At the Newport Jazz Festival, the highlights were everywhere, and that’s a good thing
NEWPORT, RI – It’s in the nature of multi-story music festivals that you always miss something. Spend a full 60 minute set with one act and you miss most or all three. So think of this as a snapshot series of 20 performances of the Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday afternoon, the second of three days of music.
Now celebrating its 65th anniversary, the festival is as diverse and deeply representative as it has ever been, unleashed in part by founding producer George Wein’s decision in 2010 to take the non-profit event, with a strong educational component (the sponsoring company is Natixis investment managers).
So there was the old guard – pianist Herbie Hancock, 79; bassist Ron Carter, 82; and singer Sheila Jordan, 90 (a guest star of The Royal Bopsters vocal trio). At the forefront were the first performances in Newport by vibraphonist Joel Ross in his twenties and drummer Makaya McCraven, 35. )
Stylistic choices were omnipresent: the nervous grooves of the McCraven band; vigorous hard bop from drummer Ralph Peterson’s group (with an elegant and moving Bill Pierce on tenor saxophone); Ethiopian interpretation of keyboardist Hailu Mergia on American jazz, afropop and reggae; Ghost Note’s LOUD hard funk; American jazz from violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller’s group Parlor Game.
The stars have come from the singers: multilingual Mallorcan singer Buika, with her raw Iberian whine (and a surprising 6/8 rolling version of Billie Holiday’s standard “Don’t Explain”); Dianne Reeves (with her jazz-ballad interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”); and Dee Dee Bridgewater, who offered a short lesson on civil rights, with a reminder of “Why?” Little Rock Nine and Staple Singers. (Am I treated so badly). “
Other memorable moments included Parlor Game’s take on Miller’s “Top Shelf” (“about the ridiculousness of getting drunk on expensive alcohol”) and the dreamy sweet melody of “Sleep Rider” by Scheinman. Vibist Ross (who duplicated McCraven) and his band followed an appealing slipped groove with a slow, boiling ballad. Hancock, in a trio with bassist (and Newport Artistic Director) Christian McBride and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, offered an expansive version of “Footprints” from compatriot Wayne Shorter. In an intimate duet with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist David Virelles released gnarled and detailed tracks in chords as soft as clouds.
I’m no fan of the bland predictability of headliner Kamasi Washington. But the saxophonist / conductor has become something of a sensation since releasing his triple CD “The Epic” in 2015. It was hard to fault the serious elevation of his melodies and commentary on stage one day. where news of the carnage in El Paso appeared on people’s cell phones.
For me, the highlight of the afternoon was perhaps the quietest: Carter, in a trio with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega, paying homage to the late partner of bassist Jim Hall’s duo, with “Candle Light ”by Carter and Dimitri Tiomkin- Standard by Ned Washington“ Wild Is the Wind ”. In his lines to Malone, Carter was a dance partner, both supportive and free. In the August heat, Carter wore a white seersucker jacket and tie with a casual pocket square. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.
Newport Jazz Festival
At Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI, Saturday
An earlier version included an incorrect part of the name Natixis Investment Managers.