Now in its 29th year of operation, geographically and artistically positioned between the innovative SFJAZZ season and the historic Monterey Jazz Festival, presented a balanced roster of jazz, blues/New Orleans and Latin oriented artists on 12 different outdoor and indoor stages. For the most part its program was palatable and wide-ranging, yet never extreme or big name driven. The prevailing atmosphere was a mixture of discovery for newbies and reaffirmation for long time fans and friends. Concurrently, popular soul and funk performers such as Johnny Gil, Confunkshun, Kool & Gang, Booker T.’s Stax Revue: A Journey Through Soul, Blues and R&B, The Soul Rebels, Lalah Hathaway and local favorites Lydia Pense & Cold Blood With Fred Ross were included for uninitiated attendees and/or those disinterested in jazz who just wanted to party.   Unquestionably, the most vibrant and daring segment of SJJS, also the last, was Marcus Roberts and the Modern Jazz Generation, which the acclaimed blind virtuoso pianist, currently on faculty at Florida State University, founded in 2012. Continued…


The tenet was also anchored by longtime associates, drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan. The remaining members all brass players are either alumnae or current students in the University’s music program. Under Roberts, Marsalis and Jordan’s guidance the ensemble ambitiously played a nearly two-hour long suite (even dropping a movement) that profoundly showcased all the players. Similar to Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Orchestra, but in a modern context, Roberts and cohorts swung hard through complex arrangements and entertained the audience by focusing on themes of romance, swing and blues. Additionally, the suite was based on an imaginary couple going through the four stages of love: attraction, projection, conflict, and resolution, beginning with the dramatic and thematic “The Mystery of Romance.”   Correspondingly, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring’s Story of Jazz: 100 Years was powerful, spanning ragtime to contemporary jazz eras with high caliber sidemen such as saxophonists James Carter and Eric Alexander, trumpeters Jon Faddis and Brian Lynch, trombonist Steve Turre, pianist Mike LeDonne, drummer Carl Allen, bassist Kenny Davis, and Nicolas Bearde handling vocals and narration. Due to time constraints the group’s 65-minute set didn’t touch on current sub genres of neo bebop, post bebop or even fusion. Nonetheless, the accomplished musicians impressed audience during stretches of Dixieland with “St. Louis Blues” and “When You’re Smiling,” blues through “Summertime, ” Ellington big band, stride “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and Chick Corea/Return to Forever’s “Spain” representing an international influence on jazz. Closing out the set were contemporary grooves “Mr. Magic,” “Birdland” and “Street Life” featuring Bearde’s soulful singing. Herring admitted that they owed the audience another twenty years of music.    From a traditional standpoint, the 10th installment of SJJS’ Jazz Organ Fellowship, part of Hammond B-3 evangelist Pete Fallico’s world-renowned dedication to the instrument, featured 17-year old wunderkind Matthew Whitaker and veteran Brian Charette. Whitaker, currently enrolled at Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School of the Lighthouse Guild for the visually impaired, and the Manhattan School of Music’s Precollege Jazz Program, was a force to be reckoned with. Supported by his trio of Edward (Ted) Morcaldi lll on guitar and bass, and drummer Sipho Kunene the fast emerging organist was funky straight out the gate. Whitaker adroitly intermixed jazz standards and R&B tunes, such as “Play it Back,” “More Than Yesterday,” “I’ll be Around,” an homage to Jimmy Smith “I Remember Jimmy” and a medley of Earth, Wind and Fire songs to garner an enthusiastic standing ovation. Charette who opened the Organ Fellowship also grooved mightily with his trio and showcased tunes from his latest CD Groovin with Big G George Coleman. The organist was especially remarkable and hard-grooving doing Jimmy Smith’s bumping classic  “The Champ.”  

Husband and wife multi-Grammy Winners, trumpeter Herb Alpert and vocalist Lani Hall provided a lighter, cheery and relaxed funk alternative to virtuoso and hard-driven jazz sets. The pair backed by Bill Cantus on keyboards, Hussain Jiffry on bass and Michael Shapiro on drums chronicled their 50+ years careers. Intermingled in the large body of work that included Alpert’s legendary Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes‘ Brasil ’66 and top-selling solo careers were supporting videos that sometimes were circa mid ‘60s. Latin and jazz standards “Besame Mucho” and “Body And Soul” were adeptly inserted with Hall singing sweetly, along with Alpert’s light funk grooves “Rise’ and “Human Nature” cover. Displaying male vulnerability long before it was a trend was “This Guy’s in Love With You” with the audience singing along. For good measure and to the crowd’s delight Tijuana Brass hits “A Taste of Honey,” “The Lonely Bull,” “Spanish Flea,” “Whipped Cream” and the “Casino Royale Theme” were also included.   

