Newport Jazz Festival 2011


FORT JAZZ – Saturday

Went to see Steve Coleman & the Five Elements a couple weeks ago, and as usual the revered alto saxophonist demonstrated just how far precision can take a jazz band, which is pretty damn far. There’s math in Coleman’s ever-evolving music; several tunes on the new The Mancy of Sound (Pi) have the kind of counterpoint action that makes you think a slide rule was involved in the composing process. But because the leader views most everything through a rhythmic lens, the action of the bass, drums, piano, guitar and vocals takes on a hyper percolation. Drummer Marcus Gilmore, a one of the most fascinating percussionists at work these days, has a deep connection with Coleman’s jagged riffs. The sparks are definitely going to fly when they hit the Harbor Stage at the first full day of the Newport Jazz Festival. Five Elements are one of several impressive ensembles to take over Fort Adams this weekend. It’s another well-curated program for the Fest this year, with an array of perspectives being offered. The first band you need to put on today’s must-see list Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The New York quartet is a wiseacre outfit with a deep blend of concept and chops. Their rambunctious freebop is built on a manic esprit that’s proud of its entertainment skills. The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed) which captures them at their high-flying best, conjures the eruptions of Mingus, humor of Raymond Scott, and of the boisterous beauty of the Art Ensemble, ably placing them in a deeply creative continuum. Ambrose Akinmusire is another young phenom to catch. When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note) is a serious date that stresses interplay over all else. The trumpet newcomer has a wide angle world view, with influences stretching from Chopin to Flying Lotus, and his ballads implode with poignancy while his rave-ups put passion in the center of their squall. No wonder Wynton Marsalis was part of the applauding audience when Akinmusire premiered his disc in New York this spring. Speaking of the trumpet titan, he too, will bring his terrific quintet to the Fort’s stage. They are, in a word, killing – agile, inspired, refined and rambunctious. Speaking of kicking up some dust, Randy Weston’s piano can also be placed in that category. The lanky pianist makes judiciousness seem like the most valuable element of performance, which gives his shows a deep focus, but doesn’t mean everything’s measured. When Weston strikes that keyboard, he means it – trills turn as many heads as rumbles. His African Rhythms Trio has a regal air, generating trance qualities that boast a bit of majesty. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread ensemble also harks to African sources, using folk music pulses in an enticing way, with the mesh of accordion, bass, guitar and the leader’s virtuosic violin uniting in a swirl. Lots of other enticing shows await as well, like Esperanza Spalding’s duet gig with various artists. Be prepared to roam the grounds; there are lots of great options.


Prepare thyself to deal with the beauty of the saxophone at today’s Newport Jazz Festival: It’s a day of resounding horn players. The seductive murmur of Charles Lloyd’s tenor has never sounded better than it has in the last several years. His ECM work has trumped his Atlantic sides in terms of eloquence and legacy. His Sangam trio with trap drummer Eric Harland and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain puts his sax lines in a revealing setting. Their luminous arcs usually ride a groove that becomes quite enchanting as the momentum builds. Joshua Redman also has a glow to his solos, too. Earlier this summer I watched his current band James Farm turn the tunes from their impressive Nonesuch debut into vehicles for deep interplay. Along with bassist Matt Penman and pianist Aaron Parks, percussionist Harland is part of the collective outfit, and his incessant drive helped Redman achieve liftoff time after time. There’s also plenty of thrust behind alto master Miguel Zenon, who brings the music from his new Alma Adentro (Marsalis Music) to the stage. The program contains updates of classic pieces from the Puerto Rican songbook arranged for jazz quartet and a woodwind tentet led by the celebrated bandleader Guillermo Klein. Zenon is one of those guys who makes your jaw drop, and his foursome can be unusually telepathic when it comes to rounding corners and negotiating intersections. Rudresh Mahanthappa was recently named “Alto Saxophonist of the Year” by DownBeat magazine, and deservedly so. The fire and focus that comes from the bandleader’s ax is daunting. His collaboration with alto elder Bunky Green had more than a little to do with the victory, of course. The critically championed Apex (Pi) finds the pair exchanging volley after volley, as they will on the Newport stage. Green, a patriarch of the Chicago scene, has inspired Mahanthappa for ages. Their collaboration is an insightful intergenerational exchange. Steve Coleman is another Bunky acolyte. Intriguingly, he’s also a mentor to Zenon; methinks there will be lots of high-flying spirits when Coleman, Miguel, and Ravi Coltrane set up shop in front of a mic in a sax summit situation. Coltrane is a resourceful soprano and tenor player who has been forging an engaging persona during the last few years. I particularly like the way he treats Monk, with a bit of roughness, the kind of push and shove that the master’s tunes can stand up to. Last time I caught his working band, they sliced and diced “Epistrophy” like zen swordsmen. One final sax hero? Tony Malaby. He’ll be part of John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, and when he gets the green light to take one of the percussionist/bandleader’s charts to the next level, watch out: the honking and wailing become one, and the poetic expressionism of his lines moves right to the forefront. Hollenbeck’s crew is remarkable in general. They just won DownBeat’s best big band designation thanks to the clever designs found on Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside), a record that defines what ensemble work can be in the modern era. Make sure to arrive on time to absorb their wallop. It could be tough choice for large ensemble lovers, actually . The Mingus Big Band, a group that has been delivering the raucous beauty of the maestro’s book for decades now, has plenty of whomp as well. Otherwise, trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s outfit, bassist Esperanza Spalding’s ensemble, and a pianist by the name of Dave Brubeck should all tickle you plenty.





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