Newport Jazz Fest 2014 Preview

You wanted more, you got more. Thanks in advance to this year’s Newport Jazz Festival and its extra day of action at Fort Adams. The programming has been truly impressive in the last several years, and the 2014 edition – 60th anniversary, y’all – invites even more improvisers to the scene, kicking off on Friday at noon.

The cornerstone attraction? A glorious mitzvah from Team Wein: the two-and-a-half-hour Masada Marathon. John Zorn has said his ever-expanding book for this project represents a way of mixing “Ornette Coleman and Jewish scales.” Riding rad-trad impulses, the Masada material (over 500 pieces so far) has become one of the most enticing canons in modern improvised music. A number of ensembles – including Bar Kokhba, Dreamers, Abraxas, and the original Masada quartet of Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen, Joey Baron and Zorn, will interpret the tunes. Some will be electric, one will feature a string trio, and cellist Erik Friedlander will perform solo. Variety is central here. On record, the music’s breadth is overwhelming. “Zechriel” is a slinky ode that let’s guitarist Marc Ribot wax eerie. “Hashul” unites Kenny Wollesen’s vibraphone and Jamie Saft’s piano in an MJQ surf-rock samba distillation. “Lilim” is maniacal turbulence that contours skronk while swerving through Zorn’s beloved pan-genre mise-en-scène. The leader’s coterie is a who’s who of New York improvisers. Never had the Zorn experience? Here’s your shot. He’s a marvel.

There’s a grand unity in Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society work. Sustaining a big band is a tough job, but the NYC-based composer’s outfit always plays tight and uses its unity to explode the music’s varied emotions. Last year’s Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam) was awash in moods and tones, conjuring Copeland, referencing Piazzolla and using his 18-piece ensemble to create swinging excursions as well as dreamy reveries. Don’t miss the trees for the forest. Several members – baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton for example – are superb soloists.

You can’t play alto sax and not tip the hat to Bird in some way. Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the instrument’s most vital players these days, his fierce attack goosing his fleet runs to build an imposing sound. He’s unveiling his Charlie Parker Project at Fort Adams, a series of original pieces that reference the master’s bop frenzy while digging into the kind of animation pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and drummer Rudy Royston can conjure. There’s lots of finesse in the air with these guys, and they’ll definitely hit it hard.

I caught Mostly Other People Do the Killing doing the music from Red Hot (Hot Cup) back in January, and their idiosyncratic swirl of in and out couldn’t have been better balanced. The album harks to Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and other early jazz sources from New Orleans and Chicago and they milk the material for all its worth. Humor is key to the MOPDTK vibe – they explode polyphonic glee while cranking out witty solos. Augmented by banjo player Brandon Seabrook, bass trombonist David Taylor and pianist Ron Stabinsky, the band is thick with sound. Slide trumpeter, early jazz encyclopedia and Sex Mob hero Steven Bernstein is part of today’s show as well.

Miguel Zénon has spent the last several albums examining the cultural particulars of his Puerto Rican homeland. From the propulsion of plena drumming to the sentiment of the island’s classic songs, he infused them with an intrepid jazz spin. Last year’s Oye!!! (Miel) was a live shot with an electric band that reminded just how hot he and his alto sax burn. This year’s Newport gig features an extended new piece, “Identities Are Changeable,” written for large ensemble. It’s inspired by the notion of outsiders – Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. and hanging on tight to their history while establishing themselves for the future. Haven’t heard the music yet, but elaborate rhythm is certainly part of it. Few bandleaders are able to make intricate beats stack up to a groove-driven experience like Zénon.



The SFJazz Collective is a West Coast parallel to the New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center operation – an ongoing ensemble with a permanent home that celebrates repertory aspects of the music while leaving plenty of room for present tense creativity and original compositions. Throughout its decade-long existence, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas have all had a hand in steering its direction. Miguel Zénon has been central to its thrust for the last few years, saluting everyone from Monk to Horace Silver to Stevie Wonder. Their latest nod is to Chick Corea, and they bring plenty of verve to the pianist’s canon while reimagining his classics “Spain,” “Crystal Silence” and “500 Miles High.”  Keep an eye for secret weapon: pianist Ed Simon.

Prepare for a few fans to swoon when Cécile McLorin Salvant starts to work her magic. The acclaimed singer has burst onto scene in recent years, winning the national Thelonious Monk Competition in 2010, performing killer concerts – her depth of onstage authority rivals her impressive vocal skills – and dropping a critics’ consensus album last year, the thoroughly entertaining Woman Child (Mack Ave). Her phrasing is a parade of subtleties; she knows how to “act out” a lyric, and she knows how to swing. She will charm everyone within earshot.

