[JPL] Newport Review
drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Aug 14 21:49:17 EDT 2006
Mixed bag draws fans to jazz festival
By James J. Gillis/Daily News staff
NEWPORT - Here's why the JVC Jazz Festival-Newport brought smoother jazz
back into the lineup this weekend after a two-year lull: This jazz-lite
At least it sold Saturday, with 7,200 people turning out largely to hear
George Benson and Al Jarreau at Fort Adams State Park. Things dipped
Sunday, with just 4,500 turning out for a day topped by the glossy trumpet
arrangements of Chris Botti.
The festival for the past two years featured only straight-ahead jazz. It
drew well for the festival's 50th anniversary in 2004, not so well in 2005.
So this time around, Benson, Jarreau and Botti mixed in with more
They're not bad, though Benson's show is about the same as it was a decade
ago. Jarreau sat in for "On Broadway" with Benson and trumpeter Arturo
Sandoval - whose earlier blistering Latin-flavored set was a festival
A low point came when Jarreau and Benson dueted on Seals and Crofts'
"Summer Breeze," a schlock hit from the 1970s. It sounded no better in an
overwrought slick jazz format on Saturday.
Botti performed a sundown show late Sunday afternoon, touching on classics
such as "My Funny Valentine" and "Embraceable You." He can play trumpet,
for sure, but every arrangement is covered in smooth jazz shellac.
Fortunately, not all the music was hold-button jazz. There were plenty of
players at other times and on other stages during a perfect weather weekend.
Those on hand were treated to young pianist Robert Glasper stretching out
with a combination of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" and "Everything In
Its Right Place" by Radiohead, which worked to perfection despite the odds.
Glasper wasn't the only adventurous sort, with Gold Sounds (including
pianist Cyrus Chestnut and sax player James Carter) saluting '90s alt-rock
band Pavement. Gold Sounds tore things up with a powerhouse version of "Cut
The side stages provide room for the newcomers, which meant we were treated
to trombonist's Sarrah Morrow's take on Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" and
the sheer joy Japanese pianist Hiromi expressed in the final set of the
weekend on the Pavilion stage.
On the Waterside stage, singer/pianist Andy Bey captivated the crowd with
Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and Lionel Hampton's "The Midnight Sun,"
displaying a haunting rumble of a baritone.
The festival still likes to take chances, such as booking tap dancer Savion
Glover with a jazz group called The Otherz. The band played instrumentals
calling to mind Miles Davis and John Coltrane, as Glover tapped furiously
to what seemed like an improvised session.
It was exciting and you have to wonder what Gene Kelly would've made of it all.
Glover was hardly the only one dancing. African-born singer Angelique Kidjo
added a heavy dose of world beat to the festival, bringing about a dozen
people on stage to dance with her in one of the weekend's highlights. Kidjo
actually wanted more dancers on stage before security nixed the idea.
The festival maintained tradition with some old reliables. Pianist/singer
Dr. John has played Newport solo and with a big band. On Sunday, the New
Orleans favorite played in quartet style with his group the Lower 911, with
a blues and funk set including "Dream" and "St. James Infirmary" and a
skull perched on his piano.
Dave Brubeck has played the festival more times than anyone, starting in
1955. He capped his solid set with a slightly revamped "Take Five."
One of the old souls of jazz, pianist McCoy Tyner, put together a
top-flight band including sax players Eric Alexander and Donald Harrison,
in a salute to the Impulse record label. Tyner, who played with Coltrane in
the '60s, defers to his sidemen a bit, but led the group through a
hard-charging stay on the main stage.
Perhaps the festival's most touching moment arrived on the Pavilion stage,
when George Wein played piano with a find band of Newport All-Stars. The
festival impresario started his jazz career as a pianist in Boston and led
the group - featuring old pros such as Frank Wess and Lew Tabackin -
through Duke Ellington tunes "Johnny Come Lately" and "What Am I Here For?"
Wein's wife, Joyce, a prime force in the early jazz festivals, died the day
after the 2005 festival. And Wein's staff, old friends and some of Joyce
Wein's relatives were among those who turned out in a poignant show of support.
It was the first time Wein played the festival in about a decade. Toward
the end of his performance, he sang "Music Maestro Please," a lament about
loss and solitude. "I wasn't going to play this, but I think I have to," he
said. "This is the first festival without Joyce."
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