Touring the Mother Road
Curt Elling backed by Branford Marselis
Quincy Jones recreating "Walking In Space" at the Monterey Jazz Festival 2016
Saxophonist Kamasi Washington
There are many reasons why the Monterey Jazz Festival now in its 59th year of operation is one of the premiere jazz festivals throughout California, the U.S. and internationally. Besides having a packed schedule of 115 performances and over 500 artists from all over the world and America the festival has several themed and historical attributes. They are an “Artist-In-Residence,” “Showcase Artist,” “Commissioned Artist and Work” and “Jazz Legends Award Winner,” along with The MJF Next Generation Orchestra, provocative “Blind Fold Test,” special interviews and film screenings.
Surprisingly it wasn’t a new unbelievably talented or super sexy artist who had the nearly 37,000 multi-generational festival attendees buzzing the whole weekend at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, site of the MJF. Instead it was 83-year old arranger/trumpeter/producer Quincy Jones who was honored at the 10th Jazz Legends Gala a day before the MJF and during its opening night concert Tribute To Quincy Jones ‘The A&M Years. Jones’ three chart topping jazz records Walking in Space (1969), Gula Matari (1970) and Smackwater Jack (1971) were highlighted by the MJF Orchestra directed by bassist Christian McBride and conducted by bassist/arranger/producer John Clayton. The tribute included special guests James Carter-sax, Dave Grusin-keyboards, Paul Jackson, Jr., -guitar, Sean Jones-trumpet, Hubert Laws-flute, Grégoire Maret-harmonica, Valerie Simpson-vocals and Lewis Nash-drums with special appearances by Richard Bona-bass and Alfredo Rodriguez-piano.
Classic “Walkin’” was breezy coolly melding orchestra and flute, while “Walking in Space” also incorporated Simpson and backup singers Lynne Fiddmont, Valerie Fiddmont and Tammi Brown to conveyed a hip out of this world atmospheric experience. For variety ballad “Brown Bag” was beautifully adorned by Maret; Bona, Rodriguez, Simpson and Laws. They also creatively interwove for “Gula Matari” and the singers sultrily accentuated Jones’ arrangement of “What’s Going On.” He was on the side of the stage thoroughly enjoying the proceedings and got called on to conduct the orchestra doing his super popular version of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” that nearly created a seismic reaction from the audience. Jones additionally did a conversation/interview with Clint Eastwood hosted by Ashley Kahn the next day and was all around the grounds enjoying music the rest of the weekend.
The big feature for the second night of MJF 2016 was Artist-in-Residence, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project Love And Soul performance with an almost all female nine-person ensemble with two men Ben Eunson-guitar and Matts Sandahl-bass. Carrington’s crew roared with neo-bebop stirrings for Gerri Allen’s “Unconditional Love” and the Beatle’s pop classic “Michelle” that were brilliantly adorned by pianist Helen Sung, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, alto saxophonist Tia Fuller and flutist Elena Penderhughes. For even more variety gospel/jazz vocalist Lizz Wright joined the band to sing cool jamming “Open Your Eyes You can Fly” and Nick Drake’s poetic and lingering crowd pleasing ballad “Riverman.” Furthermore Simpson a star attraction the previous night sizzled with her and song-writing husband legend Nick Ashford’s Ray Charles popularized “I Don’t Need No Doctor” that sharply contrasted the previous modern jazz offerings with soul and blues. A little more in keeping with MJF was a torrid and emotional rendering of Billie Holiday’s immortal “God Bless the Child” embellished with a ripping guitar solo. Wright returned to do vocalist’s Carmen Lundy’s evocative “Show Me a Sign” then segued to gospel classic “Walk With Me” and working out with Simpson to blow the audience away.
Showcase Artist, saxophonist Joshua Redman was literally on fire throughout MJF 2016, first fervently highlighting Still Dreaming his new ensemble with trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. Not for average consumption the adventurous and avant-garde quartet was inspired by the group Old And New Dreams that included Redman’s father Dewey, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell as homage to Ornette Coleman. The saxophonist also appeared with The Bad Plus the classical and sometimes abstract trio who he has in recent years collaborated with many times. Additionally, Redman’s quartet with Aaron Goldberg-piano, Reuben Rogers-bass and Gregory Hucthinson-drums closed out the festival at Dizzy’s Den with challenging mainstream compositions and playing.
Commission Artist, saxophone legend Wayne Shorter unveiled his work The Unfolding during the final night supported by his regular players drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Patitucci, along with the Monterey Jazz Festival Wind Ensemble. Shorter’s suite was very cerebral and heavily garnished with modern classical touches. Concurrently some of the renowned saxophonist’s previous compositional motifs were intermixed in the very ambiguous undertaking. It strongly challenged his sidemen and listeners, yet was not unexpected to draw a standing ovation.
Equally interesting MJF 2016 shows though not always on as large a scale or as the highly anticipated abounded on all the stages as well. Stellar bassist and also an appealing singer Richard Bona from Cameroon spotlighted his latest CD Mandekah Cubano Heritage. By way of Africa he transformed the main stage and tastefully took the audience to Cuba, while also including riveting band interactions and fiery solo bass moments. Neighboring Santa Cruz’s singer/percussionist Claudia Villeia and pianist Victor Goncalves totally enthralled the audience with soaring singing/scatting/chanting and playing accented with strong South American/Brazilian flavoring that went from soothing to high energy. Additional international musical discourse came through trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf ‘s CD Kalthoum. The Middle Eastern tinged suite piece performed without breaks was a celebration of revolutionary artistic Arab women and backed by Rick Margitza-tenor sax, Frank Woeste-piano, Scott Colley-bass and Clarence Penn-drums that was bold, searing and unique.