There’s a macho attitude in the music of Dave Holland’s Prism. The veteran bassist sanctions a series of funk-rock rhythms to be stacked on top of each other, and encourages his band craft to craft ornery solos throughout the patterns. Because those soloists include virtuosos like pianist Craig Taborn and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, all the events become thick with aggression. Complex time signatures can befuddle audiences, but the inner groove that Prism brings to the fore pretty much defines the term “wicked interplay.” I found their debut disc a tad too steely, but they’ve been working these tunes for a year, and by all reports they’re ultra-limber.

Last year the Italian pianist Steffano Bollani dropped a duet disc with Brazilian bandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda – it was a quite seductive. Both musicians dedicate themselves to chasing lyricism, regardless of where their ideas might lead, and O Que Será (ECM) is a live shot that proved the two were an inspired pairing. From the agitated counterpoint of “Guarda Chez Luna” to the lockstep fantasia of “Caprichos De Espanha” to the soft romance of “Luiza,” the Brazilian choro grooves are bent in all sorts of ways. Bollani knows about subtleties of the duo format – he’s cut impressive dates with Chick Corea and Enrico Rava as well. The give and take action is central to their success, and both parties make sure the rhythmic thrust is obvious.

Need a big dose of pleasure? The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s romps through the classics are seldom less than sublime.  Spent some time absorbing their shows on YouTube last month, and I’m recalling a version of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” that just slayed. Leader Wynton Marsalis remains a discriminating boss, carrying out his mission of schooling the planet on the jewels of jazz literature, while also playing the hell out of that horn. They have a terrific way with Ellington, and fingers crossed that they roll through “Shout ‘Em Aunt Tillie,” “The Mooche” or other nuggets – at their best, they’re always making the music absolutely sing.



Want to hit it from the jump on Sunday? Arrive on time and don’t miss The Cookers. The septet is made up of vets whose vigor reaches out and pushes you around a bit. Each time I’ve caught them in the last few years, there’s been an obvious weight to the music;  their collective volition moves the action to a      stately and swinging place. A lot of it comes from Billy Harper’s tenor, often the site of thoughtful eruptions. But it takes the entire group to generate this heady vibe. Eddie Henderson’s forthright trumpeting, Billy Hart’s fluid kick on drums – it all adds up to very physical music that has a singular sense of wisdom about it. Trumpeter David Weiss is the band’s straw boss; his guidance has led them to make three strong albums.  Check “Free For All” from their Believe (Motéma). You’ll get the picture in an instant.

The charged eloquence of the Vijay Iyer Trio has nudged the pianist into a larger profile these last few years. With bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore uniting for one of modern jazz’s most playful and potent rhythm sections, the group is an exemplar of art that seduces with spontaneity and substance. This year the MacArthur Award winner introduces his Sextet to Fort Adams; the addition of saxophonists Mark Shim, Steve Lehman, and trumpeter Graham Haynes brings more girth to the bandstand, but methinks the agility that earned the Iyer trio its acclaim will still be front and center.

He’s pushing 90, but Lee Konitz continues to make amazing music. The alto saxophonist is an improviser first and foremost. His interpretation of standards harks to the notion that invented melodies and go-anywhere interplay are paramount to the creative process – creativity will carry the day. His recent hookup with pianist Dan Tepfer has been a blessing for both parties. They’re just back from a French duo run, and this weekend’s quartet – rounded out by bassist Jeremy Stratton and drummer George Schuller – should have lots of fun following Lee’s lead. Saxophonist Grace Kelly joins the band during their set.

Wayne Shorter pianist and beloved Boston educator Danilo Perez is known for the shine that he gives Panama – the traditions of his native country contour his work at a composer. Panama 500 (Mack Ave.)  salutes the Central American nation’s 500th anniversary using a feisty band to scrutinize everything from Balboa’s historic arrival to rural village frolic. The trio he leads, with Ben Street on bass and Adam Cruz on drums, couldn’t be tighter. They play often and push each other to the limits.

There are plenty of other don’t-miss shows. As you’re heading from stage to stage, be sure to catch trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band and Gregory Porter, too. Nothing but options this year.


Newport Jazz is celebrating 60 years. Read the timeline in the Providence Phoenix.


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