It was a fun weekend, and a well-balanced program. Here’s a handful of images that stuck in my head.
1. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo begin their rather intimate duet on the site’s smallest stage with “Just You, Just Me.” As they’re just starting to unpack the theme’s improv options, maybe a minute and a half into the performance, a security dude strides into the front row and VERY loudly moves away listeners squatted there. “Everybody’s gotta go!, C’mon! C’mon!” The artists look askance from the stage – basically in disbelief that this guy’s yelling as they’re playing. When he finally catches on to their queries, Mr Security has a classic comeback: “Oh, I thought you guys were just practicing…” Yes, his walkie-talkie went off during a poignant moment a bit later in the set.
2. The harmonium solo that Jon Cowherd offered the throng who came to see Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band. It was both fleeting and entrancing, and its arrival and departure illustrated the kind of fluidity the ensemble is striving for. Saxophonist Myron Walden was soloing in a very gospelish manner, and his boss was egging him on from the Amen Corner, which just happened to be located behind his drums. As the music sighed, Cowherd’s keybs bubbled up. It harked to the buoyant Ravi Shankar piece Rudresh Mahanthappa and his Indo-Pak Coalition floated through on that stage to start the day.
3. Dave King’s perpetual grin and raised eyebrows as he itched and slapped and nudged and kicked and interrogated and cajoled and sweet-talked his drum set during the first three tunes of The Bad Plus’ set. Some drummers – Steve McCall, Billy Higgins – have a look of public amazement as ideas go coursing through their noggins. King’s part of this crew. What he’s thinking, a forever fluid process, is revealed on his face for all to see.
4. The interlocking of front line and rhythm section during the Vandermark 5’s dedication to Bertolt Brecht, “Spiel.” The Chicago saxophone titan’s quintet plays quite a bit, and though the intricate arrangements they design for themselves are rigorous to say the least, they keep that shit tight. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm spun circles through his mates, and the knotty music tied and untied itself several times. George Wein sat up close on the stage, and Ken Vandermark thanked him for showing up to their gig, which he said was their first American festival invitation.
5. There’s a tie for the final item. Can’t tell if it was the crowd reaction when Steven Bernstein did the math regarding how many strings it takes for his Millennial Territory Orchestra to be considered a true orchestra (“on the bass four, on the violin four, on the guitar six – 14, that’s a chamber orchestra right there,” he quipped). The audience was utterly tickled. Equaling that were the bystanders’ looks at Joe Lovano when the saxophonist started dancing alone to Miguel Zenon’s swirl of plena and post-bop. Lovano’s never been shy about grooving on stage, but he was really digging the stuff in the back of the room and the fans that recognized him were really digging the way he was dervishing.