Mainstream popular artists kept the MJF 2016 audiences bouncing around the stages, sometimes having to leave early or come into shows midstream. Ever-popular singer Gregory Porter easily topped that list and even played an additional unscheduled set. Songs from his newest CD Take Me to the Alley dominated both sets with older crowd pleasing songs “On My Way to Harlem,” “Liquid Spirit” and beautiful uplifting ballad “There Will be no Love (Dying).” Saxophonist Branford Marsalis Quartet with special guest vocalist Kurt Elling focused on pieces from their new CD together Upward Spiral. Included were hard scatting “There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York” and ballad “Blue Gardenia.” Additionally there were high-energy tunes featuring the bandleader, Joey Calderazzo-piano, Eric Revis-bass and Justin Falkner-drums jamming intensely. Montclair Women’s Big Band (with a couple of men) Directed by Ellen Seeling roared and swung hard doing lively originals along with Bob Florence’s arrangement of Stanley Turrentine’s classic “Sugar.” Smooth as velvet veteran pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Billy Drummond superbly performed original “Equipoise,” an expansive tribute to Art Tatum and a funk/blues tune featuring the bandleader playing kalimba that inspired the audience to clap along.
Santa Cruz native saxophonist and former MJF Next Generation Big Band member Donny McCaslin who has went on to become a top player n New York scene served up threshold pushing selections ranging from meditative to high-energy percussive post bop with Jason Linder-keyboards, Nate Wood-bass and Mark Guiliana-drums. San Francisco drummer Tommy Igoe’s 14-person Groove Conspiracy reprised Steely Dan’s appealing pop-jazz catalogue with special guest trumpeter Randy Brecker. They blew the audience away with jazzy renditions of “Reelin’ in the Years,” “My Old School,” ambitious “Aja,” rocking “Josie” and “Home at Last” featuring Santana vocalist Tony Lindsay and Brecker who both are on the band’s CD. Alternatively, East-Bay native and now also a New York musician who lives in Harlem 21-year old flutist/singer Elena Pinderhughes presented breezy contemporary and Brazilian tinged songs supported by brother Samora-keyboards, Gabe Schneider-guitar, Jason Crumbly-bass and Corey Fonville-drums.
In the category of beyond jazz, sensational saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s large band roared with the Epic his highly heralded Coltrane/Rahsaan Roland Kirk inspired composition that overflowed with high flying solos. Afterwards the bandleader showcased new freshly recorded compositions that were ephemeral, funky and fusion oriented, including soulful ballad “Henrietta Our Hero” (his grandmother) featuring Patrice Quinn-vocals and father Rickey-flute. The band’s bassist Miles Mosley also showcased his exuberant funk jam “Young Lion” filled with his hot singing and playing. Bassist John Patitucci’s Electric Guitar Quartet consisting of Steve Cardenas and Adam Rogers-guitar and Brian Blade-drums wailed away blues/funk/fusion style with amazing virtuosity and creativity to thoroughly mesmerized the audience.
From rock and blues perspectives Guitarsonists featuring guitarist/vocalists Chris Cain, Daniel Castro and “Mighty” Mike Schermer, Tony Snead-keyboards, Steve Evans-bass and Mick Mestek-drums covered Chicago revival, Allman Brothers, BB King and Albert Collins songs. Singer/pianist Davina & The Vagabonds started on the Garden Stage last year and developed a large enough following to be on the main stage for MJF 2016. They rocked the house with their intoxicating mix of New Orleans traditional classics, blues covers and nuanced originals including a torrid version of Etta James “Rather Go Blind” and a very agro trad-tinged “Start Running.” Keyboardist Corey Henry (Snarky Puppy) & the Funk Apostles were a mixture of Morris Day and The Time, jam bands, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and even Marvin Gaye for a rollicking set that had the crowd up and dancing along.
Not to be overlooked were other great performances by Cecile McLorin Salvant, The Ultimate Tribute to Ray Charles: Maceo Parker Featuring The Ray Charles Orchestra & The Raelettes, The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, Pat Metheny, Jacob Collier, Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, Bria Skonberg Quartet, Joey Alexander Trio, Tony Lindsay Presents The Soul Soldiers, King, Larry Vuckovich Quintet, Somi, Christian McBride Trio, Banda Magda, Bill Frisell-Guitar in the Space Age!, Jamison Ross, Toshiko Akyoshi Trio, Troker, Bop of the Bay, Lew Tabackin Quartet Featuring Randy Brecker, Billy Hart Quartet 75th Birthday Celebration, Ronnie Foster Trio, Dave Stryker Organ Quartet Featuring Eric Alexander& Jared Gold, Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio, Sullivan Fortner Trio, Mixcla + 1, James Francies Trio: JF3, and Kris Davis Trio. Furthermore there were numerous high school, college bands and family programs.
For a break from the music there were Conversations: Toshiko Akiyoshi & Terri Lyne Carrington, Conversation: Bruce Jenkins hosted by Jesse Hamlin and Conversation: Donny McCaslin hosted by Ashley Kahn. Included were screenings: Brownie Speaks: The Life, Music & Legacy of Clifford Brown hosted by Don Glanden, Producer and Director, and Thomas Chapin: Night Bird Song, The Incandescent Life of a Jazz Great hosted by Stephanie J. Castillo, Producer and Director. Also there was a great Coffee House Gallery Exhibit: Miles, Quincy & Trane at Monterey 1960-72: A Photo Retrospective. For more information go to: www.montereyjazzfestival.org.
Cecile McLorin Salvant