether he is popping off blistering solos or comping, the Brazilian draws on his wonderful combination of finger pick-style jazz and classical guitar techniques, sometimes adding a bit of body English for emphasis.

After digging in to Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic "Wave," the festival's new musical director, Terell Stafford, joined them on flugelhorn for an extended exploration of Jobim's "Triste." 

Then came a solo tune apiece by the two co-stars. Hyman uncorked a teasing-at-times, bouncy and bright version of "Cherokee" that included a clever Stride piano segment. Figueiredo used his solo space to explore "Tico-Tico No Fubรก," one of the high-energy Brazilian features in his repertoire. Zequinha de Abreu wrote this Brazilian choro in 1917. 

Dick Hyman
Because it happened to be St. Patrick's Day, Hyman included "Danny Boy" in the program. This gentler moment was a chance to catch one's breath before the fiery closer. Together, they roared through Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's Latin classic "Malaguena."

Hyman, a prolific pianist, organist, composer, arranger, bandleader, composer of film scores and orchestral works in a career dating to the late 1940s, is a master of the keyboard. He mixes sparking delicacy with uptempo fluidity, exploring multiple styles with ease.

Dick Hyman, Diego Figueiredo
He played the first Sarasota Jazz Festival back in 1981 and has been the event's most frequent performer. At first a snowbird, he has lived in nearby Venice full-time for more than 25 years. At 96 and not wanting to travel extensively anymore, this may have been one of his last significant performances. But you never know.

This year's festival, produced by the Jazz Club of Sarasota, was held under the Circus Arts Conservatory's Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park. 

The festival's other headliners included singers Kurt Elling (with guitarist Charlie Hunter), and Lizz Wright, pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marcus Miller, reed player Paquito D'Rivera, B-3 player Tony Monaco, tenor saxophonist Houston Person and the more-contemporary Allen Carmen Project with Gumbi Ortiz.

Dick Hyman, Diego Figueiredo, Terell Stafford

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