Other Los Angeles-based artists represented were newly migrated singer Jane Monheit, with Barbara Morrison’s Quintet and Katie Thiroux’s Trio. Monheit was regal and lush while concentrating mostly on songs from her latest CD The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald. Supple players Andy Langham on piano, Dave Robaire on bass and Ricky Montalbano on drums supported the Long Island native for standouts “All Too Soon” and “Something's Gotta Give,” along with “Quiet Nights” sung in Portuguese and English, and “It’s The Wrong Time” that were not on the new CD. Veteran Morrison charmed the attendees with personal stories and standards such as “On The Street Where You Live,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,”  “Lullaby of Birdland” and “We’re in This Love Together” dedicated to Al Jarreau. Thiroux melodiously sang and scatted while playing bass for “Together,”  “Willow Weep For Me” and ‘Let’s Fall in Love” with Clark Terry protégé blind pianist Justin Kauflin and drummer Matt Witek.   SJJS also showcased some of its own extensive homegrown talent as well. Eddie Gale a distinguished trumpeter proclaimed as City of San Jose Official Ambassador of Jazz in 1974 took command of the stage with his American Spiritual Jazz Unit tenet. It was a mixture of Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra and Ali Farka Touré for numbers “African Sunshine,” “Meditation on World Peace” and “The Jazz Rapp.” The latter tune became a jam for the crowd to play percussion instruments with Gale and band that they were dispensed at the beginning of the set. Jeff Denson additionally a member of the San Francisco String Trio displayed his bass and vocal prowess with his quartet consisting of Paul Hanson playing bassoon/electronics, Dahveed Behroozi on piano and fender Rhodes, and Alan Hall on drums. Denson latest CD Outside My Window spotlighted his elastic vocals for “When I Get it Right” the slow jazz waltz title track, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” and Abbey Lincoln’s poetic ballad “Bird Alone,” along with older metronome-like instrumental workout “City Life on Trains.” Vocalist Paula West with pianist Adam Shulman’s Trio, which included John Wiitala on bass and on drums Greg Wyser-Pratte, superbly highlighted American Songbook staples such as Leonard Feather’s “Man Wanted,” “I’m Glad There is You” and samba interpreted “I Love Paris in The Springtime.” She additionally inserted a few departures by way of Jobim’s “Waters of March,” Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Randy Newman’s “Short People.”   

Always major attractions for SJJS are Latin jazz and salsa. Grammy Winner (2006) and 2018 Grammy Nominee Doug Beavers’ Titanes del Trombón: Tribute to Cheo Feliciano was a major force. A large crowd danced in front of the stage as his nonet energetically sang and played riveting salsa classics and new pieces. Beavers with fellow trombonists Mike Rinta and Greg Saul also soloed intensely, and along with Carlos Rosario’s vocals blew the audience away. Los Angeles-based Orquesta Son Mayor, a larger 11-person band was more diversified with two trumpets, baritone sax, trombone and four vocalists, with a couple of them also doubling on percussion. Combined with the other band members they were a juggernaut heavily influenced by Cuba’s Pérez Prado and Orchestra Aragón, and Oscar de León from Venezuelan. From the Afro-Latin and Caribbean perspective John Santos Quartet + Orestes Vilató, Bobi Céspedes and Jose Roberto Hernandez were scintillating. They held the audience spellbound as Céspedes and Hernandez sang passionately, while Santos’ percussion playing and septet arrangements were overwrought with unbelievable rhythms and sophisticated interactions.  

Also integrated into the SJJS’s program were somewhat related Brazilian stylings through Bay Area-based singer/percussionist Sandy Cressman and Homenagem Brasileira. Her supporting band that included husband/trombonist Jeff Cressman, keyboardist Murray Low, bassist David Belove and drummer Phil Hawkins showcased breezy selections from new CD Entre Amigos and works by Oscar Castro-Neves, Hermeto Pascoal and Antonio Carlos Jobim.  
New to the festival was British Airways Music Lounge. The exclusive and intimate 60-person capacity venue featured special live two-hour filming sets of drummer Makaya McCraven’s Quartet, pianist/vocalist Aaron Abernathy’s Trio, singer Tiffany Austin’s Trio and singer/pianist Sarah McKenzie’s Quartet. Additionally, the lounge spotlighted artists such as guitarist Yoshiaki Miyanoue’s Trio, trumpeter Theo Croker’s Quartet, pianist Emmet Cohen (solo), and Vincent Herring and Mike LeDonne (duo) for fast-paced 20-30 minute showcases. Overall, this concept is reflective of San Jose Jazz Summerfest’s pioneering spirit that’s willing to experiment and sometimes be unconventional.

Mexico’s Rodrigo (Sánchez) and Gabriela (Quintero) are the premiere acoustic, flamenco, world-music and rock duo, who exhibit an adventurous spirit, musical acumen and a love of playing. The pair, presently platonic, appeared at the Hollywood Bowl for the sixth time, and fourth with the LA Philharmonic and the first with renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
They sprung into action with fast-paced “Hanuman” filled with fiery guitar tradeoffs, percussion, stirring strings and the audience clapping along. Following it were new songs, with the first being semi-relaxed and thematic. The second was fast strumming, with variations and included the orchestra. Afterwards was a mix of hard driving rock and flamenco, with wailing rhythmic strumming and picking.

Returning to older selections with Dudamel and orchestra, the duo played the searing movie theme-like title track from their 2009 album 11:11 dedicated to the musicians’ influences. Alternately, “Tamacun” inspired by nature had their signature gypsy rhythms and textures. Alone, Rodrigo y Gabriela plaintively sat on stage and wailed away. “Cumbe” was fast-paced and aggressive, while Pink Floyd’s epic “Echoes” was ambitious and thematic. For the encore they played “Diablo Rojo” and mixed in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” featuring rapid firing playing and guitar banging percussion with the audience enthusiastically clapping along.  

San Jose Jazz Summerfest 2018

Photo: Peter Neill


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