[JPL] Music Review | Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

Ed P. edjazz at wi.rr.com
Mon Sep 10 08:19:47 EDT 2007

New York Times
August 28, 2007
Music Review | Charlie Parker Jazz Festival
Headliner Can’t Make It? Here’s a First-Class Fill-In
Abbey Lincoln, singing at two free outdoor concerts in New York in two
consecutive days, on the same weekend as the memorial service for her
ex-husband, Max Roach, and not too long after open-heart surgery: all this
seemed a bit much to hope for. And it didn’t happen. Ms. Lincoln was
scheduled to play both days of the 15th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival
over the weekend — in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem on Saturday and in
Tompkins Square Park in the East Village on Sunday — but had canceled by
Saturday afternoon.

Luckily, Cassandra Wilson, an important stylistic descendant of Ms. Lincoln,
filled the hole. As Ms. Wilson explained from the stage, she wasn’t supposed
to take part; she had stopped by on Saturday to say hello to friends on her
way upstate, and soon found herself agreeing to headline that evening,
singing with Ms. Lincoln’s band. On Sunday, she repeated the favor at
Tompkins Square Park.

Ms. Wilson uses phrasing as a sharp tool, and her strong declamations or
stretched-out vowels dig furrows around the beat. This gives the music
traction, and Sunday’s casual, more-or-less-impromptu set needed it. Onstage
with her were the pianist Jonathan Baptiste and the bassist Michael Bowie,
from Ms. Lincoln’s band, and the drummer Marcus Gilmore, as well as the
saxophonist Evan Schwam, from Chico Hamilton’s group. They played the most
standard of standards: “St. James Infirmary”; “Caravan”; Charlie Parker’s
“Now’s the Time”; Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” with Ms. Lincoln’s lyrics.

Scatting and bebop singing aren’t really her thing, but “St. James
 Infirmary” was. It fit her slow-drag voice, and at crawling tempo, the band
members showed what they had: Mr. Bowie soloing in almost vocal-like phrases
with glottal stops; Mr. Schwam playing throaty, crying choruses. And with
small improvisations — in her line “He can search, he can search, he can
search this whole wide world over,” she put both a hesitation and a melodic
glide — Ms. Wilson made it work.

She closed her set by singing, a cappella, a series of Yoruba chant-phrases,
leaving it to the band to figure out a groove for it as she left the stage;
soon that groove turned into “My Favorite Things.” She returned, and gamely,
but also happily, sang as much of the lyrics as she could remember.

The drummer Chico Hamilton, now 85, brought his chamber-jazz band, Euphoria,
which exists to play his highly managed compositions. As much now as in the
’50s and ’60s, Mr. Hamilton writes and writes and writes, and his pieces don
’t stay on one road; they change dynamics and strategies, suitelike even
when they’re not suites proper, with articulated melodies and room for
pointed solos.

The band, with electric guitar and electric bass, two saxophones, a
percussionist and Mr. Hamilton behind a trap set, lined up in a row by the
lip of the stage. It played a brace of new pieces, most of them composed in
memory of someone. One, “Thoughts and Prayers,” was for the drummer Jo
Jones; it included a sermonette for the high-hat cymbal. Mr. Hamilton
dedicated another, “Just Play the Melody,” to Mr. Roach. It contained a long
space for Mr. Hamilton to play a solo with mallets on tom-toms — nicely
tuned of course — organized into phrases that crested and resolved; the band
came in at the end, following the contours of his melody, then shifted to a
shuffle beat. Some audience members up front got up to dance, something you
don’t see often at jazz concerts. “That’s the best compliment I can get,”
Mr. Hamilton remarked, gazing at the dancers.

Todd Williams, a saxophonist in Wynton Marsalis’s bands during the ’80s,
went missing from jazz for quite a while, working in religious music. He has
returned, leading small jazz bands, and the one he led on Sunday had a
curious duality. Mr. Williams is a crowd pleaser, with a neat synthesis of
John Coltrane’s and Cannonball Adderley’s phrasing and harmonic language;
his pianist, Eric Lewis, was a crowd-riler, moving from ostinatos to
blenderized whirls of notes, hitting the keys about as hard as anyone can,
lodging his solos into your neck. The audience applauded both extremes.

And Maurice Brown, a young trumpeter, opened the afternoon with jazz and
funk that was a little more light and amiable than he and his band are
capable of, though it seemed to fit the low-key, summery occasion, a
backyard party for thousands.

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