[JPL] JAZZ REVIEW: JVC fest: full of diversity, so-so on quality

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Sun Aug 27 08:57:43 EDT 2006

JVC fest: full of diversity, so-so on quality
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times

August 23, 2006

Anyone who loves jazz has to be pleased that music's tent has become so vast
over the last few decades. Smooth jazz, acid jazz, fusion, contemporary
jazz, nujazz; jazz with infusions of rap, turntables and electronica; world
jazz, Latin jazz and repertory jazz. And I've probably left out a few.

Whether that's all good depends on your taste and/or your perception of what
is or isn't jazz. But the something-for-everybody view is surely healthier
than the my-way-or-the-highway attitude that often has prevailed in the

That said, diversity does not guarantee quality ‹ a thought that frequently
came to mind during the JVC Jazz Festival 2006 at the Hollywood Bowl on
Sunday night.

The opening set by saxophonist Najee offered few surprises. Najee's sound
and style fit well within the established tradition of smooth-jazz saxophone
music ‹ a pinched tone (on both alto and soprano instruments), improvising
based on short riffs rather than invented melodies, and heavily back-beated
rhythms. At one point, he resorted to the well-worn circular-breathing
technique allowing the player to hold a note for a seemingly impossible
length of time. No wonder that when Najee started his third tune, someone in
a nearby box asked, "Hasn't he already played this?"

Singer Michael Franks, who has never fit easily into any single category,
has written a few attractive, gently whimsical tunes, and he sang a trio of
his most memorable ‹ "Popsicle Toes," "The Lady Wants to Know" and
"Eggplant" ‹ as well as "Under the Sun," from his latest album, "Rendezvous
in Rio." The music was quietly engaging, perhaps a bit too laid-back for
this program and this location, and hampered by Franks' tendency to use
similarly floating rhythm backing on almost every tune. But it was,
nonetheless, a pleasant interlude in a high-intensity program.

The performance by the quartet Fourplay (keyboardist Bob James, bassist
Nathan East, guitarist Larry Carlton and drummer Harvey Mason) was the
musical highlight. Energized by East's charismatic playing and singing (and,
in one instance, whistling), driven powerfully by Mason's drumming and the
sneakily straight-ahead jazz of James, Fourplay thoroughly affirmed its
capacity to bring imagination and creativity to the often predictable
smooth-jazz paradigm.

Norman Brown's Summer Storm mirrored Najee's opening, with featured
keyboardist Alex Bugnon and saxophonist Paul Taylor working similar styles
in a similar manner with similar results. Fortunately, a pair of songs from
the versatile Patti Austin saved the set, while further confirming the
values of jazz multiplicity.

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